Friday, November 19, 2010

The true tale of Tom Tuttle of Tacoma

Back from Seattle. Sorry I was there for so short a time. Would love to have met some of you readers from the area. Next time for sure! Anyway, here are some Friday questions, the first one involving the state of Washington and Washington State.

Gary asks:

How did the character of Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, Washington come to life? What inspired you to make him a Wazzu grad?  Great character and so very well played by Mr. Candy.

We wanted someone really earnest, really gung-ho middle-America, but we didn’t want him to be from the Midwest. That seemed too cliché. So we figured that the Pacific Northwest would give us those same qualities. As originally envisioned, he talked really fast, so we thought giving him a name with alliteration would help the actor build up a head of steam. Hence, Tom Tuttle. And to continue the alliteration we made him from Tacoma. As for which college he went to, we researched fight songs and really liked Washington State’s. And the fight song plays a part in the movie so it was sort of important.

John Candy did a sensational job. We were afraid when he was hired that he would change a lot of stuff – like I said, it was written for a wiry somewhat hyper guy little guy – but John did the dialogue verbatim. God, I loved that man!

From Simon H.:

Were you and your writing partner ever approached to work on "Taxi"? I always thought it was one of the greatest shows in Television history, and certainly one of the most under-appreciated. Given that you worked on "Cheers" while "Taxi" was still on the air, I'm surprised you and David Isaacs never had a chance to write for it.

We were approached several times. For the first few years of the show we had exclusive development deals with other studios and couldn’t. And the last year of TAXI was the first year of CHEERS, which we co-produced. Sam Simon & Ken Estin of TAXI graciously invited us to write an episode and we would have LOVED TO, but the CHEERS staff was very small and we needed to write as many episodes of that as we could.

Like you, I think TAXI is one of the finest situation comedies of all-time. But it is very different from today’s hit comedies, and I don’t know if today’s viewers would respond to the slower pace and more character-oriented stories they did on TAXI.  I'm hoping the would.  Or at least would give it a chance.  They may discover that it's a way better show than they thought.


Jim S wonders:

You said that in the past both you and your longtime writing partner David have written stories alone.


How is that different than writing with a partner? What are the fears and how do you compensate for the input from the partner?

Well, it’s much lonelier writing by yourself. And if your car is in the shop there’s no one to pick you up.

But seriously, a good partnership can make the process easier and much more fun. It's certainly more social.  But a bad partnership can be like WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF meets GROUNDHOG DAY.

We split up one assignment a season and wrote the two acts separately just so we would feel confident that we could write on our own if we had to. We stayed partners out of choice, not dependency.

You compensate by just trying to fill in the gaps yourself. The big problem I find when I write by myself is that if I’m stuck I tend to go down one road and try to find the solution there. A partner might suggest an alternate path. And so I have to really force myself to just step back and think, “What else could I do here? What other direction might I take?”

With comedy especially, you have to rely on your own judgment more when you’re writing solo. There’s no one to bounce jokes off of.

As for fears, there’s really only one. Will you learn from this exercise that your partner has all the talent and you’re just a fraud? What was gratifying and a huge relief was that when David and I put our two acts together you really couldn’t tell who wrote what.  So we're both frauds.

And finally, from Richard Y:

When watching at home and the 'set-up' for the reveal is made and the camera pulls back for the character punch line, we, sitting in our couches at home get the joke and laugh when we see the wide shot - along with the studio audience. NOW, the studio audience already sees the reveal as it is already on stage in some instances. How is the studio laughter controlled?

If it involves a sight gag we’ll often have screens set up in front of the set and just remove them just before we’re ready to shoot. We’ll record the audience’s reaction and slot that in the appropriate place.

But if it’s a wardrobe thing, or as you say, contingent on a camera reveal, you sometimes have to do a little borrowing from the laugh track.  Or you pre-shoot the scene and show it back to the audience so they are reacting as if sitting on their couches.   But we've found you get a greater response from just about anything if you do it live in front of them, even if it means spoiling the reveal.

We have to always remember, we’re making these shows for the millions of viewers, not the two-hundred folks in the bleachers.

Yes, some jokes won’t have the impact they should but on the other hand, studio audiences love seeing all the behind-the-scenes stuff. And they do have monitors. So they can watch and see what we’re going for. They may miss a few laughs but they don’t feel cheated.

With the reveal already exposed to the studio audience how do you get them to laugh as is they just saw it like it is to be seen at home?

I’ll be 1000% honest. We ask them to. Just like for pick-ups and reshooting entire scenes. We ask them to help us out and pretend they’re seeing this for the first time and laugh just as loud. And for those who didn’t laugh the first time, we’re giving them a second chance.

What’s your question?

18 comments:

That Neil Guy said...

So I guess, then, that Tom Tuttle was not related to Captain Tuttle from MASH...

Danimal said...

Your fans in Canada demand a full post about John Candy!

So please get to it, eh!

Anonymous said...

You mean writers even think about the names of characters and how they will sound in the film?

Jessica Alba will be stunned to hear this.

RCP said...

I really enjoy reading about your experiences and what goes on behind the scenes.

Thanks for the photo of John C. Just seeing his face has me replaying his characters from SCTV and laughing on this Friday morning.

emily said...

I too, miss Gus Polinski - Polka King of the MidWest...

benson said...

Raising a glass to Yosh Schmenge and Doctor Tongue and Sweet Danny Muldoon.

Mark said...

"Taxi" was under-appreciated? That's not how I remember it. Maybe I got that impression because I never had to fight anybody for the TV when it was on.

Mike said...

Thank you Richard Y. for asking that question. I've always wondered the same thing but didn't realize I read the blog of someone I could ask. (It's one of those things I sometimes wonder in the moment, but obviously don't think about separate from that.

Phil said...

Actually, I do have one question. What are you working on now? I know you've got the book in the works, as well as the musical. Anything else? Anything currently being produced? And have the Mariners contacted you about coming on board for next season. If I have to live through an entire season of just Rick Rizzs and Dave Sims, I may have to start listening to Giants broadcasts online.

Chris Riesbeck said...

I also remember Taxi getting a lot of attention at the time. "Wings" OTOH flew under the radar for most of its run.

Some episodes I re-watched recently were certainly more character-oriented and darker than network sitcoms then and now, but I don't know that I'd call them slower-paced. A gag seemed to be stuck in every other conversational turn, sometimes a bit jarringly, I thought. Still one of my favorites, along with Barney Miller.

Simon H. said...

My reference point for "Taxi" being under-appreciated comes from the perspective of someone who was one years old when the show started, and watched it growing it up in late night reruns and Nick-at-Nite, only to see it basically disappear from the airwaves the last fifteen years or so. I don't think most people my age or younger are aware or know how brilliant the show was because they never got to see it. Its fifth and final season on NBC was maybe one of the all-time great seasons any show ever had, and to have it paired with that great first season of Cheers for a brief time in 1982 must have been pure television heaven. I understand it was well-regarded when it was on, but I think its absence from TV today like many shows("Barney Miller" being another great example) probably means the show isn't as appreciated today as it should be.

Max Clarke said...

There's a story about Joe Montana in the 49ers' win against the Bengals in the Superbowl.

The team is down by 3 points with only 3 minutes left in the game. The 49ers are on the 8 yard line or something hopeless like that. The 49ers are getting into their huddle when Joe Montana calls their attention to a guy standing near an exit. Montana asks, "Isn't that John Candy?"

And it was.

Rob said...

My parents loved Taxi so that meant I watched it quite frequently. I remember (or perhaps misremembered) one episode fondly.

In it, Reverend Jim's dad dies and in the will leaves him a cassette (along with $3 million) Jim pops it in and Stevie Wonder's You are the Sunshine of My Life starts playing. Jim says something like, "Dad, you liked Stevie Wonder?" and sits back listening to the song. Whenever I hear that song I think of that scene and since then I associate it with a parent's love for their child.

D. McEwan said...

Rob, I remember that episode vividly also, in part because Rev. Jim's brother was played by my old friend Walter Olkewicz. And of course, Jim's dad was played by the remarkable Victor Buono. For me it ties into "Tom Tuttle of Tacoma," because it was Wally who introduced me to John Candy (and John Belushi) when he was shooting 1941.

estiv said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
estiv said...

John Candy did a sensational job...God, I loved that man!

He must have been a joy to work with, because that seems to have been a common feeling. Reminds me of a strange but sweet moment from one of the SCTV DVDs. On a commentary track, Catherine O'Hara says in an aside that John Candy appears in her dreams more often than her late parents do.

rob! said...

Ken-

Something I've always wondered, maybe you've covered it before, but...

Sometimes sitcoms/movies have pay-offs to a joke that involve someone being revealed as unattractive/fat/ugly, etc. I can't think of an example at the moment but I know I've seen them lots of times.

My question is, how do producers gently cast those parts? Do they give their casting people specific instructions? OR does someone make a call and just say "Round up the ugly suspects?"


(Just thought of an example: in the movie Serendipity, John Cusack is still pining for a girl named Sarah [Kate Beckinsale]. He hears a page for someone named Sarah, and then he hears a female British accent, only to turn and see the woman is NOT Kate Beckinsale, she's very heavy--pretty much the exact opposite of the waifer-thin KB)

Mark S. said...

Ken,

TAXI is one of my three all-time favorite sitcoms, along with
The Honeymooners and The Odd Couple. Just wondering...do you have favorite episodes from each of these classic shows?