Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday Questions

Friday Questions coming at ya. Duck!

Garrett starts:

Most shows are now going into the summer hiatus. On shows like Cheers and Frasier, did their main sets just sit on the sound stage all summer? Or were they struck so the studio could use them for other things?

Those two particular shows did not strike their sets. They stayed up all year. Coincidentally, they were both on the same stage – Stage 25 at Paramount.

On Stage 19 at Paramount, the WINGS set remained all year. But that’s where we filmed the ALMOST PERFECT pilot. In order to save money, we used Helen’s house as Nancy Travis’ house – just repainted it and substituted new furniture, and we wheeled out the plane and put the office set and restaurant set in the space normally reserved for the hanger. That’s how huge the hanger space was – you could fit two other sets inside of it.

orenmendez checks in:

Recently I've noticed some shows switching back and forth from the number of acts per episodes. Parks and Rec used to always be 3 acts, but in the past few weeks it moved to a 4 act structure, with the 4th being just one or two scenes, then the tag. 2 Broke girls is usually 3, but sometimes it only 2 acts.

How is this decision made, and how should I pick the structure if writing a spec?

It’s usually the network that decides the format based on how they feel they can maximize their commercial load while still keeping the audience from tuning out. Rarely is it, “I think you could tell your stories better if you followed this format.”

I just helped out on a pilot. It was a multi-cam, had a cold opening, three acts, and a tag.

Give me two acts and a tag or teaser any day. And while I'm at it, let's go back to vinyl.

As for your spec, follow any format the show uses on at least a semi-consistent basis. I always advise writers to try to obtain a copy of a script from the show you’re specing. Sometimes the cold opening is as long or longer than an act. It helps to know whether they call the first scene a cold opening, a teaser, or act one. Little stuff like that.

Did you know that in CHEERS scripts we never wrote INT. CHEERS – DAY? It was always INT. BAR – DAY. The more accurate you are, the better.

From Leemats:

Re: "Anger Management," can you talk a bit about how the 10/90 structure works? I heard they have to deliver 90 episodes over two years. At 45 episodes per year, wouldn't the quality suffer? (Granted, I saw the first two episodes and don't really consider this a quality show.)

With this volume, do they get to have a writing staff that's twice as big as most sitcoms?

I don’t know what their schedule is but I do know they’re cranking out episodes at a furious pace. And yes, the quality suffers. The writing staff is not way larger. The writers they have work incredibly hard and I imagine incredibly fast. I suspect there’s not nearly as much rewriting.

I wonder what the mindset is, I really do. On a network show, 24 episodes was a killer. But we broke our backs to make sure each episode worked. We threw out whole scripts after table readings sometimes and stayed up all-night fixing jokes. If an ANGER MANAGEMENT episode isn’t coming together do they make drastic changes or do they say, “Well, out of 100 there are going to be a few duds” and just let it go? I ask this not as a put-down but a serious question. I can’t imagine the pressure that writing staff must be under.

And finally, from Mark:

I was wondering when it comes to multiple-part episodes and double-length episodes, under what basis would an actor be paid?

Per episode. If a series is normally an hour like MAD MEN and they do a two-hour premiere he gets paid twice.

Where it gets a little dicey is when a show will do a “super size” episode, just adding five or ten minutes. I suspect the actors don’t get paid more but you never know. I’m sure their agents ask for more.
Several times my writing partner David and I turned in a script that the staff thought could be expanded into a two-parter by adding a scene or two. We then got paid for a second script. It was a beautiful thing.

One final note on two-parters, and I’ve said this before. Usually, when a half-hour show expands the story is right in the middle – too much for one half hour and not enough for a full hour. There’s usually padding. They should be a part-and-a-half not two-parters.

What’s your question? Please leave it in the comments section. Thanks much and have a great weekend.


Murray said...

It's nice to have "official confirmation" that most two-parters should be "part and a half". It took me a couple of decades of TV viewing before I stopped being excited when "To Be Continued" came up on a show not normally having cliffhangers. I can count on one hand the number of times the second episode conclusion lived up to the build-up. As you suggest, what happens is mostly padding and floundering and filling time.

Chris said...

Friday question: how do you handle writing out someone when it's not the actor's request and not a recurring, but a regular character?

Does that ever lead to resentments and/or fights between the actor and the producers?

That Neil Guy said...

Last night, Ken, I dreamed that I met you at a yard sale you were having. Your wife was doing all the actual work, you were simply sitting on a bar stool cracking jokes.

David Das said...

Not related to this post, but I know you read all your comments. Thought your readers might be interested in this new screenwriting program:

Dean said...

Stage 25 at Paramount. Lucille Ball occupied that for many years. All six seasons of "The Lucy Show" and the first three seasons of "Here's Lucy" were filmed there. Good comedy vibes on that stage.

leemats said...

Thanks for answering my question. Here's another one:

I recently learned that some cable shows have "partial contracts" for their actors. (I'm not sure what the actual term is.) For example, Jon Hamm is contracted for all 13 episodes of a Mad Men season, but some members of the cast may only appear in 10 or so.

Has this been going on for a while? I recall certain episodes of MASH where one member of the cast is absent. For example, episode 6.20 (Mail Call Three) doesn't have Loretta Swit in it.

Carol said...

I may have asked you this before, but looking at the photo of the Fraiser set, it made me think of it again.

Can you tell me about set dressers?

To me they are the unsung heroes of television. I love noticing all the little details they put into things to make it look real, even if it's something that's only seen for a split second. I remember watching an episode of Full House (Don't judge me) that had a scene in a classroom, and I noticed a board game called 'Playing Shakespeare' in the background. I own that game, so I thought that was super cool, and really would have liked to know who came up with that idea to use it in a classroom scene.

Are they given a budget and they just go shopping for stuff, and how much creativity are the allowed? Do they need to check with the writers or directors?

Does anyone take the stuff once the show is over?

Janice said...

A Friday question:

People are always quick to discuss their favorite series finales. I was wondering which series pilots you consider are the best of all-time?

Johnny Walker said...

A friend of mine works on Anger Management and when he told me they were shooting two episodes a week I couldn't believe it. I pressed him to learn more about how the writing was structured to handle producing such massive amounts of content, but he didn't know. I'll ask again the next time I talk to him to see if he's learned any more since then - I last asked him as they were just being renewed for the 90 - (I'm interested, too!).

I remember him telling me that it was a schedule usually reserved for "cheaper" shows (e.g. Tyler Perry sitcoms) and that this was the first "big" one to use it -- so I think it's partially an experiment.

If Anger Management makes a ton of money, I expect we'll see more like it.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@ JohnnyWalker If you think two episodes a week is unbelievable, try this: did you know that back in the early days, Sesame Street actually used to shoot two episodes a day? One in the morning and one in the afternoon, since the show's production was a lot more simple back then.

But that brings to mind something on the subject sets sitting in studios: is it a common practice for a completely different producer or company to rent or borrow an entire set and use it for his own production? I understand in 1978, some shmuck producer actually rented the entire set of Sesame Street, and produced this godawful Christmas special that was a complete blemish on the show's history (and to add insult to injury, they actually released that special on DVD this past holiday season) with Leslie Uggams hosting, and other random celebrities just thrown in there for really no reason. Can producers actually do that?

Paul Duca said...

Since Children's Television Workshop owns all the rights to SESAME STREET, they must have given permission to this other producer...otherwise, I think they would make him change any part of the set clearly identifiable as from SESAME, much less not use anything else from the show.

Greg Ehrbar said...

The special is indeed on DVD and it is indeed strange. But it wasn't like the Sesame Street staff left the building and the other producer taped something else while their back was turned.

The fact is that there were two Sesame Street Christmas specials that year, one wholly produced by CTW (the Emmy winning "Christmas Eve on Sesame Street" for PBS) and the one mentioned here.

The one you're talking about is called "A Special Sesame Street Christmas" hosted by Leslie Uggams with a strange guest roster including Imogene Coca, Dick Smothers and even a short cameo by Michael Jackson. But the special had the Muppets and the Sesame Street Cast, like Bob McGrath and Loretta Long.

My favorite kitsch moment is when all seems lost and who should walk by -- but of course Ethel Merman! She cheers everyone up by belting out...wait for it..."Tomorrow" from Annie.

The show has its moments, especially the great Larry Grossman song, "Just One Person," one of Jim Henson's favorite songs (it was sung at his memorial service).

Ted said...

Judging from the quality - or lack of - coming from the current 10/90 sitcoms, my guess is that they wont' make a ton of money.

And sorry to say, but "The Lucy Show" and "Here's Lucy" are NOT indicative of good comedy vibes. Those shows - with exceptions of a few funny episodes here and there - were pretty weak.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Greg Ehrbar, Yes, CHRISTMAS EVE ON SESAME STREET is a gem, a treasure, even the cast and crew feel it was the best of their best.

I need to read the book STREET GANG again, but IIRC, they were somehow forced to produce two Christmas specials that year, and I think that's pretty much why considerably less effort was put into A SPECIAL SESAME STREET CHRISTMAS, because they knew it would bomb anyway.

Breadbaker said...

I'd like to second the suggestion made yesterday that a perfect way to honor Boston's ordeal of the past week should involve a Cheers cast reunion. Make it so.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any set blueprints, Ken? You posted one for Frasier's apartment a long time ago and I found it fascinating!

Andrew Wickliffe said...

Hey Ken,

Here's a Friday question from after(?) you left MASH. I'm watching season 11 right now and it seems like production values changed a lot. Like they went to videotape or sets instead of location. The entire show looks different; starting a few episodes after Radar left.