Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Questions

Friday Questions wait for no man.

Michael leads off:

In articles about the new CBS streaming service, it is mentioned that CHEERS is included because it was a CBS show. Do you know if it was sold to NBC only after CBS decided not to air it on their own network?

No. CHEERS was originally produced by Paramount for NBC. Then Viacom bought Paramount. Then Viacom bought CBS. So essentially CBS now owns CHEERS. One day we’ll all be living in the United States of Google.

A.B. has a question about “A or B?”

I'm assuming you came up with the title for "A or B?" prior to "A to Z" getting picked up to series, right? Did you then ever consider changing the title of your play?

I came up with the title last December and had no knowledge of the show. I should see if Ben Queen wants to change the name of his sitcom. It might cause confusion in Toluca Lake.

But no, I never considered changing my title. 

Seriously, I chose it because it fits the play's theme and honestly, I wanted a title that starts with “A” so when it appears in the theater listings it’ll be one of the first ones people see.

And while we’re on the subject of A to Z, KevinM wonders:

In A to Z, they are titling each episode alphabetically: A is for Acquaintances, B is for B... etc. Which means each episode is kind of locked into place. You can't take 'M is for M...,' for example and broadcast it as the 8th episode. Have shows you've worked on had to switch episode order, and how did the writing rooms change the episodes to deal with the continuity problems?

There’s not much you can do once the shows are filmed and completed. It’s infuriating but networks will juggle around the air-dates with utter disregard to continuity. If they think a show is funnier or showcases a character they feel should get center stage that week they will adjust the show order to accommodate that. And if that means a character enters college this week and applies for college next week, they usually don’t care. So if NBC wants to air H before G they will.  And I'm sure their rationale is that NBC audiences can't alphabetize. 

From Barry Traylor

How can more than one new tv show every year be THE NUMBER ONE NEW SHOW OF THE FALL? I used caps as that always seems the way it sounds during a promotion.

The answer is that all that hype is bullshit. How many of these NUMBER ONE NEW SHOWS get cancelled two months later? And they never tell you in what category are they number one? If the category is number of terrible reviews then SELFIE might be the NUMBER ONE NEW SHOW.

Just once wouldn’t you love to hear a network herald a pilot as THE NUMBER THREE NEW SHOW?

Dusty queries:

I've heard that part of Dancin' Homer came Wild Bill and the Roar from 34 at Orioles games. Any truth to this?

None at all. I was not even aware of Wild Bill until after THE SIMPSONS episode aired. The inspiration for Dancin' Homer came from three years of announcing minor league baseball and watching idiots dance on dugout roofs.

What’s your FQ?


MikeK.Pa. said...

What I've seen are network promos that are very specific such as "The top new comedy on Tuesdays." Since there are only two new comedies on Tuesday, it's a coin flip as to who gets to brag.

Not too different from movie promos that have screen-sized lettering regaling the greatness of the movie and in microscopic type the name of the small-market TV station or publication making the pronouncement.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I assume SELFIE was hyped as the #1 show on Wednesdays between 9-9:30 that contained the word, "selfie" in its title.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Friday Question: I think writing titles are tough. Whether its a play, speech, movie, TVshow/episode or even song title (George Harrison and John Lennon were two that had a hard time with coming up with titles).

Sometimes you want to make it catchy, or clever. Sometimes I've seen people start with the title in mind.

Any advice or thoughts?

Scooter Schechtman said...

Mamet thought he had a clever catchy title with "Sexual Perversity In Chicago" and look what Hollywood did to it. That's right, 80s yuppies and Jim Belushi.

BLAddison said...

Friday Question:
What are your five favorite sitcoms of all time and five favorite dramas?

Pete said...

Does "FQ" stand for "Fuckin' Questions?"

John said...

Friday question, based on Thursday's post about plot holes in films and TV shows -- Since you and (especially) David find plot holes annoying, did you have much input into the Season 6 MASH episode, "The Light that Failed"? The story thread there was the continuous plot holes found in the mystery novel, and we end up as with "The Maltese Falcon" never having fixed all the holes (Larry Gelbart gets co-story credit here, so I would guess he brought the bulk of the story in himself, but I was wondering if the story editors had any added contributions here).

YEKIMI said...

Never watched it but I assume that when A to Z hit the third episode is was titled "C is for Cancelled"

dgwphotography said...

Friday Question: I just finished watching the episode where the cab driver of the cab that Frasier, Niles and Martin were sharing goes into labor. Martin radios in and identifies the cab as number 804. Was that a direct nod to Taxi?

BigTed said...

Question for Ken: I've noticed that some recent TV series that only lasted one season -- or less -- are appearing on Netflix. Does that mean the old goal of making it to 100 episodes so you can resell them into syndication isn't so important anymore? Or are the revenues garnered from Internet streaming deals so much lower than TV syndication deals that it doesn't make a dent in the bottom line?

Ralph C. said...

If "A To Z" does get to broadcast H before G, I hope it goes well.

Guy Who Worked on Selfie said...

yeah, all those "terrible" selfie reviews:

i can link to more if needed...

ken, as a veteran and accomplished tv writer/showrunner/director, who i respect and am a fan of, i would think that you of all people would understand how hard it is to get a pilot through the network tv gauntlet. and after notes upon notes upon notes, and demand for voice over to explain every little thing, the pilot isn't going to be the best representative of what a show will become. and yet here you are continuing to slam it. universally, critics who were critical of the selfie pilot, now love (er, loved) the show. rip. the episodes after the pilot have received universal acclaim.

anyway, the only reason i'm writing this is because i've heard you lament this pilot thing before, but you still did this, and keep doing it! so it's weird. i mean, not everything can be as hilarious as big wave dave's, but come on, brother! if you took the time to actually watch the show, you might like it. and it has jokes! real, hard jokes. which i know you are a fan of. i've worked on a lot of shows, some of which were awful, and i always knew when they were. but this, this was a really good one.

and please don't tell me about the ratings, cause if cheers was put on today it would be canceled after the 4th episode. same goes for seinfeld and a million other sitcoms. comedies need time to find an audience, time that usually isn't given.


Alan C said...

I love it when network promos describe a show as "the new hit show" when it hasn't even aired yet.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Getting back to Sam Denoff Emmy Archive interview, he said back when he was doing The Dick Van Dyke Show, the pickups were made in March, so that writers had time to pull together a dozen or so scripts before they even started shooting. He said they were able to work/punch up on the next week's script while filming the current week's show. He said today (this was in 1999 or 2000), there wasn't enough time after pickup in late May to get far enough ahead to deliver quality scripts week after week. There were no 2 a.m. sessions back then because they were able to churn out the scripts far enough in advance. Would never happen today with May sweeps determining ad rates for the following season.

404 said...

I have to agree with Guy Who Worked on Selfie. The pilot was not so good. But every episode after had me consistently laughing out loud, throughout a good bit of the episode. It was funny, it could be clever, and it did a very good job--very quickly, I might add--of adding depth and heart to many of its quirky characters. I will miss it.

Jeff :) said...

I have a lengthy, perhaps somewhat taboo question. Is it better to stick with "safe" storylines when writing comedy?

I recently read an interview with Community star Joel McHale, in which he spoke of Dan Harmon. He was quoted as saying,

"In Season 2, it was Britta and Jeff – will they or won’t they? When Dan hears shit like that, he goes, “Oh, they will. And they’ve been fucking on the desk for a year.” That’s why Dan is one of the best writers around."

The claim here is that Dan Harmon is a genius comedy writer, yet Community was always near cancellation in terms of ratings. Meanwhile a show like the Big Bang Theory absolutely has used the "will they or won't they" story convention with Penny and Leonard.

What's your takeaway from this?

By Ken Levine said...

Guy Who Worked on Selfie,

Thanks for your note. I will happily sample another episode. Which is the best one? And will happily eat crow if it's better than the pilot.

As for the pilot, in my review I stated all of your points, that it felt like the network was manipulating it to within an inch of its life. So I don't disagree with you there. I'm a fan of Emily's and sensed she was just following orders. Many many orders.

But here's the lesson, and we learned it the hard way several time -- you might as well do the show YOU want to do because if you accommodate everybody and it doesn't work, you still get blamed for it. Even though the network dictated the direction, had final say over casting and director and writing staff and approval over all stories, outlines, and scripts -- it's still your fault.

I don't see any articles from ABC apologizing for leading you guys astray. Nor will we ever.

Lee said...

Has SELFIE been cancelled?

Phantom Dreamer said...


VB1138 said...

One word to sum up networks being moronic idiots for shuffling episode orders: Firefly.

Guy Who Worked on Selfie said...

thanks, ken. i hear what you're saying, but i guess there's the other strategy of biting the bullet, getting something on air, and then improving it with less and less interference. i honestly don't know which way is better. because nowadays i keep hearing stories of people ignoring notes and getting fired for it/the show never seeing the light of day (see: "next caller please", "us & them", or don't, cause they never aired!). but it saddens me that everything is judged on that one, overly tinkered with pilot, it gets ripped by critics for months, finally airs to crickets, and then it's an uphill battle after that.

everyone seems to love "nugget of wisdom":,p0,d0

i think they were getting better each episode as we figured it out, but that's the way it goes! as hyman roth once said, "this is the business we've chosen".

thanks again

Charles Emerson Losechester said...

"Never watched it but I assume that when A to Z hit the third episode is was titled "C is for Cancelled"

...and then 'D' is for Dumped, 'E' is for Excluded, 'F' is for Finished, 'G' is for Get The Fuck Out Of Here...

What a life a sitcom these days has to live.

Tom-in-Vegas said...

What are your thoughts on this:

Powerhouse Salter said...

Question about sitcom camera angles: What purpose is supposed to be served in a two-person dialogue scene when the camera is set up behind one of the actors and all we can see is the static back of his or her head? I mean, what's the point of no head movement whatsoever and not even a hint of profile to suggest that we're looking at the actual actor (or the actor's stand-in) and not at what might as well be a floor mop with a wig on it?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I also wasn't entranced by the SELFIE pilot but I thought it was interesting enough to stick with the show, and I thought it was just finding its feet. Cho and Gillam had good chemistry, and I really liked their performances.

Ken, I think I'd pick episode 5.


Stephen Robinson said...

I can't think of a successful TV series that didn't have a great pilot. I am interested in contrary examples, but I'd argue that if your pilot isn't among your top episodes of your initial order, you're in trouble.

SELFIE also has the same problem of a lot of sitcoms recently: The characters are awful. And if your audience doesn't care or like your characters, they aren't coming back. Yes, there are exceptions (SEINFELD), but more often you wind up with BAD JUDGE.

I recall watching the extended trailer for SELFIE. The first half featured a horrible woman and a smug guy who was exploiting her. It was people being mean to each other. The second half was supposedly about redemption but I didn't care. The series seemed to have no idea what PYGMALION was about: Eliza was a kind-hearted woman and Henry helped "repackage" her in a class-conscious society. But she was always a "lady." Eliza in SELFIE is at best what EW calls a "loveable narcissist" -- although there's no such thing unless you're referring to an adolescent.

Mike said...

No cheating, which characters appeared in the most episodes of Cheers, with 271?

Gavin said...

Hey Ken,

CBS has Big Bang, ABC has Modern Family, FOX has Brooklyn Nine-Nine... NBC execs have Parks and Rec in its last season with no reliable sitcom in sight.

Do you think now is a good time more than ever for young writers to get into NBC Writing Programs to pitch them the desperate hit they're looking for?

You've gotta admit they're desperate because they're trying to trail back to their former stars looking for hits from Tina Fey with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and even as far back to Bill Cosby with Untitled Bill Cosby Sitcom.

Allan V said...

I absolutely adored M*A*S*H, but what did you think about it running for 11 seasons? Was that about right, or should it have stopped sooner?

AJ Thomas said...

Friday Question (which you have probably talked on before):

AfterMASH is widely regarded as one of the biggest mistakes in TV history and W*A*L*T*E*R wasn't picked up, but only showed once as a CBS Special. Since M*A*S*H was such a great show why do you think these spinoffs failed? In general (or specific to M*A*S*H) what do you believe to be the proper formula for a good spinoff?

AJ Thomas said...

And after further research I didn't know you had worked on AfterMASH (I'm only 20, so I'm pulling the young excuse), so do you have any insider thoughts? (see above)

MikeN said...

I don't think Cheers had a good pilot. There are a number of series that took awhile to find their groove. The Simpsons pilot is vastly different than the current series. In The Practice, Eugene is a comic character but later is the serious voice of ethics.

Jerry Smith said...

Here's my question, pardon me if someone has asked before. Why are networks incapable of producing a Walking Dead, Game of Thrones or True Detective? Or something truly good on a regular basis? I know the general reasons. But some of the same writers/producers work on network and say, HBO or FX shows. Their FX work is stellar, but their network writing is bland or awful. State of Affairs is reviewed like warmed over vomit, but Homeland is working on it's fourth season (same subject matter). Does it just boil down to network executive interference?