Friday, October 04, 2013

Friday Questions

It’s 10-4 good buddy (a Citizens Band radio reference that six people will get). Here are this week’s Friday Questions:

Edward Copeland asks:

While I'm sure it's wonderful to win, with some of the asinine rule changes the TV Academy makes year after year and some really bizarre choices over what you think are far worthier candidates, does a small part of you ever think, "Gee -- these awards are so screwed up most of the time, while I'm happy I won, I almost wonder if it's worth it to be associated with that organization."

No.  It’s not the Academy that chooses these winners, it’s the membership. Blame them for Jeff Daniels beating Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Damien Lewis, and Bryan Cranston.

The TV Academy also provides a lot of other services to the community besides hosting award shows. They have many worthwile programs to promote the legacy of television and keep its membership informed on such issues as health care and the latest trends. Check out their website.

As for the Emmy categories, the Academy is between a rock and a hard place. Television per se is expanding in all kinds of directions. New content is being providing on platforms that didn’t exist five years ago. How they not include them?

It’s not like the Motion Picture Academy. Things haven’t changed in a hundred years. Movies that get shown in theaters that satisfy certain qualifying guidelines are eligible. Period. Where they’re shown afterwards is of no concern. TV is a lot trickier. All in all, I think the TV Academy does a great job with a difficult task.

From Tony Tower:

I definitely have my own financial and creative quibbles with this new practice of tv shows like BREAKING BAD and MAD MEN splitting their last seasons. But I'm surprised that agents and unions aren't making more of a fuss. If, say, John Slattery's deal gets him a raise for a sixth season of MAD MEN (with an expected or established bump for a seventh), and then AMC/Lionsgate decides to shoot and air two sets of seven episodes a year apart from each other, but call them "the sixth season". . . well, *I* think it's somewhat dirty pool, fiscally. Do you anticipate this becoming an issue for the industry if the trend continues?

This has been an issue for some time now.

For many years the standard model has been a show films so many episodes a season, and they’re shown that season. A hit network sitcom starts filming in August and concludes in March. They make 22 episodes that are aired between September and May. Actors and producers have bumps in pay and promotions built into their deals for being picked-up for the next season. It’s a yearly cycle with well-defined parameters.

The Disney Channel found a way around that. Because their sitcoms all feature children actors they film as many episodes as they can while the kids are still in their current stages. And even though the episodes get doled out over several seasons, Disney claims they were all filmed during one “season.” And thus they avoid bumps in pay and promotions.

What’s the solution? I don’t know. How do you put a number on the number of shows produced over one period? What’s a “season?” For a Disney show it might be 26. For MAD MEN it might be 13. And sometimes you make more shows in one season to accommodate a star who goes off to do a movie or gets pregnant. Where do hour episodes and super-sized episodes fit in? My head is exploding.

Still, it seems to me studios are taking advantage. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Splenda is next:

I have been watching Everybody Loves Raymond reruns and noticed that there was never a B-story on the show. Every episode focused solely on one story. Does that make it easier for the writing staff or more difficult than writing a script with a B or even a C story?

Depends on the show and number of characters in your ensemble. If you have eight cast members and you want to give them all something to do, it’s hard to construct stories that will do that. Invariably two or three get slighted. But if you have a B-story you can service them as well.

Imagine trying to plot one story only and involve everyone on MODERN FAMILY? And then do that 24 times a year.  My head is exploding again.

On MASH we always had a least two stories going and sometimes three. They did the same on FRIENDS. The problem we encountered (and I suspect our friends at FRIENDS did too) is that when you had three stories it was like the chair with one leg always shorter than the other three. Two of the stories would be better than the third. So you’d beef up the third story and now it was better than one of the other two. So you found yourself in an endless cycle.

On CHEERS we had the flexibility of doing a single story if it happened to involved everybody (like a Bar Wars episode) or B-stories if the primary story just featured one or two characters (like a Sam & Diane story).

You also have the flexibility that one story doesn’t have to carry the entire episode. You may plot out a story and discover there are only two or three steps. You won’t have to pad it to take up the entire show.

On the other hand, I always loved that EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND only did one story a week. They were easy to track, often took unexpected turns and evolved into a different issue. They took the time to let the story develop.  Today so many shows rush through their stories and jam in so many scenes that they lose the full impact of what they're trying to say.  Viewers don't have to be dazzled every second.  Let your story breathe a little.

As for serving the actors, the RAYMOND cast knew that there would be weeks they’d be light in the show and others they’d be heavy.

I don’t know if it was harder or easier to plot just one story an episode but RAYMOND was textbook on how to do it right.

What’s your Friday Question? Please leave it in the comments section.


Curt Alliaume said...

Friends had a big advantage in they had a bunch of long-running backstories they could use for material (Ross and Rachel's on-and-off romance, and later Chandler and Monica's affair and marriage). This could have its disadvantages - Lisa Kudrow rarely got the A story or a continuing story over several episodes. Even when Paul Rudd became her boyfriend and husband, he wasn't signed to be in every episode, so that limited moving her to the forefront.

Jim S said...


A Friday question. All this talk of servicing actors and A and B stories got me thinking. Were there any actors that were happy being in the background and as long as they got something to do every week they didn't have to have A stories built around them.

Charles H. Bryan said...

A Friday Question or two or three with a THE CRAZY ONES focus: In the first two episodes, outtakes have been included at the end. Obviously, Williams is doing a lot of improvisation of dialogue, so (1) How does that effect writing and credit? and (2) How the hell are they meeting production deadlines? and (3) Is the crew happy or unhappy to get overtime pay?

And, by the way, thanks again for writing this blog. When's the next book coming out so we can shoot some money your way?

Mike Barer said...

"10-4" was also a popular reference on the 60s syndicated cop show "Highway Patrol"

Sal said...

Friday question: How much specific direction were extras given on Cheers? Were they told when exactly to laugh, drink, throw an invisible dart, ignore the main characters, look at laugh at the main characters? Thanks!

XantaKlaus said...

A followup to the questions with the season. In a discussion on the Firewall and Iceberg podcasts, it was stated that contrary to Breaking Bad's final season, the Mad Men seasons will be shot in one year, so Matthew Weiner will only have more time in the editing room and not for writing the scripts.

I do not know if this would change the contractual status of the actors, if only the airing is split in two halfs (USA Network seems to do that all the time now).

Jonathan said...

I heard Raymond's executive producer Phil Rosenthal once say that he didn't want to do B-stories because if your story doesn't warrant twenty-one minutes, it probably isn't worth telling.

cshel said...

That previous poster's question about were the background extras being directed on Cheers, etc. reminded me of the Modern Family episode that just aired.

Phil and Gloria walk into a coffee place where they are filming a commercial, and they need more extras, so they seat them in the background of the scene, and they keep screwing it up. When they talk too loud, the director tells them to just mime talking. But then they start miming everything, like eating invisible food with invisible silverware, and talking using their hand as the phone. : )

The thing that always seems unrealistic to me about background extras is that, much of the time, they never seem to react when the main characters are creating a scene. For example, the main characters are in a restaurant yelling at each other, and one catches on fire, and the other throws a vase of water on them, yet the extras just go on eating like nothing is happening around them, or they just glance over.

Eric J said...

10-codes were developed in the 30's for law enforcement so they could communicate more efficiently and with some discretion on busy police channels. CB picked up the use of 10-codes when it was introduced in 1958 so a lot more cop show fans became familiar with them.

Other services use other codes. Q-codes are used internationally for the same purpose by amateur radio operators (hams), aviation and marine services. Many of the Q-codes go back before radio! (British postal codes).

The international military uses Q-codes and their own Z-codes.

So different services use different codes for the same thing: 10-4, which means "Acknowledged or confirmed", is equivalent to QSL. It is up to the service which they use. You wouldn't use 10-4 in place of QSL on an aviation channel. Movies and television often get these all screwed up.

Ken should probably have written "That's a 10-4, good buddy", meaning he is confirming or agreeing with something someone else said to him. But Ken is probably an honorary member of the 6 who know what he's talking about.

Obviously, I'm one of the 6. I've worked in every service I mentioned and used the various codes on a daily basis.

Mr. First Nighter said...

Have you seen Trophy Wife yet? It's moderately amusing but what is really interesting is that the characters have an adopted Asian boy and the producers and writers are trying their damnedest to turn him into another Lily (Modern Family). The boy seems sweet enough but they've got him mugging every line. Lily is so funny because she often doesn't seem to understand her lines.

LouOCNY said...

Actually the 10 codes got started because in the beginning, there WERE no police bands - the police just broadcast on AM frequencies, and the public could pick up on them easy. There was no interaction between headquarters and the cars. It took WWII for the many different spectrums to get developed, and afterwards, local police agencies got their piece of the frequency pie. Many cities still used call boxes for certain uses like foot patrol well into the 60's you will that on some of the early ADAM-12s.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I was never an extra on Cheers, but I was one in several TV shows and movies. The number one thing that was drilled into us, was never talk to the star! One of the few exceptions was Rocky IV, where the extras actually made the movie IMHO.

Hamid said...

I have a question which is for Ken but also for anyone else here who works in the industry. Here in the UK, over the years we've had a whole range of US sitcoms. Something I've observed is that there seems to be two tiers of sitcom programming in the States. The top tier is the adult sitcoms that are funny, witty and clever - Cheers, Frasier, Soap, MASH, Taxi, etc. The second tier is what I'd call the family friendly sitcoms, which are generally lowbrow, simple and devoid of wit. For example, in the 90s, during school holidays, shows like Step By Step and Out of This World were aired (Out of This World starred Doug McClure, on whom the Troy McClure character was partly based). These shows seemed to inhabit a strange space in the TV landscape, in that they were ostensibly sitcoms but so bland, witless, safe and wholesome, I couldn't see who they would appeal to apart from 6 year olds.

What I'd like to know is if the writers and producers in the industry also make this distinction. Are there those who only work on the adult shows and those who only do the family friendly stuff? And has there ever been one of the latter that was actually funny?

Dale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chalmers said...

There's a great SNL skit with Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as the world's hammiest restaurant scene extras.

Doug McClure's character on "Out of this World" was named "Troy" and Burt Reynolds was the voice of Evie's alien father.

Charmers said...

Sorry I was mistaken Troy was the name of Burt's unseen character.

Now please forget that I know so much about this show.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I am also one of the six who used CB Radio in the 1970s/1980s - incredibly useful when you were driving long distances across the US and needed directions or guidance as to where the patches of ice were on the interstate.

Curt Alliaume: Kudrow did get to have her brother's triplets, though.


PD said...

Some union negotiating in my background. I wonder when talent and their agents will cease accepting pay for "seasons" and start demanding per-episode. If I was negotiating for them, that's how I'd do it.

Carrie said...

I think I really am one of the six! I know nothing about CB radio but I do know today's date! :)

Unknown said...

Friday question: I watched the 2nd episode of the new season of Two and a Half Men. (I know, I know. Why would I voluntarily admit that fact?)

Besides being unimaginably stupid and humorless (and I swear the ONLY laughs were the contrived and overused guffaws provided by the insipid laugh track), the show has absolutely no connection with its original premise—which, at least, for the first six seasons or so was actually quite engaging and fun.

This current episode offered nothing more than toilet humor. (And my hitherto respect for Carl Reiner, who plays Alan’s mother’s boyfriend, took a huge nosedive after seeing what he’s willing to consider “funny”.)

My question: Is this debacle still on the air for no other reason than the network’s desire to ingratiate itself to Chuck Lorre? Because it’s pretty apparent, without his name attached, this creatively-deficit piece of TV trash would have been dead long ago.

Tomas said...

My question: Is this debacle still on the air for no other reason than the network’s desire to ingratiate itself to Chuck Lorre? Because it’s pretty apparent, without his name attached, this creatively-deficit piece of TV trash would have been dead long ago.

I guess it is on the air because it still (for some reason) gets good ratings.

By the way: Jeff Daniels deserved his Emmy, IMHO.

Chris said...

Friday question: Any ideas on why a writer would prefer to be on staff on other shows rather than work full-time on his own show which is going surprisingly well on a ratings demanding network such as ABC?

It seems to happen with Jack Burditt and his show, Last Man Standing. He went from being on staff at 30 Rock to The Mindy Project. Usually, writers who have their own show on the air don't work on other things at the same time.

I don't want to pick on anyone really, I'm just trying to figure out in what circumstance this might happen, as I've never heard about it.

Jake Mabe said...

I'm one of the six!

"Big Ben, this here's the Rubber Duck..."

Mark said...

Hi Ken, my question is this:

Why didn't Kirstie Alley reprise her role as Rebecca in FRASIER? I've seen all manner of reasons given, such as the show's focus on psychiatry conflicting with her Scientology beliefs (which seems petty) as well as Kirstie not wishing to play the role in another series (which conflicts with her appearance on WINGS).

Are you able to shed some light on this?

Anonymous said...

Friday question: It's just been announced that the Simpsons has been renewed for a 26th season. It's widely believed among fans that it's golden age was several years ago. What would you do to bring it back to it's former glory? Bring back more of the old writers? Bring in all new writers to shake things up? New showrunner? Also, would you do shows that focused on character and consistency, or ignore that if you thought the idea was funny enough? (I'm thinking of plots like Skinner really being Armin Tamzarian, Carl being Icelandic, or the Simpsons escaping jail to France and then coming back as immigrants).

Ike Iszany said...

I see the new series "Lucky Seven" was cancelled after two episodes. And this doesn't seem to be much of a surprise to anyone outside of the network. How does a show that seems like it's obviously going to fail get onto the schedule in the first place? There seems to be too much time and money spent developing a new show for it to do so poorly.

ODJennings said...

"How does a show that seems like it's obviously going to fail get onto the schedule in the first place?"

It's exactly what I would do if I ran a network. I think it's a variation on Stalin's WWII tactic of picking a general at random and shooting him to motivate the others.

I guarantee you the boat catalogs and BMW literature got shoved in the desk drawers and everyone at ABC spent today polishing scripts after Bob Iger sent that message.

Kay said...

Hi Ken,

Thank you so much for your generosity in answering questions. Taking full advantage of it, I have two Friday questions.

I apologize if you've already fully or partly answered the first one, and I failed to find it in your archives. Please feel free to edit it.

1. What is the full pilot production cycle? If shows are ordered to pilot, based on scripts/pitches in the early fall, but they're not cast or shot until late spring, what's going on in all that pre-production? Is the time being spent building sets, scouting locations, shopping for set dressing, etc.? Is a showrunner just given a budget and told to go for it, or do studios/networks apply the same micro-management to production design as they do to casting and scripts?

And when in the cycle do showrunners look for writers--before or only after a series commitment? I assume there's a lot of informal shopping going on with friends and former colleagues even before pick-up, but what is the formal time-frame?

Follow-up question: Do you believe, as many claim, that the problem with pilot season is that the pool of experienced talent, both in front and behind the camera, is stretched too thin?

2. As you know, Roseanne is at it again, this time targeting Chuck Lorre. I don't want to get into the cobra/mongoose fight between RB and CL, but her accusation does bring up a serious question: How much theft really does go on in Writers' rooms? And how much of it is the result of "Fuck lawyers, we can get away with it" versus writers being so exhausted they can barely remember their own names, let alone whether they'd heard a punchline before.

Thank you for your answers!



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Arthur Dunn said...

What do you think of this season's new sitcoms? Has any particular one made you laugh?

Cap'n Bob said...

Highway Patrol, starring Broderick Crawford, ran from 1955 to 1959. His catch phrase was 10-4. Ah yes, I remember it well.

Marty Fufkin said...

Last week you had a question about the logistics of splitting seasons. My question is, why do networks even do this in the first place? I see no economic advantage to it. All it does, I assume, is frustrate viewers and possibly lose them. Showing a handful of episodes of Mad Men in September and then the last few in March is like going to a restaurant and getting the appetizer but being told to come back next week for the main course. And marketing the DVDs in two separate packages just feels like a rip-off and a major incentive to just download the shows. So... why?

Coco said...

Here's a Friday question for you:

My pet peeve is when characters carry around or drink from obviously empty cups of coffee. It's really annoying and takes away from a scene.

Is it so hard to just have actors carry around weighted cups? They don't even have to be filled with liquid. They just have to look like they're filled with SOMETHING.

PolyWogg said...

Thought you might like to know Ken that one of our local rags referenced MASH the other day in their article about series endings -- the article was about how people complain when they hear spoilers about the end of series or events in series that are watched mainly on NetFlix or DVD now. The article was called, "Can I talk about the MASH finale yet?".


Shawn K said...

TRIO Network used to have a series called, "Brilliant but Cancelled". It was made up of shows that were well written, yet short lived.

What shows would be on your version of "Brilliant but Cancelled"?

Jeff said...

I remember reading somewhere that tv shows aim for the 100 episode mark to reach lucrative syndication deals. I noticed today on Peachtree TV that they were airing episodes of Community. Are there exemptions to the syndication rules?

Michelle said...

I have a Friday Question: I saw that this company called Aereo recently won a court battle against the broadcasters. Aereo basically captures broadcast television using antennae and transmits it over the internet for viewing on phones, tablets and laptops. Basically, the court, in Boston, found that Aereo will not cause irreparable harm to the broadacaster's business and can continue to operate. I was curious as to your thoughts on this, since aerial frequencies are free, but the content is not and Aereo is making $8 a subscription with plans to expand markets.