How fitting to end the year with questions. What’s yours?
Matt starts with a follow-up question about the "how did we handle drinking on CHEERS" post:
Were the actors actually nursing beer?
They were drinking “near-beer”, 3.2 alcohol content, and it was warm. I don’t know George Wendt guzzled all that swill each week.
However, the Heinekens in the writers room were real.
At times I see sitcom episodes directed by cast members, which I presume is one of the "perks" of their contract. What's your experience been like in those situations? Are they looking for diversifying their resume in later years -- in other words, are they genuinely interested in directing as a future endeavor -- and do you assist them when they have to act in a scene?
Some actors are excellent directors. Three that I have worked with are Alan Alda, Kelsey Grammer, and Adam Arkin. There have been other times when actors have directed and the results have been, uh… “less than stellar”. In one case, and I won’t name the actor, anytime he directed it was bizarre. Normally he was the nicest guy in the world, but the minute he stepped onto the stage as the director he became a tyrant, even snapping at his fellow cast members. The next week he was just an actor again and went back to being the sweetest guy on the planet. How the rest of the cast didn't kill I do not know.
On multi-camera shows, when actors direct they pretty much leave all the camera blocking and technical stuff to the camera coordinator. And of course, if you’re blocking a scene without regard to just how you plan to shoot it, you may block it in such a way that is hard or impossible to shoot. Actors are too close to walls, upstaging each other, in spots where the camera can't find them, etc. Those camera blocking days can be total nightmares.
Kelsey was the only one I saw who really studied the cameras and participated in that aspect of the job.
Generally, when an actor directs an episode it’s one in which he’s very light. Some will ask for an objective eye like the first AD and others won’t. Of course actors in long-running series generally know their characters so well that they don’t need much guidance.
Do you know which actor was also a director? Someone I bet you wouldn’t expect. Nick Colasanto, the Coach on CHEERS. He directed tons of episodes of HAWAII 5-0 (the good version), COLUMBO, STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO, and even BONANZA.
I wonder if Ron Howard ever asked the producers of HAPPY DAYS if he could direct an episode and they told him to just stick to acting.
From Cedric Hohnstadt:
I'd love to know your thoughts, Ken: Is it possible to train yourself to be creatively "in the zone" when needed or is inspiration something that always strikes on its own random schedule?
If you write for television, especially on staff, you cannot afford to wait for the muse to come along and inspire you. You must train yourself to write on demand. Morning, night, late night, when you’re tired, have a cold, dealing with family issues, ducking a drug cartel – it makes no difference. You’re expected to be productive. This takes discipline, experience, and fear (I mean, “motivation”).
A large part of the job is being able to perform under pressure. During filming nights on multi-camera shows, when a joke bombs the writers quickly huddle and with the cast and crew waiting and two hundred people in the audience impatiently looking on, you’re expected to come up with that new killer line. You can’t say, “Let me go up to my cabin in Arrowhead for the weekend, pour myself some nice Swiss Miss, light a cozy fire, put on my “Pat Boone Sings Heavy Metal” CD, and work on it. I’ll have the joke for you on Monday.” You need it now. Just like the drug cartel.
Phillip B wonders:
Have you ever been approached -- or tempted - to work on an "unscripted" show?
I have an idea for an unscripted series. It’s one of those outdoorsman-type shows, where everyone wears hats and totes around rifles. HUNTING THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS. What do you think?
Happy New Year to everyone. Drive carefully tonight.