Friday, September 03, 2010

Debunking CHEERS myths

The official kick-off to the Labor Day Weekend is reading Friday Questions.

Joey on the 8s has a couple of CHEERS questions.

1. Our tour guide took us by "the tank" on Paramount's lot, and I found where you mentioned it in a previous post. This guide told a story about how it was used in Cheers in the "Sam proposes to Diane" scene where Diane is supposed to end up on "Boston harbor." His story went that when the scene was first set up, Shelley complained that the water was too cold and she wouldn't go in, so they spent a few days pumping in warmer water ... and then she still balked at going in. The guide implied that's why she was off the show shortly thereafter. Any comments there?

I wasn’t there for that but friend-of-the-blog and super mensch David Lee was. David graciously answers:

Totally false. I remember it clearly because Peter (Casey) and I wrote the episode.

The water was heated to a certain temperature because that's what the actors' union insists upon (rightly so.) Shelley never complained about it as there was nothing to complain about. It was heated at the time we began shooting. She also never balked at going in, in fact she was always quite game for that sort of thing. She left the show because she wanted to move on. No other reason. Sorry to mess up a good piece of gossip with the truth.

2. The guide also told a story how, as a result of some bet, Woody and Ted streaked across the lot, including past a spot near the stage where some fresh concrete had been put in. Guide showed us where Ted and Woody signed there names in the concrete. Any recollection of this?

I remember Ted pantsed (panced?) Woody in front of the audience once, but don't recall any streaking episode. Maybe after I left? They did sign their names in some wet concrete, though. I seem to recall it was near the day care center. There is some resonance to that I suppose.

Thanks, David. I probably owe six dinners by now.

From Michael:

I was wondering whether your personal relationship with an actor/actress ever affected what or how much you wrote for a character - either positively or negatively.

David Lee? Oh wait. I guess I can answer this one myself.

More important than how we felt about an actor was how well they delivered. There were actors I was not enamored with personally but were sensational performers. So we wrote as much for them as we could and drank a lot of scotch. Other actors were Oscar winning people in real life but Razzie winners on the set. We would either trim their material as deftly as we could or at least made sure we didn’t place the comedy burden on them.

As for actors using sex to get more lines, I’m reminded of that old Polish joke. “Did you hear about the Polish actress who tried to get ahead by sleeping with writers?”

Drama writers have it a little easier than us sitcom scribes when it comes to dealing with bad actor behavior. If there’s an actor they hate they can always just kill them. One producer on a one-hour show said to me they had to stop doing that. It was getting to the point where by midseason there would be no one left in the entire cast.

And finally, from Jonathan:

Do you write with an actor's/character's voice in mind, or is that something that emerges in rehearsal/shooting and is more a product of the actor and director?

David Isaacs and I always write with either an actor or someone we know in mind, even if we know we’ll never get them. This is especially helpful when you’re writing in a team. That way you can both hear approximately the same voice. And I have to tell you, George Clooney just kills in our scripts!

Happy Labor Day Weekend. Drive safely and leave your comments.


Michael said...

Thanks for answering my question. I have another for you. Is there a strong correlation between the episodes you wrote that you feel are your strongest and the ones that were nominated for Emmys?

Anonymous said...

The question is, why did Shelley Long want to move on from Cheers? There is a lot of mythology surrounding that decision now; I pored through the early seasons recently and Ted Danson, among others, talked about how she was in conflict with other people on set and not just him - as has been reported before. Just curious about that.

Also, have you found that a person being a pill correlates to them being a "sensational performer" and an "Oscar-winning person" gives you less than? Or is that usually the exception? Or is it 50/50 and just to be measured on a case-by-case basis? Nowadays, there appears to be more pressure on creative types to be nicer/more outgoing/less prick-ish than there was before, pressure even applied to writers. Was wondering about that also.

Maria S. said...

Hi Ken, my name is Maria and I have to say that I am a huge fan of Cheers. The show ended a month before I was born so I didn't get to watch it during the original run. I have to say that the quality of the writing directing and acting are what make the show so unique. I am a huge fan of Sam and Diane and I think that Ted and Shelley's chemistry was brilliant and seriously palpable. Did they do anything to create that chemistry (in rehearsals and such) or did they just say the lines and that was it? Also, I know a lot of the rumors concerning Shelley Long's behavior on the show are greatly exaggerated and I was wondering if maybe you could offer an explanation? Thanks so much!

A Non-Emus said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: Regarding the silent scenes that end each episode of Frasier. Were lines actually written for those scenes or was a basic outline written and the actors just improvised their way through it? Also, did the actors just pantomime or did they actually speak to each other?

Stephen said...

The subject of Saturday night TV has been brought up in this blog before, but I wanted to ask, why can other countries make it a viable night for original programming? In the UK, Saturday is by far one of the most watched nights of television. The X Factor draws 12 million at minimum, and it has had several series such as Doctor Who, Merlin and a revolving array medical dramas perform strongly in their Saturday evening time-slots for years. So why is the US failing on a night others thrive on in your opinion?

Andy Rooney said...

The studios make up those myths to help make the tours more interesting. If you believe even half of what you hear, then you are pretty gullible.

Brad Preston said...

Hi, Mr. Levine. Long time listener, first time caller.

I recently found out that HDNet is showing Cheers in HD and in 16x9 (widescreen). As a longtime Cheers fan, and die-hard HD aficianodo, this has gotten my nerd senses tingling - especially because I don't have HDNet to see the episodes for myself.

I know that, since Cheers was shot on film using Panavision cameras, true HD is possible from the film negatives (and that such transfers were made almost ten years ago, which were the source for the DVD releases). But do you have any idea about the technical specs of the show in terms of widescreen composition?

Seinfeld was shot on 35mm, so the compromise with the new HD transfers of the show on TBS and in syndication is that you lose info on the top and bottom, while gaining some on the sides.

Is this the case with Cheers, or are these straight 16x9 crops of the 4x3 episodes we know and love?

Also, do you know why the majority of Cheers episodes look GREAT on DVD (especially in the first three seasons), but some episodes (Woody's debut, for example, and many scenes from the criminally hacked series finale) look like they're 20-year-old VHS copies?

Sorry. Nerd rant over.

Joey on the 8s said...

Hi Ken! Thanks for asking David Lee to answer my questions. I kind of figured that the Shelley story was fabricated -- it had that "urban legend" feel to it. Also, I'm going to try to e-mail you the picture I took that supports the second part of my question -- again, no biggie, but at least here the tour guide didn't seem to be completely making things up.

Kiri Blakeley said...

Again this is an old thread and it appears Mr. Levine doesn't answer questions (that I have seen) and I'm not even sure he reads comments but thanks again Mr. Levine for going out of your way to clear up some of these Shelley Long abysmal myths and rumors. I'm soooooo tired of them. They REEK of misogyny. I very much doubt if an actor made a decision to leave a TV show after 5 years he would be VILIFIED the way she was (Was George Clooney? No. Was Suzanne Somers? Yes.) She made a determination about what was best for her personally and her career and that's that. Oh, and god forbid she liked to take her lunch alone and talked about her character too much. Meanwhile male actors can be all sorts of trouble and no one cares. Bill Cosby case in point!! (until very recently)

Proof is in the pudding, Long's performances stand the test of time and I see new brilliance in her with every episode I re-watch!