Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Following up on Yesterday's post

First off, you guys were GREAT yesterday!!   Thanks so much for the amazing comments.  I think I agree with every single one of your pet peeves.  If you haven't read yesterday's post, just skim my rant and go right to the comments. 

I even agree about the ones you cited from shows I wrote.  A MASH episode David Isaacs and I penned called "The Merchant of Korea" involved a poker game where they discovered Charles had a tell.  He whistled when he bluffed.  So in the show when he whistled everyone stayed in or raised.  The point was made that yes, Charles would lose, but so would all of them except one.   Why were they all throwing in their money?   Believe it or not, David and I did debate that at the time.  We decided to justify it (rationalize? fool ourselves?) by saying over the course of the night they all would win some hands and come out okay.  And it sold the joke way better to have everyone throw in their money rather than just the one or two who felt they had a legitimately good hand.  But was it a stretch?  Damn right it was.

 A couple of you flagged CHEERS, notably what we called "the cone of silence."  At times people could hear a conversation across the bar and other times the person sitting on the next stool couldn't hear it.   We'd say, "are they in the cone of silence" this week? 

I wrote a post back in 2007 that dealt with a lot of the CHEERS inconsistencies.  Thought I'd share it again today.  Just know we were aware of these at the time but for specific reasons went with them anyway.  I suspect they bothered us way more than they bothered the viewers.  Still -- guilty as charged. 

Here's the post, and again, thanks for playing!

(Recently)  I touched on CHEERS and how no one ever paid for a drink. We writers knew this was a little dicey but who wanted to see Carla make change for twenty-two minutes or Sam putting his flirting on hold while he ran a credit card for approval?

There were other things we did sheepishly knowing we were stretching credibility.

No one came into town and checked into a hotel. They would go from the airport straight to the CHEERS bar, not even bothering to call to check if the person they wanted to see was even there. And who just ASSUMES their friend will be in a bar at noon? It’s a stretch but it’s always better to see a character than just hear him on the phone. And we figured it wasn’t so bizarre that it would take the audience out of the show.

When those out of town visitors showed up at CHEERS they never had their luggage. We used to joke that there were taxi drivers in Boston with million dollar wardrobes.

The phone was wherever we wanted to place it for blocking purposes. At stage right one week, stage left the next. These were pre-cordless days.

The acoustics at CHEERS were very odd. Sometimes characters could hear all the way across the bar, other times they couldn’t. And the extras upstage at the bar could never hear anything, even though they were two seats away.

Sam cut more lemons than every other bartender in America combined.

Cliff wore his postal uniform even on Sunday. (We did a lot of things with that character but we did think it would stretch believability to ever have John Ratzenberger dance on a show.)  Note:  DWTS reference.  John was on it one year. 

In the second episode it was established that Sam was divorced, then never mentioned it again.

There were many times when no one was tending the bar. And after Diane left Carla was the only waitress. That must’ve made for some long 16 hour shifts.

As a noted psychiatrist and author of books and articles, Frasier spent as much time in the bar as Norm. When did he ever work we often asked ourselves in the room?

In one episode (that David and I wrote) Norm has to keep feeding a parking meter. That means a guy who drinks beer all day and night drives to and from the bar?

But I will say, to our credit, that we did not go through with the episode where Rebecca gets trapped in a giant Tupperware container. It was quite a discussion though. What clinched it was the argument that if the top were sealed tight Rebecca would get no air and die. There’s only so far you can with creative license and we felt death was just a little over that line. We’d get letters. I know we’d get letters.


Murray said...

These pet peeves are a constant within each person's life of TV watching. It's a sign of a great show and a well-written show that when these peeves show up, the viewer just smiles, winks and waves them away.

But if the show is a dud, with hacks at the keyboard, then the exact same peeves become glaring hard reasons to dump the sucker.

Michael said...

I have what may be a different angle on this. I'm a history professor. Last fall, my wife and I went to see Lincoln. Afterward she said, "It must have been all right. I only heard you grunt once." By which she meant, there was only one part that, as a historian (and I write a lot about Lincoln, so I know at least a little bit), I found impossible.

That doesn't mean the movie was perfect, and there have been numerous news stories about errors--errors that could and should have been avoided. But I look at a movie like that and ask, does it capture the time and place, and does it avoid significant errors that change the meaning of things?

An interesting contrast is the recently canceled show "Vegas," loosely based on a former sheriff. My other field is Las Vegas history. In the first episode, set in 1960 or so, it showed casino restrooms with signs that said "whites only." Was that accurate? No. Las Vegas was so segregated that African Americans would not have been in the casino and therefore wouldn't have worried about the signage. What I objected to were totally inaccurate things--there was no mob casino owner like that (mob-connected, yes, but like a boss or capo, no; and there was no female prosecutor, etc.

My point is that the errors pointed out about shows like MASH were not major; they did not change the characters or situation. Yes, there were continuity errors like Potter's wedding anniversary, the show about the year 1951 when Potter supposedly arrived in September 1952, etc. But--Ken may or may not want to comment about this--my least favorite episodes were the two-parter where Klinger is accused of stealing a camera. The plot didn't fit the characters.

Dan Ball said...

I think it's great that you've got the last "ha!" on the nitpicky viewer by actually having rationales behind the inconsistencies/goofs/leaps o' logic. This is why commentary tracks are done.

"Why didn't Buck die when that steamroller ran over him?"

"Who wants to see Buck die? It's funnier and more interesting that he survives. So what if it's not 'medically and physically sound'?"

BK said...

I read once that the Charles brothers started out trying to write a show about a hotel, but abandoned the concept when they realized most of the action would
Take place in the bar. So why didn't you guys just establish at some point that there was a hotel nearby, or atop Melville's, or something? That would have solved the luggage/dropping in from the airport question. I am disappointed- this is a black day for America :-)

Mike Doran said...

Over the years, Chicagoans like me have had to endure many lapses of knowledge from non-local screen and TV writers.
The one that always got to me was how none of them seemed aware (at least from the '70s on) that there were two Major League baseball teams in Chicago - and that one of them played many home games at night. Granted, the White Sox were a pretty bad club during much of that decade, but to be treated as nonexistent was more than a South Side Irishman could take.

As to MASH, here's a pet-peeve Twin Spin:
One time, MASH did that old chestnut about the mystery novel with the missing last page, and everybody going nutzo because they couldn't find out the ending.
As a lifelong mystery reader, this always got to me.
Nearly all classic whodunits have their big reveal in the next-to-last chapter; the last chapter is devoted to an explanation of how it was done.
Throughout the history of the genre, there have been no more than a very few novels that held off the Big Reveal to the last page - and the most famous/notorious of these was Vengeance Is Mine by Mickey Spillane.
And that brings me to another MASH episode, namely the one where Klinger "guilts" Winchester into reading him I, The Jury.
Here's how I would have done things:
In my version, the Spillane novel Klinger wants read to him is Vengeance Is Mine.
Another change in approach: the snobby Winchester gets caught up in the Spillane novel - God help him, he actually enjoys it!
So much so, that when it turns out that Klinger's copy is missing the last page ...
... and hilarity ensues, as Hawkeye, BJ, and the Colonel try to track down another copy, to calm down the manic Major.
I don't know if you're familiar with the Vengeance surprise ending, but I imagine it might have been a hard sell to CBS, even to be hinted at (Vengeance Is Mine has never been filmed, although more than a few films have stolen its ending).
For your tag, a few weeks later<, Charles recieves a package from a colleague in Boston, which he keeps secret from the Swampers: the package contains hardcover editions of Mickey Spillane's other novels, for Charles's eyes only.
Think that might have worked?

Dave Williams said...

Ken, somebody else may have already mentioned this but one thing that kind of bugs me is all the TV phone numbers with the 555 prefix. The whole world knows there is no such prefix and that's why it's used but is that really the only option to avoid accidentally putting a real number on the air?

As always, great stuff!

Stephen Robinson said...

I noticed that a lot of the noted "Cheers" pet peeves started to appear as the series progressed. In the early episodes, there was an attempt to ground things in the reality of a bar. Norm would be drunkenly taken out of the bar at closing time (as expected if he drank all day). And it was clear that most of what we saw took place after work, which was more realistic -- not just for the health and employment of the characters but simply based on how bars operate. I don't know of any -- at least in the states -- that open at 9:30 a.m. Five to closing is typical, which is about a normal workday (just at night).

I thought there was some logic in never replacing Diane as a waitress. Despite what he says in the pilot, I doubt Sam hired Diane because he "needed a waitress." He was getting alone fine with just Carla. And once Sam sold the bar to the Lillian Corporation, well, having worked in corporate, they tend to be top-heavy: So, Rebecca as manager doing essentially what Sam did but without tending bar. And only one waitress.

Bryce said...

To the above, regarding the bar opening at 9:30am: All the bars in my town open at 10:00am, some even at 7:00am, if they cater to people coming off third shift. You'd have to think Cheers would also cater to tourists and people that had the day off that wanted to have a drink around noon. What got me about Cheers was that there was no food besides pretzels offered. Rare is the bar that doesn't try to make a little extra on the side with something fried. Sure, Melville's is upstairs, but that's a classy joint, not a place where a bar regular could dash up to sloshed or even afford to order the nightly nachos from.
I understand, why deal with a bunch of food props if you could avoid it? But it is my pet peeve.

Brian Phillips said...

Two other peeves: the "Rashomon" flashback story, which is to say the same story told from different viewpoints. It's been done quite a lot.

The other flashback story is what I call the "all-seeing oracle". I understand that a story has to be told that involves that character. Almost inevitably, there will be a scene in which the storyteller isn't in and often, they are not even privy to the information in that scene. I wanted to write a scene like that, but have the characters talk in gibberish. When one of the hearers of the story says, "This isn't making any sense", the narrator would say, "I know. I wasn't there."

Donald F said...

Thanks, Ken, for starting a fun and enlightening conversation. I was reminded of my pet peeve while watching the most recent episode of "Falling Skies". A search party is riding horses, they arrive at a ghost town and are told to dis-mount by their captain. Then they all "Tie" their horses by slipping a rope over once on a rail. I have yet to see anyone on any show actually tie a horses reins with any more action than a little swish. It's just knot right.

Paul Duca said...

I admit I don't know poker too well...but I never questioned what happened in "The Merchant of Korea". I presume that when a group of people play long enough, most everyone wins at least one hand. The point is they all knew when Charles had a ban hand.

"To God's little acre"
"And His gardener"

neigh said...

Donald F., a good trained riding horse is trained to be "ground tied" or "toss tied" - when one drops the reins on the ground, or tosses them over something, the horse accepts that as "tied up". Granted, if they're spooked and run, it doesn't do you much good ... but neither would a knot on the hitching rail, the horse wold just break the reins anyway and run, if they were spooked enough.

Chicago Pinot said...

How come we never see a liquor distributor or salesman visit the bar? How come we never see Sam doing any paperwork (at least, Rebecca did some, occasionally).

Thanks, Stephen for the trivia on the name of the corporation bought Cheers! I never thought "Lillian Corporation" was actually named on camera.

Ane said...

One of my pet peeves is kinda hard to explain but I'll try ; in comedies, when someone is asking for something but not for the reasons you'd expect, and it has to be revealed somehow. Like this:

1: Can I use your phone?
2. Sure, do you want to make a phone call?
1. No, I want to hit you over the head with it! (does)


1. Can I use have your jacket?
2. Sure, are you cold?
1. No, I lit a fire and I have to put it out by covering the flames.

Not the best examples but it was all I could think of. The point is that 2 would never ask those questions in real life. Noone asks that kind of questions.

DBenson said...

One more pet peeve, which applies mainly to sci-fi, fantasy and cartoons:

The plot hinges on something being possible or not possible; then another episode blows right by it. Or the same episode offers something that would seem to supersede the question.

-- QED, an early cross between steampunk and Sherlock Holmes, was hobbled by careless and often stupid scripts. In one, the fate of the empire hangs on possessing a cumbersome device that could remotely detonate a bomb. In another episode, a missile that seeks out a portable radio transmitter is accepted as a workaday bit of hardware.

-- The Black Hole makes a big plot point of robots holding a funeral (a genuinely creepy moment). Robots can't grieve, right? But the movie also includes comic anthropomorphized robots with more emotions than many of the actors -- and human ESP interface besides.

-- Scooby Doo would rack up cartoony impossibilities and have the mystery hinge on an arbitrarily enforced bit of logic -- an animal not acting like an animal, for example. Not forgivable in a cartoon that claims to be a fair play puzzle.

-- The Flintstones and Jetsons both were guilty of changing their minds about what was possible in their respective epochs. George Jetson's car could fold into an attache case at work, but everywhere else there had to be a parking space.

GregM said...

Ken, appreciate the Cheers post, but I want to offer some polite objections to the tropes--it's the realities of TV production. And

1) SEX. "Women have sex with their tops on"/"No nudity." Ken. ALL TV NETWORKS have these things called STANDARDS AND PRACTICES DEPARTMENTS. They read every script and make lots of notes on it about what you can't do. Nudity, including female breasts, is a huge no-on. You're telling me the country that flipped out when Janet Jackson's nipple was accidentally exposed is going to be okay with nipples on the TV?

Even with nudity-okay places like HBO & Showtime, it strikes as something the actress should get to choose).

Same thing with why it's rare to hear someone order a brand-name alcoholic drink. if that character is scripted to do anything *slightly* obnoxious, let alone dangerous or illegal, it could be implied that, say ABSOLUT Vodka made the character do that--and therefore be a giant libel suit.

"First, the text is then too small to read. Second, why run them at all? Is there a rule that the station run the credits?" Yes. Networks are contractually obligated to run credits of people who worked on the shows. They are also allowed to alter the size. Whattaya gonna do.

Actors not eating large amounts: Given multiple takes, in order to get continuity shot of an actor actually eating a meal, you’d have to have four meals, and the actor would have to eat most of them. Not practical, and not healthy for the actor.

The whole show characters not finding parking/other complaints about TV being fast--that's gonna make for some boring TV. I do like the idea that cops should fill out more paperwork--Justified does that one extremely well.

All right, that's enough of my counter-rant for now. Still love the blog.

Zack Bennett said...

Why is Cliff the only regular patron of the bar to have a Boston accent?

tb said...

Since Zach brought it up - the Boston accent. Why do only the Kennedy's speak like the Kennedy's?
Never heard anyone else sound like that

Lorimartian said...

The executive producer of the original "Dallas" series turned purple when there were diners in the foreground silently mouthing conversation while the principal actors, seated much farther into the room, could plainly be heard.

Also, "Knots Landing" did a bit in which Greg (William Devane) had never seen Abby (Donna Mills) without make-up. Greg enters the bathroom while Abby is showering, thinking she can't possibly be made up in the shower. She pulls back the shower curtain to reveal her face in full make-up.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

**but we did think it would stretch believability to ever have John Ratzenberger dance on a show**

"Dance, mailman!"-- a favorite moment

as much as I loved the character, Lilith's presence in the bar was far more out of character than Frasier's

Southfield_Bob said...

Two big pet peeves of mine:

No birth control. Just clothes- ripping passion. I know it makes for a better scene, but no birth control ever discussed in 2013?

Also, and this is a newer peeve: extreme closeups and quick cuts to simulate a fight or battle scene. All we see is frantic movement, grunting and flashing arms and legs and numerous quick cuts. (Just saw Man of Steel, e.g.) Didn't they used to have choreographers plot out fights and battles? Now, with nausea-inducing quick cuts, you don't know who's hitting who, or what's really happening. Movies before a few years ago would show more long and medium shots where you could understand who's winning and who's not.

How does one write this kind of scene?

It took this topic to bring me out of many years of lurking!

Bum said...

Since this has kind of turned into "Pet Peeves part 2", I'll post one of mine: When a character puts a coin into a modern-style pay phone [the rectangular shaped ones used from the '70's until now], it gives a "ding ding" bell sound....... something those phones NEVER did. The older-style pay phones [the ones that were wider at the bottom with a side-cradle for the receiver] gave a bell sound, but never the newer ones. Even as a kid in the 1970's, I noticed this discrepancy.

craig m said...

Pardon me if this has been mentioned already, but my pet peeve are acts that begin with a character saying, "I can't believe..." It seems a lazy way to get latecomers -- and those with short-term memory problems -- up to speed with the plot.

Anonymous said...

Sam's divorce WAS mentioned at least once (and probably at least a couple of times) in later episodes/seasons, but very, very rarely. This was surprising because it could have been an easy idea for some good stories -- Sam's ex comes back for some reason. She's seen very briefly in the second episode, just as a punchline, and then never again. Ken, my question is: Any idea why this potential story was never utilized? Was there ever a discussion of doing so?

- Steve

Wayne said...

My peeve is loud movie trailers. I replace my hearing aid with ear plugs and it's still too loud. It's the same odd chunking swooshing sound. When did movie trailers get so loud? When I was a kid, you had narrated trailers. Art Gillmore giving the movie the hard sell. The pointless loud noises are worse. Are movie trailers getting louder to get through to ears deadened by the previous week's trailer?

Hank Gillette said...

Along the same lines as the noise that a pay phone makes or doesn't make, whenever a movie or television show wants to indicate that we are seeing what a character is seeing through a pair a binoculars, they show a telephoto shot masked by two overlapping circles. But when you actually look through binoculars, the view is circular!

P.S. Your captchas are really hard. Can't you find one that aren't nearly impossible to solve?

Ken Levine said...


I have no control over the captchas. That's a Blogger thing. And if I didn't have them I'd be spammed to death. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Cap'n Bob said...

How about a black guy walking into a bar in the old west?

Lou H said...

I admire writers who use language concisely, so I don't mind the skipping of Hello and Goodbye on the phone. I do mind prefacing exposition with a character saying "As you know, Neal,..."; it's unnatural for the character to say that, and it's a waste of words.

On CSI, as they're poring over the dead body of the week, there's always this conversation going on where someone states the facts and someone else states the obvious conclusion. "Bits of skin under the fingernails" "He must have fought back". I know they're doing this to provide a clue, and to make sure everyone in the scene (who's alive) has some lines. But, again, it seems unnatural and more verbose than it needs to be.

On L&O, the witnesses they interview are always very busy people and after a few questions they go "now if you'll excuse me, I have a soufflé that's cooking" and walk away from the detectives. WTF.

Technology is constantly portrayed as either more advanced or more primitive than it really is. It doesn't take minutes to look up an IP address. You can trace any phone call where the callee has answered; you don't need to keep the caller talking for some amount of time.

Sometimes the shows don't seem to know the area they're purportedly set in. In the opening scene of the pilot of Mercy, set in a hospital in NJ, a new nurse says that she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Nobody within 300 miles of Philadelphia calls it that; it is Penn. It would not have detracted from the scene if they had used the local name. A number of shows set in NYC - Castle is one - talk about Grand Central Station when they really mean Grand Central Terminal.

Police procedurals love to put their stars in the spotlight, but this leads to more WTF moments. A SWAT team, clad in helmets and body armor and carrying assault rifles, storm a building, but they are led by our star detectives, who aren't wearing helmets or body armor and are wielding small pistols.

NCIS is better about this now, but for the longest time the preferred way to stop the bad guys from killing one or even many people was to have Gibbs and company hop in their cars and drive from the Navy Yard to the scene of the crime, totally ignoring that local law enforcement could get there much sooner.

Kosmo13 said...

When Sam Malone's ex-wife did appear on Cheers, she was played by the lovely, talented Donna McKechnie. That was enough to leave me disappointed that she did not become a recurring character.

In one episode of Cheers, the gang surprised Frasier by having a stripper jump out of a cake. This backfired when the girl turned out to be one of Frasier's patients.

Frasier told her something like "this is no way to get back at your Father over the way he blah blah blah..." It was clear the girl recognized Frasier and easy for the others to deduce he was her therapist, but it was still inexcusable for Frasier to blurt out in front of other people the confidential details of his patient's therapy.

From that point on, I saw him as someone who shouldn't be trusted and should probably lose his license, even if the show presented him as a respected practitioner.

Victor Buhler said...

Is anyone else as mad as I am that the Writers Guild left "The Waltons" off their recent list of the 101 Best Written TV Series! Earl Hamner pioneered the continuing storylines on all drama series used today. All drama series on the list after 1980 could not have been done without "The Waltons". Are these young Writers Guild members ignoratnt?!