September 14, 1998
(compiled by Ian N., edited by Lisa Stevenson)
Q: Were scenes shot at the mall or other public locations done "live" or on a sound stage?
A: As with most shows, it was a mix of sound stage, back lot and practical location. It depended on expense and effectiveness; itís a lot more cost effective to go to an existing mall than to build one on a stage.
Q: It seems that most tv-- certainly sitcoms--are frequently shot with three cameras: close of A, close of B and cover. Film, in contrast, is generally based on a single-camera, with the scene being replayed. It also seems that the modus in 30+ was generally to get 2 cameras in a crossfire on two faces, where the cameras are jammed in so close to the actor's outside ear that you get the effect of a full-face shot, but the dialogue is shot uninterrupted. Is that right? If not, could you describe the camerawork setup for such a scene?
A: Youíve got it right in theory, but the practice is a little different. What youíre describing is commonly known as a set of overs in which one actor is featured while shooting "over" a part of the person theyíre talking to in order to keep them connected in the frame. Itís practically impossible to get both shots at the same time; youíd end up photographing the opposing camera and lighting equipment. So, you shoot everything you need in one direction first, letís say over Elliot to Michael, then move the camera and lights to come around and shoot over Elliot to Michael to get the other side of the scene. Cut them together and you have a conversation
Q: You stated that your script "undone" "didn't win you any friends among the women of the staff"--without having to plead the 5th, could you elaborate? It's always been one of my favorite episodes and as a woman I never remotely took offense at it.
A: My memory is that there were people who took exception to this woman showing up out of the past and being so unambiguous about what she was offering Michael...and that Michael was being more than a little naive about what she wanted. I knew what was going on and how far Michael would go, but Iím a guy and sometimes we can be pretty clueless about these things.
Q: About the visual effects in "michael writes a story": was the final product as you visualized it while you were writing the script? If things had to deviate from the script, how much of it was due to technical or budget constraints?
A: The effects are pretty much the way I scripted them, being a mix of optical tricks (the changing color of the dress) and practical in-the-camera effects (altering the lighting on Nancyís face as Michael changes the time and setting of the scene). What nobody ever got to see is the version of Elliotís death in which he takes the better part of a minute to die, going down, getting up, falling over chairs, getting up again, heading out the door, coming back, and finally expiring. This was in response to the original stage direction: "Elliot dies all over the place."
Q: Regarding the flashbacks of Gary in "fighting the cold", while one actually referred to an incident from "elliot's dad," others didn't seem to tie into specific episodes. Were those "flashback" outtakes that never made it into an episode, or written specifically for that episode?
A: Everything in "fighting the cold" was shot specifically for the episode. I really canít give you a reason why thereís only one specific reference to a previous show. In a strange way, we realized it was a "clip" show, but that we were creating clips from shows that never existed. Typical three-corner approach for us.
Q: In "legacy," Miles tells Michael one of his little teaching parables, about husband and wife and the mirror. Was there any particular source for that? Also, for the story of the two samurai facing each other from "michael writes a story"?
A: The trick to writing Miles is to come up with something that almost makes sense then give it to David Clennon who would say it with such authority people simply assumed it had to be logical. Case in point, the mirror speech in "legacy." As for the samurai story in "michael writes a story," I remember reading that somewhere, but for the life of me I canít quite pin it down. Thereís a good chance it comes out of Joseph Campbell somewhere, but the true source is lost in the more mushy parts of my brain.
Q: I recognize Ernie Kovacs' Nairobi Trio as the band at the party in "the haunting of d.a.a." Who were in the monkey suits? Anyone we'd know? (Kovacs sometimes used celebrity friends like Jack Lemmon).
A: I fear there is no one of any significance in those suits. But the question makes me kick myself; I should have gotten into one of the those outfits along with a couple of other writers. Speaking of "the haunting of d.a.a." the Marilyn Monroe who shares a cigarette with the similarly costumed Polly Draper is the same female impersonator who entertained in the drag bar in "the other shoe."
Q: Regarding the peculiar dynamic between Michael and Miles, would you say that Miles on some level desired Michael (not in a sexual sense). In "legacy," Miles tells Michael that he likes Hope very very much and talks about how we marry ourselves. Why does he like Michael (as opposed to Elliott)? When he was "educating" and grooming Michael as his successor, was he also hoping to (1) smother Steadman's naïve humanity and idealism or (2, less likely) possibly regain some of those things he lost long ago. Did he treat Karl Draconis the same way?
A: This isnít a question, itís two semesters of psychology! We could make some firm statements of Miles, but Miles is much better when youíre not all together sure of his motives. Without nailing him too much: Yes, he hoped Michael would rise to the occasion in ways Karl Draconis never did. He was more interested in Michael than Elliott because he knew Michael took the business much more seriously than Elliott did. I think he wasnít so much trying to smother Michael's humanity as he was hoping to temper it into something more usable to him. And, yes, there was something Miles lost or misplaced that he glimpsed in Michael. Exactly what? I leave that for the class to discuss.
Q: While all characters underwent a certain genesis in the course of four seasons, Ellyn seemed to almost evolve in reverse with her career fading far into the background by the end of the show. Could you sense any particular reason for that?
A: Ellyn was someone who, at one level, used work to avoid life issues. The natural growth for her was to let her come out from behind her job and work on her relationships and emotional life.
Q: Along the same lines, many felt that Hope went from being fairly sympathetic in the early going to being more strident and difficult in later seasons. Any overall reason for the direction her character took?
A: As Iíve said elsewhere, things get pretty weird as you move into the fourth season. Certainly, sheís reacting to whatís happening to Michael, but thatís more an excuse than a reason. Maybe we were all getting "more strident and difficult" as the series went on.
Q: What motivated the decision to have The Michael and Elliot company fail? Some fans feel they never had quite the same chemistry at DAA.
A: That sort of failure and the impact it has on the lives of characters is something, to my memory, that hadnít been tried on a television series. The real motivation for the change rests in the hearts of Ed and Marshall. I do know itís in keeping with how they looked at story development, which is "pull the rug out from under the characters and stories will suggest themselves." If you look at the two businesses objectively, youíll have to admit that DAA offered the wider world with more possibility of conflict.
Q: Is Gary's initial problem with responsibility (jokes about inability to even pronounce the word in early episodes) a comment on the profession? What values does he represent? Michael's choice to go into advertising is played off against Gary's choice to 'fight the good fight'--are we seeing some sort of acknowledgment of higher ground here? If so, why is Gary such a mess?
A: Youíre talking about choices that Ed and Marshall made about the characters long before I arrived on the scene. I donít want to put a pin in anybody's theory, but I think the connection between career and commitment here is pretty thin if not absent.
Q: I notice from the interview that you project Michael as a teacher of creative writing at a community college--is this because it is what Michael should have been doing all along? In sum, what does this show imply about the value of higher education to that society?
A: I donít think thereís a writer worth his or her salt who wonít tell you the best thing in the world you can be is a teacher. I thought Michael would like teaching...almost as much as he likes writing. I wasnít aware of a party line toward education other than the standard one that lives in the heart of all writers which is that itís the only thing between us and chaos.
Q: In the episode "our wedding," Gary's spirit told Michael that Melissa would marry Lee and have a great kid. Was there talk of bringing Corey Parker (Lee) back to the show and making this happen before the final exit? Life after "thirtysomething"
A: I donít know about Corey Parker, but Iíll tell you, for my money, I wish the ghost of Gary had kept his mouth shut.
Q: Is there any possibility that thirtysomething tapes would be available for mass market? Who would hold the rights and control such a decision?
A: I would love to see the complete episodes come out on cassette or laser or something. Seems to me we could sell as many as "The Green Acres" collection. I suppose some rights would reside with The Bedford Falls Company, but the bulk of them would be with MGM/UA Television...and I donít know how much of that company still exists. I will say that if anybody wanted to make a couple of phone calls or send a couple of e-mails to let the powers that be know thereís interest in owning unedited copies of the shows it couldnít hurt. You guys should see these things remastered and cut the way we originally made them.
Q: If there wasn't a reunion actually planned at the time, why would you say the series ender was left so open-ended?
A: Specifically at the request of MGM/UA who didnít want to series to end.
Q:· There is a great deal of interest among the fans in a reunion. Is there an address where they can contact either Mr. Herskovitz or Mr. Zwick to voice their support for the idea?
A: I donít have a current address for The Bedford Falls Company, but itís still a viable concern. A few minutes with a search engine should do the trick.
Q:· It's rumored that Ken Olin has been resistant to a reunion show, while the rest of the cast (when asked) has expressed interest in the idea.
A: On this one I live in complete ignorance.
Q:· Could you talk some about "Hyperion Bay," your new show for the WB network?
A:Itís about work and growing up and figuring out how to be a human being. What Iím trying to do is see if thereís room for my kind of storytelling on the current television landscape. Somedays I feel like Iím bucking the tide big time as I face a great deal of pressure to make the show more conventional, more WB. Itís not "Buffy," but I figure they didnít hire me to do "Buffy."
I think anybody who liked "thirtysomething" will find the new show a comfortable fit. That said, itís not "thirtysomething," although youíll recognize the genetic material...including a character at the edges who seems to have gone to the Miles Drentell school of management and motivation.
If you watch it and you like it, please tell people about it. The WB is still a small and growing concern and as such they are more sensitive to audience response. To a certain extent they feel theyíre taking a chance with me and my show so if you think Iím on the right track, Iíd appreciate it if you let them know, electronically or otherwise. If you hate it, well, thereís always "Everybody Loves Raymond."
For the record, "Hyperion Bay" premieres on the WB Monday, Sept. 21 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.
Q:· Could you briefly explain the process by which the rights to certain songs are governed? It's a common frustration among fans that the original music on the show is being slowly replaced by more "generic" tunes which are presumably cheaper somehow.
A: When you drop a song into a show these days, the studio usually makes you require the rights for good and all. Whatís happening to "thirtysomething" is that shorter licenses were purchased and they are now starting to run out. I havenít experienced any of these generic cues, but Iíve heard some horror stories. I dread tuning in and finding some scene of mine suddenly underscored by "Turkey in the Straw."
Q:· For how long does Lifetime own the rights to "thirtysomething" (or how could one find that out)?
A: Youíd have to check with Lifetime about that.
Behind the scenes:
Q:· How long did it typically take you to pen an episode?
A. With a fair wind, three weeks for a first draft. At least for me.
Q:· How big -- and how detailed -- of an outline, if any, did the core writers have for a particular season?
A: After year one, which Iím told was pretty ad hoc, there was a general sense of the broad arcs in place before the beginning of each season.
Q:· How involved were The Big Two (Herskovitz-Zwick) in the daily process of the show?
A: Ed and Marshall, either separately or together, were aware of every aspect of every show at every level of production.
Q:· How much input (if any) did the writers or directors have in choosing musical direction for specific episodes - how closely did they work with W.G Snuffy Walden and Stewart Levin?
A: Thanks to the freedom Ed and Marshall gave the writers, we were often able to work with the directors and the supervising producers, sitting in with the composers during "spotting sessions" at which the unscored show is viewed and music is discussed.
Q:· I'm sure some writers took more of an affinity to certain characters in the show, but what character did you think you understood the best and felt most comfortable writing for? Did the other writers have characters they particularly gravitated to, such that a "Hope script" would necessarily go to Liberty Godshall or Susan Shilliday, for example?
A: There was a certain gravitational shake out. Thatís one of the reasons I always seemed to end up with the business shows; it was a strong area for me. I liked them all, some were more fun, some were more rewarding. Elliott ended up with the longest journey and I really liked writing him as he worked on his life once Nancy got sick. Miles was always fun as was Ellyn.
Q:· Were there ever scripts written, but not filmed; scenes (or entire episodes) filmed, but not used; storylines suggested, but not followed, etc? (For example, it was stated in the Playboy interview that there was a controversial scene involving Elliot's character dealing with the frustration of his divorce that was filmed but never used.)
A: Iím aware of no complete script being discarded. Some were extensively re- written, but none thrown all together. There are any number of lifted scenes floating out there in the vaults (Sounds like good added value material for a laser disk or DVD, donít you think?)
Personal for JD:
Q:· How many hours do you usually write each day (question taken from volume one of "The Top Most Over-Asked Questions To Writers")?
A: I can usually count on about three hours a day before I start grinding metal.
Q:· If you could write an episode of *any* show, past or present, what would you choose?
Q: What a cool question. "The Twilight Zone" "The Dick Van Dyke Show" "The Outer Limits" (in its original incarnation) "The Courtship of Eddieís Father" "Get Smart" "He and She" "The Prisoner"
A:· Understandably your schedule will be packed now that "Hyperion Bay" has been picked up for the fall, but would you be willing to meet sometime for a moderated online chat with the "thirtysomething" fans?
A: Sure. Itís just a schedule thing.
Q:· A purely personal question: you mentioned going to movie matinees at the Westbury Theater on Post Avenue. There used to be a "pizza place" down the block that served that best Sicilian pizza in the world, but I can't remember the name--any personal recollections of it?
A: Are you thinking of the one sort of across the street from the Ford dealer? Usually I got my pizza from the place that used to be called Frankís, up a couple of blocks from the train station.
Plumbing the recessesÖ
Q:· I have question concerning thirtysomething. In one of your shows one of the female cast members was having a boxing match with herself, and Timothy Busfield was being the announcer. Who was this female? I say it was Melanie Mayron and my friend says it was Mel Harris. Can tell which one it was, and which show it was? I hope you can help.
[It was Melanie Mayron from the episode "fathers and lovers." I think it could be forwarded back to the questioner without having to go through JD. ĖLisa]
Q:· Who played Emma and Baby Leo (names were never given in the credits)?
[Probability is that JD has absolutely no idea after ten years. ĖLisa]
A: On this I am indeed clueless.