Yes, it’s that time of the week again.
Ted O'Hara with the first Friday Question:
Have you ever found that you've boxed yourself in on future stories due to some plot detail in a past show that seem innocuous at the time? And if so, how did you get out of it?
So we just ignored that beat as if it never happened. Great storytelling? No. But functional. We've convinced ourselves that it is.
Sometimes you just ignore the complication and other times you try to explain it away. An example of each:
In an early episode of MASH Harry Morgan appeared as a crazy general (“The General Flipped at Dawn”). Later, of course, he re-appeared as Colonel Potter. Nothing was ever said.
On CHEERS we once established that Frasier’s father was dead. Oops. Tell that to John Mahoney. Later, on the FRASIER episode where Sam Malone visited (written by me and David Isaacs) we explained that Frasier had just said that out of anger.
The truth is there are inconsistencies on most long-running series. It’s understandable. New writers come aboard and don’t know the intricate details of all that went before. Especially before the internet.
Have you consciously altered your comedy style over the years? Do you mainly think in single-cam joke form now instead of multi-cam?
We never alter our style to appeal to a certain age group. We write what we think is funny for an intelligent audience. We don’t buy into the thinking that Millennials only want sex jokes or pop culture references.
As for single vs. multi-cam, last year David and I had a pilot at USA (before they shut down their comedy department completely – not our fault, by the way). It was pitched as a single-camera show. They asked if we could change it to multi-cam. I facetiously said, “Sure. In First Draft you can easily just change the template from single to multi-camera. One click and it’s done.”
But seriously, the styles are somewhat different as are the tones. We adjust our approach accordingly.
Since multi-camera shows are filmed before a live studio audience they are constructed more like plays. Dialogue is key and there are more set-up/jokes. The single camera format is more realistic. Laughs come from visual situations as well as witty banter.
Each format has its pluses and minuses. I’ve worked extensively in both. Which one I prefer depends entirely on the premise of the series. Which format lends itself the best to telling the story? MASH in front of an audience would be ridiculous. CHEERS on an empty soundstage would be a waste. So it varies from project to project.
Yesterday's 'Now I Know' email newsletter talked about Jay Winsten bringing the "designated driver" concept to the US and how he worked with tv executives and "convinced many prominent TV shows of the era -- Cheers, the Cosby Show, L.A. Law, and Roseanne are mentioned in various press reports -- to make a positive, story-relevant reference to the designated driver program in various episodes."
How did you feel having to write certain things in? Were there other times you were told to deal with particular issues and how does it change the writing process?
I was never forced to write anything in. But my shows were always on major broadcast networks. In addition to being a writer and producer I consider myself a responsible broadcaster.
I have been privileged to be given an audience of millions of people. I don’t take that responsibility lightly.
So along the way, if I can champion causes such as “designated drivers” or the danger of smoking and do it organically within the fabric of my show, I am happy to do so.
I come from an era where broadcast stations were obligated to program in the public’s best interest. Otherwise they could lose their license. Those laws are relaxed today to where they’re utterly meaningless, and there are so many other delivery systems that I think the public’s best interest is now a total non-factor.
But television is the greatest form of mass communication the world has ever known. Why not use it for good?
And finally, from Bill Avena:
OK nobody's around so here's my question: did you ever meet the "Richard Hooker" who wrote the original novel?
No. Richard Hooker, whose real name was Dr. H. Richard Hornberger, had sold the film rights to 20th Century Fox for only a few thousand dollars. So needless to say, he was bitter that the franchise went on to earn billions and he got nothing. You could certainly understand why he had no desire to cooperate with us. Also, Dr. Hornberger was a staunch conservative and disapproved of Alan Alda’s very liberal take on the Hawkeye character. According to Dr. Hornberger’s son, he rarely even watched the series. Again, I can’t blame him.
What’s your Friday Question?