Saturday, February 11, 2017

Phantom of the Oprah

This is one of the craziest rewrite nights I ever experienced. It was on WINGS. I was the Thursday night punch up guy. They had a two-parter called “The Gift.” Both episodes were written by the great David Angell. He was back east in New England writing the scripts. He sent us part one and continued to work on part two while part one was in production.

The plot was very complicated. Most of gang was rehearsing a community theater production – “Phantom of the Oprah” (that title always makes me laugh). And Joe mortgaged his house to buy Helen a cello for some reason. I think she was trying to get a job in an orchestra. You’ll understand why I’m not clear on the details.

David pretty much worked out the story himself. When he sent in part one we really didn’t know what was going to occur in part two. But we all trusted David so didn’t worry about it.

Unfortunately, when we got part one on its feet there were a lot of unforeseen problems. We walked back to the office resigned to a pretty long night. It happens. No matter how well you prepare there will always be one or two scripts a season that are just problematic. You roll up your sleeves, wrestle them to the ground and move on.

But there were extenuating circumstances here. There were story problems but we didn’t know what we could change because we didn’t know what was going to happen in part two. Are we lifting a beat that sets up something pivotal in the second part? Does a story fix screw up a similar scene later?

Of course, the first thing we tried to do was reach David Angell. But he wasn’t home. He was out for the evening. How did we exist before smart phones?

Meanwhile, we had to write something. The actors would be on the stage in twelve hours. Thus began the goofiest rewrite I’ve ever been in. Talk about flying blind.  This was the Rubix Cube of comedy.  I remember we pumped tons of jokes into it, hoping they might mask the iffy plot points.  I think eventually we just made changes we felt were necessary and David would have to adjust the remaining script accordingly.

That’s what he did. Part two worked better but along the way during that rewrite night there were a number of places we would have done something if we could have gone back and set it up in part one. But of course, by then part one was in the can.

It’s been years since I’ve seen those episodes but I seem to recall that somehow they all came together. But truly kids, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.

This is a re-post from four years ago.


John Hammes said...

The 1952 epic "Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla". No spoilers will be given, but the film's conclusion offers a lesson for us all, a classic example on how to tie up something, ANYTHING, when writers are at their wit's end to put together... well... something, ANYTHING.

Rick Wiedmayer said...

Friday Question.
When actors, directors, writers etc get paid residuals for their work, do their agents also get a percentage of this payment?

Janice C. said...

The entire run of WINGS is shown currently on HULU, with the exception of about 6 episodes. The Gift parts 1 & 2 happen to be two of the episodes that are not included. Any idea why a handful of episodes are left out for some series?

Boomska316 said...

To be honest I'm not sure those episodes needed to be made into a two parter. Rewatching them recently they kind of felt like two so-so plots artificially stretched out and then welded together to make two full episodes.

Daniel said...

As an outside observer it seems so odd that you would go into production on part one when part two wasn't even written and you didn't know what was going to happen. Why not wait until part two was finished before filming?

Unknown said...

Was this "Coach in Love?" Just asking 'cause I read the article this morning, and then when I watched two segments with lunch...which I sometimes do...that was it! Anyway, yes or no, this was a good duo.

That Guy said...

You can always spot the people who don't quite get the TV industry. On a weekly TV series, you need to write and get into production one episode per week. You can't say "Well, the writers don't have anything ready, the director and the crew and the actors should all stay home for a week" (unless you're Moonlighting). Part of the nature of the work is that you have to get something ready for air, on a regular basis.

Now it is possible for the writers to get a little bit ahead of the weekly schedule prior to filming. But that contingency is usually eaten up by later in the series. And The Gift Part One and Part two are the fifteenth and sixteenth episodes of a 22 episode series. So I would guess all contingencies were eaten up, plus guest stars had already been scheduled and hired to show up for parts one and two, meaning you needed to use them.

Kent said...

I was thinking along the same lines as Daniel. That it would be less problematic to have scripts for both halves of the two-parter completed and in hand before you started filming them.

Fiftyninth said...

No, agents don't commission residuals, just the original fees.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the comments that ask why Ken and David didn't just wait until they had both parts before they started filming: Even if a person is not in the business (I'm not), this blog post made it crystal clear that they HAD to start filming before they had part 2---that was the whole point of the post. It is truly not my intention to criticize; I am genuinely puzzled about how that could have been misunderstood. This happens so often that I actually believe we are losing the ability to communicate, and I would love to know why. I cannot tell you how often I am in a conversation with 3 or 4 people and I spend most of my time translating what they are saying to each other----TRANSLATING---and everyone is speaking the same language. I know I sound obnoxious, but I can't help it. I feel like I am in the twilight zone. Everyone seems to be speaking or hearing their own language.
Joe Blow

Wendy M. Grossman said...

On another topic...the Guardian yesterday had a great appreciation of Mel Brooks...or an appreciation of the great Mel Brooks, now 90:

Friday question: Ken, have you ever met or worked with him?