Friday, July 08, 2011

My favorite Kirstie Alley scene

Taking time out today from preparing for tonight’s Mariners-Angel game (to be broadcast on 710 ESPN Seattle, and MLB.COM) and celebrating my wedding anniversary (love you, Deb) to answer your Friday questions… and provide a visual aid. 

Steve has a CHEERS question. I may have answered it already but it’s one I get a lot so for the sake of clarity, here it is again.

My Friday question, inspired by your discussing having written one of the early shows featuring the character of Rebecca Howe on Cheers: Can you explain what happened to her character over the course of the final seasons. She lost about 50 IQ points and became quite pathetic, whereas she started as a smart, tough, businesswoman (albeit with some quirks and vulnerabilities to leave room for comedy). Was this devolution just a function of trying to go for more comedy, or because the actress was better at more kooky material, or what?

Her change in personality seemed to be more drastic than most, so I've always wondered what the planning behind it was like.

The change came because Rebecca as the martinet just wasn’t funny. Kirstie Alley was game and it wasn’t her fault but the character as originally conceived just didn’t pop.

In one episode though, she had to fall apart for some reason and was hysterical. We realized that the more neurotic, insecure, and sexually frustrated she was – the funnier she was. So the character evolved in that direction.

Side note: One of the hardest tricks to pull off is being able to cry while still being funny. You have to feel for the character and still feel it’s okay to laugh. No one I’ve ever worked with is better at that than Kirstie. Here’s a excerpt from a CHEERS David Isaacs and I wrote called FINALLY. Kirstie is just brilliant in the last scene, making comics turns left and right.



Michael asks:

Is it common for comedy writers to switch between writing for sitcoms and late night talk shows? Did you ever have any interest in writing for a late night talk show?

It does happen frequently. Usually writers go from talk shows and just writing jokes and sketches to sitcoms, but there have been instances where it went the other way. Lots of terrific sitcom writers have used late night talk shows as a great training ground. And of course, it’s easier to make the transition when sitcom producers see you have credits like THE DAILY SHOW, LETTERMAN, JIMMY KIMMEL, etc.

Early in my career I wanted to write for SNL. But back then the show was more cutting edge and I was more receptive to drugs. I think it would be fun to write for THE DAILY SHOW, COLBERT REPORT, JIMMY KIMMEL, or maybe CONAN just to see how those shows work. I have zero desire to write for THE TONIGHT SHOW.


From DavidMB:

In last week's Leverage Eric Stoltz, a rather big-time actor, had a significant role that wasn't credited. When and why does this happen?

Usually when that happens the actor is just doing someone a favor. The sometime Catch-22 is that you want to capitalize on the stunt casting by heavily promoting the actor’s appearance and yet he wants to just slip in uncredited.


And finally, this from Caleb the Curious Cat:

Just a follow-up on residuals. We know you don't get diddily-squat on DVDs, but how does it work with syndication of a show you've written? For instance MASH and Cheers seem to be running continually now for what seems like forever and Volunteers pops up every now and again (and when it does, it runs a dozen or more times for about two weeks before disappearing again). Are residuals on a sliding scale payment-wise the further away from first run or are they constantly the same no matter the time span?

Yes, residuals are on a sliding scale. The WGA has a department that is supposed to monitor this. I get checks occasionally but honestly, I have no idea if I’m being short-changed. I imagine I am. Studios tend to do that. Frequently. All the time. Habitually.

Please leave your question in the comments section. Thanks.  And Go Mariners!

31 comments:

The Time Machine said...

Is a sliding scale really the rule of thumb for residuals as shows continue to get airplay in syndication for years and decades? Why aren't they like songwriter or publishing royalties?

Elaine Honey said...

"...they had hands the size of small dogs." Hey, maybe you and Cliff can call an inning together in Anaheim this weekend?

Edward Copeland said...

How crazy does it drive writers,actors and directors that they get sliding residuals while the evil music industry will prevent the release of shows the way you remember them unless they keep getting paid over and over again. I hate how they had to replace songs on the WKRP DVD and on the classic Newhart finale in syndication, they can't even close with the Bob Newhart Show theme as they did when it originally aired. The other parts of the industry should unite to shut these greedy bastards down instead of toying with our memories.

bettyd said...

Friday question. You have called baseball for both the National League and the American League. You also said you didn't like interleague play (altough I assume the World Series is OK with you!). Which league do you prefer to call, or doesn't it matter?

Steve J. said...

Hi, Ken. As a Cheers viewer, it always bugged me when there'd be an episode where Sam and Woody would be off having adventures, as I pictured poor Carla tending bar and waiting tables all by herself. Then, of course, there were also episodes where all three of them would be away from the bar at the same time, presumably leaving it either closed or unmanned.

Was there ever a temptation to explain on the show how Cheers stayed in business when the staff was constantly skipping out? A throwaway line about other employees at the bar we just never saw or something? Or were you fine with not overthinking it?

Gazzoo said...

I've always raved to people about that same Kirstie Allen scene, I particularly love when Robin hands her the bracelet and she turns to Sam and falls to pieces...

Sarah said...

When I think of Rebecca on Cheers, I think of that scene - had no idea you wrote it, but great job. (Well, that scene and the one where there are sheep in the office. Her reaction is priceless.)

RCP said...

"...yeah, dignity. Why not? I've tried everything else in life."

Terrific scene(s)!

David said...

About 6-8 years ago GQ or some other magazine did an article about the head writer for the Tonight Show. The guy basically spent all day praying that some celebrity would go off the deep end and do something outrageous, just to give him some material for jokes. It seemed like a horribly stressful existence.

Tyler K. said...

Do TV writers have a harder time writing enough material to fill the required episode time, or cutting material down to do the same? Also, how short do you see TV episodes getting as time goes on? We've gone from 25-minute episodes of Cheers and Mash to 22-minute episodes of Frasier and Friends to some current shows being less than 20 minutes.

Anonymous said...

Happy Anniversary Ken!

Mark Bennett

Mitchy said...

John Rogers, the executive producer of Leverage, noted on his blog that they needed a guy who could do a very big emotional scene at the end of the ep, and Eric Stoltz agreed to it as a favour. He didn't seem to care that Stolz didn't want credit.

Mr. Snrub said...

Since 1970 (when I was born), I think the best ALL-AROUND MLB player has been Ichiro Suzuki. I debate this with friends and others, and they usually come up with Jeter, Pujols, Junior Griffey, A-rod or Bonds.

I immediately dismiss steroid users, so Bonds and A-Rod are out. Griffey was always injured, so, perhaps he would have been, but, too many DL trips. Pujols doesn't steal bases or play as difficult a defensive position and Jeter has always had a better team around him, which, makes a HUGE difference. Ichiro has always been a lead-off hitter so that means that at least 25% of his AB's are with nobody on base. And he's still a .325 career avg...and we all know his other stats (offensive AND defensive)...

What say you?

Ben said...

What is your opinion on this recent article that suggests comedies are more funny because of DVRs and streaming?

http://splitsider.com/2011/07/how-streaming-video-and-dvr-raise-the-bar-for-sitcoms

D. McEwan said...

"One of the hardest tricks to pull off is being able to cry while still being funny."

And the master of that craft was Stanley Arthur Jefferson, better known now and forever as Stan Laurel, a genuine comic genius.

Cap'n Bob said...

Alas, Mr. Snrub, Ichiro has performed like a typical Mariner offensively this year.

mike said...

It's blasphemy to be even mildly critical, but D. Jeter is a mediocre defensive shortstop at best. He's got all the range of an oak tree.
Best all around player since 1970?
Take your pick--Mike Schmidt or George Brett.

Andy Kaiser said...

A Friday question for you, Ken:

"Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience."

I remember hearing this a LOT before many sitcoms in the 80s - Cheers, Cosby, Perfect Strangers, etc.

Why was there such an effort to make this information known? Was it just the trend in sitcoms to do this? Was it to explicitly say the show was so good, canned laughter wasn't used?

Dave-El said...

Another favorite scene was where Rebecca gets a fax that clearly incriminates Robin Colcord in some sort of dirty deal and she calmly and rationally explains what it could possibly mean....then immediately breaks down, howling, "I"M TOO STUPID TO LIVE!!" I sometimes feel like doing just that when I realize something important way too late.

Betty Boop said...

Mr. Snrub: Interesting topic, even tho it was for Ken...I will select Griffey, easily the best all around player during my observations which pre-dates your birth. Griffey's first 10 seasons were in Seattle. He might've been on the DL twice in 11 years. He hit 398 HR's in Seattle; had 1152 RBIs; 10-time all-star; 1989 rookie/year. The majority of his injuries ocurred after he left Seattle. Griffey was a sensational CF, a 10-time Gold Glove winner. I think Ichiro's pretty darn good, too, but not the dominant player, i.e., power/run production, that Griffey was. Ichiro seems pretty ordinary this year - so far - but nobody can say he hasn't been sensational for his first 10 years in the states. I love to watch Ichiro, but when Griffey was here (the first time), I'd be on the edge of my seat.

Lisa Rothstein said...

Hey Ken,
I co-author a blog called The DaVinci Dilemma about how people can use their multiple talents in their work and lives. Am very intrigued by your TV career/baseball announcer/book author combo. Could I interview you briefly about this?

Thanks
Lisa
http://www.Davincidilemma.com
lisa@yourwriterforhire.com

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Baseball Talk:

Why are the infield and base paths dirt? Why not grass? Football players seem to be able to run fast enough on grass. And why is the infield dirt so big? It's much larger than a base runner's potential path. Is it because ground balls bounce truer off of dirt? Because the path from home to 1st would get worn out anyway so let's make it all dirt?

A serious question from a curious non-player.

Anonymous said...

I thought Rebecca the martinet was much funnier than what she eventually became. When she was smarter, she and Sam had clever verbal sparring, reminiscent of the Diane days. Once they dumbed down Rebecca, the witty days were over.

Mike Schryver said...

So in tonight's game, Ken, you accused Rick of intentionally making a pun when he discussed what Tim Salmon of the Angels had said about Mike Trout (Salmon talking about Trout).
On one of the next plays, on a fly ball, you said "Angling back is Trout..."
Don't think we didn't catch that.

Jen said...

Favourite episode of Cheers ever. My sister and I for years used to say "That's it, sweet baby" all the time. So happy to find out you wrote it =)

Mel said...

I'm not sure any line has ever made me laugh as hard as Rebecca's "That's it, sweet baby." Hilarious!

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

Great scenes especially the end, from "I.. am winning!" to "I WILL take that bracelet!", but my favorite KA scenes are the drunken Rebecca belting out "We've got tonight" while she's got Sam trapped with her leg (and they're about to crack up like Harvey Corman and Carol Burnett), and her attempts to seduce Kelly's father (His first name is MISTER!")

Mike said...

This has long been one of my favorite Rebecca-centered episodes of Cheers. Kirstie Alley does, in my opinion, some of her best work ever on the show. The end of the episode alone, with her and Sam in the bar and then Robin showing up, is great. Everything she does in this scene, from showing off the bracelet to Sam and mouthing "it's gorgeous" to her taking the bracelet after all, it just fantastic. And the "that's it, sweet baby" part has me on the floor every time.

Richard Leslie Lewis... said...

Friday Question. I'm a British writer just back from the BBC Writer's Festival -it's like Glastonbury with more ink. The Heads of BBC Drama, were there and we fired questions at them. Someone asked what they wanted to see from a new writer - the answer being Something Original. When asked if they would like to see a spec of another show they almost gagged. "Don't they do that in the U.S?" asked one (I can't believe he doesn't know). His point was he didn't want to read yet another script of a current show, a show he reads scripts for all the time. Here's my question: why do American companies insist on writers speccing current shows?

cityslkrz said...

Agreed about Kristie, when she broke down..."I'm too stupid to live!"
she made crying and being hysterical, well, hysterical

PALGOLAK said...

I must ask: were you in any way responsible for that MASH episode where Radar is horrified that Greek (? )patients are planning on eating a tethered lamb for their easter feast?

Even as a ten year-old, it struck me as deeply wrong that a farm boy would be this naive...