Friday, August 30, 2019

Friday Questions

Closing out the summer with Friday Questions. But first...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my gorgeous, talented, amazing daughter, Annie.

Jeff Alexander has the first FQ:

Has there ever been a series (don't need to name names) where a script -- either from freelancers or staff contributors -- got as far as a complete "table read" where everyone admitted that it just wouldn't work? If that has happened, what's the recourse? Is there a "backup" script or is that one sent back to be reworked in a great hurry? I ask because that apparently happened on The Dick Van Dyke Show once -- script name was Art Vs. Baloney by a freelancer whose name is now forgotten. The script was apparently trashed and I honestly don't know what they did to replace it.

Yes, it does happen. And most shows even have budgeted one or two scripts that they’ll eat and never produce.

Hopefully, when that happens you have next week’s script in decent shape so you can polish it up and have it ready the next day. But occasionally you have to shut down for a day or two, and that gets costly.

But let me say this -- it’s one thing if a script bombs at the table. It’s another if a script does well at the table but the asshole star just doesn’t want to do it. He didn’t get enough jokes or didn’t come off looking heroic enough, whatever. That’s bullshit. Beware of working for “stars.” Or should I say “certain” stars?

From Ed:

When you create a series, you obviously come up with the initial characters and premise, but eventually other writers will start contributing their own ideas and stories. What's it like as a show creator to see others take your characters and story in directions that may not have occurred to you? I'd imagine it could be exciting to see your creation take on a life of its own beyond what you'd initially conceived.

I think it’s great. It means the show has legs and can grow in unexpected directions. The hard part is initially getting your staff to write the show in your style. But once they do they begin to add their own contributions and point of view and the show really flourishes.

It’s also nice in that case, that the show’s creator acknowledges his staff’s contribution. Vince Gilligan is a champ at that. He openly credits other writers for some of the best moments and scenes of BREAKING BAD.

Other showrunners are not that gracious.

Keith R.A. DeCandido asks:

I've been on a kick where I've been watching the Sidney Freedman episodes of M*A*S*H. He was such a great character, and Allan Arbus did superb work with him, from his first appearance asking Blake what he's supposed to do with Klinger ("ask him if his seams are straight???") to the finale where he helps Hawkeye with his psychotic break.

I notice that you only wrote one of his appearances, "The Billfold Syndrome," but since you were a story editor, you might know the answer to this more general question: how much research went into Freedman's appearances? I know that Army psychiatrists weren't really as much of a thing in the Korean War as they were Vietnam and after, but were Freedman's cases ever based on actual psychiatric cases in Korea or Vietnam (or World War II or another conflict)?

As writers of the show we rewrote most scripts so wrote a fair amount of Sidney Freedman in our day, uncredited.

If the story required it, we did consult a psychiatrist to make sure we were handling those situations responsibly.

“The Billfold Syndrome” was a real thing and sprung out of the research. When David and I wrote the episode we first spent an evening with a noted psychiatrist who walked us through the entire hypnosis process. I’m very proud of how authentic that episode turned out and that other mental health professionals, upon seeing it on the air, gave it a thumbs up.

And finally, from Sam Stebbins:

Do you think Sunnyside (an upcoming NBC sitcom) is a good example of why sitcoms shouldn’t be given trailers? People in the comments are judging the show based on clips that are most likely only from the pilot. It looks like a potentially funny show with a good premise.

Networks are leading with their chins when they put out these trailers. They leave themselves open for trolls and bad buzz. I’m sure they also lose viewers who might’ve sampled the pilot but after seeing the trailer decided not to bother.

And most of the trailers are horrible, especially the comedies. I can’t think of a single comedy trailer for a new show that I thought was remotely funny or inviting.

That said, I guess the networks feel the value of them outweigh the possible pitfalls. For their sake, I hope they’re right.

What’s your Friday Question, and again, HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANNIE!!!


John in NE Ohio said...

RE: Trailers and ads, both for movies and TV/streaming
I always assume that the best jokes are in the trailer/ad. Nothing in the show will ever be funnier. I am almost never wrong. For movies, a lot of times the funny scene actually gets cut, or was produced just for the trailer, so the funniest part of the movie isn't even there. Moral of the story - if you are doing a trailer, it better kick ass, or else you know the show sucks ass.
I also have gotten to the point where I have a couple dozen things in the Netflix/Amazon/Hulu/Etc queue to watch, so there is no reason to take a chance on crap. If a TV show is any good, I'll catch up in season 2 or 3. Especially if it is a drama that is connected and cliffhangered, I don't want to get to the cliff and have it cancelled with no resolution. BBC shows have a better idea for the most part. There is a self contained season, and if they do it well enough, you don't need a cliffhanger to stay around for the 2 years it sometimes takes between series.
When the BBC shows have a cliffhanger, it is usually time to ditch them.

Jeff Alexander said...

Thanks, Mr. Levine!! Much appreciate being included in your Friday questions (and at the top, no less!) Good answer, too. Hmmmm, "certain" stars. I wonder who you might mean (no names, please!!)? Believe me, I have ideas to whom you are referring!!
And, indeed, Happy b'day, Annie!!

E. Yarber said...

There's a creative equivalent of putting good money after bad. Sometimes a writer will continue trying to make a bad premise work on the grounds that they don't want to "waste" the effort they've already spent trying to get it to fly. That time is already gone, but you can blow even more by trying to redeem it on the same lost cause. Eventually you reach the stage when the material has to go to the rest of the team for their own contributions, and they won't be able to adjust it any more than the writer could. The same instinct that makes a scripter able to write upon demand has to be tuned to abandoning pages that can't be used.

Michael said...

"The Billfold Syndrome" was, to me, classic MASH: funny in places, profoundly moving in others.

For years, I have told people, "Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice. Pull down your pants, and slide on the ice."

sanford said...

I hope when you retire from directing, writing that you throw some stars and other people in the business under the bus. It is good to know that most of the people you have worked with are great at least when it comes to working with them.

Dhruv said...

Happy Birthday Annie :)

Ken, did you see "The Joker" trailer? Any thoughts?

I think it will be a good performance by Joaquin Phoenix.

I usually don't get swayed by trailers, but this movie or just his performance may turn out good.

Link :

I like the part from 1:26 - 1:36 ..... his expression, his voice and finally beaming with pride, all accompanied by good music.

And talking of Vince Gilligan, 'Breaking Bad' movie is going to release in October. But I am disappointed that Walter White wont return.

Peter said...

Your Frasier episode starring Michael Keaton was on UK TV the other day. I hadn't seen it in years and it was great watching it again.

Keaton was brilliant in it, but I vaguely recall you saying on here that he didn't like the episode. What was the deal with that?

Dave Widel said...

One of the network trailers last year had the "Is that a gun in your pocket" joke. That joke is literally pushing 100 years old and every possible variation has been done. I can't believe they push stuff like this and expect people to want to watch it.

Roger Owen Green said...

You may have done this before, and you can point the links to the same. REGARDLESS of whether you were involved or not, what are your:
10 favorite MASH episodes
10 favorite Cheers episode
10 favorite Frasier episodes
5 favorite Dick Van Dyke Show episodes
5 favorite Wings episodes
any other shows of your choice
WHY you've picked them would be nice

Charles Bryan said...

Another note on Vince Gilligan: He makes listening to commentaries (and show podcasts) informative and entertaining. He frequently brings in unsung heroes of his shows - costume and set designers, music coordinators - and lauds their contribution while downplaying his own. We should all be so lucky as to work with people like Vince.

Rashad Khan said...

RIP Valerie Harper:

Rashad Khan

Francis Dollarhyde said...

I read somewhere that Sidney Freedman was on the cards to join M*A*S*H as a regular character after the departure of Radar, but Allan Argus didn't want to commit. If that's true, I'm glad Sidney remained a recurring character. Like Colonel Flagg, it felt like an "event" when he guested.

Douglas Trapasso said...

Any thoughts on Valerie Harper's passing?

She was one of the classic #2s of all time. When a performer has a unique gift to bounce off a lead convincingly, there'a frequently a temptation to make that #2 a lead in something else. And no disrespect to Harper, but it almost never works. Any theories on why? Have you ever dealt personally with a great supporting character who insisted he/she had the chops to play a lead?

Kimberly said...

I remember seeing the trailer to The Big Bang Theory and thinking “this show will never make it!!!” I was so wrong but that trailer made me cringe.

sanford said...

As for Douglas's question I tried a google search and couldn't find any number two's that had successful tv shows. Rhoda did last from 74 to 78. Probably better than average for most comedy shows. Frasier wasn't even a number two lead and had quite the successful show. As for Kimberly's post the real pilot is on line. It was just Sheldon and Leonard. The apartment wasn't the same. There was no Penny. Instead there was a girl named Katie played by Amanda Walsh, who Leonard and Sheldon meet on the street. There was also another girl played by an actress who I had never heard of. Who ever put this pilot up put up each scene individually. It is not particularly funny. I assume Chuck Lorre was involved from the beginning. It would be an interesting question for Ken as to how many comedy's change so drastically from inception to what we finally see.

Kendall Rivers said...

Friday Question

You've been doing the tv comedy thing for quite a while. Now in this current oversensitive climate we're in how much hell is it for you as a comedy writer to have more pressure than ever to not offend anyone when writing a joke? These days writing a slight against string could wreak havoc.