Friday, September 09, 2011

Should Network Executives Be Held Accountable For Ruining Pilots?

Here’s some Friday questions that may ruffle some feathers. What would you like to know?

Kevin Rubio starts us off with a question about pilots, and more specifically when pilots don’t get picked up because of network meddling:

Should the executive be culpable?" "Should names be named?"

Absolutely but it will never happen.

Still, it’s only right that they be held accountable because they sure take credit for pilots that become hits. There’s one former executive who always took credit for developing FRASIER. Here was this person’s contribution: During the network runthrough they insisted the producers get rid of the Martin character. They didn’t need the father. He was a downer. Lose him. To the producers’ credit of course they refused. But the executive has the gall to take credit for FRASIER’S development.

Like I said, though, they’ll never step forward and take any blame. They’ve got to cover their own ass. When the head of the network is railing at the staff for how shitty the pilots are (and this happens every year) I guarantee you none of the executives are going to say, “You know, that one was my bad. I told them to make the rapist likeable.” More likely: “This writer is just not very good. We really should think about not using him next pilot season.”   Trust me, that happens.  

That said, not every network note is a bad one. And sometimes they can be helpful. I will happily say publicly that Tim Stack at CBS was a huge help on our BIG WAVE DAVE’S pilot and the show would not nearly have been as good without his input. So credit where credit is due.

From Stephen:

Do writers submit their scripts to the Emmy voters when they are nominated? I always assumed that the voters based their decision on the script (for technique/form) AND the actual episode (for execution).

No. Emmys are judged by the final product. A blue ribbon committee watches the nominated episodes. The WGA Awards however, are based exclusively on scripts submitted by the writers. And in some cases, the draft submitted might differ from what eventually became the final episode.

Nic Schweitzer asks:

How do you feel, both personally and as a writer, about almost all the shows that NBC just put on a few months ago getting canceled?

Also, is there any chance Sorkin will appear again? Thanks!

Aaron Sorkin has a new series coming soon on HBO. Can’t wait!

As for the first part of your question, NBC (like all the others major networks) has used the summer as a dumping ground for scripted shows they just wanted to burn off and a time to introduce reality shows. So I wasn’t surprised that they were cancelled. To be honest, I didn’t see most of them. Watched THE VOICE, which I’m sure I would have liked better had Carson Daly not been involved, and never bothered with THE MARRIAGE REF and nonsense like that.

And finally, from MikeN:

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

It made me laugh. But funnier was this -- “Black Frasier”, the skit on 30 ROCK.


Charles H. Bryan said...

Y'know you've made an iconic show when it can be referenced in such a way. They didn't call it "Black According to Jim", although it may have been a little ballsier to have "Black Seinfeld".

The geek in me really preferred this Star Trek Voyager/Frasier meld:

But I always kind of dug Kate Mulgrew.

gottacook said...

"The WGA Awards [...] are based exclusively on scripts submitted by the writers. And in some cases, the draft submitted might differ from what eventually became the final episode." As the only Star Trek fan in my family, I'm compelled to mention one extreme example of this: Harlan Ellison's script for that series (written in fall 1966 plus or minus a few months), "The City on the Edge of Forever." The script won the WGA award for teleplay, and what aired in spring 1967 was radically different in several major respects. The episode, as shown, is also well-regarded. Arguments over the process and its result (including a lengthy one by Ellison in a book that includes his script) have gone back and forth ever since.

Anonymous said...

"Black Frasier" is hilarious, especially Tracy Morgan's comment on the scheduling of the show. "At about 9 or 9:15." That had me rolling.

Brian Phillips said...

The NBC burn-off claimed one show that I wished would have gone on longer, which was "Love Bites". The shows quality varied and it had an almost biblical curse on its getting to the small screen (creative shake-ups, star leaves due to pregnancy), but when it succeeded it worked well.

I recommend the last episode, "Modern Plagues". The biggest obstacle to overcome would be the fact that it was an hour-long anthology comedy with semi-recurring characters. The last time that this worked was "The Love Boat".

Sporadically successful format + Hour-long + low ratings + Summer = Death in a network executive's eyes.

Brian Phillips said...

Forgot to mention: NBC's site has "Love Bites" episodes posted.

David Schwartz said...

In a way, listening to the way pilots are developed for television, makes it sound like a miracle that any good shows can possibly survive. The analogy I thought of is that of a healthy cardiovascular system, with a strong heart being submitted to the networks. Each change, each "make this character likable" comment is like plaque building up in the system's arteries... and by the time the network is done, you have a heart attack (bad show) waiting to happen. The fact that any show can withstand this onslaught and not die on the table is the real miracle. There's got to be a way to get some visionary executive who can come along and allow a creative team to create something without interference and see if it can succeed. I would imagine if the next head of NBC, ABC, whatever looked at the process, he/she might see that it couldn't produce more watered down shows than the process that's in place now.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I with you in regards to Aaron Sorkin's show getting picked up by HBO. So nice to know that there will be another quality show to watch.

Brian; I completely agree with your views on Love Bites. It wasn't perfect, but it made me laugh and I looked forward to what they might do next. Nice to know that I'm not the only one.

unkystan said...

In regards to the exec who insisted that Martin Crane be eliminated from the "Frasier" pilot. How much juice does a producer need to ignore the directive? I was thinking back that after the first season of "Mork & Mindy" the ABC execs insisted on adding more comedians and eliminating Conrad Janis (and totally ruined the show). You would think Garry Marshall would have had balls to refuse especially with two smash hits already on the network. Thoughts?

Jim S said...


Great column as always. I read a story on Mo Ryan's page about women in writing positions and how things are tough right now. He said that some producers are great, but others say thins like "we had a woman" once and it didn't work out. Others excluded women from meetings and didn't understand why women were mad. One woman writer said next time she took a job she'd pay more attention to her no douches rule.

Two questions, what have you heard about this problem? Two are there writing rooms you were in that produced great work, but had jerks that made the experience less than stellar?

DyHrdMET said...

as a writer/producer/director, what is your take on when critics/fans declare that a episode on which you had worked has made the series "jump the shark"? have you ever worked on such an episode? i'd have to think that it can't be a settling feeling to write an episode that basically becomes the downfall of a successful sitcom.

Anonymous said...

Hi. If you're in the question-answering mood, I have one for you: I always hear that sitcom scripts are three jokes a page. But I also notice that 3-camera comedies are double spaced. So does that mean a single-camera show (written in the same format as a drama) needs SIX jokes a page? That could explain why some of my scripts just don't seem as funny as what's on the air. (Or, maybe I'm just not that funny). But I wonder...

Brian said...

Hi Ken, have you heard of Reddit's Ask Me Anything (AMA? Michael Elias just did one and I thought it would fun if you would too.


Naz said...

The Marriage Ref was horrible and I didn't understand why they allowed it on a second time.

Fake laughing by Kelly Ripa had me itching to bitch slap her.

Question, because Jerry Seinfeld was host/creator did NBC seriously think they had another "Seinfeld" in the mix?

Jack said...


I'm guessing this is the way to ask a Friday Question:

I very clearly remember watching MASH episodes when they aired originally. The first time I watched a syndicated episode I noticed a glaring wasn't there any WGA objection to this?

Rich D said...

Not sure if this has been asked before or not, but as I am in the city for a family event this weekend, it occurred to me to ask why with your radio background, you never wrote for "WKRP In Cincinnati"

Nic Schweitzer said...

Thank you for answering my question. But I'd like to clarify: I know Sorkin only answered via comment, and its not like you know him personally, but I was just wondering if there was any chance at all that he would write his own post for the blog. Like when Dave Hackel cleared up the "What happened to Terry Farrell" deal.

Sorry for the confusion, and thanks again! I feel like an idiot right now, but its nice to know you care.