Thursday, June 19, 2008

Friday question of the week

From Chicago: It’s Friday question time. Keep ‘em coming in.

From Eve J:

I have two questions for you, Ken. This is in reaction to the news that Jon Harmon Feldman has become the new showrunner for Dirty Sexy Money, despite the debacle that was Big Shots. Since Big Shots had a talented cast yet some silly storylines and tone issues, I've assumed the problems were related to the writing.

So for my first question: How can you tell when a problem with a lousy show is the writing vs other factors?

My second question: how does a showrunner who managed to waste such a talented cast (and a decent concept) manage to get hired onto another struggling show as the showrunner?

Here’s what you don’t know – how much interference was there on BIG SHOTS? From the network? Studio? Research? Actors? Craft Services Guy? How many battles did he have and how many did he win? How many of those actors were his choice and how many were foisted upon him by the network? How many were monsters? Were there other producers submarining him behind his back? Whatever his original vision, was it remotely realized when the pilot was finally done? Did he have to make any compromises after the pilot to get the series on the air? I never saw the show nor I do know Jon Harmon Feldman. I just imdb’ed him (imdb is now a verb) and he seems to have decent credits. But I have no idea how good he is as a showrunner. That position requires special management and social skills, and those are two traits not normally used to describe writers.

It’s easier to tell whether the problem is acting or writing in television where the writer has (in theory) more of a say as opposed to features where the Craft Services Guy is higher up on the food chain. Normally you can tell if the dialogue is crisp and just being trampled but not always. Are the actors changing the dialogue?

If the story is bad you can usually blame the writing. But bad editing could also be the culprit. If the show is miscast then William Shakespeare, Paddy Chayevsky, and Larry Gelbart locked together in a room couldn’t make it work.

And this topic harkens back to my post of yesterday. Baseball managers get fired and go on to other teams and lead them to the World Series. And then get fired again. I’d venture to say that most successful showrunners have one or two clams in their past. Thank God the industry didn’t hold AfterMASH against me. I'd be that guy outside the hotel here yelling at people if they don't give him a dollar.


Anonymous said...

Okay, here's my question: Does it grate on writers that virtual nobodies get a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (here's a link in case you missed this years nominees:\General%20Entertainment\20080619\Hollywood_Walk_of_Fame_20080619.xml&cat=entertainment&subcat=&pageid=1

I mean seriously, The Village People (really?!) are getting a Star and it took somebody like Sherwood Schwartz a lifetime (and the death of Johnny Grant) before he got one?

Does it piss you off that writers get no respect?

Anonymous said...

Tinkerbell? They're giving imaginary characters, and ones that don't even fucking SPEAK stars now?

And seriously, where are all the articles in various Hollywood and/or gossip magazines with the headline "CHEETA CHEETED"? Seriously, I'm sure that fucking ape went through hell to be respected as a goddamn SIDEKICK and as such deserved a star long ago.

Anonymous said...

Way, way, way off topic, but when I first saw the photo of "Dirty Sexy Money," I thought it was a shot from a sadly-shortlived sitcom called The Powers That Be. Anyone remember that? (The memory must have been triggered by the combination of the rich people on the staircase next to Ken's sidebar noting his work on Frasier.)

David Hyde Pierce was in the cast, and he was married to Valerie Mahaffey, who I always pictured as Maris once DHP moved on to Frasier.

There is no point to this, of course, other than I wish it would be picked up by a cable station or released on DVD. The cast was certainly a dream team.

Anonymous said...

I'd be that guy outside the hotel here yelling at people if they don't give him a dollar.
So you finally met my brother?

Would it be OK if WE could still continue to hold AfterMASH against you? :)

Sometimes I hate it even more when the actor's DON'T change the stilted dialogue. Hardly anybody ever really says, "OK-OK" or
"well, well,well."

Now mailbag day has me going crazy over something I just can't seem to remember. Millenia ago the Perry Como show had a feature they introduced with the jingle: “♪ Letters. ♪ We get letters. We get lots and lots of letters. 'Dear Perry, would you be so fill a request...and sing the song I' ♪ ♫"

Years later, some other show used the same "Letters we get letters" song to introduce, I think, and ongoing fake viewer mail bit (without any attribution ever). Can somebody help me out here. Was it Letterman, Tonight Show ????The winner gets gang-lap danced by the Peter Gennaro Dancers.

So that's my question, Larry, and once again, I'll take my answer off the air.

Anonymous said...

And hardly anybody else thinks that "actor's" is the plural of actor.

Anonymous said...


Darth Weasel said...

Here is a question that should label me "know-nothing outsider" if any question ever does. You mentioned actors change dialogue; how often does that happen? I have long wondered about that...I used to assume the script was pretty much locked in stone with the exception of well-known ad-libs like Leia to Solo to Leia"I love you." "I Know".

But I have been hearing a lot more lately about actors writing lines as they go. How frequent is that and how often is it actually a good idea or a bad idea?

Gail Renard said...

Yup we all have that special series that we pray no one will ever see again. I've always had one rule about series which go feral: A good actor can't make a bad script better, but a bad actor can make a good script AWFUL.

And never mind changing lines; one gem of an actor in one of my shows added a limp and a stutter, and a weak director let him. Coincidentally, that's one of the special series that we pray no one will ever see again...

Anonymous said...

Probably a little off-topic, but this reminded me of an article I once read that listed typical lines in TV shows that NOBODY ever says in real life.

For instance when a man invites a woman out, she always smiles and says, "I'd like that." Has anyone ever really uttered this sentence?

Or, when a woman is leaving a man forever, she always says, "I'll send for my things." Please explain to me exactly how someone "sends for their things?"

I wish I could remember more of these; they could become a handbook of cliches to avoid.

Anonymous said...

Ken, thanks for answering my question. This adds a lot of insight!

Eve J

P.S. Oh, and "Anon," I usually say "I'd like that" when guys ask me out.

Anonymous said...

ETA: But I've never told a guy I'd "send for my things" during a break-up.

Eve J

Greg Morrow said...

IIRC, the process of getting a star is that you (or "your people) nominate you, you agree to pay for it, and the board approves you. The board doesn't pick people to honor per se.

Anonymous said...

We're installing a new walk. I can take a stick and emboss your name in a slab for $49.95. Without a vote and no questons asked.

Thanks for the Letterman heads up; I will sleep so much better knowing.

My guess is sooner or later the showrunner finds him/herself in it up to his/her neck. Or somebody elses. I was watching Criminal Minds the other day -- because as you know I have this Patinkinitis, and I wanted to see if it would go away when he did.

In the scene, an evil psychiatrist pushed one of the cast members into about a 4' x 5' hole installed in a basement for apparently no other purpose than pushing somebody into it. Then, as the victim cried out in terror, the psychiatrist slowly cut open plastic bags of sand or garden soil and dribbled that a little at a time until the woman was completely buried --standing up-- in the hole. You saw her head, then her hand reaching over it, then nothin'.

My question: If someone were to pour sand that slowly into a hole you were standing in, wouldn't the hole just get shallower and shallower until you could just climb to the top and walk out of it? Even if a little dirt first landed on you, you could brush it off, then step on top of it. Yes, I know, she could have been paralyzed in fear by claustrophobia, but it wasn't like there was a cover on the hole. We're not talking resurrection here.