Thursday, April 08, 2010

Why cable doesn't save your favorite shows

Time to blast through some Friday questions. What’s yours?

sophomorecritic starts us off:

i asked this before but i hate watching good shows get cancelled. why doesn't cable tv just pick up the good cancelled shows that have decent ratings but not good enough for cable readings.

tbs almost picked up my name is earl but greg garcia said that not enough money was being offered for a quality tv show? did that basically mean the show's stars were greedy?

No. Stars, even greedy ones, are just one part of a very large budget. Cable networks usually play to smaller audiences than broadcast networks deliver so the fees they charge to advertise are less. And yet the budgets for these shows remain the same or continue to grow. There’s only so much budget trimming you can do before it’s just Earl in an empty room with one chair.

It could be argued that studios traditionally spend more than the license fees they’re given to produce a show. But that’s on the hope that the show will amass enough episodes to go into syndication. And those opportunities are shrinking as well. So there comes a point where it just doesn’t make sense to keeping making new episodes.

Lisa j. wonders:

When a lit agent likes a new writer's script enough to meet with them (I'm thinking of tv writers), what is the agent looking for? How can a writer blow it/nail it?

If an agent is considering taking you on as a client he’s looking to see how stable you are, how you present yourself in social situations, and just what kind of person you are. When he sends you out on a job interview, is the show runner going to call him back saying he’s taken out a restraining order?

Agents are looking for little telling signs. Are you nuts? Do you bathe? Do you have an ego bigger than Simon Cowell and Quentin Tarantino’s put together?

The bottom line, they’re trying to assess how marketable you are. I would say just be yourself, don’t come on too strong, leave all weapons at home. Make him feel comfortable. Remember, you already have a leg up. He’s impressed with your scripts. He wants to like you.

Also, the first thing you should not say when you enter his office is, "Hey, how about returning a fucking phone call just once in your fucking life?"

Here are a couple of questions from Texas 1st:

What is your reaction when you sit down for some good old-fashioned mind-numbing thanks to the boob tube, and one of your shows comes on? Have you found yourself rewriting scenes or making commentary (like on a DVD) to no one in particular?

I’m ALWAYS rewriting my shows in my head. There are some I come across that I don’t even watch. Others I still like and will sit through again. If it’s an episode I haven’t seen in years I will usually stay with it. Every so often I’m pleasantly surprised and an episode I didn’t really like at the time turns out to be pretty good. And in those cases, I don’t know whether it was better than I originally thought or the bar has just been lowered.

I will only provide commentary if someone else is in the room. And usually that commentary is how late the rewrite was and how much of a pain in the ass that episode was.

gottacook asks:

Are you a fan of any of the work of Bruce Jay Friedman (who turns 80 this year)? If so, what do you enjoy best - his novels, screenplays, short stories, perhaps The Lonely Guy's Book of Life? For some reason it seems to me you would have come across his work.

Big fan of everything. And don’t forget A CHANGE OF PLANS, which became the movie HEARTBREAK KID. THE LONELY GUY is interesting because it’s non-fiction. It was fictionalized for the movie. His play STEAMBATH is another personal favorite – God as a Puerto Rican steambath attendant. Who knew?

Happy birthday, Bruce.

From Michael in Vancouver:

Despite your objection to the CHEERS reunion show, if they did it anyway and asked you to write, what would you do? Would you say, "I want no part of this" or would you say "Well, if they're doing it anyway, let's do it right."

I would only do it if the Charles Brothers and James Burrows got involved. Putting those three geniuses together again – that’s the REAL reunion.


Scott said...

It seems like alot of people who have been in the business for a while say that this is the worst it has ever been for writers. I am just wondering Ken if when you were writing and producing shows, did you have older writers saying that things were much better back in their day and that it just seems to be getting worse?

Brian said...

Hi Ken, did yuo write any episodes with "Harry The Hat"? I'm reading his book "Games you can't loose", and the first one in his book is the one he pulled on Cliff - "I bet I can drink this drink without touching the hat".

Dave Creek said...

The main problem with a Cheers reunion would be that the network would insist upon making it a "movie." They wouldn't just recreate the bar set, gather an audience and let the laughs begin.

That was the problem with the awful Mary Tyler Moore Show reunion a few years back.

gottacook said...

Just to toot my own horn a little: Not only do I know that "A Change of Plan" was the basis for the original HEARTBREAK KID in 1972, I can personally take credit for ensuring that the story's title was included in the annual Leonard Maltin movie guide; until 1990 the entry had read "from Bruce Jay Friedman's story" without giving the title. Sending editorial suggestions to Maltin was the sort of thing I did for amusement before I met my wife and settled down (at age 37) a couple of years later.

I happened to see an episode of MY NAME IS EARL in daytime syndication today (hadn't seen it since it was on network) and completely understand what Garcia meant. This was manifestly a high-quality show in terms of art direction, cinematography, editing, etc., and the feel of the show done at a markedly lower budget would not have matched what had already been put on film.

williamjasso said...

It is high time to switch over from analog system to digital system. am I right?
Force Factor

John said...

Just as sort of a spin off from the question you answered about watching your old shows -- are there times when you've been in a situation or just come up with an idea that would have been a great scene on one of your past shows (i.e. - coming up with an idea after-the-fact for something that would have worked with, say Ted and Shelly on "Cheers"). And if it has happened, have you ever tried to rework whatever that situation is to go into a show that is currently still in production?

gih said...

Haha, That's a big question we don't know the answer. I miss this comedy TV series.

Flatsy McNasty said...

Bruce Jay Friedman: "As for television writers, in comedy or drama, there’s a simple rule: Include the line “We have to talk,” even if your characters have done nothing but for half an hour. Producers love that line. Writers are brought in and paid a fortune for their ability—and willingness—to write that line."

Steve said...

Dear Ken,

I have a MASH question: Can you explain what happened to the Margaret character? She was a more extreme version of the quality arc of the show: In the beginning, she was a funny character but a little one-note. In the middle, she became a fascinating character.

But toward the end, oh my, she was often unwatchable. Do you have any thoughts on why she lost her darker edge, became so saccharine and fluffy and preachy, and even the acting got stiff and awkward? Was this driven mostly by the actress, different writers, producers, etc.?

Amanda said...

direcTV saved FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, and there was talk of it saving DAMAGES... as satellite providers aim to get exclusive content, we might see more of this in the future.

My musings said...

I actually have a question about your blog. I very recently started blogging (just moved from New York to Zurich, so there's plenty to write about), and was wondering about your approach to blogging. How much in advance do you plan your posts? Do you have a general idea about what you want to write on a weekly basis, or are you more spontaneous than that and pick your topic on a daily basis?

James said...

A question I've wondered for a long time: how was it writing for The Simpons vs. live action shows? I take it you didn't have to deal with stars asking for rewrites, and you could write a story about Homer having a pet hippo in his back yard if you wanted to. Was it better, worse, or just a different circle of Hell?

Wojciehowicz said...

The way cable and broadcast TV are both going, I have the feeling that we may be headed into a merger between open-ended series and mini-series. That is, we could be seeing series that are one solid season long, say twenty or so episodes, and despite stand-alone content throughout, be part of an overall storyline from first to last.

If they do, it has the benefit to creators of being able to pitch more things more often, rather than hoping that they'll be receptive when they have five or six good performing open-ended shows taking up slots. It's detrimental to show writers looking for a steady gig, but does suggest that more solid writing will need to be done to make the entire package a finished deal ready to shoot.

It also means that solid packages that run a full season don't need mid-season replacements for cancellation so often, maybe. Then again, it also would suggest that they'd seek to play it safe and cut what constitutes a season down, maybe as much as in half.

Just musing of course, but it's getting to be a stronger impression every year. I think the days of open ended shows that run for years whether syndication or network are counting down.

Ambious said...

I've noticed that in the opening credits for a show, some actors are listed seperately at the end, preceeded with the word "With" or "Featuring". Why is that? Is it to show respect or importance (I've noticed it's usually used for the more accomplished actors).


Matt Patton said...

OK, an official Friday question. How much imput, if any, would the writer of a show have on the casting of a role. I'm not necessarily thinking of the one of the main characters, just a guest role. would a staff writer have enough pull to at least suggest an actor they like for a role, or is that entirely in the hands of the show-runner or network executives?

Stephen said...

Will you be watching the new ABC sitcom "Romantically Challenged" which is being directed by James Burrows? Also, what is it about James that makes him such a popular director? Obviously at this point he has a great track-record with directing popular shows but in your experience of working with him, what makes him *so* good?

Anonymous said...

why would a TV station pick up a show that already failed on another TV station? it's the stupidest question ever. It's like buying a race horse that lost a race, to make him race for you. It failed, nobody wants it.