Well, here we go. First FQ’s of 2016. I’m sure one of your resolutions this year was to ask a Friday Question. Go for it.
GS in SF kicks off 2016:
Last night Encore Black aired your episode of the Jeffersons, "Moving on Down."
My first question is do you get some sort of notice (perhaps via app or stork) that your show will be airing on a given channel and date? And if not, perhaps someone can create an app for the WGA or DGA? Or would that allow the talent to keep track of their royalties too closely?
Also, it was interesting to watch a Jeffersons episode from 1975. I started watching the Jeffersons but only toward the end of its run. The show you wrote was actually allowed to breathe, George was actually allowed to be mopey for more than 2 seconds. Was that always the case for the early years and only later did the show become a bit more about quick set ups and jokes every few seconds? "Moving on Down" seems like it could have been an episode of Frasier with just a few tweaks.
To answer the first part of your question: No, no one ever gives us a heads-up on when our shows are scheduled to air, never. Supposedly the Guilds have computer programs that scan TV listings and keep track of when shows broadcast, but I don’t trust them. Contractually, the companies that own the shows are supposed to declare this info, but who are we kidding? That's a joke. I guarantee you every writer who is owed residuals has been cheated, probably for shocking amounts.
And don’t get me started on residuals from streaming services like NETFLIX. We went out on strike for months for a piece of the pie. How many times has a CHEERS or MASH or FRASIER or SIMPSONS of ours been streamed? And if I’ve seen any royalties at all, it’s been pennies.
In terms of that JEFFERSONS episode, it was made under an old WGA Agreement where residuals were only issued for the first ten airings. So I haven’t seen any pesos for that show in years.
Our episode came very early in the series’ run and had a different writing staff than its later years. During our tenure a lot of ALL IN THE FAMILY scribes were in charge. Don Nicholl, Bernie West, Mickey Ross, Gordon Mitchell and Lloyd Turner. You mentioned that our episode felt somewhat FRASIER-like as opposed to later years. Well, ironically, the show runners those later seasons were Peter Casey & David Lee who later co-created FRASIER.
Chris has a question after watching an episode of ALMOST PERFECT:
Kim Cooper (Nancy Travis) is watching Cheers when Mike Ryan calls her. In the Almost Perfect universe, the writer Ken Levine who works on Cheers and is probably credited as a producer on the screen is the same guy who's now running their lives?
That’s as meta as we got. We like doing (very) small inside jokes. Anytime in ALMOST PERFECT Kim was watching TV she was watching CHEERS. We did that probably six times through the course of the series.
In another of our shows, BIG WAVE DAVE’S, Adam Arkin’s character is on a plane reading my book, “It’s Gone!... No, Wait a Minute.”
On BECKER, we have the Linda character listening to B100 (a station I once worked for).
And on the SIMPSONS we peppered the “Dancin’ Homer” episode with people I knew from my minor league baseball days.
One of my favorite moments from BRIDGE OF SPIES (which I didn’t write) was that a Berlin movie house was showing ONE TWO THREE, the Billy Wilder movie set in Berlin.
These are just little rewards and homages for people who either know us or pay way too close attention.
This one's a bit of a geeky question but I'd like to know where you stand on comedy movies being filmed in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I've noticed more and more comedies in that format. I've always associated 2.35:1 with epics and action adventures. The scope look just seems odd for a comedy but I recently saw Sisters, Love the Coopers, The Night Before and they were all in that aspect ratio. In the same way that comedies should never really be longer than 100 minutes (another unofficial rule that Sisters breaks, clocking in at 2hrs, which though a funny movie is way too long), I think comedies should generally be 1.85:1.
On the other hand, you don’t want to get too close. Have you ever noticed on most sitcoms that close ups are somewhat loose? Tight close ups are jarring. It’s as if someone is invading your space.
But my final word is that if the 2.35:1 aspect ratio is becoming the standard then comedies should probably follow suit. I guess it depends on how you are watching. If you’re viewing a Tina Fey movie on an iPhone then why give up part of the screen?
As for the length, YES. Most current comedies are way too long. Another of the Judd Apatow legacies.
And finally, from Steve:
If you could get one of the writing rooms you've worked on before together again to do a new show, which would it be? Not going back in time, but the same group of writers as they have matured and grown in the years since.
That’s an interesting question and a little tough to answer because some of the writers who were in these rooms who I would use are no longer with us. Give me Larry Gelbart and that’s all the staff I would need.
But if I had to assemble a room from among those still making the world laugh, I would take the CHEERS room. Starting with Glen & Les Charles and adding Earl Pomerantz, Peter Casey & David Lee, Heide Perlman, Bob Ellison, Bill & Cheri Steinkellner, and Phoef Sutton. That would be like reuniting the ’27 Yankees. And those were just the upper tier writers. The CHEERS staff writers down through the years were All-Stars in their own right.
Leave your FQ in the comments section. Thanks, and may I be the last to wish you a Happy New Year.