Don’t step on any black cats while reading this week’s Friday (the 13th) Questions.
Andy Rose gets us started.
Preston Beckman recently said that NBC was very excited about the upcoming debut of Friends in 1994, but had a problem. Jennifer Aniston was still in first position on a show called Muddling Through that CBS was airing as a summer series. If CBS renewed it, NBC would have to recast Aniston's role on Friends and reshoot the pilot. So they made a point of sandbagging Muddling Through with strong counterprogramming to make sure it was dead by the end of summer. It worked out great for NBC and Jennifer Aniston. It sucked for everyone else on that show since it might have survived if NBC weren't so intent on getting Aniston for themselves.
Have you ever had a show that you knew was being targeted for failure for reasons beyond your control?
Uh, Mr. Beckman may be embellishing some facts and inflating the importance of NBC at the time.
First of all, networks can’t just target competing shows and arbitrarily knock them off. I suppose if they wanted to move FRASIER to whatever MUDDLING THROUGH’S time slot was they could crush them, but why make such a drastic move, upset your entire programming schedule, just to ensure you don’t have to recast one actor in a pilot for a show that hadn’t even aired yet?
Was NBC excited about FRIENDS? Sure. They were excited about all the new shows they were premiering that Fall.
One other point, when you cast an actor in second position (meaning if the show they’re committed to gets picked up you lose them) you take a big risk. Usually you only take that risk if there’s a very good chance the first-position show is not going to make it. Word on the street at the time was that MUDDLING THROUGH would just live up to its name, which it did. CBS aired the show on Saturday night (a death slot even then). It was a place holder.
But stranger things have happened. I might have felt pretty safe casting Jason Alexander in second-position considering the early scuttlebutt of that SEINFELD thing he was in.
In the interest of getting it right -- a highly placed NBC executive who I totally trust and was there at the time said that yes, NBC did indeed try to squash MUDDLING THROUGH by pre-empting EMPTY NEST or whatever their regular programming was and substitute instead some high powered movies of the week by a very popular author. Again, I believe this source so let this update be the definitive answer to the question.
Charles H. Bryan with a question pertaining to filming multi-camera sitcoms before a live studio audience:
What happens if an audience member has a coughing fit or loud sneeze? Are the stage microphones directional enough to not pick up those sounds?
The audience sits in a bleacher section. There are three or four microphones placed over their heads in different locations. We can easily remix the audience reaction to downplay or eliminate the hacker.
A bigger problem is occasionally having an audience member talk back to the actors. We had one I remember on CHEERS. He was yelling things like “Don’t go in that door, Diane!” He was politely asked to leave.
Ben Devine queries:
I've been re-watching old Seinfelds and noticed possibly a reference to you in Season 1, Episode 2. At a gathering of relatives in Jerry's apartment, a cousin appears into the conversation. Jerry says, "Elaine, this is my cousin Artie Levine," pronouncing it "Leveen." Artie, looking annoyed, barks, "It's Le VINE!" After he exits, Jerry says, "Yeah, Le VINE, and I'm Jerry Cougar Mellencamp." Was this a friendly dig at a fellow NBC writer?
I'd like to think so but I have no idea. I’ve never asked Larry David because I’d look like a complete idiot if it wasn’t.
From Al Leos:
We were having a discussion of the "Edith Bunker gets attacked" episode of All in the Family in an online forum, and the question came up whether CBS could have blocked the script from airing. Do you have to clear any scripts ahead of time, if it involves a controversial topic or a vital change to a key character?
Nowadays you have to clear EVERY script, every outline, every story notion. It doesn’t matter if it’s a controversial story or someone overcooks the Thanksgiving turkey. Maybe a superstar producer like Chuck Lorre or Shonda Rhimes can exert a little push-back, but today it’s not a matter of whether the network will air the show, they won’t even let you make it.
What’s your Friday Question? You can leave it in the comments section.