Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday Questions

If Friday Questions are here can the weekend be far behind?

Rod is up first.

What did you think of the recent Modern Family episode that took place entirely on Claire Dunphy's laptop?

As a computer illiterate, and a fan of the show, I enjoyed it immensely. As a writer, are these "gimmick" episodes hard to conceive? I'm thinking all the way back to the MASH episode "The Interview" which was also completely different than the standard MASH format at the time, but highly successful.

I enjoyed it and applaud their willingness to experiment and break the format. My only issues with it are it’s impossible to have FaceTime with two people at once. And there were times things flashed on and off so fast I had trouble keeping up.

The “gimmick” aspect didn’t bother me because I thought it was well done, and it was only a half hour. I know I will outrage some readers but I got real tired of the gimmick of BIRDMAN. All it did was distract me from following any real emotional story. Especially since it was all trickery. The movie was not filmed in one continuous shot. It was all stitched together by computer programs. So after twenty minutes the whole exercise just started feeling pretentious to me. (How did I get off on that rant?)

On MASH we did the "Point of View" episode, which worked out well.  The key to a successful gimmick episode is that a) the gimmick doesn't wear thin in five minutes and b) underneath you need a good solid story the audience can be invested in.  

Oh... and only do gimmick shows on rare occasions. 

COMMUNITY was another show that took chances, sometimes with inspired results. 

Julie has a question about extras:

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.

Extras are not told specifically what to silently say. But they are told exactly when to cross or where to sit. If not, invariably an extra will cross in front of the star just as he’s delivering a punchline.

Extras are also told not to look at the camera under any circumstances and not to bring attention to themselves. Doing so will result in almost immediate dismissal.

The real problem is when extras need to react. Cliff sets his nose on fire. The extras should take notice and silently react. Diane announces she and Sam are getting married. The extras should react. Some don’t. They just ignore what’s happening and go about their business.

I remember in an episode of the old ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN series there was a scene in the Daily Planet. Two crooks, wearing full lead helmets (because as everyone knows, Superman can’t see through lead) in business suits with fedoras walk down the hall. Two extras pass them and neither takes any notice. A pair of executives in lead helmets and that doesn’t catch their attention.

There are some people who make their living as an extra. They generally work for one studio or another. We did MASH at 20th and I saw our extras pop up all the time on 20th shows or movies.

KG has a question all the way from Germany.


Given the chance to choose, what kind of show would a network prefer: a successful drama or a successful comedy?


This is an easy one. No format of television is as potentially lucrative as a big hit sitcom.

First of all, they’re cheaper to produce than hours. And fans will watch repeat viewings. Once you know what happened in many of these serialized dramas you’re done. But you’ll watch favorite episodes of sitcoms over and over (and thank you by the way). 

And you can slot comedies any time of the day or night. Dramas tend to do better at night. Sitcoms are more versatile for filling holes in your schedule.

Ultimately, this is why sitcoms will never die. In success they’re just too profitable.

Carol asks:

Ken - if my community theatre ever got the rights to do your show A OR B?, think you'd be able to come to Pennsylvania to watch it? Would you even want to?

I would LOVE to come! A real good way to get me to come to your town is to have your local theater do A OR B? Seriously, contact me if you’re interested.

41 comments:

Gazzoo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gazzoo said...

Regarding Birdman, the "gimmick" didn't bother me because I wasn't aware of it going into the theater...it wasn't until the film was about half over that I realized what they were trying to do.

Bill O said...

In TV Superman's defense, once you get accustomed to a flying guy in blue underwear, everything else is kinda underwhelming.

Scottitude said...

Just have to say that the POV episode of M*A*S*H was brilliantly done.

MikeK.Pa. said...

I always remember the story, though don't remember seeing it, of an episode of SUPERMAN in which bullets deflect off his chest as he stands calmly with his hands on his hips. But when the exasperated crooks throw the emptied gun at his head, he ducks. Too funny. Got to love early TV for its imperfections.

Bill O said...

Think that's one of the urban legends about that show.

Pat Reeder said...

Dallas has a lot of excellent theater companies, some of which specialize in finding new plays with smaller casts. To name just a few off the top of my head: Kitchen Dog, Undermain, Our Productions, Water Tower, Theater Three, etc. There is a website devoted to DFW theater called TheaterJones.com. If you'd like to see if you can get a Dallas production, that's a good place to see which companies might be a good fit. And if you get down here, let me know, and Laura and I will take you out for Tex-Mex food. The good stuff the locals eat.

Oat Willie said...

I wonder if "Louie"s surrealism is a gimmick, but it's all so brilliantly done I hope it doesn't change. I hope Pamela Adlon's new program shows up soon.

Carol said...

I will definitely contact you about getting the rights for A to B (I know you have an email address somewhere on this blog)

We're a small company, but the theatre has been around since the 1950's and we have a very varied and loyal audience. It's the Village Players of Hatboro, FYI.

Thanks, Ken!

Herschel said...

You may not be able to Facetime with two people at once, but you can do a Google Hangout with at least 10 people at once. Maybe they were G-Hanging!!

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

My friend did extras for Law & Order for years. He's in the back of dozens those court room scenes. He was paid $100 each time. For a struggling actor that was gold.
To this day, I see an episode and I can say, "There's Lenny".

AJ Thomas said...

Friday Question:

Ken, as a comedy writer and baseball announcer what are your thoughts on Bob Uecker in MAJOR LEAGUE? Do you ever wish you could just truly tell it like it s?

Garrett said...

How do residuals work when it comes to Netflix? Every time I watch the "Room Service" episode of Frasier do you get paid? Should I put it on continual queue?

Joe said...

It always annoys me when extras don't react to things that any normal person would react to. Outrageous, very public, behavior is going on. Extras are passing in the background, completely oblivious to it. Our stars have a screaming argument in an intimate restaurant. The other people in the restaurant seem to be completely unaware of it.

Karl said...

Then there are extras who don't know they're extras or that they're being immortalized. Hazel Frederick is the older woman who can be seen in the final shot of the opening titles of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, watching with a scowl as Mary Richards tosses her hat into the air. (Frederick finally met Moore years later, at an autograph signing. She explained to Moore that the cause for her severe expression was that she was afraid Moore was going to get run over out there. Moore introduced her to the gathered crowd at "my co-star.")

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I've noticed extras on HOGAN'S HEROES kind of tend to draw attention to themselves a lot (Roy Goldman was an extra on both HOGAN and M*A*S*H); I recall one episode where the Heroes are out in the Compound conversing with Klink, and a pair of extras were standing in the background - a good distance away, mind you - yet you could see them nodding along whenever one of the lead actors said something, as if they were in on the whole conversation.

Johnny Walker said...

I know the director has a lot on their plate, but shouldn't they (or the first AD) tell the Extras that they should be reacting?

When I did my one stint as an extra, there was a fight that broke out in front of us. I reacted as I would in real life -- tense shock. As everyone else acted similarly low-key, and we were asked by the stunt team(!) to make our reactions more physical -- act with our bodies, not with our faces, if you will.

Extras need direction too :)

Anonymous said...

I think the king of "gimmick" shows has to be the Drew Carey show. I heard many people mock it, but I always enjoyed it, as well as the show.

Anonymous said...

Superman did duck. Funny since 1) the gun isn't thrown at his head and 2) how low he ducks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGf1r8-Snss

Bad Billy said...

Can one truly wear a huge lead helmet and a Fedora at the same time?

John Hammes said...

"No Soap, Radio" was a short lived 1982 sitcom (aired around the time of "Police Squad!") ... which really wasn't a sitcom.

The episodes were set at the run down Pelican Hotel, the plots (such as they were) were consistently interrupted with fake news bulletins, fake PSAa, black outs, skits, etc. The viewer was lucky enough to even remember any plot after the half hour, given the sketches had little or nothing to do with the action.
(Basketball Head sketch? Job Interview?)

This was one of the most memorable and timeless gimmicks/concepts ever for a "sitcom", and would most cetainly be welcome today!

And, who remembers the lyrics to No Soap, Radio's "Yukon Dan"? You know you do...

Oat Willie said...

Thanks, I'd always wondered at that reference in "Homer the Heretic".

Ken Levine said...

Carol,
You can always send me a private message on Facebook. Thanks.

Mitchell Hundred said...

In a TV show, when you need photos of a character in a given context, do you draw from a pool of photos taken beforehand, or do you photograph the person as part of preparation for that specific episode? I ask because I've been watching Season Five of The Good Wife on Netflix, and there were a couple of scenes with photos of [REDACTED] in the episode after [REDACTED] had left the show (or around that time).

Jon B. said...

You and I disagree widely on the so-called "gimmick" of Birdman. I though it was brilliant and enhanced the film immensely. I hope you can appreciate that others found it creative and artful. I certainly respect your opinion, particularly as a director, that it was distracting.

Howard Hoffman said...

Agreed on Birdman. And this episode of Modern Family was custom made for today's tech. There really was a lot going on there, especially during Claire's panic surfing, but the pause button lets you enjoy about 50% more sight gags. I liked the "easter egg"ness of the show.

VincentS said...

I don't normally get involved in a thread tangent, but so what if Superman ducked? Even he has involuntary reflexes! TANGENT OFF THE TANGENT: With all due respect to Noelle Neill, she was girl-next-store pretty. Phyllis Coates was HOT! Even Jack ("Jimmy Olsen") Larsen said he had a, "Major major crush on her." And he's gay!

Ken Levine said...

Jon B.

I certainly acknowledge that others found the convention in BIRDMAN compelling. That's why I predicted there would be an outcry. I'm not saying you're all wrong; just that I disagree.

Doug said...

Another MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW-related extra story. One early episode of the series has Mary spending time with her friend Phyllis's daughter. There's a montage, filmed on location, of Mary and the girl out shopping. A woman in a short green dress can be seen repeatedly in the background throughout this sequence. At one point, we see a shot of Mary. The woman in the green dress is just passing behind her. A cut to the girl, and there's the woman in the green dress walking behind HER.

The lesson being, I suppose, either don't let your extras wear very distinctive, easily recognizable clothing, or hire more than two or three of them.

Bill O said...

Coates supposedly left Superman, thinking it wouldn't go beyond the first year. Always thought Kellogg 's, who owned the show, felt her too independent, not submissive enough to the male stars. In her tailored suits, almost mannish, in a Rosalind Russell sort of way. Which might help explain Jack Larson's attraction.And Neill was Lois first.

VincentS said...

Sorry, Bill. but when all is said and done, Phyllis was still the hotter Lois. Even in the "manly" clothing. Which, I'm sure, was the exact same costume Noelle wore.

Bill O said...

Since we're talking a '50's kid demographic here, Noel was the perfect gf, approachable. And she didn't dress like Coates, nor did she in the serials. Can't see Coates in those Kellogg's commerials the cast did, nor fitting in when the show did a sudden flip from film noir to silliness, with Reeves less a grim avenger and more an avuncular comfort figure.And I'm speaking from my first run kid's memories, not an adult's perspective.

Marty said...

I've heard about the recurring extra in the green dress in that "Mary Tyler Moore Show" episode. Guess it's hard to keep track of where everybody is supposed to be, sometimes. I watched "The Wizard of Oz" with my three-year-old daughter not long ago, and noticed during the Munchkinland sequence that the Munchkins sometimes jumped around from shot to shot. That is, you'd see munchkins in the background in a shot, then they'd cut to another angle, and you'd see some of the same munchkins in the background of that shot.

PAUL DANIEL ASUNCION said...

Interesting Q and A about extras!

Bill O said...

There's the notorious kid extra in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, who in the final take, plugs his ears BEFORE Eva Marie Saint "shoots" Cary Grant.

Johnny Walker said...

Is Hamid still reading? As much as I we butted heads on occasion, and I didn't tend to agree with his comments, it's not nice seeing someone bullied into silence. Again I ask: Hamid, why not just create a Blogger profile so that everyone can easily verify that it's you? It's a two minute task that prevents anyone from pretending to be you. I suppose you may still get crap from the coward who didn't have the balls to tackle your opinions head on, but it's easy to ignore comments (I frequently do it to yours, just kidding -- kind of ;-). I've been the target of the cowardly anonymous myself in the past, and it will pass eventually -- if it hasn't already.

Alan Iverson said...

Johnny Walker... I finally caught your comments regarding my script. Many thanks for the note and I'm glad you found it funny.

Johnny Walker said...

No problem, Alan. Good luck!

VP81955 said...

Phyllis Coates was married for many years to veteran TV director Richard Bare, who passed away late last month at age 101. He's best known for directing every episode of the surrealistic "Green Acres," but also directed many other series, including the famed "To Serve Man" episode of "The Twilight Zone." My FB friend Francine York, who appeared on one "Green Acres" episode as well as "Pioneer Spirit," a 1969 pilot he directed that aired but wasn't picked up, has plenty of nice things to say about him (they reunited at Cinecon a few years ago). I understand at the time of his death, he was working on creating a stage version of "Green Acres."

Anonymous said...

Ken, Thank you for answering my Friday question. I was quite excited when I saw you had used it for your Friday post. Your answer and the ensuing comments were a lot of fun. Julie

Hamid said...

Johnny

Kind of you to be concerned but not to worry, I haven't been bullied into silence, I posted in the agents thread just a few days ago. I've never posted every day, only if I have something to say.

Thanks again.