Friday, December 31, 2010

Some final questions as we wrap up this year

How fitting to end the year with questions. What’s yours?

Matt starts with a follow-up question about the "how did we handle drinking on CHEERS" post:

Were the actors actually nursing beer?

They were drinking “near-beer”, 3.2 alcohol content, and it was warm. I don’t know George Wendt guzzled all that swill each week.

However, the Heinekens in the writers room were real.

VP81955 asks:

At times I see sitcom episodes directed by cast members, which I presume is one of the "perks" of their contract. What's your experience been like in those situations? Are they looking for diversifying their resume in later years -- in other words, are they genuinely interested in directing as a future endeavor -- and do you assist them when they have to act in a scene?

Some actors are excellent directors. Three that I have worked with are Alan Alda, Kelsey Grammer, and Adam Arkin. There have been other times when actors have directed and the results have been, uh… “less than stellar”. In one case, and I won’t name the actor, anytime he directed it was bizarre. Normally he was the nicest guy in the world, but the minute he stepped onto the stage as the director he became a tyrant, even snapping at his fellow cast members. The next week he was just an actor again and went back to being the sweetest guy on the planet. How the rest of the cast didn't kill I do not know.

On multi-camera shows, when actors direct they pretty much leave all the camera blocking and technical stuff to the camera coordinator. And of course, if you’re blocking a scene without regard to just how you plan to shoot it, you may block it in such a way that is hard or impossible to shoot.  Actors are too close to walls, upstaging each other, in spots where the camera can't find them, etc.  Those camera blocking days can be total nightmares. 

Kelsey was the only one I saw who really studied the cameras and participated in that aspect of the job.

Generally, when an actor directs an episode it’s one in which he’s very light. Some will ask for an objective eye like the first AD and others won’t. Of course actors in long-running series generally know their characters so well that they don’t need much guidance.

Do you know which actor was also a director? Someone I bet you wouldn’t expect. Nick Colasanto, the Coach on CHEERS. He directed tons of episodes of HAWAII 5-0 (the good version), COLUMBO, STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO, and even BONANZA.

I wonder if Ron Howard ever asked the producers of HAPPY DAYS if he could direct an episode and they told him to just stick to acting.

From Cedric Hohnstadt:

I'd love to know your thoughts, Ken: Is it possible to train yourself to be creatively "in the zone" when needed or is inspiration something that always strikes on its own random schedule?

If you write for television, especially on staff, you cannot afford to wait for the muse to come along and inspire you. You must train yourself to write on demand. Morning, night, late night, when you’re tired, have a cold, dealing with family issues, ducking a drug cartel – it makes no difference. You’re expected to be productive. This takes discipline, experience, and fear (I mean, “motivation”).

A large part of the job is being able to perform under pressure. During filming nights on multi-camera shows, when a joke bombs the writers quickly huddle and with the cast and crew waiting and two hundred people in the audience impatiently looking on, you’re expected to come up with that new killer line. You can’t say, “Let me go up to my cabin in Arrowhead for the weekend, pour myself some nice Swiss Miss, light a cozy fire, put on my “Pat Boone Sings Heavy Metal” CD, and work on it. I’ll have the joke for you on Monday.” You need it now.  Just like the drug cartel. 

Phillip B wonders:

Have you ever been approached -- or tempted - to work on an "unscripted" show?

I have an idea for an unscripted series. It’s one of those outdoorsman-type shows, where everyone wears hats and totes around rifles. HUNTING THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS. What do you think?

Happy New Year to everyone. Drive carefully tonight.


Tom Quigley said...

Ken said:

"I have an idea for an unscripted series. It’s one of those outdoorsman-type shows, where everyone wears hats and totes around rifles. HUNTING THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS. What do you think?

I think a certain ex-governor of Alaska beat you to it....

Happy New Year, Ken! All the Best in 2011!

David said...

Thanks, Ken (and fellow commenters), for the usual wonderful mixture of laughs and insight in 2010. May 2011 bring more great stories, questions, answers, and arguments.

Doug said...

Here's an interesting question:

Compare the number of actors who direct episodes of their own shows to the number of actors who write episodes of their own shows.

Hmmm, I wonder which is harder...?

York said...

Friday Question:

Ken, I was wondering if you read the recent article in the Wall Street Journal in which Ricky Gervais explains why he is an atheist:

I'm not asking for your reaction to the content of the article (though you can, of course, provide that if you like), but rather, your opinion as to why a celebrity who presumably relies upon the goodwill of the public would risk such a potentially inflammatory missive, especially since he doesn't seem to need the publicity?

Doesn't he put his career in Hollywood at risk?

Just curious.

[Note: I tried to embed a hyperlink to the article before, but the comment didn't post, so I left it here as a cut-and-paste option. Hopefully, this question won't double-post!]

Eric said...

I believe that Ron Howard asked Roger Corman for help in breaking in to directing, and was told he could direct a cheap car movie (Grand Theft Auto) if first he would star in one (Eat My Dust.)

Roger Corman didn't survive for 50 years by giving something for nothing.

AlaskaRay said...

"I wonder if Ron Howard ever asked the producers of HAPPY DAYS if he could direct an episode and they told him to just stick to acting."

Actually I heard it was negotiated into his Andy Griffith Show contract.

Happy New Year to all.


William M said...

Here's a first, Ken.
My question is about dream interpretation-and you're in it!

Question: Is the following dream about YOUR Hollywood home prophetic for ME?

My dream: Somehow you advertise renting a room in your house, and I respond to it. I visit your home.
Daytime. Enter front door. Hear voice (you?) talking on telephone in another room.
I go down a hallway. Enter empty room. I walk to the backdoor that opens onto the backyard.
I look out on your backyard...
300 feet wide & long. Pond or pool in the middle. Long green lawn. Trees line the property line, with traffic beyond the trees. Absolutely quiet and breath taking...Hollywood-type expansive lawn.
Suddenly, a young child on a bike rides down a path near this back room.
I turn back into the room, and walk to the front door. You(I guess, although I see no face) are standing at the end of the hallway, looking at me puzzled.
I mutter something like "I'm ------(My name) and I sent you a letter..."
The dream ends right there.

Background. I'm a Baby Boomer-aged guy, who's not yet achieved notable success as a Yoga teacher. I've never visited LA, though I've dreamed of moving there and dating actresses. I don't know what you look like, though I do read your blog a few times a week.

Does this dream of you, lush Hollywood vistas, and "rooms for rent", mean that I should chase my Hollywood dreams?

Alyson said...

Doug: I am not Ken, but I did read the article you linked to. Thanks.

Ricky Gervais has long stated that he is an atheist. He talked about it a lot in his podcast, and has brought it up in TV interviews, etc.

It seems to me that those who enjoy Ricky Gervais (and I include myself in that category) wouldn't care what his religious views are.

te said...

Gervais' attitudes toward religion are very clear in The Invention of Lying, which I highly recommend (it's been playing on HBO).

Bob Oscar Johnson said...

Ken, what was the reason that the "near beer" was warm on the Cheers set? NBC wouldn't pay for a refrigerator? Or does it not look like beer when it's cold...?

Ref said...

Happy New Year to one of the very few bloggers I read EVERY day!

snell said...

My first question, asked as someone with no clue about filming in front of a live audience.

On shows "filmed before a live audience," did the reaction of the audience ever lead you to change bits? If they were unexpectedly silent at what what supposed to be a funny bit, did you try punch it up or rewrite it & re-film it later? If the audience found something uproarious, did you go back and try to find ways to extend/build upon it? Or, by the time you reached filming, was it "it is what it is, too late to change," and ignore the audience reaction?

D. McEwan said...

I also read Ricky Gervais's article, and the briliant follow-up article he did answering some questions it raised, and while reading something sane and intelligent written by a celebrity is certainly unusual, I saw nothing "inflammatory" about it.

I realize religious idiots do their best to repress the Truth, but to call stating a series of facts in a clear yet entertaining fashion putting his career at risk seems over-the-top, and intended solely to frighten atheists into continuing to stay in the closet, and continue to allow the superstitious hoards to control the discussion.

Every word of Ricky's article, and its follow-up, are true and sane. He is to be congratulated for having the guts to speak the Truth.

Open your minds, not your Bibles. (Though a Bible does make excellent kindling on these cold Winter nights.)

Jen L. said...

Just to add to the Ron Howard comments - Garry Marshall has many times mentioned Ron's efforts while at Happy Days to learn all aspects of production and direction, with the clear intention of directing after leaving Happy Days. Ron has similarly thanked Garry for letting him get educated while at Happy Days.

Happy New Year, Ken, and looking forward to the posts of 2011.

mike said...

I agree with everything D. McEwan wrote. How refreshing to read Mr. Gervais' sound reasoning. Although I think it's superstitious 'hordes.'
Let's get all the supernatural mumbo-jumbo out of the public sphere and embrace reason.

Dene said...

Dear Ken

I just watched the 1-hr Mork & Mindy Season Two opener, "Mork in Wonderland", possibly the downright weirdest tv episode I've ever seen.

The first half is a kind of "Incredible Shrinking Mork" and isn't too out-of-left-field, but in the last half he disappears into a parallel universe where comedy has been outlawed, or something, and the results are truly bizarre - but most importantly, fairly laugh-free.

Anyway, my question is - although it's rare for a show to move so completely out of its comfort zone - how would something like this have got greenlit?


crackblind said...

Re Ron Howard & Roger Corman.

One of my favorite quotes is Corman telling him, "If you do a good job directing, you'll never have to work for me again."

Allie said...

I was just watching the Cheers episode "Endless Slumper." Can you give any details on how they were able to do Sam's bar slide trick where he slides the beer so it turns the corner and makes it to Cliff?