Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday questions

Thanks as always for your Friday questions. Here are some answers:

Mel starts us off:

Just curious what you think of shows like South Park and Family Guy that seem to exist solely to push the envelope of taste.

I like them both but I’m more a fan of FAMILY GUY. I must be honest and say part of my problem with SOUTH PARK is I just don’t like the animation. I know it’s stylized that way on purpose and I know it allows them to bang out shows very quickly and be super topical (which is unheard of in series animation) but after five minutes if I’m not laughing I’m gone.

FAMILY GUY tends to be inconsistent but they have a pretty high batting average. Usually I can count on getting at least two or three big laughs every episode and every so often they’ll have an episode that just hits it out of the park.

I love that FAMILY GUY pushes the envelope. When I have a problem with the show it’s never because they were too audacious. It’s because at times they will belabor a joke to fucking death. I don’t know why they do that but it drives me bonkers. Otherwise, I love the show.

Fitch is…

Curious about tv producers.

How many are also writers? How many are "executive" producers, how they differ, from non-executive producers, for lack of a better term, and how they interact with showrunners.

Most producers are writers. Beyond that the titles don’t mean much. It has more to do with promotions and money. Entry level staff writers tend to get the credit “story editors”. After a season or two they are promoted to “producer” and get a bump in salary.

To be eligible to win an Emmy if your show is named Best Comedy or Drama you need to be a producer. Now however, the size of staffs has grown so ridiculously that the ATAS has put a limit on the number of eligible producers.

But if you have a large staff of say ten writers (not uncommon) you could have ten producer credits. And to distinguish seniority more than anything else these titles can be producer, supervising producer, co-supervising producer, co-executive producer, executive producer. But everybody does the same thing regardless of title. It’s not like the co-supervising producer answers to the co-executive producer.

Then there are the non-writing producers. Since they generally have a “production company” they tend to share executive producer credit with the show runner. Personally, I believe that if you’re not in the writing room until 2 a.m. with the rest of the staff you don’t deserve an executive producer credit. The problem with that is – most of the time you don’t WANT non-writing producers in the room. There’s nothing worse than a non-writer who thinks he’s funny and pitches jokes in the writers room.

The only other producer is the line producer (with the credit “produced by”) and that’s the only REAL producer. That’s the person who hires the crew and supervises post production and the million other details that go into mounting a show.

Dan in Missouri asks:

Why did the Eddie LeBec character get dumped from Cheers? Jay Thomas talks about this often on his radio show. I'd love to hear your version of the story.

I did an entire post about that that you can find here
. I encourage you guys to rummage through the archives. Every so often you’ll find a good one.

And finally, Nat G has a Cliff query:

In the early Cheers, Cliff was a bore who knew a lot of accurate information. Later, he was a bore who made up a lot of stuff. I've always wondered if this was a conscious change, or whether some later writers just never picked up on the fact that Cliff had known what he was talking about.

Actually, Cliff was always a complete gasbag. Every so often he got facts right but that’s the same principle as if you put a monkey in a room with a typewriter eventually he’ll type a word.


Todd said...

1. I'm not a huge fan of either "SOUTH PARK" or "FAMILY GUY", but I hugely admire that in each case, the creators/showrunners have been able to carve out their own long-standing personal comedy kingdom in television. The ultimate gig.

2. Producer titles in TV are handed out like M&M's, and have consequently become completely meaningless. The oxymoron example is a show with multiple "Supervising Producer" credits.

3. It's hard to believe, even in a town like Hollywood, that an actor could be so immediately and irrevocably dumped just for saying, "I don't like kissing Rhea Pearlman." Might there be other skeletons in Jay Thomas's closet?

4. Unfortunately, the "put a monkey in a room with a typewriter [and] eventually he’ll type a word" theory has become the development method of choice for studio execs.

Even Cliff is smarter than that.

Anonymous said...

A followup on the producer question -- what are the non-writing producers who aren't the line producer doing on the show?

Larry said...

I suppose you ought to know, but if you look at early Cliff, you can see how he developed (as many characters do on sitcoms). Early on, he's almost a normal person (Carla even sort of likes him), but the writers picked up on certain aspects of his personality and sharpened them until he became more outrageous. This is one reason it's so common, after a show is over, that if you rewatch the first season it seems "soft.

Paul said...

Family Guy went seriously downhill this year. I think Seth McFarlane having three shows made him so stretched for good writers that all his shows have become bland. This season's Family Guy felt like it was written by high school interns trying to mimic the real show.

Joe Pontillo said...

Does David Isaacs have a blog? And if not, why don't we ever hear from him in guest posts on this blog? Shy?

Think I`d sign my name to this one? said...

Ken: The question I`m sure all your female fans have been waiting to ask:

Boxers, briefs, thong or commando?

gottacook said...

I certainly don't tune in FAMILY GUY very often, but once saw the episode where the song "Shipoopi" from The Music Man was performed - much to my surprise, intact and complete.

Tim W. said...

I agree with you completely on Family Guy and South Park. I used to watch Family guy before it was cancelled the first time, although I have to admit, I rarely see an episode anymore. It can be very, very funny, but they also have the ability to kill a joke beyond recognition, almost like Saturday Night Live does with a one joke skit.

I don't know if I've ever seen a full episode of South Park. I don't like the voices or the animation. I probably get more enjoyment out of someone describing an episode to me than actually watching.

I still remember seeing an interview with the creators when they came out against people criticizing Bush at the height of the war in Iraq. It kind of sullied my opinion of them.

Max Clarke said...

Glad to see you're back in action, Ken.

My question for next time, maybe: which Cheers actors were most like/unlike their characters? I've only met a couple of stars, and they were never what I expected. They were shorter.

MD said...

Love the blog - I have a Friday question that I don't think you've covered. You've talked before about recurring or bit characters getting upgraded to main cast (like Cliff on Cheers)...I noticed that Dan Butler on Frasier was upgraded to the main credits for several seasons of Frasier, and then was gone. Was there a reason that the Bulldog character was written out? Was it a choice of Butler's or the showrunners? Thanks!

50 is the new 35 said...

Glad you're on the mend, Ken!

Question for you: How do you feel about a show such as GLEE being a likely contender as a nominee for the comedy categories in the EMMY awards? I've read that there have been some complaints from those involved in 30-minute "pure" sitcoms that it is not appropriate for a one-hour "musical dramedy" to compete in the comedy category. (I seem to remember the same criticism leveled at ALLY MCBEAL years ago?) Do you have any strong feelings on the issue one way or the other? Should there be yet another category created to encompass shows such as GLEE and ALLY or is this overkill?

Cap'n Bob said...

Must be me. I've tried to watch South Park and never understood a word they said.

Mike said...

2006 was before I discovered this blog, so I'd never seen the Jay Thomas story before. Thanks for linking to it. I had no idea that's why Eddie got killed off. I do remember the Thomas Haden Church part, though; it was one of the highlights of the episode. Every single word that came out of his mouth during his very brief scene was hilarious. It's no surprise he moved on to Wings shortly after that. If I were a casting director, after seeing his Cheers appearance, I'd be itching to sign him up.

l.a.guy said...

I consider Family Guy a guilty pleasure, even for a cartoon Peter's character is so obnoxious and misogynistic that it's hard for me to endure listening to him. Some of the other characters just aren't funny to me. (Old pedophile guy, Greased up deaf guy, Cleveland...) But the reason I watch is because the dialog of Stewie and Brian is generally funny and occasionally brilliant. To me the classics are the "Road To..." episodes that feature musical numbers.

At its best it's one of the very few shows that can make me laugh out loud.

Anonymous said...

Ignore the potty humor, and you realize - Family Guy and Seth MacFarlane are single-handedly trying to revive the big nusical number. Bless their hearts.

gih said...

I love this show much, I missed it now, waiting for the new episode to come.

LouOCNY said...

My question is this: I recently saw a BECKER episode you directed where Gilbert Gottfried played a doctor even MORE obnoxious than Becker. The question that the whole world wants answered is: what is Gilbert REALLY like?? Is there a time where he is 'off', and fairly normal?

A_Homer said...

Ken - your point on F Guy "It’s because at times they will belabor a joke to fucking death." is true. But the reality seems to be, they can get away with, ergo they do... I have never seen a more uneven show in the first years, and compared to the steady-state of American Dad for example. It's not just like there are different writers but tastes and directorial guidelines. Family Guy's saving grace is the music, and the occasional edge it moves closer to (the last one with Brian and Stewie in the safe was close to a Mamet play)

Regarding animation - I think South Park is a smarter concept regarding its imagery, because as opposed to Family Guy recycling shots like a semi-updated Hanna-Barbera toon, SPark starts simple but can go all out with a wealth of truly different characters with their own personalities in one episode, as well as sets, such as in the "Imaginationland" Trilogy. So the point is, they developed purpose-built styles and managed incredible things within the limitations, and sometimes in the case of Family Guy it seems no one is allowed to edit them...

Kelly Sedinger said...

Seconding what "LA Guy" says above -- when I stop to think of what FAMILY GUY moments give me the biggest laughs, they are invariably moments involving Stewie and Brian. I'm always a bit more uncomfortable with the show's cheerful ripping of Meg.

Anonymous said...

Fitch is... experiencing temporary technical difficulties with Google but is also wanting to thank you for your clarity and taking the time to respond to my Friday Question on producers. Awesome.

Anonymous said...

I think South Park is way more original. It took me a long time to get SP, and nowdays I like the modern version of it (which is way easier to both see and hear), but their concepts are way more sophisticated in content. In fact one of the funniest two-parters SP did was a riff on FG (turns out manatees move word-balls from a pile into a hopper, random words, which is how, according to SP, FG is "written". They really roasted FG too..and honestly, afte watching that I have a much harder time watching FG because it is pretty true..they just inject "like the time I..." and it's like a Henny Youngman bit without the charm, and often not funny, just quirky. SP can be downright genius sometimes. The Wal-Mart sendup, the financial crisis, Mohamed drawing (town buries their heads in the sand to prove they didn't watch it) etc.
I really used to like FG, and have gotten over it.