Gather around kids for some Friday Questions.
John E. Williams gets us started.
On the many shows on which you worked, which actors in your opinion played their characters the most distant from their real personalities? For instance, I know you've told us Nicholas Colasanto was nothing even remotely like Coach, and I think we all know Kelsey Grammer in real life couldn't be less like Frasier Crane. I have always assumed Alan Alda is very much Hawkeye in a lot of ways, but for all I know I could be wrong.
Ted Danson – twice. Sam Malone was a former athlete and womanizer. Ted knew very little about baseball and was as far from a Lothario as one could be. It actually took him a while that first year to get into a groove because he was so the opposite of Sam.
And then as Becker. Ted is the world’s nicest guy playing a disagreeable crank.
Did you ever see him in that Louis CK series, HORACE AND PETE? He plays a bigot that makes Archie Bunker look like Mother Teresa.
I emailed him to say how much I enjoyed him in that role and he wrote back saying it was great fun to do.
From Alec Nickopopoulous:
"Friday Question" - Ken, I love the podcast. What is your studio setup? Quiet garage? Professional soundproof booth at home? And what mic are you using?
I do it out of my home office. I’m very lucky. The acoustics are great. When I close all the doors there’s no echo. Everything I record is edited and assembled on the computer, assisted by Adam Butler, who is an audio wizard.
It’s pretty amazing actually. People can now get studio quality or near-studio quality out of their homes or garages or sensory deprivation tanks.
Not sure of the mic. It looks like a baby Sennheiser. Or one of those mics you use to say "Number 12, your pizza's ready!"
I've been watching the TV show "The Good Place", which recently ended it's 13 episode first season. They've made "Extended Episodes" available on the NBC website and ON-Demand on some cable systems. It's been fun seeing extra dialogue and extra scenes which sometimes have good jokes or plot points which clarify later events. Other times, I can see why they felt the need to tighten the show up. I was wondering what you thought about it; is it a gift to the fans or does it dilute the impact of the show? Also, would you have liked the option to release Extended episodes when working on MASH, Cheers, Frasier,... or would you rather just leave well enough alone once things are final?
On the one hand, anything you can do to generate more fan interest in the show is a good thing. So if people are willing to log on to watch supersized versions of your series, great.
On the other, often less is more. Even if it means cutting some good jokes, usually the shorter version of a show is tighter and better. So the extended version is like serving a dish that is still under-cooked.
Of the shows I’ve worked on, the only one I wish we could offer longer versions is MASH. We crammed so much into those shows and if we had to cut for time we sometimes lost some real great stuff, but we had to in order for the stories to make sense. There are a few episodes during my watch that I feel are choppy and could use an extra two or three minutes.
But CHEERS and FRASIER – I prefer the air versions.
Longtime friend of the blog, Wendy M. Grossman has a FQ:
Over at his blog, Earl Pomerantz has a post up marveling at the number of outlets current writers have to pitch to. This is a situation freelance journalists are familiar with, and standard advice to beginners is always to study the markets (magazines, newspapers) you want to sell to and tailor your pitch to them. You can still, if you do it right, resell the same story to multiple non-competing outlets if you find different angles or ways to tell it for different audiences. So I'm wondering: do today's aspiring sitcom writers need to tailor their pitches differently for HBO, AMC, CBS, etc. Do they need to do more rewriting and rethinking for different outlets than they did in the past when there were just three networks?
You’re right, Wendy, pitches today do have to be tailored for each potential buyer. Every network has their own “brand” even if they really don’t but just think they do. Gone are the days you come up with one pitch and just peddle it from network to network. Today you have to illustrate how your show fits into their distinctive (even if its not) brand. A series you might pitch to CBS would never fly at Fox. Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and AMC and USA and TV LAND, etc. all have their agendas and a young writer would be wise to learn what those are.
The downside is you may only have one or two options per idea, but the upside is if you get lucky you can sell three different projects to three different networks.
What’s disheartening on the broadcast network level now is that you almost have to come in with a package deal. It’s not enough to have a million dollar idea. Now you have to have a director attached, or a star attached, or an A-list pod producer attached to get their attention. And it helps a lot if your idea is just an adaptation of a foreign show that is a success in that country.
And finally, from another longtime friend of the blog, Johnny Walker:
Ed Catmull talks a lot about the major benefit that Pixar experiences from visiting the places their stories are set in, and I know that you're from a school of TV writing, Ken, that benefited a lot from primary research (M*A*S*H, and the Charles Brothers on Taxi).
Did you get a chance to do any research before starting Big Wave Dave's? That would have been fun! :)
And the best part, of course, is that I was able to write off a trip to Hawaii as business and have it legit.
David Isaacs and I once met with a movie director who was very hot at the time, coming off a series of big hits. He said he didn’t care what his next movie was about as long as it was set in Hawaii. He wanted to spend several months in Hawaii. That’s what I call “artistic vision.”
What’s your Friday Question? I answer them on my podcast as well. Please check it out. You can leave your FQ’s in the comment section. Mahalo.