Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Questions

Take a break from Christmas shopping by perusing some Friday Questions. (By the way: I wear a size “car”.)


purplejilly gets us started:

This question comes from my husband, a longtime Cheers and Orioles fan. He always felt like the character of Sam Malone might have been based on Jim Palmer (for the ego). He was wondering if you are allowed to say who Sam was based on, and if it was more than one MLB player.

Actually, when first conceived, Sam Malone was a former football player with the Patriots. But when Ted Danson won the part, the Charles Brothers felt he was more believable as a former baseball player than football player. So no, Jim Palmer wasn’t the role model. But if they were looking for one, Jim would have been perfect (except he was addicted to golf instead of alcohol).

From R:

Do actor's managers get any extra coin for scouring the internet comment sections?

No, but that now does seem to be part of their job. I imagine they have interns who do the scouring for them. But they are out there, heroically defending their clients from snarky irresponsible blogs like this one.

From Powerhouse Salter:

Apart from toning down language, how much might a line get changed between when it's filmed and when it's dubbed for clarity by the original actor?

The problem with changing lines is that the mouths have to match. We would rarely substitute dialogue when asking an actor to re-do a line for clarity. Except on MASH in operating room scenes. Since everyone was wearing masks it was a breeze to give actors new lines, which we frequently did.  

PolyWogg wonders:

Let's say you get your pilot approved, the champagne flows, everything's rosy, and eight episodes later, they're knocking down your set and tossing the signage due to *gasp* cancellation. Would the writers ever reveal what / where they had planned to take the show if asked later, or do they tend to bury it and/or hope for a revival so keep it to themselves? A lot of shows in the last 10 years had mythology that died with cancellation -- would love to know where they had planned for it to go, but would they be likely to share their original plan, if asked? Taye Digg's Day Break comes to mind.

Depends on the showrunner and how much pre-planning he had. I think I read where the creator of FLASH FORWARD had two years of storylines prepared. Personally, I think it would be a nice courtesy to fans to tell them what was planned.

My partner and I created three series – MARY, BIG WAVE DAVE’S, and ALMOST PERFECT – that were cancelled. If we had been given enough lead time with ALMOST PERFECT to do a final episode we had planned on bringing back all the characters from the other two series and wrap up three series at once. For the eight people who cared.

Finally, from Thomas:

Do you laugh at your own jokes?

Well, someone has to. 

But the serious answer is no, not often. Comedy writers are notorious for not laughing. Someone will pitch a great joke in the room and four writers will nod and say, “That’s funny. Yeah. Let’s go with that.”

I’ll laugh more at actors delivering my jokes, but that’s in appreciation of their performance. It’s amazing how much funnier a line gets when David Hyde Pierce delivers it.

What’s your question?

31 comments:

Blaze said...

I dabble enough in writing to think few show scripters would share unaired plots. Watch any amount of TV and it's easy to see how writers recycle their plots. Having a box full of unaired material would be very precious raw material to use for later projects.

At least, that's how I figure it.

J. Allison said...

I'm wondering how upset you or other writers get when you see your work hacked to bits in syndication. The other night we saw a MASH episode on TV Land that was so cut up that the plot ceased to make any sense. Does this frustrate you or do the syndication checks ease the pain?

Max Clarke said...
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Max Clarke said...
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RS Gray said...

Maybe it's because I'm an Indians fan, but my dad always assumed that Sam Malone was based at least in part on "Sudden" Sam McDowell. Their careers were very similar, and the end of McDowell's career was marked by alcoholism that also ended his marriage. McDowell likewise cleaned himself up and got sober, but went into coaching instead of running a bar.

WV - Tiotete: The Mayan god of the midday tipple.

MacGilroy said...

Re: dubbing with new dialogue - our brains are surprisingly adaptable to matching mouth movements to the words we hear

Jon J said...

Future Friday question: I've been watching a lot of Cheers on HDNet recently and I'm wondering how Sam could ever make a profit in the bar since noone ever pays? In fact, I can't recall anyone ever opening the cash drawer.

PolyWogg said...

Hey, thanks for answering my question about creator / writers revealing or not their original planned destination for the series...

David Schwartz said...

I was a production assistant (i.e. writer's secretary) on a sitcom in the early 80's. I would be in the writer's room when the scripts were rewritten and it was always an interesting and chaotic process. After about six months I got up my confidence (I was 24 at the time) and suggested a line for the script. My two bosses thought it was good enough to put in the show and they did. I was so proud. Then on shoot night when the character said my line, there was not a sound on the set. No laughs, nothing! It's an experience I still cringe at today. I'm glad the producers thought enough of my line to put it in the script. I just wish they had replaced it during pickups later in the evening! I've caught the reruns a couple of times over the years and it seems even the guy sweetening the laughs didn't add any for my line. Makes me cringe again just thinking about it! :-)

benson said...

The thought of Ed LaSalle being dropped into Big Wave Dave's or Almost Perfect, makes you wonder about the comedic possibilities.

Dan Tedson said...

Here's a Friday question - do you know who got Tecumseh when Cheers ended? Hate to think he's a doorstop at a Pensacola Piggly Wiggly's or something. He was like a member of the cast.

Anonymous said...

Ken, here's Friday question: When you watch a current sitcom, do you see all the punchlines coming from a mile away? Or are you ever surprised by a funny line (like us non-writers)?

I often wonder if people in show business can simply enjoy a show or movie, or if they find themselves constantly thinking "I would have done that differently."

Robert said...

Speaking of DHP, saw him interviewed last week. He always looked a little like Kelsey Grammar, but now...spitting image. I know what they say about long-time married couples looking away...maybe it's true for sitcom brothers too.

Roseanne's nutty inturn said...

I'm very happy to read there was no snarky wisecrack about her highness. A low ha!

D. McEwan said...

Sometimes a show gets cancelled way too late, long after the well has run dry, and the showrunners need to take back a season or two. Roseanne's final season is a glaring case-in-point, as was the final season of Falcon Crest, when it essentially became a different show with the same sets. Perhaps the most-egregious example, for we survivors of the 1960s, was when the stylish and fun Burke's Law suddenly became the execrable Amos Burke, Secret Agent.

As for viewers of FlashForward, of which I was one: they can do what I did, buy the novel it was based on and read that. You won't get what the show runner had planned, but you'll get a good story with actual closure.

When Dynasty ended abrubtly with a cliff-hanger with several characters in immediate peril of Certain Death, I was free to just assume that the worst had happened in all cases, and all those characters were dead. When they later did a TV movie to wrap up the cliffhangers, I was most disappointed. (But not as disappointed as by the fact that I read for a role in the Dynasty TV reunion movie, and didn't get the part.)

Same with Dallas. I was perfectly happy to assume JR had shot himself, and that the series had ended with JR finally giving himself what he'd deserved for years, and then they did a TV reunion movie and JR had just shot the mirror, something no actor would EVER do, and ruined it.

Dave Arnott said...

One of the best cancellation finales was on the 2003 NBC show, The Lyon's Den, starring Rob Lowe.

The show was cancelled after six episodes, but Channel 5 in the UK bought the rights for the rest of the season, so they ended up making all 13. (I'm not sure, but I'll bet the whole show got a box set DVD)

And since the producers knew this was it for this show, they clearly chucked whatever bible they had in place and wrote an AMAZING 180-degree, wtf, yet still perfectly believable finale that was just flat-out awesome.

Johnny Walker said...

I'm confused, Ken... Haven't I often heard you say that one of the reasons that being a sitcom writer is a wonderful job is because you get to laugh your ass off all day long?

Paul Duca said...

So, Ken...you expect a car every night of Hanukah?

Those photos of Palmer and Danson remind me of the old SPY magazine's "Separated at Birth?" feature.
(one Christmas back in the day, my mother bought me a copy of the book).

Ken Levine said...

You do, Johnny. But not stuff that goes into the script.

DwWashburn said...

R/E Laughing at your own jokes -- Have you ever seen an actor who thought a line was so funny that he/she could not deliver it without breaking up? You see actors all the time in blooper reels getting "the giggles" but I wonder if you have seen the same reaction from the written word? Was the line rewritten so it could be delivered?

Cap'n Bob said...

Anonymous: I don't know about Ken, but I can nearly always tell what the next line of dialogue in a show is going to be. That's the result of watching TV for close to 60 years. Nothing is new.

ihatebreastcancer said...

I wish someone would do a big screen version of Sherman & Mr. Peabody--DHP would be a great Mr. Peabody...

I've always wondered about "travelogue" epidsodes---the cast goes to the Grand Canyon or Hawaii (Bradys, Sanford & Sun); Italy (Raymond); London (Family Ties, Friends, etc).

In latter years, I thought maybe this was a bid to drive up syndication prices outside the US. But it must be a huge pain to shoot a show on location. And surely the whole crew doesn't go. I can't imagine that the bigger name actors who probably travel a lot, enjoy these excursions.

It must be interesting to budget a "Let's Go to Europe" episode....

Anonymous said...

Re: Manager's forcing temps to scour the internets to counter the criticism of an ailing show...

In the age of twitter, don't forget the participation of the show runner, the writers, the actors, the directors, the cameramen, the caterer, and all their friends and family members, squawking like stuck birds all over the internet and calling themselves "fans," and overdo it to the degree that nobody believes anybody's positive opinion on the matter.

I'm looking at YOU, "Community."

Anonymous said...

Ken-- Your opinion on the overall series aside, I'm wondering if you could share some stories about Harry Morgan's work on "AfterMASH." I always felt he did a pretty fine job in this chance he had -- during his 60s, to boot -- to have the lead role on a series.

--David from up north in Washington

Dan Tedson said...

Jokes are funky bitchnuts. I swear there's an equation for them just waiting to be found. They require some degree of surprise (punchlines you anticipate aren't funny), but they also require certain premises to be laid down and there's only so many ways to do that. So basically your job becomes finding new ways to camouflage a pattern people have only seen a GODZILLION times so they're misdirected long enough to not see the punchline coming.

But the longer you write jokes, the more variations on the theme you've seen, the more you anticipate the punchlines on even well-camouflaged jokes, the less you're surprised, so the less you laugh.

But sometimes the joke is just so GODDAMN funny and you realize you're just so GODDAMN fantastic that you have to laugh. I refuse to believe the guy who came up with someone asking what a Freudian slip was and Cliffy answering, "That's when you say one thing when you're actually thinking about a mother" didn't laugh his ass off then try for the better part of the afternoon to suck his own cock.

Anonymous said...

Tan Lamesome Said:

"I refuse to believe the guy who came up with someone asking what a Freudian slip was and Cliffy answering, "That's when you say one thing when you're actually thinking about a mother" didn't laugh his ass off then try for the better part of the afternoon to suck his own cock."

Hopefully whoever typed it, after carefully rereading it, said to himself, "The form of humor that fans dote on, that they slaver over, that they indulge in among themselves, that they slather across fanzine pages, that they interlineate and cross-quote, that they revere and unmercifully visit on the rest of us is... The pun.
That most witless thalidomide bastard of True Wit. That intellectually-debased sediment found at the lowest level of humor. That coarse-surfaced imposition on our good offices that never produces a titter, a giggle, a chuckle or a laugh, but which takes as a measure of its effectiveness...a groan of pain," then vomiting in his mouth a bit, while selected the line, and hitting "delete."

-Son Teddanson

Dan Tedson said...

Without Cliff's backstory it's a pun. With his backstory it's so much more. Think of it like this if it helps - it's you with and without a thesaurus. With one, you wax retarded but with beautiful prose, gloriously railing against heaven, profiled by lightning, Wagner scoring every flick of your poison pen. Without one, you're still retarded, probably a little waxy, but everything else is just lobster bibs, disappointed parents, and masturbating to that one time your female cousin touched your hand, all the way down.

Liggie said...

Friday question, from a screenplay newbie. Which is better for protection before submitting the script to readers/editors/whomever, a WGA registration or a Copyright acquisition? (Of course, insert "answer will not substitute for legal advice" disclaimer here.)

Sopheatu said...

There is indeed a Mr. Peabody & Sherman movie in development--but Robert Downey, Jr., not David Hyde-Pierce, will be providing Mr. Peabody's voice.

Scott from Wisconsin said...

Mr. Levine -
First of all, thank you so much for this blog - it's great to read a real first hand account of the dream factory in the golden age of television. I've been fortunate enough to be able to travel to LA every few years or so and have toured Universal, Warner and Paramount (MGM/Sony is next on my list). I read (not sure how accurate) that Warner still has the Ponderosa set in storage. Is it common practice for studios to keep sets from iconic shows or are they more likely to be tossed or taken home?

Cory said...

Ken, I just started reading your blog and enjoy it much. I'm still making my way through it, so I apologize if you've already answered the Friday questions below:

1) Do you have a shot at Cooperstown? and

2)Do you and David still write freelance episodes / do you think you'd ever return to TV writing full time?

Thanks for writing!