Sunday, September 04, 2016

Some of my most asked Friday Questions

But always worth answering again (especially on a holiday weekend when I'm in rehearsal for my new play). 

kermit is the latest to ask this one:

If I'm a writer who's written for broadcast and print but has no background in show business, and I've written an original script(not a spec)that I think is pretty good...where do I go from here? Is there someone who can look it over and tell me if it's good, or not, or where it might need a nip and tuck? Would an agent ever read anything cold-mailed to him/her, or would the agent send it back unopened?

I would enroll in a writing class at a local university. Most have nighttime extension programs. Between the instructor and your classmates, you will get feedback. Here’s what I wouldn’t do: There are “writers” out there who advertise their consulting services. You pay them a thousand dollars; they read and critique your script. There may be exceptions, but those are a rip-off. You’re paying big money with no idea if the reader is any good. At least a college course is reasonable, the instructor is somewhat credible, and you’ll be introduced to other hopefuls like yourself and can create a network and support system.

You can enter your script in screenplay contests.  If well-received, that will give a leg up when trying to land representation.  

Never send an agent anything that isn’t your very best work. You get one shot at making an impression. You’re not looking at an agent to critique your script; you’re looking at him to represent you. You need to impress him.  Best of luck.

unkystan asks:

When there is a spin-off of a continuing series, is the spin-off cast contractually obligated to do it? I read somewhere that Norman Fell and Audra Lindley were very upset when "The Ropers" was quickly cancelled and they couldn't go back to "Three's Company". Same with Polly Holliday ("Flo"). What if they refuse to do it?

When characters are spun-off into their own series they strike new deals, usually for a lot more money. Sometimes there might be a clause allowing them to either guest on their original series or return to it if the spin-off tanks.

But often times once you leave the nest you’re out. The original series moves on and your character might no longer fit in. That’s the risk you take.

My favorite spin-off story is from SANFORD & SON. It became THE SANFORD ARMS. Neither Redd Fox or Demond Wilson were in it. As someone said, “NBC just renewed the set.”

Brian has a MASH question:

Ken- The show jumps around in time quite a bit. There were episodes where Eisenhower was president and then a few years later Truman is president. There are other examples too. When you and David were working on the show, was there any direction as far as a timeline?

The big cheat on that show was that it lasted 3 1/2 times longer the Korean War. During our years we tread that lightly. After we had left they did an episode that took place over an entire year. It was a clever idea and good episode, but to me it just pointed out the enormous conceit we were asking the public to buy. Not to mention how it screwed with the show’s timeline. Since the episode focused on 1951 that meant that the whole Trapper, Henry Blake, Radar, Frank Burns era (8 or 9 seasons of the show) all took place during a roughly one year period.

But let's face it, by that point in the series run MASH was bulletproof. They could have done a show where the Starship Enterprise landed on the chopper pad and they’d get away with it.  And if the show had gone another two years I bet that idea might have started looking pretty good.  

And finally, from Mike:

I just saw a commercial for a film that gave away one of the funnier bits in the film. Did you ever have a promo for one of your shows that gave away too much and ruined the joke or the show for the viewer?

That was a constant battle with network promo people. My big concern wasn’t spoiling jokes. It was giving away key plot twists.

Now then, movie trailers. I never care if they use the best jokes. For whatever reason, when audiences eventually watch the movie and those jokes arrive they still laugh, sometimes harder. I don’t really know why. I guess that’s my Friday Question.

You can leave your Friday Questions in the comments sections. Muchas thanks, and enjoy the last official weekend of summer.  Christmas ads begin Tuesday.  


sanford said...

Regarding movie trailers, I tend to forget what I have seen by the time the movie comes out. That goes for comedy or drama. In some cases I don't see the movie until they are on HBO or Showtime. By that time I have mostly forgotten what the trailers are about. Is this something fairly recent where movie trailers give so much away? Did this occur in the 30's, 40's or 50's

Stu West said...

I just watched a ROCKFORD FILES episode called "Irving the Explainer." It was written by David Chase and had a very sitcom-like premise: every guest character Rockford meets on the case delivers a huge amount of exposition until he finally has to hire a student of logic from the local university to make sense of it all. It got me thinking that I'd have liked to see a Levine & Isaacs ROCKFORD. So my question is: which hour-long series, past or present, would you most like to have written for and why?

cd1515 said...

I guess movie trailers have the opposite effect on me.
When I see a bunch of jokes and key moments in the trailer, I never think "they must have a lot MORE of that in the movie."
I think "well, I've just seen most of the movie" and therefore don't go.

Terrence Moss said...

@unkystan -- in some cases, the producers will replace (or threaten to replace) an actor or actress who says no to a spinoff.

That happened to Isabel Sanford when she was first approached about "The Jeffersons". One couldn't fault her reluctancy to leaving a top-rated show, but faced with being out of a job, she obviously changed her mind.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Re getting feedback on your script: it's worth checking out Meetup to see if there's a writing group in your area. In London, for example, the group OffthePage is a monthly meet-up to discuss scripts in progress - up to three people upload ten pages of something they're working on and the rest comment. The group is led by a veteran comedy writer and producer who keeps it constructive. She charges £3 to attend, which goes to pay the Meetup fees. People I've seen attend include professional actors, people who write plays for local amateur theater, writers interested in switching genres, and even people who just have an idea and don't know what to do next. Yesterday we had one of those, and spent a good amount of time talking about how she might develop her idea into stories and a script.


VP81955 said...

Re Wendy's comment: There are several such groups in the Los Angeles area. One of them is, largely comprised of comedy screenwriters; they meet each Tuesday evening in the Valley. They recently had an opening, so I attended a meeting and sought to join, but its leader emailed me the next day and said its membership is split between experienced writers and newcomers, and this time they were looking for the former. Ah, better luck next time.

Eric J said...

"And if the show had gone another two years I bet that idea might have started looking pretty good."

I camped at Malibu State Park last year and visited the outdoor set for the first time. Hats off to the guys who landed the helicopter there. Barely enough room to park a '51 Cadillac.

YEKIMI said...

Warning: Rant ahead...I've been running a movie theater for several years now. Used to be you got one or two previews and ran them into the ground before the movie came out. Today with the advantage of digital theaters it's not unusual to get several different versions of previews [or preview sequels if you wanna call them that]. I just received a digital "trail mix" where some of the films now have their SEVENTH & EIGHTH preview on it. At that point you don't need to see the movie, just watch all the previews in order and you'll probably see every scene that will be in the movie. Rant # 2: Watching previews I'll see a scene or two that makes me bust out in laughter and when I see the movie....nada, zip, that scene isn't in the movie. Rant 3: Years ago, before a movie was released, sometimes the film companies would show the movie to exhibitors a month or two before release. One of the movies I remember watching, [one of the "Porky's" movies, Porkyzuma's Revenge or something like it] had a hysterically funny scene towards the beginning of the movie. Movie comes out, that entire scene is missing and I end up looking like an idiot because I had told friends about it and it and it's not there. Later found out that the film company had excised it otherwise they wouldn't have gotten the rating they wanted. So therefore we booked a movie on false pretenses. Nowadays, not a big deal, it'll be on the DVD extras. The more interesting one was when Disney had a preview for The Black Hole before a lot of the special effects were added, before that had matted out some of the special effect wires, etc., before the music was added and the soundtrack [dialogue] hadn't been added to the film but had been synced up by a reel to reel player. Now Disney put on a shindig for that, complete with marching bands and catered lunch. I'm a sucker for special effects and they showed storyboards of what the special effects would be and look like on the parts of the film were they weren't completed. Just on that alone we booked the film. Pretty much what they showed was what they delivered when the film was completed.

Robert Forman said...

Regarding your question, some jokes are funnier in context. Some jokes are funnier in context with a big appreciative audience (I'm thinking of the Blazing Saddels campfire fart jokes). Some jokes just never get old. For me, I always laugh at the Get Smart "Craw" joke. I don't know why, but it just continues to crack me up and I alway find myself smiling when I think about it. Commercials can have a joke you just don't get tired of (I'm thinking "Momma Mia, that's a one spicy meatball"). I crack up every time I see the Geico pirate commercial too. Do you have any jokes that just tickle you any time you hear them?

Johnny Walker said...

Wow, Mike asked that question in 2012! ( If you haven't had your question answered... patience!

Mike said...

Re: Norman Fell and Audra Lindley. When they agreed to do THE ROPERS, they were told by ABC and the series producers that if THE ROPERS lasted less than a calendar year, they would go back to THREE'S COMPANY. After Fell and Lindley left, THREE'S COMPANY wound up landing Don Knotts to replace them, a coup they had not expected. More than happy with Knotts, ABC kept THE ROPERS on the air *just* long enough that the clause guaranteeing Fell and Lindley's return to COMPANY wouldn't have to be exercised.

Re: Polly Holliday and FLO. Holliday said years later that she would have left ALICE when she did irregardless of whether or not her FLO spinoff had happened. ALICE star Linda Lavin was known to have been very unhappy about the Flo character pulling a Fonzie and becoming an audience favorite. Lavin apparently was not very gracious about sharing the show's spotlight. The ALICE set was not known to have been a very pleasant place during those years.

Matt said...

I never go see a movie where the trailer is bad (unless it is Star Wars) because I assume they just showed me the best parts.

David Arnott said...

"For whatever reason, when audiences eventually watch the movie and those jokes arrive they still laugh, sometimes harder. I don’t really know why. I guess that’s my Friday Question."

Almost always harder. And I think this is why:

Because they've been given permission to laugh.

While most of the same things make us cry, what we each find funny can be very different. This is why drama is thought to be easier than comedy (though, of course, both are hard to do well).

Going to a movie - actually sitting in a theater - is a group experience. So even though the lights are down and everyone's attention is on the screen, you are still aware that you're in a room with a bunch of strangers. And while no one's gonna care - or know, really - if you're choked up at the dog dying, or if you're heart swelled when the couple got back together, they *are* gonna notice - even if they don't care - if you laugh at some bad joke... and you're the only one laughing.

The jokes in the trailer essentially have a label on them that says: approved funny bit. It's okay to laugh here. Embarrass-free moment.

I have no proof or anything, but this has always been my theory.


RNK Fan Art said...

I have quite a few questions about the technical aspects of Cheers and Frasier and how they would relate to eventual Blu-Ray releases of both series.

My first questions is when Cheers and Frasier will be released on Blu-Ray. Also how were the shows filmed and edited for broadcast? Were they shot on 35mm film and edited on video tape? Was the original aspect ratio of the shows 4:3? Seasons 10 and 11 of Frasier were originally broadcast in widescreen HD. Were they matted from a 4:3 image or were they shot in a 16x9 aspect ratio?

I know Paramount spent a great deal of time and money to restore Star Trek: The Next Generation for a Blu-Ray release. ST:TNG had been shot on film but edited in standard definition video tape for broadcast. In order to bring it up to high definition quality Paramount had to go back and scan the original film negatives then reassemble the episodes, and redo all the special effects based on the original edits that had been made on tape.

Would this also be the case for Cheers and Frasier to bring them to the Blu-Ray format?

Johnny Walker said...

You can buy HD versions of Cheers on iTunes. I'd rate a Blu-Ray release as "unlikely".

Mike said...

I'm not Ken, but I couldn't resist replying to RNK Fan Art's question. I can't say for Frasier, but I highly doubt Cheers will ever come to Blu-Ray anyway. I hope I'm wrong, but its treatment on DVD just really leaves me doubtful. Yes, the episodes are all mostly unedited (save for some unfortunate music replacements that either edited some scenes or ruined some jokes), but the releases are rather disappointing. After the season 3 set, no extras at all were included. None. There's stuff we know exists, stuff Ken himself has shared (like the Super Bowl bit), but Paramount and then CBS Video just couldn't be bothered. You can find bloopers all over YouTube; why is there no gathering of bloopers on DVD outside of season two? Heck, the final episode isn't even on the DVD as it originally aired; it's broken up into three parts as it was shown in syndication, leaving several minutes missing.

This was the way one of the most award-winning and celebrated sitcoms of all time was treated on DVD? It's why I highly doubt we'll see a Blu-Ray release. I hope I'm wrong, of course -- and hopefully if we do see one some of the problems I mentioned can be remedied.


Chuck Edson said...

Regarding the MASH timelines, I always viewed the year-long episode as events that occurred between other episodes in the series. I figured that other interesting things must have happened to those characters during that year, and we would have seen them. I didn't interprete the episode timelines so linearly. I watched each episode as a depiction of related events that told a coherent (and funny) story.

Of course, it's been ages since I've watched that season, so maybe references in other episodes kills my theory. But it's no worse than assuming the war in the show lasted three times longer than it did in reality!

Anyway, that's my head-canon / rationalization.


Tech Guy said...

Johnny Walker said...

You can buy HD versions of Cheers on iTunes. I'd rate a Blu-Ray release as "unlikely"

Those are upconverted from standard definition. They look fine, but they're not "true" high definition transfers from the original elements. Unfortunately, "Cheers" was produced at a time when it became standard practice to transfer all film shot for an episode to videotape and edit in that format, which means getting "Cheers" on Blu-ray would involve re-transferring all that film and reconstructing the shows digitally. That is certainly do-able, but it's not inexpensive, and that means the question comes up of how many people out there are devoted enough to "Cheers" to buy the show again on Blu-ray, and how many people would react, "Eh. The DVDs look good enough."

"Cheers" wasn't edited on tape from the beginning. The first two or three seasons were edited the old fashioned way, but at some point in the mid 80s Paramount switched all their film shows to editing on tape.

Justin Russo said...


What does a show do if the lead actor becomes sick (not gravely ill where a character can be written out) but perhaps just a flu? Are they written around? What would "30 Rock" be without Liz Lemon in an episode? I recall one "Cheers" episode where Sam has the chicken pox, which excused Ted Danson from the remainder of the episode. In other instances, Joey once had a broken arm on "Friends" (which was added to the story) and I've noticed on "30 Rock" again Alex Baldwin with a stye in a few episodes.

Kathryn a librarian said...

How and when do writers, actors and directors get paid? If a starving actor gets cast in a movie or television show or a play, are they paid weekly or is a an agreed upon payment for the entire movie/television/theatrical season? Do they get a check when rehearsals begin and does it include travel time to a location? Weekly once the production starts? Up front at the beginning of a shoot or only at the end? Does the studio pay for their travel to a location plus room and board if it is far from home?

Does a writer get paid only when the script is sold or are there future payments if rewrites are needed? Are directors paid for the work they do before a production starts? Is it a weekly paycheck or is everything upfront or at the end?

Thanks, I have always wondered...

Andy Rose said...

Roughly the first half of the run of Cheers was edited entirely on film, so those could be potentially be scanned straight to HD. The problem is that they were still shot for a 4:3 aspect ratio before there was any thought of making things 16:9 safe. So either the original camera negatives were matted to 4:3, or the 1.85:1 prints might show crew members or set edges that aren't supposed to be on camera. You still either have to use pillarboxing or accept some tilt-and-scan.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Now then, movie trailers. I never care if they use the best jokes. For whatever reason, when audiences eventually watch the movie and those jokes arrive they still laugh, sometimes harder.

The trailer for the Spongebob movie sucker-punched me - it featured the only two good jokes in the entire movie. I took my son, then eight and endured. When they did two jokes I recognized them, but that was the sum total of my reaction - by then I was so beaten down by scatology and other juvie humor.

Of course, my son loved it.

Jahn Ghalt said...

I always laugh at the Get Smart "Craw" joke.

Do you have any jokes that just tickle you any time you hear them?

Wikipedia describes the "craw joke" - it's funny just imagining it - I can imagine it kills in the show.

(youtube is in my near future)

For one joke that gets me every time - "Frau Blucher!"

We went to see that film on Halloween a couple years ago. My son's good friend and his Dad showed up. I leaned over to him and said:

"Frau Blucher!" (my son's eyes must have rolled behind me).

"Dad" said, "I haven't seen the movie"

I recovered, replied:

"You have a treat coming up!"

I was in such a good mood that at the beginning I laughed before the punch lines (how annoying)

I soon got that under control.