Monday, June 14, 2010

Who REEALLY came up with the NEWHART finale

I posted the final NEWHART scene last week and also featured and interview with Bob Newhart where he says his wife Ginny came up with the idea for the big twist (SPOILER ALERT: the whole series was all just a dream of Bob’s character from his first series).

I since have heard from several writers of the NEWHART show saying that wasn’t true. According to numerous sources, that final scene was the brainchild of writer Dan O’Shannon. I contacted Dan and he confirmed but did say it’s quite possible Mrs. Newhart thought of it independently. Still, the sense I get from the staff is that they worked off Dan’s idea.

So here’s yet another example of a writer not getting credit because he’s invisible. They rarely do TV interviews with writers. And if they do it’s so the writers can talk about the actors.

When Fox put together that two-hour MASH anniversary program a few years ago we writers were invited to participate. They assembled us in a room, asked questions, and filmed it. The session lasted almost two hours and along the way there were some wonderful observations and terrific anecdotes. When the show aired they used maybe a minute of it. I was on for five seconds. Meanwhile, what you saw for most of the program was the cast sitting around on a set just rambling. If they got to one of our episodes it’s only because a cast member said, “Hey, remember that one where we…?”

Believe me, we weren’t as photogenic but you would have learned a lot more about MASH listening to us. At least Larry Gelbart was on the panel with the actors. But then, and I mean this with no disrespect, why have Jamie Farr explain the objective of this or that when Larry is sitting right there?

Was I bitter? No. I laughed. It was so expected. I was shocked they even wanted to talk to us the writers in the first place.

This isn’t going to change, despite any outrage from writers. If your ultimate goal is to become famous you’re in the wrong profession. But writers at least should get CREDIT for what they create. The NEWHART finale is a classic. It has a place in the history of television. Shouldn’t the writer who actually devised it at least get mentioned?

I love Bob Newhart. He’s a lovely man. And I guarantee he wasn’t slighting a writer on purpose. I’m sure he honestly believes his wife came up with the ending. And again, maybe she did – independently.

But for me, it’s all the more reason to have this forum. I love that from time to time I can shine a spotlight on a writer who deserves recognition. So congratulations Dan O’Shannon for dreaming up an inspired TV finale.

The only problem is – if I were an actor with a blog I’d have 200 times the hits.

23 comments:

Jaime J. Weinman said...

It's also a sign of how writing credits don't always reflect who came up with what, since O'Shannon wasn't one of the credited writers on that episode, and may even have left the show by the time it was written.

The writers of the episode, Mark Egan, Mark Solomon (the two showrunners at the time) and Bob Bendetson, first credited O'Shannon with the idea in a letter to Entertainment Weekly.

Jonathan said...

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing some terrific television writers (Julie Martin, Tom Fontana, David Chambers, and Julie Chambers) for an article I was writing. I can say that I learned more about the creative processes of television in those few sessions than I ever thought possible. I worried at first that they'd just dismiss me and my questions; but they were so open and generous with their time and insight that it caught me a little off guard. And they were all so smart and articulate about what they do and how they think. I couldn't have asked for a better experience.

The general invisibility of the people behind the scripts is one of the great shames of popular culture. It reminds me of that great scene in The Player where the execs are sitting around the table pitching story ideas and working themselves into a lather about how the ideas are so good that the "script will write itself." Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) then comments on the idiocy of it all: "I was thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we can get rid of the actors and directors, maybe we've got something." Indeed.

John Dellaporta said...

I think nowadays, thanks to internet fan culture, that more people know about writers, creators, etc. I was a big Buffy fan and started to learn to ID episodes by writer (I could spot a Jane Espenson script without even seeing the credit). But overall, I think more people know names like Greg Daniels, Mike Shur, Lee Eisenberg, Matthew Weiner, Joss Whedon, David Fury, Tim Minear, Shawn Ryan, David Chase, etc than have ever before.

Charles H. Bryan said...

If nothing else, Lost made its two showrunners well-known. Of course, given the number of people who didn't like the finale, Damon and Carlton might wish for a little anonymity.

(I liked it, but I'm weird.)

Mowsh said...

Oh, how I would love to see the writers footage from the MASH special!

Bob Claster said...

There's a great story that was told to me by one of the showrunners / writers of the episode (whom I'll let remain at least partially anonymous) about the Newhart finale.

Apparently, when the curtain was raised on the old Newhart Show bedroom set, the very savvy invited audience immediately grasped the joke, even before they saw Pleshette. Lengthy laugh and applause. Remember, they still weren't filming yet. Pleshette pops her head up, and gets another huge ovation. When it finally dies down, Pleshette turns to Newhart and says...




"Fuck me, Bob."

Max Clarke said...

This was the first time I've seen the final scene of Newhart, thanks. Knew the ending by reputation, but no television.

Better than I expected, it's instructive watching how the heat gets turned up so that Bob has to escape the cacophony and leave.

They keep repeating the line about Joanne's wig, "It looks so real." That is very smart. It doesn't guide the first-time viewer to the conclusion that it's a dream, but it's fun to watch it as a dream, knowing the dream characters are saying over and over, "It looks so real."

Dana Gabbard said...

At Comic Con a few years ago I wandered into the giant room (seats a few thousand) for a panel I wanted to see during a proceeing panel. The room was about 2/3 full and on the dias was a whole bunch of high powered folks from behind the scenes of various TV shows plus Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jorge Garcia. The panelist just finished their opening reamarks when I entered and the first questioner (some fan boy) made a drolling gush "you are so wonderful" aimed at Hewitt. The panel roared at this while Hewitt to her credit was abashed because it was obvious the fanboys lining up to ask questions were ignoring all the high powered folks to get a chance to gush at her.

And that is just the way the world is.

You'd think maybe someone would be smart and have added the 2 hour MASH writer session as a DVD bonus when the special was released. Or maybe as an added goodie for buying the entire series on DVD. You know it is in a vault somewhere, and that would make it at least an enticement for folks to plunk $$$ for the complete set. Or maybe PBS or one of the speciality cable channels could pick it up. You know the Z Channel would have loved it.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

Ken, the hell with all of the other stuff...how's your eye?

Anonymous said...

"(SPOILER ALERT: the whole series was all just a dream of Bob’s character from his first series)"

Come on! I've had this thing on my DVR for 20 years and I just about to get to it!!! Thanks alot Levine!

The Bitter Script Reader said...

Dana - I think I was at that same Comic-Con panel. I recall one of the other panelists pre-empting the first quesiton to JLH, saying, "Yes, she'll marry all of you."

When I was still in college my first real look behind the scenes of the TV writing process was a reguarly Q&A series that writer Ron Moore did with Star Trek fans while he worked on Deep Space Nine. More than anything, that stoked my interest in TV writing and Ron gave great insight into the creative process. When they finally did a behind-the-scenes companion for the series, I was happy to see that the writers were represented at least as much as the actors in all the interview segments.

It's a shame that most sitcoms don't interview the writers for retropsective material. The Seinfeld and Simpsons DVDs have a pretty good serving of the writers but I can't think of many others like them.

SuperBK said...

I enjoyed the interviews with writers on Seinfeld DVDs. Here's hoping that more shows will include them.

JustCallMeOneEye said...

I don't know that you'd get more blog hits if you were onscreen talent...I am a fan of a few of those, and it's pretty clear that CONTENT is lacking on their sites...so I don't really go to their "blogs" very often. But I'm here everyday, because I can rely on you to provide fresh entertainment with a generous dose of sarcasm, humor, and intelligence.

Hope you're doing better with your eyes. It sucks, I know.

Kirk Jusko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirk Jusko said...

I remember that MASH special. Larry Gelbert took pains to mention the writer whenever a particular episode came up. At one point he said, "God Bless Ronny Graham" in reference to something he wrote.

emily said...

Jimmy Kimmel reprised the Newhart ending as an "alternate ending to LOST."

Laughed 'til I cried.

Yes Ken, eye report please...

Pat Reeder said...

Not surprising that the relative got the credit and not the writer. I was the original head writer for "Barney" back when it was first created as a home video series (hey, don't blame me: it was originally meant to appeal to both kids and adults, and my model for it was Bullwinkle. The lobotomy happened after it was taken out of my hands).

Some of the things I put into it did survive, though, like the idea of the character coming to life from imagination, rather than from magic fairy dust voodoo. After it was all in the can, I got fired by mail and had to take the company to court to force them to pay a pittance of unemployment insurance (they fought it all the way to the state level, but I was prepared and beat them). Of course, they went on to make billions and all the creative credit went to the boss's daughter-in-law. To this day, you won't even find my name on that show at IMDB. But I did get to enjoy watching people who were 1,000 miles away when I wrote some of that stuff go on Oprah and explain how it was all invented from watching focus groups of children. Because we all know how many creative ideas come out of focus group research, right?

WV: Cabilled - the feeling of shock when the first cable TV bill arrives after your introductory discount expires.

Gary said...

Are you seeing things, yet?

D. McEwan said...

"Kirk Jusko said...
At one point [Larry Gelbart] said, 'God Bless Ronny Graham' in reference to something he wrote."


Amen to that about dear, hilarious Ronny, a prince, and hysterically funny. I know Ken loved him too. Sweet, crazy man.

Anonymous said...

1)In the days before internet really kicked in, the Macfarland publisher occasionally offered these unspectacular books, like "Producers on Producing" and the like, which were to-the-point interviews, lengthy, rich in insights from people in the field. I appreciated these from the stand point of hearing from the people involved, and would never have known of them otherwise.

2)At least there are the Archives of American Television which slowly manage to do interviews even with writers on some level. The interviewers are VERY uneven and sometimes miss up interesting connections, but hey, it's being done and available online.

Ken how come you haven't done one of these interviews yet? Maybe the Writer's Union should have thought ahead and done their own set of interviews? Just saying.

Dawn Marie said...

Reminds me of a Friday Question I was wondering about...

Have you ever done any DVD commentary tracks for any of your shows? And of course, if so which ones so I can rent them? Also, do you ever listen to DVD commentaries? What do you think of them, in general (given that the quality does vary)?

Anonymous said...

Count me in as one more vote here of people who would pay money to own a DVD of the insightful interview session that was done with the "M*A*S*H" writers. This would also help make up a little for the creator commentary tracks not appearing on any of the DVD collections of the TV episodes.

Baylink said...

If it makes you feel any better, Ken, this blog entry is prominently displayed on the first google results page for

"Newhart finale"

I think it's the 4th hit, after TV Tropes (which does *not* mention the writer, of course, but does mention his wife).

And I believe, but am not certain, that the full writers' panel actually is on the Martinis and Medicine set; I had it, and it walked off before I even got to watch it, somehow.