Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day -- and the staff work begins

First, a nod to the real reason for Memorial Day -- to give thanks to the many men and women who sacrificed (sometimes giving the ultimate sacrifice) to preserve our freedom.  We owe them a debt we can never repay. 

Besides a day of tribute and gratitude.. and the unofficial start of summer, this is also the time of the year when writing staffs go back to work. If you’re an aspiring TV scribe, I hope someday that’ll be you. Here’s what you can sort of expect…at least on the comedy side.

The first week will just be sharing vacation stories, home remodeling nightmares, and trashing reality shows. You’ll go out for long lunches, bitch about how much other writers make, compare Prius prices, convince non-Mac using colleagues to finally wise up and get a Mac, and discuss the upcoming summer movie slate. My blog might come up. Half will like it, half will think it’s a piece of shit.

You’ll mosey back to the office, maybe talk in very general terms about the season ahead, some scattershot thoughts on characters and stories, then go home at 4.

Week two you’ll come in and the show runner will panic. He’ll realize you’re now hopelessly behind. From there you get to work, really delving into the characters, spitballing story areas, eventually breaking stories. You still go home at 4 but at least you’re getting something done.

Over the next few weeks the stories will be outlined, assigned, written, turned in, and rewritten by the staff. You start having lunch brought in, going home at 6…and then 7… and then 9. By the time you go into production in August you might have four scripts ready to go with a few others in the pipeline. And hopefully you’ll have seen every summer movie you wanted to see, made your vacation plans for next year, bought that Mac, remodeled that kitchen, fulfilled every dinner obligation, read all those books in your Kindle, caught up on my archives, and took pictures of sunsets so you’ll remember what they look like…because now the real fun begins.

The actors come in rested and the first day of production you’re ready to kill them. And so it begins.

Your first real break comes when you can say "Happy Thanksgiving".

Note:  for new writers these are all exciting steps, even the long nights.  Enjoy every minute of it.

This is a re-post.


John D Linja said...

Seems to me that writers of comedy aren't even trying anymore... or perhaps the rooms are filled with the showrunner's pals, rather than talent.

The lack of quality is there for all to see, no matter how they dress it up.

Generally speaking, drama is delivering more of the goods... with the stark exception of WAYWARD PINES, which is nothing short of a woeful telenovela, and yet the critics rave and rave about it.

Have these opinionators been hit with a particularly potent batch of Panama Red recently?

Oat Willie said...

Mr Linja: Nobody feels like workin', Panama Red's back in town. Little girls like to listen to him sing and tell sweet lies.

Roseann said...

Ken- When I was on a one hour single camera tv series shot in NYC we started shooting mid July. Wardrobe (my dept) came back right after July 4 and did a 2 week prep. We'd start shooting around July 18th for a 23 week season.
I'm surprised to hear you say that shooting started in August.

Cap'n Bob said...

Sorry to see MASH end.

This is a repost.

Canda said...

Well stated summary of the beginning of a writing season of three-camera-sitcom life, when you have to shoot it in front of an audience.

Yes, those shows started shooting in August.

John D. Linja's criticism of current sitcoms is probably aimed at the many one camera film shows, which do not shoot in front of an audience, and very rarely aim for jokes, and go mostly for irony, and count on much social media in the show for exposition, when someone isn't just doing it in voice over. Table reads, from what my industry friends tell me, have mostly chuckles and smiles, and then everyone thinks they hit a home run. Clearly, that kind of reading in a previous era would have been seen as a disaster that required major all-night rewrites.

Anonymous said...

off topic, fyi etc: AV CLUB has a nice post on afterMASH.

Ane said...

Possible Friday question:
Have you heard about the rumored feud between Julianna Marguiles and Archie Panjabi on The Good Wife? Speculation that they do not get along has been going since season five when they stopped appearing in scenes together, and appeared to talk only through phone calls even though they worked in the same office. Actors and producers of the show have pointedly refused to talk about the subject, suggesting that there are some truth to the rumor. Perhaps jealousy on Marguiles' part after Panjabi won an Emmy for The Good Wife before she did or after Panjabi's character Kalinda became very popular. Panjabi has left the show as of the Season 6 finale and it has suggested by websites (Ausiello etc.) that the final scene where the two characters actually met again was shot using stand-ins and camera angle tricks. Do you think that this is possible? And if it is, how do actors get away with behaving like that? They're grown women, why can't they just act like professionals and do their job in the same room? What would you have done if you had worked on the show, would you have tried to get them to cooperate?

Diane D. said...

I read an article about the issue of Marguiles and Punjabi in which the final scene was embedded, and even the most casual nonprofessional can see they were not in the same room. If a Showrunner could force Roseanne to say a line she hated on her own show, how could these two actors get by with refusing to be in the same scene for over a year? It must have put quite a pall over the entire cast.