Saturday, January 26, 2008

The show we wrote with no laughs

With the primaries heating up, Super Tuesday just around the corner, Hillary about to cry again, and the debates getting uglier (and more entertaining) by the moment, I am reminded of the election episode my partner, David and I wrote for the TONY RANDALL SHOW.

I’ll pause for a moment while you say “what the hell was the TONY RANDALL SHOW?" It was an MTM series in the late 70’s starring the late Tony Randall as a judge in Philadelphia. It’ll probably never be shown again but it was a damn funny show.

In this particular episode, Tony’s character runs for Superior Court Judge, his opponent dies during the election but too late for his name to be removed from the ballot. Lo and behold, he wins. Tony was beaten by a dead man. The show played great all week with hardly any changes. We were expecting great things.

And then on show night, in front of the audience – death, nothing, tumbleweeds, crickets.

Needless to say, we were stymied.

One of the executive producers was doing the warm-up, and was so mad he turned on the audience. (It didn’t help that the entire staff was drinking frozen margaritas in the prop room between scenes).

He started saying things like, “Hey, I think your hearse is waiting”, “Hey, wasn’t that moderately amusing?”, and the tag was Tony entering his office which was now completely empty (his furniture moved in anticipation of the certain victory) to which the warm-up man shouted at the audience, “Get it?! What’s different about that room? Anybody?”

It was only after the crowd filed out that we learned the truth. The entire audience was Hispanic, bussed in, and spoke no English.

Remember all the bad things I said about the laugh track? We sure used it that week.

22 comments:

Michael said...

Beaten by a dead guy in an election? That would never happen, especially in the 2000 Missouri Senate race. Whatever happened to that guy, anyway? Wonder what might have happened had the opponent lived and lost the election.

Diogo said...

Uh-oh, Sorkin did the exact same thing in The West Wing. Rob Lowe's character ran against a dead senator, and the dead senator won, thanks to the campaigning efforts of his staff, with the argument that "The candidate died, but not the ideas". I guess the statute of limitations applies here, it was more than 20 years. I'd really love to watch Tony Randall doing something besides being Felix Unger, but I guess his less successful shows might be hard to find. Can I ask this question without sounding racist? How the hell do dozens of people do not recognize a crowd of hispanics? See, didn't work, but I tried.

Paul C said...

Oh darn, I hate to break my comment virginity on here by being a pedant, but actually the dead senator was a Democrat called Horton Wilde. So certain was his defeat that Rob Lowe's character, Sam Seabourne, promised Wilde's campaign staff (and his wife) that if he did win, Seabourne would be his replacement. Lo, he won. Lowe, he went.

[Also - as I'm here, I should take the opportunity to say thanks, Ken, for a great blog. A daily must-read.]

Diogo said...

Yes, I realized it after I posted. I must rewatch those episodes. I know it was a way for Lowe to leave the show, for those mega hits like "Lyon's Den" or "Dr Vegas". Actually that would make a pretty good topic for a future post Ken, "Why do actors leave successful established shows? Are they really that stupid that they think they are gonna be the next George Clooney?!". I mean, it has been happening for years, and their new ventures almost always fail, don't you think it's time they started taking a hint?

Rinaldo said...

Hey, I remember THE TONY RANDALL SHOW! My whole family liked it. I remember it turning up again on some cable channel (LIfetime?) in the early days when they really were digging up seldom-seen stuff like this and THE TEXAS WHEELERS to show.

Anyway, Tony Randall was fun in this, and the supporting cast was tops: the fabulous Allyn Ann McLerie as her sour-faced best, Rachel Roberts in her sole American series, and if I recall right Hans Conried, Barney Martin, Zane Lasky.

It seemed just as good as sitcoms of its time that ran for years and years.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever find out how a busload of Spanish (only)-speakers wound up as your studio audience in the first place?

John said...

Sorkin probably could have used the busing in a non-English-speaking Hispanic audience that doesn't laugh at any of the jokes as a plotline on "Studio 60" last season. It would have been funnier than anything that was in his scripts, and the show might have actually made it back for this season.

jbryant said...

diogo: Tony Randall was great in a number of movies, especially in the '50s. He was particularly great in 1957's No Down Payment, an ensemble drama that was one of the earliest critiques of the suburban lifestyle. He should have been nominated for his turn as an ambitious used car salesman with a drinking problem (criminally unavailable on DVD, the film occasionally surfaces on the Fox Movie Channel).

That same year he starred opposite Jayne Mansfield in Frank Tashlin's unforgettable Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (it's part of the Mansfield box set that came out a year or two ago). Then of course there are the Rock Hudson/Doris Day comedies.

Jim said...

I remember this show, too, and I really liked it. Shows I like tend to get cancelled. Maybe they can hire me as a reverse-test audience. I would've hated "According to Jim" and a whole host of other long-running cheap and apparently profitable sitcoms.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken -- great Bad Audience story. We had an audience with all homeless once, which we twigged to when we noticed they were longingly staring us eating at the crafts table instead of watching the stage. Once, we had a busload of Japanese tourists who made phone calls during takes. And the killer: a busload of retarded adults. When we took the house lights down to shoot, some of them started to cry. Another memorable take-interrupter: a gag about a washed-up sitcom actor prompted a lonely voice to call out, "Hey! I represent him!" Andrew N. (not Anon, but that's the only way it seems I can post...)

Anonymous said...

FYI: There's a 3 hour marathon of CHEERS following 2 episodes of FRASIER on KDOC- Channel 56 in LA tonight.

I laughed very hard at the only Cheers filming I attended, Season 8's "Feeble Attraction." We weren't bussed in.

micdago44 said...

I once wrote a slogan for a guy running in NY, Ted Weiss(sp?). He died the day before the election and won, but I was never paid. Moral? A good slogan can get a dead guy elected, but he won't pay his bills.

Glenn said...

Ken, The Tony Randall Show had one of my favorite all-time lines. The judge he was dating suggested that they go out to dinner and "we'll see if anything happens" and he responds, "Why don't we just see anything happens and if does, there's a dinner in it for you."

Dwacon® said...

So don't give em drivers licenses, just put them in sitcom audiences before deporting them...

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Michael Keaton was also in that show. To get an idea of just how fine an actor Tony Randall was, you should see THE SEVEN FACES OF DR. LAO.

D. McEwan said...

7 FACES OF DR. LAO is one of my favorite movies. In fact, there's a 7-foot poster for it on my kitchen wall.

I had Tony on the Sweet Dick Whittington Show once, when I was producing it. I was a smoker back then (I'm now at 17 years sans cigarette), but I've never consumed alcohol. Tony HATED smoking, but loved wine enough to join Niles Crane's Wine Club.

When I lit up a cigarette, Tony asked me not to smoke, and began to explain the perils of smoking to me. I responded with the perils of alcohol. Then I said, "Tell you what; when I'm dying of lung cancer, I'll say hi to you on the next bed, with Cirrhosis."

Tony laughed, shook my hand, and said, "It's a date."

estiv said...

This story reminds me of a line I came across recently. There was no attribution, but it sounds like Jack Handey:

They all laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian, but no one's
laughing now.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

They all laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian, but no one's laughing now.

Ah the joys of Google and the taking of free time that I don't even have right now, but I was curious about who it was:

An English comedian named Bob Monkhouse, the attribution seen here in this article:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2006/10/29/svcarr29.xml

And his Wikipedia entry for those even more curious:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Monkhouse

The Crutnacker said...

Al Gore got beaten by a brain dead guy, so it can happen.

Oriole said...

Our family used to watch "The Tony Randall Show" every week. I remember always laughing at Mario Lanza ("Any relation?" "To who?" "Mario Lanza." "I *am* Mario Lanza."

ravaj said...

having grown up in england, i can tell you a bit about bob monkhouse. although he was seen on tv mostly as a gameshow host, he had an encyclopaedic collection of jokes, and was brilliant at ad-libbing. i think he went out of fashion around the time that shows parents watched together with their children disappeared from our screens. as a kid, i thought he was terribly witty.

Anonymous said...

Al Gore got beaten by a brain dead guy, so it can happen.
Right, by Michael Dukakis in 1988.