Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Norman Lear just sold a show

God bless, Norman Lear. 95 and he’s still selling projects. Recently it was announced that he and Peter Tolan (a terrific writer) sold a pilot idea to NBC called GUESS WHO DIED. This apparently has been a pet project of Norman's for years. It’s about a life in a retirement village.

I have no doubt that the script is wonderful. And better than most of the scripts that will make up its competition.

Whatever that’s worth.

At the TCA confab earlier this summer, NBC Entertainment President, Jennifer Salke, talked about embracing diversity, even ageism. She then pointed to older actors on her network. John Lithgow on TRIAL & ERROR, Andrea Martin on GREAT NEWS, one or two others. They have a reality show in the works with established name actors backpacking and shit. “We are celebrating people of all ages, “ Ms. Salke said.

GREAT! Looking more closely that pretty much means one very well established TV star per show (with the rest of the casts all young), but hey, we’ll take what we can get. I’m sure Tony Danza will be back at some point.

But I look at the reality of the situation and the chances for Norman & Peter’s pilot. I know this is cynical, and believe me, nothing would please me more than to eat crow on this one and ultimately say that I was completely wrong. And if I am wrong I will not just admit it; I’ll headline it.

But for all the “celebration,” here’s what I think is going to happen: Come next May when NBC is huddled behind closed-doors trying to cobble together their fall schedule, they’re going to say: “We want to put a retirement village on the air every week? Not a fucking chance.”

They will either pass, or if they want to make a big show of their commitment to diversity, they’ll give it a short order and burn it off in the summer when no one is watching like they did with CARMICHAEL.

Again, I so hope I’m wrong. I want this project to be given a real chance. I know that broadcasting networks are desperately trying to program to Millennials, ignoring the fact that that’s the one demographic that has no interest in broadcast networks. So maybe programming to the people who actually would watch NBC is a good idea. And it is… until May.

By the way, do you know one of the most popular sitcoms among Millennials is GOLDEN GIRLS? Yep. It’s not just embracing diversity; it’s smart programming.

Norman, I hope your show goes, it continues for several seasons, and you and your show both celebrate “100” at the same time.


Stuart Best said...

I was a kid in the 1970s and Norman Lear's shows were a great social education, as well as being terrifically funny. I'm surprised my parents let me in the room to watch All In The Family and Maude with them. Maybe they thought I didn't understand it. But wow, those shows really did plant the seeds of social awareness.

So I'm really thrilled to hear that Lear has another show coming. And Peter Tolan, he was from the great Larry Sanders Show, absolutely the funniest thing I've ever seen on TV.

But I'm afraid you're right Ken. This could sink on network TV. Why the heck didn't they take this to HBO or AMC or FX? Lear was the trademark of quality in the 1970s. His kinds of shows don't make it onto prime time anymore. Nowadays, cable is the trademark of quality. It's where Lear belongs, and Tolan should know that from doing Larry Sanders on HBO. Even if this show succeeds on NBC, still, wouldn't it be nice to watch one of Lear's shows without commercials?

In any regard, it's great to see Lear looking great (recent pic at the top of the post?) and still working. Fingers crossed this is a hit.

Curt Alliaume said...

Is it also possible the networks don't want to take the chance of having cast members die suddenly? I remember specifically the CBS series Phyllis giving two octegenarians, Judith Lowry and Burt Mustin, major supporting roles in the show's second season, only to have them both die not long after their characters were married on screen. It's possible the networks have overreacted (really, how many people do you see on network television series over 55?), but that has to be a concern.

All of which made me a little surprised that the 82-year-old Judd Hirsch is starring in Superior Donuts for CBS. Maybe it's a step in the right direction.

Johnny Walker said...

This is pretty damn amazing. Lear was still very clearly compus mentís when he appeared on WTF, so I'd like to think he's all over this, but most of the work is likely fall on Tolan. That said, Pete Tolan was a major force behind my favourite sitcom of all time, The Larry Sanders Show, so that's also fantastic news by me.

I think the trick is to find yourself an older legend to collaborate with, Ken. Why not try and track down Mel Brooks or Carl Reiner and then lo do it Amazon? :)

rkd2999 said...

If this makes it to air, the format will be changed so that it focuses on the young (and attractive) staff, with the oldsters pushed to the background as one-dimensional supporting characters, i.e. "the one with the foul mouth", "the one who passes gas and soils themselves a lot", "the perpetually chirpy and happy one with dementia", etc.

John in NE Ohio said...

Funny is funny.
People who were never in the army, or Korea, watched M*A*S*H.
People who never had roommates outside of the dorm watched Friends.
People who would never hang out in a bar everyday watched Cheers.
People who were not cavemen watched the Flintstones.
People without kids watched Home Improvement and Roseanne, and ...
White people with money watched Sanford and Son.

Young people watch Golden Girls because it is funny.
If Norman Lear's show about a retirement home is funny, people will watch it. Unless the promos don't do it any favors.

Diversity matters in that the networks are not EXCLUDING anyone. If it doesn't matter what race/sex/religion a character is, then it shouldn't matter. Friends had 3 men and 3 women, so the sex matters. 2 of them are siblings, so they have to be a matched set, unless you want to explain why they are not. Other than that, I would hope that when casting the show (especially today), it would be the best audition that got the part, not the right race/sex/religion.

What I don't want to be is beat over the head with the diversity. Hey, that character is gay. Fine. Hey, that character is Christian. Fine. Don't try to preach at me about it. I am watching TV to escape from reality, not deal with it. If I wanted reality, I would sit on the front porch and watch the neighbors.

McAlvie said...

"one of the most popular sitcoms among Millennials is GOLDEN GIRLS"

yep. And according to the millennial offspring of friends, they get a kick out of Columbo, too. Apparently, millennials grow up to be fairly intelligent people who like intelligently written tv. Heck, some of them are watching TVLand reruns of shows older than I am. It would seem that the network execs of the past knew more than their contemporaries about what viewers not only want, but WILL want in the future.

Not that I expect current powers that be to ever admit that.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Or Lear's show will go to Netflix or Amazon if NBC passes in the end. One of the great things about GRACE AND FRANKIE is that it talks about older women's lives in a way that simply hasn't been done before in popular media.


Mark said...

During my college years, also known as the Mists of Antiquity, I heard tell of a guy who had conceived a TV project and had hopes of selling it to a producer. He set it in a nursing home and called it "Silver Threads". The guy was my professor in the Radio-TV Department at Kansas University. One of the industry people he invited to speak to the class was Norman Lear. All this happened 30-plus years ago, and I draw no connection to current events, other than that one reminded me of the other. And I do admit that "Guess Who Died" is a much better title than "Silver Threads."

thevidiot said...

Sounds like a knock off of "Waiting for God" From Britain.

VincentS said...

Yes, this smacks of tokenism but I think the good news is that networks are considering ageism relevant. Even if this doesn't pan out at least the discussion has begun.

Retsibsi said...

"Waiting For God" episode here

Michael said...

Quality is quality. And Norman Lear always has been, and meant, quality. I also realized that he and Ed Simmons, who later produced Carol Burnett's show, were the first writers for Martin & Lewis.

Friday question, Ken. I was thinking of "Comrades in Arms," where Hawkeye and Margaret end up together ... for a night. You were one of the story editors. Was there a big discussion of how that might change the arc of their entire relationship? Were there concerns about taking that step?

Cap'n Bob said...

No interest.

Mike said...

I'm all for diversity, but Norman Lear hasn't had a funny sitcom since the 70s. His 80s and 90s efforts- aka Pablo, Sunday Dinner, and 704 Houser St. - were pretty bad.

Alf Garnett said...

Sounds like a knock off of "Waiting for God" From Britain.

There is no way, zero, that Norman Lear would rework the premise of a British sitcom for American eyeballs.

Andy Rose said...

I was trying to be nice and hold my tongue on this one, but Mike is right. Lear's lack of recent work is as much due to his latter-day track record as his age. Better luck this time, though. I'm rooting for him.

normadesmond said...

Uh, Andrea Martin on, "Difficult People."

cb said...

And there Mr Lear was. Last night, as he is every show night, talking to the crowd before cast intros on One Day At A Time. Still feisty and engaged. Still funny.