Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Setting the Way-Back machine for 2008

Full disclosure.  This is a re-post... from ten years ago.  Why?  Several reasons.  I've answered over 3,500 Friday Questions.  But since people rarely go back through the archives, most of these questions are are buried yet deserve another look.  Also, I'm juggling a number of things and need a break.  So from time to time this month I plan on slipping in some of these "vintage" Friday Question days.  Readers always tell me Friday Questions are one of their favorite features, so I figure it wouldn't hurt to sprinkle in a few more this month.  Enjoy all over again

Friday questions day. You can’t start a weekend without them.

Eric L has two things he wants to know:

Weird question I've always wondered- where exactly did those paintings from the opening credits of CHEERS come from?

The opening credits were created by Castle-Bryant. They found old pictures of folks in bars and built that montage. I understand though one or two photos are actually people in a barbershop.

And secondly…

After CHEERS ended was there ever any thought given to spinning off another character besides Frasier? In retrospect Frasier was obviously the perfect choice and besides Rebecca was probably the only character who could have had a life outside of the bar environment, but when the time came to discuss a spin off of CHEERS were there any other options?

Yes. NBC wanted to spin-off Norm & Cliff. They must have approached us five times about writing it. We always passed. One AfterMASH a career is enough. There was also some discussion of spinning-off Carla but that went nowhere. Remember, there was another spin-off of CHEERS (besides FRASIER) – THE TORTELLIS. Carla’s creepy ex-husband Nick (played to slimeball perfection by Dan Hedeya) and his new wife Loretta (the delightfully daft Jean Kasem) move to Las Vegas with one or two of her kids. It lasted maybe thirteen weeks. The Charles Brothers (who were just consulting it) asked David and I to write one as a favor. We met with them all day trying to come up with a story and couldn’t do it. Finally, I said, “What episode is this we’re trying to break?” The answer was five. I said, “Five? Jesus. If stories are that hard to break by episode five you are in shit shape with this show!” They were.

Remember kids when creating a pilot: It’s not just about the funny characters and setting. Make your show ABOUT SOMETHING.

Allen Burns (not to be confused with Allan Burns who co-created THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW) asks:

Some older shows (I think Cheers was one) feature a voiceover of a lead actor saying "[Name of show] was filmed before a live studio audience." All in the Family had a kind of pretentious one with Carroll O’Conner saying something to the effect it was "played before a studio audience for live responses". Was this just to say "Hey, we aren't using a laugh track!" (Pretty obvious in shows with teen stars where actors have to wait for entrance applause and squealing to die down. And the ever annoyng "Awwww!" and "Ooohhhhhh" that greeted any emotional dialogue.

Yes, CHEERS employed that disclaimer after the first few episodes because we were getting complaints about the laugh track when in fact the laughs were real.

I agree there is nothing more insipid than audiences “Awwwwing” at those awful treacley moments in bad sitcoms. First of all, the moments are rarely earned and the audiences sounds like the biggest simps on the planet. Webster cleaned his room like his mommy asked. Awwwwwwwwwwwww.

On CHEERS and any other show I worked on, those cringeworthy reactions were lifted from the soundtrack.

Same with applauding when actors entered scenes. It obliterates any reality and is there anything more artificial and unbelievable than people wildly cheering Fran Drescher?

The other audience we would lose from the soundtrack is any talking back to the actors during the scene. One night on CHEERS we had a particularly rowdy and vociferous bunch. Diane headed for Sam’s office and they yelled, “DON’T GO THROUGH THAT DOOR, GIRL!!” And my favorite: Diane standing up to Sam and someone screaming, “YOU TELL HIM, BITCH!!!!” Needless to say, that threw off Shelley Long’s timing just a wee bit.

Leave your questions in the comments section. Thanks.

27 comments :

VP81955 said...

Last week's "Mom" had an "awwww" moment, rare for the series, but what else would you expect when Bonnie enters Adam's apartment with a golden retriever puppy? (His elderly German shepherd Samson, whom we saw in a previous episode, had crossed the Rainbow Bridge.)

Jon H said...

When ALL IN THE FAMILY was "played to a studio audience for live responses", that wasn't the same as being performed in front of a studio audience. This disclaimer started in Season 9 (after Gloria & Mike left). It meant that the show was taped with no audience, then the tape was played back to an audience for live reaction.

I also hate the "Awww!" moments from studio audiences, especially in shows like THREE'S COMPANY, where Janet or Terry was hurt & trying to hold back tears. I watch sitcoms, especially that one, to laugh, not to have a diabetic reaction.

Kenneth Nielsen said...

I can't stand sitcoms with loud audiences; "awwwww" in particular sets my teeth on fire. One of the reasons I love Cheers and Frasier is that they were relatively subdued and classy in comparison.

tavm said...

Wow, the things you learn from long-ago TV shows! You'd think by reading Ken's comments about the audience of "Cheers" that some of them in the seats were Rocky Horror Picture Show fans! And the idea that the reactions to Webster finally agreeing to clean his room are the same kind that reacted to Sam and Diane finally kissing is also something that I can't believe but then I wasn't there for either taping! I do remember watching "Happy Days" and seeing Fonzie always getting loud claps whenever he first gets on stage and then seeing Kramer on "Seinfeld" getting the same kind of reaction during that show's early seasons (thankfully, rid of after a while). This was also the same kind of reaction Jennifer Cooledge got on "2 Broke Girls" (a show I stopped watching after three seasons). I'm just glad real laugh tracks of "Gilligan's Island", "The Beverly Hillbillies", and "The Flintstones" not to mention "M*A*S*H" are no more. Of course, with the president we have now, maybe that would make his comments go down easier and sound even more deliciously ridiculous...

marka said...

My wife and I were trying to figure out what to watch on Netflix a while ago and it made me want you to tell us what to watch.

Would you be willing to create a playlist for Cheers, Mash and Frasier? Episodes you liked for some reason, and maybe explain why? It’d be interesting and would save us the trouble of trying to figure out what to watch. Even episodes you didn’t like would be interesting.

Think of the service you’d be providing to the world, Ken!

E. Yarber said...

I think Norman Lear used to complain that the All in the Family audience sounded too much like a laugh track, hence the disclaimer. It's always interesting to note the human touches from live viewers, like James Brooks' distinctive laugh or the squeals of teenage girls attending a performance of The Honeymooners. I wonder if those girls ever tell their great-grandchildren, "That was me screaming at Art Carney"?

Ben said...

YOU TELL HIM, GAYLORD!

John H said...

The last paragraph made me laugh out loud. Thank you. I wish I could do that more often.

blinky said...

I think you should be in the Guinness Book for writing your column ever single day for 10 years. So yeah, repeats are totally cool. After a certain age you can start just repeating old columns and I wouldn't notice.

Donald Benson said...

The other annoyance: Guys yelling "WOOOOOOO!" Most conspicuously on "Married With Children", for any entrance by Peg or Kelly, any putdown or sex joke, or any appearance of any female eye candy.

Kyle said...

Friday question: The only exception I can think of to the Cheers/Frasier no applause standard was when Ted Danson guest starred on Frasier. The audience welcomed his entrance with much fanfare. I feel it was well-deserved in his case, but do you know if there was discussion of removing it to keep consistent with previous guest-star episodes?

McAlvie said...

Norm and Cliff were excellent supporting characters, among my top favorites. But what makes a loveable supporting character won't necessarily make a good anchor character. Often its just the opposite. I Love Lucy was probably the last show that could really get away with a zany lead characters, and that's because Lucy was, at the heart of all of it, still a classy lady. How she could stuff chocolates down her blouse or set her silly putty nose on fire one minute and totally have your respect the next is, I guess, just why everybody loved Lucy.

A lot of craziness on a show can be fun, but there has to be someone who the audience can relate to.

Anonymous said...

"Remember kids when creating a pilot: It’s not just about the funny characters and setting. Make your show ABOUT SOMETHING."

Ok, stupid question here - and yes, there are stupid questions, one of which I am about to pose....

How was the show about Carla's ex-husband not "about something" different from Friends or Cheers? What is Friends about? What was Cheers about? A group of friends dating and living life? A bar filled with eclectic locals?

I'm not trying to be insulting. I truly don't understand. Which is probably why you've made a living winning Emmys for brilliant TV shows and I...well I own a TV. And I know how to turn it on.

Leilani said...

I really enjoyed the put-downs of the fake laugh tracks on teen shows. That last paragraph about the people yelling in "Cheers" was also HILARIOUS!

Mike Bloodworth said...

Live audience reactions don't really mean a lot. An audience can have a tepid reaction to a joke yet, be amplified to make it sound better. And as you mentioned in a previous blog some shows have audiences for their dress rehersals and use the best laugh from either performance. I've also heard that some shows hire "professional laughers." The idea being that laughter is contagious. So, if one or two people start laughing others may join in. As for annoying reactions, on I LOVE LUCY you often hear an, "Uh oh" right before Lucy is about to get into trouble. Its the same voice every time so, I think it must be a recording. Maybe 50's viewers were different, but it seems kind of insulting today. It broadcasts the upcoming gag; as if you didn't already know what was going to happen.
M.B.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Anonymous: I was listening to the Nerdist podcast with Mayim Bialik and Chuck Lorre yesterday, and they talk a lot about sitcoms being "about" something. Lorre pitched THE BIG BANG THEORY as a show about very smart physicists who had trouble navigating real life. MOM, he said, is about hope that recovery is possible.

FRIENDS always seemed to me about a group of people supporting each other to find their way into adult life. I didn't watch it much, but at a guess CHEERS was about finding a refuge from daily life.

wg

Dr Loser said...

@Anonymous: I'll take a stab at this, and I have no idea what the original pitches were.

"What is Friends about?"

In the first series, it was about six characters (three female, three male, which was an unusual balance) who all have back-stories and are "forced" to live together and share them. Monica is Ross' sister. Ross is pining for Rachel. Chandler isn't quite sure what he wants to do, but he's male-bonding with Joey. And Phoebe ... is from outer space. You could practically allow these characters to go full Improv, and it would work.

After the first series, who knows? Guest stars, cross-overs, mostly happy fun hugs and general laziness. It was never the same after the first series. (I was first on the block to watch the first episode!)

"What was Cheers about?"
Washed-up alcoholic baseball player buys a bar. First five series: tragi-comic relationship between baseball player and washed-up tee-totalling wannabe academic. With the best Greek Chorus you will ever see, written by Aristophanes rather than by Euripides.
Second five series ... the same, but different.

Try summarizing any network sit-com since about 2000 that gives you that amount of information and (hopefully) makes you want to watch it.

Dr Loser said...

... and I think it's fair to say that the Carla's husband spin-off didn't really have anything much to say other than "Oh, look, that's Carla's sleazebag ex!"

Which isn't really much to go on. Kudos to the guys for even making a pilot out of it.

Colin Stratton said...

I always thought Clff Clavin, his mother, and his girlfriend Maggie would have made a good spinoff series. But I forgot about The Tortellis. I stand corrected.

Anonymous said...

Wendy Grossman and Dr Loser: Thanks - I guess this is the difference between watching TV shows and writing them. I had no idea. And I'll look up that podcast, sounds interesting!

MikeKPa. said...

For a table read do all actors with speaking parts (even one line like a passenger at the ticket counter on WINGS) participate, or is it just the regular cast and featured guest stars?

Francis Dollarhyde said...

Ken, Friday question, and something I've always wondered: given that Nick Tortelli was mentioned in passing in lots of episodes prior to his first actual appearance, there seemed to be sense of anticipation for when he'd finally show up at the bar (which didn’t happen until halfway through season 2). This sort of points towards a big guest star.

Was it ever on the cards that Danny DeVito would play the part of Nick, to reprise the DeVito/Rhea Perlman dynamic in TAXI (especially since Nick Tortelli's general scumminess was not so far removed from Louie De Palma's?) Or am I totally off base? (Not that I'm sorry Dan Hedaya got the part, which he nailed).

Jerod Butt said...

Two CHEERS-related Fridday Questions:

1. Do you know why Woody pronounced "synod" the way he did in the season 11 episode "The Beer is Always Greener?"

2. Did Cliff ever have a little known fact that turned out to be correct?

Donald Benson said...

On audience laughter: John Cleese has often told of the "Fawlty Towers" taping where the BBC provided a busload of Icelandic tourists. Watching it, one has the very atypical sensation of laughing more than the Live Studio Audience. Most of the verbal jokes die, but they wake up for Basil beating up Manuel.

Wally said...

Re: the origins of The Big Bang Theory, Bill Prady told (at a live event near the beginning of the series, so I hope I'm recalling this right) that he and some friends/acquaintances were out for dinner. When it came to the bill, one passionately discussed the nuances of different tip levels, i.e. if you give 18%, then why not 20%, but then 20% would seem a bit high in regards to it being X% higher than 20% and 17% would mean this and on and on for a few minutes. In real life, I think the guy finally settled on 17.5% for an appropriate tip amount.

That became the basis for Sheldon. But, of course, you need to build that ensemble around him for ongoing stories.

If you didn't catch Barry Levinson on The Tony Kornheiser Show Tuesday, he talked about Paterno on HBO, but also delved into his movies, specifically Diner.

Without Diner, I believe there would be no Friends or Seinfeld. You can hear tales of development execs in that discussion and I'm sure up to that point, TV development people would've felt the same about 'guys sitting around busting each others' [chops]'.

Andy Rose said...

My recollection is that the producers' pitch for Friends was "It's about the time in your life between school and marriage when your friends are your family."

joecab said...

I remember when Sam appeared on Frasier early in the run, the audience went wild and it kinda threw me out of the scene. But when Woody appeared many years later there was not so much as a peep, and I wondered what happened.