Friday, August 20, 2010

What should THE OFFICE do?

This is why television should not base all of their programming decisions on research: Based on your comments my “Friday Questions” is by far the most popular feature of the blog. It also consistently attracts the lowest traffic of the week.

But don’t worry. I’m not canceling it. It’s not like I’m developing “Friday Poetry Corner” in case the demos don’t improve.

Kevin Laseau gets us started:

What advice would you give to THE OFFICE as they go about trying to find a replacement for Steve Carell?

Straight-laced like Rebecca started out? Lovable curmudgeon a la Colonel Potter?

I would say just go for something completely different from Michael Scott. When Ricky Gervais originated the character for the British OFFICE I was in awe. We’ve all seen asshole bosses and incompetent bosses and screaming bosses but I had never seen that guy. Who else, what other type haven’t I seen? That’s what they should be striving for. Yes, it’s a Herculean task, but if anyone can handle it it’s Greg Daniels and his terrific staff.

The good news is if they do find this fresh new character it will energize the show, change the chemistry, and probably keep the series on the air two years longer than it would have been.

Jaime J. Weinman has a question about filming night in front of a live audience:

If you shoot a scene after the audience has gone home, what do you do about the soundtrack? Do you add pre-recorded laughs or show the completed scene to another audience later?

Depending on the situation, both. If we pick-up a scene after the audience leaves we borrow laughs from that night’s audience or “sweeten” with a laugh track.

However, if there’s a difficult scene or an outdoor scene we will usually pre-shoot it the day before the audience filming. In those cases we’ll show the scene to the crowd and record their reaction.

But here’s the odd thing about audience filmings: they will generally laugh harder at anything they are seeing live as opposed to on monitors. So a couple of times when I’ve directed BECKER and there have been scenes in cars I will pre-shoot them but on show night just set up two chairs and have the actors perform the scene live. Even with the complete suspension of reality, those scenes play far better than when we just screen the scenes that will actually be seen on the air.

We’ll then use the laughs from the live performance and put them in the pre-shot version.

From Alyson:

Two of my favorite shows, THE OFFICE and HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, did not have the best season. I've read interviews with showrunners from both shows, and there is a marked difference. The HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER guys basically acknowledged it was not their strongest year, said they were trying to do something different, and that it didn't work. Conversely, THE OFFICE showrunner defended the past season, said he liked what they did and considered it a successful year.

My question is: Obviously shows have off years. That's to be expected after a show goes several seasons. But what's the best way to handle it? Do you try and save face and defend it, or admit to taking missteps?

If THE OFFICE staff truly believes they had a good year then yes, they should defend it. You may look back in a few years and find you like this year’s episodes way more than you did originally.

But I really applaud the producers of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER for (a) admitting that they missed the mark this year, but even more importantly (b) that they were willing to take a chance creatively. I love that they place such a high premium on telling stories in a fresh way. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t -- but it’s the mark of a true artist that he tries.

Have you or any show you've worked on had to do this, and if so, how was it handled?

I’d have a real hard time convincing people that AfterMASH was a great show. So yeah, I admit we kind of struck out with that one.

And finally, from Steve Currie:

Do you have a queue of articles waiting to be posted or do you write up your posts just a day or so in advance?

I try to have a few in the bank in case I need them but a lot of times I’ll bang them out the day or night before. I wrote this yesterday. I try to stay as topical as I can, which means writing close to publishing. It would have been hard for me to write my rant on the presidential visit a month before he actually arrived. Not impossible but hard.

What’s your question?


A. Buck Snide :) said...

Just because it's as great to be first in queue as it is good to be the king....
I think you may have mentioned before, but what a great idea re-doing the recorded scene in a live "reading" just to get the truer audience reaction. Especially when you hold to the policy of always sticking with just the two chairs even if it's the entire Cheers cast featured. Norm having to sit on Cliffie's lap has always got to be a laugh riot.

GregN said...

I've been reading for 2+ years now, and finally decided to ask a question:

Is it Le-vine or Le-veen?


Anonymous said...

You've made many funny references to the failure of AfterMASH, but have you ever written a serious analysis of WHY you think it failed? It would be interesting to read your opinions on what mistakes you think were made, what you should have done instead, and/or whether the whole concept was doomed from the start (and why).

GBV said...

Didn't Greg Daniels leave The Office to work on Parks and Recreation?

Actually that's probably part of the reason The Office stunk last year while Parks and Recreation had an unbelievably funny season two.

Ryan Eibling said...

I forget where I first saw this suggestion for a Steve Carell replacement, but I repeat it every time the question comes up: Will Arnett.

David said...

Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I think they should cancel The Office.

I was one of those rare types who loved the British version and also loved the US version... until Season 4. Seasons 2 and 3 were brilliant, and then it all went downhill.

My SO and I finally called it quits almost two years ago. We realized we watched the show out of duty and hadn't enjoyed it for a long time.

Mike said...

Ken, would absolutely love to hear your thoughts on this:

"Comedy Evaluator Pro Online
Technology for The Comedy Professional"

Believe it or not, it's a real thing. The man who invented it came online to defend his product at MetaFilter; hilarity ensued.

The Curmudgeon said...

My 17-year old loves The Office. I find the 'mockumentary' format a distraction. There were a couple of documentary episodes on M*A*S*H -- but it was a novelty. Every single week... it's just dumb.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Don't worry too much about the low traffic, Ken. It's a web-wide world thing: for some reason, Friday is just a low traffic day everywhere.

Fridays at my old blog used to feature posts on some of the most popular shows I covered, like "Grey's Anatomy" or "Survivor" or (for one season) "Lost." Those posts got tons of comments, yet Fridays were always the least-viewed weekday for the site by far. Just one of those things.

My question, which ties into the Carell discussion:

On "The Office," there's a debate about whether the show should bring in a completely new character or promote from within. (If they do the latter, I'm in favor of Craig Robinson, since his character has been so little-explored to date.) It sounds like you're in favor of bringing in somebody new, so I'm curious: in hindsight, do you think it was a mistake that when Radar left "M*A*S*H," his replacement was the pre-existing Klinger? Or did Klinger's role and persona change enough with the promotion that it felt like the show had added a new character?

Garrett Clark said...

I watched the Frasier episode last week titled "Death and the Dog." It's told as a series of flashbacks Frasier narrates as part of his radio show. How are episodes like this shot? It seems like it could be hard for the studio audience to keep up.

benson said...

Speaking of audiences keeping up, let me also add another follow up question. Many series have clip show episodes with some new material to tie together all the reminiscences. Do you keep an audience from a regular taping, or if there is something in need of a audience reaction, do you just sweeten with taped reactions?

Phillip B said...

I would love to see Ricky Gervais show up for a few episodes of THE OFFICE, fire Steve Carrell's character and then conduct a disastrous search for a replacement while serving as interim.

As Gervais has a financial interest in the show, it may not be impossible....

David Schwartz said...

Love the idea of Ricky Gervais showing up! He's always fun to watch and extremely multi-layered in his performances.

Dana Gabbard said...

Ken, how do you and your partner come up with titles for the scripts you co-write? Any rule you tend to follow? Does it make a difference whether it is for a show that displays titles on air as to how much effort is invested in coming up with a title?

Howard Hoffman said...

GregN said...

I've been reading for 2+ years now, and finally decided to ask a question:

Is it Le-vine or Le-veen?

(I have this one, Ken.)
Yes, Greg. It's definitely Le-vine or Le-veen.

Keith said...

Yeah, if you want it to be the most popular and highest trafficked, you should make it Tuesday Questions. Either that or go program for Fox.

rchesson said...

Ken you should look at today's WSJ and read "Revenge of the TV Writers"

Right up your alley.

Bob in Denver

Anonymous said...

GregN, you can't have been reading too carefully, because he's answered that before.

I don't remember his answer, which is completely different.

Sandy Koufax said...

To GregN...
I'll put this one to rest for you, Ken. It's pronounced
Le-Vine. Now everybody drop it!

Cap'n Bob said...

Ken, I recently worked at a writer's conference helping people practice their pitch before meeting with an agent or editor. In 99% of the cases they presented a summary or synopsis or plot rundown, but never a pitch. Would you discuss what sets a pitch apart from a synopsis, etc.?

-bee said...

Sometimes I just shake my head and wonder what other people are seeing that I am not. I think this season of The Office has had some terrific episodes - especially loved David Wallace's breakdown. There were some possible misfires (didn't think Andy's romance with Erin was that interesting) but its still a great show.

If my recollection is correct and you, Ken, helped create Charles Winchester - your opinion on replacement characters counts for a heckuva lot because that was one of the great replacements in TV series history.

jbryant said...

I'm with bee. My girlfriend and I thoroughly enjoyed THE OFFICE this season, though I'm sure I could pick apart individual moments here and there (and actually, I have yet to see the season finale, which is still in my DVR queue). Over the years, I've been disappointed by an episode here and there, but in general this show is an oasis in the sitcom desert.

Possible Friday question: Ken, what do you think of LOUIE, the FX series written, directed and edited by Louis CK? Assuming you've seen it, of course. I think it's fantastic, with shades of Woody Allen, Seinfeld, European art film and Ricky Gervais (who had a memorable cameo in one episode), but somehow quite original.

Anonymous said...

Your research comments leads me to a question I've wondered about for a while:

Ever since advertisers discovered that they could get specific audience info rather than as a block for everyone, networks have targeted their decisions to the 18 - 49 demo. It doesn't matter how many people overall watch a show as long as the 18-49 or better yet 18-35 demo loves it.

Do you think this has affected the quality of programming? It seems to me that comedy shows especially were funnier before the Friends model began to control everything. Not to mention a number of shows that I enjoyed that were pulled because even though the total viewership numbers were decent, they didn't do well in the 18-49 demo.


Richard Y said...

As much as I really like your informative daily posts which oftens brings at least a chuckle but mostly laughter, I think I have Learned more from your Friday Questions, some of which you have answered of mine thank you. Many times I have passed on some of the Q&A to others in the business. Hope it continues.

Chuck said...

"It also consistently attracts the lowest traffic of the week".

I have a theory on that, Ken. Personally, I enjoy the Friday Questions, and save them for later. Usually I read them on saturdays or sundays, but sometimes somewhere mid-week the following week.
While this should not be read as an insult, I think, maybe, the other posts get some of the Friday Question's traffic.

Then again, I could be completely wrong, way off or worse.

Have a good weekend

- Chuck

Mike said...

Here's my question: have you ever watched a one-camera sitcom and said to yourself "this show would be better off if they did it in the traditional three-camera, studio audience method" (or vice versa). For example, while they eventually went overboard with the whole Fonzie is a superhero thing, switching from one camera to three really have Happy Days a burst of energy it had been kinda lacking for a lot of its second season. Do you think a show can be saved by switching from one camera to three or three to one?

Michael said...

I was wondering whether your personal relationship with an actor/actress ever affected what or how much you wrote for a character - either positively or negatively.

A Non-Emus said...

I agree with people who say the 'mockumentary' thing is getting out of hand. We're supposed to believe that a camera crew has been following these people for six years for a TV show. That this TV show must be very popular to have lasted this long. Yet, they still work at a shitty company in the middle of nowhere? These people would actually be C-list celebrities. They would be all over Youtube and be talked about on The Soup. Michael, who is so desperate for celebrity, would be using his bit of fame for any pathetic personal gain. At least the original British Office addressed this fact. Tim mentions people recognizing him, David does personal appearances in bars, etc. I haven't watched the American Office since season 4 so maybe this has been addressed. But the "mockumentary" genre was once a spoof of documentaries and reality shows and now it has just become a reason to allow the characters to look at the camera and exposit. Rant over.

Brian said...

Hi Ken, Here's my question:
Why will USANetwork air a new episode of a show at midnight? On a less extreme example, new episodes of Royal Pains air at 10 PM. At least "Burn Notice" (poor man's 24) is at 9 pm. Do they just not care about the primetime concept? Their shows aren't half bad.

Joey on the 8s said...

Ken, I was just in L.A. for work/vacation and I got to hear you on KABC after the Dodgers/Rockies game Thursday night. Good to hear you on the air again! (I used to hear you when I would "bored-op" Orioles games in the early '90s in Virginia.)

I also texted a shout-out to you on that Verizon scoreboard thing at Dodger Stadium but I don't think they used it. (Maybe I should have said "I <3 Ken L" instead?)

And I took the Paramount tour, which brings me to ask two Friday questions:

1. Our tour guide took us by "the tank" on Paramount's lot, and I found where you mentioned it in a previous post. This guide told a story about how it was used in Cheers in the "Sam proposes to Diane" scene where Diane is supposed to end up on "Boston harbor." His story went that when the scene was first set up, Shelley complained that the water was too cold and she wouldn't go in, so they spent a few days pumping in warmer water ... and then she still balked at going in. The guide implied that's why she was off the show shortly thereafter. Any comments there?

2. The guide also told a story how, as a result of some bet, Woody and Ted streaked across the lot, including past a spot near the stage where some fresh concrete had been put in. Guide showed us where Ted and Woody signed there names in the concrete. Any recollection of this?

Sorry for the long post. Thanks!

Rory Wohl said...

Apropos of nothing, was wondering if you had a take on the cop show "The Glades" on A&E?

My wife and I love it and think it's a real sleeper when compared to the every-5-minutes-there's-a-commercial-on-for "Rizzoli & Isles" on TNT which we think is a stinker.

The Midnight Lumberjack said...

Whats your take on this?,44585/