Thursday, December 17, 2009

How to drive your actors completely insane

Aloha. Here is some last minute Friday Q & A’s before Christmas. If you have a question, send it my way via the comments section. Mahalo.

LD wonders:

Often syndicated programming will shoot promos with the cast where they mention the name of the local station. Can you shed some light on how this goes down? How many of these are typically done in a year? At what point does everyone start to go crazy from the repetition? How often would writers be asked to prepare something unique instead of just saying "Watch Frasier on WXYZ!"

The shows’ writers never got involved in that. That would cost the syndicators money so you know that'll never happen. Usually once a year the promo department would assemble the cast and at one time, over a couple of hours, record all of these local promos. After about a half hour the actors were going nuts. Because it wasn’t just parroting back call-letters, each station had its own slogan and each station had its own news anchor they wanted plugged. On MASH one year they did it on a Friday night after filming for twelve hours. I swear, by the end, they looked like Confederate soldiers hobbling home dazed from the Civil War.

willieb gets in the spirit of joy with an AfterMASH question:

A number of reviews of the new "Scrubs" this week said something along the lines of: "It's a bad sequel, but not as bad as AFTER M*A*S*H*." Really, what made AFTER M*A*S*H* the last word in failed sequels?

Well, it premiered with a 51 share and sunk to a 19 by the end of the season. That’s usually a bad sign (although the show was still renewed if you can believe it).

I think the combination of assembling three second-bananas and setting them in the comedy-rich world of a Veteran’s Hospital in 1953 combined for a less-than-stellar show. Even with Larry Gelbart at the helm we couldn’t overcome that obstacle.

Hey, as funny as they are, I’d like to see the BIG BANG THEORY writers try to squeeze laughs out of that leaden premise.

From Abie'sIrishRose:

Back in the day, my family watched Bing Crosby movies (Going My Way, Holiday Inn, etc. etc) The Bishop's Wife, etc. And we looked forward to The Grinch and other animated specials. I know many non Christians go out to movies on Christmas (and have Chinese food). But are there any holiday themed movies you would watch as part of the festive season? I could only think tangentially of "For Your Consideration" which features the making of a movie about Purim. And that's kind of new.

If you’re looking for Jewish-themed Christmas movies I can’t think of many. EIGHT MEN OUT is not about Hanukah. But my favorite holiday movie is A CHRISTMAS STORY.

TBS or TNT or one of those cable networks that begin with a “T” traditionally has a 24 hour marathon of A CHRISTMAS STORY and I watch it (or parts of it) every year.

rickatnite asks:

It seems there's some kind of unwritten law of sitcoms that once the youngest kid of the show's family reaches the age of the oldest kid at the start of the series (give or take a year), it's time to cancel the show...or add another set of twins. Am I imagining this or is it real?

I’ve never heard this. If it’s true, the next family sitcom I create will have a middle-aged dad with a young trophy wife so his children will be six months old and 35.

32 comments:

AlaskaRay said...

Ken Levine said: "I’ve never heard this. If it’s true, the next family sitcom I create will have a middle-aged dad with a young trophy wife so his children will be six months old and 35."

Nice idea but it's been done. It's called Modern Family.

Ray

Bob Claster said...

I have very fond memories of the day-long promo shoot for Donny and Marie's talk show. Each station provided its own copy, and yet... somehow, everyone wanted a variation of "little bit country, little bit rock and roll." About an hour into it, they got the giggles, and it took twice as long as it had to. Marie had something snarky to say about almost every town represented, especially those who wanted her to say "I'm a little bit country..."

Max Clarke said...

Christmas Story is a great movie, each time I've seen it, the movie appears better. Any kid who had to wear a piece of Christmas clothing knows how Ralphie felt when he put on the bunny outfit.

dramagirl42 said...

You can't go wrong (as long as there's liquor) with a nice evening in watching The Hebrew Hammer. It's beyond absurd, as is to be expected with anything featuring Andy Dick, but it's a good time if A Rugrats Chanukah doesn't cut it for you, though that particular special is pretty sweet and I'm saying that as a shiksa from the Midwest.

Ed said...

Friday Q - I loved the Cliff blows the Jeopardy show ep. I'm curious as to how much back and forth there may have been amongst all y'all in deciding categories and what questions would be asked - and most especially, the Final Jeopardy question. Any anecdotes would be much appreciated.

Dani, Danisidhe said...

I'm not sure if I should ask this but I'm hugely curious, what on earth does the "(and have Chinese food)" in Abie'sIrishRose's question refer to? Is it just that Chinese restaurants are open on Christian holidays or is there something else? I feel the sentence is somehow heavy with significance I'm missing...

Roger Owen Green said...

In the same vein as Ed's question: How much input did the JEOPARDY! folks have in how Alex Trebek was used, and anything else game show-related?

Ref said...

I heard (from an older Jewish friend, no less) that the open availability of Chinese restaurants on Christmas when they first blossomed on the scene in the '30s was the genesis of that tradition.

Ed D. said...

Just wanted to add that as good as "The Christmas Story" is, I like "We're No Angels" quite a bit. Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov as three escaped convicts on Devil's Island who fix up the situation for Leo G. Carrol against his nemisis, Basil Rathbone... with a pretty girl thrown in. And don't forget the snake.

DoubleJ said...

@Dani, Danisidhe: It's a reference to "A Christmas Story". After the neighbor's dogs eat the family's Christmas turkey they have to go out to eat. The only place open is a Chinese restaurant, and the family are the only customers there (since everybody else is presumably at home having their holiday meals). So going out for Chinese food (presumably duck, as in the movie) has become something that some fans do, especially those without large families to eat with. Or maybe with large families that they want to avoid.

VP81955 said...

When I lived in Philadelphia, I recall seeing a "Married...With Children" promo when the series first moved into syndication. It was on the same station that telecast Phillies games (and had just obtained the rights), so the promo featured Ed O'Neill (speaking at himself, not as Al Bundy), sitting on the show's famed sofa, wearing a Phillies jacket and reminding us to watch on "TV 17...home of the Phillies.". Wonder if O'Neill (a former star linebacker at Youngstown State, BTW) had to wear any other MLB jackets for those markets' promos.

wv: "heryina" -- The "laughing" animal that escaped from the zoo and somehow wound up in the Greenpoint (or is that Greenpernt?) neighborhood of Brooklyn.

wv2: "lapogo" -- the "AfterMASH" of comic strips, which ended tragically when the title character was run over on the Harbor Freeway. What was Walt Kelly thinking when he created that spinoff?

A_Homer said...

The fact that these promos had to be done back when there were fewer stations and cable choices is one thing, where it seems these actors were part of one big affiliate family and so on. But nowadays, does that still make any sense? I get the feeling local affiliates still want all kinds of star-perks (just judging by how much Jay Leno had to personally cater to them to help his show launch) but having stars do the local promo callouts, well it seems about as relevant to the audience as the station-owner's vanity-license plates. Or am I missing something.

rickatnite said...

24 hours of Christmas Story on TBS has to be better than 18 hours of Bad Santa on Spike. Yes, they're doing that this year.

Truthfully, though, I think it'd be super clever of a network to wait until 2/2 to do a marathon of Groundhog Day.

Stan J said...

Let's not forget that Christmas Story is from the fertile mind of Jean Shepherd, whose stories were based on his childhood in Hammond, Indiana. Shep also has a radio connection to Levine, since most of the Christmas Story and his other tales were originally delivered as part of his overnight radio show on WOR in New York. If you are looking for Christmas Story in Shepherd's writings, you should know that it is a composite of a number of them.

Anonymous said...

I would give "Mahalo" the response it deserves when said to someone back in the lower 48 in December, wearing 11 layers of clothing, but there may be impressionable children reading.

DonBoy said...

I think there's a Murphy Brown episode featuring the death march of the million local promos.

Jeff said...

Ken, curious what you think of Modern Family--and the device of staged interviews with the characters to offer back story to plot lines. Happy Holidays!

rms said...

Bad Santa is my absolute favorite Christmas movie, followed by A Christmas Story.

Daniel S. said...

Disney's been airing Full Court Miracle annually but I've not seen The Hebrew Hammer on in a few years.

Alyson said...

Speaking of promos, one of the funniest things I've ever seen is a blooper of Jane Leeves trying to get through reading local Frasier promos. It was on the blooper special years back.

Bob said...

AfterMASH's rep is hurt by the fact that virtually no one's seen it since its initial run...I definitely thought it was more entertaining than the last four years of MASH...

Dana gabbard said...

Ed D., you'll be glad to hear the American Cinematheque here in L.A. last night ran "We're No Angels" as part of its series Films with Holiday Spirit & Big Screen Family Classics.

A_Homer I think pegged it--the promos are as much about making the affiliates happy as actually being useful. Heck the original Capt. Marvel (aka Shazam!) in the 40s did a series of stories where the good Captain traveled to cities across the U.S. and somehow always met the President of the company that distributed his comics in that city (I'm sure w/photo reference arranged so the artist got the likeness right). Getting brownie points with someone that your liveleyhood is tied to is a smart businenss move.

BrianK said...

Although its been said, many times, many ways... FAH WAH WAH WAH WAH, WAH WAH WAH WAH.

KEN LEVINE said...

Ed,

Later this month Dan O'Shannon who co-wrote the Jeopardy episode has agreed to guest blog and answer your question. Stay tuned.

Mike Plant said...

I recently watched AfterMASH and thought it was pretty good. It was probably made a little too soon after MASH had ended to make any impact, had it been left a few years it would have been a much bigger event.

Kirk Jusko said...

I remember AfterMash running for two seasons. I thought the second season was better, as the show seemed to focus on Klinger's inability to adjust to civilian life. A somewhat ironic shift given how often he tried to get out of the army on the original MASH. I remember Captain Flagg appearing on an episode and complaining that Joe McCarthy had stealed his thunder.

Ref said...

Stan J, most of Christmas Story is in the collection titled "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash."

Anonymous said...

even better: twin trophy wives

LouOCNY said...

ACS is one of favorite MOVIES of all time, not just Christmas..becasue:

1. When I was 7 years old, I looked EXACTLY like Ralphie - too bad I didn't grow up to look like Billingsly does now...

2. When TNT (NOT TBS) shows the marathon (which I call, "24 hours of Ralphie"), you just about know when to turn it on to see certain bits.

3. As fifty million people have said, it is just so darn REAL - it maybe was the first movie to openly acknowledge that kids of the 40's swore just as much as contemporary kids.

4. The alternate audio track with Billingsly and the late (sigh)Bob Clark is perfect - since Billingsly grew up to be in the business, he knows exactly what to bring up with Clark, so it becomes both informative AND entertaining.

5. "Ohhhhhhhh Fuuuuuuuuuuuddddggggge" Only I didn't say fudge

Danisidhe said...

Thank you for the answers :) "A Christmas Story" is not a film I was aware of, being Australian.

Brian K said...

Hi Ken, I noticed that when Cheers reruns come on, they don't play the whole theme song. It starts at "..where everybody knows your name." Is this the cable network trying to squeeze in another 30 seconds of advertising? Also, and I believe I asked this before - why do some DVD's not have the original song?

Jayne L. said...

Friday Question: I recently caught 'The Apparent Trap', an episode of Frasier that incorporated a follow-up to 'Room Service', but was not written by you. What's the etiquette of such things in the writers' room/production office? Since the new episode played explicitly off material from yours, did you get a piece of the new episode's monetary action, or did you just have to sign off on the reference?

CAPTCHA word: "ingallit" - slang term for a series of historical children's novels about little houses, prairies, long winters, and Native persecution.