Here’s a Friday Question that became a whole long-winded post:
The Bumble Bee Pendant asks:
Ken, a favorite show of mine, Undateable, has been renewed, but according to NBC, all of its episodes will be broadcast live. While the Live episode the show recently had worked, what would you think (as either a director, writer or showrunner) if the network forced this on you? How would it change how you drafted scripts or blueprinted the series?
To me it’s just a gimmick, and the novelty will wear off quickly. What you’re then left with is a sub-quality product. Yes, there’s the fun of the unpredictability of watching a live performance. And there will be mistakes. But most of the time they won’t be major gaffes, there’ll be mangling lines or killing good jokes because they’re not told correctly. And a level of nerves that will permeate the performances.
The regular cast may get more proficient but the guest cast won’t. You might see two levels of acting going on. There also may be actors you’d like to hire for guest star roles who will pass because they don’t want to go on live.
Actors may not always hit their marks or cameras will be late in getting to shots resulting in some ragged on screen moments. Boom shadows and other technical problems may arise from time to time. A light blows out and suddenly an actor is in shadow in the middle of a room. Yeah, these are glitches but they’re not fun glitches.
On these live shows now the cast and crew are generally given more time to rehearse. And everyone is on their toes. What happens when you’re cranking them out every week? There will be many sloppy moments.
And good luck if someone gets sick. There are no understudies.
Scriptwise, you are very restricted. Stories must be plotted that can be shot in real time. Wardrobe changes must be finessed. You must design the scripts so that you can add or subtract in the last five minutes. It’s not like SNL where they just feature silly skits. One story has to carry through the entire episode. And the actors must never break character. If there is a flub that’s noticeable it can take the audience right out of the show. Or if an actor accidentally drops an important piece of information then the audience will be confused as the story unfolds.
Writers won’t have as many opportunities to tweak the script in live situations. You need to give the actors sufficient time to learn their lines – especially if they have only one chance to get them right (or two if they do a separate version for the west coast, which they should otherwise it’s not live to them). Normally on a multi-camera show, we’ll give actors new lines right before they go on camera. But we can always shoot it again if the actor flubs.
You can’t fall behind on scripts either. You can’t just juggle the production schedule to add a hiatus week. And in this day and age, networks note you to death. Do you think that will change just because the show will be live? No. Showrunners will still have the logjam when network notes on outlines and story notions and drafts are late in arriving. Everything will be a mad scramble. Not the best way to mount a show.
Here’s the good news for showrunners – no pick ups, no post production, no editing, no network editing notes. The show’s over – you go home. But that’s the only good news.
At the end of the day, you’re going to turn out a product that’s less than your best. Showrunners are going to cringe when watching it back. There will be fifty little things the showrunner would want to correct if he could. If the show was filmed he could correct forty of them.
To me, the only reason to do it would be if you had a series that was extremely topical. That way the jokes could reflect news events or pop culture events in a timely fashion.
For UNDATEABLE, it’s the Faustian contract they signed. Without the “live” gimmick they most likely never would have gotten renewed. But they’ll be paying the price. It’s a bitch to do a decent sitcom even when you have time. This just adds a whole extra layer of pressure.
Is it worth it? We’ll see when the ratings come out. I sincerely wish everyone concerned the best of luck.