Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Questions

Hello from somewhere in the Far East.   Here are some Friday Questions although where I am it's Saturday.

willieb asks:

Any truth in those "everybody has a screenplay" stories ("My hairdresser/valet/dry cleaner gave me a screenplay to read")? Have you been bombarded with sample scripts? If so, what's the weirdest situation you've had to deal with?

I’ve received scripts at my high school reunion, I’ve told the story about getting pitched a movie while making funeral arrangements for my grandmother, and a couple of years ago one of the host helpers during my mother’s condolence wanted to pitch me a pilot idea. When I announced minor league baseball people would come up to the press box all the time with scripts. It's not like there was great security in ballparks in Rochester and Toledo. If someone had the lung capacity to climb those stairs they could get in.

A director I know was attending High Holiday services one year at his temple and a fellow congregate pulled a script out from under his prayer shawl.

I’m sure a few of the working writers who read this blog could weigh in with their own appalling stories.

Cap'n Bob Napier wonders:

I just saw a M*A*S*H episode written by MacLean Stevenson. When actors do this are massive rewrites usually required or are they pretty good to start with?

I don’t know about that particular episode but yes, massive rewrites usually are required. One reason: they often give 90% of the good lines to themselves. But in fairness, they’re not writers. If I were to suddenly have a big guest role in a MASH or CHEERS episode I’m sure I’d suck. I’m not an actor.

I will say this though, Alan Alda’s scripts were terrific and we changed very little.

From Steve:

On a show like Cheers, do the showrunners or writers know where they want their main characters to wind up by the end of the series (e.g., Sam & Diane will finally get and stay together), or is that unusual and more typically the story arcs are just thought of season by season, or even every few weeks?

First off, it’s unusual that shows are so successful that producers can determine when the series will end. Usually it’s America.

In the case of CHEERS, we always thought it would be great to bring Diane back for the finale but Shelley Long had to be available and agreeable to doing it. If she were in Norway making a movie we were shit out of luck.

If producers know where the finish line is they’ll usually work towards it in the final season.  Graham Yost, showrunner of JUSTIFIED has said recently he doesn't know how the series is going to end.  Hopefully he does by now.  We're halfway through the final season. 

Some shows have built in endings. the war ends on MASH.  And of course, the final scene of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER? was filmed only a couple of years into the series, and since kids were involved and they have the audacity to grow, the producers were pretty locked into that ending. 

A bigger question than what to do for the finale is how long the finale will be? Networks try to make huge events out of these and stretch them from a half hour to (if they had their choice) nine hours plus an intermission. This greatly affects the storytelling. MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, FRIENDS, and SEINFELD were waaay longer than they needed to be but the networks got one last massive payday out of them. In my opinion, as good as all of them may have been, they would have been far better if they were only an hour.

Kudos to THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, NEWHART, and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND for ending their series with half hour episodes. For my money they’re three of the best finales ever. And that's one reason why.

My partner and I have had three series and none of them had a planned final episode. Once the network says, "You're canceled! Now get out!" that pretty much puts the kibosh on your glittering two hour finale. If we knew we were doing a last episode of ALMOST PERFECT the plan was to bring back all the characters from our other two series and end all three at once. Well, maybe when our next series is canceled.

Ask your question in the comments section. Thanks. Have a great weekend wherever you are.


Carol said...

For my money, I thought the last episode of Leverage was perfect. As much as I hated to see the show end, 5 yesrs was a good run, and they ended the show beautifully.

I'm still mad about How I Met Your Mother, though.

Gully Foyle said...

I have a follow up to willieb's question regarding the drive-by screenplay pitchers. Have you ever had anyone of these schmoes come with a good idea, something that you could (or did) actually use? Or (what would be an even better story), did you recognize genius in some schmoe's idea and Pygmailioned him/her to become successful in the business?

Bill O said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Walker said...

HIMYM's ending was very ironic, really. The producers gave the audience what we wanted... but they did it back in Season 2, and what we wanted changed by Season 9. The ironic thing is that they clearly underestimated their ability to introduce a new character (The Mother) so well that we'd actually grow to love her.

That said, the alternate ending was ultra safe. I can see why they went for the more daring one.

Alternate ending:

unkystan said...

The finale of Parks and Recreation just jumped into the Top Ten.

Jonathan said...

In fairness to the producers of Frasier (and even NBC!), their finale was only an hour long. it was preceded by a half-hour clip show of the final season to catch people up on the recurring plot lines that year, but it wasn't part of the story in any way. (In fact, it was produced by a different company and has never been syndicated or released on DVD, making it a Frasier rarity.)

As for HIMYM, I know I am part of the silent majority (or minority--since we are silent, who knows?), but I loved the final episode. I was positively alarmed at where the previous several seasons of the series had gone, and I was very glad they made that last hour work the way they did.

Anonymous said...

Loved the final of Parks and Recreation. I am not DONE watching the reruns.

Tom Quigley said...

I agree with you about the finale on CHEERS. As I recall it was either an hour and a half or an hour and 15 minutes, and the first 15 minutes could have been either reduced to five or cut out altogether. the story didn't really start to move forward until about 20 minutes into the show.

A little side note: I was on the sound stage (Stage 25) at Paramount just a few weeks after the CHEERS set had been struck and the FRASIER set was in the final stages of being finished, and discovered a mound of discarded CHEERS scripts and loose pages off to one side. Call it timing, good fortune or whatever, but as a result, from a pile of trash that no one apparently wanted or wanted to dispose of, I have a memento from the final season of one of my all-time favorite shows.

Terrence Moss said...

HIMYM wasn't locked into anything. They just stuck with an idea that they had for seven years and it didn't work by the time the series FINALLY ended. The ending was awful. They all should have had pianos dropped on them. That would have been better.

Anonymous said...

Bob Perlow.....I did the warm-up on the final of Newhart....the audience (and I) had no idea that the dream sequence was coming....the studio went dark and when we heard Suzanne's distinctive raspy voice we ALL got goosebumps.....a moment we will all never forget!!!!

Bill Goldman said...

So this restroom attendant hands me a script as I'm heading into a stall. I used it in a way that reflected what I thought of it.

Christina said...

Hi Ken,

How do you feel about the writing programs at the big networks? Have you ever been involved in the process of judging scripts in these programs?

Is there a reason CBS and ABC's programs still live in the Stone Age of mailing hard copy scripts? Or why NBC and WB's submissions are both online, but WB charges $30 to apply to an unpaid job while NBC charges nothing?

Just interested to know if you have any thoughts on this for us "baby" TV writers.

- Christina

SER said...

My problem with the HIMYM finale is that it didn't ring true to me from a character standpoint. I lost my mother when I was 34 and it was still a devastating event. If Ted's wife died when their children were in their early teens or younger, it seems implausible that they'd be so sanquine about their father moving on with Robin. They're still children and capable of great selfishness and immaturity, after all. Also, they appear openly bored about hearing the story of how their parents met. It didn't feel to me like kids who'd lost their mother early and would be eager for stories about her or even visibly misty still when talking about her.

But even if I could get past that, I think the "alternate" ending, which is admittedly "safer" is more authentic and better for character. That is a danger of "twist" endings (and believe me, I *love* twist endings) but they can sacrifice character to serve the ending. I liken it to the "surprise party" where all your friends have to behave like jerks who forgot your birthday for the surprise to work.

SER said...

Oh, and regarding CHEERS, I've always thought it had two great pilots, and two great finales.

The first episode of the "Rebecca" Era really works like the "first" episode of a series with the backstory of Sam having sacrificed his true love (Cheers) to forget about a lost love and how he spends the next few years reclaiming that love.

And the final episode of the "Cheers"era is understated and quite moving. "Have a good life" and then the "old" Sam and Diane dancing in their dream home -- maybe it happens, maybe it never does. It still gets me.

tavm said...

Finale of "Two and a Half Men": Ridiculous especially the end with "Charlie" arriving at the door and Chuck Lorre then saying "Winning!" with the piano falling on him after it fell on that other guy. Arnold was great doing that exposition. Very glad to see Jake one more time. Very funny despite what I said at the beginning.

"Parks and Recreatiion" finale: Funny and touching concerning the way all the cast ended up with the fine addition of what Ann and Rob Lowe's character ended up doing. A keeper.

On "The Big Bang Theory"s having Mrs. Wolowitz dying after the actress passed away: Touching and funny and the following ep having her ashes temporarily missing was also funny as well. Good work, Mr. Lorre!

Tim W. said...

While I didn't hate the Finale for Parks and Recreation, a MUCH better finale would have been at the end of season 6. That seemed like a much better season finale that was in the spirit of the show. And the plus about ending in season 6 would have been forgetting that season 7 even happened.

Oat Willie said...

Is that Natalie Wood in a blonde wig?

John Hammes said...

The Odd Couple was another rare example at the time. They filmed a final episode where Felix remarries Gloria - and Oscar joyfully begins dancing and singing about. Thankfully, this was also a regular half hour episode, EASILY allowing inclusion forever in the syndication package.

The Andy Griffith Show had what could kinda-sorta be considered something of a final episode, or at least a storyline wrap-up. Andy and Helen get married, Barney naturally serves as best man... and then a lonely Barney decides to tag along (at a respectful distance) for the honeymoon!

Kinda-sorta, given that this episode was officially the series premiere of Griffith's spinoff "Mayberry R.F.D.", the reason we never really get to see this event that often. Original viewers first saw this episode in September 1968, a week or so after the final prime time rerun of "TAGS", so on that particular Monday night the transition must have felt relatively seamless.

Both series only had stand alone, half hour storylines (as memory serves) which would prove a future syndication benefit, especially during baseball season...

Rain delays?

No problems.

Plug in an episode or two (or three) of The Odd Couple (WPIX), Andy Griffith (WTBS), Honeymooners (WGN)... 'member when those stations kept to that practice?


Play ball !

tavm said...

Well, here's news Sheldon will be sad about: Leonard Nimoy has passed away. At least they'll always be that dream he had about him...

Tom Reeder said...

This doesn't top your story, Ken, but I was in a church service one time and an ominous 9x12 envelope was passed down the aisle to me. It was a spec script, of course, launched in my direction by someone seated in another row, so several people were complicit in delivering it to me. I still don't know why the person who wrote it didn't wait until after the service so he could accost me in the parking lot -- shy, I guess.

Jim said...

Alan Alda's great, but I suppose it's no surprise because he really was one of those born in a trunk kids. If you get the chance then check out the documentary "Behind the Burly Q" where loads of lovely sweet old grannies reminisce about their experiences as Burlesque strippers. Alda's dad was a straight man, and young Alan seemed to have spent a lot of time in his youth watching his act. Or at least that's no doubt how he tried to explain it at the time.

Ron Rettig said...

Stay in Asia Ken, that way you won't be subjected to the horrid 21st century remake of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple". It is worse than dross as young folk might think that was Simon's vision.

Cap'n Bob said...

Thanks for using my question, Ken, but there's are problems. One, I don't remember asking it. And two, I haven't watched a MASH episode in at least two years. Was this from the archives?

Richard Rothrock said...

Last winter, my wife and I are at a car dealership ready to close the deal on her car. We just have to sign the last few papers. But before he hands them over, the salesman starts pitching me his idea for a sitcom set in, guess where!, a car dealership.

Diane D. said...

The final episode of Season 5 of Cheers, which ends with elderly Sam and Diane dancing together, implies very strongly that they will eventually be reunited.

I can never forgive the creators of this fabulous show for not making that happen in the final episode when Diane returned. Does anyone know or have any thoughts as to why they didn't do that?

DBenson said...

There was a cute show some years back, "Caroline in the City". I was a fan thanks largely to the presence of two very appealing actresses, plus an episode where the heroine must shoot down a Macy's balloon ala "Old Yeller". The half-hour finale whipped through a series of scenes that played like a Cliff Notes version of a fully mapped-out season -- they were clearly expecting one more year to square away the relationships.

In ancient days, I remember reading how series finales were verboten because producers feared an ending would destroy the syndication value. "The Fugitive" was held up as an example of a show that suffered in reruns because the title character was vindicated at the end.

And long before series finales we had actual movie serials -- Flash Gordon, Commander Cody and all that. I've noticed that a lot of them tend to end in a very perfunctory manner, often with a bit of unfunny comedy relief. My pet theory was that they did this on purpose, to make the beginning of the next serial -- often part of the same matinee -- look better.

Ben said...

A headline on today's HuffPo homepage: "The KKK Was Terrorizing America Decades Before ISIS Appeared".

Watching a millennial "journalist" discover something new is as if I'm watching Columbus discover America...and I'm a millennial.

Question Mark said...

My problem with the HIMYM finale is that it didn't ring true to me from a character standpoint. I lost my mother when I was 34 and it was still a devastating event. If Ted's wife died when their children were in their early teens or younger, it seems implausible that they'd be so sanquine about their father moving on with Robin. They're still children and capable of great selfishness and immaturity, after all. Also, they appear openly bored about hearing the story of how their parents met. It didn't feel to me like kids who'd lost their mother early and would be eager for stories about her or even visibly misty still when talking about her.

I actually thought the producers could've addressed this and also addressed the "we were locked into our ending since the kids are now too old for reshoots" issue.

As established throughout the series, Ted was a real chatterbox, so this was probably the 1000th time he'd told some variation of this story to the kids. As much as they loved their mom, I can see how they'd get a bit tired about it after hearing Ted start in with "Kids..." yet again.

So the simple solution would be to have a new ending with the now-age appropriate kids addressing this, saying "Dad, you've been telling us about this FOREVER. We GET IT!" And then you have Tracy walk in since, under this revised ending, she isn't dead and we're avoided that tacked-on ending with Robin.

p.s. I'm sorry about the loss of your mother

Question Mark said...

One of my favourite finales was the last episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" since it served as both a regular episode but also a thematic wrap-up to the premiere --- the crew's mission kept on going, yet it tied back into the opening episode's idea of Q putting Picard on trial for humanity.

Stephen Robinson said...

Thanks, Question Mark:

Yeah, I don't know why they didn't bring in the now older actors as the kids for the HIMYM finale. It stretches disbelief to think that Ted told nine seasons worth of stories in one evening. And the twisty nature of the narrative would make sense for a years long topic.

Bob Summers said...


I know that back in the day, Fred MacMurray would shoot all of his scenes at the beginning of the season and then be gone. The kids played reactions to a mop or something.

How did they accomplish this? Did they write every episode of the season before it began? Could this be pulled off today?

Matt said...

I remember watching the MASH finale and just thought it was not the same show. They brought in the POW camp, which while historically accurate, was never in any episode in the past 11 years.

While there were a few nice nostalgic moments, I thought it was overly long and a pretty big miss.

Mike said...

@Cap'n Bob: Well spotted. The whole article is a repost from 2009.

Mike said...

@Cap'n Bob: And I liked the Sacheen Littlefeather joke.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

ttvm: Sheldon was my first thought on hearing about Nimoy, too. How sad is that? If he was ill, it makes sense why Nimoy only did a voiceover.

Jim: and of course, Alda went on to write a bunch of movies, at least a couple of which were very successful and hold up now, decades later (most notably THE FOUR SEASONS).

Richard Rothrock: I think I'd have used that to ask for a discount!


RichardRothrock said...

Bob Summers: I know that back in the day, Fred MacMurray would shoot all of his scenes at the beginning of the season and then be gone. The kids played reactions to a mop or something.

You are exactly right! One of my favorite TV stories. MacMurray would only work a limited time so they would shoot all his shots for the entire season on his own over several days or weeks at the beginning of the season. The rest of the cast would shoot the rest of the episodes over the rest of the season without him. A crew person would stand where Fred would be and hold a mop and that is what the cast was reacting to. They called it "Fred MacMop."

Greg Ehrbar said...

Speaking of CAROLINE IN THE CITY, like 1982's THE NEW ODD COUPLE, the characters constantly say each other's name in almost every line. On CITY, the characters said "Caroline" so much it left little room for the rest of the show.

I DREAM OF JEANNIE had a "sort of" finale, even though NBC ran one additional episode before the end of the first run.

Tony and Roger were trying to keep two orbiting astronauts awake. When they started getting sleepy themselves, Jeannie blinked the astronauts into their house. Dr. Bellows walked and and finally (mercifully for the viewers) caught them. Though it turned out to be a dream, it was a way to see how the characters might address this situation.

BEWITCHED did a similar episode, in which Sam makes Darrin dream about what would happen if the world found out about the witches, but it aired during the Dick York era and never felt like a finale. Great episode, though.

Ken K. in NJ said...

Hi, I've been following your blog for a couple of years and I think it's terrific, thanks for keeping it going for so long.

I believe this is the first time I've asked a Friday question, so here goes. This has been puzzling me and especially my wife, who's a fan of the Kelly and Michael show.

The show appears to be live, often they talk about things that are happening the same day. Yet somehow ABC shows promos at night for the next day's show featuring clips from the coming show. How do they do that? Are the clips from rehearsals the day before? Are they clips from previous appearances of tomorrow's guests??
Or perhaps they only do this when the upcoming show is a re-run even though they don't advertise is as such.

Thanks for any insight you might have on this.