Here are Good Friday Questions.
Dan Ball starts us off:
After your epic tirade against ONE BIG HAPPY, how pissed and/or disillusioned are you that TV comedies haven't evolved more in the years since MASH, CHEERS, and FRASIER? I know a lot of show business is about getting lucky with the right audience among other things, but do you get frustrated that making good TV is just a vicious cycle of discovery and ignorance instead of just steady evolution--like science or technology? We know you get bummed as a viewer, but as a person who's contributed to the betterment/evolution of good TV, what are your thoughts on this matter? How do you explain/reconcile it?
I wouldn’t say I’m pissed or disillusioned; just annoyed maybe.
In general I don’t think art evolves. It advances in spurts. There are periods of progress when the planets come together and then there are dry spells. TV comedy had a golden age in the ‘70s and by the early ‘80s people were predicting that sitcoms were dead.
But contributing to today’s comedy malaise, I think there are several factors. Broadcasters aren’t making television shows anymore. Mega corporations are. Same with the film industry. Gone are showmen like Darryl F. Zanuck and Louis B. Mayer, replaced by Fortune 500 companies only concerned with the bottom line. I get no sense of love and pride for making good entertainment.
There’s no one at the top saying, “We can’t put that shit on the air. We’re the National Broadcasting Company for Godsakes!”
Also, networks now chase young audiences exclusively. Those classic “Must-See-TV” shows probably wouldn’t get on the air today. Certainly not with casts all in their 30s or older. And certainly not with sophisticated storylines and references to literature instead of pop culture.
I also worry that many of today’s showrunners aren’t experienced enough. I don’t think they receive the mentoring that we fortunately did and at times it feels like they’re trying to reinvent the wheel. I certainly believe today’s young writers are the ones who should be writing most of the network pilots, but they need to be ready.
At some point this will change and comedy will have a renaissance. I just hope it’s soon.
I attended the CHEERS filming of "Dinner at Eight-ish," and when they finished they announced that audience members were welcome to stay while they filmed scenes from an episode they started the prior week. We were shown a rough cut of the first half of "One Last Fling," and then they filmed the remaining scenes. Was this a common practice? I figured they were trying to shorten the production schedule and saw the logic in it as those scenes were all bar/office with no costume changes and went pretty quickly.
There are several reasons for doing that. Sometimes we went back and re-shot scenes that didn’t work. Other times we tried to get ahead.
In season three Shelley Long was pregnant. To avoid having Diane pregnant we planned that she and Frasier go off to Europe for vacation. We filmed those scenes before Shelley was showing. Generally, we did one a week on top of the episode we shot. Once Shelley started showing we inserted them into the episodes to keep her in the show.
On TAXI one season they did a two-parter where the cab company went under and each cabbie had to get another job. Those individual scenes were filmed after shows. It saved the production company two full weeks. And were two great episodes.
It always strikes me as lame when on a TV show, there's about 5-6 people standing there when one says to another "we need to talk privately," and then they step 18 inches to the right where EVERYONE COULD STILL EASILY HEAR THEM.
is that a blocking thing, like is it too hard to get those 2 people further away?
Ah, the dreaded “cone of silence” – a creative license staple of multi-camera shows. The sets aren’t very large and it takes too much time for people to cross into an office. So the compromise is taking someone off to the side. A smart director will stage it so that those five or six extras are not in the shot.
But this isn’t an exclusive convention to TV. I’ve seen this on the stage where the two actors step off a few steps and the other actors are still quite visible. But like I said, it’s creative license. Just like there always being parking spaces right in front of the building and window tables at restaurants.
And finally, a couple of quickies from Michael:
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?
Yep. Maybe include Eddie on FRASIER.
Especially interested if you think M*A*S*H could have survived the loss of Hot Lips?
Yes. Nothing against Loretta Swit, who was terrific, but you could find other nurses. Personally, I think the show sacrificed a lot of the fun of the character once she slept with Hawkeye. But that’s me.
What’s your Friday Question?