Thursday, April 09, 2009

Point of View questions

My recent cranky POINT OF VIEW post sparked some Friday questions.

Andy Ihnatko asked:

I loved the novelty of "POV." What sort of problems were created by some of those sequences?

I mean, did you all discover that the layout of the 4077 compound "made sense" even when you found yourself filming the actual route a casualty takes from the chopper pad? Did you have to build out sections of the OR and hospital that were never designed to be shot from that kind of angle?

It sounds like one of those interesting creative events where the thought "Hey! We'll shoot everything from a patient's perspective" takes just five seconds to conceive, but then brings up huge problems...!

Fortunately, the MASH compound at the Malibu ranch was laid out just like a real MASH unit. So when you saw those shots of the chopper pad and the path leading to the tents, all of that was already in place. We did have to build ceilings for certain sets like the O.R. Patients wheeled into operating rooms rarely see klieg lights and boom mikes (unless you’re Jimi Hendrix).

A special camera mount had to be fitted. There were no steady cams. The poor cameraman was practically crushed by the heavy equipment on his chest.

And every scene had to be one continuous take. The HOUSE episode (directed brilliantly by Dan Attias) was able to have the patient blink and have trouble focusing. And they were able to do quick jump cuts. We didn’t have that luxury. There was nothing to cut away to so each sequence had to be filmed in its entirety. A few were very long or complicated which meant many many takes.

The actors found it really fun and challenging the first day. By the fourth they hired a hit man to kill both me and David.

And Charlotte asks:

Are "stunt" or otherwise out-of-the-ordinary episodes (like "Point of View") the most sought-after writing assignments by the writing staff on a TV series? Because of the creative challenge and the potential for the episode to really standout if it turns out well? Or do the regular writers on a series tend to shy away from these more unusual stories for the same reasons: because of the greater writing challenge and the greater risk that for all their extra work the episode might end up standing out all right, as a laughable disaster.

Show runners or head writers tend to take these unusual assignments because they’re more prestigious (“tonight on a very SPECIAL episode of TIL DEATH…”) and stand a better chance of getting nominated for an award. Wait. I mean, they take these because as artists they welcome the chance to really challenge themselves. Aw, who am I kidding? We all want an Emmy.

In the case of POINT OF VIEW it took two seasons of lobbying to get the producer to go for it. And we were honest. We told him this would be either the best or worst show of the year.

But we really believed in the story. It wasn’t just a gimmick. It was a novel way to view the characters in a very different light. I’d like to think if you had never seen an episode of MASH before POINT OF VIEW that by the end of the show you’d know who everyone was, what their relationships were to each other, and how they coped with the unbelievable pressure and craziness of the war. In many ways, we were constructing a second pilot.

And yes, we did get several nominations (including an Emmy nom) but we never won with POINT OF VIEW. Maybe if we did a colonoscopy episode and saw the world through the patient’s ass, that might have gotten us the gold. We were so close. Just chose the wrong end.

What’s your question?


rita said...

hi ken,

it's "did-they-or-didn't-they"-time on the german MASH-forum again. this time the big question is, did margaret and hawkeye marry *each other* or did they marry *someone else*? one of the members claimed that in the pilot the sentence, "of course, margaret and hawkeyey got married," was spoken. since about 99% of the germans on that board had no chance to see AfterMASH and since you are the writer, i thought you would be the one to clear up this mystery from the MASH vaults.



ps. even though this is only in german, you might find this whole thing rather entertaining.

Question Mark said...

'Special' episodes also only work if a show has been on the air for long enough that fans are already well-aware of the character's traits and the show's overall format, so a break in said format really stands out. Some examples that leap to mind include the musical episode of 'Buffy' or the backwards episode of Seinfeld. The showrunners wouldn't have been able to do episodes like that in S1 or S2, but by the later years, the groundwork has been laid to really break the mold.

Then again, there was also the 'documentary about CJ' episode of West Wing that was probably the series' low point, but hey, they can't be winners.

Tiffany said...

This is off topic. I read that Tina Fey only made 5 million last year. That doesn't seem like much when you consider that Mariska Hargitay made 7 million last year. Hargitay is a star, but so is Fey AND a showrunner and all that comes with that. So, what's the deal? By the way, I love your blog. I can't believe that won't produce your play.

mcp said...

About Marisky Hargitay's salary vs. Tina Fey. "Law & Order: SVU" has been on since 1999. Hargitay and Chris Meloni only got $350,000 per episode starting in 2007. "30 Rock" started in 2006. I believe the "Friends" cast got the big money after five years. So, give Fey time.

Also, Fey may have gotten a share of profits from show one. Hartigtay and Meloni are now asking for a profit share which NBC is not thrilled about. In fact, the network is threatening to get rid of both.

By the way, the CJ documntary episode "Access" was not the worst episode of of "The West Wing". That honor goes to "Isaac and Ishmael."

benson said...

I'm sorry, but "only made $5 Million dollars"?

I understand it's point of comparison, but it just points up just how ridiculous this all is.

Michael Green said...

Question Mark, that West Wing episode was a classic example of why the post-Sorkin episodes are so much weaker than those from when he was in charge. It's an interesting comparison. While I think MASH went on too long, each new character or change brought something to the show in its own way, whether it was the more strait-laced but crazy underneath B.J. or Winchester being a legitimate foil, as opposed to the increasingly silly Burns. But on The West Wing, Sorkin's departure led to the John Wells "ER" mentality of "let's drive a semi through the building because people watch the building, not the characters." MASH never lost the idea that it was a show about people.

Thus, since people do unusual things, it was possible to do the "Point of View" episode and the "Dreams" episode. I don't think Ken ever has said what he thought of the latter episode, and I'd like to know.

VP81955 said...

'Special' episodes also only work if a show has been on the air for long enough that fans are already well-aware of the character's traits and the show's overall format, so a break in said format really stands out. Some examples that leap to mind include the musical episode of 'Buffy' or the backwards episode of Seinfeld.

Let us not forget that "Xena: Warrior Princess" did a musical episode -- two, in fact -- before "Buffy," but everyone seems to forget that in all the hosannas sent Joss Whedon's way.

wv: "buclo" -- an aptly terse description of where the Pittsburgh Pirates have stood in the standings since 1993.

jbryant said...

The Xena musical episodes are a blast, but they mostly consist of cover versions of well known songs. A big part of Whedon's achievement is that he wrote every note and lyric of the "Once More with Feeling" episode, and brilliantly so. For me, this is more important than being first to the party (just as Ken and David's achievement in "Point of View" isn't diminished by the existence of earlier shows that used the same concept).

Anonymous said...

I think special episodes are the best. Even if they don't turn out as well as they could have, special episodes are always more fun to watch. Plus there's more advertising for specials so there's more viewers, even if in the end it turns out not so great.

charlotte said...

Thanks so much for answering my question, Ken.

And now a bit of randomness for you in the category of some-guy-with-a-dangerous-amount-of-free-time-on-his-hands: the CHEERS set (and others) reproduced in Lego! Not just as seen on TV, but with studio lights and all! (How's his accuracy, Ken?)

David K. M. Klaus said...

No, the worst episode of The West Wing is post-Sorkin, Season 5, Episode 4, entitled "Han", with teleplay by Peter Noah from a story by Peter Noah & Mark Goffman and Paula Yoo.

A North Korean musician wishes to defect while on a visit to the United States, appealing directly to the President of the United States through a hand-written request for political asylum in the liner notes of a gift CD.

And he is refused, tossed back into slavery under that physically grown man with the personal selfishness and spite of a spoiled child (which he was), Kim Jong-il, who had lobster flown to him at each railway stop going to Moscow along the eastbound Siberian Express while children in his nation went hungry; who builds nuclear reactors and launches badly-designed ICBMs while famine stalks his country; who built a 100-story hotel so badly constructed it will likely never open, left unfinished for sixteen-years of exposure to the weather (no window glass) while people died from hunger in its shadow.

This teleplay was a travesty, violating every decent impulse upon which the United States is built, showing the Bartlet administration sacrificing the life of this man who begged for help and got none, in an attempt to save negotiations which, since the show couldn't overthrow the status quo, would certainly fail anyway.

John said...

Ken, when you were show running Season 7 on MASH, was there a conscious effort to try and not tip the balance too far over one way or the other between comedy and drama (i.e. -- if you did a show like "Point of View", would you try to balance it out with a lighter script after that?)

As I've belabored the point before, to me it seemed as if MASH lost a good deal of its comedy edge starting in Season 8 and moving on to Season 11, while Seasons 1-2 are still groping for the balance between the 50s-60s style military comedies and the more serious overtones Gelbart and Reynolds were trying to work into the series. Seasons 3-7 do the best job of working in the humor without being too "wacky" or having the actors be overly-earnest, to the point you have to import the designated bad guy of the week, because none of the regular cast really fits that bill anymore.

Also, on the Aaron Sorkin front -- since somehow, we've ended up on the Arron Sorkin front -- it appears he's considering coming back to TV with a show based on Keith Olbermann's "Countdown". The Entertainment Weekly blurb says it's supposed to be a drama, but to me, it conjures up images of Paddy Chayefsky's Howard Beale character doing a comedy relief rant-of-the-week (though I believe Keith's in a battle-to-the-death with Glenn Beck right now for rights to the moniker "The Howard Beale of Cable TV News" between his scorched earth 'Special Comments' and Beck setting Fox News late-night show participants on fire). Either way, it still should be funnier than the comedy bits Sorkin came up with for "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip".

Karen said...

Here's a Friday question for you: What's your take on writers who blow up their series on the way out, out of spite after negotiations gone wrong? I was thinking of Amy Sherman-Palladino and how she intentionally wrote the series into a corner as she was leaving, creating a mess that the subsequent writers couldn't possibly clean up. But Aaron Sorkin would apply as well, I guess, leaving the season hanging with Zoe kidnapped and all. Why go out with a bang you don't intend to resolve? Just as final f--- you to the network or others? In Amy Sherman Palladino's case, she really ruined it for Gilmore Girls fans. I personally will never watch another show she is involved with just because of the spitefullness of that act.

Anonymous said...

Yes this is my Cheers set I am curious to know if I got it right. I guess I do have too much free time on my hands as Charlotte says but I have been twiddling my thumbs lately all the way to the bank. :D