Friday, November 16, 2018

Friday Questions

Friday Questions, anyone?

Michael is up first:

With regards to late-night rewrites, are there union rules in place that limit how many hours a day or week staff writers are allowed to work? If so, are they enforced?

No. There are no restrictions.   It’s not like actors who must have a twelve-hour turnaround. Writers can work around the clock. And often do.

But we know that going in and understand that’s part of the job. Personally, if I’m running a show, I am willing to put in the extra hours not to settle. And since scripts have to be fixed literally overnight because they’re in production the result is often long hours. I’ve finished rewrites at 6 in the morning and then had to be on the set at 9. Believe me, I would have done it differently if I could.

So to regulate number of hours would be unrealistic and counterproductive. Plus, there are way more important issues the WGA has to fight for on our behalf.

Andrew Beasley is next.

Something I've long wondered about... when characters talk over each other in an argument, as Frasier and Niles often would, will every single line be written or are they left to improvise? I assume the former, but would love to know. Thanks.

In the case of FRASIER, every line was written. An actor might improvise something in rehearsal and if it works it gets written into the script. But there was no ad libbing during filming. And partly because the cameras changed their shots based on line cues. So if they don’t hear the cue they don’t go to their next shot. Confusion ensues. You hate to see four cameras crashing into each other. 

From cd1515 :

Instead of doing all these reboots, how feasible would it be for networks to just re-air the original show? Seems cheaper anyway.

Advertisers aren’t going to pay big money for shows that are not first-run.

And most shows that are popular enough to be rebooted are currently rerunning elsewhere. So it would be no big deal to see reruns of the original WILL & GRACE. You can find them on cable, streaming services, and DVD’s. 

The lure of the reboots is seeing new episodes and finding out what happened to the beloved characters you watched during their first-run.

CBS however, does an interesting thing around the holidays. It reruns episodes of I LOVE LUCY and THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. But two things: they colorize them which makes them different, and the holiday season traditionally has low viewership so it’s a cheap way to fill the schedule when no one is watching. You’ll notice that the colorized DICK VAN DYKE SHOW is not on the fall schedule. At best, it’s a stunt.

And finally, from slgc:

How cathartic is the writing process for you? Do you exact karmic revenge on old foes or rewrite happy endings for yourself as part of your creative process?

It’s very cathartic. At times liberating and other times painful. But as a writer I get to work through issues that are meaningful to me in my art. And the desire to be as brutally honest as I can makes the process both more satisfying and occasionally excruciating.

As per your specific question: I never set out to attack anybody. Even in my memoirs, THE ME GENERATION… BY ME (available on Amazon… get yours now), when I showed someone in an unflattering light I changed his name. But yes, there are times I will give a personal story a happier ending than it really had. If I’m not going to make the big bucks at least I can have some wish fulfillment.

What’s your Friday Question?


J Lee said...

Friday Question -- When you and David got your first writing assignment for M*A*S*H, "Out of Sight, Out of Mind", it was right after the show changed the relationship between Frank and Margaret, with her engagement to Donald. Was there anything you had thought about writing for them in terms of situations or lines (or rejoinders to them from Hawkeye) when you made your pitch for a script assignment that you now couldn't use, because what was good for Seasons 1-4 no longer worked for the dynamic in Season 5? (Frank is pretty much a loner with his baseball radio rebroadcast scam in the episode)

CRL said...

I would love to see four cameras crashing into each other. Fox could build an entire series around it.

Janet Ybarra said...

FYI--Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman (BUTCH CASSIDY and ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN) has died...

Carson said...

CBS owns I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show, so that makes them an even cheaper choice. If only they owned the rights to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, they could present its Christmas episode in Black and White. Now that would be stunting.

I have a holiday question. I've noticed in listening to old radio shows on Sirius XM, that those shows would do a lot of holiday themed episodes, Halloween, Christmas, etc. Yet, when TV came a long, in the first few decades, they did very few holiday themed episodes. In some cases they would do no Christmas show or only one for the entire run, i.e. I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Mary Tyler Moore. Any ideas why that was? And now its much more common for holiday themed episodes again.

E. Yarber said...

Writing has a different time scale than other professions. When I worked in an office, the employees defined their jobs as showing up at 9 and leaving at 5. I always got in trouble because I had cleared my desk by 2 pm, while the others felt free to stretch the workday out by going out for pastries or hanging around the coffee room gossiping. Even in the movie business I'd come into offices and see a couple of people who spent most of their day on the phone or gossiping about the careers they thought they had (which usually ended with their being replaced by younger aspirants who were equally lax and complacent).

Writing, by contrast, is about delivering a finished product by a specific deadline. Your clients neither ask nor care how long you spent producing the work within that timeframe. The only standard is the quality of the results. In fact, a good way to judge a prospective writer is by how quickly they want to quit writing. If they think this is a nine-to-five job (or worse, EASIER than a nine-to-five job), then you can tell they're geared to make the minimum effort possible. In my own case, I used to be complimented on my work ethic, but these days it gets tossed back at me as some sort of mental aberration, like I'm being compulsive rather than thorough. When I tell a young writer they need to revise their work yet again, they think they've floored me by snapping back, "Why are you so insecure? Isn't the writing good enough?" I leave it to someone else to tell them it isn't.

Still, writing can be its own refuge. Eugene O'Neill said composition served him as "A suit of armor" against his problems, and when a doctor asked him how often he took a vacation from writing replied, "Writing is my vacation from living." That still didn't stop him from winding up one of the most miserable people who ever lived.

As far as settling scores through the writing, there's always the case of Oliver Gogarty, who said James Joyce ruined his life by portraying him as Buck Mulligan in ULYSSES. Of course, Gogarty never seemed to care about such matters when he tried to undermine his supposed friend Joyce in their younger days, and was actually surprised when Joyce turned down offers to hang around with him later. In many ways, ULYSSES itself can be seen as a response to a particularly malicious prank Gogarty and another jerk played trying to break up Joyce's relationship with his future wife for the sheer giggles of making JJ miserable and alone.

In general, though, you're misplacing your effort if you try to make writing a way of "correcting" reality instead of interpreting it. One of the most common features of bad spec scripts is the notion that a writer can create some sort of sympathetic magic by telling a story about what they wish were true. Story departments are already flooded with self-serving accounts of plucky young hopefuls who win the hearts of Hollywood and become major players, or stories demanding you hate the author's dad for suggesting he isn't talented or despise some woman for breaking up with him. Frankly, it only takes a few pages to convince a reader that the writer has no chance in the business and that Dad and the Ex were probably right in splashing cold water on such a shrill wannabe.

Peter said...

Ken, I just saw the news that William Goldman has died. I guess you'll be doing a post about him.


Terrence Moss said...

And the LUCY airings often top their nights in total viewers -- sometimes even against original programming on the other networks.

Andrew said...

Something I appreciate about reading you, Ken, (and same goes to you, E. Yarber, and other regular commenters), is how damn hard you writers work. Let me compliment you by saying you make it look effortless. The final product doesn't openly advertise how much blood, toil, and sweat you've expended. I've never watched Cheers or Frasier and thought, "They must have been up all night putting this together." Instead I just get immersed in great comedy. So reading how things work behind the scenes is very enlightening. Kudos for your work ethic.

Mike Bloodworth said...

It wasn't that many years ago that CBS did rerun the original ALL IN THE FAMILY in prime time. I don't remember exactly what year it was, but at that time the network had little else to offer. The viewing public didn't accept it however. And as far as I know CBS nor any other network hasn't done it again since.

Anonymous said...

A follow-up question about working late into the night. How productive are you
3 A.M? Can you really think of something better that didn't come to you at 10:30? Isn't your brain fried? I sometimes (rarely) had to work 16 hours at a non-creative job simply because the job had to be done by morning and I know the results weren't always stellar. I can't imagine trying to be funny when 99% of your brain is screaming "Let me out of here." Also, what time did these sessions start?

Dave Creek said...

My work in television has been very different from what Ken does -- I produced live local newscasts. But as far as deadlines go, let me tell you, they tend to focus the mind no matter what your circumstances are. In news, of course, you can't delay even a moment. Guess when the 10 o'clock news comes on, whether you're ready or not.

YEKIMI said...

Do you find it harder to write comedy [or other stuff] nowadays then you did when you were younger? I can remember back in my high school years and later just writing joke after joke after joke. [Actually started writing jokes for morning DJs in my senior year of high school...and kept it up even after I went into radio myself, although I never did mornings.] Now that I'm way older, it seems the jokes are few and far between then they were in my younger days. I'm guessing maybe it's because every internal organ on me has malfunctioned except my spleen [and I'm keeping a sharp eye on that] and after several surgeries and other medical problems, things just don't seem that funny anymore.

James Van Hise said...

An odd censorship note about the colorized Dick Van Dyke Show. Last year when they ran some they included the famous "October Eve" episode which I had just seen a rerun of in B&W. That episode has a scene which must have been considered daring in the early 60s because even though we never see the painting, there is a scene in the art gallery where Rob is so startled and drawn to the painting that goes right up to it so close his nose must've pressed against it. But in the colorized version it was neatly edited to cut out that moment even though I think it was the funniest scene in the episode.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

CBS ran repeats of AITF in 1991 as a companion to a new Norman Lear show called "Sunday Dinner," with Robert Loggia and Teri Hatcher.

It, too, failed to catch on.

Janet Ybarra said...

Let me just add from the non-fiction, journalism side that we put in huge hours as well. My first job, about 25 years ago, paid about $12,000/year for about 80 hours a week of work.

I was a reporter for a small local afternoon daily newspaper.

So I worked during the day to cover and write whatever stories were on my plate.

Then, depending on the day, I had to work through the night attending a Selectmen's meeting or school board meeting.

Since we were the afternoon paper competing against a larger morning daily, I was expected to stay for the entire meeting (simply because our competitor couldn't because of their earlier deadline for a morning edition. I was to stay in case I could scoop some late-breaking controversy.)

At any rate, these meetings easily ran from 6:30 or 7 pm to 11:30 or midnight.

From there, would drive back to the office, figure out what the biggest news was coming out of the meeting, and write it up before dragging myself home for a modicum of sleep before having to be ready at 7:30 am or so the next morning for my editor and any questions from the night before or, believe it or not, a late breaking assignment on morning deadline.

This is the kind of local journalism that has been disappearing over the last decade or so.

And it's the kind of news ("Who am I going to vote for, for school board or county sheriff?") that you are not necessarily going to replace by googling it. You are not necessarily going to get the same unbiased facts that way.

Journalism is lot of work. In the end, it is usually worth it.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

CRL: You might like to look on YouTube for the Lunt and Fontanne send-up from the old CAROL BURNETT SHOW in which the camera crew went out on strike and the TV execs decided they could crew the show. Cameras crashed into each other all right...and it was hilarious.


Brian said...

Friday question: Have you seen the Kominsky Method on Netfix? Any thoughts about it? Thought you might have noticed it because Nancy Travis is in it.

msdemos said...


"CBS however, does an interesting thing around the holidays. It reruns episodes of I LOVE LUCY and THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. But two things: they colorize them which makes them different, and the holiday season traditionally has low viewership so it’s a cheap way to fill the schedule when no one is watching. You’ll notice that the colorized DICK VAN DYKE SHOW is not on the fall schedule. At best, it’s a stunt."

So, I take it, you don't care for this...

Normally, I would agree. Especially with the horrific quality of the 'colorization' they utilized in the early days of the process.

And given the fact that I too am old, and grew up on PLENTY of old black & white tv shows and movies, I have NEVER had a problem watching and of them in their normal (black & white) state.

But now, after having seen a few of these new colorized offerings of these shows, I have to say that I've (pretty much) done an 'about face' on it.....

In my opinion, the quality is STUNNING, and adds an exciting 'newness' to episodes I've seen hundreds of times before (okay....maybe not HUNDREDS....but A LOT, anyway!).

Think about it (or DON'T.....see if I care!), we get the same funny, high quality sitcom episodes we've come to love and admire, BUT now get them wrapped in a fancy new, Technicolor-like package!

In my book, that's a WIN-WIN situation!!

And one I hope continues on, resulting in even MORE of these beautiful 'restorations' !!