Monday, September 30, 2013

Playing Sam Malone today: Ignatz Gloogdeberg

After a sitcom has been on the air for a number of years – like ten -- it’s understandable that the cast loses a certain amount of interest. They know their characters so well and they know the routine so well that they don't require as much rehearsal as in the early discovery years.

Also, they become big stars by year ten. They suddenly have movie careers. They front worthwhile charities. They start their own production companies and split their attention between the show and their various new projects. They buy homes on the east coast and have to let the painters in.

On CHEERS during the last two seasons the runthroughs were unlike anything I’d ever seen. First let me say that I adore the CHEERS cast – every one of ‘em. They’re great people, terrific actors, and very respectful of the writers and everyone on the crew.

But for those last few seasons they often had other obligations and would miss rehearsal. Like I said, they didn’t need it. The only problem was that we writers did need to see a runthrough to determine what worked and what didn't.

And there were times we would go down to the stage for a runthrough and it would be the first assistant director playing Sam, the script supervisor playing Rebecca, the prop guy playing Woody, the wardrobe girl playing Carla, George Wendt and John Ratzenberger. This is what I assume community productions of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA look like.

We’d go back to the room and have no idea what we had. Someone would say, “I don’t think this Sam joke works” and the rest of us would say, “How do we know? Ignatz Gloogdeberg played him.” It was insane.

The craziest was the time we cut a certain actor’s joke who wasn’t at the runthrough. The actor came in the next day, was annoyed that the line was gone, and chided the stand-in for not selling the joke sufficiently.

In fairness, runthroughs with 80% understudies didn’t happen every week, although it was not unusual to have at least one person out for a rehearsal. That the episodes held together so well is also a testament to how well we writers knew the show and could write for it.

The filming nights would be a little rocky because not everyone knew their lines perfectly. But they would always rise to the occasion and on the air CHEERS appeared as polished as ever.

Although… if I'm being 100% honest --  there were times we writers would be on the stage watching the filming and say, “Hey, Zelda did a better job of that joke.”

29 comments:

Elf said...

Great story Ken, but in Los Angeles, wouldn't it have been possible to find a handful (or truckload or stadium-full) of aspiring actors who'd have jumped at the chance to be a stand in like that for minimum wage for a day or two? Sure, some of them might have had to find someone to cover their day shift a Chili's, but you probably could have found a few who you could have kept on call. Were there union rules against it or was there no money in the budget for something like that?

Ignatz Gloogdeberg said...

I thought I did a pretty darned good job!

An (is my actual name) said...

Well done, Cheers writers, despite every challenge along the way! And Happy 31st Anniversary to the show, which has held up beautifully after all these years. Thanks for being such a big part of it.

Dan Ball said...

It's stories like these that really bring the atmosphere of a sitcom to life. While it's an almost-entirely different art form (if you can call it art), I feel like the BSing that happened on CHEERS is the same kind of BSing that happens during newscasts and maybe sportscasts. Not only is it a perk that your work is seen by thousands, but I think the working environment--when it's populated by few to no assholes--is superior to any other working environment on God's green earth.

Brian said...

Ken -

Did something similar occur with the MASH cast?

Anonymous said...

I'm with Elf on that one. Besides, writers wag the dog too much on sitcoms. They're paid big bucks to deliver a script that works. That's their JOB. Those who cry about needing the actors around to "tweak" the script are weak hacks. We're talking about a 20 minute loaded sketch here, with completely defined characters! They're not writing "streecar named desire" for chrissake. If the actors have their shit wired-and that's what THEY'RE being paid the big bucks for, you don't need repeated run-throughs, aside from blocking the scene.

This mythology has been created by weak writers who can't deliver a good script consistently, looking to cover their weak asses.

Crybaby writers...

CRYBABIES!!! Makes me so mad... And YOU let 'em DO it, Ken!!!! Pat yourself on the back!! Buy yourself an ice cream cone!! You deserve it!!

goddammit... some people's writers... give 'em a fuckin' inch... inmates running the goddamn asylum... patty-cake playing em-effers... dogs is what they are... DOGS!!

-Cheers Fan

Daniel said...

Anonymous: Your doctor is right. You really should stay on your meds.

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Max Clarke said...

Cheers remains in my top 3 among favorite sitcoms, it holds up very well.

One reason is what they didn't do. They didn't make it "relevant" by including references to current events.

Cheers is timeless in part because it's outside of time.

Mike said...

@Anonymous: Is that you, Mr Bohner? They're ready for you in the House now...

Ben said...

I always appreciated that CHEERS never did those corny "what have we learned" scenes that were de rigueur in '80s sitcoms. You know, those scenes where the principals in that night's episode would discuss the big, important lesson they had learned.

Paul Duca said...

I wonder if the GREY'S ANATOMY people had such issues in the past year and a half, as Patrick Dempsey dealt with his mid-life crisis/long series run boredom by developing a race car team and running this year's 24 Hours of LeMans. I have a cable channel that's only on the HD tier that aired a four-hour docu-reality show about it. It's good to be McDreamy...

RS Gray said...

Just read this article - pretty astonishing that you were there for number 1, 2, and 11. That's an unprecedented accomplishment and one that can never be topped. Kudos, sir!

http://mentalfloss.com/article/24673/10-most-watched-series-finales-ever

DBenson said...

The show I thought would have been tough was "My Three Sons." Evidently the whole season had to be written in advance so all Fred MacMurray's scenes could be shot end to end, clearing his schedule for movies or whatever. Then they'd spend months shooting the rest of each episode with the other, cloutless actors.

ODJennings said...

"Evidently the whole season had to be written in advance so all Fred MacMurray's scenes could be shot end to end, clearing his schedule for movies or whatever. Then they'd spend months shooting the rest of each episode with the other, cloutless actors.'


It wasn't just the writing, they would shoot his scenes so far in advance that there were real continuity problems, since the kids would grow and change so much from the beginning of the season to the end.

mdv1959 said...

"wouldn't it have been possible to find a handful of aspiring actors who'd have jumped at the chance to be a stand in"

My guess is that it wouldn't have made that big a difference. I work on shows where the stand ins are often starving actors and I am continually surprised at the difference in the quality of a performance between an out of work actor and a "star". I think there's a reason that only a handful of actors are working regularly and the rest are hanging out at Chili's-- very few people are really good at it.

RCP said...

Thanks for the laughs, Anonymous. Here's a box of fresh popsicle sticks - why not make a cabin this time?

That's interesting about the accommodations made for Fred MacMurray - considering that he was the last reason I ever tuned into My Three Sons.

Andreia said...

Friday question: what did you think of 'The Good Wife' season five opener?

Anonymous said...

ODJennings said...
"Evidently the whole season had to be written in advance so all Fred MacMurray's scenes could be shot end to end, clearing his schedule for movies or whatever. Then they'd spend months shooting the rest of each episode with the other, cloutless actors.'

What about on "Get Smart," when it got really successful, Dick Gautier-the guy who played "Hymie," made some smart-ass remark to Don Adams about his toupee on set, Don threw a huge fit and demanded Dick be fired? After the crew calmed him down, he agreed to allow Dick to keep his job, but he was no longer allowed to look Don in the eye. If you watch some of those later "Get Smarts,' you'll notice Hymie never looks Smart in the eye. All this over a toupee!

Nick O'Lodeon

D. McEwan said...

When Garry Marshall was recurring on Murphy Brown, he NEVER came to rehearsals, Not missed a few, never, ever came to rehearsals or table reads or anything but the shoot. He showed up only on show day. One of the regular atmosphere people you see workng in the FYI newsroom behind the stars every week was assigned to be "Garry Marshall" at all rehearsals. He was an actor (But 20 years younger than Marshall, and shorter, and just about as different from Marshall as you can be), but he was Garry anytime there were no cameras rolling. As it happened, I knew this atmosphere person. I went to a taping of the show once (The episode where Tom Poston guest stars), and after the show was shot, the stand-in gave me his script. I still have that Murphy Brown script, with Garry's name in pencil on the cover, and all of Marshall's blocking written inside, also in pencil, in the stand-in's handwriting. Hard to see how one builds ensemble performances when you're never playing it with the folks who will be playing it. (Lily Tomlim did not skip rehearsals.)

Not a pro said...

Ken: Stop making excuses. It's called professionalism. Skipping rehearsals, not knowing your lines - all signs of folks who got too big for their britches and are not, in any sense of the word, professionals. I'm willing to bet that Ted Danson and Kelsey Grammer, the only two with notable successes post-Cheers, were among the lesser offenders.

(PS: Community theaters turf out folks who refuse to show up for rehearsals - they insist on certain standards).

Gypsy Bob said...

In Fred MacMurray's defense, he was an established star so the producers laid out that deal before the show started. The same was true for Brian Keith on "Family Affair."

It's not like these two actors were virtual unknowns when the series began. No matter where you work, it's a matter of consideration for others.

If you work at Chili's, you should show up for work if you're scheduled or make arrangements if you are not. Perhaps the Cheers actors did make these arrangements, but if so many of them were not present for run-throughs, I suspect not.

As for Garry Marshall, is his actual performance of any lines going to be a surprise? My Aunt Sadie could run his lines and do a decent impression. And she's dead.

404 said...

not a pro: I think I speak for most when I say that Woody did pretty well for himself after CHEERS ended.

Mike said...

@Nick: I'm a huge Get Smart fan, have been for years, and know loads about the behind-the-scenes stuff about that show. I've never heard that, though, and to be honest I doubt it happened. For starters, Dick returned for the TV movie in 1989, and he and Don looked each other in the eye then. Dick never appeared in the final season of the show, true, but then a lot of recurring characters from the past didn't. Where did you hear that anyway?

Johnny Walker said...

Poor unsung Zelda! I hope she got a break! :)

@notapro Woody Harrelson? I think he did ok post Cheers? ;)

Total said...

Stop making excuses. It's called professionalism. Skipping rehearsals, not knowing your lines - all signs of folks who got too big for their britches and are not, in any sense of the word, professionals.

And then we come back to the real world, which is much messier.

Not a pro said...

Yes, my mistake overlooking Woody Harrelson. Good catch.

And yes, real life gets messy sometimes - but when it happens again and again with the same people, well, that speaks volumes about them.

Miss a rehearsal once or twice? OK. Constantly ignore them when you're working up your peronal calendar? You're not respectful of the others you work with - that's a lack of professional courtesy. Don't bother to learn your lines? OK, once in a blue moon things happen. But when week after week "Line?" is called out more on the set than "Norm!", again, there's a lack of professionalism present.

Kevin said...

Either Anonymous was doing a "bit" or he/she is an angry actor who all too often had the wrong kind of stars show up in their script.

As a sitcom writer I understand the importance of the producer's run thru. I've been lucky to be on shows that didn't last ten years. Well, wait, I guess that actually sucks. My point being I've only had to deal with absent cast members generally due to sickness or other legit reasons. But still, having a stand in perform makes it difficult to assess the scenes properly sometimes.(Side note: How are so many stand ins so bad?? These are aspiring actors! You get a chance to play the star of a sitcom in front of the producers, try not to suck!)

Short point longer, a run thru is very often a eye opening experience. What was comedy gold in the room sometimes bombs on stage. These are things we need to know.

Gina said...

Now look, Ken, you've hurt Ignatz's feelings!

It's okay, Ignatz. We all know you're great. Anyone who saw your one-man show knows you ARE a Streetcar Named Desire.