Friday, December 29, 2017

Friday Questions

Last FQ’s of the year. What’s yours?

John H gets us started.

I also have a Friday question regarding Cheers. There haven't been any books written regarding the behind the scenes drama. I know much of what has been said about the challenges with Shelley Long had more to do with her dedication to her character, but I'm sure there are plenty of stories. The antics with Ted and Woody, Kelsey's wild lifestyle, etc. Have you ever considered writing a tell all Cheers book?

We used to joke in the writers room about one of the assistants writing such a book.

But here’s the God’s honest truth from someone who was there. There’s not much to tell. No behind-the-scenes scandals or blow-ups. No feuds. No juicy secrets. A couple of pranks and that was it. Even the Shelley stories are wildly exaggerated.  We had a happy set, there was great mutual respect between the writers and actors.

There may have been some debates over lines or scenes or no big scenes. No actor ever threw down a script. No actor ever refused to come out of his or her trailer. No actor counted lines. No actor was habitually late.

We knew at the time we had a sweet deal with this show and appreciated it.

So honestly, it would be a very short and boring book.

From 71dude:

How late in the season can a network order additional episodes of a series?

Five minutes before the series season wraps. On MASH they always upped our order to 24 from 22, but then at the last minute added one more. In season 7 we begged them to let us know earlier. They insisted they would only need 24 that year. The last week of production they ordered a 25th show. My partner and I had to write it over the weekend and it went into production that Monday. (“Night at Rosie’s”)

Last minute additional episodes generally require lots of overtime, extra editors, etc. The network almost always picks up that tab.

I will say this: it’s much easier slapping together an episode last minute in the digital world. Film required processing, negative cutting, etc. It’s quite possible now to wrap production on a Wednesday and have the show air the following Monday. I don’t recommend it though.

Dan Reese wonders:

Does a show’s creative team ever come to regret establishing an every-episode convention or joke that becomes a pain to have to write into every episode? I’m thinking of the Cheers cold opens, the titles to scenes on Frasier... or Bob’s Burgers writers constantly having to come up with new names of stores next door, exterminators and burgers-of-the-day.

We hated those independent teasers on CHEERS. Today there is less of that because the running time of shows have shrunk to accommodate more commercials. If we were making CHEERS today we would need those extra two minutes to tell stories.

And finally, Patrick asks:

Why is it whenever people are eating dinner on multi camera comedies its always pasta and salad? Is it because its easy to fake eat, doesn’t involve more than a fork and doesn’t matter if its hot or cold?

Easy to pick at, easy to refill, no knives or cutting necessary, easier to match takes.

On the other hand, there’s no concerted effort to use these foods. And as a writer/producer I’ve never thought about it. If I need characters to eat turkey or burritos I write that in and no one ever comes up to me and says “turkey requires cutting.”

One time when I was directing LATELINE we had a character eat a three-pound lobster. So the production had an extra one. When it wasn’t needed they gave it to me. I had a clambake for the crew up in my office. I don’t think they would have stuck around for leftover salad.

23 comments :

Kristen said...


A humble request Ken.

End of the year, many people prepare Top 10 movies list. Can you also please post one such list based solely on the movies that you have seen.....

It can become a tradition from now on, at the end of the year.

Thanks.
Kristen.

tavm said...

There was actually one book about the behind-the-scenes at "Cheers". It was written by Bart Andrews, who previously wrote the definitive book on "I Love Lucy", and it came out while the show was in its fifth season. It provided bios of each star and the episode guide up to the fourth season. On Nicholas Colosanto's bio, it mentioned his death and then also mentioned how the following Thursday, February 14, 1985, NBC reran the "Coach's Daughter" ep which began with Ted Danson's voiceover saying over his pic-"The episode is dedicated in loving memory of Nick Colosanto". Unfortunately, on IMDb and Wikipedia, the ep it lists as having aired on that night was the one that was originally scheduled and aired some weeks later-"Bar Bet"...

Roger Owen Green said...

BTW, Ted Danson turns 70 today. (You are quoted therein.)

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I don't think pasta and salad is a universal rule...THE BIG BANG THEORY characters eat a lot of Thai and Chinese food...

There's a great story about the original touring production of the Gilbert & "Sullivan opera THE GONDOLIERS, though. There's a song in there with a line about "life's a complicated tangle", and the script calls for it to be performed at a dinner table on which is a plate, covered by a silver lid, which the Duke whips off to reveal a plate of spaghetti. And there was some hapless crew member whose job it was every night to supply the spaghetti. Well, in the 1900s or thereabouts, northern England was pretty much lacking such exotica, and the story (in the ANNOTATED GILBERT AND SULLIVAN) has it that one night no matter how hard he tried the crew member just couldn't find any.

So, on stage: the Duke sings about life being a complicated tangle, and whips off the silver lid, and there it is: a ham sandwich.

wg
I'm sorry about Rose Marie; she was one of my favorites on the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. My mother, whose father performed in vaudeville, always claimed that on tour with her father she held Rose Marie, then about 3 or 4 years old, on her lap. There can't be many *90*-year careers in show business!

John H said...

Thank you so much Ken for both featuring and answering my question! I have loved Cheers since it initially aired and still do to this day. I still hold out hope that all eleven seasons will one day receive a proper blu-ray release containing the unedited episodes as well as bloopers, deleted/alternate scenes, etc.

cadavra said...

A couple of years ago, I attended a Broadway revival of SKYLIGHT. During the first act, Carey Mulligan prepared, cooked and served Spaghetti Bolognese, all while continuing to give a performance with mountains of dialogue. (During intermission, the crew dutifully cleaned up the set and hauled the food and utensils away.) That she managed to do this eight times a week while staying in character is remarkable.

VincentS said...

Wow. Amazing to hear you that and David Isaacs wrote NIGHT AT ROSIE'S under the gun. I think that was one of the best episodes on the show and it introduced one of the most interesting characters: Scully. Glad he was brought back for another show. I've also thought of that show as the precursor to the FRASIER episode that took place entirely in Nervosa's and the party-planning episode that took place entirely in Frasier's apartment. Prepping to be a playwright even back then?

Peter said...

Happy Birthday to Ted Danson! By all accounts, one of the nicest people in showbiz.

Re. a top 10 movies list for the year, I know that was directed at Ken, but here are mine too!

In no particular order:

BLADE RUNNER 2049
HAPPY DEATH DAY
DUNKIRK
BETTER WATCH OUT
THE LAST JEDI
GET OUT
ATOMIC BLONDE
WONDER WOMAN
MOLLY'S GAME
THE FOUNDER

Andy Ihnatko said...

Friday Question:

When a recurring prop or piece of set dressing is supposed to be old and beaten-up -- like Marty's iconic chair in "Frasier" -- is it easier to find one or to make one? What are the practical considerations? I imagine that one of the problems of a one-of-a-kind thing is that it's, yeah, one of a kind.

(And I think one of the funniest and most moving scenes in "Frasier" is when Marty's chair is destroyed and Frasier explains exactly how far he went to have another one just like it made from scratch.)

Kensi Blonde said...

I remain disgusted by the way the media treated Shelley Long, as if she had hacked off someone's head by leaving the show. Thank you for continuing to try to rectify all of the stupid and misogynistic gossip about this very talented actress.

Arthur Mee said...

Dan Reese: On THE ROCKFORD FILES, Stepehn J. Cannell came up with the well-remembered device of a different person leaving an odd, funny message on Rockford's answering machine, a little gimmick which opened every show.

The writers (semi-jokingly) used to give Cannell a very hard time, because they would have written AND filmed an episode, but it couldn't be locked until they came up with the damned answering machine gag. Cannell said every writer at the start of their tenure on the show could come up with three or four phone gags, no problem -- but after that, it was really difficult to come up with a good gag that didn't repeat something we'd heard before.

Try it! It's *hard*...the gags have to be only a few seconds long (so no elaborate set-up); they have to work for an audience seeing the show for the first time; they can feature no visuals; and they still must tell a little story. Obviously, the writing staff still pulled through for the six seasons they were on the air, but a few seasons in, they'd be trolling for answering machine suggestions from grips, prop guys, editors....

Kristen said...


Thanks Peter :)

Max said...


Peter, Dunkirk??? Hmmmm.... soft spot for the British director? :D

Thank God, you didn't name 'Going in Style'.

Good List.

Green Luthor said...

I've noticed that sometimes (frequently in old Law & Order reruns) that the characters tend to be eating Chinese take-out. I'm only guessing here, but I'm assuming there's a simple reason for that: since they're eating right out of the take-out boxes, there's no need to make sure the same amount of food is there between takes, since you can't see the food anyway. Would that seem to be a reasonable guess?

Phil said...


Ken, I was just searching your entire blog for De Niro reference and found that he made a movie called "Dirty Grandpa". Now I am watching it and boy...... is it awesome. De Niro nails the creepy old sleazebag bit.

Watch it Ken!

Peter said...

Max, I included Dunkirk because I think it's a genuinely brilliant film. Nolan is hit and miss. I prefer his earlier films Memento and Insomnia to his blockbuster output like the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, which are technically brilliant but rather sexless and clinical.

Phil, I love De Niro but he didn't do himself any favours making Dirty Grandpa. It's occasionally funny but it tries so hard to be edgy and shocking, it ends up feeling desperate. I really wish De Niro would be more picky with the scripts he chooses. For every great film he makes like Limitless or Analyze This, he makes six mediocre movies that are quickly forgotten.

Ken should watch Johnny Knoxville's Bad Grandpa instead, which is absolutely hilarious.

DBA said...

Green Luthor, that is correct.

Greg Thompson said...

As an actual Bob's Burgers writer, I can tell you the Burgers of the Day and the storefronts and the rat vans (as we call them) are usually a fun task. The writer of the episode is ultimately responsible for generating a list of possibilities but can call on other writers for help. It is the kind of thing where (for me, anyway) the first few ideas come with some difficulty but then you get warmed up and your brain is working in the right way. In a way it's a refreshing change of pace from the harder but more important job of working out whole episodes

PJ said...

About the Chinese food containers, I have a few Japanese friends who were eager to get Chinese takeout when they first visited me in the US because they'd seen them on TV shows and movies so many times. They also wanted to see if my high school was like Beverly Hills 90210...it was not.

Mike Doran said...

Friday Question (?):

I'm sure by now you've read the story of the Trump House intern who supposedly flashed a "white power" hand gesture while posing for a team picture.

It may be a sign of my advancing age, but I seem to recall that gesture as simply meaning "OK", for as far back as I can remember, with no racial significance of any sort.

Isn't there a MASH episode in which Winchester uses this gesture as a signal to Hawkeye and BJ that he's going along with their ongoing plan (details are hazy, but I believe you might recall the particular circumstances)?

So will Fox Syndication be recalling that episode for re-editing (or something)?

Andy Rose said...

If I could piggyback on Andy Ihnatko’s question by reasking a similar one... If a show’s main set is due to be damaged in some way on camera and then fully restored later (the Cheers bar gutted by fire, Frank driving his car through the front door on Everybody Loves Raymond), do they typically damage the real set and then rebuild it, or do they build a temporary replacement that gets damaged in its place?

James Van Hise said...

Regarding filming meals. There was a shown some years ago called DINNER FOR FIVE which involved celebrities at a swanky restaurant in a private room talking over dinner. I think most of the episodes can be seen on Youtube now. Clearly it was longer than shown and edited for the best conversation points but sometimes you'd see them eating dinner, then dessert, and then they'd be eating dinner again so I guess they didn't think that continuity mattered there.

Ryan from Canada said...

Hi Ken,

Big fan of your blog and podcast! Hoping you can talk a bit more about your PLAYS and how you choose which ideas to further explore? Obviously the craft differs from that of movie/TV writing... if you can talk about your process from initial play idea to finished first draft that'd be great.

Also, are your play scripts located anywhere on the web? Would love to read them since I'm located no-where near LA to actually attend a performance...

Thanks!