Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Questions

Hope you enjoyed my DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. Discussion will continue on Monday. But nothing pre-empts Friday Questions (unless I decide something does). Here are today’s.

Klee gets us started.

Do you know if they ever used Nicholas Colasanto's TV directorial expertise in Cheers? I recently watched a Logan's Run episode directed by him.

No. Nick primarily directed one hour dramas. His directing resume is impressive and extensive. BONANZA, HAWAII FIVE-O (the good version), IRONSIDE, COLUMBO, and even THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO.

I’m sure he also felt he was in good hands with Jimmy Burrows directing all of the CHEERS episodes.

From Tim:

I live in New Jersey and I go to a Video Production School in Maine. My ultimate goal is to write comedy. Does it make more sense to find a crew job on the East Coast while I continue to work on my writing and submit spec scripts?

Absolutely. Take a crew job (or any job) and write at night. The beauty of writing is that all it requires is your time. It’s not like directing where you have to shell out a lot of money to mount a production to direct, or acting where you either have to be hired to practice your craft or attend that classes that cost you money.

J. D. Salinger was one of the soldiers who stormed the beach on D-Day. In his backpack was a few chapters of the book he was writing in his spare time – CATCHER IN THE RYE. A crew job has got to be better that than gig.

Richard is next.

Hey Ken, I loved your book on growing up in the 60s. I found it very relatable even though I grew up in the 80s and 90s.

Would you ever do one on your experiences in the 70s? You've shared a ton of great stories from being in radio and I'm sure you have a ton more.

Maybe at some point. Perhaps if more people bought the ‘60s book I’d be more motivated to write the sequel. Hint hint. You can find it here.

Steve Mc wonders:

When writing a pilot, which has many regular characters (whether a 1 hr drama like Mad Men or a sitcom like The Office), do you submit a separate sheet introducing each character? If so, how much do you write about each?

Do you mean, do we submit them to the network during a pitch? No. We may write a separate profile page on each character for our own use as a way of better defining the character (and it’s a practice I highly recommend), but we don’t submit that… for several reasons.

It’s way more info than the network needs, wants, or can digest. They have sixty pilot projects they’re juggling with.  (Each one has a character named Sam -- half are men and half are women.)  They want a quick concise definition of the characters, period. The other thing is that if a network does read an entire page they will invariably have notes. “Did she have to attend Stanford?” “Could one of the parents not be Jewish?” etc.

When writing the actual pilot, a lot of writers like to add an introductory page listing all the characters and a brief description of each. We don’t do that. We’ll quickly define each character as he’s introduced in the script. We feel it’s annoying for the reader to have to keep flipping back to the intro page every time someone new is introduced.

For us it’s all about helping the reader visualize and quickly grasp who the character is. We often give prototypes even though we know we’ll never get them. We’ll say “For Sam picture: George Clooney” “For Sam picture: Emma Watson.”

And finally, from Michael:

When actors on hit shows renegotiate their contracts, is it common for them to request some say in their character's story lines? I'm wondering if this could explain how on BIG BANG THEORY, Penny went from unsuccessful actress/incompetent waitress to successful pharmaceutical sales rep practically overnight.

Actors ask for all kinds of things, from creative say to trailers with windows. Whether it’s in their contract or not, actors want a say in where their character is going. Trust me, you do not want to send a character down a path the actor hates. That actor will make your life miserable. Personally, I don’t believe in forcing actors to do things they’re not comfortable with. There may be long discussions where I try to convince an actor to do something, and sometimes they'll come around. But if they vehemently oppose doing something I’m not going to make them regardless of whether I can contractually.

What’s your Friday Question?


Curt Alliaume said...

I find Penny's career path on The Big Bang Theory more plausible than others. For example, Joey Tribbiani on Friends was a famously lousy actor, and had all sorts of weird roles to pay the rent. But by the end of the spin-off Joey he's in a blockbuster movie.

CarsonT said...

Great Post, which made me think of another Friday Question (I figure that if I ask enough of them, some day you'll actually choose one and answer it): I was taught by several showrunners, including Stephen Cannell, that when you go don't memorize your pitch, but memorize the elements (because they will interrupt and ask questions) in and pitch to not being anything in there with you except maybe notes, and if you need to, visuals (Joss Whedon brought in a chart for Dollhouse because he'd mapped out 4 or 5 years of and intricate mythos), but nothing like a synopsis or treatment that you would hand them because, if they like your pitch, but riff with you on changes and ideas, your pre-written document will remind them of what they didn't like. I was even told to scrawl all over any notes you do bring so if they as for those, you can show they are a mess. This is so you can say you'll send them something, and have time to take out what they didn't like and add the changes they did. Recently I've seen so many new writers talk about the structure for "pitch documents" and "leave-behinds" - what they learned to do from places like Screenwriting University. What is your take on this?

Jason Roberts said...

Hey Ken,

I bought your book "The Me Generation by Me" a while back. I know you love (rightfully so) to plug your books on your site. It has made me curious though as to how many sales you have had? Do they go up each time you mention it?

John August wrote a book and plugged it on his site. He then tracked the sales and compiled a graph of how it was doing on different platforms. You can see his results here:

While I am sure that would be a tremendous amount of work for you to do, would you be willing to share any of the basic results of how many copies you have sold to date?



cd1515 said...

the Penny Q&A was interesting.
FRIDAY QUESTION ONE: I get that you want to respect actors' wishes, but don't they ALL want their character to be successful, beautiful and hilarious?
what if you need a character to be depressing or a loser or something else unflattering?

FRIDAY QUESTION TWO: This has been covered before, I'm guessing, but how far ahead do you plan what'll happen in a series?
do you know in season one that some twist will happen in season four (and thus start building toward it)?
or is it just kind of make it up as you go, season to season?

David said...

@Curt, have you seen George Clooney's full credit list?

Charles H. Bryan said...

I don't know if there's a Friday Question in this, but I'll try.

I was looking at some of the links on the right side of the page, and I went to the archive, which I noticed dates back to 2005 -- where the first post (entitled "First Post") is dated November 26. Which means that the 10th anniversary of your blog is coming up! At the risk of sounding like Tim Kurkjian, how cool is that?

So that's my Friday question: How cool is that? I hope there will be a prime time special, with everyone in tuxedos and with Ed Ames throwing the tomahawk and with Roseanne throwing the fit. Also, since there's this meme of Throw Back Thursday floating around (as memes do, I guess), how would it be if on Thursdays we take a look back? We readers can prowl the archives looking for posts we especially like and post dates or links. (Hidden advantage: you won't have to think of anything on Thursdays for a while; you can just play a golden oldie.) Just a thought. Thanks again for your blog.

Charles H. Bryan said...

@cd1515 Interesting coincidence: I was just listening to Marc Maron's interview with Vince Gilligan, who discusses his POV regarding your second question. It's later in the interview, somewhere in the last third of it.

I don't know what it is about Vince Gilligan -- part of it is that he seems like a very nice, very modest person -- but I could listen to him talk every day. The Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul "Insider" podcasts are some of my favorites.

BigTed said...

The problem with Penny's development on "The Big Bang Theory" is that making her a successful actress would cause too many problems. It would have been easy enough -- the horrible "gorilla-woman" movie sequel she starred in could have become a "Sharknado"-like cult hit. But part of the show's theme is that the nerdy characters view pop culture from a distance, as huge fans. For one of them to become a Hollywood insider would change the whole tenor of the show. At the same time, being a pharmaceutical rep seems like a job Penny could do well -- she has emotional intelligence but few actual skills -- and it's on the edge of the science world where the others live, without being so interesting that you would expect them to talk about it a lot.

tavm said...

On initial character descriptions: I read when Norton was introduced on "The Honeymooners", his occupation didn't come up until someone asked him about and he said, "I work at the sewer" which was made up as a punchline. I can't imagine network execs approving of that as his job if they read about that.

On actors using their clout to what direction their character takes: I also remember reading Eriq LaSalle not liking his character being in a relationship with a white woman so in order to keep him on the show "ER", the producers broke them up. Too bad, still I can understand his viewpoint...

Justin Russo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justin Russo said...


Ken, I have incredible respect for comediennes, particularly those who really find their niche on television and create their legacy in the medium. An actress like Lucille Ball was the "Queen of the B's" for years and from someone who's seen most of her RKO and MGM films, only once, in 1946's 'Easy to Wed' did she have a moment to show her comedic prowess in a drunken scene with Van Johnson (though of course this would be repeated threefold with the "Vitameatavegiman" 'I Love Lucy' episode. She finally found her medium and of course Ball's legend will forever be associated with TV.

Which begs the question: which actresses do you think define the television comedy?

Further, I was recently involved in a debate as to who is today's best TV comedienne (it went between Lisa Kudrow and Julia Louis Dreyfuss). Would love your thoughts.



mmryan314 said...

I find it so interesting that Nick Colasanto questions are still being asked 30 years after his death.It is a great tribute to him. Ken - Your columns this entire week were a "must read first today" for me. I can`t wait for the follow-up.

Todd Long said...


When a show goes into syndication and gets trimmed down for time, who ultimately decides what lines/scenes get cut? Do the writers have any input?

I recently started watching M*A*S*H from the beginning on Netflix. It was appointment TV in our house when I was growing up and I’ve always watched it when I could find it in reruns. Netflix shows the original, uncut broadcast versions and I was stunned by how many great lines (and in some cases, entire scenes) have been cut out for syndication. Do you recall any lines or scenes that got cut which you felt should have been left in (not just in M*A*S*H, but in any of the shows you’ve worked on)?


Boomska316 said...

Friday question: I was wondering if there were any rules on sitcoms about actors reacting to the studio audiences? I've been watching the Dick Van Dyke Show for the first time ever this week and I could pick out more than once where he was clearly looking straight at the audience and reacting to their reactions.

Mark said...

A Friday question that will not be answered (which is perfectly fine since it's not really a question!) but I want to put out there what I have always wanted to see.

A one hour show which would have a rotating cast of members from another show. So, the cast of Big Bang, or The Middle, would do a one hour drama (or whatever genre they wanted to do, maybe a crime show...). The cast of The Good Wife would decide to do a comedy. They could even bring the writers along to give them a different challenge.

It seems the actors would love the opportunity to do something else, assuming they like working together. The fans of the show would love to see the actors in a different milieu.

I'm sure that me and six other people would love to have a show like that.

Now, Ken, if you want you can now explain why something like that would never, ever possibly happen. Other than the fact that the ratings would be microscopic.

Brother Herbert said...

I saw a rerun recently of a COLUMBO that was directed by Nick Colasanto (the one with Johnny Cash as the special guest murderer) and caught a sly little in-joke. There was a scene where Cash mentioned the name of his music arranger -- "Nick Solacanto."

Gary said...

By conservative estimate I have seen every episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show over 100 times. I can't think of ONE time when he looked out at the audience and broke character. Unless he was rehearsing a skit in character for the Alan Brady Show, or entertaining at one of those famous Petrie parties, DVD never broke the fourth wall.

McAlvie said...

Good post, Ken!

Re Penny on TBB, well she was always a dubious actress, but early on I thought her character added a lot, as we got to view the men through her fond eyes. She was the grown up in the room that anchored the rest. Then for a season or two she became a lot less likeable. I was thinking that giving that character some career success might have been a way to move back towards the original Penny, making her less of a loser. Whatever the reason, I've been enjoying that plot line.

Derek said...

Having been a pharmaceutical sales rep at one point in my life, I think it's a perfect job for someone like Penny, someone who's personable, good with people, and has a little acting ability. Also a thick enough skin to not be offended by the medical staff folks who roll their eyes in annoyance when they see you coming through the door.

Kirk C. said...

@cd1515 - regarding your first question: I think most actors are more concerned that their characters have interesting things to do. For example, I was backstage at an event where a well-known performer was updating a former castmate on a current project. The performer has a recurring gig on a long-running show. The character was originally introduced as an antagonist to the star, but has since become more sympathetic over multiple appearances. The actor said that he/she is lobbying the producers for the character to revert back to the antagonistic mode and be less sympathetic because it was more fun to perform.

And an example straight from Big Bang: Kevin Sussman's role as Stuart the comic book shop owner is built on being a loser. I have to imagine that Sussman isn't lobbying for his character to suddenly become confident, financially stable, and develop a satisfying social life. That sounds like a quick path to being out of an acting job.

Igor said...

@Justin Russo - "I was recently involved in a debate as to who is today's best TV comedienne (it went between Lisa Kudrow and Julia Louis Dreyfuss). Would love your thoughts."

Both do what they do. At least that's how it's been so far. I don't see how one could be _ranked_ versus the other. IMO, each one nails her role.

Not saying that a ranking can't work as to some actors, but w/ these two I don't see it.

Igor said...

... not that I'm trying to preempt things. Just IMO.

Steph said...

Hey Ken, can you write me a new plotline? I'm pretty dissatisfied with the one I'm currently living.

Terrence Moss said...

hands down louis-dreyfus. she is the heir apparent to lucille ball.

Terrence Moss said...

i recall something of the sort between "Two and a Half Men" and "CSI". But I think it was with the writers.

Houston Mitchell said...

Friday question,

Hi Ken.... Do you think Cheers and MASH would have lasted as long as they did if the original cast had remained on the show?


Bill O said...

The Two and a Half Men/CSI exchange gave Chuck Lorre a chance to unload on Cybil. With her sitcom co-star in Cybil's role.

VP81955 said...

Was at the Kristin Chenoweth Walk of Fame ceremony today -- what a delightful lady! (We should all have such a present for our birthday.) You've given her some compliments over the years (for those who don't know, Ken directed Kristin on her short-lived -- and no, that's not a height joke -- NBC sitcom, "Kristin," back in 2001 or so).

Diane D. said...

To Mark:
I hope Ken does address your question. I think it is an extraordinary idea. Most fans would love to see their favorite actors and actresses doing something unfamiliar, and it would be an outstanding way to help keep actors/actresses from being typecast due to long-running shows.

Like you, I'm sure there are dozens of reasons why such a thing could never happen and Ken would know them, but still it's an appealing idea.

Rashad Khan said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: If you (and Mr. Isaacs) could adapt one film (or book, or stage play) for a television series like Larry Gelbart did with the "MASH", which would it be?

Morgan Van Lent said...

Friday Question: Did you see the news that Amazon Studios hired film critic Scott Foundas as a development executive? Made me think of that Frasier episode where Frasier and Niles tried to run their own restaurant. In your opinion, is Amazon thinking too outside the box or just enough?

Bill O said...

Warren Beatty got Pauline Kael a producton deal at Paramount. Didn't last long, or end happily.

Justin Russo said...

@Igor: Greatly appreciate your input! I find questions like that intriguing and irritating to some respect myself. For instance, how can AFI compare Garbo to Kate Hepburn? And yet, there was a ranking as to who was deemed the best classic film actress. It's the age-old debate we face yearly with awards season. Would it make sense to have each actor play the same role to truly decide who brought the character to life?

In regards to my two examples, I love both actresses and do think each one delivers consistently.