Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday Questions

A whole bunch of 'em. What’s yours?

Johnny Walker starts us off:

Ken, of the many TV shows about the behind-the-scenes of television (e.g. The Dick Van Dyke Show, Buffalo Bill, The Larry Sanders Show, 30 Rock, something called "Almost Perfect" - whatever that is), which do you feel portrayed the trials, tribulations, stresses and strains of a real TV show most accurately? I.e. Which make you smart in recognition and go, "That's SO true"?

No contest. THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW. So realistic it was painfully funny. ALMOST PERFECT is second of course.  Okay... third. 

Cody asks:

Would you ever consider doing a drama that contained a fair amount of humor? 
Sure. If the right idea came along. I very much enjoyed writing the dramatic aspects of MASH. But still, there would be a lot of humor. I actually laugh more at certain dramas than I do current sitcoms. By far the funniest character on television in the last ten years is Dewey Crow from JUSTIFIED.

David Chase, by the way, always contended that THE SOPRANOS was a comedy.  I think that's stretching it, but there's room for humor in all dramas (except maybe CRIMINAL MINDS). 

Carol has a question based on the Friday Question a few weeks ago about profanity.

Do you think being handcuffed to not being able to use profanity, even when it would make sense to do so forced you to be even more clever with phrasing and jokes and things?

Absolutely. Our goal has always been to write jokes that are clever and elegant. It’s why you hire us and not kids on street corners.   There's a certain challenge to writing a joke that is both low and high road. 

From Mork. (Good to see you back on earth.)

Ken—what’s the cheapest thing you’ve ever seen a studio do?

I told this story before but it’s worth repeating.

From Angry Gamer:

Did you ever end up in a situation (script, outline etc) where the reviewer would reject the product but not give you any useful feedback? In my business we call this "polishing the rock"... you know where the guy says "not right" but can't tell you what is "right". (slushpile question probably :)

Yes. There was a network executive (who I’m very fond of) who used to give notes like “the script is here but needs to be here.” Or “you have the meat and potatoes, but it needs more dessert.”


We would turn in our rewrites and have no idea whether we satisfied the notes.  Much time was spent by me and David arguing over whether to include apple pie or lemon chiffon cake? 

And finally, from Frank from Campbell in NorCal:

I was talking to a friend who is a major M*A*S*H head and he said Gary Burghoff was the only actor to be in all iterations of M*A*S*H including the pilot of a show called Walter. Does that pilot exist in the You Tube world and did you have anything to do with it?

I don’t know if it’s available on line, but it was called W*A*L*T*E*R and was written by Everett Greenbaum and Elliott Reid. I had nothing to do with it.

Gary was also in the movie MASH and guested on AfterMASH.

Have a great Easter weekend.   


Getting close.  Only 5 more books have to be sold for me to post the speech from yesterday's essay.  


Anonymous said...


C. A. Bridges said...

Right there with you. I have no interest in a drama without any humor in it at all. I just can't relate to it. The bleakest, most dire situations are the ones when you'll hear the darkest, most biting humor (because sometimes you just have to, to get through it).

Michael said...

Sherlock on PBS isn't easily classified, but the sequence in which he re-enters Watson's life at the beginning of the third season was, I think, the funniest sequence I have seen on television in years.

Further, for a decade, the funniest man on television was Dennis Franz as Andy Sipowicz. Hands down.

Mike said...

Big Wave Dave cost over $1million per episode in 1993!?!
But it was all filmed on location, right?

Kerrie said...


Captcha words "Sobless Beauty" -- I feel like there's a story there.

Ellen said...

Johnny Walker, add THE COMEBACK to your list of TV about behind-the-scenes at TV shows. It was brilliant.

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks, Ken. I guess I'm not that surprised, I do love LARRY SANDERS, partially because it feels so real.

Thanks for anonymous for posting the W*A*L*T*E*R pilot. I'd never seen it before. Obviously there were a lot of cooks in that particular kitchen -- the writing credits are ridiculous:

Teleplay by:
Bob Weiskopf
Bob Schiller
Everett Greenbaum

Story by:
Bob Weiskopf
Bob Schiller
Michael Zinberg

With (presumably) uncredited work by Elliott Reid, and probably countless others. Not to mention the character being created by Richard Hooker to begin with.

Unfortunately it plays just like the credits suggest: It tries to be everything (a new role for Radar, backstory on what he's been up to, lots of references to M*A*S*H) and doesn't succeed in being entertaining.

They also keep the trait that Radar is flawlessly super-efficient, which, back in the real world as a police-officer, makes him practically a psychic super-cop.

Burghoff was good in it, though!

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks, Ellen, I'll check that out.

mmryan314 said...

I consider The Sopranos to be very funny too. I think you had to have grown up knowing some mobsters, as I did, to catch the humor in the series. I'm also a fan of Jimmy Breslin and found his book 'The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight' to be one of the funniest books I've read.

benson said...

Thank you to anonymous from me, too.

I agree with much of what Johnny Walker wrote. These are very talented people in the credits. But my guess is, this has the fingerprints of CBS executives all over it.

My biggest problem, after the annoying laugh track, was I don't think the pilot ever knew what the proper tone for this was.

Some of the casting was also questionable. People is St. Louis don't talk like people from the Bronx. Buktenica's accent bothered me. Noble Willingham's police chief was a cartoon. Lyman Ward needed to be more like his Ferris Buehler's father. And a little Victoria Jackson goes a very long way.

But you can see where this could've been very good, rather than an episode of Car 54, Where Are You.

Anonymous said...

"Episodes" is another good example of behind the scenes TV. Right up there with "The Larry Sanders Show"

Anonymous said...

How do I send in Friday questions?

The Welshman said...

Anonymous, you just did

Barry Traylor said...

I agree with Ken. The character of Dewey Crowe is funnier than many on the current sitcoms (at least as far as I'm concerned).

Max Shenk said...

Two of my favorite funny characters of all time are in MAD MEN: Pete Campbell and Roger Sterling. Either of them would be a great lead character on a sitcom. But I think they're actually funnier on a drama.

Smurch said...

Purchased :)

jbryant said...

Yeah, I've always thought the comedy in HOUSE worked better than the medical mysteries. I always assumed half the medical stuff was BS, but I just went with it. But laughter is undeniable.

Kerrie said...

The show BETTER OFF TED recently popped up on Netflix. I loved this show! (Maybe because I've worked for a large corporation before.) But it only lasted from March '09 to Jan '10. Did you ever see the show? I think it's really funny and wonder if maybe it was ahead of its time. The main character talks to the camera (which a ton of shows seem to do now). I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the show if you've seen it. Why didn't it last? Thanks!

Scooter Schechtman said...

You want freaky comedy? Play a cd of Carl Stalling's music while watching one of those dead body shows, CSI Turdtown or whatever. Works for "Moby Dick" too (Gregory Peck and indica make a good combination).

VP81955 said...

There's a certain challenge to writing a joke that is both low and high road.

Somewhere, Ernst Lubitsch is smiling. You just defined his "touch."

Miffy said...

Radar never appeared on "Trapper John, MD".

marie said...

Do you ever start watching a show based on your readers comments? I'd mentioned the show before but are you going to start watching Orphan Black? Season 2 starts tomorrow eve. I know its a little sci-fi show but its building momentum, an actress who plays 7 far. I am not in the demographic of the 18-49, am not a sci-fi fan, but have become a big fan. I know that some of your readers haven't heard of it yet, but by the end of this season it will become a household known t.v. show.

Anonymous said...

Another "behind the scenes" TV show is "Made in Canada", created by the very talented Rick Mercer.

According to wikipedia, it aired with the name "The Industry" in the US. It is about a TV studio that produces low budget shows.

One quote from the show, "Our catalog of third rate material is second to none." It seems to describe most cable channels today.

Chris said...

Friday question: I was just watching an episode of Raymond where David Garrison guested as a talent agent/con artist who fools Robert to think he's handsome and has a shot ad being a male model. They met in the agent's office, signed a contract, he took Robert's money, and surely enough, 2 days later when he came back with Ray, the office was empty and everyone was gone.

How do you shoot scenes like that? Do you pre-shoot or build two sets?

Roger Pierson said...


Jeffro said...

"David Chase, by the way, always contended that THE SOPRANOS was a comedy. I think that's stretching it, but there's room for humor in all dramas (except maybe CRIMINAL MINDS).":

John G said...


How did you get Johnny Carson to do Heeere's Cliffy?

Also, I remember Carson having a lot of Cheers cast members on The Tonight Show(the ones I found were Ted, Shelley, Kirstie and Woody), but is there any reason why Kelsey Grammer was never on?

Rich Shealer said...

Another behind the scenes classic: SCTV (various incarnations)

chuckcd said...

I worked at Paramount and parked on Gower street. Every night I HOPED my car would be there and in one piece.

Inside the walls: A movie studio.
Outside the walls: Bierut.