Friday, July 02, 2021

Friday Questions

If you’re vaccinated, have a fun-filled 4th of July weekend.  For the first time in five years I feel good about being an American again.  Ready for Friday Questions?

Rod starts us off with an editing question.

Who has final say over which take is used? The Showrunner? When you direct an episode of a sitcom, and there are a couple of takes to choose from, has the showrunner ever chosen one of yours that you thought wasn't as good as another? Or even added canned laughter when you thought there shouldn't be any? Do you, as director, get to see the final edit, with laughs, before it airs and offer an opinion? Or are you just a gun for hire, and after the filming, your job is over?

The show runner has the final say in all of these matters.  As a director, you receive a first cut from the editor, before the show runner receives it.  The editor makes your changes and then it’s out of your hands.  If the show runner wants to put something back in he can.  

Often times shows come in long and things have to be cut.   As a director who has also been a show runner, I anticipate some of the cuts and cover them in such a way that they’re easy to lift.   In other words, if everything is in say a master and you want to cut out three lines in the middle, you can’t because the picture will jump.  But if you have coverage and the section you want to lose is isolated, it’s easy to remove it seamlessly.  

But lots of TV directors don’t do that.  And as a show runner it would often drive me crazy that I’d want to make an obvious cut and we had to pull all kinds of tricks to get it because there wasn’t sufficient coverage.  It’s actually one of the reasons why I became a director.

From Cd1515:

Hi Ken, went by an old MASH the other day and the “written by” credits listed two names I’ve literally never seen before or since.

It doesn’t matter who they were, but I was curious: in the writing world, are there the equivalent of one-hit wonders, people who somehow got one thing on a show the size of MASH but never did anything ever again?

I think that happened more in the past because shows back then had small staffs and relied way more on freelance writers.

And yes, there are any number of freelance writers who somehow broke in (usually via an impressive spec script) and got an assignment or two, didn’t deliver, and went on to other careers.

It’s one thing to get a break; it’s another to deliver once you get that break.  

DyHrdMET queries:

How do writers write in noticeable facial reactions of characters into the script? Or don't they? For example, I'm watching the CHEERS pilot, and seeing Diane's reactions as she meets each character (especially her reaction to the joke "Is there an Ernie Pantusso here? That's you, Coach. Speaking." as she learns his name and we learn a bit about Coach). Where do those reactions get created?

Most of the time reactions are not written into the script.  That’s left to the actor.  As it should be.  

If there’s an ambiguity of how an actor should react to some piece of information, the writer might suggest something like “Diane is horrified,” but better to do that very sparingly.  

Something David and I did a lot in scripts based on what we saw on MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW scripts, is end a scene with (hopefully) a big joke and say “SAM REACTS AS WE:  DISSOLVE TO:”  He'll react however he reacts.

And finally, from James:

I know it's trivial but I'm curious. A few TV shows, namely All in the Family and Cheers, had a big voice-over that said this show "was filmed before a live studio audience." Most shows did not. Why did the Charles Brothers think it was important to put that announcement in, particularly at the beginning of the show? How many people in the audience know or care?

We did that simply because people were complaining that we were leaning too hard on the laugh machine, and we wanted the viewers to know that the laughs were legitimate.   There really was an audience laughing.

What’s your Friday Question?  Have fun but be safe this weekend.


Matt said...

Friday question?

What’s coverage?

Anthony said...

Since Glen & Les Charles always got credit for the creation of Frasier Crane at the end of each "Frasier" episode, I've always wondered - when a "Cheers" regular did a guest shot on "Frasier", did the Charles Brothers and/or Jim Burrows have to sign off the use of those characters? I would imagine since "Frasier" was using the name and likeness of those characters that their original creators would need to provide permission (even if it was just a mere formality).

Steve in Toronto said...

Hey Matt...

Coverage is the term used to describe how the cameras cover a scene. In a multi-camera set-up 1 might stay wide, 2 will stay tighter on the principal characters in the scene (whoever has the most dialogue), 3 and 4 might be grabbing singles (medium close-ups) of other characters' reactions. There are myriad ways of covering a scene - depending on the set, how many characters there are, how much movement there is, etc.

When you have good coverage of a scene, in the editing you can build pace, find a great laugh in one character's facial reaction, draw the audience's attention to a critical bit of information, cut out the lines that don't work... in sitcoms shot with a live audience, where scenes are generally shot twice in a row, you can also combine the best performances from each quite seamlessly.

Directing multi-camera shows is like being a brilliant air-traffic controller - Ken's mentor Jim Burrows is one of the all-time masters.

tb said...

We've all seen successful, long running shows make big mistakes in an attempt to "shake things up". Whether it's a new character that doesn't work, or a new locale, or baby or whatever. Some shows never recover. So my Friday question is, what would you say to the writers of a successful show that are thinking of "shaking things up"?

bmfc1 said...

There's a sitcom on CBS called "The Neighborhood". It's popular, funny and well-acted. The guy who created the show and was the Showrunner was forced out of his job by CBS due to allegations of a toxic workplace (which he denied). It was his show and now CBS installed a new Showrunner. This seems wrong but hopefully, he still has a piece of the action.

maxdebryn said...

"Showrunner, cancelculture is after you/ showrunner, if they catch you then you're through"

Mike Bloodworth said...

I thought people became directors because their acting careers went in to the fecal receptacle. Could be true with writers as well.

Brian said...

Those Shelly Long expressions were priceless.

Jahn Ghalt said...

For the first time in five years (Ken feels) good about being an American again.



Right - never mind.

I must say, however, that I try not to give ANY political leader THAT KIND OF POWER.

(requires a LOT of changing the channel and pressing the mute switch)

Jahn Ghalt said...

How do writers write in noticeable facial reactions of characters

In the many commentaries on Mad Men DVD's Matt Weiner often mentioned stage directions in their shooting scripts. Not only that he, as a "former actor" would perform demonstrations - perhaps the most notable was to perform Zu Bisou Bisou before the rehearsal.

He also often mentioned "actor's magic" - how very surprising it looked to see his hand-picked cast put his writing on its feet.

Jahn Galt said...

what would you say to the writers of a successful show that are thinking of "shaking things up"?

Before this question was posed, I flashed on the idea that the "suits" would "think of shaking things up".

Is THIS more likely? And how does a showrunner resist such a "thought"??

David Agnew said...

Although I'm not able specifically to comment on the two MASH writers who were supposed to be one-hit wonders, not all these now-you-see-them-now-you-don't scribes may have had such short careers. I was watching the RoboCop TV series (I know, I know...), and one episode was written by the one-hit partnership of Blazes Boylan and Ted Harris. Given that Blazes Boylan is a character in Joyce's Odyssey, ah well...

Reminds me of the case when Doctor Who's script editor Robert Holmes script edited Terrance Dicks' (his own predecessor's in the post) text beyond all recognition, Dicks denied authorship and asked that it should be credited to a suitably bland pseudonym. Holmes complied, and the transmitted serial was The Brain of Morbius by Robin Bland.

71dude said...

What are familiar, long-running shows that you've never seen (disinterest, don't like the star, never got around to it, etc.)?

Jorge González Belmar said...

The part about showrunners having the final say in the cut reminded me of how Tarantino directed his one episode of ER. Since apparently he was directing TV for the first time, he noticed how things were run and decided that the best course of action to get the episode mostly how he wanted it to be was to only shoot each scene once. So they rehearsed the shots a lot and just shot it when he thought it was right.
The episode itself is good, but I wouldn't have guessed that he directed it if it were not for the credit, since he managed to fit into what had already been done during that first season.

SummitCityScribe said...

After seeing those pics of Shelley Long in today's post, I couldn't resist giving a shout-out to a terrific comedienne who also happens to be from my hometown, the Summit City. Shelley, you're the tops!

Janet said...

Ken, for an FQ: I'm not sure if you've covered this in-depth before, but both from the scriptwriter perspective, as well as the actors', how does the union deal with residuals, etc., on older series which today may be run ad nauseam on streaming services, given that streaming didn't even exist when contracts were drawn up for those series?

Or are folk just SOL?



DyHrdMET said...

I have to say, in response to my question and your answer, that Shelley Long had some fantastic facial reactions in the CHEERS pilot and maybe it helped to set the tone for the characters.
Thanks for answering.

Kosmo13 said...

>>> perhaps the most notable was to perform Zu Bisou Bisou before the rehearsal.

Zu Bisou Bisou: that's the title of the song? All these years I thought she was singing about the kids show 'Zoobilee Zoo.'

Ere I Saw Elba said...

I feel like being a show runner is sort of like being Speaker of the House--lots of high-pressure work and responsibility, very little glory. But the whole shebang couldn't run without them.

Cedricstudio said...

Friday Question: I'm a professional illustrator and I have a special fondness for the MASH episodes where Potter paints. It's obvious to me that the paintings were not all done by the same artist, and I'm guessing Harry Morgan did not actually paint any of them. I don't know if you had anything to do with the creation of those props but if so I'd LOVE to know any insights you could share. Who had the idea to make Potter an artist, and why? Did building a story around his paintings ever cause challenges? Who were the real artists? How much time did they have to create the paintings? Were duplicate/backup paintings created? Where did the art eventually wind up? (i.e. Were the paintings put into storage by the FOX? Given to cast members? Etc.)

Also, I read on a MASH fan site tha the paintings were mysteriously removed from walls of Potter's office for season 11. Do you have any idea why that change was made?

UPDATE: Before submitting my comment I did a bit of homework and learned that one of the paintings recently sold at auction for $16,250. The article says the artist is unknown but two copies were made and one went to the home of producer/writer John Rappaport. The page even has a link to a very hi-res scan of the painting:

I also found a MASH fan site where a commenter claims this about the painting of Potter's Thumb “...the artist was Robert A. Woolfe. Bob, a native of New England, was a veteran Hollywood studio artist and continued to paint until shortly before his death. He died November 1, 2004 at the age of 84.”