Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Questions

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?

Gary Burghoff was supposed to leave at the end of season seven and David Isaacs and I were going to write the script.

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.

From Ethan:

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.  


MikeK.Pa. said...

"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."

Have to respectfully disagree on this one. I cringe when December rolls around and Hallmark finds a way to cram Christmas into the title of every single movie they run that month, no matter how far fetched (good bet Jenny McCarthy is in a handful of them). I haven't watched a Lifetime movie in quite a long time. But when I stopped it seemed every plot had a woman endangered, victimized or getting revenge. It's why I stopped watching CRIMINAL MINDS.

Dan Ball said...

Another Friday question (more upbeat than the last one!):

What do you think of COACH's revival on NBC (complete with Craig T. Nelson and Barry Kemp) and would you, Ken Levine, go for out for the writing and/or directing team? Why or why not?

I was pretty shocked to read that NBC's actually got all the right pieces in place for this (seemingly). I don't know what Barry Kemp brings to a table, but I associate his name with three of my favorite things: NEWHART, COACH, and Spielberg's CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. Since NEWHART and COACH have very similar feels to them, I can only imagine (and hope to hell) that COACH v.2 might retain that vibe.

VP81955 said...

At least one thing regarding the "Coach" series may have to be changed. After the first go-round, one of the colleges in Minnesota (I forget precisely which one) changed its name to Minnesota State. So he may have to end up at another institution of higher learning.

And while we're at it, why not create an instant "spinoff" starring Pam Stone's women's basketball coach from the old show? Tailor her character a bit after Maryland's Brenda Frese, whose pre- and postgame video speeches -- some motivational, others slightly goofy (and I mean that in a nice way) -- have become popular on the Internet.

Curt Alliaume said...

I figured the networks started getting rid of TV movies when they no longer picked up theatrical movies (what's the point of showing a theatrical if it was released on DVD two years ago, hit HBO/Showtime 18 months ago, and has been available via Netflix for over a year?). That said, I'm sure the networks would rather invest in something that can build an audience (and ancillary sales) than a movie that can be shown maybe once or twice, then goes to a lower-tier cable channel

Kirk from Kansas City said...

"On my first day of one show one of the stars took me aside and said, 'So who the fuck are you?'"

The embarrassing part is that the star was Ted Danson and the series was Becker.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

As far as The Simpsons is concerned, there is a long lead time due to the animation process, but it usually isn't much an issue in terms of holdovers, especially after they went digital.

It does happen with the Halloween specials though, since they're tougher to animate (and therefore they're produced late in the season, designed to be a holdover), and it also happened recently with the LEGO episode written by Brian Kelley, which took over a year to finish up.

But the reason there are so many holdovers per season can be traced back to the mid 1990's. Back then, Fox wanted extra episodes for two reasons, if I'm not mistaken: one was to have a buffer of shows so they wouldn't suffer with a potential writers' strike (which did slightly affect season 20, years later).

The other reason was that Fox wanted to broadcast original episodes in the summer, when there was no real competition. They abandoned that idea late in the 90's. However, the leftover episodes remained, and Fox never course-corrected on that issue, since they always broadcast exactly 22 shows per year and never have room to insert leftover ones due to the baseball schedule. So they always have 7 episodes from the previous production run every season.

Rashad Khan said...

Seriously, Ken, how WOULD you reboot ALF?

hamidverified said...

I vaguely remember Coach but I'm happy to watch anything that's got the fantastic Craig T Nelson in it.

I don't know what TV movies are like now but many of the ones made in the 70s and 80s were great. For a start they were shot on film, so they had that cinematic grain that can't be imitated, and had really strong scripts. Spielberg's DUEL was incredible. One of the most disturbing TV movies I ever saw was RIGHT TO KILL, based on a true story of a woman and her children terrorised and abused by her abusive and violent husband, played by Frederic Forrest who gave an amazing performance. That had a raw power that stayed with me for years.

There were also a lot of stalker horror-type TV movies which gave me nightmares. I don't remember any of the titles but they mostly belonged to the "woman in peril" sub-genre.

Jeff said...

I remember a column in a writer's magazine MANY years ago by J. Michael Straczynski where he advised writers wanting to pitch a series to write a Movie of the Week as a backdoor pilot, as it would have a far better chance of selling. If it did, then you could try to pitch the series.

Paul Duca said...

Vince Paterno...during COACH's run, Hayden Fox became the coach of a fictional NFL team in Orlando, bringing his people with him. So setting this new version somewhere else isn't any problem.

Ken...except for those with the "Hall of Fame" badge, every Hallmark Original Movie is "Woman finds a man and lives happily ever after"

Mitch said...

Desi Arnaz was a big fan of "holdovers." When production wrapped on the first season of I LOVE LUCY, the series remained in production to film a few episodes for the second season. Lucille Ball was pregnant and they wanted to get some shows in the can before her condition became obvious. Arnaz decided he liked having that cushion of beginning production on the next season at least an episode or two ahead. Ball would continue the practice for the remainder of her television career.

Other shows have done holdovers, too. Jackie Gleanson's THE HONEYMOONERS ran one season, in 1955-56. In late summer 1956, two or three new episodes suddenly popped up in the midst of summer reruns. They were being "held over" for a second season that never happened, and so were run off in August.

Dixon Steele said...

"On my first day of one show one of the stars took me aside and said, 'So who the fuck are you?'"

MTM, again?!

Tim Dunleavy said...

One famous holdover: James Garner left MAVERICK at the end of season three, but a leftover Garner episode (filmed in season three) aired in the middle of season four.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I have a Friday question. I look at the Cheers characters and extras more closely now that I'm re-watching the show on my Kindle and not my TV, and wonder what the extras are saying to each other. Are extras told to say anything in particular in case of lip readers? And are they given any special requirements regarding how to act (act natural?), how to sit or stand, how much they can move, don't look at the camera (I noticed some do, and that some laugh at what the characters are doing or saying; are they told to?) The camera caught one extra wiping her eyelid with a finger as she was sitting next to Cliff at the bar. Made me laugh. I enjoy it everyday at 8 a.m. (my time) and I see your new blog post is up; this blog is such a fun read. Thank you, Julie

Stacy from NH said...

Friday question for you Ken. Here in New England we watch our Red Sox games on NESN. Calling the games are Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy. At least once a year these two "lose it" while broadcasting a game, breaking down into fits of laughter and tears, either from a comment that was made or something (or someone) they saw in the stands, or any number of other things. It usually takes several minutes for them to regain their composure, and my family and I are usually laughing along with them. Has this ever happened to you and do you remember what caused it?

Justin Russo said...

Friday question:

I have been (re-watching) Cheers (yet again) and admittedly my favorite standout this time around is "Al," particularly his respect for and pronunciation of "Sinatra." Cheers was great at developing these small albeit pivotal characters in the bar setting. What was your role in creating and nursing these barflies?

Touch-and-go Bullethead said...

Jeff: People who actually know something about the television business may be able to correct me on this, but my understanding is that using movies-of-the-week as pilots is something the studios liked much more than the networks did. For the studios, this solved the basic problem with pilots, which is that they were an all-or-nothing deal: if the pilot did not sell, all the money spent on it had to be written off. A pilot disguised as a movie, however, was good for two network showings, and then it could be bundled together with other movies into a syndication package, and maybe even be distributed theatrically overseas. These movies, however, did not really represent the series they were selling--they were longer than the typical episodes, with bigger budgets and different pacing--and the networks supposedly did not like having to make their buying decisions based on them. So I have read, anyway.

LouOCNY said...

Just to be picky, Lucy only did the holdover thing once. The legendary Marc Daniels was the ILL director the first season, and directed a whopping 39 episodes - almost TWO seasons worth today. After working with Lucy that many weeks, he had had enough, and quit. About two of his last ones were saved for the start of season 2, as they had to break in Bill Asher as a Desilu System director, long before Lucy's maternal problem was known. Once they knew about the pregnancy, they speeded up production - first filming the 'post pregnancy' episodes, which would be shown as flashbacks, then film the pregnancy shows. (Lucy looks pregnant in the one where she finds out shes pregnant!) THEN, after they were done with those shows, and Lucy, the were able to bring back Frawley, Vance and Desi to film the little set up scenes for the shows that they would show when Ms Ball was recovering from having Desi Jr - which included one Marc Daniels show. The whole thing took them pretty deep into the 52-53 season, they did not need to overwork the new momma or the rest of the cast and crew, who had to bust it pretty hard during the whole pregnancy situation.

(one of the classic stories is that during that frenzied period, Bill Frawley got pissed off at Lucy for something, and yelled at her, "I would tell you to stick it somewhere, but Desi already took care of that!" :O

Mike said...

CBS once released the original JAG pilot from NBC as a special movie ten years later.

Thomas said...

Marc Daniels left I LOVE LUCY because he was offered more money to direct Joan Davis's I LOVE LUCY knock-off I MARRIED JOAN. Desilu either couldn't or wouldn't top Davis's offer, so Daniels left. He didn't last a single season on I MARRIED JOAN, though. Years later, he said that working with Davis made him take back anything bad he'd ever been tempted to say about Lucille Ball.

The only serious disagreement he ever recalled having with Ball concerned a scene which called for one man to chase another through the Ricardo's bedroom, Daniels thought it would be funnier if they ran across the top of the beds. Ball didn't think it made any sense for them to do that. Series producer Jess Oppenheimer was called in, and told Daniels he could only do it his way if he could give him a good reason why the two men would run across the top of the beds. Daniels couldn't -- he just thought it would be funnier, so they did it with the men staying on the floor. There was no animosity between Ball and Daniels, though, and he later expressed regret about leaving. He returned to direct several episodes of her HERE'S LUCY series, as well as some of her post-series specials. At 74, he directed half-a-dozen episodes of Ball's short-lived LIFE WITH LUCY.

William Asher had actually already directed one I LOVE LUCY episode, a show titled "The Young Fans," filmed about halfway through season one. Marc Daniels spent that week working on the pilot for OUR MISS BROOKS, so Asher was called in to helm LUCY that week. That was why Asher was hired to take over after Daniels left. He was experienced with the series, he was good at his job, and he got along well with Lucy.

The holdover thing: five episodes were filmed for season two in May and June 1952, right after production on season one wrapped. It was during production of these "holdovers" that Lucy broke the news of her pregnancy. The series took only a one month summer break before resuming production for the new season in July, as they could only use Lucy until November.

In remaining LUCY seasons, one episode was held for season three, and five were held over for season four. Seasons five and six had no holdovers.

It is true, though, that Ball routinely worked ahead like that on her later series. In fact, later seasons of HERE'S LUCY had the full season in the can before September even arrived.

The anecdote you're recalling didn't involve William Frawley. It was Vivian Vance. Viv was late making it back from a costume change. Lucy, pregnant at the time, snapped at her about it. Viv told her, "I'd tell you to go fuck yourself, but Desi already took care of that."

LouOCNY said...

The odd thing with Daniels is that he ended up directing Lucy in that horrible last show she did, LIFE WITH LUCY, and ended up passing away only about a week or so before Lucy did.

Stephan said...

BEWITCHED held onto a seventh season episode and didn't run it until season eight. Don't know why, though.

Not, technically, a holdover, but BEWITCHED once pulled an episode from its scheduled air date as season opener and dumped it to late in the season.

The episode, which was supposed to be the sixth season premiere and a showcase for "new Darrin" Dick Sargent, was a reworking of one of Dick York's best episodes, which had Endora dividing Darrin into his work side and his fun side. Problem was, York filmed his episode late in season two, when he'd had two years to get to know the character. He was, by that point, in a good position to be able to play Darrin at extremes of his personality. Sargent, though, was being asked to do the same thing with a character that was brand new to him. One he hadn't yet played at all, much less played with variant approaches. It was unrealistic and a little stupid to have expected him to handle the script well.

ABC, disappointed in the results, pulled the episode from its slot as season opener and ran it late in the year, with a new flashback opening, since Samantha had been pregnant in the episode, but had had her baby by the time it finally aired.

ScottyB said...

I always just figured networks (most notably ABC) gave up on MFTV movies because someone eventually figured out they were really, really horrible. But most likely, they ran out of diseases and social problems.

But even more most-likely, it's a different world today. Everyone has the Internet at their fingertips chock full of disaster and despair far worse than things writers could dream up during the 1970s.

Heck, once the world starts topping a kid in a plastic bubble and a wife burning her piece of shit husband in his bed like it's nothing, about all you can do is just shuffle off.

ScottyB said...

I loved 'Coach' when it was first being aired, but I won't be able to stomach the new version because of Bill Faggerbakke, either. Because I would be forever seeing Patrick Star instead of Dauber. I blame Nickelodeon and my kids.

ScottyB said...

You know what I miss more than the Movie of the Week? The ABC 'After School Special', which was basically the same thing, except for the tweenie demographic.

Oh, the simpler time we lived in then. Sigh.

mmryan314 said...

Obviously because of Friday's questions here there will be CHEERS questions to be answered so a good opportunity to throw mine into the mix. There are moments in Cheers when lines seem to be "unscripted"and too real and I`ve wondered if improvisation was then scripted into the show.If true, I`d love examples. I have some excerpts that I believe were added because the actors almost couldn't help themselves from funny lines. Maybe I`m mistaken.

YEKIMI said...

Ken, I'd probably delete hamidverified. Click on the link and it takes you to a porn site......not that there's anything wrong with that! But impressionable young minds might click on it and who knows how many will deviate into a life of perversion because of it.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I was an extra (not on Cheers unfortunately) I was in the X-Files though. We are told to be quiet, unless we are told to cheer, like we did in Rocky IV. "Raw-Key Raw-key!"

Hamid said...

I had no idea I'd provoked a completely unhinged lunatic who's now taken to posting retarded comments under my name all because I suggested to the troll that his daily rants about readers was getting tedious. For the record, the comment linking to a porn site is the troll and not me. I think I'll take a break from posting until this loon has disappeared or got tired of being clinically insane. Apologies to Ken and everyone else for having provoked this idiot.

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks for asking my question, Ken. Clearly I put 2 and 2 together and got 5.

hamidverified said...

Damn! My evil twin has escaped from the attic. I'll stop that Oprah Winfrey hater. I'm the real Hamid!

Diane D. said...

I've wondered about the same thing mmryan asked about improvising in CHEERS. There is one in particular; it's the scene in the last episode of Season One when Diane and Sam are in the final stages of their argument that culminates in their first kiss. Sam has said he is going to bounce Diane "off every wall in this office." She says, "Try it and you'll be walking funny tomorrow." Then the camera goes to Sam who doesn't say anything, and then back to Diane who says, "Or should I say funnier?" Although she does it masterfully, I've always felt she was saving the scene by throwing that in when Sam momentarily forgot his next line.

I'm probably mistaken, but the line just doesn't make sense to me (Sam doesn't walk funny), and when the camera goes to Sam after the first line, the delay seems just a moment too long. I've also thought that a scene like that, so emotionally charged, is not a scene the actors would want to lose.

Douglas Trapasso said...

Love your interpretation, Diane D.! Just playing the scene back in my head, I think the laugh comes from Diane C. making a rare slipup in grammar, and then, being Diane C., feeling the immediate need to correct herself.

VP81955 said...

Diane D., just in case you hadn't heard, the table reading for my excerpt from "Fugitive Sweetheart" was scratched Tuesday for lack of entries. So after the TCM Classic Film Festival ends tomorrow, I'll get back to my screenwriting, specifically the other screenplay, the sci-fi/fantasy romantic comedy whose title I've been reluctant to give out for fear it will give away its premise.

There's a comedy screenplay writing contest whose deadline is April 11. (I'm at page 109; it probably will wind up at 125 or so before I begin whittling.)

Diane D. said...

Douglas Trapasso
That didn't even occur to me! Of course, you're right. Mine is a rather more romantic interpretation, don't you think? At least it makes sense to me now.

Yes, I saw your earlier comment about the reading being cancelled---very disappointing; I know you were looking forward to hearing professional actors read it. I hope you will continue to report on the stages of your screenwriting journey. I assume you will be submitting one of them on April 11. Good luck if you do!

Erin K said...

What was the writers take on Diane Vs Rebecca. A lot of people like Sam and Diane, but I thought Sam and Rebecca were a fun coupling because they were friends first. Did the writers ever considering putting them in a relationship or did they not want to go down that road again? It seemed like it got close to that point in season 8 but then died off. I've always been curious!

Jeff :) said...

Do you feel that the major networks are even relevant anymore? I was thinking the other day about my favorite shows and realized they are nearly all on cable. The critics seem to agree, as 10 out the 12 shows nominated in this past year's Emmy's for best comedy & drama were either cable shows or programs offered on streaming services.

To make matters worse, I recently read the list of upcoming pilots for the major networks. The vast majority of the shows fell into A) generic cop/medical drama, B) comedy based on the life of a stand up comedian the average person has never heard of, or C) shows based on existing intellectual properties (i.e. comics, spin-off shows, shows based on movies, etc).

From reading your blog I understand that there is a lot of creative constraint from the networks put on writers, but some of the loglines I read were so laughable that it was hard to fathom that these were the best ideas pitched.

P.S. Sorry for the long winded question :)

Diane D. said...

Actually, it's a great question and I hope Ken answers it. Although, in a way, you answered it yourself when you pointed out that 10 of the 12 shows nominated for Emmy Awards were from cable or VOD. I have not watched network television for years, which means I do not see even really good shows like MODERN FAMILY until they come to USA. I just cannot bring myself to even try a new network show when there is always something I know to be wonderful on cable or Netflix.

Do You Do Any Wings? said...

Are you aware of the British sitcom Bluestone 42? Have a look. Have they done their research, and in what media?

Diane D. said...

I could not find any venue to watch Bluestone 42. I read about it and loved the premise, but just couldn't find a place to watch it.