Thursday, November 26, 2009

Has anyone ever REALLY hated one of our scripts?

It’s Friday Question day – something to read on your cellphone while you stand in line at 5 A.M. waiting for Sears to open.

From Ref:

The cast of "The Office" consists in large part of many of the show's writers. Is this kind of doubling common? What would the chemistry be like between the writer/actors and those who just get paid to act?

It seems rather uncommon for sitcoms. On sketch shows like SNL writers often double as on-camera talent, a la Tina Fey and Senator Al Franken. If writers have supporting roles I don’t imagine there’s much resentment from the cast. It’s not like they’re taking big jobs away from working actors.

I actually think it improves the chemistry because writers learn first-hand just how difficult it is to be a good actor.

Doug DeRoo wonders:

"have either of you guys (me and my partner, David Isaacs) ever had an exec say, "this totally blows...get outta my office!" I seriously doubt it!!"

Uh, yeah... it happened. In a BIG way. When we had a development deal with Lorimar we once wrote a pilot for HBO back in their embryonic days. Our mandate was to write something very different from a traditional network sitcom, which we did. Lee Rich, the President of Lorimar hated it, called us into his office, and ripped us a new one. He hated it so much he wanted to get out of the development deal. But he didn’t hate it enough to pay us off the remainder of that deal so two days later we were his “boys” again.

By the way, it was a good pilot. We’ve written MUCH worse shit.

Quisp or Quake asks:

I loved Stephen Bach's Final Cut (about the making of Heaven's Gate); Lillian Ross's "Picture" and "The Devil's Candy," ("Bonfire of the Vanities."). Do you have any behind the scenes favorites?

Yes. INDECENT EXPOSURE by David McClintick. It’s the David Begelman story. Begelman was the President of Columbia pictures in the 70s and was forging checks as Cliff Robertson. It’s insane. We then did a rewrite on a project for him in the mid 80s and he wanted to pay us in television sets.

And finally, from Ed O.:

When a sitcom has an opening that is an isolated joke not always related to the main story, are these written separately at all? For example, on CHEERS, did you guys ever just sit around for an afternoon and write Norm jokes for when he walked in the bar? And then keep a notebook with 50 Norm jokes in it, and just pick one when you needed it?

That’s EXACTLY what we did. When there was time to kill we’d either sit around and try to bang out some teasers (that’s what we called those opening bits) or send off story editors to do that. Same with Norm entrances. But that was just to have things in the bank. When you got a script assignment on CHEERS you were required to write your own teaser.

Since teasers were independent of the stories that followed we also shuffled teasers from show to show to fit time needs. I remember once watching a show David and I had written and it opened with a teaser I had never seen before. It was kind of odd to be watching something for the first time that had my name attached as author.

What’s your question, besides what’s the warranty on that new Kenmore washing machine that’s on sale today only?


blogward said...

Friday question: Next Friday (Dec. 4th) I will be attending a preliminary audition for Britain's Got Talent (my son signed me up). Do you have any suggestions for how to make the best impression on the 3rd AD who I will be trying to impress? Next Friday at 4pm GMT, that is.

WV: house = !!!

Mary Stella said...

During yesterday's three hour commercial for Macy's and NBC, aka the parade, Al Roker interviewed several stars of NBC shows. One guy from a sitcom was markedly unfunny, even though he tried to be. When casting for a sitcom, do you try to find actors who are also naturally funny off-script or do you just need ones who can act with the comic timing, etc.?

wv: aqualif - the vitamin water that fell short

Ben K. said...

The actor/writers on "The Office" have written or cowritten some of the show's best episodes. (For instance, Mindy Kaling cowrote the "Jim and Pam's wedding" episode that was rerun last night.)

I think this will be more of a trend in the future... I've met a lot of aspiring sitcom writers who are also taking improve and acting classes.

A. Buck Short said...

OK slackers, we can see the Friday question comments are not necessarily continuing to roll in. So although certainly unrequested, there may be room to share some of this glorious Black Friday.

Sure you’ve had your -- whatayacallit?-- Thanksgiving. But once again, today we Native Americans and NA sympathizers witness the triumph of our Kwakiutl potlatch culture. Or as we say in Kwakwaka'wakw, “Go figure.”

Reporting in:
Bed – chaotic
Bath – necrotic
Beyond – pretty much out of our comfort zone.
Middle aged shopper explains, “ I’m trying to find my mother.” “Well, have you tried looking in Beyond?”
So overstocked with merchandise, cannot locate down escalator. Like attempting to scout out the next aisle at Wal-mart. Circumnavigate second floor like character in “The Prisoner.”

Uh-oh, looks like Victoria’s Secret has once again come up with another exciting must-have breakthrough in bra-technology.

WTF do they have on sale there at Best Buy – Streisand tickets?

Galleria parking garage - Seven dozen beardless Santa attendants to facilitate/prevent exactly what?

Brookstone – Distribute gift cards reading: “That’s for what again?” Store motto apparently: "Let nothing go unmassaged."
Indecision: Go for kiln-like, Towel Spa towel warmer on sale? Or wait for pseudo-autoclavey pro model with UV towel sterilizer? What, you’re opening a tattoo parlor? Will it fit on the toilet tank?

Crowd avoidance – loiter outside 99¢ Store. When anybody emerges with something you want, offer $1.00. Especially covet nativity scene snow globe. One rarely comes across a gift so accurately depicting middle eastern weather conditions.

Al-Queda sleeper cell oversleeps planned Black Friday/Black September terror attack. Changes name to Al-Tryptophan.

Our traditional Vegan Thanksgiving. Turkey substitute “Celebration Roast” (actual branding) overambitiously designated. Also pathetically, yet wisely diminuitive. And do we really need this much information? What is this, the J. Peterman Catalogue?

What kind of beverage do you get to accompany something like this -- Shortfall Vitamin Water?

Get jump on season. Have lights strung, before once again remembering we’re Jewish.

LD said...

Ken, a question!

Often syndicated programming will shoot promos with the cast where they mention the name of the local station. Can you shed some light on how this goes down? How many of these are typically done in a year? At what point does everyone start to go crazy from the repetition? How often would writers be asked to prepare something unique instead of just saying "Watch Frasier on WXYZ!"

wv: prophys - as fortold on the condom wrapper

The Kid In The Front Row said...

Great questions and answers! Fascinating.. I don't know a lot about TV writing, very useful. I look forward to more soon.

Csteinkellner said...

"Death Takes A Holiday On Ice". Remember that one?

Amy said...

Is there anyone in the creative process that provides constructive third-party criticism? I've been watching "White Collar" and each episode there is some clunky line about returning one of the leads to prison. Seriously? The line has no emotional heft and sometimes the actor looks embarrassed even trying to utter it. Is this question somehow tied into how "Hank" made it to the air? I love Kelsey Grammer and really tried to like this but even the set was tired. Maybe if they'd written him like Sideshow Bob...