Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Zweifel

Do people look forward to Friday because of my questions or the weekend? I’ll foolishly assume the former.

Anja leads us off:

Please can you share your insight in how far translations usually get guidance from the original writers, if any? In Germany, every single non-German series or movie gets broadcast dubbed or, on rare occasion, subtitled. Over the years many translations (The Simpsons an often cited example) have been mocked by fans for notoriously bad translations, missing or misreading lots of jokes. Are translations generally supervised, or would this even be negotiated when something is sold to tv-stations abroad?

(Notice how this ties in with my CHEERS theme in German post from last weekend???)

The U.S. writers are never consulted. We have no idea what’s happening to our dialogue. When David Isaacs and I rewrote JEWEL OF THE NILE we needed the screenplay cleared by the Moroccan government so someone translated our draft into French. My wife, who speaks a little French, said everything was just translated literally. So of course most lines made no sense. The government cleared it.

I found this on line recently. Scenes from an episode of our series ALMOST PERFECT dubbed into German. You tell me if it makes sense… or is funny.

Fred Beiderbecke asks:

Watching COMMUNITY on Netflix the shows seemed to be slightly different in lengths, usually about 21 minutes and seconds. How do you do the timing for the time allowed? Do they ever sell more commercials and tell you to cut time, or vice versa?

The network gives you a format down to the second for how long your show can be. Usually, when an episode is first assembled it’s too long. We have to edit it down to time, which is fine because there are always jokes that don’t work, moments you could lose, things that could use tightening up, etc.

Rarely will a major broadcast network let you go over. I seem to recall they did let us once on FRASIER. Cable networks are not as strict.  They can go long on occasion.  What those cable networks need to do though is alert folks so our DVR's don't cut off and we miss the last seven minutes of a show -- like what happened last week with THE AMERICANS on FX.   Hint hint. 

Broadcast networks have no problem however if you come in short by either thirty seconds or a minute. They won’t add a commercial. They’re usually at the maximum amount allowed anyway. But they will happily add promos.

The format you are given remains the same from week to week unless you change time slots. Then it could change, but only by thirty seconds or so. Again, this is more a broadcast network policy. Cable might be looser.

From chuckcd:

ZERO HOUR was cancelled after just three episodes by ABC. How many episodes did the network order? (Or what is the usual number). What happens to the unaired episodes?

I don’t know the specifics on that show but now that networks own the studios they can order as many or as few as they want.

Back when networks couldn’t own shows they had to negotiate with studios for their product. Network license fees rarely were enough to produce high quality shows so the studios would be on the hook for the overage. As such, studios pressed for at least 13 episodes to give themselves a chance at recouping their investment.

Networks eventually got tougher and offered six on occasion. Depending on the deal the studios accepted. And then networks were allowed to own product and all bets were off. Now networks can order five or four. And once they place an order they can cut it back. When UP ALL NIGHT was yanked for re-tooling and the decision was made to convert to a multi-camera camera format, the initial order was for four. That got reduced to one. And now that’s even gone.

For hit shows they can add additional episodes… usually at the very last minute when the staff is working on fumes.

And now of course there’s the 10/90 model that you see on selected series like ANGER MANAGEMENT. FX had to order ten at the outset and if they wanted to renew, it had to be for ninety (which they did, by the way).

What happens to unaired shows? Most of the time the network just eats them.  Or stream them.   A few decades ago networks would air their unsold pilots in the summer, just to try to recoup some of the costs. They weren’t good but they were original material and back in those re-run days, original programming in the summer was a rarity. This was pre-reality. Networks couldn’t fill their schedules with marginal celebrity-diving shows.

What’s your question?  Dank.


Pat Quinn said...

"A few decades ago networks would air their unsold pilots in the summer, just to try to recoup some of the costs. They weren’t good but they were original material and back in those re-run days, original programming in the summer was a rarity. This was pre-reality. Networks couldn’t fill their schedules with marginal celebrity-diving shows. "

Don't forget "Battle of the Network Stars"!

Don K. said...

Battle of the Network Stars. Ah, memories. Back in 1977, I was 19 and was just hired at the restaurant in the Holiday Inn in Mission Viejo. Battle of the Network stars was at least partially taped at the local Saddleback College. My second day there, I'm bussing tables where McLean Stevenson, Flip Wilson and Valerie Perrine were sitting. They were all very nice and unpretentious. Stevenson was especially nice the next morning at breakfast I remember. I can't specifically recall what he did to make still think that all these years later, but he just seemed so down to earth.

Not so much Erin Moran. I don't remember if she was there for the Network Stars thing, but I do recall that since I was one of the few workers over 18 at the time and male, I got to escort her out of the Holiday Inn bar. She was underage and insisting she be served. She had obviously already been somewhere else. She kept yelling "Do you know who I am?" over and over, and we kept saying yes, we do, which is exactly why you're not coming in here.

I also got to see Elke Sommer while I was there. Keep in mind this was 1977 or so. No idea why she was at a Mission Viejo Holiday Inn, but boy was she good looking.

Garrett said...

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?

David R, said...

Having done a little translation for the French market, I can tell you that translators are just left to their own devices. Some are great, some less so. But there's usually at least one massive mistake per episode, usually down to the fact that the translator has misunderstood the original line.

leemats said...

Speaking of "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?

Oren Mendez said...

Friday question:

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?


chuckcd said...

Tony Shaloub sounded fine to me....of course, I'm Italian.

Anonymous said...

The spanish (latinamerican) version of the Simpsons is even funnier than the english version... believe it or not.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I do genuinely look forward to the Friday questions, because you always share some great insight into the ins and outs of the television industry, and knowing just how twisted, crooked, and downright difficult the television industry is these days really keeps me rethinking about wanting to get into the industry myself.

I really should have been born before 1989, I'd probably have much better luck being a producer in the 60s.

Toledo said...

Regarding how many episodes of a new series a network may order, NBC ordered only four episodes of Seinfeld after the pilot, "The Seinfeld Chronicles" aired in 1989. Of course, it was ordered for a summer run.

Paul Duca said...

Doesn't Seth Macfarland have that very same picture on his office wall you have at the top of your post?

Thomas from Bavaria said...

I guess if writers knew how their work is butchered for the (German) translation, most would definitely feel insulted.

Jim said...

Someone I knew years back used to translate subtitles for the Greek market. The expectation back then was that it would take a day's work to translate a one hour show. He was a couple of years out of college and didn't seem to be noticeably richer or poorer than the rest of us in that situation, so make your own assumptions from that about how much he got and how much the studios were prepared to shell out. I never heard him talk about being given other people's translations to proof-read, so I guess what he sent back got published as is.

But the German market is actually an exception to this total cheap-skated-ness. There is more regular work and a regular workforce who are aware of the extra demands that dubbing involves. Getting some sort of lip-synching in the translation, and rehearsing and performing the actual dubbing. The end product is substantially better than the bad porn sort of dubbing that you will come across far too often in films dubbed into English, which are often a one off attempt by recent and badly paid drama graduates who try to never go near that side of the business again if they can. There are some well respected foreign actors who regularly dub Hollywood films, and they take equal pride in that work as in other acting jobs they do.

Mike said...

The episode-length question inspires this follow-up: I was looking at Family Ties episode lengths a week or so ago (long story), and noticed that episodes from season six were about 30 seconds *longer* than episodes from season two. Now, I've heard of episodes getting shorter over the course of a long-running series, simply due to running times gradually getting shorter on network TV, but I've never seen episodes get *longer* (except on odd occasions like super-sized episodes). But then I recalled Family Ties was a genuine hit show in its sixth season, whereas in its second it was......not. I know when a series is a hit it sometimes gets more episodes ordered (indeed, you just mentioned it), but is it allowed to produce *longer* episodes too?

RCP said...

Imagine programs being translated into one of the click languages of Africa.

Craig said...

"marginal celebrity-diving shows"

Is there any other kind?

unkystan said...

Just heard that Jonathan Winters passed. So sad. Such a comic genius. Always wondered how you would write a script for such a great improvisor. Must have made the writers of "Mork and Mindy" and "Davis Rules" nuts...but it was gold on the screen. Have you ever worked with him? He seemed like a true gentleman. The heavens are now laughing. Rest in peace!

dbenson said...

I miss those failed pilot showcases. A few remembered:
-- "The Flim Flam Man", with Forrest Tucker credibly taking over for George C. Scott.
-- A 70s attempt to make "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" into a series. It was literally the first few scenes of the stage version with the songs knocked out and some jokes weakly updated. I think they even had a few of the original cast.
-- "Young Guy Christian", a bizarre sitcom about a globetrotting disco hero, his semi-bionic sidekick, an old scientist and the scientist's sexy daughter. It played a little like "Get Smart," except it was never clear what, if anything, they were parodying.
-- "The B.B. Beagle Show," a hilariously brazen and possibly actionable clone of "The Muppet Show."
-- Something about two waiters on the run after being tricked into delivering a bomb to a gangster's testimonial dinner. No dresses, but felt very, very much like somebody had studied "Some Like It Hot."
-- A pretty funny "Mission Impossible" parody with Bill Daily. The scheme involved a chimp climbing through vents into a bank vault, only to encounter a uniformed guard chimp.

C.T.S said...

You clearly have a good relationship with your kids, but was it difficult to maintain and build those relationships when you were working as a "show runner?" It seems the hours needed at work would hinder a good family life. How many hours a day does a show creator work during the season? Is it significantly different for an hour drama, a half-hour single camera show or a sitcom? It seems a dream for many writers, but how does it affect your family life?

Dr. Beck said...



Elke Sommer, ja ja ja!

Anonymous said...

I watched the clip(I speak German about 80 to 90% in my daily life) and I thought it was about average for German dubbing. I got the gist of the story but with any translation you have to assume that all puns, colloquialisms and double entendres will vanish. And although the German's may put more money into their dubbing than some other countries(I have no information one way or the other) it is still done quite quickly(I spoke once with a film translator and they are often presented with the portion of the script that will be dubbed the following day, on the day, or evening, before the session) and without any supervision whatsoever from the original writers or directors(in film).

It blows.


Alan Tomlinson

Brian Phillips said...

Language-track fun:

For those of you that have the Mary Tyler Moore Show on DVD, watch the last scene of "The Snow Must Go On" in the available languages. When Chuckles announces the winner of the mayoral race, it's even funnier dubbed.

I prefer subtitles, because I want to hear the original actor's inflection, but I am blessed with sight, so I have that option.

Matthew Reed said...

The talk about translations reminded me of a question I've been pondering. I've recently been enjoying the British TV comedy-drama DOC MARTIN. Because of the success of the original British show, there have been almost scene-for-scene adaptations in Spain, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Germany, and probably other countries. My question is: how valuable would a show "blueprint" like that be for the writers? It seems to me that there would be a lot more involved in a scene-for-scene remake than just translating the language and changing cultural references. Although I haven't seen it, I've read that DOCTOR MATEO (the Spanish version) starts out nearly identical but deviates quite a bit in later seasons.

George said...

Continuing the foreign theme, you need to see a movie called "Exporting Raymond" about Phil Rosenthal's experiences during the making of the Russian version of "Everybody Loves Raymond". The movie has a sitcom feel and really shows the difficulty in translating comedy to another culture.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Hard to judge the German dialogue without knowing the original (I saw many episodes of ALMOST PERFECT, but not that one). I do hope, though, that the show's title - which translates back into English as TWO SINGLES IN A DOUBLE BED - isn't indicative.

What I hate in the UK is ads made for the European market in some other language and dubbed back into English. They make no attempt (AFAICT) to match the lip movements or inflections, so the result is always bizarre. Sadly, not bizarre enough to be entertaining. Just low-rent and crappy.


Pat Reeder said...

The photo of Charlie Sheen from "Anger Management" and several TV interviews he's done this week inspired a Friday question. Sheen claims he didn't leave "Two and a Half Men" because they were sick of his antics but because he was sick of having to spin their rancid clams into gold. Well, now he's on "A.M." and happy, so one would assume he thinks the writing there must be far superior.

Granted, "Two and a Half Men" didn't set the bar very high, and I've only seen a few clips from "A.M.," but it doesn't seem like "Frasier II" to me. In your expert opinion, is his new show actually better written than the one he left? And if so, are the scripts so much better that a rational person would flush away $100 million just for the chance to utter that golden verbiage?

Jim said...

Matthew Reed

How much extra work is done for localisation? That's one of those "How long's a piece of string?" questions. Wallace and Gromit films were dubbed for other language markets, but they also shot the odd alternative insert of a newspaper close-up.

One up from that would be the childrens' art series "Art Attack" where a jolly chap in red dungarees and teeshirt draws and paints for kids to follow. Every month a group of other jolly chaps and chapesses from the various markets the programme is sold into fly into the UK, put on the dungarees, and films the links for their particular national version. Anything where the face is not visible. If you just see the hands then you're watching jolly chap number one.

One step beyond that is e.g. the Danish "Olsen Gang" films, a long running series of films back in the seventies that got full remakes in both Norway and Sweden. Most of the script was reused, although adapted where necessary, where jokes didn't work in the other language, and in later episodes where the foreign cast members didn't want to stay around for the fifth, sixth or seventh episode. Here's a fascinating clip on You Tube showing the Danish and Norwegian versions side by side. The Olsen gang were a sort of cheap criminal version of Mission Impossible. In each film they would devise a ridiculously complicated way to carry out a robbery, starting with a list of seemingly unconnected and irrelevant items. In this particular case they are trying to get through the rooms under the stage of the Opera House by synchronising their attacks on the walls and doors with the music being played on the stage above (Kuhlau's Elverhøj Overture, if you really want to know), so the versions match up exactly on the timings (plus the whole bit is virtually dialogue free).

And then you get in to the world of full remakes, script rewrites etc, and the stories there match up to just about any you'll here from US writers working on US series. If you want to have a look for yourself, Jean Dujardin became a household name in France on the series "Un Gars, Une Fille", (A boy, a girl), which started out as a Canadian series but was later remade all over the world. Wiki can tell you the local names the programme was given, and there are clips from most versions on You Tube if you want to see how the style changed.

Rich D said...

Looks like George beat me to the recommendation of EXPORTING RAYMOND. Great documentary!

As for unaired episodes, they sometimes show up in DVD/blu-ray sets. Off the top of my head I can name fan favorite FIREFLY, WONDERFALLS and the Al Franken comedy LATELINE sets all containing unaired episodes. Also, MAX HEADROOM had one episode ("Baby Grobags") that didn't air in its original run on ABC but did show up when it was syndicated to cable outlets years later. It too showed up in the DVD release.

I haven't read anything about plans for the unaired episodes of ZERO HOUR but there is precedence to have some hope that they'll be available at some point. I would think that if the studio thought they could even recoup even a fraction of their costs they would try and do so.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I understand that because of certain legal and political issues, the German dub of HOGAN'S HEROES had to undergo a LOT of changes, so that it would be acceptable for German audiences (for instance, whenever a character says, "Heil Hitler!" in the original English version, they say, "How high is your corn?" in the German dub, since that's apparently funny).

In fact, there were so many changes made that the German dub is almost completely different than the original English version... matter of fact, apparently in the German version, Klink somehow ended up with a housekeeper who is often refered to, but never seen, who likes to clean his private quarters naked.

cadavra said...

God, I miss those summer showcases. The unsold pilots, more often than not, were far better than the stuff that did get picked up. The first time I met Bruce Davison, I told him how much I'd enjoyed one he appeared in called "Dakota's Way." It took him nearly a minute to get his jaw off the floor.

My two cents on ANGER MANAGEMENT: it's a very entertaining show in that throwback-to-the-70s, multi-cam style that TV Land is now doing. But unlike 2 1/2 MEN, it's much more of an ensemble show, so Sheen isn't required to carry as much weight, plus his character functions as a kind of Jack Benny/Mary Tyler Moore sane-person to all the kooks around him. That kind of low-key wise-cracking is right in his wheelhouse and he does a swell job.

Ed from SFV said...

Given your background, did you ever, for the fun of it, write a spec script for WKRP? Are such specs ever written by established writers for shows on which they are not attached?

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Of course, because most shows are presold abroad, all unaired episodes get shown there as part of the package. I saw all episodes of Almost Perfect (and Phoef Sutton's settler comedy Thanks, for instance) before they were used in reruns in the US. And in the original language as well, because we don't dub our series like the Germans. Na-na-na-na-na-na. And do you remember Cop Rock? There, a lonegr version (one son extra) was made for the BBC and that's the one we got, too!

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

My Friday Question is;

I have seen a recent trend of books being turned into pilots/tv series, is this a new phenomenon or something I have just never really noticed before? What do you think would be some of the challenges and benefits of writing for a show based off a book?
Ryan S.

Mark said...

From Wikipedia:

Redubbed versions
Die Zwei, the German version of The Persuaders, became a cult hit in Germany. This was largely because the dubbing was substantively altered creating a completely different program.[11] In France Amicalement vôtre (Yours, Friendly) also became a popular show because it was based on the redubbed German version instead of the English original.
The German dubbing was "a unique mixture of street slang and ironic tongue-in-cheek remarks" and that it "even mentioned Lord Sinclair becoming 007 on one or two occasions".[18] Dialogue frequently broke the fourth wall with lines like "Junge, lass doch die Sprüche, die setzen ja die nächste Folge ab!" (Quit the big talk, lad, or they'll cancel the series) or "Du musst jetzt etwas schneller werden, sonst bist Du nicht synchron" (Talk faster, you aren't in sync any more).
Research from the University of Hamburg notes the only common elements between Die Zwei and The Persuaders! is they use the same imagery. Other than the "the linguistic changes entailed by the process of translation result in radically different characterizations of the protagonists of the series. The language use in the translations is characterized by a greater degree of sexual explicitness and verbal violence as well as an unveiled pro-American attitude, which is not found in the source texts".[19]
In 2006 a news story by CBS News on the German dubbing industry mentioned The Persuaders! The report discovered that many German dubbing artists believed that "staying exactly true to the original is not always the highest aim". Rainer Brandt, co-ordinator of the German dubbing of The Persuaders and Tony Curtis' dubbing voice, said "This spirit was invoked by the person who oversaw the adaption and also performed Tony Curtis' role: When a company says they want something to be commercially successful, to make people laugh, I give it a woof. I make them laugh like they would in a Bavarian beer garden." [20]
Other researchers suggest international versions of The Persuaders! were given different translations simply because the original English series would not have made sense to local audiences. For instance the nuanced differences between the accents and manners of Tony Curtis, the American self-made millionaire Danny Wild from the Brooklyn slums, and Roger Moore, the most polished British Lord Sinclair, would be hard to convey to foreign viewers. Argentinian academic Sergio Viaggio commented "how could it have been preserved in Spanish? By turning Curtis into a low class Caracan and Moore into an aristocratic Madrileño? Here not even the approach that works with My Fair Lady would be of any avail; different sociolects of the same vernacular will not do—much less in subtitling, where all differences in accent are irreparably lost".[21]

Anonymous said...

The question is why do so many half-baked sitcoms make it to the German market today. Decades ago, a few classics made it over - Odd Couple (without laugh track) for example. Today German TV has a range, including on Comedy Central as well on the other channels, from Community to the shortest, forgettable, and rightfully cancelled series. As the price of hiring translators and a cast and dubbing a whole series has to be factored in, I get the feeling German distributors have to purchase package-deals.