Monday, March 12, 2012

AWAKE and other puzzlers

As promised, here is a bonus Friday Question Day.

MrTact starts us off:

Have you seen the premier of "Awake"? I thought it was a brilliant concept (not to mention well-written and performed), but I question whether it has any legs. It seems more like a feature concept to me, and I'm keen to see how they manage to sustain it for any length of time.

I enjoyed it but wondered the same thing. How do you sustain this? And what happens when he takes naps? In case not everybody knows the premise – a detective is involved in a car crash with his wife and son. Now he lives two realities – one where the wife survived and one where the son lived. He goes to sleep in one and wakes up in the other. So let’s say he’s with his wife and wants to return to his son’s reality – he just watches THE ENGLISH PATIENT.  How long can they keep doing that?

My other fear is that this concept is waaaaaay too complicated for your average viewer. I mean, face it, a lot of these people have trouble keeping up with the Kardashians. And judging by AWAKE’S ratings the second week this is a valid concern. It dropped 30% from its premiere. Still, it did better than its predecessor in that time slot and it is NBC so as long as more people watched it than the Korean channel they might just stick with it.  Hope so.  I'm enjoying it. 

Tomas Street wonders:

When writing a pilot / spec script, should one be spending time describing the main characters? Is it ok to just say SAM enters and goes behind the bar.  OR...SAM, a late thirties good looking fading athletic type in relaxed clothes, enters and heads behind the bar.

The latter. Describe him briefly in your stage direction. A lot of people like to add a page with all the character descriptions right after the title page, but it’s been my experience that no one reads it. Work it into the body of the show.

From Stephen:

The cast and crew of Cougar Town did their own 'grassroots' promotional campaign while the show was on extended hiatus. They hosted viewing parties, went out and met the fans, and most of the cast joined Twitter. If you had a show on the air now, would you make full use of social media to raise your show's profile, as opposed to relying purely on network support? Do you think more low-rated shows should be doing what Cougar Town did to make a dent?

Are you kidding? I use social networks to pimp my blog, my book, even my broadcast schedule with the Mariners (next game Wednesday night, 710 ESPN Seattle and MLB.COM). Facebook, Twitter, and the like are a Godsend to producers. They can take matters into their own hands, reach their fan base directly, and not have to rely on fickle network PR departments who would rather push SMASH than your show. If a social network can topple the government of Egypt it can maybe keep COUGAR TOWN on the air.

I should just SAY I have a show on the air so I'll get a lot more Twitter followers.  

Chris wants to know:

Why is it that even on horrible shows, the audience still laughs at the jokes? Shouldn't the fact that you're making a bunch of diverse people in the audience laugh be a good sign?

What you’re often hearing is a laugh track. Plus, warm-up guys practically beg audiences to laugh. People feel somewhat obligated. And it depends on the audience. Sometimes you just get a good one and they laugh at everything, and other times you’d think members of a cemetery filled the bleachers. I’m working on a post now on why audiences don’t laugh at filmings.  That should be ready for tomorrow.

From Mark:

You mentioned recently that is might be a good idea to keep a sleeping bag in your office in order to be prepared for late writing sessions.

Just curious, have you ever actually slept at work and gone right back to work the next morning?

Yes. Once had a rewrite end at 6:30 and had to be on the stage for the start of rehearsal at 10. Ahhhhh. Memories.

Tim Simmons wraps it up.

Ken, I'm confused as I've read so many different ways to sell a pilot. Some say to pitch an agent, some say to an established producer and other to a network. which would you suggest?

Look, let’s be realistic. The chances of you actually SELLING a pilot if you’re not an established writer are the same as you being abducted by aliens – so 20:1 at best. The real value in pilots for people trying to break in is that they serve as great writing samples. Yes, you could try to sell your idea to an established producer or studio but that usually means they’ll just pay you off and you go away. Fine if the project dies, but if it becomes FRIENDS then everyone makes billions but you.

When it comes to pilots, concentrate on writing a spec. Plus, the more you have down on paper the harder it is for anyone else to steal your idea.

I see college courses in pitching pilots. Why? Who are you going to pitch them to? Devote your energies to the script itself.

What’s your question???


Chris said...

Here's a follow up question on that audience laugh one, maybe you can answer it in that post: Chuck Lorre (and Bill Prady too, lately) has always made a big deal about not using a laugh track and made efforts to convince everybody they have a real studio audience and you only hear them laugh at script jokes.

I thought this was the norm in multi cam and just adding laugh tracks in post production would be a "colossal dick move" to quote Seth MacFarlane. How often does that actually happen? (Not mentioning the sad little single camera shows that have laugh tracks, like they did on Method & Red).


Greg Hao said...

Sadly, ratings for Awake in week 2 has already dipped below 2 to 1.6 and saw drops in all key demos. As a Jason Isaacs fan and a fan of more high concept drama, this is sad for me. Re: sustainability, at the end of ep 2, they also unfurled tr first traces of th larger conspiracy.

My biggest problem with the show though is the casting of the wife. She just looks way too young to have a 15 or 16 year old son. Ken, have you had these sorts of aesthetic age difference issues in shows that led to recast?

YEKIMI said...

A Friday [or any other day of the week question]: How do you pitch or turn in a script for a movie/TV show that has limited or no dialogue (I.E. "The Artist", Mel Brook's "Silent Movie". Obviously you can't just hand in two blank sheets of paper saying "that's the script". So how are those pitched....send in mimes to act out your idea?

talklessdomore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Here's a credit question for another friday: what's up with the "developed by" credit and why is it so rare these days? (You mainly see it on animation shows).

David Schwartz said...

My question is this: How do you get in to see people to pitch a show? I used to work in television production and during those years had a writing agent, however for the past 25 years I've worked in advertising. So my contacts at any kind of network or writing agency have all fallen by the wayside. I've been developing some ideas for new shows (a game show concept, some others that are not traditional dramas or sitcoms), but haven't really done anything with them because I haven't a clue who to pitch to. It feels like there's a stone wall between me and anyone who has any clout in the industry who could greenlight a show. Any ideas of the steps involved in going from virtually unknown to being well known enough to get something on the air? I mean, how in the world did someone like Mark Burnett get his first show on the air since it was unlike anything else being done? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Brian Phillips said...

I think that the movie "Memento" would make an equally unwieldy series, although I'd love to see the main titles:

Week 1: "Hello, I'm Leonard Shelby. I have short-term memory loss. Every day I have to remind myself of what is true. [cue music]

Week 2: (Leonard is facing the wrong way) "Hello, I'm Leonard Shelby. I have short-term memory loss. Every day I have to remind myself of what is true." [cue different music]

Week 3. Blank background [cue third theme]. Leonard rushes on set and says, "Hello, I'm Len..." [fade to black]

WV: tsonag - A person that hounds you into voting for Paul Tsongas.

WV: Axilica - Lumberjack Heavy-Metal band.

Anonymous said...

Definitely keep on using social media to let us know when you are announcing for the Mariners. I have a group here at work that depends on my passing that information along. I've drawn a number of co-workers into my unofficial fan club and we really enjoy knowing when you are on the air. The drive home on Wednesday will be the best part of my week.

Al said...

When I was in my twenties and living in Los Angeles, I was signed up with an Extras Agency. What I found was that if extra work wasn't available, they would assign you to audience work. What this meant was they would pay you 40 bucks and a hot dog to sit in an audience for a show that couldn't get an audience, and it was clear you were being paid to laugh.

I laughed at some of the crappiest shows in television history for about 3 years in the 90's. I actually got pretty good at it.

Anonymous said...

The alternate realities shows generally don't do that well. See also My Own Worst Enemy with Christian Slater, and Day Break.

They seem to do okay as films - eg Sliding Doors and Groundhog Day.

sinip said...

Didn't watch the movie (Awake) yet, but if the plot is too complicated for the "average Joe" then US society may well already be on the way of decline as presented in the movie named "Idiocracy". Not some smahing hit, but grim reminder of where the society might end up. :)

Powerhouse Salter said...

The live audience gimmick that makes my eyes bleed is whenever PBS televises a pop reunion concert and cuts to shots of the audience members mouthing the words to the hit being performed. Extra points for cutting to an overweight couple holding hands and wiping away tears.

Nat Gertler said...

Do spin-off ideas come from the creative folks, or is it mostly the suits saying "Frasier is making money; can we have Frasier:Miami?" (Actually, I was surprised they didn't follow the show with a Roz series.)

And while I have you - I stole an image from your site to make one of these; I hope you don't mind. --Nat (Sitcom Room alumnus)

sgtbailey said...

I loved the first episode of "Awake" and couldn't wait for week 2 -- when it jumped the shark at the end by introducing the notion that the main character was being drugged or otherwise manipulated by "dark forces." I won't watch week 3.

Chuck said...

I'm writing a spec pilot. I understand from your comments that specs are good writing samples, and that the reality of a the business is that a spec pilot faces extremely long odds for someone not currently working as a writer.

Friday Question: When you're developing a new idea, what criteria do you use to decide whether the concept will work best as a feature vs. a television series? Have you ever started writing an original work as one, and transformed it to the other?


Pete Grossman said...

So let’s say he’s with his wife and wants to return to his son’s reality – he just watches THE ENGLISH PATIENT. Now that's what I'm talkin' about! And the freakin' thing won Best Picture! Wha?

Dan J said...

wI'm loving Awake (which almost certainly means it's going to be cancelled). Please people... it's smart, engaging and Jason Isaacs is great... watch this show.

VP81955 said...

Yes, staying overnight for work. Reminds me of my days editing a weekly newspaper, and the Monday nights that would turn into Tuesday mornings (deadline time) in a cold, lonely, rundown office 35 miles from New York City, but essentially in the middle of nowhere. 4 1/2 years of pure hell.

MBunge said...

I haven't see AWAKE, but what's the point of the show? So, he's living two different lives. And?


jbryant said...

Greg: While I'm sure Laura Allen is thrilled that no one thinks she looks old enough to have a teenage son, according to the imdb she'll turn 38 in a few days, which would mean her character was in her early 20s when she gave birth.

Yekimi: I will presumptuously step in to say that you'd pitch a silent movie story the same way you'd pitch any story. You just tell what happens. And the script would be like any other script except that it would probably have more detailed description of the action, and the dialogue, if any, would be indicated by intertitles.

Anonymous said...

Alternate reality shows... See also Life on Mars (British) and it's unfortunate American version. Also, Ashes to Ashes, the British sequel. In the Brit original, the character's alternate realities are precipitated by a car crash. Hmmm....

Greg Hao said...

@anon @1145 - it seems at the end of the second ep, they started to unfurl a larger conspiracy which points, potentially, the the creators' recognition that the "split lives" concept can only go so far. (a la sliding door, groundhog day.)

@jbryant - damn, good for her, cuz (and maybe because she' starring opposite jason isaacs) she looks like she's late 20s tops!

Liggie said...

F.Q. on airport scenes that are actually shot *in* airports and not soundstages. Do cast and crew have to wait for a clear gate/baggage carousel/whatever before they shoot, or can they shoot while actual passengers and airport employees are moving around?

GullibleTwat said...

SUTE, that was fantastic - genius. I clicked on every one, every single one, of your links cunningly embedded in a seemingly ordinary comment there, and have bought at least one of everything you're selling. I salute you sir. Brilliant...

Barry Traylor said...

I suppose the problem I have with shows like Awake is so many times I have become involved in the storyline only to have the show cancelled leaving many questions unanswered.

PolyWogg said...

re: college pitching... our local Cdn college offers similar segment as part of MFA-like course for tv and movies but all those being pitched our active showrunners in last two years. It is Cdn tv though so they probably all. share the same couch!

David Baruffi said...

I was going through some of your old blogs, and I stumbled across the one you wrote praising the show "Becker". I agree it's a great and underrated

Now, I have a theory about the show. It's film theory crap, but I wanted to ask you anyway. I always noticed, that unlike most sitcoms, where the star is the first one in the scene, and we see what Al Bundy or Bob Hartley is doing or whomever, and then everybody else comes in through the door with a problem or a joke or something, but on "Becker", it's almost always the opposite. The scenes start with everybody else going about their business and Becker enters ruins their day with some complaint or something. Whether it's at the doctor's office, or the diner, or wherever, he's the one who comes in and disrupts the norm. I'm halfway convinced that the show is done mostly from the POVs of all the supporting character, and the secret of the show is that it's actually about their reactions to Becker, as oppose to him being the POV we identify with, and we wonder about all the weird people around this poor guy, and henceforth, because it's about how they perceive Becker, we don't or rarely, do we actually get to see how Becker really is. So the show is only about how others see him. Believe me, I get that this is such a B.S. TV theorists thing, but I'm curious, was at least part of that intentional, the idea of Becker constantly entering the scenes and disrupting it, or did the show just kinda develop that storytellings strategy 'cause it best fit the show and the character, best, or is there anything actually to this concept of Becker being a mysterious Mr. Hyde-type character everyone sees while a Dr. Jekyll is somewhere elusive that no one can ever find out about?