Friday, February 08, 2013

Friday Questions

Warming you up with Friday Questions….

Michael Stoffel asks:

Would you prefer to completely wrap a season before it even starts airing ala the upcoming season of COMMUNITY.  Or have the flexibility to change course after public input, like THE GOOD WIFE did this season when they had to dump Kalinda's husband because the storyline was so detested.

I would prefer the flexibility of receiving viewer feedback, especially if I were doing a single-camera show. If you’re doing a multi-cam show you have studio audiences to tell you whether things are working or whether a certain character is really start to break out.

And yes, it’s tough when you have the whole season in the can, they start airing, and there’s a character or story arc (a la Kalinda’s husband on THE GOOD WIFE) that the audience clearly doesn’t like and you have ten more shows that go down that road. It’s a bitch to make mid-course corrections but it’s nice to have that option.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s a God send to produce your show in a vacuum. Everything is fine, everybody loves everybody – and then the show premieres – the reviews and ratings come in. And suddenly it’s a mutiny. You long for the days of blissful ignorance.

From Pete Grossman:

How are full length scripts presented today? Are they still submitted on paper? Printed on both sides of the paper to be environmentally friendly? Or, have paper scripts gone the way of the dodo - submitted electronically and being read on computer screens, tablets, etc,? Then if liked, printed out and delivered to clients, talent, etc? Thanks!

A lot of scripts are now submitted electronically. PDF files. When scripts are delivered to a network (either the pilot of episodes) there are numerous departments that receive them. In the past, a messenger would drop off a package of twelve or twenty scripts. I don’t know if that’s still the policy or if the scripts are just emailed.

Agencies do still have printed copies of scripts. There are still actors, producers, directors, etc. who prefer printed copies. If I have to give notes I prefer printed scripts, although there are programs that allow you to electronically make notes on files. But that’s way too technical for this nimrod. 

And of course, when a script is in production then everybody works off printed copies.

Justin Hyde chimes in:

Saw an old clip of Kirstie Alley hosting SNL with the rest of the "Cheers" crew popping up in the monologue, and it made me wonder: How much writing work do show writers do for their stars when they go on talk shows or other off-duty appearances?

Generally not very much. Although once on CHEERS the producers agreed to participate in a Disney special – Mickey Mouse’s birthday or bar mitzvah or something, and there was a scene where Mickey enters the bar and interacts with our characters. The Disney people wrote the scene and it was uh... lacking. Michael Eisner called Jimmy Burrows and asked if the CHEERS staff could rewrite it as a favor. We were happy to. It took maybe a half hour.   The following week we all received these giant goody bags of Disney merchandise – stuffed animals, VHS tapes, phones, jackets, watches, etc. At the time most of us had small children so these were the coolest gifts ever. If we had gotten paid we probably would have each made two or three times what those gift bags cost, but in many ways the bags were better.

I remember a story about Desi Arnaz. He was Lucy’s husband on I LOVE LUCY (and also in real life). He also produced the show. One Saturday morning he called one of the show's writing teams – Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf – and said he had just accepted a last minute invitation to speak at a roast. Could they come over and give him some material? They spent the afternoon crafting a monologue. Desi thanked them profusely.

The next morning the two writers woke up to find brand new Cadillacs sitting in their driveways. And you wonder why writers loved working for Desi Arnaz.

And finally, from Andrew:

Just caught your "The Show Where Lilith Comes Back" Frasier episode on Netflix. I thought the writing was even stronger than on the Emmy winning pilot, "The Good Son". Did you think while sitting at that Emmys that you had a shot at winning?

No. The best we had hoped for was maybe a tie. Pilots almost always win and that’s fair. There is so much more involved in writing a great pilot – the story, setting up the premise, introducing the characters, establishing the tone and style. Casey, Lee, and Angell deserved winning that Emmy. This was one case where I truly was thrilled just to be nominated.

What's your question?  Leave it in the comments section.  Thanks, gracias, and mahalo.  


Johnny Walker said...

With the first of the Dan Harmon-less (and Neil Goldman, Garrett Donovan, Chris McKenna, Dino Stamatopoulos, Anthony Russo, Joe Russo-less) "Community" airing last night, I thought I'd share something I recently discovered. We all know that the feud between Harmon and Chase was sparked when Chase refused to film a scene (and Ken's post on the debacle expertly covered the after-math), but here's what actually happened, in Harmon's words:

"[Chase] refused to do the 'tag' for the 'Digital Estate Planning' episode (the 8-bit video game episode). In the scripted tag, Abed comes to Pierce with the thumb drive he took, and says "Pierce, I've been able to adjust some of the code for your Dad's video game and I've made a version I think you might like better." He puts the thumb drive into a laptop in front of Pierce. We cut to the laptop screen, where we see Pierce's avatar on a front lawn with the giant floating head of [Pierce's Dad]. Every time Pierce presses the space bar, his avatar throws a baseball to his father's head, which gives him a thousand points and a, "Great job, son!". Pierce presses the space bar a few times, pauses, then leans over and embraces Abed and we fade to black. When Adam Countee pitched that tag, tears instantly rolled down my cheeks, and in point of fact, my eyes are getting watery describing it to you. It was the most important part of the episode and possibly one of the most important moments of the season. I was very upset to hear that it wasn't shot because someone didn't feel like shooting it, especially since it was literally the last day of shooting, which meant we'd never be able to pick it up. I regret nothing about how upset I got. My job was to care about my show."

What I find interesting about this is that, well, I always assumed Chase walked out on something he considered *offensive*. Indeed I can appreciate a certain level of actorly frustration at simply playing "the guy who says inappropriate things" (although I wouldn't have much sympathy for you), and his complaints in interviews sometimes gave the impression that he hated his character for this very reason. But this was a character-defining *emotional* moment -- and he STILL didn't want to do it!

No wonder Harmon toasted Chase with his infamous, "fuck you, Chevy", at the Season 3 wrap-party. Refusing to wrap your own character's story up just seems plain idiotic.

RyderDA said...

Friday Question:

Your last comment begs the question: Who was the best writer to have been nominated (maybe repeatedly) but never win an Emmy -- the best "also ran"?

PolyWogg said...

Johnny -- bear in mind though that events like this are almost never about the "incident". If Harmon and Chase got along, and there was no history, Chase probably wouldn't have even balked, or if he did, Harmon would have been able to cajole him. Separate from that, if Chase was so integral, and that piece was so integral to the plot, why wouldn't it have been shot earlier rather than the last moment of shooting? Sounds more like passive-aggressiveness on both sides.

Which isn't to say Chase isn't a d-bag of the first order, I suspect he is. But Harmon saying "it's just this little thing" sounds like simply revisionist history.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Re Desi Arnaz: In several places, Carol Burnett tells the story of a conversation she had with Lucy about their respective shows. Lucy reportedly told Carol that she was lucky to have Joe Hamilton running things; while Lucy was married to "The Cuban" he handled all the scripts and the writers, and she could just come in and be Lucy. After they got divorced, the first week the scripts came in and she had to be the one to go into the writers' room and tell them they needed fixing, CB quotes her as saying, "That's when my name got an S on the end."


Mitchell Hundred said...

And with that Disney/Cheers crossover, the Tommy Westphall Universe expands once again. Goddamn, but that kid was imaginative.

Johnny Walker said...

PolyWogg, I think you're putting words into everyone's mouth. Also, I don't buy that the last day of shooting can't contain an important moment (especially on a show like Community which was apparently always behind schedule).

Ron said...

Friday Question- Cold Open

Cheers used to have the best Cold Opens and I was wondering what the philosophy was behind them. Obviously they never had anything to do with the show. Is it like the opening act act concert ?

LouOCNY said...

The stories abound about how good both Lucy and Desi were to both the people who worked at Desilu, and the fans. Desilu had annual picnics for everyone who worked there, down to the guy who swept the stage. Lots of home movies of those picnics survive, showing both of them right in there with everybody at the sack races, pie eating contests, etc.

As recently as last, a nice story about Lucy surfaced. Grand Central Terminal is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year, and their official photographer told how Lucy was there, as she was filing that bag lady movie, STONE PILLOW, she made. In between setups, they kept offering her to come into one of the offices, so she could relax, but she insisted on staying out there, signing autographs, posing for pictures with the public that was there.

Michael said...

I have the pleasure of knowing Lucy's and Desi's son, and the best way to describe is that he has a gruff exterior but as nice and sweet a guy as you'd want to meet, so I'm not surprised to read about how his parents treated those who worked for and with them.
Then you read the stories about Bob Hope's treatment of his writers and you see quite a pattern there, too.

LouOCNY said...

Lucy had the same writers forever

Hope had the same writers forever

Benny " " " " "

Same with Burns and a few others - they knew where their bread was buttered.

Now Red Skelton.........

Also nice to see Desi Jr seems to be exactly like what his dad was...too bad stories seem to abound concerning Lucie acting quite the diva role...

Pete Grossman said...

Thanks for answering my question today, Ken. Greatly appreciate it.

BigTed said...

Chevy could at least have said, ""I have to go now. My planet needs me."

Michael said...

Well, Lou, Hope didn't have all of the same writers as long as Benny and Ball did, so far as I know. But I know that they--and Burns--greatly respected their writers. The stories about how Hope treated his writers suggests that he must have paid well enough to keep them, because they sure wouldn't have been likely to stay out of love.

Desi and his wife own a theater and are very active in their community. He doesn't seek attention or publicity, but just kind of goes his own way. But he's fun--a real agitator, and, I would say, like his parents, a perfectionist.

There's a great Benny story about his writers. He usually had four. One time, he called over all four of them and said they hadn't been giving Mel Blanc a credit for doing the Maxwell and he wanted that in the script. They scrawled something like, "Mel Blanc was the sound of the Maxwell." Benny thanked them. As they were walking away, one of the four said, "Jack, you know, two of us could have handled that." Benny, as usual, collapsed in laughter.

Stu Shostak said...

Here's the story about Desi and the writers, paraphrased from Bob Schiller himself (who told the story on my show a few years ago). In 1958, Desi had just sold Westinghouse on the concept of a weekly anthology show that would also incorporate about 5 Lucy-Desi hour shows per season (which became "The Lucy Desi Comedy Hours" in syndication). The rest of the season would be a mix of comedy and dramatic hour long shows featuring other actors a la "Playhouse 90". Desi would host the show, introducing each play at the beginning of the hour. But Westinghouse wanted Lucy in the show every week to insure an audience would tune in. Desi didn't want these prestigious programs to look like Lucy shows every week, so what to do? He went to his writers at the time, Schiller and Weiskopf (Madelyn Davis and Bob Carroll had taken a leave of absence). They came up with the solution - Lucy would appear with Desi in a 3-minute commercial which they would write for Westinghouse at the end of each program. Westinghouse loved the idea, and Desi was so grateful, he told S&W they could have anything they wanted - cash, cars, women (knowing Desi's reputation, the latter was also probably true). Schiller chose a sports car, Weiskopf took the cash. And as Schiller tells it, he should have taken the cash because that car cost him more in repairs than the cash he would have received - it was never out of the repair shop!

Paul Duca said... you think there can be too early a point in a show's run to do a multi-part episode? WINGS did it for its third/fourth airing. Or is it simply on a case by case basis--here, they felt it was important to have to the time to fill in the backstory on Carol, the woman who wronged both Hackett brothers.

Dana Gabbard said...

And the actual clip with Mickey and the Cheers gang has been posted on You Tube.

Houston Mitchell said...


First, I love your blog. Thanks for doing it.
Question: I enjoy watching show DVDs because you get to see all the scenes they take out for syndication. Are there any particular syndication cuts you have noticed on shows you wrote that just drove you crazy?

Carol said...

I have a Friday question.

How many degrees away from Kevin Bacon are you? (Full disclosure - I'm two - I used to sing with Calista Flockhart before she was famous-High School-and she did some movie with Kevin Bacon.)

Asking, because I wonder how many degrees from you I am removed. (Assuming blogs don't count.)

Pamela Jaye said...

I just read the article on Deadline about Christina Apple gate leaving Up All Night and all the changes in the show (I liked the original version and focus). I was reminded of the changes on Almost Perfect and wondered if you had an opinion (on any of the UAL stuff, not on AP).

Johnny Walker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Walker said...

Carol, I'm bored and have too much time on my hands:

Ken is ONE degree away from Kevin Bacon. Kevin played a caller in Frasier (episode 9 of season 2)... which was written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs.


Tim W. said...

Nothing to do with this post, but, Ken, I thought you might find it interesting that the outgoing head of the CIA admitted on Meet the Press that "interrogation tactics" were indeed used to get information about the location of Bin Laden. So all those people who were outraged at your comment can now get off their high horse.

scottmc said...

A comment/question regarding that FRASIER/Lilith episode. I also saw it again recently. The point where 'Lilith' commands 'Eddie' to leave was great. Frasier asks if Lilith's voice is more commanding than his and 'Martin' says something like "I took a step and a half away before I realized she was talking to the dog.' It was such a great line and so well delivered. I wondered if that line could have landed as well if it had been said by another character.
When writing a script do you sometimes have a joke, or a line, and put it into different characters mouth's to see where it might work best?

Liggie said...

Stu's comment brought up a new FQ. Do you think networks will consider new anthology shows? Either with rotating casts and stories like "The Twilight Zone", or with a couple of constant characters but guest casts and settings like "Quantum Leap" and "Touched By An Angel"? The recent "Love Bites" was doomed by casting and scheduling snafus, but the episodes I saw intrigued me to the potential of the format, and the SAG must like the number of casting opportunities each episode needs.

Kirk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirk said...

"I was in this crowded elevator and this little old lady turned around
and stared in my face. 'Bob Hope,' she said. 'Say something cute.'

'So of course I said, 'Avocado.' It's pretty hard to say something
cute unless you have your cute writers right beside you."

--Bob Hope

Andrew said...

Thanks for your answer on Emmy chances of Frasier's pilot episode vs. Lilith's return episode.

Along the same lines then, should Mary Tyler Moore's "Support Your Local Mother" really have beaten the All in the Family pilot ("Meet the Bunkers") in 1971? That didn't seem like an extraordinary MTM episode, from what I remember.

Oliver said...

I read on Twitter there was a Community convention this weekend, which included a panel from present and former Communtiy writers.

What's your experience of these fan conventions and interacting with fans?

Tim said...

I have a question:

I was watching Newsradio, and then for some reason, I wanted to watch some Frasier. And I noticed that aside from the little opening jingle and the ending theme, that Frasier had no musical soundtrack, unless it was related to an action on stage (Frasier playing the piano or listening to a recording). I also noticed too that the show had no exterior establishing shots. Newsradio, on the other hand, had both. The beginnings of some scenes would have that little piano motif, and then occasionally, they'd use a shot of the office to establish the time, or in the off chance they went outside of the office, to establish the location.

So was there a specific reason why Frasier didn't use any of those conventions or trappings?

dziplow said...

Hey Ken,

I read your posts everyday and find them invaluable beyond belief (Sorry, had to get the unecessary flattery out of the way). Anyways, I've been working on developing a TV show for over 2 years now and have been running into the same problem over and over again: THE FREAKING PILOT. Frankly, I hate writing them. They need to be endlessly expositional and, within the sitcom world (of which I'm trying to enter), trying to set up all of the characters and their quirks can really kill the comedic momentum. I was wondering if (1) There are any tips you can give about writing a sitcom pilot with an ensemble cast and no discernible main character (2) If it's possible to just go ahead and write the second episode of the series and go back later to write the pilot.

Thanks for any and all help,

-3- said...

I've got an odd FRIDAY QUESTION -

With everybody hunkered down to avoid the Trump Flu, is traffic going up on the archives? Or is it just old weirdos like me reading through?

Just curious.