Friday, November 06, 2015

Friday Questions

First Friday Questions of November.

Joseph Scarbrough starts us off:

Occasionally on AMERICA'S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS, Tom Bergeron will playfully mention he can make all the references and mentions to Mickey Mouse and related characters he wants without getting in trouble as both properties are owned by Disney. I've also noticed from time to time GREEN ACRES would mention/acknowledge other CBS shows of the time like THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (a given, Paul Henning was involved with both shows), GOMER PYLE, and HOGAN'S HEROES. And yet another example being THE MUNSTERS referencing LEAVE IT TO BEAVER (from the same creators).

Can a show actually get into legal trouble for mentioning another show or associated characters from a rival network or studio?

No. They’re a matter of public record.  However, they can’t show any segment of the mentioned show or playback any portion of it without permission. That gets into ownership rights and royalties.

Shows cross-reference competing series and networks all the time now. But that wasn’t always the case. In the early days of television, networks felt that by mentioning the competition they were in fact promoting their rivals.

Same with advertising. Competing brands were always called “Brand X.”

Now that line has completely blurred. Jimmy Kimmell goes on Stephen Colbert’s show. Networks run commercials promoting competing networks. Sponsors compare themselves to their competition all the time. SHARK TANK, an ABC show, runs in syndication on CNBC.

This makes sense really. We, the audience know who the other brands are; who the other networks are. To pretend we don’t is silly. I always thought a laundry detergent back in the 1950’s would've been smart to change their name to BRAND X.

From Canda:

Ken, in your opinion, when a joke is rewritten on the fly by the writers, and inserted in the script immediately after the audience has heard the old line, how many times do you think the new joke was actually better and funnier, and how many times do you think it got a big laugh just because the audience was surprised by the new joke (expecting to hear the old one again)?

I would say the batting average is not that high. People in the studio might laugh more because it’s a new joke, but the home viewer won’t be so moved.

Sometimes jokes don’t work because the studio audience couldn’t hear it well, or the monitor showed the wrong thing. Writers and producers on the floor wouldn’t know that.

Taking the time to rewrite on the fly also comes with a price. The audience has to wait while the writers come up with something. Two or three of these five to ten minute confabs and you lose the audience. They stop being engaged in the show. They get antsy and just want to leave. Is that really worth a new joke that might be 10% better?

Obviously, you don’t want to air jokes that completely bomb, but hopefully your first cut will be long and you can just cut the duds.

It’s all just personal preference, but on my shows I want them to move fast when an audience is present. I don’t want half hour costume changes, I don’t want hair and make up taking five minutes of undetectable touch-up between every take. If you make the effort to have a studio audience you need to respect them and not waste their time. But again, that’s me.

cd1515 asks:

It seems pretty common for writers to complain about network interference, and I have no doubt most of it's true, but I am curious: have you seen or heard of instances where the network insisted on something that actually made the product BETTER?

Sure. Brandon Tartikoff at NBC, and Tim Flack, Dick Kirschner, and Maddie Horne of CBS all gave notes that were helpful and welcomed.

On the studio side, Grant Tinker of MTM, and Kerry McCluggage, John Symes, and Garry Hart of Paramount offered valued feedback. There are probably a few others that I’m just blanking on. Sorry to those individuals.

But to answer your question.  Yes.  Absolutely.  And I'm grateful for their efforts.  

Scott wonders:

Ken, with the proliferation of promo bugs (those extremely annoying graphics for other shows on the network), do TV directors try to keep all the action in the upper two-thirds of the screen and let the lower third be wasted?

I can only speak for myself, but I don’t concern myself with that at all. Most of the action is in the upper two-thirds anyway. As a director I’m concerned with keeping the viewer focused on the most important thing on the screen at that moment.

But let’s say there’s a scene where two people are at the kitchen table. The story calls for a large cockroach to scurry across the table. Obviously that will be in the lower portion of the picture (unless I shoot a close up of the cockroach, which is unlikely since it would be jarring). I don’t reconfigure my framing to accommodate network “bugs” or “meatballs” or running banners. I would hope THEY would make allowances, but of course I’m dreaming.

What is your FQ?


Matt said...

Your theory of naming your laundry detergent Brand X is interesting but has one flaw. Everybody else in the world was saying your product sucked.

Stoney said...

Johnny Carson frequently had stars of non-NBC shows as guests; mentioning the show title but saying "on another network".

Mitchell Hundred said...

I remember when Fred Dalton Thompson would show up playing a fictionalized version of himself (Frank Michael Thomas) on The Good Wife, the writers would be very careful not to mention the name of the TV show his character used to star on. I guess that might've been a bit too on the nose?

Anyway, a question: What do you think of famous movie people coming in to direct the pilots of TV shows (e.g. Martin Scorsese directing the pilot of Boardwalk Empire)? How much of an effect does it have on the show as a whole?

Anonymous said...

my college intramural basketball team named itself BYE, we won one game when the other team looked at the bracket and left before the game.

Steve Mc said...

There is a real estate company that thinks using the word Exit in their name gets them free exposure from highway signage and emergency exit signs in buildings. For me, this fails on a psychological level. For most people, the emotional drive is getting INTO a new home, not exiting the one they're in.

Kirk said...

I remember once on MATCH GAME (a 1970s game show) which ran on CBS, host Gene Rayburn introduced a celebrity guest--I know longer remember which one--by stating their show ran on "another network". A different celebrity guest whom I DO remember, Richard Dawson, added this helpful hint: "It's as easy as ABC."

Steve Bailey said...

RE re-writing "on the fly": Jack Dodson played Howard Sprague on "The Andy Griffith Show" and also appeared on "All's Fair," a short-lived Norman Lear production that was performed "live on tape." Dodson said he hated the way that the latter's shows writers would re-write a joke if it didn't get an instant laugh. He noted that perhaps audience members were so awed by the intricacies of the live production that maybe THAT contributed to their lack of laughter, not the idea that the joke wasn't funny.

Bill O said...

Wasnn't there conflict in TV's early days about mentioning Lincoln's name in a drama about his assassination cuz it was sponsored by Ford?

Milton the Momzer said...

Bill O: That would not be a problem since Lincoln is a division of Ford. There was a story from the golden age of TV where a sponsor interfered with content. The sponsor was a gasoline company, the show was about the liberation of a Nazi death camp. The sponsor made the producers delete the word "gas" from gas chambers and so the story said that the Jews died in "chambers."

Paul Duca said...

Milton...that was the American Gas Association, when they sponsored the original production of 'Judgement at Nuremburg" on the TV drama PLAYHOUSE 90.

Mighty Dyckerson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Troll Patrol said...

The wonders of Google. A quick search reveals the extent of a sad pathetic troll's existence whose entire raison d'ĂȘtre is to troll forums. But when you're so tragic that you've actually been banned from a forum that's all about human waste, it's time to kill yourself.

"he is just a sad and lonely punk trying to find his way"
"I vote to ban Dykerson"
"Mighty Dykerson the herpes of the internet"

His epitaph.

cadavra said...

Carson would sometimes say that the guest's show aired on ABC: Another Broadcasting Company.

A Friday Question, Ken: I've been to more than one taping where the star was well-known for his improv skills. After they had a satisfactory scripted take, they would then do a wild take with the star ad-libbing entirely new dialogue. I once went to a taping of the short-lived SHAKY GROUND, and Matt Frewer's new jokes were absolutely funnier than the written ones, but when the show aired, they used the less-funny scripted lines, which struck me as a case of the writers/producers' egos trumping a superior result (perhaps one reason the show didn't last very long). What do you think of their actions, and were you in this situation, what would you do?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps screenwriters should try to make use of the promo bugs. Yes Dear should have done this.

Mark said...

Friday question:

My wife and I stopped watching a one hour drama becusae it seemed the characters never eveolved and because of that it got rather boring.

But it seems that characters in comedies can't really develop, can they? What good would Norm be he stopped drinking beer? Or if Hawkeye started behaving like a Captain? Or if Frasier figured out his issues with women? Still, they need to kind of evolve, don't they? How do you handle that?

Rick said...

Troll Patrol:

What the hell are you talking about?

DBA said...

The thing that bugs me most about promo bugs, and now I cannot remember on what show this happened, but somewhat recently there was one scene -ONE- in the whole episode where a character was not speaking English and was subtitled. Anyway, just as that scene started, up pops a stupid half-screen wide banner animated characters-from-something-else-looking-silly-like-in-an-SNL-parody-of-this-shit. So of course it obscured half the subtitles and made it impossible to know what was being said. They chose the exact most idiotic moment to pop up that thing. 20 seconds earlier or later and it wouldn't have interfered with actually knowing what was going on. But nope, had to do it right then. If I had written that show I'd be furious.

Anonymous said...


Troll Patrol is referring to a troll that posts regularly on this board. If you don't check in early you don't see his posts, as Ken usually removes them pretty shortly after they appear.

Andy Rose said...

The "Judgment at Nuremberg" scene is embedded in this article:

When it got to the point in the script where they were going to say "gas," there was a cutaway from the actor's closeup and the audio was briefly muted.

Cap'n Bob said...

I read the Brand X joke in Boy's Life about 60 years ago.

Question Mark said...

The most famous 'network change that worked' in recent years was the decision to replace Rachel Dratch with Jane Krakowski on 30 Rock. With that, the Jenna Maroney character went from neurotic sketch comedienne worried about being overshadowed to, essentially, a human Miss Piggy. With all due respect to Rachel Dratch, I honestly can't imagine 30 Rock without Krakowski, she absolutely slayed on that show.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Question Mark, I sure do enjoy your smash hit "96 Tears."

David Goehner said...

Question I hope you can address on a future Friday: I've seen "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" numerous times since 1983. But for some reason, while watching the MeTV broadcast of the show on Veterans Day, this was the first time this question ever occurred to me: Whatever happened with any of the white rocks that were in the "Goodbye" sign? Did anyone take them as souvenirs, or did they just get scattered around in the hills?