How can you enjoy a weekend without Friday Questions? You can't. So here they are:
MDHaines is up first.
Does bias have to be a bad thing in Hollywood? If a liberal slant attracts a large liberal audience, or vice-versa, isn't the bottom line still whether not money is being made? Are actors really black listed because of politics?
Depends on whether networks believe politics are in vogue. A left wing slant didn’t hurt ALL IN THE FAMILY, MASH, MAUDE, and WEST WING.
But for a long time networks avoided political-themed shows at all costs. I told this story before (I’ve been doing this blog long enough now that I’ve probably told everything before), but in 1980 my partner, David, and I had a pilot at ABC about the White House Press Corps. We were not allowed to divulge the president’s party affiliation or even allowed to give the president a fictitious name. Can you believe how absurd that is? Now that same network has a big hit with SCANDAL where a U.S. president (who is named) is committing adultery. (But it’s with Kerry Washington, so America says thumbs up.)
The bottom line is that if political shows get ratings there will be more of them. No matter how they lean.
Back in the '50s actors were blacklisted all the time. Today, it's a matter of whether the public likes the actor despite his or her beliefs. Patricia Heaton has very polarizing political views but that hasn't stopped her from starring in several successful series. The general belief is that Hollywood is very left wing. And yet Kelsey Grammer gets one gig after another.
Some repetitions of ideas over the life of a series, surely, represent not a lack of originality, but the deliberate exploration of a theme. I'm thinking of the many episodes of "Frasier" that take place in hotel rooms, where the characters involved experience a psychological breakthrough (or breakdown)—Frasier and Lilith, Frasier and Niles, and in one particularly brilliant episode all three. Many of these episodes were Levine/Isaacs creations. I'm curious to know how this idea developed.
David Isaacs and I drew a lot of episodes involving the return of CHEERS characters. Four with Lilith, one with Sam, and one cameo by Diane.
Maybe I should put all of our hotel room scenes together. It’s the closest David and I will ever come to writing PLAZA SUITE.
Is there a particular script from one of your shows that you knew going in was not up to par, but had to move into production anyway? I'm thinking a situation like this is more likely toward the end of a season, when time is running short and you have to deliver an episode even if the script is not the best.
On multi-camera shows you know you have the week of production to rewrite the script. And honestly, there are episodes that you know going in still needs work. The story still doesn’t feel right. For political reasons you haven’t rewritten the original writer’s draft enough and it needs more rewriting. And like you said, it’s the end of the year. You’re tired and say “we'll fix it when its on its feet.”
But you always pay for that. Long rewrites nights just when you need them the least. It’s like when you have a depleted bullpen and your team is now playing an extra inning game and you’ve just entered the 15th inning.
That said, once we tackle a troubled script we do our very best to fix it and turn it into a good show. And most times we're successful. It's just that we're a wreck.
At the beginning of a full-season of 22 episodes I just assume there will be one or two scripts that are just snake bitten. You don’t know which ones. And those are the episodes you have faith in going to the stage. And then to add two or three that you know are still undercooked, you’re just digging yourself into a deeper hole. But we all do it.
For single-camera shows (like MASH), we spent way more time in pre-production because we knew we had little change to revise once they started filming. And still a few episodes will be disappointing. Sometimes it’s the script, the story, the director, acting, rushed production schedule, misinterpretation, budget shortcuts – you name it.
Every series turns out bad shows occasionally. The trick is to keep them to an absolute minimum. But not every episode will be a gem.
Did Alan Alda's influence on the show gradually steer it away from the edgy,lots-of-drinking, womanizing Movie version to a more PC, feminist no-so-much drinking version?
Yes. But I will say this -- he was totally gracious and respectful of the writers. He was never the 800-pound gorilla. Everything he pitched was in a positive manner and his convictions were sincere. I never felt he had an “agenda” and was trying to commandeer the creative direction of the show. He was very collaborative.
There were times when I disagreed with him, but I would work with Alan Alda again in a second.
What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks much.