Friday, February 02, 2018

Friday Questions

Warming the winter blues with some more Friday Questions.  What's yours?

Brian Phillips leads off.

Which characters did you find it hardest to write for? This is not a question about difficult actors; this is solely about the character.

Fay on WINGS. The actress, Rebecca Schull was wonderful, but the character of Fay was so “nice.” It’s always harder to write characters who were basically “good.”

Daphne on FRASIER was difficult at times and Father Mulcahy on MASH was often a challenge.

And again, this has NOTHING to do with the actors themselves. If anything, we felt bad for them.

Another Brian writes:

I recently saw Shelley Long's Emmy acceptance speech for the first time, and was so impressed by how articulate (no umms or ahhs) and gracious she was - Diane would've been proud! I was also touched she took the time to thank the viewers for watching the show, a group not mentioned in many award speeches. Were the cast and crew of Cheers as moved by her speech as I was?

I can’t speak for the rest of the CHEERS group but I was touched by her speech. (The one I delivered a few minutes later was not nearly as good.) 

First of all, I was thrilled that she won. She was so deserving. And secondly, she was right. Having very loyal and vocal viewers made the decision by NBC to continue the show that much easier. So I thank them too.

From jcs:

I'm wondering what happens when a writer turns showrunner. How did you and David handle the increased responsibilities regarding budget and personnel? Did you hire people for the economic side of producing your shows? Or did you learn financial planning on the fly?

We learned a LOT by working with Glen & Les Charles and seeing how they handled the responsibility. Their people skills, organizational skills, and talent skills were all A+.

We saw them deftly handle problems we didn’t even recognize as problems. I can’t thank them enough.

As for the financial aspect, we had a line producer who dealt with that, but we went over the budget with her. And it’s quite simple really, if there was something we wanted to do that was over-budget we’d have to sit with her and figure somewhere else in the budget we could cut a corner.

There are some producers who would prefer to go way over-budget and just fight the studio and network. I always took pride in being a responsible showrunner and delivering my shows on budget.

The ones that constantly go over-budget may win some of their fights, but after their show ends and a few years later when a studio or network is looking for a showrunner they tend to avoid those producers. Sure not worth it for a more elaborate ballroom scene.

And finally, Andy Ihnatko wonders:

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?

Crew members can “age” furniture, props, walls, people. It’s pretty amazing actually. They can also make duplicate furniture if they can’t buy dupes. In the case of Marty’s chair, I am not certain but I believe they had several.

There was this show on ABC a few years ago called ONCE AND AGAIN. They filmed the pilot at a friend’s house, using their living room. When the pilot got picked up to series the production team recreated their entire living room including furniture to fit into a sound stage. Imagine how bizarre that was for the house’s occupants to step into their living room on a sound stage.

26 comments :

Phil said...


Ken, do you follow the Razzies?

You have a massive following for your Oscar review. So many comments, that you were "forced" to type the entire podcast the next day.

So, surely the same way, if you were to review the Razzies or just talk on your podcast about the worst actors/movies of the year, people will love it.

Just a request.
Thanks.

Carol said...


In cartoons, are cutaway gags just lazy writing? Because South Park makes fun of Family Guy's cutaways, though they are funny.

Gazzoo said...

Friday Question (that perhaps you've addressed before)...

What was the deal with the Frasier episode "Cheerful Goodbyes"? Was it intended to be more of a full Cheers reunion and you couldn't get all the cast members? Was there a specific reason why it didn't end up being set in Cheers bar...or just reluctance to go back there?

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Carol asks if cutaway gags, in cartoons, are just lazy writing?
I can't comment if they are lazy...but they aren't just for cartoons like Family Guy or the Simpsons.
I see them on single cameras. Modern Family. Scrubs. The Office.

Mitchell Hundred said...

If you're doing play-by-play with a partner, what sort of role do you expect them to play in it? I started watching a form of entertainment that follows a similar format to sports recently, and it's interesting to see what happens when you've got two commentators with similar styles vs. two with contrasting styles.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

it may have been hard to write for Father Mulcahy but whenever it was done, it was brilliant. The pathos exhibited by William Christopher as well as the Jocularity! whenever he had a quip was so well done.

Chris G said...

Did an actor ever fall down the stairs that led to the bar's front door while you were filming Cheers?

Justin Russo said...

Ken, a personal question for you:

With your love for Natalie Wood, how are you grappling with the LAPD finally making Robert Wagner a Person of Interest after almost 40 years?

Mike Doran said...

Those of us from Chicago weren't surprised that Shelley Long did the most articulate Emmy Acceptance speech - we'd watched her as a talk show host for several years before on Channel 5.
We also remember her stay at Second City, where she learned improv - and unflappability.
Sometimes, I think Shelley made a mistake by going the acting route; with the right breaks, she could have been Oprah ...

By the by, have we in the Windy City ever formally apologized for foisting the Winfrey Woman on an unsuspecting TV world?
I know that she started elsewhere, but Chicago was the scene of her breakthrough (with a major assist from the ABC network), and I don't think we've ever quite lived it down.

Jenna Leigh said...

Hi Ken! Thanks for all the blog posts and questions answered. You’ve been a real help and guide to this fledgling tv writer.

I think you’ve alluded to this in the past, but I would love your take: what do you think about networks/streaming hubs giving fewer notes these days? Do you think it’s a pendulum swing? Or is it a result of peak/platinum tv? On that note, will tv ever stop being peak/platinum? Tired of meeting wannabe auteurs and creatives looking to make prestige tv, as if no one watches LAW & ORDER: SVU or BIG BANG THEORY anymore.

Dr Loser said...

I'm slightly surprised to hear that it's difficult to write "funny" for "nice." Nice does not necessarily mean "bland." So here's a tip (which is ten minutes worth of thought, and therefore literally invaluable):

Write "nice" as "foreign."

Most (possibly all) of Daphne's "funny" lines came through her being foreign. (This did not work well, I should say, for her caricature Dick van Dyke "family"). "Foreign" allows a character a different perspective, and when you have a different perspective, you have the potential for comedy.

Oh, and also cast the "nice, foreign" character as somebody who is sexy as all get out.

Just my 0.25 Euros' worth.

Todd Everett said...

Don't know why this came to mind today, but I'd like to thank you for yesterday's musings on the Robert Wagner/Natalie Wood story.

Sure glad I read you every day.

Andy Rose said...

I was a Speech Team nerd in high school, and I found out that Shelley Long was a national speech champion in the 60s. I expected her win to be in one of the "interpretation" categories (taking an existing script and turning it into a one-person performance). But it turns out she won for Original Oratory, where you research and write your own persuasive speech and then deliver it entirely from memory. So I'm not surprised at all that she was so composed at the Emmys.

CRL said...

Hey Ken, did you happen to catch the bartender on last night's The Good Place?

Donald Benson said...

Re Daphne: I recall she was introduced as a self-styled psychic; it felt a bit gimmicky and I thought they'd just dropped it entirely (except for her reactions to Lilith being in town). In time it seemed to be mostly about her contrast to lovesick Niles: almost a sexy Oscar to his Felix. Also, she often had to dial back and plays the Sensible Female opposite the Cranes and Roz.

On Newhart, they introduced the diner owner next door as a self-aware pathological liar; after a while that went away as well and it became more about an aggressive personality bouncing off Newhart's nervous one. I seem to recall Fay growing quietly more eccentric and accumulating ex or dead husbands to offset her stewardess sunniness. And of course Rebecca on Cheers evolved from hot ambitious executive to hot mess, blending in with the barflies.

How often do you find yourself not replacing a character, but transforming him/her to provide more stories, exploit the actor's skills, humor demands for more or less, etc?

Gron said...

Hey Ken - I'm the one guy here that reads your blog for the sports stories. Grew up in Detroit listening to George Kell and Larry Osterman calling Tiger games. Can still hear George take over by saying "Welllll thank ya Larry, and good afternoon everyone, and welcome to Tiiiiger Baseball." George and Larry made the game real for us kids, giving us the feeling that we were sitting there right next to them, and what a treat it was. We used to narrate our lives to each other as if we were calling a game: "Well that PBJ was fouled off into the stands, caught by Johnny from Oak Park Michigan. Johnny is celebrating his 15th birthday with some friends from the block on this fine sunny Saturday afternoon." So, a Friday question for you - How did it feel being able to do that for all the kids / adults listening to you? Did you have a rhythm to your calling the game? Do you miss it?

Jabroniville said...

Hi Ken- Friday Question:

I've often been curious about that one worker at the coffee shop on FRASIER who showed up repeatedly in Seasons 1-3. She was played by Luck Hari, I believe- she didn't have a lot of lines, but she recurred an awful lot, and then suddenly she was gone and replaced by a series of replaceable nobodies. What was the deal with her? Just an attempt at a "backgrounder" people would recognize? Did they just like the actress and want to keep her around for a bit (her debut episode- the Season 1 finale, features most of her lines)? Do you know why she stopped being used? Most TV shows with a "recurring set" typically have the owner be a recurring character, not a backgrounder, so I was curious.

Grant Woolsey

Anonymous said...

I was also curious about Luck Hari. There is a great book called Sitcom Style: Inside America's Favorite TV Homes that has all the details about the Frasier set and it says that Martin's chair turned out to be one of the most expensive things.

Graham UK said...

Friday Question - How do sitcoms filmed in front of a live studio audience ahead of broadcast stop spoilers of upcoming plotlines, character arrivals/ departures etc.

Brian Phillips said...

Thanks for answering my question. This is an old issue. "Comedy" and "Nice" are hard to mix. Even Jack Benny had an episode that addressed it. According to the episode, a letter came in to complain about all the insults, so that episode finds everyone straining to be nice to each other.

Incidentally, the letter(s) may have been an actual one. When W.C. Fields performed with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his bratty dummy Charlie McCarthy, there was at least ONE letter asking Fields to go easier on McCarthy!

Johnny Walker said...

I’m amazed that it all the years was on they never gave Fay a more defined point of view. In early episodes she’s Rose Nylund to a T (did Betty White pass?), and when they dumped that idea, they were left with a bit of a cipher. It must have been excruciating for the writers and Rebecca Schull.

Johnny Walker said...

PS - Would love to hear more from/about Shelley Long. Diane remains an astonishing creation. I honestly can’t think of another sitcom character who should have been so unlikable, but turned out so likeable.

I know Julia Duffey came close to being Diane, but I can’t see anyone piling off that tightrope act like Long.

Roseann said...

I swear I broke out in a sweat when I read:

"As for the financial aspect, we had a line producer who dealt with that, but we went over the budget with her."

Because when I got to 'but we went over the budget..." I couldn't believe that I was reading. GOING OVER BUDGET! How could they? Then I finished the whole sentence.

Going over budget on Episodic TV is anathema -and I did Wardrobe let alone the other ways to go over budget.

Roseann said...

When I worked at the Muppets putting together the first Sesame Street Live I was told the story of Zoots sunglasses and Ernie's Rubber Ducky. Both were bought at street peddler stalls in NYC. When It came time to reproduce Zoot and they needed a new Rubber Ducky they had to be crafted from scratch to be just like the cheap ones bought on the street years before. That's pricy.

Matt said...

This is an old issue. "Comedy" and "Nice" are hard to mix. Even Jack Benny had an episode that addressed it. According to the episode, a letter came in to complain about all the insults, so that episode finds everyone straining to be nice to each other.

It was actually a critic named Gilbert Seldes who wrote an article for Esquire magazine in 1946 complaining that radio comedy was "mean-spirited" and depended much too heavily on sarcasm and insult humor. Benny responded by having Seldes as a guest on his show and the cast did a sketch for him demonstrating what the show would be like if they were all really nice to each other. (Jack explains to Rochester: "We're trying a new formula where everything is quiet and sweet." Rochester: "Quiet and sweet? Well, you better go back to being loud and funny. Your swimming pool ain't paid for yet.")

Johnny Walker said...

Wow, that’s a cool bit of trivia, Matt. Thanks for sharing it!