Got a bunch of Neil Simon movies to host tonight on TCM starting at 8 in the East and 5 in the West… including one of my favorites, BILOXI BLUES. So join me on the TV. Turning to the print mediim, here are this week’s Friday Questions.
I was watching a Cheers rerun and noticed it was directed by John Ratzenberger. I recall seeing an episode of Frasier directed by Kelsey Grammer. One episode of Seinfeld was directed by Jason Alexander.
What's involved in an actor directing an episode of his own show? Is it a professional courtesy, or something more? Do some actors request a chance to direct, and get turned down?
It all depends on the actor. Some, like Alan Alda and Kelsey Grammer really take it seriously. Same with Adam Arkin, who has become quite a sensational director. Jason Alexander directs a lot of theater.
On the other hand, yes, there are times when actors are directing but are essentially carried by the crew. For the most part they are good with directing actors but inexperienced with the technical aspect of the job. And especially in multi-cam where you have four cameras moving simultaneously, there is a steep learning curve. But a good camera coordinator can generally just do the camera blocking for the actor-director.
Sometimes actors are allowed to direct as a courtesy; other times actors get it in their contract. Harry Morgan had it in is deal at MASH to direct one episode a year. He did one of ours. The problem was we made Harry light in the show so he had less acting to concentrate on, but we missed his presence in front of the camera.
I’m sure there are cases of actors asking to direct episodes of their series and being turned down, but those are usually private conversations.
George Wendt directed an episode of CHEERS that David Isaacs and I wrote and did a great job.
Brian Phillips is next.
You've recounted the "Hot Rod Lincoln" story as an example of campaigning for a joke that you thought was funny and fell flat.
Do you recall some instances where you fought especially hard, whether it was with David Isaacs, an actor or executive and it paid off?
Yes. Once when I was directing BECKER. In the episode, Becker (Ted Danson) goes on a cruise but doesn’t realize it’s a gay cruise. He’s now back in the diner regaling everybody with what it was like. It was a hysterical scene. If I remember correctly, it was written by Michael Markowitz (who always writes hysterical scenes).
One of the actors didn’t like the scene. Thought it wasn't at all funny. What he really didn’t like was that Ted had pretty much all the lines and all everybody else did was laugh at the crazy stories Ted's character shared.
The actor kept putting a bug in Ted’s ear that the scene didn’t work. Eventually he got Ted to question it himself.
I had to take Ted aside and tell him that he had to trust me. I was adamant that the scene would work. To his credit, Ted did the scene as written and it got screams from the studio audience. It’s still one of my favorite scenes ever on BECKER.
Did the other actor ever acknowledge that he was wrong? What do you think?
What I've never been able to understand -- and this may be a Friday question in disguise -- is why sitcoms cannot cope with couples once they are married and have children. Writers are great at the stop-and-start, will-they-or-won't-they romances -- but once they do, sitcom writers are lost. Why? Most of us get married, have kids, and have family lives with tons of funny stories attached. Why do writers lose the funny when couples finally couple?
It’s easier and sexier to explore romantic relationships. This is not just true in sitcoms. There are not a lot of romance novels set in the world of a married couples coping with teething babies.
That said, there are some terrific sitcoms that do deal with married life. For my money, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND is the gold standard. That show is funnier and more authentic than just about any romantic comedy sitcom out there.
And currently, I’m a big fan of INSTANT MOM on Nick @ Nite. Yes, I know I’m somewhat biased, but aside from my daughter writing on it, it really is a well-mounted funny family show. Check it out yourself. I bet you'll agree.
When writing something, do you ever deliberately write two separate, distinct, independent versions of the same thing for any reason (such as to explore how different story arcs could play out)? Is there utility to a writer in consciously creating two different versions of the exact same thing?
That’s my play, A OR B? I take the same two people and create two different scenarios. In one they’re co-workers and the other they’re lovers. I then do parallel scenes and show the differences and similarities in their relationships based on the circumstances.
And finally, from Ted O'Hara:
Have you ever found that you've boxed yourself in on future stories due to some plot detail in a past show that seem innocuous at the time? And if so, how did you get out of it?
Long running series will often have continuity problems. The name of Potter’s wife changes, Hawkeye has a sister in one episode; a brother in another. You just try to skip over that stuff real fast. But it was way easier in the days before streaming and the internet.
What’s your Friday Question?