Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Questions

Friday Questions anybody?

MikeN leads off:

What's the shortest amount of time you've had to rewrite your material?

South Park writers say they had to rewrite their episode starting Tuesday 8PM for an episode that would air Wednesday. Major rewrite as the first version was centered around laughing at Hillary cheerleaders that Bill would now be first gentleman.

They have an unusual schedule on SOUTH PARK that allows them to really serve it while it’s hot. For sitcoms the editing and post production process takes several days at least and usually more like weeks. An editor normally needs a few days. Then he gets notes from the showrunner. Then he re-edits. Once the cut is approved the show has to be color-corrected, sound and music added, any effects, credits. You just can’t do all of that in a couple of hours.

But when we were on BIG WAVE DAVE’S we had very little lead-time. So we were filming a show on Tuesday and airing it the following Monday. Trust me, for a sitcom that’s blazing speed.

Barry wonders:

Ken, you mention in the podcast about presenting Pilot episodes as stage productions. I think this is a fascinating and exciting idea, and I wonder if you think the idea of a theatrical company producing old Pilots, old episodes of classic sitcoms, maybe even recreations of live radio dramas would work on an ongoing basis. 

Have you ever known a professional company doing this with success? Are TV scripts available for rental, and are the rights relatively easy to obtain? I think presenting the productions as if the audience were watching the taping of an episode - complete with warm-up guy, maybe even APPLAUSE signs, etc - would be hoot.

I don’t see why it wouldn’t work – if you select good pilots. Remember a lot of pilots didn’t get on the air because they just sucked.

I don't know any professional theatre companies doing this on a regular basis. 

The problem is not every pilot can easily adapt to the stage. There are set limitations and number-of-actor limitations at some small theatres. You have to be creative. When I directed our pilot, UNDER ANDREA for the stage I had to rely a lot of lighting to sell the different sets.

In case you’re interested, here is a video of that pilot.



You might get into rights issues. Some studios may be more willing to release their projects than others. Scripts are not available for rental however.

But when we did it at the Whitefire Theatre it was a big success. So it’s sure worth a try.

Another Mike -- Mike Moody queries:

Friday question: do you think the stark political divisions in the country (literally, each side has their own news at this point) makes it more difficult to produce a TV show designed to appeal to the country as a whole?

Yes, but appealing to the whole country is no longer a prerequisite in this day and age of niche programming. And you can get sizable numbers by taking a stand. Look at Colbert and SNL.

On the other side (of the aisle), there are those who feel LAST MAN STANDING was cancelled by ABC because of its clearly Republican sentiment.  I still believe it was money. 

But I worry that if you try to appeal to everybody you might end up appealing to nobody.  

What’s your Friday Question?


20 comments :

Brad Apling said...

I call this question "Where Everybody Knows Your Tune (almost)". Some shows have memorable tunes that people recognize instantly; others have to be Googled. Who decides the theme song for a series, any side input from the writers or showrunners, and what, in your opinion, makes one tune catchy enough that people hum it (almost having as much fame as the show itself) and another seems to fall off the radar?

Edward said...

Do you regret leaving M*A*S*H? Was the grass actually greener with the other opportunities in front of you at that time or in retrospect, was it a mistake?

David C said...

Hi Ken

A Friday question

I wrote a spec of Kimmy Schmidt a while ago and the newest season did some things very similar, joke setups, themes, in one case a specific plot point. It's not close enough for people to think I stole specifics just close enough that someone may see it as lazy if they were unaware of when it was written. I'm sure this sort of thing happens all the time. Should I make a note on my script to say it was written before the latest season or should I not say anything?

Thanks in advance.

David C

Pat Reeder said...

I have a friend who is a member of a troupe that stages productions of old radio scripts. They seem to be very well attended. Everyone loves to see a live sound effects person at work.

Re: the political polarization. I wrote a topical radio service for over 20 years and still write similar material for the Internet, which necessitates me reading and vetting real news for up to 12 hours a day. I hate the infestation of the Comedy Central style into late night. The entire field has been poisoned by smug prep school jerks in blue suits lecturing and hectoring viewers from behind a desk, as if they're actual news analysts (and idiots treat them as such), peppering their skin-deep grasp of current events with the occasional wacky analogy or selectively-edited video clip to make it pass as "humor." For years, I watched all those shows; now, Conan is about the only one I can stand. It's not because it offends my political beliefs. It offends me as a comedy writer because it sucks so badly. I recently watched a compilation on YouTube of Norm MacDonald Weekend Updates. He could still make me laugh more in 15 words than Colin Jost could in five minutes of arrogant condescension.

Carson Clark said...

I really enjoyed Marsha Mason as Martin Crane's girlfriend on Frasier. I've often wondered though, why was her time on the series limited to basically the last half of the 4th season and then two episodes in season five? The character seemed like a good foil for Frasier, Niles and Daphne.

Peter said...

Ken, I know you weren't keen on the new Twin Peaks but trust me and watch episodes 3 and 4 this Sunday. Episode 4 in particular will win you over. The scene with Michael Cera is hilarious and is exactly the kind of offbeat humour people loved in the original series.

There's also a wonderful cameo by David Duchovny returning as the transvestite agent Denise.

Andy Rose said...

@Pat Reeder: Couldn't agree more. Jon Stewart was usually funny, but also awfully overrated. Still, I'd happily watch a week's worth of old Daily Shows over a single Closer Look from Seth Myers. Both he and John Oliver are regular practioners of my least favorite substitute for a punchline: throwing in an absurd analogy that only draws laughs because it's accompanied by a strange visual. (At least Oliver is not as condescending as Myers... Seth is reaching heights of smugness not seen since Craig Kilborn.) I used to enjoy Colbert, but I think he's starting to get too comfortable in preaching to his choir.

I hate to be a Grumpy Old Man, but I'm having a hard time anymore finding any late night comedy show I can just sit and enjoy. Fallon and Corden are talented, but too cloying. Conan is okay, but I find the rehearsal outtakes he posts occasionally on YouTube to be funnier than most of his shows.

Dave said...

Friday Question, hoping it to be a full post :)

Why do you hate Seth Macfarlane really? He has made millions, surely he is talented for some to like him and his shows to make him so rich.

Mitchell Hundred said...

"Why do you hate Seth Macfarlane really? He has made millions, surely he is talented for some to like him and his shows to make him so rich."

I can't speak for anyone else, but in my opinion success is hardly an indicator of talent. There can be a connection between them, but it's not nearly as close as many people seem to think. And judging by the way Ken talks about certain popular trends in comedy writing, I would guess that he agrees. I'd also be willing to bet that he knows a number of unsuccessful writers who he considers to be talented, so the mere fact that someone succeeds in the industry is no guarantee of quality.

Al Leos said...

I've got a question about syndicated reruns. In the past, it seemed that every season local TV stations would add different series, dropping the ones that had been popular just a few years before. In contrast, it seems that when stations latch onto a successful rerun show (like "The Simpsons" or "Big Bang Theory") they air them for years on end. Am I accurate? And if I do, why is this?

Breadbaker said...

I can't recall if you have read Nick Hornby's Funny Girl. It concerns an unknown who wants to become the Lucille Ball of Britain in the Sixties, and how she achieves her dream, using luck and a good comic sense to land a sitcom on the BBC. Main characters are the producer-director, two writing partners who meet when both are arrested for trying to pick up men when on national service and the co-star with a fidelity issue. I've been listening to it as an audiobook and very much enjoying it. Really does a good job of getting into the creative process (with some dramatic license) and how even that early in the history of sitcom it was hard to avoid formulae and cliches. "Til Death Us Do Part" (the genesis of All in the Family) lurks in the background as the show that renders the more formulaic sitcom at the center of the book obsolete. I think you'd enjoy it.

Myles Warden said...

You have to rewrite it/punch it up. Jokes will play out, get used, plots will change, etc which affects specs and you generally have to punch them up every so often before they just expire completely. Specs of other shows have a built in expiration date but you can refresh them with rewrites.

Stephen said...

Al Leos said...
I've got a question about syndicated reruns. In the past, it seemed that every season local TV stations would add different series, dropping the ones that had been popular just a few years before. In contrast, it seems that when stations latch onto a successful rerun show (like "The Simpsons" or "Big Bang Theory") they air them for years on end. Am I accurate? And if I do, why is this?


A few months ago there was something in the paper out here (Los Angeles) about how I LOVE LUCY had been running continuously in LA since 1967. In other words, since 1967 there had not been a single week that LUCY had not been running on one of the LA TV stations. I'd love to have had even 1% of what CBS has made off that show over the years.

Matt said...

I think Ken has addressed this before and has said you should file your script with your union.

That Guy said...

Maybe it's worth remembering what a spec script is for. It's to prove you are worth hirning to write many episodes. Not just one. So if your episode is now not a good spec because it uses elements that have already been in the show or are otherwise overtaken by events... you need to write a new one. If you can't write a new episode that you consider something worth hiring over ... you aren't ready to write for a sitcom yet.

Ryan from Canada said...

Friday question: Baseball fan to baseball fan... Homer Jay Simpson of "The Simpsons" just got inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame... thoughts?

Diane D said...

The Pilot was hilarious! When I think of the pathetic writing on some of the current comedy shows, it's astonishing that something like this can get turned down.

Pseudonym said...

For those who don't know, DEAD PILOTS SOCIETY is now a podcast. They do table reads (which suits the podcast form better), but still have the audience.

If you listen to podcasts and you haven't discovered it yet, go subscribe now.

Toby O'B said...

If 'Brockmire' came calling, would you appear as yourself on the show [if there's another season?] Have you ever worked with any Jim Brockmire types in your broadcasting career?

MikeN said...

>Friday question: do you think the stark political divisions in the country ... makes it more difficult to produce a TV show designed to appeal to the country as a whole?

It makes it more difficult to make a TV show period. Telling a large part of the country that we don't like you and don't want you, means that they will return the favor. Cord cutting is perhaps inevitable, but it has accelerated with people realizing it is not worth paying $7 a month to left wingers at ESPN, which surveys found had its audience become markedly more liberal over the last two years.

Why does this matter? ESPN is what drives the cable landscape, with an insistence of being in the primary bundle of every cable company offering. If ESPN fails, which it will within four years because of cord cutting, then the entire concept of bundling of channels is at risk, with already several channels being put into tiers. ESPN sued Verizon over this.

This matters because many of the basic cable shows that people like would not have been made under the coming media landscape. Breaking Bad, The Americans, and many more were all made because the networks received money from people who don't watch their network.

Every cable subscriber pays $85 a year to ESPN, whether you watch or not. It is perhaps just $5 for the AMCs of the world. But that is hundreds of millions of dollars from people who don't watch AMC, giving them the security to take a risk on shows like Mad Men, which could just have easily have been Rubicon.