Thursday, October 16, 2008

The barbershop where everyone knows your name

Friday questions day. You can’t start a weekend without them.

Eric L has two things he wants to know:

Weird question I've always wondered- where exactly did those paintings from the opening credits of CHEERS come from?

The opening credits were created by Castle-Bryant. They found old pictures of folks in bars and built that montage. I understand though one or two photos are actually people in a barbershop.

And secondly…

After CHEERS ended was there ever any thought given to spinning off another character besides Frasier? In retrospect Frasier was obviously the perfect choice and besides Rebecca was probably the only character who could have had a life outside of the bar environment, but when the time came to discuss a spin off of CHEERS were there any other options?

Yes. NBC wanted to spin-off Norm & Cliff. They must have approached us five times about writing it. We always passed. One AfterMASH a career is enough. There was also some discussion of spinning-off Carla but that went nowhere. Remember, there was another spin-off of CHEERS (besides FRASIER) – THE TORTELLIS. Carla’s creepy ex-husband Nick (played to slimeball perfection by Dan Hedeya) and his new wife Loretta (the delightfully daft Jean Kasem) move to Las Vegas with one or two of her kids. It lasted maybe thirteen weeks. The Charles Brothers (who were just consulting it) asked David and I to write one as a favor. We met with them all day trying to come up with a story and couldn’t do it. Finally, I said, “What episode is this we’re trying to break?” The answer was five. I said, “Five? Jesus. If stories are that hard to break by episode five you are in shit shape with this show!” They were.

Remember kids when creating a pilot: It’s not just about the funny characters and setting. Make your show ABOUT SOMETHING.

Allen Burns (not to be confused with Allan Burns who co-created THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW) asks:

Some older shows (I think Cheers was one) feature a voiceover of a lead actor saying "[Name of show] was filmed before a live studio audience." All in the Family had a kind of pretentious one with Carroll O’Conner saying something to the effect it was "played before a studio audience for live responses". Was this just to say "Hey, we aren't using a laugh track!" (Pretty obvious in shows with teen stars where actors have to wait for entrance applause and squealing to die down. And the ever annoyng "Awwww!" and "Ooohhhhhh" that greeted any emotional dialogue.

Yes, CHEERS employed that disclaimer after the first few episodes because we were getting complaints about the laugh track when in fact the laughs were real.

I agree there is nothing more insipid than audiences “Awwwwing” at those awful treacley moments in bad sitcoms. First of all, the moments are rarely earned and the audiences sounds like the biggest simps on the planet. Webster cleaned his room like his mommy asked. Awwwwwwwwwwwww.

On CHEERS and any other show I worked on, those cringeworthy reactions were lifted from the soundtrack.

Same with applauding when actors entered scenes. It obliterates any reality and is there anything more artificial and unbelievable than people wildly cheering Fran Drescher?

The other audience we would lose from the soundtrack is any talking back to the actors during the scene. One night on CHEERS we had a particularly rowdy and vociferous bunch. Diane headed for Sam’s office and they yelled, “DON’T GO THROUGH THAT DOOR, GIRL!!” And my favorite: Diane standing up to Sam and someone screaming, “YOU TELL HIM, BITCH!!!!” Needless to say, that threw off Shelley Long’s timing just a wee bit.

Leave your questions in the comments section. Thanks.

37 comments:

Dave said...

This reminds me of the one of the things that I hate about three-camera shows. Too frequently, I'll see a show with a scene that depends on a surprise reveal -- a reveal that is always signaled with a huge reaction from the audience -- which has, of course, spent the previous five minutes watching the setup for the scene or shot by which we are supposed to be surprised.

It just drives me crazy because it seems so false and phony.

Tim W. said...

Does that mean we leave our comments in the questions section?

Mike said...

Speaking of the audience breaking into applause, I read the producers of Seinfeld actually told the audience to *not* applaud when Michael Richards would enter a scene. Not so much because it seemed unrealistic, but because it was really starting to throw off his timing.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"is there anything more artificial and unbelievable than people wildly cheering Fran Drescher?"

Ah, Bush's foreign policy? McCain's economic plan?
A really good $2 bottle of vodka?

I think the sound of people applauding and cheering Fran's entrances was a sound bite lifted from the noise they made when Fran went home.

xjill said...

"Don't go through that door girl!" HA! I've wondered how they get the laughter for HIMYM. Since there's so much flashforwarding/backing and many of the laughs come from the ways things are edited, how do they do that??

Rob said...

"is there anything more artificial and unbelievable than people wildly cheering Fran Drescher?"

Definitely not.

If one could get past Fran Drescher, The Nanny wasn't all that bad in the first couple of seasons; the butler, the blonde, the mother and the grandmother were all were pretty good and written fairly well.

But as I said, to do that one has to get past Fran Drescher (and based on what I've read, I wouldn't be surprised if the writers and cast had to too)

Ger Apeldoorn said...

For years I used to dream about having vhs tapes of a cheer spin-off about Diana getting back from Hollywood and starting a bar of her own. It guest starred Norm and Cliff. Cliff ended up behind the bar,just like he did in on episode of Becker.

Damon Swindall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damon Swindall said...

I'm glad you answered the question about the opening photos. My girlfriend and I were discussing that about a week ago while watching one of the seasons on DVD. I was planning on asking you the very same question.

Rinaldo said...

The most unrealistic audience response I can recall from a sitcom was a failed pilot starring Michael Warren that showed up one Sunday evening in (searches in IMDb...) 1989, called A Little Bit Strange. It was about a black family all of whom were secretly wizards, witches, warlocks, etc.

The first scene showed the boy of the family coming home to an empty house, then (though the magic of TV) doing something magical -- turning into a werewolf, I think. And the audience emitted an impressed "Oooooh!" At the sight of this 10-year-old kid magically transforming into an animal right there in person, apparently.

ochmonek said...

"You tell him, bitch" has just made my day. I hope that exists somewhere for posterity.

What do you think about resolutions to will they / won't they romances in sitcoms? Should they ever be resolved? Sam and Diane survived it, but I'm not sure Daphne and Niles did. Is it better just to keep people hanging on until the very end?

Tim W. said...

"And the audience emitted an impressed "Oooooh!" At the sight of this 10-year-old kid magically transforming into an animal right there in person, apparently."

Man, you're jaded. See, to me, that's just damn impressive.

Anonymous said...

If you haven't heard the RadioLab show on professional laughers hired for "The Nanny", you need to right now. The audiences were being PAID to laugh at Fran Drescher, not because of lack of humor but out of concern that the audience might pose some danger to her.
So, they called central casting and hired some laughers.
Fascinating show.

The Other Phil Rosenthal said...

I vaguely recall the contrived disclaimer on All in the Family was because, for a time at least at O'Connor's urging, the show was not taped before a live audience and was then shown on tape to an audience for responses.

It seems impossibly silly, which is what makes me suspect it's true.

Anyone know for sure?

Dan in WNY said...

As "the other phil" said about
"All in the Familty", I've heared that HIMYM shows a completed cut to an audience to get a reaction for the audio track.

no, i'm dave said...

"The Cliff & Norm Show" would have been funny for about two minutes. I suppose Ma Clavin would have passed on or something, or Norm and Vera finally got divorced, or Norm and Cliff came out of the closet.

Although, it boggles the mind how quickly one would have killed the other with his bare hands given all the extra time they were suddenly spending outside the bar.

Joe P. said...

Question - As an aspiring writer who's, let's say, not as fresh out of college as he used to be, I'm wondering what your thoughts and observations are on ageism for professional TV and movie writers. It seems that Hollywood prioritizes fresh young talent not just in front of the camera, but also behind it. Do the odds of establishing a writing career diminish significantly if it hasn't been accomplished by 30? By 40?

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Ken, I have a Friday question for you. Do I post it here or somewhere else? Thanks.

Dimension Skipper said...

I've always noticed the voiceover at the end of shows (lately on syndicated reruns of 2.5 Men) where one of the actors says "Closed captioning and other considerations provided by..."

I can't help wondering: What are some of the "other considerations"? Are they standard or is there a lot of variation? I think I've sometimes heard it phrased as "promotional considerations" too, but that still doesn't help me. Thanks.

Griff said...

There are lots of wonderful situation comedies, most all of which have been mentioned here. It would be difficult to select the very best one.

[Is THE HONEYMOONERS truly greater than THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW? Is BLACK ADDER really better than M*A*S*H? I couldn't choose, and don't want to. Apples and oranges. Pears and tangerines. Porsches and BMWs.]

However, since you're asking for favorites, I must unhesitatingly name THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW. Particularly the first two seasons, when Nat Hiken was writing and producing the show. I believe both Freud and Spinoza would concur.

My favorite single episode of a sitcom is also from that series: "The Court-Martial" (aka "The Induction of Harry Speakup").

D. McEwan said...

"Anonymous said...
The [Nanny] audiences were being PAID to laugh at Fran Drescher, not because of lack of humor but out of concern that the audience might pose some danger to her."

First off, THE NANNY began using "Professional audiences" a few seasons in. The first two or three seasons were real audiences. I was in one of the real audiences, for an episode a close friend of mine had written. They had little snacks on the chairs. Little printed programs (Not episode-specific, so the same ones were used every week) a beleaguered stand-up doing warm-up, and a live band, which took up about a quarter of the seats, and deafened you between scenes. (Jay Leno's house band also plays at deafening levels between segments.)

As to why they hired an audience, as Fran sank deeper and deeper into her control freak phase, she needed ALL the people around her, including the audience, to be people she could threaten to fire. Ordering a laugh is so much easier than earning one. Also, a paid audience couldn't leave as a shoot dragged on, or was just laboriously unfunny. In the real audience days, too often the last scenes were being shot in front of four or five hardcore hangers-on, as THE NANNY wasn't worth sitting through even for free.

"rob said...
the butler, the blonde, the mother and the grandmother were all were pretty good and written fairly well. But as I said, to do that one has to get past Fran Drescher (and based on what I've read, I wouldn't be surprised if the writers and cast had to too)"

Rob, you are dead on. The four performers you mention were all terrific. Grandma, after all, used to be Millie the next-door-neighbor on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, but they all had to contend with having anything funny they did, were assigned, or came up with, taken from them and given to Fran to do. "I'M the funny one on this show." was her oft-repeated mantra.

If a supporting player got a laugh at the taping, the audience got to just sit there, while the writers spent time upstairs rewriting the scene to transfer the laugh to Fran. Niles in particular took to saving any trace of a performance for the shoot, since any laugh in rehearsals would get rewritten over to Fran.

Because one of my oldest friends wrote for the show for five years, I know this stuff, but the downside is, I also saw every God-damned episode.

I hope those poor laughers were well-paid.

Mike said...

To answer The Other Phil's question about All In the Family, yes, what you've heard is true. In the later seasons of the show, as Carroll O'Connor got more creative control, he basically forced the show into being taped and then played to an audience for live responses. (That's also his voice speaking the convoluted-sounding "live responses" disclaimer at the end of the episodes, IIRC.)

Once the show started taping this way, I don't believe it ever went back to the old way of taping, and I believe Archie Bunker's Place was taped in this fashion as well.

Eric L said...

Thanks for answering my questions.
I figured Cliff & Nomr would be the popular choice for a spin off, but I can't imagine any context where you wouldn't be distracted by asking "Why aren't they at CHEERS?" The bar was just too big of part of their lives for them be without it. Frasier loved the bar, but he was always an outsider so it would make sense that he could thrive without it.

And on the topic of live audience response- I remember on the episode of CHEERS where Rebecca accidentally burned down the bar and Sam told her "Of all the stupid worthless things you've done in your stupid worthless life this is by far the stupidest" you could actually hear some nervous laughter coming from the audience.

Also, as far as "applause for characters as they enter the scene" goes, no show was worse than the later episodes of HAPPY DAYS. Fonzie would enter the room and time would stop for 30 seconds as the cast waited for the audience to stop applauding.

rob said...

d. mcewan,

"The four performers you mention were all terrific. Grandma, after all, used to be Millie the next-door-neighbor on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, but they all had to contend with having anything funny they did, were assigned, or came up with, taken from them and given to Fran to do. "I'M the funny one on this show." was her oft-repeated mantra.

If a supporting player got a laugh at the taping, the audience got to just sit there, while the writers spent time upstairs rewriting the scene to transfer the laugh to Fran. Niles in particular took to saving any trace of a performance for the shoot, since any laugh in rehearsals would get rewritten over to Fran."

Yeesh, did she do that to the kids as well? Granted, only the one who went nude on Californication was close to being good, but explains why it just got more unbearable as it went on.

And looking at IMDB, it's sad to see those four actors not get much work afterwards.

"Because one of my oldest friends wrote for the show for five years, I know this stuff, but the downside is, I also saw every God-damned episode."

I saw a lot of it too, along with Ally McBeal, JAG and Law & Order it was one of those shows my mother watched before I got a say. A while back I saw a bit of the reunion thing while flicking through cable, the butler (Daniel Davis?) didn't show up. Guess I know why. Bet it was scripted too.

As to the topic of laughtracks, I only tend to notice them when the show is not making me laugh. I get the purpose of having them but I'd honestly have to question whether they actually have an affect at all. Especially with the 'aaaaawwws' or 'ooooohs' or the wolf whistles; in those instances I tend to roll my eyes at whatever is happening instead of feeling for the characters. Some actors manage to work their timing around laugh tracks pretty well though.

Cameron said...

I'm stunned to read what Fran Drescher did on The Nanny. Talk about insecurity!! Compare that to Jerry Seinfeld where he once wrote an episode that he was hardly in and gave the laughs to his colleagues. I'd heard that Roseanne was an ogre on set, but I never read about her stealing jokes from other people.

Bob said...

I recall a Discovery Channel program that showed the behind the scenes progression of a Friends episode. One thing that was mentioned in the program was that the audience was usually made up of Friends fanatics and their laughter, cheers, etc. were usually so over the top that the audience reaction had to be altered in post production so the actors could be heard.

I found just the opposite must have been true for Will and Grace. Toward the end of their run, they attempted two episodes that were broadcat live. I don't know if the audience wasn't miked properly or that the shows just weren't that funny, but there is a noticable drop in the "audience reaction" during these live shows.

Anonymous said...

All but the last season of "All in the Family" were taped in front of an audience. At first an announcer and later Rob Reiner gave the "taped before a studio audience" over the closing credits. After Reiner and Sally Struthers left, O'Connor agreed to return only if they shifted to a four-day shooting schedule, with bits of the show gradually taped over those four days, rather than the studio audience taping. That's when they started playing back the finished show to an audience to get a laugh track. This method of taping continued through the "Archie Bunker's Place" years.

As for the comment about McCain's policy - it's just plain dumb. Obama's spending plans during this economic crisis are no better.

Jim said...

Also, as far as "applause for characters as they enter the scene" goes, no show was worse than the later episodes of HAPPY DAYS.

Seemed to be a staple of that era. i remember Welcome Back Kotter was like that, every character got wild applause for every entry. The audience started it with Kramer in the third or fourth season. I figure someone must have told them not to do it after a while.

I have to say, the comments on this blog have done something I would have thought impossible: Made Fran Drescher and The Nanny interesting.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"Anonymous said...
As for the comment about McCain's policy - it's just plain dumb. Obama's spending plans during this economic crisis are no better."

Then I take it you earn more than $250,000 a year. Enjoy the O'Bama Admnistration, "Anonymous".

Cheers darling.

Christopher said...

"I vaguely recall the contrived disclaimer on All in the Family was because, for a time at least at O'Connor's urging, the show was not taped before a live audience and was then shown on tape to an audience for responses.

It seems impossibly silly, which is what makes me suspect it's true."

Anyone know for sure?"

In the 1950s that was a popular method for getting a live reaction on a show filmed without an audience. The edited episode was shown in a miked theater and the audiences' laughter was recorded, then later mixed into the episode's soundtrack. It was a method used by series such as The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, I Married Joan, My Little Margie, Ozzie and Harriet, and Amos 'n' Andy. Even I Love Lucy did this a couple of times for episodes whose shooting difficulties prevented having a live audience. (One was an episode where the toddlers that switched off as Little Ricky had a great deal of screen time, and the other was an episode that involved extensive filming in a studio tank.)

The problem with this method is that it was impossible to anticipate with 100% accuracy what an audience would and would not laugh at, meaning there was always a possibility you'd either end up with a dead spot because something didn't get enough of a laugh to cover the footage you had, or something got a much bigger reaction than anyone expected and the laughter covered up dialogue. In either case, you were stuck with what you had, since the mikes that recorded the audience were also picking up the show's soundtrack. Ozzie and Harriet tried at first to get around this by having each audience member listen to the soundtrack through a set of headphones. What they learned was that a theater full of people doesn't laugh out loud when no one can hear anybody else.

This method of recording laughter for shows filmed without an audience fell out of favor in the late 1950s because it was faster and cheaper to call the guy with the "laugh machine," even though his laugh tracks made it sound like the same audience was at the filming of pretty much every sitcom made in the 1960s.

Rich said...

"This reminds me of the one of the things that I hate about three-camera shows. Too frequently, I'll see a show with a scene that depends on a surprise reveal -- a reveal that is always signaled with a huge reaction from the audience -- which has, of course, spent the previous five minutes watching the setup for the scene or shot by which we are supposed to be surprised.

It just drives me crazy because it seems so false and phony."

My folks attended a taping of an episode of NIGHT COURT that had what you call a surprise reveal in it. My dad said at the very beginning of the scene they pulled back a screen that had hidden part of the set and revealed the character, I think it was Bull, and the gag, and my dad said it got a big laugh from the audience. They they went on and taped the scene. When the episode was shown, my dad noticed that the laugh the reveal got had been moved from the moment when the audience first saw the gag to the appropriate place in the scene.

If that makes sense.

D. McEwan said...

That's how the "Big Reveals" were handled at the sitcom tapings I've gone to, which are several.

Lee said...

I believe The Phil Silvers Show went the same route as All in the Family, but sooner. After the first year, the completed shows were shown to military audiences for "live responses".

Another show that converted was Barney Miller. Sometime during the third or fourth year of the show, they gave up the audience. According to cast and crew, it was primarily because the longer-than-usual lighting setups and the on-set rewrites often made tapings run into the early morning hours, long after the audience had left anyway. Danny Arnold said he also preferred a laugh track because it gave them more freedom with quick shifts from comedy to drama.

Christian said...

Hi, Ken. Huge Cheers fan. I've read many of your posts on Cheers related topics, and of course, you're still very knowledgeable. But, has Paramount approached you about any of the Season set releases, maybe to do some interviews, or commentaries, or something?? Or, have you offered?? I mean, Cheers is arguably, the biggest show of all time, and particularly for the 11th Season being released next week, you'd think there'd be tons of extras. The Bob Costas special, or the Tonight Show drunken appearance, or commentaries on important episodes withing the season, or something. The Finale is STILL the second biggest finale of ALL TIME. And there was tons of hoopla surrounding Cheers coming to an end, and I find it hard to believe, that Paramount doesn't put awsome extras on these Cheers Season sets. Thanks for your time.

Julie said...

I have a question. I aquired a barber chair from Ratzenberger-Cliff Clavin. It's an old style green barber chair. I'm trying to find out if it was used in any Cheers epidsode's. Or maybe someone knows if it was used in something else Ratzenberger appreared in. Please help.

Thank you!

Christian said...

I don't think so. There was never a barber chair in an episode of Cheers that I remember. I have every season on dvd, so I'm pretty positive. That's awsome you bought a chair from Cliffie(Ratzenberger), though. Why was he selling it, or w/e??

Julie said...

Thanks Christian! It's a pretty cool chair and I know that it was used in shows and/or maybe a movie...trying to figure it out. Cliff (Ratzenberger) got rid of a ton of stuff and this chair was one of them. It has been sitting around my office for a longggg time. I want to sell it so I'm looking for the info.

Thanks again!