Friday, March 27, 2020

Friday Questions

Self-quarantining and answering Friday Questions. What’s yours?

Troy McClure starts us off.

I've often wondered if directors, writers and stars ever watch one of their own works when relaxing at home. Like, does Steven Spielberg ever chill out by putting on a blu ray of Jaws. So, my question is when was the last time you put on an episode of Cheers or Frasier you wrote or put on Volunteers? I'm guessing you've never felt like putting on Mannequin 2.

No. Haven’t seen MANNEQUIN 2 in twenty years. I know how it ends.

I did watch VOLUNTEERS a couple of years ago. I talk about that this week in my podcast (listen by clicking on the big gold arrow above).   I was pleasantly surprised. I like it more now than when it was released.  I actually recommend it while we are all on House Arrest. 

If I’m doing a commentary track for my podcast I will seek out episodes I co-wrote. Otherwise, if I’m channel surfing and come across one of my episodes I will probably check it out. As you can imagine, there are episodes I like better than others. I tend to stay with those, and the ones I wish I had back I click over to Sportscenter.

Brian wonders:

In the (five-star!) podcast, you and Jay Kogen mention a "Put Pilot Penalty". What is that?

In truth, it’s bullshit. It means the network guarantees they’ll make the pilot. If they don’t they agree to a financial penalty. But it’s rarely enforced and usually just rolled over to another project.

From cd1515:

If a studio or network told you today that they needed a coronavirus related episode of ——- ASAP, how long would that take to write and ultimately get on the air?

And how different would it be for a half hour comedy versus a one hour drama?

There are so many variables it would be hard to say. Certainly a half hour show would be easier than an hour. It’s shorter. But especially today, with shows serialized, would I have to deviate from the season arc? Are there restrictions on what sets I could use or which actors I could use? Will I have to create my story around those roadblocks? Will I able to set aside my other duties to just write this episode

And not every writer writes at the same pace. Some could knock it out overnight; others would need a week. I could probably write a draft in two to three days of a half hour, especially if I already knew the characters and series intimately.

But at the moment it's a moot point.  Everything has been shut down.  

And finally, from longtime fan of the blog and successful graduate of THE SITCOM ROOM, Wendy M. Grossman:

It seems to me that it's going to be a really tough job for sitcom writers mapping out the next season. I remember that after 9/11 every show had to decide whether the attacks had happened in its world; the NYC shows that included the WTC in their credits imagery had to decide whether to keep it or not . I was watching the latest episode of BOB HEARTS ABISHOLA, for example, and there were scenes of loads of people jammed in together in church. My immediate reaction was to marvel: "Look at all the *people*." In a few months, audiences may be uncomfortable looking at a scene like that. How does a writer's room start to think about this?

My sincere hope is that within my lifetime people will be able to be packed together again. This current pandemic is a topic that will be explored and referenced on most shows, but as time moves on so will the public and entertainment.

I remember after 9/11 people predicted that American audiences will change forever and no more will they want to see stupid trivial entertainment. How long until DUCK DYNASTY, HONEY BOO BOO, TEMPTATION ISLAND, THE OSBOURNES, THE KARDASHIANS, Jessica Simpson, Jenny McCarthy, 2 BROKE GIRLS, and FEAR FACTOR came along?

Stay safe.


Michael Hagerty said...

(Ken's quote)

I remember after 9/11 people predicted that American audiences will change forever and no more will they want to see stupid trivial entertainment. How long until DUCK DYNASTY, HONEY BOO BOO, TEMPTATION ISLAND, THE OSBOURNES, THE KARDASHIANS, Jessica Simpson, Jenny McCarthy, 2 BROKE GIRLS, and FEAR FACTOR came along?

(end Ken's quote)

Ken: I was right there with you. Here's what I learned:

By and large, after a traumatic experience, Americans want comfort food. A Big Mac, a tub of Thrifty ice cream----whatever.

Leadership matters. George W. Bush blew his chance at an FDR moment by urging that life get back to normal ASAP. He didn't call on us to sacrifice or listen to our better angels. He told us to go to the mall.

Sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it?

So if I had to bet on Aaron Sorkin returning to TV or Honey Boo Boo, I'd pray for Sorkin, knowing we'd get Boo Boo.

Bill said...

Why not a snarky blog on how Hollywood is reacting to this situation?

Peter said...

Please review Woody Allen's new book.

There are the fawning wannabes who praise him and those who rip him apart

I would like to hear what you think of it.

Troy McClure said...

Thanks for answering my question!

Troy McClure said...

A couple of weeks ago, Landon Spradlin, an evangelical pastor in Virginia, said the fears around Coronavirus are just mass hysteria created to hurt Trump.

Three days ago, he died of Coronavirus.

No further comment required.

Wes said...

Peter, this is at least the third time you've asked Ken about Woody Allen's book. I'm sure he's gotten the message by now. Lord knows the rest of us have. You really, really, really, really want Ken to talk about Woody Allen's book. He gets it. We get it. Are you going to pester him about it every day until you wear him down? Geez. Take your medication and chill.

Kaleberg said...

There was a Jean Arthur, John Wayne movie, 'A Lady Takes a Chance', that came out during World War II and opened with a bit of text asking the audience to remember way back when everyone could get all the flour and butter they wanted. At the time, I thought it was wish fulfillment. Now I realize it might have been a disclaimer.

J Lee said...

Question about credits: Bebe Neuwirth was added to the opening credits for Season 10 of "Cheers" and taken off for "Season 11", was that based on number of appearance she was going to make in the final season being lower than the previous year? And were there any negotiations involved in that change? (and FWIW, I can think of two other cases where an actor's name was added to the opening credits of a sitcom and then removed the following season -- James Gregory on "Barney Miller" and Pat Carroll on "The Danny Thomas Show").

Mark said...

Friday question:

I see actors with tattoos on their arms and necks and wonder if some don't lose work because of it. Sure, shirts can cover them up but if the part requires going without a shirt would some folks say in some instances that it's just not worth the bother of covering them up with makeu, or digitally removing them, and decide to hire someone else?

Those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s probably don't have them because we saw the WWII tattoos on old sailors that just looked horrible twenty or thirty years later....

Thomas Mossman said...

Spielberg has said that Raiders of the Lost Ark is the one movie he made that he can watch and enjoy as though someone else made it, without picking it apart.

Tommy Raiko said...

"I remember after 9/11 people predicted that American audiences will change forever and no more will they want to see stupid trivial entertainment."

That's interesting. Obviously, I'm not in the entertainment industry, so don't know what industry folks thought of the effect of 9/11 on audience preferences. But for what it's worth, I don't recall a lot of predictions that folks would go away from trivial entertainment. I do recall some predictions that folks would shy away from "disaster-porn" movies with cities wantonly destroyed (a la Independence Day, etc.) and certainly some of that happened, but movie-makers have adapted their storytelling and audiences are there for well-executed uses of those disaster tropes...

tavm said...

Nice to see a pic of Tom and Rita from 35 years ago, before they married and are now surviving from that disease that I will not mention...

Lemuel said...

One!two!tell me who are you THE BEARS!
Three! four! tell me who's gonna score THE BEARS!

VincentS said...

I share your skepticism about people changing as a result of this, Ken. Even if this lasts a year (God forbid) people tend to have short memories.

kitano0 said...

If I remember correctly, Friends was losing its audience around the time of 9/11, and in the aftermath of the tragedy, ratings for it peaked drastically, basically rescuing the show from cancellation. If I remember correctly, that is.

Sue T. said...

Mark -
If you haven't already seen it, check the "Turlington's Lower Back Tattoo Remover" commercial for women whose tramp stamps have not aged well. It aired on SNL in 2004 and is posted online at

Andy Rose said...

@Tommy Raiko: I recall a number of comedic performers — particularly New York-based talk show hosts — openly stating in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that they weren’t sure they could ever try to be funny again. But things were largely back to normal in terms of entertainment consumption within a couple of months. By the end of the year, a person who was just emerging from 3 months of living in a cave could watch non-news TV shows and probably have no idea of what had happened.

April Acton said...

Friends ranked in the top ten ratings for all 10 years it was on the air. It was never in any danger of being canceled.

estiv said...

Ken, reading your response to cd155’s question about a coronavirus related episode got me thinking. In the last eight days I’ve been in three online social events, and the potential for a sitcom episode seems pretty clear. Besides the usual dialogue between established characters, there are the situations that are unique to a group video chat: the fact that there’s basically only one mic for say nine people, awkward lighting that makes people look strange, two people who are physically together sharing the same setup trying to have a side conversation and inadvertently drowning everyone else out, people absent-mindededly studying their image and making faces because they forget they’re still visible, if there’s alcohol involved then people getting louder and hijacking the conversation, etc. etc. Plus there’s the practical advantage that like the call-ins to Frasier’s radio show, people do not have to actually share the same physical space to interact. As with the one-off episodes of MASH (real-time action, interviews) it would be a break from the usual format but still maintain continuity. Plus the screen would just show the video chat screen. It may not actually be possible, but what the hell.

Marty Fufkin said...

A Friday Apology. I occasionally post comments and ask questions here. When coming up with a name, I've been honoring my Beatle fandom and combining the names of Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe. I post either as Stuart Best or Pete Sutcliffe. Just found out that someone named the latter is also a notorious mass murderer. Just letting you know the actual origins of my fake name. I wasn't being creepy. I don't think you ever answered any of Pete's questions. Now I know why. (Or maybe they were actually boring questions.)

Unknown said...

I was in the Peace Corps. It isn't like the movie.

Also, because of this crazy virus, ALL Peace Corp volunteers from around the world, have been brought home.

Storm said...

@Marty Fufkin: Literal and actual LOL. I confess, I had wondered. My true crime "pet case", if you will, has always been the Yorkshire Ripper (as well as the "original" down London way). So yeah, every time you posted, I noticed and thought "Wow, dude, you must have an even weirder sense of humor and propriety than *I* do!"

It has never occurred to me until now that his name is a combination of two former Beatles, thanks for that!

Cheers, thanks a lot,


Paul D. said...

Ken, hi.

Here is my Friday question. I hope I am in the right place to leave it.

I was wondering after Gary Burghoff had given his notice on M*A*S*H, was any consideration given to introducing a brand new character to the ensemble to be the new company clerk before the role was given to Klinger?

The Irene Lorenzo character on "All In the Family" before this, and especially Dennis Franz as Lt. Buntz on "Hill Street Blues" later on, are two great examples of how new blood could inject some new life into an aging series.

Thank you

Paul D.