Friday, August 09, 2013

Could I write for Elvis?

First off, thanks so much to everyone who commented and checked in yesterday.  It's a pleasure doing this blog for you.  And now I know your average shoe size is 8.   Here is one of your favorite features:  Friday Questions. 

Wayne starts us off:

Ken, if you had wanted to, could you have written an Elvis movie?

I’d like to think that I could meet the lofty standards of HARUM SCAREM so yes.

I’ve told this story before but it’s worth repeating:

Edward Anhalt was one of the great screenwriters of all-time. A multi-Oscar winner he amassed a tremendous body of impressive work.

In the early '60s he learned that producer Hal B. Wallis was planning to make a movie of the play BECKET. That subject matter was Anhalt’s absolute passion. He considered himself an expert on the era. No one knew the period as well. He went to Wallis with an impassioned plea that he and he alone was right for this assignment. Wallis made him a deal. Anhalt could write BECKET but he had another project that also needed a writer. If Anhalt would do that first he could have his coveted assignment. Anhalt happily agreed.

So in the same year Mr. Edward Anhalt wrote BECKET and GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS starring Elvis Presley and Stella Stevens.

If he could write BECKET I could write HARUM SCAREM.

From Joseph M.:

When sending out a spec script, is it sometimes a good idea to include a brief outline or one-page synopsis for the benefit of the reader, or does it just give them one more thing to read?

I don’t think it’s necessary. They generally won’t read it. The most important thing to do is hook the reader in the first page or two of your script – great joke, cool action, intriguing confrontation.

Michael wonders:

How much job security is there for a staff writer on a successful show? Are they pretty much guaranteed to keep working on the show as long as they want unless they screw up or are the producers constantly looking to replace some writers each year to keep things fresh?

If a writer is valuable and contributes and does not drive everyone else on staff completely batty then yes, there’s an excellent chance he can stay with a hit show for years.  Good writers are hard to find.

When longtime writers leave successful series it’s usually their choice – bigger deal elsewhere, the chance for your own show, tired of writing the same thing, etc.

As shows continue they tend to add more writers to the staff. It's like a snowball going down a hill.  So existing writers don’t necessarily have to leave for there to be an opening.

When CHEERS started the full-time staff was the Charles Brothers and me and my partner, David.  That's it.  By the eleventh season you needed to get to the room early to find a seat.

Charles Jurries is next:

What is one phrase/line/clam/sentence you cannot stand? For me it is "This is madness!" Most people do not say that, and in the heat of the moment would most likely say something that flows off the tongue a little more freely.

For me it’s “Did I say that out loud?”  Sooo overused.  And a close second is, “Hey, I’m in the room.”

I bet you kids have one or two that bother you as well.

And finally, Leemats has more staff related questions:

I'm well aware that it takes a week to make a standard sitcom episode - from table read to filming. Which means that if you're a member of the cast, you work 22 weeks a year on a network sitcom. My question is: how many weeks a year does the average network sitcom writer work? Not a writer/producer, but someone who's just a staff writer. And what do they do with the rest of the time? Do they find other ways to supplement their income, whether as a writer or in some other field? Or do they just enjoy much more vacation time than the average person?

If you’re on staff you generally work a couple of months of pre-production and then all through production counting the hiatus weeks.  So 40 weeks, give or take ten. Once the show wraps production you’re pretty much done. The showrunners stick around for post production on the episodes still not finished – another three weeks or so.

What do writers do during their offtime? I’m sorry but I can’t keep track of all of them.

Some go on vacation, others write movies, or pilots. I announced baseball.  One of the producers of MODERN FAMILY moves to Cleveland is and takes tickets at a movie theater boxoffice. That’s a true story.

What's your question?  I invite you to leave it in the comments section.  Thanks again. And if you haven't responded to yesterday's plea you're still welcome to. 


Carol said...

Oh! Oh! Oh! Dialogue Pet Peeves! Fun!

I find myself getting annoyed when a writer gets the 'I/Me' thing wrong. When a character says 'Ken and I' when it actually should be 'Ken and me'. 'Ken and I are going to the movies' - that's correct. 'He gave the Emmy to Ken and I' is incorrect. It amazes me how many times a writer gets that wrong - GOOD writers.

Not exactly a language pet peeve, but I still get annoyed when a 'geek'situation is always played like 'girls are never there'. There are plenty of geek girls in the world, and are well represented at places like sci-fi conventons and comic-con. And there are many geek boys who don't live in their parents' basement and have no social skills. That's a stereotype that needs to die.

Michael I. said...

I didn't get a chance to check-in yesterday, but I'll tell you I normally wear a size 9. When I'm excited I wear a size 12.

Matthew E said...

I bet you kids have one or two that bother you as well.

The show Family Ties started to tick me off when I noticed that almost every episode there'd be a scene where two people needed to thrash things out and the other characters would all go, "We'll leave you two alone" and retreat to the living room. They should have changed the name of the show to We'll Leave You Two Alone.

Richard Rothrock said...

Maybe not a TV peeve but I dislike how everyone is "impacted" by things these days. What happened to just being "affected" by events? Ditto how everything is "historical" these days but nothing is "historic". Or how people "process" their feelings like they are a computer.

I know there are more but I'll leave it at that. I have to continue my letter writing campaign to get the question mark on the endangered species list.

Your....[grrrrr]......You're welcome.

Hollywoodaholic said...

If the phrase "What the hell?!" were a drinking game, you would be in a coma by the third episode of "Under the Dome." I counted 11 times in the first two episodes, and it turns up at least three times per episode since. One character, fine, but EVERY character uses the same phrase. Lazy. Unimaginative. Annoying.

unkystan said...

Before reading today's posting the first thing that hit my eye was the name Michael Ansara on the Elvis poster. Now here was a real TV survivor from the 50's (Broken Arrow) the 60's (Jeannie) and all the way into the Star Trek franchises! RIP

Darth Weasel said...

"You have no idea what I'm capable of"

Brian Phillips said...

"I bet you kids have one or two that bother you as well."

What Carl Reiner would do when he was editing "Dick Van Dyke Show" scripts, is that he would see lines that he didn't like and write "RR", which meant, "Rotten 'riting".

My chief RR moment would have to be plot point iteration delineated by a character saying, "Let me get this straight". This dethroned the previous winner, "Cut to the chase!"

I am also down on shows that steal current catchphrases from other movies/shows. "Isn't that special?" and "Excu-u-se meeee!" and "Somebody stop me!" don't mean a blessed thing to people 15-plus years removed from "Saturday Night Live", Steve Martin and "The Mask". It dates a show, and badly.

One exception to this was a "Modern Family" nod. It was to a show that was on years before and it was funny even if you didn't know the show or the song. An elaborate party is being staged. Two guys come to the door in animal suits, their actual heads exposed and introduce themselves:

Guy 1: Hey.
Guy 2: Hey.
Guy 1: We're the monkeys.

Past un-favorites:

"Oh, that is/was your point"
"Thanks for the mental picture"

Jon88 said...

"That went well."

JRColvin said...

>> I find myself getting annoyed when a writer gets the 'I/Me' thing wrong.

Not to point out the obvious, but it's not necessarily the writer getting it wrong, but the characters being written... who might be typical humans who get that wrong all the time.

Carol said...

@ JR Calvin - no, I'm talking about times when it's obvious the speaker is supposed to be saying it the right way, but didn't. Caught it on an episode of Castle once, and they are usually good at that sort of thing - Castle's a WRITER. He would know. If a character speaks incorrectly all the time, that's one thing, but if the character is supposed to know what he's doing, it's jarring. To me. But I'm weird, I guess. :)

Covarr said...

I bet you kids have one or two that bother you as well.

You know it. A few that really bother me:

"I thought you just said (whatever he just said)", or any other variation of the person not liking what he's just heard and thus assuming he heard wrong. I've never heard this form used in real life.

*laughs* "wait, you were serious?" This is another that I've never heard in real life, but it pops up all the time on TV.

Last but not least is when people hang up the phone without saying goodbye. Drama and thrillers tend to do this constantly. I remember 7th Heaven did it for years, and one of the writers must've noticed because eventually they had one character point it out to another.

Max said...

@ Carol:
>>> I find myself getting annoyed when a writer gets the 'I/Me' thing wrong. When a character says 'Ken and I' when it actually should be 'Ken and me'. 'Ken and I are going to the movies' - that's correct. 'He gave the Emmy to Ken and I' is incorrect. It amazes me how many times a writer gets that wrong - GOOD writers.

As an English teacher, this is a pet peeve. But as a writer of dialogue, do I want to put words into my characters' mouths that reflect "correct" grammar and usage, or have my characters use words that reflect ACTUAL grammar and usage? I may not LIKE it that most people (including I) cannot remember when to use "I" and when to use "me"... or whom/who, etc etc. But the fact is, that's how people talk, and if I want my dialogue to sound authentic, I need to consider, first, what the CHARACTER would say. Right?

MomQueenBee said...

My language pet peeves right now? In the phrase category, "It is what it is," and in the single word competition, "staycation."

J. Allison said...

Ken sez, "For me it’s “Did I say that out loud?” Sooo overused."

True, but I remember Cliff using a variation on this on Cheers -- I think it was, "Was that out loud?" -- that was hilarious.

Carol said...

@ Max - that is very true, but it still makes me wince every time I hear it. In real life, too. I think because it strikes me as someone who learned half the rule.

But you are right. Grammar pedantics like myself should try not to let casual usage get on our nerves when it comes to popular culture.

I still maintain if the character is the type who would know the rule and gets it wrong, then it's annoying. Diane would never have gotten it wrong! :)

Green Luthor said...

I think my biggest dialogue pet peeve would have to be "This isn't television/the movies, this is REAL LIFE!". Has there ever been an instance of that line being used that didn't sound forced and fake?

Wayne said...

"I bet you kids have one or two that bother you as well."

At the risk of showing my age, "23 skidoo."

Ron Rettig said...

Ken, off topic but related to TWC/CBS kerfuffle.
I bet you can use your Google ChromeCast dongle to get CBS web video. This is because the ChromeCast does not use your ISP to connect with CBS sites; it collects the URL from your computer then connects from Google then sends it to you thru your ISP.
I think its worth a try. Let me know if it works for you as I do not have TWC and cannot test my hypothesis

stonedog said...

"Let's do this."
"We've got company."
"Hold on!" (This one is especially egregious considering it's always spoken when the target is already 'holding on')
"That...'s not good."

The use of any of these cliched phrases in a movie trailer is a warning sign that you ignore at your peril.

Anonymous said...

"I could tell you but I'd have to kill you."

"gee, tell us what you really think!" (after someone gives a strong opinion)

neither was funny the first time, much less the 47th.

Madonna eligible said...

You got it part right...8 is my size..just not my shoes.

Suzyq said...

The one that always annoys me is "this THING". As in: "Let's do this THING.", OR "If I do this THING..."

Eric said...

What I can't stand is the phrase "have feelings for," as in "Do you have feelings for her?" or "I think she has feelings for me." Does anyone say that in real life? But it's used in nearly every show, because they don't want to say "I'm in love with her" too soon, or define the relationship to exactly.

Johnny Walker said...

I seem to recall friend of the blog, Dan O'Shannon, telling a story about him pitching something in the CHEERS writers' room. It fell flat, and out of sheer awkwardness he added, "Did I just say that out loud?". Everyone in the room cracked up and decided that had to go into the show.

And then everyone on every show said it.

It would be interesting if some TV detective could see if that moment really was its first appearance. It's pretty fascinating if it was.

Chris said...

It's hard for a writer to actually write this in dialogue, but actors transpose it: "It's a whole nother thing." No, the correct phrase is: "It's another whole thing."

Cap'n Bob said...

"I'm like." I hate that locution above all others.

"Myself" when it should be "me."

The long, drawn out "Oh----my---god"

"That's gotta hurt." Funny once, but badly overexposed.

"Cool." This has been hackneyed since the days of Maynard G. Krebs.

And a note about Ken's baseball posts. These are not stories about the game of baseball, they are about people involved with baseball. People stories are always interesting--at least the way Ken tells them.

Brian Phillips said...

It's not dialogue, but I dislike it when a woman gets money she's owed, she smiles and puts in her bra

I have only seen a woman retrieve money from that area ONCE in my life.

Kirk from Kansas City said...

Any phrasing or inflection that got a laugh when Chandler Bing said it has already been done and should be retired.

-bee said...

One of my pet peeves is not a line I can't stand - but a situation -- where something happens like a character drops their keys into a strange spot, and another character of the same sex tries to help them out, and a third party comes into the room and "catches" them in what looks like some kind of gay sex act.

This is pretty much what kept me off of watching "Friends" for years.

Terrence Moss said...

@matthew - I recently watched a bunch of "Family Ties" episodes over the course of a week and noticed that same thing. It usually indicated a cathartic or dramatic scene with a happy resolution. Ahhh, 80s TV.

@ken - my pet peeve line is "I don't know who you are anymore." or any variation of that. I understand what is meant by it, but I never liked but it just reeked of being overly dramatic.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Size 13 and feeling good about myself.

My current pet peeve doesn't focus on dialogue, or even movies/tv. I'm annoyed by the little photos of article writers at internet news sites. Those little portrait picture/head shot thingies. Blech.

First, I want to read good writing. I don't care what the author looks like. Second, many of them are just plain unattractive or have some goofy-assed expression going for them or they forgot all last month to shave. Third, I guess the Internet gets a group rate at Sears.

As far as a tv peeve, I'll go with those little animated ads at the bottom of the screen for some other show that the network would rather that you think about instead of the one that the network is currently actually showing you. I might as well show up to my girlfriend's place wearing a t-shirt featuring a photo of her next boyfriend. "If you like me, honey, you'll really like this guy. He'll be here in September." (Making me what? Her summer replacement boyfriend? Hmph. Well now I'm a little pissed.)

Dave Arnott said...

This one seems to have died off a bit, but in the 90's you could not escape the multiple variations of "You just don't get it, do you?"

Southfield_Bob said...

So, you could say Edward Anhalt could cross writing for Elvis off his Becket List. (And I dislike puns)

Didn’t check in yesterday, but I’ve loved the blog from the beginning and posts about (in descending interest to me):

Writing and the business
Growing up in SoCal

Script dialog pet peeve: That’s crazy, but it just might work!
Stop watching immediately. It WILL work. The End.

Sports announcer pet peeves: Unanswered points.
Say the Jets scored 7, then the Lions 14. Announcers have said the Jets had 7 unanswered points, until the Lions answered with 7 and then scored 7 unanswered of their own… (this is madness! )

Using the word “within” to mean “exactly” instead of “less than”.
The Tigers were ahead 6 to 1 when Cleveland got a grand slam, making it 6-5 and pulled to within 1. No, Cleveland is 1 behind, but not less than 1. They are within 2, 3, 4, infinity, but they are exactly 1 run back, not WITHIN 1.

Radio personality pet peeve: We’ll pick this up right after the break. It’s a coin flip whether the topic will be picked up after the break or not and you’ve endured three minutes hearing about the great pickup truck lease deals available and the latest advances in lasik surgery.

Size 12 shoe (like O.J.), and since I’m Ken’s age, but without credits, too old for comedy writing, but looking for a writing partner to try it.

Damon Rutherford said...

I've got to say that I am really annoyed by "I've got!".

First, I despise "got" since it's a lazy verb that can replace a multitude of better verbs.

Then, "have" and "got" are the same, so both are not needed. It's either "I have" or "I got", not "I've got".

I also despise "thing(s)" as a noun, as it is also a lazy word that replaces better, more descriptive nouns.

But as for television shows and annoying phrases, many that annoy me have already been stated, but I especially hate the back-and-forth banter of "No, I didn't!", "Yes, you did!", "No, I didn't!", "Uh-uh!", Nuh-uh!", etc., etc.

Jake Mabe said...

You know, Elvis movies get a bad rap (mostly for a good reason), but I've always felt like he could have become a pretty decent actor given better material. I really liked him in "King Creole" and even some of the silly '60s films are fun if you take them for what they are.

One of the great "what ifs" of Elvis' career is the remake of "A Star is Born." I'd like to think that had Col. Parker gotten out of the way and Elvis had done that picture with Babs, that might have been the challenge he needed to stop his downward spiral that ended with his untimely death.

Having said all this, I think that "Harum Scarum" would have been a hell of a better picture had you written it, Ken.

Roger Owen Green said...

In dramas, they use death in the promos to boost ratings: "Which member of the team will make the ULTIMATE SACRIFICE?!"

pumpkinhead said...

"Don't you get it?!"

Hands down, my pettest peeve.

Powerhouse Salter said...

I'm not sure whether it's actually said it in one of his movies, but the line that I most identify with a generic Elvis script is when he tells a gorgeous and willing teen beauty to "Come back when you grow up, Baby."

Gary said...

Two that drive me crazy:

1) Boy asks girl out, or some variation. Girl responds, "I'd like that." (I've never heard this phrase used in real life.)

2) "I'll send for my things." (Really? Exactly how do you send for your things?)

Anonymous said...

"How's that working out for you?"

Character gets huge/devastating news by telephone and rushes off leaving the person they were talking to speechless when maybe two words would convey the news. An over-used device to create a "stunned" character who must now figure out what just happened.

Talking heads on Tv and in print who want to cover both sides of an issue and separate the two arguments with "having said that".

deanareeno said...

The one that bothers me is '555' for N.American phone numbers, as in '123-555-1234'. Written or spoken on screen takes me right out of the story.

I know it's to prevent unwitting folks getting unwanted calls to their real numbers, but if you know the 'phone number code system', you could write fake phone numbers that sound real to the majority of viewers:

North American Numbering Plan

AndrewJ said...

"I can't believe I'm hearing this!"

VP81955 said...

Brian Phillips said...

It's not dialogue, but I dislike it when a woman gets money she's owed, she smiles and puts in her bra.

I have only seen a woman retrieve money from that area ONCE in my life.

And obviously, you remember it well. (Reminds me of a scene in "That '70s Show" where Laura Prepon's character elicits information from a pre-teen boy by exposing her bra strap -- not her bra, just the strap.)

Actually, the money-in-bra concept might be an outgrowth of pantyhose (or no hose at all) replacing stockings, because back in the day, women supposedly stashed cash in their stocking tops, secured by a garter.

There was a fan magazine story about the March 1933 bank holiday called by newly-inaugurated President Franklin D. Roosevelt and how Hollywood handled the situation in those days before credit cards and ATMs. (Keep in mind that at the nadir of the Depression, many businesses would not accept checks from anybody, even celebrities.) The magazine ran a pic of the sexy Joan Blondell taking some bills out of her garter, and the caption read "Joan Blondell had some cash in the old feminine national bank." Learn more at

(It should also be noted the FDR bank holiday came only days before the infamous Long Beach earthquake, just what Hollywood needed on top of salary cuts and bank holidays.)

EVERYONE said...

Tom Cruise Running

AndrewJ said...

And I also don't like this conceit, generally in three-camera sitcoms before a live studio audience -- the main character delivering a soliliquy alone center stage, while most (if not all) of the supporting cast is huddled together, listening earnestly, on one side of the stage...

Kendall said...

I've heard this on at least three different shows in the past month - some variation of "It's like finding a needle in a... bigger pile of needles." It was clever the first time. Not so much anymore.

Anonymous said...

Chris said...

It's hard for a writer to actually write this in dialogue, but actors transpose it: "It's a whole nother thing." No, the correct phrase is: "It's another whole thing."
= = = = =
Jan Freeman, longtime language columnist at the Boston Globe, likes "whole nother" and wrote:

But if a new era is dawning — one in which Americans proudly embrace our linguistic inventiveness — I have some other nominees for a reputation rescue. “A whole nother” is a wonderfully useful expression, and surely good enough for journalism. There are good reasons for “it’s a ways away,” and for “way back” too (either in time or in a station wagon). Americans are apparently replacing the verb career with careen; I say, right on.

To complicate Chris's complaint, some people think "whole nother" is correctly "whole other" rather than his preferred "another whole."

Among people who observe American English, "whole nother" is well established as an American idiom. You can dislike it all you want, but I don't think actors are misreading the line; I think the written dialogue is probably using the idiom.

Barbara Phillips Long

DwWashburn said...

The phrase that makes me grimace the most is "at its best" as in, for example "We present comedy at its best". Don't know why, it just drives me up a wall. And me without a license.

bettyd said...

I hate the expression "That's what I'm talking about" It is a reality TV staple. I guess those aren't scripted. No one looks good saying it, although Jesse from Burn Notice pulls it off and he says it a lot.

Reality TV folks who say "This is the hardest thing I've ever done" also should be a bit more self aware to realize they are very lucky people if climbing a rope in the sun is their biggest challenge in life!

Reality TV has its own set of irritations.

cadavra said...

Many years ago, I found myself sitting through three consecutive trailers: THE MUMMY, EDTV and a third I've forgotten. All three ended with the same button: "Oh, this just keeps getting better and better."

Storm said...

...the hell? I put my money in my bra all the time, always have (well, since I had cans enough to need one, anyway). So do my drag queen friends. So did my mother, always with the announcement "Ain't no one gettin' in THERE without MY say-so!" Because that's just the kinda broads we are.

I agree completely with Lionheart: If I hear ONE more person say "How's THAT working out for you?", I will frickin' PLOTZ.

Cheers, thanks a lot,


June Bug said...

Hi Ken,

I just read this article on Defamer about Greg Daniels' production company:

Their claim is that his quality of work is "slipping" because his last five pilots haven't been picked up. The impetus for the report was that Daniels didn't choose to renew his contract with Universal this year.

As an experienced writer, what are your thoughts? The guys has worked on SNL, The Simpsons, King of the Hill, The Office, and Parks and Rec, and now he's second-rate? Seems strange.



Hoverbored said...

I just realized I should've used the generic "he" in my question instead of "them."