Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Questions

For you Friday Question fans:

Samantha leads off:

I'm curious about the way you would go about writing a spec for a Netflix or Amazon show. I've read scripts for Master of None, Flaked, and Transparent, and they don't call out the act breaks within the script. So, when writing a spec of a Netflix or Amazon show, should you call out the act breaks or should you follow the standard formatting for a TV show?

No, I wouldn’t show act breaks.   If you have a script of the show you're spec'ing just follow that.


In constructing your story I would have act breaks. There are act breaks in every movie. You just don't see them.   It’s just good storytelling. Build to a crisis point (or two) and then resolve. Just because you don’t break for commercials doesn’t mean you should toss out sound dramatic structure. Best of luck with your spec.

Douglas Trapasso has another Amazon/Netflix question.

Do you think that the decision process at the Hulus and Amazons and Netflixes will become equally convoluted over the next few years? Or do you think writers will enjoy more creativity there?

Well, it’s what I would hope at least. But so much depends on who’s in charge. And often times as these delivery services grow they feel they can exert more control.

At the moment, yes, people I know doing shows for those organizations say there’s much less interference at Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu than at a broadcast network.

But five years from now, who knows? The equation could flip. Broadcast networks, in an attempt to attract A-list talent, might offer more freedom than Netflix and Amazon. (I sort of doubt it however.)

The trade-off for writers is usually creative freedom or bigger paycheck. More and more writers are opting for the freedom, especially since the networks are so ham-fisted in their interference.

Wait. ANOTHER Netflix question? This one is from Brian Phillips.

Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are now becoming players in the original content market, just like the big three (then-four, then-five) in broadcast TV. Is pitching a comedy to them any different?

I haven’t pitched to them so I have no personal experience. Friends of mine who have say it’s very similar. It’s just that what they’re looking for is different than broadcast networks.

But by and large, pitching is the same. You pitch the premise, characters, tell why your show is great, have story areas prepared, make 'em laugh if you can, and be ready to answer questions.

And finally, a non-Netflix question from James.  (Get with the program, James!)

I am thinking about writing a sitcom that for a particular star - kind of like Curb Your Enthusiasm in that the actor is playing a fictionalized version of himself. Would this be a good idea to help get an agent or get noticed, or do you have to have ties with the actor that you want to use?

That would be a very bad idea. Unless you have the actor attached don’t go anywhere near that idea. Not to say that in your head you can't have prototypes of certain actors even though you know you’ll never get them, but they must play fictional characters, not versions of themselves.

In general, gimmick pilots are not well received.

Agents and studios and networks and producers want to see ORIGINAL material. Create your own world and pilot. Best of luck.

What’s your Netflix, I mean FRIDAY Question? Leave it in the comments section. Thank you.


Honeycutt Powell said...

Friday Question: Would you indulge a fan and watch this clip where Lucy and Desi implore the Academy to recognize comedy writers? I'd like to hear your comments on it.

Terrence Moss said...

I give it a year before the streamers become just as difficult to work with as the broadcasters.

Anonymous said...

Cable and streaming networks offer lots of freedom in language, nudity and even politics where the networks can't go. That allows the former to to present far more adult stories and even stronger dramatics. Is it fair then that the TV academy doesn't separate Cable/streaming from the more controlled network shows considering there are rules in place that prevent the networks from truly competing. Should there be separate Emmys for best cable/streaming drama/comedy and best network drama/comedy? After all it's not the network's fault that they can't compete equally. -MW

Ralph C. said...

Needing advertisers is a big difference so I would think the streaming "networks" will keep allowing the creators more freedom because of the lack of a need to please potential advertisers. The streaming "networks" do need to continue the growth in the number of subscribers, though. My thought right now is that constraining creativity and the breadth of subject matter would be a deterrent to increasing the number of subscribers.

Ralph C. said...

Getting the right creative people and allowing them more leeway would help the networks instead of their current battle plan. Given the constraints of network t.v., those who are creative can offer shows within those parameters. Network limits should be a challenge, not a scapegoat or an excuse.

Tim said...

Would you indulge a fan and watch this clip where Lucy and Desi implore the Academy to recognize comedy writers? I'd like to hear your comments on it.

To put the clip in perspective, it's from the 1954 ceremony, a year before the award for comedy writing was instituted. Say what you will about Lucy and Desi, they were always quick to acknowledge their debt to their writers, which was quite a difference from the Red Skeltons and the Milton Berles, who preferred audiences to believe they went out there and just ad-libbed it all.

Ken said...

1) Watched the Orville on hulu (just 4 days after broadcast no commercials) and one thing i noticed is that I appreciated it a bit more in part because of what I learned reading here. As an example how one goes about introducing the setting and the story line characters up. His review of "Senior" officers was entirely logical within story and in practice. Having read your expositions on how to introduce characters on opening helped me to appreciate it more.
So Thank You.
2) It shows promise. It is no "Red Dwarf" but hope springs eternal. Surprised at not being swamped by sophmoric sex and bathroom jokes like I usually expect from his shows. They were there but the story was not used exclusively as a set up to tell more bathroom jokes.
Your opinion?

Ken Levine said...


Watched it and it was GREAT. Desi in particular was always super respectful of his writers. Thanks for posting the link.

Elf said...

For the Ken talking about the Orville, I was torn regarding the scene introducing the senior officers. It felt rushed for one and the humor, what little there was in that scene, was forced. What came through was that Capt. Mercer shares a lack of social skills with Michael Scott. but the questions he asked were just too pointed and designed to tell us what makes each of the alien species unique. "So, I hear you're strong. So, I hear you're from a single-sex species," and so on. I agree there's promise and maybe it was rushed because they had too much exposition to do in the pilot. Maybe the pilot should have been two hours instead...

Ken said...

Back to ELF
To me Capt. Mercers lack of social skills is part of the reason that those pointed questions work.
Granted some of the humor was forced but in most pilots I have seen that frequently seems to be the case.
What I missed was the supposedly internal connections that the existing crew would have had.
Or perhaps by recognizing ( because of our host Ken you ken =scottish usage) what I was watching made it more interesting thus overwhelming my judgement.
An interested non trade watcher here so take my opinions any way. The odds of me being right are probably no better then 50 / 50

Mitchell Hundred said...

Re: three-act structure, there was a good video from Lindsay Ellis a while back about three-act storytelling (in movies, but it seems widely applicable).

Mike Bloodworth said...

Re: Netflix, et al. The so called freedom and creativity associated with streaming services and/or pay-cable is a two-edged sword. Many believe, myself included, that the reason the "screwball" comedies of the 30's and 40's were so good was that they COULDN'T use explicit language. The writers were forced to come up with more clever dialogue. That's why Seinfeld, particularly "The Contest" was so funny. They never used the word "masturbation," yet they got their point across in other ways. Plus, I can't tell you the number of times I've watched some cable/streaming show that everybody is nuts for and been incredibly disappointed. The ONLY reason to watch some of these is for the swearing and the nudity.

RNK Fan Art said...

I recently saw the Cheers episode "The Mail Goes To Jail." In the episode Diane becomes stuck in the heating vents beneath the floor of the bar. I just assumed that there were no "real" vents and that a vent cover was simply added on top of the floor. However I was quite surprised when Ted Danson opened the vent and reached into a hole through the floor.

I know a sound stage extends high above what we see on camera for lights and rigging but I never gave much thought to what is beneath the sound stage. Is there a beneath to the sound stage like there is in the Theater for traps doors, etc.? And if not how was this effect achieved?

P.S. I mistakenly posted this on an older Friday post. Reposting here to the most recent Friday post.

MikeKPa. said...

Before you started doing a daily blog, which I'm sure helps, what did/dp you do on the days that a) you don't feel like writing, or b) nothing comes to mind - blank page syndrome? How do you build that discipline and unlock those writing blocks?

Roger M said...

regarding the streaming 'networks', Andy Wilman, executive producer of The Grand Tour on Amazon said he has no idea how many people watch the show worldwide or in individual countries. Amazon wont tell even him. He says that makes it harder to get talent on the show.

I suspect that in the past as producer of TopGear he had not just their worldwide numbers, but could also use the BBC name to open doors in a way that the Amazon name doesn't.


Jeff :) said...

Ken, I'd love to hear your opinion on the old adage "ideas are a dime a dozen". I personally find it insulting. While I agree that execution is imperative, without a solid idea to begin with there is nothing to work with. I look at a lot of recent comedy pilots as an example. Either the idea completely bizarre, like a cartoon father in the real world (see: Son of Zorn) or it is same old same old (i.e. adult children move in with their aging parents, see: pretty much every new comedy the past 2 years). I would personally preach, shitty ideas are a dime a dozen, but quality ideas with a good hook are rare. Your thoughts?

keyvan said...

Is sitcom writing a problem solution medium?

Steve S. said...

Did the writing staff on season five of MASH know going in that Larry Linville was leaving after that year? If so, was that the reason for Hot Lips getting married?

FXDregs said...

Have you ever worked with Bill Scheft?