Friday, October 03, 2014

Friday Questions

Friday Questions coming at ya:

Mark has one about TV directors:

Certain highly visual gags need good direction. Does knowing that an (Andy) Ackerman or a (James) Burrows is directing affect the way you write? Does not knowing who will be directing make you less likely to include a gag that requires just the right staging?

To a degree, yes. If we know there’s a complicated show – if someone is driving a car through a set, or there’s a big wedding scene with lots of extras – we will often wait until the weeks Jimmy or Andy is available.

At CHEERS, where Burrows directed the lion’s share of episodes, we would be in the writers room, someone would pitch an elaborate physical gag, someone else would say “how would we shoot that” and everyone else in the room would chime in, “That’s Jimmy magic.”

“Jimmy magic” became the catchword when we were just too lazy to really work things out ourselves.  By the way, he always made them work.  "Jimmy magic" indeed.

But the one factor that makes Jimmy, Andy, and few other directors really tops in their field is not their ability to stage complicated stunts or shoot from amazing angles. It’s the performances they get out of the actors. That’s a true gift.

Jim S. has a question about actors’ ability to match behavior for continuity. Old time actors really learned that and also mastered a variety of skills like horseback riding or fencing.

Do today's actors, who didn't go through the old Hollywood Machine, lack some of the basic skills. In the old days, when westerns were popular, actors were expected to know how to ride. They might take tap dancing because, hey musicals. Has that basic nuts and bolts technique stuff been lost?

Not at all. Today’s television and film actors are amazingly adept at matching behavior, hitting marks, cheating their angles occasionally for the camera, etc. They're very precise but make it look it easy. 

And if you read any actor’s resume, nine times out of ten you’ll see he or she has skills that include tap dancing, fencing, various accents, juggling, you name it. I always read their resumes when casting. A few are usually classics. Special skills: Can burp on cue. Can pack a suitcase. Has excellent handwriting.

Tomorrow I have a guest blogger talk about mastering a special skill.

From Nevin ":-)" Liber:

In season 7 of M*A*S*H BJ Hunnicutt grew a mustache. Was that something requested by the production team or by Mike Farrell? If the former, was it for looks, better humor/stories, etc.? If the latter, who has the final say-so: the actor or the production team?

I’ll be perfectly honest. Before the season we were looking for something to help differentiate B.J. from Hawkeye. Alan said, “I’ve got it. Let’s give B.J. a mustache!” We thought he was kidding. He wasn’t.

Mike could have nixed it, but instead went along like a good sport – although he never really knew why he was growing it. We just sort of accepted it and ignored it. What stories can you get from B.J. now has a mustache?

Good character development comes from within. Their attitude, their personality, their worldview, their wants and needs. Not something you can just paste on.

And finally, from John:

Hi Ken, just wondering how you feel about the 10/90 deals that are being made for shows? I noticed Kelsey was doing it with Partners and it seems to be working for Anger Management.

Do you think it's good for showrunners to know that their show will run for a set amount of episodes, or is it just a comedy sweatshop?

Yes, it’s good for showrunners and writers in general to know they've got an order of a hundred shows. Especially in a landscape where network shows are getting picked up for only six or eight. Certainly a lot more job security on ANGER MANAGEMENT than SELIFE.

The trouble is, as you say, they have to really crank out these episodes like Lucy & Ethel in the chocolate factory.  The quality understandably suffers. These shows seem to be more for people who just like the rhythm of multi-camera shows. But I don’t know how you could turn out real quality episodes if you have to make a hundred in a relatively short period of time. Likewise, for performances – when you’re doing two shows a week, how do you have time to really find the moments? It becomes a conveyer belt. But writers and crew people and actors are working so I say “yay!”

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks.


peabody nobis said...

After listening to the Warren Littlefield audiobook and reading your blog, it has become clear to me that Jim Burrows is nothing short of a sitcom directing God! I have never heard anyone have anything bad to say about the man, which must be some kind of Hollywood record!

Tyler said...

Do the actors who aren't part of the regular cast but play recurring characters (such as Gil Chesterton or Kenny Daly on Frasier) know at the beginning of a season how often and when they will be appearing? Or do they basically have to keep their schedules open from week to week?

Bryan near Seattle said...

You've probably answered this dozens of times (so please just post a link to your prior answer), but: how did two guys from LA come up with Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, Washington? Was the part written with John Candy in mind? How often do you think of specific actors when writing scripts?

Johnny Walker said...

It was a damn good 'tache, though. Got to be second only to Tom Seleck's in Magnum.

Birdie said...

I know you're not a big fan of Will & Grace but I think a major factor why it worked so well for me was the fact that Jimmy Burrows was at the helm for the entire run. When it came to both the brilliant physical comedy and the performances. Directors tend to get underrated in TV.

Potential Friday question: what do you think makes certain TV shows (among hit TV shows, that is) have staying power over decades of reruns versus others?. I mean, I have always loved The Golden Girls, but I never would have anticipated how strong it would be going thirty years later - and that it gets better ratings then some first run shows! Plus, there are a ton of contemporary jokes on that show, which you're not supposed to do if you want a show to age well, but there you go.

And then you have a ton of other hit shows that never really make it past the first round of re-runs. Do you have any insight into this, or any patterns you have noticed when it comes to which long running shows have rerun (and I guess now DVD sales) power and which don't? The Mary Tyler Moore show, I know, had trouble with their TV sales. I think I remember reading somewhere that the best selling DVD of the older sitcoms were I Love Lucy, The Golden Girls, and Three's Company. Thoughts?

Birdie said...

Oh, and thanks for making the verification so much easier!

Stormy said...

Not a question, but a link to a friend's baseball card collection.156 As he captions it: The Springfield Nuclear Power Plant Softball Team (and Orel). Your 1992 City Champs!