Friday, September 17, 2010

Never say "break a leg" to Kaley Cuoco

It’s Friday question day. Poor Kaley inspires the first one.

From Rockgolf:

I just saw that Kaley Cuoco broke her leg in a horseback riding accident and that The Big Bang Theory show is planning to rewrite the script they are filming tonight without her.

That sounds like a Herculean task to take a significant character out of an episode in two or three days. Has this ever happened on a show you were on? If so, how did you do it and what (belated) advise would you give the BBT writers.

First off, best wishes, Kaley. I imagine in time she'll return and they'll explain away the cast. And this is just the kind of thing that wins people Best Supporting Actress Emmys. I'm just sayin'.

Anyway, to the topic. Yes, once. In the first year of CHEERS we got a call in the writers room at about 7 that Nick Colasanto had just been admitted to the hospital with Pleurisy. We had to rewrite him out that night.

The hard part was reconstructing the story. But it was doable. Had we lost Ted or Shelley or had BBT lost Jim Parsons they might have had to shut down. This is why it's fortunate for TWO AND A HALF MEN that Charlie Sheen is not in prison.

You have to go into every season with the mindset that along the way there will be a few episodes that are snake-bitten. An actress will break her leg, a script will bomb at runthrough, there will be a flood on the stage on show night. You just have to expect it and roll with it.

The good news is that those late nights can also really bond a staff. There’s a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. As long as it doesn’t happen every week. Then you just want to fucking kill someone.

I really don’t have any advice for the BBT writers. I can offer my support though and say to them – good luck you sorry bastards.

From Brian:

Hi Ken, here's a question for you. Do you know any writers/producers/directors/actors involved in the soap opera industry? How can the possibly keep up with writing and filming for a one hour daily show?

Surprisingly, I don’t know any soap opera writers. Maybe because they’re locked up writing all the time. The hard part has to be plotting out the overall storylines that will stretch out over weeks and months. I imagine with practice these skilled writers can bang out the actual scripts in fairly short order. On the other hand, it’s not like they have to write a blog post every day. Now THAT’S pressure.

I do know a number of soap opera actors like Eric Braeden and Carolyn Hennessey and I’m always in awe of their ability to memorize hour scripts every day. They both say the same thing. You develop a technique that allows you to memorize very quickly. And once the show is filmed you almost instantly forget it.

Soap opera talent (on and off camera) doesn’t get the recognition they deserve. They work in a very specialized and rigorous field. So you have to excuse them for the occasional twin brother marries a girl who turns out to be his sister who was thought to be eaten by cannibals but escaped by sleeping with the tour guide who she later learned was her father.

Matthias wonders:

"Networks now pretty much control the stories." Does that mean that when we like or don't like the direction a show goes in, we should be crediting or blaming the networks as much as the showrunners?

Yes. But if the show tanks guess who gets blamed? Not once have I ever heard a network say, “You know we led the showrunner in the wrong direction. It’s really our fault.”

And finally, a rather unusual question from Steve:

As a writer, do you ever develop crushes on your characters? For instance, did you have a crush on Dharma or Diane Chambers? (I would have.) If so, did that affect your writing?

To be honest, I’ve never even thought about it. Since I work with the actual actresses, I dunno, it would be weird. Really weird. So... no. I confine my crushes to SI swimsuit models and Rachel Maddow.

Monday I’ll answer another question, but it’s a long one, worthy of an entire post. I’ll give you tips on how to pitch a movie or pilot to agents, networks, or studios. This is called "a tease". It's also called a "stall tactic" because I haven't written it yet.


Kathy said...

Soap writing staffs are broken down to several levels, from macro to micro. The head writer and producer decide the stories, then there are weekly breakdown writers (how do we advance each story this week?), then daily breakdown writers (what happens today in each story?), and then each day's script is written by one writer (or a writing team) off this very specific daily breakdown, which is a very detailed synopsis. Each moment is dictated, and the writer is almost filling in blanks. One person edits for voice and continuity. It's quite a process. (I interned in the ABC Daytime department.)

Anonymous said...

Okay Ken, so just out of curiosity...WHO exactly has won an Emmy after breaking a leg (or dying)?

Tom Quigley said...

I imagine that the staff of THE BIG BANG THEORY will have no problem coming up with a reasonable story arc to explain Kaley Cuoco's cast. Although I'm not a regular viewer, I've enjoyed it every time I've watched, and this is one show where the comedy is good enough and broad enough for them to make almost any explanation both believable and funny.

WilliamJansen said...


You have written about how Frasier, Lilith and Bulldog all started out as minor characters with a finite time-span on the series, but advanced to full cast-membership because they were so successful.

Did you ever have a minor character, that you wanted to advance to full membership of the cast, but it didn't work out? If so; which characters and why didn't it work out?

Be Happy!

blogward said...

I used to work in the same (UK) studio as a now-dead daily soap. One day the word came that a lead actor was stuck 70 miles away by the seaside because he'd had a couple of beers and didn't want to risk the drive back - by the time the news got round, the story was that he'd spent the whole night drinking, smashed up a hotel and collapsed in the street. Writers' revenge, I guess.

Matt said...

MASH question:

Several of the MASH scripts in my collection contain the Call Sheet and Shooting Schedules. On the shooting schedule, I've noticed under "Cast. & Atmos." an item called "Mini Mash"

Is this a reference to the Stage 9 set?

Rockgolf said...

Ken: Thanks for the reply, and of course, best wishes to Kaley, whom I consider to be a lead actress, and a very good one at that.
Without her as the filter thru which we view Sheldon & Leonard, the show would be much less sympathetic.
I expect, as was mentioned elsewhere, that the apartment elevator will be used to explain Penny's broken leg. Perhaps it will lead to an episode where Sheldon acts as a paralegal suing the building owner. I can see Michael Emerson guesting as the latter.

WV: bully - What the hell? A real word!!

sophomorecritic said...

I'm just gonna ask my question again, because I thought it was a good one, but I might be mistaken:
By the way, Ken, I love your blog and I'm so thankful that you voluntarily choose to share your experiences with so many of us who are fascinated by the TV industry.

You mostly see yourself as a writer and TV producer. At the same time, you've directed but you seem rather non-chalante about it, because as I understand directing a TV episode is a much smaller deal than directing movies (correct me if I'm wrong).

How many steps were you away in training and expereince from being the kind of director that gets nominated for Oscars and gets recognition for a distinct style. For example, if the same exact production team existed but you were substituted in for Danny Boyle, Sophia Coppolla or Martin Scorsese, do you think you could have directed Lost in Translation, The Departed or Slumdog Millionaire and got close to the same result?

Mike Schryver said...

Ken. your comment about not having crushes on your characters, because you know the actresses, made me think of something I've always wondered.
Since you're part of creating a fictional world, let's say Frasier's,
do you ever envy the viewer because you can't lose yourself in that world the way they can?

Ian said...

You might not get crushes on the characters you create, but I've always had the sense that you had a little thing for actress Nancy Travis. Am I right?

The Man from AmTech said...

Rockgolf, as one who handles elevator accident, I can tell you: Elevators cannot break a leg, absent multiple catastrophic failures, nor can they fall down the shaft.

I know the show is fiction, and makes good fodder.

I hope they do use that idea, as any publicized broken elevator is good for my business.

benson said...

I wish Ken had directed (and doctored the script) Lost in Translation. I lost two hours of my life on that awful piece of crap.

Yes, but on Frasier, Niles climbed up through the elevator ceiling and while jumping down he could've broken a leg, so it is plausible. And Rosalind Shays died!!!!!on LA Law! Good thing Kaley signed her new deal. She did sign it already, didn't she?

Rachel Maddow? Ewwwwww!

Richard Y said...

as one who handles elevator accident, I can tell you: Elevators cannot break a leg, absent multiple catastrophic failures, nor can they fall down the shaft.

I disagree about falling down shafts. My first day on the job at an unnamed facility a few years ago I was being shown around by the guy whose job I was replacing. Making a long story short we were stuck at the top floor and doors would not open. The Elevator tech from **** elevator happened to be on site and proceeded to manually hit the up button (he should have hit 'down')from the elevator room in the basement. He did this several times which in turn made the elevator hit the top stops several times. The pressure of him doing this eventually blew out the packing gland below the car which in turn caused the hydraulic fluid to flow out under pressure causing the car to FALL down the shaft. It destroyed the car, we were injured, not seriously thank goodness, and the hydraulic fluid that was running down outside the elevator doors the crew thought was blood. It was a 4 story drop.

thomas tucker said...

benson- fortunately, I only wasted ten minutes on that movie. But, unfortunately for me, I just wasted 1 1/2 hours on The American with George Clooney. I urge you not to make the same mistake.

benson said...

Thanks for the advice, but why I'm really posting is my

wv: phuckr

I'm not making it up....

A wonderful weekend one and all. I guess Ken has something to talk about on the DodgerTalk

Mike said...

Which Cheers episode was that?

Also, thanks Ken for your words about the soap industry. I'm a longtime soap fan, and I really think it's unfair how often the genre is made fun of. For the actors, you basically have to memorize tons of dialogue (soaps don't have a very large budget, so they're *very* dialogue-driven, which is actually kinda nice considering their radio roots) in a very short period of time. It looks incredibly difficult. And for the writers, well, the same thing; a lot of script to have to come up with in a short period of time. And let's not forget each soap probably produces like 250 new episodes a year. So when people compare the writing/acting of an average soap episode to that of an average prime-time drama, well, it's just not really fair.

amyp3 said...

Just wanted to tell you that on the Done Deal board someone was asking "What TV shows are set in restaurants?"

Another poster responded:
'Cheers' ... but that's a long, long, long way back!

To which I replied: Every day, in every way, I feel Olde, Olde, Olde.

Anonymous said...

Totally OT and a few days late ... But @Richard T. I have to tell you, your elevator story just scared the hell out of me! Never been phobic before, but the next time I get on an elevator may require Xanax!

- 50 is the new 35 (sorry for the "anon" posting, Ken - Blackberry won't let me enter a name)

VP81955 said...

Speaking of elevators, the William Powell-Myrna Loy film "Love Crazy" has a scene where Powell, his former lover (Gail Patrick, who's carrying her small dog) and an elevator operator are trapped in an elevator in their apartment. Hilarity ensues during their escape, capped by Powell's head being trapped on the bottom of a floor between elevator doors while her dog is licking his face. That and the famed fishing scene from "Libeled Lady" remind us that Bill's talents for physical comedy are often overlooked.

lucifervandross said...

One of my Professors that I am particularly fond of and helps me out used to be a script supervisor for a soap opera, she said that a large part of her job was helping the writing staff know when they would have to write people off for 6 weeks for face lifts.

best wishes to Kaley as well. Love her on the show.