Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lost in Translation


I was directing a show for ABC called BROTHERS KEEPER in the late 90s. During rehearsals sometimes tours would come in, sit in the bleachers for ten minutes, get incredibly bored, and leave.

On this particular day I was blocking a scene where Billy Ragsdale (who played the dad) was scolding his eight-year-old son (played by Justin Cooper) for something he had done (lost his homework, killed someone, I forget). Since Justin was required to spend so many hours a day in school we would rehearse with a fifty-year-old stand-in who let’s just say was only Justin’s height.

A group of Japanese tourists came in and sat down in the bleachers. None of them could speak English. What they saw was this:

Me, making a guy in his 30’s scold a middle-aged dwarf to such a degree that the dwarf breaks down crying and runs from the set.

They were appalled! Outraged! As one, they got up and marched out, glaring at me and calling me things that did not need any translation.

Needless to say I have not been invited to direct any Japanese sitcoms. And I don’t think Billy Ragsdale has had too many offers to appear over there either.

And from my friend Dave Hackel comes this experience. (Among his many credits, Dave was the creator of BECKER and longtime showrunner of WINGS.)

The show was in good shape. Laughs were there. Actors were on the money. But after each joke -- nothing. Then fifteen seconds later, a titter. The writers were thrown off. The actors were thrown off. I couldn't figure out what was going on. Then I turned around and saw the man signing our show to a large group of deaf people.
The amazing thing is that every writer who has worked on a multi-camera show seems to have at least one story like this. It's why we all have facial tics.

The late brilliant comedian Mitch Hedberg said it best: "Y'know, you can't please all the people all the time... and last night, all those people were at my show."

14 comments:

D. McEwan said...

That's a really funny story. And yet, given what TV in Japan is like, a man scolding a middle-aged Munchkin into tears seems mild by comparison.

chris said...

Ken - nothing to do with this post but an idea for a new post that could combine your show business and baseball experience. I really enjoyed your post on working on a failing TV show. Could you relate the same type things to running a failing baseball team? I was thinking in particular of Terry Francona as show runner. I'm guessing he was feeling the exact same type of relief you described in your TV post.

iain said...

If you had somehow incorporated tentacles into the dwarf scolding, your audience might have appreciated it more.

WV: marcom - hey, it's my hometown in Ontario! Sort of.

Paul Duca said...

I was exploring YouTube and came across some interesting dates in the span of your M*A*S*H stint, Ken, thanks to various promos:

January 3, 1978 (a Tuesday)--the first airing of 'The Smell of Music"

February 1978--Margaret's pregnancy is the first episode in its new Monday night timeslot

July 27,1979--the repeat of B.J.'s stateside reunion for the 4077th families show

Roger Owen Green said...

According to Brooks & Marsh, it's should be BROTHER'S KEEPER, with the apostrophe.
That said, I'd love to see a baseball comedy too.

David Schwartz said...

I think this post sums up the experience of working on a sitcom (or any kind of television show shot in front of a live audience) better than anything else I've read!

DanTedson said...

They probably walked out to corner him and remove his magical duodenum. If he'd been an albino dwarf, they'd have descended on him like rabid piranha, leaving only half an Adddas and a spinning molar in their wake.

RCP said...

So funny. Of course, if the dwarf were on a Japanese game show, they'd have him shaving with a straight razor while riding a roller coaster.

Michael said...

Friday question:

With the recent trend of re-making old dramas such as Charlie's Angels, Hawaii Five-0, 90210, why do you think it has not been attempted with old sitcoms? Or have there been attempts that just never made it to air?

HogsAteMySister said...

This is exactly what caused Pearl Harbor.

emily said...

So many proofreaders. So little input.

I got your apostrophe right here...

Todd Ayres said...

I'm so glad I read this first thing on a Monday morning. That gave me a good belly laugh...

*tarazza said...

You just got a lot of bonus points for quoting Mitch Hedberg.

Bernie Silverman said...

Since you mentioned the World Series, here's a brief baseball story:

When I was 8 my dad got me an autographed baseball from Bob Feller.

I was told to write Feller a thank you note, so I put down:

Dear Mr. Feller:

Thanks for the baseball, though I can't used it to play catch with now since you wrote on it.

My dad made me write
Feller a more positive letter.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer published that story when Feller died.

Ken:

Let me know if you'd be willing to contribute to our new website, Xtreme Comedy, whose website is under construction.

We will deal with all things funny, including scripts.

Thanks.

Bernie Silverman
bernie.silverman@gmail.com