Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Questions.

Hello from Silicone Valley.  God, I’m stuffed. Here’s today’s Black Friday Questions:

From Janice:

I just watched one of my favorite Frasier episodes, "Dinner Party", in which the entire episode is shot in real time. I always enjoy these types of episodes because I feel like I'm right there in the room. Are they easier to write? And if so, why don't we see more episodes like this on television?

It really depends on the story. Most require the passage of time. But when you can do a story all in one scene it is great fun to write. Essentially you’re doing a one-act play.

Farces work well in this format. Farces are built upon a lie and the more the liar tries to cover his tracks the deeper the hole he digs for himself. Doing a farce in real time keeps the pressure applied. Ideally, the lies and stakes should build and events happen faster and faster. That’s why you see people running in and out of doors, or a character constantly in motion from one end of the room to  the other. Farces are hard to do and no show ever did them better than FRASIER.

Jeff asks:

Do you think it's easier to write for network shows or cable shows? It seems to me writing for network shows is more about planning for commercial breaks (i.e. moments that will keep the viewer tuned in), whereas for cable shows it seems more so planning for a big ending (i.e. a moment that will make you tune in next week)

To be honest, the biggest factor is how much network interference you’re going to get. I’m so used to working around commercials that that’s not even an issue for me.

Obviously if you have a larger budget you can do more things, and that generally means a broadcast network. Expect a ton of scrutiny.  Sometimes you may have to trade budget for freedom. Depending on how ambitious your show is or your tolerance for input you might have to make a choice.

Ironically, some cable channels are more ham-fisted than broadcast networks.  Do your due diligence first. 

404 wonders:

I'm reading MUST KILL TV (and really enjoying it!) and had a question: you have said on this blog that you usually try to write your scripts so they are "timeless"--purposefully lacking contemporary references so that they can survive in syndication, make sense to people seeing them later, etc. And yet, MUST KILL TV is the exact opposite. I'm only about a third of the way through, and it's chock full of contemporary references that won't work in ten years or so. Was this an intentional choice, you thinking that was the only way the book would make sense?

In this case, I felt I needed to make it topical to be authentic. As opposed to a TV series, I don’t think there will be much demand for the book in twenty years (unless it becomes a classic, in which case the joke’s on me).

Humor is very specific, and to make the satire work I felt it necessary to be as realistic as possible. For this project, I’m going for the laughs now.

Besides, in twenty years, who knows what the TV industry will look like? Just the fact that there are “networks” in the book might make it anachronistic.

So I invite you to get it and read it before 2033. Thanks.

And finally, from Lorimartian about EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND:

Ken, I noticed you directed the following episode in which a man sneezes on Ray in the airport restroom. IMDB says you directed three episodes. What was your experience on the show or have you talked about this previously? Did you ever write for the show?

I LOVED working on that show. Great cast, very mellow set, terrific scripts, and showrunner Phil Rosenthal knew what he wanted and every single suggestion he made was helpful. Everyone involved collaborated in the best sense to make the best possible show. To me that’s the ideal situation.

I never wrote for RAYMOND, but during my directing stint I did go back to the writers room and pitch in during rewrites. So I have a joke or two in there.
Happy Thanksgiving weekend. Good luck getting a parking space at the mall.


JT Vaughn said...

Ray's reaction to being sneezed on, and the terror he instils in the poor gentleman in the stall, is one of my favourite moments in the entire series. Amazing that you were director on that one. I'd love to know whether you added anything to that scene, or if the performance was all Ray/written.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Here's a Black Friday/Cyber Monday question for you and all the online shoppers this weekend:

I'm halfway through MUST KILL TV and can't help casting it in my mind. Forgive me if I'm way off in my choices, but here's who I am picturing:

Charles ..... Hugh Jackman
or Aaron Eckhart
Sondra ...... Maria Bello
or Vera Farmiga
Anji ........ Jessica Alba
or Megan Fox
Robert ...... Phillip Seymour Hoffman
or Jason Statham
Stevie ...... Jason Segel
or Kevin Hart
Lucy ........ Jennifer Lawrence
or Zoe Saldana
Marc ........ Justin Timberlake
or Neil Patrick Harris
Frank ....... Alan Alda
or William Shatner

Charles ..... Ted Danson
or Hugh Laurie
Sondra ...... Mary Steenburgen
or Teri Hatcher
Anji ........ Sofia Vergara
or Eva Longoria
Robert ...... Dean Norris
or Ed O'Neill
Stevie ...... Jeremy Piven
Lewis Black
Lucy ........ Linda Cardellini
Jennifer Morrison
Marc ........ Will Arnett
Vincent Kartheiser
Frank ....... Dick Van Dyke
or William Shatner

Charles ..... Howard Hesseman
or William Shatner
Sondra ...... Joanna Pettet
or Susan Howard
Anji ........ Audrey Landers
or Jennilee Harrison
Robert ...... Tony Danza
or Mike Mazurki
Stevie ...... Gabe Kaplan
or Ted Lange
Lucy ........ Lauren Tewes
or Denise Nicholas
Marc ........ Micheal McKean
or Ted McGinley
Frank ....... Mickey Rooney
Van Johnson

Hamid said...

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, Ken!

While perusing today, I saw this offer which I think I'll get.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Forgot to ask the question:
Who would you cast?

Lorimartian said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken. Glad to hear everyone was on the same page because that's certainly how it came across.

I always thought that the episode I saw during the initial broadcast run in which Ray accidentally tapes a hotly contested football game (except the end, as it turns out) over their wedding video was an example of the best television has to offer...highly original concept, exceptional writing/story-telling, outstanding execution. It lingers in my memory to this day. I would have loved to work on that show.

Mike said...

What does it cost to make an American TV programme? Production & marketing.
(Eg. network, sitcom, multicamera & audience, no location, includes a couple of well-known actors, 1 series of 24 half-hour episodes.)

(The picture at the foot of the article. Is Ken hiding from actors with notes?)

XJill said...

Your thoughts on this?..

Jessica Munson said...

Hey Ken,

I was listening to an interview with Phil Rosenthal recently. He made a pretty good point that I never thought of before. He said as good as Friends was, it kind of ruined the types of television shows that made it on-air because executives have never known what's funny, but after the success of Friends they've resorted to build shows around young, attractive people. That's why a grounded, honest show like Raymond would be very difficult to get made today. Do you feel this is true?

By the way, love your new book MUST KILL TV. Thanks, Ken.

Mike said...

@Jessica Munson: I don't know. TV execs have always tended to imitate the latest big hit. In 1951 TV gave us I LOVE LUCY, a series about a wacky housewife and her long-suffering husband. It was a smash hit. So in 1952 TV gave us I MARRIEDVJOAN, a series about a wacky housewife and her long-suffering husband.

MacGilroy said...

RE: Casting MUST KILL TV... half way through I started picturing Greg Kinnear as Charles. Or Jason Bateman!

Larry said...

You mentioned farce and satire in this post. If you write another novel, would you consider writing a farce? Maybe some sort of modern Wodehousian story set in the television industry. I know it's difficult to think of someone working in television telling lies that spiral out of control, but a writer of your caliber could pull it off, I bet.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Mike & Jessica,

Yes, and ...
"Angel" was Lucy with a French accent,
"The Mothers-in-Law" was Lucy and Ethel with grown children,
"From a Bird's Eye View" was Lucy in the sky with Ethel,
"Laverne and Shirley" was Lucy and Ethel as singles in a beer factory
and of course, Lucy's own "The Lucy Show," "Here's Lucy," "Life with Lucy" and the 1974 film of "Mame" were all Lucy.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Oh, and "December Bride" was senior citizens Lucy and Ethel.

Jen said...

I saw some I MARRIED JOAN episodes recently. It was one of those shows I had only heard about. Star Joan Davis certainly had a flair for physical comedy, though she lacks the charm and feminine grace that Lucille Ball brought to Lucy Ricardo. Davis's costar, Jim Backus, who could be a funny guy, was largely wasted. His part tended to limit him to looking exasperated and complaining, "Oh, Joan!" I MARRIED JOAN's biggest failing was in its writing, which is nowhere near the caliber of I LOVE LUCY's writing. LUCY's writers don't get the recognition they deserve, and if you really want to gain an appreciation for the caliber of their work, watch the cartoonish antics JOAN's writers contrived for that series. (For example, Joan accidentally baking a cake with flash powder instead of flour, with the resulting cake exploding when the guest of honor blows out the candles on it.)

Greg Ehrbar said...

Just finished MUST KILL TV -- and one of my casting choices is in the book!

Does that mean that Bob Eubanks is going to give us a brand new dinette set chosen just for us?

cadavra said...

Jessica: I've also heard the "Friends" theory, and it makes sense. NBC in particular keeps foisting on us bad sitcoms filled with hot white people aged 25-35 who spend all their time either talking about sex or actually having it. (Though there's usually a token minority and/or over-40 who's the butt of their jokes.) And most of them die quickly.

That's just one reason why THE CRAZY ONES is so appealing, because it centers on a guy in his 60s still maintaining his integrity.

Jeff said...

The recent tragic death of Paul Walker had me wondering. Do you think a show can overcome the sudden passing of one of it's main characters? 8 Simple Rules comes to mind. It bombed after John Ritter's passing, although it could be argued it was never a ratings smash to begin with. What are your thoughts?