Friday, January 09, 2015

Friday Questions

Friday Questions but first a plug: I’ll be hosting four Neil Simon movies tonight on TCM. MURDER BY DEATH, THE CHEAP DETECTIVE, PLAZA SUITE, and CALIFORNIA SUITE. It starts at 8:00 on the East and 5:00 on the West. Come for the wraparounds. Stay for the laughs.   Thank goodness for DVR's.  I wonder how many people on the East Coast are going to see my outro for CALIFORNIA SUITE live at around 3:00 AM.

Now to the business at hand:

One More Question gets us started.

I was having a discussion with myself in my head last night about whether certain characters could only have worked, or become iconic, with the actors who in fact played them, due to one of those cosmic convergences where the character found its soulmate actor.

For example, I feel like Diane Chambers, the Crane brothers, Urkel, and Columbo could not have become iconic with any other actors in the role. I don't know if Archie Bunker, Ralph Kramden, and Fonzie (the later version, not the first season Fonzie) could have worked at all with any other actor.

Do you think there are characters that, no matter how well-written, can only work or become iconic with just that one soulmate actor who was born to play them? Or is there always another actor out there who can give that character that special quality that makes it work or break out?

This question has sparked a lot of debate in the comments section. My answer is yes and no (Fuck Yes or No).

There are certain characters, where the actor has so embodied the role that it’s almost unimaginable to picture anyone else in the part. Phil Silvers as Sgt. Bilko is one. Humphrey Bogart as anybody Humphrey Bogart played is another.

But for the most part, I think if a part is well-written then a multitude of actors can play it. This is especially true in the theater. For many people who grew up in the ‘60s, the ODD COUPLE is Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, who starred in the movie. But for younger generations it’s Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.  And on Broadway originally it was Art Carney and Walter Matthau.  And at one point they switched roles. 

Now let’s take Diane Chambers. I have always contended that without Shelley Long playing her the series dies after thirteen weeks. She made a potentially unlikable character funny and adorable and real while still keeping Diane's infuriating qualities. That’s not just hard to do. It’s next to impossible.


Now that the character is established and the Sam & Diane relationship is established, if there were say a theater production of some of the episodes I could see the character working with someone else. It might be different, and you might have to put Shelley out of your mind, but who knows? It could be an interesting alternate interpretation.  Not saying it would be better per se, but I'd be curious to see what someone else could do with the role. 

Henry Winkler turned a supporting character (the Fonz) into a breakout star. There is a HAPPY DAYS musical. Do you really think there’s no one else who can play Fonzie? How about anyone who’s ever been in GREASE?  That said, whoever plays him in the musical, no matter how capable, probably could not have made the character a breakout star the way Henry Winkler did. 

Carroll O’Connor WAS Archie Bunker – in America. Another actor played him first in Great Britain.

Who IS James Bond depends on which one you grew up with... although it's really Sean Connery. 

I must say that when I saw the English version of THE OFFICE I couldn’t imagine any other actor playing the Ricky Gervais part. But God bless him, Steve Carell pulled it off. So in my opinion, in most cases you can find other actors to play iconic roles. It’s bloggers you can never substitute.

Mark Solomon asks:

As great as the film is, I agree with your statement on the TCM broadcast that the TV series defines "The Odd Couple."  Do you have a favorite episode?

There were a lot of great ones. I think my favorite is the flashback when they were in the service stationed at Fort Ira Epstein.

There was a Blackout episode I recall that was also hilarious.

What are some of your favorites?

Here’s one from another Mark:

I see actors leave successful shows for miserable failure (MacLean Stevenson, Katherine Heigel to name a couple) and I wonder what the problem is.

Is it that they can't read scripts and see how they would end up? Do they have bad agents steering them to bad projects? Do they have so few offers they take what they can get? Do they not have an idea of how they want their career to develop? Do they just work with the wrong people all the time? Did they have minimal talent that only looked good in certain situations but couldn't hit a curve ball if their life depended on it?

Pathetically, I've wondered about this for years and hope you could shed some light on it.

You’d have to take each one on a case-by-case basis. First off, remember there have been actors who have bolted successful TV series and made it as big movie stars. Clint Eastwood, Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and James Garner to name a few. But clearly they are the exception to the rule.

In a number of cases, actors who are supporting players feel it’s worth leaving a hit series for the chance to star in a vehicle.  They're rolling the dice.  Unfortunately, some of these actors are second bananas for a reason.

And in other cases, actors are just given bad advice from their management teams. You read all the time about actors firing managers and agents and attorneys. Although in some instances, the actor is to be blamed. Agents will often inflate an actor’s status to win their favor – telling them they’re hotter or more popular or in more demand than they really are – and if the actor believes them it’s at his own peril.

Sometimes a TV actor will do a movie that becomes a big hit and think it's because of them.  This can be a costly misjudgement.  

One other factor, sometimes actors just get tired playing the same character over and over and need to move on. Again, it’s a personal choice.

Personally, I feel the odds are so staggering against an actor being cast as a regular in a huge hit series that if you are you should ride that gravy train as far as it will take you. But that’s me, a guy who can’t act his way out of a hard rain.

What’s your Friday Question? See you tonight on Turner Classic Movies.


MikeK.Pa. said...

I always point to MASH as an example of never leaving a hit show. McLean Stevenson, Wayne Rogers, Larry Linville all went down in flames with their own series. I think Norman Fell always regretted leaving THREE'S COMPANY for the short-lived THE ROPERS.

Carol said...

I love that first question, because it's kind of a fascinating concept. It's one of those right place/right time things.

Like, would the Beatles have been the Beatles if they'd kept Pete Best. Not because Ringo was the better drummer, but because something about the 4 of them made them, well, The Beatles.

It's kind of like your A or B? play, when you think about it. Each choice can lead people into wildly different directions.

Bunkum said...

It's a shame we won't get to see your TCM intros over here in the UK, Ken. I recently read Neil Simon's Rewrites book and found it fascinating - he was an incredibly talented guy. One thing bothers me though - I watched Murder by Death on Netflix last weekend; what the hell is going on with that ending? It just seems completely random and lazy and makes absolutely no sense! Can anyone explain it to me?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

It's probably important that at least *some* actors are willing to hold their noses and jump off the cliff because otherwise the showrunners of hit series would know they could screw over their casts secure in the knowledge they wouldn't fight back.

last captcha count: 14

Steve Mc said...

'Carroll O’Connor WAS Archie Bunker – in America. Another actor played him first in Great Britain.'

And that actor (Warren Mitchell) was every bit as iconic, if not more so, in the UK as O'Connor was in the US. Which suggests that the character was pretty iconic in its own right.

And to slightly contradict myself -

' I think Norman Fell always regretted leaving THREE'S COMPANY for the short-lived THE ROPERS.'

If those characters are who I think they are, the equivalent UK spin off was a big hit and the characters are still, to people of a certain age, still iconic, largely because of the way the actress Yootha Joyce nailed a kind of doomed, frustrated post 60's sexual liberation. I presume that character didn't translate!

marka said...

My Friday question:

So it's the day of taping and Woody Harrelson wakes up and sounds like a frog. He's not the main character but an important cog in the episode.

Do they postpone the taping? Pull out another script at the last minute that doesn't have him in it and do it on the fly? Let him play the part and re-record his vocals later?

Is the situation different if it happens to Ted Danson or Shelley Long?


Hamid said...

Who IS James Bond depends on which one you grew up with... although it's really Sean Connery.

Timothy Dalton for me! Yeah, I know, it's just me and about five others in the world who put him top but I think his Bond remains incredibly underrated. Give me Licence to Kill over that pile of pretentious gloop Skyfall any day.

By the way, after seeing it every day, I'm now inspired to write a script called I'm Not a Robot. Thanks, Captcha!

opimus said...

Chevy Chase a big movie star . Really/

Tyler said...

Don Knots is Barney Fife. No one else could be Barney.

404 said...

Based on this, Ken, I will be looking forward to reading about your upcoming Cheers play!

Curt Alliaume said...

Mark Evanier wrote a pretty good summary of why McLean Stevenson left M*A*S*H here:

I don't have Chris Mann's book on Three's Company in front of me, but from that and the less reliable Wikipedia, one can glean Norman Fell was extremely reluctant to leave that show for The Ropers because he feared it would fail. The producers promised if it didn't run a year, he and Lindley could go back to Three's Company - and it ran just over a year.

CL said...

Speaking of Archie Bunker's British counterpart, I've heard it considered that the majority of audiences may have been tuning in to laugh along with his racist views. How do you feel about audiences laughing for "the wrong reason"?

Scooter Schechtman said...

Norman hard, from Mike Nichols comedies to "Three's Company". My memory is shot but didn't "The Ropers" theme include Fell thrusting his plunger rhythmically to the song?

Jerry Krull said...

Tyler - I agree Don Knotts is Barney Fife with nobody else playing that role the same. But if they were to do a Don Knotts biographic movie today, I see Jon Cryer pulling off Don as a person very well.

Jon in The Relunctant Astronaut? Sure. Jon in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken? Always. Jon in the Incredible Mr. Limpet? Of course.

And no I'm not advocating those are great movies that need to be re-made. They are a part of my youth I remember fondly is all.

Rob said...

Poor Pat Morita was talked into leaving "Happy Days" for "Mr T. and Tina" which bombed within weeks. Then he bombed again later that season in "Blansky's Beauties" before falling off the face of the earth until "The Karate Kid". Incidentally, Nancy Walker also bombed twice that season in "Blansky" and her own self-titled sitcom, but returned to "Rhoda" the following year.

At least when Marla Gibbs left "The Jeffersons" to work for Larry Linville in "Checking In" (four episodes) she managed to get herself written back in the parent show.

Norman Fell always believed the network held off the cancellation announcement of "The Ropers" until the one-year deal had passed.

VincentS said...

As an actor myself, I basically agree with all of your reasons as to why it's a bad idea for an actor to leave a hit show, Ken. However, last night I was watching a rerun of NEWHART which had Kurt, the selfish, hapless next-store cafe owner who spent most of his time pining away for Leslie, the girl who worked at the inn (Julia Duffy's predecessor) who had no interest in him and thought, "I would hate to go to work every day and play this character." Acting is such an unstable profession so I, like most actors, would probably jump at playing ANY role in a hit show. But performing itself requires the emission of real emotions and playing a part like that as a steady gig would probably depress the hell out of me. As for favorite ODD COUPLE episode: Any episode where Felix and Oscar were in a courtroom!

CRL said...


James Van Hise said...

In early 1978, MacLean Stevenson was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and when the subject of M*A*S*H came up, MacLean Stevenson admitted that leaving that show was the biggest mistake he ever made. Larry Linville left because he felt his character was two dimensional. What he failed to appreciate is that he was nonetheless extremely funny. Wayne Rogers had a dispute with the producers because they wanted him to sign a "morals clause" in his contract and he was offended by that idea and eventually he quit rather than be forced to sign. But Wayne Rogers did okay due to investments he made while Larry Linville ended up doing dinner theater in Canada and getting sued for sexual harassment when a woman asked him to pose for a photo with her and as a joke he grabbed her breast in the photos, twice.

Hamid said...

Some Ted Danson news! He's been cast in the second season of Fargo, along with Patrick Wilson and Jean Smart.

Mike said...

Cheers WAS made into a musical. Cali Timmins played the role of Diane, but it did not go over well with the audience.

OK this was an episode of Frasier.

Mike said...

Friday question: On another blog, I saw this comment about Cheers:

"The writers would purposely give Kelsey Grammer who played Frasier bad lines they didn't think could get a laugh and he would turn around and make them work. "

Is this true? Were you trying to get rid of Frasier?

Michael said...

I agree that Shelly Long did a great job as Diane, but why do you say she saved the show from being cancelled after 13 weeks? Despite her performance, the ratings were still terrible in the beginning and the show only survived because of the good graces of the NBC executives. Do you think her performance helped give them confidence in the show despite the ratings?

Pat Reeder said...

I left a comment that seems to have disappeared. I hope it didn't offend you and get removed on purpose. I just pointed out, as a huge Columbo fan, that Peter Falk wasn't the first person to play the role. Levinson & Link wrote an episode of a Chevy mystery anthology show in 1960 with a character actor named Bert Freed as Columbo. Then they wrote a stage play with Thomas Mitchell in the part. And for the first TV movie, they offered it to Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby, both of whom said no. They had to be talked into Peter Falk, who they thought was too young. He fixed that by playing the role for 35 years.

Also noted that Steve Martin proved nobody else can play either Sgt. Bilko or Inspector Clouseau.

BTW, I'm with Hamid: Timothy Dalton is my second-favorite 007 after Connery.

Michael said...

Interesting posts about those who left MASH. I've read a couple of things:

--Larry Linville also felt that there was nowhere else for Frank Burns to go. Margaret had been married off. Could they suddenly make him smart and a competent surgeon? Hardly, although it's interesting that at the outset, he wasn't the total bumbler he became.

--Wayne Rogers and Alan Alda apparently are still very close, but Rogers didn't like being second banana, and he very obviously was.

The interesting thing is that I think each departure led to a better show. As brilliant as Larry Gelbart was, it always seemed to me that Henry and Frank were often too cartoonish.

CarolMR said...

Wayne Rogers certainly did make good financial investments. He is a FOX News contributor and is on many FOX shows giving both his financial and political opinions. He looks pretty good for his age.

mmryan314 said...

@ Mike- regarding your question about writers and Kelsey Grammer.Ken covered this question very succinctly in his September 25, 2013 column.Interesting reading too about misinformation.

Raymond said...

In a book I have about the MASH television series, Larry Gelbart states that they knew by the end of the first season that Wayne Rogers was just biding his time until his contract was up and he could leave the series. Why? When the series was created, Rogers and Alan Alda were supposed to carry equal weight in the series, but Gelbart said it became obvious very quickly that Alda was going to be the focal point of the series and of the scripts.

About Larry Linville's departure, Gelbart said he understood and sympathized with the actor's frustration over the one dimensional nature of the character he portrayed. He goes one to point out that if there was a flaw in the Frank Burns character, that if he was too limited and one dimensional, the fault was his (Gelbart's) and that of the other people responsible for the week-to-week creation of the show, not Linville's. Gelbart says that, in hindsight, maybe they took the easy way out with Frank Burns, denying him the kind of character development and maturation they allowed, say, Hot Lips, simply because Frank Burns was too easy and too reliable a villain to fall back on in a way that he wouldn't have been if they had allowed the character to grow.

He's very diplomatic about McLean Stevenson, saying simply that when a TV series becomes a success, everybody wants to pull it apart, hoping that they can recreate some of the show's magic by building a show around one of its actors or members of its creative team. He said it's very easy to be swayed by all the attention you're getting. Everybody wants you and, he said, after years of struggling for success and recognition, it's easy to let that go to your head.

Chris said...

Wayne Rogers is also part of the team that is responsible for the financial turn around and success of Kelinfeld's, the bridal store that is featured in "Say Yes to the Dress." A very smart guy.

ODJennings said...

Let's not forget the poster child for bad career decisions, Herve Villechaize (Tattoo on Fantasy Island) who was fired after demanding to be paid as much per episode as Ricardo Montalban.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

my 2 cents:

1) The question about actor and character becomes mute when the actor does such a great job that they BECOME the character (stereotyped too). The actor's mannerisms and personality is fused by the actor. And who the character becomes is the
George Jefferson is one that come to mind.
Cosmo Kramer

Hey, can anyone else play Jerry Seinfeld other than Jerry Seinfeld :) ?

No one else can be Lucy.
No one else can be Mork.

And despite the reboots, no one else can be Kirk or Spock. They are just parodies of a copy.

2) Odd Couple episode: Password is brilliant. Bobby Riggs.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

@Harmid: i would watch that movie called I'm not a Robot

Canda said...

I'm not sure I can agree about Shelly Long, since she left after season 5, and the show ran another 6 years with Kirstie Alley. Frankly, I think the audience would not have been able to stand Diane Chambers for 11 seasons. An "arch" character can have a limited life span.

Frasier worked on his series, because Miles was an exaggerated version of Frasier, and made Frasier seem more normal, plus the blue collar Dad was a brilliant stroke.

Incidentally, a British actress might have been a very good, and more real character, than Diane, because her "culture" would have worked well against the characters in the bar.

chalmers said...

Like "The Ropers," "Flo" was another "spin-out" from that era. Polly Holliday's waitress from "Alice" went home to open her own place in Texas. Her show didn't last long, and "Alice" continued for several years afterward with Celia Weston taking her place.

It's easy to snort at actors, particularly sitcom actors, who gripe about the "direction" of their character. But Larry Linville probably would have been better off had he been in the producers' ears about advancing his character while they were doing something similar for Hot Lips.

It always struck me how the Winchester introduction episode ends with him winning prank revenge against Hawkeye. It's as if the producers are declaring, "We are NOT letting THIS character get written into a corner!"

cd1515 said...

Odd Couple episodes in the 2nd apartment were the best, IMO.
those first 10 or so in the old place with the Pigeon Sisters were hit and miss at best.

Favorites: Password, when they both get operations together, when they have the contest about health insurance, Fear of Flying, The Monastery, Role Reversal.

VincentS said...

Canada, I don't agree with you that a British actor might have been better as Diane. For one thing, I think - despite her supposedly difficult behavior - Shelley Long did, as Ken said, a brilliant job balancing Diane's sympathetic qualities with her annoying ones and that that and her on-again, off-again relationship with Sam could not have been sustained for 11 seasons, no matter who was playing the role or what her nationality was. Secondly, not only do I not subscribe to the idea that British actors are automatically better than American actors, I think making Diane British played by a British actor might have created too wide a cultural gap. No one, for example, had to explain to Diane what the THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN was in order for her to go on a long-winded negative comparison of that movie to THE SEVEN SAMURAI. I do think, however, that your analysis of why Frasier worked was brilliant.v

Bg Porter said...

Interesting coincidence with 'All in the Family' -- Splitsider just posted a piece that includes 2 unaired pilots under different titles -- 'And Justice for All' and 'Those Were The Days'. Interesting read/viewing:

BetterYeti said...

Odd Couple favorites: Another vote for Password (to this day my sole word association with "Aristophanes" is "ridiculous", and I studied Greek in college); Felix redecorating the apartment; subway breakdown.

Odd Couple and Happy Days: two Garry Marshall sitcoms that started single camera and switched to multi -- discuss. . .

davewillie said...

Can you picture someone besides Tom Bosley as Mr. C in Happy Days? In the pilot, Love and the Television Set, later retitled Love and the Happy Days for syndication, which appeared on Love, American Style, Mr. C was played by Harold Gould. He passed on the part when ABC turned the episode into a series because he didn't want to shave his beard.

John in Ohio said...

IIRC - Norman Fell did not want to spin off. He both thought it was likely to fail, and he didn't really want/need to be the one carrying the show - he was content at that point being a supporting character on what was one of the biggest hits on TV. Mrs Roper wanted badly to spin off, but they wouldn't do it without both of them, and the story I thought I read was that she talked him into it.
The parts about being able to return if it didn't work, and the network only renewing it to keep them out are what I remember reading. I think that network realized that what they had with Don Knotts was better than the original.

Most shows that are on for a long time go through cast changes, and most are better for it - even ones that you didn't believe could be. Some would argue that 2.5 men was getting stale before Charlie left and that it is better now. Maybe not better ratings-wise, but better.
NYPD Blue was on forever, and I think the last cast (before the last year salary dump) was near the best. I would only really want to put Jimmy Smitts back in from those that left.

I'm not talking here about desperate changes - adding a kid, moving L&S to Califonia. Those are made when the show is circling the drain already.

I think that at least sometimes the producers see an opportunity to 'fix' something that not everyone even realizes was wrong. Often the characters are similar, but not quite the same. Or they are a completely different type that maybe the show was lacking. Winchester was not such a cartoon. Potter was an actual leader. BJ balanced out Hawkeye more - they were less alike than Hawkeye and Trapper, but still alike.

RyderDA said...

Friday Question (from someone lucky enough to have had 2 Friday Questions answered in the last 3 years):

When writing something, do you ever deliberately write two separate, distinct, independent versions of the same thing for any reason (such as to explore how different story arcs could play out)? Is there utility to a writer in consciously creating two different versions of the exact same thing?

VincentS said...

Friday Question - There was one thing I always wondered as regards to MASH, Ken. Whereas Henry and Trapper were firmly established as married men - reflecting the era the show takes place when most men their age were married - they were seen constantly chasing and bedding nurses, whereas there respective replacements, Col. Potter and BJ, were, by contrast - with the exception of one episode - completely faithful to their wives. On top of that, the TV version of Hawkeye was made a bachelor (again, rare for an American man in his 30s in the 1950s), unlike his equally, skirt-chasing movie counterpart (honorable mention: as well as Duke Forrest). Was this because of any pressure on the part of viewers, sponsors, and/or the network on tamping down depictions of marital infidelity on the show?

CarolMR said...

I love the Odd Couple episodes featuring Howard Cosell. "He's scrambling with the dexterity of a lizard."

Donald said...

As to a favorite Odd Couple episode, one comes instantly to mind: "My Strife in Court" with the classic "Never Assume" courtroom scene.

Andrew Morton said...

Hi Ken – Friday Question: On CHEERS, what was the reason for the switch from the Evan Drake character to the Robin Colcord character. Both characters essentially served the same story function – as a remote wealthy man for Rebecca to pine over. Since they were roughly the same type of character, was there a behind-the-scenes reason for the switch in actors?

James said...

I'd cite it but I don't recall exactly where I saw it, but it's in something William Link wrote (I believe it was after his writing partner passed) regarding writing for Columbo. His advice to people was to write the character straight, because Peter Falk would insert all the idiosyncracies himself, and if you wrote them in the script it was too much.

In the case of Columbo, it was the way he played the character. Two actors had played Columbo before. But Levinson & Link (in their book Stay Tuned) said the way Falk played it was compelling.

Gary said...

Ken, I'm glad you included Murder By Death in the marathon. This is one of Simon's lesser known movies, but it's hysterical and very quotable. ("Say Your Goddamn pronouns!")

Favorite Odd Couple episode? About 10 of them, but I especially love The Fat Farm.

YEKIMI said...

I think the reason some actors fail after leaving one show to star in their own is that the viewers just can't accept them as anyone else other then the character they were playing on the show they had just left.

Something that bothered me about some actors when they got their own show is that their mannerisms, actions, etc. were the same as on the show they had just left. To me they were just doing the same act but with a different character name and different supporting players. If that all they have in their repertoire, they should have stayed with the show they had left. It's called ACTING for a reason.

Diane D. said...

Odd Couple episode: The one where Felix inherits a bubble gum factory in Buffalo, New York, and plans to leave Oscar and move to Buffalo to run the factory. As he has just said a very melodramatic good-bye to Oscar, he starts doing a little dance step toward the door and says, "What am I doing, Oscar?" Oscar says, "Shuffling off to Buffalo." One of the most charming scenes I've ever seen (mainly because of the way they played it).

Mike Schryver said...

Wow, which ODD COUPLE episode?

I mentioned one here recently, where they vacation in Hocaloma. It had Joan Hotchkis as Oscar's girlfriend Nancy, and had two fantastic guest stars, Vito Scotti and Barbara Colby.

I'll join others by voting for any episode in a courtroom. "Mr. Unger, can you either talk faster or smaller?"

Password, of course.

Also the one where Felix takes a writing course, which had Wally Cox in it.

Too many great episodes to name. I know a relative of one of the actors in the show, who immediately pegged me as being from New York by how familiar I was with the show.

Chris said...

Friday Question:

As CHEERS went on, did the writers and directors ever let John Ratzenberger improvise his "little known facts" from time to time? For example, like this one from season 10, episode 16, "One Hugs, the Other Doesn't": "Well, quite ironic actually, uh, seeing as how tuna, known in Latin as Pisces Middayacus, roughly translated as lunch fish, was uh, w-was not a contemporary of the, uh, prehistoric reptilian land wanderers."

RCP said...

Speaking of other actors performing iconic roles: Jo Anne Worley and Cindy Williams had summer-stock success a few years ago playing an updated (and obviously altered) version of The Odd Couple - Olive Madison and Florence Unger.

I also love the Fat Farm episode and Jack Klugman's expressions, e.g. the dinner scene with the invisible desserts.

Todd Everett said...

Curt Alliaume said...

Mark Evanier wrote a pretty good summary of why McLean Stevenson left M*A*S*H here:

The piece is more about Marcia Strassman, who had recently died, though Stevenson does come into the conversation

In any case, I'd add that it took one hell of an actress to sit around laughing at Gabe Kaplan's jokes.

And of course I had a crush on her.

One More Question said...

Thank you, sir, for answering my question.

Pat Reeder said...

Re: James' comment about Falk's portrayal of Columbo's idiosyncrasies.

This is one of a handful of shows that I have on DVD in its entire run. If you go back and watch the very first ones, it's a little jarring how hard-assed and aggressive Columbo can be once he's sure he knows the killer. His befuddled deference schtick got much thicker in later episodes, but he could turn on a dime and really get in your face in those first ones.

Josh said...

Then there are the ones who just won't quit....

Estelle Getty played Sophia Petrillo for seven years on THE GOLDEN GIRLS, one year on the spin-off GOLDEN PALACE, and a couple of more years on EMPTY NEST. Rue McClanahan talked later about how much Estelle loved playing that character, joking that she'd put on that gray wig and show up as Sophia at your daughter's birthday party if you asked her to.

joanneinjax said...

Just watched your intro on TCM and you were terrific!
One suggestion: find yourself a TAILOR! I know you're tall, darlin', but you were SWIMMING in that brown jacket. Speaking of which, maybe a stylist would be helpful for your next on-screen appearance, or ask your wife or daughter for wardrobe advice.
I love you anyway - I bought your books at full price!
Great Neil Simon series. Truman Capote - wow - I must go watch that performance,

Andy Rose said...

One reason Steve Carrell was so successful with that character was because it wasn't precisely the same as Ricky Gervais. Except for the final episode of the British series, David Brent never exhibited any redeeming qualities at all. But by the second season of the American show, Greg Daniels was turning Michael Scott into a marginally sympathetic character, and even an occasionally competent salesman.

Joe Blevins said...


I missed your intro to Murder By Death but caught your outro, and I have a couple of points to make.

1. You focused on the puns and jokes that didn't work (in your opinion), but for my money, Murder By Death has a phenomenally high success rate for a comedy of this nature. It's one all comedy writers should study.

2. I totally disagree on the performance of Truman Capote. It's true, he doesn't give an "actor's" performance in this film, but he's hilarious nevertheless because he plays it completely as himself. There's a reason Truman Capote spent much of his career as a professional celebrity, more known for talking than for writing. It's because it's fun and funny to hear him talk, and he seems to be having such a good time doing it. When Lionel Twain gives his big speech at the end about the sins committed by various mystery writers, it's easy to imagine Truman himself making the same speech at a cocktail party or on a talk show panel. His pique seems entirely genuine.

AAllen said...

With all the attention given to the TCM appearance, Ken never mentioned his appearance on Stu's Show this week.

Whenever Levine and Isaacs appear on that show, I use it as an opportunity to stock up on shows from the archive, which cost 99 cents but are always on a four for the price of three sale. To tell them apart in my playlist, I attempted to type "Ken Levine" in the artist's field in the track in iTunes, and it kept placing Kenny Loggins there instead. Aargh! Stoopid technology!!

Anonymous said...

Best Odd Couple episode
Password is great but Felix's Fear of Flying is hard to top, especially when he banters with the stewardess and comes back to an empty plane.
and this bit of dialogue
"Are You Belkin Airlines?"
"Are you the FAA?"
"Well we're Belkin Airlines"

Great individual scenes/characters:
any courtroom scene
Victor Buono talking to his plants during the rent strike
John Byner negotiating with the boys for a parking spot. John Byner - funny guy

TO said...

Ken! Nice to see you on TCM tonight. It was like running into an old friend I had not seen in 22 years since I was stationed in Bangor Washington and listening to you broadcasting Mariners games. I have always said you were the most entertaining broadcaster I ever heard, and that includes Joe Garagiola. Thanks for putting a smile on my face tonight

Casey C said...

Included in the lineup is “California Suite” and (thank you BTW) “Heartbreak Kid”, Elaine May directing the latter and acting in the former. May has been brought up primarily in relation with Nichols; might you have any more interesting facts of Elaine May as a writer/ director/ actress/ script doctor? Why didn’t she receive credit for some of the scripts she reworked and edited? What are your feelings on “Ishtar” and its relevancy today, in face of its initial failure? Were May and Matthau paired together in “CS” because of “A New Leaf”, despite only playing Henrietta as a result of disagreements with the studio? Peter Falk was working on “Murder By Death” and “Mikey and Nicky” around the same time, just a coincidence? What was the extent of May’s influence on “Heartbreak”?

Really enjoying the marathon!

Bill O said...

Capote has his own genre parody as co-writer of John Huston's Beat The Devil, made by the guy who helped invent the form in the first place. Capote wasted his time throwing parties and sucking up to the rich and famous. When they found out he was writing a novel based on that society, they dumped him, ending his ability to write, and eventually, breathe....Network plugging interference caused some out-of-character moments on The Odd Couple. No way would Randall's Felix debase himself on "Let's Make a Deal".

Tim Rifenburg said...

Caught most of Murder by Death and watched your post movie wrap up and intro to The Cheap Detective. Thought you were good about explaining things and giving a nice overview. I was wondering why the Blue Screen. I would think you would have been more comfortable on a set or sitting with some props. Definitiely I feel you would have looked less stiff and formal. Any reason particulary they chose to shoot your comments this way?
As far as the movies themselves (What I saw of them) - they were serviciable parodies. I liked Murder a bit more because I enjoyed the parodies of the various detectives. I can see why Simon might not be happy with the choice of Capote but for the feel of the movie and the parody aspect of it, I thought he worked ok. (Though it does date the movie a bit more) If Simon had a different view I could understand. I don't think current audiences would "get" this movie today. Unless you are a fan of old movies or the detective genre a lot of the movie would not work and the parody aspect would be lost on the viewer. I'm sorry I missed California Suite. I was interested in your thoughts. I like the movie but only a couple of the stories really work for me and the Cosby / Pryor bits while funny, don't work with the tone of the other stories. Also I have a real problem with the casting of the child of Jane Fonda and Alan Alda. Definitely too young and not reflective of the interpretation the characters have of her. Made the sequence between Fonda and the teen tonally "off", Simon's dialogue sings though in the exchanges between the parents and in the Michael Caine / Maggie Smith segment. Just great stuff. Glad you had the opportunity to do this. Should we lobby them When / If they do a Natalie Wood retrospective so you are first choice?

Hank Gillette said...

Todd Everett said...

“The piece is more about Marcia Strassman, who had recently died, though Stevenson does come into the conversation”

The article about Stevenson is further down on the page. Or try this:

Craig Gustafson said...

I saw "Murder by Death" twice when it first came out. The ending was crap, but that movie got HUGE laughs in the theater, all the way through.

"The Cheap Detective" pissed me off. Sid Caesar and Phil Silvers in a Neil Simon movie!? I'm there! And top-billed Silvers had ONE line.

Which segues to - I wouldn't see Steve Martin's "Sgt. Bilko". (A) The character was tailored for Silvers. (B) Martin, Aykroyd and Hartman hosted a Bilko marathon on TV and made frequent smug comments about "Well, we certainly don't act THAT big nowadays," totally alienating the series' fan base and tanking the movie. I also avoided "For Love or Mummy", with the "new" Laurel and Hardy.

You can replace a comic actor. You can't replace a comedian.

Bill O said...

Twilight Of The Gods...Silvers had suffered a stroke. And Sid Caesar had done three movies around that time: Silent Movie,Fire Sale, and Cheap Detective. In the first, he's always sitting or bedridden. In the latter two, he's in a wheel chair.

Breadbaker said...

That guy who left Dobie Gillis after five episodes as Milton Armitage, whatever happened to him?

AAllen said...

After reading this piece about actors leaving successful TV shows for failed movie careers, I saw the new Glee, in which Rachel left a successful Broadway show for a failed TV show. You can't spell "success" without "suc".

cadavra said...

If I may answer one of Casey's questions: MIKEY and NICKY was filmed in 1973, followed by reshoots in 1974 (both sessions were while COLUMBO was on hiatus). May shot several tons of footage and literally spent two years in the editing room before Paramount finally gave her an ultimatum (i.e., completion date). She missed it, they took it away from her, had another editor finish it and released it to blah reviews. She disowned this cut, of course, but frankly, she had no one to blame but herself. When I was at Paramount in the early 90s, I wondered if all that footage had survived, but it was not kept. I saw it again a few years ago and it really is a dreadful movie, with what be the screen record for mismatched shots, due to her improvisational style. But the bottom line is: It was in the can long before MURDER BY DEATH.

David said...

There were several lines on The Odd Couple TV show that were so risque they make me laugh twice as hard because I feel like the writers snuck one past a sleeping censor. Prime example: when in a flashback episode Oscar visits the then-single Felix in his apartment, in which all the furniture is covered in plastic. When Felix says that he HAS to marry Gloria, Oscar replies "You HAVE to marry her? A man who covers everything in plastic?"

Ken, obviously a writer's first job on a comedy is to be funny, but there must be some examples of when you or your co-writers "slipped one past the goalie" simply to see if you could...

Gary said...

David, another risque line (for the time) was in The Odd Couple episode when Oscar meets a girl in a restaurant who appears to be destitute. With Felix out of town, Oscar invites her to sleep over in Felix's room. But Felix gets home early and discovers the girl sleeping in his bed. Confused, he mutters to himself, "It's not my birthday..."

Storm said...

Wow, I thought for sure fellow hardcore Trekker Dan Ball would have made this comment already: The reason that Kirstie Ally did not reprise her role as Saavik after "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan" was that her representation demanded that she be paid a LOT more in future films-- more money than some of the other cast members were paid. Paramount wasn't having it, and replaced her with Robin Curtis for subsequent movies, eventually writing Saavik out all together. Which is a damn shame, because that character was really interesting; half Vulcan and half Romulan? SO MANY PLACES to go with that, and they never did.

FUN FACT FOR NERDS: In "ST4: The Voyage Home", Saavik was supposed to be pregnant with Spock's baby (having "helped him through" Pon Farr in ST3). This is why she chooses to stay on Vulcan, instead of helping them save the whales. (It's in the novelization, and IIRC, there were lines about it that were filmed but later deleted.)

BONUS FUN FACT FOR THOSE WITHOUT LIVES: In "ST6: The Undiscovered Country", the character Valeris, played by Kim Cattral, was *supposed* to be Saavik, but casting issues prevented Curtis from reprising her role. Rather than recasting Saavik again, they just kinda changed the name in the script and called it a day. Keep this in mind when next watching "ST6", and it makes Spock's relationship with/to her and his sense of betrayal totally understandable, instead of "Why is Spock SO VERY pissed at a character he barely knows?"

Cheers, thanks a lot,