Friday, May 08, 2015

Friday Questions

Some Friday Questions to ease you into Mother’s Day Weekend.

James starts us off:

Do you feel like current shows are paying for the sins of the past generations? I see quite a few shows that, even if they're still raved about, are held up as cautionary tales of things not to do. Shows like Moonlighting (be wary of advancing will-they-won't-they relationships,) Twin Peaks (don't give too much away,) and Murphy Brown (don't be so topical the reruns fall flat,) among others. Do you feel like executives might pass on shows out of fear of repeating the past or are they willing to give them a chance?

Networks absolutely pass on shows based on failures of other shows. POLITICAL ANIMALS didn’t work on USA. So when we pitched them a political-themed show they said political shows don’t work on USA. Uh, maybe the problem was POLITICAL ANIMALS wasn’t very good. But WEST WING sure worked. So did HOUSE OF CARDS. And MADAME SECRETARY and VEEP are doing okay too. SCANDAL scrapes by as well.

What networks don’t seem to understand is that when shows fail, many times it’s not the arena, it’s the execution.

And likewise, when they try to slavishly copy success they miss that the hit shows have a certain vision, great casting, or arrived at just the right time. Just throwing six twenty-somethings together won’t give you FRIENDS (although they tried like fifty times).

Obviously, there are things to be learned from shows that either failed or fell out of favor. But each must be considered on an individual basis. In the case of CHEERS, we didn’t string out the Sam & Diane relationship past one season not because of MOONLIGHTING but because we felt these were two adults and if they keep circling each other endlessly it was going to start feeling like high school.

From ScottyB:

Friday Question for Ken, and perhaps even your writing partner, Mr. Isaacs:

Your kids are growing up to be script writers, in your footsteps (especially comedy). Was there anything you specifically did when they were small children or even growing-up teenagers to expose them to comedy records (as opposed to watching TV episodes of 'The Honeymooners' or 'I Love Lucy')?

Obviously, I can’t speak for David, but I really didn’t play a lot of comedy albums for my kids. Most of the comedy I exposed them to was either visual – great TV shows and movies, or written material – from stage plays, to scripts, to books, to comedic essays.

But what I impressed upon them was that the comedy of today is merely a variation or refinement of what went before. Louis C.K. is hilarious but didn’t invent comedy.

So I think my kids developed a great appreciation for early sitcoms (besides I LOVE LUCY), romantic comedies (even ones in black and white), and classic movies from filmmakers like Billy Wilder, Preston Sturgess, Woody Allen, Buster Keaton, and Mel Brooks.

Comedy was always a high priority in our family. There was frequently teasing and anyone in the family could be the target. It was very important that my kids learned if they’re going to dish it out they’ve got to be able to take it. But there was always a lot of laughter in the Levine home. Mostly at my expense.  But not so much from listening to Bob Newhart albums (although they are great). 

Keith, who was a disc jockey, has a disc jockey related question.

Did you have "toilet" records? For example, if I needed some time away from the board for business, my reliably long enough cuts were Cocaine (Clapton) and, of course, Alice's Restaurant. Yours?

MacArthur Park by Richard Harris. Hey Jude by the Beatles. And if you ever heard me play El Paso by Marty Robbins you could bet I was draining the radiator.

And finally from John Leader (who was a great disc jockey on KHJ in the ‘70s):

Having Netflix has introduced us to several British shows like "The Fall," "Happy Valley," "Luther," "Midsomer Murders," and others. The quality of these shows versus comparable American fare seems to be quite high. Is it because the BBC stuff is only producing 4-6 episodes a season? And, what about the remarkably long intervals between new seasons for these show...often longer than a year? How do they maintain the audience?

Most of these British shows are written by a single writer or very small staff. With few exceptions (Aaron Sorkin, David E. Kelley), it’s very difficult for a single writer to pen an entire season of a US show, especially if it’s for a broadcast network with an order of 22.

Shows in the UK have the luxury of short orders and the creators are given sufficient time to write those shows. And yes, they risk losing the audience’s interest if too much time goes by. But take for example SHERLOCK. Stephen Moffat must concoct these ingenious scripts, essentially movies, and write the teleplays. To bang out two or three of these in one year (while working on other things like DOCTOR WHO) is remarkable. That’s a lot of pressure. And the pressure is even worse because if you are asking your fans to wait a year or more for new episodes they damn well better be great. Fortunately, in SHERLOCK’S case they are.

And yet, for my money it’s an even greater more impressive feat that Robert & Michelle King produce 22 episodes of THE GOOD WIFE every year for five years. And the quality is as good or better than premium American dramas like MAD MEN or the UK gems you listed.

What’s your question?


Anonymous said...

This miniplay is called "Ken's Front Door." The scene begins at Ken's Front Door:

Knock knock

KEN opens his FRONT DOOR

Ken: Yes?

Blog Reader: Hi. I'm a reader of your blog. Just thought I'd stop by.

Ken: What for? What's that little tray for? What's that bottle of champagne for?

BR opens bottle, pours champagne into glasses on tray, hands glass of champagne to KEN

BR: Fox just cancelled The Mindy Experiment.

Ken: Ah! Salut!

KEN and BR drink glass of champagne down together.

BR: Well, I'll be on my way, now. Have a good one!

Ken: Thank you, happy blog reader!


benson said...

Sorry to start the day with sad news, but EW is reporting Phillip Perlman died at 95. RIP.

Stoney said...

"...One little kiss and Philena, gooood-byyyye." "Hey...where's Beaver?"

Mitchell Hundred said...

If I may jump in and add another great UK procedural to that list: Hinterland. Although my affection for it is almost certainly largely based on the fact that I love Welsh accents unreservedly.

Paul Duca said...

The Sam/Diane relationship started three years before MOONLIGHTING debuted...

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Friday question: Back in the 70s and 80s, Networks always had top notch or at least very popular shows on Saturdays (I remember CBS had the comedy block of MTM, Bob Newhart, All in the Family, Alice and Carol Burnett on Saturdays). I know Saturdays became a viewer wasteland, but now with DVRs/On Demand/Netflix, any show (at any time) can be viewed and become a hit. Do you think the Networks will eventually go back to this?

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

There's a fine line in comedy of what to do with 2 characters who are secretly attracted to each other ala Sam/Diane, Moonlighting. The Big Bang Theory did it well (as they focused on all the characters). Friends did it well, though the on-again off again relationship of Ross and Rachel got dragged out too long, as if they didn't know what to do with a relationship.

MikeN said...

With just 6 episodes a season, what do the British watch? Do they cycle through four times as many different shows?

MikeN said...

What do they mean Political Animals didn't work? It was more like a miniseries, clearly based on the Clintons, with purpose of promoting a Hillary primary challenge to Obama. Bill Clinton was pushing this at the time, and the show makes him look good by saying he tanked the race against Obama just to keep Hillary from taking the blame. In the actual race, that would be his comments about Jesse Jackson.

Neil D said...

I'm of the opinion that another reason British shows seem to be of higher quality is that they appear to hire based on acting ability over looks. There is plenty of great British talent that would never have gotten their foot in the door on American television, where it seems only early-20-something models need apply.

Alan Iverson said...

The best short-run tv series I've ever seen is American... TERRIERS. That should be the template from here on in..

KEN, I'm just spit balling here, but what do you say we pitch the series "B.F. Pierce" with a certain Alan Alda as a small town doctor in Crab Apple Cove?
B.J. and the gang could make the odd visit, i.e. the Cheers gang in Frasier.

And since science is one of Alan's passions, we could incorporate it into the series as a bonding activity between B.F. Pierce and his grandchildren. (It's certainly a bargaining chip to lure Mr Alda)

If we find the right tone for the series, this little baby will explode in the ratings.

Jon B. said...

Ditto on Terriers. The very best. I regret it never made it to Season Two, which likely would have been at least as good or better. Given the talent on that show and its genre (think Rockford Files), I suspect it would have avoided the drop-off of series like Orphan Black.

Hamid said...


We watch American TV drama. We do get American shows over here too, you know.

CRL said...

I'm sure American TV looks great in countries where they only get the top 4 shows.......

DBenson said...

Steve Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who plays Mycroft) both write "Sherlock", and they've sometimes had another writer on board. Still, it's a very small club.

I'm just a little nervous about Season Four. Much of Season Three was Sherlock coming to terms with what it was to be somewhat human -- even flirting with female relationships (one evidently fake, one a curious effort to make Molly his new best friend). The end would have been a satisfying series finale: Sherlock condemning himself to indirect death to protect Watson and his new family. Turning the plane around felt like "We just got renewed."

A big question is whether Sherlock himself will continue to evolve -- as he has through the simple fact of having a real friend -- or will he follow Doyle's original and lock down his identity as a detective who lives only for the game? Both are fraught with creative risks; the latter also raises the question of whether Holmes and Watson could continue as friends if one froze and the other continued to evolve.

They've done amazing things thus far, so hope remains.

sanford said...

I am a fan of the Good Wife. I don't read every critic. I think Alan Sepinwall is pretty good. He was not very thrilled with the Good Wife this year. One of the thing he mentioned was that there was something going on between Margulies and Panjabi. I guess I didn't notice but they had not appeared in the same scene in quite some time. In this age of social media it is surprising that no one has leaked what

Terrence Moss said...

they knew what to do with the relationship but NBC held onto the show longer than they should because they failed to develop a comedy hit to replace it -- or at least soften the blow of its immediate downfall.

Mark Patterson said...

My brain freely associates all the time. Yesterday, a remark made by Norm on Cheers surfaced in my consciousness. Harry Anderson was in the episode playing his con-man character. Norm walked over to him and said, "Hey,'s the twenty bucks I'm going to owe you in about ten minutes."

That line fractured me when I saw it, and it still brings a smile today.

Was it one of yours? If it was, thank you.

If it wasn't, do you remember who came up with it?

RyderDA said...

Friday Question:

Recently, I saw a "tribute compilation" of the best quotes of Roger Stirling from MAD MEN, each with a photo of John Slattery. When we said goodbye to Robin Williams, there were endless quotes from his shows or movies. But you know and I know that writers wrote all of that stuff. Does is frustrate or annoy you as a writer that an actor playing your character gets credited with "your stuff" in circumstances like that?

Johnny Walker said...

Alan: Aside from featuring Alan Alda, what's "B.F. Pierce" about?

Mike said...

Was there a moment where the Cheers writers decided that Sam and Rebecca weren't going to work as a couple and started writing them as friends?

Anonymous said...

Mike N, the most popular drama series over here are the soaps. They get the prime time slots, they're on 3-4 nights during the week, pre watershed (9pm). We also have a couple of high volume medical dramas Casualty/Holby City, which're 48-45 eps a year. We do have a lot of those 6 parters on. And Downton.

Steve M

XantaKlaus said...

Hi Ken,

a Friday Question for you:

I'd be interested in your take on the renewal of Undateable and switching the format to a live broadcast. They just had a live episode, probably a test for this format but it was twice as long and had a lont of prominent cameos (especially from former Scrub actors). Do you think this is a good idea in general to give it an event character? Is this a niche and only a possibility because the cast and crew know each other so well or if it is moderately successfull will pilot season go after group of standup and sketch comedians who already have chemistry to copy that idea? What are the advantages and disadvantages for writers and the production in this concept and how different is this format really from a writer's perspective?


Kristina said...

Friday Question: I'm currently writing a Goldbergs spec and at the end of every show, the real Adam Goldberg includes a dedication for the inspiration for each episode (usually from one of his home videos). For spec purposes, do I include a dedication? Do I write it in Adam Goldbergs voice? Or do I write a personal dedication for the inspiration for my spec?

Zack Bennett said...

David Letterman's final show on NBC featured a "Cheers" cold open where all of the bar patrons leave when Letterman comes on TV. (

This aired about a month AFTER the Cheers finale.

Who was responsible for this? Were Letterman's writers tagged with creating this, was it the "Cheers" staff, or was it a true collaboration? And when was it shot?