With your questions continuing to pile up, I thought I’d sneak in another extra day.
John is first up:
We are starting to see the networks ordering pilots. It's always surprising to see them continuing to go to the same writer-producers who created this and last seasons' flops.
What does that signify? An unwillingness to take a chance on new voices? Or is it a recognition that some of those shows failed because of the process they undergo, with the networks tinkering and tinkering some more?
It just seems odd that they expect some of these people to suddenly lay golden eggs after so many fails (and especially when some of the pilot concept see so stale and lame).
Pilots are expensive. Networks generally feel more secure with writers they know and can trust. Also, networks have their favorite writers. Those are generally writers who don’t give them much push-back when they insert themselves heavily into the process.
And so many things have to line up for a show to be a hit. Most successful writer/creators have pilots that failed and series that flopped. Kaufman & Crane had several misfires before (and after) FRIENDS. Same with Chuck Lorre, Diane English, Aaron Sorkin, Larry Gelbart, Phil Rosenthal, Norman Lear, and just about anyone else you care to name.
Pilot writing is an art. Not only must you be able to craft a script that accomplishes a lot of things, you also need the skill to identify problems and fix them during production. This takes experience.
But make no mistake, networks will never take the blame for a failed pilot -- despite their meddling, despite their insisting on the wrong actors.
Networks do take some chances with newer writers, but usually there’s a non-writing producer also attached who surrounds them with more experienced scribes.
What surprises me however, is that there are some veteran writers who frankly are just not very good. Why the networks continue to give them pilots is beyond me. I generally get copies of the pilots that get greenlit and there are certain writers who are just mediocre and yet there they are again. I read their pilot and yep, just as bad as last year’s pilot. But then again, when has anyone been able to explain decisions in Hollywood?
Along similar lines, Bill Jones queries:
In your opinion, did FRIENDS mark a turning point in terms of network interference with sitcoms? I have read in several sources that this was the quintessential "network" show, in that--despite the talents of its creators--NBC played a big role in choosing, casting, and cultivating it. And, obviously, it turned out to be huge. Was that the point at which networks said, "We can do this," and really started to call the shots vs. creators/producers/writers? Obviously there has always been network "input" since the early days, but was FRIENDS a watershed in that respect?
No. The big sea change was when networks were allowed to own their own shows and studios. They then became the 800 pound gorilla. Before that they had to deal with independent studios. And for example, NBC might have had a show done by Warner Brothers. They had notes, but Warner Brothers stood their ground. If NBC strong-armed Warner Brothers into making the changes, Warner Brothers might be really pissed. And next development season when they were going out with a show called FRIENDS they might say, “Let’s take it anywhere but NBC.”
But now networks have full control over everything.
As for casting, networks have insisted on approving the actors for close to forty years now. The first pilot David Isaacs and I did was for NBC in 1979 and they wouldn’t approve Andrea Martin. She didn’t have the right, uh… “look.”
As far as NBC's brilliant development suggestions for FRIENDS -- after the first runthrough they said, "Make one of them the star. Pick whichever you want, but one has to be the star." To his credit, director James Burrows said, no, that's not what he signed on for. The key to the show was that it was an ensemble. NBC fortunately backed down. Today there would be no discussion. Either one becomes the star or the network pulls the plug. Period. But if they had their way, they may well have screwed up FRIENDS. So I always laugh when I see the NBC executives at the time take "credit" for developing FRIENDS.
Hey Ken. Sorry if you've already answered this one but can you please tell us anything about the proposed CHEERS spin-off about Coach's early days?
There was never a spin-off discussed for the Coach. Nicky developed health problems in season one. He passed away towards the end of season three.
To my knowledge there was no talk of spin-offs until much later in the series’ run. And the only one that ultimately came to fruition while CHEERS was still on the air was THE TORTELLIS, which was short-lived.
And finally, from Chris:
I've read numerous stories about writers who left a series for another one or to create their own. When that doesn't work, returning to the show they left in the first place seems tabu. Is there resentment when someone lets the showrunner know they're leaving? Why is returning almost never a possibility?
It all depends on the circumstances by which the writer leaves. Sometimes the showrunner feels betrayed.
Showrunners groom young writers. They may feel they’ve invested several years in developing a writer only to have him bolt for a better deal. I could see where there might be hard feelings.
But often the showrunner will recognize this is a great opportunity for the writer and wish him the best.
There are numerous examples of writers returning to shows if their pilots don’t work out. David and I left CHEERS to do a couple of pilots and were always welcomed back. Same with FRASIER and WINGS. Of course, in our case, we were just so delightful. Who wouldn’t want us?
What’s your Friday Question?