Here are some TV truths and myths. See how many you agree with.
Actors who can play good villains are also good at comedy.
In many cases this is true. The first time I ever saw Kurtwood Smith it was in the original ROBOCOP film. There was something so interesting about him that I just knew he could do comedy. I remember thinking, “I want to work with him someday.” Happily, a few years later we were casting BIG WAVE DAVE’S and saw he was available. We invited him to audition for the part of the mysterious expatriate and he just crushed it. Of course we had a fight with the network. They had him pigeonholed as a dramatic bad guy. We finally twisted their arm and Kurtwood was hilarious in our series. Later he went on to play the dad on THAT ‘70S SHOW.
Ed Asner, Nick Collasanto, and Sheldon Leonard are three other actors who excelled at playing villains and thugs. And I think you’d have to agree all three have awesome comedy chops.
Was anyone more deliciously evil than Margo Martindale on JUSTIFIED? And she kills in comedy.
TV viewers like watching actors who have big heads.
I think it’s less true for women. Michael Caine maintains that if a woman’s head is larger than her male romantic counterpart it looks weird. I dunno. What do you think? Does size matter in heads too?
Good writing can carry a series.
Myth. Good writing can contribute greatly, but people watch shows primarily because they feature actors they like. As a writer I wish it were different, but that's the reality.
Networks now determine writing staffs, not the show runners.
Unfortunately, this is more and more true. Networks ask showrunners to fill their staffs with writers they have under contract, or they approve. Personally, I find this practice reprehensible and I probably would get fired as showrunner in five seconds because there’s no way I’d hire any writer that I wasn’t comfortable with. I’m the one who has to sit in the room until 4:00 AM fixing scripts; not the network. So either I have absolute say in who I hire or I don’t do the show.
It’s insane. Just because some network suit can’t spot talent and signs a terrible writer to a big deal that means I'm stuck with him? I can't hire a better writer because I'm stuck with this lox? Not a chance.
Bottom line: If I’m put in charge of a series, it is my job to turn out the best show I can. I am being paid for my professional judgment. And as such, I choose my writing staff, and directors and crew for that matter. This is non-negotiable.
And hey, it’s not like the quality of network television has improved with this new system. If anything, it’s been the opposite.
Main titles are an audience tune out.
This is the biggest myth of all. Networks are so afraid people will flee the nanosecond they’re not wildly entertained, but in truth most people like opening titles. Assuming they’re well done, a good opening title sequence can really set up the audience for the show they’re about to see. And a great title song can help distinguish your show in a very positive way. It’s a signature. “Where Everyone Knows Your Name.”
And seriously, do you ever fast forward through the MASH opening credits? Or CHEERS, WKRP IN CINCINNATI, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, HAWAII FIVE-O? (Actually I fast forward through everything on that show except the opening credits.)
A number of TV themes have gone on to be Top 40 hits getting tons of radio airplay. Talk about golden free publicity. WELCOME BACK KOTTER, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, ROUTE 66, BONANZA, SECRET AGENT MAN, BATMAN, THEME FROM S.W.A.T, MIAMI VICE, HAWAII FIVE-O, HAPPY DAYS, LOVE AMERICAN STYLE, DRAGNET, PETER GUN, and FRIENDS all hit the charts.
The truth is people love opening titles. And the other truth is, networks don’t care. You won’t see them return anytime soon.