Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Questions

TGIFriday Questions (and the second Natalie photo of the week):

David P is up first.

Have you ever considered posting pictures of Bebe Neuwirth on occasion instead of (or in addition to) pictures of Natalie Wood?


From Steve B:

Ken, I was wondering about your process for writing your DVD spec. How long total did it take to write, and how much time did you devote to breaking the story and writing the actual script? Plus, when was the last previous TV spec script you wrote, and how did it feel to be writing another one?

It’s hard to say because I worked on it while writing other things (like this blog). But it probably took four or five days of breaking the story, another day to write the outline, four or five days to write the draft, a couple of days to let it sit, then another day to polish. And I’m sure if I didn’t play Tetris I  could have shaved at least two days off the process.

I actually write a lot on spec – mostly plays these days. But the last time I wrote a spec episode for an existing show I believe Chester A. Arthur was president.

Dan Ball asks:

Have you ever done below-the-writer's-line work on a show where you were actually pushing buttons, adjusting dimmers, editing a sequence (film or video, linear or non-linear editing), adjusting a fresnel light, creating a graphic, or white-balancing a camera? Don't you step on union toes doing that? I just didn't know if you ever found yourself learning or having to do those things or if you'd be shot dead for it by the unions.

Unions do take a somewhat dim view of that. So no, I’ve never adjusted a light or got an actress into her wardrobe. The truth is, all of these crew members do a much better job at any of these tasks than I ever could. I’m forever amazed at how remarkable these dedicated men and women are. Plus, I need to call in a guy at home to change a lightbulb.

But there have been a few instances where I have dabbled in areas below-the-line. As a showrunner, I involve myself heavily in editing, but only to sit with the editor and give notes. I never touch a button.

There was an episode of ALMOST PERFECT where we needed an offstage couple to loudly make love. The couple we used on the stage weren’t very good so in post fellow showrunner Robin Schiff and I did the scene. We were quite good if I say so myself.

And on a SIMPSONS episode that David Isaacs and I wrote, I drafted the character design for the Capitol City Goofball. That was very cool. As an amateur cartoonist, I had never created a cartoon character before (or since).

powers wonders:

I enjoy watching Jack Webb's 60s Dragnet TV series. Having read a book about Jack & all of his productions I see that he insisted that a teleprompter be used on his Dragnet show.

Did you ever resort to utilizing a teleprompter on any show you worked on? Do shows today utilize teleprompters at all? What are your thoughts on using them?

For a scripted show I wouldn’t allow it for one second. Actors need to be in the moment and need to relate to each other. They also need sufficient rehearsal time to find the best performance. You can’t do any of that with teleprompters.

Do any current scripted shows employ teleprompters? I honestly don’t know but would be surprised if one does.

Jack Webb was very lazy. He cut as many corners as he could in the production of his shows. He liked to be done shooting by 4:30 every day.

You’ll notice that he and Harry Morgan wore the exact same suits every single episode? That way he was able to shoot stock footage of them going in and out of the police station and other buildings only once. He could use the same footage every week.

The irony is that Harry Morgan could read a page of dialogue once and have it memorized. If there was any actor who never needed a teleprompter it was Harry.

Unknown has a question following my post on Bob Crane.

Living in the Midwest, I didn't know Mr. Crane did radio, and how good he was. Who do you like now? I know everything is corporate now, but anyone up and coming?

The only one I can think of is John Phillips on KABC. Whip smart, funny, and very versatile. He’ll be a national personality very soon, I have no doubt. And I don’t agree with him politically. But he’s a great personality.  There's a young sportscaster for Westwood One and ESPN named Jason Benetti who is also terrific. 

Otherwise, as you said, talent is no longer being groomed. Three or four major companies own 90% of the radio stations and are working overtime to kill and bury the industry. I frankly don’t know why a young creative person would even want to get into radio these days. That’s like wanting to be a typewriter repairman.

What’s your Friday Question?


Pat Reeder said...

Sadly have to agree with you on the state of radio, and we wrote our own syndicated radio comedy service for 20 years. Last national radio show I worked on, the host was told by the big media company that they wanted a broad-based, entertaining show with a light, moderate tone and a variety of topics, to chart a fresh course from the alienating, fire-breathing political shows that they thought were played out. We gave them what they wanted, listeners really liked it, it quickly grew to over 200 stations... but they never gave us the major markets they'd promised. When some finally came open, they filled them with the most alienating, fire-breathing political wacko on the payroll. Our host finally quit in disgust over all the broken promises. So when you say that the big radio companies are killing radio, it's not hyperbole.

Carson said...

I've been listening to some of the old radio show comedies on the Sirius/XM classics channel. I was wondering what it would be like for you to write a radio comedy script? Would it be easier, more challenging? On a side note, I can believe audiences piled into a theater to watch actors talk into microphones.

Igor said...

FYI, AP is doing a "chat" on Twitter today, 2:30ET - about how to write about TV. I dunno how this "chat" works, exactly, but if YOU do, you may check it out. Here's the notice:

How do you write the name of a television show? Join #APStyleChat Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. EDT, with @tvfrazier answering questions on TV style.

Dan Ball said...

Thanks for answering another question of mine! It's just so weird that productions in Hollywood are such one-hat deals. In school and even working at a news station, you wear as many hats as they can pile on you. Charlie Chaplin is our patron saint. Director, floor director, technical director, audio op, makeup, page, producer, graphics operator, lighting, bartender, tie inspector. That was all me. OTOH, it would've been grand to tell anyone to fuck off if they asked me to give camera cues while I was operating a camera. ("If I'm monitoring this here stationary camera with a static shot, I can't very well cue the talent because that stationary camera with a static shot might move on its own and if it does...then it's my ass. TS and good luck.")

Breadbaker said...

I just rewatched the pilot for Cheers. Which I hadn't seen since its debut.

It's amazing how well-written it is, and how completely Danson, Long and Perlman in particular inhabited those characters from the beginning.

Also fun to see how the direction did change. A lot more movement about the bar in the opening episodes.

Graham UK said...

Friday Question - When writing a pilot episode, what are the best ways to include the characters "back story" into the episode, without slowing down the story or boring viewers? Thanks!

jbryant said...

If Jack Webb was a bit "lazy" in the 60s, he earned it after directing 250-plus episodes of the 1950s version of Dragnet. The 30 or so episodes I've seen are all superbly directed. I haven't seen enough of the 60s version to compare, but I guess I wouldn't be surprised if it operated like a well-oiled machine by that point.

Igor said...

@Graham UK - While you're waiting for our host to reply...

As I've gone back and really studied pilots, I've been surprised by how little back-story each one provides. Seems to me, we need actual back-story only to the extent it's required to drive the pilot's story. Otherwise, back-story is important only for the way it manifests itself in the characters' personalities.

When I went back and watched the pilot for Frasier - and since I'd seen all the episodes before - I kept being amazed by all of the otherwise invisible tiny moments that were actually hooks for backstory we'd learn in later episodes.

Graham UK said...

Thanks Igor!

D. McEwan said...

Jack Webb also saved time and energy by never bothering to act. The big revelation in Sunset Boulevard is discovering that Jack could act when a real director demanded it of him.

I don't know about shows now, but when I attended a taping of Murphy Brown 20 years ago, Candice Bergan was using idiot cards. No one else, just Candice.

Thomas said...

Hey Ken, is there any character on another show that you wish you'd created?

Marv said...

Just saw them today, too, from the first episode to Coach's Daughter which can still bring tears. I hadn't seen them since they first aired but wow were they great. Every character was fully defined and hilarious but real. Great stuff.

Cap'n Bob said...

Many times the writers would be cranking out dialogue for the show just before it filmed, or even while it was filming. They had to use teleprompters, there was no time to rehearse.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I wanted to be in radio when I was in High School in the early 80's. I took a few night school classes at BCIT, but I was terrible, and the gladly refunded my money after one class in radio announcing. Needless to say I was not accepted into the full time diploma program; it used to be so hard to get into BCIT, these days grads of BCIT go right on the air in Vancouver, the days of moving up and down the dial is over.

David said...

Do you know anything about the silver object de art/vase? in the top left of the shelving unit in Frasiers apartment.

Cap'n Bob said...

My comment was in regard to Dragnet, by the way.

Craig Russell said...

To be fair.
IHeart Media 858 stations
Cumulus Broadcasting 460 stations
Townsquare media 310 stations
Alpha Media 135
Entercom 120 stations
CBS Radio 110 Stations

The top 6 groups combined own 1993 stations

Total number of commercial stations in the US=11,364

The top six control 17.5 percent. That means over 80 percent of commercial stations are owned by other people NOT named Dickey or Pittman. The overwhelming majority are owned by smaller companies. Like the 4 station company I work for in Jackson, Michigan. Where Jack Parr got his start in 1934.

Anonymous said...

Friday question: I hadn't seen the first year of Cheers since the first year of Cheers, but recently Netflixed through it. What was amazing beyond the fact that the characters and humor were perfect with the very first episode, is that the show hasn't aged. Aside from hair styles, the size of the bar phone and a few baseball references, it's as absolutely fresh today as it was then. The jokes and characters still land today as they did then. So many shows, even truly great comedies, show their age, but Cheers doesn't. Since you were involved with the show pretty much from the beginning, how did you work to make it timeless. Was that a concern of the creators or was that just an outcome of the way you all worked?

Anonymous said...

Wondering what you think of "Notting Hill" as an example of screen comedy. I watch it every couple of years and like it more each time - particularly the sister's birthday dinner party scene. What an excellent job of efficiently establishing multiple characters quickly and having such good character-based humor immediately and in later scenes. I could enjoy all of the secondary characters in another movie even without Hugh and Julia.

It is mindboggling that the same screenwriter also wrote "Love Actually" - which make me just want to strangle him. God, I hate that movie. Anyhow, wondering what your professional opinion is.

Mike Doran said...

Ever see the Dragnet '66 pilot film, the one that sold the revival?

A large part of the climax was shot outdoors in a driving rainstorm; I'd love to know where Webb put the teleprompter ...

After that sold, Webb went back to doing radio, which is where Dragnet started in the first place. Some habits are hard to break.

Jack Donnelly said...

I'm sorry if you have answered this before but I was just wondering: in the final season of Cheers was it always the plan to reconcile Frasier and Lilith? It always seemed odd to me that they seperated, got back together and then it was explained in the pilot of Frasier that they had again seperated.

Also a personal request that I would REALLY appreciate, do you know of an address to which I could send John Mahoney fan mail? I'm a huge admirer of his work but I've never sent fan mail before, I'm assuming I should send it to his agents and they would forward it on but I can't find any information online.

P.S loved the podcast with Kevin, please do more!

Brian said...

Speaking of Aaron Sorkin, were you a fan of "The Newsroom"? I just watched the first episode and realized how much I have missed his style of writing.