Hello from the Pala Resort, somewhere in the middle of nowhere – site of tonight’s big B100 radio reunion. If you think high school reunions are scary, imagine former disc jockeys from the drug and alcohol era. I'll be on the radio today from 5-6 PDT. "Beaver Cleaver" returns. Anyhoo, here are some Friday Questions:
Bradley is first:
Do you think sitcoms benefit more from the consistency of having a single director or the variety of using multiple directors? When I watch many episodes of, say, Will & Grace or The Big Bang Theory back to back, I start to see very predictable patterns in shot selection and staging. I imagine this is easier (and more efficient) for the actors and gives the audience exactly what they’ve come to expect. Yet when I watch a show that uses many directors, I see episodes from time to time that are shot quite differently from the others. Frasier is a good example of this. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this.
Well, first of all, it depends on the director. If you can get James Burrows or Andy Ackerman or Pam Fryman to direct every episode of your series DO IT. I’m assuming your question relates to sitcoms, and multi-camera in particular. (For single-camera shows directors need a few days of prep time so one director can’t do an entire season.) But for sitcoms…
Showrunners generally prefer to have one director they can rely on. And the cast prefers the consistency.
New directors always require a period of adjustment. It’s like a parade of substitute teachers.
On my first day of one show one of the stars took me aside and said, "So who the fuck are you?"
Most important for a cast is to trust their director and that can take time.
So unless you have one of the A-Listers like Burrows you need to see which director clicks with the cast and showrunner and that may take four or five candidates to determine. And even once you've found that person, sometimes casts will fall out of love with certain directors. Time to round up the usual suspects.
Back in the halcyon days when there was a glut of sitcoms, many directors preferred not being chained to one series. They enjoyed the variety of bouncing from show to show. But once the landscape shrunk they grabbed the opportunity to stay with one show. Musical Director Chairs. So you see more consistency these days.
And yes, at times directors can get complacent and lazy. But so can the actors. It's one of the downsides of a long running hit series -- a problem that's really good to have.
Johnny Walker is up next.
I just noted that "Goodbye Radar" was actually a Season 8 episode, technically after you, David and Gary had left. I assume this is because they were a "holdover" from Season 7. But can you explain: What IS a holdover? Why do they happen? I see that the same thing happened on The Simpsons quite frequently, too. I always imagine TV production as being several scripts behind, not several shows ahead. Could you explain more?
However, CBS convinced Gary to stay on for the first few episodes of season eight and then do his farewell as a two-parter during November sweeps. So David and I agreed to come back and write the twofer, which we did.
With THE SIMPSONS, I can only guess that the long lead time needed for the animation to be completed can cause delays and some episodes slop into the next season.
Why did you leave Frasier?
My wife and I are watching all of the episodes on Netflix and it jumped out at me that David Isaacs is credited as "creative consultant" without you in seasons 7 and 8 (possibly more?), unlike seasons 1 and 2.
You mean I was actually missed?
I was freelance directing during that period. Those are the years I directed FRASIER, JUST SHOOT ME, DHARMA & GREG, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, and a bunch of shows that have long since been forgotten. So I'll pop up on Netflix elsewhere.
Mark P. has a question about my recent trip.
Had you been to Korea before? What do they think of MASH?
No. First time. Most of the locals there are unfamiliar with the show. It’s not aired in Korea. I asked a couple of people and they had no idea what I was talking about. And yes, they spoke English.
And finally, from Carson:
Why do you think the broadcast networks gave up on made-for-TV movies? It can't be that they were too expensive or unprofitable. Hallmark and Lifetime appear to have struck a gold mine with them.
I suppose they feel for their brand the audience would prefer existing shows and characters they know. Movies of the Week are a wildcard. Since they feature new premises each week the audience can’t really build. Networks need that traction. They can't afford to start each week back at square one.
HALLMARK, LIFETIME, and a few other cable networks have used MOW’s to forge their brands. And the films are getting better. They used to all be Meredith Baxter Birney with the disease of the week.
Got a question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks.