Some Friday Questions to ease you into Mother’s Day Weekend.
James starts us off:
Do you feel like current shows are paying for the sins of the past generations? I see quite a few shows that, even if they're still raved about, are held up as cautionary tales of things not to do. Shows like Moonlighting (be wary of advancing will-they-won't-they relationships,) Twin Peaks (don't give too much away,) and Murphy Brown (don't be so topical the reruns fall flat,) among others. Do you feel like executives might pass on shows out of fear of repeating the past or are they willing to give them a chance?
What networks don’t seem to understand is that when shows fail, many times it’s not the arena, it’s the execution.
And likewise, when they try to slavishly copy success they miss that the hit shows have a certain vision, great casting, or arrived at just the right time. Just throwing six twenty-somethings together won’t give you FRIENDS (although they tried like fifty times).
Obviously, there are things to be learned from shows that either failed or fell out of favor. But each must be considered on an individual basis. In the case of CHEERS, we didn’t string out the Sam & Diane relationship past one season not because of MOONLIGHTING but because we felt these were two adults and if they keep circling each other endlessly it was going to start feeling like high school.
Friday Question for Ken, and perhaps even your writing partner, Mr. Isaacs:
Your kids are growing up to be script writers, in your footsteps (especially comedy). Was there anything you specifically did when they were small children or even growing-up teenagers to expose them to comedy records (as opposed to watching TV episodes of 'The Honeymooners' or 'I Love Lucy')?
Obviously, I can’t speak for David, but I really didn’t play a lot of comedy albums for my kids. Most of the comedy I exposed them to was either visual – great TV shows and movies, or written material – from stage plays, to scripts, to books, to comedic essays.
But what I impressed upon them was that the comedy of today is merely a variation or refinement of what went before. Louis C.K. is hilarious but didn’t invent comedy.
So I think my kids developed a great appreciation for early sitcoms (besides I LOVE LUCY), romantic comedies (even ones in black and white), and classic movies from filmmakers like Billy Wilder, Preston Sturgess, Woody Allen, Buster Keaton, and Mel Brooks.
Comedy was always a high priority in our family. There was frequently teasing and anyone in the family could be the target. It was very important that my kids learned if they’re going to dish it out they’ve got to be able to take it. But there was always a lot of laughter in the Levine home. Mostly at my expense. But not so much from listening to Bob Newhart albums (although they are great).
Keith, who was a disc jockey, has a disc jockey related question.
Did you have "toilet" records? For example, if I needed some time away from the board for business, my reliably long enough cuts were Cocaine (Clapton) and, of course, Alice's Restaurant. Yours?
MacArthur Park by Richard Harris. Hey Jude by the Beatles. And if you ever heard me play El Paso by Marty Robbins you could bet I was draining the radiator.
And finally from John Leader (who was a great disc jockey on KHJ in the ‘70s):
Having Netflix has introduced us to several British shows like "The Fall," "Happy Valley," "Luther," "Midsomer Murders," and others. The quality of these shows versus comparable American fare seems to be quite high. Is it because the BBC stuff is only producing 4-6 episodes a season? And, what about the remarkably long intervals between new seasons for these show...often longer than a year? How do they maintain the audience?
Most of these British shows are written by a single writer or very small staff. With few exceptions (Aaron Sorkin, David E. Kelley), it’s very difficult for a single writer to pen an entire season of a US show, especially if it’s for a broadcast network with an order of 22.
Shows in the UK have the luxury of short orders and the creators are given sufficient time to write those shows. And yes, they risk losing the audience’s interest if too much time goes by. But take for example SHERLOCK. Stephen Moffat must concoct these ingenious scripts, essentially movies, and write the teleplays. To bang out two or three of these in one year (while working on other things like DOCTOR WHO) is remarkable. That’s a lot of pressure. And the pressure is even worse because if you are asking your fans to wait a year or more for new episodes they damn well better be great. Fortunately, in SHERLOCK’S case they are.
And yet, for my money it’s an even greater more impressive feat that Robert & Michelle King produce 22 episodes of THE GOOD WIFE every year for five years. And the quality is as good or better than premium American dramas like MAD MEN or the UK gems you listed.
What’s your question?