Thursday, December 04, 2014

Friday Questions on Thursday

The Friday Questions are beginning to stack up so I thought I’d add an extra day.  Feel free to leave your Friday (or Thursday) Questions in the comments section. Thanks.  Meanwhile, I may review PETER PAN tonight and pre-empt Friday Questions or move them to one weekday next week to totally confuse you. 

Tyler starts us off:

I've noticed in the first couple of seasons of Frasier that a smaller version of Cafe Nervosa is sometimes used. It's the area up stage near the bathrooms. But after those first few years we never see this version again. So I guess my question is was there a need for a small set early on that was later resolved?

Very observant, Tyler. Yes, there were two versions of Café Nervosa. There was only so much room on Stage 25 at Paramount so if the episode required a large swing set (say a ballroom for a wedding scene), the size of Café Nervosa could be adjusted to accommodate it. Roy Christopher did an amazing job designing the FRASIER sets.

From Jim:

How often does a showrunning partnership dissolve and has there ever been an instance where, like this Levitan/Lloyd divorce, two separate camps and sensibilities continue production?

Partnerships can dissolve. There is enormous pressure showrunning a series and it can take its toll on many relationships.

There was a similar situation to MODERN FAMILY back in the ‘80s with a series called BUFFALO BILL. It was created by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses who had been writing partners for years. And prior to that they had been a stand-up act together. After the first season of BUFFALO BILL they split their partnership and did exactly what Steve and Chris are doing on MODERN FAMILY. They alternated episodes.

What I don’t know is whether either of these shows had separate writers for each co-showrunner or the staff worked with both. That would be tough, I imagine because then it’s like you’re working on two separate shows.

Carl asks:

Ken, have you ever had a line or bit of business that you felt was funny but just wouldn't get a laugh no matter what you did with it?

Too many times to count. I toss it out and replace it with something else. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work.  On the other hand, there are intended straight lines that out of the blue get laughs. Don’t know why but I just thank the Comedy Gods and move on.

Brian Phillips queries:

With no disrespect to David Isaacs, have you co-written with someone else?

Yes, I co-wrote a spec screenplay that sold to MGM with Robin Schiff. (Robin also co-created and ran ALMOST PERFECT with me and David.) I co-wrote the musical THE ‘60S PROJECT with Janet Brenner that was produced at the Goodspeed Theatre in Connecticut in 2006.

And my first partner was Joel Siegel. Remember him as the movie critic for GOOD MORNING AMERICA? We were in the same army reserve unit and during one two-week active duty summer camp we were assigned to write a musical comedy designed to get reservists to re-enlist. Yes, I know. Everything about that sentence is bizarre.

Still, my real partner is David and we continue to work on projects together to this day.

Charles Jurries wraps it up.

Stephen Collins (7th Heaven) and Bill Cosby have been accused of some terrible things, and the repercussions have been in part taken out on their current projects and/or shows in syndication. As someone who’s worked on many legendary TV series, do you ever wonder if something will come out to distort, even temporarily, the show's legacy? (Something like the Stephen Collins or Bill Cosby allegations.)

Not until you brought it up. Actually, no. I think I know the actors I worked with well enough to be reasonably certain they weren’t those kinds of people.

Whether the allegations are true or not, there have been rumors about Cosby for years.

So keep watching MASH and CHEERS and FRASIER all starring upstanding actors.


A number of you have asked if I could do my play, A OR B?  in Seattle or Philadelphia or wherever.  I would be happy to do it anywhere.  

If you are a producer or theater group that would be interested, please contact me.   I would hope a two-character romantic comedy with minimal sets would be an attractive prospect to some regional venue.   I'd love to go to Seattle or Philly or even Broadway if I have to.  That's how much I believe in this play.     Thanks much.


MikeK.Pa. said...

Ken said: "What I don’t know is whether either of these shows had separate writers for each co-showrunner or the staff worked with both. That would be tough, I imagine because then it’s like you’re working on two separate shows."

Sounds like a sequel to "A or B?"

ScottyB said...

Ken wrote: "A number of you have asked if I could do my play, A OR B? in Seattle or Philadelphia or wherever. I would be happy to do it anywhere."

And this is one of the reasons I hate (said lovingly) having found Ken Levine's blog, because my kids are in their high school Thespian Club, and the drama teacher keeps picking horribly dreadful scripts to produce twice a year. So now I end up sitting there thinking "What kind of high school play would Ken Levine write if this was his kids' school -- just to stop this string of horribleness?" the entire time.

Even worse, I keep wondering what kind of high school play *I* would write -- just to stop this string of horribleness.

Damn you, Ken Levine. I hate you :)

chalmers said...

It's funny that you were paired with Joel Siegel. In addition to his criticism career, he wrote the book for "The First," a musical about Jackie Robinson. It starred David Alan Grier.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Well, it wouldn't be a MODERN FAMILY without a divorce.

Friday/Saturday/Arbor Day question: So how did you become aware of the TCM gig (or it of you)? When you can, I think we'd all like to read your description of the process, unless there was a casting couch involved, in which case thank God Ted Turner retired. That moustache. Shiver.

Alan Iverson said...

Before turning my attention to screenwriting, I worked for many years as a TV editor. My question Ken, do you have any insights, anecdotes or thoughts on the editors for MASH: Stanford Tischler , Larry L. Mills or Fred W. Berger ... or indeed any series you worked on?


LBLAddison said...

There are a lot of reasons why a network drama is memorable...What do you think are the best five of all time.

Mine are: Hill Street Blues, Homicide Life on the Streets, St. Elsewhere, Thirtysomething, and NYPD Blue, with Friday Night Lights at number six.

Anonymous said...

No offense Ken, but I don't think all the actors who you were involved with were upstanding. There are many stories about Woody Harrelson enjoying high school girls, it even got brought up during his reddit ama.

Eric J said...

"We were in the same army reserve unit and during one two-week active duty summer camp we were assigned to write a musical comedy designed to get reservists to re-enlist."

Hey, I saw that movie. Mickey Rooney, right?

Julia Littleton said...

Completely off-topic, I finally see what you're getting at when you say characters shouldn't always be using each other's names.

In the British comedy I watched last night (a low-quality recent import), a character couldn't walk into the room without being addressed by name 5 times and having to endure several lines of needless exposition:

"Harvey, it's you, Harvey! Hey, everybody, it's Harvey, the guy I always reject. I'll bet you're going to ask me out, Harvey, just like you've done ever since we met, Harvey."

I guess I've been spoiled by my ongoing addiction to Frasier and a few other comedy gems.

Do you ever find it useful as a writer to watch something really terrible to get a sense of perspective and revisit some of the don'ts of comedy writing?

Mike Schryver said...

The thing that bothers me about the Cosby situation is that these allegations have been publicly known for many years. If true, the time to get outraged about them was when they became known. But now, decades later, everyone's suddenly outraged. It's a bandwagon mentality.

Not saying the allegations aren't very serious - just that the timing of the outrage is odd.

Mike Schryver said...

To clarify, the timing of the Cosby publicity isn't the only thing that bothers me. The acts he's accused of are reprehensible, of course.

Hamid said...

Not many things in life are certain but I think it's a very safe bet that Ted Danson is just as decent and good in real life as he is perceived to be. His warmth and likeability comes through in everything he does.

Which leads me to a Thursday/Friday/Saturday Question: What's your favourite show or movie that Ted Danson has done outside of Cheers and Becker? Mine is Three Men and a Baby, but I also have a soft spot for Loch Ness, a very underrated film.

Cat said...

Don't forget Bored to Death! Ted is brilliant in it. It was really such a lovely little show.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Hamid about Ted D. Not a big fan of 3 Men and a Baby, but I loved all his series work. He kills me on Curb with Larry David too. He just seems like a really decent guy.
Janice B

pjmck said...

There's an interesting chat with Norman Lear at Marc Marons, talks about his TV career and a lot more, no charge, good interview. Starts about 12.40 minutes in.

Anonymous said...

If the show runners don't work together and handle alternate episodes, how do they make sure the thrust of the series remains consistent? Certainly Modern Family does.

Anonymous said...

Since Cosby came up again, I would like to just say the timing of the outrage is not odd.

Men have a difficult time I think imagining the absolute powerlessness a rape victim feels. She is physically unable to prevent the rape (even when not drugged), and when it is an important, famous man, she feels absolutely powerless to do anything about it afterwards. A young girl especially feels shame and almost unbearable embarrassment.

However years later, when first one woman, then another, and another, and so on come forward, it's not a bandwagon mentality. There is power in numbers. She's not alone, people believe her, the monster is exposed.

Watching these 40 and 50 year old women collapsing at the memory is heartbreaking.

People are outraged now because they know it's true. Most people have a passion for justice, and one or two unsubstantiated accusations will give them pause. They want to be fair, but the victims are too many and too credible to doubt any longer.

Richard Pride said...

Hi Ken. I read your blog every evening. It's a nice way to wind down the day. Since Cheers and Frasier were both shot on the same stage at Paramount, I'd like to know approximately where the bar would have been, in the Frasier set, if the Frasier set had been superimposed over the Cheers set. Thanks, from Boise.

Mike said...

@Julia Littleton: In the British comedy I watched last night (a low-quality recent import)
It's Thanksgiving, spare that turkey.
I'm curious: which programme was this? And how did we manage to sell it to America? There's plenty more where it came from.

notworthreading said...

Please add Chicago to the list. I would love to see your play.

Judith said...

Friday Question: I read today in the H'wood Reporter that Jean Smart was attached to a role in the NBC series, Mr. Robinson, but "opted to move on when the series was shifted from single-to multicam."

I'm not asking you to read Jean Smart's mind, but, just in general, why would a shift from single to multicam be a reason for an actor to exit a show?

Brian said...

Friday Question: Were / are you a fan of Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm"? I didn't realize at first that it was unscripted and the whole thing was done with improved lines from an outline. What's your take on doing a show like that? Did they still have a writing staff to come up with the outlines? Would that have been easier on the writers, but perhaps require more takes in production?