Friday, December 04, 2015

Friday Questions

Hard to believe it’s December already. Here are this week’s FQ's:

KAS gets us started with a question on everyone’s lips:

Where do you keep your Emmy? Can it be the featured photo in questions, please?!

Yes.  See: above.  I keep it in the dining room on a cabinet. If I were single I’d keep it around my neck.

Mark is up next.

My wife and I stopped watching a one hour drama because it seemed the characters never evolved 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?

Characters have to evolve very slowly. And it is a dance. On the one hand, viewers might respond to a certain character for some reason and you want to keep fulfilling their expectations. But there is the danger that the character gets stale and the viewers lose interest. You’ve got to read the tea leaves.

Actors understandably get tired playing the same thing week after week. But remember, in success you’re looking at a hundred-plus episodes. You can’t make too many drastic changes.

There have been instances where shows have made significant changes and they've backfired -- in some cases killing the show.    Better to go too slow than too fast.  (Of course that's easy to say until you're trying to break stories for year five and everything has already been done.)

From Jerry:

What drives the decision of whether to do holiday themed episodes? Does the network like them and will request them? One of the writers has a great idea for a turkey getting stuck on someone's head?
Networks do like holiday themed shows. Sometimes they specifically ask for them so they can promote an entire night of “Christmas” shows or “Yom Kippur” shows, etc.  

As a showrunner, I tend to find them a pain-in-the-ass. How many variations of Christmas stories can you do?  Same with Thanksgiving?  And they usually have to end with warm fuzzy moments.  Ugh! 

One year on ALMOST PERFECT, we had Christmas decorations all around but made absolutely no mention of Christmas. It was just a regular episode that happened to take place in mid December. Personally, I think that was the best holiday show we ever did.

Boomska316 queries:

I was wondering how "Point Of View" was filmed? Was the actor playing Private Rich wearing a helmet cam or something?

No. There were no helmet cams in 1978. It was a pretty bulky camera the cameraman hoisted on his shoulder. Charles Dubin did a masterful job of directing that episode. I lost the Emmy for that show, but it still pisses me off more that HE lost the Emmy for that show.

And finally, from Grace:

Ken: how do shows handle it when one season picks up where the previous season ended? For instance, in the seventh-season finale of Frasier, Daphne and Niles decide to run off together in the Winnebago; in the season eight opener, they're in the same places in the same Winnebago in the same clothes as though the two scenes were made together. So I guess my question is are those sorts of scenes generally made together? Do you send the audience home and have the actors stay so everything looks the same? Do you take tons of photos and use the episode to restore everything when you return to work? I can't imagine how the writers would necessarily KNOW that they needed to do all that work, but I've seen it on a lot of shows, so obviously someone's planning.
All of the above. On some occasions they will film the “B” side of the cliffhanger that night and just have it in the can. But most of the time, yes, they take a ton of photos, and have the footage from the original cliff hanger scene so they’re able to match it pretty closely.   Reason:  the writers haven't figured out the solution to the cliffhanger yet.  They say, "we'll think of something over the hiatus." 

But sometimes waiting until next year creates problems. I worked on a series that had one of these cliffhangers, but did not film the “B” side at the time. And during that extended hiatus, one of the lead actors had cut his hair significantly. They had to make a custom wig for him (at considerable expense you can imagine).

At least that was fixable. A stickier problem is when an actor gains or loses twenty pounds during the hiatus.  And that happens more than you think. 

What’s your Friday Question?


Anna said...

"If I were single I'd keep it around my neck." Because everybody knows an Emmy is a babe magnet.

Bill Avena said...

Can't really have "holiday-themed" shows because football owns TV.We'll get a Simpsons Halloween special around September and a Christmas show in March (oops that's when basketball rules TV).

Stephen Marks said...

Congratulations on your Emmy Ken......the one to the right of the Emmy looks like something you received for directing an adult video, is that how you got your start?

Chris G said...

I thought Parks and Recreation did a very good job of slow change and character growth. By the end of the series, nobody actually worked in the Parks department any more - and that was a plot point in the finale - but there had never been a "Huge! New! Status Quo!" episode before the very last season.

Jee Jay said...

re: cliffhangers

On the Disney show 'Lab Rats' they had a season-ending cliffhanger where two characters were trapped in a vault. The next season opened with them being freed, supposedly a few minutes later in story time.

Except that one of the actors was a teenager, and over the hiatus he grew about four inches taller. He goes into the vault at 5' 7" and exits at 5' 11".

Hee Hee

Ryan E said...

That last question immediately made me think of Matthew Perry between seasons 6 and 7 of Friends. It picks up minutes later so there was really nothing they could do to write in the obvious weight loss (and quite different hair).

My favorite was Chris Pratt on Parks and Rec. Between seasons he got in great shape for Guardians of the Galaxy, and his character explained his amazing transformation on the show with "I stopped drinking beer".

Diane D. said...

In CHEERS, Sam Malone's character evolved a lot (though slowly) in a very positive way, as did Diane Chambers. IMHO, that is why those characters felt so real to fans, and why they cared so much about them--it wasn't just the incredible chemistry. I can see why Norm and Cliff's characters couldn't evolve, because their whole essence was that they never changed. As talented as Rhea Perlman was in her role, I got bored with the sameness of her nasty disposition. It seemed to me that her character could have easily evolved and been more interesting. There were a couple of episodes when it seemed as if she might soften slightly ("Truth or Consequences"), but it didn't happen. I am only referring to the first 5 years of CHEERS---the Shelley Long years. Although the next 6 years were still great comedy, I have never had the desire to re-watch those years. I didn't enjoy watching the change in Sam Malone's character, and I just couldn't get past the absence of Shelley Long and the incredible Sam and Diane dynamic.

Igor said...

I recall at around age 14 being at dance classes and a chaperon coming up to my favorite partner and me more than once to say we were dancing too close together. If only the chaperon had been able to hang an Emmy on my neck, that certainly would fixed things.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Do directors pick and choose the TV projects he works on, or is he selected by the showrunner or other directors? It occurs to me that there are directors, at least on the drama side, like David Nutter, Dan Attias and Alex Graves who tend to gravitate towards the cable shows (Game of Thrones; Homeland; Leftovers; etc.), which is why I wonder if it's the director's personal choice.

Anyway, I think this could be related to a more personal question. Why didn't you ever direct an episode of FRIENDS? Did they ask? Did you want to? After all, Jim Burrows directed 15 episodes of the show, including the pilot.

Tim said...

i.e., Christmas shows: There was a time when it seemed like every sitcom on television, at some point, did a Christmas episode that swiped its plot from either the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" or from Charles Dickens' novel "A Christmas Carol." It got to be a little ridiculous, and I always wondered why shows continued to do that, knowing both storylines had been beaten to death on other sitcoms.

John (not McCain) said...

Not to mention the problem that happens when an actor dies between the cliffhanger and the new season (3rd Rock from the Sun) or has a miscarriage (Married with Children).

Terri said...

Ken, I noticed on IMDB that Jerry Paris directed 238 of the 255 episodes of HAPPY DAYS that were produced. Do you think it benefits a sitcom to have the same director, week after week?

Judith said...

Friday Question: What do you think of this article on Mork & Mindy?

You seem to know quite a bit about the behind the scenes of Mork & Mindy, so maybe you already knew all this, but I thought it was interesting. It seems like Mork & Mindy had just about every problem a sitcom could have: limited concept, poor network decisions, star problems. Given that, I'd be interested in your take.

Kelvin said...

Friday Question?? In the photo of Samantha from Bewitched, is she approximating the size of your Emmy or microphone? Either way, it seems that she is in the middle of saying "huuuge."

As an aside, I have been watching a ton of Magnum PI reruns on premium cable lately and one reaction from Higgins made me realize that if they were to re-create the show or make a movie, David Hyde Pierce would be perfect. How's his English accent? I never saw Spamalot so do not know if he used one then. Would love to see it happen.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Y'know who else evolved? Archie Bunker. It seems like he became less stridently bigoted as time went on, particularly when the show became ARCHIE BUNKER'S PLACE.

While no one would remake ALL IN THE FAMILY today, Archie Bunker would be played almost to perfection by Donald Trump. I don't think there's a woman alive who would play Edith.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I guess this is as good a topic as any to note that I had the fantastic luck this week to interview Antony Jay, one of the two writers of YES, MINISTER and the originator of the idea behind the show. It's here:


Andy Rose said...

This reminds me of commentary from Vince Gilligan about the fifth season of "Breaking Bad." They opened the season with a flash-forward of Walter White in a restaurant alone, looking dramatically different, and driving a car with out-of-state plates. That wasn't paid off until episode 15 of the season which, because of the two-part way AMC likes to produce seasons of their shows, didn't air until more than a year after episode 1.

Not only did they not shoot the end of out sequence, they shot the flash forward without the slightest idea of how they were going to get Walter to that condition by the end of the season. The writers just had to go with their gut that they'd come up with an acceptable plot point by the end of the series to make it happen.

SPOILER ALERT: While they were mostly successful, they did have to finesse one point. Walter was not wearing his wedding ring in the flash-forward, suggesting that either he was divorced or his wife Skyler was dead in the near future. Ultimately Gilligan decided not to go with either possibility. So they created a scene where Walter is losing so much weight due to his illness that his wedding ring falls off his finger. He starts wearing it around his neck, concealing it underneath his shirt, explaining away why it wasn't visible in the restaurant.

Cap'n Bob said...

Mario Lanza, a tenor popular in the fifties and sixties, was cast in a service movie during the height of his fame. Mario always had a problem keeping away from the pasta. In one scene, obviously not filmed in one take, he enters a building at 180 pounds and once inside is 250.

YEKIMI said...

I'm more interested in the microphone plaque [award?] to the right of the Emmy. What was that for? A "Thanks for leaving radio before you destroyed it?" award? "Least amount of time at station before being fired" award? [Just kidding, although on the last one I don't think anyone can top my record of 6 hours!]

By Ken Levine said...

The microphone was for Best Sportstalk Host from the Southern California Sportscasters Association for my work on Dodger Talk. I actually have two of them and a Virginia Sportscaster of the Year Award, which I don't have displayed (It broke).

Mike said...

Your award broke? You need epoxy resin adhesive. It worked for Tutankhamen's beard.

For the article on films that started with a big bang, then transformed into dark matter, I intended to propose end of series cliffhangers. Like Star Trek: Earth is attacked by all-powerful alien invaders, the starship captain is exiled to prehistory with no way of return, and the entire space-time continuum is being torn asunder. And when the programme returns next series, everything is resolved before the title credits.

Which is my excuse to plug Farscape: exciting, funny, great ensemble of characters (courtesy of Jim Henson's Creature Shop), and convoluted plots which could still be followed. When it was cancelled at the end of series four, our hero was left shattered, after being turned to crystal, with numerous plot threads hanging. So a TV movie was made to tie everything up, no Kickstarter required.

Liggie said...

Lanza's weight gain was intentional. According to TCM, he bulked up before recordings and performances because he felt he sang better at a heavier weight.

DwWashburn said...

Friday question -- Any Ronny Graham stories?

YEKIMI said...

The microphone was for Best Sportstalk Host from the Southern California Sportscasters Association for my work on Dodger Talk. I actually have two of them and a Virginia Sportscaster of the Year Award, which I don't have displayed (It broke).

I never did sportstalk [or sports or talk] radio so that's three more awards than what I have. Congrats!

Johnny Walker said...

I'll never quite understand how Starbuck's hairstyle was allowed to change so drastically between seasons of Battlestar Galactica. There was one that continued where the previous one ended, and she suddenly has a COMPLETELY different haircut. Very jarring.

Mark P. said...

Ken, were you or any of the writing and production staff on MASH involved with the IBM commercials that featured the cast?

Brian said...

I enjoyed "Point of View". I agree it should have won an Emmy.

Jeremy R. said...

Hi Ken. I've been reading your blog for about three years now, but have forgotten how to submit a "Friday Question". I'll just comment here. What do you think of the Fox show The Grinder? I didn't think I would like it, but I find it hilarious. It doesn't take itself seriously at all, but I feel like I'm the only one in my group that laughs while watching it.

Anonymous said...


Ted Danson has been doing some fantastic work lately on things like Damages and Fargo. What is your favorite Danson anecdote?

Jerry Smith