Thursday, December 25, 2008

Hello Larry, Goodbye MacLean

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Here’s some Friday questions to read before going to the mall and exchanging all the crap you got yesterday.

Two MASH related questions come from Kurt Helf:

Who decides what bits to cut from a show, so we can view MORE of corporate America’s beloved commercials, after it goes to syndication? I’ve been watching early seasons of M*A*S*H and I see scenes, gems and some insightful moments really, that aren’t in the syndicated episodes.

This has always been a huge bone of contention because rarely does a show’s producer get a say in how his series is butchered for syndication. Suits in marketing departments or hired editors often are the ones assigned this task. In the case of MASH, some of the episodes are so badly chopped up they no longer make sense. It’s a travesty. I’m not saying it’s easy to take three minutes out of an episode of MASH, we crammed an awful lot of stuff into those original 24 minutes, but Jesus, O.J. could cut them up better. Buy or rent the DVD's. You'll be happy.

While I’ll never really quite understand why actors leave hit TV shows in which they’re BRILLIANT, Mclean Stevenson being the obvious archetype (he was SO GOOD in M*A*S*H), how/why is it that they tend to be so lousy in the vehicles that lured them away? What was the show Stevenson ended up in? “Hello Larry”?

Yes, that was the stinkburger. You’ll see AfterMASH reruns before HELLO LARRY returns to the airwaves.

The reason actors leave hit shows is usually because they’re dumb. They don’t realize that to be on a hit series, surrounded by gifted actors, and top flight writers is like winning the lottery. How many people win two lotteries? For every Clint Eastwood and Goldie Hawn who left hit shows and became major movie stars, there are a hundred MacLean Stevensons who wound up in THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE.

Yes, they may thank the writers and their fellow cast members when accepting awards but many of them are really thinking, “It’s ME! All ME.” It’s that kind of thinking that leads to a life of dinner theater.

And from Dave Shoff:

I just read an article about vanity cards being placed in the ending of a show. Chuck Lorre seemed to take great pride in them. Have you ever done such a thing, and if so, have any examples?

My partner and I have had a vanity card on two of our series but haven't done anything real creative. We just call our production company Levine & Isaacs Productions. Catchy, huh? I know a lot of producers like to take cute names. We don’t, although we did once flirt with “Six and Cancelled Production”.

As for the vanity card itself, we just have our names large enough that people can read them. And we did the card in black and white to stand out even more.

Chuck Lorre's vanity cards are great. He writes little essays. I don't have the heart to tell him he could do the same thing in a blog.

What’s your question?

24 comments :

rickatnite said...

Relax, you don't need to tell him. Chuck has all his cards posted at chucklorre.com. Even the censored ones.

Joe said...

Question?

Hmm.

Howzabout...What's it like when a guest star comes in and wants to "help" in the episode he or she will be acting. I'm specifically thinking of John Cleese on Cheers.

(No need to revisit any...er...difficult memories with Cybill cross-pollinatin' with Almost Perfect.)

bevo said...

A question about Cheers: I read in Brandon Tartikoff's autobiography that he wanted the actor William Devane for the Sam Malone character. Devane decided to audition barefoot as part of the character. Unfortunately, someone had dropped a glass. Devane stepped on the shards. Bleeding, he gave his performance. However, no one liked the idea of a barefoot Sam Malone. Is there any truth to this story? Who else was considered for Sam Malone? How did you know Ted Danson was Sam Malone

Frasier Fan said...

The worst instance of syndication editing I have seen is in the High Holidays episode of Frasier. They cut the two funniest lines in the entire episode! Dog Army and Fridge Pants!

thevidiot said...

Not too many years ago, the local stations could hack at syndicated shows with abandon. The station I worked at took an episode of "Gomer Pyle" and removed the climax - Gomer borrows Sgt Carters new convertible to visit his girlfriend Luanne, parks it by a construction site, a wrecking ball destroys the car, Gomer has a dilemma. Fine, except while we were selling soap and stereos they had cut out the wrecking ball drop. Gomer parked the car, walked away - commercial - we return to Gomer saying "what am I going to do??" Ah, good job of editing!

Maybe because of that, I became an editor! I'm not sure how Ken feels about it but these days a lot of shows are "sped up" and I despise that. Everything is unnatural, action is jumpy and I get nervous watching it. Of course they electronically lower the pitch of the sound so many are unaware of the show zooming by at 7% faster speed.

Michael Green said...

Those attacks under the guise of editing are awful. Ken is right--I have seen MASH episodes that ended up making no sense.

I have to say, McLean Stevenson made a big mistake, but he also talked about the problems he and the cast had with Twentieth-Century Fox, and that was one of his issues. I thought he was hilarious, but I really think Harry Morgan made for a better commanding officer--administratively, yes, but I also mean as a character.

About Devane--I read that William Christopher improvised when he read for Father Mulcahy and that Reynolds and Gelbart didn't like it but gave him another chance.

Mary Stella said...

Ken, one of the recent issues of TV Guide pretty much slams the writers for walking out in 2007 and wrecking that fall season and into 2008. I'm a writer (not for tv) and you all taking the brunt of the criticism doesn't seem fair. Why aren't more people blaming the studios, networks, etc. for forcing the union into a corner so that strike was the best option?

(Nobody needs to point out that I'm obviously biased in the way that I phrased the question. LOL)

fitting wv: imind as in I mind that writers get shafted.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Always a treat to see a name in the credits of someone who didn't appear in the broadcast. There ought to be a law against cutting shows.

thevidiot said...

Cap'n Bob: Be happy for the actor as he or she now gets residuals even though they ended up on the cutting room floor.

We have to file quite a bit of paperwork when we cut an actor so that they are accounted for properly. Always a big pain for the Post Production folks.

Not sure how it works in syndication anymore as I have not participated in the additional butchery of anything I have done in the past.

Kirk Jusko said...

Want to know what was truly ironic about THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE? It also starred Harry Morgan, who replaced Stevenson on MASH.

Brent McKee said...

Wasn't McLean Stevenson a two-time loser in terms of leaving hit TV shows? I seem to recall that he left "The Doris Day Show" after two seasons believing he was going to get something better...and didn't. He eventually got "MASH" and left it for "Hello Larry."

Nat G said...

Just to correct something that's been said multiple times here: McLean did not leave M*A*S*H for Hello, Larry. He left it for The McLean Stevenson Show. When that went down, he starred in the series In The Beginning. It was only after that collapsed that he moved on to his most-successful post-M*A*S*H series, Hello, Larry.

So he got to have done his strong second-banana role, moved on to trying to be the top banana, and got three chances to try. Not that bad a life. (And it's a mistake to assume that otherwise, he would've stayed with M*A*S*H forever; most of the cast from season 1 didn't make it to the end.)

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Always a treat to see a name in the credits of someone who didn't appear in the broadcast. There ought to be a law against cutting shows.


But that happens even with full broadcast versions. Movies too. It's just not unusual to film a part for which credit is promised, but doesn't make the final cut for any number of reasons.

Joe said...

I happened, about 15 years ago, to be sitting in a booth at the Broadway Deli in Sta. Monica and Harry Morgan and a brigade of what I assumed was his family were seated directly behind me.

I was going to tell him how much I had enjoyed his work in both Dragnet and M*A*S*H, but then I thought that he mightn't want to be bothered when he's just having dinner with his family, and then I thought maybe I'll say something nice in passing as I head out and then he left and I didn't get to say JACK.

But I also got to see Paula Abdul in a sweatsuit and sunglasses. (She was 3'11" and had a rather outsized...er...seat.

I have no idea where I was going with any of this.

Joe said...

P.S. My WVW is "nouns" which is the words used for a person, place or thing. (I bet THAT wins me something at the next Daffy Definition Kontest.)

P.P.S. Really, it was:
https://www.blogger.com/captcha?type=IMAGE&captchaKey=er14xf88qvht

A. Buck Short said...

I’d hate to have McLean Stevenson remembered only for that bummer of a career move. I don’t know if he was a pain on the set before what must have been the unpleasantness of leaving, but the one time I met him, he couldn’t have been nicer or more outgoing. What seems to be lost here is that he had talent (Actors Studio-ish?), probably wit, likely understood what funny is, and probably made you writers happy with what he brought to Col. Blake.–- or maybe just with what he got of Blake? Wouldn’t mind hearing more on that. But please be gentle.

The guy was from Illinois and some sort of a cousin to Adlai Stevenson. (Hell, It may have been in the Stevenson tradition to make a great impression,then lose twice…consecutively.) The cousin seemed to have a certain wryness – OK, when sorely pressed -- but I doubt had ever been viewed by many as a barrel of laughs. However, the candidate’s grandfather, Adlai 1, who was Grover Cleveland’s VP (Second term. As you’ll recall Hello Grover was canceled after its fourth season, but came back in syndication after a 4-year hiatus)seemed to have been known for his humor/engaging personality – or at least had a grasp on the relative unimportance of the office. Following a story about Buchanan’s Veep having been given an opportunity to chime in on the wording of the President’s Thanksgiving speech, somebody asked Stevenson if he himself had been consulted by Cleveland, even to that minor extent. The reply, “Not yet. But there are still a few weeks left in my term.”

Incidentally, that progenitor could actually have risen to the presidency himself, had Cleveland not survived his operation for jaw and palate cancer – which was literally touch and go. The procedure having been performed on a boat at sea, to keep it secret. I can just see that MASH unit rocking with the waves.

And in conclusion, ladies and gentleman of the jury, I’ve never seen any evidence, but I’d always hoped to discover one day that maybe one of Hello Larry's creators might have gone to school in Boston or something and modeled the show/character after Larry Glick and his late night radio talk show on WBZ, the TV station where I was working during that one brief shining moment in history Hello Larry graced the airwaves. Before the talk radio ideological revolution, the show was pretty much insipid banter, with the host playing off callers that included a bevy of not terribly cerebral regulars, who may or may not have gotten it. One of the program’s signatures was Glick’s unfailing response to the caller’s first words, “Hello Larry?” It was always, “Wait, lemme check….”

If you’re interested, here’s a clip with a guy who had just plugged three bullets into his gas station’s infuriating vending machine –while the technician was attempting to repair it. Just an idea of how little pushing of the envelope was required in the early 80s.

http://www.staffannouncer.com/Glick/Man%20Shoots%20Vending%20Machine.mp3

Mark Evanier said...

To second what Nat said, the show McLean left M*A*S*H for was not HELLO, LARRY. It was THE McLEAN STEVENSON SHOW and I was one of the writers on it. My first screen credit, in fact. The show turned out about as well as you could expect of a sitcom executive produced by Monty Hall.

But actually, McLean left M*A*S*H for a very lucrative NBC contract which included several possibilities, including a very real shot at taking over THE TONIGHT SHOW. Mr. Carson was then threatening to leave. Stevenson had been doing a darn good job as an occasional guest host and was next in line for the job. If Johnny had left and McLean had gotten that job, leaving M*A*S*H wouldn't look like such a bad move, would it?

The one time I got to talk to McLean about it, I sure got the impression that more money and a possibility at career advancement were only part of the reason he left M*A*S*H. A good part was that he felt 20th Century Fox was treating him badly and that the show wasn't giving him much to do. (He referred to himself as "the Eighth Banana" and did an impression of a film editor saying, "The show's three minutes long this week. Let's start by cutting out all of McLean's good scenes!")

By the way: McLean was at least the third choice to star in HELLO, LARRY. The original pilot was taped with Ron Leibman. NBC bought the show but not Ron. They began rehearsals with Tom Dreesen, who was replaced after three days. That's when Mr. Stevenson managed to get out of his contract on IN THE BEGINNING and they made the substitution.

John said...

Just on McLean and his final episode of M*A*S*H -- that was one of the few episodes that could be edited in syndication without really killing the effect of the show, because the close after the final commercial break was basically a clip job farewell using some of Stevenson's scenes.

In syndication, stations usually created their own break between the helicopter departing with Henry and the operating room scene, and went straight from there to the final credits, which actually is a far more powerful ending than how it originally was shown on CBS (and I think that's also the way 20th has handled it, when they began pre-editing the shows for syndication back around 1990 or so).

KEN LEVINE said...

If you don't know, Mark Evanier has one of the best websites on the net.

http://www.newsfromme.com/

Check it out.

Mike said...

I read once that when Seinfeld went into syndication, either Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld (or both) actually were involved with the production of the syndicated edits, and had a say in what parts got snipped from the episode. The thinking being, yes, it stinks there are going to be cuts, but it's going to happen, so let's at least make sure the best stuff doesn't wind up getting snipped.

Kirk Jusko said...

I just remembered this from the second MAD magazine parody of MASH (the show was on long enough that it rated two spoofs.)

Father Mulcahey is doing mail call (why him exactly, I don't know) and he calls out Colonel Blake's name. Someone reply's that Blake's been killed by a bomb. Mulcahey asks what type of bomb. The answer? HELLO, LARRY, of course.

The above's funnier when illustrated by Jack Davis.

Dana Gabbard said...

My brother has worked as a tech at local TV stations since the early 80s. He told me back in the old days of film chains etc. the station in Yakima Washington he then worked at needed someone to go through prints of movies and chop them down to make room for commercials. So of course the owner gave the job to his layabout son. Only the first time did the lazy bum bother to make cuts that were unobtrusive. Thereafter instead just run off footage so after the commercial break the film resumed 10 minutes later. Viewers called to complain and my brother would apologize. But of course nothing could be done.

Remember those "remastered with enhanced effects" episodes of original Star Trek of a few years ago? How do you leave out the classic iconic line "Vulcans don't bluff" from the Planet Killer episode? Or leave out McCoy's suggesting they create a shield for Spock's eyes from the bright light in "Operation: Annihilate!", causing that pivotal scene to be incoherent? Amazing!

DW said...

Question for Ken:

In every blooper reel I've ever seen, there always seem to be multiple cases of an actor blowing the same line over and over and over again, always to indulgent laughter from the other castmembers.

I've always wondered: at what point, if ever, does the crew, director, or whoever start thinking "OK, this isn't funny any more, can we please just get the scene and move on"? And is that ever communicated to the actors?

DW.

Lee said...

Dana,

Your description of editing back in the days when local stations ran pretty much everything off of film is pretty accurate. For all that people complain about the way shows are edited for syndication these days, the results are actually much better and much more professional now. Used to be, if a station needed to lose two minutes from THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, the footage that was cut invariably led into or out of a commercial break, simply because that was the easiest way to do it, and as often as not, what got cut was the first two minutes or so of the episode.

And no, there was no "golden age" when local stations ran everything intact, no matter what your memory may tell you. An uncle of mine worked for a television syndication company called National Telefilm Assocates for many years and assures me that stations were just as bad to try and work in more commercial time by cutting movies and TV episodes back in the 'fifties as they were years later.