Friday, September 07, 2018

Friday Questions

Me speaking to TV critics
Time for Friday Questions.

Jake bats lead off this week.

Is it true that some of the critics and journalists try to give you a copy of the script they have written. They try that stunt with everyone from writers, producers, actors or just about anyone related to Hollywood. In return they will write favorable reviews. Directors, writers hate it; but still you can't do anything about it. Anyone tried it with you Ken?

It’s never happened to me and no one I’ve ever worked with has reported it happening to them. The TV critics I know are passionate about their jobs and pride themselves on their integrity.

I’m sure it happens but not with reputable critics.

I’ll take it one step further. I don’t have a show, there would be no conflict of interests, and yet no TV critic I know has asked me to read anything they’ve written.

From Nora:

Ken a related question on experienced writers/script doctors helping during a shooting of a movie or a TV pilot or some other time when needed the most.

Do they take help because there is some problem with the script or just that the studios/stars/directors want re-assurance from an experienced writer?

Occasionally the latter. David Isaacs and I were hired to help out on a pilot only so we could be seen by the network at run-throughs. The studio then sent us home. Easiest money we ever made.

But basically you hire punch-up guys if you have a multi-camera show and are expected to rewrite and fix an entire script in one night. Having an extra writer, who comes into the show with virgin eyes, can be very helpful. Especially if he has positive energy and can pitch lots of usable jokes.

I’ve mentioned them before but for my money the best of the best were/are Bob Ellison, David Lloyd, Sam Simon, Richie Rosenstock, and Jerry Belson.

Sharon Chapman enjoyed films I recommended, which led her to this question:

What makes you like certain films? I ask because your taste seems so in sync with mine, so I'm curious to know what specifically appeals to you in a film.

If it's good.

No, seriously, I don’t know. I suspect that I’m probably a hard audience because I’m tough on story (and tougher on my own work). But you see the kinds of things I write and those are the kinds of things I like to see.

Nothing pleases me more than to just get swept away by a movie. You know the feeling. You stop thinking about the filmmaking, you stop thinking about the dinner party you’re planning and just lose yourself in the film – regardless of the genre.

That’s what I hope for. Short of that, an entire movie where I don’t have to check my watch.

And finally, from Michael:

On ALMOST PERFECT, did you have any plans for how Kim and Mike's relationship would evolve in Season 2 before CBS forced you to write Kevin Kilner out of the show?

Yes. We had an entire season arc, which we pitched to CBS before getting shot down completely.

I sincerely believe if the network had let us do what we planned and gave us just the minimum amount of support that the series would have caught on. It was clearly going in that direction. (So says every producer whose show was cancelled).

What’s your Friday Question?

23 comments :

RockGolf (not his real name) said...

Friday Question: In Canada, Frasier is going to be shown on a religious-based network, YES, this fall. They're very strict in terms of content and language. I've seen examples where they've bleeped "bitch" or other mildly crude words. I think they allow "damn" and "hell".
How much are they (or other perhaps more strict foreign networks) allowed to bowdlerize your program? Can they eliminate or modify scenes where characters have sex outside marriage, for example?

Jake said...

Thanks Ken.

Nora said...

Wow! my question has been answered. Great!!! Thanks a lot Ken.

I was also hoping that you might talk about Carrie Fisher.

E. Yarber said...

Earlier this year I had lunch with a guy from the LA Times who liked my writing, and at no time did he whip out a screenplay of his own. He was more interested in trying to figure out if I was for real or not. I'm afraid I wasn't able to give him a complete answer to that.

I know when I began reading scripts that pretty much everyone doing the job was hoping to break into screenwriting themselves, and I actually screwed myself up by thinking I'd be the exception. A couple of agents were interested in cultivating me as a writer based on my criticism, but had lost interest by the time I was honestly ready to make the transition.

Robert Giroux, who edited quite a few Nobel Prize-winners, once asked his client T.S. Eliot if he accepted the common notion that most editors were really failed writers.

"Perhaps," Eliot answered, "but so are most writers."

The thing is that comparing writers and critics is like asking which end of a piano to carry up a flight of stairs. You're positioned differently, using a different set of muscles when you're inside a project or dissecting it through outside eyes, and if you're any good at your job you're conscious of the difference in those roles. There are critics like Agee and Truffaut who went on to full storytelling, and let's never forget Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer, but I wouldn't say any given reviewer is ready to chuck their job for the chance to hustle a screenplay about wisecracking robots.

Film school is divided between classes in practical movie-making and more abstract units on film theory. Some people are more drawn toward the latter. They're really more interested in communicating something about the general nature of screenwriting than getting drawn into the nuts and bolts and politics and hysteria of the business itself, just as I used to write essays about the Eighteenth Century English Novel without any intention of writing an Eighteenth Century English Novel myself. In movies, however, I moved from talking about scripts to making suggestions for improvements to basic story development and eventually rewriting other people's stuff. It was a natural progression, not something I forced or even expected.

I think a big misconception some people have is that Hollywood is run like a group of wannabes sitting around a coffee shop worrying that people are going to steal their ideas before they get their big break in the business. If someone ever foisted material on me, it was pretty much a given that they didn't understand how submissions are seriously processed in the real system.

John in NE Ohio said...

"If it's good"

That goes for a lot of things. There are genres I prefer, especially in music. BUT, a well done (both in writing and execution) song in any genre can be enjoyable, as long as it isn't beat into the ground.

I think these are also the ones that end up on the classic/legacy/old school stations. I'm not much into classic country type songs, and god knows Willie doesn't have a pleasing voice, but "Always on my mind" will almost certainly stop me from scanning the dials. There are rap, bubblegum, grunge, metal, blues, big band, Elvis, etc. songs that also do the same thing. I'm not talking about a song that you stop at just because it reminds you of a time, but a song you stop at for the song. These are also the songs that often get covered in multiple styles by multiple artists. Some of those are good, some are not - that goes to execution.

I liken that to remaking a movie/play/book in a different manner, or in a different era. How many versions of Taming of the Shrew or Romeo and Juliet are there? When they are well done, you might not even realize while watching it that you are watching that.

MichaelRbn said...

Hallmark Channel already edits out all the “asses” and other similar language on Frasier.

michael del said...

At Columbia University, I did the BA program in Film Theory which was wonderful. There is also is an MA program in Film which covers the hands on aspects of filmmaking, such as producing, writing, directing, etc., and I took a few of those classes as well. There was always a debate about which program better prepares one to be a writer or director. In the end, I concluded the MA program was better for would-be filmmakers because of the connections you make. But it’s really the difference between head and heart.

Anonymous said...

There was a SNL skit many years ago about the Sopranos being on PAX or one of those other religious owned networks. They did about a 4 minute pretaped skit of pretty much beeps and obvious disjointed edits (at the door entering the badabing, then getting back in the car to leave, etc). At the end, they broke for comercial imploring the viewer to return after the break for episode 2, season 2 tomorrow at 5.

CP said...

My very first sitcom job I was a PA but interacted with the writers and the room as often as I possibly could. Bob Ellison was a Consulting Producer who came in 2 days a week and would just fire off jokes. I thought, Now that's the dream job! I've been fortunate to move my way into the room myself as a writer, but that goal is still there; to be the old dude that comes in two days a week to punch up a script!

Matt said...

On my drive in while listening to the radio, I wondered what the "Cheers" take would be on current events. So, I very humbly submit:

TEASER
INT. BAR – NIGHT

SAM AND COACH BEHIND THE BAR FIXING DRINKS. CARLA SERVING ON THE FLOOR. CLIFF SITS ON A STOOL WITH HIS BACK TO THE BAR LOOKING UP AT THE TV. NORM ENTERS AND HEADS TO HIS STOOL.

ALL
NORM!!

SAM
Norm, where ya’ been?

NORM
Helping Vera. She threw her back out.

SAM
What happened?

NORM
She tried lifting her front.

COACH
Oh that’s too bad.

NORM
Beer, Sam?

SAM FILLS AND SLIDES BEER TO NORM.

TV (O.S.)
Let’s go back to when you clerked under Judge Stephens...

NORM
(INDICATING TV) What’s this?

REBECCA
Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.

NORM
Still? Hasn’t this been going on for, like, a week?

REBECCA
It’s the last day of hearings, Norman. And I think it’s important for us to watch. This bar could use a little civics and civility.

CARLA
(AS SHE PASSES) Stuff it, Blondie.

COACH
Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh. Wasn’t he a backup Quarterback for the Patriots? Brett Kavanaugh?

SAM
I don’t think so, Coach.

COACH
Play guard for the Celtics?

SAM
No.

COACH
I got it. Outfielder for Red Sox. 1952.

SAM
Coach, that would make him 103.

COACH
103? He’s way too old to be a Supreme Court Justice.

NORM
Don’t tell Ginsburg. Anyway, it doesn’t matter what he says. He’s lying.

REBECCA
You don’t know that.

NORM
Are his lips moving?

REBECCA
Yes.

NORM
He’s lying.

REBECCA SHAKES HER HEAD.

CLIFF
Norm’s telling the truth, Rebecca. The average person lies three out of four times. How many women have you slept with, Sammie?

SAM
I dunno. Thirty. Forty.

BAR REACTS

SAM
Okay. Okay. Twenty five or thirty.

BAR REACTS

SAM
Twenty?

BAR REACTS

SAM
(GiVES UP) All right! Seven.

CLIFF
And there it is.

REBECCA
It’s important that we all watch one of the hallmarks of our Democracy. The confirmation of a Supreme Court justice. Back in Indiana we deem events like this most important. Presidential elections. The State of the Union Address...

CARLA
Crowning of the Sweet Corn Queen.

REBECCA
No need to mock, Carla. I’m still a sitting member in good standing on the Sweet Corn Committee.

CARLA ROLLS HER EYES AND STARTS GATHERING MIXED DRINKS AT THE BAR.

TV (O.S.)
...and with this new information that has just come to light, Judge, I’m afraid we’re going we’ll have to extend our hearings for another day.

NORM SPINS AROUND, GRABS THE REMOTE AND IS ABOUT TO HURL IT TOWARD THE TV.

BAR
NORM!

END OF TEASER
OPENING CREDITS

VP81955 said...

In the mid-1980s, long before ABC bought it and turned it into what is now Freeform (with an agreement to air "The 700 Club" in perpetuity, Pat Robertson's CBN channel carried the early '60s sitcom "Dobie Gillis." I suppose its officials figured it was an innocuous "teen" series, and it certainly didn't present any problems with content or language, but in terms of theme, its breakneck pace made the show somewhat subversive.

Peter said...

Matt, that was nice, but some constructive criticism.

It was too long for a teaser, Rebecca wasn't blonde, "back in Indiana" was Woody's line, not Rebecca's, and we often saw Sam being a successful playboy,so it wouldn't make sense for him to suddenly be revealed as having only bedded a few women.

k said...

Why aren't certain movies ever on anyones play menu.
I am thinking of Captain Newman MD, - Gregory Peck, Bobby Darrin, Tony Curtis, Angie Dickerson and a plethora of supporting stars ( i.e. Larry Storch, Robert Duvall, Dick Sargeant)
I do not remember a musical score that would require heavy royalties, ( You mentioned this as a reason some shows/movies, i.e. Northern Exposure, are not readily available) and considering the time period is 1944 many of those songs would be out of copyright by now.
It was nominated for Academy awards, golden globes etc.
I use this as an example but could place SteelYard Blues and other films in that catagory.
To controversial? To dated? What?

MikeN said...

Did you ever get into any arguments as a baseball broadcaster over who sits where, or anything else?

Charles H. Bryan said...

MikeN might be referring to reports that the Tigers' TV guys got into some kind of altercation and, as a result, will both be replaced for what remains of the season. A choke hold story was denied by an agent.

And just before the 50th anniversary celebration of the '68 World Series victory.

Matt said...

Thanks Peter. I boogered this up really well. I didn’t mean Rebecca, I meant Diane. And I’m not sure where Diane was from, but I know Shelley Long is from Fort Wayne. It was fun coming up with it, and I appreciate the notes!

Ryan said...

Any Burt Reynolds stories?

tavm said...

Any Bill Daily stories whether from "I Dream of Jeanie" or "The Bob Newhart Show"?

Edward said...

How did you receive feedback regarding your shows/movies back in the 1970's and 80's? I subscribe to Newspapers.com for personal research and decided to type in "Big Wave Dave's," The reviews were mostly brutal. Was there a news clipping service used by the studio, network or talent agency?

Janet Ybarra said...

Hi Ken, I have a FQ for you. It's often been said on MASH, Korea was actually an allegory for Vietnam. Since you and David we're on staff toward the later years, did the producers and writers just leave it as that--subtext--or as the seasons went long--like the Vietnam War--was there any more overt approach to writing as if it was Vietnam in everything but name?

I suppose it's a bit of a philosophical question. Thanks!

SwiftPope said...

Friday question. I just saw an episode of Cheers where Carla has a crack at Diane about watching TV: "The Young and the Chestless". I laughed but then wondered. Would this line need to be cleared with Diane? It seems a bit close to the bone (sorry). Given that actors and vanity are frequently known to go together, I just thought that some sensitivity may be required, even if the line was funny.

slgc said...

As a Friday question - Do you get writing ideas in the middle of the night, or when you're drifting off to sleep? If so, what attempts do you make to record them so you can remember them in the morning?

Emmanuel said...

Hi Ken,

I've been following your blog for several years and have always tried to think of certain topics to discuss, but I never thought I had anything worthwhile to share.

Frasier is my favourite sitcom of all time and I always love hearing about your behind-the-scenes experiences on the show. I especially enjoy hearing about the brilliant set designs of Roy Christopher.

In that vein, I recently stumbled across this brilliant 2018 update of Frasier's apartment. It was created by a design group called Modsy and I think it really captures the character's style for the modern day.

What do you think?

https://seattle.curbed.com/2018/9/11/17844090/frasier-crane-condo-today-modern-redesign