Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Questions

Look out! Friday Questions coming your way!

Andy Rose starts us off:

I've noticed that often actors who miss out on a starring role in a sitcom later get a big guest role on the same show. On Cheers, Fred Dryer (who lost the role of Sam) was on a few times as a friend of Sam's who hits on Diane, and Julia Duffy (who lost the role of Diane) had a guest appearance as a friend of Diane's who hits on Sam.

Is this because the producers are already familiar with these actors and genuinely think they'll be best for the guest role, or is there a deliberate effort to give them some work as a consolation for losing the main gig?

It’s because the Charles Brothers and Jimmy Burrows were impressed with both of them. I must say, I loved Julia Duffy. We wrote the episode in which she appeared (“Any Friend of Diane’s”) and she was HILARIOUS. I was thrilled when she got the gig on NEWHART several years later and was able to show the world on a weekly basis just how talented and funny she is.

Fred Dryer, I’ll be honest, I never got. Never liked him on CHEERS, always thought he was stiff, and not in a “serving the character” way but in an “actor just awkward” way.   That said, I loved him as a Los Angeles Ram.  But he didn't have to be funny. 

From Bill in Toronto:

Why doesn't a flailing network like NBC or Fox hire proven showrunners like the Charles Brothers or a somebody with some drama successes to greenlight its program schedule, rather than "execs"?

I don’t know many writers/showrunners who would want one of those jobs. Those are for corporate types. Most successful writers aren’t built for wearing a suit everyday, going to an office, reporting to a superior, negotiating all the politics, unrealistic expectations, and intrigue that goes with one of those jobs.

There have been a few cases of former writers becoming network executives. One, off the top of my head, was Barbara Corday (one of the creators of CAGNEY & LACEY), who did a great job at ABC. But most writers aren’t interested. And truthfully, I don’t think networks are that interested in hiring someone not from their ranks.

As for me (not that you asked)? I wouldn’t want one of those gigs. Unless I had complete autonomy to develop shows the way I wanted, make the ultimate selection on which shows got picked up, and had final say on time slots I am not remotely interested. And nobody in their right mind would agree to those demands so it’s a moot point.

Carson Clark asks:

You have spoken before about NBC wanting Cheers to switch to videotape to save money. This got me to thinking, what exactly determined whether shows in the 70s thru the 90s would be shot on film or video? The film shows have certainly held up better since it's possible to go back now and get an HD print off of them as opposed to the video shows that will forever be stuck in 480 resolution.

Financial considerations for one. Taped shows were cheaper. After that it was creative choice. Some production companies like MTM thought the look of film was richer and more attractive. Other companies like Norm Lear’s preferred tape because he wanted his shows to feel more like plays than little movies. Taped shows are more in your face.

I always preferred the look of film, but lots of my favorite shows are on tape.  More important than format is the writing and casting. 

Ismo Rauvola opens up an old wound.

In episode 10 of your podcast you talk about how the premise of Almost Perfect is shattered by Les Moonves kicking out the boyfriend. Do these guys, producers, bosses, whoever, non-writers ever take the blame for fouling up a potential hit show? You said somewhere that it's always the writers' fault, but have the bosses ever owned up to having made a mistake?

In this case, yes. I have to say, I like Les Moonves very much. I may not agree with all of his decisions, but he’s a straight-up guy, you know where you stand, and he makes himself accessible.

In this case, I said to him we’d agree to write out the boyfriend (it’s not like we had a choice) but we weren’t going to lie to the actor and say it was our decision. He said fine, which is another thing I admire about him – he’s willing to take responsibility for his decisions. Oh, for the days when our country had leaders like that.

What’s your Friday Question?

35 comments :

Kirk Chritton said...

Fred Dryer's character on Cheers is responsible for one of my favorite jokes from the entire series, but he's the butt of the joke. In his first episode, he's recording a news story about Sam. When the news camera first goes on, he shifts into a fake persona with a stilted voice, and Diane immediately mimics him, "What's WRONG with his VOICE!" The line, delivery, and timing kill me every time. Kudos to all involved.

Unknown said...

I have read that certain movie directors often try to use the same choreographers, cinematographers, editors, casting directors, sound people, and other crew for each movie. Do television showrunners try to hire the same technical crews for their projects? Does the showrunner hire folks like camera operators or do they have an underling to staff those types of positions? Or do the technical teams come with the studio?

Kathryn a librarian

AAllen said...

Later in the film era, most filmed shows were edited on 480. This looked sharper on TV because they were editing from the original negative, but this also locked in a lower resolution, unless they saved the original film elements and could rebuild the show from that. The blocky video end credits are a giveaway to this technique.

Daniel said...

Regarding your comment about the circumstances under which you might take a network executive position: Coming from a creative background do you think you might be tempted to interfere too much with the development of the shows since you've been in the trenches and know how things work and can offer up valuable experience? Or would you trust the creative teams to run things their way, even if you may personally disagree with what they're doing?

Wally said...

Interesting that HBO's "Crashing" is shot on film per Judd Apatow's 'mandate' (for lack of a better word, but he has the pull to get that done as a creative choice)

Frank Beans said...

The question about film versus tape in 70s-80s sticoms raises a question from me:

Did anybody back in those days even remotely anticipate an era of full seasons of the shows being re-released on something like the (not yet existent) DVD? Or did they just assume that at best they would get a few years of syndication, then adios.

It does seem like videotaped shows possibly looked better in the moment on the lower resolution televisions of the era, but as the original comment pointed out, film stands the test of time better.

benson said...

Oh, and one more thing...

Maybe the best television programmer ever was Rev. Jim Ignatowski. Saved Martin Short's job.

VP81955 said...

Regarding showrunners as TV executives... The closest analogy I can come up with during film's "golden age" came at mid-thirties Paramount, when Ernst Lubitsch (my all-time favorite director) was named head of production for about a year, when the studio was struggling. He made some notable decisions, including giving the lady in my avatar her first good vehicle at her home studio, "Hands Across the Table." (Lombard's best earlier films -- "Twentieth Century" and "Virtue" -- both were made at Columbia, as Harry Cohn, who got along well with Carole, had a better appreciation of her talents than Paramount did.) Lubitsch tired of the executive life, and in 1936 returned to directing.

Here's something that may be of interest to my fellow writers, particularly those more interested in features than TV: At 3:30 p.m. tomorrow, the Santa Monica Public Library is having a program, "The Bechdel Test, a Women in Film Discussion." This will especially be helpful to those writers seeking to create vivid, non-stereotyped female roles. Learn more at https://newsroom.smgov.net/2017/03/16/santa-monica-public-library-presents-the-bechdel-test-a-women-in-film-discussion.

Mork said...

I think Ken's touched on this here before (or maybe not...memory is a stupid thing), but "WKRP in Cincinnati" was the rare MTM project which shot on videotape instead of film. The original plan was to film the show, but creator Hugh Wilson found a loophole in the ASCAP licensing that would allow him to afford using real music (instead of cheap generic production music) if the show were shot on videotape. Great for the time, but after the show went out of production, the licensing costs were what kept the show out of syndication and off of DVD for so long.

Unknown said...

I have read that certain movie directors often try to use the same choreographers, cinematographers, editors, casting directors, sound people, and other crew for each movie. Do television showrunners try to hire the same technical crews for their projects? Does the showrunner hire folks like camera operators or do they have an underling to staff those types of positions? Or do the technical teams come with the studio?

Kathryn a librarian

Arthur Mee said...

Budget is the primary reason that WKRP (an MTM show) was on videotape -- but not because video tape itself was cheaper. Rather, the music licensing agreements of the time were structured so that anything shot on video tape (usually a variety show, American Bandstand, that sort of thing) got a MUCH cheaper music licensing rate. The agreement was originally structured to accommodate variety and music programming, but WKRP wanted to be able to play lots of music, so they shot on videotape to take advantage of the deal.

Chris G said...

The HD versions of Cheers on Amazon Prime are amazing, and look much richer than the version Netflix is using. (I don't work for Amazon, I just find the comparison striking.)

AJ Ford said...

Hi Ken,

Re-posting in case you missed it.

This is excerpted from a Mary Tyler Moore Show blooper reel. The long intro from (I assume) the warm-up comedian is not on this clip but is part of the blooper reel if you search YouTube.

https://youtu.be/eUPWMBZIU0w

I am wondering if you have seen it live or heard about it. The performer is one of the producers, Stan Daniels. I am curious about him - was he also a writer for the show, did he come up with this or it performed by others.

I almost see Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner coming up with it.

Anyhow, though you would enjoy if you had not experienced it.

Clyde King said...

Hi Ken, On a completely unrelated subject, Our friend Mark's site has been "down" for days. Please let us know if he's alright and that the problem is technical.

Mike said...

First Evanier and now yesterday's comments section. It's bloody Putin, isn't it?

Loosehead said...

One example of program/film maker to studio exec, a kind of poacher turned gamekeeper transition, is David Puttnam, now in the House of Lords. He was only in charge at Columbia for a year and a bit, but it counts.

Pearl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Charles H Bryan said...

I liked your comment about Les Moonves, because it's true in many environments: It's great to work with a person who'll take the responsibility for bad news.

And I'll add one more voice of concern about Mark Evanier. While he usually posts a soup can when he's busy, this time it's a closed sign. If you could, let Mark know that we're concerned and hope that all is well. Thanks!

Max Clarke said...

Julia Duffy was quite good.

Her episode used two words which will never appear in another sitcom episode, "Ichthyology" and "Schopenhauer." The Cheers writers weren't afraid to assume the viewers were intelligent. They might not have known the meaning of either, but the viewers were smart enough to get the context.

Also, the episode has the unforgettable Russian poem recited by Julia, "Another Christmas Of Agony." Hilarious.

Carol said...

I just need to say I loved Julia Duffy as Ariel in Wizards and Warriors. And I wonder if I'm one of the 6 people who remember that show.

Andy Rose said...

I agree with you, Ken, about Fred Dryer. I obviously don't know the guy -- maybe it's just the characters he's played -- but even in interviews he doesn't seem to know how to be natural, instead of trying to "play himself."

@AAllen: Cheers is one of the many shows in the 80s and 90s that switched from film post-production to videotape post-production. On Cheers, the change happened at the start of Season 5.

Another show that switched mid-production was Quantum Leap, which was pretty easy to see because the digital effects were noticeably different than the optical film effects. The last network series I'm aware of that was post-produced entirely on film from pilot to cancellation was "Life Goes On," which ended in 1993.

These days, there are few people left who know how to use the old film techniques. When the producers of "Stranger Things" decided to make a title sequence that looked just like an early 80s show, they discovered it was cheaper and faster to do it digitally and then go through the painstaking process of manually imitating the grain, flutter, and color of old film stock rather than just shooting it on film to begin with.

Saburo said...

This Cheers-shot-on-videotape episode would have been a GREAT bonus feature on a DVD. Wouldn't be the same on a computer monitor...

Francis Dollarhyde said...

Ken, apologies if this question has been asked before, but I'm curious:

Some sitcoms had a primary director who would direct most episodes (e.g. Taxi and Cheers with James Burrows, Married...with Children with Linda Day and then Gerry Cohen, and Seinfeld with Tom Cherones and then Andy Ackerman) and other sitcoms (i.e. M*A*S*H) would have episodes farmed out to various directors, each of whom generally directed a couple or several episodes per season.

What are the reasons for some sitcoms having a primary director and others not having one? What are the pros and cons of each option, and which of the two, in your experience, do writers and actors generally prefer?

Johnny Walker said...

I feel the same way about Fred Dryer... I just don't get it. He was a low rent Ted Baxter to me. How could he have carried Cheers...? I assume he would have played Sam Malone differently to how he played Dave Richards? (And looking back, it's amazing that character came back so many times...)

Still very much enjoying the podcast. Your breaking in episode (the last one I've listened to) was great. I'd love to hear the story between The Jefferson's and M*A*S*H. It's fascinating to hear the setbacks along the way. They're usually the things they get edited out of breaking in stories. You and David had lots of reasons to feel discouraged in the beginning, but you didn't. You kept going with gusto, and I guess that's the difference between success and failure. I found it inspiring. Thanks!

Johnny Walker said...

@AJ Ford That looks like David Lloyd's magnificent and unmistakeable dome at the beginning of that clip.

Brian said...

Friday question: People seems to have two feelings about the song "American Pie". Either they love it or hate it. Which camp or you in? As a DJ, did you ever get sick of it? If that that song, any others you just couldn't stand? Loving the podcast by the way.

Doug said...

Carol, I remember Wizards and Warriors, but I have to admit that I don't remember Julia Duffy in it, but in my defense, I was eleven. The only actor I remember is Jeff Conaway, but I already knew who he was from Taxi reruns. My Dad let me watch some unusual programs when I was a kid.

Mike Schryver said...

"two words which will never appear in another sitcom episode, "Ichthyology"..."

Sorry to be that guy, but icthyology was mentioned in an episode of the British sitcom THE GOOD LIFE where Tom Good goes fishing. Maybe it shouldn't count because it's British, but still...

Allan V said...

Some time ago, you complained about how today's MLB starting pitchers generally don't pitch deep into games anymore. My question: why has that become so common in recent years? I remember when starting pitchers were routinely expected to go deep into games, or even finish them, as long as they weren't costing their team a decent chance to win. But now teams are obsessed with pitch counts and innings limits, and seem terrified of pushing them too far --- even in a playoff race. And why can't today's pitchers stay out of the operating room? Despite carrying a lighter workload than their counterparts from the past, they seem to break down more often. Have pitchers actually gotten more fragile, or is there some other explanation?

Storm said...

@Carol: Count this fangirl as one of The Six! How can I ever forget the gorgeous Duncan Regehr, serving Michael Des Barres Realness in squeaky black leather? YES, Lord! Yes.

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm

ThatGuy said...

Cheers truly was ahead of it's time. The parallels between that episode, "Woody gets an election" and the current US president's campaign & nomination are quite frankly terrifying.

Andrew said...

@ThatGuy: Funny, I just watched that episode! My favorite part is Frasier's exasperation with Woody's opponent and his platitudes. "But he didn't say anything!" Great to see Philip Baker Hall, pre-Mr. Bookman.

Another great political episode was "The Candidate" on Frasier. One of those episodes I still laugh at no matter how many times I've seen it. "Six years ago... I was abducted by aliens."


FRIDAY QUESTION for Ken: Do you have any guilty pleasures among sitcoms? Something like Alf, for example?

Ike Iszany said...

I was wondering if you've ever had an actor or a cast rebel against an episode or a story direction? If the actors have the say so to say a story isn't right for the show or that an actor can say that a certain episode just isn't right for their character?

MikeN said...

Les Moonves visited Castro, and surprisingly David Letterman called him out on it.
He even made a sketch. "I kill dissidents." "The Bette Midler show was my idea".
Letterman gave no details, but hinted that he was in trouble for it.

Kendall said...

Friday question: In a recent AV Club article on "Three's Company," they said that Larry Gelbart was one of the (many) writers who tried to adapt the original British sitcom for America. Any insight on that, like his take on the original material? Would it be completely unrecognizable from the "Three's Company" that we know?