Getting you ready for the six-day Labor Day weekend, here are some Friday Questions:
Longtime reader and Sitcom Room vet Wendy M. Grossman leads off:
Amazon is moving into commissioning its own streamed series, and has posted the pilots for public voting. What do you make of that as a way to eliminate some of the expense of failures?
I like the idea but only as one indicator, not the sole determining factor. Only a small very vocal portion of the audience will respond. They don’t necessarily reflect the general populace.
But at least your pilot gets a shot. Now that networks no longer air failed pilots, you can work for a year on a project, it gets screened by ten executives and then thrown into a drawer never to be heard from again. It’s nice to know going in that actual people will get the chance to see your hard work.
The pilot turns out to be a total piece of shit. In that case, the last thing you want is to have it unleashed to the unsuspecting public. But hopefully that won’t be the case… too often.
Ken, you often speak of single camera and multi camera sitcom shoots.
Beyond the (fairly) obvious technical differences, how is the approach to writing different?
In single-camera shows, the showrunner has to only please himself. It’s easy to settle because nothing is ever put to a test. And since writing something really funny is hard it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking that quirky behavior, catch phrases, and quick cutting is good enough.
Please note that I’m not saying single-camera shows can’t be genuinely funny. They can. But unfortunately, they rarely are.
And multi-camera shows are not bulletproof. Just because you have to make a studio audience laugh doesn’t mean you have the chops to pull it off. It’s easy to resort to cheap sex jokes and stale rhythms. Cue the laugh machine.
Bottom line: get the best writers. Shows should be single or multi depending on their premise. But success will have more to do with “who” rather than “what.”
How do you feel about cable channels that squeeze or speed up final credits so much they're not readable? Since your name is in there occasionally it has to sting a little, right?
I find it deplorable. I wish the unions had more clout and could halt this thoroughly insulting practice.
Think of all these network executives in their large offices. What if the parent company said “Here’s your value to us – effectively immediately all of you will work out of one stall in a public restroom.” To me, it’s the same thing.
Jim S wonders:
How do you deal with disagreement? In the past, you've written that if you and your partner disagreed about a joke, the joke was gone. No argument. First, let me say that's really grown up.
But what about a casting director who honestly believes that actor x is right for a part? What about a director who has a vision for how a scene has to be staged? A suit who not only fancies herself creative, but in the past has shown judgment that you respect?
Here’s the reality: the person with the most power wins. Directors are kings on a movie set, but they are hired hands in television where showrunners rules the roost. Writers are usually subservient to everyone. (That’s why they become showrunners or film directors.)
Dealing with suits can be extremely frustrating because now they have more power. I would just say you have to pick your battles. And it seems to me at the end of the day you have three options. You can somehow bring yourself to tolerate the interference, you can reach a level of success where you’re allowed to ignore the notes (you have the most power), or you can leave because the system is not going to change.
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??
What’s your Friday Question? And drive carefully.