Without further adieu, here are this week’s Friday Questions. What’s yours?
Desperado leads off with:
Back in the day when TV series used to have elaborate opening titles, who decided how these would look (i.e. clips of actors shown with names superimposed, vs. establishing scenes as was the case on M*A*S*H)? The director, producer, or was it outsourced?
Same question for the closing credits. Who decided if there would be just a static image (Cheers), vs. clips or stills from the episode just shown (M*A*S*H)? If the latter, who selected the images? Was there a great deal of effort put into making the selections, or was it just an afterthought?
The showrunners have final say on what their opening and closing credits will be – as long it’s within the time allotted by the network. Today it is rare to see full opening titles on network shows (although there are exceptions like CSI), but in the good old days opening titles were a major part of the series. A tremendous amount of time and effort went into it.
When we did BIG WAVE DAVE’S we told CBS we really needed an opening title sequence. It was a show set in Hawaii but was multi-camera. We argued that you can’t have a show about Hawaii and not at least for a few seconds SEE Hawaii. They said okay. Instead of 15 seconds we could have 30 seconds. I said that wasn’t enough. We wanted a minute. They came back with 35. We settled on 41. We were literally arguing over seconds.
There used to be a couple of production companies that specialized in opening titles. Castle-Bryant did the CHEERS opening (along with many others). For a number of years these companies had more work than they could handle. Now opening titles are few and far between (on networks).
In the case of MASH, producer Gene Reynolds filmed those opening titles himself.
A lot of shows, especially comedies, would show zany clips of the stars. I always hated those. They felt so cheesy.
Of course everything now has to be so frenetic and attention-grabbing. Yet one of my favorite opening titles (and one I feel was most successful in conveying the tone of the show) was THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. Andy and Opie just walking in the woods, Andy toting his fishing pole. So simple yet so classy.
What’s your favorite opening title sequence? Yeah, that's right. I'm asking YOU a Friday Question.
From Brian regarding a recent post about pilot pitching:
In today's post you mentioned that the networks would start opening up for pilot pitches soon. How does the pilot submission process work? Is it possible for a non-represented writer to get their pilot script in for consideration?
Honestly, no. If you don’t have a track record networks won’t see you. NBC has that online contest though. You might check that out.
But here’s the reality: networks only invite people to pitch they have faith in or want to be in business with. You need either experience or be a hot actor. After you’ve been on staff somewhere for a year or two, then the networks might be interested.
How is writing for shows with commercials different from those without? Is the structure of the script the same? Does the freer form change the process at all?
Commercial placement determines how you tell a story. Will there be one big break in the middle and thus a two act format, or two commercial breaks and a three act format?
You break stories differently if it’s three acts as opposed to two. With two acts, you build to the big crisis at the act break. You need multiple crises in a three act format.
However, when you’re on cable and there are no commercial interruptions you’re not restricted. You definitely want to construct a story that has a good beginning, middle, and end – but where those crisis points come and how many of them, that you can vary from episode to episode. You really can just let the story unfold.
And finally, from Manny:
In the age of binge-watching, it seems shows are becoming more and more serialized. Do you prefer shows, sitcoms, in particular, with lots of continuity and continuing storylines, or do you think doing stand-alones is the way to go? I prefer serialization, but both have their pros and cons.
I think CHEERS sort of began the trend of year-long serialized story arc the first season with Sam & Diane.
I believe that sitcoms can have a serialized element that runs through it, but primarily it should be a stand-alone episode. Especially for syndication purposes. When reruns of a sitcom are on every day, do you watch it every day? Chances are no. You may catch one or two. You don’t want to feel lost because you missed some episodes. You want to sit back, get a few laughs, and move on.
I think part of the problem with the new episodes of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT that ran on Netflix was that they were so interwoven and complicated and required so much attention to detail and continuity that a lot of its most stalwart fans threw their hands up in frustration. I don’t think people want to work that hard with sitcoms.
Please leave your question in the comments section. Thanks!