Thursday, June 05, 2008

Friday questions of the week: MASH related

From reader “Bee” comes:

Did it ever bother any of the MASH production staff that seemingly no attempt was made to make the women's hair and makeup seem to be of the 50's era? (Margaret had a Farrah Fawcett hairdo later on in the series fer cryin' out loud - and Klinger's getups were about the only reliable shout-outs to actual female dress of that time).

I LOVE the show, but this one thing always bugged me.

Bee, it bugged me more. To the point of driving me crazy. Nurses in Korea also didn’t have long nails, sport bright red lipstick, or wear tailored green sweatshirts with the MASH logo. Dog tags were for identification not accessories. Fashion experts were not consulted when designing wartime army fatigues.

But these are arguments producers rarely win. It’s the TV equivalent of trying to give a cat a bath.

From Just a Guy:

I’m curious what you think the fresh shelf life of a TV show really is--be it sit com or drama...

For example on MASH, if you watch real closely, after a couple of years (and this is especially true when new characters replaced the original), you can see where scripts are basically re-cycled, e.g. a situation occurs with KTrapper and a few years later the same exact situation occurs with BJ and so on with Burns and Charles and other characters. Sometimes the role/words Hawkeye spoke to Trapper end up being the same (or virtually the same) or virtually identical are switched and BJ says them to Hawkeye, etc. etc. etc.

So my question is this: what's the shelf life of a TV show, how long do you think it lasts before it actually becomes redundant?


After five or six seasons every show starts showing its age. Sometimes recasting can add a freshness that keeps the show going for a few more years. And some shows that rely on a successful formula (like LAW & ORDER) seem to defy time and can go on forever.

But I’d say seven years is the magic number. Let’s see William Shakespeare come up with the 150th episode of Hamlet (and getting notes on the outlines from a network executive who just graduated from Sarah Lawrence).

And from JenniferG:

Will you be holding another one of your sitcom room seminars?

Well, I can't before baseball season is over, and depending on how the Dodgers do that could be the end or beginning of October. But if there's enough interest I probably will sometime this fall. Otherwise, I'll just be knitting.

Thanks for the questions. Keep 'em comin'.

21 comments:

John said...

Since you had the "get well Kelsey" thread below, I was wondering if Grammer's Frazier Crane character was meant to be ongoing past a single season when he was first conceived, or was the writers ability to find new angles to Kelsey's character -- and his ability to play more than just the clueless yuppie boyfriend he started off as in Season 3 -- the reason why he became a regular on "Cheers"?

Bitter Animator said...

You've been asked about writing for certain actors before and may have been asked this. It's a dog question (I lost my best buddy last night and I have nothing on my mind but dogs).

How much consideration did you have to take in terms of what was possible when writing for certain dogs?

Moose was clearly a top-notch actor but I couldn't help noticing on reruns that, when Moose retired and his replacement stepped in, Eddie's role diminished greatly. I was really surprised he played such a little part (if he was even in it) in the finale. This had me wondering - was it because Moose's replacement didn't have the range? Or simply that the Eddie character had run his course?

Were you guys writing for specific dogs?

word warrior said...

I'm highly interested in your sitcom class. Is that enough interest?

Where would it be held?

If the Dodgers are eliminated early, will you be so disappointed that you'll be surly and abusive to us sitcom class students?

rita said...

long fingernails and lipstick -- just what the female half of the german MASH-board was discussing recently. and tell you what: it turned out the guys had never paid attention to those details before. :D

Mike McCann said...

>>Let’s see William Shakespeare come up with the 150th episode of Hamlet (and getting notes on the outlines from a network executive who just graduated from Sarah Lawrence).>>

Especially when Willie the Bard's series is up against that hot new reality show seeking THE NEXT LADY GODIVA.

45 is the new 30 said...

Bitter Animator, I'm truly sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

The real problem on M*A*S*H was that the Korean War lasted three years and Hawkeye aged at least 20.

alan said...

Ken, great post. I'm always happy when the people who make the shows are annoyed as much by the little things as those of us who watch them. I just wish the writers on 24 could hire a technical consultant.

Bitter Animator, for words of encouragement, try this :
http://www.zefrank.com/zesblog/archives/2008/06/rational_trigge.html

Sam Kim said...

What are your favorite sitcoms on today?

Is there a possibility that you'd return to TV writing, or do you consider yourself permanently retired?

When Frasier ended its run, was there ever consideration given, by anyone, to creating another spin-off - of Niles? It seems that David Hyde Pierce would have been capable of carrying his own show.

How does a show's being single-camera or multi-camera affect how you write the script? How does whether a show is filmed before a studio audience affect the writing?

When shows become mega-hits, the actors tend to be able to negotiate extremely lucrative contracts. Do writers get a similar bump in pay, or are they considered replaceable because the audience doesn't know the writers?

I understand that most sitcoms have teams of writers. And I've heard of some dramas being written by single writers - such as Aaron Sorkin or David Kelley. (Or maybe they have support writers who have less visibility.) Have there been any successful sitcoms written by a solo writer who cranks out funny episodes week after week?

While I have my favorite TV shows and episodes, I usually don't know who wrote them. And if those writers join a new show, I would have no idea. I'm wondering who you think are the funniest sitcom writers ever (aside from yourself), and if any of them are writing for shows today that may be underappreciated.

mike doran said...

For that matter, how many men in the early '50s had longish combovers and bushy sideburns as Alda and Farrell did? The only men on MASH whose hair was right were Morgan and Stiers - and that was due more to genetics and age than anything else.

Ted said...

Sam -

The best source of information on writing for a sitcom I've found is from the NewsRadio DVD commentaries. Paul Simms was a writer on the Larry Sanders Show before News Radio and he talks about writing for a 3 camera sitcom versus a one camera show.

He also talks about how important the director was to the development of the show. He credits Tom Cherones for teaching him how to write for a 3 camera sitcom and keep the characters and story flowing through the show.

It is also the sitcom Ken would have hated working on since they would play video games for 5 days and then crank out a 80 page script in 36 hours. It wasn't the "Big Dave's Wave" final, never seen, script process.

Mike said...

Okay, here's a two-part question. I recently read a review of the Season 9 DVD of Cheers, and was saddened to see that, in the episode where the bar gets a karaoke machine, the part where Frasier sings "Isn't it romantic?" is cut. As was the very brief part where Norm and Cliff load up on helium and sing "Lollipop." And it's because Paramount didn't want to spend the money on licensing the songs for the DVD release. How does that make you feel, as a creative talent, knowing these moments are cut, all because of money? And when you were working on Cheers, did you guys have to be concerned with the cost of having a character on the show sing a song? Particularly when they only sing a little snippet of a song like in the karaoke episode. Or did you have to pay to have a song sung, regardless of how much of it was actually sung on the episode?

Vermonter17032 said...

Regarding irregularities in M*A*S*H: Tell me if I'm wrong, but I don't think the Korean War lasted 11 years, either.

KEN LEVINE said...

No, you're wrong. We did extensive research and yes, the Korean War did last eleven years. Actually, ten with an option for another half year.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Agree totally on the inaccuracies regarding the men's and women's hair, clothes, etc., but I enjoyed the show anyway. Another glitch along those lines was the fraternization between the officers and enlisted people. Maybe it was different in a MASH unit, but in the Corps of Engineers, when I served, the officers were like royalty and we soldiers were serfs. Sergeants mainly existed so the officers wouldn't have t talk to the enlisted men directly. Seems the only semi-regular sergeant in MASH was Rizzo, from the motor pool. Even the chow hall didn't have a mess sergeant, but a corporal.

Anonymous said...

C'mon you can't think for a minute there will be a Dodger post season? What with babying injured players and high price guys that can't swing a bat anymore?

You might as well start the seminar today….

A Fan just venting, thanks

growingupartists said...

What?! A sitcom room seminar? Are you teasing about Sundance, again. Oh, sorry Ken. I let my imagination get the better of me again. You know me and blond cowboys!

LouOCNY said...

Agree totally on the inaccuracies regarding the men's and women's hair, clothes, etc., but I enjoyed the show anyway. Another glitch along those lines was the fraternization between the officers and enlisted people. Maybe it was different in a MASH unit, but in the Corps of Engineers, when I served, the officers were like royalty and we soldiers were serfs. Sergeants mainly existed so the officers wouldn't have t talk to the enlisted men directly. Seems the only semi-regular sergeant in MASH was Rizzo, from the motor pool. Even the chow hall didn't have a mess sergeant, but a corporal.

I think that partially comes from the idea that a MASH was NOT a normal US Army outfit - it was constantly pointed out that in a MASH-type situation, normal military procedure would get in the way of the saving of lives...and partially for television purposes..


As far the hair, etc, is concerned, remember that in a movie, an actor/actress can stand having period haircuts etc for the relatively few weeks a movie is in production, whereas a TV cast has to live with the 'dos for entire seasons! They had this problem on Star Trek, where they wanted the cast to have 'futuristic' hairstyles, but the cast balked, so they came up with the idea of the pointed 'Trek sideburns'.

TJ said...

But I’d say seven years is the magic number. Let’s see William Shakespeare come up with the 150th episode of Hamlet (and getting notes on the outlines from a network executive who just graduated from Sarah Lawrence).

Larry Rhine, who with his partner Lou Derman wrote for everything from "Mr. Ed" to "All in the Family," once told me that he and Derman were absolutely thrilled when a script they wrote for Lucille Ball's series "Here's Lucy" managed to come up with a physical bit that--after nearly twenty years and well over three hundred episodes--no one had ever thought of for Ball before. The sheer frustration, he said, of having idea after idea after idea greeted with "we already did that."

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Lucy, every episode from the first four years of "I Love Lucy" were written by the same three people, and that was back when seasons were 39 episodes long.

Wayne said...

At graphjam.com on the vote page, they have an amusing chart of Artistic Quality/ Cultural Relevance of MASH.

The gist is it goes down till it makes a slight comeback with the parody on Family Guy and Futurama.

(I'd post the graphic if it were allowed here)