Thursday, September 10, 2015

Friday Questions on Thursday

I’m doing Friday Questions on Thursday this week only. But tomorrow is 9-11 and I always repost my piece on David & Lynn Angell on that date. Friday Questions return to Friday next week.

Wendy M. Grossman asks:

Do you find it easier to track character and plot details and remain consistent over a long period of time now that we have computer databases and easier means of updating documents like the show's bible?

Yes, it’s much easier to monitor continuity IF….

the producers and writers bother to check. But honestly, most of the time they don’t. And things do occasionally fall between the cracks so the writers will give a character a sister when he once had a brother, etc.

When I was on CHEERS and FRASIER it wasn’t enough that we had once done a similar story. We tried to make sure that no other show had done that story. If we were going down a road and someone in the room said MURPHY BROWN did something similar we threw the story out. So we were trying to monitor everybody.  There were times we were more successful than others. 

Mark wonders:

Why is stupid funny? I know that in many commercials it's just bad writers taking the easy way out, but what about with Extras (an amazing show) with the girl friend who was just painfully stupid. Or the roommate in Notting Hill. There have been characters who weren't very smart but they had redeeming qualities (Don Knotts on Andy Griffith, Coach on Cheers but maybe they were just naive and unworldly rather than not very smart), but I just don't get these. Especially the commercials when I wonder if they think their aim is only to sell to idiots.

So, is stupid funny or not? Isn't it a difficult knife edge to walk along to do it right?

This is pure speculation on my part, supported by no empirical evidence whatsoever, but I think dumb characters give us a sense of superiority. Look how much smarter we are.

As I’ve said in the past, dumb characters also allow us to provide exposition for the dumb audience members out there. When the smart character explains to the dummy what’s going on, he’s actually explaining it to equally clueless segment of the audience.

From Greg:

When shooting a multi-cam show, how often would you go on location?

Depends on the show, the budget, and most importantly – how large the soundstage is.  Generally, though, you try to avoid it.  Going out is expensive, time consuming, and the studio audience always feels a little cheated. 

But I’ve shot outside many times for multi-cam shows. I’ve probably filmed scenes on the Paramount New York street at least a half dozen times. In one case there was a traffic jam with snow.

I’ve filmed out at Griffith Park. One of my actors wrenched his back and had to be taken to the hospital on a stretcher. That was take one.

I’ve filmed on the 20th backlot, the Radford backlot, but the most fun was a big crowd scene for an episode of DHARMA & GREG. We shot at Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco. I had about 100 extras, scaffolding, cameras in sniper positions, and a million guys on walkie-talkies named “Dave.” I really felt like David Lean that night.

DrBOP is next:

Absolutely stoopid question, but do you always wear a suit on the day of a shoot?

On a multi-camera show in front of an audience, yes, I always wear a suit when I direct. Even if I’m not directing, If I’m on the floor at all, as either a producer or writer I wear a suit.

Why?  It’s just a sign of respect for the audience. And I liken it to basketball head coaches. They always dress nice for games. I just think it’s a classy thing to do.

What’s your Friday Question? Just leave it in the comments section. Thanks.


Graham Powell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Graham Powell said...

Basketball coaches such as Hall of Famer Larry Brown?

Jabroniville said...

Hi, Ken- I know you've mentioned a few times in the past about certain high-end Hollywood types interjecting their own favorites or "pet projects" into certain casting calls. In one of Bill Carter's books, he refers to Jennifer Aniston being one of these, and got an audition for "Friends" because of it. Same with William "Gil Grissom" Peterson on "CSI".

How many times has that happened to you? Does some studio head interject in the casting process and make "suggestions", or do they try to form whole shows around actors they like? Does the choice of actor they're backing sometimes seem completely arbitrary? I find this more noticeable in movies (remember the year of a million Jude Law movies?), but I assume TV gets it a lot, too.

-Grant Woolsey

Glenn E said...

OK, Ken, you just returned from Las Vegas…what are the oddsmakers saying that Key and Peele will host the 2016 Oscars telecast?

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Friday question:

I've been binge watching Cheers for the past 10 days, and it's been wonderful. Haven't watched them all, but maybe 30 or so. Netflix keeps 'em coming, so who am I to refuse. Anyway, I visited the IMDB website to learn a bit more about the folks who did the show. When I got to the bottom of the list of actors, the last two names were:

Ken Levine
Brandon Tartikoff


Who was the better free throw shooter?


Anonymous said...

I like "stupid" characters because when they're well written, they're far more honest than your average written character.
I loved the girl in "Extras." I didn't feel superior to her. I was rooting for her all the way.

Forrest Gump, to give a more definitive example, was most people's moral and ethical superior. I certainly didn't feel superior to him.

When Stan Laurel got mad at Oliver, I was usually mad at him too. Furthermore, the "stupid" things that happened to them has happened to us on rare occasions. A confluence of events so ridiculous you can't help but laugh, or you'd cry. We relate to them in that way.

The "less intelligent" get free reign to say what everyone is thinking without the usual blowback.

A "stupid" person with humanity trumps intelligence.

Mr. Hankey

Paul Dushkind said...

Why is stupid funny?

1. Humor comes from pain. Stupid people cause pain.

2. Jokes come from looking at something from two different points of reference at once. Stupid people look at things from different — often wrong — points of view.

To elaborate on my second point, here's a simple juvenile joke: What did the nickel say to the quarter? "This is my girl friend, Penny."

Two frames of reference. Penny is a girl's name. Penny is a coin.

A stupid person would say, "Do you think you can trick me? Penny is not a girl's name. Penny is a coin."

And to get back to the first point. It's frustrating if someone tells you that you're the stupid one, because you think that Penny is also a girl's name.

To add to what Anonymous said, sometimes people seem stupid, not because they say something that's wrong, but because they say something true that other people would take for granted. A good example doesn't come to mind offhand.

Igor said...

I was at the opening of Paramount's New York street set and recall Garry Marshall quipping (approx), "Now to shoot NYC, no longer will we have to go to Toronto."

Bill Avena said...

I liked the Andy character in Parks & Rec but grew ever more annoyed with his "developmentally disabled" personality, kind of like a real life Homer S. who says "amazing" all the time, like everyone else on that show.
PS why not an Aubrey Plaza pic at the top?

Peter said...

Friday Question:

Horror is one of my favourite genres but I've noticed you almost never mention horror. And working with Mary Tyler Moore doesn't count. Are they just not your thing or are there some horror films you like?

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

When characters that aren't stupid start acting stupid as a show continues on, when they weren't in the first place...that is annoying. (Think Mallory on Family Ties).

But some of the best characters on TV were "dopes" or people who didn't get everything:
Barney Fife
Rose (Betty White) on the Golden Girls
Ted Baxter
Edith Bunker
Joey Tribbianni on Friends
Patrick Star (Sponge Bob)
Buster Bluth on Arrested Development

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Ken, has there ever been a character you wrote for (or created) that looking back you say, "He's (or she's) the one that most resembled me (or David) as a person." Or we WISH we were that person.

In either case,
I doubt it's Lilith.

John said...

Dumb characters have to be written just right, so that they come out lovably dumb, and not so painfully stupid the audience wants to bash the character over the head with a rock multiple times to put that character, their co-stars and the audience out of its misery.

I think part of it is that while the dumb character can cause misunderstandings, they can't be written as to be so painfully stupid that they perpetually foul things up for everybody -- even Bob Denver's Gilligan or Maynard G. Krebs would occasionally do something right. Cheers in Season 1 had a great example of taking it past the 'annoyance' line and then pulling it back again, in the "Pick a Con" episode, where we're left to hear Coach get berated as part of the plot for what seems like annoyingly painful stupidity, only to find out he was actually working a con with Harry that the others in the bar didn't know about.

Roseann said...

Score 1000 for the man in the suit.

VP81955 said...

Igor said...

I was at the opening of Paramount's New York street set and recall Garry Marshall quipping (approx), "Now to shoot NYC, no longer will we have to go to Toronto."

Perhaps the word should be "re-opening of Paramount's New York street." Studios have had these urban street sets for decades.

On Tuesday, I went to the Margaret Herrick Library (AMPAS) to do some late research on Carole Lombard for a friend of mine in Great Britain whose Lombard bio is scheduled to be released about a year from now. (As I'm one of the two people she's dedicating the book to -- imagine that! -- I feel obliged to help her out.) Anyway, in checking Academy files on "Hands Across the Table," the romantic comedy Carole made with Fred MacMurray, I noted some scenes were filmed on Paramount's New York street circa 1935. Some of the things I uncovered from her work for Mack Sennett, Pathe, Paramount and RKO caught even me, a sort-of Lombard expert, off-guard.

MikeK.Pa. said...

"I liken it to basketball head coaches. They always dress nice for games."
Or Connie Mack. Just need to find a stiff white straw hat for you.

From Wiki: After Mack's retirement in 1950, Major League Baseball passed a rule that required managers to wear a baseball uniform if they are to be in the dugout.

Gary said...

Ken, here's a Friday question -- it's no secret to your readers that you found it difficult working with Mary Tyler Moore (though you've offered precious few details). This is mystifying, because I've read everything ever written about The Dick Van Dyke Show, and there's little to suggest MTM was difficult then (other than a workplace rivalry with Rose Marie). So do you think she became more difficult as time went by, and she assumed more responsibility -- especially after starring in her own show? By all accounts this is what happened to Lucille Ball, who became a terror to work with after she and Desi split up, and she was carrying her shows.

Les said...

Bumblebee provides a list of names of characters who are dumb:

Barney Fife
Rose (Betty White) on the Golden Girls
Ted Baxter
Edith Bunker
Joey Tribbianni on Friends
Patrick Star (Sponge Bob)
Buster Bluth on Arrested Development

What the list makes me realize is that NONE of these characters you would want as the lead on a show (look what happened to the one they actually tried... Joey). So while dumb characters are great additions, they are not leads. The inverse of that is Frasier, who was intellectually superior to the others and could handle a show all on his own.

Other spin offs seem to pick the smart ones, too: Maude, Jeffersons (George was definitely street smart), Fish. Can anyone think of other examples like this? My brain is fried after a long day.

And as a shoutout to AfterMASH, I guess the best you could say is that while the characters were not necessarily the dumbest on the show, they seemed to be the dullest??

June Sullivan said...

Friday Questions:

Hi Ken - are you a fan of House of Cards? I was wondering what is the deal with the coffee? Is it that the writer loves it and enjoys showcasing one of his habits? Or is a metaphor for something...but coffee drinking, serving, purchasing, and making is in almost every scene. I laughed recently when someone was asked if they wanted a cup of tea.

Would love your thoughts on such script elements.

Liggie said...

Change of.pace ,a baseball FQ. The minor leagues have instituted a "pitch clock", where the pitcher has 20 seconds within receiving the ball to swt for the pitch. If he's not in the set position in that time, it's an automatic ball. Yea or nay on this concept?

Anonymous said...

Wondered if you saw this and had any thoughts.

michaleen said...

Sometimes I think a star, particularly one who plays an iconic character or one presented as a moral authority, starts to lose perspective.

In his autobiography, Norman Lear talks about a "Good Times" episode where Thelma seriously considered having sex with her boyfriend. Lear had seen the script and knew the situation was handled realistically and respectfully.

In the end, Thelma chose not to have sex, but that didn't stop Esther Rolle from essentially throwing the script away, declaring, "We are not going to do a teen sex plot on MY show!" Lear eventually had to come to the set and drive home the point that she and the other people were actors playing characters and whose show it actually was.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...


Dumb characters have I guess always been around.
They aren't necessarily 'dumb' but they are supposed to be not nearly as smart as the lead.
Or just goofy and dopey.

Others major characters I can think of...
Ed Norton (and Barney Rubble)
Potsie from Happy Days (he didn't start that way but he became a complete fool)
Lenny and Squiggy
Hilary from Fresh Prince... In fact they make a lot of girls into stupid though they are smart about shopping and talking on the phone
Kelly Bundy
Tracy from 30 Rock (?)
Woody Boyd
Randy (the brother) from MY name is Earl
Rev Jim Ignatowski (or was he just fried)
Michael Scott from the office

plenty of brilliant actors who knew how to work their roles

jbryant said...

Why all the walkie-talkies were named Dave, we'll never know. :)

Anonymous: Hardy got angry with Laurel, but it was rarely the other way around.

Steve B. said...

Ken, what are the right and wrong ways to give notes to friends on their scripts? Are you ever concerned about being too easy or critical on them? Conversely, what are the rules to accepting notes from friends?

Chester said...

A man in a suit doesn't show me respect, he shows me he wants to get my respect. Big difference... And a man in a suit shows me he's not being himself. He's being the image of himself he wants me to believe he is.

DrBOP said...

Ok....really diggin' the basketball analogy.....couple of power forwards as the team leaders.....triangle offence always a possibility......timing is crucial on the give'n'go's....slam dunks are preferred, while jokes from outside the line often save the if we can just get Craig Sager as fashion consultant we might have a whole new way to teach show-running......BIG money if the NBA comes on board.

Carol said...

Friday Question:

In the last season of Cheers, the guys have a conversation about how the actress from the Godzilla movies eventually left the series. Then Woody says, "Why would an actress leave right in the middle of a successful series?" and everyone shrugs--a clear reference to Shelley Long leaving halfway through Cheers. Was there a story behind why the joke was included? To my memory, this was the only joke that broke the fourth wall on the series.