Friday, December 23, 2011

Let's do lunch/dinner/breakfast but not coffee

Something to read in line while buying Christmas gifts – some Friday Questions.

First up is EnvyYou.

As a German scribe and filmmaker, I often read or hear about the meeting etiquette of Hollywood. You touched the topic briefly. It sounds like a bastard version of "THE CODE" or "THE RULES". But how could a newbie decipher that? What does a Wednesday one-on-one breakfast meet at Musso's&Frank's mean? Or if the producer/agent/unknown wannabe bigwig meets you in a coffee franchise shop? It would be fun and enlightening if you could decode the between-the-lines of the Hollywood business restaurant meetings. And who is paying the bill?

Where you are taken and at what time determines your importance in the industry. Obviously, dinners are reserved for high-end clients. Lunches also signify genuine interest. Breakfast usually means “we’re willing to maintain a relationship but don't buy a house”. And if an agent just wants to “grab coffee” that's the Hollywood equivalent of detention .

The venue itself also speaks volumes. I’m not an A-list writer so I’m sure I’m way behind on the top trendy hot spots. But I’m guessing Mastro’s, Spago’s, Mr. Chow’s, the Ivy – wherever stars hang out.

The Palm and the Grill on the Alley are more staid but still popular among agents. Of course, which table you’re seated at is also telling.

Lunch at one of those haunts is also a good sign. Musso & Frank would definitely be second-tier. No one expects to be seen there except local news anchors. And if you can’t “be seen” then what’s the point? Other second-tier eateries would include Kate Mantalini’s, the Daily Grill, the Cheesecake Factory, and any deli.

Breakfasts are generally write-offs. Makes no difference where they take you. They still have to leave in 45 minutes and generally no one orders anything expensive anyway.

Warning: If your agent just wants to meet you for coffee you’re in trouble.

From Nick:

Shows like Dallas and Rosanne have used the 'the last season/ last four years' was a dream plot twist. What is your opinion of this narrative technique and has it ever been used well in TV?

I think it’s a cheat and generally hate it… with one exception – the end of NEWHART where we learned the whole series was a dream by Bob Hartley of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. Otherwise, the idea of just negating your entire show by saying it was merely a dream is the ultimate bait and switch.

Here’s essentially the same question from two readers:

J. Allison:

I'm wondering how upset you or other writers get when you see your work hacked to bits in syndication. The other night we saw a MASH episode on TV Land that was so cut up that the plot ceased to make any sense. Does this frustrate you or do the syndication checks ease the pain?

And from Brad Peterson:

Ken, as a writer, how do you feel when you see an episode of "Cheers" or "M*A*S*H" you've written with 3-4 minutes excised for syndication?

I can’t even watch some of my shows that have been hacked in syndication. MASH is the worst. Some of those shows are so poorly chopped up that the stories no longer make any sense. Whole scenes are lifted, sometimes arbitrarily. I often wonder who the studios hired to edit these things. They probably just posted an ad at the Butchers Union.

On the other hand, I still do enjoy the residuals so I can’t complain too loudly.

And finally, from Liggie:

Friday question, from a screenplay newbie. Which is better for protection before submitting the script to readers/editors/whomever, a WGA registration or a Copyright acquisition? (Of course, insert "answer will not substitute for legal advice" disclaimer here.)

Do them both.

What's your question? And drive safely this holiday weekend. 


Dan Tedson said...

I just watched Newhart on Smothers Brothers. Miss him. We need more avuncular characters on tv.

WriteBrain said...

After 10 years writing and producing one-hour shows, I now teach Writing Drama and TV Pilot. My last lecture of the semester for Drama is "The Lunch Meeting," an entire hour about how to take a lunch, and what to expect. It's my favorite lecture of the semester. Second point, all of my students are required, yes, required, to register their scripts with the WGA before final submission. This is to protect their work, and to protect me, as I am still a working writer. A painter would not leave his/her work on the sidewalk and hope it's still there a week from now. It's up to the writer to protect their work, and I am a very strong believer in the WGA and their arbitration process. I also think it's important for wannabe writers to learn more about the Guild, and the web site helps them in that regard. Happy holidays! KC

WriteBrain said...

P.S. The above should read "20 years," not 10... :-)

Rays profile said...

Not really a Friday question, but what do you know about Joe Block? The Brewers named him as Bob Uecker's new partner today.

Ray Morton said...

Hi Ken. Absolutely love your blog and read it every day. Here's a Friday question for you: I know this was before your producing tenure on MASH, but what do you know about the addition of the Captain Spaulding character -- the singing surgeon played by Loudon Wainwright III in season 3? He only appeared in 3 episodes and then disappeared. I've always wondered why he was on the show in the first place, where the idea of having a sort of a musical Greek chorus/ narrator came from, and why he vanished without a trace.

Michael said...

Ken, it may make you feel better to know the company you are in. In his later years, Stan Laurel was an inveterate television watcher. If one of his films was on, he didn't watch himself--he watched Hardy. But he once wrote to the LA TV stations offering to edit his films for free so that they would be understandable to viewers. He heard nothing back.

januaryfire said...

If financial concerns force a writer to choose between WGA and US Copyright Registration, always, always, ALWAYS pay for the US Copyright Registration. It doesn't need to be renewed every 5 years like WGA and it also affords other legal protection, per entertainment attorney Larry Zerner:

Mansfield said...

When I lived a few years in LA, the amount of billboard advertising for shows was impressive, an order of magnitude beyond the occassional poster on the side of a bus found in the rest of the country. There were large billboards on Santa Monica Blvd for shows that I suspect nobody two hundred miles away knew existed. I was left with the impression that such advertising is intended to grab the attention of other people in the industry rather than a potential audience. Did I interpret this correctly? Is it a good way to promote a show?

My last decade has been in Washington, D.C., and it's still pretty weird to listen to radio ads by competing defense contractors touting why their air refueling tanker is the one the Air Force should buy.

Cap'n Bob said...

Author William Campbell Gault said of lunch meetings with the Hollywood boys, "They'd talk about million-dollar deals and then stick me wih the check."

BigTed said...

Speaking of Loudon Wainwright III, I thought he was really good as the main character's divorced dad in "Undeclared." How come he never had a bigger acting career?

Barry Traylor said...

Last month I discovered that my local library had all eleven years of MASH in their DVD collection. So I have been watching them from the first season on, also was delighted to be able to eliminate the canned laughter. I worked nights for most of the last half of the run so they are all new to me.
Nothing on the tube comes up to that show IMO.

Roy Perkins, impartial dogcatcher said...

My favorite Loudon Wainwright III fact: He once recorded a song entitled "This Song Don't Have a Video" ("This song don't have a video/So you'll just have to listen"). He then made a video for it...which consisted of three minutes of Wainwright sitting in a chair, listening to the song on a tape player.

Kirk said...

It's possible Larry Gelbert was simply a fan of Louden Wainright III and wanted to give his career a boost. Odd that the songs he sang on the show weren't as satirical as some of his other stuff, but maybe he was hemmed in by MASH being a period piece.

The final Newhart was kind of a wink at the audience, and maybe a sly comment on the fact that Bob played pretty much the same character on both his shows. But the more serious-minded final episode of Rosanne is another matter. You find out--SPOILER ALERT--the entire series was a novel Rosanne is writing based on her own life, with a few tweaks. What's the point? A sitcom is fiction to begin with! Unless, the woman we see in the final scene is not meant to be the fictional Rosanne Conners but the non-fictional Rosanne Barr herself, explaining how she got the idea for the show. That might make sense.

Friday question: Am currently reading a biography of Howard Cosell. As a sportscaster yourself, what did you think of him?

Bill White said...

No questions, Ken. Just want to wish you a Happy/Merry Whatever-Holiday-You-Choose-To-Celebrate!

Elf said...


It's been a long time since I've seen it and I have no desire to sit throguh it again, but I beleive you are mistaken regarding the entire Roseanne series turning out to be fiction. It was only the last season, from the point where they had won the lottery, that was the dream. It turned out that Dan had actually had a heart attack and died at Darlene's wedding, so everything from the wedding forward was the dream/fantasy.

Mike said...

OK, two followup questions.
1) Are you being serious with your breakfast lunch dinner meeting answer?

2) Do the studios make the syndication cuts? I figured it was the networks or local stations. Is it the same with movies?

Lately I've noticed they will play the Friends intro in a box alongside the intro, and they will cut the laugh at the end of that intro to save crucial seconds.

pumpkinhead said...

Here's my take on what was going on with last episode of Roseanne.

Only the last season was a "fantasy," but the entire series is the novel Roseanne is writing about her family.

Up to the last season, she is writing about her true experiences, but it is still the novel. The whole series must be the novel, since it turns out in the "final reveal" that Darlene is really with Mark and David is really with Becky "in real life" when in the whole series it was the opposite. Also, Roseanne's sister turns out to be a lesbian "in real life," when in the series, she's not, so again, the whole series has to be the novel.

Once Roseanne gets to the last season, she is continuing to write her novel, but now she is writing a fantasy life instead of continuing to chronicle her "real life."

Hated it, by the way. Undercut the impact of the entire series, which, up to the final season, had probably been the most realistic portrayal of the average barely-middle class American family ever.

My big question about the last season/episode is whether it was intended going into the last season that it would all be revealed as a fantasy season and the whole series a novel, or whether they got the end of the season, saw what a horrible mess they had made of it, and then decided to call it a fantasy portion of a novel.

Matt said...

I am not encouraging anybody not to register their screenplays. However, you do not need to register your written work to get a copyright. A copyright vests when a work is created. If you neglect to register your screenplay before sending it out and it gets used without your permission, your copyright has been infringed. The reason you register your work is for evidence.

Again, register your work. That is typical in the industry you have chosen to work in. But if you don't register your work, you don't lose your intellectual property rights, it is just harder to prove.

Tim said...

Stan Laurel's desire to reedit the Laurel and Hardy shorts for television wasn't to make them more understandable. He thought the films were paced too slowly for television because of all the long reaction shots in them. They were edited that way originally to allow for audience laughter in theatrical settings. Actually, all the Roach comedy shorts--Our Gang, Charlie Chase, et al--have that same characteristic. The Roach staff would do test screenings of the shorts and time the reaction each gag got. That's how they decided how long a reaction shot to use.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken! I have a "Cheers" question I'm hoping you can answer. Were the writers the ones who first came up with Diane's "Norman!" after everybody else says "Norm!" or did Shelley improv it? I was wondering because she doesn't say it in the first couple of episodes. Also, is it significant in any way? For instance, is it supposed to highlight the class difference between Diane and everybody else? She's the only person who calls Cliff 'Clifford', which seems like the kind of thing a snobby upper class person would do. Is it supposed to set her apart from the bar regulars and make her stick out? Or is it simply part of a running joke that doesn't have any deeper meaning? Thanks!

VP81955 said...

When I lived a few years in LA, the amount of billboard advertising for shows was impressive, an order of magnitude beyond the occassional poster on the side of a bus found in the rest of the country. There were large billboards on Santa Monica Blvd for shows that I suspect nobody two hundred miles away knew existed. I was left with the impression that such advertising is intended to grab the attention of other people in the industry rather than a potential audience. Did I interpret this correctly? Is it a good way to promote a show?

When I lived in the New York metro area in the late '70s and early '80s, that was common practice as well (although since it was NYC and not Los Angeles, the ads were not on billboards, but in and around subway and commuter rail stations). The ads were from publications (Time magazine in particular was a heavy user), and they were more to promote their viability, and their upscale audience, than to publicize their latest or upcoming issue. For an outsider, it was weird to see such advertising for advertising.

I returned to the NYC area from 1995 to 2004, and by then, such ads were history; some research group probably decided they weren't cost-effective in reaching the Madison Avenue crowd.

wv: "hamercia" -- a new Hispanic pork seasoning.

VP81955 said...

BTW, I'm sorry to see Musso & Frank rank so low on the "let's do" totem pole, considering it's been around for more than 90 years and virtually every Hollywood notable -- writers, executives, actors -- has dined there at one time or another. That alone would seem to give it some elan, some historical cosmic vibe; if it was good enough for Robert Riskin and Norman Krasna...

Anonymous said...

I have a question for you (and am not sure where I go to ask, so thought to do it here)...

I live in Norway, and an increasing number of movies, when they get to teh closing credits, either immidiately shrink the screen, and have a new one to show what is coming up, and/or they just cut the credits totally, so you don't get to hear the closing song, or see who played in the film.

I didn't think that was "legal", that generally the right to show a film included the requirement to show the whole film, including credits.

It irritates me, because I'm old enough now that I sometimes want to check who played a certain part in the film, etc.

Are there rules about showing the closing credits?

That Neil Guy said...

Two questions for you that popped into my head after seeing a bit of MASH last week.

One episode I saw was credited to two writers (I think Rieger & Markowitz) and credited just like that - only their last names. What was the story behind that?

These were early BJ stories where, in the opening credits, Farrell was running toward the chopper. Later years, with mustache, he was in more close up and nodded. Anyway, regarding that change, how did the mustache come about? How big of a pain was it for the credit sequence to get changed just to accommodate a mustache?

Matt said...

Here's a Friday question...

I'm getting started as a comedy writer and I want to be versatile. One of the things I've noticed is that a lot of comedy writers know how to write everything from one-liners to sketch to half-hours to full screenplays.

A lot of the same rules apply to multiple formats, but I'm wondering, what "rules" do different formats have? How do you view them differently?


Texas 1st said...

I was really surprised to not see you mention St. Elsewhere as a quality use of the "Series as a Dream" plot twist. The way it used the mind of an autistic child to create a whole world in which these people live. I think it was one of the first (if not THE first) to showcase the intelligence behind an autistic mind.