Thursday, June 23, 2016

More credits confusion

Yesterday I discussed how difficult it is to assign proper recognition on screen credits. You can find that post here.

Today I want to discuss “gangbanging,” which is the delicate slang term writers have for room writing drafts.

A moment to discuss the difference been “and” and “&.” If used correctly (which is not always the case), an & between two names means those two are a team (and considered one entity). For example: “Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs.” If a writer does a draft and another writer later comes in and rewrites it enough to share credit, this is what it will look like on the screen: “Written by Gore Vidal and Ethel Mertz.”

The WGA tries to limit the number of writers who can share credit. Only two writing entities can share “written by” or “teleplay by” credit. And the same for “story by” credit.

So the very maximum number of writers would be eight – but that’s four teams of two (lots of &’s).

If you want to change that you must get a waiver. The WGA insists that each entity receives at least half the Guild minimum. In the case of ALMOST PERFECT when Robin Schiff co-ran the show, whenever the three of us wrote a script together the studio had to agree to pay each of us one-half Guild minimum.

Still with me?

A growing trend is to now “room write” scripts. All of Chuck Lorre’s shows are written that way. No first drafts are assigned. Eight or ten or twelve writers all sit around a table and together they write the first draft. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT was like that too.

So who should get credit? In truth, they all should. But that’s against the rules. Ironically, on variety shows, all writers can be listed. What “gangbanged” sitcoms usually do is rotate the credit, and put people together as teams, and give some writers story credit and others teleplay credit – however they can squeeze in the most names.

The point is, when you see the writing credit on one of these shows it’s utterly meaningless. And to me, this is wrong. The credits committee needs to address this new form of writing. More and more shows are doing it and you could argue the pros and cons of such an approach, but I think we’d all agree the people involved deserve to be recognized.

Another problem is that even if the Guild did allow everyone to get credit, the screen time allotted for the writing credit is so short you’d never be able to read all the names. The producers could hold the credit longer but the network would scream bloody murder.

And finally, you might ask, “So what? If names are being rotated you’ll get yours on a few.” True. But what if one of the episodes wins an Emmy? And it just happened to be one you’re not credited for? And you wrote that big poignant speech that put it over the top. If you’re listed as a solo writer the Academy requests that you only enter your episode if you indeed wrote most of it (let your conscience be your guide), but gangbanged scripts are a different animal. So again, in the name of fairness, some new ruling should exist to cover this form of television writing.

I don’t have the solution. But I’m one person. Maybe if ten people approached this problem together…


Brian said...

Story by Ethel Mertz, teleplay by Gore Vidal.

Thank you, Wikipedia.

Jeff Alexander said...

Thanks, Mr. Levine, for addressing my question about "and" and "&." I'm glad to read that I was pretty close in my thinking.
Now, the question is how do you pronounce the "&?" If a producer wants the team of Levine & Isaacs, does the showrunner say, "Get me the team of Levine n' Isaacs. No, not Levine and Isaacs, I need both -- Levine n' Isaacs!!!"

Tudor Queen said...

I would totally watch a tv episode written by "Gore Vidal and Ethel Mertz", though I hope the showrunner understands that Lucy would demand a role for herself.

Seriously, though, I found this two-part column very interesting and informative.

Joe Siegler said...

I would imagine something like Saturday Night Live would be much harder, as their whole concept is a "room of writers", isn't it?

Unknown said...

I would think in these days of DVRs the time needed for gang banged credits means less. It's freeze-framing the Chuck Lorre message each episode. Sadly, most people probably don't pay attention to credits anyway, but those who do would be just as happy to freeze frame them. That way everyone gets the credit they deserve.

As for who gets the Emmy? Hey! I solved one problem. Your turn now. - MW

Roseann said...

When I worked on Episodic TV as Wardrobe Supervisor credits for all below the line staff were rotated. So I mite see my name 3 times a season having worked on all episodes.
When I worked on a NYC Soap the below the line crew got credit once a year. At Christmastime.

Mike Schryver said...

Given how well Gore Vidal got on with Mary Hartman, I think he'd have no problem working with Ethel Mertz.

Brad Harvey said...

So now that you've sorted out the writing credits conundrum, how about an explanation of all those "producers"? I have seen some shows with lists of various producing credits (executive, coordinating, supervising, "co-" and other variants) that they lasted almost to the first commercial break! Since some of these "producers" are also featured stars of the shows, I can't help but think that some of these production credits are just a way for them to get another check.

Is there a limit to how many producers a show can have? If not, there should be!

Paul Knauer said...

Just read an interesting article from the Washington Post. Was thinking of you the entire time. Curious as to your reaction. How would you change your writing if this became the norm?

(Apologies for the long link. I'm no where near savvy enough to post an actual link.)

Unknown said...

"... The credits committee needs to address this new form of writing."
First world problem

Mark said...

Here a possible Friday question on the writers' credits topic. What about non-conventional contributions. Bill Clark was brought in as the technical adviser on NYPD Blue. By the second season, Bochco and Milch started giving him shared story credits on pretty much every episode. By all accounts, Clark was providing a lot of the story ideas, as well as the squad room language and technical details, but he probably wasn't writing scripts in any conventional sense. Would you consider an arrangement like that?

Gary said...

Ken, how do you think the writing credits for the Alan Brady Show were shown? Some possibilities:

- Written by Robert Petrie & Sally Rogers & Buddy Sorrell

- Written by Robert Petrie and Sally Rogers & Buddy Sorrell

- Written by Robert Petrie, Sally Rogers & Buddy Sorrell

- Written by Robert Petrie. Co-written by Sally Rogers & Buddy Sorrell

Andy Rose said...

I have a question about writers getting a Producer credit on some shows. This has been particularly noticable on The Simpsons, where one person usually gets the Written By credit, but there may be a half-dozen or more other writers with a Producer credit (not to be confused with the Produced By credit). Is this an effort to get credit for people who contributed to the episode, but couldn't get a Written By credit? Is the Producer credit governed by the Guild?

Last season I counted up the opening credits of Modern Family and discovered that they had something like five Executive Producers and six or seven Co-Executive Producers, all of whom were writers. That show is probably a special case since it reportedly has two separate creative teams working on alternating episodes, but that still seems like EP overkill.

Tammy said...

Wow, 10 writers writing one draft? I can't imagine how that would work. Based on my experience with group projects, it's probably the 2-3 loudest people in the room doing most of it ;).

bruce said...

My father wrote on variety shows from the 40s (on radio) through the 70s. He saw the competition for the order of the writers and came up with an alternative request. He would try to be the last writer listed, with the credit "and Sidney Reznick". At this point, it's hard for me to say how often it worked.

Len said...

I know that on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW the writers worked on sketches either separately or in pairs, and then submitted them. Then the producer and head writer would pick the best from what was submitted, or at least the most promising, and work from there. I don't know if that's how all sketch comedy shows work, though. One of the Burnett writers noted that the best way to know you stood a good chance of not being around next season was to have a low record of getting sketches on the air, and that if you went the entire season without getting anything on, you'd definitely be getting the ax.

Diane D. said...

Paul Knauer
I read the article and found it fascinating;he was very persuasive, but when I watched the imbedded scenes from Modern Family and Game of Thrones at 160% speed, I was horrified. Their speech was completely without nuance. There was no inflection, no rhythm or cadence. He said after watching at that speed for a while most people start to like it---prefer it. That's very unfortunate. When I think of how great actors deliver their lines, that subtlety and beauty would all be lost, in favor of watching 4 episodes of a show in one hour.

The brief history of verbal communication over the centuries was interesting, but I wonder if his analogies were really quite accurate. He never once mentioned the beauty of language, as though that was superfluous.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Brad Harvey and Andy Rose,

I remember reading Phil Rosenthal's Autobiography and I believe he said that on "RAYMOND", there was a Writers Room with many equals, and When the main writer for that week's story was 'picked' that person would often receive producer credits for that week.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I have to say Ken, these last 2 columns were excellent.

Everything always revolves around money. As much as there is the love of art or cinema or TV, money is ALWAYS the main factor.
It's that way in the rest of the life.