Friday, June 10, 2016

Friday Questions

It’s Friday! And you know what that means?

sophomorecritic gets us started.

I sometimes notice A-list actors appear on TV shows. Jack Black was on Community, Megan Fox was recently on New Girl, and Ed Norton was on Modern Family and pretty much everyone in show business has been on 30 Rock. Are there any correlating factors between a TV show and the caliber of guest stars they can afford?

Could a show like say "Fresh off the Boat" also get Ed Norton, Megan Fox, or Jack Black if they were willing to pay more money? 

It's not the money.  Usually these stars work for top-of-the-show or the network kicks in a few extra bucks.  

Stars go on shows that are currently very cool; that are riding the zeitgeist. Madonna on WILL & GRACE, Admiral William J. Crowe on CHEERS. They do it for the status and as a lark.

Or, there is some personal connection between someone in the cast or on the staff that can call in a personal favor.

When Brad Pitt did FRIENDS he was still married to Jennifer Aniston.  One of the writers of DHARMA & GREG was good buddies with Bob Dylan and got him to guest on that show. 

But you can’t rely on that. During one off-season from TAXI Judd Hirsch had a big part in the movie ORDINARY PEOPLE directed by Robert Redford. Judd told the TAXI producers he could get Redford to guest and the skeptical producer said, “You start out asking Robert Redford and you end up on your knees to Ronny Howard.”

Greg T. has a question about the MARY show for Mary Tyler Moore that my partner, David Isaacs and I did for CBS in 1985. I had mentioned that the show premiered in December, leading Greg T. to ask:

Why did the show premiere in DECEMBER? Isn't that a terrible month for TV viewing?

Two reasons. First, networks like to have a show or two in the bullpen ready to go when the first few casualties of the Fall fall.

Secondly, we were always going to be a mid-season show, from day one. We had an order of thirteen episodes. But on the night we filmed the pilot, the president of CBS, who was in the audience, took us aside and said “You have five more.” Now we had an order of eighteen shows instead of thirteen so to ensure they all aired during the season our premier was moved up from January to December.

A. L. Crivaro wonders:

When either writing or creating a sitcom, how much compromise would you consider to be too much? At what point do the powers-that-be's hands go from stifling your creativity to killing it?

That varies with the project and the network.  But you must know what your series is “about.” You must know the theme, the point you’re trying to make. If the notes obliterate that then I think you have to stand up to them. Because trust me, if you’re not clear on what you’re writing you will be in hell, night after night, month after month.

The biggest compromises however, come in casting. Creators have no real say in the cast. The best they can do is offer choices to the network. And they can argue (to a point), but at the end of the day the network ultimately makes the casting decisions and you have to live with them. And a mis-cast actor can kill any project. Imagine CHEERS with John Stamos & Whitney Cumming.

From James:

Comic stories and novels used to be big, before radio & tv drew off all the comedy writers. A surprising number of British tv comedy writers (Ben Elton, Simon Nye, David Nobbs all come to mind) wrote humor novels. Have you considered doing that yourself?

Uh… I HAVE done that. It’s called MUST KILL TV. What happens when a network president, in order to keep his biggest star happy, is asked to kill the star’s girlfriend? 96 rave reviews (even from people I don't know).  You can get a copy here. 


Roseann said...

Again, Ken, you remind me of working on a new TV show in NYC- we prepped for 2 weeks with 3 leads cast. The DAY BEFORE WE STARTED SHOOTING at 4 pm we got the go ahead from the Network to call 35 new cast members. What a nightmare that was. They were almost all men in suits and I wanted to cry. Networks have NO idea.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Granted that A-listers do friends favors or want to be seen on shows that are in the zeitgeist...but it's always worth remembering that quite often they *also* simply need the work; even if they don't need that particular payment, if they're feeling their star is a little tarnished or they're getting cast in the same kind of part too much they may well feel that a well-received guest spot on a TV show might bring them back to casting directors' minds or get people thinking of them in a different light. Or, you know, they're women approaching 40 and know that soon movies will be closed to them...


Stephen Marks said...

"...imagine Whitney Cumming" I'd rather not! I guess Ken dropped an "s". I've seen a couple of episodes of "Mary" and thought it was great, Ken and David did a wonderful job, not sure why it didn't take off.

R.I.P Gordie Howe aka Mr. Hockey! Thanks Gordie.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Ah the big guest star...
Remember the days when Lucy seemed to have a different guest "Movie" star every episode?

Rock Hudson, John Wayne, Bob Hope, Orson Welles, Van Johnson, and most famously Harpo Marx.
And of course, George Reeves (AS Superman).

Then there are the guest stars that weren't yet "Stars".
I bet MASH and Seinfeld had the most guest members who went on to become either TV or Movie stars and celebrities.

Brian Phillips said...

Harlan Ellison said that a person wrote him a letter about one of his stories saying that reading the story helped give him further insight on Ovid's poem Metamorphoses, because of the parallels between the story and Ovid's poem.

The catch was, Ellison, to that point, had not READ Metamorphoses!

Have you had anyone notice references that weren't there to any of your work?

Loosehead said...

I've always thought that stunt casting is a good indication that a show has jumped the shark, and the makers are desperately trying to boost viewing figures.

benjamin said...

Love the blog, Ken. Here's a question for you. Older sitcoms like Cheers, MASH, and Taxi tied up the week's story lines on the last joke of the episode. The story wasn't complete until just before the credits when that last joke landed. Most sitcoms from the 90's on seem to end on a one to two minute denouement that has nothing to do with the story; mostly some castoff the writers couldn't fit into the dialogue that runs over the credits (with rare exceptions like Community). Any thoughts on why writers take this approach? Thanks... Benjamin Cieslinski

tb said...

Bob Dylan was on Dharma & Greg? wow

Kosmo13 said...

I think Fred Astaire said he agreed to appear on Battlestar: Galactica because it was his grandchild's favorite show.

Sol Rosenberg said...

Ken -

What's your take/thoughts on all the "after the show" talk shows like Talking Dead, After the Black, and After the Thrones?

VP81955 said...

Hey, Elvis Costello guested on "Frasier."

Barry Traylor said...

Megan Fox is an A-list actor? Wow, that I never suspected.

Dixon Steele said...


I read your book MUST KILL TV and enjoyed it. I think I read on your blog that it was a screenplay first (?).

So I'm curious, any major differences?