Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday Questions

You’ve been waiting all week, and here they are: Friday Questions!

Berry Canote is up first.

My brother is somewhat of a TV historian, and we often have discussions on the topic of TV history. One question we have often had is why do the broadcast networks keep trying with certain genres, even when it is clear that genre has not produced many successful shows? The genre my brother likes to bring up is that of the legal drama. According to him the failure rate for legal dramas is higher than that for Westerns (a genre the networks gave up on long ago).

I would disagree that legal dramas are primarily unsuccessful. THE GOOD WIFE, SUITS, and that LAW & ORDER thing are doing okay.   And from PERRY MASON to THE DEFENDERS to LA LAW to THE PRACTICE and on and on, there have been many hit lawyer shows. 

Legal dramas work because the stakes are so high – life and death at times. Plus, in this day and age, who isn’t suing someone or being sued by someone?

From Oliver:

How do you feel about actors getting showrunners fired? There's been plenty of examples over the years. Sometimes it's down to personality clashes and production issues but other times it's pretty clearly down to the creative direction of the show. Is it right for the actors to make such an intervene in such a way in how the show is written?

Regardless of who’s right or wrong, or who’s the asshole, the reality is people tune into television shows to see the actors they like. So if push comes to shove the showrunner will lose.


The showrunner generally continues to get paid his full salary and collect his full royalties and ownership stake. So there are showrunners who believe me are praying to be fired. As the saying goes: “Who do I have to fuck to get off this picture?”

thomas tucker asks:

I have a great idea for a movie, but I'm not a writer, I'm not in show biz, and I don't live in New York or LA. What do I do with this great idea? (And I'm sure you've never heard this question before, right?)

This question does come up frequently. I wish I had a more optimistic answer. But the truth is execution is more valued than ideas.

If you don’t have a writer to turn your idea into a desirable screenplay or a producer who can attach an approved writer you’re pretty much out of luck no matter how great the idea. And if you manage to somehow beat the odds and get a viable producer to bite, he’ll just pay you a fee for the idea and generally cut you out of the rest of the process.

Sorry I couldn’t more encouraging.

The Bumble Bee Pendant wonders:

Back in the 70s and 80s, Networks always had top notch or at least very popular shows on Saturdays (I remember CBS had the comedy block of MTM, Bob Newhart, All in the Family, Alice and Carol Burnett on Saturdays). I know Saturdays became a viewer wasteland, but now with DVRs/On Demand/Netflix, any show (at any time) can be viewed and become a hit. Do you think the Networks will eventually go back to this?

No. Saturday nights are dead on major networks. Young audiences (all the nets care about) are out on Saturday night and if there’s something they want to watch they’ll DVR it (I guess we’re now starting to phase out the verb “Tivo”) or watch ON DEMAND.

What some networks have discovered however is that sporting events like college football games work on Saturday night. Sports is the only programming people prefer to watch live. And the bonus there is that they can’t zap through the commercials if they’re watching in real-time. I think two of the networks have college football on Saturday nights.

But Saturday original fare will never return. And it’s only a matter of time before Friday falls too.

What’s your Friday Question?


Barry Traylor said...

I have to comment about "I have an idea". I have read something like this from fiction writers. Someone comes up to them at a party and tells the writer that "I have an idea for a book and all you have to do is write the novel and we can split the take 50/50"!

Bill said...

It's hard to make a TV show about an IT guy, because it's not that interesting when Word seems to be running slowly. Will Pam be able to get Powerpoint working in time for the meeting? Stay tuned!

That's why Lawyers, Doctors, and Cops are staples of TV. The most emotional day of your life will most likely involve one or more of those professions. Buy a house? Lawyer. Have a baby? Doctor. Victim of a crime? Cop. Find out you have 6 months to live? Doctor. In a car accident? Maybe all three. Lawyers, Doctors, and Cops have jobs where dramatic situations can just appear as a part of their job.

Tobi gordon said...

Will you please explain the fascination of programming everything worth watching on Sunday nights between 9-11:30 pm?
Of course, we can TIVO, tape, OnDemand like crazy, but wouldn't it be better to spread the wealth across the week? They're deliberately abandoning the audience for quality TV 6 days a week.

Tobi said...

Desperate Measures
In order to 'prove you're not a robot' today, I actually had to identify which, of a dozen very blurry images of various foods, were ice cream! It was difficult to tell, but they gave me an extra chance, so all was not lost.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Talk about the genres that isn't going away:
Can we have more zombie TV shows?
Walking Dead
There's even a Zombie Cop show, iZombie.

When we get to Zombie Lawyers (actually aren't all Lawyers just zombies), or Zombie Doctors (Zombitricians) we know we've hit the complete circle.

Pat Reeder said...

Saturday isn't the only black hole in the TV schedule. One night last week, I think it was Tuesday, I looked at the on-screen programming guide for all the major networks. Yes, I was TRYING to watch network TV in real time! There was virtually nothing on but "reality" shows (ABC had two hours of prime time devoted to something called "Extreme Weight Loss." That's not a TV show, it's a cancer symptom.)

I ended up switching over to one of the nostalgia channels, where they had actual shows featuring professional actors and comedians performing actual scripts by actual writers. It made me nostalgic, all right, but only for the days when network programming wasn't sheer crap.

BTW, if I prove to the networks that "I'm not a robot," will they give me something decent to watch?

Jerry Krull said...

Just picked up Phoef Sutton's book "Fifteen Minutes to Live" on Kindle for 99 cents. Limited time sale. And yes Ken I have your books. I even had you autograph The Me Generation at the Writers Room a couple of years ago. Unrelated; does anybody know how to get permanent marker off a Kindle screen? :)

McAlvie said...

Ha! Well, legal dramas seem to be doing okay, as far as I can tell. Of course they don't much resemble reality, but then in reality lawyers spend 99% of their time reading, researching, or writing. Who wants to watch that for an hour every week?

Re Saturday night tv, networks seem to put a lot of weight on young viewers. It's not just in scheduling, but in the kinds of shows that make it. Except few of them seem to last, so clearly networks are clueless. The people most likely to be home in the evenings are older viewers and those with families. Twenty somethings are either slogging through college or out socializing, they aren't waiting to see the latest episode of their favorite sitcom. So logically networks ought to be looking at the older, settled market. Why don't they?

Ken said...

@Jerry Krull. On your Kindle I would try using a soft cloth with a bit of lighter fluid on it and lightly rub the mark. If that does happen to dull your screen, a touch of Armour All should bring the shine back.

mmryan314 said...

@Jerry Krull- Thanks for the book tip AND try using silver polish on permanent marker. It works on crayon marks.

MikeN said...

That is a few hit shows, out of a large block of failures. Burkes Law with Dick Van Dyke, that one with Zach Morris on TNT, Reasonable Doubt with Marlee Matlin, Girls Club from David Kelley, and so many more.

Anonymous said...

The networks don't like us oldsters. Dear Hubby & I don't go out often and we watch a lot of tv. We have cable, digital cable, HD cable, all premium channels...about 250 total and there still isn't anything new and exciting to watch. They haven't a clue and that is why they are in the dumpster.

Pam, St. Louis

Roger M said...

Bill wrote "It's hard to make a TV show about an IT guy"

as ken says, "good shows start from characters"

IT Crowd did a pretty good job by British standards (meaning would it have worked at 22 episodes a year, probably not). Too bad they miscast Joel McHale in the US version that didn't make it past pilot.

blinky said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: This season on Orphan Black they are doing behind the scenes vignettes DURING the show. The actors break character and they show the sets with green screen backdrops, even playing with the pet scorpion. Imaging Alan Aldo and Larry Linville walking around the set on M*A*S*H joking about how the camp is inside a big studio in Burbank. Maybe showing how the operating room and shower are right next to each other.
Doesn't this just ruin the illusion of the show?

thomas tucker said...

Darn, that's what I was afraid of. So, Ken, wanna write a movie? Hey, I'll even give you 80% instead of 50%!

Terry said...

The CBS Saturday night schedule people tend to remember as the classic one -- ALL IN THE FAMILY, MASH, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW -- held together for only one season, though I know people who swear those shows all ran together on Saturday nights for years. MARY TYLER MOORE, BOB NEWHART, and CAROL BURNETT were the three CBS Saturday night staples in the early-mid 1970s. Other shows floated in and out. Aside from ALL IN THE FAMILY and MASH, there was, for example, BRIDGET LOVES BERNIE, THE JEFFERSONS, ALICE, THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, FUNNY FACE, and DOC.

cd1515 said...

Friday question: why are young people "all the nets care about" when most of them have no money?

Jean said...

Hey, Jerry -- I have the best luck removing Sharpie with WD-40. I'm a janitor, and I have to do that a lot. Just spray the towel, not the screen.

Burke's Law was Gene Barry, not Dick Van Dyke. Three years in the 60's and a revival in the 90's doesn't seem like a failure to me.

AND -- I seem to recall that Mark Harmon fought to push out Donald Bellisario, because he wasn't putting out scripts fast, and that was causing issues on the set (I'm doing this memory) and that only helped shoot the show to it's number 1 position.... still going strong 8 year later.... so maybe it isn't the worst thing ever.

Clarence Odbody said...

In almost all creative endeavors it's the execution that matters. Ideas are everywhere, and often ideas become self-evident when technology reaches a certain point. And the reason you'll see the same names and faces over and over again? It's not because they are exceptional geniuses, it's because they get things done.

michael said...

Question for your baseball and director side. Would you direct a TV telecast of a baseball game different? I feel one of the reasons games seem slow is due to the amount of long static shots and the repetition of shots - pitcher, batter, from behind the pitcher, batter reacts, repeat. I would like to see the entire game - show me the defense, show me less of the players in the dugout and more players on the field communicating, how about showing the third base coach give signs, etc.

BigTed said...

What if it's the best idea ever? It's about a killer robot driving instructor who travels back in time for some reason. This robot, he's got a heartbreaking decision to make about whether his best friend livesor dies. His best friend's a talking pie!

michael said...

cd1515 your Friday question always sets me off into a rant. If the 18-49 demo is all so important, why is CBS which rarely wins the demo, the most profitable network in primetime sales year after year? The point of a demo is to help the advertiser reach its target audience without paying for people who don't use the product. The 18-25 group is important because it is when we establish brand loyalty. I drink Diet-Coke but will always feel like a Pepsi generation.

When did 40s become young?

Why would Dial Soap for men or advertisers for feminine hygiene products make their buys based on age when there is a demo for male or female?

Why would you use age to judge consumer spending when there are demos for income?

Oh Ken, Saturday's is not dead yet. With advertisers paying based on L+7 rating when a program is scheduled will mean less and less. With DV-R etc people could watch a Saturday program whenever they want. Of course, by then we will all be streaming and how networks (which has always been a form of distributing content) works will change, perhaps even ending the idea of time slots.

Scott O. said...

"Other shows floated in and out. Aside from ALL IN THE FAMILY and MASH, there was, for example, BRIDGET LOVES BERNIE, THE JEFFERSONS, ALICE, THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, FUNNY FACE, and DOC."

Ah, you left out the famous PAUL SAND IN FRIENDS AND LOVERS

Terrence Moss said...

I disagree about Friday and Saturday nights. something can survive there. The networks just need to take a couple of chances to find something that can. it may not be for the young people and it may not be a sitcom or a drama, but something CAN.

Terrence Moss said...

I love the nostalgia channels.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Ken: I can't help feeling there's a story in why you know in such detail how to remove marker from a Kindle screen.

(Though it seems like it would be an Earl Pomerantz story.)


Anonymous said...

There was a Q&A show on IFC with the cast and writers of Big Bang. The producer talked about how they built the show. They originally thought about IT people with the introduction of a hot woman. But they felt the IT guys problems would be dated (new MS version problems? finishing code for the new release, etc), so they went with science nerds. And the rest is history
On another note, to remove permanent marker, go over it with an erasable marker, then erase it, worked on our white board.

Hamid said...

Today there was casting news about Fuller House, the Full House sequel series. Add to that the new Coach, X Files and the greatest news of all, a brand new season of Twin Peaks by David Lynch, it seems bringing hit shows back is the new trend. I actually welcome this because in each case the original people are involved. I hate remakes and reboots.

So I'm starting the campaign to bring back The Powers That Be and Herman's Head! Who's with me?!

Andreia said...

Hi Ken, I was wondering if you could talk a little about character ownership. A character is created, fleshed out with catchphrases, quirks and backstory by a writer and then given to an actor to embody. In your opinion, who does that character belong to? Or, who *is* that character? Especially in a long running show where an actor can be playing a character for nearly a decade or more, would you say there is dual ownership between the writer and actor? Or does a transition happen somewhere down the line if the character is old enough?

Katie said...

A revival of FULL HOUSE?! Yeesh! I despised that the first time around. I can't imagine it'll be any better on round two, no matter who is involved.

Terrence Moss said...

Because they're idiots holding to the misguided, outdated notion that older viewers aren't worth targeting because the younger ones have buying power and discretionary funds -- which, when you think about it, was never actually the case.

Terrence Moss said...


Terrence Moss said...

part of the reason is that they aren't as brand loyal and are prime for the taking as opposed to older viewers who stick with what they know.

But the fact of the matter these days is that brand loyalty isn't as important as a deal. I was colgate for years but crest is cheaper.

The networks don't get this and rely too much on research and not enough on common sense.

Terrence Moss said...

Brand loyalty is less important than a deal for most 18-25 year olds out on their own. And those who aren't are living at hole using whatever their parents are buying.

Such notions of brand loyalty is outdated because want the best bang or their buck regardless of brand. So advertisers should target total viewers because everyone is up for grabs and make the demos secondary with a support buy on cable and digital to more effectively target that demos.

and CBS has won the demo several times in the last decade.

Mike Barer said...

My favorite courtroom drama was Owen Marshall, Councilor at Law.

Carole said...

Because they're idiots holding to the misguided, outdated notion that older viewers aren't worth targeting because the younger ones have buying power and discretionary funds -- which, when you think about it, was never actually the case.

I don't know. Seems to me that advertising on programs that are known to skew "old," like network news, tends to run toward medications and luxury cars.

Drive over to the pharmacy and pick up that Viagra prescription in your beautiful new luxury car!

Oh, and I agree about a revival of "Full House." Blech!!!

Wilhelm said...

Hi, Ken.

I just wanted to take this chance to sincerely thank you. I got into USC's Writing for Screen and Television program, and without your blog I don't think I would have stood a chance. It's taught me so many valuable lessons, and you've been a constant source of hope and encouragement for me. Thank you for doing all of this and helping out the next generation of aspiring TV writers!

Johnny Walker said...

Congrats, Wilhelm! I agree, re: Ken's blog.

The "I have a great idea!" response is also what you hear when people learn you were an entrepreneur. As Ken said, ideas are not worth that much, and it's true even in entrepreneurship. It's nearly all about execution... Not that people ever believe it when you try and explain it to them.

The truth is that, on a planet of 7 billion globally connected people, the chances of you having an original thought are nil. Hell, the chances of you having an original thought amongst just the community of entrepreneurs is practically nil.

Again: Not that anyone believes it, of course. They all think they've stumbled across something brilliant and unique, and they better not tell anyone incase they "steal" their idea.

Ideas are two a penny, finding someone who can make an idea work is what's valuable.

Re: The Sharpie on the Kindle. You want to get yourself a full size industrial sander. Just push your Kindle against the high speed sanding discs for about 15 minutes. Once the Sharpie marks are removed, just apply a dab of similarly coloured paint to any areas that look scratched. If your Kindle has disintegrated during the sanding process, just buy a fresh one from Amazon. Voila! Good as new, and ready for Ken to sign on the release of his next book.

michael said...

Terrence Moss, no CBS has not won the demo often. Fox usually beat it out. Last year and this year NBC won. CBS for awhile was called the Old Folks network because they could not win the demo.

I never understood why viewers care which network is number one. The advertisers can buy at a network with its commercials spread around that network shows, but viewers care about shows not networks. I am not sitting at home with an oversize foam number one finger with NBC on it.

And if it was all about the 18-49s why is Blue Bloods still on the air? It finished 69th in the demo and 13th in the total viewers.

MikeN said...

CBS should probably invest in some research into actual buying habits and try to demonstrate that older viewers are worth targeting for advertisers.

I don't know if it's still the case with HD broadcasts, but they should also upgrade their transmitters. NBC works fine everywhere, but CBS on an antenna can be fuzzy.

Melissa Agar said...

Don't forget Saturday nights were also the host of Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Golden Girls, Empty Nest, etc. I used to LOVE Saturday nights when I was a kid and the whole family would get together to watch Love Boat.

A Friday question I posed earlier: Is the network comedy dead? Why? It would seem to me that comedies are cheaper to produce and easier to sell into syndication, and yet NBC has all but eliminated comedy from its fall schedule, and the new offerings are slim. Are there too few comedies being developed? Or is this just a cycle we comedy fans have to weather?