Friday, September 30, 2011

Where to put your Emmy

Time to end the week and the month with Friday questions.  Ready?

GMJ starts us off:

Do you have your Emmy on display?

Yes. In the dining room (see the above picture). If I were single I’d be wearing it around my neck.

Craig Pines has a network pitch meeting and wonders:

Have you ever come into a pitch meeting where they've tried to rework an idea? If so, what can I do to be best prepared for the meeting?

Yes, networks often have agendas and when you pitch your idea they consider whether (a) it fits in with their agenda, and (b) not as important – do they like it?

At the end of the day it’s up to you to decide how badly you want to make the sale and if you can live with the changes.

We once brought an idea to NBC about a couple who meet at an improv class and decide to team up, a la Mike Nichols & Elaine May. Our hook was “can a man and woman work together and be friends without having a sexual relationship?” This was years before WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, by the way.

Someone at NBC had read the book “Semi-Tough” and as a result wanted to develop a show that was about a triangle relationship. They thought our idea might be the one. Could the girl in our show have a boyfriend? We hedged but ultimately said okay. It killed the premise. The triangle was false because there was no real competition between the guys. The boyfriend had nothing to really be threatened about, and it wasn’t a matter of her being in the middle and having to choose because each guy served a different role in her life. We should have said no at the time. We didn’t. The pilot failed.

Years later we went back to NBC with an idea about a colorful all-night diner and the odd characters that come out only at night. The network loved it. Had just one tiny change. Did it have to take place only during the night? Yes, we said. Otherwise it’s just people in a diner. The all-night aspect defines the series.

They thought it might be too dark. We assured them it wouldn’t. Ultimately they said they’d buy it if we lost that facet of the pitch. We declined their offer. We took the idea to CBS and sold it in the room.

That said, I think you have to be somewhat flexible. If you can live with the changes then great. If not, you're selling your soul to the devil.  Remember, if your pilot goes to series you're the one who's going to have to be in that rewrite room every night until 3:00 trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

But who knows? Sometimes the requested changes are an actual improvement. Just don’t tell the network that. Good luck at your meeting.

JOV97 asks:

When writing a multi-camera script and you've written 26 scenes (unlikely but it sometimes happens), what do you call scene 26? After "SCENE Z" what comes after? "ZA"?

AA, then BB, etc.

From Richard Y:

A baseball related Friday question. Why do games traditionally start at 5 minutes after the hour?

To accommodate television. That way they can start at the top of the hour, set the scene, give the line-ups, and most important of all – squeeze in a few commercials.

Clint queries:

Last night I walked into the living room and my wife asked me which real life story I thought might be the basis for this week's Law & Order SVU. Do you think SVU writers using real life stories as their basis for their scripts is genius--or lazy?

The real genius is designing a series premise that allows you to take real life stories and turn them into episodes. It’s not lazy because they always find a way to give those real life stories a spin and to work in their characters’ attitudes about them.

On MASH we utilized real life stories too. Of course the stories were twenty years old at the time we used them.

What's your question?


Nathan said...

What's your question

I haven't seen my brown corduroy pants since 1979. Do you know where I left them? said...

@Nathan: Have you checked behind the dresser?

JOV97 said...

Thank you for answering my question! It did seem like a stupid thing to ask, but I just wanted to clarify - and I couldn't find it anywhere on the web!

emily said...

You left them at my house after the orgy.

jbryant said...

Nathan: For God's sake, let them go, man.

LAprGuy said...

No question today, just weighing in to write that I enjoy the Friday questions columns. In fact, it's the first column I'll search out in my RSS reader after a few days of not reading your witticisms. Thanks for this.

Mac said...

Nathan; I know where they are - in 1979, where brown corduroy pants belong.

Very interesting post; reminds of Ricky Gervais' cautionary tale in Extras, where he compromises his sitcom until he ends up with someone that not only he. but everyone else, hates.

Johnny Walker said...

The writers of SVU are far from lazy, I'm sure, but I'd bet a large sum of money that the stories they "rip from the headlines" are largely very different from reality. Their aim is to entertain, after all, not document, and if a bit of truth got in the way of a juicy story, I doubt they'd have qualms about changing it.

Also, it's worth bearing in mind that only some episodes are "inspired" by newspaper articles. Not every episode is and, as I pointed out in another comment, regardless of that, these shows are far from realistic in their portrayal of what constitutes "typical" crime.

I have a feeling these procedurals are suddenly going to date very badly once people become more aware of this. Rather like "hard-hitting" and "gritty" shows like M Squad look today. Until then...

Mike said...

Thanks for answering Richard Y's "five minutes after the hour" baseball start time question. My boyfriend asked me the same thing earlier this season and I just made up an answer but I didn't really know. Fortunately, I apparently made up the right answer.

Nathan, I think I bought your pants from a thrift store sometime in the 90s, when corduroy pants and thrift store purchases of strange men's pants seemed like a good idea.

Mike said...

And as for the SVU thing, here's what the episode listing for last week was (as was pointed out to me by my boyfriend as I walked through the living room -- apparently it was 'couples where one half read Ken Levine's blogs talk about SVU plots' week)

"The detectives are called to investigate when a hotel maid reports being assaulted by a powerful Italian diplomat"

Sure, it's obvious where the inspiration for this came from. (I don't think changing French from Italian fooled anyone.) But if anybody tried to write the tale of Dominique Strauss-Kahn without the headlines that inspired it, we'd probably think, rightly, that it was ridiculous and way too over the top.

Johnny Walker said...

Having not seen the episode in question, I do wonder how closely they stayed to the facts of the case:

NY Times: Charges Against Strauss Kahn Dismissed

Howard Hoffman said...

Yesterday, the movie 50/50 brought out a diametrically different ad campaign than they had during the lead-up. They've gone for the heart rather than the laugh in this new advertising. They're obviously reacting to the reviews and the exit polls. Have you ever experienced a shift-change in the promotion of any of your projects - and more importantly, was it the right redirection?

I'll take my answer off the air. Love your show.

Anonymous said...

Do you know how much your emmy would sell in ebay

Richard Y said...

Ken, thanks for the answer, I figured that making way for commercials etc was the reason but wanted to be sure. Does the same thing take place in football? Seems that for no reason what so ever there is an 'offical time out', just when a team is on the run and they break for commercials.

Larry said...

Looks like you got a Humanitas award. One of my favorite moments in The Sopranos is when Christopher goes into the apartment of a TV writer (played by Tim Daly) he's leaning on. He picks up the award and reads it, pronouncing it Hew-man-I-tis, making it sound like a disease. Almost as good as the Honoria gag.

Later, of course, he hits the writer over the head with it.

benson said... you know how many baby corduroys were clubbed to death to make those trousers? Very politically incorrect. Tsk, tsk. It's why no one wears corduroy anymore.

cadavra said...

Get real, Nathan. Even if you found them, you really think they'd still fit?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Re the five minutes past the hour thing: in his book about the history of the pro tennis tour, Bud Collins (who pretty much invented tennis broadcasting) tells the story of the first Breakfast at Wimbledon NBC broadcast in 1979. NBC asked Wimbledon if they could delay the men walking out onto the court for those five minutes so it could run footage of , a little warm-up, and a few commercials.

The All-England Club said no. Sorry, old chap, that's not how we're used to doing things. Maybe with some notice next year...

Fortunately for NBC, one of the two finalists was the US player Roscoe Tanner, who on request assisted NBC by disappearing into the men's room and staying there until sufficient time had elapsed that the finalists could be shown walking out onto court.

Without that bathroom break, tennis might be a lot poorer today.


Paul Duca said...

Larry...I think that Humanitas Award was for the episode about Hawkeye's bittersweet relationship with an aristocratic Korean woman.--correct, Ken?

Paul Duca said...

Ken...are you going to fly up to the Bay Area and comfort Matt? In case you haven't heard, Terry Francona has fallen on his sword, voluntarily stepping down as Red Sox manager.

John said...

You'd think a network that ran a show for almost a decade called "Night Court", about wacky goings-on in a courtroom at night, and then followed that up with one of the show's stars working as the manager of a bus station with (slightly less wacky) goings on at night would have done a better job at grasping the concept of setting a comedy in a diner at night.

Question for next Friday -- how much different is is writing for a show where you have fairly advance warning that one of the stars is leaving (Shelly Long with "Cheers") versus a situation where the star decides at the end of the season (or it's decided for him/her) that they're not coming back next fall.

Ben said...

Hey Ken--

Question for next Friday:

How do you know when your spec is out of date? I'm not talking about when to finally chuck that Golden Girls sample...I've got a Parks and Rec that was current as of the end of last season, but due to a few developments with the characters so far this year, could be seen as outdated. Do I need to rewrite before next staffing season, or are showrunners forgiving as long as your sample demonstrates you can write in the show's voice?


Yeechang Lee said...

I've been to the Las Vegas-area home of the parents of Ken's old bosses, Glen and Les Charles. One of their sons' Emmys sat on top of the TV in the living room.

ChicagoJohn said...

What's your question?

What happens to a show's dynamics after someone wins an Emmy? As a writer, do you feel more pressure to 'live up to the hype'?