Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Is this carton of eggs okay?

In 2003 or 2004 (the years blend together), David Isaacs and I did a half-hour multi-cam pilot for Fox.  One day during rehearsal I got a call from the stage that a network person was snooping around.  This seemed odd.  The network run-through wasn’t until much later in the day.  So I decided to go down to the stage and investigate.

I arrived and found this mild-mannered young man poking around on the set.  I introduced myself and asked what he was doing?  He said he was there to “approve” the set.  Approve the SET?!  

I wanted to be diplomatic so I nodded and asked him to follow me to the kitchen set.  I then opened the refrigerator.  I said, sometimes a character may open the refrigerator door and for a split second you might see what’s inside it so you need to approve that too.  I was hoping that the absurdity of that would send a message to him, but it didn’t.  He actually looked around inside and said it was fine.

At that point I told him we were not changing anything on the set.  They also wanted photo choices of wardrobe and I said that wasn’t happening either.  I was the show runner; I approve the set and wardrobe.  And the make-up, and stage food, and any props. 

He shuffled off and that was the last I heard of it.  Whether it meant I had earned a network demerit of some kind I do not know.  Nor care.  We had the network run-through later in the day and the network president loved the script.  She had no notes on the furniture. 

The point is, the level of interference has just gotten more and more intrusive.  And remember, that was 16/17 years ago.   From what I understand, it’s only gotten worse.  My heart goes out to writer/creators today trying to protect their vision. 

Postscript:  Our pilot did not get on the air.  The problem:  the star, who the network forced us to take.  Meanwhile, the refrigerator tested great. 

25 comments :

Curt Alliaume said...

Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd refused to screen Modern Family for the Fox network after their experience with Back to You, a Kelsey Grammer/Patricia Heaton sitcom that aired for one year from 2007-2008. Lloyd said of the experience, "Getting notes on creativity from Fox is like getting notes on fashion from the Braille Institute."

Roseann said...

I retired in 2010 from Episodic TV in the wardrobe department. If I remember correctly the last 3 or 4 years the Designers had to send wardrobe fitting photos to the network.
I remember one time a network exec was actually on set while we were shooting and there was a discussion about the red dress for the princess's first entrance. I think EVERY red dress in NYC was brought to set that day so it could be tried on and checked by the exec (who was a female, BTW). At the time I thought it was a bit overdone. I still do.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Pat Sajak once said that CBS was deeply concerned about his socks during his short-lived late night talk show years ago.

Ted said...

If there ended up being something in the set that this kid's boss didn't like, I'm guessing the kid might have gotten fired. And if there was something in the set that the boss' boss didn't like, the boss might have gotten fired. And so on up the food chain -- which is why this stuff matters so much to the executives.

Michael said...

There is a new podcast interview of David Letterman that is out https://maximumfun.org/episodes/bullseye-with-jesse-thorn/david-letterman/ that you might enjoy. It includes a clip of a radio reel of his from 1969 (around 23 minute mark) that he got such a kick out of that he asked the host to play it again at the end of the interview.

kcross said...

I found your cameo in David Pollock's biography of Bob and Ray, and it ties in with today's blog entry. Here it is:

"Bob was also asked to play his signature character, Wally Ballou on Al Franken's NBC series Late-Line. Upon hearing his up-cut sign-on, "--allou reporting from--", the staff and crew burst into laughter. In the control room, a young, ambitious network suit suggested to director Ken Levine that he ask Bob to do it again with just a tad more nasal inflection. "Look," Levine recalled telling the staffer, "with all due respect, I'm not going to go out there and tell Bob Elliott how to do Wally Ballou." "

Troy McClure said...

Was this the Traci Lords sitcom?

benson said...

Here we all thought analytics had ruined baseball. These stories are probably worse.

@kcross. Thanks for sharing that, a great story.

Michael said...

Unfortunately, when you showed the empty network suit the refrigerator, you didn't have time to get Daffy Duck in there so when the door opened he could say, "Whaddya know! The little light? It stays on!"

Anonymous said...

I worked on a multi-camera pilot in 2012. At the time, the network was very big on making multi-camera shows look like single camera shows. They spent a lot of time focused on the set. At one point, I remember them wanting a blue wall, and the director said that another sitcom currently on the same network had a blue wall that was all the rage with the executives. That show was cancelled, and the pilot never got picked up -- even with the blue walls.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

It's always the refrigerator that can make or break a sitcom. It's especially bad when the refrigerator breaks down, and that's who the audience came to see.

Unknown said...

The Monkees was canceled because of the fridge. True story.

If I don't find a problem, make a critique, suggest a change, no one thinks I am doing anything. I complain, therefore, I am.

Ere I Saw Elba said...

Micromanagement sucks, whatever line of work you're in. And it's compounded when some lackey comes down to do their bosses' bidding for them. Just ignore them to the extent you can, and do your own job. They are the ones who will have to answer to their masters, not you.

That said, do you think you could clean up the fridge a bit? I mean, maybe the eggs could go on the lower shelf, perhaps the orange juice could be a name brand. Some of those cartons of milk are a bit empty, maybe remove them. And how about some bagels? People like bagels.

Thanks!

Troy McClure said...

So there's good news and there's bad news. The good news is that Ted Danson is gonna do a virtual reunion with his co-stars from Cheers, Three Men and a Baby, The Good Place and Mr Mayor to raise money for a food bank. The Cheers reunion will have James Burrows, Glen Charles, Les Charles, Woody Harrelson, Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, Kelsey Grammer, John Ratzenberger and Bebe Neuwirth.

The bad news is that there won't be Shelley Long, but there will be Trumpuke supporter Kirstie Alley. Sigh.

Sadly I suspect that Grammer and Ratzenberger are on the same page as her. And Tom Selleck too. Sigh.

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/rambling-reporter/ted-danson-gathering-cheers-three-men-and-a-baby-casts-for-virtual-reunion

DBenson said...

That raises questions. Can somebody in a suit walk onto a set and pass himself off as an executive who can poke around and order changes? Or maybe a bit more realistically, can an actual executive walk in and issue orders he/she doesn't have the authority to make?

Is there a safe way for a showrunner or anybody else to confirm somebody actually has authority?

Janet said...

Perhaps the worst was Zoe McLellan, who co-starred on the first couple seasons of NCIS: NEW ORLEANS.

She was perfectly wonderful and fine.

And then network chief Les Moonves sent word that she must be gone because he seemed her "unfuckable."

For Christ sake. Anyway, we all know what happened to him. But then, the damage to her was done....

VP81955 said...

Speaking of Kirstie Alley, when the story about her as a Trumper came out a few weeks ago, someone took a still of Kristen Johnston (who despises Trump) from a "Mom" episode and altered it so she held a placard reading, "I am not Kirstie Alley."

mike schlesinger said...

Here's my refrigerator story.

I walked onto the kitchen set for "Imitation of Wife" (which is set in 1935) the day before we began shooting and noticed both an icebox and a refrigerator. I called the set decorator over and asked her why there were both. She was perplexed by the question and I quickly realized that, being a millennial, she had no idea they were essentially the same thing. I quickly explained it to her, and she was a bit mortified. I assured her it was fine, and she said, "So which do you want?" I replied, "Absolutely the icebox." The refrigerator was duly sent back to the property house and "Icebox" became her new nickname.

Anonymous said...

Snobs

D McEwan said...

"Janet said...
And then network chief Les Moonves sent word that she must be gone because he [d]eemed her "unfuckable."


Translation from Network Slimeball-ese to English: "She wouldn't let me fuck her."

"Anonymous said...
That show was cancelled, and the pilot never got picked up -- even with the blue walls."


Great story.

"[A different] Anonymous said...
Snobs"


Snobs because we don't like non-creative garbage interfering with the talent? Your meaning is not clear.

Or is it "Snobs" because of our loathing for people who support our lame duck & lame fuck about-to-be-ex-president, the fascist monstrosity known as "Trump"? You know; the elderly child currently behaving like a two year old because America came to its senses and fired him. You know, the asshole whose mishandling of America's pandemic response has now KILLED a quarter of a million Americans, with no end in sight, as his petulant tantrum is guaranteeing more and more American deaths. You know, the mentally ill-orange thing befouling our White House (Which he has turned into a pandemic super-spreader locale), who in the week before the election said repeatedly that we the pandemic is nearly over and that after the election we'd never hear of Covid again, even as a second wave worse than the first is devastating this nation.

If regarding Trumpanzees with loathing and disgust is being a "Snob," then count me a PROUD snob! Yeah, I look down on fascists and racists. I'd snub Hitler too.

YEKIMI said...

Is it always the network president that has to give the heave-ho to a show that is doing shitty in the ratings? Or could it be one of the underlings who's in charge of that particular division of whatever that show belongs to [i.e. President of Sitcoms, President of Drama, President of Unscripted Bullshit We Pass Off As A Reality Show, President of Bagels, Lox & Headcheese.]? I would think one of the underlings would be afraid to cancel something on their own. I could see the network president sitting down at home after a long day at work, turning on the TV and saying "WTF? What the hell happened to my favorite sitcom 'Eddie Eats Kittens'?"

Jeff Boice said...

Ah well, the networks own the shows now and the management types have to have something to do.
My favorite is still from the movies- the story about James Dean on Rebel Without a Cause doing a Mr. Magoo impression in one scene (Jim Backus was cast as Dean's father) only to have a Warner Bros. official ask him to redo the line as Bugs Bunny.

Steve Gravelle said...

Actually, no, that doesn't look right. Who stores eggs like that, ready to fall on the floor when the door is opened or closed?

Buttermilk Sky said...

It used to be possible to identify officious nuisances like that by the clipboards they carried. Not any more.

BGVA said...

This reminds me a bit of a "Larry Sanders Show" episode from the final season, where Joshua Molina plays a young network executive who tells Larry how to do his show, and tries to make it hip for the Gen-Z crowd. The gimmicks included a new theme song from "the guy who did the Singled Out theme", Larry coming out to a standing ovation and high-fiving the audience, and removing his desk, which was placed deep in storage.

Eventually, Larry got fed up and decided to quit, but not before demanding someone get his desk out of storage.