Friday Questions



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  • Friday Questions

    Celebrating Juneteenth with Friday Questions.

    Jon Weisman leads off:

    Was Diane's "Norman" after everyone shouts "Norm" originally scripted and then just carried on, or did it originate as a kind of ad-lib? It's such a nice touch and so Diane, and I've always wanted to know if there was an origin story.

    It was a Shelley ad lib originally and never put into the scripts. In her dialogue she would refer to Norm as Norman, but in the entrances she tossed that in on her own.

    Craig Gustafson wants to know:

    When writing a sitcom episode, how much trouble are tags? I just watched the "Dick Van Dyke Show" episode, "Obnoxious, Offensive, Egomaniac, Etc...", where they break into Alan Brady's office to retrieve a script littered with Alan Brady insults. It's one of the classic episodes (based on the writers' experiences writing obscenities into their "Joey Bishop Show" scripts) with a perfect ending. And then they had to come back for another two minutes, which were completely anti-climactic.

    Is this hard to maneuver around?

    Tags are a pain in the ass. They're only there to work around two commercial breaks. Usually we would try to callback something from the show and get a joke or two out of that, but I'd say 90% of sitcom tags can be lifted and you'd never miss them.

    On dramas, they sometime wrap things up. PERRY MASON tags always had someone say, "Perry, the thing I don't understand is...- He would then spell out the plot for the audience.

    But now most sitcoms have abandoned tags for the three-act structure. It used to be two-acts with the act break coming in the middle. Now the story is broken into thirds. Again, this is not because it's a better way of storytelling, it's because networks want to get in their commercials without losing too much audience. Considering the shorter time allowed for program content it's actually a worse structure for good storytelling.

    From marka:

    We watch shows where we see the joke coming from the first moment. We watch shows where we know how it's going to end two minutes in. We all have, I know.

    But why? Is it laziness on the part of the writers? Is it ignorance on their part, do they think they're writing great stuff? Is the head writer just wanting to get to the track so if enough words are on the script then he's outta here? Do none of them care?

    All of the above with the exception of the last one. Staff writers might care deeply, but if the showrunner is a hack, or has Laker tickets (remember when you could go to basketball games?), there's nothing they can do. Believe me, there are a lot of very frustrated staff writers and low-level producers working for lousy showrunners.

    But I must point out that we're talking about subpar shows. There are wonderful, passionate caring showrunners who are turning out amazing work and inspiring their staffs.

    I was so lucky in my career to work for showrunners who set incredibly high standards and produced shows I was proud to be associated with. They never settled and thanks to them, I learned never to settle as well. It was a gift.

    I apologize, but I lost the name of the reader who submitted this question. If it's you, please let me know and I'll update. Sorry about that.

    One of my favorite sitcoms happens to be Becker so it's great that you happened to have written and directed for it. Friday Question: What are your favorite episodes of Becker if you haven't already answered this question before?

    My sentimental favorite is "The Usual Suspects- because I thought it came out great and I wrote and directed it.

    My other favorite is also an episode I coincidentally directed. "Linda Quits- by Glenn Gers.

    What's your Friday Question?