Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Questions

 First off, thank you all for the supportive comments yesterday.   Mel Brooks said in a recent article: 

'Stupidly politically correct society is the death of comedy'

I love Mel Brooks!!!

Okay, moving on.

You KNOW it’s the weekend when…

I’m answering Friday Questions. The first one comes from Matt in my hometown, Westwood CA:

The Emmys. For series actors when they are nominated or win in a given year, how do you find out the episode it is for? You've mentioned in a post Bebe Neuwirth won for the RAT GIRL episode. What about her other win? I think the assumption out there is it's for the whole year when in fact they ultimately win based on a single episode submitted, right? Would love to know if there is a reference guide for this, a book on the Emmy's many years ago had several examples of shocking wins/upsets that really came down to the episodes that were submitted that provided insight to the win. Classic example? Lindsay Wagner won for THE BIONIC WOMAN to the shock of many, but the actresses more likely to win submitted sub par episodes while Wagner’s was a knockout.

To my knowledge there is no reference guide for which episodes actors submit.  You can't even find it on that interweb the kids all talk about. But the actors (or their reps) try to pick their best episodes. And yes, I’m sure some lose because they choose the wrong episode to submit.

And Lindsay Wagner could submit any episode and I would vote for her.

Next up, Mr. Anonymous (please give a name):

I've read that a good package for TV writing is a spec of an established show plus a pilot script. Should they be in the same format, though? For instance, a spec of a sitcom and a pilot for a one-hour comedy/drama? Or would it be better to do two half-hour sitcom scripts and two hour-long scripts?

Most agents would stay pick a lane and stay in it. So I would say have a spec and pilot in the same genre. They both don’t have to be single or multi-camera but they both should be comedies or dramas.

But this is not a hard and fast rule. And I would certainly encourage you to write scripts in both genres, if for no other reason then to discover which genre you really excel in. Sometimes it might surprise you. Shawn Ryan told me he wanted to be a comedy writer and wrote several CHEERS specs. When those failed to set the world on fire he turned to drama. Shawn created THE SHIELD then later TERRIERS and TIMELESS (which according to several commenters has been renewed).

Alan Gollom asks:

Ken, is it more difficult to write comedy for movies than it is for tv? For example the writers for two tv sitcoms, Modern Family and Fresh Off the Boat seem to consistently come up with great scripts week after week. Would it be a lot more difficult for those same writers to write funny movies?

To keep people laughing for 90 minutes is a Herculean task. But the advantage screenwriters have is only one story to tell. So they can devise a very funny premise, squeeze every joke they can out of it, and build to an ending.

In sitcoms your characters and situation are pretty much running in place. So to keep finding laughs in the same situation week after week, year after year is, to me, about equal to screenplays on the difficulty scale.

I once wrote a spec screenplay that I thought would be a breeze. I wanted to write just a balls-out comedy. Turns out it was an extremely hard script to write. To keep the laughs coming and building at a lightening pace was way tougher than I thought it would be.

That’s why I bristle when I get notes and the person says, “Yeah, it’s FUNNY, but…” Do you know how hard it is to make something FUNNY?

Buttermilk Sky wonders:

Alan Alda and Mike Farrell wrote and/or directed several episodes of MASH. Have you ever had to deal with stars who thought they possessed these skills but were simply mistaken? That must be a tough meeting to take.

Sometimes actors will get it in their deal that they get to direct one episode a season. And you just have to suck it up and do what you can in editing.

You try to give those directors the least complicated shows. Although, I must admit, when you know someone is a bad director you don’t want to waste a good script on him. So he starts out with a weaker script, which further limits his possibility of success.

Switching gears, I will tell you a few more actors I’ve worked with who are TERRIFIC directors. Adam Arkin and Kelsey Grammer.

What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks.

35 comments :

Annie C said...

It's been a long time, but I remember someone on eother Merv Griffin or Mike Douglas call Lindsay Wagner "the thinking man's Farrah Fawcett."

Mitchell McLean said...

George Carlin had it right: "Political correctness is fascism pretending to be manners."

Rock Golf said...

"Shawn created THE SHIELD then later TERRIERS (and TIMELESS, which should have gotten renewed)."

Ron Howard voiceover: It did.

marka said...

My Friday question is about flashback episodes, where the only thing the actors have to say in the show is a version of “yea, and do you remember the time when...”. They seem like they’re done only to give everyone except the editor the week off.

Why do they do them? Why do the networks allow them to happen? Am I the only one who hates them? But, really, what is your opinion of them?

Of course Frasier did it right but doing flashbacks that were NOT a part of previous shows.

ADmin said...

Just an observation that kinda leads to a question :) The other day, watching an old rerun of Married with Children, (a show I used to like when it was running) I realized that the jokes, in my opinion, weren't all that funny. And yet, I found myself enjoying it. Then it dawned on me that it was the deft and humorous execution of Ed O'Neill. What are your thoughts on actors who have the remarkable talent to elevate or even carry a script? (I'm getting the same inkling from The Orville.)

Tom said...

Timeless got renewed shortly after it was cancelled. Time travel is complicated.

DaisyMae said...

They picked up Timeless after all. So not cancelled. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/timeless-saved-cancellation-as-nbc-reverses-course-season-2-renewal-1003568

Johnny Hy said...

Great news Ken! Timeless was renewed for 13 episodes coming back next year. They originally cancelled it but changed their minds. My wife and I were late to it but absolutely love it and I hope that is true for a lot of people. By the way, if you have not seen Abigail Spencer in Recitfy, please do. She is fantastic. Finally, keep up the snark. Some people are just looking for a reason to complain. Your posts and the one podcast I have listened to are great and please keep it up!

DG said...

I'm having a rough day. Thank you for reminding me that Alan Arkin exists. The man is a powerhouse onscreen; I'm delighted to learn that he directs well.

Dr Loser said...

"And Lindsay Wagner could submit any episode and I would vote for her."

Well, there have to be conditions here. I would require a Lindsay Wagner patented smile, first. At which point, dress to the left, fall over to the left; dress to the right, fall over to the right.

If Gretchen Corbett ever smiles at me, I'm going to be in real trouble.

cd1515 said...

Friday question: what I remember of All in the Family, it was a lot of Archie & Meathead arguing about politics and race.
Wouldn’t that work again today in the Trump/Kaepernick era, since everything else seems to be getting “rebooted”?
How would you write it and cast it?

RyderDA said...

Friday Question: You have repeatedly written how TV comedy writers do re-writes of weak material during the show's actual taping. You have not commented whether that happens in movies (that I can remember). I occasionally watch awful, unfunny movies and wonder how they ended up on screen being unfunny and awful (did no one notice this coming?). It strikes me that movies have more opportunities than the tight shooting schedule of TV to get it RIGHT. I can imagine movies get a LOT more "notes" (since there's a lot more time to give them through the process) that could help get it "wrong". The quality of the humour on TV is generally higher than most rom-coms. So why is it there are more "rom-com bombs" when they have seemingly more ability to get it right?

Peter said...

Ken, as I know you're a fellow fan of action movies, may I recommend American Assassin. It's got a great performance by Michael Keaton as a badass who trains the hero, and lots of fun action. Plus, in line with yesterday's theme, it's delightfully politically incorrect and its honest depiction of islamic terrorism is guaranteed to trigger many a snowflake and cause them to retreat to their safe spaces.

William Mercado said...

Someone should tell Quentin Tarantino that the studios not allowing the use of the "N word"

Anne said...

Fried Egg Day Question: 'The Good Place' is back for Season 2, having ended Season 1 with a twist. Would love to hear your thoughts on this show.

By season's end I liked the whole ensemble but it was mostly the relationship of Eleanor and Chidi that was funny and interesting enough to keep me watching. Originally I'd just tuned in for Ted Danson. (So I like Ted Danson. Arrest me.)

Anyway, they just ended Episode 2 with a twist, too. My question is, what do you think about all this twisting? They also threw in a bunch of new characters. Are they re-inventing sit-com structure, or just playing around with it? Or what?

Cat said...

I'm on my fourth (okay, fifth) rewatch of Fargo, season two. Adam Arkin directed the final two episodes of that season, and he's a wonderful director. The whole show was brilliant, if anyone hasn't seen it, please run to Hulu right now!

Jahn Ghalt said...

It would be interesting to know the background behind Jon Hamm and John Slattery working as "guest director" on a handful of Mad Men shows (each did more than one).

I'd also be interested to know how you, Ken, evaluated them as a not-involved, professional, fan of that show.

Judging by all the DVD commentaries and other yak yak about how that show was produced, it was a great environment to "cut ones teeth" as a rookie director - Weiner seemed to have a great system - not to mention a terrific, very cinematically-oriented, DP.

I also find it interesting that Robin Wright also has several directing credits for House of Cards. So far as I could tell, she had a great DP for those episodes - but what about the rest of it?

Tony said...

Re: flashback episodes, a.k.a. "clip shows"

A big part of why they were done is because they were cheap. Film a few scenes to set up the clips, and you've saved a few dollars out of that season's budget.

Clip shows used to be easier to justify in the 1950s and '60s, when it was very rare for a series to go into syndication until after it had completed its network run. The final episode of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, for example, had the Cleavers looking through a photo album and recalling past misadventures. During its final season, I LOVE LUCY did a Christmas show that featured clips from some of the episodes about Lucy and Ricky having a baby. In both cases, the episodes the clips were drawn from hadn't been seen since their original airings, several years earlier. That was a very different situation than the one you were seeing in the 1970s, when series like HAPPY DAYS were doing a clip show annually, with clips drawn from episodes aired only a year earlier.

THE GOLDEN GIRLS used to occasionally do episodes that looked like clip shows, but weren't. The girls would recall attempts they'd made at self improvement or some of the odd sleeping arrangements they'd found themselves in or business ventures they'd attempted. But the vignettes you saw were written and shot especially for those episodes. No old footage. It did get confusing, though, when the series eventually did do a few genuine clip shows and sometimes recycled those "vignette" episode scenes in those.

gottacook said...

DG: Both Alan Arkin and Adam Arkin are directors, although I'm not sure how long it's been since Alan directed anything.

Brian said...

Friday Question: After looking at an episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show, I noticed that the writers were always credited at the end. Now, they almost always seem to be credited at the beginning. Is that union standard or can a show make a choice when to credit writers?

Philip said...

Kelsey Grammar directed the episode, i want to say it's called MOON DANCE, where daphne and niles have a large dance number. I love the direction on that one. You can easily tell (esp. when I binge watch) when he directs an episode because of his style, which I think is pretty cool.

Donald Benson said...

There's PC and there's PC. Yesterday's post was legitimate and entertaining. My own beef is the Cartmanesque jerk who whines about the tyranny of PC because a woman called him on a rape joke, or demands applause because he has the "courage" to be offensive without being perceptive or even amusing. I think of the mock rebel of the 60s, who'd verbally piss on your shoes and congratulate himself for his "honesty". If you complained -- or started to undo your own fly -- you were assailed with such words as "uptight", "repressed" and even "middle class".

Chris G said...

How does it work when a star wants to write an episode? I've seen this turn out both ways - Dacid Duchovny wrote on of the best episodes of X-Files, but Anthony LaPaglia wrote a Without A Trace that was borderline incoherent. Does the actor get a minder or a tutorial or something like that? I imagine a terrible script is harder to make work than an inexperienced director.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Shawn Ryan's dramas are pretty damn funny, in addition to being dramatic. Do you think writing comedy helps a writer come up with twisted situations in drama?

Related to nothing, my Tigers radio station just went off the air for some reason and the frequency has been crowded by a Christian rock/pop station. Sigh.

Andy Rose said...

@Tony: Community did a fake "remember when" episode that consisted entirely of new scenes and plot elements that had never been touched on in any previous show. As I recall, it wound up being one of their most expensive shows because they had to do so many completely different scenes, some of which only lasted for one line. They wound up filming much of it on the Universal backlot so that they could shoot multiple different-looking scenes physically closely together, letting them do multiple location setups per day.

Bradley said...

Some Emmy Award submissions from previous years can be found on Gold Derby. For instance, here is a list from 1992/93. http://www.goldderby.com/emmy-episode-submissions-1992-93/ There are other years that can be found as well.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Cd1515, I think there are dozens of shows that are aboutbTrump. Some of them comedy, unintentionally and intentionally, some are talk shows, and some are pretend news.

It's actually harder to find non political comments on television.

However none do it as well as All In the Family.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I agree RyderDA. You figure a movie is like a sitcom pilot. It's been written and rewritten a thousand times and cast and recast. So why are they so awful.

Unknown said...

The short lived Clerks: The Animated Series did a pretty funny take on a clip show where the guys get locked in the walk-in fridge and pass the time by reminising. The joke is that it was only the second episode, so all the clips are from the pilot. By the end they start bringing up moments they already showed at the beginning of the episode, and desperate for something new to talk about, resort to "remember that time we go locked in the walk-in fridge?"

Brad Apling said...

I was reading about Burt Styler - writer on many comedic shows like My Favorite Martian, Gilligan's Island, Flying Nun and MASH, but also wrote several scripts for All In The Family. The latter, like MASH, had a mixture of comedy but also touching on social issues of the times. How do you wrap your mind (or typewriter) around something that is almost a 'laugh-a-minute' (though not quite exactly) like My Favorite Martian to something that has comedic lines but also some thought-provoking dialogue? You don't want over the top laughter in telling the story for the episode nor do you want heavy drama (unless that is the point of a particular episode).

kanana said...

ken,

does tv writing come down to problems and solutions?

VP81955 said...

To Brad Apling:

Nick Bakay and Sheldon Bull, both alumni of "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch," write or produce on "Mom." (Note: Melissa Joan Hart is seven months older than Anna Faris.)

Wind22 said...

Johnny Mathis was a frequent discussion for the gang at Cheers? Sam needed Johnny for love Making, Carla recommending it to cliff to seduce Diane. Is there a back story on why Johnny Mathis was a recurring storyline? Also, how did Sam get the nickname Mayday?

Brad Maione said...

I've seen a lot of criticism and snarky comments directed at CBS about how "Kevin Can Wait" spent a whopping 20 seconds on the death of main character Donna Gable to pave the way for a reunion between show star Kevin James and Leah Remini. I am wondering about how you would have handled this situation and whether you think dumping Erinn Hayes was a wise decision on the part of CBS? Have you experienced a similar situation?

katenhor said...

Hi Ken,

I always enjoy your stories about your Improv class and thought you'd like this story. NPR ran a piece this morning about an Improv class in Germany which is made up of recent refugees and Europeans. What a great way to use art to help people acclimate to their new surroundings.

http://www.npr.org/2017/09/26/553661963/rough-translation-german-improvisation