Friday, November 09, 2018

Friday Questions

It’s Friday Question Day. Remember, a new post tomorrow to carry you through the weekend.

Bryan Price starts us off:

Was watching and enjoying a first-season CHEERS you wrote - the episode Now Pitching, Sam Malone where Sam is "convinced" to make a commercial. Can you tell us about any complications from designing a fake commercial within a real TV show and any anecdotes in working with Luis Tiant.

Doing the fake commercial was easy. We based it on an actual campaign. It was pre-filmed (so not in front of the audience) and James Burrows directed it as if he were directing any commercial.

It took forever to film however, and the reason was Luis Tiant. Now I love Luis. He’s a totally sweet guy. But his English, especially his diction when speaking English, was somewhat, uh… lacking. He tried his best and was a pleasure to work with, but OY. God knows how many takes it took.

I think we still looped him after the filming. 

The Bumble Bee Pendant asks:

I'm always intrigued by how a writer of a show/screenplay/whatever can simply say, "I am going to write a totally new draft and not include anything from the old script."

How does someone's previous version not influence a new version?
How do you pretend that anything you thought worked in the previous iteration, not make it into the new one?

If a script requires a page-one rewrite I will either go back to the outline and not even work off the draft, or change the story significantly and write a new outline.

There may be a line or beat in the original draft worth keeping and I’m happy to. Less work for me. But I won’t shoehorn anything in from the original draft.

And usually the reason for a total rewrite is the original writer didn’t have a good sense of the characters. So none of their dialogue will be useful.

But look, I once threw out a whole act of a full-length script that I wrote. There were some wonderful jokes but the story didn’t work so I threw it all out and came up with something else (that proved to be way better).  Writing is rewriting. 

From ReticentRabbit:

Julia Louis-Dreyfus will accept the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor later this month. Keeping in mind that they typically only present the award to those who are living and never repeat winners (making this something of a Lifetime Achievement award), who would get your vote?

Can I vote for myself? Oh well. In that case, Mel Brooks.

And finally, from DyHrdMET:

I'm sure you've answered this already, but why did you want to get into directing TV sitcoms?

It’s not for the reason you would think. It’s not because I felt the need to protect my words.

After years of being on staff or consulting on shows I got to the point where I hated to go to the stage. I would dread run-throughs and hold my breath that the script worked and I wouldn’t be in the writing room until 3 a.m.

And one day I thought to myself, this is nuts. The whole reason for being a TV writer was to see my work done. I should be looking forward to going to the stage, not dreading it. So I thought, how could I recapture that desire to be on the stage? And the answer was directing.

That was where the fun was. You were playing with the actors and trying to make a show, and if it didn’t work and had to be rewritten you could still make dinner reservations. Directing was way more social, you got to play with cameras, and trust me the days just fly. There’s never enough time.

That was my initial motivation and I have to say it worked. I love directing. Don’t tell anybody but it’s waaaaay easier than writing.

What’s your Friday Question?


slgc said...

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?

Jim S said...


Friday question. I seem to have read that many of today's modern comedies are sort of half-written and the actors, such as Steve Carrell, are expected to improv lines. I saw the outtakes of Get Smart and you'd see Carrell giving multiple different lines for one shot. This improv technique didn't work for Ghostbusters.

So my question. Shouldn't a script be tight before going to film. I recall a Mark Twain saying - the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Part two of the question. If actors are expected to save/contribute/improv, is that fair to the actors who are just actors and is it unfair to the writers?

JT said...

I can see two reasons why Mel Brooks hasn't already won the Mark Twain Prize: 1) he refused it, or 2) whoever picks the winner is incompetent or insane.

Michael said...

Friday question: 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?

Michael said...

Mel Brooks has never gotten what is considered the biggest prize for American humor. That's like saying Peter O'Toole never won the Best Actor Oscar. Oh, wait a minute ....

cd1515 said...

Friday question (sorry if this seems dumb but I haven’t seen this addressed anywhere): instead of doing all these reboots, how feasible would it be for networks to just re-air the original show? Seems cheaper anyway.

Janet Ybarra said...

Speaking of Steve Carrell, Ken, I would be interested in your thoughts/review of the new film BEAUTIFUL BOY.

It's not that I am insensitive to the tragedy of addiction, but I'm other than giving Carrell a dramatic vehicle, I'm not sure what this film adds.

As I understand it, the son becomes addicted, cleans up, relapses, sobers, relapses, repeats until finally at the end he is sober.

That's great. But how is that different than other films, TV series episodes, even after school specials. (Remember those?)

Just interested in your thoughts...

Andrew Beasley said...

Hi Ken

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.

Jahn Ghalt said...

I was unaware of the Mark Twain Prize until seeing the PBS filming of Tina Fey's induction ceremony. That feature a "greatest hits" of sorts - with selected sketches featuring Fey as performer. I came away from the show thinking that she was a brilliant writer - and assumed that the Prize was for writers (which was Clemens' best and most enduring avocation).

The list of winners includes only two who did not perform and one of those is not a "writer". Many performers did write - if only for themselves. The list includes one fashionable lightweight. Two are heavyweight talk-show hosts - Johnny Carson excluded - probably because he died before he was considered.

So I was puzzled about the rationale for the award.

The Kennedy Center statement reads, in part:

(The Prizes recognizes those) who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to (Mark Twain)

which sounds better than "anyone we want".

Mostly, however, the inducted are true heavy-hitters.

In any case, thanks for the notice - I will tune in to see Ms. Louis-Dreyfus on Monday, November 19 on PBS.

mike schlesinger said...

My philosophy has always been this: Some lines, usually those most pertinent to the plot, need to be spoken as written. Others, I'm flexible. I always say if someone comes up with something better, we'll film it both ways and see which plays better. To paraphrase Jack Benny, I don't care who comes up with the joke--I'll still get the credit.

Frederic Alden said...

The Mark Twain Prize seems to be more about how much money can be raised by the ceremony rather than selecting the most deserving candidate(admittedly a very subjective decision). I mean, Will Ferrell, but not Robin Williams or Sid Caesar?

Douglas Trapasso said...

Possible Friday Q about our favorite bar-based sitcom. It's hard to come up up with questions your blogger audience hasn't asked before, but I may have one:

How did Sam and Carla meet?

Do you think she just walked up to Cheers one day to apply for work, or did they have some kind of backstory from when he still pitched for the Red Sox?

If that was never clarified on the show, did you write Carla with one or the other scenarios in your head?

tavm said...

Have they given the Mark Twain Prize to Dick Van Dyke yet?

Janet Ybarra said...

No, but that would be a terrific idea, especially since so many of the winners are of the SNL set and that orbit.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I don't know who (whom?) does the actual choosing of the recipients of the Mark Twain Prize, but the T.V. show itself is produced by Lorne Michaels and his Broadway Video production company. That may explain why do many SNL alumni have won over other, more deserving candidates.
...Or it could just be Russian interference.

Unknown said...

Friday question: Currently watching the "Our Finest Hour" episode of MASH. Who is David Lawrence who was credited as a writer and producer of the episode? He has no other MASH credits and a Google search yields nothing

Stuart Sutcliffe said...

Friday Question: I wonder if you ever noticed, way back when, something I called the Night Court phenomenon. Sitcoms of the 1970s and 80s played out with calm, sophisticated pacing. Then Night Court came along, all slapstick, characters running around like beheaded poultry, shrieking, yelling. It worked for that show, I guess (I was never a fan, for that reason). Thereafter, every sitcom just got LOUD. People liked to compare Murphy Brown to Mary Tyler Moore, but MTM wasn't filled with a cast of frantic bellowers with limbs akimbo. As great as Frasier was, I still noticed a BIT of the Night Court phenomenon in Kelsey's acting, compared to the mellow, measured characters in Cheers. Did you also notice the Night Court phenomenon, and did you ever have to tone things down in light of the trend at the time?

Matthew said...

Friday Question: Why didn't the writers on Frasier use the character of Cam Winston more? I can understand why Bebe, for example, was rationed - screamingly funny character but wouldn't have kept her edge with more regular appearances. Cam, especially in conjunction with his mother, seemed to have a lot of untapped potential.

Craig Gustafson said...

This has nothing to do with any current commentary, but -- I googled a topic that ended up taking me to a blog you wrote in 2007 called "Off off off off off off off off off Broadway," where you discussed hating "Brigadoon." Here's the problem with "Brigadoon."
They have been Enchanted to survive through all eternity by only waking up once every hundred years.
First day they awaken after the initial implementation is in 1848 (or whatever)
Day two is 1948.
Day three is 2048.
Let's say that peace breaks out for the next three hundred years; even so:
Shortly after their wakey-wakey day in 2418, the world is destroyed in a nuclear how-de-do.
As far as their perceptions are concerned, when they go to sleep in 1748, they have one week to live.
This does not strike me as a celestial bargain.

slgc said...

Question 1 - As a Mets fan I am thrilled that Jacob deGrom won the Cy Young Award, and won it decisively. But for you - a baseball fan with expertise and with no connection to New York, what are your thoughts? How does the Rock, Paper, Scissors game work out for you when you have ERA, Wins and Strikeouts competing?

Question 2 - Do you have big plans for your upcoming 100th podcast?

Noah said...

Friday Question: The "Frasier" episode "Juvenilia" has Kenny force Dr. Crane to appear on "Teen Scene" in an effort to draw a younger demographic. Am I correct in assuming this concept was a creative "take that" to a network note that "Frasier" should try to attract younger viewers?