Friday, May 13, 2011

How hard is it to write final episodes?

Hello from Cleveland, where the Mariners battle the Sons of the Wigwam. Broadcast time today is 4 PM PDT/7 PM EDT on 710 ESPN Seattle and MLB.COM. Meanwhile, it’s time for your questions and my answers. As always, thanks for contributing them.

DyHrdMET is up first:

I was watching the final episode of Family Ties (a great sitcom, even though I don't think you were involved in it) on TV.

Okay, I will acknowledge there were a few of those.

Lots of emotion in the story. Is it harder to write the final episode of a sitcom, which usually has a sense of closure, finality and/or emotion, than it is to write for a show during its prime?

It’s much harder to write the final episode because the expectations are so much higher. Audiences want to feel confident that their beloved characters get a nice sendoff.  They've almost become friends of the family.

Plus, in sitcoms, the convention is there never really is an ending.  Whatever the conclusion of a normal episode, there is the understanding that the saga will continue next week. Now, all of a sudden, it all comes to an end. How do you wrap that up to the fans’ satisfaction, your satisfaction as the creator, and have the ending not be so definitive that it hurts the syndication run. Remember, if your show is that successful, it should be around for years in reruns.

You'll have a larger audience that night so you need to be at your absolute best.  Best jokes, cleverest story turns.  You're really in the limelight. 

There is also an added pressure that sometimes now occurs. The networks try to get as much mileage from your finale as they can (i.e. sell as many spots for high fees) and often they will now ask for supersize episodes. And in a few cases (e.g. CHEERS, FRASIER, MASH, SEINFELD) that can mean as long as two-hours or even more. Your show has a rhythm for 30 minutes and now you have to expand it times four. The weight of that generally pulls down the show. That’s how I felt, quite honestly, about the last MASH. It was waaaaaay too long. Extra length didn’t help the SEINFELD swan song either.

My favorite final episodes were THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, NEWHART,and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. All three were standard half hours.

Now if you ask me my favorite last show EVER, it would be a radio show and it absolutely broke every rule imaginable. Lohman & Barkley were a morning team on KFWB, Los Angeles in the ‘60s. They were extremely funny. Lohman did a great number of voices and their show was populated with many hilarious recurring characters. KFWB changed formats to all-news and everyone was let go. On Lohman & Barkley’s last show they systematically killed each of their characters, offing them in the most gruesome ways. Now THAT’S a final show. (Of course six months later they resurfaced on KFI and all their characters magically returned to life.  Not easy to do once you've been -- for example -- buried alive. )

lucifervandross asks:

Netflix added Cheers and I have been watching it (in lieu of researching and writing my own specs to try and get work) and on the episode 'Little Sister dont'cha" Rhea Perlman plays Carla, and Carla's younger sister Annette. She is credited in the closing credits for this role. My questions is, was she paid twice? Once for portraying Carla (and her normal "starring" credit) and then another time for the guest appearance? I know it's trivial and silly and from 30 years ago, but I was just wondering how that sort of thing works... actually let me tie it in to the "now" Would Alec Baldwin be getting paid multiple times for his multiple portrayals on this weeks 30 rock?

To my knowledge, no. All in a week’s work. However, I think Andy Kaufman got paid separately for Latka and when he did his Tony Clifton character. One week, as Tony Clifton, he was a real asshole on the set so the producers fired him. But Kaufman, who was lovely, stayed. Weird, huh?

From Chris:

Why do episodes sometime air in a different order than the one they were shot in? (Wikipedia lists production codes and I'm assuming 101 is a pilot, 102 is the next one, etc).

Usually that’s the network's doing.  They juggle the episodes because they think one is stronger or weaker or more promotable. It can be maddening. I know ABC has done that to MODERN FAMILY where shows have run out of sequence. But the network feels the value of flip-flopping episodes outweighs the disruption of continuity.

It’s also why networks don’t want shows to have running storylines from week-to-week. It’s easier to shuffle around self-contained episodes.

And finally, from Naz:

How difficult is it to work product placement in a show?

Sitting here at my Apple Powerbook, enjoying a Pepsi, having just showered with Neutrogena and feeling really clean and refreshed, I can say it’s really not that hard. They key is being subtle, and making sure that whatever product you include -- whether visually or in dialogue – that it’s not random. That there’s a direct connection to the scene.

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