Friday, April 15, 2011

Happy birthday Liz Montgomery... and other stuff

You may think of this as Friday question day, or tax day, but it’s also Elizabeth Montgomery’s birthday… or at least would have been. God, I miss her.

William Gallagher starts us off:

What's it like for a showrunner when their show hasn't officially been cancelled but the star takes a role in a new pilot? I'm thinking of Kyle Bornheimer and Perfect Couples: could there be a case where the original show gets picked up for a new season and they can't get the cast back?

Usually it means the handwriting is on the wall. Not always but when actors are looking for other projects as back-ups, the sense is the show is not coming back. But the showrunners generally have that vibe already.

After ALMOST PERFECT was cancelled I was freelance directing for awhile. One show I did was on the bubble. The showrunner came to me with the numbers, trying to put a good spin on it, asking me what I thought. I said, “You don’t want to come to me. I know how this ends.” Sure enough….

Now when an actor from a show takes another pilot for the same network then it’s almost certain his original series is toast.

I find this amusing because in some cases the reason a show didn’t work is precisely because of a certain actor. And that actor gets cast in something else.

Lou H. has a question relating to my post on “Three-percenter” jokes.

It's interesting that the shows cited here that are heavy on the obscure jokes aren't filmed in front of live audiences. 30 ROCK, COMMUNITY, animated shows. Does having a live audience put any pressure on the writers to use broader jokes?

Absolutely. Without question. When you have a live audience your aim is to get big laughs. The jokes tend to be more structured as well. Set-ups and punch-lines. And the set-ups are the key. They must provide the necessary information to make the joke work. On single-camera shows you can just toss in one-liners and quips as afterthoughts. The viewer either has the information (understands the reference) or he doesn’t. But the joke is not held accountable. On multi-camera shows you have to really earn each laugh. People malign the form but in many ways it’s much harder to write a good funny multi-camera show.

From morgan:

Do you consider call-backs to the series own mythology to be in this genre or a separate thing (from obscure 3%er jokes) altogether?

If you’re able to do call-backs to previous episodes it means you’ve got a big hit show and a sizable portion of your audience will get the jokes. We did that on CHEERS a lot. There would be references throughout the last few years to Diane leaving Frasier at the alter, an event from season three. Off screen characters take on personalities after awhile, too. Vera from CHEERS. Maris from FRASIER. But again, the key, is you have to have a large enough fan base to justify it.

Earl Pomerantz, in his blog, once did a good article about SEINFELD and a wallet being discovered in the couch that had been lost weeks ago. He points out that these jokes are a big delight because they’re so unexpected, and that most sitcoms have amnesia when it comes to past events. That's true and a show's lore only evolves over time. 


And finally, Laurel has a CHEERS question.

In the last episode of series 5 of Cheers (I do and adieu) Sam and Diane don’t get married so that Diane can go and finish writing her book. In reality was the episode filmed exactly as it was broadcast or did you film a different ending in front of the live audience so that they wouldn’t know the real ending and the fact that Shelley Long was leaving the show?

I had a different answer originally but was informed by an astute reader that indeed there was one filmed where they got married that was only to throw people off the scent that Shelley wasn't coming back.  Honestly, I don't remember that.  I wasn't there the night they shot it.  Perhaps the memory lapse was because we knew she wasn't coming back so there was never any room discussion of how to proceed with Sam & Diane now married.   In many ways, the series got a shot in the arm with a new character (Rebecca) and gave us new stories.  But on the other, I think CHEERS lost a lot of its soul when Shelley left.

Gotta question? Lemme know.

29 comments:

Sarah said...

Huh. I swear I read or watched something that said there were a couple of endings shot for the season 5 Cheers finale. The one we saw and one where Sam and Diane actually got married.

Foll D'Eroll said...

Perhaps this is what Sarah was thinking of??

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWjOiNx-WXk

John said...

Ken,

Good shows can have their occasional bad episode that for whatever reason, just doesn't gel right. Do you have any examples of the other way around -- a show that's generally bad or just blah that somehow comes up with a really good episode (and then drops back into badness/blahness again).

Foll D'Eroll said...

P.S. Ken, if that Youtube video isn't a mashup and you did mess up the answer to the question, we love you even more for you fallibility and your willingness to answer our stupid questions.

I've been doing a Cheers rewatch lately and it's really been helping to cheer me up. Way better than Xanax.

Mike said...

Here's my question: I read somewhere not too long ago that Cheers wasn't going to come back for an 11th season, that it was a last-minute decision, and as a result some of the actors had already moved on. That's why Bebe left the show and why Woody was only in half of the final season's episodes. (That's what I've read; I've never sat down and counted, but it sure seemed to me Woody was in more than half of the final year's installments.) Is this true? Nothing about season 10 really has a "last season" kind of feel, especially for a show that had been on as long as Cheers, whereas a lot of season 11 does (i.e., Nick Tortelli coming back, Harry the Hat returning and convincing Gary to tear down his bar, etc). If it is true, who made the call to come back?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Wow, I can't believe I forgot today was Elizabeth Montgomery's birthday... oh, I LOVE her, she's one of my favorite actresses, she can do it all: sincere comedy, gut-wrenching drama, overall believable performances, and she was such a raving beauty.

She is still missed.

Phillip B said...

And Happy Jackie Robinson Day to all...

Laurel said...

Thank you very much for answering my question!

YEKIMI said...

With the exception of Dr. Bombay [Bernard Fox] all the original cast members of "Bewitched" have passed away. [I am NOT including Tabitha, she wasn't an original, just a plot device]

Larry said...

I realize Cheers had six seasons with Rebecca, and that Diane could sometimes be annoying, but though I kept watching, I never felt the show was the same after Shelley Long left.

Laurel said...

Thanks Foll D'Eroll for the link to the video, I've been looking for a video with the alternate ending for years! It's so great to finally see it.

Steve Zeoli said...

I agree with those who think Cheers was not the same (i.e. not as good) after Shelley Long left it. It was funny, still one of the best shows on the air, but as you say, Ken, it lost some of its soul. But I think that was all part of the dynamic brought in by the Rebecca character -- who turned out to be a loser. A suddenly much of the humor was about how they were all such losers. I'm not sure how you could have sustained things if Shelley had stayed on, but I would have liked to see it.

Cap'n Bob said...

Hated Rebecca. "Nuff said about that.

I do have a question, though, concerning residuals. How far down the ladder do they go? I know actors get them, but how about directors, writers, producers, etc? What's the cut off point? Thanks for a great blog, Ken, and I loved your book.

Cap'n Bob said...

Oh, in addition to being the lovely Elizabeth Montgomery's birthday this is also the anniversary of Lincoln's death, the Titanic's sinking, the traditional income tax deadline, and my first marriage. I messed up the last one, but take no blame for the others.

Dana Gabbard said...

And here is how season 5 actually ended.

Foll D'Eroll--thanks for the link, I added it to the Wikipedia entry for the series, as it is historically worthy of being such.

D. McEwan said...

Irrelevant perhaps, but a long-lived comedy writer, Arthur Marx, died yesterday at the age of 89.

His sit-com writing credits (all with co-writer Bob Fisher) included MY THREE SONS, McHALE'S NAVY, ALICE, LIFE WITH LUCY, MAUDE, THE JEFFERSONS, THE PAUL LYNDE SHOW, ALL IN THE FAMILY, NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR, THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW, and many others.

He also wrote books, Broadway plays & musicals, movies, and variety shows. And he was my friend for almost 4 decades, a bright, witty, intelligent man, and one of the first to show faith in my talents. I last heard from him a couple years ago, when he called to say he had MY LUSH LIfe and was enjoying it.

Oh, and his dad was also in show business, a little nobody who called himself Groucho. He did well too.

Rob in Toronto said...

The Paley Centre for Media in New York ran the complete marriage episode with the fake ending on a rainy Saturday afternoon a few years ago. I dragged a friend with me to see it ( who didn't understand why we were wasting part of a weekend in New York watching an old tv show ).

For what it's worth, I greatly prefer the Rebecca years to the Diane years, with the exception of the final season when the series really seemed to make a lot of missteps in plotlines.

Anonymous said...

The years with Shelley Long were also the years the show had heart. They weren't afraid to have some serious moments mixed in with the comedy. After Shelley left, the show became broader, with some of the characters becoming more like caricatures (Carla became meaner, Sam became dumber, etc).

I did like the first year with Kirstie Alley, because I liked the clever wordplay and sparring between Sam and Rebecca. But after they dumbed down the Rebecca character, the dialogue was no longer as clever.

amyp3 said...

One more vote for It Wasn't the Same Without Diane.

Without her you didn't have the fish-out-of-water. And Fraser and Lilith notwithstanding, without Diane there wasn't the exact same counterpoint to the sometimes crudity of the bar regulars.

That last scene linked above brings up the same kind of question that happens so often when the writers *have* to do something, in this case get Diane out of the picture. Picker of nits like me instantly question: Wait, she's going to Maine(?) to write, not a one-way trip to Mars.
So the couple would abruptly cut off contact? No calls/letters/ weekend trips up the coast?

Still, that last scene ... Her protestation, his resignation, the kiss, the "Have a good life." And "What'll I Do?" Oy.

This is why I love great TV. You can never become as invested in a movie character as with a TV character that you get to know for several years.

LouOCNY said...

Sad news about Arthur Marx - we have now officially lost our last link to the heyday of The Marx Brothers...

VP81955 said...

Just saw a "Frasier" ep where Niles is wearing a pirate outfit...including a certain white shirt. Was this "Frasier's" riposte to the famed "Seinfeld" "puffy shirt" episode? In a larger sense, have you done many sitcom vs. sitcom in-jokes?

Thank you for honoring the lovely, leggy Liz, who did dad Robert proud and was so much more than Samantha Stevens, iconic though she may be.

wv: "lawnes" -- grounds on some very upscale McMansions.

A_Homer said...

30 Rock when it was that one time performed in real-time, live, had a certain new spirit added to it which was inspiring at points, and it was funny too. I didn't notice a radical change in the jokes and references with the audience and live factor, versus the taped factor. I just don't believe audiences matter when they are all sweetened anyway.

Anonymous said...

>>Still, that last scene ... Her protestation, his resignation, the kiss, the "Have a good life." And "What'll I Do?" Oy.<<

Sam's "have a good life" immediately followed with "What'll I Do?" gets me nearly every single time I see this episode. In fact, sometimes hearing "What'll I Do?" in other settings makes me tear up a little, just thinking about this episode.

D. McEwan said...

"LouOCNY said...
Sad news about Arthur Marx - we have now officially lost our last link to the heyday of The Marx Brothers..."


Sad news it is. Our "last link to the heday of The Marx Brothers," Arthur was not. For one thing, both of Groucho's daughters are alive and well. Harpo's son Bill is extremely well, and a lovely man. Gummo's grandson, Gregg Marx, who is a friend of mine, works all the time. You hear his voice in voice-overs constantly without knowing it.

The Marxes live on. Hail Fredonia!

Chris said...

I've seen a lot of canceled (some good actually) shows that have their main star listed as an executive producer since the first season. Is there a connection?

Chris G said...

I've been rewatching the first season of Cheers (yay Netflix streaming!) and am surprised by how much less broad the characters are. Cliff, in particular, is far from the sad sack he'd become in later seasons.

Chris said...

Sometimes the series' universe clashes with the real world, like in Entourage they mention Seinfeld on which Jeff Garlin was a producer on, but he also appears as some retired writer named Roger, is there a term for that and is it a really important mistake? Who's supposed to notice these things?

Anonymous said...

That final scene between Sam and Diane is really lovely, isn't it? Yeah, the whole thing with them cutting off contact because she's going up to Maine doesn't really hold up if you think too much about it. But it's just so perfectly played. Diane - ever the intellectual - is dismayed to find out that Sam thinks their relationship is over (watch the dismay on Shelley's face). But Sam - street smart rather than book smart - is perceptive enough to know that once she walks out that door, she won't return. They truly balanced each other out.

jenfullmoon said...

Has there ever been a show where a cast member took a role on another show and then the original dying show WASN'T canceled? The closest thing I can think of is Amy Acker on Dollhouse/Happy Town, but I don't think she was a regular on the first show.