Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Questions

First off, so sorry to hear about the passing of Mike Nichols.  I never met him personally and don't know what I could add to all the other heartfelt tributes, but he was a giant.  There damn well better be a special salute at the Oscars next year.   Anyway, I'm back from Atlanta with some Friday Questions.  

Marianne gets us started.

I was watching Madam Secretary last night and I noticed that Bebe Neuwirth plays quite a similar character to that of Lilith. How difficult is it for actors to avoid falling victim to typecasting?

Actors can certainly get pigeonholed. It’s up to them to not accept those similar roles (if they can), or break out and play something different.

One of the reasons Ted Danson took the role of BECKER was that he would play such a different character from Sam Malone.

This is why you see a lot of known actors doing independent films. They don’t get paid much but they get to show off other sides of themselves.

On the other hand, there are actors who don’t mind playing essentially the same part over and over. They’re working.

When I was showrunning and an agent said a certain actor I was inquiring about didn’t do episodic television I always asked, “Who else is paying him $5,000 this week?” You’d be surprised how often that worked.

On a similar note, Michael wants to know:

Some supporting actors from TV shows disappear after their show ends while others continue to pop up in new shows in varying degrees. In your opinion, which factor is most important in determining this - talent, a good agent, simple luck?

All of the above. How identified they were with their character is also a factor. How versatile they can be comes into play (again, Ted Danson).

An actor’s TV-Q becomes a factor. That’s research that determines how well-known an actor is and more importantly, how popular they are. Yes, it is pretty heartless and cutthroat. Welcome to Glitter City.

But there are some TV actors that the public just loves. Dylan McDermott is one of those guys. You’ll notice he gets a series every year. Chris Noth is another. Julia Louis-Dreyfus also tops that list.

And then there are actors from hit shows that just cash in their winnings and walk away from the table. They do theatre, they paint, the move away and live happy lives. David Schramm from WINGS would be an example of that. He’s quite content not guesting on television shows. Yes, there is life after sitcoms.

Lou H. asks:

When a multi-camera sitcom episode needs to use multiple sets, is it still shot in sequence, with everybody moving from set to set, or are things optimized a bit so that, say, all the scenes on one set are shot in a single batch, even if that makes the story a bit harder for the studio audience to follow?

It’s shot in sequence so the audience can follow it. Yes, this causes delays due to costume changes, but if the audience can’t follow the story there’s really no point. And the time it takes for the cameras to roll from one set to another is maybe three minutes.

Single camera shows (shot like movies) will shoot out of sequence. They’ll film all the scenes in one location then move to the next. Not being an actor myself I’ve always felt that had to be difficult on actors – having to adjust their attitudes based on what the scene requires. “Okay, in this one you’re distraught.” “Now you’re hopeful.” I don’t know how they can just turn on and off emotions that quickly and still keep the whole piece in their heads. But that’s why they get the big bucks and their sex tapes go viral.

And finally, from Jim S:

How do you know if an actor has "it" that x factor that makes actor A better than actor B?

There is no formula.  It's just a sense you have.  If two actors are auditioning and you can't take your eyes off of one of them, that's a good sign.

In some cases you just "know."  They have an ease, a charisma, a presence.  Almost instantly you can tell.

On the other hand, some X-factor actors can go unnoticed.   George Clooney knocked around for years.  NBC once passed on Tom Cruise for a pilot.  Madonna also got turned down.   I helped out on a short-lived series in the '80s (doing punch up one day a week).  The actress who starred in the show was God awful.  I later learned she was chosen over Annette Bening.  

So the answer is:  you never know, but you do.

What’s your Friday Question? You know you have one.


Brian Phillips said...

Along the lines of actors that may or may not have "it", if you looked at "Dream On" and then "Just Shoot Me", one wonders why Wendie Malick was relegated to a straight role.

With no disrespect to David Isaacs, have you co-written with someone else?

Pat Quinn said...

JL Dreyfus doesn't seem to fit the category as she has shows built around her, as opposed to actors who seem to show up in supporting roles.

ScottyB said...

The question about Bebe Neuwirth is the same thing I've wondered about quite a few actors over the years -- except not playing the same sort of pigeonhole(d) roles, but rather the same exact kind of *people* role after role, and for some reason, it's usually women (Helen Hunt, Meg Ryan, and Téa Leoni spring to mind).

Which has always made me think they're not really "acting" -- they're just playing *themselves*, just in different roles, as opposed to "acting" actors who transform themselves into their different characters. Sorta like Jack Nicholson. You *know* it's Jack, but he's always *different*: His R.P. McMurphy and his Joker are vastly different. Same thing as Ted Danson's John Becker was considerably different than his Sam Malone.

Just an observation.

Tyler said...

I've noticed in the first couple of seasons of Frasier that a smaller version of Cafe Nervosa is sometimes used. It's the area up stage near the bathrooms. But after those first few years we never see this version again. So I guess my question is was there a need for a small set early on that was later resolved?

ScottyB said...

@Pat Quinn: Not disagreeing with you, but -- and it's probably just me -- but I keep thinking her in 'Veep' would be what her 'New Adventures of Old Christine' Christine would be if she grew a massive set of balls and managed to stumble into one king-hill of a new career.

Yes, her performances are entirely different and both of those shows are uniquely different and truly *funny* and I can't imagine anyone confusing the two. But still, I think a lot of it is naturally using reference points.

Which is probably why a lot of us were totally stunned by Woody Harrelson in 'Natural Born Killers'. Pretty much eviscerated Woody Boyd right there.

Jim said...

How often does a showrunning partnership dissolve and has there ever been an instance where, like this Levitan/Lloyd divorce, two separate camps and sensibilities continue production?

ScottyB said...

When Ken brought up David Schramm, it made me think of how much it must totally totally suck these days for those who walk away from TV in favor of other things, compared to the 1960s and 1970s.

Reason: No more daytime game shows.

Not dissing Mr. Schramm or his talent whatsoever (it took a bit of mastery and timing to pull off his role in 'Wings'; same for Rebecca Schull), but jeez, there was a ton of afterlife honey in 'The Hollywood Squares', 'The $10,000 Pyramid' and a whole slew of others back when those days were going full bore.

There's a lot to be said about personal fulfillment in going back to the stage or whatever floats your boat, but jeez alou, the days of 'The Hollywood Squares' had to have been a really sweet thing, especially for guys like Charlie Weaver and Paul Lynde.

Stephen Robinson said...

Which has always made me think they're not really "acting" -- they're just playing *themselves*, just in different roles, as opposed to "acting" actors who transform themselves into their different characters.


SER: I think it's rare that actors "play themselves." Even comic actors who are offen a "type" (Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Groucho Marx) are offen completely different from that type in real life.

Cristina said...

TV viewers sometimes have a problem accepting actors with a different role because they had fallen in love with their previews characters for many years and that is unfair to the actors. David Schramm is a talented actor he must have love theater and I will always remember him as one of the character that made Wings hilarious and a hit show.

chalmers said...

In addition to the game-show circuit, '70s actors in between series (or who just hoped they were) could also pop into a "Love Boat" type show for a week.

They're rerunning it on some crazy channel and when my wife heard the theme song she couldn't believe I was watching it.

I'm sure it sounded like a dodge, but I wasn't watching the episode, just the opening credits. I love seeing what random array of '70s actors are boarding for a particular episode.

The other day, they had Joe Namath, Cleavon Little, Phil Harris, Brett Somers, Vicki Lawrence and Willona from "Good Times." Imagine the varied experiences of that group and the stories they could swap between takes!

ally said...

As a radio guy, thought you'd be interested in this clip--host found out on twitter while on air that his station was shutting down. It's heartbreaking.

Charles Emerson Losechester said...

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?

John Hammes said...

First comment, longtime reader... this is "good stuff", as Johnny Carson would (and actually did) say.

Speaking of classic television (note clever segue), you have mentioned Ernie Kovacs here and there. Any favorite influences/inspirations/attitudes that you remember keeping and learning from Kovacs, either now or from "back in the day"?

(Was not alive during his career, but thankfully was able to catch the all too rare television re-runs through the years- PBS, Cable Television, etc... thank you Edie Adams for preserving those recordings!)

jcs said...


Ken, you mentioned the Falcon Theatre maybe once or twice during the last few weeks. Is is possible to run such a small venue in a profitable fashion? Would it have been possible for you to write a play with significantly more actors and still turn a profit? Or is this place more of a hobby/philantropic endeavour for Garry Marshall and his daughter Kathleen Marshall LaGambina?

Anonymous said...

David Schramm was spectacular as King Lear at Juliard.

Unknown said...

" NBC once passed on Tom Cruise for a pilot."

...could you say which one?

Albert Giesbrecht said...

David Schramm was spectacular as King Lear at Juliard.

Julie, who?

Jabroniville said...

This can be tricky for some actors. Will Ferrell & Michael Cera essentially did irreparable harm to their careers by appearing in five movies a year playing near-identical characters. Cera especially.

However, they also made money like GANGBUSTERS doing the same thing, probably well into the millions, and will never have to work again if they're smart. So who cares if they'll never be that high profile again?

I guess it's up to the actor. Do you want career longevity, or just a quick cash-in as "that guy" and end up rich quickly?

Turden D. Punchbowl said...

I hate to bring up a nasty rotten scummy question like this, but does Mike Nichols' film career merit a separate, special salute? Nichols' unique status comes from the breadth of his career, in which his filmography might fairly rank third of three on the quality list. The Tony Awards could easily manage a 20-minute segment on him, but the Oscars?

I guess what I'm asking is, if not Sydney Pollack, if not Joseph Mankiewicz, if not Hal Ashby, if not Robert Altman, if not Fred Zinneman, why Nichols?

ODJennings said...

>"This can be tricky for some actors. Will Ferrell & Michael Cera essentially did irreparable harm to their careers by appearing in five movies a year playing near-identical characters. Cera especially. "<

Yes, but the words "spectacular as King Lear at Juliard" will never appear anywhere near Mr Ferrell or Mr. Cera, so they would be wise to take the money.

Markus said...

The case of David Schramm reminds me of Rick Moranis (who quit the movie business to simply do something else, such as being a dad). It's a truly crazy misconception (mostly enforced by "celebrity" media of the tabloid class) that once you're a "star" or celebrity or otherwise in the spotlight, you need and want to remain there, and that if you don't but choose to live a different life or enter a new profession, something must be wrong or otherwise amiss with you.

Lynn said...

I saw Schramm in FINIAN'S RAINBOW a few years ago. He was very good. He played the racist senator who is transformed into a black man. (A different actor played the senator as a black man. They don't just black up the white guy like they used to.)

Sally Rogers Lives said...

Friday Question: How did the celebrity callers on Frasier get hooked up with the show? Was it a case where the celebrity (or the celebrity's agent) reached out to express interest, or did the show's production team initiate? Also, were there any non-acting celebrities who surprised the production team with how good they were, a la Kevin McHale's surprisingly excellent turn on a couple of episodes of Cheers?

Sally Rogers Lives said...

(By the way, congrats on your nine year anniversary and the successful "A or B" run.)

Brian said...

Speaking of playing against type, Bebe Neuwirth after Cheers ended played the temptress Lola in the Broadway revival of "Damn Yankees", later a similarly sexy role in "Chicago". Michael Crawford, probably best known today as the darkly erotic "Phantom of the Opera", originally was known for playing hapless klutzes, such as Frank in BBC's "Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em" , or Cornelius Hackl in the movie version of "Hello Dolly".

AAllen said...

"And the time it takes for the cameras to roll from one set to another is maybe three minutes."

Three minutes? I wish. When I saw Two and a Half Men, there was a scene that went from the living room to the kitchen that seemed continuous on TV, but wasn't on stage. They did the living room scene twice, had a break, then did the kitchen scene twice.

To Charles Emerson Losechester:

The highlight of that same Los Angeles trip was seeing the editing machine developed for I Love Lucy at a museum. They developed a three screen film editing bay so that they could edit a multi-camera show as fast as directing a live show.

I never became a fan of Two and a Half Men, but I did become a fan of The Big Bang Theory. I've caught up to the season after the year I saw Two and a Half Men, and I noticed in the making-of segment that they were no longer using film. I might have sat in on the last year they were still using film for sitcoms.

Anonymous said...

My question --

In your experience, how do people know when a certain take on tv or in a movie is "right"? Does it happen that the director will be satisfied but the actor/actress will insist on more? How often do you do five takes before deciding take two is good enough?

-Brian Fitz