Friday, September 14, 2012

My worst directing experience

You know what day it is.

First Friday Question is from DyHrdMET:

Have you ever had (or heard of) an audience boo at a scene, an actor, or more likely, a joke? Does the creative team simply re-write, or do they re-think whatever it was that went wrong?

Never heard of an actor being booed. Most writers on the stage are able to restrain themselves.  But seriously folks, generally you avoid getting actors the audience might hate. Manny Ramirez will have a better chance of re-signing with the Red Sox than being hired to guest on HOT IN CLEVELAND.

Audiences won’t boo a joke per se but they will groan if a joke is terrible, and to me that’s worse. It’s usually a good idea to avoid puns or rape jokes. My position is if a joke doesn’t get a laugh, that happens; if it gets a groan that’s inexcusable because you should have known better. And yes, you would re-write and replace the offending line.

Except on ASK HARRIET. This was a short-lived sitcom on Fox in the ‘90s. I directed a couple of episodes. What a nightmare.  My tenure was brief because I was constantly at odds with one of the executive producers. He constantly would insert horrible tasteless jokes and despite my pleading and the cast’s, he wouldn’t take them out. So we got any number of groans. And he just ignored them.

Fortunately, Fox didn’t. The series was quickly axed. And the shame is there were some terrific writers and actors on that show. Julie Benz, Ed Asner, and Willie Garson to name three. And they all deserved better. As did America.

Thomas Tucker asks:

Thanks for your story about Johnny Carson. For follow-up, did you ever work with Merv?

Nope. Never did. But from what I always heard, Merv Griffin was a gentleman and pleasure to work for. I have been to his hotel. Does that count?

Here’s one from Mr. First Nighter:

Why do so many characters address others so formally? In real life, people are less formal, especially years into a relationship. One example that comes to find was Daphne always calling Frasier "Dr. Crane".

Well, Mr. First Nighter, in some cases people do address others formally as a sign of respect. In the case of Daphne, I feel calling Frasier Dr. Crane is appropriate.

There was a great episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW where Mary just couldn’t call Mr. Grant “Lou.”  Hasn't that happened to all of us at one time or another?

Recently I received a call from my old high school basketball coach. (He had read and enjoyed my book – have you ordered your copy yet????) I hadn’t spoken to him in years and yet I still called him Mr. Furlong. “John” just seemed wrong.

The best example of this involves my kids. They were in a school summer camp program. Annie was a camper (she was 14) and Matt (18) was a counselor. Campers were instructed to address the counselors formally. So she had to address her brother as “Mr. Levine.” That went over well.

Tim wonders:

What happens if an actor needs a sick day? If the actor has a minor role in the episode, do you simply just quickly rewrite his or her parts for the other characters? If possible, do you shoot around his or her scenes? Do you hire a goon somewhere to drag them out of bed and get them on stage?

You don’t need a goon. Most actors I know are troopers. If they’re sick, they’ll suck it up and be there on show night.

If they’re sick during the week of rehearsal usually you can get by without them for a day or two. I’m forever amazed at how quickly they can come in, learn 40 pages of dialogue and blocking and be ready to go in a day.

Obviously, if a main cast member is too sick to perform on show night you have to postpone. This is expensive but what are ya gonna do? There are no understudies. Tonight, playing the part of Sheldon on BIG BANG THEORY will be Oswald from the prop department. Not going to happen.

But people get sick and usually through the course of a season you have to occasionally juggle schedules, hiatus weeks, etc. to accommodate them.

Things are trickier if it’s a guest-star role or a day-player. It depends on the severity of their illness and the size and importance of the role of course, but there is the danger they’ll just be replaced. My advice to those actors: Don’t get sick.

And finally, from Win1908:

What are some of your favorite (and least favorite) ballparks you've visited around the country and is there one or two you haven't seen yet that you'd love to get to?

Favorites: Dodger Stadium, Safeco Field, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Target Field, Petco Park, AT&T Park, Citizen’s Bank Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, Miller Park, Camden Yards, Coors Field, Comerica Park.

Least favorites: Tropicana Field and the Oakland Coliseum.

Parks I’ve never seen but would like to: PNC Park in Pittsburgh and the goofy new stadium in Miami.

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks, and have a great weekend.


billmac said...

Re Merv Griffin:
I get the impression Merv can be very funny. Being interviewed on TV [I forget the show] after Johnny Carson's death, Merv gestured toward the other guests--which included Carl Reiner, Don Rickles, Ed McMahon--and said: "This looks like a reunion of Abe Lincoln's graduating class."

A few minutes later, after listening to Joan Rivers's comments, Merv said: "Joan Rivers was already a failure in show business before Johnny Carson was born."

Re baseball parks:
WHAT? No mention of the Kingdome?

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

Thanks for the comment about formality in greeting. Like you, I still refer to all my former teachers by title and last name. I would never think of calling them by their first names unless we because really friends later on. And I don't like it when someone at the bank, for example, calls me by my first name. We're NOT that close! I think Americans think being informal with everyone is friendly, whereas Europeans would consider it rude unless you truly are good friends. When I taught middle school and students would try calling me by my first name, I always told them, "After you graduate from high school, and after you graduate from college if you go, then MAYBE you can call me by my first name." Guess I side with the Europeans in this regard.

Richard J. Marcej said...

Do yourself a favor Ken (and any other baseball fan out there) go see a game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Not only is it a nice little ballpark (only 39,000 capacity, so it's not overlarge) with excellent site lines from nearly every seat, but it has the BEST (IMO) panoramic view of any MLB ballpark in any ballpark in North America.

Unknown said...

I love the image of some guy playing Sheldon and it makes me laugh to think what if we just asked America to accept an understudy for one episode?

Please see the question I left on yesterday's post! I love your answers to these questions.

Cat said...

The "sick actor/rewrite" question reminds me of an episode of Friends. In the cold open, you hear Joey bouncing on a bed and then a scream. In the rest of the episode, he's in a full arm brace/sling. Obviously, Matt LeBlanc hurt himself and they had to add the opening scene to explain away the brace.

Kathy said...

Old Yankee Stadium, or new?

OT: Google "bacon number" and the name of an actor and it'll give you the degree of separation. Very funny.

Ane said...

The first time I saw Lion King on West End the guy who played Scar (brilliantly, I might add) got booed at during the final applause just because he played the villain, and all the other main actors where cheered for like heros. You could tell how dissapointed he was. I tried shouting "Yeeey!" but I don't think he hears me through the booing

Ane said...


jackscribe said...

Saw Merv occasionally when I was a manager at '21'. We first met in the bar. Flash forward a couple of months when he came in again. His greeting was, "Hey, John. good to see you again." BTW, I also knew his P.A. (from planning a party for him) and we dated for about a year. Kate said he was a gem to work for.

John said...

IIRC, back in the day George Burns changed out Harry Mortons in mid-stream on Burns & Allen, replacing Fred Clark with Larry Keating. But by then the Harry Morton role had become pretty much like the 'red shirt' guy in Star Trek episodes who never stayed around very long, so the audience was used to seeing a different actor in the role.

(Also, I probably would have gone with LeBron James or Art Modell over Manny for the HOT IN CLEVELAND audience hatred thing, though obviously Art's lost the ability in the past week to guest-star anywhere anymore.)

Former Montrealer said...

Hall of Fame question:

How Many Expos do you think the HoF will end up with? Right now there's the Kid & the Hawk; do you think the Rock will make it in? How about Vlad?

roger said...

I recall an episode of CSI: MIAMI where David Caruso obviously had a bad cold -- he had that hollow nasal sound throughout the episode. I hadn't seen the beginning of the show but it made me wonder if they had added (or how easy it would be to add) an expository line or two ("Still getting over that cold, huh?").

Jawaman said...

Not sure if this has been asked/answered before, but here is my question:
When a popular series comes to an end, we have seen spin-offs like Frasier and sadly even Joey, but have you thought of recreating a series after a gap of say 10 years?
Say, Cheers returns with Sam still bar-tending, but he is now married and has a kid. Norm still comes over, but his health doesn't permit him the daily dose of alcohol. Would you now treat it as a brand new series or try to continue from where Cheers left?

Wayne said...

Annie was a camper (she was 14) and Matt (18) was a counselor. Campers were instructed to address the counselors formally. So she had to address her brother as “Mr. Levine.”
If I were her, I'd keep asking "Is that pronounced Levin or Le-vine?"

Breadbaker said...

I have a couple of my teachers as Facebook friends I still call Mrs. Goldsmith and Miss Belkin. I graduated high school 38 years ago.

I missed PNC Park because of Hurricane Frances. My son and I had tickets on our way to drop him off at college and the game was cancelled the day before because of the rain. He has a friend in business school at Carnegie-Mellon, so he might make it to Pittsburgh for a game, but it's a long way from Seattle to go.

Just started your book finally. I will post an amazon review when done.

after the fire said...

You have a man on third, one out, a line drive is scorched down the left field line and hits the runner smack dab in the center of his back. His foot is on the base, but his body is in foul territory. Is he out or safe? Also, If you looked at all of the agents that you have worked with over the years, what percentage would you say are sensible, honest, trustworthy, and knowlegeable?

Ted said...

"Playing the part of Sheldon on BIG BANG..." you mav have something there, Ken. That would really work on a show like 30 Rock, where they welcome silly stunts. Shoulda used it when Tracey Morgan was out for several episodes.

Ted said...

Apologies to Jill Pinella Corso, who made essentially the same comment three hours earlier.

YEKIMI said...

Wow, you left out Progressive Field in Cleveland. It's currently occupied by a minor league team but one day we hope to get a REAL major league team.

Mark said...

Ken (I should say, Mr. Levine), how does a show's production schedule work? From your previous postings I get the impression that it's a 1-week shoot... but doesn't this produce 22 weeks of work and 30 weeks of inactivity (for actors, at least)? Is this a relic of the 39-ep days? Having heard your stories of harried weeks, it seems like a less compressed schedule would benefit everyone.

Earl B said...

On actors being booed ... Years ago, on an E! special on ALL IN THE FAMILY, the actor who played Edith Bunker's attempted rapist on an episode said the audience had actually *growled* at him.

brian t said...

Not being American, I've only ever been to one (1) baseball game in my life, and that was the Houston Astros home at Minute Maid Park. It looked like a pretty nice stadium: built from the shell of the old train station, and they had a large model steam train the choo-chooed its way along an elevated track whenever someone scored a home run. Hokey, but the kids in the cheap seats loved it. Not a bad way to spend a summer evening in Houston with the temperature still in the 90s.

The Mutt said...

I've never done TV, but as a stage actor, I've never encountered an actor who thought he was too sick to step up to the plate. This was sometimes a poor choice.

I was playing Christian in a production of Cyrano de Bergerac. I had been in a traffic accident morning and knocked out cold. I thought I was good to go. I really wasn't. The stage manager would stand next to me off-stage, tell me, "This is the scene where you..." then push me out.

There is a moment in the show where Christian is asleep and Cyrano wakes him up. I was asleep. For real. Let me tell you, waking up on stage in front of an audience is the trippiest thing I've ever experienced.

They tell me I did fine that night. I couldn't tell you.

l'atalante said...

Actually, the Harry Morton switch on Burns & Allen was one of the most memorable bits on the TV show. As I recall, George froze the action just as Blanche was about to slam Harry over the head (an iron deer was involved) and explained that Fred Clark had left the show to take a theater role (actually it was a salary dispute). Larry Clark is then introduced to Bea Benadaret as the fourth Harry Morton (counting the radio show), they shake hands cordially, and George stepped offscreen as they resumed position and the fight resumed.

Joey H said...

Merv got a piece of the action at an Illinois riverboat casino for lending his name to the project, so he made a few appearances there. I got to meet him at a couple of media events. He was very cordial and it didn't seem fake. He really seemed to enjoy the conversations. On one visit he even brought Eva Gabor.

Phillip B said...

The premise of of Bewitched gave the writers a way around Dick York's back problems - even before he was replaced by Dick Sargent. Some sort of witchcraft would simply have Darrin change bodies with his boss Larry Tate, played by David White.

My memory is that this happened in more than one episode so they did, indeed, have an understudy for the male lead..

Mike said...

Didn't All in the Family have an episode centered around a long rape joke?

Powerhouse Salter said...

What would you say justifies writing a rain or wind scene into a script? I mean, why introduce the production cost and logistics of staging fake rain or wind instead of just writing the scene for fair weather?

Roger Owen Green said...

About half of the stadia I've been to don't exist, or don't as baseball locales - the one in Montreal, old Yankee, Shea, Tigers, the one in Atlanta, and the Astrodome. Sigh.

Unknown said...

Very few actors are troopers (unless they happen to be moonlighting with the state police).

That said, most actors ARE troupers.

(Sorry, but once an editor, always an editor. Love the blog nonetheless.)

Sara said...

Hi Ken. Here's a baseball question for you. With the season winding down, who are your picks for MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year?

Steve B. said...

Hi Ken, question for you: When getting script notes from execs, are there any specific types of notes that you know are always just meaningless BS?

crackblind said...

I'll never forget the Onion headline from 2006:
PNC Park Threatens To Leave Pittsburgh Unless Better Team Is Built

Unknown said...

How many veterans have you run across in the television side of the industry? Specifically writing, producing, showrunning.

cadavra said...

It's not unusual for audiences to boo the actor playing the villain at the curtain calls; most take it as a badge of honor. I remember when David Garrison--the baddie in the Broadway musical of TITANIC--came out to roaring boos and hisses; he merely grinned broadly and did a tremendously exaggerated bow.

Muzza said...

Friday question:

Has there been a memorable joke that absolutely killed in the writer's room, but completely bombed when taping?

Conversely, did you ever have major doubts over a joke or line as it read on the page, but saw it find a new life when performed?

Anonymous said...

Nice ballpark, terrible team. The edifice that replaced Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York as the home of the New York Mets. Should have been called Gil Hodges Stadium, but since the building is a poor homage to Ebbets Field many call it Debits Field. Fittingly, the formal naming rights are via a large multinational bank corporation. They were wary of sponsoring the TARP.

SkippyMom said...

I am 46 years old and I have known our neighbors since I was 5. They have always been "Mr. and Mrs. Blaine" and "Mr. and Mrs. Corsica" to me and always will be. They have tried to get me and my siblings to call them by their first names, but out of respect [they are in their 70s and 80s] we will always use their formal titles, eventhough we have known them for over 40 years.

I can see Daphne calling Fraiser "Dr. Crane" because she was his employee. She also called Marty "Mr. Crane" because of their working relationship. I think it is a real problem in today's society that people are so informal. It says a lot about the respect, or lack of, people have for one another. I don't need the clerk at the Piggly Wiggly calling me by my first name after reading my credit card. "Mrs. Aveo" is just fine. Call me old fashioned or stuffy, but I would afford the same courtesy to a person who was older and who I didn't know well.