Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday Questions

Getting you ready for the Presidents Day weekend, here are some FQ’s.

Greg starts us off.

What's the practice for referencing famous people living or dead, specifically in comedy writing, whether it's on screen or in book form? Do you have to get some kind of clearance beforehand, especially when they're used in a joke that might not be entirely flattering? Maybe drawing on a commonly held stereotype for that person (i.e. alcoholic, adulterer).

If they’re a public figure they're fair game.  You can use their name. If you show their likeness you need clearance.

If you mention them in a derogatory manner you always run the risk of a libel suit. But that’s certainly a gray area. Look at SNL.

From Mike Lonergan, Tacoma:

Starting a new radio job, did you ever find yourself saying the wrong call letters? I swear the "red phone" call I got from the program director my first night was friendly and casual, but it went like this..."Just a couple things--I'd like you to keep the music a little more up-tempo. Oh, and do you have a pencil? Write this down, K-B-R-O. That's the name of the station, not what you've been saying."

Not as a disc jockey. But I did slip up once as a baseball announcer. After doing the Orioles games for a season I moved over to Seattle. The first time we were back in Baltimore I paused for station identification and told Seattle fans they were listening to “The Baltimore Orioles Radio Network.” Oops. My partner, Dave Niehaus laughed for ten minutes.

Speaking of Dave, next month Sports Illustrated is doing a salute to the Seattle Mariners and included is a tribute to Dave that I wrote especially for the magazine. I’ll let you know when it hits the newsstands.

Keith Bodayla queries:

In looking for scripts online of shows I want to write a spec for, I've come across several people who have posted their own spec scripts online. What are your thoughts on this practice? Seems like a bad idea to me, or at least not one that would land you a job. But I could be wrong.

That’s a very bad idea. You have zero protection. And once that content is out on the web anything can happen. Someone could steal your script, put their name on it, submit it to a show, get hired, and you are completely unaware.

Do whatever you can to protect your material. Register every script with the WGA. Go here for details.

There’s enough stealing when properties are protected. Don’t make it easy for someone to rip you off.

cd1515 asks:

How much do you think being a comedy writer helped you get into baseball?

Could a guy stocking shelves at Walmart who was practicing in the bleachers on the side gotten the same shot you did?

Being a comedy writer was a double-edged sword. On one hand there were teams that were intrigued, but on the other there were teams that didn’t take my commitment seriously because of my background.

And remember, the tapes I made in the bleachers had to be good enough to warrant serious consideration. Plus, once I got my first job, the tapes had to be good enough to advance.

I’m sure there are some who think I only got these jobs because of my TV resume, but the truth is I spent years dedicated to sharpening my sportscasting skills. I didn’t ride all those buses and call games in sub freezing weather to improve my comedy writing ability.

And finally, from Liggie:

Here's a radio question. Local DJs/hosts will give commercials for a local business (usually a car dealership) and mention the great car and customer service they got from them. Do those commercials originate because the host bought the car on his own, liked it, and approached three dealer, or because the dealer offered to give a car to the station in exchange for sponsorships?

Usually the host is approached and offered the use of a car if he’ll be the dealer’s spokesperson. The key here is “use.” When the deal is up the car generally goes bye-bye.

When I was hired to announce Syracuse Chiefs baseball my one stipulation was that the team provided a car for me. They did. But it had big ads for the car dealer on both sides. I looked like an idiot driving around town in that thing.

What's your Friday Question?  I also answer them on my podcast.  Have you subscribed????


Bill Avena said...

"But it had big ads for the car dealer on both sides. I looked like an idiot driving around town in that thing."
As Steve Coogan's idiot Alan Partridge character has demonstrated.

Michael said...

Friday question: You've mentioned being fired from several radio jobs. Did they ever let you back on-the-air after firing you? If so, did you ever do/say something memorable?

Cliff said...

I'm very much looking forward to your piece on Dave Niehaus with spring training season, and another year of baseball in the wings. Every trip to the ballpark, I make a point of going by the memorial with Dave at the announcer desk and pause a moment to remember some story he told. Gosh I miss him.

Steve Mc said...

Re: the question about could involve the legal concepts of "fair use" and "right of publicity".
Fair use essentially provides limited use of copyrighted material in areas such as commentary, search engines, criticism, parody, news reporting, research, and scholarship.

Right of Publicity is the right to control the commercial use of one's identity (name/image/likeness etc, whether living or dead). This is why you could not open an Elvis themed restaurant, for example, without obtaining the rights from his estate.

As a parody, SNL gets some measure of protection under both concepts. (However, this being the United States, anyone can sue anyone for anything. So, these protections don't mean you can't get sued.)

JED said...

" month Sports Illustrated is doing a salute to the Seattle Mariners and included is a tribute to Dave that I wrote especially for the magazine. I’ll let you know when it hits the newsstands."

Will it involve swimsuits?

Mark said...

Friday question:

You mentioned the difficulty of filiming outisde for MASH once Fall and Winter set in. Why not have fifteen or twenty scripts ready and then do all the outside filming for all of them before moving to the set and doing all the inside stuff.

Or, put another way, why are scripts done so closely to the filming (I gather that's the case, anyway) rather than working six or eight months out?

DwWashburn said...

I remember when I was growing up, a local DJ for WHBQ Memphis made a commercial for a furniture store. In the background he played Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer" (the part that goes "Lie lie lie etc"). How it got on the air I don't know. I thought it was funny as hell. But I do know that this DJ was let go. A competing station WMPS picked him up, although, within a week.

thirteen said...

You've (again) reminded me just how much I needs me some baseball right about now. 45 makes me wish I were a robot.

Saburo said...

Looking forward to your piece on Niehaus. I'm only barely familiar with his work via old game clips on MLB Network etc. I would really be interested to discover what made him a legit Frick recipient.

Greg Thompson said...

A minor disagreement: Registering spec scripts with WGA is fine and a nice little business for them, but a WGA registration number on the title page of a script is usually the mark of a rookie. In my experience, beginning screenwriters are way too concerned about their amazing ideas being stolen. You don't need to file paperwork or pay a fee to have copyright protection of your writing. And most of what you write, especially when you learning the craft, doesn't really need protection anyway.

Andy Rose said...

The answer to the question "Can I refer to a celebrity in my script without permission?" is much like the answer to the question "Can I post a clip from a TV show to YouTube?" It's largely a practical matter of a) will the rights holder notice, and b) will the rights holder care?
There was an episode of ALF where the alien becomes obsessed with the idea that Elvis is still alive, starts collecting Elvis memorabilia, and eventually thinks that their new neighbor actually is Elvis. I don't remember any particular thing in that episode that was legally actionable. I don't think they even showed a picture of the real Elvis. But because the entire episode revolved around Elvis and things associated with him -- and his estate is known for being litigious -- the producers went ahead and got the permission of Elvis Presley Enterprises before doing the show.
According to an LA Times Article, Cheers made similar overtures to the Elvis estate before including an impersonator in a dream sequence.

Unknown said...

Just watched a 20 year old interview with Carl Reiner.
I thought I knew comedy. Wrong. He IS THE MASTER.
For me: funny is funny. Regardless of the subject.
Your thoughts?

Matt said...

Have you ever written for a sketch comedy show? Is this type of writing different?



bryon said...

Mike's question resonates with me. I worked on-air at a radio station when I was in high school. On the wall right in front of the microphone was a community calendar -- one of those where local businesses buy ads and they're all mushed together. Our main competitor had bought space on the calendar, and their call letters were in huge print. Every one of us who worked there -- from rookie me to seasoned pros -- fell victim to that thing. Some wise person eventually got a pair of scissors and excised our mutual problem.

DougG. said...

Are an actor's royalties (in terms of more or less $$$) affected by how he is credited on a tv show? The one I'm thinking of is Bob "Bulldog" Briscoe. Depending on the episode of "Frasier," Dan Butler's name either appears in the opening titles or at the end with the credit "Special Appearance by." I can't remember if he ever had the generic credit "Guest Star" or not.