Friday, November 23, 2018

Black Friday Questions

Happy Black Friday. Here are some FQ’s besides where did I park my car?

Sanford is first at the table (so to speak):

I was looking up something about the famous Chuckles episode. I found this clip of Ed Asner talking about how the show was short and they needed another scene to fill the time. As he explained there was so much laughter that it filled all the time they needed. Has anything like this happened with any of the shows you worked on?

The pilot of BIG WAVE DAVE’S. At Dress Rehearsal we were right on time. But we ended up ten minutes long due to the laugh spread. A good episode will typically spread two to five minutes.

On the one hand this laugh spread was GREAT. You can imagine how much fun it was on the set that night. EVERYTHING worked.

The trouble came when we had to edit the show down to time. Ultimately we had to reshoot some of it because to make the cuts we wanted the actors would bounce around the stage due to the way it was blocked.

Still, I will take those problems ANY day.

Next is Joe who has a question about the movie we wrote, VOLUNTEERS:

You said you couldn't be there for shooting because of "The Jewel of the Nile." In hindsight, do you wish you had been there, and do you think it would have made the movie better -- especially the scene where it was supposed to be played frenetically but was shot a lot slower?

Like all writers, I firmly believe our movie would have been better if we had been on set. Director Nicholas Meyer was a very collaborative mensch so I’m sure our suggestions would have been seriously considered. We would not have won every disagreement, but that’s the process. In the case of a couple of scenes, all we would have asked was to have them shot both ways. Then test audiences could decide.

And ultimately, even not being there, we liked way more than we didn’t.

From Matt Barnett:

What do you think of the pacing of today's sitcoms? They go at such a fast tempo that it's almost anxiety inducing. I first noticed this with "Cougar Town." I recently watched an episode of "The Goldbergs" and it ripped by at neck break speed. "Modern Family" is the same way. For me, it's almost too fast to enjoy.

It’s a matter of personal taste but sometimes I find current shows go at such a breakneck pace that the jokes don’t land. Give the audience a chance to appreciate and laugh at a joke.

A related complaint is that some shows try to jam in jokes every second. As a result you get a lot of half-baked jokes, the characters stop sounding like real human beings, good stuff gets lost, and the experience is exhausting.

I would rather take two minutes to set up a really big laugh rather than ten jokes in two minutes and none of them really score. But that’s me (i.e. old guy).

Jonathan Littlemore asks:

I'm a listener from over in the UK and I would love if you could do a episode on the Podcast discussing the different types of Comedy writing. Here in the UK our Sitcoms tend to be written by one person and not in the Group room style used in the States.

Was there ever a time in America when scripts were just written be one person or have they always just been done by a group?

Check out Episode 92 of HOLLYWOOD & LEVINE, Episode 92, “the History of Sitcoms.” You can access it here. I discuss the evolution from even before TV to current practices and why things evolved.

And finally, from Edward:

How did you receive feedback regarding your shows/movies back in the 1970's and 80's?

News clipping services that compiled all reviews and articles about your show, and we received a lot more viewer mail back then. Some of the viewers even signed their letters.

Travel safely this weekend.

17 comments :

Jen from Jersey said...

On Frasier, the episode with Dr. Mary is hysterical. Do you think you can write something like that today without backlash?

John Trumbull said...

You're misremembering a bit there, Ken. Lewis Teague was the director of JEWEL OF THE NILE according to IMDb. Nicholas Meyer directed VOLUNTEERS.

Mike said...

As one of the many members of the Nancy Travis fan club who I'm sure frequent this blog, may I say I've been enjoying THE KOMINSKY METHOD. She is terrific and has some nice scenes with Michael Douglas.

Joseph Scarbrough Puppet Productions said...

Don't sitcoms (and really, most shows today, in general) pretty much have to be written at a breakneck pace to cram as much content as they can into 17-21 minutes of worth show? I mean, I've written "half-hour" scripts myself; I'm no professional, and none of my projects have ever gotten off the ground, but even I find it quite a difficult, almost near-impossible task to cram so much content into so little time, and have it all flow smoothly and make sense.

Stephen said...

John Trumbull, you are misreading. They couldn't be at the shooting of VOLUNTEERS (with Nicholas Meyer), because they were working on a script for JEWEL OF THE NILE.

Anonymous said...

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Yeah, yeah......SOMEbody could try to make a humorous connection between Black Friday and this link.....
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Frank Beans said...

Regarding excessive audience laughter, my observation is that audience will often react to the sheer novelty and audacity of a situation, particularly when a show is new and in its ascendancy. It's as if they had never heard anybody say or do a certain thing, which is what makes some shows and characters iconic.

When I go back to watching the first seasons of FRASIER and CHEERS, for example, sometimes the audience laughter is just way out of proportion to the joke or situation. It is distracting, but understandable. I can imagine it is gratifying as a writer or actor on the one hand, but difficult as a director or editor on the other hand.

I've also seen shows where it has gone in the other direction, as time goes on--NEWHART comes to mind, with the insufferable "I'm Larry, this is my brother Daryl, and this is my other brother Daryl" reaction where the audience practically gives a ten-minute standing ovation just for them showing up.

Recurring characters are usually funny in small doses.


Janet Ybarra said...

Believe it or not, feedback for film, TV and music thrived before the Web.

I got my start as a freelancer in the '80s writing for several music magazines which teenagers bought prodigiously with their allowances (tacking the posters inside the magazines on their walls).

Even before that, magazines and such offered Kids the chance to become pen pals all just for the the price of a SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) back when snail mail was just, well, mail.

Oh, and then then we're the STAR TREK fans...who cared enough when the series was due for cancellation to deluge the network with mail (convincing NBC to keep the series on the air).

But that was only the beginning.

Even after TREK finally went off the air fans kept it alive killing trees by printing fanzines by the hundreds.

Further, a wonderful woman named Shirley Maiewski living in a farmhouse in Western Massachusetts headed up a group called The STAR TREK Welcommittee, and, again just just for the price of a SASE, volunteers at the Welcommittee could connect you with fan pen pals, fanzines, fan clubs, lists of conventions... even copies of episodes recorded on audiocassette (back in the days before video recording/playback became commercially prevalent).

So, to answer the question, there were myriad ways to track response to all kinds of media.

Oh, and then, into the early '90s there was a store called Media Play. They had a whole section of cubbies on one wall and you could come in late Monday or Tuesday and get the Sunday papers from all over the country.

(This was a) before newspapers had websites and b) when Sunday newspapers were fat big deals).

Johnny Walker said...

"Mac and Me" is featured in the latest season of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and I got looking into the history of the film and its co-writer/director, Stewart Raffill. As he was the director of that much beloved 80s gem, "Mannequin Two: On the Move" (which you and David worked on -- for those who didn't know), do you have any stories about your experiences working with him? Or even on that film? (I don't recall hearing too many stories about it.)

k said...

I know I am late but...
Can't let a Turkey day pass with out a shout out to what, I consider, the best holiday episode ever.
WKRP's Thanksgiving episode
" as god is my witness I thought trurkey's could fly".

Mike Bloodworth said...

Ken, I hope you had a very pleasant holiday.

Larry David has said that on SEINFELD, as Kramer's entrances got more popular the audience would cheer and applaud too long. It made him angry because it would screw up the timing of the show.

I would call the fast pace of shows the "LAUGH-IN Factor." George Schlatter said that the show was deliberately fast paced so that if one joke fell flat they'd be on to the next one before anyone would notice. That's similar in style to stand ups such as Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield.

FRIDAY QUESTION: Would you give us a brief outline of how you go from the "Ah ha," lightbulb moment through the final script?

Here's why I ask. The absolute hardest part of writing for me is coming up with an idea in the first place. Where does inspiration hit you? In the shower? On the toilet? At the supermarket?
Once you get an idea do you start writing right away? The second biggest problem I have is remembering an idea once I finally get one. I've suffered from C.R.S. since high school. That is, I have, to the best of my recollection. I've tried carrying notepads, but they're really not practical. I even bought one of those digital voice recorders. I can't remember where it is.
Once you start writing do you go straight through until you're finished? Or do you write a little, take a break and then write some more, and so on? (Paid job deadlines excluded.) I have piles of unfinished scripts that run from just a few lines to ALMOST, but not quite complete.

I'd love to know your process. As always, if you've answered this question before I'll accept an answer from the archives.
M.B.

Janet Ybarra said...

"Oh, the the humanity!"

Cristina Graziella said...

I loved Episode 92 of HOLLYWOOD & LEVINE, “the History of Sitcoms.”

B. Alton said...

Not sure if you’ve had this question before, Ken, but is there a writers/actors agreed standardization for “almost words”( like uh huh etc.). Joe Keenan wrote a memorable “Frasier” Cafe Nervosa scene, I think in the first act of “The Matchmaker,” during which Niles tries to convince Frasier that the cafe has changed their chocolate shavings to an “inferior domestic brand.” Just wondering how Niles’ dialogue before his ‘waxy’ proclamation, which happens while he’s tasting his coffee, would appear in script form. Thanks.

brian t said...

On the topic of sitcom pacing, I think that's one reason why Young Sheldon is enjoyable: it's quite slow-paced and a gag can build up in layers over an episode. Kate & Allie is another that comes to mind. I find The Big Bang Theory variable on that score, it has good and bad pacing in my opinion. (I'm sticking with TBBT because I know it's going to end soon anyway.)

Chris Thomson said...

Hi Ken

I have a question that has been bugging me to death for literally minutes.

Is it true that when you are on set, all the people behind the camera sit in those fold up chairs with your names on the back?

And if it is true, do you have a customised, personalised, designer one with maybe a fancy inlay, gold stitching and a tasteful walnut veneer, or do you just go with the modest old school ones to keep it real.

(I can't say veneer anymore without laughing, from that Frasier Antiques Roadshow episode btw)

Adam said...

As a writer, how do you feel about George RR Martin's struggles to finish his novels? I have sympathy for him, but it does seem like 7+ years on a novel that he's purportedly eager to finish seems like a long time. If you're not familiar, his first three books were published quickly. The fourth took about 5 years and it's been about 7.5 since the fifth (out of seven-book series).