Friday, September 14, 2018

Friday Questions

Let’s get to your Friday Questions, shall we?

Buttermilk Sky leads off.

In the ODD COUPLE series, though not in the play or movie, Felix is a huge opera fan -- as was Tony Randall in real life. It seems clear that the star's personality shaped the character. As a writer, are you happy to blend fiction with reality this way, or would you either refuse or reluctantly agree just to keep the peace?

If I can work an actor’s actual personality into the character he’s playing I’m thrilled. It gives the character more dimension and will make the character more organic to play.

But that’s just window dressing in a sense because the real work is in the casting. Get the right actor for the part. In the case of THE ODD COUPLE, Tony Randall was absolutely the dead-on choice. Whether the Felix character liked opera was immaterial. The fact that Tony did and the writers were able to use that was a lovely bonus. If they had cast Chuck Norris in the role, his love of opera would mean shit.

From David Kruh:

During a show's credits viewers see "producer" and "executive producer" and other titles but you and many others who worked series constantly talk about being a "showrunner" and how critical that person is to a show. So why isn't "Showrunner" a credit that we would see at the end of an episode?uring a show's credits viewers see "producer" and "executive producer" and other titles but you and many others who worked series constantly talk about being a "showrunner" and how critical that person is to a show. So why isn't "Showrunner" a credit that we would see at the end of an episode?

Simple. “Executive Producer” sounds much more impressive than “Showrunner.” It’s the same reason there are CEO’s and not “Guys in charge.”

But Showrunners are compensated in other ways – like money, shared ownership, and vanity cards.

slgc asks:

Do you get writing ideas in the middle of the night, or when you're drifting off to sleep? If so, what attempts do you make to record them so you can remember them in the morning?

I do get ideas at night and have a pad and pen at the ready to write them down. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but when I’m in a relaxed state ideas and solutions to script problems come to me.

That’s why, when I’m writing a script at night and get stuck on something I just walk away, do something else or maybe go to bed and let my subconscious mind work it out. More often than not by the morning I have the fix.

I also get a lot of ideas in the shower and that’s tougher because I don’t bring a pad or tape recorder into the shower with me. So I have to sometimes struggle to memorize whatever solution I’ve arrived at. Or take very quick showers.

dandy_lio wonders:

Ken - will you do transcripts of your podcast? I'd really love to read them. I am deaf and can't listen to them.

I will look into that. Yes, that would be nice service to provide. Thanks.

And finally, friend-of-the-blog, Janet Ybarra queries:

It's often been said on MASH, Korea was actually an allegory for Vietnam. Since you and David we're on staff toward the later years, did the producers and writers just leave it as that--subtext--or as the seasons went long--like the Vietnam War--was there any more overt approach to writing as if it was Vietnam in everything but name?

Always always always subtext. We just allowed the audience to make that connection on their own. Our focus on the writing was the Korean conflict and our stories came exclusively from that. We never did interviews with Vietnam vets and just adjusted their stories to fit Korea.

I won’t lie and say the connection to the Vietnam War wasn’t a key component to our success, but MASH lasted way past the end of the Vietnam War and its popularity never waned. In fact, it increased.

What’s your FQ? And if you’re in LA, come see my one act play this weekend at the Hollywood Short + Sweet Festival.


Stuart said...

Allow me to second the transcript suggestion. I'm also deaf, and podcasts aren't an option for me. But as a faithful reader of the blog, I'd love to join in on them.

Thanks for a great read every day!

Mark said...

I see that NBC has a show this fall called Manifest that appears to be a cross between Lost and the real life mystery of the missing Malaysian airliner. I know it's not your genre, but on these types of shows, do the showrunners know going in how they are ultimately going to solve the big mystery? Or they just sell the idea and now they are in a corner in the fetal position panicked that they have to find a solution?

Andrew said...

"Walker, Texas Ranger" changed my life, Ken. So watch what you say about Chuck.

Pat Reeder said...

I once had the honor and thrill (since I was a huge fan) of working with Tony Randall on a series of humorous instructional videos shot in Dallas that I wrote. The producers wanted me to key the scripts to his well-known Felix TV persona. Some lines he was fine with, but there were a few he had me change, such as jokes about him being a neat freak. For some reason, that was a Felix trait that he felt was not true to him, and he didn't want any lines implying that it was, no matter how closely associated he was with it. He also said he loved having the writer on set and wished every production would do that.

BTW, I'd also like to say that he was one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people I ever worked with. The production company made arrangements for a five-star hotel and private dressing room. He said he would've been fine at the Holiday Inn, and he avoided the dressing room. He said, "I want to eat lunch with the guys!" and spent his down time regaling the crew with showbiz stories and answering all our questions about his famous acquaintances. I had to ask him about my idol, George Kaufman, whom he said he met only once and was struck by how dour and depressed he seemed for someone famous as a great wit. He also sent me a cassette of outtakes from his 1920s albums when he learned how much I loved them (taped over some opera arias, according to the label), and later personally arranged a meeting for me with David Letterman's head writer when I was looking for a job in NYC.

I also felt for him because that shoot was during a period when his first wife was very ill. He told me that he didn't like being so far away from her, but he was taking jobs that didn't require much time, and it was only a three-day shoot. I took him to a phone in an office to call her once and will never forget how he switched to being all happy and upbeat to lift her spirits, then the second he hung up the phone and turned back to me, he looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Michael said...

Hi Ken,

Friday question. I enjoyed the new Vanity Fair article on Frasier and was glad to see you were interviewed. The article mentioned the "Three Valentines" episode from season 6 in which Niles starts a fire in Frasier's apartment. I re-watched it immediately and was astounded by David Hyde Pierce's performance. My question is this - Given the live fire was that scene filmed in front of a live audience and in real time? If so would fire staff have been located actually in the apartment but out of frame?


Joseph Scarbrough said...

Not just Tony Randall's love of opera, but I understand a lot of Jack Klugman's interests and pursuits were worked into the Oscar character on the series as well, like his love of horse racing and such. Nevertheless, I agree 100%. As far as Oscar goes, both Jack Klugman and Walter Matthau were good in that role in the series and movie, respectively, but Tony Randall is Felix Unger; no contest.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Pat Reeder I remember Jack said the same thing in an interview regarding Tony not nearly being as much of a neat freak in real life like Felix was, and would even get a little fed up at times with people asking him if he was, to which he would reply with something to the effect of, "Now isn't that a silly question to ask." He also noted that despite their characters, Tony was actually more knowledgable about sports than he was.

Anonymous said...

Great. Now I can't unsee Chuck Norris as Felix. Thanks, Ken.

Richard Pride said...

Hi Ken. For taking notes in the shower, there's a product called Aqua Notes. It's a waterproof notepad on little shower suction cups. Less than ten bucks I think.

Todd Richmond said...

If Chuck Norris had written the note, "We are all out of corn flakes. F.U.", it's a fair bet the "F.U." would NOT have stood for "Felix Unger"...

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Anonymous You think that's quite an image, Jack Klugman used to be roommates with Charles Bronson back when they both were struggling actors. Can you imagine what a scary version of THE ODD COUPLE that would make? Felix getting fed up with Oscar's sloppiness and blowing his brains out? Hunting down any guy Gloria gets involved with?

Janet Ybarra said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken! And being recognized as "friend of the blog" really made my day!

Janet Ybarra said...

Ken, to follow up on your answer to the showrunner/executive producer question, what does it mean or what is the function when a star of a series takes an executive producer credit?

A couple examples; Mark Harmon on NCIS or Jim Parsons on YOUNG SHELDON.

Thanks again!

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Janet I think Ken wrote about that before long ago, explaining that more often than not, the lead actors get the executive producer credit just to make them happy (and so they can get another paycheck), when it otherwise really doesn't mean anything.

In fact, this is really bugging me about current shows and movies, when a big star's name is slapped on as executive producer in some sort of a feeble attempt to lure in audiences by proclaiming, "FROM EXECUTIVE PRODUCER BIG-NAMED CELEBRITY!!!" in their promos. That's basically like a big F.U. to those actually worked on the show or movie in one way or another - the directors, the writers, the real producers. . . .

Speaking of which, do actual executive producers even exist anymore? I mean the people who actually come on board to handle all of the budgetary and financial needs of the productions, or has "executive producer" been reduced to nothing more than just a title given to certain people who have clout, even if they're not involved with the production? I understand this is how Spielberg has gotten a lot of executive producer credits in his career, even if he didn't actually work on certain movies.

E. Yarber said...

Producer: Mel Cooley

Executive Producer: Alan Brady

D McEwan said...

"I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but when I’m in a relaxed state ideas and solutions to script problems come to me."

Oh yes. I do believe in what they sometimes call "unconscious cerebration," which is to say the deeper, unconscious part of the mind is doing the real writing, and when we let our conscious mind get out of the way, like when going to sleep or waking up, the barriers come down and what was written below decks comes through. It's happened to me countless times.

On one play I wrote, the producer/director, on reading the first draft, wanted a massive restructuring, changing it from a three act play to a two act play, among other changes. Two weeks later, when I woke up one morning, the entire play, restructured and rewritten, came pouring into my head, all finished. I spent two days typing it up, but the creative work was all done without me. When the P/D read the new draft, he said, "Don't be insulted. I have to ask. This is so much better, is it all your own work?" We staged the second draft without further revisions.

Sometimes entire chapters for one of my novels fly into my head when I'm relaxing in the swimming pool also.

Break a leg with your playlet this weekend. Sorry I can't be there.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Ken, I swear this is just a coincidence. It has nothing to do with the Vanity Fair/Frasier article. But for awhile now I've been planning to ask you about writing "silence." You've said that no one reads your archives, but I was reading your blog from 2/13/10 about "...Niles' Silent Scene," with comments by David Lee. You and I have radio backgrounds. The WORST CASE SCENARIO for a D.J. is "dead air." (I still occasionally have nightmares about it) That philosophy seem to apply to sitcoms as well. That is, it seems that most writers don't want any long pauses in their dialog so, the characters yammer on even if it's not germane to the plot. I remember that on M*A*S*H there were extended periods of silence, but usually only in the O.R. scenes. So, here is my FRIDAY QUESTION: How do you feel about extended silences and/or dramatic pauses in sitcom scripts? Do you have any special techniques for writing a silent scene? When writing a silent scene do you write out the space work or include it in the stage directions? Etc. I'm guessing that this would apply to playwriting as well. Speaking of plays, it there a specific way to write in silence so it looks intentional and not like the actors forgot their lines? As always, if you've answered this question before I'll accept an old blog reprint.

therealshell said...

Whatever became of the actor who played MARIO LANZA on The Tony Randall Show ? His entrances always cracked me up ("Judge Franklin ? Mario Lanza !")

Janet Ybarra said...

Mike, FYI--There was an entire episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER shot in silence, titled, appropriately enough, "Hush."

VP81955 said...

Future Friday question for someone who had a career in radio: As a news junkie, I listen to a lot of KNX (KPCC, too), and have always wondered why the KNX announcer always leads into the noon CBS newscast by saying, "It's 12 noon." When it comes to midnight, its announcer nearly always says, "It's midnight." There's no other time noon and midnight can be except 12. Why not simply say, "It's noon"? Did you ever come across this during your radio work?

Tom Galloway said...

Just FYI, one of the Seattle oriented blogs has been doing stories on Fraiser due to the 25th anniversary. One was to ask realtors how much the Crane condo would go for these days. Consensus was around $3.5 million (no bonus for the physically impossible view from the main window : -))

Andy Rose said...

@VP81955: I don't work for KNX, but I suspect they give the time that way because "it's noon" is kind of awkward to say. It slurs together, it sounds like "it's new" unless you enunciate that final n strongly, and it's a different meter than every other hourly time check (ending in a strong syllable instead of weak).

It reminds me of a radio news anchor I used to work with. She originally started each newscast by saying, "I'm Mindy Armey." Her manager told her that was too distracting because it sounded like she was saying "I'm in the Army." It his request, she changed the opening to "This is Mindy Armey." She got so used to it, she continued to introduce herself with "This is..." out of habit even after she got married and changed her last name.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Ken, I thought you might be interested to see Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's account of the treatment Les Moonves dished out to her:


Mike McCann said...

>>If they had cast Chuck Norris in the role, his love of opera would mean shit.>>

Actually, wouldn't a fish out of water premise like that, an opera-loving Chuck Norris, work in a sitcom? Or is that a '60s-'80s-era device?

MikeN said...

Chuck Norris is a big opera fan. When he goes to the opera, the fat lady sings, but the show keeps going until Chuck Norris stands up.

Unknown said...

Hi Ken,

Podcast listener here, I have a Friday question for you...

For young aspiring writers how does it look to submit materials that may not be rated "PG". Are they judged differently in a story's "marketability", in festivals or, when looking for representation? I am assuming all networks have different needs, Broadcast, Cable, Premium & Streaming.

Should we write our pilots clean and mature them later or is it easier to remove language/nudity/violence from the script if a cleaner network/studio wanted to pick it up?

I'm playing around with a sitcom idea and want to know if this is something to consider before I start working.

Thank you in advance!

PolyWogg said...

Friday question: I have a question along the lines of "The Show Must Go On!" and what you do if/when your deadline is looming and it's really "not there"?

I've been binge-watching The Big Bang Theory (yes, I like it, it's not everyone's cup of tea) and this mode of consumption makes it evident which episodes are "light" on content and which ones are rich. I've noticed it with other shows, just mentioning BBT as I'm watching it now.

In a couple of EPs, I felt like "Hey that's an interesting premise, good as a sub-item within an EP, but not as the main plotline", yet they built it up and built it up and in the end, it still seems like it was "light" for the week. What do you do when you fall in love with an idea one week, work it to death, think you have it, and then when it's finally done, you think, "Hmm...could have used a bit more meat in there".

Is it just part of the biz? Get over it? Cash your cheque and work twice as hard on the next week? Try and get them to bump it in the order?

Most responses I could see from professionals would be all about how you avoid it in the first place, sure, but I'm curious your experience when something was in the can but you weren't quite sure it was fully cooked?


Bob Paris said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: Ken: What is your opinion of out-of-period hair styles on TV shows? It seems that in a movie, the actor may get a crew cut if appearing in a 50's period piece but on a TV show such as M*A*S*H, the hair styles were more contemporary to the time the series was filmed. Loretta Swit's hair was occasionally shagged/layered which was not done until decades after the setting of the series.