Heading to WB to watch tonight's live broadcast of UNDATEABLE LIVE. Stay tuned. In the meantime, here are some Friday (the 13th) Questions. Try not to be scared.
Michael starts us off:
I read recently that BIG BANG THEORY episodes were down to under 18 minutes, not counting commercials and credits. No doubt driven by greed. My opinion is this has hurt the quality, especially since they usually juggle multiple storylines in each episode due to the large cast. How does this compare to typical episode lengths for shows you worked on?
They used to be a little over 22 minutes. And yes, the quality definitely suffers when you have so little time to tell a story. I don’t even know how you do B stories with that little airtime. On MASH we always had two, sometimes three storylines all dovetailing into each other. And at 22 minutes we always felt hampered.
Ironically, you’d think with shorter scripts it would be easier – less to do. But it’s just the opposite. You want room to tell your story, and let your show breathe. You want characters to be able to develop and that’s hard to accomplish when you have to service your plot every minute.
And the time we forfeit all goes into commercials, which means spot breaks that used to be one minute are now sometimes seven or eight. How do you keep an audience engrossed in your story when you have to pause for fourteen spots and promos?
Of course the instrument has not been devised that can measure the networks’ indifference to these creative issues.
Katherine @ Grass Stains asks:
If you were asked to come on board an existing program today specifically to introduce and write for a new character to help reinvigorate the show, who would you throw into the mix, and why? Pick any existing show. (For example, I'm thinking of the recent introduction of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the new PI on one of your favorites, The Good Wife. In my opinion, he's injecting some much-needed sexual tension with Julianna Margulies, while at the same time playing a valuable role in the Cases of the Week.)
I would introduce a character in HOUSE OF CARDS who had a moral compass. They sort of had that with the BBQ guy, but he’s been relegated to gardener. It would be nice if someone Frank respected managed to effectively govern with scruples and humanity.
From Bill in Toronto:
Ken, exhibit A: the broadcast television model is in turmoil or broken. Exhibit B: NBC's ratings continue their long slide and the comedy genre practically has been abandoned. Exhibit C: you have the credentials of being on staff /showrunning / contributing to a multiple hit sitcoms over the decades, many in relationship with NBC. My pitch: A hail mary pass is NBC's only solution. It turns away from a non-suit and hands over sitcom development and greenlighting to you for, say, a limited period of time. Potentially restoring the glory of NBC and/or network TV is quite the way to top off your career! What say you?
I say back several Brinks trucks up to my house. I’m not a corporate guy. Unless I was the top dog who could make the ultimate decisions then I’d be just “answering” to someone. I have zero interest in playing that game, needing approval for every decision, following someone else’s marching orders.
Besides, my approach would be so radically different I’m sure I would scare off the stockholders. Without going into details, just know writers would be given more autonomy. So you can understand why NBC’s top brass would kick my sorry ass to the curb faster than you can say, "Proud as a peacock."
And finally, from Kevin from VA:
My question for you Ken is going back to the days when there were only three networks, are there any shows that you admired or enjoyed and thought were cancelled way too soon?
Okay, I warn you – some of these are fairly obscure and there’s a lot of them. And I’m not listing any of my shows although they all deserve to be on this list. If you haven't heard of any of these, look them up.
But wait! There’s more!
HONEY WEST with Ann Francis. MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT from the ‘60s, EYES starring Tim Daly, LATELINE starring Senator Al Franken,
I’m probably forgetting another twenty. But if I had to pick ONE show and one show only, it would have to be THE HONEYMOONERS. Only one season, only thirty nine episodes. But every one a classic. A local station in New York still airs THE HONEYMOONERS. Each episode has probably been repeated five thousand times. Or maybe twenty.
What’s your FQ?