Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Questions

Friday Question Day and a happy birthday to my writing partner, Professor David Isaacs:

To start it off, we have Janice:

When watching Wings I'll sometimes notice Tony Shalhoub trying not to laugh - which makes me laugh even more. As a director, would you generally reshoot the scene or leave the genuine "fun" intact? I know these make for some of the most beloved scenes in The Carol Burnett Show, but that was live and the option to reshoot wasn't available.

As opposed to sketch shows, you don’t want to break the 4th wall and destroy the reality of the scene. So if an actor laughs as opposed to the “character” laughing, then yes, I’d reshoot it.

But there was a FRASIER episode I directed involving two characters with big noses and everyone trying not to laugh. I told the cameramen that if they’re on an actor who is about to break up, stay with him, even if it means not getting to your next mark. I’ll pick it up later. But I wanted some real genuine moments captured. And it paid dividends. There are priceless shots of David Hyde Pierce, Jane Leeves, and John Mahoney.

For the record, THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW was not shown live. They taped it twice for two different audiences. The first taping they stuck to the script, the second they had more leeway. Producers then selected the funniest performances. But by using the looser “off book” takes the show did have a very “live” feeling to it.

Steve asks:

What happened to Friday and Saturday night TV? Some of TV's biggest shows ever used to be on those nights (Dallas, All in The Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett etc) but they are a wasteland today. Are the networks creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by not programming stronger lineups on those nights (with little competition from rival networks)?

Young people go out on Friday and Saturday nights and young people are all the networks care about.

And if  18-34's do stay home on a Friday and Saturday night, chances are they’ll watch a rented movie.

Also, in those halcyon days of ALL IN THE FAMILY/CAROL BURNETT SHOW hardly anybody had a video recording device. So you purposely stayed home to see those shows. Now you set your DVR and go.

Networks still throw some new shows on on Friday, but not many. And they usually go there to die. So think about it. At one time the networks programmed three or more hours a night for seven nights. Now they program three hours a night for essentially five-and-a-half nights. Fewer time slots. You think they’d have better programs, wouldn’t you? Only the cream of the crop would get on the schedule. And yet ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA made it onto NBC

From Terry:

I recently saw the Cheers episode where the Carla attacks the obnoxious Yankees fan (note: the episode is “the Tortelli Tort”) and it got me to thinking about the role the Red Sox played in the tone of the series. At the time of Cheers, the Red Sox hadn't won a World Series in many, many years. They had the reputation of being losers, yet Boston fans (myself included) loved them anyway, not unlike the gang at Cheers.

So my question is this: if the show had gone on the air after the 2004 Sox win, do you think it would have changed the tone at all? The gang did spend a good amount of time in those early seasons commiserating about the Sox, even if it wasn't related to the main plot of the show.

Absolutely.  We'd give them a completely different outlook.  They’d take more pride in being Red Sox fans once they won a World Series, but they wouldn’t identify with them as much because they were no longer losers.

That said, Carla would bang a Yankee fan’s head into the bar regardless of the standings.

Cheryl Marks wonders:

Who makes the call as to which scenes are deleted when movies are edited to fit a particular time slot? The original editor and director?

How about TV shows? As a kid, I remember at least one I Love Lucy episode that now airs without a short scene that appeared between two commercial breaks.

I'm assuming the writer doesn't have a say.

Answering your last question first. The writer does have say if he’s also the showrunner. For television series the showrunner has final cut. The director is given the courtesy to suggest changes but ultimately it’s the showrunner who makes the call.

Now, who edits movies for TV? I assume you mean theatrical features. I don’t think there’s any single answer here. Probably someone at the network edits the films for time. But I have heard of cases where the original director has gotten involved. And I suppose when a film director negotiates for final cut of the film’s release he could also negotiate for final cut of the network version.

When theatrical movies go into syndication I think great care is taken to ensure the worst possible editor cuts the film. They’re always so hacked and disjointed.

Still, when I saw VOLUNTEERS on local channel 5 it was the first time I thought they didn’t edit out enough.

UPDATE: A very high ranked network programming chief just emailed me this AMAZING answer to this editing question. Many many thanks. You never know who reads this crazy blog.

I read your Friday question... I've bought a lot of movies for TV. The studio always produces the cut for the network, and sometimes they have to get the director's approval. They create a lot of versions of a movie... The USA cut will differ from the TNT cut... From the syndication cut... And the international cut. I don't know if every director has a right to review every cut, but I do know some directors do and it can be an issue getting their blessing prior to delivery, because the director (think Spielberg, Scorsese, and the like) want to see every change to their movie, no matter how minor. Sometimes it is just the TNT format is :45 seconds shorter than the FX format, for example, which isn't a big deal in a 2.5 hour movie. By the way, most movies today are longer, so most of them fit in a 2.5 hour movie window on basic cable.

And finally, from Sebastian Peitsch :

Why don't couples in comedy shows stay together?

Because living happily ever after is comedy death. Comedy comes out of conflict. Sam and Diane holding hands is not nearly as interesting or funny as Sam and Diane holding these...
Thanks to reader Jeffro, here's that scene:

What’s your question? Leave it the comments section. Thanks!


Jill Pinnella Corso said...

Awesome. Have to agree on the last one. I once had an anonymous, hilarious (to me, at least) dating blog that dried up and died almost immediately once I met my now husband.

Mr. First Nighter said...

I know you are crazy about Nancy Travis but she is one of the worst offenders about responding to funny lines in shows. She always smiles when a funny line (or alleged funny line) is spoken by a fellow actor. Watch her in Becker or Last Man Standing as she reacts to Ted Danson or Tim Allen. It makes me want to tell her: if you are here to be amused, go sit in the audience!

Richard J. Marcej said...

I agree that Friday & Saturday night TV lineups are pathetic and that the VCR & DVR are partially responsible. That got me thinking about this old memory...
I was 11 years old in the fall of 1972 and I remember standing in the checkout line with my mother at a nearby K-Mart. It was Saturday evening and the woman in front of us was getting impatient with the cashier. She said something to the effect of; "Hurry up, it's 7:45 and I want to get home in time to watch All In The Family"!

Thanks to recording devices and the ability to easily catch reruns either on the internet or on the network itself those"must get home in time to watch" are over.

And while that may be best for all, I kind of miss those days.

Arthur Dietrich said...

During the 1970s with the great Saturday night lineup, CBS could never get a hit for the 8:30 slot. I remember liking a show called Friends and Lovers (with Paul Sand and the late great Steve Landesberg) but Saturday night was Archie and Edith, this year's non-hit; Mary; Bob; and Carol

Jill Pinnella Corso said...

@Mr. First Nighter:
Last Man Standing is not my favorite show but I've been watching a lot of it lately while working on a spec script for it.
One of my favorite things about the show is how Nancy Travis' and Tim Allen's characters joke and laugh with each other like a real husband and wife would. I think her character is laughing, not Ms. Travis.

Terrence Moss said...

The nose pulling scene on "Cheers" has always been one of the funniest moments of the show to me.

That and "But, I'm Norm". LOL.

Richard J. Marcej said...

You're right about that 8:30 time slot. If memory serves they tried:
Funny Face; the Sandy Duncan sitcom that I think was put on hiatus when Sandy grew ill.
Bridget Loves Bernie
Paul Sands, Friends and Lovers
Doc The Bernard Hughes sitcom with Mary Wickes
Then there was that magical year of 1973-74 when the REAL (IMO) Must See TV Lineup occurred.
8:00 All In The Family, It's 3rd full season
8:30 M*A*S*H It's 2nd full season
9:00 Mary Tyler Moore Show It's 4th full season
9:30 The Bob Newhart Show It's 2nd full season
10:00 The Carol Burnett Show It's 7th full season
What a great comedy lineup!

Mark said...

I think plenty of couples on comedy shows stay together. It's just the ones that got laughs and tension from dating and love/hate relationship that can't stay together.

On the other hand.... think about Bob newhart, Ray Romano, all the couples on Modern Family, Homer & Marge, the Bunkers.....

Sebastian Peitsch said...

That picture is priceless :-D

Great info about Roz and the Schnoz. Didn't think you had more to say about it but five years in and we still learn more fun things about Frasier.

gottacook said...

"I think great care is taken to ensure the worst possible editor cuts the film. They’re always so hacked and disjointed..."

Unfortunately, one of the worst cases I know is also one that was very carefully done: There's a broadcast TV edit of Fargo where all the scenes showing or mentioning Mike Yanagita are simply cut out.

This to me verges on criminal - it's a freaking Academy Award-winning screenplay, not to mention that Coen Bros. screenplays are always so carefully weighed and balanced that to take out an element like that, willfully, is simply a horrible thing to do.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I think Lily and Marshall on HIMYM are a pretty funny couple. It seems, though, as though the couples that stay together on comedy shows are the ones that are together at the beginning of the series - it's the couples whose romantic tension provides the show's comedy that can suck the life out of it when that tension is resolved.


Tom Quigley said...

Terrence Moss said...

"That and 'But, I'm Norm'. LOL."

One of my favorite episodes, too -- where Cheers became a hangout for yuppies while they were waiting for their table at Melville's...

BTW, I don't know about actors laughing out of character (although the laughs in the referenced FRASIER episode are noticeably genuine when you watch it), but I still think one line that George Wendt delivered in the last season of CHEERS was one that broke down into a flub (or blooper if you will) that they decided to keep in the aired episode. In that particular show, Kelly's French friend Henri challenged Sam to a contest of obtaining female patrons' phone numbers and when Sam first declines, the bar regulars start deciding that they need to deal with Henri's boorish behavior on their own terms. Norm then declares "I say it's time we stop living vicarously through Sam and take the bull by the horns and..." whereupon he breaks up laughing and says "Jeez, I almost made it all the way through!" and John Ratzenberger replies with a smile "You were good, there!"

The reason I think it was a flub is that a friend of mine had been to a filming of CHEERS earlier that season, and told me that at one point when George Wendt had flubbed one of his lines, John reacted to it with the same words.

Liggie said...

Wonder if the last mass-appeal Friday and Saturday shows were "Miami Vice" and "Golden Girls"?

cadavra said...

At the dawn of the VCR in the late 70s, a local Cincinnati station decided to "combat" taping of movies by editing out the best parts of the films. I distinctly remember IN THE NAVY, which became a Dick Powell/Andrews Sisters musical with every single one of Abbott & Costello's routines gone, and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN with all of Ernest Thesiger's scenes cut up until the climax, when he suddenly appeared out of apparently nowhere. They also routinely began movies ahead of their scheduled starting times, sometimes by as much as 45 minutes. Complaints fell on deaf ears. Fittingly, they're now a Fox affiliate.

Jeffro said...

"Sam and Diane holding hands is not nearly as interesting or funny as Sam and Diane holding these..."

Here's a video clip of the scene.

Johnny Walker said...

That's a great point, Wendy! Plus, As soon as Ted finds his perfect partner, the show will definitely be completely over. Not just because that's where the narrative ends, but also because that ends all the tension.

Dave Creek said...

The worse edit job I ever saw on a movie was years ago on WTBS, when it aired 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The ape threw up the bone, it spun in the air, and then-- fade to black for the usual interminable TBS break. Then, back from the spot and -- fade up on the spaceship.


Lisa Muldrin said...

Hey Ken,

i'm a big fan! Thanks for the Friday Questions!!

Here is mine: how is shooting a multicam-show different from a single-cam-show? how can you, as a director, can keep track of four cameras at once? and how many takes you usually make on average?


Nancy said...

I worked In the programming department at a CT tv station in the 80s and remember the film department confirming the list of films running on the weekend. They would take them and cut them to whatever time they needed to fit for length and commercials.
My boss would tell me that some of them would be so cut up you could barely make sense of it.

Charles said...

Regarding edited versions of TV shows: I think Ken is discussing the version that airs on the network. For syndicated versions, the butchering--er, recutting--is generally done by some anonymous editor employed by the syndication company. Some cable networks, though, are provided with uncut prints and are allowed to do their editing. That's why a DICK VAN DYKE SHOW or I LOVE LUCY rerun that you see on TVLand usually won't be edited in exactly the same way as the version your local station runs.

Those syndication/off-net editors have a tough job, especially since they're doing something everybody hates them for doing. They have to get those episodes down to about 22 minutes, and some of those LUCY episodes run 26 minutes. 25 minutes was the norm throughout the '60s and 24 in the '70s and well into the '80s. Believe me, it's not easy to sweat 3 minutes out of a vintage sitcom in a way that is in any way unobtrusive.

Hank Gillette said...

On Cheers, Coach almost always had a pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket. Yet, I never saw Coach smoke on camera, except once he smoked a really smelly cigar.

Were the cigarettes actually Nicholas Colasanto's?

DwWashburn said...

How ironic that you post the video of people abusing noses during the week that I am recuperating from a nasal cauterization.

Barbara C. said...

I always find the dubbing out of curse words interesting. It's obvious that in the original scene different dialogue was used. Do the actors have to re-dub certain scenes during the movie making process for when the show eventually airs on a network television?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Here's yet another Friday question that probably will remain unanswered:

In the old days, a network would wait until the end of the inaugural run of a new series to determine its ratings, and whether or not the series would be renewed (in other words, if a first season was successful, that would at least ensure a second season); nowadays, it's as if networks feel if seemingly nobody is watching after two episodes, they'll go ahead and cancel. Why? That seems like a waste of everybody's time (especially those who made the show), not to mention, how do they figure a few episodes of a brand new show is going to be enough to bring in huge ratings? That's not even enough time for an audience to invest in the series, let alone build up an audience for it.

Mike said...

He's asking about TV shows in syndication. This editing is I think why the Simpson's is not good anymore. The baseball episode with Ken Griffey, Don Mattingly, Darryl Strawberry, Jose Canseco, etc? They show up in the 2nd half of the episode, and the first part is a remake of The Natural with Springfield making the finals.

I always thought the local stations would do the editing for time.

Brian said...

Roz and the Snoz was hillarious. I was going to watch the video that you linked to in a earlier post, but it has been taken down.

Anonymous said...

Many, many seasons ago, I was hired by Carsey/Werner to edit the first 100 episodes of "the Cosby Show" down to the syndication format. I had worked as the post production supervisor for most of those first 4 seasons of episodes. For the syndication package I worked exclusively with Tom Werner to remove the approximately 2 min and 25 seconds of show material that was the syndication format. The directors of the shows 33 had no input, because they were busy creating the next 100 episodes. I would do a quick cut to fit the new time format, and than show it to Tom. He would then make notes and I would go back and do as many as the existing footage would allow. Tom knew what a special and historical show,'Cosby' was, and he put as much effort into making the syndication versions as good as the original network versions. Tom was not adverse to doing 4 or 5 cuts on an episode to make sure it was the best material and that the plot was not lost. At that same time, many other creators of hit sitcoms would put their show through a machine that would randomly leave out frames to get the extra time out, creating a jerky finished product that would leave all of the original show material in the syndicated version, but at the expense of having a picture quality that was clearly inferior. Eventually I cut all of the 200+ episode with Tom Werner, all of which ,received the same care and attention as the very first. We could use a few more Tom Werners.

Roy Perkins, impartial dogcatcher said...

My nominee for worst editing of a movie for a local showing goes to a broadcast of BEDAZZLED (the original version, with Dudley Moore and Peter Cook) that I saw some twenty years ago. This is a story about a man who sells his soul to the devil, and in return is allowed to have seven wishes granted. As the film goes on, the precise number of wishes that have already been granted becomes a very important plot point. The movie runs 103 minutes, and my local station put it in a 90 minute slot. How did they manage that? By cutting out two of the wishes in their entirety.

Roy Perkins, impartial dogcatcher said...

Barbara C--Someone more knowledgeable about the business will have to provide a definitive answer to your question, but I do know that sometimes different actors than the ones on screen do the dubbing when movies are bowderlized for TV. For example, the veteran voice actress Jane Waldo (a/k/a Judy Jetson, Penelope Pitstop, and Josie of the Pussycats) made a specialty of this.

chuckcd said...

At least GRIMM is on Friday's.

Roy Perkins, impartial dogcatcher said...

Pardon me--that is Janet, not Jane, Waldo.

SER said...


1) I just watched the final BAR WARS episode and Sam's last line: "Yeah... yeah, he stole all my money" never fails to make me laugh out loud. It's not necessarily funny on paper. It's just how Ted Danson deliver it that kills me (and this is true of many of my favorite CHEERS moments). Clearly, it's meant to deliver a laugh (it's the final scene) but are there any instances in which you wrote a line that you didn't necessarily think was hilarious that the actor hit out of the park? And conversely, was there a line that you thought was brilliant when written that never worked when performed?

2) By the way, that final BAR WARS reminds me of an observation I'd made about Rebecca's character in the final three seasons of the show: She seems to almost become irrelevant. The Sam/Rebecca baby storyline that ended (for logical real world reasons, if I remember correctly)felt like an attempt to put her to the forefront again, but I thought her peak was the Robin Colcord storyline. Once that ended and she was no longer making her way up the corporate ladder (something I thought provided some brilliant moments, especially when she's reduced to dogsitting), she didn't really do much. Even Carla comments on it in her own way in the BAR WARS V episode. What was the plan for Rebecca in those final seasons? Returning again to the BAR WARS episode, Rebecca is completely uninvolved -- as if she's being written out deliberately. I thought this was a strong contrast to Diane's character, who played such a pivotal role in each of her seasons.

3) Finally, why was Lilith made a main cast member in the 10th season? I ask this as a huge fan of Bebe Neuwirth... but I thought she never really worked as a regular at the bar. I couldn't understand why she'd go to Cheers and be insulted by Carla on a nightly basis. Was it just to spend time with Frasier? But the running joke was that she wore the pants in the relationship. Upon reflection, I think my issue is that ultimately Cheers is a place for "loveable losers." Rebecca found her place there somewhere in the middle of the sixth season, when we realized that she was a "loser" as well. But I never got that impression from Lilith.

Stephen said...

Many shows experience a change in show-runners, Community being a recent example. Does the network alone decide on the replacement? Do they consult with existing producers on the show? How do they lure the potential replacement without saying, "Hey, here's a show with so-so ratings that's already been on for a few seasons, with a fanbase that was fiercely loyal to the old guy ... wanna take over?"?

Steve Murray said...

Sorry to ask a technical question over a 'What was your favourite...?' one. When writing a script, how do you best express an incomplete sentence (interrupted)? Eg:

I recall one particular Thursday, Alan Alda was

Wait, you knew Alan Alda? I LOVE Alan Alda!

So would I end Ken's incomplete sentence with an ellipsis, or just leave it hanging?