Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Questions

Sliding into the weekend with Friday Questions. What’s yours?

MikeN starts us off:

Ken, do you think there is a difference creatively if you are writing on a computer, typewriter, or by hand?

Absolutely. A computer allows you to revise so much easier than any of the other methods. For me that’s liberating. I try stuff. I over-write just to see what I’ve got, knowing it’s a breeze to cut and alter.

I think for others however, being able to do endless versions is overwhelming.

If I couldn’t use a computer, I would opt to write longhand. Even though my handwriting is so awful and I scrawl so many lines in the margins that I have only 24 hours from composing to transcribing or I have no fucking idea what I wrote – still, I like the flexibility of being able to just cross things out or move things by drawing arrows.   Typewriters are way too restrictive for this country boy. 

Another option, my favorite option, is to dictate the script to a writers’ assistant. But that’s a real luxury.

J Lee wonders:

Ken, looking at (James) Burrows' credits, one of his earliest directing jobs was on "The Tony Rnadall Show", including one episode, "Franklin vs. McClellan" written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs. Is there anything you remember about that episode, so early in everyone's career, that James added to it though his direction, or anything that, if done a few years later, might have been staged differently?

As far as staging, no. It was totally fine. I would change more of the writing than the directing of that episode (although I have a great fondness for that episode because we wrote it as freelancers and that was the script that impressed showrunners Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses enough to offer us our first staff job).

Here’s one thing I remember about that episode: We opened with a bit about Tony reading on the couch and being tempted by a bowl of M&M’s. It’s a silent bit that takes about a minute. After we turned it in we had second thoughts about the routine. Why would they want to start a show with a one-minute silent bit that was totally off story?

Much to our surprise (and delight), they kept the bit, and Jimmy made it work.

Over the years, Jimmy has probably directed sixty or more of our episodes. I wouldn’t change a shot.

NKCAUmp queries:

What's it like to flap in the breeze on a show that hasn't been picked up yet? Do you still write stories or at least come up with ideas? Or do you see how the wind is blowing and start looking for something else?

It depends. If it’s a show you love and believe in, it’s excruciating. You find yourself sifting through the ratings looking for any glimmer of hope. (We went up .01 in men 25-49 in Houston.)

As a showrunner, you also have to put on a good face when you go down to the stage so the actors don’t get any more jittery than they already are.  You're just waiting for the axe to fall.

Behind the scenes, you’re trying to enlist studio executives to talk up your show and get critics to help your cause. On ALMOST PERFECT, towards the end of the first season we called all of the TV critics who originally gave us glowing reviews and asked if they’d do follow-up pieces. Many did, for which I am still eternally grateful.

But in most cases, when your show is on the bubble, you’re just postponing the inevitable.

After ALMOST PERFECT was cancelled I was doing some freelance directing. One of those shows was also on the bubble. The showrunner came to me with that week’s numbers asking me what I thought, and I said, “You don’t want to ask me because I know how this ends.”

Sure enough, that show was cancelled several weeks later. I was happy my episode even aired.

On the other hand, if I’m being honest, sometimes you’re on a show that’s a nightmare, and a day doesn’t go by when you’re not praying for cancellation to be put out of your misery.

And finally, from Liggie:

A baseball FQ. Which spring training locale do you prefer, Florida or Arizona? Either as a professional broadcaster, or a fan?

Arizona by a mile. Everything is so spread out in Florida. You have to drive for hours. And the traffic, especially during spring training, is murder. In Arizona all the venues are close. You could easily see a game in the afternoon then drive five miles and see another game that night.

Less chance of rain too in Arizona.

It’s also better for the ballplayers. Instead of spending four hours on a bus commuting to and from a game, they can workout in the morning back at camp, hop on a bus in uniform at 11:45 and be at their destination by noon for a 1:00 game.

Spring training is a fabulous experience. If you’re a baseball fan you have to do it at least once. Bring baseballs. You easily could go home with a bunch of autographs.


Carol said...

Hey, Ken Levine fans! Just a quick reminder that Ken's fantastic play, A or B? opens at The Village Players of Hatboro (Pennsylvania) on April 1st, in just 3 weeks!

We're gathering props, costumes are being made,the actors are 'off-book' and the show is coming together beautifully. Anyone who lives in or near Montgomery County PA, come on out. The show is running for 3 weekends. Please see for details.

Mark said...

To me Big Bang is no longer funny. I liked last year but this year I find flat. As someone outside the industry I wonder what you would do if you worked on a show and woke up one day and knew it wasn't working any more. Would you hire all new writers and hope for new inspiration? Other than packing it all in what could you possibly do to get the show back on track? And how long would it take to get it back?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I sure am sick of my browser always crashing for no reason, and apparently there won't be any more future versions to upgrade to since Microsoft is evidentally dumping Internet Explorer altogether. I already had my comment typed up, and now it's gone because it crashed when I was trying to sign my comment for no reason, and I don't feel like typing all of it up again.

sanford said...

We are heading for Arizona next week for some spring training ball. We have done a double header. Went to talking stick and then back to Peoria for a night game. While everything is close it really depend where you stay. We are Brewer fans. We stay in Glendale a short walk to the Gila River Arena and about a 15 minute ride to Maryvale. The other stadiums are relatively close to where we stay unless you want to take a ride to Mesa or Scottdale. Easily a 45 minute ride even with no traffic. Talking Stick is also a bit of a drive, but a hour is way better than some of the drives in Florida.

Toby the Wonder Horse said...

I have a Friday question that I’d like to throw out to the comedy cognoscenti that frequent this blog. I didn’t get the punchline to today’s Blondie comic strip. Can anyone explain it to me?

blinky said...

Baseball story. In the 70's I was shooting head shots for ABC Monday Night Baseball in Florida Spring training. We went to all the camps in the state. The Doggers place in Vero Beach was like a Country Club. Tommy Lasorda holding court at the restaurant with Tommy John, Steve Garvey and Al Downing. They all could give a shit if we were from ABC. They barely gave us a second look.
Yankees in Ft Lauderdale almost wouldn't let us on the property. Reggie Jackson told me to fuck off.
Then we went to the Texas Rangers camp in the middle of nowhere. The facility was at the end of a poorly maintained 2-lane road in what seemed like a mosquito hatchery. The place looked more like a prison recreation yard than a pro baseball facility. As we drove up the players and managers all stopped what they were doing and came to the fence and stared at the van with the ABC logo on the side. It was like going to a native village in the middle of the Amazon. We were like celebrities and they surrounded us like they had not had visitors in weeks.

Igor said...

"Over the years, Jimmy has probably directed sixty or more of our episodes."

Holy crap!

Maybe just me, but... So there's this guy, Ken Levine. He wrote episodes of this show. And that show. Some other stuff. He's got awards, did well. And so now he's got this blog I read.

I know of course it's way more than that, but it's easy to lose track of how much more, the SCALE. So when in passing you drop that factoid in a Friday answer, that a subset of your work is 60 shows directed by James Burrows... Holy crap!


PS: Now whenever I think "Holy crap!", I hear it in my head in the voice of Frank Barone/Peter Boyle.

Mike said...

I've posted a list of British police dramas against your question on Friday 4th March.

Curt Alliaume said...

"Franklin vs. McClellan" is on Daily Motion. It's not the greatest video, but it still works - especially the M&M bit.

sanford said...

To the person asking about Blondie. I think it is like the wife asking do I look fat in this outfit

Unknown said...

What do you think about the recent trend where new television shows seem to be pouring out of every orafice the Internet has to offer? There's a definite overpopulation of shows, which is kind of good, because it gives people more exposure, more freedom, and a greater shot at getting produced. Unfortunately every frumpadump actor and comedian is given their own show and nearly all of them strike me as bland and boring. Do you like the direction things are going, and what are some of your favorite non-network, non-cable shows?

MikeK.Pa. said...

"Arizona by a mile. Everything is so spread out in Florida."
But the beaches are better.

Mike said...

@Toby the Wonder Horse: When Dagwood gets home from work, he'll be making his own dinner and maybe, sleeping in the spare room.

D. McEwan said...

"Ken, do you think there is a difference creatively if you are writing on a computer, typewriter, or by hand?"

"Absolutely. A computer allows you to revise so much easier than any of the other methods. For me that’s liberating."

Yes! Yes ! Yes! When I got my first computer (Can it really be a quarter of a century ago?) my output skyrocketed. I have a lovely electronic typewriter with spellcheck that's been gathering dust in my closet for over two decades.

I might add that the ribbon cartridges for my old typewriter worked out to about one dollar a page to use. When it costs you a dollar to type a page, revision becomes an expensive luxury. My computer basically costs me nothing per page, unless I'm printing something out, and that's not expensive. Most publishers don't even want hard copies any more. It's all computer files. My novel Tallyho, Tallulah!, went from idea to published book without there ever being a hard copy of the manuscript.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Now that some time has passed, I feel like retyping the comment I was trying to publish this morning:

So, anyway, I can attest to writing scripts on a computer, mainly because typewriters were kind of before my time (when I was a kid, we still had those that were like big computer keyboards without a monitor . . . the ones with monitors were called Word Processors . . . anyone remember those?), but I agree the biggest advantage to computers is you can easily edit, tweak, retweak, and do all kinds of repair work to your script without having to do complete rewrites or revisions -- it's kind of similar to what Alan Alda demonstrates like a boss in these old Atari commercials:

I've had a script for an hour-long special/short/what have you I've been working on for about a year, and I keep making little changes here there continuously - all without rewriting the whole thing. I'd say another advantage to writing on a computer is it probably cuts down on the number of revised drafts for scripts.

J Lee said...

Blogger blinky said...
Baseball story. In the 70's I was shooting head shots for ABC Monday Night Baseball in Florida Spring training. We went to all the camps in the state. The Doggers place in Vero Beach was like a Country Club.

Speaking of the Dodgers' former spring training home, the AP did a story this week on former Dodgers' owner Peter O'Malley saving the place from extinction over the past three years, after the Dodgers moved their spring training site to Arizona eight years ago. Nice story, though I'm sure some elderly people in Florida who formerly lived in Brooklyn are wondering where all this O'Malley family benevolence was 60 years ago.

Mike said...

The Doggers place in Vero Beach was like a Country Club.
Surprised to hear that the Doggers trained in a country club and not in a disused car park.
(Definition of dogging.)

Steve Mc said...

@ Mike - Can I disagree with you on something on your list - The Bill was categorically not a police soap, at least for most of its existence.

I used to write for it, when it was a half hour per episode. It was a hard and fast rule for most of its existence that we categorically did not go into the police officers private lives. We only saw them when they were working. We were able to cover a huge variety of stories because of the freedom that restriction gave us. I was able to do some very hard hitting stuff - some of it very personal and inspired by things in my family history. At the same time there were episodes like the one I wrote which was basically a pretty broad farce revolving around a football match in a park. There was no serial, episodes could be shown in any sequence and it was entirely down to the writers to come up with the stories - indeed, it was the stories that were commissioned, not the writers.

Around the late 90's the show's original producer retired (with his dog!) and the show expanded to an hour and the rule about the police officer's private lives was. It was a little soapier, but the balance was still very much towards the crime stories. In the early 00's, there was a couple of years when they hired a new producer with a soap b/g and for his tenure, it was definitely soapier. But when he left, it reverted back to being much more about crime.

Certainly, in its half hour incarnation, it's a show which is missed now.

Mike said...

@Steve Mc: Thanks for that. Now I know what a soap opera is. Of course, you may disagree. I'll just hold it against you forever.
I got the term police soap from BA (I'll blame them) and struggled to recall any examples. Z Cars? The Bill seemed to fit, in that it was two episodes a week for an eternity.

You see, people? Proper writers read this blog. And the comments section, no less.

Steve Mc said...

I've been away writing, so not looked at this till today.

Be snippy about it all you want. The fact remains that, certainly when it was two eps a week, it wasn't a soap, no one in the UK business regarded it as a soap and it never, ever, went into the private lives of the cops. Calling it a soap is doing it a disservice - it had some fantastic drama under that format.