Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday Questions

Here they are. And hey, if you’re one of those people who stood in line outside a store for three days to get $100 off on a TV I wanna hear from you.

Allan V starts us off:

I absolutely adored M*A*S*H, but what did you think about it running for 11 seasons? Was that about right, or should it have stopped sooner?

I think eleven years is too long for practically any series, even a classic one.  

Charles Emerson Losechester wonders:

How does a multi-camera show that's shot on film work? Specifically, on CHEERS. Are they making literally three different films with the multiple cameras, with massive splicing edits later on to keep the action continuous, or does it all go through some sort of main control panel where the camera changes happen on the fly?

We had four film cameras shooting continuously. Originally the editing was done on film. In later years the film was transferred to tape and all the editing was done off the tape. An editor could sync all four cameras and switch back and forth building his cut. Now everything is done digitally.

However, there is a cut of the show that is being built on the fly as the show is taping. This is for the studio audience to watch on the monitors. A special editor is hired to do this real-time edit. I’m actually amazed at how good some of these guys are.

From Powerhouse Salter:

Question about sitcom camera angles: What purpose is supposed to be served in a two-person dialogue scene when the camera is set up behind one of the actors and all we can see is the static back of his or her head? I mean, what's the point of no head movement whatsoever and not even a hint of profile to suggest that we're looking at the actual actor (or the actor's stand-in) and not at what might as well be a floor mop with a wig on it?

If I understand your question correctly, you’re referring to a close up of someone talking and the head and shoulder of the person he’s talking to. This is called an “Over.” When I shoot dual conversations I do two passes. On one I do singles and the other I do overs. “Overs” help the audience tie the two yakkers together. And they provide variety. You’re not just ping-ponging back and forth for four minutes. That gets very annoying.

VP81955 went to a recent taping of MOM and asks:

Ken, what's the longest lag time you've ever had between episode filming/taping and episode airing? Because the second-season debut of "Mom" was delayed a month, the episode that aired Thursday was its third of the season. Friday's filming was for episode 12, so it won't air until January.

Infinity. There are plenty of shows that are taped and NEVER air. There have been whole series that are in the can but never aired.

For the second season of ALMOST PERFECT, we shot ten episodes. The show as cancelled after only four had aired. The other six never made it to CBS. Fortunately, the series went into syndication twice – once on USA and once on Lifetime – so those episodes were eventually broadcast.

David and I have written episodes of JOE AND SONS, THE PRACTICE, and BRAM & ALICE that never aired.

Midseason shows are often filmed in the summer and early fall. Networks sometime delay their premiers to March, May, or even the summer.

The first six episodes of SEINFELD sat on the shelf for a year.

On the other hand, I’ve been in situations where we shoot a show one week and it airs the following week. Lots of late nights and overtime when that scenario arises.

What’s your Friday Question? And don’t over-eat this weekend.


Rob said...

One episode of "Family Ties" (Anniversary Waltz) that was shot for Season 2 was dropped into the middle of Season 6 - and after it had already aired in syndication.

rockGolf said...

Wait a minute? "THE PRACTICE" script you & David wrote that never aired?
Was that the David Kelley PRACTICE or the Danny Thomas PRACTICE?

rockGolf said...

Sorry about the punctuation on the previous e-mail. Walmart had a special 3-for-1 on question marks.

Rachel said...

Those over-the-shoulder shots always make me think of THE PATTY DUKE SHOW, where it seems like almost every conversation between look-alikes Patty and Kathy was filmed that way. I guess that was more budget-friendly than doing trick shots that allowed both girls to be onscreen at the same time.

On I LOVE LUCY, they routinely filmed a handful of episodes for the coming season at the end of the current season. It was a practice that began for practical reasons. The series remained in production after the first season wrapped to film a number of shows for season two because Lucille Ball was pregnant and they wanted to get a backlog of shows in the can before her condition became obvious. The staff decided they liked having that cushion of a few episodes ready to go when they commenced production on a new season. It took some of the pressure off to know they already had half-a-dozen episodes filmed, edited, and ready to go.

Lucille Ball would maintain the habit for both of her subsequent series.

ScottyB said...

Ken wrote: "A special editor is hired to do this real-time edit. I’m actually amazed at how good some of these guys are."

Ken: A lot has been covered in your blog concerning how to break into the industry as a show writer or even working your way up to being a showrunner, but what about studio editors? (And if you think about it, *nothing* would exist without them.) So -- what sort of credentials, experience, sample reels (but most important over everything, what kind of *attitude*) should a kid have in the bag if their dream is to move to LA and be a really fuckin' awesome film editor? I mean, beyond the basic willingness to be a thankless slave for pennies on the dollar at first.

Scooter Schechtman said...

When is "Bram & Alice" coming out on dvd so I can binge-watch it?

ScottyB said...

Ken posted: "I think eleven years is too long for practically any series, even a classic one."

Ken brings up an interesting point for discussion on what constitutes season "years" vs. actual calendar years vs. "show has run its course" years.

Back in the "classic" years, a season (a.k.a. a TV show "year") ran an average of 30-32 episodes ('Leave It To Beaver' ran what must've been a totally exhausting 39-week schedule). MASH ran 22-25 episodes per season. Both 'Beaver' and MASH were half-hour shows.

BUT -- 'Beaver' lasted only 6 calendar years and stuffed 234 episodes into those years; MASH lasted 11 calendars, with 256 episodes (less than one "classic" Beaver season).

So, here's the thing I think of in light of Ken's comment: Me, I think 'Beaver' ran its course once Tony Dow started growing up in, like, season 3. I can't think of a single time during MASH's run when I thought "Man, this show sucks now. I reallyreally don't like it anymore".

ScottyB said...

@Rachel: I think the whole "over the shoulder shot" thing got solved on the 'Brady Bunch' episodes when Carol & Alice's "relatives" came to visit and editors figured out how to meld everything into one single screen with both actors facing themselves.

I imagine the TV industry went all balls-out happy over that. But still, back in the day, I'm pretty sure ALL of us figured out the over-shoulder shots were just someone else in a wig and post-production overdubs, and it was pretty much stupid.

By Ken Levine said...


It was the Danny Thomas version of THE PRACTICE.

ScottyB said...

@rockGolf brought up the mention of a Danny Thomas show, which I think fits in with Ken's mention of classic shows. @rockgolf's Danny Thomas 'The Practice' was a '70s sitcom, and we all know how those were. But in the "classic" TV sense, 'The Danny Thomas Show' (the original, which ran for years before 'Make Room For Daddy') is STILL a fucking hoot today, even tho nobody ever mentions it whatsoever.

That Sheldon Leonard -- he fuckin' KNEW shit.

ScottyB said...

@rockGolf's mention of Danny Thomas' 'The Practice' made me think of 'Empty Nest', which was one of those sitcoms you either loved or hated, especially since it was spinoff from 'Golden Girls', a show you either loved or hated.

'Empty Nest' was a lot like 'Mr. Belvidere': It had its moments, but overall, you just kinda watched it for the individual performances of individual actors and you didn't totally end up feeling like you just wasted 30 minutes of your life you'll never get back.

ScottyB said...

@Ken Levine: I know why things didn't work out. As a network-TV show consumer, there's no fucking way in hell even Danny Thomas could've made Lara Flynn Boyle funny, let alone crack a smile.

I'm pretty sure it'd be possible to have Dylan McDermott do a wink and a grin for 13 weeks, but I'm not sure about the rest of that cast.

Mike said...

You've written an episode of The Practice that never aired? What did you do, forget to leave out a angry denunciation of the system by Dylan McDermott, or did you have Eugene be a comedic character instead of super earnest?

Anth said...

The over-the-shoulder shot can also be used to mask rewritten dialogue after filming. They do this on The Mindy Project all the time; you can hear a sudden change in the actor's tone while the back of their head is conveniently on screen.

ScottyB said...

I have a Friday Question for @Ken Levine: On Thanksgiving night, 'Two & A Half Men' introduced a new kids. Kinda like when 'The Brady Bunch' introduced Oliver and other shows and etcetc.

Quite frankly, yeah, the kid was cute and all (and he'll probably hate for the rest of his life that he was just an irrelevant 1 or 2 season replacement just like Robbie Rist was), but it was like "Really, Chuck Lorre? We get THIS?"

Not like Ashton Kutcher made a huge difference, but still ...

Anonymous said...

Broadway Becky Asks:
Why don't they use more Broadway stars in these big Hollywood musical films that are coming back. Case in point: Russel Crowe, Amanda Seyfried and Anne Hathaway scored huge parts in Les Miserables but there are tons of Broadway stars that are maybe better suited to live singing roles. Now they're making Into the Woods and Meryl Streep gets the lead (big shock). Of course, Ms. Streep is a tremendous talent but in the case of a huge musical, why not throw a bone to the tireless Broadway stars who are every bit as talented? It worked for Glee. They launched film & television careers of tons of unknowns & it worked out great.

D. McEwan said...

I saw a lovely episode shot of that Ellen DeGeneris sitcom where Cloris Leachman played her mom and Martin Mull was on it, shot back in 1999 I think it was, and I'm still waiting for it to air.

I have a DVD set of a Hal Roach TV series from the 1950s (13 episodes) titled The Veil, starring Boris Karloff. Those shows never aired anywhere, and were never seen until they released the DVDs. Also, Boris went to his grave still complaining that Hal Roach never paid him for those shows.

pumpkinspicehead said...

Friday question. Any info you can get on one of the most surprising cancellations I've ever seen? Stark Raving Mad, with Shalhoub and Harris, cancelled after one season in 2000, despite apparently having very respectable ratings, featuring well-respected talent in front of and behind the camera, and, in my opinion, being very entertaining in a Chuck Lorre kinda way?

Jerry David said...

Friday question:
Ken i really appreciate your help to new writers like me in your blog..i learnt a lot from you in writing but unfortunately pitching doesn't apply the same way in my country. We just can't go to an agent or production company and pitch the idea..they are almost business men without any imagination to pick up shows by what's works here is actually shooting the idea so they can see it if here's a couple of questions i wish you read them and help me..I'm planning to shoot my comedy pilot..the problem is that i even read that in the US it's too long for an unknown cast and indie production as no agent or producer will spend 22 minutes to watch it so better do a 3-4 minutes i'm torn between making a pilot or just a trailer.
It's my first attempt and I'm on a limited budget so the trailer maybe more i can add best scenes from other episodes not only the pilot. And most importantly the time the producers here will spent. On the other way shooting the whole pilot will give a full presentation of the writing, direction and actors performance. Another problem my script is about 36 minutes! I'm trying to cut it into 22 minutes as much as if you please another question is 36 minutes a deal breaker even for pitching?
So to sum up my really long story:
- 36 minutes or 22 minutes pilot?
- Pilot or trailer?
I really appreciate any help or advices you can give to me.
(I tried to post it earlier as a comment but i thought of posting it in Friday questions will be more accurate..Thanks in advance)

Touch-and-go Bullethead said...

A slight qualification about "The Veil": The series was not seen in its original form until it was released on VHS in the 1990s, but it was not entirely hidden until then. The episodes were edited together into three movies--"The Veil," "Destination Nightmare," "Jack the Ripper"--which were put into TV syndication back in the 1960s.

Shawn K said...

As 'new media' is increasing in popularity, have you ever considered doing a web series, for a good idea that you've had, but maybe didn't merit a traditional 30 minute sitcom structure?

croquemore said...

The over-the-shoulder shot is an old school form of trickery. It exists because it needs to. If, in a two person conversation we only saw the wide shot of people talking, it wouldn't be very engaging to us as viewers. The same as if we only saw medium shots of characters talking at another character. It doesn't look right. It would also feel as if there wasn't another actor there. in a perfectly crafted single camera conversation scene the basic shots of wide (master), medium shot on actor 1, medium shot actor 2 and then over the shoulder shots for both actors would be seamlessly edited into a cohesive scene. Effectivly this brings us, the viewers, into the conversation. If we sat on a wide shot for the duration of a conversation scene, we would tune out, no matter how snappy or Sorkin-esque the dialog is.

Bob B. said...

Friday question --

Is it true that by the time of "Goodbye, Radar" Gary Burghoff was so unhappy and difficult to work with that no one on the cast or crew was really shedding tears to see him go?

Jake Mabe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jake Mabe said...

This may be stretching the point a bit, but I'm going to loudly and proudly stand up for the much-maligned final years of "M*A*S*H."

I agree that it probably should have ended at about 10 years or maybe less, but those last episodes were so touching. One of my all-time favorites, "Hey, Look Me Over," aired in that last, abbreviated 11th season, and another, "Follies of the Living, Concerns of the Dead," aired in Season 10. And, I'll admit it: I still tear up at "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen." It felt -- and feels -- like I'm losing family members every time I watch it.

I don't know why people bash those last few years. Maybe it's because I'm a sentimentalist, and those episodes really tugged at my heartstrings.

Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox. I'll tell you this: I wish we had a "M*A*S*H" around today. There's very little on TV that has some gravitas to it, especially in a "sitcom." With apologies to Paul Simon, "Where have you gone, Hawkeye Pierce? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you...