Friday, September 02, 2016

Friday Questions

Getting you prepared for Labor Day Weekend with Friday Questions.

Jerod Butt is up first.

Does the addition of networks like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon increase the possibility of better sitcoms?

Absolutely. The more venues the better. Especially now that the networks have assumed almost total creative control over all of their pilots. Writer/creators are really handcuffed.

Other venues offer greater freedom. (Not all but some) The downside is that the money is not usually as good and your audience will be smaller. But most writers I know (myself certainly included) would cheerfully make that trade for a chance to fuller realize our vision.

What’s interesting though is this, and I’ve seen it frequently: Cable networks or other delivery systems start by allowing writers a great deal of freedom. But then as the venue becomes successful they morph into network patterns. You can get as many or more notes from a cable network than you can from a broadcast network. So now you’re getting less money, a smaller audience, and interference up the yin-yang. 

I hope Netflix and Amazon and some of the other streaming services don’t fall into this trap.

Joe asks:

I know when you and your partner were the head writers at "MASH" that Gary Burghoff had cut down on his workload to where he was absent in probably a third of the episodes. Did you tell writers to try to write Radar-less episodes, or would someone submit an idea with an A-story on Hawkeye and a B-story on Charles and you'd say, "OK, we can do this without Radar. Write him out."

None of the above. David Isaacs and I broke all the stories. Some had Radar and others did not. Gary’s contract that year was for something like 16 of 25 episodes.

We would bring in a freelance writer and just give him the outline, talking through it with him. It was the easiest “story” money any freelancer ever made.

Personally, I thought the show suffered whenever Gary was not in it.

From Patrick:

With all the amazingly talented writers out there who are trying to make it into the business - how is it that there are still sitcoms out there that are painful to watch? Jokes you can see from a mile away - one liners that hurt to listen to - characters that are stereotypes ect...Is it the network that is looking for the lowest common denominator or is this really the best they can do? I long for the 90s in terms of smart multi camera shows that actually made me laugh out loud...

Because a lot of writers are hired not for their actual ability. The ones who do get hired bow easily to network pressure, they fill the need for diversity, they’re personal friends of the showrunner, they have deals that the studio is trying to work off, and in one case, years ago, they ran the weekly studio NFL football pool.

Lots of really good writers are out of work because they’re too old, too Caucasian, stand up to notes, or are on networks unofficial blacklists, have bad agents who don’t submit them for things, and never did UCB.

Stephen Marks wonders:

Did Siskel and Ebert ever review any movies you and Mr. Issacs worked on and if so did their opinion mean anything to you guys. Do movie and TV critics have any influence in Hollywood?

They reviewed VOLUNTEERS. Thumbs up for Siskel, thumbs down for Ebert.  I liked Sisel's take better. 

There are some critics whose opinions I really value. And there have been reviews that have been critical that I agree with. The key is to put them in perspective – even the raves. You’re not a genius no matter what some reviewer says, and you’re also not a steaming pile of shit because some other reviewer was convinced you were.

Movie critics have more influence than TV critics, but I think these days neither have as much as they once had. Critics despised SUICIDE SQUAD and the public flocked to see it.

Critical acclaim can certainly help keep a network television show on the air, but only for so long. Eventually they need ratings. However, if you’re on a premium cable or streaming service, ratings are less important than positive buzz. So critics have a much more pivotal role. Nobody (but NOBODY) watches GIRLS anymore yet it's still on HBO. 

What’s your Friday Question? Happy Labor Day Weekend. Drive safe out there.


VP81955 said...

The downside of the Hulu/Netflix/Amazon boom is that none of these channels have shown any inclination to create multi-camera, live-audience sitcoms, likely considering them not hip enough for their targeted demographic. So don't expect the next "Mom" or "Hot in Cleveland" to come from Hulu; it wouldn't dare.

Anonymous said...

Never liked the fact that Siskel and Ebert had a huge conflict of interest.
They were movie reviewers who had a contract with a movie studio - Buena Vista/Disney.

Stephen Marks said...

Thank you for the answer Ken.

ADmin said...

The answer to question #3 today is why I have followed this blog for so long. Fantastic insight. Ken provides a real-world view of the business.

Jeff said...

Regarding critics, I think the biggest problem is that there are so many these days. Almost anyone can post reviews and call themselves a critic, and that waters down the field, making it harder to find a really good one.

Critics should be writers, first and foremost, and it used to be a profession of more esteem. One of the reasons I always enjoyed reading Roger Ebert was that I knew his writing well enough that even if I disagreed, I enjoyed reading the review. And sometimes Ebert wouldn't like a movie, but I could tell from the review I probably would, and vice versa.

There are still good critics out there, but they're just harder to find -- and as noted, they have a lot less influence.

Ralph C. said...

Streaming services like Netflix even help bring old chestnuts back to the world.... with the help of a tremendous Kickstarter campaign!

cd1515 said...

Friday question: every article I've ever read about SNL talks about the grueling process just to get something on the air.
But then why do so many sketches that air suck?
There's at least one per show where I wonder "how did THAT get through?"
do you have a writer's perspective, even though you never worked on the show?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix aren't networks, they're streaming services.

And now, I had to sit through five CAPTCHA puzzles. What's going on, Ken?

OnlyMe said...

I'm sorry, but writers rooms are still overwhelmingly white (according to the statistics I can find, it looks like somewhere between 80 and 90%). I highly suspect that people are more likely be and to have been kept out of the room for "not being Caucasian enough" rather than being "too Caucasian."

MikeN said...

Between 80 and 90% is not 'overwhelmingly white'.

MikeN said...

Face it Joe, you are just not that capable of passing these quizzes. You are barely human. In fact it is possible that like in Lego Ninjago and so many other circumstances, you are really a robot without knowing it.

There is the possibility that the system is detecting these frequent failures and giving you more tests based on your IP address.

Eric J said...

Re: Joseph Scarborough
I think you're on double secret probation or something. I NEVER get a captcha puzzle on this site. My robot checks off the "I'm not a robot" box and I'm published.

Andrew said...

Yeah, Joe, Ken clearly has it in for you. So apologize for whatever pissed him off. Writers hold mean grudges.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Mike FYI, I rarely, rarely failed tests in the past, this just started happening recently, and you know very well that it's not just me, because other people have previously commented they, too, had to sit through more than one CAPTCHA puzzle as well.

@Eric I think it automatically checks off "I'm not a robot" if you're already logged in - I have two different Google accounts (this one for Blogger, and other one strictly for my YouTube channel), so I'm usually logged off whenever I comment, hence why I have to go through CAPTCHA by default before I can login. It's these stupid street sign puzzles, or the "keep selecting until there are none left" puzzles that seem to be a big hang up.

Myles said...

I was going to make this statement but thanks for saving me the time. No offense to anyone but if anything the problem for lack of creativity and new jokes etc would be because the jokes are still mostly coming from the same people with the same background and the same experiences. Diversity is still VERY SMALL when you look at the numbers even tho the doors are opening for POC to get in on the bottom floor. Let's not act as if women and POC are at an ADVANTAGE. We just aren't as disadvantaged as we used to be. It's still a game of who knows who and the people at the top still basically look the same so it's easier for others who look like them to connect. Just the natural reality of it all.

Cat said...

Double Secret Probation! (whatever that is!)

BobinVT said...

Friday question:

A live version of the movie Airplane! Is being staged in LA this month.

The original movie is pretty iconic. I understand it has been updated with modern day references. Any chance that you might attend and give us a review?

VictoryGarden said...

You really think one of the reasons for lousy sitcoms is not enough white writers? Writers are being fired for being "too Caucasian" and women and POC are being hired just to "fill the need for diversity"?

The stats don't seem to back you up on this one:
In a new re­port, the Writers Guild of Amer­ica, West said fe­male writers’ share of TV staff jobs was 29% in the most re­cent sea­son, down from 30.5% in the pre­vi­ous sea­son. Mean­while, minor­it­ies ac­coun­ted for 13.7% of em­ploy­ment, com­pared with 15.6% dur­ing the 2011-12 sea­son.

This is not the first time you written something like this. I think you might want to take a moment to reexamine your thinking on this topic.

Anonymous said...

I love Ken and love the blog, but the "diversity" comment was not only offensive but factually untrue. Sitcoms aren't getting greenlit because networks are filling diversity quotas and passing over more qualified whites.

Utterly untrue and unfair to writers of color.

-White Writer

Johnny Walker said...

I was going to say the same thing. I know it's only a joke, and Ken is obviously aware of the real life problems, but nobody should be seriously thinking that being a white male is somehow more of a hindrance than being anything else. It's still very much a white male world.

There are genuinely people who hold these views, and are probably wondering why their spec "It's Tough Being White" hasn't been picked up yet.

DrBOP said...

Off-Topic-Kid, talking about the best of awwwll-time shortest jokes. As MANY comedians have said, it's tough to beat Henny Youngman's old stand-by, "Take my wife.....please." Well, Mel Brooks did it last night at Radio City Music Hall.
Mel was asked "Boxers or Briefs?", answer was....


And check this SplitSider site out.....very current, funny, fresh, etc.
Their daily newsletter has AT LEAST one killer article EVERY day.....often 4 out of 6 articles will put a smile....on the dial!

MikeN said...

Joe, I have also on some computers not had to pass a capcha. I never login to anything, just use name.

I have also had lots of problems with the system, but I've never had to take again when I was certain I got it right.
The ones with the pictures that keep showing up- they never say you got something wrong. They just put a check mark and put up a new picture.
I failed one because it said click the street signs, and there were none. I was supposed to click skip, but clicked on part of the picture.

Jeff :) said...

I've read many times on your blog about how the major networks executives have strict control over their shows (having to approve outlines, providing irritating notes, etc). The result being stifled creativity, cliched storytelling and often poor ratings. Meanwhile many cable shows have much more freedom and the results are seemingly speaking for themselves (13 out of the 14 shows nominated in the best drama and best comedy categories in this year's Emmy's are cable shows). So my question is, why would the networks continue their current practices? To use a baseball analogy, if you saw another player hitting home runs and you were constantly striking out, wouldn't you want to emulate the home run hitter?

Jay Livingston said...

@DrBOP: That joke goes back to at least 2008, when Kerry used it about McCain. And Kerry's spokespeople claimed that he was merely repeating a joke that was already old. (Source here.)

Eric Lyden said...

I'm watching CHEERS on Netflix and I'm towards the end of season 3. Coach missed a few episodes and I was thinking that maybe we had seen the last of him, but then he shows up in the episode where Diane leaves for Europe where he and Diane have a poignant scene where Diane asks Coach to "just watch over" Sam. Was this intentional knowing that he was ill and unlikely to return for season 4 in any case or was it just dumb luck that it was so retroactively poignant? And why did he return for this episode after missing 3 or 4? Was it taped out of sequence for some reason?

Andy Rose said...

@Jeff: For one thing, the FCC regulates content on broadcast networks, and it doesn't on cable networks. The FCC's interpretation of its own rules and laws is unpredictable and ever changing. Even if you ultimately prevail, fighting a challenge to the FCC can be expensive.

Also, broadcasters are much more beholden to advertisers's whims. Broadcast networks get nearly 100% of their revenue from advertising. For basic cable networks, it's more like 50%. For premium cable networks, it's 0%.

Finally, cable networks are distributed almost directly to consumers. Broadcasters have to go through local TV stations that have their own advertisers and community standards. Networks need to get as close to full carriage as possible for a show to be viable. So they have to take into account the mores of the most conservative parts of the country.

Unknown said...

That's what I was hoping they would do. Netflix already sort dipped its toe in the water. I never saw FULL HOUSE (or at least have no memeory of seeing it), and the pilot for FULLER HOUSE definitely left me with a sense that it was full of something. It would have been better if they had truncated the pilot and started right into the story. Not much better, but better.

MOM is the show I want to see more of. I love HOT IN CLEVELAND.

David Peterson said...

Friday question: It's the 50th anniversary of Star Trek this year. In 1996 it was the 30th anniversary, and this happened:

How did this come about? Who wrote it? And why isn't Kelsey there?

Larry Commons said...

Friday question:
You said on your blog the first season of "Cheers" is the best season. I think so too, and as I re-watch it now I'm struck by how professionally done it is, especially compared to most other sitcoms from 1982 (think: cheap videotape). Why do you say it's the best season? And were the ratings really as poor as we've heard?