Friday, December 21, 2012

Judge Judy, NFL stars, and other actors

Back in LA, ready with Friday Questions.

Cap'n Bob begins:

Do non-actors like Judge Judy need to be in an actor's union? How about non-actors who make one-shot appearances on TV shows?

You can be Taft-Hartley’ed if you just do one, but anything more you need to join SAG.

Interestingly, when I had to join SAG about twenty-five years ago, I had to go right down to their office, fill out the forms and pay the initiation dues – in either cash or a cashier’s check. No credit cards or personal checks were allowed. I guess they had been stiffed too many times. New SAG members, is that the same policy? (Hey, I can ask Friday Questions too.)

Chris asks:

Is it easier to write for a sketch show? I assume the networks can't really give you notes since you don't have any stable characters or stories.

It’s hard for me to say because I’ve only written on one sketch show and we had no notes. That was on THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW for James L. Brooks at the beginning of the Fox network and Jim’s deal was no interference whatsoever. The network wasn’t even allowed to attend tapings. It was a beautiful thing. 

I imagine Lorne Michaels has a certain amount of autonomy at SNL save for standards & practices.

In many ways I found sketch writing harder than sitcom writing. You don’t have established characters. You don’t have stories the audience will be invested in. You have to quickly create a situation, establish everyone, have a beginning, middle, and end and be funny throughout since you live and die by the laughs.

My big problem with most sketches is that they start with a good premise and then have no payoff. You get a few big laughs off the premise and then the sketch fizzles.  Endings are important, kids. 

I suppose on SNL they have the added task of working the guest host into the sketches. Sometimes these hosts are – to be charitable – not gifted sketch comedians. It’s always a pain to write around NFL wide receivers.

From Liggie:

As a former radio guy, can you speculate why the (opinion) talk format has been a bonanza for conservatives but a non-starter for liberals?

Conservative talk show hosts tend to be more extreme and project bigger personalities. They make more noise and draw more attention. And that makes for more dynamic programming.

Most liberal talk show hosts I know are rational and measured. Who wants to listen to that?  And they're also not as entertaining.

However, if there is a rating trend it’s that people are getting tired of loud right-wing radio. Ratings have steadily declined. Folks are getting tired of the act. 

Molly B. wonders:

A couple years ago, PARKS AND RECREATION was running promos welcoming Rob Lowe to the cast at the same time that BROTHERS AND SISTERS was running promos about the season finale in which "someone" was going to die. Obviously that someone was Rob Lowe's character since he was already a regular on another TV show. Is there no clause or at least professional courtesy that would prevent one show from announcing a new series regular before that actor's character on another show has been written off?

Professional courtesy? In Hollywood? What’s that?

Seriously, I doubt if there are clauses in actors’ contracts that if they’re killed off they have to stay silent about it. On the other hand, it’s only fair that the actor should try to get another job. And if he does, and it spoils a surprise, that’s the way is goes.

If you read one of the on-line trades you’ll see who has been hired to appear in pilots. And it’s the same thing. When I saw that Elizabeth Mitchell had signed to star in the pilot of V I figured, “Uh oh. They’re killing her on LOST.” But like I said, you can’t blame the actor for looking elsewhere.

Happy final weekend of Christmas shopping. My book would look great in someone’s Xmas stocking. Just sayin’.


Mark said...

Hey Ken.

I'm not sure if this is big enough to do a blog post on or just a Friday question.

Anyway, HIMYM is currently in negotiations regarding whether the current season is the last or if the next season is the last. The creators have stated that no matter what, it will end the same way, which could cause some fairly large continuity/storytelling errors in a show that values continuity highly if it's renewed for a ninth season.

Both the cast and the crew are remaining hush on the subject, though it's expected that Jason Segel wants out, and the creators have said that they won't continue without the entire cast.

My question is this: What is involved in the negotiation process of series renewals? Why do these take so long, or is this just the case for HIMYM? Also, is it necessary to remain so quiet about it like HIMYM's crew is?

Thanks in advance.

Todd said...

Just this morning I watched an episode of Frasier you directed called, "Roz and the Shnoz." It's heavy on farse, (people with giant noses), but it's fantastic. Any memories of directing that episode?

John Galt said...

"Most liberal talk show hosts I know are rational and measured."

Since you obviously believe that, you would be a perfect candidate to purchase a bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Mike said...

@Todd: Try this. As I recall, Ken told the cameramen to specifically catch the actors' reactions and to keep filming if the actors laughed.

Mike Barer said...

Talk ratings are down but it may be that Righties are watching FOX.

Dave said...

Mike B: Fox's ratings are down too.

Lori said...

Just a note about the last question. I remember when Mad Men (spoiler alert!) killed off Lane Pryce last year, I read in an interview that the actor, Jared Harris, couldn't go out for pilot season because it would tip too many people off. I don't know if that was in his contract, exactly, but it was definitely an issue he addressed.

John said...

John Manelli, who used to be the program director at WABC in New York, has a pretty good take on the decline of talk radio, from someone who programmed Rush Limbaugh on his station back in 1990s. Basically he said Rush in the early days tried to be entertaining -- more parody songs, pop-culture updates, etc., that liberals still wouldn't like, but made the show flow better. The Limbaugh of the past 10-15 years has been more didactic, and if he goes off-topic it's to hawk tea, the Heritage Foundation or his golf game. That's not bringing anything to the game that's going to win you listeners; if anything, it's going to make people root for the other side.

Angry talk show hosts never did much good outside of the regional level up until the mid-90s (Bob Grant's acerbic style played in New York, but he had to change who he was when WOR tried to take him national). Angry conservative talk show hosts did gain a foothold during the Clinton era, but they also are seeing ratings drops (and yea there are angry liberal talk show hosts out three -- Mike Malloy is Michael Savage's liberal doppelganger -- but you haven't heard of them because they've never gained a foothold on a national scale as part of an overall progressive talk radio craze).

YEKIMI said...

As far as the SAG/AFTRA question goes: Dues payments may be made by cash, check, money order, Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover, in person or by mail.

So it looks like things have changed a bit. The rest of the info can be found on their website, not that I could afford to join!

Worse Horse said...

Your mention of LOST reminded me of a question for next go-'round: My understanding is that most network series regulars must sign a 5/6/7 year contract at the start of the series. If the storyline takes a turn where the showrunners decide to kill the character off (Boone, Shannon, Charlie, etc), or otherwise write them out is the production company on the hook for the full contract? And does the contract give any leverage for pulling the actor back to shoot flashbacks or ghostly re-appearances?


Joseph Scarbrough said...

Here's something that's come to my mind: it seems like most TV series today have, like, umpteen different producers, executive producers, supervising producers, line producers (whatever those are), among other kinds of producers... and I'm just wondering, do TV shows really need THAT many producers? Can they really not get by with just a producer, executive producer, and an associate producer? Plus, during the main titles of most shows, you've got several "Producers", followed by a "Produced By" credit... what's the difference between "Producer" and "Produced By"?

Mr. First Nighter said...

The reason liberal talk radio fails is because the liberal audience tends to have productive jobs and can't listen to the radio all day. Conservative radio succeeds because its audience is unemployed or minimally employed and has time to listen to idiots reinforce their beliefs

Jeff said...

Why should you have to be forced to join a union to do a certain job?

donald said...

When I thin reasoned I think Randy Rhodes, Mike Malloy, and Al Frankenstein

Autocorrect for Al. Awesome.

ChicagoJohn said...


I think that you're a brilliant comedy writer. But whenever you venture into politics, you couldn't sound more wrong.

Talk radio leans right because television was already owned by the left. You know this, I presume.

Rush Limbaugh's show took off because it was one of the only places in the media where someone was regularly lampooning the left.

If its suffering at all, its suffering as a result of its own success. Success bring imitators. Look at an early show of Limbaugh's television show, and compare it to the Daily Show. There's a 1:1 comparison.

Someone else suggested that Fox News is "also suffering."

"Fox News is poised to be the most-watched cable news channel for the eleventh year in a row, according to preliminary Nielsen numbers. It also took the top eleven programs of the year, with "The O'Reilly Factor" leading the way. "

Yeah. Right.

D. McEwan said...

"John Galt said...
"Most liberal talk show hosts I know are rational and measured."

Since you obviously believe that, you would be a perfect candidate to purchase a bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn."

My. an insult from a fictional character from the most-deranged, unreadable piece of garbage right-wing fiction ever written with feces on 1000 unhappy pages. Obviously, "John Galt" is the one selling that bridge. After all, honest people use their real names. Cowards hide behind the names of fictional characters. But then, a month and a half after America went to the ballot box and rejected the policies and philosophies of the delusional, egomaniacal, sick-o Ayn Rand quite overwhelmingly, I could see why a devoted Randriod wouldn't have the balls to sign his or her own name.

Re: Judge Judy. As her show is shot on video, wouldn't she have to join AFTRA rather than SAG? I've been on video taped shows like Superior Court and The Dating Game, and I was a member of AFTRA for 40 years. Never been a member of SAG. (Did The Dating Game and The Gong Show for AFTRA minimum plus winnings. Barris was willing to pay for professionally-amusing talent.) Or am I missing something? Probably. Been out of the union for a few years now.

Cap'n Bob said...

Thanks for taking my question, Ken.

I listened to talk radio a lot at one time, and still do on occasion, and found the one liberal host available (forget the name, but it was a female) just as idiotic as the Limbaughs of the world.

Irony: earlier today I won $574.50 on a slot machine. I'd no sooner walked 50 feet away when my older daughter calls and says her car is broken. We got it to a shop and had it fixed, and I had to lay out $240. Talk about short-lived joy. I suppose I could be thankful the repair bill was underwritten by the Puyallup Tribe, but I'd be happier if I could have kept it all.

Liggie said...

Cap'n Bob, think of it this way: You left the Muckleshoot (?) Casino with $300 more than you walked in with, despite your daughter's car issue. I think I'm trying just to get into the black with them in over a decade of visits.

I asked about talk radio because while fiddling around on the dial one late drive home, I heard one host/podcaster (Norman something, I think; he's a liberal) say how radio ownership consolidation means very few formats now. On AM, it's news/talk and sports; on FM, it's country, Top 40 and classic rock. He now ventures that Rush's latest antics is creating an advertising backlash hurting the news/talk format. Sounds very plausible, and unfortunate; I'm still mourning how KMTT Seattle switched from adult alternative to classic rock/hits.

Liggie said...

BTW, I remember that Tracey Ullman show on the new Fox Network; quite unusual material, and it birthed The Simpsons. Would love to see it on DVD, but I'm guessing music rights (she sang a lot there) are a stumbling block.

Cap'n Bob said...

Liggie--It was the Emerald Queen, but the adventure isn't over. Six hours later the same kid calls to say the car was impounded and the driver/boyfriend was arrested for a DUI. I'm sure that casino money won't have a chance to grow mouldy in my bank account.

donald said...

I read that piece of Garbage and ended up starting 2two companies that still exist and became better person all around.

But I don't look at the next guy and think that asshole needs to give their property to me, so I think I'll get the government to take it from him at the point of a gun.

donald said...

Oh, and in what ways was Ayn Rand rejected?

Her philosophy has not been put on a ballot.

Mitt Romney was no Ayn Rand believer. He was a middle of the road problem solver. A man with a proven record of competence as opposed to some Marxist a shithead who bought his way into two presidencies.

It took a billion fucking dollars to portray him as something he was not ands sauce vote fraud.

Here's what's wrong with you fuckers. There are two basic governing philosophies on this country. One thinks we should have a basic federal government that defers most power to the states. The other wants a strong federal that dictates to the states.

You, who favors federal control demonize those citizens that bothere to read the constitution and the The Federalist Papers. I don't demonize the opposite thought, but I have a duty as an educated citizen to oppose you with all force because our government is tyrannical, and has been for a while now.

My name is Donald.

donald said...

As for the spelling and stuff I blame Apple.

This is a great site and I've been reading it for a while.

I won't comment on politics again, but Lete just say that in my life, I've always noticed that those bleating about the other guy and taking his stuff are pussies who would never do it on their own. Cause their pussies.

donald said...

Jesus. They're.

Mike said...

You've missed the real reason why liberal talk show hosts are not as popular. Sure they are not as entertaining, but also they are not the primary outlet for liberals. Liberals already had Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings, as well as CNN, PBS, and NPR.

Mike said...

Measured and rational. I remember when Ed Schultz was on radio, I guess it was Air America. He pretended he didn't understand what his caller was saying when they said it was a great betrayal for John Kerry to endorse Ed's boy Barack Obama since Bill had campaigned for Kerry days after heart surgery.

And do you have any numbers to back up your claim of declining ratings for talk radio?

sanford said...

First of all the big 3 networks are hardly what you would call liberal. They are in it to make money. While some of the newscasters mentioned above may be considered liberal, they were not pundits per se. While Fox news is certainly conservative, Murdoch runs shows that I am sure conservatives deplore.

I never listened to air america. I do listen to Thom Hartman once in a while. You can hardly call him the left equivilant of Limbaugh or Hannity. There is no one on the left that you could all the opposite of such people like Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin who are really deranged.

YEKIMI said...

@ D. McEwan: As her show is shot on video, wouldn't she have to join AFTRA rather than SAG?

AFTRA is no longer a separate union; they merged and it's now SAG-AFTRA.

Douglas McEwan said...

"donald said...
Oh, and in what ways was Ayn Rand rejected?

Her philosophy has not been put on a ballot.

Mitt Romney was no Ayn Rand believer."

Perhaps not, but the Republican platform he ran on was pure Ayn Rand. Oh, and let's not forget Rommney's running mate, a major Randroid. His sick enthusiasm for Objectivism (So named because it is so objectionable?) certainly aided Obama's re-election. The election was indeed America rejecting the putrid, selfish, sick philosophies of that insane, evil woman.

And how can you call George Bush a "Marxist shithead"? I'll grant you "shithead." And you MUST mean Bush, who bought two elections he lost. You can't mean Obama, who is not a Marxist and not a "shithead." Anyone who actually believes Obama "bought" two elections is flat-out insane. Do we have to go over how massively the Republicans outspent the Democrats?

"I don't demonize the opposite thought"

Let' see, Donald (Last name? Mine is McEwan), you called the president a "Marxist Shithead," you called we liberals "fuckers," and you called our government "tyranical." Boy, if that's not "demonizing" the opposite thought, I'd hate to see what you say when you DO demonize someone.

"I've always noticed that those bleating about the other guy and taking his stuff are pussies who would never do it on their own. Cause their pussies."

Oh puh-leaze, Ayn Rand's whole life was spent bleating about the commies taking her stuff. Her philosophy of selfishness was all built on not letting anyone take what she felt was hers again. So I guess you're calling her and her followers "pussies."

I'm confused, was it Apple or Jesus who is responsible for your typos? As my dad often said: "'Tis a poor workman who blames his tools." (And Ms Rand was an atheist, the only thing she ever got right, so I don't think she'd like hearing you citing Jesus. (One of the lovely hypocrisies of the current right-wing is the way they're all super-religious yet also worship at the alter of atheist Ayn Rand. They pick and choose, taking her selfishness but leaving behind her atheism.)

You are a true Randriod, Donnie. What a bitter, pathetic creature you are. Go enjoy your unreadaable Randriid books and her sick, selfish philosophy. You are sitting on the ashheap of history where you belong.

Thanks, Yekimi. I've been out of the union for about 16 years now, and for the life of me could not remember if the unions had ever merged or not. They almost did so many, many times. So they waited to finally do it when it would no longer help me. [Sigh]

RCP said...

ChicagoJohn said...

"Fox News is poised to be the most-watched cable news channel for the eleventh year in a row, according to preliminary Nielsen numbers. It also took the top eleven programs of the year, with "The O'Reilly Factor" leading the way. "

Fox "News" is for all intents and purposes a propaganda machine for the Right. It peddles half-truths and misinformation and presents a carefully constructed version of reality for its viewers - who appear to tune in specifically to have their prejudices and fears confirmed. A number of recent studies have shown that Fox viewers are the "least informed" on the major news stories of the day (of course - they must be Leftist studies, paid for by Obama's 'posse'). In terms of ratings, I guess you could call that a success of sorts; in terms of journalism it's a disgrace.

In agreement with Ken, I can think of three "rational and measured" progressive voices on talk radio: Stephanie Miller (the daughter of William Miller, Goldwater's running mate in '64 and raised a Republican as mentioned in Ken's book "The ME Generation"), who manages to be funny, entertaining, and informative at the same time; Randi Rhodes, who challenges her listeners to fact-check everything she says for themselves; and Thom Hartman, who epitomizes fair and balanced.

Ed from SFV said...

I was watching my DVDs of the criminally under-appreciated Room 222 and lo and behold, I saw Larry Linville in a guest role as a weasel academic counselor for a football factory. (The ep was about the recruitment of a stud RB from Whitman High.)

Gene Reynolds was the producer. Micro q: did this role serve to get Larry the Frank Burns' role? Macro q: Have you remembered certain actors from guest roles and written for them in future pilots? I'm not referring to obvious spinoffs like Frasier.

DBenson said...

Little political note:

A favorite soundbite for me was Ryan explaining he found Rand's philosophy abhorrent -- he was merely a great admirer of "Atlas Shugged" and was influenced by it.

That's a little like saying you hate Hitler and the Nazis, but "Mein Kempf" is your favorite inspirational book.

Dave Scharf said...

I am a long time radio host. Radio does not do depth well. We do short bursts of emotion well. Conservatives tend to offer simple, emotional solutions ("lock the guilty bastards up" "guns don't kill people") which work well in the emotional mileau of radio.

Liberals tend to view the world as complicated ("yes, he's guilty but he comes from poor parenting and perhaps we should forgive" "what kind of guns should we outlaw") which don't work well in the short form of radio.

Nick from Hamburg said...

Your trouble with the sketch structure was recognized and battled by a certain British troupe in just finishing the bit: by jumping into an animation linking to the next sketch, announcing on stage the sketch was boring or silly, or just cutting to a host at a desk, announcing: "And now for something completely different...'.
Strange that post-Python most sketch shows returned to neat but mostly lame-ass punchlines.

Stephen Robinson said...


I often enjoy watching seasonal episodes of my favorite shows around the holidays: Thanksgiving morning, I watched TV's greatest food fight on CHEERS. Christmas week, I watched the Christmas episode of CHEERS. But... for New Year's... nothing.

Now, I realize New Year's is a tough holiday. There usually aren't any other episodes that year after the Christmas one, so a show can either do one or the other (both tends to be rare) and usually goes with Christmas. One notable exception is the New Year's "routine" episode of FRIENDS, which is one of my favorites.

But no New Year's episode for CHEERS? A show set in a bar? A show that has the ideal setting for a New Year's episode. (Even the Thanksgiving episode required moving the majority of the action from the bar).

So, my question: Was a New Year's episode ever considered? It could also be possible that I am forgetting one but I checked again and can find no evidence of it.