Friday, July 8, 2011

My favorite Kirstie Alley scene

Taking time out today from preparing for tonight’s Mariners-Angel game (to be broadcast on 710 ESPN Seattle, and MLB.COM) and celebrating my wedding anniversary (love you, Deb) to answer your Friday questions… and provide a visual aid. 

Steve has a CHEERS question. I may have answered it already but it’s one I get a lot so for the sake of clarity, here it is again.

My Friday question, inspired by your discussing having written one of the early shows featuring the character of Rebecca Howe on Cheers: Can you explain what happened to her character over the course of the final seasons. She lost about 50 IQ points and became quite pathetic, whereas she started as a smart, tough, businesswoman (albeit with some quirks and vulnerabilities to leave room for comedy). Was this devolution just a function of trying to go for more comedy, or because the actress was better at more kooky material, or what?

Her change in personality seemed to be more drastic than most, so I've always wondered what the planning behind it was like.

The change came because Rebecca as the martinet just wasn’t funny. Kirstie Alley was game and it wasn’t her fault but the character as originally conceived just didn’t pop.

In one episode though, she had to fall apart for some reason and was hysterical. We realized that the more neurotic, insecure, and sexually frustrated she was – the funnier she was. So the character evolved in that direction.

Side note: One of the hardest tricks to pull off is being able to cry while still being funny. You have to feel for the character and still feel it’s okay to laugh. No one I’ve ever worked with is better at that than Kirstie. Here’s a excerpt from a CHEERS David Isaacs and I wrote called FINALLY. Kirstie is just brilliant in the last scene, making comics turns left and right.

Michael asks:

Is it common for comedy writers to switch between writing for sitcoms and late night talk shows? Did you ever have any interest in writing for a late night talk show?

It does happen frequently. Usually writers go from talk shows and just writing jokes and sketches to sitcoms, but there have been instances where it went the other way. Lots of terrific sitcom writers have used late night talk shows as a great training ground. And of course, it’s easier to make the transition when sitcom producers see you have credits like THE DAILY SHOW, LETTERMAN, JIMMY KIMMEL, etc.

Early in my career I wanted to write for SNL. But back then the show was more cutting edge and I was more receptive to drugs. I think it would be fun to write for THE DAILY SHOW, COLBERT REPORT, JIMMY KIMMEL, or maybe CONAN just to see how those shows work. I have zero desire to write for THE TONIGHT SHOW.

From DavidMB:

In last week's Leverage Eric Stoltz, a rather big-time actor, had a significant role that wasn't credited. When and why does this happen?

Usually when that happens the actor is just doing someone a favor. The sometime Catch-22 is that you want to capitalize on the stunt casting by heavily promoting the actor’s appearance and yet he wants to just slip in uncredited.

And finally, this from Caleb the Curious Cat:

Just a follow-up on residuals. We know you don't get diddily-squat on DVDs, but how does it work with syndication of a show you've written? For instance MASH and Cheers seem to be running continually now for what seems like forever and Volunteers pops up every now and again (and when it does, it runs a dozen or more times for about two weeks before disappearing again). Are residuals on a sliding scale payment-wise the further away from first run or are they constantly the same no matter the time span?

Yes, residuals are on a sliding scale. The WGA has a department that is supposed to monitor this. I get checks occasionally but honestly, I have no idea if I’m being short-changed. I imagine I am. Studios tend to do that. Frequently. All the time. Habitually.

Please leave your question in the comments section. Thanks.  And Go Mariners!

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