Friday, November 24, 2017

(Black) Friday Questions

While you’re standing in long checkout lines, amuse yourself with some (Black) Friday Questions.

Stylus is up first.

My question: years ago, I was watching Frasier via a mirror (in the days before smartphones, it was a way to see the TV while having a bath), and I noticed how odd it was to have everything flipped: the front door on the right of the screen etc. Thinking on it, I can't remember a multi-camera sitcom where the main 'point of entry' wasn't on the left side. Is this deliberate design, so the joke 'flows' from left to right, the same way we read? Are there any other common set designs that you would expect to use as a writer?

There were a lot of shows where the entrance was on the right. ALL IN THE FAMILY, Mary’s first apartment on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (along with the WJM Newsroom), Penny’s apartment on BIG BANG THEORY, Jerry’s apartment on SEINFELD, Ray's house on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, Grace's apartment on WILL & GRACE, the JEFFERSONS' apartment, etc. To my knowledge there’s not a conscious decision to place the entrance on the left.

Sometimes it has to do more with the way the stage is structured and which side is easier to get to the dressing rooms. I have no idea whether that’s remotely true but it could be, right?

cd1515 asks:

How far in advance do writers plan story arcs for smaller characters (ie, non-stars)?

For example, would you introduce someone’s father in season 2 because you plan to give him cancer or something in season 3?

Or do you not even know what you’re gonna do with him when you introduce him?

More the latter. The truth is we only bring back guest-star characters (like a regular’s “father”) if he really scores.

You sure don’t want to get locked into anything set for the future. Unless you pay the actor to keep a hold on him he is free to seek other work. So when you come back to him a season later he may be unavailable, working on something else.

THE GOOD WIFE had this problem all the time. They created a rich stable of guest-star characters. The good news is they were all terrific actors. The bad news was they were all terrific actors. Numerous times they’d check on an actor’s availability for a cool storyline they’d developed only to learn he was in Rangoon filming a mini-series.

Longtime reader of the blog, Wendy M. Grossman has a FQ.

It's been reported that Jill Soloway and Amazon Studios have been hit with fines for not crediting directors when their material ended up in I LOVE DICK episodes other than the one they were credited for. The story is here:

I understand the points about credit and compensation, and even the directors' complaints that Soloway (apparently) gave notes directly to cast.

But it's an interesting situation because Soloway's shows seem, more than usually for a TV series, like lengthy movies. So which needs to change: Soloway or the rules?

Boy, that’s an easy one. Soloway needs to change. I’ve seen this before. A show receives some recognition and suddenly the creator believes he or she is God. Union rules don’t apply to them. They’re special. They’re creating brilliance.

Meanwhile, a recent study by the Katz Television Group found that only 2% of Americans have ever seen a single episode of TRANSPARENT – even with all the hype. So she’s like the power-hungry dictator of a country the size of Lichtenstein.

And finally, from Theo:

Ken here's an article about how writers are working overtime because of one sleazebag.

Friday Question: Will writers, cast and crew get paid extra or will some other compensation be paid to them because of this one scum. Can they sue him or the network for shutting down the show/their livelihood?

My guess is no. The writers are indeed working like mad to find a new direction and salvage the season, but the sad fact is there is a lot of collateral damage to the Kevin Spacey debacle. On the one hand you could say that it was because of Kevin Spacey that all of these people have jobs on the show in the first place because without him there was no show originally. But there’s no question his behavior has caused a lot of heartache for a lot of people who have worked very hard on his behalf.

And unfortunately, collateral damage of a fact of life in Hollywood because jobs are so transient. An industry strike, a quick cancellation, a new studio regime, an actor getting injured or sick, production moved to Vancouver to save money – all of these can cause financial hardship for lots of workers.

What’s your Friday Question? And have a safe holiday weekend.


Eduardo Jencarelli said...

On THE NANNY, the Sheffield's front door was also placed on the right side of the set. And now I'm remembering Donald Trump's 1996 cameo appearance on that show. I even remember the punch-line. The man was so wealthy he actually had TWO cell phones in his suit.

Lawrence said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

From a theater professor I learned that entering the stage from stage right was a 'stronger' entrance for the audience than coming in stage left because people are used to reading from left to right. When a character is supposed to sneak onto stage for some reason, normally you'd direct that person to come in from stage left.

Mike Bloodworth said...

It may also be due to a long forgotten superstition. The word "sinister" means the left side. Maybe unconsciously set designers have this in the back of minds when they're creating the look of a show. The Odd Couple is another example of the entrance on the right. Laverne & Shirley, too. By the way, today's photo is from my ALL TIME favorite episode of Frasier.

Ned Baxter said...

What advice do you have for a tourist preparing to be in the live audience of a studio taping? My only experience was a TONIGHT SHOW taping at NBC Burbank studios in the 1980s. As I recall, the guest host (David Brenner) was funny and gracious, and bothered to acknowledge and thank audience members for their attendance, but the only warm-up routine before the show was Ed the announcer asking Doc the bandleader if he kept a baton in his pants.

Covarr said...

I don't know about TV shows shot in these fancy studios, but I can absolutely attest to set design being heavily impacted by the needs of the physical stage in smaller theaters. Recently I directed a show set in a diner where we had an entrance/exit on either side; front door on the left, restroom on the right.

This could not be flipped; the restroom side was just a hallway we built, with a chair at the end for the one actor who uses it in the show. There was no room farther out, and the set went all the way to the back wall so actors couldn't get from one side of the stage to the other without either going through the theater lobby and around the outside of the theater (a big no-no) or through the stage (a continuity-ruiningly huge no-no). The front door side on the left, on the other hand, had plenty of space, as well as the dressing room. The choice was obvious.

I would imagine most theaters and studios don't have the same challenges to deal with, but there's always something. Space isn't free, so the folks who design studios and theaters (and especially high school auditoriums) have to put a lot of thought and work into making the most efficient use they can of the space and funds they have available to them. That's going to lead to limitations. I'm sure those limitations are much less significant for television shows than for a small community theater, but I wouldn't believe for a moment that set designers and whatnot don't run into these kinds of barriers all the time.

Brian said...

Jerry Seinfeld did a routine about why left is bad. See his latest Netflix special.
- What's for dinner - leftovers.
- I can't dance - I have two left feet.
- Where did everybody at the party go? They left!
- Where are all the black Friday specials? That's all that's left.

Cue stage right.

Theo said...

Thanks Ken.

Lawrence - "Ken is not in that category." What? Why do you have to say that?

Andy Rose said...

Since the set is created by a production designer, it would be interesting to compare sets done by different designers. Maybe certain ones prefer left and others prefer right? Okay... it wouldn't be that interesting... just a thought.

Some shows have worked studio limitations into the storyline. When Community did their Yahoo! season, they left Paramount and moved into a basement studio with a lot of load-bearing pillars that had to be incorporated into the existing set. So in the first scene of the new season, they depicted the cafeteria's roof caving in to justify why there were suddenly beams all over the place.

Decades earlier, Bonanza had to move from the Paramount lot to Warners, and a different Western Street backlot. So in their first episode after the move, "Virginia City" was burned to the ground by an arsonist and rebuilt to explain why the city looked different.

@Ned Baxter: There are several websites like On-Camera Audiences and 1iota that you can search for official TV tickets. Look for tapings where you can get a "priority" or "guaranteed" ticket. With those, you don't have to wait in line all day. As long as you are in line by the time listed on the ticket, you're supposed to be guaranteed a seat. Even so, expect to be at the studio for four hours, even for a 30 minute or hour-long show. If you get out earlier than that, it's a gift.

Anonymous said...

@Covarr, it's not just those little community theatres that have a problem. If you've ever watched Swan Lake, then you'll know that a couple of times the entire female corps de ballet come on stage running, one after the other, in their tutus. It's OK in the big theatres built for staging large scale ballets, but just about everywhere else you get a long queue of ballerinas standing as close as those tutus let them, snaking into whatever space they can find. Here's an example from the Bolshoi (hang around for thirty seconds if you want to see that even they are human)

Randy said...

@Theo: Lawrence is a troll. Ignore him. Ken catches 99.9% of the troll posts but occasionally one slips through.

Peter said...

Ken, you'll like this. A Twitter parody account called Lena Dunham Apologizes has become an instant hit. The tweets are hilarious.

This is my favourite:

Lena Dunham Apologizes For Opening A Tupac Themed Frozen Yogurt Shop In Williamsburg Called 'Yotorious BIG' To Her Black Uber Driver

Peter said...

Lawrence, can you give us a link to your IMDB profile so we can see a list of all the great scripts you've written, along with the awards you've won? Thanks.

Curt Alliaume said...

Regarding House of Cards, had any episodes for the sixth season been shot with Kevin Spacey? I couldn't determine from the article attached whether writing had begun, or shooting had begun, before Spacey napalmed his career.

It's lousy that the writers have to work this hard - but on the other hand, at least Netflix is keeping the possibility open that the show will continue. Many years ago, after John Ritter's death, Mark Evanier wrote a blog post about other times when an actor had died in the middle of the series' run (Ritter's 8 Simple Rules series had just entered its second season), using Chico and the Man as an example after Freddie Prinze's suicide. Evanier noted, "The folks who did Chico wanted to keep their jobs. There was a sense of 'Why should we be penalized because of what Freddie did?' I don't think that's a terrible motive." And it's certainly not a terrible motive here - there are a bunch of people whose jobs would evaporate (not just writers) if Netflix took the easy way out and cancelled the show. Why not see if there are viable options?

Liggie said...

Stage settings: I once saw a play, "Pile Driver", about professional wrestling (part of the stage was the ring). Along with stage left and stage right, the actors used the aisle way in the audience for entrances, á la WWE stars. They even in character high-fives the audience members as they paraded to the ring.

"BIg Bang Theory": For those who have attended a taping, is the set from the audience's view left-right Penny's apartment -- hallway -- Leonard and Sheldon's apartment, as it is on TV?

"House of Cards": People in power need to get it through their skulls that their actions have consequences on those under them, and those actions could ruin their lives. Not just Spacey vis-á-vis the HOC writers, cast and crew. CEOs (see: the subprime mortgage crisis and the Great Recession), college sports coaches (recruiting scandals putting their teams on probation), politicians (where do we start?). Heck, just one player offsides sets the football tea, back five yards. Other than the questionable legality of making them pay the salaries of those who lost their jobs/well beings out of their own pockets, I don't know how else to force the perspective of accountability on power people.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Re: "Chico And The Man." No, job security was not a bad motive to continue the series after Prinze died in January 1977, but it didn't work and NBC cancelled the show in early 1978.

Not to overstate the obvious, but suicide and the lightheartness of a situation comedy are incompatible, and it was impossible to watch "Chico" after Prinze's death and not think about what happened.

The show didn't even acknowledge Chico's disappearance until a special one-hour episode a year after Prinze died (and shortly before the program's cancellation).

Also, "Chico" was one of NBC's few prime-time hits during ABC's mid-70s ratings domination, which probably played a role in its renewal after Prinze's death.

Anonymous said...

FQ: How much information do showrunners get from TIVO, Netflix, Hulu etc? Do they know when people are FF'ing through episodes? Or, simply failing to watch episodes from start to finish? Season Passes started and halted? Thanks.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

On Happy Days, the front door was on the left ( the viewer's left), then when it was taped before a live audience, the door was on the right.

Barry Traylor said...

As I do not have Amazon streaming when I first read about I LOVE DICK, I thought it was a porn film from the 70's.

Ralph C. said...

The sitcom front doors are on the right because most camera-people are right-handed.

Covarr said...

@Anonymous: I wasn't trying to suggest that only community theaters have these space problems, merely that they make up the extent of my experience and so I can't speak with any amount of authority about small commercial theaters, large theaters, or TV studios.

Also, that fall looked painful. She doesn't seem to have been injured since she kept going, but in a live performance with no second takes, that sort of thing has gotta be a hard punch in the pride-muscles.

Andrew said...

On the subject of sets, Frasier's amazes me. The apartment is so intricate and memorable. I'm still blown away by the city background through the balcony window, especially at night time. I'd love to hear what magic was involved in creating that set.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Was tempted to suggest that "Chico And The Man" could have better weathered Freddie Prinze's suicide had the show been a dramatic series rather than a situation comedy.

Then I remembered "Alias Smith And Jones," an ABC western series in the early seventies that was cancelled a year after the suicide of one of its stars, Peter Deuel.

(Another actor, Roger Davis, took over the role that Deuel had played.)

Unknown said...

The following is a True Story (it's too ridiculous to make up):

Not too long ago, NBC had a daily soap called Passions, which had to deal with a popular actor dying in real life - twice - in less than a year.

The first time, with a young dwarf actor named Josh Evans (I think; correction welcomed), NBC decide to just cut out the character from the show, as if he'd "disappeared" or something; viewers didn't like that much ...

The second time was a bit trickier:

Just before the end of the calendar year, Passions went on a taping marathon, piling up daily episodes so the whole cast and crew could have a full-out Winter vacation, from Thanksgiving through Christmas through New Year's, coming back in January.

That year, on Thanksgiving Day, actor David Bailey, who'd just established himself as the Main Villain on the show, died of a sudden heart attack.
Bailey's character figured prominently in the banked episodes - he was the target of a murder attempt, had lots of hospital scenes, recovered, and spent the later shows stomping around terrorizing all the other characters, screaming things like "Nobody can kill me!", and suchlike.

This time, NBC "bit the bullet" (so to speak), and ran the banked episodes with David Bailey, with no rewriting or editing.
When production resumed in January, Bailey's role was recast, and Passions life went on (after a fashion).

Passions was a weird show, anyway ...

John said...

Hi Ken. I have been reading this blog for years now, and absolutely love it. I never miss a day and appreciate that you post something every single day. I have a Friday question about network notes. What do they actually look like? Is it an email or memo with broad direction like, "not funny enough", or "act 1 is too long"? Or, do you get a marked up script with much specific line changes like, "change the punchline from zebra to kangaroo"? For what it's worth, I'm more interested in network notes where the intent is to improve the script, rather than anything addressing questionable content - I'm assuming you didn't have much full frontal nudity or f-bombs that the network told you to lose.

Jeff :) said...

Hi Ken, not sure if you've heard of the Masked Scheduler or not. He is apparently a former Hollywood executive and he has been posting his 12 Commandments of TV. I have a beef with one of them and wanted to hear your thoughts.

He argues that a show should be simple enough that it is easily digested in a 30 second promo. He used some examples of recent shows such as The Leftovers, Legion, etc. as shows that were discussed heavily on social media but didn't necessarily have great ratings. The takeaway seemingly being that simpler shows that are easily understood are better.

I use Game of Thrones as a counter example. Game of Thrones is a deep, political, complicated show. It would be very difficult to explain Game of Thrones in a 30 second spot. And yet it's ratings continually go up and part of it is because people talk about it constantly. Meanwhile I've seen promos for SWAT, and I understand fully what the show is about yet have not only never watched it, I've never heard of anyone who has. And even if you did watch it, what are you going to discuss about it? "Did you see how they caught that killer on SWAT last night? I didn't think they were going to catch him but then they did. So that's nice". Wouldn't you rather have a deep shows that takes actual thought to comprehend than being spoon fed the same old drivel?

Anonymous said...

Mike Doran: The odd thing about Josh Ryan Evans, the small person on Passions, was that his character died on air the same day he died in real life.

Unknown said...


When Josh Ryan Evans's Passions character (Timmy the Doll) 'died', the plan was that he'd come back as a ghost - as several other characters had before.

I did say that Passions was a weird show, didn't I?