Friday, April 15, 2011

Happy birthday Liz Montgomery... and other stuff

You may think of this as Friday question day, or tax day, but it’s also Elizabeth Montgomery’s birthday… or at least would have been. God, I miss her.

William Gallagher starts us off:

What's it like for a showrunner when their show hasn't officially been cancelled but the star takes a role in a new pilot? I'm thinking of Kyle Bornheimer and Perfect Couples: could there be a case where the original show gets picked up for a new season and they can't get the cast back?

Usually it means the handwriting is on the wall. Not always but when actors are looking for other projects as back-ups, the sense is the show is not coming back. But the showrunners generally have that vibe already.

After ALMOST PERFECT was cancelled I was freelance directing for awhile. One show I did was on the bubble. The showrunner came to me with the numbers, trying to put a good spin on it, asking me what I thought. I said, “You don’t want to come to me. I know how this ends.” Sure enough….

Now when an actor from a show takes another pilot for the same network then it’s almost certain his original series is toast.

I find this amusing because in some cases the reason a show didn’t work is precisely because of a certain actor. And that actor gets cast in something else.

Lou H. has a question relating to my post on “Three-percenter” jokes.

It's interesting that the shows cited here that are heavy on the obscure jokes aren't filmed in front of live audiences. 30 ROCK, COMMUNITY, animated shows. Does having a live audience put any pressure on the writers to use broader jokes?

Absolutely. Without question. When you have a live audience your aim is to get big laughs. The jokes tend to be more structured as well. Set-ups and punch-lines. And the set-ups are the key. They must provide the necessary information to make the joke work. On single-camera shows you can just toss in one-liners and quips as afterthoughts. The viewer either has the information (understands the reference) or he doesn’t. But the joke is not held accountable. On multi-camera shows you have to really earn each laugh. People malign the form but in many ways it’s much harder to write a good funny multi-camera show.

From morgan:

Do you consider call-backs to the series own mythology to be in this genre or a separate thing (from obscure 3%er jokes) altogether?

If you’re able to do call-backs to previous episodes it means you’ve got a big hit show and a sizable portion of your audience will get the jokes. We did that on CHEERS a lot. There would be references throughout the last few years to Diane leaving Frasier at the alter, an event from season three. Off screen characters take on personalities after awhile, too. Vera from CHEERS. Maris from FRASIER. But again, the key, is you have to have a large enough fan base to justify it.

Earl Pomerantz, in his blog, once did a good article about SEINFELD and a wallet being discovered in the couch that had been lost weeks ago. He points out that these jokes are a big delight because they’re so unexpected, and that most sitcoms have amnesia when it comes to past events. That's true and a show's lore only evolves over time. 

And finally, Laurel has a CHEERS question.

In the last episode of series 5 of Cheers (I do and adieu) Sam and Diane don’t get married so that Diane can go and finish writing her book. In reality was the episode filmed exactly as it was broadcast or did you film a different ending in front of the live audience so that they wouldn’t know the real ending and the fact that Shelley Long was leaving the show?

I had a different answer originally but was informed by an astute reader that indeed there was one filmed where they got married that was only to throw people off the scent that Shelley wasn't coming back.  Honestly, I don't remember that.  I wasn't there the night they shot it.  Perhaps the memory lapse was because we knew she wasn't coming back so there was never any room discussion of how to proceed with Sam & Diane now married.   In many ways, the series got a shot in the arm with a new character (Rebecca) and gave us new stories.  But on the other, I think CHEERS lost a lot of its soul when Shelley left.

Gotta question? Lemme know.

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