Late Night Talk Show Production
Late Night Talk Show Production
Robert Morton (Current E.P. of Mind of Mencia) gives expert video advice on: What does an Executive Producer do on a late night talk show?; What does the head writer do on a late night talk show?; What makes a great talk show director? and more...
What does an Executive Producer do on a late night talk show?
You need a producer, an executive producer, that really sees eye to eye with the talent. Part of my success is that I am very good at that. I know how to deal with the talent level. I get what you want, I get what you don't want, I know what will embarrass you, I know what won't embarrass you. So that's what I've always been really strong at. A lot of these producers, me included, when you don't see eye to eye with the talent, it's when you're not doing your job well and the relationship isn't that successful.
What does the head writer do on a late night talk show?
The relationship between the star and the head writer is also something that's very important. They have to be really in tandem. But then, the head writer also has to be strong enough to convince the star to try new things, otherwise they really grow stale.
What makes a great talk show director?
You need the director, Hall Gurnee who directed the Letterman show for many many years was like having another writter on staff. He knew how to get a visual joke, he knew how to stay on Letterman long enough to get the reaction and make the reaction a punchline. He knew how to get that shot of the magicians you know, prop when the magician is failing. He knew how to do that. You know they call it found comedy, and he was the master of it. he was truly the master of it, he knew how to shot remote pieces and get a reaction of sombody that was being interviewed, that saved an interview. You know, just a cut away shot of someone listening that could have been the funniest part of the show.
What makes a great late night talk show writer?
You need writers who, I think the biggest thing in late night writing is not how good they are in submitting a single piece of material, it's how good they are ten days later after writing jokes every night. You're looking for stamina, you're looking for longevity, and it's people that can write a good pilot; similar characteristics of sitcom writer. You need to say to these prospective writers, lets talk after show fifteen as it's hard, and that takes a very specific kind of talent.
What is the relationship between a late night host and his writing staff?
On most of these shoes, I know on Conan, Kimmel, Leno, and Letterman, the stars are more or less the managing editors. Everything goes through the star. We had 13-14 writers on the Letterman show, not because we had so much material on the show - if you look at the show there is not a lot of written material, but it was because to get to that quality Letterman would have to, and I know Jay does the same, they have to go through 10 pages of one-lined jokes for their monologue to get probably 5-6 jokes.
How does someone become a writer on a talk show?
It happens on a lot of levels. Probably the most common way is people who have worked their way from the bottom up. I've worked on a lot of shows where interns come in as college students and work on a show and they really understand what the point of view is, and they go: "Let me write some material." They might never have written, and for sure they've never written professionally in their life. They'll submit a piece of material and you go: "Wow, that's strong," and you'll make that person a writer. The other obvious way is unsolicited submissions, which we didn't read for legal reasons that much but if they have got lawyers or agents to submit, that was always a good way to do it. We always had joke writers. All of these shows have joke writers, so we often go to stand up comics who know how to write a joke, as a great source for hiring writers. On the Mencia show, we have several stand up comics working on that show.
When are late night talk shows taped?
The late night shows are mostly taped in the early evening: between the hours of five theory and six thirty. I think Leno tapes his show at 4:30, if I'm not mistaken. Which I'm not crazy about. I like to do the taping a little later. On the Mencia show, we tape at 7:30-8:00, which is great, because it just has a whole different feel, especially if you're doing shows out here. If you're doing a 5:30 show, people come right out of work, they're wearing their work clothes, and they drive to the show, and it's not a night out.
What does 'live to tape' mean?
Live to tape is if something happens, if something isn't right, you just go with it. It essentially has that danger and that energy of a live show. If a mistake is made, instead of stopping and redoing it, especially in front of a live audience, the audience has heard the joke already. What are you going to do? Are you going to redo the thing and expect to get a natural reaction? I'm not a big fan of it.
Are late night talk shows edited before they're broadcast?
Talk shows are mostly done live to tape, and the minor editing that's done on those shows is usually to bring a show to time if they run long or sometimes short, but the bulk of editing is done for that. Then there are language edits, such as bleeping. But I like doing live to tape.
What hidden role does the band play on late night talk shows?
You might only hear fifteen seconds - not even, maybe 10 seconds - coming back from every commercial break, a little bit of the band. On those shows, that band is playing that two and half minutes, four minutes, whatever break it is, so the host is sitting there listening to that music. Aside from the part that it plays on air of giving a sound, it creates an energy. It creates some sort of feel in the room that all contributes to the tone of the show.