Take a break from shopping online to sample some FQ’s. They're FREE!
Mork starts us off.
Hugh Wilson has talked about the time CBS asked him to write a zany, wacky episode of "WKRP in Cincinnati"; the resulting episode, "Fish Story" (which featured, among other things, Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap getting drunk on the air), was so against everything he thought was good that he took his name off the episode and used the pseudonym Raoul Plager for his writing credit. The episode ended up being the highest-rated episode of the entire series.
Have you ever written anything that either a) was so completely against what you thought was funny but ended up working anyway; or b) worked, but you had absolutely no idea *why* it worked?
If I’m being honest, when David Isaacs and I did a quick rewrite on MANNEQUIN we didn’t anticipate the film would be so well-received. But we’re not complaining.
More often however, the reverse is true. You write a show you think is going to kill, and then you see the final result and go “What happened?”
Anthony has a question about pilots.
I've noticed some shows in recent years (though, naturally, I'm hard-pressed to name one off the top of my head) that featured the lead character's narration in the first few minutes of the pilot, to establish the characters and premise...and then it goes away for the rest of the episode (if not series). Do you think this is a lazy way to handle exposition or is it helpful to the audience--maybe even necessary given the shortened run time of shows these days?
Yes. To me that’s lazy writing. Instead of just baldly telling the audience what you want them to know, show them. It’s difficult, but part of the exercise of a pilot is to work in exposition in an entertaining, seamless way.
Narration is especially lazy if you drop it right after the introduction. It’s one thing if narration is an ongoing part of your series (a la THE MIDDLE or ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT), but if a pilot starts out with “This is the story of….” or "Meet...." I’m usually gone.
From Ray, a question about episode titles:
Especially among the more dedicated of fans, those titles are known by rote and become shorthand for discussion. Yet not all shows display them at the start of episodes. Some, which have patterns to them (Lou Grant's history of all one word titles, or the Friends "the one with..." conceit) never displayed, best as I can recall. I watched MASH as many times as five a day during the prime time run when the syndication rules allowed such repetition, but I never knew in those pre-internet days what any of them were called.
And thus the question, or series of questions. Who decides whether to display the title of an episode on a series- network, showrunner, someone else? How did you feel about it as a writer? And did the knowledge of its presence before an episode ever influence your writing to even the smallest extent?
Generally, it’s a creative decision by the showrunner. I personally don’t like showing the episode title. In some cases the title might give away a key plot point.
Also, there are times when the show changes so much during the week of production that by the time it’s filmed the original title means nothing. When we were doing that ill-fated series for Mary Tyler Moore we had an episode involving everybody getting real amped up on chocolate-covered coffee beans. (Watch out for those things!) But we did major story work the week of production and eliminated the beans altogether. And yet the title of the episode: “Beans.”
Other times the title might refer to a line of dialogue in the episode that taken out of context looks like a non sequitur. I don’t want the viewer trying to decipher the meaning of the title instead of focusing on the show itself.
And finally, from June Sullivan:
Hi Ken - are you a fan of House of Cards? I was wondering what is the deal with the coffee? Is it that the writer loves it and enjoys showcasing one of his habits? Or is a metaphor for something...but coffee drinking, serving, purchasing, and making is in almost every scene. I laughed recently when someone was asked if they wanted a cup of tea.
First off, I LOVE HOUSE OF CARDS.
Watch CHEERS. Sam Malone is always cutting lemons. The Coach is always cleaning glasses.
Since I don’t work on HOUSE OF CARDS, I’m just speculating, but maybe they all drink coffee because they keep such long hours and need the caffeine. What they should do is an episode where they all eat chocolate-covered coffee beans.
What’s your Friday Question?