Thursday, February 05, 2015

Friday Questions on Thursday

The Friday Questions are starting to pile up so I thought I’d sneak in an extra day. Hope this doesn’t throw you and you take off from work early to get a jump on that ski weekend.

cd1515 asks:

The sitcom ads that I see now seem to promote beautiful people trying to be funny. I guess they're trying to copy the Friends model, but in your experience are beautiful people any less or more funny than average looking people?

Certainly there are beautiful people who are funny. But not as many as producers and networks would like – which is why you see the same faces appearing in pilots year after year.

The trouble comes when networks demand you ONLY cast attractive people. As a writer/producer, my priority is to cast people who are naturally FUNNY – either in appearance, voice, height, attitude, or body language.

Danny Devito was not who the producers of TAXI imagined for the role of Louie, but when he came in the room they saw the possibilities.

Nat Hiken, one of my idols, and the creator of SGT. BILKO used to say that if an actor came in to audition and he wanted to write a page of dialogue for him, that’s the actor he wanted. And just look who he chose (see above photo).

Same with his other series, CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? Check out those mugs. Can you imagine any of them testing for FRIENDS?
Lis Riba asks:

Given Hollywood's penchant for remakes, why *haven't* we seen any attempts at rebooting M*A*S*H, given how successful it was?

Is it a case of Hollywood not asking, or is there a rights-holder refusing?

Usually when you remake a show you update it. How can you update MASH? It’s specific to a time and place. Plus, the original series is so iconic and still has so many viewers that it seems crazy to do another one. Imagine the poor actors who would be compared to Alan Alda, et al? Just like if they tried to remake I LOVE LUCY. Good luck to Kristen Wiig or whoever.

Billy Wilder always wondered why they remade hit movies. His feeling was you remake movies that didn’t work and fix them. There’s really no reason to remake MASH. But AfterMASH…

Terrence Moss wonders:

I just watched an episode of "The Jeffersons" written by Laura Levine.

Any relation?

Nope. No relation to writers Emily Levine or Deborah Joy Levine either. Just writer Annie Levine.

And finally, from Belle:

I recently saw an old interview with Glen and Les Charles where they talked about a spec script they wrote for MASH, which the writers liked, but featured too many outdoor shots for them to use at the time. I was just wondering if you have any similar stories of good ideas or scripts for the show that had to be thrown away for practical reasons?

No. There were a couple of spec MASH scripts that got our attention because of the writing, but we never used a story from any MASH spec. And trust me, we would have been happy to. At the very least we would have given the writer a story credit.

I remember we hired a freelance writer once based on a spec MAUDE he did. At the time you didn’t have to write a spec MASH to be considered.

What’s your Friday Question or Whatever-Day-It-Is Question?

54 comments:

Oat Willie said...

Is there a technical term for the practice in promos of the actors' heads turning (sometimes whipping) toward the camera? I need a name for this universal cliche.

Dan Ball said...

How are you related to Annie Levine again? haha

I agree with Billy Wilder. So many movies don't try to fix what was wrong the first time around. What kills me is that some remakes just want to do well to repeat the original, beat-for-beat. THE OMEN that came out in 2006 was a good example. Yesterday, I saw pictures from the new POLTERGEIST remake and it looks IDENTICAL to Spielberg & Hooper's 1982 film. Even down to the clown and the orange lighting for the closet monster. Neither of those movies needed fixing.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Just finished a great book on Nat Hiken called KING OF THE HALF HOUR by David Everitt. It's a great read and sad. Hiken had bad habits (smoking, eating ice cream/fatty foods and procrastinating on scripts until the very last moment) that probably contributed to his untimely death at 54. He was bold enough to put ethnic characters in when most of the sitcoms in the 1950s and early 60s were white bread.

A funny anecdote from the book, that is so typical of Hiken's mind. Comedian Alan King chartered a city bus in Florida as a party bus, complete with band and bar, driving all over town. Hiken, who was one of King's guests, suggested they have some fun and pick up a passenger at the next regular bus stop. As the perplexed passenger came on board, King explained it was an effort by the city to improve the bus service. The passenger replied, "Well, it's about time!" Too funny.

Saw FRESH OFF THE BOAT last night and thought it was hilarious. Eddie, the main character, and his mother look they will be carrying the show. Not sure if the concept will hold up for five seasons, but I'm going to follow it. Found this story by Eddie Huang, who wrote the book on which the series is based, and his frustrations with how ABC is homogenizing this ethnic comedy. He went to comic Margaret Cho, whose AMERICAN GIRL, was the first Asian sitcom on TV two decades ago, for advice. Her reply, “They have no idea what they’re doing, but they’ll have opinions about everything you’re doing.”

Link to Eddie's story is below.
http://www.vulture.com/2015/01/eddie-huang-fresh-off-the-boat-abc.html

Bill Jones said...

Friday question--in your opinion, did FRIENDS mark a turning point in terms of network interference with sitcoms? I have read in several sources that this was the quintessential "network" show, in that--despite the talents of its creators--NBC played a big role in choosing, casting, and cultivating it. And, obviously, it turned out to be huge. Was that the point at which networks said, "We can do this," and really started to call the shots vs. creators/producers/writers? Obviously there has always been network "input" since the early days, but was FRIENDS a watershed in that respect?

Chris said...

Friday question: I've read numerous stories about writers who left a series for another one or to create their own. When that doesn't work, returning to the show they left in the first place seems tabu. Is there resentment when someone lets the showrunner know they're leaving? Why is returning almost never a possibility?

Unkystan said...

Wilder is correct. Remake films that were bad but with potential (but change the title). Perfect example is "Dirty Rotten Scoundrals" which is a classic compared to the unwatchable "Bedtime Story" (Brando in the Steve Martin part is embarrassing). Now they're remaking "Ben-Hur". Seriously???

Bill O said...

Still love Nat Hiken's posthumously produced script for Don Knott's THE LOVE GOD?, even tho it pretty much ended Knott's movie career. The fast-talking con man supporting role, played by a very embarrassed Edmond O'Brien, was of course written for Phil Silvers.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Bill O:
That was a case of the studio over-riding Hiken, who wanted Silvers but was in no position to push back. Lew Wasserman, who ran Universal, supposedly said it was the first script he'd laughed at in years. Nat's old BILKO and CAR 54 actors - like BS Pully, Al Lewis and Billy Sands - were a security blanket for him in whatever projects he did afterward, even if they weren't a good fit. I haven't seen the LOVE GOD? but plan to, trying to envision what Silvers would have done in the O'Brien role.

ScottyB said...

"Given Hollywood's penchant for remakes, why *haven't* we seen any attempts at rebooting M*A*S*H, given how successful it was?"

Seems to me that just because something was successful eons ago doesn't mean it will or could be successful today. 'Car 54 Where Are You?', 'I Love Lucy', 'All In The Family' -- hell even 'Cheers' -- it's in a bar. Uh-oh, drinking. Can't have that today, y'know)

And for me at least, that's why pretty much every reboot fails. Those shows were a moment in time that was totally different from this moment in time. If the word decides to go back to that moment in time, then fine. But that's not how it's worked thus far.

So -- if it was my kid asking me about this, I'd say make your *own* shit, make it totally yours, make it funny, make it as original as you can without relying on anything else, and go full guns. Because, if I'm not mistaken, that's how the most successful people did it, too -- and no matter what age your in, *that* never changes.

Johnny Walker said...

I think everyone (but Hollywood executives) agree: If you don't think you can do better, then you shouldn't be remaking it.

ScottyB said...

Someone brought up 'Sgt. Bilko'. I've always couldn't stand that show, but I sat the an episode on Me-Tv the other day (the "Arrivederci" one). It was bugging me for, like ever, but it finally dawned on me where the voice of Yogi Bear came from. Sgt. Bilko/Phil Silvers

I probably need to get examined for how slow and retarded I might be, but there ya go.

John said...

John -
Friday question for you. We are starting to see the networks ordering pilots. It's always surprising to see them continuing to go to the same writer-producers who created this and last seasons' flops.

What does that signify? An unwillingness to take a chance on new voices? Or is it a recognition that some of those shows failed because of the process they undergo, with the networks tinkering and tinkering some more?

It just seems odd that they expect some of these people to suddenly lay golden eggs after so many fails (and especially when some of the pilot concept see so stale and lame).

ScottyB said...

@Johnny Walker: But if there's busloads of money in it for everyone even if the thing blows (yes, I'm pretty sure shit makes money somehow someday someway somewhere, or else it wouldn't see the light of day in the firs place), the studio/network will certainly bless it.

You bet your ass there are people in mud huts in Africa right now laughing their ass off at 'The Flintstones Movie'.

Mick Funz said...

The question regarding the attractive appearance of today's TV comedian actors . . . if you check out the chat world regarding CHEERS, there are A LOT of younger people who seem to be stupified that Rhea Perlman was ever cast on a TV show & that she is also unbearable & a real ugly-in-spirit character. Rhea is a bit of a throw back to a Bowery Boy type era comedy which seems to go right over the head of post-Friends sitcom fans.

Carl said...

My dad interviewed Phil Silvers once. Silvers told my dad that he was the guy who put up the money for Sherwood Schwartz's series "Gilligan's Island," and that it was the best investment he'd ever made. Silvers said he hadn't made a dime off his own show in years, but the money from "Gilligan" just kept rolling in.

Markus said...

As for the beauty factor of FRIENDS, funny you should mention it since I just happened to have watched a few episodes. I'm one of those (few) people who never "got" the show in its heyday - I wouldn't say I hated it, but I certainly never was a fan. Seeing it now, it strikes me how much of it is extremely limited and formulaic. It's very much based on the "beautiful people" aspect and has more in common with soap operas than with comedy. It is "funny" in the same way that porn is "sexy" (i.e. it's not) - nothing ever sneaks up on you, you see everything coming, there is really almost no subtlety at all. As much as porn says "okay, they're naked now and doing it, so you dear viewer are expected to be excited NOW", FRIENDS goes "oh, the laugh track is playing so there's a joke right HERE no matter how predictable", and the only way I can consider that kind of lame pun lazy writing even remotely funny is when I turn off my brain. I do think it's really not a particularly good sitcom at all. In a different time than the 90s, it sure wouldn't have been able to get turned into the "thing" that it was.

Bill O said...

Silvers' catchphrase is at the end of every Gilligan: A Gladysya Prod. By some reports Gilligan has exceeded Lucy in syndication. Pretty good for a show that even its own network tried to kill.

Todd W. said...

I mentioned to my boss that you did Friday questions today. So therefor I won't be coming to work tomorrow....Thanks for the long weekend Ken.

Luke said...

Hey Ken. Sorry if you've already answered this one but can you please tell us anything about the proposed CHEERS spin-off about Coach's early days?

Thanks!

ScottyB said...

@Markus: To a great extent, I think it depends which season of 'Friends' you're watching, and in which season you consider to be its heyday.

I'm pretty convinced that after, like Season 4, when the actors got all full of themselves and they discovered leverage and the whole dynamic of the show and the writing changed, even the people who "got it" at the beginning started to not "get it". Or even keep caring.

Just my $.002 there.

DonBoy said...

On the other hand, Wilder himself remade The Front Page. On the other hand, he had Matthau and Lemmon so why not?

Hamid said...

17 years later, I still haven't worked out why Gus Van Sant felt compelled to remake Psycho. In the history of unnecessary remakes, that ranks top.

Weekend at Bernie's, on the other hand, is ripe for a remake.

cd1515 said...

Ken, are there any examples of network executives interfering and actually helping a show or making it better?

Bill O said...

I'm not Ken, but I believe NBC (Warren Littlefield?) added a woman to the Seinfeld cast. And Fox vetoed Dr. House being in a wheelchair, nor wear a white lab coat. And further back while NBC passed on the original Star Trek pilot, The Cage, it did commission a second pilot, keeping only Spock, about whom the network was very nervous, and recast with the actors we know.

Cap'n Bob said...

Yogi Bear was not voiced by Phil Silvers. Dawes Butler, perhaps?

Cap'n Bob said...

Correction, Daws Butler. And it was him. The character Top Cat was based on Bilko.

Bill O said...

And Top Cat used Phil Silvers'"Top Banana" as his name. Think it was voiced by Marvin Kaplan. And one of the cats was voiced by, well, Doberman.

Benjamin said...

Yogi Bear's voice and mannerisms were lifted from Art Carney as Ed Norton. As someone else said, Hanna-Barbera turned Phil Silvers and Bilko into Top Cat.

Did Hanna-Barbera create a character or series at all back then that wasn't a swipe?

Anonymous said...

Unky they did remake Ben Hur. It's called Gladiator.

Curt Alliaume said...

>>Yogi Bear's voice and mannerisms were lifted from Art Carney as Ed Norton. As someone else said, Hanna-Barbera turned Phil Silvers and Bilko into Top Cat.

>>Did Hanna-Barbera create a character or series at all back then that wasn't a swipe?

Not many. The Flintstones, of course, was a ripoff of The Honeymooners. The Jetsons flipped the prehistoric times concept by moving them into the future, using a more generic nuclear sitcom family (to me it seemed like the original cast of The Donna Reed Show). Scooby Doo used the cast of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis as its starting point. Wacky Races was swiped from The Great Race, with a pinch of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines thrown in.

About the only one I can think of that seems a true original was Jonny Quest.

Mike Schryver said...

I never got FRIENDS, either. Seemed entirely formulaic, and not very funny. Just like many, many current shows.

I was talking with a friend about the question of attractive people having trouble being seen as funny, and brought up Shelley Long on CHEERS as an exception to that. I was surprised when my friend said she isn't that attractive. (I'm gay, so my opinion might be suspect.) Is he right?

Gregg said...

The Jetsons flipped the prehistoric times concept by moving them into the future, using a more generic nuclear sitcom family (to me it seemed like the original cast of The Donna Reed Show).

Aside from The Flintstones, The Jetsons was also "inspired" by Blondie. That's why they hired Penny Singleton to voice Jane Jetson. She'd played Blondie in the Columbia film series.

Scooby Doo used the cast of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis as its starting point.

Scooby Doo also drew on vintage "old dark house" thrillers like The Cat and the Canary, where apparently supernatural menaces invariably turned out to be very human.

About the only one I can think of that seems a true original was Jonny Quest.

Actually, Jonny Quest began life as an animated "reboot" of a 1940s children's radio serial titled Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. Hanna-Barbera couldn't get permission to use the Jack Armstrong characters, though, so H-B altered the show just enough to avoid legal action and proceeded with it as Jonny Quest.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

As far as a M*A*S*H* reboot goes, there was sort-of-one called China Beach. But, it could work if the setting was Afghanistan, or as we are now seeing in the news Ukraine.

Ralph C. said...

Oh, Shelley Long is very attractive, I would say, and very funny. Sarah Silverman, too, and she plays guitar and sings!! I guess beauty is in... Well, we know.

Diane D. said...

Mike Schryver
I have certainly read and heard a lot of men say they think Shelley Long is gorgeous and sexy, especially if they have seen her in "Night Shift". There is a scene in that movie that seems to drive men crazy (though I'll never understand why). She is wearing a pair of knee socks, bikini underwear, and a tank top. Even her TV ex-husband from Modern Family mentioned it in an interview--said he had a serious crush on her because of that scene!?
As a straight woman, I think she is beautiful in Cheers. She was also hilarious so she is an exception to the rule of attractive people not being funny (if there is such a rule). Kirstie Alley was also beautiful and funny, not to mention the men--Ted Danson, Woody Harrelson.

Dodgerdawg said...

Ah, Diane D., there's a list we should make: beautiful and funny MEN! Yes to Ted D. and Woody H. David Hyde Pierce and Hawkeye Pierce (I guess he has a real name too). Who else?

Doug said...

I understand why nobody in Hollywood is suicidal enough to remake MASH; but has there ever been an attempt to remake Richard Brooks's Battle Circus? Same war, same setting, and it explores similar themes. Its also doesn't seem to be widely known despite having Bogart as its star.

Al in Portland said...

Can a Ben Hur remake top SCTV's version?

emily said...

I'm pretty sure Brian Williams was the creator of SGT. BILKO.

Canda said...

Ben Hur was originally a silent feature, released in 1925, starring Francis X. Bushman, and directed by Fred Nibo. It's quite good.

In the 1970s I attended a screening of it at SUNY Purchase, and in the audience was an old gentleman who had been on the crew of the original film in Italy. He said, "When Ben Hur is in the prison cell, and a hand reaches through the door and hands him a piece of bread, that's MY hand." Needless to say, when the moment appeared on the screen, the crowd gave it a thunderous ovation.

Mike said...

Diane D. and Mike S.--

Speaking as a straight man and longtime Cheers fan, yes, I've always found Shelley Long pretty attractive. She looked particularly great in Season 2. Some of those sweaters she wore....

And having just seen Night Shift for the first time a couple weeks ago (an underrated movie! Also had no idea it's where the song "That's What Friends Are For" comes from), I remember well that scene you're talking about Diane. And yeah, she did look pretty incredible in that scene.

VP81955 said...

Unkystan said...
Wilder is correct. Remake films that were bad but with potential (but change the title). Perfect example is "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" which is a classic compared to the unwatchable "Bedtime Story" (Brando in the Steve Martin part is embarrassing). Now they're remaking "Ben-Hur." Seriously???


Hey, it's easier than thinking.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I know it's only Thursday but I already miss your Friday night appearances on TCM, Ken. Any chance you could take over the second chair on "The Essentials"? I'm tired of waiting for Drew Barrymore to say anything insightful or even interesting about the films. Mr. Osborne seems to be enchanted by her, but I don't think she'd have a career if her name was Drew Smith.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...



Let's not forget one of the original beautiful but funny TV ladies: MTM on Dick Van Dyke and her own series.

I'm not sure why so many people here think that FRIENDS is not funny.
To me, much of the series is hysterical. Though after Chandler and Monica got together it kind of jumped the shark. The writing and the cast were terrific.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite certain that this whole Afghanistan/Iraq War has lasted longer than the Korean war. Couldn't they do a complete reboot of MASH? Then again, how many people are up for a comedy about this whole mess?

Jon88 said...

I think you misread Belle's question, and since I'm hoping there might be some fun stories from it, I'll paraphrase: Do you know of scripts that couldn't be produced "for practical reasons"?

VP81955 said...

For Buttermilk Sky: Drew Barrymore's last go-round on "The Essentials" was last Saturday, appropriately, the great early screwball "Twentieth Century," starring her grandfather and Carole Lombard. (A revival of the musical adaptation of the play and movie, "On The Twentieth Century," will soon run on Broadway, with Kristin Chenoweth in the Lombard Lily Garland role that Madeline Kahn did in the original '70s musical.)

This week, two-time Oscar winner Sally Field becomes Robert Osborne's partner, and with her experience in the industry, I await her insights.

Diane D. said...

Mike, I agree with you about "Night Shift"---very underrated movie. Michael Keaton (as well as Shelley Long) was incredible in it. I read that he ad libbed much of his hilarious ranting. The chemistry among the 3 stars was so great I always wondered why they didn't do anything else together.

BB Pendant, agree about MTM; can't believe I forgot her.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

One of the co-creators of HOGAN'S HEROES recently bought back the rights to the show and is doing a movie remake of the show, so I guess it is possible to remake period-specific works of fiction..

But why would anyone want a M*A*S*H remake? Remakes today absolutely tarnish the credibilty of the original source work... is this what we really want? Of course, a friend of mine and I (both of us are huge M*A*S*Hers) have made a pact that if they ever do a remake of it, we would do whatever to it takes to somehow get involved with the project to ensure thatit stays true to and remains respectful to the show.

RyderDA said...

Okay, I'll bite. If you & your partner did a re-write of JEWEL over a weekend, (a) why aren't you credited, and (b) what did Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner do (obviously I now nothing about WGA rules)?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@ RyderDA. I can't actually speak for Ken in regards of what he and David Isaacs did regard that screenplay, however, I know that that sort of thing has happened before: H.R. PUFNSTUF had only two writers who wrote all 17 episodes - Lennie Weinrib and Paul Harrison - but they wrote so much into each script, that they were the size of movie scripts, as opposed to half-hour Saturday Morning scripts. Producer Si Rose (McHALE'S NAVY, BACHELOR FATHER, MY THREE SONS, DUKES OF HAZZARD, etc.) was brought in to help Sid & Marty Krofft with their budget problems, and when he looked the scripts, he rewrote all of them to condense them down to half-hour stories, yet he didn't receive a writing credit for doing so (he was credited as executive producer).

Scott said...

I don't think the cast of FRIENDS is a group of 6 stereotypically beautiful actors. Three are traditionally attractive, and three are quirkier looking.

Richard Rothrock said...

"Gladiator" is not a remake of "Ben-Hur". It is pretty much a remake of "The Fall of the Roman Empire" (1964) but very few people have ever seen "Fall".

Daniel Brewster said...

Hi Ken,

I get a real buzz whenever you take questions, especially on Frasier and M*A*S*H. Thank you.

I've written a plot outline for a one-off M*A*S*H reunion special, with a story that stands on its own feet and, miraculously, isn't cringe-worthy. Would it be a waste of time to send it to you for your consideration?

Chances are slim, but I have to try :)
Daniel.