Friday, November 30, 2018

Friday Questions

So much for November. Let’s end the month with Friday Questions.

Joe starts us off.

I am a big fan of John Candy. You said you loved him and he loved your script and told you not to change a word. Did you ever think of writing a script specifically for him? John Hughes wrote great parts for Candy, but otherwise it seemed like he was saddled with a lot of mediocre scripts. I would have loved to see him in another Levine-Isaacs script.

We would have loved to. The closest was when David Isaacs and I tried to get the rights to option the book CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES. We wanted John to play the lead, Ignatius J.Reilly.

But it turned out seventeen other people wanted the rights and they were a lot higher up on the show business food chain than us. So it never happened.  

(Note that none of them have been able to crack the adaptation.  We probably saved ourselves a lot of serious aggravation.) 

Kevin Lauderdale asks:

Have we heard you on CHEERS as the announcer when the gang is watching sports on TV?

No. That was before I ventured into sportscasting. You will hear Jon Miller occasionally along with Larry McKay.

On the other hand, you will hear me on FRASIER, BECKER, MODERN FAMILY, MAJOR DAD, THE SIMPSONS, a bunch of other shows that probably will never be shown again. Also a couple of indie movies when people are watching ballgames.

Those one cent residuals really come in handy during holiday season.

PolyWogg queries:

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"?

You still have to tough it out. It might take a lot longer but you do the best you can.

Look, not every episode can be a classic. Some turn out better than others. You just have to resist the temptation to say, “that’s good enough, let’s move on.”

You go into each episode hoping it will be great, and sometimes you wind up putting lipstick on a pig. My feeling was always “even if it’s not a great episode at least there will be five or more solid laughs.”

The truth is you’re not just being paid for your talent. You’re being paid for your ability to create on demand. Plenty of times you’re not “feeling it.” You have a cold, you’re pissed at the notes, you had a fight with your spouse, rainy days & Mondays always get you down. But you still have to crank out the material at a consistently high level. In some ways that’s the hardest part of the job.

From Mitchell Hundred:

So when are you going to go on Alan Alda’s new podcast?

When he asks me. Actually, I’d rather he go on mine.

I’ve listened to Alan’s podcast and it’s terrific. He’s such an ingratiating guy.

And finally, VincentS wonders:

Since "I" comes before "K" how did you and David Isaacs decide on billing when you first partnered up?

Neither of us can alphabetize.

Actually, initially my name came first because I called David and asked if he wanted to write with me.

Some writing teams have an arrangement where every year they switch billing. I offered that to David and he said, “No, let’s leave it. My relatives know exactly where to look to see my name.”

But on ALMOST PERFECT, which we produced with Robin Schiff, when the three of us did a script together we rotated the names all over the place.

What’s your Friday Question?


Jenfromsouthjersey said...

When can I submit questions? It’s only 9am ET and questions are closed.

Gary said...

Interesting answer about the order of the names in your writing team. And it reminded me of another legendary partnership -- when the very first Beatles album came out in the USA (on the quickly defunct Vee-Jay label) their original songs were credited to "McCartney/Lennon." By the time the group moved to the Capitol label the order was flipped, for all time.

Pat Reeder said...

Your comment about being able to create on demand struck a chord with me, even though I wrote a daily syndicated topical radio comedy service for 20 years and now write primarily for the Internet. I have to hit deadlines five or six days a week, and if the material isn't top notch one day, clients might cancel. I've written material when I was so sick I could barely see the screen, in the weeks after 9/11 (although we did change to a mostly news and serious commentary format for a while there), and on the day of my mother's funeral. I told my father how bad I felt having to go home and write comedy that day. He told me, "Your mother knew that was your job, and she'd want you to do it to the best of your abilities." So I did my best and dedicated that day's issue of the Comedy Wire to her. Ironically, one year later, my father died, and I had to write comedy on that day, too.

I think the ability to power through and hit deadlines no-matter-what has been as important as wit or craft in my being able to make a good living as a self-employed radio comedy writer for going on three decades. I've had a lot of people ask to contribute material to break in, and I always gave them a shot, but I never had one last more than a few weeks before I started getting excuses for why they couldn't send anything that day. I would quickly have been out of business if I'd tried that with all the DJs who were waiting by their computers and fax machines at 5:30 a.m. for the material to appear. Every aspiring writer who ever asked to contribute flaked out completely after no more than two months tops.

Jeff said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: Do you know of any reason why unsold pilots aren't readily found on line or on streaming services? I would love a channel devoted to them.

E. Yarber said...

Talking about producing on demand really comes home for me right now. Years ago I put my surviving studio work on a CD-ROM which I am finally revisiting after all this time, and there are literally tens of thousands of pages there to sort through on everything from animated cartoons to medieval Portuguese history. Back then it was only one assignment at a time, but they added up to the equivalent of War and Peace every four months for a voracious audience of executives and filmmakers. As always, it's impossible to explain to an outsider just how hard you have to work in this business.

marka said...

From someone outside your industry:

I've wondered whether it harms one's career (actor, writer) to be on a bad show. I know when you're starting out you take anything you can get your hands on, but after that do you need to be selective or are you taking the next opportunity, no matter how bad it might be, the whole way up the ladder?

Perhaps the question is this: if you write on a bad show do others think you're a bad writer or do they blame the head writer or the show runner? If you're a good actor on a bad show will that be evident to those in the industry?

I've had this question a long, long time and would love an answer!

Daniel said...


I know the possibility of a Frasier reboot/sequel series is in the air. Even though Frasier is probably my favorite series I find myself indifferent to the idea.

That said, what are your thoughts on the idea of remaking Frasier at some point in the future but done in a more single camera style with a stronger underlying serialized structure? Remove from the equation your thoughts on recasting and whether that is a good or bad idea. Structurally, though, I can sort of imagine three six-episode seasons with the Martin-moving-in-with-Frasier combined with the Niles-Maris-Daphne storylines as the underlying structure for the series. I can imagine some of the older scripts used as a foundation for the storylines, but the main difference being that, as a single camera format, the stories could be opened up more and less confined to one or two sets, and the standalone episodes strung together into a morel deliberate, streamlined, coherent narrative.

Again, without passing judgment on whether one should or should not do this, or whether single camera or multi-camera is better, do you think the premise could be adapted in such a way? I ask because most of the episodes of Frasier that I downloaded from iTunes and keep on my computer as part of my permanent collection are mostly related to the Niles-Maris-Daphne storyline that ran through the first seven seasons, and I thought that, if streamlined it might make for an interesting experience.


gottacook said...

In some ways I can see John Candy as Ignatius, but I think he'd have been wrong for the role because Ignatius has to be abrasive from beginning to end. Perhaps if he'd played the part in 1980-81 when he was Ignatius' age (30) and not yet associated with his 1980s movie roles, it would have worked.

I am so glad John Landis never got to make his version. (He was reported as planning to film it, presumably having the rights to it at the time, at the end of the 1988 book Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego, and the Twilight Zone Case.)

Ted said...

Hi Ken, you mentioned trying to option "A Confederacy of Dunces" so you could adapt it for a movie. As someone who has far less clout than you do (as in none), I wonder if it's ever worthwhile for an unknown writer to option a book in order to write a spec script. I once tried to option a biography (and rights to the life story) of a minor but fascinating musician -- but it turned out that a famous actor had already obtained the rights for himself. Years later, the movie has never been made and the actor is far too old for the part. I'd like to try again, but I suspect I might be wasting my money for a project I could never get to go anywhere. What do you think?

thomas tucker said...

Just saw a movie from 1978 with Elliott Gould, and John Candy had a bit part- The Silent Partner-must have been one of his earliest movie roles, filmed in Canada. Pretty good, little-known movie.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Ken doesn't answer the questions the same day. You ask a "Friday Question" and then it may be answered in the future. It could be weeks; could be months. Don't take it personally if he doesn't answer your question. He gets so many. Or he might answer someone else's question that is similar to yours. You can also take a look at Ken's archives. He could have answered the same question previously.

Lemuel said...

@gottacook: Check out Nick Offerman's Ignatius Reilly on Youtube. He's perfect.

PolyWogg said...

Yay, i made it to the Friday questions! Some day we can all back and say we knew me when I was just an annoying commenter.

Thanks for answering my question :) I never thought of it as the business side of meeting the deadline on demand, so much as letting go of your baby when you felt it wasn't quite right but you were out of time.

thanks again...


MikeKPa. said...

Maybe it's good you never got to do CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES. From Wikipedia:

In a 2013 interview, Steven Soderbergh remarked "I think it’s cursed. I’m not prone to superstition, but that project has got bad mojo on it."

E. Yarber said...

It helps to understand that the entertainment business is run like an assembly line. If you don't do your job as scheduled, everyone further down the process is stuck waiting for you to get your act together. I'm amazed how many people I run into who think that they can take a job in the industry without really knowing what they're doing, hopeful that everyone else will drop their own duties to help them learn the ropes. Nobody really has the time to indulge a wannabe, especially since they tend to bring a load of emotional baggage along with their inexperience.

Speaking of which, I'm reminded of a book option story of my own. I had unfortunately decided to work with an aspiring filmmaker who had put together a charming spec reel and then did nothing afterward. She called me to say she'd set up a meeting with an actress who wanted to adapt a recent novel as a vehicle for herself.

I bought the book and read it twice, once to get a complete understanding of the story and the second time to walk through it with adaptation in mind, then sketched out an opening sequence to demonstrate how the story could be told visually. My "partner" and I met the actress at an outdoor restaurant near Silver Lake. I went through the opening sequence and gave a rough idea how scripting would progress from there. The actress brought up shooting locations and possible casting, including an actor who had just won an Academy Award for the male lead.

Three hours into the meeting, the actress said, "You seem to know what you're doing. How would I get the rights to the novel?" I looked at my "partner," realizing she'd dragged me into a couple days of work without bothering to ask if this project were more than a fantasy on the part of the "client." It wasn't the first or last lunch I'd get from someone who wanted to spin castles in the air for an afternoon, but an overpriced sandwich and fries wouldn't pay for the work I'd already invested. Even after that, the meeting dragged on another hour while the other two pretended the film was still a working proposition.

Never forget that time really IS money in this profession.

DBenson said...

In an AV Club interview a few years back, they asked David Hyde Pierce if he'd be up for a reunion. He said something to the effect he'd love a reunion where they just got the people together and didn't bother with a show.

DBenson said...

I know a very talented writer who's written shows based on famous copyrighted properties. In a few cases he got permission and was able to stage them locally, but he still has above-average songs and librettos legally consigned to the trunk. He's also successfully writes and produces fully original work, but he still has a weakness for certain properties that are realistically out of reach unless he scores a monster, household-name hit.

It's a bit like writing a script that could only be shot inside the Louvre.

VincentS said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken.

VincentS said...

.....and, of course, I meant "I" comes before "L." Oops.

Joe said...

Thanks for answering Ken -- my two-part question in two different weeks. :-)

Jenfromsouthjersey said...

Thanks! I just discovered his blog and thought there was a time to submit each Friday.

AndrewJ said...

Harold Ramis was attached to A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES for awhile but gave up. He later said that comedy only works when it's either 1) a crazy protagonist in a sane world (think Jerry Lewis) or 2) a sane protagonist in a crazy universe (think Bob Newhart). Ramis said the problem was that DUNCES featured a crazy protagonist in an equally crazy universe...