Friday, August 19, 2011

How do you react to bad plastic surgery and other Friday questions

Who’s up for some Friday questions?

Beth Ciotta gets us started:

As a new and avid fan of BECKER via reruns.... Becker is, on the surface, a pretty despicable guy, yet I feel for him, root for him. Do you consider him the most difficult character you ever tried to humanize. If not... who and why?

Humanizing the character was made easy by casting Ted Danson in the role. He has a natural warmth that takes the curse off a lot of the outrageous things he says. Cast Ron Leibman in the part and the audience would storm CBS.  But Ted could get away with it.  And charm is not something you can just learn.  Trust me, I've taken many courses.

John asks:

Ken, have you ever taken a premise created for characters on one show that might not have been used and tweaked it to fit characters on another show?

Yes. There is a slightly neurotic Jewish character with simmering anger and a biting wit that keeps popping up in our work. Adam Arkin played him in BIG WAVE DAVE’S, Chip Zien played him in ALMOST PERFECT, and Jason Alexander & Chip Zien both played him in my play. The one line description of him might be “Show me an unhappy Jew and I’ll show you a happy Jew”.

But we give the character different names and backgrounds. It’s not like Kilgore Trout appearing in a bunch of Kurt Vonnegut novels.

Quispette wonders:

I was watching a favorite 1970s show that had a bonus "Where Are They Now" clip for the DVD.

The men looked about how you would expect. But several women had opted for extreme plastic surgery--I found myself really distracted as they spoke--gaping at the unflattering results.

Do you ever run into people you used to know back in the day now rendered unrecognizable? How do you handle that?

I try not to gasp.   I'm not always successful.

From Chris:

Sometimes I see big decisions that affect a number of following episodes being written by freelancers/non-staff writers, like a character moving in with others or taking a new job. Who takes those decisions, is it the writer him/herself or does the showrunner/execs decide and tell whoever is gonna write the episode?

It's the showrunner. The freelancer may come in with that story and the showrunner responds to it, but generally, the freelancer or staff writer is assigned the story. It always amazed me when people would write spec episodes of LOST. How the hell did they even have a clue where the show was going?
It used to be that a freelancer would pitch story ideas to the producer. If the producer liked the story he bought it and hired the freelancer to write it. Rarely is that the case today. Producers are impressed with a spec, bring a young writer in and give them the story.   It makes sense.  Generally, seasonal arcs are plotted out and for the freelancer to come in with a perfect story is like scoring a bullseye on a moving target. 

And finally, from Barbara C.:

Have you ever done any video commentaries? Do you wish that was something going on during your MASH, Cheers, or Frasier years or are you just as glad not do have to deal with that bother?

Yes, on the two SIMPSONS episodes we wrote. Great fun. They put you in a recording studio, screen the episode and you just riff while it unfolds.

I would have loved to do commentaries for CHEERS or FRASIER. Paramount’s presentation for the DVD’s of those two series is lackluster and cheap. Little or no bonus features. Maybe they’ll put something together for the Blu-Ray releases, but I’m not holding my breath. Not even holding my breath there will BE Blu-Ray releases.

What’s your question? Leave ‘em in the comments section. Many thanks.


Anonymous said...

Regarding a Blu-Ray release of MASH or Cheers - can they even do that? My knowledge of broadcasting technology wouldn't fill a dented thimble, but back in the day weren't shows recorded in low-definition? If that's the case I would think there wouldn't be any source material to create a Blu-Ray release.

Milwaukee, WI

Mike said...

The lack of anything on the Frasier and Cheers DVDs, except for some scraps on the first few sets of each, just really annoyed me and continues to. These were two long-running, critically-acclaimed shows. And especially in Cheers' case, it was a monster hit for nearly all of its run. And the thing is, it's not like these were shows from the '50s or '60s where we don't know for sure what may have been lost, discarded, etc. With Cheers, for example, we know for a fact there are blooper reels, the pre-Super Bowl bit, the alternate ending to Diane's final episode, the Bob Costas special before the series' final episode (and the fact that episode is broken up into three parts when shown on the DVD is beyond weak), etc. And Paramount couldn't be bothered with *any* of this?

gottacook said...

I thought MASH and Cheers were filmed the old-fashioned way, not "recorded." Film is high-resolution enough to make decent Blu-Rays, or so I thought. (I don't have a Blu-Ray player myself.)

Simon H. said...

There's High-Def prints of "Cheers" on several networks. I'm sure someone could do the same with M*A*S*H or any filmed show as long as you at least have a 35mm print to work off of. However, you tend to lose the top and bottom of the picture when converting them to widescreen(as is the norm when you change the original print to that format), so it's a give and take.

Johnny Walker said...

If the show was shot on film then there's a good reason to release it on Bluray, as there's plenty of extra detail to be had. I imagine MASH was shot on film, but I don't know about Cheers. (The IMDb probably does.)

As for changing the aspect ratio, that's not necessary. Cropping the image would be a travesty (IMO) and thankfully Bluray is more than capable of displaying shows and films the way they were shot, just like DVD was before it.

Johnny Walker said...

Ken, the question about Becker made me wonder: Why do American shows only tend to have "horrible" characters if they can be humanized. Becker, for example, could never be too horrible without showing a softer side at some point in an episode.

This may seem like a silly question, but consider British comedy: Fawlty Towers, Black Adder, Absolutely Fabulous. You can have hugely enjoyable shows with genuinely selfish and despicable characters -- why has it never happened (to my knowledge) on US TV?

gottacook said...

It seems to me that if U.S. shows were made in series of six to twelve episodes, U.K. style, with long hiatuses between series, then yes, they could feature abrasive characters without having to "humanize" them.

Simon H. said...

Johnny Walker- You have seen Seinfeld right? No one grew or had a special episode or was very likable in the traditional American sitcom way there, but it still was a massive hit.

Charles H. Bryan said...

@Johnny Walker -- That was one of the reasons I lost interest in House; I enjoyed the show more so in the earlier seasons when House seemed to be much more unrepentant. When House checked into the hospital to become a better person, I said 'goodbye'.

Max Clarke said...

I don't have a Blu-Ray player, Apple hasn't supplied one in their computers and I have a Mac. Some analysts have said this is Apple's view of the Blu-Ray future. The DVD is being replaced by digital downloads.

JOV97 said...

Hi Ken, I'm a relatively new reader and an enthusiastic sitcom scriptwriter (just for fun mainly). My question is: when writing a script, how much information/direction do you need to put into it? For example, if someone is interrupting someone else, would you need to write '[name] (interrupting):'?
And also, what do you do about how a character does something or the way in which they say it? For example, do you need to write 'beat' or 'pause' often in speech or is that generally left up to how the actor interprets it?

Thanks, Jack

Chris said...

Johhny Walker is right, remember Alf Garnett from Till Death Do Us Part, the character they based Archie Bunker on? I'm sure they would have made him an honorary member of the KKK.

thevidiot said...

The shows were shot on film but most were transfered to videotape and edited there. The film resolution reduction (to 525 NTSC) and the cropping was done in telecine. Matching the film footage back up would be expensive and time consuming. Paramount did it for "Star Trek" (the original) but decided not to remake the effects so they were "blown up" and uprez'd.

DyHrdMET said...

I was watching a rerun of CHEERS on TV the other day (great inspiration for some of my questions), and it was an episode with what I guess you'd call a "recurring character" - not a series regular, but someone with many appearances over the 11 year run of the show (it was Ma Clavin returning to Boston for a visit and Cliff not letting her stay with him).

How do you write and produce those episodes with regards to the actor/actress guest starring? Do the writers pitch the idea and write it and hope the producers can get the necessary guest star(s) that week to tape the show? Or does it get written and put in the drawer until the guest star has an opening in their schedule? Or does the guest star come knocking on the door of the show's offices looking for work and the writers room has to create a storyline on the spot?

Chris said...

If in a movie, somebody's watching a show you wrote, would you get paid royalties or would only the creator get something? Does it depend on the movie's budget/earnings?

Alejandro said...

You consider theme an important element in sitcom writing. Other TV writers (Alex Epstein comes to mind) disregard the importance of having a theme. I'm wondering if every sitcom has a real theme. In some cases it's pretty obvious that they do (Friends, The Office) but I'm having trouble identifying a theme in 30 Rock, for example. So, is it a universal element, or just something you like to have in a show?

Unknown said...

Now that Charlie's Angels is making a comeback to TV, my question is, when will MASH be remade?

Not whether it SHOULD be remade, but more "why hasn't it been tried"?

Who makes the ultimate decision on the remakes or retreads or reboots? Who "owns" MASH?

Johnny Walker said...

Good point, I think House is actually the only US example I can think of where the character is unrepentantly horrible. Sad to hear they softened his character, instead of just letting him be.

Also, I guess Larry Sanders was an interestingly flawed character, but maybe not out-and-out despicable, more fully-founded and human.

Speaking of which, Ken recently asked what people considered to be the best comedy of all time. I think Larry Sanders might be it for me (although there's so many other brilliant ones to choose from).

@Ed, I wonder if remaking TV shows is something that we're going to have to endure in the future... like we are with movies at the moment. A worrying thought! :(

A_Homer said...

Great choices regarding comedy: Both of Garry Shandlings tv projects, "The Garry Shandling Show" and "Larry Sanders" were excellent.
There's a great interview with Gervais and him, where Gervais says how inspiring Shandling's work was for him, and I think that's what happened, the logical development was The Office and Extras, where the character is - again - not lovable.

Sean D. said...

Re: the commentary - Something that I've seen happening when studios/DVD distributors either do minimal extras or don't want to fly actors that are NYC based to LA for commentary, the actors have created their own and distributed the MP3 themselves. On Rifftrax there's one for SPRING BREAK with David Knell, Perry Lang, (Cheers guest star) Jayne Modean & Jeff Garlin taking part. Sam Jones and Melody Anderson did a FLASH GORDON commentary with a NY-based podcast crew when Universal passed on doing one for the US disc, but the UK version had Brian Blessed and others record one.

gottacook said...

"thevidiot" wrote above that Paramount "decided not to remake the effects" for the remastered Blu-Ray sets of the original Star Trek, but the opposite is true: CBS redid all of the effects shots digitally, with CGI ship models, planets, etc., exactly because they couldn't achieve good results with the original effects techniques. Many of the new effects shots were great - showing the nightside of a planet, which was never done in the original show, or ships never seen before because of tight budgets in the 1960s. The remastered episodes were also shown in weekly syndication (with cuts for extra commercials, unfortunately) during 2007-09. See the Q&A at

As for TV series remakes: The first example that came to mind is The New Odd Couple of the early 1980s, which didn't last longer than a few months. Nor did Bionic Woman fare very well a year or two ago. I'm amused that a Rockford Files pilot was filmed last year (though I'm gratified that it didn't sell), and I'll be very surprised if an attempt to revive Bewitched as a series (as I read last week) meets with success.

(I'm excluding Law & Order UK and only considering U.S. remakes of U.S. series; I'm also excluding remakes-in-name-only such as Battlestar Galactica, which I haven't seen but had many fans. There is also the special case of syndicated series, which seem to be less and less of a factor in recent years; true, the the most successful syndicated series was a remake, Star Trek - The Next Generation, but other syndicated remakes didn't do so well, such as The New Monkees and The New WKRP in Cincinnati.)

jbryant said...

Haven't seen it in ages, but I don't think Dabney Coleman showed much of a sensitive side in BUFFALO BILL. Which undoubtedly explains why the show lasted only one season, despite much acclaim.

D. McEwan said...

"jbryant said...
Haven't seen it in ages, but I don't think Dabney Coleman showed much of a sensitive side in BUFFALO BILL. Which undoubtedly explains why the show lasted only one season, despite much acclaim.

Actually, Buffalo Bill (a show I loved) ran two seasons. Since it was a summer series, the first season only ran 12 episodes, but it got renewed, and returned the following December, for 14 more episodes.

Mike said...

What was your reaction when Conan hosted the Emmys and drew a tiny circle and said 'Black people who watch Frasier'?

Anonymous said...

I know the original poster specified network tv, but the characters on Always Sunny are despicable in every way. Not a redeeming quality among the 5 of them.

John B said...

I just watched the episode of Cheers where Sam discovers that Rebecca's favorite song is 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'. However, when Sam tries to seduce her he plays 'Unchained Melody'.

Shouldn't a mistake like that be caught before the show airs?

John B
Laughlin, NV

milwaukee cosmetic surgery said...

Regarding a Blu-Ray release of MASH or Cheers - can they even do that? My knowledge of broadcasting technology wouldn't fill a dented thimble, but back in the day weren't shows recorded in low-definition? If that's the case I would think there wouldn't be any source material to create a Blu-Ray release.