Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post either because the subject matter warranted it or I’m just incredibly verbose.
It’s from Carl:
Ken, what is your opinion of children on sitcoms? I've noticed that the shows you've worked on rarely feature them. Myself, I've noticed that many sitcoms will make an effort early on to give the kiddies screen time, then give up and only trot them out when the plot demands an appearance.
But as a director, I’ve worked with kids quite often. They do present certain challenges, which must be taken into consideration.
The first one of course is stage parents. You may get an adorable talented kid but all too often Momzilla comes as part of the bargain. Cruella de Vil with notes.
There are also quite a few restrictions in place that hamper production, but that’s for a good reason. They’re all for the protection of the child. Not that Hollywood would ever take advantage of kids and work them twenty-hour days like mules and force them to take diet pills if they gained two ounces, but just to be on the safe side, kids can only work so many hours and classroom instruction is mandatory. Still, it’s a arduous day for these youngsters, many of whom would rather be playing videogames with their friends than doing planned-pick-ups.
So it means a director only has them for limited periods. We have to work around their schedules. If we’re shooting the show in front of a live audience we have to do it earlier to ensure they wrap at a decent hour. (Hey, wait a minute. That's a good thing.)
Generally, kids don’t get the rehearsal time they need. And in truth, they’re the ones who need it the most because they don’t have the experience adult actors have. Although Kaitlyn Dever can hold her own with Oscar winners.
So producers have to ask themselves – is it really worth it? More than one family comedy has opted to downplay the role of the children over time because of the obstacles.
With young kids (like the twins were at the time), it's unrealistic to ask them to memorize a lot of dialogue. So that cuts down on their screen time.
I know a number of actors who are in their 20’s and even 30’s who can still pass for teenagers. And believe me, these actors are in greater demand than Meryl Streep.
The other problem with using children is that they tend to grow up. As a director, it’s hard to tell them not to. I believe Disney Channel series usually only go three or four seasons because of this.
Of course, their aging can also be a plus. As they enter new stages of development it can open up new areas for stories. But as the fine folks of GLEE have learned, you can’t keep the same kids in high school for seven years (although they could probably get away with it on JUSTIFIED).
Some children I've worked with are a pleasure and others are world-weary fifty-year-olds trapped in the body of a ten-year-old. My heart always goes out to children actors, even the successful ones. It's tough enough dealing with peer pressure, puberty, and pimples. I can't imagine also being rejected by the producers of THE SUITE LIFE ON DECK.