Friday, December 08, 2017

Friday Questions

Friday Question time has rolled around again. What’s yours?

Here’s a long FQ from Jeff :)

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?

Someone on the internet described GAME OF THRONES as:

Noble families across the realm of Westeros compete for control of the Iron Throne.

Even complicated shows can be distilled down to loglines.

There is so much product out there on so many platforms that to get your show noticed I think it’s a big advantage to be able to convey the premise and hook in thirty seconds. And then you can make your show as complicated as you want.

A mob boss is torn between his killer instincts and his conscience.

That’s THE SOPRANOS. Hardly a simple show.

I do believe that whatever your genre, you need to be able to articulate your show in just a few sentences.

Mike Bloodworth asks:

What is the easiest way to access your archives? As I've said before I've only been reading your blog for a short time. There must be a gold mine of information I've missed.

Look on the right column. You’ll find a section called “Blog Archive” along with years and months. Just click on a year and it will show you months. Click on a month and it will show you the posts from that month. Click on the post. Or click on the month itself and all the posts from that month will come up. A few are actually good. 

David A. Mackey wonders:

What do you think it was about Nancy Travis that made working with her so special? I always hear a lot of great things about her and the work that she is done.

She’s a lovely person, super talented, and a real cheerleader on the stage. A total pro, always prepared, very unselfish as an actress. And when she has a problem with a script she presents it in an intelligent respectful way.

She’s a good sport and will try things. There’s something so warm about her. You want to be married to her or have her as your girlfriend or best friend.

And the camera just loves her.

Had the pleasure to work with her on two series.  I would work with her again in a second.  

Finally, from Stuart Best:

You said you left MASH because all the good ideas had been used up and wrung out. But the show continued for four more years. Did you think the writers after you added fresh ideas, or did they continue to bludgeon the same horse? I respect that you probably don't want to say anything negative about other writers, but I wonder how you think it was a mistake to keep going all those extra years.

I think they did the best they could with what they had to work with, which was not a lot. We pretty much picked over all those bones.

There were some stories where I thought they were really reaching, but others where I said, “Damn, why didn’t WE come up with that?”


CRL said...

Ian McShane described Game Of Thrones as 'Tits and Dragons'. I like that better.

Brian said...

Mr. Arlen Peters answered so many questions yesterday in the comments section. He forgot mine ☹️....

Or perhaps he didn't get what I meant 😳😳😳.

Did anyone get what I meant?

Jim S said...

I had a high school english teacher who maintained that any good book should be able to be summed up in one sentence. He then proceeded to break down several books. The one I remember was the Bible. His break down - God Loves Us.

Brian said...

When a similar problem about trying to make, in this case the news, simpler, here is a paraphrase from the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

In "Murray Takes a Stand", written by David Lloyd, Newswriter Murray Slaughter complains about the directive from the new station head that all lead stories are to be condensed to SIX WORDS or less for promotional spots. The story is that the transit workers are negotiating, through collective bargaining, with the Mayor's office for better salaries and their offer is rejected.

MURRAY: Lou, how can you boil down a story like that in six words or less?
LOU GRANT: Union talks, mayor balks, public walks.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Can you name one of these MASH episodes, which you wished you had thought of (before you left).
this can also be answered by the Readers of the blog
Several of the later ones that I really enjoyed were, "Picture This" (Potter paints the main characters), "Follies of the Living" (unforgettable), "Run for the Money" (Winchester and the stutterer), "Who Knew?" (Hawkeye and the Eulogy of the Nurse), "The Joker is Wild" (BJ and the prank that never was), "Hey Look Me Over" (Nurse Kellye), "Death takes a Holiday" (unforgettable Christmas story).

E. Yarber said...

Writing loglines is a lot like simplifying fractions. You have to get to the basic nub of a story.

Joyce's Ulysses:

An advertising salesman wanders through Dublin as his wife begins an affair, forming a temporary bond with the discontented son of an acquaintance.

You can even cut that after the comma, depending whether your client wants a two or three line summary. I made sure to include the advertising reference because executives are less inclined to care about a character without some sort of media connection. Never forget that the point of the summary is for them to decide if Tom Hanks or Clint Eastwood should consider playing Leopold Bloom.

Proust's Remembrance of Things Past:

An Insomniac obsessively recalls the details of an adolescent infatuation.

This is a case where if you add one more detail your summary might easily leap to thirty-eight pages.

These examples may sound almost like jokes, but at one point I seriously had to write loglines for Shakespeare, Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, etc. Busy people just want to know what the story is about and your job is to tell them.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

A LEFTOVERS logline? Let me try:

The story of a family set in a world where 2% of the population vanished without explanation.

As for LEGION:

An insane person locked in a psychiatric ward may actually be a powerful telepathic mutant.

Jeff said...

Ken, I am feeling sick. Feeling like throwing up. Just came to know that another Jurassic Park movie is coming out next year.

Wiki says: During early conversations on the 2015 film Jurassic World, executive producer Steven Spielberg told director Colin Trevorrow that he was interested in having several more films made.

Several More!!!!???? Why? Why? Why God? Why?

Why does Spielberg want to do more movies? More money? Hollywood has run out of ideas, yes. But why can't those with some reputation just go away silently? Why so much greed for sequel money?

Spielberg is "Executive Producer". What the fuck does that mean? Just counts the profit and takes a share? Any ideas or other contribution for that money?

Sick of these sequels and these people with their "VISION" for more sequels.

There is a cure for my sickness. Please give us a snarky post. A post that rips apart these sequels, this phony genius and also hope to see you tear apart "The Post".

Thanks in advance Ken,

Dr Loser said...

"Busy people just want to know what the story is about and your job is to tell them."

If you're explaining a complex novel or play in one sentence, I think you're misleading yourself. You're not telling them anything. You're just prostituting your knowledge.

What possible gain does either side get from an airport book summary of Hamlet, other than a spurious sense of knowledge in one case and a couple of thousand dollars in the other?

Matt said...

"...You said you left MASH because all the good ideas had been used up and wrung out. But the show continued for four more years. Did you think the writers after you added fresh ideas, or did they continue to bludgeon the same horse?..."

I noticed (for the first time) they recycled a story idea from the first season. "Tuttle" then became "Millie" in "Who Knew?" And instead of making it funny/slapstick, they made it sad/realistic. By this I mean both Tuttle and Millie serving as the McGuffin to drive the story. I was listening to a writing podcast once where they said take the same idea and come at it from two different angles. This is a good example of this. It was one of Alan Alda's best emotional performances as well.

E. Yarber said...

Dear Dr Loser,

Without getting defensive about it, my job (at that time) was part of a process and has been a key element of the Hollywood system all along. Though I won't identify any of my clients, you've probably seen movies I've worked on.

Successful filmmakers get many many offers. They can't read every novel that's presented to them. My job was to read the submissions, weed out the obvious disasters (of which there were many) and prepare summaries for my clients. Many of these artists kept me on for years in that capacity because they felt they could trust my judgment. Nothing stopped them from reading the full works themselves, but usually they wanted to save their time for the most promising projects. I took the job very seriously. Over time, people could see that the manuscripts I favored made money at the box-office, and the ones I passed on didn't do too well (in fact, the reviews would often point out the same flaws I noted at the preliminary stages).

I've had other jobs. One place used me as their resident Shakespearean expert. Lots of people thought simply retelling the plot of a plays created instant quality, so I was expected to explain how well they did at actually understanding the original work. I also broke down novels for adaptation. It can be tricky to transfer a 500-page text into a 120-page script, so producers would give me a crack at it to see how well it could be done and would pass the results on to whoever was offered the full job. I did the initial work on two manuscripts that went on to win Academy Awards for best adapted screenplay, so I was working for pretty important folks.

To use a metaphor that might be welcome at this blog, I was sort of a MASH Script Doctor. Just as the medicos at the MASH unit had to fix a sea of incoming patients well enough to be transferred to a proper hospital, I did the early work on a great number of film projects. Many of them died, but some went on to great success. Summarizing a complex work in a single line was part of the job for a client who might need to sift quickly through a dozen or more offers in quick succession.

Excuse my rambling. I usually don't like talking about myself that much (my work is anonymous if my posts aren't), but I'm basically describing the job, not my personal life, and I'm on to other projects now. In fact I have a meeting about one this afternoon, and my name may actually wind up on it. Lots of creative people begin in story coverage and development, because it enables you to work on a wide variety of material and get a taste for it all.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Thanks for answering my question. But, Stuart Best's M*A*S*H question sparked another Friday Question:
When a show stays on way too long who (whom?) is responsible? Is it ratings based? i.e. network execs thinking, "As long as its making money..." Is it the creators/writers? Are they too close to the project to see things objectively and think they can "FIX" it? Is it the cast, crew, unions, etc.? In other words, is it purely mercenary or are there other reasons?

William said...

"I do believe that whatever your genre, you need to be able to articulate your show in just a few sentences."

Any chance we could get you to post a log-line for Cheers and Frasier?

Andy Rose said...

The Masked Scheduler revealed himself a few years ago to be Preston Beckman. He had a great deal of success at NBC and Fox.

Brian said...

FRASIER: A man that has dedicated his life to the study of the human mind, yet doesn't know his own.

Frank Beans said...

I think MASH was basically done after season 8. To give credit, I think there were some very strong episodes that season, but after Radar left, a lot of the gravitas and humor left the show as well. The remaining seasons are frankly just dull.

The show probably could have recovered or reinvented itself with some cast changes. The main cast was getting a bit over-familiar, and too old. It just isn't plausible anymore that these are "draftee doctors", and Colonel Potter, although probably my favorite character, is obviously way past retirement age by season 8, and completely implausible as a commander in a war zone.

I also think Loretta Swit should've been let go and allowed to go on to CAGNEY AND LACEY, as she wanted to. If some of the supporting nurse characters had taken her place, I think it could have worked.

In all, MASH did some amazing recoveries from cast/writing changes during seasons 4-8. But they should have learned from that, and done some more.

VP81955 said...

The Masked Scheduler's comments can be found at

forg/jecoup said...


Have you see the WGA Awards nominees? Do you have any idea how they select nominees? Are their different committees per category? Like in episodic comedy, only one show nominated in comedy series was nominated. Broadcast comedies were snubbed in the general comedy writing nod but three broadcast shows (two multicams) were able to get an episodic nomination. I just find it a little odd.

Roseann said...

Apropos of nothing I thought you and your readers might like to read this article about John Lennon on the 37th anniversary of his death:

tavm said...

"Cheers": A woman arriving with her fiancé at a bar doesn't expect to stay there long, until the baseball player-turned-bartender there points out signs he's cheating on her..."

Mike Bloodworth said...

Follow up to Ken's answer to my F.Q. I access the blog through my phone. Apparently the mobile version is different from the computer version. At the bottom of each blog is a notice, "View web version." This takes you to the page that Ken mentioned. There I found the archives and more.

McAlvie said...

"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"

I think the take away is that not everyone is as into social media as it might seem. I know that when something becomes a ubiquitous part of your life, it is easy to assume that this is so for everyone. in reality, the majority of people spend their days working and taking care of their kids. Also, the only people you are reaching are the people who haunt certain sites, or even just certain threads. So your social media chatter might seem to be heavy, but only among a narrow group of people, which means they are probably the only market that show has, and assuming they can let go of social media long enough to watch.

71dude said...

Friday Question:

How late in the season can a network order additional episodes of a series?

Brian said...

Hi Ken! Friday question:
Speaking of Netflix, have you seen "The Ranch"? I've been watching it and trying to figure out what's off about it. If you have seen it, where do you think it goes wrong? The writing, the cast or their acting? Or maybe you love it?