Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday (the 13th) Questions

Wow.  Two scary days in a row -- Friday the 13th and then Valentine's Day.  For a little distraction here are some Friday Questions. 

Michelle L. leads off:

I just recently read "Why Are You So Sad" by Jason Porter. One of the characters is obsessed with M*A*S*H, and is a somewhat depressed man because he didn't grow up to be Hawkeye. The fact that I somewhat related to him freaked me out a bit. What would you say to fans that become too obsessed with TV shows?

First off all, I’m depressed that I didn’t grow up to be Hawkeye either.

Like everything else, when a TV show becomes an obsession it can’t be healthy.

On the one hand you want people to identify with your show but not to where they attach their self worth to it.

This topic was addressed hilariously in my favorite all-time SNL sketch -- William Shatner speaks at a Star Trek convention. This video has snippets of it.

Bottom line, binge watch the shows, buy the companion book, engage in social media discussions of the show, buy a signed script, visit the exhibit if there is one, but don’t have your ears surgically altered to look like a Vulcan.

Joseph Scarbrough asks:

I've noticed on M*A*S*H that a few of Margaret's big episodes ("Hot Lips and Empty Arms," for example) were written by Linda Bloodworth & Mary Kay Place. Is it common among writing staffs for certain characters to be assigned to certain writers?

It’s not uncommon. Writers can sometimes channel certain characters. Linda & Mary Kay really had a great feel for Hot Lips (sorry, I never refer to the character as Margaret – force of habit over many years), and at the time they were trying to give the character more dimension so having two women writers added richness.  It also helped that they were two great writers. 

(I channeled Radar. What does that say about me?)
Another example is the Rhoda character on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. Treva Silverman (pictured: right) was her voice, especially early on when the character was being formed. Find your favorite Rhoda episodes and you’ll see they were written by Treva Silverman.

From Rick Wiedmayer:

How many writers are on a show typically? Does the show runner make that decision and hand out the writing assignments?

Typically yes, working within the show’s budget. Sitcoms today have much larger staffs than in decades past. There can be ten to fifteen writers on a show. On MASH, David Isaacs and I had a staff of two. On the first year of CHEERS the fulltime staff was Levine & Isaacs and the Charles Brothers.
But staffs have grown to where, in some cases, there are two writing rooms. And I must say I’m all for it – more jobs for writers.

That said, if I ran a show today I would hire a smaller staff of writers who I really trusted. I just think it’s more efficient. Try getting fifteen people to agree on anything. But that’s me and I’m not running a show.

Showrunners do hand out the script assignments, unless it's a show like BIG BANG THEORY that's all room written.  Then credits are just "assigned," which is a joke.

And finally, from Ian:

Kelsey Grammer and John Ratzenberger are both outspoken conservatives. Rob Long has written for conservative magazines. Did the cast and crew of Cheers ever argue about political issues behind the scenes?

Not that I recall although I wasn’t on the set most of the time. Kelsey and John were less outspoken back then.

Rob Long was always happy to debate the issues in the room and the Republican Party would be wise to recruit him to replace Karl Rove. In addition to being smart, articulate, and seeing things with perspective, he’s probably the funniest Republican in the party.

And by the way, just as it’s good to have characters with different points-of-view, so too in the writers room. I’d hire Rob on any show I do. But again, I’m not doing a show.

What’s your Friday Question?


Oat Willie said...

I like that "reversed to avoid Youtube copyright hammer" trick.

Hamid said...

I've read Rob Long's very funny book Conversations With My Agent. There's one tantalizing bit where he says he had been involved in talks about a potential Cheers spinoff, clarifying that it wasn't Frasier, but that the actor concerned was being stroppy and appeared uninterested in doing a show. Naturally, Long didn't reveal who it was, so I've always wondered.

Dan Ball said...

Have I gone too far with the Star Trek thing if I periodically shave my sideburns into points like Starfleet officers? Unlike the pointed ears, pointed sideburns grow back and I don't have them all the time. Plus, it's sharp-looking. (Girls need to stop with the Spock-bangs, though.)

Mike said...

It's amazing to think that the first four YEARS of I Love Lucy were written by the same group of three people. That's over 100 episodes. Yes, they had some radio show scripts they adapted, but it's still amazing, and the fact that the shows worked so well, and continue to 60 years later, is a testament to their brilliance.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Great. Now I have to have my ears re-rounded, or people will think I'm some kind of nut.

Speaking of nutty, here's a link to a Hollywood Reporter article about Uma Thurman alleged face faux-pas. The interesting part is that in the Today Show embedded video, somebody actually that that it was good idea to refer to the NBC series "The Slap", a mini-series about child abuse, as "Uma's 'Hit' Project".

Can we send that whole news division home for six months?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Hamid: I have and also love that book.

(Like finding a break in the clouds with sun behind it into which you're flying...suddenly the captchas have been replaced with something short and easily doable. Google shareholders may want to worry...)

The Curmudgeon said...

[D]on’t have your ears surgically altered to look like a Vulcan.

Now I just feel silly...

DetroitGuy said...

Did you know this blog is blocked by IKEA's in-store wi-fi? I was taking a break from shopping in the cafeteria and because IKEA is a vast cell and wifi deadzone I had to use the store's wi-fi to go online. I clicked on the bookmark for this blog and received notice that it was blocked for obscene or pornographic content. Natalie Wood is neither...but perhaps the only wood IKEA wants its customers to see is particle board in a flat-pack box.

Cavendish said...

Rob is prob the only intentionally funny Repub. The way things are going, he may be the only intentionally funny guy in either party.

Stroppy? Thanks, Hamid, I'd not heard that word before today!

I've always said, nothing good comes from going to IKEA!

Hamid said...


I've had the same when using WiFi in some stores. I think any site that contains use of the word fuck is automatically filtered out.


Stroppy is a common term in the UK. Is it not used much in the States?


Surely you mean tomorrow's your birthday and it's merely incidental that it's also Valentine's Day!

Andy said...

Not a question, but something Ken can attest to...

AlaskaRay said...

I'm happy to say that I did grow up to be Hawkeye.

DBenson said...

I suspect "Mork and Mindy" was huge with class clowns and would-be class clowns. The guy who was out of control and demanding attention was the hero, and he even got to shack up with the incredibly cute girl, who like him for being an innocent jerk. I recall an interview where Pam Dawber mentioned getting stranger fan mail than Robin Williams.

"The Bob Newhart Show" touched that same nerve more sublty, with uptight and not quite smooth Bob somehow attracting the assured and sexy Emily. Hot girls with frumpy guys became a more blatant sitcom cliche later, but Bob and Emily made it viable.

As a short fat kid in drama class, I spent way too much time trying to talk and be gangly like Dick Van Dyke. Believe or not, Mary Tyler Moore didn't figure in that particular fantasy. I thought that acting tall and thin would create tall and thin.

ScottyB said...

Friday Question for Ken: You may have already addressed this question when you were writing about 'A Or B?', but I'm too damn lazy to look up 6 months' worth of posts. My question is: What might be good route(s) for someone who's written a play to find an outlet to hopefully stage it? And what would a smart person do beforehand to protect his work? And lastly, how much involvement, as the writer, do you *really* want to have in the production if your play is accepted? (In other words, how much hair-pulling do you really want to go thru once you get paid in the first place? I know you were on hand for every performance and probably for most rehearsals, but is it worth the stress?)

Michael said...

Friday Question: M*A*S*H and CHEERS both had significant cast changes over the years. Which characters do you think were truly irreplaceable - just Hawkeye and Sam? Especially interested if you think M*A*S*H could have survived the loss of Hot Lips?

VP81955 said...

What a tragic day for Los Angeles broadcasting. This morning, we learned of the death of local TV news pioneer Stan Chambers at age 91 (he worked at KTLA from 1947 to 2010), and now it's being reported that Gary Owens, who starred at various L.A. radio stations for decades and is best known to non-Angelenos as the announcer on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," has passed at age 80. RIP to two broadcast legends.

Ken, I'm sure you knew Gary from your days in the radio industry, and perhaps knew Stan as well. Would appreciate your memories of both men.

VP81955 said...

It's now being reported that Owens was 78 at the time of his death, not 80.

Johnny Walker said...

Additionally, it's worth mentioning that Heide Perlman seemed to get given all the Carla centric episodes in the first few seasons of CHEERS -- including the strange one where Rhea plays her own sister (Rhea did a great job IMO, despite the oddness of the whole setup).

RCP said...

The question/reply concerning fans who become too obsessed with television shows reminds me of a Carol Burnett sketch in which Carol’s character has just returned from a long-term hospitalization for her addiction to soaps. On the day of her return – in which she quietly assures her husband and best girlfriend that she’s completely recovered – her friend inadvertently mentions a plot point from Carol’s favorite soap and it goes from there – eventually snowballing into Carol becoming hysterical upon hearing that ‘the twins died in a plane crash.’ By the end of the sketch, she’s babbling to herself and set for a return trip to the hospital.

While I'm not that bad, there are some series' finales that I won't re-watch because it's painful - I guess it reminds me of instances in real life of time passing and people who are dear to us leaving in one way or another.

Unknown said...
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AJ Thomas said...

Friday Questions:

#1)Hi Ken, I'm just wondering- what exactly is the process of having outside-written scripts for a TV show when there is also a writing staff, for instance when you and David Isaacs were the "Executive Script Consultants" for M*A*S*H?

#2) Along the same lines, how much involvement does a writer have when he/she/they are not involved directly with the show, example when "Goodbye, Radar" was held over until the 8th season of M*A*S*H when you and David had left?

Breadbaker said...

Here's a Friday question: I recently rewatched an episode of Parks & Recreation where Anne (played by Rashida Jones) decides she wants to have a child. It reminded me of a similar arc that I'm sure you recall involving Rebecca on Cheers. I personally found both story arcs jarring. Not that I have a problem with women seeking to have children out of wedlock, it's just that in both cases I considered each character someone for whom the story arc didn't fit. Moreover, the need to find someone who would father the child put each of them--highly independent women--in what I considered uncharacteristically subservient positions to the men they sought as fathers/sperm donors. So my question is, what would one do in developing a character to plant the idea such a story arc is more within the character's purview, or is it simply added on as a plot device and forget the fact that the character had shown no maternal instincts to this point? I have to admit to turning off the TV a couple of times when Sam and Rebecca were trying to find a moment to have sex to conceive the child who never was.

MikeN said...

Scotty, you admit you know it's been asked and answered, and you expect Ken to answer it again for you? Why not use Google? YOu can use site: at both bing and google stage play