Friday, May 01, 2015

Friday Questions

Happy May Day (Malone). Celebrate with Friday Questions.

Michael starts us off:

How much leverage do writers have in negotiating higher salaries on successful shows?

Never as much as we’d like. Hollywood always feels any writer could be replaced. And even if the quality of a show goes down, audiences tune in to see the actors.

Aaron Sorkin was replaced on WEST WING and it went another couple of seasons. Larry David left SEINFELD and it trundled on. MASH survived Larry Gelbart’s departure (and even though I was one of the writers who replaced him I can honestly say this was a case where the quality did indeed suffer).
A few years ago Matthew Weiner’s negotiations with AMC to continue running MAD MEN were stalled. Although it’s inconceivable to imagine that show without Matt at the helm, AMC was making contingency plans. Ultimately they might have gone with new showrunners. But if Jon Hamm were to walk off the show it would be toast.

That said, valued writers still can make very rich deals. And if it’s their show and they have ownership stakes they can really make a bundle.

And A-list writers can leverage their success to get network commitments for future shows, which can be more valuable than money if the circumstances are right.

Stormy wonders:

How would you have handled broadcasting a game where there were no fans in the building like the Orioles & White Sox faced on Wednesday?

The same way I handled half the road games I did calling the Mariners in 1992 when we lost 99 games. Just be as informative and entertaining as I could. And not yelling over a home run because it always annoyed the outfielders when they could hear it.

From David:

So after a lot of work I have finally completed both a an original pilot and a spec of an existing show. Is that enough to submit to agents or should I have more? I'm also concerned of my spec going stale since in my Veep Selina is still the Vice President. Any advice?

Yes, a spec from an existing show plus a sample of original work is all that’s required. BUT, the more scripts you write the more you improve your odds. The next spec you write will be better than the one you have now.

And it wouldn’t hurt to have specs from two existing shows – maybe a single camera and a multi-cam.

I wouldn’t worry about your VEEP for about a year. Producers understand that you have no way of knowing what story sea-changes a series may make. But after about a year when producers start getting VEEP scripts where Selina has been established as the president then your script may seem dated. But for the moment you should be okay.

Ken asks:

Has the ability to "binge watch" shows exposed some plotting/ scripting weaknesses that were not conspicuous when people had to wait a week between shows and perhaps years to see on rerun?

An example of what I mean is that recently I binged on "New Tricks" ( very good British cop show) While watching I started to notice how much family dysfunction played out in many of the episodes/ cases they worked on.   I don't know if I would have noticed this watching one show a week.

It certainly is easier to pick out patterns when you binge watch a show. For aspiring writers planning to write a spec that’s a good thing. But for the casual viewer, it gives them a chance to see the seams.

I’ve never written on a series that I knew could be binge watched. Would I alter my storytelling if I did know? Somewhat... perhaps. I’d do less exposition. I wouldn’t feel the need to remind the audience of certain things because weeks are not passing between episodes; hours are.

And still it would depend on the platform. If my show was on NETFLIX then I would assume there is a lot of binge watching. But if my show was on a network I would have to assume that most of my audience is still not binge watching.

This is a question I have for you guys: I personally find it easier to binge watch dramas. Comedies have a rhythm and a pace and for me it’s harder to watch four straight half hours than two hours of drama. Is that just me? And a second question: when you binge watch, how many hours at a time? If I watch thirteen episodes of a series in a one week period, to me that’s binge watching. There are others who watch thirteen episodes in one or maybe two days.

Again, this is personal, but when there’s a sitcom I really love I don’t like to watch too many episodes at one time because I want to savor them.

And finally, from Glenn E:

Knowing your appreciation for “The Good Wife”, do you find the urge as a writer to try your hand on a script for the show? If the Kings came calling one day with an offer to do so, would you want to create lines for characters like Eli Gold and Howard Lyman?

I would love to write an episode of THE GOOD WIFE, but only on assignment. I have no desire to write a spec. This might surprise you but the one character on that show I would most want to write is Alicia Florrick. I find her fascinating and in many ways the strongest smartest character on television. And Julianna Margulies plays her perfectly. (My next favorite is not Eli Gold but his daughter, Marissa.)

What’s your Friday Question:


Michael said...

Friday question: It has been widely rumored because of off-screen problems between the actresses, on THE GOOD WIFE, the characters Alicia and Kalinda rarely have appeared in scenes together last couple years. Without naming names, have you ever had to deal with this sort of problem?

DADreger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

We binge watch sitcoms and dramas but very differently. In dramas, because they are so long, we may fast forward through a less than intriguing scene, or a scene we know won't get resolved in this episode but will obviously will in the next.
Sitcoms, we watch the whole thing because everything is resolved, and it's not just about story or character but about being amused.

David D said...

Do you see network television at a turning point now that more and more shows are being created directly for streaming by Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime? Has the network television model now changed?

Have you, or are you and your partner David working on a series to pitch to the streaming vendors?

Michael said...

I always thought Sam was a relief pitcher. The numbers on the baseball card for his last 2 years are clearly for a starter, with impressive inning counts that starters these days don't approach.

DAD said...

Binge Watching....I've found, for me, watching 2-3 episodes no matter the type (comedy or drama) works best and I enjoy it more. The few times I have watched entire seasons I've found the whole thing forgettable and it all blurs together. When I've watched just a few episodes each sitting I've noticed more detail, picked up on subtle detail and found the shows to be more engaging.

Daddy Background said...

Interesting question about binge watching comedies vs. dramas.

I recently went through Daredevil on Netflix in a weekend and found it to be very satisfying (except once the chocolate is all gone, you have no more chocolate).

On the other hand, I really like "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" but find myself watching only a couple at a time - at most - and then pausing several days before returning to it. Still not all the way through that one, but close.

On the OTHER other hand, I went through "Scrotal Recall" in two or three sittings (but there's only six shows) over the course of three days. It's not the same brand of in-your-face, over-the-top comedy that Kimmy Schmidt is.

All that to say, you're probably on to something there.

(P.S. Remember your post about titles? Of course you do. "Scrotal Recall." A HORRIBLE, horrible title that almost made me miss out on a really sweet and funny show.)

Carol said...

I've found myself watching more than one episode of Psych on Netflix, but currently I tend to only watch Netflix when I'm exercising - right now I'm watching How I Met Your Mother. Trying to see how far I get before I get annoyed at the show. So far the continuity is still pretty good, and I don't hate Robin/Ted yet.

I got up to series 4 of Friends on Netflix before I got annoyed at Ross/Rachel. Mostly Rachel.

I keep telling myself I need to watch some of the new shows, or a movie or something, but I haven't yet.

DBA said...

I tend not to binge watch comedies as much because my desire to binge watch usually comes from a "" feeling, and comedies less frequently have that kind of ongoing story. For example, I tend to binge watch Orphan Black, even if it means delaying watching it overall. When I do binge watch a comedy, it's usually either something that does have some sort of ongoing plot, or it's something I just discovered, usually late to the party, and love it and thus when I realize I could just see the whole thing, sometimes do. But that's usually something I missed entirely when it actually aired. Or something a few seasons in and I'm catching up to watch the rest live.

Justin Russo said...

ANSWER to you question: I have always been a "marathoner" when DVDs were released. I could watch a season of FRIENDS in an afternoon, but largely because I was familiar with the stories. Binging overall (comedies or dramas) depends on the nature of the program. I binged THE AFFAIR in three nights because the story captured me; same with season 1 of GAME OF THRONES (I now watch it live). KIMMY SCHMIDT however I essentially watched in one afternoon because I kept laughing and missed 30 ROCK. Ultimately it just depends on how the content draws me in versus the type of show and the need to know how things end.

For multi-cam episodes filmed in front of a live studio audience, when there's a surprise shot for the television audience that the camera pulls away for (e.g. a particular costume or hidden prop), how is the element of surprise sustained for the broadcast audience (particularly with a live laugh track)?

Anonymous said...

Since you asked... I'm the opposite of you. I love binge watching 1/2 hour comedies (my favorites: Frasier, Cheers, and Seinfeld). I could watch Frasier non-stop for hours on end if my real life didn't intrude.

But dramas that I enjoy (such as the original Law & Order) I can only take in 1 or 2 episode doses. The intensity becomes too much for me otherwise. - Simon

Aaron Hazouri said...

I can binge-watch animated comedies (Bob's Burgers, Archer, etc) easier than other shows. Other shows I like to savor, as you said, so, for example, back when Netflix still had Have Gun, Will Travel streaming, I limited myself to one or two episodes a day. (Until I found out they were losing the rights - then it was 12 hour Paladin marathons!) Right now I'm watching Star Trek TOS in one-a-day increments. More than that would be too much.

David Schwartz said...

Am I the only one who didn't realize that Louie CK's show is back on the air? I was flipping channels and caught a bit of it on FX last night and thought to myself, "Oh, they're rerunning old Louie shows." I then realized I hadn't seen the episodes and that it was new. Anyway, don't know if other folks know that the show was back on, so I figured I'd mention it here.

Oat Willie said...

David Schwartz: I knew it was on because I kept watch for it.You really have to be on your toes for anything that isn't endlessly rerun crap. ABC Family has been showing "The Breakfast Club" every night this week as part of Reagan Appreciation Week.

Michael said...

Ken, I'm going to offer a bit of disagreement with you, knowing I am probably wrong.

It isn't that the quality of MASH suffered without Larry Gelbart. It's that it became more serious. Frankly, when I watch the older episodes, I think they are often too silly in comparison with, say, seasons 4-7. But it may be that the issue wasn't a change in writers so much as a change in characters: B.J. and Potter certainly were less goofy than Trapper and Henry. So maybe the question isn't whether the writer changes so much as whether the characters and the actors do? Just a thought.

I will also add that while The West Wing went three more years after Sorkin left, I seriously doubt that anyone thinks the level of quality remained as high as it had been.

Anonymous said...

Alicia Florrick is an amazing character. Awesome!

Today, slow at the office, got only 6 scripts to read. And going to cottage tonight to edit my specs. Finally, some great times ahead. Writing on the dock.

Keep re-re-writing
and hope for good times in life and in your script

David said...

Thanks for answering my question Ken.

Curt Alliaume said...

The baseball card back appears to be that of California Angels pitcher Clyde Wright (with a little doctoring).

Chris said...

I binge on dramas more than comedies but I find that if I watch more than three episodes at a time, I tend to get frustrated by the imposed idiocy involved by the conceits of the show. I really dig Person of Interest and Blacklist, but I want to smack people with clue by fours when they say (yet again) that maybe (just maybe) the person they're following might (just might) be the bad guy!

You mean like the episode before last? And three episodes before that, the one I saw last night? And oh my god, you don't suppose!?!

I didn't have the same problem with Daredevil, but that was as much a mini-series as anything else. That I just needed breaks from to get some fresh air and recuperate from the intensity.

Breadbaker said...

Ken, I'm pretty sure that I sent this to you (or someone else did) when it first came out in January, but it was reposted by Mental Floss today and it's still quite interesting. The author is a friend of mine.

John in Ohio said...

Not only is it easier for the viewers to spot holes and continuity errors, it should be easier for the creators. If they are getting all the episodes ready for a complete season launch all at once, that should mean that someone is looking over the final content, and someone is binge watching them, even an intern. Hopefully a little editing and all is fixed. Happy Days could have just edited out the references to Chuck when they realized they weren't going to use him.
Another byproduct of the death of the network model would be shorter seasons. Most of the respected cable dramas are a dozen episodes, give or take. Sometimes they split them into two half seasons of 8ish each, but it isn't 22. This should result in less filler episodes and more likelihood of keeping the cast - both because the content is better, and becuase they have more time off to do what they want, whether it is to relax or do a movie.

Dan in WNY said...

Is it wrong to admit that I'm more attracted to Alicia Florrick than to Julianna Margulies?

I find Alicia's cool demeanor very attractiveDan in WNY. Then when I see Margulies on a talk show I find her downright goofy by comparison.

John in Ohio said...

About binge watching...
I'm with DBA - means that I tend to start one thing in the evening and watch until I fall asleep on dramas with a real story arc.

Also, one active season of one show at a time. I am going back and watching (or rewatching) series I didn't watch before, or don't remember. Pick a season, start watching, go to the end of the season, then either another season or another show, or a movie.

I don't start watching most shows until they are done. I want to know that there is an end. If they aren't done, there needs to be several seasons already done (Walking Dead for instance).

If I am caught up on an active series, I won't watch it live. I will wait until the season is over and then binge it.

For comedies and self contained dramas (NCIS, CSI, L&O, etc), ignore most of what I said. I don't worry about a season. I watch them live. I may bounce from one to another, but usually I am too lazy to do that if DVD or netflix - autoplay baby.

Also, any show that has really stupid and/or annoying people as the hero doesn't get binged. One.At.A.Time. Even annoying people that I like in a show I like. Moonlighting, Psych, etc. Psych used to be marathoned every weekend on some broadcast channel. Shoot me now.

Same with annoying conceits on the show. Worst ever was Caruso explaining to people how to do their job so we at home know - someone needs to ask in the middle of one of those if he wants to tell them how to take a shit, too. Watch some of those back to back and you realize that not only does he do that, but he explains the same procedure to the same people over and over.

Frasier Crane's Humungous Ass said...

Dan in WNY said...

Is it wrong to admit that I'm more attracted to Alicia Florrick than to Julianna Margulies?

I find Alicia's cool demeanor very attractiveDan in WNY. Then when I see Margulies on a talk show I find her downright goofy by comparison.

I feel somewhat the same way about Jane Leeves/Daphne on FRASIER, though for the opposite reason. I like her down to earth goofiness on the show, but she kinds of comes across as a little self-centered and immature in some interviews I've seen. Sort of like the popular girl who won't talk to you in high school.

Brian Phillips said...

Not a question, but a headline:
The Muscular Dystrophy Telethon is no more! First Jerry Lewis is sent packing and now the whole event is going away.

Johnny Walker said...

Same Ken. Can't watch too many comedies in a row. I may have watched four in a row, but I'll be sick by the end. Usually two is enough. Conversely I'm pretty sure I happily watched four episodes of BREAKING BAD while I was binging it. Maybe more.

It has such a unique structure (so few scenes per episode) that I think it made it especially easy to enjoy.

The one exception with comedies for me would be THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW. I think the drama helped make that show easier to binge on.

Interesting question, though!

Carol said...

Friday question:

I remember reading that Les and Glen Charles sold their first spec script when they submitted a script to MTM Enterprises for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Can you still sell a spec script by sending it directly to a show's production company, or do you stand a much better chance with an agent? Am I wrong to think that the kind of agent that represents an unknown writer will probably be young or new to the industry and not have that much more chance than me selling my script myself?

thirteen said...

I binged the final season of NYPD Blue in four days. I thought it worked very well as a 20-hour-long movie, with the exception of the subplot where Clark Jr. started giving Andy lots of problems. It seemed forced.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I think dramas, currently, lend themselves to binge watching because of the serialized nature of the shows. I'm watching THE SHIELD (in season 4 now) and I can watch 2 or 3 episodes at a time, but that's just a couple of nights a week, mostly due to binge-listening of AtBat the rest of the time. However, I think I did binge on LARRY SANDERS and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, which were also sort of serialized, at least by season.

Johnny Walker said...

Forget what I said: Last night we watched 5 episodes of 30 ROCK in a row, and I could watch more today.

Tim said...

I mostly watch comedies, but I wouldn't call my style of watching binge watching. Between Netflix and DVD sets, I am watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Wings,Taxi, The Bob Newhart Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Get Smart all at once. But rather than binge watching, I basically set it up like a personalized network schedule. For example, on Mondays I watch watch an episode or two of Taxi, on Tuesdays Wings, and so on. Being in college with limited access to a lot of what's currently being broadcast, this is my substitute for regular TV viewing.

Dan Ball said...

Wednesdays and Sundays are my days off during the week. If I stay home on Wednesday and do nothing, I can burn through about 9 episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation pretty easily. I'm not watching it, but it's not just on in the background, either.

Last week, we watched the entire first season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in one night. If it's good, we'll just keep watching it--drama or comedy. We've done that with FRASIER, CHEERS, MERLIN, GAME OF THRONES, WALKING DEAD, SIMPSONS, THE OFFICE, PARKS & REC, ADVENTURE TIME.

Marianne said...

When I caught the flu last year and had to stay home, I managed to watch five seasons of Cheers in a space of a few days. Personal record!

Roger Owen Green said...

I don't binge watch. I got through 3 episodes of the Dick van Dyke Show once or twice. But I find I need a palate cleanser. Watch The Good Wife, the JEOPARDY! or the news. Then again, I've only tried on shows I've already seen.

Graham Powell said...

Here's a Friday question for you. In your Hollywood screening post you mention the screening for VOLUNTEERS, which prompted me to look it up at IMDB. I never realized Nicholas Meyer was the directory. I liked VOLUNTEERS and some of his other stuff; what was he like to work with?

Jason said...

Binge-watching: 2-3 hours per night, depending on the show. So 4 episodes of Kimmy Schmitt, 2-3 episodes of Orphan Black, etc. Of course, near the end of the season's episodes, maybe just oooonnnne more..

Jason said...

Also, some shows (imho) can be just too dark to binge for too long. We binge-watched the first season of The Following, but more than 2 episodes at once was a little too nerve-wracking.

CL said...

With your background in both TV and sports, it seems like you'd be a natural to write/direct an episode of ESPN's 30 for 30 series. If they came calling (and they should!) what sports-related story would you like to tell?

Marty Fufkin said...

You are correct about binge-watching. Dramas are easier to binge on because often they have continuing storylines that compel you to keep following. Comedies can be sensory overload. That's their appeal, but often it can be exhausting to watch for more than an hour. Also, comedies rarely have ongoing storylines that are so complex that they make you want to stick around for the next one.