Friday, October 23, 2020

Friday Questions

 Now that we’ve survived another debate, here are some Friday Questions.

Bob Paris starts us off:

There are a few examples where an actor appears on two series at the same time. In the case of Richard Deacon, he was on the Dick Van Dyke Show and Leave It To Beaver when their production overlapped for three seasons. Why would a producer cast an actor already working on a show and open themselves up to scheduling issues where the actor may be unavailable due to being needed on the other show?

Certain actors are just in demand.  I suppose Carl Reiner figured Richard Deacon was the perfect man for the role.  And his part on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER was sporadic at best.  Maybe they would use him three times a year.  So he probably wasn’t under contract.   

My guess is he signed as a recurring regular on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and Carl graciously worked around his schedule so Deacon could continue to appear a few times a season on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.  

I may be wrong, but when Lisa Kudrow was first on FRIENDS, wasn’t she also on MAD ABOUT YOU?  

Today, if an actor is already on a show you can hire him in “second position.”  That means if he’s not needed for the show he’s on, he can do the other thing.  But if there’s a conflict, the original show is in “first position.”  

JS has another LEAVE IT TO BEAVER related question.  What are the odds?

How do you choose a director of photography - if that is even what the title is? My kid likes "Leave it to Beaver". We've been watching it on Peacock. The black and white photography is very good, especially for the time.

It’s the show runner’s call, but usually he leaves it up to the line producer.  Line producers assemble the crew.  However, if the show runner has used a certain DP before or has been notably impressed by his work on other things he may make that call.  

This gives me a moment to send props to DP’s of multi-camera shows.  On single-camera shows (shot like a movie) you can light for each angle and film the scene multiple times from multiple angles.  On multi-camera shows, they’re little plays shot in front of a studio audience.  So the set has to be lit only once and accommodate for actors moving all about.  It’s tricky, but the good ones make the sets look rich while showing off the actors in the most flattering light.   And they never get credit.  

From purplepenquin:

Who picks the "clips" for a clip-show? Do the writers write a story & then search through old episodes for scenes that would fit in with it, or are they told to use specific clips & then the writers have to find a way to tie 'em all together?

The show runner and writers generally select the clips, which, trust me, is a GIANT pain-in-the-ass.  We did it for the MASH clip show and had to spend many long nights watching and selecting, and paring down clips — all coming after our regular ten hour work days.  

As for the format, that’s up to the individual show, and it’s a chicken vs egg thing.  Some shows come up with a framework for the premise — someone gets out an old scrapbook, or it’s a going away party — and other times the clips are selected first and then they decide how they’re going to frame them.  

Here’s what I love about clip shows, though — residuals.  We get royalties on every clip used from shows we wrote.  Having written 40 CHEERS episodes, we made a bundle on that clip show.  We did okay with MASH too.  

Clip shows will become a thing of the past as fewer series will go a hundred episodes.  Streaming services are quite content with 30 total.   That makes for a very short clip show.  

And finally, from Terry:

On the M*A*S*H forum over on reddit, there was some discussion going on as to the color of Hawkeye's robe (hey, we're all bored and spending a lot more time at home these days - give us a break!) In one episode when he is making out his will, he leaves it to Charles because "Purple is the color of royalty." That thing looked anything but purple to me on screen. It always seemed to be more of a dark maroon or at most burgundy. Was that because of lighting, the film used, or what? Thanks, Ken!

You can adjust the color and tint on your TV so no two sets may look exactly alike.  Also, the network transmission.    Back in the day when CBS fired aired MASH, there was a very slight red tint to the transmission.  The show never looked as good as the 35 mm film that was sent to them.  The DVD’s look better.  

But to answer your question, in person the robe was more of a burgundy color.  

What’s your Friday Question?  And please VOTE. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

EP197: Writer Rob Long Part Two

Two CHEERS writers discuss the actual process and share insights and stories… including firing a Tony-winning actor.  It’s a great insiders’ look at how sitcoms really get written.  

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The Trial of the Chicago 7: My review

 Best movie I’ve seen so far this pandemic (or best TV movie or streaming movie — who knows anymore?) is THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin.   Sorkin is always at his best when he’s dealing with a real issue, complexities, a trial, and smart characters.   And this project is right in his wheelhouse.

As Sorkin tells it, this project began 13 years ago.  He was summoned to Steven Spielberg’s house one Saturday morning.  Spielberg said he wanted to do a movie about the Chicago 7 and wondered if Sorkin wanted to write it.  Aaron said yes immediately.  He then went home, called his father, and asked who the Chicago 7 were?   Sorkin was 7 himself at the time of the riots and trial.  

That led to a long winding road through development hell.  And throw in a WGA strike for good measure.  (Any project that has a long development history has a WGA strike somewhere in its background.)    And it’s not like Sorkin didn’t have other things to write/produce/direct in the intervening years.  

But with the Trump administration and the re-emergence of protests and protesters being vilified, the subject matter suddenly took on a greater relevance.  Originally schedule for theatrical release by Paramount, once the pandemic hit, Netflix stepped in, and thankfully released the movie BEFORE the election.  

Sorkin assembled an amazing cast led by Eddie Redmayne, Sasha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, and Frank Langella.  (NOTE: On my upcoming podcast episode that drops later tonight, Rob Long and I discuss having to fire Frank Langella from a pilot. That said, he’s AMAZING in this.)

The story itself is riveting and all too similar to what’s going on now.   That’s why I recommend you see it, and do so before November 3rd.  

The actors apparently all worked for scale, but I’m sure a big incentive was getting to speak Sorkin dialogue.  It’s just lyrical and accomplishes so much on so many levels.  The trial itself lasted over 6 months.  There are 21,000 pages of transcriptions.  Numerous books exist on the subject.  To winnow all of that down to two hours, make it clear, make it entertaining, create multi-dimensional characters, establish relationships and subplots, and consistently crackle  — that’s an extraordinary achievement.   And Sorkin pulls it off.    I must admit, I go to many plays and play readings and think to myself, “this would be so much better if Aaron Sorkin wrote it.”   He really has a gift with dialogue and for me, it’s a pleasure to hear.   Give me that over a CGI superhero slugfest any day.  

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 streams on Netflix.  Oh... and Sorkin did a great job of directing too. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Fake Crowd Noise

The World Series starts tonight. Congrats to the Dodgers and Rays (one of the great classic rivalries in sports). 

People ask me what I think about the fake crowd noise in sporting events now that spectators are not allowed in stadiums or arenas.  

As a viewer I find the crowd noise WEIRD.  Especially in baseball and football where you see the empty grandstands in almost every shot.   Where are all these people?  It’s the same argument I always made (in vain) to CBS about the laugh track on MASH.  Are there bleachers on the chopper pad?  

Basketball and hockey are easier to accept because the action focuses on the court or ice and you can forget that they’re playing to the camera only.  

But as an announcer, I would so welcome the fake crowd noise if I were calling a game, especially just calling it over the TV.  Without a crowd it just sounds dead.

I was broadcasting a Mariners game from Cleveland a few years ago on the radio.  It was a make-up game the end of the season.  So it wasn’t on the schedule, it started at 4:00 pm, both teams had already been eliminated, and huge thunderstorms were expected to drench the area.  Needless to say, nobody came to the game.  If there were 2,000 people I’d be surprised.   In one of my innings the Mariners scored ten runs.  There were triples and stolen bases and capped off with a grand slam home run.  

After the game we were flying to Texas.  I asked the engineer if he would email me an mp3 of that inning.  I thought it would be a fun keepsake.  You don’t usually get to call ten run innings.  

When I got to my room in Texas it was waiting for me in my inbox.  I listened to it and was horrified.  It sounded like I recorded it in my living room watching the TV with the sound down.  There was NO crowd noise at all.  None.  I’d say crickets but not even that.   What should have been an exciting inning was C-Span.  And the fact that I sounded so excited (after all, fun things were happening) make me appear like an idiot.

So the crowd noise psychologically helps the announcer get into it.  It’s like a singer who would much prefer a band behind him.   On TV it’s still weird to watch, but on radio you can really suspend belief.  

What they need though is the sound of people doing the wave. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Kirstie Alley's latest idiotic tweet

This pains me because I worked with Kirstie Alley for years on CHEERS and she was always delightful.  A little "out there" but still, easy and fun to work with.  

Since then she's become a Scientologist, gained and lost and gained and lost lots of weight.   Frankly, she's become a little loony.  But I've still been fond of her, and it was nice to see her at the CHEERS 30 year reunion several years ago.  

But then she tweeted that she was all for Donald Trump, listing the reasons MAGA idiots usually list.  

I no longer am fond of Kirstie Alley.  

Granted there are people more tolerant than I, but I can't remain friends with anyone who supports Donald Trump.  To support Trump condones the hatred, racism, greed, dishonesty, and stupidity that he stands for.  Alas, I've broken off some long-time relationships over this.  You can be a Republican, you can be a Libertarian, but if you support Trump that crosses a line for me.  

And that goes for the Beach Boys as well, one of my (former) favorite groups.  They performed at a Trump fundraiser yesterday in Newport Beach, California.  Brian Wilson, to his credit, is NOT associated with this version of the Beach Boys (Mike Love & co.) and quickly denounced it.   And let's face it, Brian Wilson IS the Beach Boys.  What's touring now is the fifth generation cover band.  

But getting back to Kirstie.  I love what Judd Apatow tweeted in response.  As a result #ShelleyLong was trending last night.  And look, readers of this blog know I've always preferred Diane to Rebecca.  Kirstie gave the show new life, but Shelley MADE the show.  

And I would work with Shelley Long again in a second.  I'll never work with Kirstie Alley again.  There you have it, Kirstie.  There you have it.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Weekend Post

Orson Welles was a larger-than-life figure.  Brilliant director, actor, producer, filmmaker, personality.   He directed and starred in CITIZEN KANE among other movies.   He was a genius and often times impossible.   He also drank, smoked endless cigars, and ate multiple Pink's chili dogs night after night after night.  Not coincidentally, he probably weighed 350 pounds at one time.  

He also could be very witty and charming.  Here is a 1985 appearance on THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW, a syndicated talk show.   He tells great stories, performs a magic trick, talks about his 70th birthday.  But there's more to the story.

Six hours after taping this show he was dead.  

Here is the final appearance ever of Orson Welles.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Friday Questions

Halfway through October already.  Here are some FQ’s to get you through the weekend.

George starts off with a question about late night rewrites.

Since I assume everyone is fairly tired and burnt out by that stage, do you ever find that the practice is counter-productive?

Yes, and it’s a balancing act.  The bottom line is the actors return to the stage the next morning and need a script.  To push a day would be hugely expensive and not a real option.  

But you’re right.  Writers are not at their best after writing for eight or nine straight hours under pressure while sleep deprived and gorging on Red Vines.  

When David Isaacs and I were show runners, we would usually send everyone home around 1:00 AM and we had to assemble earlier the next day.  The cast would get whatever we had written and new pages throughout the course of the day.  It was a little harder on the cast, but scenes that might’ve taken us two hours to write at 2 AM we polished off in a half hour at 10 AM the next morning.  

We also tried to manage our time as best we could.  If we knew we had a tough new scene to write as part of our work that night we would do it first.  That way we got the hard stuff out of the way and then just tweaked whatever else needed tweaking.  We wouldn’t bog down on one joke at 8 at night and finally get to the tough stuff at 3 AM.  

Late night rewrites are part of the job.  But there are ways of utilizing your staff and time for maximum productivity.  

Paul D. wonders:

Although "The Dick Van Dyke Show" had done it well, when 'M*A*S*H' was made, flashbacks were jokey things used by jokey sitcoms i.e. how Richie and Fonzie first met.

However, since dramas  like "China Beach" and "Lost" started to use the device (along with flash-forwards) so well, do you think you could have successfully used these had it already common at the time? I am thinking in terms of stories/scenes set before the war, not as a way to bring Colonel Blake back.

We never wanted to leave Korea.  That was a creative choice. The members of the 4077th were trapped there, and we wanted to convey that feeling.  There were home movies and letters, but we never went to the mainland.  

There was an episode called “The Party” where relatives of the 4077th put together a stateside reunion and there was some discussion of seeing it.  But ultimately we felt that would be wrong.  We wanted to preserve that feeling of isolation that everyone in the unit felt.  

Now LOST, on the other hand, deliberately wanted to get you off that island.  And flashbacks were a great way to learn about each character and provide some variety.  But remember, LOST was an hour.  A sameness might settle in if you’re in one place for an entire hour.  

I still contend, some of the best storytelling in television was done on LOST.  

From Kyle Burress:

Having been featured much more in the last couple seasons was there a possibility that Paul Willson would have been bumped up to a regular cast member had Cheers continued?

I was pushing for it.  Paul Willson (you see his picture above), was extremely funny.  My guess is things would have stayed status quo unless Paul had an offer to go to another series and then the producers would have had to make a decision.  

I felt bad because just as we were really starting to showcase him more, the series ended.  

But I was and am a huge fan of Paul Willson.  

And finally, from Patrick:

Does an Emmy award even matter anymore now that the general public doesn't watch or care? It seems particularly self congratulatory now that the audience for these award shows has fallen away. Back when an Emmy award could save a show from cancellation it seemed to really matter who won what - now with so many shows on so many platforms - do these awards even matter anymore? (Besides to those who won?)

Well, considering the money that networks and studios shell out for Emmy campaigns I’d say yeah, they do still matter.  

Of course, I like to think they matter since I have one.  

But to the general public?  Just check the ratings for Emmy awards.  Every year they sink to new lows.   So no, I don’t think the general public gives a crap.  Especially now when there are shows and stars they’ve never even heard of.  

But my Emmy is important.  

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

EP196: Meet writer Rob Long Part One

Rob Long broke into TV writing by getting on staff of CHEERS when he was 24.  He and Ken have a freewheeling discussion of television comedy, advice on breaking in, theories, the business, the craziness, the fun. 

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West Wing is back

 I used to love shows and movies set in the White House.  WEST WING was my favorite show. Movies like THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT, DAVE, FROST/NIXON, 7 DAYS IN MAY, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, etc. were always high up on my list.

But then when Trump got into office I couldn't watch anything that featured an Oval Office.  Even though VEEP consistently made me laugh, I could no longer watch it.  HOUSE OF CARDS had been a binge fave.  I bailed even before Kevin Spacey was dumped.  I was never a huge fan of SCANDAL but caught it occasionally.  Same with DESIGNATED SURVIVOR and MADAME SECRETARY.    And forget about revisiting 24.  

WEST WING in particular was hard to watch again.  The stark contrast of how smart, caring, noble, and earnest everyone in that fictional White House was compared to the evil moronic lying shitheads who occupy it now just made viewing impossible.  

But HBO has gotten the cast and Aaron Sorkin back together for a special reunion to Benefit When We All Vote.  It premiers tomorrow on HBO Max and I imagine other places as well.  There will be special appearances by Michelle Obama and others.   This I will watch.  Partly for nostalgia and partly for hope -- that we might go back to that again.  That we might try to uphold the Constitution, Democracy, caring for the American people, justice, security, sanity, healing, equality, kindness, and calm.   At one time WEST WING was a model; now it's a fairy tale.  Let's make the fairy tale come true. VOTE.