Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday Questions

Where did March go? That’s not a Friday Question, but still! Here ARE Friday Questions:

George Adelman leads off:

What do you think about the recent trend where new television shows seem to be pouring out of every orifice 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?

Any new platform that allows creative people a showcase for their talents is okay by me. Especially in an era when mega corporations control the mass media and try to control the artists who make the product. Sure there is a lot of crap out there, but I assume the cream will rise to the top.

My big concern is that with so many niche platforms and narrowcasting I’m wondering how writers/actors/directors/crew members are going to make a substantial living in the new media? But I’m sure someone will find a way. Probably an agent.

From Rashad Khan:

What is the WORST sitcom idea you've ever heard of? (You don't have to have names, and it doesn't have to be for a show that actually made it to air.)

Hitler as a ghost. I forget who he was haunting. No, it wasn’t Trump. I read this years ago. And the premise was funnier than the writing. This was a spec that amazingly did not get on the air.

There was, however, a British series that was made about Hitler’s home life called HEIL HONEY, I’M HOME. I would love to have seen the testing on that one.

GS in SF asks:

This is an improv question but perhaps also a directing question: Are there any tricks as an improviser/actor (or as a director when you see it developing) when another cast member is sucking up all the air in a scene.

If I’m a scene with someone who does that (and happily it happens very rarely) I never compete. I just let him dominate the scene. Often his upstaging is clear to the audience and they wind up not liking him and feeling sympathy for me.

What happens is improv performers don’t want to work with this person. And in some cases they’re asked to leave the company.

I’ve never directed improv, but in most cases the director will call out the actor for upstaging.

The only actor I ever worked with who got away with that on a regular basis was Robin Williams. He would use you like a post. I’ve told the story how I did a scene with him once, and he launched into his mad ramblings, leaving me only a second when he stopped to catch his breath. I used those opportunities to just say “fuck you.” Each one got a bigger laugh so I kept doing it. When the scene was over I thought he’d be pissed, but he put his arm around me and said, “That was fucking great.” There was only one Robin Williams.

Matt wraps it up for the week.

You have stated that actors have a proprietary interest in how their character is portrayed. However, it is very clear that the writer of an episode and even more so the creator of the character would have a proprietary interest in the character. How is that balanced? If an actor simply refuses to do something does it simply come down to who has a bigger fan base? Is this when characters get killed off?

Steven Bochco had a great line. He said: “The first year the actors work for you, the second year you work together, and the third year you work for them.”

Actors grow more and more into their characters over time. I don’t mind that at all as long as the actor is collaborative.

But yes, when there are big disputes, whoever holds the most power wins. And in most cases in television that’s the actor. People tune in to see the actors, not hear the writers.

However, in some (isolated) cases, the writer is king. No one messes with David E. Kelley scripts, nor Aaron Sorkin scripts. David Chase and Matthew Weiner have earned that distinction too.

But even superstar showrunners run into actors butt heads. Marsha Mason locked horns with James L. Brooks (and she was 1000% wrong), and who can forget Charlie Sheen and Chuck Lorre?

One leverage the writer does have is being able to kill off characters.  This happens more in dramas.  I often wondered what the deal was with 24 because everyone other than Jack and Chloe got whacked.  

What’s your Friday Question?


john not mccain said...

"Sure there is a lot of crap out there, but I assume the cream will rise to the top."

On purpose joke, or accidental horribly mixed metaphor? If I knew whether or not you are a John Waters fan I'd know the answer to that question.

Elf said...

Close-ish to the Hitler sitcom idea, Gilbert Gottfried does a great bit about the guy pitching Hogan's Heroes to the network. "Yeah, it's these soldiers in a WWII Nazi prison camp, and get this, IT'S A COMEDY!" (Is it possible to quote Gilbert Gottfried without having to rely on all-caps for at least part of the quote?)

Craig C. said...

The monumental tastelessness of its premise has made HEIL HONEY, I'M HOME (cancelled after only one episode aired) better remembered than it deserves to be. Tastelessness aside, the show's problem is that it wasn't funny. Intended as a parody of American "there's no such thing as a premise that's too silly" sitcoms of the 1950s and '60s, once you get that they're just riffing on bad sitcom conventions, which takes about five minutes, you've gotten the show's only real joke.

Diane D. said...

I once attended a play with my daughter, who was a student at USC Film School, where there was an actor who stole every scene he was in (he wasn't a lead), by the pure power of his talent--he wasn't improvising. Half way through, my daughter leaned over and said, "everyone in this play hates that guy." She had acted in some community theatre so I assumed she knew what she was talking about, but I wonder. Everything about that actor was hilarious; if he was on stage, you never took your eyes off him even when the action was somewhere else. Do the other actors really resent that kind of attention to someone who, to me, just appeared to be enormously talented?

David said...

Diane D. said...

if he was on stage, you never took your eyes off him even when the action was somewhere else.

I think you answered your own question.

Steve said...

I recently heard an interview with writer Gerry Conway who said that he had pitched ideas to every superhero show since "Lois & Clark," always getting shut down because he was known in TV as a writer of mystery and police procedural shows. This despite him having a decades-long career writing comics, where he is more-or-less a legend and actually created a few of the characters that are being adapted to TV. Is it really so hard to cross genres? Would you (and David) ever have a shot at writing, say, a "Good Wife" if you wanted to, or does getting a reputation as a writer of sitcoms mean giving up your dreams of also doing any other type of show forever?

Tammy said...

"Whoever holds the most power wins. And in most cases in television that’s the actor." Really? I'd always assumed it was the other way around, as I've often heard showrunners discuss certain plot points and admit the actors didn't want to do them at first. But I guess people are less likely to mention arguments they've lost...

As for killing characters in retaliation, I only recently started watching Orphan Black, and when I saw the major character death in season 2 I thought, man, that person must have really pissed off the writers :) Not only was that death pointless story-wise, it was such a silly way to go, I'm sure there was something going on behind the scenes.

Anonymous said...

I don't have the link (may have been taken down by now too) but HEIL HONEY I'M HOME was on youtube at one point in time. It's terrible not only because the premise, but also because of the content, or lack thereof.

Rashad Khan said...

Is that why "Sibs" was pulled from the ABC sked and retooled with just Jami Gertz and Margaret Colin's characters? Because Marsha Mason had butted heads with Jim Brooks? I never knew that (but had always wondered)! Do you know any further details about their dust-up or are you not allowed to say?

Rashad Khan said...

Also, thanks for answering my "worst sitcom idea" question.

kent said...

Actually, people do tune in to hear the writers, most of them just don't realize it.

Diane D. said...

To David:
I'm sure you're right, but the actor didn't seem to do anything inappropriate to drawn attention to himself. When the action was elsewhere, he just reacted non-verbally the way I would think actors are supposed to, rather than stand there like a post. It's just that everything he did was hilarious--facial expressions, gestures, everything. It just seems a little unfair to be resented for one's talent.

Mark said...

Friday Question, maybe?

You know comedy better than I ever could, so mabye you could answer this??

The funniest episodes, to me, are ones involving confusion. LIke when Daphne thought Martin was dying due to his comments about appearing in a nativity play at the church. Or when, and forgive me for this, when Joe Namath visited the Brady's thinking Bobby was dying and the parents kept making comments about it wasn't all that big of a deal to them.

Why do I find this kind of humor so funny? Is there an explanation? Or is it just me?

Andy Rose said...

I do worry how long the proliferation of scripted production can last on platforms that arguably can't afford them, but I think it's great so many people are getting jobs.

On a partially-related note, I always get annoyed when people who don't like a show demand its cancellation. Why? That just puts 100-200 people out of work. Is there any other enterprise where people demand a business shut down simply because they don't patronize it? If I don't like a restaurant, I won't eat there. But I don't indignantly demand that the restaurant close its doors and everyone associated with it be fired.

Roger R. said...

ADOLF and EVA, a middle-aged couple, are sitting at an upright piano. SHE plays and HE sings:

"Boy the way Herr Wagner played..."

DBA said...

Mark, you basically just said "I like farce". I am sure you're not alone.

Kaleberg said...

It's not a sitcom, but how about: Hitler Saves the Galaxy!

Jabroniville said...

@ Andy Rose:

I can only assume that fans who hate a show actively want it cancelled because they're afraid of it becoming some kind of omnipresent nuisance. For example, when FRIENDS was hugely-popular, it was absolutely EVERYWHERE, and you couldn't go anywhere to avoid it. It was plastered on magazines, it appeared in ads, and TV was running commercials about it while movies were featuring the cast. I loved the show, but can you imagine being someone who hated it? How excruciating that must have been?

Just a guess- I personally don't really get that way about TV shows, but MUSIC? Hell yes, I wish some people would just vanish- that's even HARDER to avoid if you hate it.

cadavra said...

FRIENDS really did major damage to the sitcom. Because of its enormous popularity, all the networks--especially NBC--tried to duplicate its success by giving us endless clones: Millennials (mostly Manhattanites living in gigantic apartments and almost always white) who supposedly have jobs but do little but either have sex or talk about having sex. Some of them even had the word "friends" in the title (e.g., "These Friends of Mine," "Friends With Better Lives," "Friends With Benefits," "Best Friends Forever"). Almost all of them were flops. And yet they keep going back to that well, even after America has made it clear it doesn't care anymore, because they still don't understand that FRIENDS wasn't the start of a trend--it was the crest of it.

Johnny Walker said...

Wow, I'd never heard of HEIL HONEY I'M HOME... but it was made just as the number of channels available grew, and there wasn't really enough content to fill the channels. Around that time everyone seemed to be clambering to do something shocking, to see if it became the must watch thing... they never did.

There's an interesting article, on an interesting blog about obscure British TV, where they even included an interview with the writer. The show's worst crime, predictably, apparently was that it wasn't funny.

Here's the article for anyone who's interested:

You may feel icky after reading (although the writer certainly hoped to capture THE PRODUCERS, rather than just shocking for the sake of it).

Also, what was the story behind Marsha Mason locking horns with James L. Brooks? Was that on Heide Perlman's show SIBS?

Mike said...

@Johnny Walker: A while back, Ken posted a weekend two-parter listing unusual & unused programme premises. Seeing that many had been executed successfully on UK TV, I posted a couple of comments. Included were Heil Honey (with the YouTube link), Young Dracula, the Muppets and the story about CBS rejecting David Renwick. And a joke about an invisible baby.
Writing for Heil Honey would have been a dream job, making fun of both the Nazis & the Americans.

The blog you cited is excellent. One I remembered fondly from my youth: Just A Boy's Game, with Frankie Miller. To which I'd add: Jimmy Boyle's A Sense of Freedom, GF Newman's Law & Order and anything directed by Alan Clarke.

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks for the explanation, Mike!

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

MARK said The funniest episodes, to me, are ones involving confusion

I'm guessing Three's Company and I Love Lucy are two of your favorite shows.
They are mine are well.