Friday, February 4, 2011

Did anyone get the license to that car?

To help get you in the mood for Super Bowl weekend, here are some Friday questions.

We start with Brad:

My favorite CHEERS mystery: Why did that station wagon drive by the bar every week for eleven years?

Seriously, almost every episode, a stock exterior shot was used with a station wagon passing by the bar while the same people walked by. The shot was also used at the beginning of the opening credits.

There are actually several establishing shots, but a sedan was used in the opening titles.   From time to time we would have a local Boston crew shoot new material. Winter shots, summer shots, night shots, takes where we push in to the bar, takes that are static, with and without traffic, with and without Michael Dukakis; that sort of thing.

We had a fan who was obsessed with these stock shots. He called himself “the Pineapple”. One day he sent to the producers a detailed eight-page hand written chart of which shot appeared in which show and how many times each stock shot appeared. I think he called himself “the Pineapple” instead of using a real name so we wouldn’t call the authorities.

Jen has a question about Sunday’s post on naming characters. Reader John had a similar question, but this is Jen’s:

When you use names of players in a group like that, do you have to clear those names with the players? Or is it okay to let it stand because it's only last names?

Do you ask your friends before using their names, or just assume they'll enjoy the wink and nod?

If the character is shown in a positive light we generally don’t seek permission from the person. But if we give the character unflattering traits and want to use a friend’s name, then yes, we'll clear it with him first. The idea is to salute someone, not use a national television show to embarrass him. I have seen writers do that as a form of revenge against someone they dislike and always thought it was bush league.

David and I were once looking for a name for a girl that Hawkeye once dated.  We took a break and went to a Dodger game.  The girl who threw out the first pitch was named Sandy Falcon.  We thought, "Hey, that works" so we used that.  I'm sure when Sandy Falcon watched the show she was completely floored.  

If you’re just using last names you rarely have to clear them. Unless maybe if the name was Hitler.

One year I was broadcasting for the Tidewater Tides and writing a CHEERS script on a plane flight. One of the players asked if I’d put his name in the script and I said sure. A few months later that episode was going into production and I got a call from the legal department. We couldn’t use that name because there was an actual baseball player who had that name. I said, “I know. I did it on purpose!” I think they still asked us to change it.

Anonymous has left a question on names (which I find somewhat ironic):

Was Lilith from Cheers named after the Lilith from Jewish mythology?

Not to my knowledge.

Ed wonders:

When you're developing a series how many scripts do you have ready to go when you begin putting together the cast? Watched some auditions on DVDs and it seemed like quite a bit of the dialogue was from deep into the first season.

Generally, you only write a pilot episode and the network determines which projects get greenlit based on those pilot scripts. Another brilliant Jeff Zucker innovation was that NBC required a couple of back-up episodes for every pilot. Yeah, it takes three scripts to determine whether a show is a piece of shit.

You begin casting by selecting sections of the pilot and having the actors audition using those. The trouble is, once you’ve heard a scene massacred thirty different ways you forget why you thought it worked it in the first place.

And since you now must bring several actors to the network for each role – even though they’re doing justice to the material – the network hears the same scene fifteen times and it starts sounding stale to them. So when they see the finished pilot they’re already tired of it.

So what we and a lot of other producers do is write new scenes specifically for audition purposes. That way the pilot scenes remain fresh. And it’s not uncommon, if the show gets picked up, to find a place for the audition scenes later in the season.

What’s your question?

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