Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Ten years ago today

A new monthly tradition -- re-posting Friday Question from 10 years ago.  I've answered close to 4,000 FQ's but most are buried deep in the archives.  Since one or two are still worthy, I felt some were worth revisiting.  I think I've picked up a few new readers in ten years (to balance out the ones I've lost).  This was from July, 2012. 

Stephen starts us off:

What do you do with live studio audiences for new shows? I don't mean the pilot, but those first 4 or 5 (or more if it's debuting at midseason) episodes before the show premieres. How do you get them up to speed so that they understand the character humor? For example, was the live studio audience for episode 3 of Cheers made aware prior to taping of the circumstances that put Diane in the bar two episodes earlier?

A timely question since new shows are beginning to go into production right now. Usually, you’ll assemble a ten minute version of the pilot and screen it for the audience during the warm-up. And if there are key story elements the audience needs to know the warm-up guy will brief them.

But yes, certain jokes are not going to work because the audience doesn’t know the references. Yet, on the air, they might, and ultimately you're making the show for the television audience, not studio audience. 

A case in point was the Norm entrances. They bombed continuously until the series started to air. But we kept telling George Wendt not to worry about it. The audience didn’t know it was a running bit. Flash-forward to season eleven:  the minute George enters and says, "Afternoon, everybody" the place goes absolutely bonkers. 

A bigger problem is filling the bleachers with people who would watch this show anyway. Often groups have to be herded in. Imagine a busload of 90-year-old codgers filling the seats at WHITNEY. Or a group of high schoolers in the audience of HOT IN CLEVELAND.

Eventually, fans of a show will write in for tickets so by the end of the first season you can stack the house with ringers.

Mike has a question about the CHEERS spin-off, THE TORTELLIS.

Having never seen an episode, I was wondering: why do you think the show failed? Nick was one of my favorite recurring characters on Cheers. He lifted every episode he guested in. Do you think, though, he was best seen in small doses, and a whole show built around him was too much? Just what do you think happened here?

I may have told this story before, but David and I wrote an episode of THE TORTELLIS. We met with the Charles Brothers one afternoon to break a story. We spent all day trying to come up with an episode. Nothing seemed interesting. Finally, we decided to table the discussion until the next day. I asked Glen Charles, “What number episode is this?” He said, “Four.” And I said, “Four? We can’t come up with episode four? You are in shit shape with this show.”

And in truth they were. There was no real theme or premise. It was just a collection of characters living in Las Vegas. Add to that Nick & Loretta were fairly two-dimensional (funny as hell but two-dimensional) so it was hard to build a show around them. Compare that to spinning-off a far more fleshed-out and real character like Frasier Crane.

I remember there was a married couple who were writers on THE TORTELLIS. One day they got into an argument over a script they were writing for the show and it escalated to the point where they got divorced. They may have even come to blows. Over THE TORTELLIS. That’s when you know you’ve got a show in trouble.

From Artie:

I've been writing professionally in another creative medium for a couple years now, and thinking about trying my hand at writing for TV. One of the skills I've developed is the ability to fix or improve already existing work of other writers.

I hear about people in Hollywood who primarily work as "script doctors," and it seems like that tends to be part of a career as a more generative writer. My question is: Is that the kind of role that someone can legitimately use as an entry point?

Not to be blunt, but no. You don’t get script doctor jobs (“creative consultants”) until you’re a proven writer in your chosen genre. And unfortunately, those jobs are almost non-existent in today’s economy even for seasoned writers. Gone are the days a scribe could command a handsome fee for coming in one or two nights a week. Sigh.

But if editing is your gift I would suggest you explore entering the executive ranks. Networks and studios are filled with people who will graciously give script notes, whether they know shit or not. If you are truly good at fixing existing scripts you would be a real asset.

Johnny Walker asks:

How long do you spend a day (or week, if you don't work on it every day) on your blog? It's amazing to me that you keep coming up with fresh content!

Thanks.  It probably averages to an hour or so a day. Sometimes I’ll be inspired and bang out a couple posts at one sitting. Other times one post will take me all afternoon and then I'll still throw it away because it sucks. The hard part is coming up with topics. Once I latch onto a good topic I can write fairly quickly.  Sometimes. Occasionally.  Once last spring. 

And finally, from Susannahfromhungray:

Do you know if the character of Frasier's agent, Bebe Glazer, was named after Bebe Neuwirth?

I do know and the answer is no.


Mighty Hal said...

I love your archives! I'll bet I'm not the only one. When there's no new KL post or if I'm tired of the depressing state of the world today, I dig through your older posts. I'm currently enjoying your 2018 thoughts and revelations.

Andrew Morton said...

Hi Ken, a Friday questions. Do you know the story behind this picture that's been making the rounds on the internet?

N. Zakharenko said...

Last time you posted this (2012), a question from "Brooke McMaster" (in relation to your Script Doctor comments) requested how to break into TV comedy writing from Australia.

Here is an article a mere 6 years later (2018) where she describes herself as a "script doctor", whose work at that time included Universal Pictures, Lionsgate, and Paramount Pictures.

Ken, you say "You don’t get script doctor jobs... until you’re a proven writer"
Yet intriguingly in 2022 her IMDB page credits is totally blank.

ScarletNumber said...

I give Ken credit for coming up with daily topics. I could never do it.

N. Zakharenko said...

RE Andrew Morton's picture

A regular contributor to the comments page will go to bed tonight a happy man after seeing those bodies.

YEKIMI said...

If "Hot In Cleveland" had been filmed back in the early/mid 70s, there would have been one teenager in the audience....ME! I've always thought Valerie Bertinelli was a hottie. Never missed "One Day At A Time".

JS said...

I think "worthy" was a bad choice of words.

Mitch said...

Always love summer reruns. Helps you catch up for things you missed. But alas, I remember this post, guess I am a long time listener.

Keep it up! I don't know what I might have missed! Enjoy your summer, just repost!

But I do have a FQ: Why on talk shows do the hosts sit on the right, and guests on the left (at least on my TV screen)?


kent said...

I do remember most of this post but, then, I also enjoy watching reruns.

kent said...

You're not alone

VHS Village (Formerly The Beta Barn) said...

Friday Q
What is the unwritten rule for how writers are expected to interact with the stars of a show or film? What I mean is, when you're meeting the actors for the first time, especially if they're big names, are writers supposed to act deferentially or can you be relaxed and direct? Did you have to say "Mr Danson" or could you call him Ted, for example.

I can imagine someone like Roseanne or Jim Belushi having it written into their contracts that all new writers must appear starstruck when first meeting them.

mrdj said...

A Friday question. What's your old school take on this author's opinion of the showrunner crisis?

Curt with C said...

I was watching Better Call Saul and found it hilarious that a character on this show was watching the Albuquerque Isotopes since that team originated from a joke on a different show (the Simpsons which I think you might have been responsible for?).

It got me thinking of other jokes/plot points that because of being on a sitcom became part of the zeitgeist... Festivus... Office Olympics... Do you have any favorite examples? And do you get royalties on the Isotopes?

Curt Alliaume said...

Very esoteric Friday question. Before The Tortellis aired in 1987, the Charles Brothers produced another short-lived sitcom for NBC, All Is Forgiven which starred Bess Armstrong as a woman who was promoted to producer of a soap opera on the same day she got married. It was nine episodes and out, and I read at least once that the reason for the show's cancellation was so that the producers could focus on The Tortellis. I know you were working on Mary at that point, but do you have any background on that show and its subsequent cancellation?

Cowboy Surfer said...

3-week Wednesday request, since all the cool kids are watching BETTER CALL SAUL in somewhat real time. It would be great to get your review of the final three episodes.

Last week was wild and strange, nice seeing Carol Burnett. I'm hungry for mall dough...

And JOURNEY in a soundtrack always works for me. (See previous week)

Leighton said...

@ Zak

Read that excruciating article. I'm willing to bet that the IMDb bio/trivia is self-penned.

Andrew said...

On the topic of Better Call Saul, I am a big fan of the Mike Ehrmantraut style of addressing mistakes. Maybe that will become part of the zeitgeist.

"I opened my inbox, the emails were unanswered. That's all I know."
"I looked at the document, it was redlined. That's all I know."
"I opened the bill, it was unpaid. That's all I know."
"I went to the kitchen, the dishes were dirty. That's all I know."

Charles H Bryan said...

Connected to absolutely nothing, but I've fallen into watching the Frasier episodes on a nostalgia channel (I can never remember which is which), but my goodness that show is always a pleasure to watch.