Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Questions

Let’s kick off the weekend with some Friday Questions:

Cathryn leads off:

How do you feel about the state of illegal downloading/streaming now? Do you think it'll inevitably get worse with younger generations doing it almost by instinct or do you see it being cracked down on harder than the war on drugs in the future?

Some people may argue facetiously that if it's 2 Broke Girls or an Adam Sandler movie, it's less of a crime than downloading Almost Perfect or Volunteers, but what do you think?

It’s a sticky issue, and here’s why: Yes, writers, directors, actors, et al. are getting cheated out of royalties when material is being downloaded illegally. It’s wrong and I applaud all attempts to stop it. Since studios are also losing money they’re understandably on the case. Will they be able to crack down on it?  I highly doubt it. 

On the other hand, what about movies and series that the studios have no intention of ever releasing again? They don’t feel there will be enough return for them to put out a series on DVD or allow a streaming service to offer it. An example of this is ALMOST PERFECT, our series from the ‘90s. I have been told that there are no plans to release it.

So either the series just disappears into the ether or someone releases it illegally. In that case, I would prefer it’s seen. I would prefer that the good work done by all involved is not forgotten. I myself am not going to market bootlegged copies. And generally the quality of bootlegged shows aren’t great. But I’ve seen ALMOST PERFECT offered online. And I’ve just looked the other way.

VOLUNTEERS, on the other hand, is out on DVD and does still show up on television. If I see someone selling bootleg copies I will blow the whistle.

I must say it still really frosts me that ALMOST PERFECT with 34 episodes, two successful syndication deals in the 90s, and bankable stars like Nancy Travis and Lisa Edelstein can’t find a home somewhere – Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, WB, CBS, anywhere.
Anonymous has a question (again, please leave a name):

Ken, regarding a CHEERS reunion, you previously wrote, "Reunion shows are always sad. Much better to remember the characters for who they were… and what they weighed."

Do you ever feel that way about your former co-workers? In other words, was it depressing when you went to the CHEERS 30 years reunion and saw the cast and crew all fat and old?

No, I was more depressed by how many of them looked better than me after all these years. But seriously, no.

Most of us have all stayed in touch. We’ve all aged together. And it was lovely to reconnect with those I hadn’t seen in years.

But seeing “characters” that you’ve come to know a certain way suddenly be thirty years older is jarring. The relationships are also vastly different. Sam is not going to be a Lothario at 60. How sad would that be? How pathetic if Norm spent his entire adult life sitting on the same bar stool? And if everyone’s moved on, if they’ve all matured and changed, that’s fine, but it’s not CHEERS. Better that they stay frozen in time.

From Charles H. Bryan:

Hi, Ken. Friday Question: (although you may have answered this before) Can someone learn to be funny? I know there are aspects of craft -- how to structure a joke, etc., -- but is basic funny a "you got it/you ain't got it" quality?

I have answered this before it often comes up so it’s worth repeating. No. Unfortunately, you can’t teach someone to be funny. Your brain is either hotwired to see the absurdity in things or it isn’t. It’s a gift. If you have it you can be taught to be funnier. You can learn joke construction, dramatic structure, elements of timing. You can refine your craft. You can learn to access your gift more freely, but if you’re not funny to begin with then I’m afraid you’re out of luck.

But here’s the good news: There’s something worse than not being funny. It’s someone who’s not funny but thinks he IS funny.  That's torture.   

And finally, from Michael:

Besides Tony Gwynn, what other baseball players you covered were exceptional good guys?

Cal Ripken Jr., Kirby Puckett, Goose Gossage, Brad Ausmus, Will Ohlman, A.J. Ellis, Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter, Dwight Evans, Felix Hernandez, Mike Blowers, Trevor Hoffman, Don Mattingly, David Wells, Torii Hunter, Mike Fetters, Robin Yount, Chad Billingsley, Dennis Eckersly, Will Clark, Kevin Tapani, Clayton Kershaw, Ray Fosse, Larry Dierker, Omar Vizquel, Paul Molitor, Chris Bosio, Greg Maddox, Joe Torre, Bruce Bochy, Lou Pinella, Mike Krukow, Dave Valle, and I’m sure I’m leaving out fifty others. By and large, ballplayers are good guys, and I honored that I got to meet them.

What’s your Friday Question?

38 comments:

Graeme said...

Long time reader, first time caller... Robin Williams' death got me watching the first season of Mork and Mindy again which was funny, vibrant and radical and Robin Williams had free rein. And then the second season happened and it was bland and pre-packaged and Williams seemed to be reined in.

I guess my question is dumb but... why would a network with a hit show say "We have a hit on our hands, let's make it like everything else" a season in? And what is that like for a writing team to deal with marching orders like that?

Anonymous said...

Volunteers is on HBO Go right now, so if anyone is hankering to watch it and has HBO they have no excuse.

Julian Brown said...

i have some tivo related questions about bootlegging.

does dvr-ing or tivo-ing a show have a different effect than pirating it?

if the show is on a commercial network and yr tivo removes the commercials, isn't the effect ultimately the same as watching a pirated version?

does tivo [or whoever runs the service] provide the financiers of the shows with information regarding shows being recorded, watched or not watched, etc?

apologies if you've already discussed this issue, and thanks.

ally said...

You said that directing with Jamie Widdoes crew was like driving a Porsche. Why? Obviously technical skill is important for any crew member, but what are some of the intangibles that make a good crew? When you are the show runner, what do you look for when hiring your dream crew?

Garrett said...

Since the dawn of film and television, video and film stock has been stored away in salt mines to preserve it and make sure it's there for future generations. But in this new digital age where there is no hard copy of an episode, where are these being stored? On a hard drive on Chuck Lorre's desk? Does this concern you as a producer? It's 9 o'clock in the morning, do you know where Almost Perfect is? The original masters I mean.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Thanks, Ken! "There’s something worse than not being funny. It’s someone who’s not funny but thinks he IS funny. That's torture."

This explains my bookings at Gitmo. :(

sanford said...

Regarding funny. I just watched the paley center interview with Jerry Seinfeld. Letterman interviewed him. You can see it on You Tube. They were talking about funny. If I remember this correctly Seinfeld said that there were comedians that were funnier off the stage than they were on.

Regarding baseball nice guys. Puckett was not the greatest guy at least according to his wife

Kirk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirk said...

I want to second Julian Brown's question. How is downloading a show for your own personal consumption different from taping it? If I recall there was some controversy about VCRs when they first came out for the same reason. For that matter, tape recording songs from the radio also cam under attack once. Eventually, it was decided those weren't threats after all. So why is downloading worse?

8/15/2014 8:22 AM
Delete

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Regarding, "someone who’s not funny but thinks he IS funny."

Occasionally, I'll play golf at a course that pairs up singles looking for a game. One day, I got paired up with a guy who was on the road performing as a comedian...and it was awful. I walked off after nine holes and saved myself from a murder charge involving a 7-iron.

sanford said...

Kirs asked why taping something is worse than downloading. Taping something is basically for your own use. With vcrs you are not going to be sharing that with millions of other users. I suppose you have enough knowledge you could do that, but in the main you are not depriving any one of money. When you are downloading music or a movie for free you are depriving the artists and makers of the movies and songs money that they would have derived if you had bought those items

danrydell said...

Interesting because I'd often heard Will Clark was a pretty unpleasant guy.

sanford said...

I missed Will Clark on the list. You should ask Jeff Pearlman about Will Clark. After Pearlman wrote that article about Rocker, Clark got up in his face the next time he encountered him in the locker room. Perhaps other players felt the same way as Clark. They might have thought Rocker was a douche but as a member of the club he was their douche and thus you shouldn't be negative about him.

Tolouse said...

So this question may be slightly out of left field, but it's something I've wanted to know for a very long time now:

In the MASH episode The Light That Failed, they never agree on who the murderer from A Rooster Crowed at Midnight is. Do you know??

VincentS said...

Dealing with people who think they're funny but really aren't is why I'm no longer a salesman.

McAlvie said...

Just wanted to say, Ken, that I remember Almost Perfect very well, and I, too, am puzzled that the network won't release it. It was a great show.

Stephen Robinson said...

Taping shows was also a slippery slope. I recall recording the first five seasons of M*A*S*H in the late '80s -- yep, when it had only been off the air for a few years. Once I had those tapes for my own use, I watched them whenever I wanted but rarely tuned into the syndicated repeats (and the TV stations lost an eyeball on the commercials).

I used to skip over the commercials when recording and now find myself wishing I hadn't because some commercials trigger a great deal of nostalgia.

I watch YouTube uploads of the Batman TV show and Werewolf. When the former is released legally later this year, I'll be the first to buy it, same with Werewolf (though that day seems unlikely to come).

Netflix and Hulu should also make it possible for series that ended before hitting 65 to 100 episodes to live on.

Wayne said...

Also studios like the Warner Archive can release titles on demand.
They just burn one for you.

Kevin said...

Robin Williams' death got me watching the first season of Mork and Mindy again which was funny, vibrant and radical and Robin Williams had free rein. And then the second season happened and it was bland and pre-packaged and Williams seemed to be reined in.

I guess my question is dumb but... why would a network with a hit show say "We have a hit on our hands, let's make it like everything else" a season in?


According to Garry Marshall, the change in tone on MORK AND MINDY came from Robin Williams himself, who he said was unhappy with the simple slapstick the show had concentrated on in its first season and wanted to do stories that he felt were weightier and more meaningful. Marshall said he could have said no, but given that Williams was the star of a very successful show....

The Marshall sitcom factory never did "serious" very well. The results were almost invariably heavy-handed and unsubtle.

ABC wanted a younger supporting cast, so Mindy's father and grandmother got dumped in favor of new, less elderly, faces.

The show took a big fall, ratings-wise, in its second season, too, when ABC moved it to Sunday night, hoping to take out ARCHIE BUNKER'S PLACE on CBS. Archie, however, kicked Mork's ass, ratings-wise, and MORK AND MINDY was moved back to its original Thursday night time slot.

Breadbaker said...

I presume Edgar Martinez was an inadvertent omission (or that you just ran out of time and space). In 1995, a friend of mine was dating one of the younger Mariners and she said that in that clubhouse, Edgar was treated, particularly by the Latino players, as basically a god. He wasn't called "Papi" by accident; that's a sign of respect.

Kevin said...

Ken, I respect your work in comedy a lot.

While I agree with you that comedy can't be taught, don't you feel this is the case because it's so subjective? So much dependant on the audience?

What someone who was raised in Beverly Hills finds funny, might be different from what someone who was raised in Compton finds funny.

Cheers! Hoping you get another sitcom up and going soon and that I get staffed on my first show!

Kevin said...

Ken, I respect your work in comedy a lot.

While I agree with you that comedy can't be taught, don't you feel this is the case because it's so subjective? So much dependant on the audience?

What someone who was raised in Beverly Hills finds funny, might be different from what someone who was raised in Compton finds funny.

Cheers! Hoping you get another sitcom up and going soon and that I get staffed on my first show!

Marty Fufkin said...

I was coming here to ask a similar question as Julian Brown, but I'll still phrase it in my own words:

When it comes to illegal downloading, I wonder why it's legal to put up an antenna and watch (for instance) The Good Wife for free, and refuse to buy the products advertised, and illegal to download the same show being offered for free over the airwaves. I know the technical difference -- the FCC requires airwaves to be free and all that. But the end result is the same.

The other argument is that downloading movies robs the creators of income. But Hollywood is still spending billions of dollars on Transformers movies and the like. I don't see the dent. But if downloading forced Hollywood to scale back budgets and film dialogue-driven scripts with no stars, while big stars were forced to work for reasonable wages, wouldn't that be a good thing?

Shawn Brooks said...

You and David have certainly proven to be great comedy writers. I've even heard Steve Levitan refer to you two as legends. How does that praise feel coming from a guy who has co-created the current #2 sitcom on TV?

Liggie said...

Sportscasting FQ. How do baseball teams sell/assign commercials for extra-inning games, which you can't predict when will happen and can't know how long will last?

Snoskred said...

"When you are downloading music or a movie for free you are depriving the artists and makers of the movies and songs money that they would have derived if you had bought those items"

Sure, if those things have been released on CD or DVD. But when they have not been released on CD or DVD - then the people depriving the artists and makers are the people who REFUSE to release those things on CD or DVD.

For example, NYPD Blue. Where I live in Australia, I can (and have) legally purchase 4 seasons. I think the US is also limited to 4. Yet the UK can legally purchase all of them.

I do buy the shows I watch over and over on DVD. But guess what. I can't legally do that with NYPD Blue in my own country. I would, but I can't. Unless I choose to purchase it in the UK, import it into my own country and many UK suppliers will not ship here so I would have to know someone in the UK to be able to do this, then make sure my DVD player is region free or able to play that region.

Lucky me I was eventually able to do that, it cost me a pretty penny, but I love the show enough that I was happy to do that. Lucky a friend in the UK was ok with helping me.

In the meantime, I downloaded a version - it was from vhs tape, so someone who truly loved the show had taken the time to go through and make those episodes digitally available to other people who truly loved the show enough to want to download it.

At least in the US most things air - here in Australia it is a real nightmare.. I remember The West Wing was the show that made me give up on trying to watch things on commercial tv. It was supposed to be on X night at X time. Sometimes on that night it did not air until 3-4 hours after the time it was supposed to air. There was no human way you could know when it would appear.

When I eventually was able to buy the DVDs it was like manna from heaven. And yet our dvds are missing some of the extras people in the US got on their dvds. :(

One friend of mine was so frustrated at what the networks did to Star Trek - Enterprise - they really messed that show around, sometimes it would air on a different *day* to what the guide said.. he was so annoyed he bought 100 blank dvds - this was back in the day they were pretty expensive to buy - and burned 100 copies of as many episodes as he could fit on there, went into the city, stood on a corner, and handed them out to people who wanted them. He figured that was the only way most people would get to see the show.

And he was right, because not long afterwards it totally disappeared from our screens entirely. Yet it was still listed in the tv guide, it just was never shown.

Why we allow the people in charge to treat the shows we love like this, I still have no idea. :( But as long as they do, there will be pirates - and so there should be.

Kenneth said...

Talking about downloading....

A co-worker told me today that he watched the new James Brown movie last night. On his laptop. He downloaded it. Recorded off the screen in a movie theater. Hardly DVD quality, he said, but more than acceptable, and fine for him since all he cared about was just seeing the movie.

Albert Giesbrecht said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Albert Giesbrecht said...

I'm sorry for all those involved, but every time I read Almost Perfect, I get a mental image of Perfect Strangers, and I wonder who in their right mind, would want to go to the trouble to have that, preserved in salt mines?

Cyber Bob said...

I have to break out my violin every time I hear complaining about internet piracy, bc:

1) Hollywood is the movie capitol bc of piracy. Producers didn't want to pay the licensing fee to use cameras that Thomas Edison invented, so they moved out to LA bc it was beyond Edison's reach.

2) The residuals the crew gets screwed out of by the pirates is a drop in the bucket compared to the residuals they get screw out of by the producers. Ever notice how producers/studios always settle before the court orders them to open the books? Residuals are why. Do me a favor and google "George Lucas residuals Star Wars" (without quotations)

3) Cast/crew get paid no matter what. It's the investors who get left holding the bag if the movie flops.

4) 50% of the movie ticket goes to the theater, yet they have the gaul to push out union projectionists, hire hs kids at min. wage, overcharge for crappy food, and run those stupid commercials before the trailers.

5) I have yet to hear a director blame poor box office on piracy

TAKEN was heavily torrented for months before it came out and overperformed at the box office. There's something to be said for the rap world's model of "leaking" albums to boost sales.

Kate said...

If all you've got is intensely local humor, you don't have humor. I didn't grow up black in Philadelphia, but Bill Cosby can make me laugh about the way he grew up. Funny is universal.

Graeme said...

Kevin said According to Garry Marshall, the change in tone on MORK AND MINDY came from Robin Williams himself, who he said was unhappy with the simple slapstick the show had concentrated on in its first season and wanted to do stories that he felt were weightier and more meaningful. Marshall said he could have said no, but given that Williams was the star of a very successful show....

That's not what I'm referring to. The verbal gags were dumbed-down went as did Williams off-the-menu improv (or it decreased significantly). I'm sure the star wanting meatier dramatic stuff played a part but a lot of it smells like network notes to me.

Largo161 said...

@Cyber Bob
Music sales are at historic lows. Where is the evidence that leaking boosts purchases?

Today's Hollywoodreporter.com speculates that a "pristine" leaked copy of EXPENDABLES 3 contributed to its dismal box office take on Friday--and they say the same thing happened to a much younger franchise, X-MEN ORIGINS:WOLVERINE.

Matt said...

Kirby Pucket had several run ins with the law for being abusive to women. He was never convicted, but I don't think I would list him as a exceptionally good guy.

He was charming. That is about the best I can say about him.

Jeannie said...

Ken, I would love to hear your thoughts on this (as a Friday Question): I saw Bill Cosby perform in NH on 8/16. I grew up loving him, so it was great to see a comedy legend still performing live. In the middle of his act, a woman walked up to the stage, stood in front of him and tried to take a cell photo. He stopped his story and asked what she was doing. Then he got up, walked over to the stage and gently but firmly got in her face about how he was performing, she shouldn't be doing that, and she owed the audience an apology for interrupting the show. The woman was flustered and gave a half-hearted "Sorry guys!" to the audience as she tried to squirm away. But he made her turn and face the audience and give more than an "insincere" apology. It was cringe-worthy for the audience -- who likes an awkward scene? But the more I thought about it, the more I respected Cosby for calling out the woman's bad behavior. Not to go all Crankypants on you, but this woman represented so much of what I think is wrong nowadays: she had no manners around public behavior at a show because she wanted her pic whether it bothered Cosby or the audience. She disrespected him as a performer (not to mention a legend, who's earned his acclaim). She interrupted the show for 1,000 other people. Then, when he called her out on it, she tried to dash away without taking ownership of her rudeness with a sincere apology. I totally respected him for doing this. She said she was embarrassed. She should be. In my mind, Cosby taught her a valuable lesson. But what would YOU have done, and do you think he should have just ignored her?

Kevin said...

Kate said...
If all you've got is intensely local humor, you don't have humor. I didn't grow up black in Philadelphia, but Bill Cosby can make me laugh about the way he grew up. Funny is universal.

Response to Kate:
It's not about having a "local" humor, whatever that means. I'm sure you didn't grow up black in Philadelphia, but you probably related to Bill Cosby because he would talk about his two loving parents, his siblings and the like.

However, that was Cos' style and perspective. A guy like Chris Rock brings a different style and perspective that people find just as funny, but if you haven't been bullied as a kid or care about current events around the world, Chris is probably not for you.

Same goes for Jerry Seinfeld, Louie CK, and countless others.

That's why comedy is indeed subjective. I was just looking for Ken to weigh in on it, if he'd like to.

Mike Wikowski said...

Hey Ken,

What do you think of Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence's return to television in Partners on FX?

Just interested in your thoughts, having worked with one of them for years on Frasier.
Although, it might be a tad different as they're working off of the factory-like 10/90 model of TV production.

Thanks. I love your work.
Mike Wikowski

JR said...

A Friday question: a few weeks ago, you corrected someone who had referred to Phoef Sutton as "her" and noted that Mr. Sutton is a mister. My question: beyond basic facts about gender, what other tidbits can you offer about the people whose names we see go by in Cheers reruns but don't know that much about?