Friday, April 08, 2022

Friday Questions

Okay, are you ready for some REAL Friday Questions this week?

Dana King starts us off.

The Beloved Spouse and I are working our way through FRASIER and a question comes to mind: did John Mahoney ever have any discomfort from having to limp all the time? Did he have any artificial assistance, such as a stiff brace? Did he ever ask for Martin to get better so he didn't have to do it anymore? He looks genuinely uncomfortable sometimes.

To my knowledge he wasn’t uncomfortable, or if he was he never complained about it.  We also never had him walk too far.  John was just an exceptional actor.  I can’t tell you how much I miss him.  Watching the reruns now is a little bittersweet.  

I was at a FRASIER fundraiser recently with David Hyde Pierce and Peri Gilpin and it was the first thing we all talked about.  It was an honor to write for him and direct him.   

JS asks:

I've been watching mini-series lately - "The Dropout" and "Super-Pumped". Both are really good. My question, money aside, would you rather write for a mini-series or a tv show? If I were a writer, I would like a mini-series because there is a beginning and an end and it's up to me to tell the story inside those parameters. On a tv show, it is open-ended and it seems much harder but you can be more creative? Especially if it's not based on a true story.

You’re right.  Both have their advantages.  I guess it would depend on the project itself — does it want to be completed in six or eight episodes, or could it be open-ended?  

One thing about a series — if it is successful there’s more money and more security.  

But at this stage of my career, if I have a choice between doing a limited series with no interference or a regular series with a blizzard of notes, I’ll take the limited series even if it’s way less money.

From Doug Cox:

My question is about breaking stories. You've written several blog entries over the years. I particularly liked the 2014 one about how, on MASH, you resolved the heavy story last.

What I don't understand is how the heck you can learn to break stories without having to break stories as part of your job. I'm never going to be in a writer's room and watch as writers break stories, which must be the best way to learn. Are there other ways to learn?

Yes.  Watch episodes of shows that are well structured and make outlines of those episodes.  Eight to ten pages.  Study them. Scene by scene:  What happens?  Why? What are they trying to achieve in each scene?  How many scenes are there?  Does each scene move the story forward?  Even include a joke or two that helped move the scene along.  

Do that for eight or ten episodes and see if patterns emerge.  That’s how David Isaacs and I initially learned storytelling.  And now that shows are streamed it’s easier than ever to watch entire runs of the series.  It's a whole lot cheaper than graduate school. 

And finally, from Blinky:

Here’s a Friday question that’s been on my mind for a while. I’ve taken a few screenwriting classes. It seems to me that most of the big movies that come out nowadays would get a grade of C on their screen plays. Would you agree with that assessment? And what does that say about what’s necessary to make a successful movie? Seems the script is the least important thing.

There still are some wonderful screenplays, but today they tend to be smaller independent or made-for-streaming-service movies.  

Screenplays are not as important in blockbusters and comic book studio movies.  In fact, the less nuanced and less dependent on dialogue the better because studios are focused on the global market.   Action scenes play just as well in France and Japan.  Sparkling dialogue -- not so much. 

Special effects and CGI are way more important to studio films, which explains movies like WONDER WOMAN 1984.  

I will say, however, that the Batman franchise generally seems to pay more attention to the screenplay than other super heroes.  

What’s your Friday Question? 


Michael said...

Friday question: I saw a BIG BANG THEORY blooper, where Jim Parsons stopped because he wasn't sure if he used correct word (pictures vs photos). Kaley Cuoco jokingly said "they can be called whatever you want". Parsons responded something liked "no, they worked hard on the words, I want to get them right". Do most actors you worked with have Parsons's attitude or Cuoco's?

Max said...

NOTE: I tried posting this before but the connection seemed to have timed out and I think I lost it, so I'm retyping. If this is a repeat, sorry... just delete!

The advice about "story breaking" is just what I needed to hear, Ken. I'm a writer (or consider myself one) and have my MFA in creative writing, have published multiple novels and short stories, yet I still feel that, of all the elements of story, my plotting is the weak link. I'm confident with dialogue and character voice, but always feel like my plots are not quite up to par. I'm going to look at a few favorite episodes of some shows this weekend and "break them down" per this post. THANK YOU as always for your blog, which I always enjoy, but especially for this today!

Michael said...

My father, who died just before Covid began, actually resembled John Mahoney a bit, and one episode really resonated: When Frasier takes everybody on a cruise. The running gag was Martin roaring by, saying something like, "Gotta go to the buffet." Here in Las Vegas, some of the hotels, including the ones closest to our home, aren't bringing back the buffets. My dad would be outside picketing. Gotta love Marty.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

The Guardian has a nice interview today with David Hyde Pierce, promoting JULIA:


BillS said...

John Mahoney was from Manchester. Did he have discomfort with Daphne's Dick Van Dyke style accent?

Chuck said...

Jane Leeves is from Essex, England. Was she doing an extra special accent as Daphne? Nothing like DVD's 'Orrible accent in Mary Poppins.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I had heard the story that John actually helped Jane learn her Manchester dialect.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Off Topic. Last night, just by accident I caught the new sitcom, "How We Roll." It was not funny. All the reviews I've read agree. This isn't an official F.Q., but how does a show like this get on the air? As I've asked before, is broadcast TV really that desperate?


Chris Riesbeck said...

I would imagine after forming some generalizations from good scripts, it would be worth doing the same thing with several episodes of shows that fail for you. There's a lot of things not to do that you won't even notice because the good shows don't do them.

Rob Greenberg said...

@mike Bloodworth, I thought the same thing. The pilot script was SO bad, I can't understand how it made through the pilot stage. And how does a showrunner (plus a comedian as star) sign of on any of these lines as 'good enough.'

JessyS said...

The good news is that "How We Roll" is dropping in the ratings hard. It lost 50% of its audience from the premiere. Seriously, all these idiots at the networks need to be replaced. I am sure that the pilot script was brilliant, but millions of network notes killed the project.

Dharma said...

Friday Question: What are your reasons for choosing not to answer certain Friday Questions that get asked? Lack of knowledge on the topic, taking offense at the question, a combination, or just plain ol’ lack of time and space?

Breadbaker said...

Friday question: do you have an opinion about Joe Davis, the Dodger announcer who succeeded Vin Scully and just got the Fox top MLB gig including the World Series? Did your paths ever cross? I assume you listen to him on Dodger broadcasts, but how do you think he'll do?

Sean from Liverpool said...

Jane Leeves is great, but her Manchester accent is, well, nothing like a Manchester accent.

Ken from Toronto said...

Friday question: There's a famous episode of Seinfeld "The Parking Garage" based on the characters wandering through a garage for hours looking for Kramer's car. The joke at the end happens when they can't get the car to start. As it turns out the scene wasn't written that way and they were just supposed to drive off, but the car actually wouldn't start. Everyone realized that this was the perfect ending, which happened completely by accident. The question for you - did you ever have a scene written one way but then something happens during filming that is completely unscripted, but also so hilarious that you just had to keep it because it was better than what you wrote?

mike schlesinger said...

Mike B: If you think "How We Roll" is bad, trying sitting through its also-new competition, "Welcome to Flatch," whose main character is the most obnoxious Dunning-Kruger case ever to disgrace network television. (Most of the other characters are just timid nerds.) This must be what Bill Maher means by "alternative comedy."

JS said...

My Friday Question - who is "Up and Coming"? I called Kyle Chandler early after "Homefront". I keep looking -I just haven't seen a break-out.

maxdebryn said...

@mike schlesinger - "Flatch" is apparently an American re-do of a British sitcom called "This Country"

Rob Greenberg said...

@mike Schlesinger. I couldn't finish the 'Flatch' pilot. Then I read a review and found out FOX released the first 7 episodes on HULU immediately (a first for network TV show). And probably for this very reason... the review noted the show kicks in at episode 6. I checked out both six and seven, and they were actually funny. Yes, it's another mockumentary clone, but at least funnier than 'Abbott Elementary'.

mike schlesinger said...

Max: Yes, I know, but it can't possibly be worse than this. And Rob, I don't get the "Abbott" love at all--every high school cliché PLUS the totally worn-out mock-doc format. People can rip on "Call Me Kat" all they want, but at least it's funny and has a cast full of pros who can sell a joke like nobody's business.

Neal said...

Friday question from a first-time commenter (long-time reader): As a lover of both Cheers and Frasier, I love the callbacks to Cheers, which were too few in my opinion. I got a huge thrill when I realized that the actress for the character Frasier goes out with in your Frasier season 11 episode Miss Right Now is the same that he almost marries on a rebound from Diane way back in Season 4 of Cheers. (I was not familiar with Oscar-nominated Jennifer Tilly at the time.) Was that role written to be the same actress, or was that just a bonus? Was there any talk about maybe making it literally the same character? I think that would have been a lot of fun.