Ready for some Friday Questions?
Bowling Joe gets us going with a Woody Allen query. (Lot of great comments about Woody re yesterday's post):
I just watched the PBS American Masters two-part feature on Woody Allen, which was very enjoyable and informative. My question is, have you ever crossed paths with Woody Allen and if so, any good stories? Thanks.
I met him once. No great stories though. This was in 1977. ANNIE HALL was out. At the time, Woody played clarinet in a jazz band every Monday night at Michael’s Pub in New York. I was in Gotham on vacation and went to see him perform. Surprisingly, the club wasn’t packed. We were able to get a good table and we didn't have to tip anyone a hundred.
During the break he just stayed on stage. One or two people asked for autographs, which he obliged. Woody Allen was my idol at the time, and although I don’t usually do this, I was such a geek fanboy that I decided to go up and introduce myself. I’m sure it helped that I was writing for MASH at the time. When you meet a celebrity you should say that, too.
Anyway, he was very warm. We discussed our mutual friend, Larry Gelbart, and basically just chatted for about ten minutes. I told him how much I loved ANNIE HALL. He told me how much he loved MASH. I was telling the truth. He was just being nice. Like I said, he performed every Monday night. MASH was on Monday nights. Still. It was a major thrill just to meet him. We shook hands. I requested “The Purple People Eater” and that was it.
Ray Morton asks:
I know this was before your producing tenure on MASH, but what do you know about the addition of the Captain Spaulding character -- the singing surgeon played by Loudon Wainwright III in season 3? He only appeared in 3 episodes and then disappeared. I've always wondered why he was on the show in the first place, where the idea of having a sort of a musical Greek chorus/ narrator came from, and why he vanished without a trace.
This was an experiment producers Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds tried. They were always looking for inventive ways to tell stories. One idea was to frame the episode around a song. They tried it a few times and it just didn’t work so they abandoned the idea. I think this was around the time Loudon Wainwright had his only Top 40 smash – “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road.” It’s the one love song I wish I had written.
From Scott from Wisconsin:
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?
Unless a show is a big hit, the sets are usually dismantled. And you’re right. Crew members and the staff will often scrounge props or pieces of the set. When BIG WAVE DAVE'S was canceled I took a surfboard.
I knew a guy in college who had parts of the original Star Trek Enterprise bridge assembled in his dorm room. Wonder how much those are worth today?
But for the most part sets are struck, maybe parts are stored for future use if they’re generic enough. For example: restaurants. A different coat of paint and new set dressing and an Italian joint from MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE becomes a sushi bar for MODERN FAMILY.
I believe the Smithsonian has the actual sets from MASH and CHEERS. So instead of seeing a Mercury capsule or Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis airplane, check out keepsakes of my career.
From Anonymous (please leave your name):
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."
Yes, on some shows it becomes a game to shout out the punchlines just before the characters. It’s a game that lasts for maybe five minutes because then I turn the show off.
Worse – jokes so bad they make me groan. Usually two groans a show and I’m gone, often for good.
But there are series that genuinely make me laugh. PARKS & RECREATION for one. It doesn’t have the sizzle of other sitcoms like MODERN FAMILY or BIG BANG THEORY and it’s on a network that loses in the ratings to Univision, but for my money, PARKS & REC has quietly become the best sitcom on television.
I try not to think what I would do differently. Otherwise, every show I watch becomes just a bad runthrough. And honestly, when I sit down to watch a show I want to love it. I want to be surprised, drawn into the story and characters, and entertained. And since so few shows really deliver I greatly appreciate the ones that do.
And finally, DwWashburn (immortalized in a Monkees song) asks:
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?
Not that I can remember. Sometimes we’ll change lines if they’re too much of a mouthful and the actor can’t get them out. But if a line is funny enough to evoke that kind of reaction, we’ll do sixty takes if necessary.
This has happened a couple of times in episodes I’ve directed. What I’ll do is this: If the actor has the giggles and can’t get it in three or four takes, I just move on and get it in a pick-up later after the audience has left and the actor has had a chance to settle down. But you know how it is – you get on a laughing jag and that causes the people around you to break up too. Now imagine that with 200 other people. It’s hard enough to recover from a laughing jag without hearing 200 other laughers who can’t control themselves.
What’s your question?