Friday, December 23, 2016

Friday Questions

Friday questions just in time for the holidays. 

Michael has two:

1) Any writing jobs do you regret not accepting?

There was one I regretted until about a year ago.   You'll see why soon enough.

We were offered the job to write the COSBY pilot but had to turn it down because AfterMASH had gotten picked up for a second season and we were still locked in.  It would have been a great credit THEN, but now I'm not at all upset that my name is not associated with Mr. Cosby. 

Otherwise, there were some new shows that offered us a guarantee of 13 episodes and were canceled after 3,  meaning they had to just pay us off for the remaining ten.   We missed some golden opportunities there.

And then of course, walking away from comedy goddess Traci Lords

2) When you wrote for The Simpsons, did you approach it like a live-action show or did you try to include things that only could be done in animation?

We did treat it as live-action because the characters had to have real emotions. The animation part allowed us tremendous freedom and we tried to take advantage of that – doing scenes you couldn’t do (or afford) otherwise, but in our heads we were writing live-action.
 
If you overheard any of our internal discussions about the characters you would think we were talking about real people -- damaged real people but real just the same.

But that’s just us. I can’t speak for any other SIMPSONS writers (who are all welcome to chime in).  

sophomorecritic wonders:

How do you ensure writers aren't slacking off on weeks where they're not writing the episode? What specifically are they doing on weeks when the show isn't written by them?

We put ankle bracelets on them and monitor their whereabouts at all times.  Those bitches work for us!

Seriously, when you’re on staff of a show your day is spent in the writers room with everybody else – coming up with notions, breaking stories, rewriting this week’s show, re-writing next week’s. Depending on the show and time of the season, sometime if you’ve got a script assignment they let you skip your room responsibilities and just go off and write the draft. But more often than not you have to write the script on your own time.  So the 80 hour week becomes a 100 hour week.  And that's fine if the show goes into syndication and you get residuals forever.  If you killed yourself to write that MAN WITH A PLAN episode I'm sorry. 

Here’s one from Jose:

Do tv writers typically get paid weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly?

They get paid LATE most of the time. That’s the real answer. If you’re on staff you’re generally paid so much per episode. That’s totaled and rationed out every two weeks. But I’m sure different studios have different pay schedules.

The only thing they all do is pay you late. Or not at all.

In going back through contracts my agent recently discovered that David and I were still owed money from a pilot we sold four years ago. “Oops”, the studio said.

And finally, from Anonymous: (please leave a name when asking a question. It won’t go on your police record.)

What I'm curious about now is whether you have had to wade through eccentricity more often than not. In interacting with the actors and directors and producers - and hey maybe writers too - would you say that there are more eccentrics working in the biz or that they are the exception?

Eccentricities are certainly tolerated more in this industry than others. The creative process is nebulous at best. But for the most part everyone is just normally neurotic and crazy.

As for eccentricities: There was a writer who could only work in the valley. He couldn’t go into Los Angeles. So he could never work at 20th or Sony or Paramount or pitch HBO or SHOWTIME or FOX.  Needless to say, his agent was thrilled.

I know actors who don’t like to make eye contact with anyone. Others who have to be the last one to enter the stage before a runthrough (but that’s just diva shit).

My favorite was a certain TV director. She directed multi-camera shows. Directors have a podium to set down their scripts. The podium is always on wheels so you can roll it from scene to scene.

This director had her own. She had a hobby horse built with a music stand for the script. All day long she sat on this hobby horse and rolled around the set.  It's like Annie Oakley rides in to save your show.

What’s your Friday Question and have a fabulous Christmas weekend?

18 comments :

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

All I want to say to Ken and all the fabulous & astute readers of this Blog:

Happy Festivus, Happy Hanukkah, and Merry Christmas to you!!!

Johnny Walker said...

"Seriously, when you’re on staff of a show your day is spent in the writers room with everybody else – coming up with notions, breaking stories, rewriting this week’s show, re-writing next week’s. Depending on the show and time of the season, sometime if you’ve got a script assignment they let you skip your room responsibilities and just go off and write the draft. But more often than not you have to write the script on your own time. So the 80 hour week becomes a 100 hour week. And that's fine if the show goes into syndication and you get residuals forever. If you killed yourself to write that MAN WITH A PLAN episode I'm sorry."

Wait... what? I've never heard this before. You're expected to be in the room five days a week, full time, and then write your script assignment in your OWN TIME?? I thought writers on assignment were taken out of the room for a couple of weeks to put together a draft? I would love to learn more -- it just doesn't sound feasible the way you describe it. Surely you have to have time to focus on your script?

Thanks!

Julian Brown said...

Happy Holidays, Ken.

I have a Friday Question: Have you ever encountered a professional situation where the jockeying for position backfired in a big, unintentionally shadenfreude inducing way?

[i was thinking about Edwin EncarnaciĆ³n signing with Cleveland, who eliminated Toronto in the playoffs last season, which begs for some karmic comeuppance. For instance : NHL player Marion Hossa 'chased the cup' with consecutive 1 year deals in Detroit and Pittsburgh, who met in the finals both seasons, and whichever team he was on lost that year.]

Looking forward to the podcast,
Julian

SharoneRosen said...

" She had a hobby horse built with a music stand for the script. All day long she sat on this hobby horse and rolled around the set. It's like Annie Oakley rides in to save your show."

Where can I get me one of them??? Sounds perfect for when I'm singin' my Western songs!

Mitchell Hundred said...

I can't find it now, but a while back I saw a video talking about how The Simpsons is great precisely because it balances the genuine characters you get in live-action shows with the weird visual gags of cartoons. So writing it like a live-action show makes sense to me. I can see the approach not working for other shows, though.

Frank Beans said...

Wow, Ken, I had no idea before that you and David Isaacs wrote the classic "Saturdays Of Thunder" (aka the soapbox racer episode) for THE SIMPSONS. That's always been one of my absolute favorites. My lucky red hat is off to you!

Anonymous said...

Schadenfreude has no element of comeuppance or backfire in it. It is actually slightly more malevolent than those judgements. It simply means deriving pleasure from others misfortune, regardless of the reason for it.

Arthur Mee said...

A Friday question:

One of your more obscure credits is The Marshall Chronicles, a show I watched and enjoyed. (And a show now most famous for having forced a little show called The Seinfeld Chronicles to change its name, to avoid confusion.)

My question is: how much thought was given to what would happen after the first season? Marshall was taking his SATs, so would the next season have been set in college? (Which would necessitate new sets, new cast members, dropping of some existing cast) Or was is going to remain a high school show for as long as they could stretch it out, Head Of The Class-style?

Or was the thought "let's get this on the air, and worry about second season later"?

Breadbaker said...

Did you happen to catch the Jeopardy episode with a category of answers all read by Tony Bennett? One of the answers was about "Dancin' Homer" (I think the question was simply "What is the Simpsons?").

RyderDA said...

Barry Sonnenfeld is proud of the horse saddle-topped wheeled cart he sits on while directing movies like MEN IN BLACK and RV. Many photos of the silly contraption, but he liked it.

MikeN said...

>In going back through contracts my agent recently discovered that David and I were still owed money from a pilot we sold four years ago. “Oops”, the studio said.

Good catch by your agent. I take it the pilot didn't air?

fred said...

In Good-Bye Radar Part 1 and 2. You can see Gary's left hand "a lot". Was this something the crew knew was aware of ? Was this talked about? Or just something that Gary did on his own?

Aaron Hazouri said...

Kind of a specific Friday question but what the hell... I met with an exec at a studio recently who asked if I had anything to pitch to him, but mentioned they'd need it fast, so I got something to him within the next 10 days. If he hates the pitches, should I expect a response? "Thanks but no thanks?" Or is it like the comics world where you assume the answer is no unless you hear otherwise?

Aaron Hazouri said...

Kind of a specific Friday question but what the hell... I met with an exec at a studio recently who asked if I had anything to pitch to him, but mentioned they'd need it fast, so I got something to him within the next 10 days. If he hates the pitches, should I expect a response? "Thanks but no thanks?" Or is it like the comics world where you assume the answer is no unless you hear otherwise?

Wally said...

@Johnny Walker
Ken didn't get to the needs of writers/producers on set of single cam shows. Whether it's in Malibu, the lot, NY, Vancouver or LA, etc. many writers are there to oversee their eps.

IF you're a showrunner, you may be juggling 6 eps at a time (2 in pre-pro, 2 being shot, 2 in post). That was how "Lost" was managed, anyway.

The only show I know of where there was no writers' room was Law & Order under Rene Balcer. It may have started prior to that and/or continued that way. Not entirely sure (altho it was probably tradition by then).

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I was an extra in Rocky IV (unpaid I should add) and before Sly would grace us with his appearance, the director would cue the sound man to play Eye Of The Tiger, and have us cheer Rocky Rocky Rocky..."

Johnny Walker said...

@Wally Incredible. I know Damon Lindeloff quit several times on LOST. I can only imagine the strain. Also, FWIW, in terms of multicam shows, SEINFELD never had a writer's room. Ken has written before about an actor's schedule on a multicam shows (and how it's the best job in show business). I love to see a writer's week broken down in a similar way.

Ken was also a baseball announcer while working on some shows, for example. When did he find time not to drop dead from exhaustion, I wonder?

Andrew said...

It's sad to hear that about Cosby, although I understand your assessment. I wonder how many people who worked on that show now have to deal with the fallout.

It was so refreshing to see Phylicia Rashad as the mother in Creed, first because it was such a surprisingly good movie, but also because it separated her from the Cosby backlash.