Friday, June 14, 2013

Can TV writers go back and forth between sitcoms and dramas?

Happy Flag Day.  Many years ago on this date I joined the Army Reserves.  Amazingly, the country still exists.   Fly Old Glory and leave your Friday Questions in the comments section. Thanks. Here are today’s:

Dan Ball asks:

How easily can a TV writer go back and forth between sitcoms and dramas?

It’s never easy because writers get pigeonholed. Even if you’re established you might have to write a spec if you want to pursue a different genre. Matt Weiner was a very successful comedy writer. When I worked with him on BECKER he wrote this spec drama he called MAD MEN. His agent didn’t know what to do with it.

Several established writers have bounced back and forth between comedy and drama. Off the top of my head – Jane Espenson, Phoef Sutton, Steven Nathan, Janet Leahy, Mike Saltzman, Alan Ball, Amy Sherman, and Karen Hall. I’m sure there are many others.

But if you’re a new writer trying to break in, I strongly suggest you pick one genre and commit to it. Agents and producers are wary of writers who dabble. Agents like to sell you as either a comedy or drama guy.  That's your brand.  Covering your bases doesn’t work in this case.

Sean Christie wonders:

In your illustrious career as a writer, have you ever come across and befriended a successful Canadian writer who got work (an agent and staffed on a show) and a work permit (visa)?

Just wondering, because that's been my situation this past year in L.A. on a student visa.

Earl Pomerantz, Lorne Michaels, Andrew Nicholls & Darrell Vickers, Rosie Shuster, Graham Yost, and about a hundred more. If those hosers can do it, so can you.

From Ernie:

What do you think of Quentin Tarantino's statement that directors over 60 years old are no longer any good?

There are too many examples of great movies made by directors over 60 to even take his statement seriously. And wait’ll he turns 60. Somehow I don’t see him retiring to Virginia and becoming a country squire.

Kathryn asks:

Have you ever submitted a piece to NPR? With your radio, baseball and show business experience, I would think you would be able to become a contributor. Also, they would plug your book as part of the introduction. More sales! ;-)

I’m likin' that last part. But no, I’ve never approached NPR. I’ve done a lot of things for commercial radio but not public. In Los Angeles there’s nothing about the industry I could provide that would be any better than Rob Long’s Martini Shots on KCRW. Rob is a top comedy writer (I worked with him on CHEERS and the highlight of his career – BIG WAVE DAVE’S) and he files a weekly commentary on show business that is razor sharp and hilariously true. Check him out. But only AFTER you buy my book.

bla wraps it up:

Watching Cheers for the first time ever (i'm a 35 year old French woman), I can't gather why Cheers did not ever air in France except on a channel nobody ever got. We have the Nanny, the Cosby Show, Something so Right, Friends.... but never had Seinfeld or Cheers. What was that about ? Do you know how are show sold in other countries?

And after we saved their sorry ass in the war!

American series have sales representatives who strike syndication deals with foreign countries’ networks. Why CHEERS and SEINFELD didn’t sell in France I don’t really know. Maybe they were too expensive. Maybe they did air initially and weren’t well-received. That’s always possible. One country’s MASH is another country’s AfterMASH.

If I’m not mistaken (and I could easily be), I think Paramount/Viacom operated a satellite channel in Europe. Since CHEERS was a Paramount property, perhaps the studio decided not to syndicate it in France but air it on their own satellite instead. But again, I’m only speculating.

Or France just getting back at us for Justin Bieber.

Fly your flag proudly today. Have a great weekend.


chas said...

Fortunately we don't get the blame for Justin Bieber. He's Canadian.

Jim said...

"Fortunately we don't get the blame for Justin Bieber. He's Canadian."

SAd, but true. Most of us up here don't want him either,

Luc said...

In fact, Seinfeld was on the french channel CANAL + for many years.

Maybe Cheers had too many US Only references for the "basic" french/foreign audience.
For a start, Ted Danson was a baseball player : What the F*** is baseball?! :)

Michael said...

Ken, didn't your partner (I mean David, not your wife!) do some work for NYPD Blue? Granted, I always thought Dennis Franz was the greatest television comedian of his time (the episode where he explains his teenage love life is a classic).

Bryan said...

Another post referencing AfterMASH. Someday I'd love to see a post about what you think went wrong there. You obviously had success spinning off Frasier and you had Gelbart and Metcalfe on board. Sure, it started out a bit shaky but the second season seemed to be picking up steam with the addition of Boyer.

Brian Phillips said...

Thanks for the mention of "Martini Shot". It's great.

As for shows that have had more success abroad, "Public Morals", Steven Bochco's second shot at a comedy ("Hooperman" came before and was not a bad show at all) was yanked off the air after a single airing.

I think that the entire season aired in the UK. Can someone verify this?

Brian Phillips said...

Also, "Snip", a sitcom starring David Brenner as a gay hairdresser never aired here, but five episodes aired in Australia.

I remember seeing this and "Gibbsville" listed in the Fall Preview TV Guide, but never remember seeing them or a even a promo mentioning them.

By the way, if you'd like to hear what I sound like, this week I am a guest quizzer on "Podquiz". Click on my name to hear it.

John said...

There's a 1959 episode of the western series "Wagon Train" that is available online, while was written by Harry Von Zell, fresh off his eight-year stint on the Burns & Allen Show.

And starring Lou Costello in a dramatic role.

You can't get less pigeonholed than that combination, though that was 54 years ago, when TV was still a bit of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of operation.

Jeffro said...

Luc said, "What the F*** is baseball?!"

Well Luc, baseball is still a lot F***ing better than soccer. Or month-long bicycle races, for that matter.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

It was Rob Long's complimentary shout-out to you on Martini Shot that brought me here, what was it, 7 or 8 years ago? I've been waiting ever since for today's proof that it was just part of a corrupt quid pro quo.

Edward Copeland said...

In response to a couple of today's questions: I'd point out that Joss Whedon wrote on Roseanne before Buffy and everything else came about and Peter Tolan wrote on Murphy Brown and The Larry Sanders Show before Rescue Me. As for Tarantino's statement, he should look at Alain Resnais who released the great Wild Grass in 2009, which he made in his late 80s, and has a new film this year (which I haven't seen, so I don't know if it's good) and just turned 91.

D. McEwan said...

Why anyone takes some ageist bullshit from that overpraised hack Tarantino remotely seriously baffles me. But then Tarantino's popularity baffles me. I find his flims to be unwatchable violence-porn, slathered with a thick layer of cinematic pretentions.

gottacook said...

Brian Phillips: I'm pretty sure Gibbsville aired several episodes - that is, I was aware of the series at the time, because I grew up not far from Pottsville, PA (the real Gibbsville) and enjoy most of the John O'Hara stories and novellas set there and in the surrounding area - but cannot recommend his novels, even though they were better known while he was alive.

My Twilight Zone Companion mentions that Rod Serling's final Emmy award was for a Bob Hope Presents Chrysler Theatre adaptation of the O'Hara story "It's Mental Work" - has anyone here ever seen it? It's not online as far as I can tell. Starring, apparently, Lee J. Cobb, Harry Guardino, and Gena Rowlands.

Paul Duca said...

Brian...NBC pulled SNIP and GIBBSVILLE from its 1975-76 fall lineup at the last minute. It's likely that the idea of a show with a gay character (which, incidentally, was not Brenner's hairdresser, but his assistant) was a little too hot button for the day. As for GIBBSVILLE, I don't know why, but it had a short run in mid-season 1977.

Mike said...

BBC documentary: "Family Guys - What Sitcoms Say About America Now", with Levine & Isaacs, etc.
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5
(Caution: It's not YouTube.)

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I have always kep my video copy if City as a sample of a perfectly presented pilot. Writer: Paul Haggis.

gottacook said...

Another great Paul Haggis pilot that I saw at the time and wish I'd taped (although it may be online somewhere): EZ Streets.

P. Duca: Thanks for the info on Gibbsville - I didn't remember that it was pulled and only later aired the few episodes that had been produced. Evidently the pilot was shown as a TV movie much earlier, in April 1975.

Harold X said...

Blogger Ger Apeldoorn said...

I have always kep my video copy if City as a sample of a perfectly presented pilot. Writer: Paul Haggis.

Same for "Due South." Also Haggis.

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks for the tip towards MARTINI SHOT. I will add it to my listening pile!

"And after we saved their sorry ass in the war!"

I know you were joking but, damn, I hope Americans realise how incredibly insulting and ignorant it is when they say this. Not looking for an apology or anything, I just want to raise awareness.

If I never hear an American character on a US TV show make such a declaration again, it'll still be too soon.

synonymicious said...

Here's a late Friday question: I just skimmed the list of Daytime Emmy winners and saw listed on "The Price is Right," "Adam Sandler, Executive Producer." Huh? Is this some demented aftershock from Happy Madison?

Zack Bennett said...

I hope I'm not too late to get this one answered...

In the first-season "Cheers" episode "The Coach's Daughter", an insecure Lisa Pantusso tells her father that she's been unable to find love because she is ugly (although she never used that word), and Coach responds that she looks exactly like her mother, whom he saw as the most beautiful woman in the world. It was a very sweet moment.

But how do you cast such a role? I wouldn't call Allyce Beasley ugly, but she does have distinctive facial features, and she has certainly gone on to a thirty-year Hollywood career that appears to be going full-steam, including her most memorable role: a long stint as a supporting cast member on "Moonlighting" back in the '80s. But that "Cheers" role was one of her first, according to IMDB. Do you go through headshots going "Well, yeah, I can see how this girl may be considered ugly"... or do you put out an open casting call saying (not literally, of course) "Are you a twenty-something woman who thinks you're ugly? We have a role on 'Cheers' for you!" It seems like a delicate situation. How do you handle that as a producer?

Austin E said...

I would love to hear your thoughts on the 10/90 model that Debmar-Mercury is trying to promote as "the new innovation" in the TV industry. So far, I see barely tolerable comedies by Tyler Perry & Charlie Sheen. I am intrigued since Kelsey Grammar is tied to an upcoming 10/90 sitcom.

How does it make sense financially (opposed to regularly broadcast sitcoms)? How does it make sense creatively? I just don't get it!

Anonymous said...

@gottacook : oh it's more than online. It was released on DVD in a collection named "Brilliant but cancelled". I got it from Amazon - and so can you.