Friday, March 30, 2012

ARCHER and other topics

A pretty funny show, by the way.  But turning to Friday Questions:

William C. Bonner has the ARCHER Q:

One of my favorite shows over the past couple of years has been Archer. I've described it to friends as a cross between Get Smart and South Park. It's seasons seem to be 10 episodes long.

For a season like this, is it most likely that all of the season will be written and sold, then the voices and animation done in one block, or is it likely to flow in a weekly timeframe similar to other longer running US series?

Can’t speak for ARCHER, but it varies. Most animated shows do prepare all the scripts and record all the actors first, then the animators go to work. That’s how THE SIMPSONS work. The problem there is that it’s hard to do anything really timely. 

But on SOUTH PARK, Matt & Trey make each episode individually over a week. And deliver it at the last second. Don’t know how they do it. I’d be showrunning from a cardiac ward.  There's a good Comedy Central show on the making of SOUTH PARK.  If you can find it, I recommend it. 

Becky has a question after reading my post on BENT:

Do shows have a choice which networks their pilot goes to? Can they opt out of certain networks seeing/bidding on it? And if said network wants to buy it, can they refuse, or would that make them complete idiots?

I wonder if Bent would've gotten a better shake on say, CBS, where the viewership is different?

If the writer is attached to a studio that means today he is attached to one of the networks. Usually they must bring their project to either that network exclusively or at least first.

If you’re not attached, you can go anywhere. Generally you pitch to all of them but first to the place you think is most compatible to your idea. If you sell it, you will almost surely do it through the studio owned by that network.

As for excluding networks, I know writers who hate certain networks and just won’t deal with them. This usually stems from a bad previous experience.  In many cases, the feeling is mutual. 

But certain ideas are better suited for specific networks. If you came up with the next GOLDEN GIRLS you’d probably be wise not selling it to Fox. Now they may buy it and say all the right things – “We’re looking to broaden our audience”, “We really want to be in business with you,” but at the end of the day, when they make their schedule they won’t pick up your show for the reasons you anticipated and they assured you didn’t matter.

More and more today there are bidding wars between networks for either specs or packages that generally include attached talent. You’re in the driver’s seat in those cases. You can choose the network that is most compatible, or gives you a commitment, or (based on their schedule) provides you the best chance at success.

I don’t know the history of BENT. They might have pitched it to other networks and were rejected.

When David Isaacs, Robin Schiff, and I were going to pitch ALMOST PERFECT, our first meeting was with ABC. They called and wanted to postpone it for three weeks. So we took it to CBS and sold it. Once the pilot aired I got a call from the President of ABC saying how much he loved the show but asked why we didn’t bring it to them first. I said, “We DID! Or at least tried to.”

From SitcomRoom attendee Wendy Grossman:

What’s with all the actors who get producer credits these days? Does it give them any extra control, money, job security, or responsibility?

Yes to all of the above and they qualify to win Emmys if the show wins comedy or drama of the year. For some actors it’s just a status thing. Others really do involve themselves creatively. Ray Romano would sit in on rewrites (and be extremely funny and helpful I might add). Alan Alda was very much involved. Other star/producers couldn’t tell you where the writers room was.

And the truth is stars don’t need a producer credit to exert their creative influence.

Finally, from Michael:

With the large number of pilots being filmed this time of year, how difficult is it to get experienced technical crews to work on them? Related question - is the competition for crew jobs as tough as it is for actors and writers?

Maybe not as competitive but yes, good crew members are in high demand during pilot season. And good crews will work numerous pilots, depending on scheduling.

Lots of times directors will bring a lot of their crew people with them and as a showrunner I support this practice. Directors will be more comfortable surrounded by people they know and work well with.

I directed episodes of a show that Jamie Widdoes usually directed. He put together the crew, hand-picked from individuals he had worked with on previous shows. For me, it was like getting behind the wheel of a Porsche. Everyone was fantastic.

But since most pilots are done in the same window of time there is competition to hire the best crews, directors, and casting people. And it doesn’t stop there. Sound stages are at a premium. It’s like Filene’s basement except instead of throwing someone on the ground for a sweater you do it for stage with decent dressing rooms.

What's your question? 


Unknown said...

How does a budding comedy writer find other budding comedy writers to partner up with? I've tried the number on the bathroom stall trick, but those people just aren't funny. Any suggestions?

Brian H said...

Hi Ken - You talked about the blocking process a few weeks back and how arduous it can be. What is the output from that process? Do you have an example document that shows what the blocking instructions (diagram?) would look like for a typical scene?

SkippyMom said...

I really, really like Nancy Travis. I never saw "Almost Perfect" except what you show here b/c I don't ever remember seeing it on TV.

Do you know what she is up to these days [hopefully not the Hallmark Channel's weekly movies. Waaay too much talent for that schmaltz. :)]

And since you seem to enjoy working with here [& numerous other actors] have you ever written a spec or a pilot with a particular favorite in mind? If so, do you speak to them before hand to see if they would be interested?

Opening day is finally here [if you repost this question] I hope you enjoy this season as much as you did all the others. I am quite jealous I might add. What was your favorite/most memorable night in the booth?

Take care and GO Nats!

Darren said...

@Trixie - Try this group:
It's an online group of about 600 TV writers around the world. Occasionally, people post looking for writing groups and partners. We share info, scripts, do meetups in LA and commiserate. It's 3 parts education, 2 parts support group, 1 part Alcoholics-Not-Very-Anonymous. Good luck!

Terrence Moss said...

Lucille Ball never needed a producer credit and as a sitcom star probably had more control than over her shows than CBS Chairman William Paley himself.

@Skippy Mom - Nancy Travis is co-starring with Tim Allen on his new sitcom "Last Man Standing".

Rock Golf said...

@Trixie: It probably doesn't help that your bathroom wall message is "I'm into funny stuff. Wanna join me?"

Dan Tedson said...

Love Archer. Love anything Jon Benjamin. You should check out Jon Benjamin Has a Van if you haven't already.

Animation is about the only funny thing I can find on tv nowadays without turning to HBO, Showtime, or British television. Not sure when American programming got so pc and... I don't know, self-aware.

Though it killed me at the time, I'm glad Cheers ended when it did because even it was starting to be influenced by that. In the earlier Cheers there were jokes about Sam being a drunk and they even depicted him carousing, a girl on each arm, in an episode. (Okay, they depicted him as Boxcar Willie, but still, not real PC.) By the end of the series they'd jammed him in a sex addicts class for picking up chicks in a bar. :\

Whereas with British tv, you can go and watch a friend tell another friend he brushes his teeth in the bathwater and her disgustedly respond, "but that's where your BALLS are!" That's just the kind of meaningless shit friends really talk about, but the FCC doesn't give you that kind of artistic freedom here in the states.

Mike said...

An Archer picture on Friday questions provided me with so much joy this morning I almost enough joy that I forgot my hangover. (Getting older means apparently you can't work your live so hard and not suffer the consequences.) Two great tastes that I love, together. Like the proverbial chocolate and peanut butter. (I'd usually say Jack and Coke but not today.)

Related (since obviously there's some other Archer fan out there): I've read (somewhere but can't find it but I think it was in a discussion of H. Jon Benjamin, comparing his work and current shows - Archer and Bob's Burgers) that the voice actors on Archer record their work individually and it gets mixed together, which, frankly, makes the show even more amazingly hilarious to me.

This came up because it is so obvious that Bob's Burgers does not do it this way. Speaking of, if you watched BB early on but were disappointed, I'd suggest watching some of the newer episodes as it has come together really nicely. It's funny (not Archer levels but that's a mighty high bar to clear in my view), charming and often oddly heartwarming in a non-schmaltzy way.

Michael said...

Terrence, bear in mind that Desi was listed as the executive producer of I Love Lucy and it was a Desilu production. But I am amazed at the difference in the credits from shows in that era to shows from today. I mean, have the producer's duties really expanded THAT much that they need so many more of them on each show?

Winston said...

Here's my question:

"Showrunner" seems to be the only position on a show where the title commonly used for the position is not the one that appears in the credits. Any idea how and why this came to be?

Nancy Knechtel said...

Mash and Cheers and so many of your shows are on ALL the time. Do you ever watch the old episodes? Can you enjoy them or do the memories come flooding back? Does your family run out of the room? There really could be a Ken Levine Network....

Phillip B said...

Friday question - A long, long time ago I was a student at a television/film writing workshop in Boston. One of my fellow students told of being in a group of aspiring writers brought together to brainstorm story ideas for Cheers which was then late in its run.

Thought the story was bogus until I saw one of the ideas in an episode the following season. Can you confirm this ever happened? It still sounds insane....

JJadziaDax said...

Hey your alter ego is one of Time's most influential people, maybe that can help sell your book with the .right twist, Thanks for the freebie btw it's a cute read.

By Ken Levine said...

Yes JJadziaDax, I'm aware of that. I plan to do a blog post about it this weekend.

Chris said...

Here's another friday question: any idea why CBS would keep trying to screw over a good show, that also has good numbers, like Rules of Engagement? First they move it to saturday nights to put on how to be a gentleman then they force it to go on hiatus for months to give the slot to Rob! (probably the worst show this year, forget 2 Broke Girls or Whitney).

Can this happen if you fuck the network executive's wife or stuff like that? Why else would they try to mess a show with good numbers up?

Darin said...

Ken, I have another question on producers. Carl Reiner was listed as producer and story editor on the Dick Van Dyke Show. If he was the only writer, why two credits? A few years later on Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. they went years with no on screen producer credit other than executive. Any insight?

Mike said...

The sentence "soundstages are at a premium" made me think of the pilot for Hangin with Mr. Cooper, which was actually filmed on an only slightly-redressed version of the Growing Pains set. The show actually acknowledged this in the opening teaser, which was a necessary move since Growing Pains had just ended its run at this point and anybody watching would realize it was the Seavers' set (particularly since both shows were family sitcoms that aired on ABC). Still, it made for a rather bizarre scene:

olucy said...

@Darin -- Carl Reiner was far from the only writer for the DVD Show. Sam Denoff and Bill Persky wrote a number of them, Sheldon Leonard wrote some and there were many other writers. Check IMDB.

Darin said...

olucy, Persky and Denoff were not producing until the third year or so. And they also had the double credit. I did not mean to say Reiner was the only writer on the show, just the only one on staff with the end credits.

The Ames Family said...

Oh WOW!!!! You answered my question!! Thanks!! That seriously made my weekend :)


Nick said...

Friday Question: I've often heard the old story about how Cheers came dead last in the ratings in it's first season - my question is an obvious one: How or why was Cheers even renewed for the second season when it's ratings were so bad? Also - when did the ratings start to improve (because the quality of the show is evident even in season #1) and if it was on the air today would it survive? Or is today's TV environment too different?

Gwen said...

Longest set up to a question ever. (Sorry.)

In one of the best/worst ideas I've had recently, I've been practically mainlining Cheers for the past week. (This is a bad idea mostly because I have about five papers and a couple scripts I should be writing instead.)

I've noticed that at least once an episode there tends to be a variation on this joke formula.

Sam: I'm Sam Malone, by the way.
Henri: Ooh. I've heard about you in France.
Sam: Oh yeah. You follow baseball?
Henri: No, stewardesses.

(Just took the first example I could find from IMDB.)

This is one of the smoother examples, but Sam's second line is clearly a set up for a punchline. A lot of them bleed into a "that's not how most people would phrase it" situation for the sake of a joke. Cheers uses it a lot.

On other shows, there are other set ups used frequently. Is that sort of thing usually a conscious effort by the writers or does it just kind of become a default?

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken,

Sitcom Room Alum here. I was curious to know if you've been watching NBC's SMASH? It's not great, but it's also not bad... which is so frustrating. It could be great. My question is, do showrunners listen to the feedback of critics and audience members and potentially adjust something to the prevailing wind throughout the course of the season? The reason I ask is that before SMASH started airing as a midseason replacement, they actually had all of the episodes in the can. There has been some very vocal criticism - from the minute (debra messing given the worst wardrobe in tv history) to rather important things (the assistant, Ellis is such a terrible character - I wish he would die game of thrones-style.) In these cases, the show can't make any adjustments because the season is in the can. Do you think its frustrating to the producers or NBC? Talk about terrible luck - it feels as the season progresses everything people dislike about the show is what is becoming more and more highlighted. It's as if they took a guess as to what would play well, its sort of failed - and they're stuck with it... until next season! Thanks !

- Heath Brandon, NYC

Brian said...

Friday question: What's the story of the song "Tossed Sald and Scrambed Eggs" that Kelsey Grammer sings at the end of the show? Who wrote it? What does it mean? Who's idea was it to put it at the end of the show and for Kelsey to sing it?

Damian1342 said...

Hey Ken and everyone else, just have a quick question. I think this may have been touched on before, but is it possible to get a freelance or staff writing job or even manager from just a Sitcom Pilot script? As opposed to doing a traditional Spec script? Of course we are assuming here the script is good and can be placed in the right hands. Or does one really have to have one of each?

I have a solid concept for a series I'm working on, and just wondered if I could get away with just that or do I have to dedicate time to the spec?