What better way to get ready for the Oscars than to answers some Friday Questions. What’s yours?
Andy Rose asks:
When audience and critical feedback indicated that a character or plot line was beloved (or hated), how quickly could you incorporate that feedback into your writing? Is it harder for limited-run cable series where an entire season is shot before the first episode has aired, so they have no audience feedback at all during production?
It’s the dilemma we all face with a new series. You like to be several scripts ahead (because your lead time disappears), but you don’t want to be so far ahead that you can’t make adjustments based on the audience's reaction.
As a result, early on, as a showrunner you’re really living on the edge. However, finding out that a character you didn’t expect becomes a breakout stars and needs to be serviced is not the worst problem to have. Give me a “Fonz” and I’ll be happy to scramble and write new scripts any day.
But limited series or series on streaming services that air all episodes at once make it tough or even impossible to make mid-course corrections. If your season is in the can before it airs you’re stuck.
THE GOOD WIFE manages to walk the line as well or better than any show I know. They take chances, introduce new characters and storylines, and sometimes they fizzle. One in particular was introducing Kalinda’s ex-husband a few seasons ago. We GOOD WIFE fans hated that story arc and they quickly jettisoned it. I’m sure that meant a lot of re-thinking and rewriting, and long nights and weekends, but kudos to them for rolling up their sleeves and doing what had to be done.
And speaking of THE GOOD WIFE, Thomas Mossman asks:
Now that word has come down that The Good Wife is ending after this season, do you feel there are any dramas left on network TV worth watching?
But sophisticated, layered dramas with real depth? I can’t think of another network show besides THE GOOD WIFE. Meanwhile, on cable and streaming platforms there are dozens of them.
While watching "Grandfathered" the other night I noticed it's produced by ABC Studios, yet it runs on Fox. How does that happen? Did ABC pass on its own show and sell it to Fox?
The bigger question is why were you watching GRANDFATHERED? But yes, networks will buy shows produced by competing networks.
I will say that these occurrences are somewhat rare and if say Fox has a choice between a pilot they like that was produced by themselves vs. one produced by ABC, they’ll usually opt for their own. At times to their own detriment.
Chris wants to know:
I recently watched the Cheers episode, "Heeeeere's...Cliffy!" again. I was wondering where the idea came from and how you got Johnny to go along with it? Was the filming done during one of his regular tapings or on a separate day? Also, I noticed Doc did the "Heeeeeeere's Johnny!" in that episode. Did Ed already have a commitment that day or was it some contractual thing that he wasn't in it?
I did a whole blog post devoted to that episode. You can find it here.
And finally, from Casey C:
Have you or your partner ever taken an unproduced script and reworked it to accommodate the project you were presently working on, or do you start from scratch every time?
Projects, yes. Stories, no. I adapted a spec screenplay into a comic novel (MUST KILL TV, available here for a mere pittance), and a spec pilot into a full-length play (although I changed practically all of it), but those are essentially adaptations -- changing from one genre to another. We've never put a fresh coat of paint on a pilot and then tried to resell it, or changed a movie title and tried to peddle an unproduced screenplay as something new.
And we NEVER recycle story ideas for future episodes.
I know of writers who will go back through old editions of TV GUIDE, read loglines, and steal them for the show they’re currently working on.
To me that’s lazy writing, not to mention unethical. That’s what hacks do.
It’s our job to come up with NEW ideas, fresh stories, and if possible, stories that you could only do on that series. And I don’t even see that as going to extraordinary lengths. To me it’s just professionalism. Taking pride in what you do. And not having to worry that someone will be watching GIDGET on AntennaTV and say, "Hey, that's the same story they did last week on that Levine & Isaacs show!"
UPDATE: Because a bunch of you requested it: