Friday, November 25, 2011

(Black) Friday Questions

But first, I have a question: Why the hell do people shop at 3 A.M.? It’s just the first day. Do you really think Macy’s will be cleaned out by 9:00?  Anyway...

Steve B. asks:

Ken, from and writing and producing standpoint, which do you prefer, single cam or multi cam? It would seem like single would give you more artistically to work with, but multi brings that immediacy of working with a crowd that can't be replicated.

Uh, I think you answered your own question. There are advantages to both. Having worked in both formats, I can honestly say it depends on the idea itself. Some shows like MODERN FAMILY benefit from being able to bounce from family to family. Others, like BIG BANG THEORY that are primarily set in one or two locations are structured more like plays and benefit from having an audience.

I suppose, of the two I’m slightly partial to the multi-camera format. I like actually hearing the laughter. And there is an energy that is created by having a studio audience.

Also, is one much more expensive than the other?

Single-camera is more expensive. More sets, takes longer to shoot. Generally more ambitious.

Anonymous has a question. (Please leave a name in the future. Thank you.)

Curious about network show promos. Does the show runner or writer(s) suggest the clip or clips used to promote an upcoming episode? Or is that the judgment call of someone in the promo department? Did you ever have battles over promo content?

Constant battles.  

The showrunner does not have any say in the promos. It’s the network promo department. And depending on who they are, they can be very good or downright abysmal. Showrunners sometimes suggest clips but nine-times-out-of-ten they’re ignored.

Promo people manage to constantly give away plot points, ruin great jokes, and diminish the integrity of the show. Most comedies come off as loud, stupid, frivolous burlesque revues. Drama promos are all the same. “A killer is loose. Can _________ find him before it’s too late?”

And it’s the old joke about the guy who hates a restaurant because the food is bad and the portions are too small – showrunners are always complaining that they don’t get enough promos (even if they’re bad).

And where the promos are placed is also a major factor. Who cares if you get a promo in PAN AM? You want it in ONCE UPON A TIME.

A personal pet peeve is your show is on the second-half of an hour and the 30 second promo is 25 seconds for WHITNEY and then 5 seconds for you. The network then tells you you had a 30 second promo. No you didn’t. (Of course, if you follow WHITNEY, promos are the least of your problems.)

From Chris:

Why do on some shows the creator writes some episodes every season and on others they just write the pilot and maybe the finale? (Assuming they don't leave the show for all its run).

If the creator is the showrunner, chances are his thumbprints are on every script, whether he takes credit or not. How many he actually writes himself depends on how much else he has to do in producing the show, how much he trusts his writing staff, how prolific he is, and how much lead time he has.

I tend to co-write a lot of episodes of my series, especially early on. We’re still trying to find the show and also provide a clear voice for other writers to follow.

Generally, once the show has been established the creator will write special episodes, season premieres and finales. Or episodes that introduce new characters.

Personally, I like to write as many episodes of my show as I can. But that’s just me. I like writing first drafts. Other showrunners would much prefer rewriting off of existing drafts. Let me amend that – most showrunners would prefer an outside writer turn in scripts that are so good they can be shot as is. If you know of that writer, tell me!

And finally, from Drew:

I was watching a sitcom, which will remain nameless, from the 1980s a few days ago. It was a big hit, but most of the actors on the show have since vanished. So my question is, how do actors survive after their hit shows go off and nothing comes their way? Do they just live off the money they made while the show was on? Try to get a guest star gig once a year to keep them afloat?

All of the above. The good news if you’re on a long running hit that remains in syndication you still get royalties. The bad news is you sometimes get typecast and it’s hard to find subsequent work.

This is especially true for character actors.

But even if these actors have trouble landing another series they still enter the category of “celebrity” (or, as I like to call it "America's Guest"). So they still appear as guest stars, panelists on game shows, guests on talk shows, and they still command a large following if they do theater or even dinner theater. I imagine Jamie Farr is doing THE SUNSHINE BOYS somewhere in America right this moment.

Some write books, pursue other interests (their “name” is a big help in launching a product or business), become soccer moms, get into voice-overs, sell dolls on QVC, play in bands, teach at universities, get arrested, or donate their time to humanitarian programs they feel strongly about. Mike Farrell of MASH is deeply committed to several extremely worthwhile causes.

Oh, and one other line of work seems to attract former sitcom performers – U.S. Senator.

What’s your question? Write it now before you run back out to Kohl’s to buy those fleece vests. Hurry! Only 7,000 left… at each location.


Michael said...

Your point about sitcom performers doing dinner theater reminds me of an interview years ago with Laurie Metcalf, who was so brilliant on Roseanne as her younger sister Jackie. Metcalf had been a rising star in theater and she was asked why she gave that up to do a sitcom. As I recall, she was being interviewed in her home, spread her arms wide and said, this is why. Then she said something along the lines of, I'm making a nice living here, and that will mean I won't have to worry about being choosy. Well, she's made some horrendous sitcom decisions since, but whenever I see her reviewed on stage, she's described as terrific. So, here's to Jamie Farr, who apparently can work just when he feels like it (coincidentally, I believe he and Bill Christopher did either The Sunshine Boys or The Odd Couple together).

Will Hansen said...

Promos often seem to be written by people who are clueless on the program itself. A recent promo for House really pushed the "big, twist ending you won't see coming". It was only a twist ending if you have never seen an episode of House before. It was the way that almost every episode of House has ended since the first season. My other complaint is taking clips completely out of context to promote a plot point that isn't in the episode.

Phillip B said...

The early members of the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago provide an interesting case study in TV career paths - Joan Allen, Laurie Metcalf, John Makovich, William Petersen, Gary Sinise - and with a second wave which included John Mahoney and Kathryn Erbe.

Suspect William Peternen's house is the biggest.

Phillip B said...

Ack - that should be Petersen in the last line of the previous comment..

DwWashburn said...

R/E Black Friday -- I agree about the midnight or 4AM start times. But I have another one for you. Why would anyone give Target any business today after they flooded the market with those annoying unfunny commercials featuring that over acting blonde? In the market, vote with your dollars and keep your votes out of Target.

Thomas said...

Do you laugh at your own jokes?


purplejilly said...

For next friday, this question comes from my husband, a longtime Cheers and Orioles fan. He always felt like the character of Sam Malone might have been based on Jim Palmer (for the ego). He was wondering if you are allowed to say who Sam was based on, and if it was more than one MLB player.

Steve said...

Laurie Metcalf is an amazing performer - would like to see her on TV more.

Johnny Walker said...

If you've ever been to LA and hung around with actors, you'll know that there's not much artistic integrity there... They just want to make a living doing something they enjoy. They're not trying to change the world with their acting.

In fact, from what I've seen, that's most of Hollywood. And really, actors only start getting "choosey" about parts when they can afford to.

That said, I've met unknown actors who have seen their favourite movie star talk about only doing roles they completely believe in, and so they only want to do roles they believe in, too. That's fine, as long as they're prepared to suffer while they try to get that one perfect gig (which is what a real artist is, I guess).

But getting acting gigs is already difficult enough without making it harder on yourself. They may as well just add "will only perform in mime" to their resumes while their at it.

Powerhouse Salter said...

Apart from toning down language, how much might a line get changed between when it's filmed and when it's dubbed for clarity by the original actor?

Anonymous said...

What were some of your favorite episodes written by freelance writers?

Dan Tedson said...

"What’s your question? Write it now before you run back out to Kohl’s to buy those fleece vests."

No, son. Let's walk back. Buy them all.

Cap'n Bob said...

My question is why don't you answer my questions?

RS Gray said...

The "unfunny" woman in the Target ads is Maria Bamford, quite arguably the funniest woman working in comedy today. She more than holds her own with Patton Oswalt, Zack Galiafanakis, and Brian Posehn in The Comedians of Comedy (the only thing wrong with the Target ads are that Bamford hasn't achieved a success commensurate with those three). There are many reasons not to shop at Target, but Maria Bamford shouldn't be one of them.

Richard Y said...

I have also wondered why people stand in line for hours/days just to get the latest iphone, wii, etc when they have manufactured enough to go around for people that show up the day of release after the lines have dwindled. Just to be the first? Among 1000;s of other firsts across the globe.

Anonymous said...


"The "unfunny" woman in the Target ads is Maria Bamford, quite arguably the funniest woman working in comedy today."

I think that statement says more about the state of women in comedy today than it says about Maria Bamford.

Question for Ken: Do actor's managers get any extra coin for scouring the internet comment sections?

Nick said...

Friday Question

How come sometimes a studio will spend millions on a show (aka Band of Brothers) and ensure that every aspect is high quality - including having the best possible writing staff. But other times they will spend millions on the show (aka Terra Nova, Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles) and it seems like no money is left over for decent writers? (Really hoping neither you nor any member of your family has written for those shows)

Gilles Leclair said...

I have just finished seeing the whole series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and thought it was quite good, I have two questions, is the script realistic, writers room and show runner or a lot of fiction. Secondly do you think it should have continued another season.

mickey said...

I also give a thumbs up to Maria Bamford for her standup and give her a pass for doing the Target ads -- gotta pay the bills.

Brian said...

Friday question:

Ken, sometimes a show ends an episode or in some cases a season with a scene (not necessarily a cliffhanger) and then the next episode picks up exactly where the previous one left off. Do shows tend to shoot that ending scene in its entirety knowing they'll just cut it somewhere for the episode end? i.e. does that week's script contain what comes immediately after the last words/image we see on our screens? Or because you're on a weekly production schedule, is that up to the writer for next week's script to pick it up there and write the dialogue? It would seem to be more efficient/less risky to shoot the whole thing, but it might not be written yet. Always was curious about that.

Anonymous said...

I just watched the PBS American Masters two-part feature on Woody Allen, which was very enjoyable and informative. My question is, have you ever crossed paths with Woody Allen and if so, any good stories? Thanks.

micncue said...

I've always wondered about music rights, and what it costs to use them on shows. For example, I love "Sons & Daughters" (yea, I know I'm the only one). It apparently will never hit the DVD shelves because there were 3 songs on the 10 episodes that would have cost them $1M. The producers (including Lorne Michaels) either refused to budge because music was that important to them, or it wasn't worth recreating versions of the originals. Different story with "WKRP." It hit the shelves with some alternate versions of the originals. Obviously those versions made it cost effective. How does that all work? Is there wiggle room on rights and fees, or are there hard and fast rules written into contracts?

Isabel P said...

My question is:
During the “life-cycle” of a sitcom, when do you suppose it is adequate to introduce a celebrity as a guest in a particular episode?

I worry that if it is too early in the show´s first season, the guest will crush the image of our newly introduced protagonists instead of adding to it.

Thank you.