Friday, August 05, 2016

Friday Questions


Chris starts us off:

What is up with the numerous old water towers present in studio lots? Why were they there in the first place and why are they still around?

Fire protection. A fire can wipe out all production so studios are extra cautious. And back in the day when films were filmed on film, they were very flammable. Not to mention all the flimsy wooden sets. And nearby brush fires. Studios still hold their breath.

Terrence Moss wonders:

Do you use final draft or another program to write scripts?

I know the script format enough not to need it, but was once forced to because my collaborators insisted on it.

Personally, I HATED using the program and felt better off with just a Word document.

What are your thoughts?

I now use Final Draft. It’s pretty much become the standard industry program although it still has bugs that drive me crazy.

I used to use Movie Magic Screenwriter, which I found to be superior, but I always had to convert the files because everyone else had Final Draft.

Still, when I think of what we had to do when using typewriters (back in the Pleistocene Era), Final Draft is a gift from God.

Roger Owen Green asks:

Have you ever been involved with an episode that was postponed because of a tragedy (accident such as a plane crash, murder of police) where the episode had to be postponed? If so, how long was it shelved? Were any shelved permanently?

And whether this ever happened with you, what should be the criteria for deciding?

No, but one should have. It was purely coincidental and no one was at fault, but KTTV Los Angeles happened to air one of our SIMPSONS episodes the night Cosby’s son was killed. In the episode, titled SATURDAYS OF THUNDER, we do a whole bit about the Bill Cosby Fatherhood Institute. The station received quite a few complaints.

Dramas generally have a greater likelihood that they’ll mirror a tragic news event. Comedies might contain unfortunate inappropriate jokes considering the circumstances, but the storylines are rarely at risk.

In terms of deciding whether something should be shelved, it’s a sensitivity issue, but if there’s a gray area I always say err on the side of caution. It's just a television show.

And finally, from Jahn Ghalt:

TV broadcasts are very reliable in my experience, so to lose the video doesn't happen much. I recall one time that the announcer seamlessly slid right in to radio-speak at a basketball game.

At the time, I thought, "he's old school, we got lucky this time."

But now I wonder, maybe that's the standard way for a TV announcer to come up - at least for national and major sports home announcers.

So finally: It is unusual for ANY TV sports announcer to have considerable radio experience at least enough to slip in to radio speak without a hitch? Maybe estimate a PCT?

Most young play-by-play broadcasters get their start in radio, doing minor league baseball or high school or college football or basketball.

So in a pinch they can convert to a radio call.

But if you ask me, these young broadcasters don’t do enough radio. Radio teaches you how to tell stories, be descriptive, develop a little personality. Most young ESPN and FOX announcers are generic and completely interchangeable. They can call the rudimentary play-by-play and stay out of the way while the ex-player analyzes the shit of everything, but they themselves have little to offer other than a pleasant voice.

Even though it pays less and offers less exposure, any great sportscaster will tell you he prefers radio. As the great Ernie Harwell said, “In TV you’re just adding captions to pictures. But in radio nothing happens until I SAY it happens.”

How many times have you watched a sporting event and turned down the sound to listen a better, more entertaining radio broadcaster? I do it all the time. Bet you do too.

What’s your Friday Question? You can submit it in the comments section. Thanks.


ally said...

If you could do a two-hour radio show as a special guest (say, on any Sirius channel), what would the format be? Would you play music, or have the equivalent of a podcast? If you played music, what would you choose and what would be your bumps in/out? If you had more of a podcast, what would you talk about?

Unknown said...

Baseball is best on radio. I listen to SF Giants and their radio team is great.

norm said...

The advent of Sat. Sports broadcast really made it impossible for the "radio on for TV broadcast" of our IU (Indiana University) sports, until I found a radio that had a setting for delay. Now I just sync up the action to the play-by-play on the radio and even record them on occasion. Heck I have been in the state of Florida and at night listened to IU games coming in on the AM 1190 radio station WOWO Ft. Wayne IN,

AAllen said...

You used to be able to turn down the TV sound to listen to the radio play-by-play, but in today's digital world the TV and radio are rarely in sync.

Steve M said...

RE - programmes cancelled because of real world events...

In the aftermath of 9/11 I had written an episode, the opener of the new season, of a big show in the UK. It was due to be broadcast a few days later. The broadcaster had to review every day whether they felt it could be broadcast - it involved a big stunt and the emergency services. They thought in this context it might upset people. Broadcast went ahead, without complaint. People were tougher than they thought. A few days later, I was up to third draft on another script - which the show was very happy with. However, even though the ep wasn't due to be shown for another 9 months, they felt the subject matter was too upsetting in the current climate so they just completely pulled the script. I never worked on that show again.

Obviously, my inconvenience was nothing next to the real pain suffered by others.

I'm currently working on a European co-production. The European writers I'm working with, quite old school, insist on writing on Word, not FD, which is a pain in the neck. It's when you're back working on Word than you appreciate FD!

ELS said...

RE: Radio sports broadcasters - here in Cleveland, we get lucky. Our Browns broadcasters have included Nev Chandler and Jim Donovan - true experts in calling a game, not just describing what's going on.

And the Indians radio guy is Tom Hamilton, who makes an exciting broadcast of any game. His knowledge of the game is encyclopedic, and he makes every broadcast a festival.

I'm sure that other teams have broadcasters who are favored, or not - I'm minded of listening to a radio broadcast of a team to our east, and they could have been talking about making waffles for all the energy and excitement they infused into their game. And I know there are legends out there as well that make each play a highly enjoyable course in Baseball 101. I wanted to be sure that Tom Hamilton got HIS shout out as a professor of baseball too.

By Ken Levine said...

You guys have already mentioned two of the best radio broadcasts -- the Indians and Giants. Tom Hamilton is one of the best. I drove around just yesterday here in LA listening to him call that game against Minnesota. An absolute pleasure.

And the Giants' team of Jon Miller & Dave Flemming are spectacular. I listen to them every chance I get.

opimus said...

Studios also use water towers to keep certain cartoon characters from the public.

Andrew said...

Since we're talking Cleveland Indians radio, I'll give a shout out to Herb Score. Most people I knew listened to him while watching the game on TV. Truly one of the greats, and one of my few happy memories of living in Cleveland. RIP.

Covarr said...

Re: Final Draft, this application is really frustrating to me. Better than Word? Of course. Better than a typewriter? Absolutely. The best screenwriting software available? Nah. In my opinion it's been outclassed by other entries in the field, chiefly WriterDuet, which is especially good for collaboration (its multiple simultaneous writer tools are unprecidented, whether from two people across a table or a dozen people across a city), has a great GUI (this was my biggest frustration with Final Draft; it's quite clunky), and is cloud-based so you won't lose all your work from a hard drive crash. Yeah, I suppose I sound like an advertisement, but I swear I'm just a really satisfied user.

As for Final Draft, it's gotten itself into a unique position where everybody uses it because everybody else does. Unless they make a major mistake like failing to be compatible with a new version of Windows or going out of business, Final Draft is probably going to be the industry standard pretty much forever.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Film was filmed on film indeed, and I can remember a time when tape was taped on tape as well.

David Peterson said...

WriterDuet is great, for both collaboration and for annotating a script for review. I'm also a fan of the 'fountain' format. Simple text that looks roughly killer a script that you can convert into a formatted PDF via apps like Highland or SlugLine. The best of both worlds.

Brother Herbert said...

For the SF Giants it's typically Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow doing the TV broadcast and Jon Miller and Dave Flemming on radio. I don't know if other regional sports networks do this, but some combination of the broadcasters will switch off for the middle three innings of each game (eg, Miller or Flemming will go to the TV side while Kuiper goes to radio). Also, Kuiper is the play-by-play man when he's with Krukow but does color when he's in the booth with Miller. Whatever the reason for the switching back and forth (branding perhaps?), it's a good way for them to keep their chops honed for both TV and radio.

VP81955 said...

Covan, I too am a WriterDuet convert from Final Draft, largely from necessity (my recent economic hard times have limited me to a Chromebook, which won't accept FD), but as time goes on, its benefits outclass Final Draft. (And despite its name, you don't have to be a collaborator to use it.)

Regarding water towers, I think of the numerous studio fires that have wiped out much nitrate film footage. One fire at Fox in 1937 decimated much of that studio's silent-era product, including several films the lady in my avatar did there as a teenager in 1925 before an automobile accident sidelined her for about a year and shifted her to Mack Sennett's troupe for a time.

cd1515 said...

MLB.TV has a cool feature where you can change the audio, choosing from home TV, road TV, home radio, road radio or my personal favorite, "ballpark," with no announcers.
and they all sync up perfectly to the video.

NickL said...

Friday question:

With all this talk about Garry Marshall being such a nice person in addition to being a talent and a visionary, it got me thinking...

Who would you rather work with (or for): a person who has the reputation for being an unbelievably nice person but whose talent is questionable, or someone who is openly an asshole/bitch but is enormously talented?

In a perfect world, you'd want to work with another Garry Marshall, with him being nice and talented. But I guess he was one in a billion. And that's kind of sad.

Thank you!

J Lee said...

For me, generic and interchangeable is still better than the announcer who tries to make the game as much about him as it is about what's going on down on the field (yeah, I'm looking at you John Sterling -- listening to the Yankees on radio is far better when it's a low-scoring game, because Sterling actually has to talk about strategy and possible pitching/hitting match-ups, instead of figuring out a new way to make the latest home run call about his tag-line when it's a high-scoring, homer-filled game.)

Anonymous said...

I've used them all and Fade In is the best screenwriting software (@FadeInSoftware). I say that both from the point of view of ease of use and also I'm a software engineer and bad design and bugs drive me crazy. The developer has his heart and head in the right place. Two thumbs up. (And no, I'm not affiliated with them, just a happy user.)

Mike in Seattle said...

Oh, and Fade In will save in Final Draft file format. (didn't mean to click anonymous on the previous comment, MikeInSeattle for both.)

Elf said...

The water tower on the WB lot was used as a prison for Yakko, Wakko and Dot for 65 years until they escaped in 1993.

VP81955 said...

John Sterling is the Ted Baxter/Kenny Bania of MLB, the very definition of the term "hack." I feel sorry for Yankees fans; George Steinbrenner's hiring him in 1989 (replacing the solidly likable Hank Greenwald) was perhaps the worst move he made as owner, including Buhner for Phelps.

dgwphotography said...

As a Met fan, I've been spoiled when it comes to announcers. Starting with team of Ralph Kiner, Lindsay Nelson, and Bob Murphy, through Murph and Gary Thorne on the radio, and now with Howie Rose on the radio, and the team of Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling on TV, we have had top-notch broadcasters since the beginning.

John Hammes said...

David Brinkley had his own self described rule for television: basically, do not describe to the viewers what they can - and are already - clearly seeing for themselves. He knew he had enough amusing if absurd anecdotes, odd facts, go figures, etc. to offer, and yes, the viewer would still be able to understand the live news broadcast, without having to be talked down to.

Kinda miss that with news coverage. Maybe it will come back. It may be a while.

Brian Phillips said...

For the Steelers, Pittsburgh's late Myron Cope, the popularizer of the Terrible Towel, was the person that people listened to at home and in the stadium, if they brought a radio.

I discovered him because of Jim Healy's (also late) radio show on KMPC.

Ken, did you ever meet Jim Healy?

Brian Phillips said...

Heeeere's Myron (Cope)!

H Johnson said...

With just a few few months left (fighting the tears), Vin Scully has to be one of the most pleasant storytellers in the business. Even when the game's a dog he makes it a well spent afternoon.

I pity the poor soul who replaces him. I don't know who it is but I can't help myself, I hate him already. And I'm quite sure there are countless others who will take a long time to get used to a different voice of the Dodgers. Why Vin Scully picked this year of all years is just bad luck I guess. Coupled with this horrifying election with no possible good outcome 2016 is gonna be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

And since someone mentioned, eff them for blackening out the Dodger game because some lunatic designated Honolulu as a "home city" to all west coast teams.

(deep breath)


Ken said...

If I remember you have written about your son is as an apple computer whiz.

have you ever thought to ask him to write an algorhym (sic) to tell you when to start working on that new "Front Page" treatment ( i.e My girl Friday, Broadcast News, etc) or any of the other perennials that reappear every generation or so?
I know it has been said that there are only 3 or 4 basic stories and everything else are just variations on the theme but certain stories seem to echo through the generations.
Perhaps another algorhym to tell you when to start writing that new western series? Predicting the renewal of story forms sounds like it could be profitable.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn were unsurpassed at making a bad Phillies game seem interesting with stories Ashburn would tell with a little provoking from Harry. Today, Scott Franzke and Larry Anderson are developing a similar chemistry. Not quick H and Richie, but close.

Pat Howard said...

You are so right about the baseball announcers.

Terry said...

The water tower on the WB lot was used as a prison for Yakko, Wakko and Dot for 65 years until they escaped in 1993.

What? Who?

Glenn Grieves said...

Question for a future FQ:

By now you've probably seen Billy Domineau's spec script for Seinfeld: The Twin Towers that's been going viral. ( It's getting rave reviews as nailing the character's voices perfectly, and for crossing many boundaries of appropriateness at the same time.

My question is: do you think a flamboyantly controversial script like this helps a writer land a gig? Are the people who matter more likely to think, "Genius! This guy can write and is lightning in a bottle!" or are they more likely to think, "This guy crossed a line and I wouldn't want to be in the same room with him. And he'd make a great Trump speechwriter."

Anonymous said...

@HJohnson, you didn't hear it from me, but if you have, the Hola add-in for Google Chrome might be worth your time.

bigcat said...

Friday Question: What is the shelf life of a hit sitcom or how many people watch pre-1978 sitcoms regularly? I chose that date as Taxi and WKRP came out that year.

I've been reading a book listing in alphabetical order 101 sitcoms that are important or classics or ground breaking or something. As I've been reading, I've been tracking down the various sitcoms and watching them. Just finished the letter L and I seem to have spent a month watching either black & white sitcoms or sitcoms about blacks & whites (Norman Lear & the 1970s). After watching a couple, I'm more than ready to move on to the next entry in the book. most I'll never watch again.

I realized that almost all of my favorite sitcoms are from the 80s and 90s. Shows like Cheers, Frazier, Newhart (2), That 70s show, Everybody Loves Raymond. The exceptions are Andy Griffith and early BBT. Being mid 40s this makes sense as the 80s and 90s are my growing up years.

When I worked in radio we had a belief that songs died when the oldest audience that remembered them as kids died off and people never adjusted their tastes backwards in time. Classical music being the obvious exception. Does this also hold true in TV sitcomland. Will the shows of the 50s fade away as the now 70 plus year olds who remember them pass on?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Terry You've never seen or heard of ANIMANIACS?

Andy Rose said...

The only thing that has kept sitcoms of the 50s and 60s on the air in any form lately has been the need of local stations to fill up their digital subchannels with something. Networks like MeTV and Antenna TV and Cozi and Decades and Retro and all the others seem to be a getting positive response anecdotally, but I don't know that they've actually been making any money. Black-and-white got banished off of TV Land long ago.

It's always interesting to have a conversation with someone about the period of time that they considered to be Good Television.

"Remember when Nickelodeon actually had good shows on?"
"Yeah, I loved You Can't Do That on Television."
"What? I was talking about iCarly."

JoeyH said...

Sure wish Vin would consider doing at least part of this year's World Series on Fox. Joe Buck has said they would welcome it.

Stu R said...

Baseball is the best radio sport. There are so many great radio broadcasters across this country. That is why the MLB app is worth the $20. After listening to all it has to offer, the best radio team is the Mets. Howie, Josh & Wayne-o made me a ! Mets fan. Great game calls and a hell of a lot fun. The best booth in the business.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Andy That in and of itself reminds me of a meme from way back that said something to the extent of, "Your generation had DRAKE & JOSH. My generation had KENAN & KEL."

Allan V said...

I agree with John Leon --- baseball is best on radio. I've listened to Denny Matthews call Royals games for decades, and it's a treat to hear him do play-by-play. He's been with the team since the very first year, and at 73, he's still an absolute master at it.

One of the coolest things that the great radio broadcasters do is something that a TV sportscaster won't (or can't) do --- they let the audience listen to the game. They allow -- GASP! -- brief periods of dead air now and then so their listeners can occasionally hear the game as they do; they always remind you that you're listening to a game, not just a broadcast of one.

By comparison, younger announcers seem to think that the more spoken syllables, the better, and that's a shame. As Ken said, they've never seemed more generic.

Jake Mabe said...

As Stuart says, baseball is indeed the best radio sport.

Due to a two-year disability that involved constant severe migraines, my only choice, on what passed for good days, to keep up with baseball (or have any entertainment at all) was to listen to the radio. (Good part is it was the perfect excuse to indulge in old-time radio and Jean Shepherd airchecks.)

Announcers can make or break a broadcast. About 10 years ago, I had kidney stones and happened to be home for a matinee game. The Tigers' Rod Allen was gone to his daughter's graduation, so they brought Ernie Harwell in to tell stories. Of course, Mario Impemba was smart enough to shut up and just let Ernie do most of it. It was better than the pain medication, I can promise you.

On the flip-side, I haven't been able to tolerate more than a handful of Atlanta Braves games since Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren left us. Boog Sciambi and Joe Simpson weren't bad, but when Bob Rathbun, who makes me want to pull an Elvis and shoot my TV and was brought in briefly in the aftermath of the infamous Harwell firing folly in the early '90s, and Tom Paciorek suddenly were broadcasting most of the games, I quietly sang "Thanks for the Memory" and called it a good run after 30-some years of listening to and watching Braves baseball.

We also used to have an excellent play-by-play broadcaster, John Ward, at the University of Tennessee. I always turned down Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles (and later Bob Griese (whom I like) on TV to listen to Ward and his color guy, former Green Bay Packer Bill Anderson, on the radio. Ward was replaced after voluntary, no pun intended, retirement by a broadcaster who'd spent 15 years as a TV sports anchor. He can't paint word pictures. He doesn't give the score enough. He doesn't put me in the stadium. And, if you can't do that on radio, turn out the lights, the party's over.

Ken, I have a Friday Question: Forgive me if I'm misquoting you, but one time you said something to the effect of if you see an episode of a TV series that has eight writers listed, you know something went wrong. And yet, I noticed multiple names (not eight, but more than two and not the screenplay/story distinction) on some of the better episodes of "M*A*S*H" and "All in the Family" lately while watching reruns. Are those the exceptions that prove the rule? Did I misunderstand you? Or, does that mean that it took everybody listed and the script supervisor and who knows else to make it good?

Thanks in advance!

Kyle said...

Ken, just wondering if you've seen the new film "Don't Think Twice" from comedian Mike Birbiglia. As it's about an improv group where one member makes it to the big time, I'd be curious about your thoughts. It's currently in limited release, and my wife and I had to drive two hours to see it, but we were both blown away by it.

Dylan Walton said...

Being an Australian, I can't speak to the quality of baseball radio broadcasts. But the best of them sound very similar to the ABC (our national, govt-backed broadcaster) radio cricket broadcasts.

Many an enjoyable summer's day has been spent whiling away the hours listening to commentators endlessly bullshit about minutiae and trivialities while occasionally taking time out to talk about the sport at hand. It's glorious in its own special way.

Do You Do Any Wings? said...

Friday Question; I've seen a spate of posts going round my social media circles featuring Cliff Clavin's 'Buffalo Theory' regarding the effect of alcohol on brain cells ("...and *that* Norm, is why you always feel smarter after a few beers"). I was going to ask who wrote that, then I thought I'd probably be able to work it out by looking online, and then I read that it's not actually a line from Cheers at all. Presuming that last bit is true, how do you feel about memes taking on a life of their own - both ones purporting to be from one of your shows and those that you actually did write (which are always attributed to the characters anyway!)

Agent M said...

Thanks for the memory... watching the Cincinnati Reds at my grandfather's house in the 70s. TV on, sound off, with radio play by play from Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall!