Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Vintage Friday Questions

I've had a number of readers say they really liked when I reran Friday Questions from 10 years ago since who bothers to sift through the archives?  And there was some good stuff in them.  So here's another post from many years ago.  Let's see if my advice still holds. 

willieb asks:

Any truth in those "everybody has a screenplay" stories ("My hairdresser/valet/dry cleaner gave me a screenplay to read")? Have you been bombarded with sample scripts? If so, what's the weirdest situation you've had to deal with?

I’ve received scripts at my high school reunion, I’ve told the story about getting pitched a movie while making funeral arrangements for my grandmother, and a couple of years ago one of the host helpers during my mother’s condolence wanted to pitch me a pilot idea. When I announced minor league baseball people would come up to the press box all the time with scripts. It's not like there was great security in ballparks in Rochester and Toledo. If someone had the lung capacity to climb those stairs they could get in.

A director I know was attending High Holiday services one year at his temple and a fellow congregate pulled a script out from under his prayer shawl.

I’m sure a few of the working writers who read this blog could weigh in with their own appalling stories.

Cap'n Bob Napier wonders:

I just saw a M*A*S*H episode written by MacLean Stevenson. When actors do this are massive rewrites usually required or are they pretty good to start with?

I don’t know about that particular episode but yes, massive rewrites usually are required. One reason: they often give 90% of the good lines to themselves. But in fairness, they’re not writers. If I were to suddenly have a big guest role in a MASH or CHEERS episode I’m sure I’d suck. I’m not an actor.

I will say this though, Alan Alda’s scripts were terrific and we changed very little.

From Steve:

On a show like Cheers, do the showrunners or writers know where they want their main characters to wind up by the end of the series (e.g., Sam & Diane will finally get and stay together), or is that unusual and more typically the story arcs are just thought of season by season, or even every few weeks?

First off, it’s unusual that shows are so successful that producers can determine when the series will end. Usually it’s America.

In the case of CHEERS, we always thought it would be great to bring Diane back for the finale but Shelley Long had to be available and agreeable to doing it. If she were in Norway making a movie we were shit out of luck.

If producers know where the finish line is they’ll usually work towards it in the final season. Sometimes it’s a five or six episode arc that leads up to the conclusion. For LOST it’s a three year arc.

I still think David Chase doesn't know how THE SOPRANOS end.

A bigger question than what to do for the finale is how long the finale will be? Networks try to make huge events out of these and stretch them from a half hour to (if they had their choice) nine hours plus an intermission. This greatly affects the storytelling. MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, FRIENDS, and SEINFELD were waaay longer than they needed to be but the networks got one last massive payday out of them. In my opinion, as good as all of them may have been, they would have been far better if they were only an hour.

Kudos to THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, NEWHART, and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND for ending their series with half hour episodes. For my money they’re three of the best finales ever. And that's one reason why.

My partner and I have had three series and none of them had a planned final episode. Once the network says, "You're canceled! Now get out!" that pretty much puts the kibosh on your glittering two hour finale. If we knew we were doing a last episode of ALMOST PERFECT the plan was to bring back all the characters from our other two series and end all three at once. Well, maybe when our next series is canceled.


Anonymous said...

maybe the first show ever to do a finale was Leave it To Beaver - long before the others.
Quite touching

Honest Ed said...

Over here in the UK, I was doing some work for the head of a production company years ago. The head passed me a script which her accountant had given her, it was written by the accountant's son.

My heart sank, I read it out of duty. But actually it was good, the writer had a voice and a point of view, but it was very raw. The script just stopped on page 60 because he thought that was what you did. I ended up developing another project with the writer, we became friends and he went on to a reasonably successful career, where he's written a couple of low budget indie movies.

Martin said...

Most waiters are wannabe actors or budding writers. Everyone wants a piece of the Hollywood pie. Have known unsuspecting patrons being ambushed with a script or two.

Waiting for some 'Cheesecake Factory' waiters story in the comments now.

Steve Bailey said...

I have to say: I'm surprised that you, of all people, thought the M*A*S*H finale ran too long. I thought they did a beautiful job of wrapping up the characters and their stories. I've watched it several times since its original broadcast.

Seinfeld, on the other hand...

Rock Golf said...

The Newhart finale went well over 30 minutes, but short of an hour when originally broadcast.

Barry said...

I never realized Happy Days has a finale of sorts (Joanie and Chachi’s wedding, with the return of Ron Howard) until I caught it in reruns decades later. I was a faithful viewer until the last couple seasons or so and just never finished it. Are there other series out there that did have finales but you might otherwise never realize they did?

E. Yarber said...

Sometimes I'd get scripts with cover letters reading something like, "I live across the street from Rory Calhoun, and he was REALLY INTERESTED in the enclosed script!" I took it to mean that Rory was REALLY INTERESTED in getting into his car when this neighbor charged at him with text in hand, and got out of the clumsy situation by tossing the manuscript to his agent, who tossed it to me to toss away. Everybody could blame the nobody who actually read the thing. Made me feel glad I live across the street from a laundry.

The absolute worst cases of "Everybody has a story" submissions were ones where the writer's friend or close relative had a horrible personal tragedy and the concerned scripter felt the best way to handle the problem was to turn it into a screenplay that would sell for a million dollars. It may sound unbelievable, but one woman actually tried to market a story about her husband's terminal illness and left the last page blank because he hadn't gotten to the ending yet.

Janet Ybarra said...

As to the episode written by MacLean Stevenson, I believe he received a "Story by" credit. Somebody else wrote the teleplay, I believe.

Janet Ybarra said...

I won't say the MASH finale was bad, but putting Hawkeye in the mental hospital like that out of left field never sat well with me.

I can understand at the time they were shooting for a movie sized "event" but you could have brought Sidney to camp one last time to deal with Hawkeye and the smothered baby repression and probably sped up the pace a bit.

Mark said...

Stevenson writing a script wasn't really a stretch.

From Wikipedia:

However, he began to establish himself as a comedy writer, writing for the seminal That Was The Week That Was, in which Alan Alda appeared, and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

The M*A*S*H episode Ms. Ybarra refers to is "The Army-Navy Game," originally telecast Feb. 25, 1973.

McLean Stevenson did indeed receive a "Story By" acknowledgement for this episode and Sid Dorfman was credited with the teleplay.

Stevenson wrote another episode, "The Trial Of Henry Blake," telecast Nov. 3, 1973.

DBenson said...

The makers of "Caroline in the City" evidently expected one more season and didn't get it. Their half-hour final episode whipped through several months of events and relationship arcs to end with Caroline reunited with her assistant.

The short-lived "I Married Dora" closed with an airport scene. Somebody walked on an announced "It's been cancelled."
"Our flight?"
"No. Our show."
Cast smiles and waves at the camera as it pulls back to reveal the set.

"Mork and Mindy" appeared to end with a multi-part episode in which Mort and Mindy, leaving Merth with Mindy's father, fled backwards in time to escape a goofy alien menace. That ended with the implication M&M would henceforth be comic time travelers. Then came one more new episode with the status quo restored -- an out-of-sequence episode, I guess.

Tom Galloway said...

It happens in other jobs. Back in Google's relatively early days, my group's recruiter showed me the employee "referral" for one resume. It said something like "The included resume is for my brother-in-law. I'm submitting it so he'll get an official rejection and he and the rest of his family will quit pestering me to get him hired here. Under no circumstances should we hire him, and if we do, I quit."

MikeN said...

>plan was to bring back all the characters from our other two series and end all three at once.

Didn't they do that with Fresh Prince?

I remember the Jeffersons showing up even though Sherman Hemsley already appeared as a crooked judge.

tavm said...

Anybody here recall when "Three's Company" ended with the roommates leaving their apartment for one last time but then followed Jack Tripper in his new digs with his new girlfriend with the twist that her father lived just below them? It's at this point that the "Three's Company" name on screen changes to "Three's a Crowd" indicating a new series was about to begin? Not having seen that actual finale when it aired but seeing that segment on a "E! True Hollywood Story" on YouTube, and then the reactions of the other former cast members especially Joyce DeWitt, that has to be akin to what Trump's going through right now with the verdicts on Cohen and Manafort!