Friday, March 19, 2021

Friday Questions

How about some Friday Questions?   What’s yours?

Vincent gets us started.

I just attended a  Zoom webinar where a literary agent said flat-out that he would not work with a writer who was doing anything else but focusing on screenwriting, like writing a novel, acting, or even doing a podcast on the side. Since you have a podcast I assume not every agent feels this way, but would you say this guy's attitude was the exception of the rule vis-a-vis Hollywood literary agents.

I would say yes, that’s the exception.  Agents today tend to like clients who have large social media followings or podcasts.  It helps them stand out and potentially easier to sell.  

The agent might think the writer’s podcast could be adapted for a series as an example.  

On the other hand, I could definitely see the argument that an agent would want writer clients who are devoted strictly to writing.  

But here’s the bottom line: when an agent is considering a new client his only real focus is how that person fits HIS agenda, not the writer’s.   How hard will the writer be to sell?  Does the writer fit the agency’s need for a certain genre?  Is the writer diverse?   How old is he?  Is his style in the zeitgeist?

Bob Sassone asks:

Something that bugs me about sitcoms is the fake car/driving scenes. I don't mind at all how cheesy they look, but why do they usually take out the rearview mirror? Is it just for how the shot looks? And why do so many characters still LOOK in the rearview mirror to talk to someone in the back seat when there's no mirror????

I assume you’re talking about multi-camera sitcoms where the car scenes are filmed on stage in front of an audience.

You’re right that the rearview mirror blocks camera angles.   It’s a creative license thing that most people don’t notice.  

I’m always more worried about the cheesy backgrounds.  For night scenes though someone (I believe on TAXI) created this effect with just lights that looks pretty cool.  

Boomska316 wonders:

Why are finales(season or series) so hard to get right? Is it different expectations between the viewers and the creators?

There are much greater expectations to a series finale.  So let’s concentrate on that.  

To some degree yes.  Especially if the show has set up lots of questions to be answered.  (a la LOST)  The questions better all be answered and to the audience’s satisfaction.  The more time the audience has been waiting, the higher the expectations.  

But the big reason series finales often fall short is because they're too long, sometimes waaaaay too long.  This is a network decision.  The networks want to take advantage of the larger audience they will draw to sell more advertising at higher rates.   The result is often bloated finales telling stories not worth two hours.   

When I think of my favorite sitcom finales (THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, NEWHART) they’re all half hours.  

And finally, from YEKIMI:

Do you tend to get stuff done faster when writing with David or when writing alone?

Without question, faster when the two of us are working.  But that has developed over time.  We now have a rhythm and shorthand and experience so we go at a much faster clip than we did when we were starting out.

Originally, it would take us two weeks to write a half hour script.  Now it takes three or four days, and in some cases if we’re in a crunch — two.

Also, as partner we write head to head.  So we’re both in the room pitching at the same time.  

We also dictate the script to an assistant so that takes less time.  We can just pitch out a whole run in two minutes and then go back and clean it up, sharpen some jokes, make some trims, etc.  

And when the two of us are writing we don’t take breaks every five minutes to check email or see if there’s any breaking news on MSNBC. 


Max said...

Re the "cheesy backgrounds" in driving scenes on sitcoms. I seem to recall that POLICE SQUAD (the short-lived Leslie Nielsen series that the NAKED GUN movies were based on) played around with bluescreen backdrops during car chases, showing incongruous backgrounds etc. In one sequence, Nielsen was shown looking over his shoulder and driving in reverse while chasing a crook, with corresponding bluescreen background.
Did any other comedies do that (use the backdrop to make fun of the obvious bluescreen effect)? I can't think of one offhand.

Ben said...

Friday question: How often do you meet with David to write nowadays? What kinds of projects do you do? Are you looking to keep up the same pace as when you were younger or just freelance as needed?

Phil said...

A follow-up to your answer about series finales. You mentioned the series finales you liked the most were ones that didn't stray from their normal time length. Are there any finales that, while not your favorites, you felt were helped out in some way by being longer than normal?

YEKIMI said...

Thanks for answering my ?

Griff said...

I thought one of the funniest gags in the entire run of POLICE SQUAD! came when Nielsen's Frank Drebin had to investigate a crime in "the Little Italy section of town." Nielsen is then seen speaking with someone in a room... and in the background of the shot, there's a relatively small window through which we can clearly see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

David P said...

re: Series finales. Blackadder Goes Forth. Perfection.

Mike Schryver said...

It doesn't take away from Ken's point, but the NEWHART finale was actually a few minutes longer than usual. The CBS outlet in Albany (NY) cut away a few minutes before it ended and there was a bit of a fuss about it.

ScarletNumber said...


That effect was stolen from Airplane!, except it was Robert Stack doing the driving, not Leslie Nielsen. Of course Airplane! and Police Squad had the same creative team, so stolen might be a strong word.

James Van Hise said...

I dislike season finales which end on a cliffhanger which we are supposed to remember when the show returns 5 months later! Then there are the fake season finales. The show The Pretender, which ran a few years, had two different season finales which both ended with a bomb detonating in a "Who will survive?" scenario. Both times all of the major characters survived. The series In Plain Sight had a season finale where the main character had been shot and was unconscious in a hospital bed. When the show returned the character was back to normal with one throw away line about how she needs to take it easy after her recent gunshot wound!

Ere I Saw Elba said...

Cliffhangers: Yuck.

Some of the best shows have employed them, they basically just never work, except in the sense of ginning up a "who shot J.R" media buzz (for those of you under 40, look it up). I think season finales are made by networks wanting ratings, and not creative decisions by writers.

No said...

@ David P

"Series finales. Blackadder Goes Forth. Perfection."

I have to agree with that.

VincentS said...

Thanks for answering another one of my questions and expanding on the answer you gave me privately. This makes over a dozen so far.

Chris Gumprich said...

I hope I'm not the only person who read about the lack of rear-view mirrors and scrolled up to the top picture to check.

I can't believe I've been watching TV all these decades and never once noticed that.

Call Me Mike said...

"Mr. Worf, fire."

The only season finale cliffhanger I can remember liking, though that summer break was interminable.

Philly Cinephile said...

My pet peeve with driving scenes is that some actors continuously turn the steering wheel left and right during the entire scene. I know that the actors are trying to make their "driving" look more realistic, but whenever I see this, I imagine the car swerving all over the road.

Unknown said...

I JUST saw the Barney Miller series finale last night on FeTV. Turns out it was a 3 parter, with the final one Barney leaving with a box and turning off the lights. No familiar song played, just a clap track. It fit nicely into a 3 part episode.
The 2nd episode on FeTV last night was the 1st Barney Miller episode. Which had his family, which was cut out later in the series. He also had black hair, compared to 8 years later greyish hair.
So that brings me to a point, on MeTV they should have a week of 1st episodes followed by last episode, to see how characters/plots/etc changed.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

What bugs me in driving scenes is how often the actors don't look at the road!


Mike Bloodworth said...

I have never seen the need for series finales. Maybe for a series such as "The Fugitive" where you want to see him catch "the one armed man." But otherwise they seem extraneous. Maybe my feelings are influenced by the fact that most of the shows I enjoyed got cancelled, so there was no opportunity for a finale. Also because of syndication shows run in loops, so the less jarring a transition from the last episode back to the first episode the better. I suppose that's why most finales don't make it into the rotation.

Also, I wish more series finales would, for lack of a better term, just bring us in for a soft landing. Sort of a we had a good run, but now it's over.
That's one of the things I disliked the most about the "M*A*S*H" finale. No offense Ken, but there were too many new elements thrown in. e.g. Father Mulcahy going deaf and Charles giving up on the music he loved, etc. Other shows have done that too. They can't just end a series. They feel the need to add unnecessary things, presumably to make the finale stand out.

By the way, some of the best sitcoms didn't need grand exits. "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "I Love Lucy" had last episodes, but no series finales.

But maybe that's just me.


Jeff said...

I agree with Wendy. I know it isn't real but it drives me crazy when they stare at the person in the passenger seat for several seconds while driving!

Lemuel said...

Penny's check engine light is on.

jcs said...

@Bob Sassone
What's driving me nuts are improperly adjusted or entirely missing headrests (I'm very safety-conscious.). Sheldon Cooper would've never gotten into a car with missing headrests.

sanford said...

I thought the Frasier finale was good although it left you hanging. Friends was ok although it was actually two parts. We just watched the final Dick Van Dyke show on Decades. It could have been shown in any season. So could Every One Loves Raymond. On a Decades note. Does anyone have TIVO. Decades is now on channel that was used by Telemondo. The guide descriptions of the show are in Spanish. I don't think it has any thing do with our Cable Carrie (Specturm) My wife can put the channel on her pad and the show descriptions are in English.

Michael said...

@James Van Hise - In Plain Sight changed show runners a couple of times, so that might explain why a season cliff hanger was quickly dismissed. Which does bring up a Friday question for Ken. If you were taking over as a show runner at start of season, how much would you try to resolve existing story lines before starting your own?

@Unknown - Alan Sepinwall has a podcast where he has a guest who never watched a series watch the first and last episodes and then they discuss it,

Gary said...

I'm old enough to remember the 1967 series finale of THE FUGITIVE, which was truly unique for the era and a very big deal. For many years this held the record for the highest ratings of any series episode ever.

LMNtrees said...

Same here. When the actors turn and talk to their companions for several seconds at a time, I just keep thinking, "EYES ON THE ROAD!"

Bob Paris said...

This is a question and follow-up to your "perfect episode" entry. After listing two Frasier episodes, the next day I thought about how perfect the "Palestinian Chicken" episode of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM was. The two Frasier episodes were for a broadcast network and the 'Curb was for HBO which has different standards & practices. In your opinion, is it unfair to compare episodes where one may have had network constraints versus another where "anything goes?"

Tom Galloway said...

Of course, there was the classic "Oops, I guess that wasn't our series finale" incident. The satirical mid-80s series Sledge Hammer had horrible ratings, so they were sure they wouldn't get renewed for a second season. So in their last episode, they *really* ended the series by having their city locale destroyed by an atomic bomb, with all characters in the city at the time.

Then they got renewed.

Scene one, episode one, season two started with a "Five years earlier" caption...despite Hammer having the same partner, who previously he'd first met in episode one of season one or five years later than season two.

Anonymous said...

The first series finale was Leave it to Beaver in 1963 -quite well done.
And the last episode of Dobie Gillis had exactly the same plot as the first episode.

Joe said...

Another thing they do with cars to make it easier for the director: When there are three people, the third person sits on the horribly uncomfortable middle seat even though no human being has ever done that when there's no one else in the back.

JessyS said...

In regards to series finales, I also think less is better. The reason is because finales always seem bloated. In the case of Cheers, I think the element of Diane returning and then seeing Sam leave the bar for a short time, was not needed. The finale could have just saw Rebecca marry Don Santry As for the Diane and Sam relationship, that was resolved at the end of the 5th season though there really wouldn't be any harm at seeing Diane in a season 11 episode. Maybe she should have held a book signing at Cheers with the book title being "My Life with Barflies."

I also want to second Phil's question. What series benefited from longer finales?

Steve Bailey said...

Ken, I'm surprised that of all people, *you* did not list the "M*A*S*H" finale as one of the good over-the-half-hour-line ones. There were so many compelling storylines in that episode that it was consistently wonderful to watch, and a love letter to the show's many fans who expected (and, IMHO, received) a worthy finale.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

The best line in the "M*A*S*H" finale came from the nurse played by Enid Kent who stood at the farewell gathering in the mess tent and said that after serving in World War II and Korea "I've had it."

Although it's not mentioned much, "Happy Days" had a sweet ending with Tom Bosley "breaking the fourth wall" to thank the audience and raise a toast. "Here's to Happy Days," he says, followed by a montage of clips set to an Elvis-soundalike performing "Memories."

And the Randall/Klugman "Odd Couple" had a decidedly unsentimental but funny finale that wrapped up with Felix remarrying his ex and Oscar emptying a trash can on the apartment floor as soon as Felix leaves for the last time.

Rocketman said...

That's absurd. 'I'll represent you so long as you're willing to starve while you bang out that screenplay.'
If you've been comissioned to write something, I totally understand that the agent needs you focused on the job, but if you don't have a deal in place how can you survive?

Mike Doran said...

A modest correction about the Odd Couple finale:

As Felix prepares to leave, he dumps the wastebasket.

Oscar tells Felix "When you leave, I'm gonna pick that up."

Felix says "It has not been in vain," shakes hands, and leaves.

Oscar looks at the mess and growls "I'm not gonna pick that up...", and walks off.

... And Felix sneaks back in, sees the mess, says "I knew he wasn't gonna pick it up...", and does so.

And - Scene.


tavm said...

Originally, I thought the "Newhart" ending was a comment on the whole "Bobby Ewing" thing on "Dallas" but I later found out it was from Bob's actual wife Ginny making it a suggestion that was eventually carried out...

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

You're right. Thanks.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Some thoughts

• Max - 1985's "Back to the Beach" made fun of the phoney rear-screen surfing scenes with Frankie Avalon.

• "I Dream of Jeannie" had a "sort-of-finale" that aired, strangely, as the penultimate episode on NBC. (Ooh, spoiler alert if concerned.) Jeannie blinks Major Nelson, Major Healey and another astronaut out of space orbit and into The Nelson living room, Doctor Bellows walks in and they have to finally confess the entire premise of the series to him. Bellows congratulates Nelson on his many clever excuses, and they agree he has to leave the space program--but it turns out to be a dream. At least the viewers got a what-if in the final season.

• Unless the show or film is really bad or the tech issue is too obvious (like when "Dark Shadows: had a crew member wave ONE tree branch along a rear car window to simulate movement), I could not care less about the limitations or necessities of making movie magic. People on social media often become stunned when they learn about offscreen "ghost singing" (most famously by Marni Nixon or Bill Lee) as if that's some sort of cheat, but we eagerly enjoy movies today filled with fill-in CG, looped dialogue and many of the same kind of enhancements that were necessary in the thirties, only done in much more slick and less detectable ways. Actors still use stand-ins, second units film scenes that don't use the actual casts and so on. That's how it's done. You're not always watching what you think you are watching, nor should you otherwise it's not a movie or a TV presentation, it's a behind-the-scenes documentary.

• Hitchcock movies are loaded with dated-looking process shots and rear screen projection scenes. His overcranked scenes don't play as well today (they remind me of The Munsters), but the other limitations can be quickly ignored because the rest of the elements are so well done. Janet Leigh isn't really driving a car in "Psycho" but her performance is thoroughly compelling in the driving scenes. It cannot be easy to steer, stare and think like that and make it work so well. (Fun fact: the reason the specific December date is given at the start of "Psycho" is because the second unit street scenes in Phoenix were accidentally filmed when there were Christmas decorations on the shops, so this was a way to explain why they were there. The film was released in September of 1960.)

Chris said...


In this interview, Hal Linden talks about how the 2nd & 3rd writing teams kept getting poached away for other shows. Can you relate, comment or regale us with something akin?

James said...

Friday question: A while ago, you posted the original script to MASH episode Out of Sight Out Of Mind. Unfortunately the link no longer works. Would you be able to repost this, or any of the other scripts you have written (for MASH or any other show)? Sincerely, an aspiring writer.