Friday, May 17, 2013

A FRASIER creator helps me with Friday Questions

We have a guest expert answering the first of your Friday Questions – Peter Casey, one of the creators of FRASIER. The other questions unfortunately, you just get me.

Andy Ihnatko wants to know:

How did "Frasier" put together those brilliant silent scenes that played out under the end music? Were they fully written or did everyone just work out a funny piece of business during rehearsals?

I think I'd even watch a compilation of all eleven seasons' worth. Each one is a pretty little gem.

FROM PETER:  Those end credit scenes were not written out. Usually the writers would put their heads together and come up with an idea after the audience was released and the crew was shooting pickups. One of my favorites came when Mathilde Decagny, the dog trainer, told us Moose could jump really high. We ended up putting a muffin on the kitchen island then Mathilde commanded Moose to jump over and over again. All the audience saw was his head popping up again and again from behind the island looking at the muffin. That wore the little sucker out.

Thanks so much, Peter!

From David L:

Ken, I was watching an interview with writer Michael Patrick King and he said a writer should never tell a series actor what stories might be coming up. The actors get attached to the idea and then are unhappy if that storyline falls by the wayside. Was that your experience on MASH as well?

That’s fine if you can get away with it, but in the real world most stars want to know what’s ahead and not telling them will only cause you grief. Also, you’ll notice a lot of stars have producing credits. They’re part of the loop whether you like it or not.

I personally disagree with Mr. King. I don’t go over every story with the cast, but I want my star to know what’s ahead and I want him on board. What good do you do yourself when you go down a road your star hates and you have five episodes that follow that path? It’s a lot easier to re-think things when they’re at the conceptual and not script level.

Much better to have him sign off on your creative direction. Also, I like to include my stars in the process. They feel more invested in the series and they feel I’m taking their input seriously. So I voluntarily give them a heads-up.

Alan Alda, in particular, was a great creative partner. He was always a cheerleader, full of great ideas himself, and even if he didn’t like something he was always willing to hear and seriously consider your side. The world needs more Alan Aldas.

michael asks:

Which would you prefer? Premiere your new series in the fall or the midseason so you have more time to develop the series? Or does getting the extra time mean more network changes?

I’d prefer the fall. There is the valid argument that it’s easier to launch shows mid-season because there are less of them and you have a better chance of standing out, but there’s nothing like being part of the big fall hoopla. From the upfronts announcements to a summer of interviews and promos, it’s exciting.

Plus, if you premiere mid-season the network will only 13 episodes. If you debut in the fall and do well you stand to get 22.

If your show premieres in late April then you’re pretty much dead. Don’t kid yourself. You get 6 and out.

However, if your show is an event, like Fox bringing back 24, then anytime is a good time with the proper promotion. The tentative plan for 24 is next May, going into the summer.

But I should specify that I’m talking about the major broadcast networks. Cable is on a different time table. If you’re on USA it might be more advantageous to premier in the summer or March.

As for network meddling, they make their scheduling decisions based primarily on their need, so they might want you to re-tool but they want you on in the fall so you scramble like crazy.

And a lot of time mid-season shows go right into production so they’ll be ready in late October when the first casualties fall. So you don’t even have the benefit of time.

But if you do have that time luxury and you do need to re-tool at least you won’t be under that same insane casting pressure when a hundred projects are all casting at the same time. You can see more people. And you don’t have to hire someone immediately because you’re afraid another show will snap him up after lunch.

Rory W. has a question about my recent pilot rundown.

I was really struck by this line in your post today:

"scheduling requirements (e.g. we need another multi-camera sitcom to go with our Tim Allen existing multi-camera sitcom)"

Do schedulers really think that way? I don't know that I've ever noticed the format of a show or shows that I like or necessarily cared. Only because of this post did I realize that "New Girl" and "The Mindy Project" are single-camera and "The Big Bang Theory" is multi-camera. (Those are the only comedies I watch/DVR.)

I can't imagine that audiences really care about that.

But, maybe I'm wrong.

The networks feel it’s very important that shows in an hour time period be compatible with each other. Is there a different audience for a multi-cam show and a single-cam show? Maybe. Perhaps subconsciously.  I’m sure networks have volumes of research to suggest there is.

But the question is what is compatible? Format or content? MODERN FAMILY and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND is compatible to me, even though their formats and sensibilities are different. But they’re both smart, funny family shows.

Other people don’t like multi-cam rhythms and would prefer two quirky single-camera shows even if one was a family show and the other was a workplace comedy.

It’s tricky, but like I said, networks have reams of research to support this theory.

What’s your Friday Question? Please let it in the comments section. Molto bene.


Steve Steffens said...

I can't remember if you covered this before, but what was the rationale for surprising the cast with the extra scene at the end of McLean Stevenson's final show? IIRC, no one knew that they were killing off Henry Blake until Radar read the wire.

Carson said...

I've been watching Cheers again on Netflix. I've found that the Woody centered episodes are my least favorite. Nothing against Woody Harrelson, but the character just seems so two dimensional that's it's hard to have him carry an episode. Even the Woody centered episode of Frasier is not a favorite of mine. What are your thoughts?

Stephen said...

I am watching Banshee and each episode ends with a scene AFTER the end credits (like Marvel movies). Have other shows done this in the past? I can't off-hand recall any examples, but it is a cool incentive to keep the audience watching until the very end of the hour.

MrCarlson said...

Ken, I was listening to Marc Maron's podcast interview with Sam Simon, and was devastated to find out that he has terminal cancer. He spoke candidly about his life and career, and one of the things he said really stuck with me. Talking about the Simpsons, he pointed out that none of the writers that worked on the show were ever able to create a hit show of their own, saying that the skills necessary to work on a big machine like the simpsons were very different then the ones needed to run a show by yourself. What do you think those are? and why do you think there has been little success outside of the show? it's impressive, if you consider there probably have been hundreds of writers working on it over the 25 years.

Michael said...

Steve, as I've heard the story, they all got the scene after they had finished with the regular script and when Reynolds and Gelbart said they had something, Burghoff immediately said they were going to do something evil. Which, in a sense, they did. But supposedly they DID know when Radar came into the OR, but did NOT know as they were preparing the episode.

John said...

Going really, really really old school, I went back via YouTube recently watching some old Jack Benny TV shows, and realized his decade of filmed shows were probably the first to deal with the single-camera/three-camera format question, and how you stage each one differently

Benny's show was shot single-camera for the first five years they did filmed episodes, and then went to a three-camera format in the late 1950s (apparently the change was made after his wife Mary, who didn't like to perform in front of audiences, retired). It's interesting to watch because here you've got a performer who is already a proven success working with two different styles of production, and the changes are noticeable, even while both versions are funny.

The 1950s single camera shows are more low-key in general because they're not playing to a live audience, while at the same time they take advantage of not being on a stage to use the film medium for more visually-oriented sight gags. The late 50s-1960s three-camera shows play out more like Benny's live shows of the period, working the audience with basically set stage pieces. They're more energetic, but visually they're more limited by the sound stage format in what they can do (which didn't mean you couldn't do some visual gags, like Jack being taken apart like a robot in front of Johnny Carson's eyes, but you still had to limit movement within the scene while the gag was playing out, because it was being shot on a stage with an audience).

Jim said...

My first thought when I read the line about needing another multi-camera show was that the bosses wanted to use their studio facilities to the full. Aren't cameramen etc. usually expected to film two shows a week.

YEKIMI said...

So what if it's filmed single-camera or multi-camera? I assume that when the show is edited it could be made to look like it was filmed either way and their's no way the audience would know....or am I wrong? [I used to produce/direct local cable shows and sometimes used just one camera or multiple-cameras, usually statically placed, and I don't think anyone ever gave a hoot and a half about the way it was taped or knew the difference]

Jake said...

Hi, Ken. I saw that Lucky 7 has Steven Spielberg as one of its executive producers. When you're talking about someone on the level of Spielberg (though I guess that's a small club), what exactly is his level of involvement as an EP? Script notes? Casting advice? Or does he mostly just cash the checks?

Tom Reeder said...

The question about telling -- or not telling -- the actors what lies ahead for their characters brought to mind an experience I had on Cheers.

During Season Three, both Shelley Long and Rhea Perlman were pregnant. That created a bit of a dilemma for the producers, who as everyone now knows, decided to hide Shelley's pregnancy. A pregnant Diane would have created terrible snarls in the story arc of her relationship with Sam.

On the other hand, Carla (Rhea's character) already had five kids, so it was plausible that she might be pregnant again.

I was given the assignment to write the episode that dealt with Carla's pregnancy, and I guess Rhea had heard that through the grapevine. I ran into her on the lot, and she asked me, "Who's the father of my baby?"

To the best of my recollection, that's the only time in my life that I have ever been asked that question. (Yes, I told her.)

MrCarlson said...

Was the father that scientist? Ludlow? I can't believe I remember this!

Nelly Wilson said...

"I assume it's your husband, Rhea" would have been a better answer.

MJEH said...

I really don't have a question but more of a laudatory message.

I've always been fascinated/thrilled/humored by the dialogue on "Frasier". Specifically the cultural references made by Frasier and Niles. I always wondered which writer(s) on the staff were so culturally knowledgeable that they were able to conceive the scripts, making so many "classical" (art/literature/cooking/psychology) references, sometimes building a story around them.

I can't wait to get all the eps of this show in my collection. I swear I could watch them repeatedly and never tire of the writing. I think some of my favorite eps are the ones with Lilith.

michael said...

This fall ABC paired Tim Allen's Last Man Standing multi-camera comedy with Neighbors. Isn't Neighbors single camera?

Tammy said...

Hi Ken, I have a Friday question about bad jokes on (good) sitcoms. Now, I get that sometimes writers just can't come up with a good joke, being that they have to write so many of them week after week. But what I don't get is why, when this happens, it's considered better for them to write a bad joke - and these are sometimes real groaners, no way they expected anyone to find them funny - rather than a good, non-jokey line? In other words, why *must* there be a joke every few lines, even if it's bad? Thanks!

Michael Rae said...

Hi, Ken. I have a question. Recently, a news came that Mike & Molly creator Mark Roberts leaves his own show as showrunner with Al Higgins replacing him as the showrunner. This also happens on the past with Aaron Sorkin (West Wing), Larry David (Seinfeld), Dan Harmon (Community) and also recently Mike Kelley (Revenge). What is the possible reason that the showrunners or show creators rather leaves their own show? I mean I always thought that they are the boss of the show and they have full power on the show's creativity. They work on their own show and it means creativity is not a problem I think. Is it related to the casting or the creativity? Is it really appropriate for the creator to leave their own show that they build from scratch despite that they are the showrunner and give the job to another person?

Stephen said...

I know you directed Just Shoot Me but did you ever see its series finale? I watched it again recently and was struck by how much it resembled The Mary Tyler Moore Show finale (in a good way). Regular 30-minute episode, simple story about the staff moving on, and a sweet sendoff for the show. Worth watching if you haven't seen it.