Friday, June 01, 2012

Friday Questions. It is Friday, right?

Here are this Friday’s Friday Questions. Leave yours in the comments section. I’ll be doing some bonus Question days because they’re starting to pile up and I want to get to as many of them as possible.

Texas 1st is 1st:

I was watching the 1st season episode of Cheers called "Now pitching: Sam Malone." In it, Sam does a commercial for a beer. It really worked as a commercial with the setup. It even felt like it would work in the world today, maybe with a current era pitcher in Sam's role, and a real beer for a client. was this something you had seen, or did this come about from you and David?

That was a parody of a beer campaign that was popular at the time. I think for Miller Lite. We used former Red Sox great, Luis Tiant. It took about twenty takes, but I didn’t care. Got to hang out with El Tiante!

I've worked with a number of athletes.  Most are just...okay as actors.   As long as you don't place too much comedy burden on them.  The exception was Kevin McHale.  He was fantastic.  We not only gave him more to do during the week, but we brought him back for another episode.  I still think he's wasting his time in basketball.  He could have a future!

Bradley wonders:

Before computers, did you type up your own scripts or was that job given to someone else? Also, do you still have copies of these old scripts? I can imagine the early ones only ever existed on paper (and TV, of course).

When my partner David Isaacs and I began we carved the scripts into rocks. Seriously, when we started we’d get together and David would take down the script in longhand on college notebooks. I would then type them. We bought a used IBM Selectric that resulted in my first hernia.

When we wrote our first couple of screenplays we splurged and hired a woman to type the scripts for us. This was all "pre-computer".

Once we got on staff of MASH we still wrote in longhand but had our assistant, the wondrous Ginny, type the drafts.

Things changed on CHEERS. We learned how to dictate scripts to our assistant. And that’s how we’ve done it ever since.

Yes, I do have original drafts of our old scripts. I also have all the handwritten notebooks and outlines. I keep waiting for the Smithsonian to call but they never do.

I also have all my scorebooks from all my years of calling baseball.  I keep waiting for Cooperstown to call.  And waiting... and waiting... and waiting... 

Anonymous (please leave a name, even a Klingon one) asks:

How much do announcers get together? You were just in Cleveland, did you see Tom Hamilton, etc.? Are there any you particularly enjoy spending time with?

Also, most people love or hate their hometown announcer but are there any whom you think are undiscovered gems?

Announcers from various teams do socialize together. Tom Hamilton and I have been friends since we were both in the minors in 1988. I was in Syracuse and Tom was in Columbus. Same with me and Gary Cohen of the Mets (Pawtucket), Greg Brown of the Pirates (Buffalo), Terry Smith of the Angels (Columbus), and Vince Controneo of the A’s (Iowa).

I pretty much hang out with all the opposing announcers, but if I had to pick one – Eric Nadel of Texas (pictured: right) is probably my best bud on the circuit. We get together whenever our two clubs play and correspond frequently.  Imagine the shit I gave him when the Mariners scored 21 runs against the Rangers Wednesday night! He’s also a terrific announcer, by the way. So I hang out hoping that some of his brilliance will rub off on me.  I'm waiting... and waiting... and waiting...

For undiscovered gems – Andy Freed and Dave Wills, the radio team for the Tampa Bay Rays are awesome. Both are good in their own right and the chemistry they have together is special.  I used to listen to them even when their team was horrible. 

And finally, from mp:

I caught a bit of the M*A*S*H movie on HBO last week and it made me wonder about writing on a show that was adapted from a movie. (I know it was already running for a few seasons before you joined, but I am hoping you may be able to provide some insight.)

Before the show had time to set a new identity, how did the showrunners instruct the staff writers to regard the movie?

Easy. Larry Gelbart pretty much wrote the whole first season himself (not to mention seasons two through four). Along with Gene Reynolds, he forged the style and the rest of us just followed it.

When we came aboard, we first met with Gene who loaded us down with research material, history books, and the original book MASH by Richard Hooker.

Reading the book was very strange. The Hawkeye in the book was much more like the Hawkeye in the movie. So it was hard to merge Alan Alda with that character. Trapper was off the show by that point so that wasn’t an issue, but imaging Hawkeye from the text was like watching a 3D movie without the glasses.

Have a great weekend! And if you're looking for reading material (hint hint), you're welcome to order my new book.  The Kindle version is available now.  Paperback soon.  Here's where you go.   Many thanks.


Phillip B said...

Agree with you on Andy Freed and Dave Wills - their broadcasts are worth seeking out.

They do an entertaining job describing the game in front of them, but also cover baseball in general..

The Curmudgeon said...

Dave Wills was pretty good in Chicago in his pre- and post-game roles. Glad to hear he's flourished in Tampa.

And, speaking of Chicago, sorry you're not here this weekend with the M's. Maybe next time. Do you /does your radio station allow book signings in the booth between innings or before/after the games?

Two games - 36 runs? Did I hear that right? Weren't there months last season when Seattle didn't score that much? Speaking as a Sox fan, I hope they left their offense in Texas. And, while we're at it, in light of their recent scoring bonanza, welcome to Chicago, Mariners players! Blood and urine tests for everyone!

benson said...

The way the M's are hitting this week and the number the Sox did on Cleveland last weekend, you could have 22-21 scores this weekend.

Speaking of the Sox, any thoughts on Hawk's rant on Wed. Like many announcers he's a polarizing figure, but I love the guy. Yes, he's a homer, but he's also fair. Mercy!

Matt said...


I think It'd be great to see some of your original notebook writings (longhand) where you're crafting MASH stories...make a great series of blog posts!


Johnny Walker said...

Interesting comment from Hornburger's son on the difference between Movie Hawkeye and TV Hawkeye.

"[My father] liked the movie because he thought it followed his original intent very closely. But my father was a political conservative, and he did not like the liberal tendencies that Alan Alda portrayed Hawkeye Pierce as having."

"My father didn't write an anti-war book," he added. "It was a humorous account of his work, with serious parts thrown in about the awful kind of work it was, and how difficult and challenging it was."

It's interesting because Altman wanted M*A*S*H to be as anti-war as he could make it (it was made during the Vietnam War, and he actively tried to remove references to Korea in it, but the studio wouldn't let him). He also thought the book was pretty schmaltzy (which it was) and threw out all the sentimentality.

Personally I enjoyed all three iterations; Book, movie, and series! Especially Alda's version of Hawkeye.

Timothy said...


After working in the museum world for many years, I can safely say that the Smithsonian probably won't be calling for your notebooks, but only because they don't know they exist!

Please, please, PLEASE consider finding an appropriate institution (Smithsonian, Museum of Television, etc. etc.) and either donate them TODAY, or make arrangements for them to be donated at a future date. They are a very priceless part of television heritage that needs to be preserved!

Don't shortchange your notebooks as being unworthy of preservation.

Thanks for all that you do writing this blog, and all the work you've done in entertaining me over the years.

Tim W.

Larry said...

I seem to recall an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob loses the only script for the Alan Brady Show and some bum holds it for ransom. This was back in the days when if you were CC'd, you were really CC'd.

Garbie said...

Hi Ken,

I've noticed that a lot of shows seem to use a four-act structure nowadays to reflect the extra commercial. Is this something one should reflect in a spec script for one of these shows? Or are these shows generally just considered three-act shows with one of the acts broken up in the middle by a spot for Huggies Swaddlers?

Thanks very much for this blog.

Michael Hagerty said...

Ken: I may have posted this one before. If so, forgive me.

I remember a great before-the-credits open to Cheers, where (and I may have the exact sequence of characters a bit off, but it's the ending that counts)Sam is behind the bar kind of absently humming or whistling "On The Sunny Side Of The Street".

Carla walks by and picks up the song at the exact point where Sam left off (again subconciously). She passes Diane, who takes it from there....and as she passes Coach, he sings:

"I've got spurs that jingle jangle jingle....."

...and into the opening theme.

Was that yours and David's? I've only seen it the night it aired originally, 30 or so years ago, but it's always struck me as the best exposition of character I've ever seen.

Eric J said...

Why no EPUB (nook) version of your new book. The travel book was available for the nook.

Pat Reeder said...

In the pre-computer days, I bought a portable royal typewriter at a garage sale for $5 and used it for years. I got so used to pounding that thing like a tough steak that when I got my first electric typewriter, I hit the keys so hard that every letter typed three or four tttiiimmmmmmeeessss...

It looked as if all my jokes were meant to be read veeeerrry sloooowly.

BTW, Ken, I will buy your book, but I'm waiting for the paperback. I don't have a Kindle. I refuse to read anything if a tree didn't have to die to create it.

HourOfLead said...

As for athlete cameos on Cheers, I gotta go with Wade Boggs:
[Red Sox star Wade Boggs enters Cheers]
Wade Boggs: Hi, I'm Wade Boggs.
Norm: Yeah, pal, and I'm Babe Ruth.
Cliff: And I'm Dizzy Dean.
Woody: I'm Woody Boyd.

Sebastian Peitsch said...

You are so right about the Rays commentators. I get what's called "ESPN America" over here in Germany (Pay TV) and they scheduled a couple of Marlins and Rays games early in the season. The guys announcing the Rays are so much fun to listen to and... hm... how can I put it... when there's some charity thing and they talk about it they sound like they actually care. I think that's what I liked the most when they were on.

One reason why I got the season package for I could pretend the other was you being on the radio feed but I have to admit when you were on your away game trip there was no way I was going to get up at 3am to listen to the game live (and the audio feeds for some weird reason are only available live or I'm just unable to find them on my phone - and what's the use of listening to a radio feed when I sit on my computer? Phone = in the car)

chuckcd said...

"Yes, I do have original drafts of our old scripts. I also have all the handwritten notebooks and outlines. I keep waiting for the Smithsonian to call but they never do."

Wow. Talk about an idea for a book...

Kirk said...

A big difference between the book Hawkeye and the TV version, was that while the first was a cut-up, perfectly-formed one-lineers didn't come pouring out of his mouth as was the case with Alan Alda. I must say, the novel's Hawkeye was much more realistic in that respect. Only a professional comedy writer who spent many years honing his craft could ad-lib jokes like that. That's not to say I don't like Alda's interpretation. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for the sake of a good one-liner.

Like Johhny Walker, I, too, like all three versions of MASH. I would probably put the TV series in its prime (seasons 3 thru 8, IMHO) slightly ahead partly BECAUSE of the anti-war message, which I think gave the whole concept more weight. That said, I have to admit that the anti-war sentiments of some of the character weren't always realistic. For instance, in the famous black-and-white mockumentary episode, Colonel Potter is asked by Clete Roberts if any good was coming out of the Korean War. Potter replies, "Not a damn thing." Now, c'mon, would a CAREER army colonel in the middle of the McCarthy era really say something like that on national TV? Don't you think might have gotten into just a little bit of trouble for saying it?

Noah said...

Wait, Kevin McHale is still working in basketball? I thought he was playing Artie on "Glee"!

(tee hee)

Cap'n Bob said...

I got your book a couple of days ago and assigned it to my bedtime reading slot. I'm really enjoying it. One thing jumped out at me, though. You said there were water fountains for blacks and whites in the schools. Well, when I went to school in the South there were no blacks, hence no need for separate fountains. Then it struck me that perhaps there were segregated fountains in schools that had been integrated. Anyone know if that was so? There were separate facilities in public places, so I guess anything's possible.

edprof said...

there were no segregated water fountains in the los angeles schools when ken went to school

darmund said...

Friday questions.
More of a comment than a question perhaps, but I'd like your thoughts if you could make the time.

I recently watched the movie version of MASH with Altman's commentary and was shocked to hear his comments on the tv version, which were not at all positive. They focused on Altman's view that the show was VERY racist in how the Koreans were portrayed, as compared to how they were portrayed in the movie. Now I doubt he watched every episode, but regardless, I can't see him having much of a case, do you?

And I do have an actual question, more general tv related: what does it mean when (insert name of tv show here) is/was a 'vehicle' for (insert name of actor/actress here)? Is it meant in the sense that the tv show is to be used to push them further into the limelight? I ask because I've seen this used in reference to Howard Hessman and the mid '80's sitcom Head of the Class. If it was supposed to be a vehicle for him it failed because his resume after he left the show is...less then stellar.

Thanks for taking the time to answer.

Johnny Walker said...

Michael, I just watched that episode the other night! It's Season 3, Episode 14, "The Heart is a Lonely Snipe-Hunter". Written by the great Heide Perlman.

Brian Doan said...

Ken, a question for next Friday-- have you read Warren Littlefield's new book, TOP OF THE ROCK, about NBC between 1980 and '98 (most of the book is the 90s, but it begins with Littlefield's 80s tenure, and a long chapter on CHEERS)? I read an excerpt in VANITY FAIR, enjoyed it, and picked it up today. I'm about 60-odd pages in and, it's interesting, and I'd be curious for your take on it, as someone who worked there in that period.

Since the format is the LIVE FROM NEW YORK model of woven-together interview quotes from writers, actors, directors, executives, etc., there are a lot of good anecdotes, and Burrows on CHEERS is especially great. But I really don't know what to make of Littlefield, who alternates between a charming self-effacement and a seeming desire to be a superhero in his own NBC history, facing down Steven Bocchco over HILL STREET BLUES, recognizing the genius of Dick Wolf when others can't, and occasionally missing the point of some COSBY SHOW jokes.

I'm not saying he didn't do these things-- I'm sure he was a very talented executive. But the tone is kind of odd, and the occasional, passive-aggressive score-settling about Brandon Tartikoff, especially since Tartikoff is no longer here to defend himself, seems a bit cheap. But I say this as someone who hasn't worked in the business, so I'm curious what you might think of it (have to admit I skipped ahead and glanced at the FRASIER chapter-- and while some of that's been recounted when David Lee graciously posted on your blog a few years back, I still adore Pierce's story of how the writers described the Frasier-Niles relationship: "Frasier is a Freudian, and Niles in a Jungian"-- so much information in one perfect encapsulation).

Liggie said...

1) Got MLB At Bat for the iPad, and heard Nalen for the first time. Excellent broadcaster; enthusiastic but fair, and paints a great picture of the game. A lot like Mr. Niehaus.

2) I took a "film as literature" college course (looking for symbolism, mise en scene, etc.). My professor was so enthralled with the "M*A*S*H" movie that he wouldn't see the TV show, because he didn't think it could compare to the movie. I recall him saying that though he heard good things about Alda's performance, he couldn't see anyone else but Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye.

3) Friday question, professional advice edition. How do you prepare your voice for the long baseball broadcasts? I've started a job in the travel industry where I have to talk for four hours straight (ticket counter, line organizer, direction giver), and my throat's shot when I go home. I have limited water and lozenge access on the clock due to logistical and decorum images; what else can I do?

darmund said...


You mean you can't carry some lozenges in your pocket? That sounds WAY too extreme. Not allowing gum chewing I can understand.

Any of your co-workers in your same job position ie; having to talk constantly? I'd ask them if they're having the same problem and if not what they've done to counter the hoarseness.

One suggestion is to build up your vocal chords, which are a type of muscle by doing some singing exercises.

I'd also think about talking with your supervisor and explaining the situation and asking if there's anything they can do.

VP81955 said...

By the time Luis Tiant did "Cheers," he was well versed in making commercials; he had done spots for Fenway Franks in Boston, then after jumping to New York, he did them for Yankee Franks (which I suppose were produced by the same firm). "It's great to be with a weiner!"

You said there were water fountains for blacks and whites in the schools. Well, when I went to school in the South there were no blacks, hence no need for separate fountains.

From what I know about southern geography, you probably resided somewhere in the Appalachians (eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, far southwestern Virginia) where the black population was relatively minimal. In fact, for decades some sections of east Tennessee were Republican, and this was well before George Wallace stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama or Richard Nixon's "southern strategy."

VP81955 said...

While baseball announcers have to do 162 games a year (in addition to exhibitions and postseason play), at least they have 2 1/2-minute breaks between each half-inning. In contrast, pity the hockey announcer, who has to call continual action with a few brief breaks (especially on radio, but also on TV), though at least he gets a chance to rest during each intermission. It makes you appreciate the great ones such as Mike Emrick, currently doing the Stanley Cup finals on NBC.

Sara said...

Mr. Levine,

My two greatest loves in life are baseball and Cheers, so I am delighted to have found your blog. Not sure how the questions work, but I have one I am burning to pose so I will proceed! What I want to ask is should I give up on the possibility of Sam and Diane having some kind of reconciliation, or can I hold out hope?! I am not asking for anything idyllic but I always saw them as falling under that old "doomed love affair" trope -- think Hamlet and Ophelia, Rimbaud and Verlaine, Sid and Nancy, Bruce Bochy and Aaron Rowand, etc -- and I expected that they would keep circling back to each other until one of them killed the other. Or at least until they got too old for such shenanigans and became that elderly couple you see in the supermarket fighting passionately about what kind of cereal to buy. I am disappointed to think that they both just moved on and I was wondering if the writers would ever consider resurrecting this storied romance, even just briefly. I have no idea if this is in the realm of possibilities but it would be hilarious if Ted and Shelley made some brief cameo in another sitcom as Sam and Diane. I think a lot of people would appreciate some closure!

Have fun watching the Giants play the Mariners this weekend, maybe I will switch over to the Seattle broadcast for a bit to hear you call the game.

Cheers (no pun intended, this is just how I close all correspondences!),