Friday, June 09, 2017

Friday Questions

Hello from New York. Here are this week’s Friday Questions:

Erin K starts us off:

Re-watching CHEERS and always curious about the Sam and Rebecca dynamic. It seems the writers spent three season (6,7,8) ramping up their chemistry. Then any potential created for a relationship was quickly dropped in season 9. Was this because the writers decided not to Go There after already taking the relationship route with Sam and Diane? I've always wondered about that and would love to hear your thoughts!

The plan was never to “go there.” From day one the mandate was to make their relationship different from Sam & Diane. But we also needed some fun dynamics between them. So Sam was trying to get into her pants one season, which put her off, and one season she was hoping to get pregnant, which scared him off. We also gave her other love interests. In short, Sam & Rebecca were never going to hook up. I’ve always felt that was the right choice. Do you?

Not a robot... maybe a replicant, however asks:

Having had your toes in so many ponds, you may actually have sufficient background to answer this.... Why does it seem like, the longer they work together, a sitcom cast tends to become a family, but rock band members grow to hate and sue each other. And how does a professional sports team stack up on that continuum?

Never been in a rock band (I was waaaay too uncool) so this is pure speculation: There is usually a showrunner of a hit sitcom who is the creative voice of the show. I’m guessing that in rock bands there are many instances where there is no clear-cut leader. So as they grow as musicians they might clash over the band’s direction. Or they fight over a woman. I’m sure that happens a lot.

Band members are also working in closer quarters – forced together for months on tours. Put any four people together for three months of one-night-stands and you’ll have gunfire.

Many times actors in successful sitcoms feel taken care of. The scripts are good, the adulation is intoxicating, the money is great, and many actors and crew members have been on enough bad series under horrible working conditions to appreciate just how good they have it now.

With ballplayers there is definitely a camaraderie that develops – usually through winning. And that chemistry is a factor.

On the other hand, if ever there was a team where just about everybody on it hated everybody else on it, it was the Oakland A’s teams of the ‘70s. And yet they were a dynasty, winning numerous championships.  Probably their one bond was they all hated owner Charlie Finley.

The Bumble Bee Pendant queries:

Friday question based on the LAST CHEERS podcast:

You mentioned the stitches together of scenes/lines for the last few seasons that would produce a well-shown TV episode.

Is there any written Isaacs-Levine script (for ANY show) which was recreated into an episode that made you think, "Wow! I don't know what they (crew/cast/etc) did but they turned that into a thing of beauty beyond our wildest expectations".

Yes, the “Point of View” episode of MASH we wrote. That’s the one seen through the eyes of the patient (season 7 if you want to run to Netflix to watch it).

Charles Dubin was the director and did a magnificent job. Remember also, that this was before the age of lightweight compact steady-cams. He had to schlep around big honking movie cameras.  The cast rose to the occasion as well.   And it wasn't easy.  Actors are taught to never look at the camera.  This time they had to and play to it as if it were a person.  They all crushed it.

Honestly, when we wrote POV I didn’t know what to expect. His final product exceeded my wildest dreams. If anyone deserved an Emmy for that show – even more than us – it was Charlie Dubin. (We all were nominated and lost.)

And finally, from Jay:

With the current "Twin Peaks" revival, can you think back to the spring of 1990 when that show was up against "Cheers" for a hot minute on Thursday nights...was there any concern within the "Cheers" offices about this trendy, mega-hyped show going up against your still-hilarious-but-it's-still-an-eight-year-old show? Of course in the end, it only lasted six weeks against "Cheers", was moved to Saturday night the following fall, and died a quick death following the resolution to the Who Killed Laura Palmer mystery, but still...for a few weeks in April 1990 (and especially after the boffo ratings "Twin Peaks's" pilot received), I seem to remember a sense of "Cheers" possibly having met its match ratings-wise.

No. We weren’t worried. We were a well-established hit by then, TWIN PEAKS had peaked, and there was enough audience on Thursday nights to support both.  But no one was allowed in the studio audience for filmings of CHEERS if they had a log. 

After Laura Palmer’s murder was uh… solved, the show had trouble finding its way creatively and the ratings dropped precipitously. We weathered the storm. 

What’s your Friday Question?


Gazzoo said...

Netflix stopped streaming MASH a long time ago....

Chris G said...

I didn't mind that Sam and Rebecca never got together as a couple, but the let's-have-a-baby story arc really felt like it came out of nowhere, then ended suddenly and abruptly and was never mentioned again. Was there more to the decision to do that storyline or to drop it or both, beyond trying to find something new to do with Sam and Rebecca?

Jim S said...


New Friday question. I've read how writers mine their lives for material. Is there a protocol when said comedy vein includes another person.

I mean if "John Smith the writer" got drunk at the prom and threw up in the punch bowl when he was young, I can see how that's fair game.

But what if John threw up on his date Jane Doe, ruined a night she was looking forward to and humiliated her in front of her friends. Is it kosher for John to use that story 20 years later? Does he ask Jane for permission?

This question came to me after reading an interview with a writer about how she used her son's quirks to define a character she created. If I were the son, I'd be pissed that mom outed my "funny" quirks to millions of people on national TV.


Stephen Robinson said...

I like that Sam and Rebecca slowly over time became friends in way that Sam and Diane never were. They both seemed to grow and benefit from the relationship, whereas the implication was that Sam and Diane were toxic together.

Andrew said...

@ Jim S,
I remember watching some interviews with the writers of Seinfeld, and I always winced when they said that one of Jerry's girlfriends was based on the writer's own bad dating experience. (The woman whose stomach "talked," for example.) I would have hated being exposed like that, although thankfully they didn't name names. But the ex-girlfriend (or ex-date) would have probably known who the writer was talking about.

Stoney said...

To Not a robot... maybe a replicant; if you haven't seen it, I'd highly recommend the film "Almost Famous" for an understanding of bands. The scene involving t-shirts is very telling about egos!

Ken, did you ever get to play comedy records on the radio? Long ago, I'd stay awake nights because a local station had a comedy segment on at 10:30. The Bickersons, Bob and Ray, Hudson and Landry, Bill Cosby, George Carlin and pre-series Bob Newhart. Those were the good old days!

Curt Alliaume said...

>>Gazzoo said...

>>Netflix stopped streaming MASH a long time ago....

Seconded. (Don't worry, Cheers and Frasier are still there. It came and went pretty quick.

I don't think the series M*A*S*H streams anywhere now (the movie is available on Amazon). When I Googled "mash streaming," the top hit is a spectacularly mistaken "What's on Netflix" page that claims CBS is shifting programming to its All Access site, so it's probably there.

Unknown said...

I agree with Chris G. The “have a baby story arc” in Season 10 just didn't fit. It also seemed to weigh down the overall quality of the episodes it encompassed. Above all else, it made both Sam and Rebecca seem like sad characters. The magic of Cheers was it made you wish you could pull up a stool and hang out in the bar, but as that story arc unfolded, there seemed to be a pall of unhappiness cast over the show. Once the arc was closed, the fun returned, and some of the best episodes of the series (An Old-Fashioned Wedding, Heeeeeere's... Cliffy! and One Hugs, the Other Doesn't) ended the season.

VincentS said...

Yes, I think you guys made the right call re: Sam and Rebecca. To get them together would have invited comparisons to Sam and Diane. And I've never heard before that the 1970s Oakland A's hated each other. I guess that's why they all became free agents. I would imagine being made to wear those green uniforms didn't improve their moral, either.

Keith from Champlin said...

I've heard you and many others say this is a golden age of television drama. What are the factors that have led to this golden age and conversely why is it not a golden age of comedy?

Gazzoo said...

Though M*A*S*H isn't streaming anywhere now, if you get SundanceTV, there are some episodes in their "On Demand" section...

Haze said...

Yeah, Sam and Rebecca were non-starters in a romantic sense, after the all-consuming epic tale of Sam and Diane (which I LOVED, btw). Better as friends/foils.

Mike Moody said...

My problem with the Sam and Rebecca dynamic is it felt like the writers had to make Sam dumber in order for many of the gags in the Rebecca episodes to work and I thought that was a bit of a come down for a character who manged to hold his own with Frasier and Diane in the first five seasons. It never really sat right with me.

I do wonder though, on "Cry Harder," was there a decision to bring them together and then that was abandoned over the summer? In that episode, it felt like Rebecca had had an epiphany which then went out the window without ever really impacting her going forward.

MikeKPa. said...

Just finished "Heaven and Hell," the autobiography of former Eagles' guitarist Don Felder. Shows how much money can corrupt a band. Don Henley and Glenn Frey were consumed with controlling the band in every aspect. Granted they wrote the majority of the hits, but they alienated and drove away all of the founding members. It got to the point that on the road they only saw each other at the venue at which they were performing. They were the soundtrack of my high school and college years. I saw them in 1976 and loved them (Boz Scaggs was the opening act). I saw them on their reunion tour and the performance lacked any emotion at all. It was apparent then, as it is now, the late Frey and Henley were only interested in cashing in.

Mike said...

CBS has no ownership in M*A*S*H. It's owned by Fox. It is currently in heavy rotation (10 episodes/week) on MeTV.

Sam and Rebecca were better off as friends; they didn't have the wonderful romantic chemistry that Sam and Diane had. AndI believe NBC ordered Cheers to drop the Sam/Rebecca/parenthood storyline.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Andrew: you might enjoy this commentary by a woman who briefly dated Aaron Sorkin and found their brief history presented on THE NEWSROOM:


Frank Kuchno said...

NOT a comedy.
BUT.....Carl Betz. "Judd for the the Defense".
GREAT underrated actor and show???

Ralph C. said...

Good call on "Almost Famous". An excellent, underrated movie, I think.

Ralph C. said...

Ken, of course, is correct about those Oakland A's teams of the early 1970s. Reggie Jackson, the slugging right fielder of those championship A's teams, later brought his drink-stirring straw over to another team where there were teammates disagreements amongst themselves and the owner: the Bronx Zoo New York Yankees of the late 1970s/early 1980s. Sparky Lyle chronicled this in "The Bronx Zoo" and a later book "The Bronx Is Burning".

Brian said...

I agree, Sam and Rebecca as friends was better than them hooking up, especially a long time relationship (maybe an accidental one night stand, but I'm glad they never even did that.

POV was a good episode.

Here's a Friday question - Did you like or dislike the "tone" that the later years of Mash took on. They were more serious and delved into Hawkeye's mental state. Lots of visits form Sydney. For example, in one episode he dreams that he's in a boat in a river full of severed arms. That episode especially bothered me.

Andrew said...

Thank you, Wendy! Wow, lesson learned.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I forgot to thank you, Ken, for answering my question.

Obviously, Writers are usually the unsung hero of a show/film/play/commercial, unless the writer is also the director or a celebrity. But there are definitely cases where director and other cast (particularly costume and set designers and cameramen) make ever bit of difference between a good show and a great one.

Colby said...

Hope I can still get a Friday question in, but my girlfriend and I have been watching Cheers on Netflix. There is an episode from the second season that is giving us fits. The episode is titled, "Fortune and Men's Weight." At the end of the episode, Sam and Diane break up. Yet, in the subsequent episodes they appear back together. What's the deal? That seems like a big character development to just drop in the next episode.