Wednesday, August 15, 2007

From my dusty archives...

I wish there was a cable channel that showed FORGOTTEN TELEVISION. Just because a series didn’t have 200 episodes doesn’t mean it wasn’t terrific. Many of these forgotten gems deserve an audience. One such series that my partner and I worked on was THE TONY RANDALL SHOW, an ABC sitcom from the 76-77 season. In it, Tony played a judge (Walter Franklin). One of the episodes we wrote is still one of my favorites. In it, Walter runs for superior court judge. In this scene he goes on a talk radio show. The announcer was played by David Ogden Stiers and this appearance helped get him cast the following season on MASH. Tony’s law clerk (Mario Lanza) was played by the hilarious Zane Lasky. Picture a young Dustin Hoffman only weaselier.

INT. RADIO STATION – NIGHT

WALTER IS SITTING AT THE CONSOLE WITH THE HOST, CLEAVER.

CLEAVER
(IN A FAIRLY HIGH VOICE) The news will be over in fifteen seconds, and then we’ll take our cue. Speak directly into the microphone. Don’t be nervous.

CLEAVER TAKES HIS CUE AND TURNS ON THE MIKE. SUDDENLY HIS VOICE DROPS FIFTY OCTAVES. IT REMAINS THAT WAY FOR THE COURSE OF THE SCENE.

CLEAVER
Good evening and welcome to W-L-N-I’s “Philadelphia Forum.” I’m your moderator, Robert W. Cleaver, and tonight my guest is Judge Walter…Frankel, uh, Franklin. I’m sorry.

WALTER
It’s all right.

CLEAVER
Judge Franklin has taken on the near impossible task of challenging the beloved Samuel Barnett for Superior Court Judge. Before I bring on our guest, out phone number is 520-2467. Judge, it’s nice to have you with us.

WALTER
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. (READING FROM HIS SPEECH) Now, unlike my opponent…

CLEAVER
It’s a pleasure to have you here.

WALTER
Thank you…it’s nice to be here. Now, if I could just read this prepared statement… “Unlike my opponent…”

CLEAVER
Judge, excuse me, but it’s our policy not to allow prepared statements. We’d prefer that you just answer questions from our listeners.

WALTER
Fine.

CLEAVER
Our switchboard should be lighting up any minute. That number again: 520-2467.

THEY WAIT NOW FOR CALLS. THERE ARE NONE.

WALTER
I’m prepared to face the issues.

A BEAT.

CLEAVER
I’m sure you are.

A BEAT.

WALTER
There’s a lot to talk about.

A BEAT.

CLEAVER
The lines are wide open. 520-2467. C’mon, folks.

A BEAT.

WALTER
Rarin’ to go.

A BEAT

CLEAVER
He’s rarin’ to go.

A BEAT.

WALTER
520-2467.

A BEAT.

CLEAVER
He’s rarin’ to go.

A BEAT.

WALTER
Do you have any questions for me?

CLEAVER
No, not really.

A BEAT. CLEAVER PICKS UP AN INDEX CARD.

CLEAVER
Well, I do have one.

WALTER
Fire away.

CLEAVER
Judge, do you like Jewish food?

WALTER
Well…uh, yes. I like Jewish food. But that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy foods of other lands. But Jewish food is very tasty.

CLEAVER
(READING THE CARD) Then you’ll want to join Super Chef Roger O’Malley as he prepares Kishka tomorrow at ten here on W-L-N-I.

WALTER
I’ll be listening. I love Kishka.

THE BOARD LIGHTS UP.

CLEAVER
(EXCITED) We have calls!

WALTER
Thank God.

CLEAVER
(PUSHING BUTTON) Line one, you’re on the air.

CALLER #ONE (V.O.)
(THROUGH A SPEAKER) Hello. I’d like to know what your guest thought of “A Star is Born.”

CLEAVER
Lady, the movie critic was on last night… liked him, hated her.

CALLER #ONE (V.O.)
Yeah, but I…

CLEAVER
(PUSHES BUTTON) Line two, hello.

CALLER #TWO (V.O.)
(DEPRESSED) I’m not sure my life is worth living. My wife has left me, I’ve lost my job, and I think I’m going to throw myself off the Delaware Bridge.

CLEAVER
I’m sorry, our topic is the judges’ race. (HE CUTS THE CALL OFF)

WALTER
(CONCERNED) Listen, to that man who’s going to jump. Life is worth living.

CLEAVER
The judge’s opinion is not necessarily that of this station. (PUSHING BUTTON) Line three, you’re on.

MARIO (V.O.)
I have a question for your esteemed guest, one of the finest legal minds ever to walk the streets of Philadelphia.

WALTER
(EXASPERATED) What is it, Mario?

MARIO (V.O.)
Which was a bigger thrill for you – winning the Congressional Medal of Honor or the Nobel Peace Prize?

WALTER
(AGGRAVATED) I didn’t win either one of them. (BEAT) Ask a responsible question!

MARIO (V.O.)
Okay. What’s kishka?

CLEAVER
Tune in tomorrow and find out. Right now let’s pause for this brief commercial message. (FLIPS OFF MIKE, THEN TO WALTER IN HIS NORMAL HIGH VOICE) I think it’s really going well, don’t you?

WALTER REACTS.

Postscript: Caller #1 was played by Raechel Donahue, a long-time LA disc jockey and pioneer in FM rock radio, and Caller #2 was some guy named Harry Shearer.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ken, we've been tivoing the first season of Cheers here and just amazed. AMAzed. The Coach's daughter episode? That brought a tear to my eye. Who would get away with something so unspoken between a father and a daughter on a SITUATION COMEDY now? And the second episode, with the dolly out of the back room throught the bar? Un heard of.
After Cheers everything got dumbed down or too mets and self conscious.
Where is the great writing????

R.A. Porter said...

Ken, that's a truly great line: "The judge’s opinion is not necessarily that of this station." I hope it was delivered as deadpan and nonchalant as I hear it in my head.

Bob said...

That was a funny show. I still remember Ed's Law School with great fondness.

Roger Green said...

Didn't TV LAND, once upon a time, used to run short-lived comedies? I swear I saw The Associates (with Martin Short and others) at some point after its short network run.

The Crutnacker said...

I'm thinking that this one has been rerun somewhere in the last 15 years, hasn't it?

Funny stuff.

fly on wall said...

For a time, a cable network named Trio ran a recurring feature, "Brilliant But Cancelled," featuring about a dozen shows including John Cassavetes' Johnny Staccato, Bakersfield PD and God, the Devil and Bob.

Trio was then itself, uh, cancelled.

Tom Quigley said...

Funny writing as usual, Ken!

I remember another great character actor, the late Barney Martin (who also played Jerry Seinfeld's dad), was an assistant to Tony Randall's character in this show.... It was a good combination: Tony, the fidgety proper judge, and Barney, the everyman schlep who Tony's character was able to play off of, and vice versa.

Diogo said...

Tony Randall's shows had the unusual distinction of being well regarded after they had been off the air for several years. On its original run even "The Odd Couple" was not a hit (not even a mild one). If you are interested on some insights about his career told in the first person check out Tony Randall's Archive of american television interview on Google video, done circa 1998, where he chats for 2 hours about his professional life off and on television. other remarkable and funny interviews you might find there are from glen and les charles from cheers, directors James burrows and Robert Butler, Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds Burt Metcalfe, Alan Alda (all from MASH), and even Mr Bob Newhart, among many others. some of these are quite lengthy stretching sometimes for 12 half hour tapes, but well worth it for the funny stories and knowledge.

Tony Semczuk said...

Holy crap! YOU worked on The Tony Randall Show? You are God.
I LOVED that show. I remember when the judge was teaching a law class that featured a then unknown actor named Michael Keaton.
Nice.

benson said...

The local cable system here in town just added ALN to it's digital tier. It's re-branded itself as TV for the Boomer Generation, but that the whole family can watch. I don't have it but from what I can tell they feature one night a week of MTM properties (MTM, Bob Newhart, Newhart and WKRP) that TVLand doesn't want anymore.

Also, it looks like I've got about a dozen Tony Randall Shows from when WGN stripped them in the late 80's. I'll try and digitized one for YouTube. In fact, I know one episode was written by Levine/Isaacs.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

The late (Boss-jock) Frank Terry
and I were good pals and songwriting partners. I put together a YouTube tribute.

Elton John, 'Funeral For A Friend'
(In Memoriam: Frank Terry)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSEHofvfAyg

Anonymous said...

I LOVED that show!
As a matter of fact, ever since then, had I met Tony Randell--or anybody named "Franklin"--I had intended to stick out my hand and say, "Judge Franklin? Mario Lanza."
Sure, I would have been the only one laughing, but sometimes I crack me up.

The Curmudgeon said...

Great scene. And although I never actually landed a radio interview when I ran for judge, the scene plays out about the way I'd expect it to if it were me....

Roger Green mentioned one of my favorites, "The Associates." Martin Short as a baby. Wilfred Hyde-White as the senile senior partner. I haven't seen that anywhere since it went off the air.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I hate to nit pick because I, too, loved that show, but the Medal of Honor isn't the "Congressional" MoH. It is the Medal of Honor plain and simple.

(Another of my peeves is hearing people say "over and out" on the radio. That's incorrect radio procedure. You say either over or out, but not both.)

Ken Levine said...

"the Medal of Honor isn't the "Congressional" MoH. It is the Medal of Honor plain and simple."

This is why Mario Lanza was a bad campaign director.

Jim Donahue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Donahue said...

I remember my family liking this show a lot. (It was on two seasons, though, right?)

And didn't George C. Scott's daughter play Tony's daughter?

Chris said...

For some reason, the line I remember from the Tony Randall show was "so many bagels, so little time." It wouldn't have been as funny with doughnuts.

Anonymous said...

I think George C Scott's daughter played Tony's daughter during the first season. She was kind of a plain Jane. When the show moved to CBS for its second season, the daughter was suddenly played by the very cute Penny Peyser.

Martin said...

This writing and acting on this show were fantastic. I remember a favorite scene that went something like this, when Tony Randall first met Mario Lanza:

Mario: Pleased to meet you, sir. Mario Lanza.

Judge: Really? Any relation?

Mario: To who?

Judge: Mario Lanza.

Mario: I AM Mario Lanza.

Anonymous said...

I loved this show and not just because I was from the Philadelphia area. It boasted a wonderful cast, really funny writing, and crisp direction.

I do recall that one season (the final one?) had a very different feel. It seemed to lack the spark and originality that made it stand out. I assume that was tied into the network switch mentioned elsewhere in this thread. I would love to know what other behind-the-scenes changes contributed to the change in tone and style.

Dwacon said...

We do have such a channel. It is called TV Land... owned by some old dude named Redstone.

So Zane is hilarious? I would think that Zane was zany.

The Crutnacker said...

You mentioned ALN, and I found it is on my digital cable, so I'm taping them. Can someone explain to me why there isn't a cable channel devoted to REALLY good shows? TV Land and Nick at Night used to have classics, and seem to be going to 80s crap.

zitcypc -- Verification Word

Toby said...

A genius bit of casting on 'The Tony Randall Show' was Hans Conreid as his father. I think he gave the show a real shot in the arm.

Allyn Ann McLerie (I think I have the name right) and Rachel Roberts also contributed to a great cast!

Paul Duca said...

A squeaky-voiced radio personality named Cleaver...Ken, where DO you come up with these brilliant conceits?

Anonymous said...

My memory is that the show started on ABC, where it didn't work, so CBS picked it up, believing its MTM pedigree and relative sophistication was more of a fit with its popular sitcoms. (Similar to NBC picking up Taxi's last year after ABC dropped it)

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with an earlier comment. The "I AM Mario Lanza" line has stayed with me -- and made me laugh -- countless times in the last 30 years. Thanks!