Back from Vegas and I may be broke, but I can still answer some Friday Questions. What’s yours?
Carson Clark asks:
I've been listening to some of the old radio show comedies on the Sirius/XM classics channel. I was wondering what it would be like for you to write a radio comedy script? Would it be easier, more challenging? On a side note, I can believe audiences piled into a theater to watch actors talk into microphones.
In a sense I have written radio plays. Director Jim Burrows always contended that CHEERS episodes were just radio plays. Many times during CHEERS filmings Jim would turn away from the stage and just listen. The cadence and the pace and the words were more important than camera angles.
I agree with him. Today it’s more about style – mockumentaries or shotgun dialogue or naturalistic dialogue so naturalistic that everyone is mumbling.
CHEERS was about characters and attitudes and emotions. To appreciate the show you had to listen. I don’t know if it was easier or harder, but it was more rewarding writing something knowing the writing was the most important factor.
As an experiment, put on a first season episode of CHEERS and turn away from the flatscreen. Just listen. See what you think.
To your other question – I believe people came to watch radio shows for the same reason they come to watch TV shows – to see how they’re made. There’s something special about being on the inside. For audiences used to listening to radio shows it must’ve been a hoot to see how they were done, to watch the guy insert sound effects, to see their beloved actors in person, and for radio there was the added attraction that the shows were going out over the air live. Believe it or not, I’m too young to have ever been in a studio audience of a radio show, but I would have loved it I’m sure.
Friday question: Any thoughts on Antenna TV bringing Johnny Carson back?
But what I hope does hold up are the interviews. Carson was an absolute master at those. He got a lot out of his guests, he really listened, and he was incredibly quick with a quip.
Plus, he got good guests. So it will be fun to see some of those.
I suppose there is also the nostalgic value of being able to watch an entire old TONIGHT SHOW and not just clips. It’s like taking the Way-Back Machine for a spin. For me, two or three spins should be enough.
scott has a Friday question regarding sitcom sets:
The interior courthouse set on The Andy Griffith Show is the only set I can recall where we get a 360 degree view of he interior. Were there others that you can recall?
Most single-camera sitcoms have sets that can be shot from any direction. The Swamp on MASH for example.
But what about multi-camera shows, filmed before a studio audience? You’d never expect to see them have a fourth wall.
Well, again I refer you to the first year of CHEERS. In a few episodes there is a fourth wall. You see the other side of the bar. We filmed those angles after the audience had left. The only reason we stopped was because it took too long to bring in the fourth wall, move the cameras into the set, and shoot it. The added depth wasn’t worth the time and effort. But check it out, although not when you’re just listening to an episode.
And finally, from Alex:
Speaking about sets, Ken, I have a question. When a show filmed in front of an audience requires a major change to a set, how is that handled? For example, there is an Everybody Loves Raymond episode where Marie backs the car through Raymond's living room wall. Later in the episode, the wall is repaired again. And there's a Cheers episode where Rebecca turns the pool room into a chili parlor. The pool room is wrecked when the pressure cooker Rebecca is using explodes. When major changes have to made to a set, are those scenes filmed separately from the rest of the episode, or does the audience just sit and wait for the crew to make the necessary changes?
Those scenes are pre-shot, usually the day before. They’re then quickly edited and shown to the studio audience the next night.
However, there have been exceptions. If the big stunt happens at the end of the show sometimes they will film it in front of the audience.
For example, there was a CHEERS episode David Isaacs and I wrote where Cliff was distraught that his mother was selling the family home. So he chained himself to a beam in the living room. Norm eventually talks him into giving up, and saws through the beam. The moment they exit the house the second floor collapses and everything crashes to the ground including a toilet. With the great Jim Burrows directing, we did that live for the audience. Needless to say, they went nuts.
On ALMOST PERFECT I directed a big pie fight and we did that in front of the audience too. Although, to cover my ass, I also pre-filmed it the night before. It took about twelve hours to clean up. I’d hate to be the warm up guy who had to fill twelve hours.