Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday Questions

Is it Friday already?

Allan V has a Friday Question:

You recently answered a question about why some sitcoms are filmed multi-camera and others, single. What do the actors themselves think of multi vs. single, and which setup do they tend to prefer working with?

Some actors are uncomfortable playing in front of an audience. Others thrive on that. So it really depends.

For the most part, the production schedule is way easier for multi-camera shows. You rehearse during the day for three days, there’s camera blocking and maybe some pre-shoots so day four can be ten hours (although usually it's six or seven), and then shooting day is about ten hours. And after every third episodes you get a week’s hiatus.

Single camera hours tend to be 5:00 AM to whenever, every day. There’s also night shooting. So it can be quite a grind.

But I think if you polled actors, most would say they’d rather be on a good, well-written, hit show no matter format it’s in.

And along those lines, Pete asks:

It's easy for audiences to turn on a new TV show and quickly decide, "Wow, this is terrible." But do actors, writers, crew members, etc. on a bad show also realize it from the start? If so, does it affect the mood on the set? Or is everyone so excited (or in the very least, grateful for paying work) that they just ignore the show's flaws?

If an actor really hates the material going in, he should have passed on the project. And if he takes it anyway because of the money then who cares what he thinks?

Most actors, writers, everybody set out to do a good show. Often times things get derailed, there are unforeseen personality conflicts, or the folks involved don’t have the chops to fix the inevitable problems. (And I include everybody because a bad actor can pull a show down just as easily as a bad writer.)

But generally, everybody starts off a project with high hopes. Even questionable ones, because you never know? Did the cast of ALF really think going in that that show would be so successful? So there’s a lot of wishin’ and hopin’.

When you start producing your show you’re in a protective bubble because it hasn’t aired yet and you haven’t gotten feedback. Once reviews come out and the first numbers are in, that can kill morale fast. Reality can be a bitch.

I’ve seen very happy casts turn sour in one day. Bad reviews can poison the atmosphere, even if the reviews aren’t justified. And low numbers can cause deep depression.

Among the many things I so admired about the CHEERS cast was that in year one, when our numbers were atrocious, they still believed in the show and still maintained their enthusiasm and optimism. That wasn’t easy to do. Not when you’re getting your ass kicked by TUCKER’S WITCH.

But my heart goes out to actors who find themselves on bad shows and have to keep slogging through crappy material week after week.  That has to be tough on the psyche and soul.  

The Bumble Bee Pendant wonders:

Do you keep a notebook next to your bed or in your pocket for ideas, jokes, thoughts, etc. If you do, how often to you flip through these for ideas?

I used to keep a pad, but now I just send a text to myself. From there I get very old school. I have a big manila envelope that I store all ideas, fragments of ideas, shreds of fragments of ideas, possible characters, pilot ideas, movie, play, and musical notions. It’s like when you see someone go to their tax accountant with a big bag of miscellaneous receipts.

Some notions have been in there for twenty years. Others have come to fruition over time. Occasionally I’ll have an idea that still has a missing element and a couple of years later I’ll drop another idea into the folder and realize, “hey, I could marry those two.”

But I’m always on the lookout for great ideas. And you never know when something or someone will trigger one. So keep handy some means of jotting down your ideas right when you get them. Because you’d be amazed how fast they disappear from your memory.

Usually, when I'm between projects I'll go through the envelope.  Most of my new projects over the years have come from that envelope.

I actually should have two envelopes.  One called GOOD IDEAS, and the other called WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?

And finally, from Ted O'Hara:

You came on to the staff as Gary Burghoff was cutting back to 13 episodes. Was it hard working around his schedule? Or was it 'Great, we don't need to find a bit for him this week'?

It was always harder to write MASH without Radar. His character added a lot and because he was the company clerk it was easy to work him into any situation. No one knew more about what was going on in the camp than Radar. Sometimes before it even happened.

Gary was also a great presence on the set, so on a personal level, I missed having him around.

I’m still honored that we got to write his final send off.  It was our final send off too. That teddy bear that he left on Hawkeye’s bunk, that was our teddy bear too.

Do you have a Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks. 

NOTE:  I'll be filling in for Marilu Henner on her syndicated radio show this morning.   And it will replay all weekend.  You can find it here.  


Bob Gassel said...

Can Ken or anyone confirm if the infamous @Gary_Burghoff Twitter account is really him? Whoever it is has been saying some quite provocative stuff...

Scooter Schechtman said...

I tried to research the Burghoff Anomaly with my Top Men and one of the sites shut down my computer with a virus warning. This Burghoff is well protected.

Max Shenk said...

Favorite "keeping an ideas notebook next to the bed" story:
Some jazz musician/arranger (I think it was Howard McGhee) said once that he was getting frustrated because he'd hear these great songs in his dreams, and then wake up and only remember them vaguely, and feel like he'd lost a great idea. One of his bandmates told him "Duke Ellington keeps a pad of manuscript paper next to the bed. Do that. If you hear something in your dreams, get up in the middle of the night, jot it down, and then finish it the next day." So he got the manuscript pad, put it next to the bed... the next night, he had a dream where he heard this BEAUTIFUL song... woke up, turned the light on, scribbled the notes down, went back to bed...
"When I got up the next morning, I took the sheet to the piano and played it. It was 'Star Dust.'"

Garrett said...

Last night's Big Bang Theory seemed to have a dozen people between the written by, teleplay by and story by. Does that mean it was just a bad story that need intensive care?

Anonymous said...

That last scene, with the Teddy Bear on the cot, does me in even after all this time. One of the best send offs ever.


ScottyB said...

Re the question about actors on insipid/stupid/crap TV shows: It would seem to me, given Ken's ongoing descriptions of the heart-wrenching bullshit an actor (and writers) even has to go thru to even *land* a role, it has occurred to me that actors by and large are grateful for the work, mainly.

It gets even more interesting-er when you're an actor in a stupid-ass TV show that becomes a huge hit with people for God-knows-why (see 'Three's Company', 'Charlie's Angels', 'Diff'rent Strokes,' etcetcetc) and after like Season 2 you start getting all full of yourself famous and start being a major pain in the ass to everyone involved in the production, mucking up your contract negotiations, etc.

I think most actors who find themselves riding a gravy train (even a short-run one) are totally thankful for whatever fame and fortune come their way and nothing lasts forever so ride that motherfucker for all its worth, but jeez, ya don't have to be a dick about things.

Anonymous said...

I bought a book, how do I get my Friday Question to Ken? Thanks for the help.

ScottyB said...

Re Gary Burghoff and his 'Radar' role as far as TV writing goes: I mentioned this sorta thing the other day, but I'd think having a "minor" recurring character can be a total ace up a writer's sleeve to make a show even more endearing to an audience and add a lot to a show's basic fabric. And sometimes, those characters become *totally* endearing if handled right and with respect and killer writing. Lillith Crane and Bebe Glazer come to mind first for me in that respect.

ScottyB said...

@Anonymous: For me as a general viewer, leaving the teddy bear seemed kinda obvious and, dare I say it, lazy. An easy out. BUT -- as someone familiar with writing and can think a bit for myself, I thought it was a fantastic way to show how war can turn your initial sensibilities into being "a man". The teddy bear was a fantastic way to telegraph that idea.

ScottyB said...

Re multi-camera vs. single camera: I watch 'The Andy Griffith Show' on poor-people TV ever afternoon. That was obviously a single-camera show, at least to my estimation. I can only imagine the grind that show must've been to shoot the scene and then re-shoot a character doing their pivotal lines afterward. Single camera must be a HUGE pain in the ass which just adds acting hours until 4am as opposed to multi-cam, where splicing in the same thing is more of a snap in the editing room.

Multi-cam to me just seems to be a smoother, easier process at least as far as putting on a show every week and having everyone go home in the least amount of time possible.

D. McEwan said...

I acted, if that's the right word, on a first-season episode of The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Everyone seemed very excited by the show, and enthusiastically showed me some of the pre-existing Japanese footage the show was built around. I thought, but did not say aloud, that it looked like it was going to be the worst piece of shit imaginable, and I was certain it would die a horrible death, hopefully before my episode ever even aired.

Well, I was half-right; it certainly did suck horribly, but it was also, to my amazement, a gigantic success that ran for years. After my episode aired, for a year, I was a celebrity to every 5 year old I knew. (My cousin's then-five year old son watched me on the show while I was in the room with him. He kept whipping his head around from the TV to me and back again, as though I was performing some sort of impossible magic trick by being in a room with him and on the TV at the same time.)

So now, 21 years later, the embarassement that is my episode has rerun many times, and is out on a DVD set. I have the first season DVDs, since it was stripped, it's 60 episodes on 10 discs, 59 of those episodes will never be viewed, and 9 of those discs will never see the inside of my Blu-Ray player.

A couple months ago, a friend who lives in London sent me a DVD of my Power Rangers episode from English TV (Not everything that airs in England is Downton Abby or Doctor Who) that had been re-edited and given balloon captions (Like the "Pows" and "Bangs" on the old Batman TV show) I guess to make it more - I don't know - Edgy? for today's kids.

None of my footage had been edited out, but I still did not have screen credit for a major supporting role, but the guy who, for reasons never explained to me, redubbed all my dialogue, is now credited!

But it's still an incredibly bad show.

Mark Fearing said...

'bad' shows, paintings, books, can become very successful. I don't think one ever knows if what you are acting in, writing, ETC will be a success with audiences. But we have an idea if it's 'good'. Lots of good stuff fails to find an audience and lots of mediocre/bad stuff becomes very successful. Then there's the issue of pop-art type entertainment that ages well and that which doesn't . Weird stuff.

John G said...


How come Cheers never did a show regarding the Red Sox and the World Series in '86? Also, who was responsible for the segment in one of the Series pregame shows with Bob Costas?

Paul Duca said...

I can't remember if ALF was single or multi-camera, but it was hell for the cast. That set had large holes all over the floor to allow puppetmaster Paul Fusco to have ALF in different places-and the humans had to remember their lines, their marks, and not to fall into any of the holes.

VP81955 said...

Ken, you'd appreciate this: In the Padres at Nationals game tonight (a Washington rout), San Diego pinch-hit a catcher named Rene Rivera, who played sporadically with the Mariners from 2004 to 2006 (were you doing M's games at the time?), then was sent to the minors and bounced around in the Dodgers, Mets and Yankees organizations...even spending some time with the Camden Riversharks of the indy Atlantic League. The Twins signed him in 2011, was brought up to the bigs that May, but spent all of 2012 in Minnesota's farm system. The Padres signed him in December 2012, and he's been with them since July 2013.

I bring this up because Nats TV announcer Bob Carpenter noted when discussing Rivera that Bob gets plenty of contacts (and sometimes game airchecks, seeking reviews) from Rene's broadcast equivalent -- minor-league announcers who get as comparatively little compensation as the players they cover, but both have dreams of landing a job in "the show." Bob, who's bounced around the business himself, said he tries to provide encouragement and appreciates their enthusiasm for the game.

I'm sure you knew plenty of such folk during your time in the booth, either at Syracuse or in MLB (though I'm not comparing you to Rivera for the simple reason he doesn't have a Top 40 or sitcom-writing background). Just a perspective from a fellow baseball fan.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

"How come Cheers never did a show regarding the Red Sox and the World Series in '86?"

Funny you mention 1986. Cliff visited Vancouver in 1986 for Expo '86. That was a nice touch and we in Vancouver appreciated it!

Terry said...

Natalie Schafer, talking about playing Mrs. Howell on Gilligan's Island, remembered the cast being very demoralized after the show premiered because the reviews were so awful. What made the difference for them was the fan mail that came in. Schafer said it was mostly from children, who were very enthusiastic about the show. The cast decided that any series that could make so many children happy had to be a worthwhile endeavor.

If you're not an actor, it's easy to look down your nose at the roles actors take. (Well, if I was an actor, I'd never lower myself to taking a part like that.) Easy to say when you don't have bills to pay and acting isn't your primary way of making a living.

I've never understood ungrateful actors, myself. I've always been happy just to be working. On Gilligan, according to Sherwood Schwartz, Tina Louise was the sour apple in the barrel, unhappy because she felt she wasn't getting enough to do (Schwartz recalled explaining to her that the series wasn't called Ginger's Island). On The Brady Bunch Schwartz said it was Robert Reed. Forever unhappy with the series and griping, griping, griping. Sidney Sheldon said once that I Dream of Jeannie ran for five years and that he thought Larry Hagman spent every day of those five years complaining about the show.

Scotty B: The pilot to The Andy Griffith Show was an episode of The Danny Thomas Show. It was filmed three-camera, in front of a live audience, and has a very different feel to it than the Griffith series proper. Much broader and oriented toward big laughs. It's interesting to what the Griffith series might have been like had it opted to go the three-camera route.

VP81955 said...

Once the series ended, Tina Louise wanted nothing to do with it (aside from residuals, if she received any); she refused to participate in the several ensuing TV movies with the cast, and I understand that until recently she didn't even want to talk about it.

In some ways, I sympathize with her -- Tina had some Broadway success (notably in "Li'l Abner," where one of her castmates was Julie Newmar), starred in a decent film adaptation of "God's Little Acre," and recorded a few albums. A pretty talented lady.

One wonders how history might have changed if Sherwood Schwartz's initial choice for the role, Jayne Mansfield, had taken the part. In 1964, Jayne's career had declined, and she certainly had the comic chops to play Ginger.

As it turned out, Jayne died before the series left the air, and Tina's reputation -- and opportunity for future work -- forever was limited by a role she regretted accepting.

Greg Ehrbar said...

According to Lou Scheimer's book about Filmation, the first actor to play Captain Marvel on "Shazam" started making demands (or at least his agent did) and he was replaced.

The same was true for the first actor to play "Superboy" in the '80s.

It can even happen in shows like this.

There are just plain bad shows and then there are shows that most consider "bad" and either are diamonds in the rough or gloriously bad.

Talk about a tough show: the budget for "Dark Shadows" was $70,000-100,000 a WEEK (five shows), which was high for daytime and high for a soap. The actors not only had to learn new lines every constantly, but had to deal with the crude special effects. But the flubs are part of its charm.

Anonymous said...

As a writer for primetime shows what are your general thoughts on daytime dramas and their writing?

chalmers said...

I don't know if this Robert Reed anecdote is true or just "too good to check."

He was a Royal Academy-trained actor who had come to fame in "The Defenders," which was very highly regarded by critics. With that background, I'm not sure if he was big-timing everyone or if he just wasn't capable of doing his job in a non-serious fashion.

In one scene, he was to enter the kitchen with Carol and Alice cooking saying, "It smells like strawberry heaven in here." He had a big problem with the seemingly innocuous line and stormed off.

With triumphant indignation, he eventually returned carrying a piece of paper (pre-Google) and exclaimed, "It says here that cooked strawberries DO NOT give off any scent!"

Schwartz "relented" and said, "You win, Bob. I'll change the line to 'It LOOKS like strawberry heaven in here.' "

With that vital correction made, Reed was satisfied and went on to do the scene as revised.

Lauren said...

Once the series ended, Tina Louise wanted nothing to do with it (aside from residuals, if she received any)

Back then, they were paid for the first seven runs of each episode, and that was it. After each episode had been shown seven times, that was the end of your residuals! Don't know when that changed.

Only way you could really get rich was if you owned a percentage of the series. Lucy and Desi could have made a fortune off of I Love Lucy had they not sold it to CBS. But then, Ball said years later that it never crossed either of their minds that those films would hold up beyond five, maybe ten, years.

rockgolf said...

@Lauren: The one exception to the 7-rerun residual payment on the Gilligan's Island cast was Dawn Wells.
Either her husband or her boyfriend - a lawyer - negotiated that she get much longer residuals. She may still be getting them.

Darryl said...

Dawn Wells actually owns a small percentage of Gilligan's Island. It was given to her to make up for her being paid quite a bit less than anybody else in the cast. That's why she has continued making money off the series long after the rest of the cast stopped making anything. Turns out it was Mary Ann, not the Professor, who was the smart one.