Live from New York! It’s Friday Questions!
Julia Littleton gets us started.
Can you explain something about the art of the setup that won't, as it were, kill the frog in the process? Probably you've explained it before, but I can never get enough of this stuff. The setups on Frasier were so elaborate that the reward, when it came, was truly memorable.
The key to the set-up is providing the information the viewer needs to make the joke work. A Donald Trump hair joke makes no sense if you don’t know that Donald Trump has a ridiculous comb-over. Make sure the audience has the information it needs to know in order for the joke reference to connect.
The other thing set-ups have to be is very specific. You want to lead the viewer down one specific comedy path. If the punch line can be viewed as ambiguous (is the joke about Donald Trump’s hair or his money?) you shoot yourself in the foot.
People underestimate the importance of set ups. Often when a joke doesn’t work the first thing we do is not throw it out and find another joke, it's analyze the set-up. Maybe the punchline was right; the set up was not. Changing a word or two or clarifying can save a good joke.
I'm a crew member on a network show who has been guaranteed a directing assignment. I don't have an agent, and I'm wondering -- is now a good time to try to get one? Should I wait until the episode goes well?
No. Get one now if you can. Strike while the iron is hot. Hopefully your episode will go great, but you’ll have no more clout than you do now. Agents sign people based on their marketability (and thus commissions), not how brilliant their work is. The credit is the main thing, which you will now have. Congratulations on the directing assignment. Break a lens.
Jose wants to know:
Ken, not that you would, but at the height of your career (or even now), could you have "blackballed" someone starting out that you didn’t like?
No one has ever asked me that question before. No. I don’t know any writer or producer who has that power. Showrunners do talk and maybe a bad experience on one show could keep a writer from landing on a few others, but it’s not like the blacklist of the ‘50s where certain writers and actors were essentially banned from the industry.
And honestly, even if a writer gets a bad rap, sometimes it’s unjustified, and you put that same writer in a better situation then suddenly he thrives.
For the record, I’ve never tried to get anybody blackballed. Nor would I. Life’s too short to engage in that kind of toxic bullshit.
UPDATE: In reflecting on this further today, I would have to say that I do know some writers who are vindictive and try to derail people. It's a loathsome practice and regardless of how successful they may be at it, they're still taking advantage of their power position (whatever level it is) to hurt someone who is in a lesser position. Like I said, I don't condone it and have little respect for those who practice it.
Usually I don’t answer questions from Anonymous readers but this MASH-related one was worth addressing. That said, please leave a name. Thank you.
Winchester's sister was HonORRia, or a something like that (make sure to use the Boston accent). Near the end, maybe even in “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” (the series finale), someone pronounced her name so it rhymed with gonorrhea.
Was that always a joke in the pocket from when the sister was named, or a happy coincidence? My lowbrow mind thought it was one of the funniest jokes on the show, especially in the last couple years.
The name Honoria comes from a girl I dated briefly in college. She made it very clear that she wanted to be referred to by her proper name, no nicknames like “Honey.” So when we were looking for a name for Charles’ sister, someone rigid and a little snooty, I thought of Honoria.
The mispronunciation by Hawkeye to needle Charles was a happy accident.
I always wondered whether the real Honoria was flattered or pissed that we used her name.
Johnny Walker queries:
Were there any unaired episodes of Big Wave Dave's? Wikipedia says there were only ever six produced. Is it right?
Only six made. All six aired. All six did great in the ratings. Maybe double the audience BIG BANG THEORY enjoys now. CBS cancelled us. I'm not at all bitter.
You've frequently provided insightful advice for aspiring TV writers. What would you suggest for a young high school kid, a sports buff, who wants to be a sports broadcaster?
Take English courses. Read voraciously. Develop your communication skills and build your vocabulary. It’s not just about “sports.”
Study the sportscasters you admire, but don’t copy their style. And then practice the 10,000 hours. The best way to do that is to grab a taping device, go to games, sit high in the stands away from others, call the game, then listen back and critique yourself, really being brutal. It’s not the same sitting in front of your TV with the sound down. You don’t want someone else to show you the pictures. You want to be able to see for yourself -- check out the defensive alignment, or what’s happening on the bench or in the dugout (depending on the sport). And it’s great to have that crowd ambiance.
It doesn’t have to be a Major League baseball game or NBA or NFL game. Go call a college game or even a high school game. The more experience you get, the better. Oh… and keep giving the score.
What's your Friday Question? Please leave it in the comments section. I'll try to get to it no matter what coast I'm on.