Getting you prepared for Labor Day Weekend with Friday Questions.
Jerod Butt is up first.
Does the addition of networks like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon increase the possibility of better sitcoms?
Absolutely. The more venues the better. Especially now that the networks have assumed almost total creative control over all of their pilots. Writer/creators are really handcuffed.
Other venues offer greater freedom. (Not all but some) The downside is that the money is not usually as good and your audience will be smaller. But most writers I know (myself certainly included) would cheerfully make that trade for a chance to fuller realize our vision.
What’s interesting though is this, and I’ve seen it frequently: Cable networks or other delivery systems start by allowing writers a great deal of freedom. But then as the venue becomes successful they morph into network patterns. You can get as many or more notes from a cable network than you can from a broadcast network. So now you’re getting less money, a smaller audience, and interference up the yin-yang.
I hope Netflix and Amazon and some of the other streaming services don’t fall into this trap.
I know when you and your partner were the head writers at "MASH" that Gary Burghoff had cut down on his workload to where he was absent in probably a third of the episodes. Did you tell writers to try to write Radar-less episodes, or would someone submit an idea with an A-story on Hawkeye and a B-story on Charles and you'd say, "OK, we can do this without Radar. Write him out."
We would bring in a freelance writer and just give him the outline, talking through it with him. It was the easiest “story” money any freelancer ever made.
Personally, I thought the show suffered whenever Gary was not in it.
With all the amazingly talented writers out there who are trying to make it into the business - how is it that there are still sitcoms out there that are painful to watch? Jokes you can see from a mile away - one liners that hurt to listen to - characters that are stereotypes ect...Is it the network that is looking for the lowest common denominator or is this really the best they can do? I long for the 90s in terms of smart multi camera shows that actually made me laugh out loud...
Because a lot of writers are hired not for their actual ability. The ones who do get hired bow easily to network pressure, they fill the need for diversity, they’re personal friends of the showrunner, they have deals that the studio is trying to work off, and in one case, years ago, they ran the weekly studio NFL football pool.
Lots of really good writers are out of work because they’re too old, too Caucasian, stand up to notes, or are on networks unofficial blacklists, have bad agents who don’t submit them for things, and never did UCB.
Stephen Marks wonders:
Did Siskel and Ebert ever review any movies you and Mr. Issacs worked on and if so did their opinion mean anything to you guys. Do movie and TV critics have any influence in Hollywood?
They reviewed VOLUNTEERS. Thumbs up for Siskel, thumbs down for Ebert. I liked Sisel's take better.
There are some critics whose opinions I really value. And there have been reviews that have been critical that I agree with. The key is to put them in perspective – even the raves. You’re not a genius no matter what some reviewer says, and you’re also not a steaming pile of shit because some other reviewer was convinced you were.
Movie critics have more influence than TV critics, but I think these days neither have as much as they once had. Critics despised SUICIDE SQUAD and the public flocked to see it.
Critical acclaim can certainly help keep a network television show on the air, but only for so long. Eventually they need ratings. However, if you’re on a premium cable or streaming service, ratings are less important than positive buzz. So critics have a much more pivotal role. Nobody (but NOBODY) watches GIRLS anymore yet it's still on HBO.
What’s your Friday Question? Happy Labor Day Weekend. Drive safe out there.