Monday, November 07, 2016

THIS IS... not okay

THIS IS US did an episode recently where the Kevin character, who stars in a fictional lightweight sitcom, has a complete meltdown on the stage. He wants to be taken seriously as an “actor.”

Not sure if producers want the audience to admire him for his stance or dislike him for his misbehavior.

But my daughter, Annie, who has worked on sitcoms, had another take. And independently, I had the same reaction.

When a star of a television show has a tantrum and possibly shuts down a series he is costing over a hundred people their jobs. Suddenly, his “integrity” and need to be respected as an artist goes right out the window.

Most of those hundred people make way less money than the Kevins of the world. They have families to support, jobs are not that easy to come by, there's rarely stability, and they work extremely hard for zero recognition.

When we worked with Michael Douglas on the JEWEL OF THE NILE rewrite he had a great expression. He said, he as the lead had to take “responsibility as the star.” It was his job to set the tone on the set. And his job to recognize that hundreds of people depended upon him.

It is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. Peoples’ lives and livelihoods hang in the balance.

After the first season of ALMOST PERFECT, my fellow co-creators, David Isaacs and Robin Schiff, were called to New York to meet with Les Moonves. He wanted us to get rid of the boyfriend. This is a decision we vehemently opposed. The center of the show was the relationship between Nancy Travis and her boyfriend. Without that we pretty much had nothing. We could have stood up in the meeting and said, “Well, that’s not the show we signed on to do” and left. ALMOST PERFECT surely would have been cancelled and we would have been spared killing ourselves in season two trying to find clever entertaining stories.

But we had a staff and a crew, and it would have been totally irresponsible for us to just abandon them for the sake of our so-called “artistic integrity.”   Sometimes Hollywood is hard. 

THIS IS US is just a TV show (a very popular one) and what the ramifications are of Kevin’s blow up are up to the producers. I’m sure they’re laying out a string of behaviors to help define all of the characters over time.

But from an insider, more important than preserving the integrity of fictional characters on TV shows are taking care of the people who make them.

30 comments:

Jonathan said...

There's certainly a spectrum of selfish behavior, but I'm a little confused by the absolutism here. If artistic integrity on the part of actors and producers is never a reason to jeopardize jobs, then what about, for example, Ted Danson shutting down Cheers in 1993? Did "deciding it's time to move on" feel better to the unemployed crew who made much less than Mr. Danson than if he had left because the writing was lousy or the network insisted on terrible changes? I'm not suggesting Danson was wrong; just that there are a lot of reasons stars quit and cost people jobs and it seems impossible to say they are ALL selfishly irresponsible; or that artistic integrity is inherently more unpleasant than wanting to make movies with Whoopi Goldberg.

B.A. said...

I dunno, that 'take care of the real people' has some blowback, like 8 SIMPLE RULES. The star of the show died and they kept it going, with the network pouring on every Hail Mary stunt casting move to save that show. I'd guess there's a lot of tension in THE SIMPSONS now because of the announcement to keep the series going through 30 seasons. That's a BIG gravy train to stoke.

Roseann said...

RIGHT ON, KEN! Now that's a real life story. Indeed- a fish stinks from it's head. It's always the head that makes the difference.

Pat Quinn said...

I thought of this too Ken. But you have to keep in mind the producers and network people's reaction to the temper-tantrum/breakdown.

I would assume that it would be the director's responsibility to keep the star SOMEWHAT happy.

The way in went down in "This Is Us" was that all the decision makers were threatening to replace him with another "Manny" with a pretty face.

So, yes, that part of the show was stretching reality a bit thin. But I don't think that it was all on the part of the actor. If the actor was able to be that threatened, that alone, that combative with a director then producer of a show in which he was the star, I think his disregard for the production crew and fellow actors is believable.

So I think that "This Is Us" used creative license with the director/producers actions, moreso than the actor's actions.

Anonymous said...

And that's why most sitcoms suck.

Ken Levine said...

Ted Danson leaving after putting in eleven years is not the same thing. Eleven years is three lifetimes of a sitcom. Actors in those days signed, I believe, seven year contracts. Once they fulfilled that obligation, anything more is gravy. Ted was and remains a total mensch.

Ken Levine said...

P.S.

It's like if Red Sox fans were mad at Big Papi for retiring. At some point, it's "time." That's way different than your superstar player refuses to play in the World Series because the manager has him batting fifth.

Jonathan said...

Again, respectfully, it probably didn't make much difference to the crew members who were new that last year. But my point was that Danson is indeed a mensch, and the fact that his personal choice cost people jobs doesn't change his menschhood.

404 said...

Well, someone retiring from the Red Sox doesn't end the franchise; your lead retiring from a show pretty much does. So, they're not quite the same things.

After 11 seasons,though, I don't think anyone can fault his choice on that, but I just thought I'd be nitpicky there.

Stephen Marks said...

Ken's correct, the Danson argument is a bit of a stretch. Ted seems like a decent guy and the oceans are cleaner because of him. I tossed a styrofoam cup in last week and didn't see anything else. However I take issue with Douglas referring to himself "as the star." Come on man, you can't call yourself that and then claim you care about the grip guy, the lighting guy, the boom mike guy and the janitor, no way. Sorry, but I'm not buying it. No wonder his kids in jail, he couldn't measure up to the old man. Really? Didn't we all laugh when Norma Desmond said that? So in honor of Douglas's poor choice of words I'm renaming Sunset Bvld. to Wall St.

Jonathan said...

The P.S. is an entirely new argument. The prior analogy would be that Big Papi owes it to the hot dog vendors at Fenway to keep playing even if a) he's tired and b) the quality of play would be lousy.

I'm just suggesting that there are sometimes legitimate reasons to leave work of which one can't be proud, even if jobs are at stake. But I'll leave it there.

Unknown said...

I believe the character's meltdown and reaction was to show us how childish he was. He wasn't worried about himself or the people he worked with. He didn't really have a plan other than go to Broadway. And he failed there, except, and I'm sure this based on truth, got hired anyway because they thought his TV character would draw in people. The character is very flawed and that's what they were going for. -MW

Brian Phillips said...

I finished watching the last season of Scrubs and, to me, it was not as good as the penultimate season, which had a finale that seemed to wrap up the series.

Then ABC said, we changed our minds and we want another season. When Bill Lawrence, the show runner was asked why he did this, he said that his saying yes gave a crew that he liked one more season of work. I respect that, having been in a similar (non-entertainment) employment situation like this myself.

Matt said...

Michael Douglas calling himself the star of Romancing the Stone is not vain, it was reality. I am sure some "stars" care about the grip guy and some don't, it is just called decency.

Cat said...

Over 20 years later and we're still bringing up Whoopi?

Dixon Steele said...

Jonathan,

Blaming Ted Danson is any way for eventually leaving CHEERS, and in doing so "unemploying" people, seems to negate all the employment he created by staying on the show so long.

Stephen Marks said...

I'm not sure I understand you Matt. First, it was Jewel of the Nile not Romancing the Stone, and second you put the word "decency" in to describe someone who DOES NOT care about those mentioned. Referring to YOURSELF as a star is not reality, being the lead actor in a movie is though. Hey, circling back to Ted Danson, Kelsey Grammar once said he watched Ted and how he treated those he worked with and followed his lead. Neither called themselves "stars".

But Matt your comment has me thinking about 2 questions I've wanted to ask Ken. One, are there TV writers with a star on that Walk of Fame in Hollywood? Two, Ken have you ever been asked to write for a show in another country, say a British sitcom or Australian show? Thanks Matt, I kept forgetting to ask those questions.

DBA said...

For me, the THIS IS US example was (as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend puts it) a little more nuanced than that. I don't think the point of that meltdown was either just to make him look childish or to make us admire him. I think it was just to show him breaking down so the story the show wanted to tell about him could happen next. It's not at all OK what Kevin did, but it also happened immediately after what was presented as the writers/director not only coming up with an entire scene and plot to appease his previous complaints about the direction of the show, but filming the scene, which surely cost the studio a ton of money. Then turning around and promptly telling him "see we let you do what you wanted, but we're never going to use it, so now do the usual schtick you said was stupid and that you didn't want to do anymore". It was tremendously patronizing. It was also a super failed attempt at being conniving since it was an obvious bait and switch. Is he still an unprofessional ass for blowing up like that? Certainly. There were much better ways he could've tried to get out of that show, but then there'd be no plot (or it'd take longer than they wanted for the plot to get to the same point: him gone). So the point was he was broken in that moment, so the show could deal with the "how does he move on from this and deal with the fallout". But it was probably an untenable situation for both sides anyway, and they were both in the wrong for various reasons. It wasn't just him throwing a tantrum.

Myles Warden said...

This is us is probably the best new show on tv. Just my humble opinion but a lot of critics and fans agree. Just an FYI for those who read this blog but haven't seen it. Definitely give it a shot. Things don't go Kevin's way and I think you're mixed/confused reaction is the one we're supposed to have. This show doesn't make everything good or bad and right or wrong. Lines are blurred like in real life and all the characters are flawed in their own ways but act honestly according to their own morals and rules. That's part of why the show is so big and so loved. It's raw and honest while also being funny and emotional in a way most shows aren't able or allowed to be.

Myles Warden said...

Haha! So true. Great example!

Jonathan said...

Dixon, I'm not blaming Danson. My whole point is that he had absolutely fair and legitimate reasons for leaving when he did. The fact that it caused unemployment doesn't automatically make him wrong, just as other actors who leave television shows may not be wrong. I was never knocking Ted Danson; I was using him as a counterexample to what I felt was Ken's overgeneralization about any star who quits a TV show being selfish and uncaring.

Cat said...

Can I LIKE Dixon Steele's comment?

Don't we all think that if you work on a TV show that your employment is based on how many years that show runs, and if you're good at your job, you will still be getting work once the show is canceled or ends? I thought that was a given.

Diane D said...

When you consider how quickly the career of an actor can tank, the sacrifice so crew can work a few more months seems out of proportion. Especially since they know as well as the actors and creators exactly what the business they have chosen is like. It would be better for the million dollar salaries to chip in and pay them a few months income from their own pockets as Conan once did.

Diane D said...

Jonathan
What you were saying was crystal clear to anyone who speaks English. How Dixon S could misunderstand after you explained it 3 times is bewildering. I really worry that the English language is being lost and everyone just speaks his own unique language.

Jon B. said...

Not a fan of THIS IS US, but I interpreted that scene way differently than you did. The vibe I got was that the hunky actor would either have to do what the network wants or he'd be replaced by some other no-talent himbo. In the end, the character came across as a petulant jerk anyway, even if he didn't necessarily jeopardize the jobs of scores of others.

Cap'n Bob said...

I've never heard of the show.

Andy Rose said...

This is why I've never understood anyone actively rooting for a show to be canceled. If you don't like it, fine, don't watch it. (Or watch the older episodes you liked way back when.) But why do you want to see people put out of work? It's a thousand channel universe now, there are probably more "good" shows out there than you have time to watch anyway.

Pat Reeder said...

This reminds me of an article I read about ten years ago (don't recall where) about big movie stars who bloviated about income equality and how much they care about poor workers having to scrape by. Meanwhile, the crew members on their pictures complained that they were pulling extra duty without assistants or were losing their jobs to non-union states because those very same stars demanded such huge pay that the budgets had to be slashed in all other areas. It never dawned on the stars that there was any connection between their demands for $10 or $20 million upfront plus 20% of the gross and one lighting guy having to cover the work of three people. I hope that with CGI replacing movie stars in terms of box office draw, that trend is on the wane.

BTW, to Stephen Marks: I don't know if anyone else appreciated your Styrofoam cup line, but I laughed my ass off at it.

Loosehead said...

We don't get that show over here in Britland, so I'm confused. Did the actor in the actual sitcom have a meltdown, or did the actor in the sitcom that is one of the themes of the actual sitcom, have a meltdown? Not even sure that what I just said makes any sense, but the way your post is written, I kinda lost my way halfway through.
Agree with you about Ted Danson, or any lead starting to feel stale. After 11 years the show would have started to lose its sparkle and probably the crew were starting to feel it too. If Mr Danson wasn't enthusiastic about delivering a great performance every week, it would have showed and reflected badly on everyone concerned. I think that sort of effect is starting to come through on a few other shows (*cough*Criminal Minds*cough*, *cough*CSI Las Vegas*cough, *cough NCIS*cough*). Can't say I agree about the baseball analogy though, for the reason 404 gave.
Dave

Johnny Walker said...

This is a great point to make. "Artistic integrity" and Hollywood don't mix too well, and you really can't delude yourself that they do. That isn't to say that wonderful, affecting, brilliant content hasn't come out of Hollywood, just that you're unlikely to be able to serve your muse in a selfish way when working in something as financially motivated and highly collaborative as the film/TV industry. I suppose that sometimes you may get lucky, and are able to work on something without compromise, but many times your job is to do the best you can while bombs rain from the sky and the ground keeps opening up. Producing great content with those restrictions and that uncertainty requires an incredible amount of talent by itself.

Let me ask you though, Ken, could ALMOST PERFECT have continued without you and David? Could you have put the show into another's hands? If you had decided that you both wished to keep your "artistic integrity" (whatever that really is), but you didn't want the show to collapse (and you could deal with the pain of it continuing with someone else), could you have handed it over?