Friday, April 22, 2011

Why do stars take producing credits? Because they can.

Ready for some Good Friday questions?

Chris asks:

I've seen a lot of canceled (some good actually) shows that have their main star listed as an executive producer since the first season. Is there a connection?

Some stars are in a position to ask for and receive a producing credit. For show writer/creators this is sometimes the deal you have to make with the devil. A producing credit gives the actor more creative say. And depending on the actor, that can be a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve had good experiences with Alan Alda and Ray Romano. Both had terrific attitudes and contributed greatly to the development of their shows. There are many others. I hear Keifer Sutherland on 24 for one.

Some shows are better because of the star’s creative vision but they themselves are horrible people. Roseanne springs to mind. I don’t think her show would have been half as good without her input, but her writers are still having Viet Nam flashbacks.

From Cedric Hohnstadt:

I recently stumbled upon a YouTube video showing dozens of movie phone calls ending without the characters ever saying good-bye. They just hang up the phone.

There must be a valid reason writers continually script phone calls to end this way. Not being a writer myself I would think that saying good-bye would make a scene feel more real, but maybe that innocent little phrase somehow breaks the tension or flow of a scene? I'd love to know the explanation. Thanks.

Cedric, you’ve hit upon a personal pet peeve of mine. It never makes sense to me that characters don’t say goodbye. How much longer would it take to add one or two words?  Even in a crisis, Jack Bauer has time to say to Chloe, "See ya... unless you don't get me the coordinates and this dirty bomb blows up and we're all dead." 

I have the same pet peeve with “thank you”. So often characters will place a lunch order, or deal with a teller, or get a lift home and they never say “thank you”. Writers grumble when actors question the script but when they say “He just poured me a drink. Wouldn’t I thank him?” I side with the thesp.

In my scripts characters always say goodbye and thank you. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never won an Oscar.

VP81955 wonders:

Just saw a "Frasier" ep where Niles is wearing a pirate outfit...including a certain white shirt. Was this "Frasier's" riposte to the famed "Seinfeld" "puffy shirt" episode? In a larger sense, have you done many sitcom vs. sitcom in-jokes?

I can’t speak to the FRASIER episode because I didn’t write that one. But it is fun to occasionally slip in odes to other shows. On ALMOST PERFECT, anytime anyone was watching TV you heard the CHEERS theme.

This is maybe the most inside example of all. David and I created three series – MARY, BIG WAVE DAVE’S, and (with Robin Schiff) ALMOST PERFECT. None of them had a “last episode”. In all three cases we were hoping to make more. But had we been able to plan a final episode of ALMOST PERFECT, we were going to bring the characters from our other two shows and wrap up all three series at once. Eight people in America might have gotten it but that’s a small price to pay for closure.

And finally, from John, a question that will probably get me in trouble.

Good shows can have their occasional bad episode that for whatever reason, just doesn't gel right. Do you have any examples of the other way around -- a show that's generally bad or just blah that somehow comes up with a really good episode (and then drops back into badness/blahness again).

I know I'm spitting on the cross but that’s the way I feel about CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. For the most part I find it uneven and sometimes tiresome. But every so often an episode will just knock me on my ass. And that seems to happen enough that I keep watching. Brilliance is hard to come by and it’s worth sitting through weeks of Larry acting like a jerk because there’s no sandwich named after him.

What’s your question?

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