Thursday, December 11, 2008


Here are some Friday questions.

Ed wants to know:

If a TV show is written in a writer's room, why not simply credit all the writers who worked on that episode? For example, I think Tina Fey is as brilliant as everyone says she is, but I wouldn't mind a complete list of the writers who work on my favorite sitcom.

You've told us before that everyone else is credited with being a "producer." Why can't those who worked on the script be credited as writers?

The WGA has guidelines. Only two writers can share credit on one half hour episode. A team can count as one “writer” but let’s say a script was written by Writer A and Writer B (a team). Then payment would be 50% to Writer A and the team would split the other 50%.

When I was writing on ALMOST PERFECT there were three showrunners. When David Isaacs, Robin Schiff, and I wrote a script we had to petition the guild for permission and be paid 150% of guild minimum. So if the studio agrees to give all three writers 50% then it’s alright.

If you gave ten writers all 50% you’re paying five times the going rate for one script. That ain’t gonna happen here on planet Earth.

So to get around this staffs that room-write scripts just rotate credit. It is bullshit and makes the writing credit a joke.

All those producer credits you see – those are the writers. So they do all get credits on the show, just not for the actual work they do.

From rob!:

When working on a show like Cheers or MASH, when the show is a monstrous, rolling success, critically and financially, how much network interference was there?

did NBC and CBS think they still could give copious "notes" on each episode, or did they leave the shows alone?

Once a show becomes a huge hit the notes generally cease (although I hear AMC still managed to offer “suggestions” to Matt Weiner on MAD MEN). Showrunners will often have to meet with the network before each season to lay out their game plan for that year but after that the net tends to back off.

And it’s amazing, when a comedy is doing well in the ratings, the network suddenly LOVES everything they do. Runthroughs are laugh fests. Would the same jokes be as screamingly funny if they were losing their time slot to Telemundo shows?

The truth is once networks trust you they’re happy to leave you alone because they’ve got way too many other fires to put out.

On MASH we received zero interference from anybody. All CBS asked for was log lines for the episodes. NBC had notes the first year of CHEERS but those too disappeared as the numbers rose.

Of course network standards & practices were always ever present but that’s true with any show on any network. God knows how many “fucks” would slip into GHOST WHISPERER if S&P wasn’t around and vigilant?

Anonymous (please leave your name, guys) has a…

Follow up to the "Suite Life..." reputation question:

What if the opposite happens? Say you've already written for a network sitcom, and then Nick or Disney Channel offers you a chance to write the next "Cory In The House," is it seen as a step backward that will hurt your reputation or prospects of continuing to work in the network/cable sitcom worlds?

In this economy and marketplace? Work is work. You can class yourself right out of the business. And guess what, depending on the staff and situation, you might have ten times more fun working on a Disney show than a prestigious network vehicle. And if you have kids who watch those shows you’re a bigger hero than if you wrote THE WIRE.

Thanks for the questions. Keep ‘em coming.


Eric Curtis said...

How forgiving is Hollywood toward second chances? Say your first big break was on a show that absolutely tanked, would that be held against a writer even if they wrote a great spec for another show looking for a job?

I would hope not seeings how everything seems to be about money, but first impressions are important.

I guess what I'm trying to say (very poorly. damn beer) is it worth taking a first time job as a writer if you know the show won't get picked up the next season?

rob! said...


Cool, thanks for answering! But: "All CBS asked for was log lines for the episodes."

What's a log line?

Anonymous said...

A Log Line in this instance would be a brief summary of a script they would submit to the networks.

rob! said...

oh! understood--thanks anon.

Anonymous said...

Completely off-topic, but I wanted to share today, so:
From a Chicago Tribune interview with Joel Hodgson, creator of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000," on his feelings about doing the show again:
"...doing “Mystery Science Theater” again would kind of feel like doing “After M*A*S*H*” – we’d be trying to reprise the youth and vigor and intensity of those characters while so much time has gone by."

Anonymous said...

"Say you've already written for a network sitcom, and then Nick or Disney Channel offers you a chance to write the next "Cory In The House," is it seen as a step backward that will hurt your reputation or prospects of continuing to work in the network/cable sitcom worlds?"

"In this economy and marketplace? Work is work. You can class yourself right out of the business."

Are WGA writers actually allowed to take non-union writing jobs in kids' TV? Even if this is the most sitcom writing work that's currently available? Does just-having-to-make-a-living trump union affiliation? Or would you get fined by the WGA?

By Ken Levine said...

Work is work with the caveat that if you're in the WGA, then only take jobs with WGA signatories. It's for YOUR protection.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"rob! said...
What's a log line?"

1. Captain's log, Stardate, 121208. Today I said to Spock: "Fallacious Understandings Can Kill." Idiot network censors don't realize I slipped another acronym fuck past them.

And they still haven't figured out what "Where no man has gone before" means either.

2. Log lines: How Abe Lincoln did cocaine.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Levine,

This blog is so much to read (and hopefully to write.)

So as a longtime Cheers fan, I've often wondered if the show would've remained as fresh had Shelly Long not left the show. Certainly the on-again off-again balance of Sam and Diane was handled so well while she was there, but do you feel it have gotten stale if she had stayed on? Could the show have gone as long? Did the writers have a long-term plan on what to do with the relationship? A baby?

Anonymous said...

What do you think of the Leno in primetime move? Do you think he should change the show (my guess is they'll put the biggest guest at the end so more viewers stay for the 11pm news -- thus making the local stations happy.)

Does the move signify the end of network TV as we've known it for the last 50 years?

Anonymous said...

Argh! Jenny Lee kind of beat me to the punch...

But to expand on what she said - I would have to think dramatic writers in LA must be PISSED by NBC's Leno show scheme.

Five nights of Leno = five DIFFERENT TV shows (and who knows how many replacement shows) that will not happen. I also have a hard time seeing how NBC can even DEVELOP shows for this slot should Leno's show tank - when would they put them on the air to try them out?

And god forbid this Leno thing succeeds and other networks try to follow suit - there won't be any potential "guests" around to interview save for other talk show hosts and maybe the infinite casts of various "CSI's".

How do you think this may all play out?

Anonymous said...

I spent some time on A Disney Channel show and wrote an episode for the show. The thing about these cable networks is you get less money and just as many idiotic notes from network execs.