Friday, August 23, 2019

Friday Questions

One of my favorite features I’m told, here are more Friday Questions.

Bryan Thomas starts us off:

How did Bebe Neuwirth get discovered for Lilith? She was obviously a real find and became one of my favorite characters and actresses. She is immensely talented with immense range and great instincts, but before Cheers I had never heard of her.

Bebe had a big career in Broadway as an actress/dancer prior to CHEERS. She won a Tony in 1984. That year she was in LA and to my knowledge just auditioned for the role of Lilith. But it was only supposed to be a one-shot in a teaser. Which was fine with her; she planned to return to Broadway.

But the character worked and the Charles Brothers brought her back a few times and it became clear the Frasier-Lilith relationship was lightening in a bottle.

Jasper asks:

I used to read books on screenwriting and they always made a point of saying to never include anything that isn't absolutely necessary, which in theory makes sense. But what I find from years of watching TV and movies is that following that rule also tends to give away the story, because you hear a seemingly unnecessary detail and you say, okay, well, now I know what's going to happen, because they wouldn't have included that detail unless it was to set up this plot point.

I'm interested in your thoughts on following this rule on necessary information only while preventing it from giving away the course of the story.

That rule discounts the value of “red herrings.” Those are basically facts and plot points meant to throw the reader off the scent, especially in mysteries. If the clues only lead to one suspect there’s no suspense. So red herrings serve a purpose.

But otherwise, adding plot points that have no bearing on the story only clutter it up. I do see the rationale that if it’s not something necessary it shouldn’t be included.

From ScottyB:

I have a scriptwriting/partnership question. To make a long question short, how is someone out in total rural cowtown with half-done scripts that have hit a brick wall (because working by yourself in a vacuum runs its course sooner or later) find someone of like mind? (And really, that’s my problem here.) A middle of nowhere place where there’s no community college/night creative class courses to hook into, etc etc etc day a good 50+ miles away from the closest Craigslist outlet, at best.

Nowadays there are script programs that allow two people to work on the same script from different locations. And with Skype and Facetime you could also communicate with your partner.

So it’s possible to carry on a long-distance partnership.

Now, the issue becomes FINDING that partner. Here I’m just speculating but I imagine there are Facebook groups on writing and other social media sites where wannabe writers congregate. Go on several of those and announce you’re looking for a partner. Who knows? You might get lucky.

But make sure your new partner knows that if someone wants to buy one of your scripts that you’ll move to LA or New York or wherever the show is being made. Even if you have to fly in for a meeting, you need to make the commitment.

And finally, from Michael:

I have seen articles that THE OFFICE is by far the most viewed program on streaming services, but I rarely see it's reruns on broadcast or mainstream cable channels these days - seems like it is relegated to hard-to-find channels like COZI TV. Do you think that this is deliberate to get people to watch it on Netflix or do you think it's repeats failed to draw decent ratings when they were shown on broadcast or mainstream cable channels? Are only 'cord-cutters' interested in watching it?

I think when people can binge-watch with no commercials, why watch a series in syndication all hacked up with 10 minute commercial breaks for drugs with side effects that can kill you?

AS A REMINDER:  For the next week I am working on a big project and will not have as much internet access as I normally do.  So it will take longer to moderate comments.  Hang in there and continue to ask your Friday Questions.  I will get to them eventually.   Thanks much.  Ken


slgc said...

As to Michael's question, The Office has been in heavy syndication weeknights on Comedy Central.

Andrew said...

Just looking at that photo of Lilith makes me laugh. She was such a perfect character.

I remember the episode of Frasier in the first season where Lilith calls his radio show. Her voice is heard for the first time since the premiere. The audience reaction was terrific.

One of my favorite episodes of Cheers was the one in which Cliff fancies himself a stand up comedian, and Lilith is the only one who laughs at his jokes (greatly offending Frasier). Genius.

Friday question: I've heard that on some sitcoms, when a character became an unexpected breakout sensation, the rest of the cast were frustrated about being overshadowed and/or the show's direction changing. Examples would be Good Times (J.J.) and Family Matters (Urkel). Have you ever experienced this on any shows you worked on? What are your thoughts on why some shows seem to adjust better than others (like Happy Days)?

Pat Reeder said...

I also loved Bebe Neuwirth as Lilith, especially those episodes when she let her hair down and dressed in something sexier than a boxy gray suit.

Also, I don't mean to be one of those annoying grammar trolls, but I just wanted to say I approve of the spelling of lightning in a bottle as "lightening in a bottle." It makes it sound like something you'd use to become a blonde.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Re finding partners: in cities, I tell people to look on, where there are many writers' groups. Some aim to simply congregate in a single space and write, hoping that peer pressure will help them get stuff done; others do organized critiques of work in progress; still others arrange speakers such as agents, publishers, and successful writers. Further afield it's harder, but you could still pick the group(s) closest to you and ask if anyone else lives near you who would be interested in collaborating or mutual encouragement.

If you are pursuing a particular topic or genre, it might pay dividends to go to a subject-area conference or genre convention where you can meet others with similar aspirations to yours. You could also, I'm sure, find short writing courses or seminars (either online or offline) that might a) help you get over the hump and b) introduce you to others in your situation.

Finally, I've often found that the best way to get past one of those writing brick walls is to write something *else* - ideally, something later in the thing you're actually working on, but in reality anything will do as long as it gets you going again. A friend who's written many scripts and screenplays also tells me that he finds doing more research also helps by sparking new ideas and suggesting ways to improve the story.

Good luck!


jim kosmicki said...

semi-related to the screenwriting question: My wife and I long ago figured out that if we recognize the actor playing a seemingly innocuous background character, they are going to be the main focus or murderer eventually. You just don't cast someone recognizable for a one or two line throwaway scene. (and I'm not talking stunt casting here - I'm talking character actors who are constantly working and are recognizable as "that guy" or "that lady" even if you don't know their name).

Andy Rose said...

I've also seen The Office in a prominent syndication time slot on a local station where I live. I think maybe it just seems like it's not on that much because your station airs it once or twice a day, while you can see it whenever you want on a streaming service.

As far as why broadcasters still air old reruns, it's because they still bring in good ratings. And a lot of it is from transient channel surfers. USA knows that very few people are going to sit down and watch four straight episodes of Law and Order:SVU with all their commercials. If you're inclined to binge, you'll go the streaming route. But a lot of people will surf cable while they're bored, happen upon an episode of SVU and say, "Hey, I remember this one," and watch it at least until the crazy thing they remember happens or the now-famous actor makes his cameo. It's the same reason certain movies like The Shawshank Redemption keep getting aired. You get sucked into it, and will at least watch until Andy plays the opera record or escapes from prison, or whatever.

But that won't last forever, which is why all these basic cable channels are pumping so much money into original programming. TBS makes a crap-ton from Friends reruns, and nothing from new shows like The Detour. But one day that ratio will flip-flop, and they want to be ready.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Seriously? THE OFFICE is on like three different channels right now . . . I think Comedy Central alone reruns it like a hundred times a day right now.

Never understood the appeal of this show: it's so dull, droll, ghastly, and boring . . . and curse it for making the mockumentary style of storytelling the new industry standard for single-camera "sitcoms." Not that I have anything against the mockumentary style, because it works well for movies, such as all of those Christopher Guest movies, like A MIGHTY WIND and such . . . but I find it doesn't work well for weekly television, where you need to be able to invest in the characters and their arcs . . . to have the story constantly interrupted by the characters giving fake interview segments not only takes you out of the story, but it makes it difficult to invest in the characters, because it screams, "This is all just fake."

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I much prefer single-camera sitcoms that are more like mini-movies with music scoring and (canned) laughter. Why not take a moment to look at a satirical case study I've done of the evolution (or lack thereof) of single-camera sitcoms that I did a few years ago:

Nathan said...

I remember a 'Friends' episode where one actress has nothing but disdain for some award given to her. So Joey steals it from her as she wont miss it.

Have you or any of the sitcoms that you have worked on, been nominated for some award that you didn't care about?

Mike Bloodworth said...

1. I was never a fan of "The Office." But, if I did chose to watch it I would watch it on broadcast TV; because it's FREE!.

2. If your secret project is a sculpture made entirely of human feces, it's already been done.

Peter said...

Friday Question

Will you tell us what the big project is?

D McEwan said...

"I have seen articles that THE OFFICE is by far the most viewed program on streaming services, but I rarely see it's reruns on broadcast or mainstream cable channels these days"

Jeeze, they run two or three or eleven episodes of The Office on Comedy Central every damn day.

Kevin Kozoriz said...

I REALLY wanted a copy of the poster of Lilith on a bear skin rug that she had made for Frasier and was really disappointed that one wasn't sold.

Michael said...

To defend my question, THE OFFICE is not shown on any of the New York City broadcast channels. Also, since I rarely watch Comedy Central, I did not consider it a mainstream cable channel - guess that was a bad assumption.

Mike Doran said...

Just spent much of today at YouTube, staring myself bug-eyed at an episode of The Edge Of Night, which aired on ABC on September 25, 1981.
Much of this episode was about a performance by the Whitney Dance Company, which figured prominently in the storyline EON had going at that time.
At the show's end, there was a cast crawl, showing (for the only time) the names of the dancers in the company, who were mainly seen in the background for weeks.
One of the dancers was Bebe Neuwirth - most likely the first on-screen credit she ever got on TV.
This isn't the greatest video transfer I've seen (digital, where you when I really need you?).
Also, none of the company dancers get so much as a close-up.
I haven't yet gone back to look at earlier EON episodes to see if Bebe can be spotted in any of the rehearsals that were shown.
But her name is there in the credit crawl (first time ever, as far as I can determine), so there's that …

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

I remember the episode of Frasier in the first season where Lilith calls his radio show. Her voice is heard for the first time since the premiere. The audience reaction was terrific.
I always wondered if the whole Daphne-is-a-psychic thing was to set up Jane Leeves' line when Daphne meets Lillith "I shook that woman's hand lost all feeling in my right arm", and then the great closing bit where we watched her debilitating headache went away as Lilith's plane climbed up and away from Seattle

Covarr said...

"Necessary" is not necessarily a cut-and-dried term. Something may not be necessary to the plot, but that doesn't mean it's not necessary to the character, setting, tone, or themes. Even discounting mysteries and red herrings, something may seem unnecessary that turns out to be quite important.

For a classic example of this, look at PULP FICTION, the scene in the hallway as Jules and Vincent are on their way to a job. Nothing that happens here affects the plot in any meaningful way. At first glance, showing them on their way to the action may seem utterly unnecessary, and a violation of the other popular rule, "Start the scene as late as possible." But this is vital to revealing who these people are and how they view their work, and provides super important setup for their character arcs that we see throughout the movie.

So, of course, if something isn't necessary, get rid of it. Everything in season 8 of DEXTER about Masuka's daughter, for example, that's not necessary. It provides pointless insight into a character we already know pretty well by the time she is introduced, and doesn't go anywhere or impact other plot lines in any meaningful way.

Just... don't get too hung up on an overly literal definition of "necessary". Because it can mean all kinds of things.

Anonymous said...

Why is is that people continually believe (not just on this website) that simply because they had never heard of a person prior to an event, that immediately implies that nobody had ever heard of this person prior to the event?

Alan Iverson said...

for ScottyB.

I'd be keen for a run on writing a script together.

Tv script preferable (more achievable for first time partners, I suspect). Throwing options out there: I nominate a M*A*S*H script, or happy to go for a longer Downton Abbey, Macgyver (80s), Magnum PI (obviously 80s), Quantum Leap

If you're keen, email me:

Orangutanagram said...

I read somewhere that Bebe Neuwirth was going to be that politician woman that goes out with Sam at the end of season 4, and when something happened they offered her this smaller part. Is there any truth to that?

Peter said...

Googling for info about Bebe Neuwirth, I saw photos of her in The Associate.

Now I need a cold shower.

Strunk N. Whyte said...

it became clear the Frasier-Lilith relationship was lightening in a bottle.

Their scenes never failed to lightning the mood.

Herselfindublin said...

My advice to ScottyB is to finish your scripts rather than abandon them half-way. Finishing a script will dramatically (excuse the pun) improve your skillset. If you're looking for a partner just to finish your scripts for you, you probably won't find one. But if you're looking for a partner to create new (complete) work with, then you'll probably need to be able to show some completed scripts to prove you're partner material.

Mike said...

I do think it’s interesting that “The Office” has disappeared from broadcast syndication, while older shows like “Seinfeld” and “Friends” are still regularly seen in broadcast. Could it be that it’s simply not as mainstream and didn’t perform as well in broadcast as the multi cams do?

P said...

I'm interested in your thoughts on following this rule on necessary information only while preventing it from giving away the course of the story.

Steven Moffat (of Press Gang, Joking Apart fame) had a good way of dealing with this: if something was necessary to set up the climax, he would find a way to make it the subject of a joke earlier on.

Because the issue is that in a script everyting has to have a purpose. So if a line doesn't seem to have a purpose in the scene it's in (eg, my favourite example 'Don't bother trying to call him here: you know there's no mobile reception until you're halfway over the bridge') then you know its purpose is to set up the climax.

But if a line seems to have a purpose within the scene it's in — eg as the setup or, preferably, punchline of a joke right there and then — then the audience just assumes that was its reason for being in the script.

Then when it comes back at the end, they are pleasantly surprised.

And if there are enough other jokes, the audience don't know which ones contain hidden set-up for later on and which ones don't.

Kendall Rivers said...

Friday Question

I don't understand why Phil Rosenthal isn't given the credit he's due as one of the best sitcom showrunners ever. I mean, the man created and ran a giant hit show in Everybody Loves Raymond that not only won multiple emmys, was a huge hit ratings wise and critically, still a consistent syndication winner and is considered one of the last great sitcoms, especially multi camera wise but also was very organized. I don't know if you read his book You're Lucky You're Funny but the way he ran 'Raymond was no short of genius. For me he's as brilliant and more organized than Larry David or Michael Moye and Ron Leavitt or Susan Harris etc.