Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday (the 13th) Questions

Read if you dare.

willieb leads off:

On a recent road trip I saw a Frasier from the last season that was "Written By David Issacs" -- no Ken Levine! Was there a definite point where you went your separate ways as writers, or did you just drift apart? Did you write any scripts solo or did you concentrate on baseball and directing?

First off, we’re still partners and have written a number of things together after FRASIER went off the air.  The most fun I have writing is when I'm doing a script with David.

But we have always been a partnership out of choice not dependence. During that FRASIER period I was doing a lot of directing and we each wrote a couple of episodes on our own.

Partnerships stay together if the members allow each other to grow. I wanted to get into directing. David had no desire to direct. When asked why he facetiously says, “Because I never want to make more than two decisions in any one day.”

His FRASIER episodes are terrific, by the way.  He wrote a two-parter called "Shutdown in Seattle."  Check 'em out.  

Joseph M. asks:

Would you please explain the difference between Christopher Lloyd the actor and Christopher Lloyd, the writer?

Christopher Lloyd the writer (pictured: left) is writer David Lloyd’s son. He is the co-creator of MODERN FAMILY after being a showrunner of FRASIER for many years and Emmys.

Christopher Lloyd the actor played Reverend Jim on TAXI and Dr. Emmett Brown in BACK TO THE FUTURE.

They’re not related.  I'm sure they get each others mail.

From Damien Galeone:

Mr Levine, prolific comedy writer William Froug said that "If you can write hard comedy, you'll need a skiploader to haul your millions away, and soft comedy and a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee."

I was wondering if you might answer what the difference is between 'soft' and 'hard' comedy?

Hard comedy evokes outright laughter. Soft comedy evokes warm smiles of recognition.

Hard comedy tends to be jokes and physical bits; soft comedy is often observational or small bits of relatable behavior.

Looking at most of today’s comedies that are single-camera and rely more of irony and behavior I’d say the soft comedy writer can treat everybody at Starbucks these days.

But the bottom line is this:  fewer people can write hard comedy than soft.  

Simon queries:

When you worked on Cheers and Dharma & Greg, did Kirstie Alley or Jenna Elfman try to recruit you or any of the cast and crew into their creepy brainwashing cult? You know what I'm referring to. The cult of ... watching reality TV. I hear they're big fans of the genre.

What did you think I was referring to?

Yes, I know what you are referring to and the answer is no.

Neither Jenna nor Kirstie nor any actor has ever tried to convert me to anything.  I had a ballplayer try to convert me in a big way and I might've listened if the fucking guy could hit. 

But I have worked with a number of thespians who I don’t see eye to eye with on religion or politics or anything, and I’ve never had a problem. Putting our differences aside, they’re lovely people and wonderful actors. What they do on their own time is their business.

DwWashburn asks:

Ia there ever animosity between members of a writing staff or other people that work "behind the scenes" as to the pay of actors on successful shows? Without the writers they would have nothing to say, without the directors they would have no place to stand, without the camera people they would not be able to be seen, without lighting they couldn't be seen, etc.

I can't speak for everybody but being realistic -- yeah, sure.  It's human nature.  

Honestly, I’m only resentful if they’re not good actors. If they’re wildly successful simply due to luck or their looks than yes, that pisses me off.

But here’s the thing – the hoops actors have to go through to reach that pinnacle is staggering. The odds of winning a state lottery are better. The amount of rejection they endure, the uncertainty and lack of security they face is practically paralyzing. God bless the very few who beat the odds.

Also, when I see the skill and craft and technique that goes into giving a good performance I know I could never do that. So it’s not like these actors are taking money away from me.

Let’s be real – networks and studios don’t pay actors big money unless they bring in bigger money. Either they can open a movie or attract a big television audience. And the minute they can’t, their salaries plummet. That’s a lot of pressure, especially when times change and the audience is always looking for the next big thing.

So I save my resentment for other people.

What’s your question?


benson said...

Easy to see Christopher Lloyd got his hair genes from his mother.

fred nerk said...

What do you call the popular style of comedy which invokes no reaction, such as 2 Broke Girls?

Mitchell Hundred said...

What do you call the popular style of comedy which invokes no reaction, such as 2 Broke Girls?

Shitty comedy?

Seriously though, I'd guess it depends more on the writers' intent.

Anonymous said...

The Christopher Lloyd question is going to drive so many people to this site

Kirk said...

Nothing worse than a hard comedy that's hardly funny.

David Schwartz said...

Man, someone who can come up with those few jokes in a script that actually evoke hard laughs is invaluable. When I was writing spec sitcoms in the 1980's, I felt they were good scripts. They captured the feel of the show, the characters, etc. However, while I felt they were as good as most of what was on the air, there was something missing in them, which was the thing that could have elevated them to extraordinary. And that was having enough hard laughs. And unfortunately, having scripts as good as what's out there isn't going to get you particularly noticed. I had a friend named Greg Fields, who was one of those guys who could immediately find "hard comedy" in a script. I'd show him something I'd written, and he would pinpoint exactly where those two or three hysterical moments should go that would make the entire script go from ordinary to extraordinary. Greg was just one of those guys that thought funny. Much like Gary Larson with the Far Side, he'd come up with stuff that just seemed to come out of nowhere and always made things better. Knowing him taught me more about being funny than just about anything else I've ever discovered. Unfortunately, Greg passed away at the way too young age of 46 about 10 years ago. His credits were long and included writing for the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, as well as writing credits on Rodney Dangerfield's movie, "Back to School." He was also a writer and producer of "In Living Color." Greg had a wonderful career and he was who I thought of when Ken was describing the distinction between soft comedy and hard comedy.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I remember director Chris Colombus and Mac Culkin discussing the difference between hard and soft comedy on the DVD commentary of HOME ALONE, and noting the different degrees of laughter the climax of the movie with the various different booby traps Kevin had set up for Harry and Marv... like the more painful the outcome was (Marv with the nail up his foot, or walking on those ornaments) the bigger the laughs in the theaters were, while less painful one (like Harry getting feathers blown onto him) got mostly chuckles.

And I had no idea that Christopher Lloyd and Christopher Lloyd weren't the same Christopher Lloyd, I need to get out more often... I'm gonna go watch WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT again.

And oy, Kirstie Alley and reality TV... HOW many reality shows has she had documenting her struggle to lose weight? Honestly, between those reality shows, her involvement with that OTHER cult, and everything else, she's just become an embarrassment today.

Jake Mabe said...

You've probably been asked this before -- and I promise I'm not joking -- but why isn't "AfterMASH" available on DVD? I would like to see the series again and I think it would be a good companion to its daddy.

Is it a rights issue or does the company that holds the rights (is it FOX?) think it won't sell?

bruce miller said...

Ken...I will never forget the pilot of "Almost Perfect" when the opening is David sitting at a table in a restaurant stuffing his face, etc, etc. Watching you reacting to that was one of the joys of our slightly stressful business. You knelled! He has always made you break up, and you have done the same to him. You guys represent(ed) to me, the way the great writers of the past went through their careers. I picture the writers rooms of Woody Allen, Carl Reiner, Sid Caeser, Mel Brooks and on and on. With all the envy that must have been present, these guys were each other's biggest fans. Add Hackel and David Lloyd and you have a decent group of crazy people!
(btw: the robot thing below has got to stop)

John said...

William Froug definitely had the most unusual showrunning trifecta in the mid-1960s -- Twilight Zone, Gilligan's Island, Bewitched. I suppose a combo of the three would be Shatner causing his plane to crash on an uncharted desert isle because he saw Samantha outside the window at 20,000 feet (which I believe was also the original plot outline for 'Lost').

And for a Friday question on a part of TV that's been dying for 20 years -- show closing themes -- was there any reason why the closing music for Season 6 of MASH was changed to be more somber and slower-paced? The music reverted the following season to pretty much a variation of the arrangements used in all the other seasons, but to me, it seemed as if with Larry Linville's departure, the music was trying to reflect a more serious tone for the show, since David Ogden Stisrs' Charles was less one-dimensional than Frank Burns and made 'dramadies' easier to do.

Duncan Randall said...

A question - I was reading Naked Heat by "Richard Castle" when I noticed a reference to Levine and Isaacs Public Relations. I'm betting you know who the real ghostwriter is (and won't tell us, so I won't ask THAT). So, what do you think about this type of book? I think it's a hoot, even if they are not intended to be high art. Seems like a good thing for the fans of the show, and especially this show about a writer.

YEKIMI said...

Yeah, that's why I never got into acting. As the old saying goes, I have a "face made for radio". Luckily, I could do some halfway decent impressions voice-wise [Paul Lynde, Pat Buttram, Richard Nixon, etc.] that it was able to get me some work. Nowadays, mention Paul Lynde, Pat Buttram and, sometimes, even Nixon and people go "Who?"

YEKIMI said...

By the way, a Friday question. Obviously, you're a successful writer of comedy. Even though I wrote jokes for DJs and was a DJ for a few years and even had the booker for a local comedy club beg me to come out and try out for amateur nights cause he was dead sure I could win, I am terrified of having to stand up in front of a crowd and speak. Behind a mic at a radio station knowing I had a few thousand listeners [alright, maybe a couple of dozen]; no problem. In front of a crowd, I'd have to be wearing Depends, chug about five Rum & Cokes and maybe choke down a couple of Valium.

So, Have you ever been asked to do stand-up comedy? Would you do it? Could you do it?

Tripp said...

Re: "AfterMASH." Given the lack of interest Fox has shown in TV-on-DVD releases of the older shows they own, I imagine the failure of "AfterMASH" to appear in that format is a combination of apathy and of the sales department thinking one would buy it.

Mr First Nighter said...

The only show that makes me laugh out loud several times an episode is Hot in Cleveland. I usually laugh out loud once an episode in Modern Family and whatever Tim Allen's show is called. I smile at, and enjoy watching The Middle and Suburgatory. I don't bother with other "comedies." I love reruns of Coach and Frasier (laugh out loud) but not so much Cheers anymore.

David Frye's Ghost said...

Yekimi, I bet your Paul Lynde impression sounds a lot like your Billy DeWolfe impression

Breadbaker said...

Ken, if you do it, an easy fast.

You might not have seen this:

Brian said...

Hi Ken, not a question, but more of a request. How about creating some videos with your commentary like this blog or from your travelogues?

fried chicken said...

ken, isnt it "SHUTOUT IN SEATTLE" and not "SHUTDOWN ...."

D. McEwan said...

I've never thought in "Hard" and "Soft" comedy terms before, but I certainly have always tried to be a hard comedy writer, and always respond better to hard comedy over soft. I'd compare the stand-up comedy of Jerry Seinfeld, which I've always found professional but tepid, very tepid, with Barry Humphries playing Sir Les patterson onstage. Jerry gets smiles and nice, solid laughs, but Barry is out to have you on the floor howling with belly laughs, unable to draw in a breath. To me, to use a baseball metaphor which is rare for me, Jerry bunts, Barry swings for the fences every time.

So that's what I try to do. My Lush Life is devoid of touching moments or overt pathos (There are a couple such moments in my current book, Tallyho, Tallulah!, particularly the second act climax, but the spectacular act three finale ruthlessly routs all sentiment), but I try to get at least one out-loud laugh from the reader in every paragraph.