Monday, July 14, 2014

FRIENDS WITH BETTER JOKES AND CHARACTERS

It all began with FRIENDS, nearly twenty years ago – a sitcom starring a group of fun lovin’ twentysomethings trying to find their place in the world. FRIENDS was an enormous hit (meaning the right demographic watched) so networks have been desperately trying to copy it for years. COUPLING (based on the British version where they hired comic actors and not J. Crew models), HAPPY ENDINGS, A GUY, A GIRL, AND WHATEVER, HIMYM – the list is endless. So many in fact that with the latest one, FRIENDS WITH BETTER LIVES they’re even recycling “Friends” in the title.

And these are just the shows that got on the air. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of pilots that either died at the script stage or on the stage stage.

This is a concept that in the right hands with the right cast can be a killer series. You’re watching people you identify with, struggling to make sense of their lives, love, sex, future, and the World Cup. As each generation enters that age group there are new sensibilities and issues unique to them to go along with all the other hurdles. It’s an arena ripe for comedy.

It’s also a no-brainer for young scribes who need to write a pilot to break in. I suspect that 80% of the specs today are (a) versions of FRIENDS or (b) moving back in with your parents.

I’ve read many of these “FRIENDS” pilots (both spec and actually developed for networks) and most fall way short. There are a number of crutches that have emerged. Allow me to point some out so you might avoid them yourself.

There’s generally one character who is roaring drunk. That’s where the big “comedy” comes from. Vomiting in the car, doing outrageous stunts, saying appalling things because he has no filter. That’s all well and good, but if you need your character to be shit-faced for him to be funny you haven’t developed him correctly.

There’s always the man-child Seth Rogen character. The comedy here comes from a character who is completely immature and often borderline brain dead. Long a staple of Judd Apatow movies, this character has now become a tiresome cliché. And yet every pilot season – there he is – burping, playing video games, calling everyone “bro”, not bathing, still collecting toys, and annoying everyone he meets until they inexplicably fall for his childlike charm.

At least one of the women will be a hateful mean girl. That’s almost a guarantee. Self-centered, bitchy, demanding, condescending, and supposedly funny. Maybe they were twenty years ago but today they’re a stereotype.

Everyone speaks in pop culture references. In truth, young people today DO speak in pop culture references but not every other sentence. Be judicious. You’re wielding a double-edged sword. The pop references may make the show sound very authentic, but too many may date it beyond recognition long before its expiration date.

And then of course, the issue I’ve harped on before, characters speak in dripping irony, which is not a substitute for comedy. “Well THAT went well” is not a laugh. A great zinger is not “Seriously?”

So here’s what I suggest: Work harder. Dig deeper. You all have friends who have comic characteristics. Create characters that are fresh, derive their comedy from a warped worldview, have a unique style. Have them like things you wouldn’t expect. Make them real, not a sketch. Take time to consider how they relate to each other. How do they clash? How do they bond? Why do they bond? What do they want? Believe it or not, guys want more than to get laid.

And what's the hook?  Why is this particular group of people together... other than 'cause you say so?

One thing about Millineals – they tend to be smart. Sometimes they think they’re smarter than they are. But their dialogue can be organically bright, sharp, and funny. Take advantage of that. It's always best to play characters to the top of their intelligence and it's a big plus when they are intelligent.

Let the comedy come out of character and stress the comedy more. Don’t shy away from it as if getting laughs is “not cool.” You’re in a highly competitive field. For your spec or sold pilot to rise above all the rest you have to be better. A real good way to do that is to be funnier.

Young writers may argue that irony is the style now, and I say, “It’s your script, your career. Do whatever you feel is right. And if you truly believe that, fine.” But I also wonder, is that a cop out? Are you not making the script funnier because you just don’t have the comic chops or might you be lazy? Again, this is all your call.  There are hundreds of other writers out there banging on keyboards just like you. 

Networks are dying for the next FRIENDS. If yours hits the mark it could be a home run -- a walk off home run. I want to see you get every advantage, avoid every pot hole. It’s your age group, it’s your time – crush it. Just give me all the credit when you’re a success. Best of luck.

50 comments:

Hamid said...

Everyone speaks in pop culture references. In truth, young people today DO speak in pop culture references but not every other sentence. Be judicious. You’re wielding a double-edged sword. The pop references may make the show sound very authentic, but too many may date it beyond recognition long before its expiration date.

The problem with roughly 80% of comedy movies too. The godawful Jennifer's Body written by Diablo Cody was just 90 minutes of pop culture references and "irony" as a substitute for characterization and funny lines. Anyone can do that sort of shit in 3 seconds flat. Here:

"Seriously, you're more unpopular than the guy who played Screech on Saved by the Bell."

"I haven't been this bored since I watched Avatar the Director's Cut".

"If that kid doesn't shut up, I'm gonna Kanye West his speech".

Now give me an Oscar.

Dan Ball said...

In what little I've studied of the science of comedy, I'm pretty sure most of it is meant to work for any generation. When it doesn't, there's a problem. ANDY GRIFFITH barely had any pop culture references and the comedy on the show is still pretty fresh. If today's kids can get over the B&W and the squeaky-cleanness, they'll find a great show.

CHEERS might be 30 years old, but I think it still mops the floor with anything on TV right now. Even my beloved PARKS & RECREATION! While the art of TV drama is certainly evolving forward at a break-neck speed, comedies are kinda stalling out it seems. Instead of shows digging deeper into full-fledged comedy, they're blurring the line between drama and comedy, making dramedies the latest rage. Again, I think this is due to lazy writing. If you can't make something funnier, make it dramatic.

I get the feeling that younger writers that are my age (30s) are writing with blinders on. When they try to solve a lot of today's screenwriting problems, they only use a select few solutions. One of those ideas might be interesting at best, but it's hardly original and it has all the strength of a quick fix, not a long-lasting overhaul. It's like clichés are replaced with more obscure, less-used clichés instead of something original or classical and time-tried. We've lost our way.

CHEERS showed us the light and all we did was put on Coppertone and sunglasses!

John said...

I think there are some events that have to be mentioned in some series. A cop/fire show set in NY at the time of 911 - it at least has to be mentioned if the show is to feel genuine. WKRP had to mention the Who tragedy.
However, I agree that shows feel dated with current references. It can be nostalgic when you lived through the events, even if the events were not good, but you remove the chance of a future generation catching on. Random slang and pop culture references tend to get old fast. The Brady Bunch is bad enough, but all the groovy's etc. make it worse.
Also, beating on social/political issues that were hot at the time can make it unwatchable later, whether you agree with the point of view or not. See Murphy Brown.
Also, just because we aren't in the "right" demo doesn't mean that we don't watch. HIMYM, BBT, 2BG are all aimed at more or less the same demo. One is unwatchable, and I doubt will hold up to the test of time. Even the "right" demo will age, and will not watch it the same as they did. See Three's Company.

Tom said...

Was Friends not just Seinfeld if the latter had been more network managed? A better-looking cast doing more sympathetic things in a less-complicated fashion but nevertheless just a bunch of New York twenty-somethings with stories usually oriented around the partner of the week.

Terrence Moss said...

It's a shame when people can't get into something because it's in b&w. As if color means better or more timely. It's the same kind of argument made about single cam versus multi-cam where the former is automatically considered smarter and more sophisticated than the latter.

Toledo said...

The man-child Seth Rogen character predates Seth Rogan. It goes back at least to Joey on Full House and probably even earlier.

Charlie O'Brien said...

Oh man, then there's five whole seasons of Aaron Paul's character 'Jessie' on Breaking Bad just going "YO!"

chas said...

A few weeks ago we were having brunch and overheard the 20 something couple at the next table discussing their spec scripts. It was hard not to burst out laughing as the guy described Friends in detail. His girlfriend then described her script, which was Seinfeld. It was obvious that neither of these folks had ever seen or even heard of shows they were copying. They thought they had really good original ideas, which they didn't. Hard to believe that these mid 20 year olds weren't familiar with the real source material for their scripts.

Wayne said...

When Carl Reiner created The Dick Van Dyke Show, he wisely eschewed slang. So the only thing that dates it is Laura Petrie's Capri pants.

Most pop-culture references die quicker than a Kardashian marriage. (already dated ref)

ScottyB said...

I think 'Friends' worked and was so solid (especially for the writers) because each one of the characters were built with two solid levels to play off of: 1) They were essentially decent human beings, and 2) They all had really weird-shit quirks and oddness about them. They certainly would never be the ones sitting at the cool-kids table in high school. But we totally love them because of that. Which is probably why 'Big Bang' succeeds beyond the well-crafted jokes. Andrew Dice Clay might've had funny material, but nobody really LIKED him. Bob Newhart and Woody Allen were total dweebs, but we all *related* to them. Ted Baxter was a moron, but thru it all, he was still likeable. Even in dramas, there are a lot of dicks whose circumstances have made them total dicks, but the best ones have at least one redeeming quality. I believe we actually LOOK for a character to have a redeeming quality lurking around their shitty life.

IMO, all that was endearing about 'Friends', so in the end, it was a cast that we ALL could identify with, and like, and root for. And isn't that a major rule we keep seeing from Ken's posts?: Create characters that people will actually CARE about for some reason.

That's kinda why IMO shows like 'According to Jim' weren't all that. The characters basically *were* the joke. You can only ride that train so far.

Chandler Costanza said...

I wonder, he asked, rhetorically, could the Friends creator(s) come up with another Friends show today...an After Friends, perhaps? I guess no, that lightning won't strike twice - and they know the 'formula.'

Indiana Joe said...

Am I the only one that has never seen a episode of friends? Did I really miss something?
I truly miss Big Wave Dave's
Joe

ScottyB said...

@Dan Ball: And you've hit something very important on the head, at least as far as 'The Andy Griffith Show' goes. In it's B&W days, it ultimately said SOMEthing about life without being beaten over the head with it or outright moralizing, both on a kid level and an adult level, despite the well-written comedy. Every episode seemed to always present SOMEthing we all could learn about, or even think about, especially if we were the parent of a young 'un. Yeah, the show simplified things to fit into a 30-minute block (and boy, don't we all know life ain't that easy), but methinks we got the message if we were listening close enough.

For me, the episodes where Opie kills the mother bird with a slingshot and Otis being a Revolutionary War hero stand out. Gentle lessons for life that were still goddamn FUNNY.

Jeannie said...

To expand on Scotty B's comment: one of the best things about "Friends" was how the characters didn't have typical backstories. Monica, played by the drop-dead-gorgeous Courteney Cox, grew up fat, and was totally a neurotic control freak. Ross was a paleontologist (!)with a lesbian wife. Yet these atypical types weren't just there as one-joke placeholders. The writers made them interesting and feel real. The only clunky notes I ever got from "Friends" was the size of Monica and Rachel's apartment in NYC and the stereotype of Joey being a dumb actor. And not to go all Bill Guy Science Guy here, but the chemistry of that cast was once-in-a-generation good -- which to me is partially luck or a gift from the sitcom gods.

ScottyB said...

I loved Ken's post today. On one hand, methinks it would be exceptionally hard to come up with a groundbreaking pilot/spec as good as 'Friends' because of the general atmosphere of network thinking, which seems to be "just give us something with a shitload of jokes in every line." That sort of thinking reminds me of that game show from the '70s, 'Make Me Laugh'.

But OTOH, I can see why so many others can't come up with pilots/specs that *could* be a pinhole of shining light, if even for a season or two: They keep *trying* to be 'Friends' or 'Seinfeld'. Those two are good reference points (just like that 'Odd Couple' script was the reference point for Ken & David), but it seems to me that you don't have to be as GREAT as that to get noticed. Just you be you and try to make something REAL. Make something REAL, and the humor will follow.

ScottyB said...

@Jeanne: And to expand on your comment, is it no wonder why the 'Joey' spin-off with Matt LeBlanc didn't fly? Or why any of Matthew Perry's movies (charming and decently watchable as they were) never took off? For me, it was because they were basically being who they were on 'Friends' -- but the only reason 'Friends' was such a huge hit was because of the ensemble providing all the ingredients. Seems to me that if you're going to make something new, make the characters new.

OTOH, maybe the only people Matt LeBlanc and Matt Perry *can* play are their 'Friends' characters. I dunno. Still, they remind me alot of another sitcom character actor, Jere Burns. Great talent. But maybe sometimes you just gotta make a living on the scripts you get.

ScottyB said...

Sorry to be a forum pain in the ass here, but the conversation about 'The Andy Griffith Show' got me thinking about Ken's post the other day about the old B&W movie actors, especially in relation to color vs. B&W. That made me think of the vast difference between 'The Andy Griffith Show' when it was B&W and when it was in color.

But most of all, methinks it begs the question whether the medium (or the color it's in) you present it on really matters if your script fucking kills in the first place.

For me, I totally *cannot* watch an 'Andy Griffith' episode in color. I'd rather be shot in the head. Not just because those episodes always remind me of color shit you'd see out of some poor communist country like Bulgaria in 1962, but mostly because by then, the writing and storylines were soooo fucking horrible. It was like you KNEW Mr. Griffith was just showing up for the check by then.

AND Mayberry in color looked WAY less charming and comforting than it did when it was in B&W. Beyond that -- c'mon Howard fucking Sprague, and Emmett the TV/radio repair guy? That was the best they could do?

And don't even get me started on 'Mayberry RFD'. Ugh.

gottacook said...

ScottyB: Remember when they tried to make Andrew Dice Clay the male lead in a sitcom? CBS, was it? They billed him as - and this was probably the funniest thing about the series - "Andrew Clay," as if (i) that made him a more respectable comic actor (ii) now going by his real name, which it wasn't.

As for the subject at hand: Cheers lucked into a means of touching on current events without compromising the episode itself, by always starting each episode with an independent segment unrelated to the remainder of the script. They could have (for example) a real-life Boston politician appear there without having to integrate him into the main story.

Aaron Sheckley said...

I believe the change in tone between the black and white Andy Griffiths and the ones in color was because they dumped their old writing staff and came up with a whole new one, and the new staff's emphasis shifted from character based comedy to more standard sitcom fare. I hated the transition too, and find the ones in color to be unwatchable. Even Andy is no longer charming in them, and in fact seems to be channeling a lot more of his Lonesome Rhodes character. They even managed to make Ron Howard unlikeable, which I wouldn't have thought possible.

ScottyB said...

I always feel guilty about posting comments to Ken's blog, mostly because I'm way old in my 50s and my time has long passed me by, never actually written or submitted a script because I'd be better served with a writing partner, and I just don't get the industry because, well, I have the same sensibilities as Ken except without the success he was able to score in his day because I didn't have anywhere near his life or living where he's lived his life.

So I speak as a TV consumer, at this point. Still, Ken's blog gives me the inkling that I actually *could* give it a go, because thanks alot to Ken, I know a lot more shit today.

So yeah, totally -- thanks, Ken.

McAlvie said...

Good post. Here's what I've noticed about a lot of new shows and movies - a lot of the main characters are people I don't want to spend any time with. I don't like these people. And those characters who are the least awful are doormats. Why would I willingly give up any of my precious time, and in the case of a tv show that means on a regular basis, to spend time with people I don't like?

I wouldn't. Most people wouldn't. And that's why most of these shows are here today and gone tomorrow.

With regard to pop references and demographics, I don't understand why they deliberately limit themselves. A lot of people in the age group you are targeting are going to have other things to do that evening and will never find your show. And you have as good as told anyone over that age group to take a flying leap. So, really, you are probably luck if a dozen people catch your show on anything like a regular basis. It's just nuts. It's really no wonder nostalgia tv channels are so big now. All the 20 somethings are probably watching Golden Girls.

ScottyB said...

@Aaron Sheckley: If memory serves, the network made the show either dump the writers, or make them change their tone after Season 1. You can see the tone change even in the early episodes. Andy went from a fool-grinnin' sheriff in the very first season to one who was more upright and acceptable even in the B&W days. Which when you think about it, is what happened to a lot of seriously-funny TV sitcoms at first, like the one with John Larroquette where he was the manager of a St. Louis bus station. Or hell, even 'The Rockford Files'. TV shows ruined and writers' lives made hell by bullshit.

ScottyB said...

@Ken Levine: Guy Kibbee rocked, too. Now *there's* a name for ya :)

Aaron Hazouri said...

I've been self publishing a humor-driven comic book for the past couple years, and the number one compliment I get is "this is so refreshingly fun." Digging a little deeper, I find out 90% of the stuff out there is heavy, HEAVY on smugness, sarcasm and irony. Not that I don't find that stuff funny sometimes, too - but it seems to be, just like you mentioned, Ken, a crutch. A substitute for wracking your brain and figuring out a better joke, or a better piece of dialogue, or just a better solution to the storytelling problem in front of you.

The fact that as a writer, I make a fantastic artist, and yet I'm still getting a good response, tells me the market exists for something free of all the sarcastic irony... but the gatekeepers refuse to let it out!

Thomas Mossman said...

That was because Griffith intended to end the show after the fifth season, but got talked into coming back at practically the last minute. That's why the switch to color coincides with Don Knotts' departure; by the time the show was renewed, he had gotten himself contracted at Universal, and couldn't get out of it.

Mark said...

Hey Ken,

I completely agree.

Most shows today -- even "successful" ones, like How I Met Your Mother -- are cheaper derivations of its original. Friends works primarily because (a) the character relationships are believable. Not real -- believable. And (b) the show is relatively consistent. Which is all in the writing.

Through the writing, we understand how the main cast relates to one another. Their relationships have a logic, they're justified within that world. Ross is Monica's brother. Rachel is Monica's high school friend. Chandler is Ross' college buddy. Joey is Chandler's best friend. Phoebe was Monica's roommate. Moreover, we understand what they (and we) think of one another. Ross is obsessive. Monica is anal-retentive. Rachel is gossipy and spoiled. Phoebe is an airhead. Chandler is sarcastic. Joey is pretty but dumb. And these descriptors merely scratch the surface; the characters also change over time.

My point is: those relationships are interesting, nuanced and are fun to watch. Each member of the main cast has a way of speaking and behaving that is unique to them. Each member has some form of a back story, that, even though it may not be dealt with in a per episode basis, still informs who they are as person. And that's all in the writing (augmented, of course, by an impeccable cast).

Friends has also a fairly consistent quality. There are few episodes or stories within an episode that stand out as just "okay". And all the characters have arcs that range from the first season to the last one. Anyway... as you can see, I'm a fan. Like Cheers, I think Friends is a gem. The fact that it spawned so many derivative "comedies" is a sign of it.

Do you agree?

Caroline said...

That Opie and the mother bird story still turns me into a sobbing ball of mush EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Mark Fearing said...

You bring up a lot of issues here. Pop culture has LONG been a crutch for comedians, TV Shows, comic strips, animated films...

I think you are right. It works in little bits. It's funny when it's perfect. Writing great comedy characters is hard and we rarely see it. TV shows, even successful ones often revert to cliches to wring out so much material. So built into TV series comedy is a sense of playing the same card over and over which leads to problems. I still think TV sitcoms may be hitting a wall. So many more choices now as to where you can get your laughs. It's not just prime time TV comedy series. They had a monopoly for years.

benson said...

Great discussion today.

Having owned at least 5 AGS books, they say that the tone of the show changed from season 1 because Andy, Sheldon Leonard, Aaron Ruben, etc, figured the show worked better with Andy being the solid center and the comedy revolving around him, similar to MTM show. Plus they had a comic genius in Don Knotts. And I would argue the same for Howard McNear (prior to his massive stroke).

The drop off after season 5 was due to Don Knotts' leaving the show. The change to color film was coincidental to this. Jack Burns had chemistry with Avery Schreiber, not Andy. And they quickly cut their losses. But Andy had lost his comedic partner.
Remember Don Knotts won Emmys for both his return appearances.

And you can't really do anything about McNear's health, or Ron Howard growing up.

Brian Phillips said...

I thoroughly disagree with cultural references being a hindrance. Why, just the other day I was watching a DVD of Murphy Brown and that joke about John Sununu that...

OK. I see your point.

BigTed said...

It's interesting that the occasionally funny "Two Guys and a Girl" (and, originally, "a Pizza Plaze") introduced Ryan Reynolds and Nathan Fillion -- but the other main actor, Richard Ruccolo, became a "that guy" character actor who never went nearly as far as the others.

Brian Phillips said...

Dan Ball: I enjoy Cheers immensely, however, I think that Taxi was just as funny, albeit short-lived. The fact that Taxi aired at all helped clear the way for Cheers, even though Cheers was near the bottom of the ratings in the beginning.

benson said...

Not to change the subject, but this has been alluded to today.

Why do some sitcoms thrive in reruns and some don't? I get the dated references reasoning. I catch Murphy Brown on the Encore retro channel and it's still funny but I was an adult in that era.

But this one always puzzles me. What about "Mad About You"?

That show didn't really rely on contemporary references. The character were mostly likeable and relatable. I'd argue the first four seasons (until THE BABY storyline) are as good as any other series, and even later in it's run, there are decent episodes, with the Mel Brooks episodes funny as hell.

But it's really done nothing special in syndication.

DBenson said...

Free premise for anyone who wants it: "Condemned to Repeat It"

An obsessive, isolated student of popular culture is forced out of school and into the world of entertainment wannabes. By an accident of lodgings and/or relatives he/she falls in with a Friends-type clique of aspiring writers and actors.

Now, our central character is painfully aware that they're all pitching been-there ideas and pursuing never-worked-before career and life strategies (that is, living out tired sitcom plots). He/she tries to help, warn, or just place bets with other members of the group on the probably outcome. The clique is torn on whether our hero(ine) is a prophetic genius or just a jerk.

The gimmick, such as it is, would be the audience being tipped to a classic slow-motion train wreck with an onscreen character doing the sensible things they like to think they'd do ("Here's my plan to catch him cheating!" . . ."I'm going to warn him. If you can't trust him you should break up, period."). And the sensible thing doesn't work ("She says you told her to dump me!").

It would be both meta and real in the sense of referencing the cliches and tropes these kids live on and the history they're unaware of.

And at the end of each episode, the eccentric old neighbor comes in and does a reference to the real sitcom that actor appeared in long ago.

Cap'n Bob said...

Indiana Joe--I've never seen an episode of FRIENDS, either. The commercials for it never sold me on the show. Maybe if I'd been 30 years younger I'd have been a regular viewer.

And, other poster, it's Bill Nye the Science Guy.

When THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW started, Andy was supposed to be the cornpone comedy lead. He quickly, and wisely, realized that Don Knotts was much funnier and took the role of straight man. When Knotts left the show lost a lot of steam.

brian t said...

I thought that Mad Love would be good because it had four good comic actors as the four leads. Nope - even Judy Greer couldn't keep it on the air.

VP81955 said...

Never got into "Friends"; the show seemed way too smug for my tastes -- "Hey, look, we're good-looking folks in Manhattan, living in apartments our characters couldn't afford!" Compared to its contemporaries "Seinfeld" (which had an edge) and "Frasier" (at times downright Lubitschean in its elegance), "Friends" had little going for it in my mind.

Plus there was the incessant TimeWarner log-rolling, mostly through its Entertainment Weekly and People, leading to the endless onslaught of Jennifer Aniston magazine covers. I'm sure many of us would like to (figuratively) slap Jen in the face and tell her, "Quit telling us about your damn love life and act!" (Which she can do, on occasion.)

Anonymous said...

On the other end of the spectrum... GOLDEN GIRLS had a lot of pop culture references too.

Johnny Walker said...

The biggest crutch I see in the shows that make it is "insult comedy". Once the domain of secondary characters like Louis in TAXI, and Carla in CHEERS, every character's tongue has grown sharper and meaner. Sometimes shows feel like they're entirely populated with bitter and frustrated standup comedians.

But if you watch a classic episode of THE SIMPSONS you can see brilliant comedy, crammed to the walls with funny, engaging characters, and NOT ONE relying on insults for their jokes.

I feel we've become bizarrely myopic in our comedy (although there are some few great exceptions, obviously). Anything that isn't filled with Chandler Bings feels fresh to me.

Johnny Walker said...

Chandler Costanza: Ha! Brilliant point, although I'd imagine the executives today might rationalise that by saying it's because they're "too old" now. Lol.

Johnny Walker said...

It's also possibly worth remembering that Friends seemed new and fresh at the time. An attribute that's often overlooked by those who wish to emulate its success?

Anonymous said...

@Johnny Walker

I totally agree about the insult comedy. I recently watched the CHEERS - ST. ELSEWHERE crossover and without that laugh track, Carla came off as a complete jerk. Not funny at all.

Pat Reeder said...

I think the best example of why it's good to avoid topical references in sitcoms is the rerun of "Til' Death" that rolls around constantly in which Brad Garrett responds to another character's partying by snapping, "Reel it in, Winehouse." Not that funny anymore.

I agree with McAlvie about how unlikeable a lot of sitcom characters are today. By most standards, "Mike & Molly" is mediocre at best, and most of the supporting characters are crude and obnoxious. But I think that viewers find the two leads to be so likeable that they tune in anyway just to spend time with them. Some people will even lay down cash to spend time with Melissa McCarthy, even if means having to sit though "Tammy."

Aaron Sheckley said...

Truthfully, most sitcoms on now are just endless variations on something that Lucy and Ethel did 60 years ago, only now they ladle in a bunch of dick and vagina jokes to make it "edgy". About the only thing that makes a sitcom watchable any more are the actors involved. As Pat said, Mike and Molly is a lukewarm show on the best of days, with a standard cast of cardboard characters, but McCarthy and Gardell make it bearable. I will never understand the appeal of a sitcom where every single character is smug, narcissistic, and unlikeable. Thirty minutes of a show where every single character is a walking fountain of hipster snark trashes my ability to believe that this group of "friends" would ever hang out together at all, let alone form relationships.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Hey! Howard Spauge was da bomb! Mayberry's only bona fide swinger!

Ring-a-ding-ding!

Phillip said...

I think THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW was successful enough and fortunate enough to come along in an era when networks were more patient and more willing to give a series time to grow and evolve. Griffith's characterization, early on, played heavily on the hayseed persona the public would have associated with him via his comedy records for Capitol (such as "What It Was, Was Football" and "Romeo and Juliet") and movies like NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS. That Andy Taylor went from that to playing straight man for the rest of the cast seems to me less a deliberate decision than the kind of natural evolution a good series goes through, as the production staff gets to know its cast, their capabilities, and their strengths and weaknesses.

Honestly, I think Andy Taylor evolved into too straight a character. Perhaps that was less noticeable when Don Knotts was on the series. Barney brought out Andy's lighter side. After Knotts left the series, Andy was a very serious, rather humorless, often almost ill-tempered character.

Trivia: Barney Fife's departure from the series was largely glossed over. Just an occasional reference to Barney moving away to Mount Pilot. That happened because CBS refused to permit the show to do anything to make too big a deal of Knotts's absence from the series. They were too worried about how the show would do without him and wanted his character's departure to be downplayed as much as possible. That's why there's no "Barney Moves Away" episode kicking off that season of the series.

CBS did the same thing that year with Lucille Ball's THE LUCY SHOW. Vivian Vance was leaving the series and it had been decided to revamp the series by moving Lucy Carmichael to California, eliminating her children and concentrate the series on Lucy as a working woman and on her relationship with boss Mr. Mooney. A two-part episode had been planned to kick off the season that would serve as a transition, dealing with Viv's marriage and Lucy's decision to move away (motivated by her daughter getting into college at UCLA). The idea had to be thrown out, though, because CBS wouldn't let them do it. As with Knotts leaving THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, CBS was worried about whether or not audiences would stick with Lucille Ball, sans Vivian Vance. So they ordered the series to make as little as possible of the changes to cast and format.

They needn't have worried. As it turned out, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW drew higher ratings overall in those last three seasons without Don Knotts than it had drawn when he was on the series. Likewise, THE LUCY SHOW continued as one of CBS's highest-rated shows, even without Vivian Vance.

Interesting that today, fans of both shows tend to hold their noses at Knotts-less GRIFFITH and Viv-less LUCY episodes.

Marco said...

About actors who are starring in other series or movies which don't take off:

To me it looks like very few actors succeed in comparable ways after a successful series ends. Many have been named and out of the "Friends" cast for example it appears as only Jennifer Aniston really made it and created another character not always compared and in the end way less loved than their "original" character from a past hit show.

A very good example of someone who succeeded twice is David Duchovny. The X-Files was a cult TV show. I am sure he could've played a zillion other FBI/CIA/Whatever agents or cops or whatsoever but he would still today be compared to the "original" Fox Mulder, only.

Instead of that, he went on to make "Californication" - something *completely* different. To me, this was the right choice since I am sure he would never have succeeded with any show or character less far away from "Fox Mulder" like "Hank Moody" was. I like both shows by the way.

DAVID BISHOP said...

Also bad: CRAP + 1 syndrome. People who see the worst thing on TV [or books, films, graphic novels, etc] and assume that's the standard which they must trump to succeed. Clear the bar and they're golden.

Nope.

Aim to equal or better the best writing in your chosen field. You won't succeed unless you're truly great already, but better to aim high than set your threshold at CRAP + 1.

Dan said...

You mean pop culture references like your World Cup joke?

Fred said...

Here's your new project Ken.
A young, hip, good looking guy/girl is recruited to front for a bunch of cranky middle age writers who still can write brilliant comedy - but can't get a meeting at Fox.
Basically a TV rip off of The Front. Maybe you could get some cranky middle age writers together...