The Friday Questions are stacking up so I thought I would devote an extra day to them. Hope that's okay.
Rashad Khan leads off:
In a previous blog post, you mentioned the pilot episode of "The Phil Silvers Show" to your comedy writing class at USC. If you haven't covered this topic before: which OTHER sitcom pilots would you show to anyone as good examples (provided, of course, they were available for viewing)?
I used to say the COSBY pilot but no more. I didn’t necessarily show pilots to the class, just great episodes. The series I chose besides Bilko were THE HONEYMOONERS, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, ALL IN THE FAMILY, FAWLTY TOWERS, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, and SEINFELD. I didn’t show them any recent pilots since I figured they’d seen them already. MODERN FAMILY is a pretty great pilot though. So is 30 ROCK. And MY NAME IS EARL.
From Jack Terwilliger:
Loved this (DICK VAN DYKE SHOW) exercise. Learned so much from it. Mr. Persky's comments on story structure and character raised a Friday question: is writing for the stage closer to writing for television than for film? It seems as if lots of playwrights write for TV. Maybe that's just where the work is, but I'm wondering if their skills transfer more readily to one medium than the other.
Playwrights write for television because there’s way more money in it. TV tends to be very dialogue-driven. And, I might add, more nuanced and well-written than most features. Hollywood wants comic book blockbusters while television offers sophisticated dramas and comedies that don’t require the Griswolds or Amy Schumer or Melissa McCarthy.
The irony is in the ‘50s the reverse was true. TV writers all aspired to write for the theatre. That’s where the quality was. Now Broadway means ALADDIN.
Longtime friend of the blog, Howard Hoffman asks:
The DVD experience made me wonder when and why producing/writing/directing credits got moved to the top of the show rather than at the end.
The first credit after the show has to be the director. Or the last credit at the top of the show. If you do the writing and directing credits up front then you can end the show with the showrunner’s card. That’s one reason. Another is that over time front loaded credits just became the standard. VHS won out over Betamax. (I wonder how many readers have no idea what that reference means.)
Glen K. wonders:
If there is a scene where an actor is required to drink or eat something in a large quantity, how is it done if multiple takes are required? Doesn't the actor get full, maybe even sick?
It’s a really good way to get back at actors who are difficult. (Just kidding… sort of) Most times actors will not actually eat much. They’ll push food around the plate or pick at it.
Multiple takes also requires multiple portions of food. If someone is eating a three-pound lobster you need three or four three-pound lobsters. What that sometimes means is a feast for the crew when the show is wrapped.
My heart goes out to actors doing food related commercials. They DO have take big bites of those juicy Big Macs take after take after take. Although, in some cases I think they just spit the food out. In the case of Big Macs that’s probably wise anyway.
And finally, Jon H wants to know:
I've noticed, from attending tapings myself, that a lot of sitcoms now seem to have a lot of prerecorded scenes, a lot of the warmup guy telling the audience to "look at the monitors" for the next scene. Do you find that prerecorded scenes help or hurt a show? Is it hard to get the timing right, in case the audience laughs too long or too short, or can that all be controlled in post-production now?
Here’s how they help a show: The audience doesn’t have to stay there till 2 in the morning. The crew can film outside scenes or scenes with complicated stunts or on sets not visible to the audience. The bad news is those scenes never play all that great on the monitors.
When I direct, if there’s a scene in a car. I’ll preshoot the scene, but for the studio audience, instead of showing that to them, I put two chairs on the set, tell the audience to imagine they’re in a car, and have the actors perform the scene. I don’t film it but I do record the audio. The laughs are always way better when the audience can see the live actors.
What’s your Friday Question or whatever day you want?