Friday, February 09, 2018

Friday Questions

A weekend can not officially begin without Friday Questions, so here they are.

VP81955 kicks us off:

Have you ever written for Chuck Lorre, and if he contacted you about writing an occasional ep for him (with no constraints about having to be part of a writers' room for a prolonged period, given your schedule and commitments), would you?

I have not officially written for Chuck, but when I was directing for him (DHARMA & GREG) I would sit in on rewrite nights and help out. I recall those nights as being great fun. Chuck always puts together rooms of terrifically funny writers.

As for doing an episode, that’s not the way he works. All of his scripts are room-written. Writing credits are just assigned. So no.

From Peter:

This question might be a bit left field, but I'm just wondering. When meeting an executive or an agent, is a writer expected to wear a suit as though going for a job interview or can you dress casual?

Is there such a thing as “nice casual?” I never wear a suit and tie, but I do wear a collared shirt, sports jacket, and no jeans. Whether the dress "requirements" are more relaxed today I couldn’t tell you, but if you’re going in to pitch an executive of some sort show a little respect (whether you actually have respect or not).

Cheryl Marks asks:

Why does "Show Runner" never appear in the credits?

Because it doesn’t sound impressive enough. “Executive Producer” sounds way more cool.

It's like “Chief of Staff” sounds way more elegant than “psychotic man-child wrangler.”

Matt wonders:

Have you ever done a cameo in any of the shows you’ve been a part of?

Twice. Once in OPEN ALL NIGHT where I played a swinging lawyer trying to pick up a female mud wrestler in a mace class, and once on THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES, where I played a gay lawyer my mother was trying to fix up with a girl at a Jewish wedding.

I’ve also been an extra in a couple of shows a la Hitchcock. And I’ve done voice-overs as sports announcers on probably fifteen shows (including THE SIMPSONS).

But I’ve had no real desire to act in any of my shows. Better that real actors who need the money and credit (and have way more talent than me) get those gigs.

And fellow blogger Earl Pomerantz has today’s final question.

What was it like transitioning from the quippy one-liners of MASH to the more nuanced and subtle dialogue of Frasier and Cheers? Was it hard to make the adjustment, or was the change in style relatively easy?

The transition was made much easier because my partner (David Isaacs) and I had been on staff of THE TONY RANDALL SHOW before MASH so we had some experience in multi-cam.

But it was a little tough doing our first script for CHEERS because the joke forms were so different. We never had “set ups” on MASH. It was just a steady stream of zingy banter.

On CHEERS, for the audience, there were definite set ups. “They call the Coach 'Red' because he had red hair?” “No, because he read a book.” We would never do a joke like that on MASH. So there was a learning curve. By our second script we pretty much had it down.

As someone who has done both I've always felt it was much easier to go from multi-cam to single-cam (i.e. shot like a movie) then the other way around.   You have more flexibility in single-camera shows to do different kind of jokes, and the jokes themselves don't always have to get laughs.  In multi-camera shows you have 250 strangers in bleachers and you need to make them laugh out loud.  You better know your joke structures.  

21 comments :

Bob Gassel said...

I could see doing that "Red" joke on MASH, but it would have to be a sarcastic response to Frank or something like that...

Douglas Trapasso said...

Possible Friday Q, inspired by this quote from Raul Esparza (late of Law Order SVU). He was asked about a possible romantic direction with one of his former co-stars:

"I really thought that would just state the obvious instead of letting it just simmer, which one of the rules of good television is keep them wanting — never have successful relationships and keep them wanting the one that you really wish would happen."

Agree? Disagree?

Tudor Queen said...

"It's like “Chief of Staff” sounds way more elegant than “psychotic man-child wrangler.”

And this is just one of the numerous reasons I love you and look forward to your blog/podcasts all the time!

Kirk said...

I imagine writing for characters who KNOW they're making jokes, such as Hawkeye and BJ on MASH, is easier than writing for characters who don't know they're saying funny lines, such as the Coach or Woody on Cheers.

If I'm wrong, please consider this a kind of Friday Question.

Ray said...

My question is on the popular notion that "Hollywood is controlled by Jews". What is your take on that?

You have never talked about the issue. Many Jews feel proud about it and never hesitate to say openly that they run Hollywood.

Jonny M. said...

Friday question:
Cheers Season 3. It says produced by Sam Simon & Ken Estin. But then they will have individual writing credits. Were they a producing team but not a writing team? I thought the ampersand denoted a team.

kent said...

Didn't you play "Beanpole" Levine?

Bryan in WA said...

Ken -- were you also an extra sitting at a table in the background in the Wings finale?

VP81955 said...

Thanks for the answer, Ken. Would love it if Chuck hired you to direct an episode of "Mom" (and I'm sure Anna and Allison would like it too). Lea Thompson is directing an ep set to air later this season.

Brian said...

Never thought I would read about it, but here it is - Mel Gibson is doing a sequel for Passion of the Christ.

https://forward.com/schmooze/393410/mel-gibson-is-making-passion-of-the-christ-2-you-should-be-worried/

Peter said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken!

Todd Everett said...

I do wear a collared shirt, sports jacket, and no jeans

Isn't that kind of awkward when you stand up?

Mike Bloodworth said...

Here's a milti-part FRIDAY QUESTION about your association with David Isaacs.
1. I know some writers prefer to write alone, but previously you've stated that there are advantages to having a partner. However, did you always agree on scripts? Did you ever feel reluctant to compromise on a line? How often, if ever was there conflict?
2. Do you guys have specialties? Having worked with you I know that you're a great "straight man." Is one of you better at set ups, punch lines, story, exposition, etc.?
3. Not all Lennon and McCartney songs were written by both John and Paul together, especially toward the end of the Beatles. Was every Levine & Isaacs written by both of you? Or is that billing just part of your agreement?
M.B.

cb said...

I could have sworn you and David were in a Cheers ep. In an elevator, maybe...?

Andy Rose said...

Impressive as it may sound, hasn’t the title Executive Producer lost a lot of its luster because it’s so watered down now? It can mean show runner, it can mean show runner emeritus, it can mean head writer, it can mean financier, and it can mean “random celebrity whose name we attached to get a meeting with the network.”

I counted a couple of years ago, and at the time Modern Family had 8 Executive Producers and 7 Co-Executive Producers listed in the opening credits.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Ken! I didn't know you directed Dharma & Greg! Was Jenna Elfman as nice and friendly, as Dharma was on the show?

I remember one scene in one episode, where Dharma was going to go shopping with her mother in law, and she said she had to put on her shoes, as the lovely Dharma was barefoot. For some reason the studio audience was rolling in the aisle with laughter at that line.

As a director, wouldn't it have been in character for Dharma, who was raised as a hippy to go shopping barefoot? I suppose the modern day equivalent would be if Dharma went shopping topless in the name of #freethenipple.



Ken said...


Sorry posted in wrong article the one, appropiately, about SORRY the board game.
Reposting ubder correct heading.
Mea Culpa
A Friday question or two

With the success of first the big bang and now The Good Place ( was it sold as a Big Bang for philosphy?) are exec's running around looking for a new sries based upon Geology, or Chemistry or even esoteric history specialty areas of study? perhaps an antthropology of young quirky students doing field work with a jaded cynical supervisor/teacher? Perhaps archelogy? Can we expect a deluge of "science" based comedy's?

Second question have you ever had a minor character in your show that studio wanted to cut ( save salary?) and it turns out minor as part was it contributed more then was appearent? Were you forced to acquiesse and then discover the need for that specific character? Or were you able to maintain quality of the show?

Mahalo

Craig Russell said...

FRIDAY QUESTION. Was it always a running joke on MASH that Father Mulcahey always won the baby pool, or a bet of some sort where he might be able to get some "divine intervention"? It always seemed like in 2 or 3 episodes, FM would always pipe up "I guess I won" and Hawkeye would say "did you get a little help from above"? Cue: laugh track, and end credits.

I'll hang up and wait for your answer.

Antoine Philias said...

Hi Ken,

I'm a young French writer and a big fan of your work (and of great US sitcoms in general) and i love both your blog and podcast.

MASH, CHEERS and FRASIER were never big hits here (and i'm not even talking about BECKER or ALMOST PERFECT. FRIENDS and MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE the only sitcom that really were promoted here and it's a shame. It's hard to (legaly) watch your shows (they're not even on Netflix) but the few of us who did really try to spread the word (i wrote a review of the first four seasons of CHEERS and of some favorite episodes of FRASIER on my blog).

Here's two friday questions for you related to France (and international distribution in general):

- I watched it all in english but, in the dubbed versions, most of the US pop-culture references and puns are either completely rewrote or removed. It's a big problem with Friends and the Simpsons but even more with shows like 30 Rock or Will & Grace where pop-culture references are everywhere. How do you feel about your shows being rewritten for international purposes? Have you ever watched a dub version of your work?

- US TV has a habit of portraying french characters as variations on Pepé Le Pew. It can be funny but it's mostly a tired cliche and what makes it worst is that, most of the time, the production don't even use a french actor but a canadien or even american one. It's the case with Anthony Cistaro, a guy from Mississippi playing Henry in five episodes of CHEERS. And even tho i love the character, the fact that Megan's mother on MAD MEN is supposed to be french-canadien but Julia Ormand is british and i have to put subtitles on when she tries to speak french. Same goes for Megan's father. Ronald Guttman is a Belgian actor but always the go-to guy to play french (recently on PREACHER) with a very distracting accent. Why do production almost never hires french actor? Is it a cost thing? Do they care about what the international audiences will think? The only good and respectful europeen cast i've seen on a big network show was Goran Višnjić on E.R.

Sorry for the long questions and the probable spelling errors. And just so you know, i'm not trying to be patriotic or anything, i'm just curious. Translating and international broadcasting seems to be a very tricky business.

P.S. : My favorite Cheers episode is "Endless Slumper" by Sam Simon. From you and Ken, i would have to go for "Bar Wars". On FRASIER, it's definitely "Room Service".

Andy Ballow said...

Hi Ken, here's my Friday question:

I was reading an article in Variety about the conflict of interest between talent agencies like WME and CAA acting as producers of their own shows and movies. Here's the article -

http://variety.com/2018/tv/features/talent-agents-production-conflicts-of-interest-1202695460/

Haven't we seen this type of thing before when MCA bought Universal and had to get rid of its talent agency? Why are talent agencies suddenly trying to become producers again if there is a conflict of interest? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Brian said...

Hi Ken, I have an idea for a Friday question: What are your blog and podcasts stats? How many people on average read your blog every day? How about the podcast - How many listeners or at least how many download it? I always wonder how many people are going to see my comments or read an answer to my questions.
Thanks!
Brian