First Friday Questions of November.
Joseph Scarbrough starts us off:
Occasionally on AMERICA'S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS, Tom Bergeron will playfully mention he can make all the references and mentions to Mickey Mouse and related characters he wants without getting in trouble as both properties are owned by Disney. I've also noticed from time to time GREEN ACRES would mention/acknowledge other CBS shows of the time like THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (a given, Paul Henning was involved with both shows), GOMER PYLE, and HOGAN'S HEROES. And yet another example being THE MUNSTERS referencing LEAVE IT TO BEAVER (from the same creators).
Can a show actually get into legal trouble for mentioning another show or associated characters from a rival network or studio?
No. They’re a matter of public record. However, they can’t show any segment of the mentioned show or playback any portion of it without permission. That gets into ownership rights and royalties.
Shows cross-reference competing series and networks all the time now. But that wasn’t always the case. In the early days of television, networks felt that by mentioning the competition they were in fact promoting their rivals.
Same with advertising. Competing brands were always called “Brand X.”
Now that line has completely blurred. Jimmy Kimmell goes on Stephen Colbert’s show. Networks run commercials promoting competing networks. Sponsors compare themselves to their competition all the time. SHARK TANK, an ABC show, runs in syndication on CNBC.
This makes sense really. We, the audience know who the other brands are; who the other networks are. To pretend we don’t is silly. I always thought a laundry detergent back in the 1950’s would've been smart to change their name to BRAND X.
Ken, in your opinion, when a joke is rewritten on the fly by the writers, and inserted in the script immediately after the audience has heard the old line, how many times do you think the new joke was actually better and funnier, and how many times do you think it got a big laugh just because the audience was surprised by the new joke (expecting to hear the old one again)?
I would say the batting average is not that high. People in the studio might laugh more because it’s a new joke, but the home viewer won’t be so moved.
Sometimes jokes don’t work because the studio audience couldn’t hear it well, or the monitor showed the wrong thing. Writers and producers on the floor wouldn’t know that.
Taking the time to rewrite on the fly also comes with a price. The audience has to wait while the writers come up with something. Two or three of these five to ten minute confabs and you lose the audience. They stop being engaged in the show. They get antsy and just want to leave. Is that really worth a new joke that might be 10% better?
Obviously, you don’t want to air jokes that completely bomb, but hopefully your first cut will be long and you can just cut the duds.
It’s all just personal preference, but on my shows I want them to move fast when an audience is present. I don’t want half hour costume changes, I don’t want hair and make up taking five minutes of undetectable touch-up between every take. If you make the effort to have a studio audience you need to respect them and not waste their time. But again, that’s me.
It seems pretty common for writers to complain about network interference, and I have no doubt most of it's true, but I am curious: have you seen or heard of instances where the network insisted on something that actually made the product BETTER?
On the studio side, Grant Tinker of MTM, and Kerry McCluggage, John Symes, and Garry Hart of Paramount offered valued feedback. There are probably a few others that I’m just blanking on. Sorry to those individuals.
But to answer your question. Yes. Absolutely. And I'm grateful for their efforts.
Ken, with the proliferation of promo bugs (those extremely annoying graphics for other shows on the network), do TV directors try to keep all the action in the upper two-thirds of the screen and let the lower third be wasted?
I can only speak for myself, but I don’t concern myself with that at all. Most of the action is in the upper two-thirds anyway. As a director I’m concerned with keeping the viewer focused on the most important thing on the screen at that moment.
But let’s say there’s a scene where two people are at the kitchen table. The story calls for a large cockroach to scurry across the table. Obviously that will be in the lower portion of the picture (unless I shoot a close up of the cockroach, which is unlikely since it would be jarring). I don’t reconfigure my framing to accommodate network “bugs” or “meatballs” or running banners. I would hope THEY would make allowances, but of course I’m dreaming.
What is your FQ?