Friday, February 17, 2012

One thing you didn't know about Peri Gilpin

Ready for Presidents’ Weekend?  Got your costume? Let’s get you in the mood with some Friday Questions. Leave yours in the comments section. And don’t party too hard this Prez Wknd.


Ann starts us off:

I have a "Frasier" question (or a request, really). I was reading your story about Peri Gilpin's casting as Roz Doyle and I was wondering if you had any more Peri stories. She seems like such a warm and genuinely nice person and Roz was always my favorite character on "Frasier."

She is a warm and genuinely nice person.

Here’s a story: first season. I didn’t really know her that well. We finish a runthrough and she’s in the radio control room set. I say to her jokingly that she really looks like she knows how to run a radio board. She says she comes from a radio family. Her father was a disc jockey… but unfortunately he had passed away.

I asked who her father was and was floored when she told me. Jim O’Brien. He was a great jock in the late 60’s/early 70’s, spending time in LA, New York, and eventually becoming a star in Philadelphia. While in Philly he also became a TV weatherman. He died in a sky diving accident… trying to save another diver.

Peri was very little at the time. I told her that I had met and become friends with her father when he was the program director of KHJ in 1969/70. I even interviewed him for a class project. One weekend he filled-in on the air and I ran a tape.

The next day I gave Peri that tape. She said it was the first time she had ever heard her dad on the air. Now with the internet and great websites like Reelradio.com there are several airchecks of Jim O’Brien floating around and everyone can appreciate just how good he was. But back then it was just my dusty 7” reel-to-reel tape. I was so thrilled that I was able to provide that for her.

Peri is wonderfully down-to-earth. It’s like she’s almost not even an actress. We still correspond. I hope to someday get to work with her again. She is a true joy.

Bg Porter asks:

In the room, how much consideration is given to how a joke will age? Is it enough to get a laugh in 1973 with your great Comet Kohoutek bit? I'm remembering the Cheers scene where Frasier enters the bar and agrees with the tribal chant that he had just heard, "Everybody have fun tonight. Everybody... Wang Chung...tonight." Plays very differently in 2012.

Actually, I think that Wang Chung joke still plays great… and I’m not just saying that because it was my line. On CHEERS and FRASIER we tried to not consciously date the show by throwing in a ton of current name references. MURPHY BROWN did that and I think it killed them in syndication. But from time to time it’s not a bad idea to sprinkle in a current reference so the show seems current at first airing. And unless you’re already a huge established hit, you really shouldn’t worry about whether a joke will play in thirty years. Often times you’re just trying to stay on the air another thirty minutes.

From Terry:

Ken, I've always wondered about how certain jokes work when recording in front of a live studio audience. For example, if you have a joke whose punchline depends on a cutaway to another scene (e.g. a character says something like "I would never be caught dead in a giraffe costume" followed by a quick cut to that character wearing the giraffe costume), how is that filmed? Obviously you can't get the character into the costume quickly enough for the audience to laugh at the joke at the right time. Is the audience shown the pre-recorded scene at the appropriate time or are those usually covered with a laugh track?

Also, are sitcoms taped in front of an audience filmed in chronological order so they unfold like a play? I know movies aren't done this way, but I always wondered on TV shows how it worked if you had a setup in the first act that paid off in the third. Thanks for any insight you can provide!

Jokes that depend on quick cuts are generally pre-shot the day before and are just shown to the studio audience on monitors.

Shows are filmed in chronological order so the audience can follow the story. It is like a play. Except in plays they don’t perform the same scene two or three times before moving on. In some Tom Stoppard plays I wish they would run scenes multiple times.  I might be able to follow them better.

And finally, from Chris:

Does the network ask you about future episodes and how many stories do you think you have or do they just order episodes if they like the pilot and it tests well?

You mean when you’re originally pitching a pilot? Yes. They want you to come in with several suggestions for possible stories. And later, after the pilot is filmed, they may ask for written story possibilities before they decide whether to pick up the show.

Once the show does get picked-up the network then has to approve every story, every outline, and often – every draft. At least for new shows… unless a major showrunner like Chuck Lorre is at the helm. But the norm now is total network control. Stories are so hard to come by. I wonder now how many great stories were thrown out because the network rejected them? And when you see some of the lame stories shows are doing you have to wonder – how much of this is the staff’s fault and how much is the network’s? You can probably guess which side I'm on.

23 comments:

Brooke McMaster said...

Hi Ken,

I hope you enjoyed my native Australia on your visit!

I am incredibly green when it comes to the writing game. I wanted to ask about series bibles. With every pitch, do you have to submit a fully completed bible or does this folder of notes start to grow once the show is picked up? Obviously, you would have basic notes on characters, settings etc but I am unsure if this is needed for a pitch.

I was told that Frasier had a very complex bible and as the show was being written, it would be updated scrupulously - down to the tiniest of details for continuity purposes. For example Maris Crane's food allergies.

Thanks Ken, if I could have but half of the success that your career has brought you, I will be a truly happy girl. So here's hoping for a great start x

Mike Barer said...

I loved the Roz Doyle character. Great post!

An (is my actual name) said...

Wow. I love that story about Peri Gilpin. I grew up in a very news-oriented household in the Philadelphia area, and Jim O'Brien was easily one of my favorite television personalities, as well as a childhood crush. His weather reports were epic, especially for me as a kid-- an oasis in some long, dry evenings of dull newscasts. His energy and humor and creativity were captivating. I can still sing the theme to his Saturday magazine show "Primetime". I was heartbroken when he passed so tragically and way too soon. Thanks for sharing that story about Peri and her beloved dad. I enjoyed Frasier all the more knowing her connection to one of my childhood heroes. He is still remembered fondly throughout the Philadelphia area.

Anonymous said...

Peri was 22 when her father died - not really "very little".

Mary Stella said...

Growing up in South Jersey, we watched the Philly stations for news. We loved Jim O'Brien and the rest of the Action News team.

Before he joined Action News, while he was still a d.j., he was the host who introduced Bobby Sherman at a concert at the Cherry Hill arena. My teenybopper friends and I were awestruck by both Jim and Bobby.

You know how you can always remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard about certain events. Jim O'Brien's death is one of those moments for me. We were on our sundeck on a beautiful afternoon when my aunt called to tell us she'd seen the news. I also remember the tears in the anchor's eyes when he did the report on air.

Terry said...

Ken, thanks for answering my questions! Also, I still laugh at the "Wang Chung" line, even just thinking about it right now. Kelsey's delivery was perfect! In fact, for years after that my friends and I would quote that line in his delivery whenever we were going out somewhere. I didn't realize you wrote it, so thanks for the laughs!

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

my favorite Frasier line that some of our younger viewers might not get: "Don't try to be hip, Niles. It's like watching Bob Hope dressed up as the Fonz"

Anonymous said...

Here's the actual dialogue Frasier said:

"Gentlemen! (hoots and hollars from the guys in the bar) I was listening to a rock 'n roll station on my way over here ... you know, to put me in the mood ... there was a passage in one of those tribal songs that I feel ... well, is the keynote for this evening. 'Everybody have fun tonight. Everybody Wang Chung tonight.'"

Matt said...

That is so odd!

The other day I saw an NFL Films feature on the Baltimore Colts kicker Jim O'Brien. I googled him up and saw all these stories about O'Brien dying in a skydiving accident. Took me a few minutes to realize this wasn't that guy.

However I did watch the YouTube video about the death this O'Brien.

Wow .. just saw this a few weeks ago.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lp5pbcKc7A

Max Clarke said...

Peri was just terrific in Frasier. Hard to believe she was acting a part, she seemed so completely Roz Doyle. Very good at the physical comedy, too.

According to IMDB, her character name Roz Doyle came from a television producer named Roz Doyle. He produced a couple of dozen episodes of Wings.

Kirk said...

The guy on the Wang Chung album--the one to the left of Kelsey Grammer--looks like a thin James Cagney.

Johnny Walker said...

Wow, Brooke, I'd love to know if that's true... And I'd love to get my hands on Frasier's bible. I know some show bibles are already online (like Battlestar Galactica's - the new one, not the old one) and they make fascinating reading for someone interested in how shows are made!

I've been watching a lot of Frasier lately and one thing that utterly amazes me about it: I haven't gotten tired of it. I picked up the boxset and I've burned through the first three seasons in a matter of weeks (so far)... and it still feels fresh every time I watch an episode.

Usually when you watch a lot of episodes of a show in order, you start to see how they "do" things. The fallback gags and plotlines become obvious and tiresome. But with Frasier every episode feels completely new to me.

Another thing that is predictable about Frasier: The set hasn't changed at all in four years! Frasier (the character) hasn't bought any new artwork, new statues, new furniture. In other shows I've noticed whole rooms are redesigned, sometimes becoming magically bigger. Not so with Frasier (so far). An interesting choice.

Colin Anngsten said...

Just watched VOLUNTEERS for the 1st time since 86 (I think - thanks Netflix). Very enjoyable & a reminder of how good John Candy was. A wonderful character. Tom was terrific of course, as was Rita. "What have I done?" Too bad Alec Guiness was not available! Judging from the end credits, I'm guessing it was filmed in Central or South America. One of your MASH colleagues was in it - Dr. Sidney Freedman, but you probably already knew that. Arbus, is that his name? Anyway, thanks for the laughs, I really enjoyed it!

A reminder to my fellow baseball fans...today is the opening of the college baseball season. Good entertainment that will not cost you $100.00/game. And with that, I'm off to the ballpark.

Mitchell Hundred said...

As I'm sure you know, often sitcoms have an ongoing storyline where one character is in love with another, but cannot ask them out for some reason (resulting in shenanigans). Niles and Daphne in 'Frasier' is the best example that I can think of, but Leonard and Penny in 'The Big Bang Theory' also qualifies. My question is: How do you know the right moment to break the tension and have them get together?

Brian Doan said...

Thanks for the great story about Peri Gilpin--Roz was always my favorite character, too. In fact, as wonderful as the rest of the cast was, part of me always wanted a Roz spinoff-- Gilpin was so appealing, and especially in the early years, I always thought the bits of her dating life that we got through conversations with Fraiser sounded like they could've been their own, very funny sitcom.

And I still love the Wang Chung line, too-- My wife and quote it all the time, and Kelsey Grammar's dry delivery and perfectly timed pauses make it my favorite Fraiser moment on either CHEERS or his own show.

Paul Duca said...

Kirk...the man to the left of Frasier is Wang Chung front man Jack Hues.

Ray Barrington said...

Jack Hues? I always thought his name WAS Wang Chung. (Insert your three favorite "wang" jokes here)

Ann said...

Thanks for the Peri story, Ken! It was such a sweet thing to do for her! I'm also glad to hear she's really so nice. It makes me like Roz even more (if that's even possible).

Max Clarke, I particularly love the episode where Roz has to mime to Frasier some football terms like the Hail Mary pass. And also the episode when Roz mimes the caller's name to Frasier. The caller's name is Eileen, so Roz points to her eye and then leans to the side. Just two examples of great physical comedy moments involving Roz. But I think all actors on that show were just brilliant at physical comedy. Certainly, the one-liners had me in stitches because the writing was top-notch (sharp, smart, funny), but I also loved the non-verbal jokes and slapstick moments.

On the subject of datedness, I've recently re-watched "Frasier" and I can't think of a single topical reference I didn't get (but I don't think there were than many). Before that, I'd re-watched "Murphy Brown" and a lot of the topical references went right over my head. The show still has tons of great non-topical jokes, but it's aged like "All in the Family", whereas "Frasier" is similar to "The Dick Van Dyke Show" in that respect. It's undoubtedly an '90s show, but it's more timeless.

MattA said...

It would be ironic if Frasier took pains at continuity, because it had little with Cheers. That lead to the great exchange between Frasier, Martin, and Sam Malone when Frasier explained why he had told the patrons at Cheers why his father was dead.

Greg Ehrbar said...

One more thing most may not know about the wonderful Ms. Gilpin: she once explained on a talk show that her first name came from a Walt Disney movie that her mother loved.

The movie was "Perri," notable because it was Disney's one and only "True-Life Fantasy" -- a completely fictional story told through nature footage (fact and fiction being somewhat blurred in other Disney animal films and the True-Life Adventure series.

Don't know why the second "r" was omitted, but that's the story she told.

Rick Mohr said...

Dear Mr. Levine,

Thank you for this chance to ask you questions. I have several that I have wondered about for awhile, and rather than bombard you with them all at once, I’ll do them over a period of time. This is one that has been bothering me for a long time:

Whereas a show like Frasier (and this question can even include a lot of shows like MASH) has been on for so many years before going into syndication, and then being run so many times a day on so many different channels, both local and cable,, why is it that they seem to keep showing the same episodes over and over? As an example, I loved when Frasier sang Button and Bows, and I can just chuckle at the memory, but I have not seen that episode listed in the program guides for years. Now, his dads’ chair being damaged it seems like every other week. Would you by any chance have a clip of him performing that you can post?

Okay, one more. Why do the best friends/neighbors never knock on so many shows, the just walk in and the leave the door open the entire time they are there?

Thank you so much,
Rick Mohr

Mike Marshall, Oakville, ON said...

Thank you, Ken. My wife and I were really touched by your Peri Gilpin story.
I was lucky enough to work with Ms. Gilpin's dad in 1969, when he became the Program Director at CKLW radio in Windsor/Detroit.
Jim was such a talented broadcaster: smart, funny and a real gentleman. If it weren't for that Texas accent, he could have been mistaken for a Canadian. ;-)
There are some people you'd go through walls for...Jim was one of them. I was shocked and greatly saddened to hear of his passing not too many years later.
Imagine our delight, after Frasier had enjoyed its successful run, when we learned that the young woman who played one of our favourite TV characters was Jim's daughter. And that she's as nice as he was.

Mike Marshall (Frank Brodie) said...

Thank you, Ken. My wife and I were really touched by your Peri Gilpin story.
I was lucky enough to work with Ms. Gilpin's dad in 1969, when he became the Program Director at CKLW radio in Windsor/Detroit.
Jim was such a talented broadcaster: smart, funny and a real gentleman. If it weren't for that Texas accent, he could have been mistaken for a Canadian. ;-)
There are some people you'd go through walls for...Jim was one of them. I was shocked and greatly saddened to hear of his passing not too many years later.
Imagine our delight, after Frasier had enjoyed its successful run, when we learned that the young woman who played one of our favourite TV characters was Jim's daughter. And that she's as nice as he was.