Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Albania song

Here's a tell-and-show Friday question.

cleek wonders:

Who wrote Coach's "Albania" song? Everything I know about the country comes from that song, so I'd like to thank whoever wrote it.

That was from the third season of CHEERS. My memory is a little hazy on that episode so I contacted two writers who were involved.

From Tom Reeder:

Hi, Ken -- As it turns out, I was the writer of that script. It was called "Teacher's Pet", and the storyline had to do with Sam going to night school to get the high school diploma he'd never achieved. Inspired by Sam, Coach also went back to finish up -- he was a couple of years short. Coach proved to be a more diligent student than Sam, because he developed his own unique mnemonic devices. One of them was a song (to the tune of "When The Saints Go Marching In") that contained facts about Albania for an upcoming Geography test: "You border on the Adriatic"... "your land is mostly mountainous"... "and your chief export is chrome".

In fairness, I think Sam Simon may have supplied some of the words for the song, and I may not have the lyrics exactly right, but I'm pretty certain "your chief export is chrome" was the last line. Nick Colasanto really sold it. It was pretty funny.

It's not unusual for the staff to tinker with scripts. Lord knows they improved all of mine. Sam Simon was a producer of CHEERS that year and talks about polishing the Albania bit.

It was room written by Glen and Les Charles, Heide Perlman, David Angel, Ken Estin and myself in about 90 seconds. I went to the Bornstein Memory School when I was a kid, and I suggested the song as a mnemonic device. This was before the internet, so we got out an almanac for the facts, which were true. I think the tune is “When the Saints Go Marching In”. I guess it shows how effective transposing song lyrics are as a mnemonic device, because, more than twenty years later, I know Albania borders on the Adriatic and their chief export is chrome. This may have been the last episode Nick filmed, I’m not sure. They aired out of order. He was extremely frail that night.

Thanks to Tom and Sam, and now, here is the actual scene. What's your question? If I don't know the answer I try to find the people who do.

13 comments:

Heide P said...

I totally remember that night, remember Sam Simon looking in an almanac to get some facts about Albania. That song still runs through my head everytime (albeit not very often) I hear the word Albania. There was something about the chief export being chrome and the picture in my head of a big chrome bumper from a car from the 1940's that struck me as particularly funny. Also Ted Danson was so great in that bit.

cb said...

psssst...look up above this...that's a comedy legend.

Jim said...

One of the greatest Cheers scenes ever, and one of my favorite coach moments (and as I write that, I had a lot of favorite Coach moments: "Please! You're making a mockery of Bell Day!".... "Kind of a nice break in the day, isn't it, Sam?").
-Now that I know it was Nicholas Colasanto's last episode, it will be a different show next time I see it.

(WV: abliia, which was name for Albania in the medieval dialect along the Adriatic coast of Italy)

Max Clarke said...

Years ago, I was watching the movie, Wag The Dog, and the Robert De Niro character needs to find a country the US can stage a fake war against. There's the scene where De Niro and Anne Heche are at the airport, and De Niro tells her they're going to war against...Albania.

"What did Albania ever do to us?" Anne Heche asks, and Robert De Niro answers, "What did they ever do for us?"

At that moment, I could hear Coach singing in my head, "...borders on the Adriatic, and their chief export is chrome."

Also, there was a very short moment in the episode when Coach also sings a song that begins, "Taiwan...." and it appears to be set to Autumn In New York.

Anonymous said...

There is an Albanian girl that started working with me a few months back. Within the first week someone was asking her where Albania actually was. From Across the room I shouted "ON THE ADRIATIC!! It's land is mostly mountainous, and it's chief export is chrome!!" Most people looked at me as if I was insane, but one other guy started cracking up, as he knew the same facts I did for the same reason.

A. Buck Short said...

”You’re a Communist Republic. You’re a red regime....”One would expect nothing less from an individual with the dexterity to have once integrated a reference to the substance isinglass into a contemporary travel piece. (See TR, you thought we weren’t paying attention.)The Obama administration had promised more transparency in blogging, and, well, there you go.

Personally, I find the recently introduced Google Chrome to have a considerably more user friendly interface that it’s Albanian browser counterpart. But maybe that’s just me. I also prefer the tropical and subtropical locations where the principal exports are traditionally thistle, hemp, and manganese. “Welcome to East Gabon, always ready to meet all of your family’s manganese needs.”

However, until the late 1980’s, Albania remained the only place you could ever find a fez anywhere north of Malta. And who can ever forget Gabriel Byrne’s unforgettable portrayal of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxah in The Usual Suspects.As geographical lyricism goes, no song has resonated with me as much since the young Billy Crystal’s rendition of the ever popular “Rumania” in Mr. Saturday Night:

-----Echhh, Rumania, Rumania, Rumania
-----Rumania, Rumania, Rumania.
-----Geven a mol a land a zise, a sheyne.

-----Echhh, Rumania, Rumania, Rumania
-----Rumania, Rumania, Rumania.
-----Geven a mol a land a zise, a fayne.

-----Hay digi digi dam, digi digi digi dam;
-----Hay digi digi digi digi digi dam.
-----Hay digi digi dam, digi digi digi dam;
-----Hay digi digi digi digi digi dam.
-----Dzingma, tay tidl ti dam;
-----dzingma, tay tidl ti dam;
-----dzingma, tay tidl ti dam;
-----dzingma, tay tidlt ti dam.
-----Dzingma, tay tidl ti dam;
-----dzingma, tay tidl ti dam;
-----dzingma, tay tidl ti dam;
-----dzingma, tay tidlt ti dam.

Rough English translation:”Romania, Romania, Romania, Romania, Romania, Romania, Romania,
See what I did? Seven times I said the country.
I really dig the pastrami (repeat 3 times).
But does anybody know where a guy can get a decent hunk of chrome, dammit! (repeat 7 times)
.

Nick Colasanto, what a sweet man. And then Rhode Island had to go and spoil everything with the Farrelly Bros.

rob! said...

Ken-

I was watching an episode of Frasier last night, the one where they all go to a cabin in the woods, intended as a romantic getaway for Martin and Ronnie, and they all have weird dreams.

Martin's dream is this huge musical number, complete with dancing girls, fireworks, etc. Quite an amazing little number.

My question is, in terms of producing such an episode--that clearly busts the budget for that particular episode, doing something so elaborate.

Where does that money come from? Do you go to the network for extra $$ or do the producers take money away from other episodes that come in under budget, to put it towards something special?

Mike said...

I loved that episode, and that song. To this day, whenever I see Albania referenced anyplace, that song pops in my head.

Here's my question: Recently (well, not too recently, as I think the show's already been canceled), Entertainment Weekly had a news blurb saying that the producers of the sitcom In the Motherhood were asking families to write in with their own funny parenthood stories, and they might wind up being used in an episode. EW blasted the show for doing this, saying that the writers should be doing their own work. So, what do you think of such a gimmick: a way to get the audience involved and make a show more true-to-life, or is it a way for the writers to do less work, and come up with fewer original storylines?

Anonymous said...

I'd also be interested in what the lawyers would have to say about that. What kind of waiver would you have to sign to be able to submit a story about uncle bob's diapers?

LouOCNY said...

My question is, in terms of producing such an episode--that clearly busts the budget for that particular episode, doing something so elaborate.

Where does that money come from? Do you go to the network for extra $$ or do the producers take money away from other episodes that come in under budget, to put it towards something special?
Even I, a non pro, knows the answer to that one: you simply dio an episode NOT as expensive to do! The easiest example I can think of comes from the world of Looney Tunes - when Chuck Jones would want to do a classic like "Whats Opera Doc?", which was very drawing and color intensive, and would cost a lot more than the average Bugs Bunny short, he would do a Road Runner, which he could do much cheaper and faster than the average short, and then have his crew fudge the Whats Opera Doc time cards and put down they were working on the RR short...

As a non pro, I am ASSUMING that the network/studio does not care too much about what individual episodes cost, as long as the season's total budget comes out fairly close....especially for a hit.

Todd said...

Wow.

This is pretty amazing. I actually attended that taping (actually, filming) of "CHEERS", so many years ago.

I was a young guy just freshly arrived from Michigan with a degree in Aerospace Engineering who was about to chuck my diploma for a shot at screenwriting. I attended TV tapings for education and inspiration, and the Albania episode of "CHEERS" provided both, as it was the very first I witnessed in person.

My biggest surprise that evening? How looooong the evening was. It took something like 4 hours to shoot that 1/2 hour of television...

...but I stayed through every last pickup, happily humming the Albania song all the way home.

It took another 4 years of solid spec writing before I made my first sale, but I recall it even less fondly, believe it or not, than that very first visit to the set of "CHEERS".

Great blog, Mr. Levine.

Todd

mickey said...

"Your chief export is chrome" is the last line in the syndicated version, but the original airing added "You're a Communist republic ... You're a red regime".

...But A. Buck Short beat me to it.

David Brazeal said...

I just stumbled upon this post because I am in the process of re-watching all the old Cheers episodes on Netflix streaming, and Googled -- what else? -- "your chief export is chrome." The show is brilliantly written -- far funnier than I remember, and far more clever than I realized as a teenager.

And Nicholas Colasanto. Well, upon rewatching, Coach rivals Barney Fife as my favorite character ever. I still remember my mother waking me for school one morning and telling me that he had passed away. I felt the loss then, and feel it all over again as I finish up Season 3 on Netflix.