Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Clip shows

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post:

It's from marka.

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?

These are called “clip shows.” Often it is the network that requests them. They usually do well in the ratings and they’re cheaper to make than a regular episode.

But make no mistake – they require a lot of work… usually for the writing staff. Someone has to screen all the shows, flag the clips, decide on a format, and put it together. Trust me, as a writer – it takes way less time to write an episode. So it’s not exactly a free ride.

But you save a week of production.  Live wrap-arounds can either be filmed in one day.  Or they're piggybacked to a day's shooting schedule so there's no dedicated day to filming them.  

As for the format, that too is a problem because the normal conventions have been done to death. The “wrap-around” version that you mentioned in your question (“Remember the time we…?), the panel discussion (like we did on CHEERS), or the interview version (like we did on MASH). There’s no good way really. But the audience generally doesn’t care. They’re there for the clips.

I will say this though, clip shows were much more popular before you had access to DVD’s and streaming. Part of the fun of clip shows was seeing excerpts you hadn’t seen in a couple of years. Now you can see any episode at any time. Hell, you can see a lot of gag reels on YouTube. 

Not only that, it used to be that a series wouldn’t do a clip show until they had close to a hundred episodes in the bank. Now I’ve seen series do clip shows season two. Wow. They have six highlights.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about clip shows. They’re very self-congratulatory and I always try to avoid that. I hate shows that toot their own horn. On the other hand, any time they use a clip from a show I co-wrote or directed I get a royalty. I made out like a bandit on the MASH and CHEERS clip shows. So I dislike clip shows on principle but I’m very much in favor of found money.

My worst clip show experience was the night I was having an MRI. I’m in the tube, they gave me headphones, and through a mirror I was able to watch TV. The show that was on was THE NANNY clip show. I was forced to watch it for 45 minutes without moving. I almost hit the panic button… and not because I was claustrophobic.

39 comments :

LouOCNY said...

Best show of this type ever, was when BARNEY MILLER had the heartfelt tribute to Jack Soo after he passed away. With the cast stepping out of character, and offering personal remembrances, and showing some of Yemana's best scenes,it certainly is distinctive in the form. Especially different, is the producers, through Hal Linden, admitting that the show will be different, and then the final raising cups of coffee as a salute. Still touching today!

Curt Alliaume said...

You mention that clips are now readily available on YouTube - have they started to go the way of the dodo? I don't think either The Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother ever had clip shows (of course, the latter had so many flashbacks some old clips were necessary). By contrast, I think Friends had three different clip shows.

Al said...

The most brilliant turn on a clip show I ever saw was the Community episode where they showed a bunch of clips from previous episodes that weren't in previous episodes. It was just more and more increasingly bizarre adventures of the gang that we had never seen, including a trip to a haunted old west ghost town and their time in the insane asylum.

Unkystan said...

I might be mistaken, but I think the first clip show was the series finale of Leave It To Beaver. June and Ward going through a photo album with random pictures from the series. Of course it dissolves into clips. Being the last episode, I think it was a gift for the fans. I always wondered who the stalker was that was following Wally and the Beaver taking these pictures.

Octathorp said...

Episode sixteen of ALF is a clip show. And it's an hour-long.

Stephen Robinson said...

Almost 30 (!) years ago, when my local FOX affiliate showed an hour of M*A*S*H reruns at 7 p.m., I caught the "interview" style clip show and loved it -- it was a sort of peek into past episodes I hadn't yet seen. Also, because of syndication cuts, some of the clips didn't actually air when the original episodes repeated.

Growing up in the 1980s, the "clip show" is a format that I recall fondly and one often derided by "hipper" audiences these days (along with the "very special episode" or even a classic TV theme song -- both of which arguably SEINFELD helped end).

There's something about characters sitting around the kitchen table or living room sofa sharing stories. In a way, it's as if they join the audience in "watching" the show.

Justin Piatt said...

My favorite clip show was on Frasier -- though it's not really a clip show, I suppose. When Daphne comes back and Frasier is talking to Niles about his warped view of her. I love Niles' duet with himself.

VP81955 said...

A potential Friday question:

When an established series prepares its story arc for the upcoming season, do writers already have possible candidates lined up as guest characters for individual episodes, or is casting done as production begins? Any difference in how sitcoms and dramas approach this?

Bill Jones said...

Friday question--have any of the shows you've worked on ever broken the "fourth wall"? Would you have ever even considered that in MASH or CHEERS, or would that have been considered completely bizarre and totally out of the question? And, what's your take on shows breaking the fourth wall--always gimmicky and unnecessary, or sometimes worth the wink and nudge?

tavm said...

One "clip show" ep I remember came from "The Jeffesons" in its second or third season I think. In this one, George and Louise end up being tied in chairs-side by side-by a robber in their house. During that time, they reminisce a lot to scenes from the show they were spun-off of: "All in the Family"!

Matt said...

I remember hearing that the Simpsons did clip shows because they produced 24 episodes and Fox wanted 26. Animation takes more time so they just did a clip show and than makes jokes about clip shows.

Jon H said...

The fastest I recall any series going to a clip show was DIFF'RENT STROKES, which for its 8th episode had an hour-long clip show with clips of all the previous 7.

When Justine Bateman hosted SNL in the late 80s, there was a sketch which had a satiric FAMILY TIES clip episode, which had clips inside of clips until there was a clip from THE JEFFERSONS episode mentioned here.

Daniel Sachs said...

Let's not forget "Clerks - The Animated Series". The second episode was the 'flashback' episode and flashed back to the first episode (as well as the beginning of that very episode) rather frequently.

Terrence Moss said...

Unkystan, the first clip show that I can recall was "The 'I Love Lucy' Christmas Show" that aired in December of 1956. It wasn't included in the syndication package since it was holiday-themed and wasn't seen again on TV for 33 years when CBS aired it as a tribute to Lucille Ball after her passing.

Andy Rose said...

Episode 9 of WKRP was a clip show. In that case, it was the first show back after the program had been on hiatus, so it was a deliberate attempt to explain the series to people who had missed the first low-rated episodes.

Speaking of WKRP and cliche episodes, their version of A Christmas Carol got Andy Ackerman his first Emmy win, for videotape editing. He later became the editor for Cheers when it switched to video post-production, and eventually became the principal director of Seinfeld.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

In only 10 seasons, FRIENDS somehow managed to produce 6 clip shows. Even THE SIMPSONS didn't push it that far. They only had 5 clip shows in 29 seasons.

And the less said about Star Trek's own attempt at a clip show, the better.

McAlvie said...

I'm one of those people who used to like clip shows. A good show that's been on for a while, sometimes there are a lot of good bits you have forgotten. Once or twice I've gotten insight about an in joke. And, really, if it's a show you really like and know well, at that point you are just watching it for the good bits anyway.

More recently they seem to run clip shows without bothering to accumulate much material first. Perhaps they don't understand why clip shows were popular?

Mike Schryver said...

"have any of the shows you've worked on ever broken the "fourth wall"? Would you have ever even considered that in MASH or CHEERS"

Not a complete break of the fourth wall, but this made me think of the moment on Frasier where Laurie Metcalf as performer Nanny G. asks Frasier if he can imagine what it's like to have to play the same character for 20 years.

gottacook said...

The above-mentioned Star Trek clip show was the final second-season episode of The Next Generation, spring 1989, following a writers' strike some months earlier. It could have been worse.

Mike Bloodworth said...

South Park had a very similar "clip show" episode. All of the clips were slightly different in some way from the original, including everyone eating ice cream at the end of each clip. They even did a flashback to the first scene of the show as a clip. I'm guessing it was their way of satirizing the whole concept of the clip show. And I think S.P. did it first.

VincentS said...

Wow. You had to listen to Fran Drescher's voice for 45 minutes straight? In some states that would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Kent said...

There's a precursor to TV clip shows in old theatrical cartoon shorts. To help keep costs down, some studios would periodically put together a cartoon that recycled footage from older shorts. Bugs Bunny recalling to his nephew some of his adventures, Tom finding a diary Jerry's been keeping about their skirmishes with each other, Popeye telling his spinach-hating nephews about incidents where spinach came to his rescue. That kind of thing. Back then, these shorts were called "cheaters," because theaters had to pay full price for them even though they were full of old footage.

Thomas Mossman said...

Eduardo Jencarelli,

If you're thinking of Shades of Grey, I believe that at least had the excuse of trying to bring the show in under a budget shortfall.

Then again, if it weren't for budget shortfalls, we wouldn't have gotten The Menagerie.

Doug G. said...

Three's Company had a clip show hosted by Lucille Ball. John Ritter said that meant a lot to the cast and crew to get her endorsement of their show.

Justin Piatt said...

Cheers sort of did that too. When Frasier, Woody, Norm and Cliff go to the drive-in movies and talk about how the actress from Godzilla left in the middle of the series. One of them comments, "How could an actress leave such a successful series right in the middle of it?"

Mike said...

As Ken says, clip shows just aren’t necessary any more with the availability of older episodes. Even when they did them, I used to hate to see them in syndication, because at that point, the older episodes were easily available.

gottacook said...

"The Menagerie" is itself a kind of clip show, come to think of it. The "clip" consists of the majority of the first Star Trek pilot starring Jeffrey Hunter that was rejected by NBC in 1964. Certainly the budget was helped by only having to film the framing story in 1966, but it would have been a terrible waste to not use the footage at all - and the way it was used was very clever, especially the two-Captain-Pikes ending, which in its new context had an entirely different meaning than in the pilot.

Mibbitmaker said...

Speaking of cartoon "cheaters".... I'm generally not a fan of those, but the Popeye series (like with the occasional TV clip show examples) did 3 really great ones. The first one they did had a live action story of a kid being bullied, with Popeye jumping out of a comic in animated form. The live action part makes it unique, even way back then.

"I'm in The Army Now" had Popeye and Bluto trying to get into the army to impress Olive. What makes this one great is the habit of recording new soundtracks for the clips, I assume so it'll flow with the rest of the cartoon. Since this was at the height of the hilarious Jack Mercer mumblings, the clips had funnier dialogue than in the originals (all but one originally voiced by Mercer's predecessor Billy Costello).

And the last of the 3, done early in the era of color Popeye shorts. The wartime color Popeyes were a lot of fun - until the late '40s when the quality deteriorated. The wraparound story had that great 1944 style, and the clips were from the first two Popeye two-reelers from the same era as "I'm In The Army Now". Unlike the other cheaters, they had the original soundtracks, complete with those wonderful asides Mercer did. That was definitely a good choice.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

The "Mary Tyler Moore" episode in which Johnny Carson shows up at one of Mary's parties just after a blackout hits Minneapolis was a retrospection of sorts.

The clips, though, focus on Mary's other disastrous attempts at entertaining. A pre-"Happy Days" Henry Winkler appears in one segment.

Incidentally, there's an archival article on the Internet that originally appeared in Los Angeles magazine in 1976 dealing with MTM's final season.

Ted Knight's remarks, as reported by Kathleen Neumeyer, were...remarkable.

Knight left no doubt that he was unhappy playing a moron, and about the only thing that kept him from pulling a McLean Stevenson (or more aptly, a Larry Linville) was his paycheck.

He also expressed little regret that the show was winding down after seven years.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

A Friday question: It's been reported that Jill Soloway and Amazon Studios have been hit with fines for not crediting directors when their material ended up in I LOVE DICK episodes other than the one they were credited for. The story is here: https://decider.com/2017/09/13/jill-soloway-and-amazon-slapped-with-substantial-dga-fine-for-i-love-dick/

I understand the points about credit and compensation, and even the directors' complaints that Soloway (apparently) gave notes directly to cast.

But it's an interesting situation because Soloway's shows seem, more than usually for a TV series, like lengthy movies. So which needs to change: Soloway or the rules?

wg

Markus said...

Star Trek - The Next Generation had its clip show as the finalé of Season Two ("Shades of Gray"), mostly done at Paramount's request to save some money after earlier episodes had exceeded their budgets. The season was cut short already anyway due to the Screen Writers Guild strike of 1988. It's usually considered among fans to be the least popular and most stupid of all Trek episodes, and the writers and producers hate it to this day as well.

Steve Bailey said...

For what it's worth, not only did I dislike the M*A*S*H clip show, I was almost offended by it. The Clete Roberts "Interview" was one of M*A*S*H's finest (half-)hours, and I thought that episode was cheapened by using the same format just to do another "Remember when?" clip episode. That's probably a minority opinion, but that shows how people took that show to heart (as with the voluminous complaints when the Henry Blake character was killed off).

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Had similar thoughts. I thought bringing back Clete Roberts was milking it.

But it did give Loretta Swit and David Ogden Stiers, who did not appear in "The Interview," a chance to work with Roberts.

ScottyB said...

At least 'Leave It To Beaver' left their clip show until the series' very last episode. A pretty good accomplishment when you consider how many shows made up a season back then.

ScottyB said...

'Leave It To Beaver' waited until its very last show of the series for the clip show. A pretty good accomplishment when you consider how many shows were shot in a season back then.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Had similar thoughts. I thought bringing back Clete Roberts was milking it.

But it did give Loretta Swit and David Ogden Stiers, who did not appear in "The Interview," a chance to work with Roberts.

flipyrwhig said...

"And there's one Itchy and Scratchy episode we'll NEVER forget."
"Why did you bring that up?"
"What, it was an amusing episode... OF OUR LIVES."

Chris Herman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Herman said...

In the MST3K episode guide, the creators tell of the time they did a clip show to save labor and money only for it to expend as much work and money as a regular episode did.