Thursday, January 14, 2010

Friday questions

Here are some Friday questions for the long holiday weekend. For the first one I got some help from a producer of LOST.

Dan asks.

I'm getting ready to write a spec, but I've been having some issues deciding which one to choose.

Initially I wanted to write a 'Breaking Bad' episode, but now I'm a bit confused b/c like a lot of dramatic series these days, the show is serialized, not episodic. I guess my question is, when writing a spec for a show like 'BB' or 'Mad Men', do I pick up the story where it left off, or just try to write one that fits in somehow but isn't directly related to the storyline...does that make sense?

Or should I just go with something more self-contained?

I would do something more self-contained. Otherwise you're really shooting at a moving target. It's hard enough writing of these damn things. I can't imagine writing a spec LOST. A spec 24, maybe. Jack escapes death, Kim is kidnapped, there's a bomb that has to be defused, Jack yells at Chloe, and anyone who helps Jack dies.

I asked Adam Horowitz, one of the LOST executive producers what he thought the best spec to submit was. Here's what he said:

What I find myself telling writers these days is, rather than spec an exisiting show, write a pilot. Or spec a show AND write a pilot. When we read for the show, we always like to see an original voice because as well executed as someone's show spec may be, it really doesn't give an indication of whether they can write our show. The best indication for us has always been a strong original voice shown through an original piece of material be it a pilot or feature or play.

Great advice!

From David Bishop:

Just watched a 4th season episode called Der Tag and spotted Radar clutching a 1960s Marvel comic. Can you recall any other any unintended anachronistic blunders on the show?

Oh, there have been plenty. In the first MASH we wrote – “Out of Sight/Out of Mind” – the tag takes place in the nurses’ tent. Look closely. One of the nurses is reading JAWS.

Michael wonders:

Why didn't Julia Duffy get the role of Diane?

There were three finalists for Sam and Diane. The couples were paired for the deciding audition. Ted and Shelley happened to be paired. And although Julia was terrific, the combo of Ted and Shelley was just magic.

And finally, Ian Taylor has a query:

I see episodes of MASH where the characters show some talent, like Radar's impressions or Margaret singing. I was wondering if this is something that actors are always pushing for, a chance to show off their auxiliary talents, and do you have any cool stories about actors attempting to shoehorn talents that just don't fit the characters?

Not me personally but I know that on CYBIL, Cybil Shepherd forced the writers to give her scenes in which she could sing. And the irony of course, is that her singing was uh… not very good.

On the other hand, if we learn that one of our cast members has a particular tale
nt we’ll try to find a place to display it. Katey Sagal on THE MARY SHOW used to be a back-up singer for Bette Midler. She’s a fabulous singer. So we devised a reason for her to sing a number one week. For my money it was the best three minutes of the entire series.

Chip Zien on ALMOST PERFECT was in the original Broadway cast of INTO THE WOODS. If you can sing Sondheim you can sing anybody. We found a spot for him to sing as well.

Terry Ferrell was a model before becoming an actor. She did some topless layouts for European magazines. When she was on BECKER I lobbied hard to have her show off that talent. Sorry guys, they didn’t buy it.

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks. And thanks again to Adam Howoritz.


Raji Barbir said...

At what point in your career as a writer do you know not to listen to someone whose advice or critique about your screenplay you disagree with? How do you differentiate that from being too cocky?

Especially in the beginning when every writer you're surrounded by hasn't been produced and doesn't have much more experience than you do, other than perhaps developing a greater sense of snobbery.

So when do you choose to say "Thanks for your input, but it's a pile of crap"?

Tom Quigley said...

Re the casting of Ted Danson and Shelley Long, I had heard that along with Julia Duffy as Diane, Fred Dryer was also being considered for the part of Sam. Fortunately, what to me would have been a huge casting mistake was averted... What acting chops Dryer had were better put to use when he went on to play what was essentially a caricature of Dirty Harry in his HUNTER series (episode synopsis for virtually every one of the shows: Deedee goes undercover as a hooker, and Hunter ends the show with "Works for me!" -- thank you, Stephen J. Cannell); and to be honest, I don't think Duffy, as talented as she is, would have worked for what turned out to be kind of a Popeye-Olive Oyl romantic attraction between Sam and Diane, which in itself made for some great comedic tension and stories.

D. McEwan said...

Can you recall any other any unintended anachronistic blunders on the show?

I can tell you a recurring one on M*A*S*H that used to drive me crazy. Hawkeye often made "Godzilla" references. It's not just in one show. He tosses in Godzilla-reference jokes over and over throughout the series.

The first Godzilla movie was released in Japan as Gojira in 1954. The American version with Raymond Burr, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, for which the word "Godzilla" was created, was released in 1956. There was no such word as "Godzilla" during the Korean War.

Will the name of this Lost producer be revealed by the end of season 6? Another Lost mystery.

Roger Owen Green said...

For me, problems with M*A*S*H happened any time a specific year is mentioned. I recall Hawkeye and Trapper up on some charges, with a specific 1952 mention. Yet I remember a Christmas-themed show featuring Winchester that mentioned 1951. Totally took me out of the story.

Anonymous said...

While Ted Danson clearly was the right choice, Fred Dryer was always funny in his consolation-prize guest spots as Dave the sportscaster. Though, that role was a caricature.

Ken, you can appreciate his perfect goodbye line for a sport-talk host: "Be a Sport, don't be a Jerk."

Emily Blake said...

Good advice. I wrote a spec Lost once that centered around Shannon. I finished it about two weeks before they killed her.

Graeme said...

And by "lobbied hard", you mean...?

Michael said...

On MASH, they also gave Potter a couple of different wedding anniversaries and couldn't decide whether he had a son or a daughter or both. But I remember that on I Love Lucy, the Mertzes had been married at various times for something like 18, 25, and 32 years ... and Vivian Vance was two years younger than Lucille Ball, making the whole thing ridiculous.

The greatest TV comedy before MASH (not that it was entirely a comedy, as we know), The Dick Van Dyke Show, used to do variety editions. I read that Carl Reiner and the other writers even used to leave a blank space in the script for Van Dyke to ad-lib a slapstick routine. But I read the story that one week, they did a variety edition. It so happened that Walt Disney was casting Mary Poppins and couldn't find his Bert. An aide told him to watch Dick Van Dyke, to which Disney basically said who and what, since he didn't watch TV. He went home and watched, came in the next morning, and said to sign him at whatever price he wanted.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

I was an avid viewer of "Becker" until Terry Ferrell left the show.
What was the reason for her leaving and also losing the character of "Bob"? It was never the same after that.

D. McEwan said...

I'd always heard that Walt saw Dick Van Dyke on Broadway in BYE BYE BIRDIE, but I wasn't there, so I could be wrong. I do know that both Laurence Harvey and Anthony Newley were approached for the role before it was offered to Van Dyke. Newley certainly would have had a more-authentic accent. I love Eddie Izzard's remark about Van Dyke's hilariously bogus accent in MARY POPPINS: "What is he doing? Australian?"

Kaley said...

I've been waiting and waiting, so I guess I just have to ask.

What are your thoughts on the whole NBC debacle?

thomas tucker said...

Terry Ferrell is gorgeous, and very sexy.
Perhpas you could do a reunion show, and showcase her "hidden talents"?

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Max Clarke said...

Fred Dryer was terrific on Cheers, he played the cocky jock/television sports personality perfectly.

As Dave Richards, he closed his sports report one night with the adage, "Good night and remember: the world is full of winners and losers. Here's hoping you're one of them."

Larry said...

I have a great idea for a movie script (doesn't everybody?). The only problem is that it's based upon an article I read on an internet website. Do I have to get the author's permission to use the idea in a spec script? If I need to ask their, or their employer's, permission to use the idea, can they just say no and then create their own script? This biz is confusing.

Dave Serrano said...

Odd question... would you happen to know the name of the photographer who took the Terry Ferrell picture you posted? A Trek archive website asked me to help find the photog. They're trying to find a high res. version for their site. Thanks!