Who owns a show?

The commerce side of improv - keeping it viable & solvent and saving the chaos for the stage.

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Postby Mike » September 7th, 2012, 1:40 am

kbadr wrote:
I am curious how Second City handles the characters and sketches thing. I am pretty sure that performers still own the characters. Didn't PeeWee Herman come out of a Groundlings show? Didn't Martin Short play Ed Grimley on SCTV, and then SNL later?


I know that whenever Pee Wee Herman is talked about they do give the history of the character being created as a Groundling show idea. He put on several shows ( Like a main stage I'd guess) before getting an HBO special, then moving up to the Networks. But I'd assume the character is his and his alone. The Groundlings gave him a stage to perform on but he did the leg work to get it to Saturday AM tv.

And I would guess most if not all the SNL folks brought their sketch/Improv characters to the show with them. Hell, if I were recruited, I'd drag Uncle Sweaty and Insane Brando with me, even though they debuted on the Hideout stage.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » September 7th, 2012, 1:55 am

Brad Hawkins wrote: but if I were to go somewhere where there is no concept of right and wrong, like LA, it'd all be gravy, baby.


there's a reason they're called "cheap" shots...
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Postby jillybee72 » September 7th, 2012, 2:08 am

The funny thing is, you can copyright the names of games but not the games. One time I saw a rip-off ComedySportz that played THE PENTATHALON instead of Five Things.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » September 7th, 2012, 2:45 am

"All right, ladies and gentlemen, we're going to play Novelty Selection now!"
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Postby shando » September 7th, 2012, 9:42 am

I'll chime in as Gnap! has probably had the most experience with this, both booking outside shows for our programming and then also bequeathing some shows we cooked up out into the larger community. I would like to echo the general sentiment voiced here of don't be a dick, and also to say that I really like Val's call for people to be original.

Each case is unique of course and it's all about communication. For me it comes down to what is the reality of this thing you're doing when it's not on stage at my theater. It's complicated in improv because of the easy blurring between 'show' and 'troupe.' Show's we've programmed like PIP, The Professor, Ratgirls, and Your Terrific Neighbors were all independent entities that I approached to do a show at SVT. In my mind, if they wanted to pick up their act and program it elsewhere, even if it's the exact same show, I feel I have no say in the matter. They have their own internal infrastructure, casting process, etc. that I wasn't involved in, so go to it.

Then there are shows we put together. We have a company so it's maybe a little easier to make sure people's allegiances are to Gnap! when the show they pitched gets produced or when I ask a person to direct a show that was a good idea but which had no director attached to begin with (This American LIVE and Posies were that way). But, unlike a production of a scripted show by a theater company, where it would be really weird for the cast of the play to decide they wanted to collectively remount the play without the original producer being involved, improv is pretty portable and it's fairly easy to turn a 'show' into a 'troupe.' This has happened a couple times with us, one with False Matters where we all liked playing with each other so much that we decided to stay together after our run last spring. That one was easy though since I was both the producer and the director of the show, and False Matters the troupe is still really a Gnap! thing. It happened too, though, with This American LIVE. Mike and his crew enjoyed the show so much and felt it had enough potential that they came to me and asked "Hey can we keep doing this?" Now, since Gnap! is winding down its weekly productions, I'm not feeling terribly proprietary so I said sure, and they're going to be doing a run at the Institution later this year. From my point of view, TAL is now an independent troupe that we helped give birth too, but they're basically free to do what they want. (Mike assures me that the in-show radio station will continue to be GNAP or that I'm getting a public radio shout out in every show or whatever but I'm not to concerned about that).

I think it all boils down to communication and each instance will be different. But having the courtesy to communicate your desires is essential. Way back when I talked to Dan O'Connor about using the "Blank Unscripted" formulation they use when doing things like "Shakespeare Unscripted" or "Sondheim Unscripted" and he said please don't, that's really vital to our distinct branding. I suppose I could have been a dick and ignored it, but what would that have gotten me?

I also think it depends who is doing the heavy lifting for the life of a show that wants to continue after its first run as to how it gets branded. Should Manhattan Stories or Batman play the Long Center, the show creators are so intimately involved with the Hideout that I would imagine the Hideout producers would also be involved in pulling that off. But to take a counter example, if Jeremy or Asaf, whose identities as creators are less tied to the Hideout, really hustled to put together a show elsewhere, got the booking, arranged for all the rehearsals, handled the marketing, etc for Process or Spirited, I'd probably feel less adamant about the show needing a "Such and Such Theater presents" tag on it. That's just me, though. The Hideout guys might feel differently. I also should say that I don't imagine Jeremy or Asaf doing that without first communicating their intentions; just saying that each entity might present its own specific set of parameters.

For another example of how each show poses its own challenges, I'll bring up Showdown, as it was the only time I put my foot down as a producer about who 'owned' the show. The cast was rightly jazzed about the work they had done on it, and they wanted to submit to the first Improvised Play Festival at the Hideout. Avimaan was pretty adamant, and I agreed, that part of what made Showdown special was that it was a self-contained six-episode serial, and we felt that doing the show again would have violated the integrity of the original work, and we said no, we're not submitting to the fest. I'm sure that decision disappointed, maybe even pissed off, a lot of the cast, but it was the right call for that particular show.
Last edited by shando on September 7th, 2012, 10:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby bradisntclever » September 7th, 2012, 10:10 am

Mike wrote:But I'd assume [Pee-wee Herman] is [Reubens'] and his alone. The Groundlings gave him a stage to perform on but he did the leg work to get it to Saturday AM tv.


Reubens co-developed the character with Phil Hartman, who wrote for just about every sketch/performance/movie Pee-wee was in. Yet another reason why Phil Hartman was an amazing dude.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » September 7th, 2012, 10:26 am

shando wrote: For another example of how each show poses its own challenges, I'll bring up Showdown, as it was the only time I put my foot down as a producer about who 'owned' the show. The cast was rightly jazzed about the work they had done on it, and they wanted to submit to the first Improvised Play Festival at the Hideout. Avimaan was pretty adamant, and I agreed, that part of what made Showdown special was that it was a self-contained six-episode serial, and we felt that doing the show again would have violated the integrity of the original work, and we said no, we're not submitting to the fest. I'm sure that decision disappointed, maybe even pissed off, a lot of the cast, but it was the right call for that particular show.


yeah, but we all just got drunk and shot at empty bottles and passing Comanche raiders, and that helped us feel better. ;) more than anything, i was upset that we would never be able to do a second season. but that was personal disappointment rather than resentment, because to my mind, even moreso than a GNAP show, that was Avimaan's show and to do it without him would be sacrilege so i completely understood. though i still want to adapt it into a comic someday. :P
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Postby jose » September 7th, 2012, 1:15 pm

kbadr wrote:I am curious how Second City handles the characters and sketches thing. I am pretty sure that performers still own the characters. Didn't PeeWee Herman come out of a Groundlings show? Didn't Martin Short play Ed Grimley on SCTV, and then SNL later?


I don't know that there's anything on paper, but it seems generally understood that a character created/performed at Second City can/will go with whoever created it.

I have no idea if there's still a deal between Second City and Sony, but there used to be one:

March 2005: http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/so ... oid=918184

Shortly after Bakkedahl was hired for the mainstage, Second City made a deal with Sony Pictures Television that gives the company the option to develop any material generated by ensemble members, whether it be sketches, characters, or songs. If a network ended up using Second City material, the members responsible for it would split a small portion of the profits. There was also what Jason Brett, president of Second City's television and film division, calls a "talent-holding deal" guaranteeing select ensemble members consideration for any pilots Sony pitches. "It gives Second City an opportunity to have a powerful partner who has influence with the networks and views Second City as a creative resource," he says.


(The whole article is about Dan Bakkedahl and choosing to leave SC, partially because of their deal with Sony. It's a good read.)

UCB used to have a first-look deal with NBC: http://east.ucbtheatre.com/news/view/154
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Postby Brad Hawkins » September 7th, 2012, 1:52 pm

Good grief. So far everyone seems to be in complete agreement. No controversy, no ill feelings, no out-of-left-field jeremiads.

So let me put this out there: I own your shows. I own all of them. No one may put on any of them without my permission. I'll sue you.
The silver knives are flashing in the tired old cafe. A ghost climbs on the table in a bridal negligee. She says "My body is the life; my body is the way." I raise my arm against it all and I catch the bride's bouquet.
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Postby shando » September 7th, 2012, 2:04 pm

I am intrigued as to why this has come up? Just idle musing? Or has there been stuff cropping up that gets close to breaking the comity about formats we have here in town? I obviously don't want anyone to out anyone else publicly if there's a situation, just curious. Or have Austin shows been cropping up elsewhere across the country?

Also, how does Esther's handle stuff? I thought they, and Second City too, kept sketches in rotation long after the originators have left the cast. Granted those things are scripted and there are contracts and all.

If only we were as popular as comic books (:?) where the whole work for hire or creator owned stuff has led to law suits and 30+ year flame wars.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » September 7th, 2012, 3:28 pm

shando wrote:Also, how does Esther's handle stuff? I thought they, and Second City too, kept sketches in rotation long after the originators have left the cast. Granted those things are scripted and there are contracts and all.


in Esther's case, LOOOOOOONG after they've left...("there's a reason they're called cheap shots." :P ) but seriously, folks...

shando wrote:If only we were as popular as comic books (:?) where the whole work for hire or creator owned stuff has led to law suits and 30+ year flame wars.


oddly, because of the Sicks, i make more royalties from Dr. Doom appearances than the Jack Kirby estate.

i am currently in litigation with Jay Bernardo over the merchandising rights to Doctor Nefarious. finally, the TRUE reason he left the country can be told!
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Postby JustThatRon » September 8th, 2012, 3:50 pm

kbadr wrote:I am curious how Second City handles the characters and sketches thing. I am pretty sure that performers still own the characters. Didn't PeeWee Herman come out of a Groundlings show? Didn't Martin Short play Ed Grimley on SCTV, and then SNL later?


SNL owns any characters developed on the show. This wasn't always the case, but I believe about five years ago this was put in performers/writers contracts.

Second City owns any sketch that's performed on their main stages (main/etc stage). All Second City tours are composed of archived material. They're very territorial about their sketches too. For instance, Second City won't allow students in either conservatory or graduate levels to do any archived material . . . or so I was told when I worked for them in Detroit.

When Odenkirk was writing for SNL, he used his Matt Foley (in a van down by the river) sketch that was performed at Second City. It had to be tweaked significantly enough (lines removed or changed) for it go on SNL because technically Second City owns that original sketch.
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