Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday Questions

Coming up on president’s day weekend when we honor presidents deserving of our respect. Let’s kick off the festivities with Friday Questions.

Graham UK asks:

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

Sometimes they will just block and shoot those episodes without a studio audience. Other times, they’ll film a false ending and then shoot the real ending after the audience has left.

Occasionally, the warm-up guy will just lie and say the last scene hasn’t been written yet, there’s still a lot of debate, etc.

The other problem with trying to keep key story points a secret is that copies of the script get out. Scripts are normally distributed to many departments (wardrobe, props, studio execs, etc.). One of those can easily fall into the wrong hands or wrong internet.

Some tabloids used to pay for heavily-classified scripts. So an extra could make $500 by selling a script to one of these tabloids.

Keeping a lid on anything is hard these days.

From VincentS:

Have you gotten a good writing idea from a dream?

Yes. Good ideas for shows, scenes, and even entire plots.

On the other hand, there have been times I’ve woken up with what I thought was a spectacular idea, written it down in my half haze, gone back to sleep, and when I got up in the morning I realized it was a TERRIBLE idea.

Liggie wonders:

Are there any strictly dramatic actors that would be good in a comic role, and vice versa?

I’ve always felt that a good interesting dramatic villain can play comedy. When I first saw Kurtwood Smith in ROBO COP I said, “I wanna work with that guy some day.” Happily, I did on BIG WAVE DAVE’S.

I saw Alan Rickman in a Noel Coward play on Broadway and he was hilarious. No surprise after his villainous performance in DIE HARD.

Nick Collasanto – the Coach from CHEERS – often played heavies (including one in RAGING BULL) as did Ed Asner who went on to become Lou Grant in THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.

I could give you a long list of dramatic actors who can play comedy but in the interest of time I’m just to name my favorite – Gene Hackman.

As for the other side, if you can do comedy you can usually do drama.  

Edward wants to know this:

Ken - In a post about Natalie Wood a few months ago, you indicated that she wore jewelry to cover a scar. Gary Burgoff has a deformed left hand. Do you recall writing a script a certain way or altering a draft script to make sure that Radar would not have to use his left hand or have it show up on screen?

No, we never did. We obviously didn’t do anything like having him signal “eight” with his fingers, but Gary pretty much made everything work. And there was always the understanding that if somehow he couldn’t we’d change the script to accommodate him.

Finally, from Chris G:

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

Not that I know of. I almost did once.

Be safe and sane this weekend.

31 comments :

Terrence Moss said...

Kurtwood Smith was hilarious on "That 70s Show" -- as is Andre Braugher on "Brooklyn Nine Nine".

Andrew said...

"Coming up on president’s day weekend when we honor presidents deserving of our respect."

And just what the hell is that supposed to mean?!

Lol. Just kidding.

Barry Traylor said...

Alan Rickman was also very funny in the SF spoof GALAXY QUEST playing Dr. Lazarus. He was a fine actor and I very much mourn that he is no longer with us.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Dreams are most of where my best ideas come from, mainly because I never have what people would consider to be "normal," or "pleasant" dreams, they're almost always really lucid, vivid, trippy, almost borderline-nightmarish dreams . . . like if I'm somehow transported to the World of Sid & Marty Krofft when I go to sleep.

But I've had ideas for show premises and characters come to me in my dreams . . . I once even had an entire movie come to me in a dream (and then THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU sort of ripped it off). This entire creative process is so intriguing to me I made it the subject of an experimental film I did years ago.

And yet, I never keep a dream journal, even though I know I really should. Sometimes I can will myself into remembering as many details as I can to maybe write up an outline or draft or something, but then other times, the harder I try to remember, the easier I forget.

VP81955 said...

I attended the episode of "Mom" that followed up on the death of Alvin (Bonnie's former/present lover and Christy's father, played by Kevin Pollak) the ep before. We were shown excerpts from it before filming began, and at no time were we asked not to reveal the plotline. (I run the blog "Carole & Co." and did an entry the next day about the show and attending as part of the sitcom experience, but did not reveal any spoilers out of respect to my fellow "Mom" fans.)

ScarletNumber said...

@Barry Traylor

By Grabthar's Hammer, what a savings.

Peter said...

The first time I saw Kurtwood Smith in something was Dead Poets Society, where he was the harshly strict father who drove his son to suicide. The second time was Robocop. It's a testament to what a great actor he is that it was with a sense of relief when I saw him play a nice guy in Big Wave Dave's.

If any of you haven't seen Cedar Rapids, it's a terrific little comedy and Smith is great in that too.

Brian said...


I haven't seen Alan Rickman in a comedy role. The only hilarious thing I can recollect of him was the Family Guy spoof of him laughing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTmEp3XubFc

John Hammes said...

Joseph Scarbrough,

It is on the record (no pun intended) that Steve Allen kept an audio tape recorder nearby, day and night, recording those many concepts, projects, ideas, that were always coming to him. He even kept that portable tape recorder at his bed table, noting that more than once he would wake up and (no doubt groggily) dictate best he could the thought processes that would come in his dreams.

Don't know if you want to go "old school" with an analogue portable recorder (they are actually still available, to one's pleasant surprise), then again, the same process can obviously be used with today's digital technology. And, had social/digital media been around at the time, clearly "Steverino" would have been all with it. One might as well use the tools at hand for one's benefit.

Allan V said...

Wow --- I had no idea Gary's hand was deformed. But the question itself reminds me of how on the original Star Trek series, they went to great lengths to hide the fact that James Doohan (Scotty) was missing his entire middle finger on his right side. He lost it to a bullet during the Normandy Invasion in WWII. That's why he usually used his left hand when holding a phaser or running the transporter.

Years later, he did a much-promoted guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and they didn't even try to conceal it.

D McEwan said...

Gracie Allen had scars on one forearm. It's why she always wore those three-quarter sleeves. And after an explosion on the set went horrible wrong, Harold Lloyd lost half of his palm, and the thumb and index finger of his right hand. So in all his films thereafter, he wore gloves with a fake right half-palm, thumb and index finger.

Michael said...

The old joke among actors is that dying is hard but comedy is harder.

I read an interview with David Ogden Stiers where he discussed his admiration for Harry Morgan. He said one day Morgan was telling some old story from vaudeville that was just hilarious. In the middle of it, the director was getting ready to shoot and at the moment just before the call of "action," Morgan stopped the story, turned, and did his line, which was very serious. He paused a second and even before the director said, "Cut," Morgan turned back to finish the story. THAT was an actor.

estiv said...

I watched Raging Bull again recently and was blown away when I realized who was playing the Mafia boss with a perfect blend of charm and menace. Nothing like the Coach character at all and just as flawless. I think that those of us who don't work in the industry tend to undervalue the acting skills of those who play the same character for years, because we see the face and know the character so well that we end up unconsciously thinking of that person as sort-of real. As someone who's worked with people like Ted Danson and David Hyde Pierce, you see them out of character all the time. We don't, so it's always a little shocking when such a familiar face does something wildly different.

Rick Scarry said...

I've been lucky enough to work with Kurtwood Smith twice and it was a joy both times. I had a nice scene with him in "That 70's Show" and another very funny piece on the short-lived comedy "Worst Week". That fact that he can be so funny sometimes blurs the fact that he is such a great dramatic actor.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@John Hammes I don't mind going old school - honestly, I'd love to be able to work with actual physical film celluloid just once; I can agree that digital is finally starting to measure up to the quality film offers, but there's still a little to be desired. But getting back to the topic at hand, that's not a bad idea, actually. As I said, I generally start writing up an outline or draft, or sketch out character designs, all of which can still go through revisions afterwards.

@D McEwan Similarly, Robert Clary usually wore a sweater, or some kind of long sleeve shirt when performing to hide the serial number tattoo he had on his forearm after he was in concentration camps during the Holocaust.

VincentS said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken.

E. Yarber said...

I'm sure script security is worse than ever with so many drafts being shared online these days. Generally, those of us handling intellectual property within story departments were legally obligated to keep the contents secret, not that the stuff was all that exciting from the inside. I've had to sign non-disclosure forms for my own work.

Once I had to get a photo ID to enter an office where studio properties were developed. Since a head shot is a head shot in Hollywood, there was actually a woman there to arrange my hair and touch me up a little for the shoot, while the photographer arranged my pose to get the most flattering angle. I doubt workers on the Manhattan Project got such treatment.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

On the subject of dramatic actors in comedic roles, and vice-versa, I have to say, Brad Garrett was seriously frightening in an episode of LAW & ORDER: SVU. He was a violent, disgruntled man, whose wife was leaving him, but he held her hostage with a gun pointed at her head while also threatening the detectives who were trying to negotiate with him - I could practically see the veins in his eyes as he was yelling at the detectives. I have to say, though, that he was really, really good . . . I mean the same guy who often played big, lovable doofuses (doofi?) in shows and movies from my childhood was playing against type and gave off a genuinely unsettling performance.

Anonymous said...

Alan Rickman was absolutely hilarious as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Costner's Robin Hood. In fact I cheered for him not to die in their sword fight. I felt as though the movie was boring but picked up considerably when Alan was around. He had some of the best lines ("no more merciful beheadings and call off Christmas!") He had a real presence about him. Janice B.

Johnny Walker said...

Any comments/thoughts regarding Jeffrey Tambor's departure from TRANSPARENT? I'm a big fan of his, and I hope the accusations aren't true. However, I'm not naive, and I can't see Amazon letting the central actor go from (what, presumably for them) is a hit show without very good reason. (Speaking of which, how on earth is the show likely to continue with the central subject gone...? Everyone else is completely unlikeable!)

Andy Rose said...

I think a lot of dramatic performers can do comedy well because they still have their first loyalty to characterization, not selling a joke or winking to the audience. In effect, they are still doing dramatic acting, but with funny writing. A humorous thing is funnier when it seems to be happening to a real person instead of a joke machine, which is why you laugh harder when your best friend gets hit in the head with a basketball than when it happens to a circus clown.

Comedic performers are usually about getting the laugh whatever it takes. Martin Short has talked about how Ed Grimley was basically a Frankenstein's monster of every peculiar quirk and tic and expression that Short had used to get people to laugh on the Second City stage. They all got layered on to this one character until he was no longer recognizable as a human being.

Charlot said...

This is very interesting coming up on president’s day weekend when we honor presidents deserving of our respect. Let’s kick off the festivities with Friday Questions. awesome! I have no idea about having this thing. But well thanks for sharing this and those people commented on it. Its fun.

Mike Doran said...

The various Law & Order branches have a long reputation for using comedy performers in scary dramatic roles.
Including, but not limited to:
Robert Klein, as various less-than- scrupulous lawyers;
Robin Williams, in a salute to Stanley Milgram (name-checked in the show);
Martin Short as a bogus psychic on SVU (first half is funny, second half is scary);
Jane Krakowski as a plain-Jane nurse with a sideline (also SVU);
Other SVU visitors include Jerry Lewis, Carol Burnett, Kathy Griffin - and don't forget co-star Richard Belzer (who is lately much missed).
And that's just SVU.

There was that Criminal Intent where the villain was the then-unknown Stephen Colbert.
And now the rest of you can chime in with all the others I've forgotten here ...

tavm said...

On comedic actors doing drama on "Law and Order": Joe Piscopo and Mark-Lin Baker in the same ep, Chevy Chase in another in which he portrays someone who calls the people he was arrested by "sugartits"...

cadavra said...

Just watched Nathan Lane as a ruthless killer on THE BLACKLIST. Plus he's about to open on Broadway as Roy Cohn in a revival of ANGELS IN AMERICA. He's the funniest actor in America, but he can easily go dark when the role calls for it. And the man who embodied "zany," Jerry Lewis, gave many fine dramatic performances, most memorably in Scorsese's THE KING OF COMEDY.

Greg Ehrbar said...

@John Hammes

So there's Steve Allen on The Merv Griffin Show with Karen Black. Right there during the interview, Steve takes out his little tape recorder and quietly leaves himself a few notes. Merv, ooooh-ing and ahhhh-ing, of course asks Steve what he's doing. Steve explains that he always records thoughts and ideas as they occur to him, for his secretary to type up later.

MERV: Mmmmmmm...

KAREN BLACK (to Steve, awestruck): You must be a genius!

STEVE (holding up his finger instructively): Ah-ah, versatile is not genius.

MERV: We'll be right back.

Kirk said...

I remember a few weeks before the final Mary Tyler Moore Show, the producers publicly announced the everybody-fired-but-Ted plot twist. Furthermore, Gavin MacLeod appeared on the Mike Douglas Show, again before the final Moore show aired, and described the entire finale, including many of the jokes (such as Ted bringing his wife, kids, and dog to the new station manager's office.) Yet when the show finally did air, it got huge ratings, and I, for one, wasn't disappointed, even knowing all of MacLeod's spoilers. It was watching these talented group of thespians act out those spoilers that made the whole thing worthwhile. And so, I wonder, is it really all that necessary to keep these scripts "top secret"?

Rick Hannon said...

Greg Ehrbar: cute anecdote. Including Merv's "We'll be right back" as a closer made it genius.

David Das said...

Ken, have you ever commented on the NETFLIX series EPISODES?

I'd love to get your take on it, since it's basically a fictionalized version of some of your life. :)

I'd search for it myself, but Google makes it notoriously hard to search your blog for a show named EPISODES when almost every blog mentions the word episodes, but not in the context I mean it.

Greg Ehrbar said...

@Rick Hannon

Thank you, Rick! (Versatile, perhaps...)

Mark Solomon said...

Ken, I just watched, on Antenna TV, a wonderful episode of "Wings",
written by you and David, in which Frasier and Lillith Crane
are in Nantucket in order for Frasier to conduct a
self-help seminar on the island with paying attendees.
I'm curious about the genesis of that cross-over episode.
Was it that NBC execs were seeking to bring the cachet of
the higher rated "Cheers" to an episode of "Wings",
or did you and David initiate the idea, perhaps knowing that
your association with "Cheers" would make it likely that
all the parties involved would be willing and eager to
make the episode happen?
It was brilliant for you to reveal that the character of Helen
had previously attended a Frasier Crane self-help seminar,
and was greatly dissatisfied with the outcome. At one point
she says to Frasier, "You're a real fraud!" I don't recall
Frasier's retort, but what if he had said, "It's pronounced
Freud!"
Thanks for another terrific episode.

Mark Solomon