Friday, August 03, 2018

Friday Questions

What a concept! Friday Questions actually on Friday.

Jim S has a question based on a recent podcast with casting director Sheila Guthrie (if you haven’t listened you’re missing out on two great episodes).

You talked about getting the right actor, which got me thinking.

When you can't cast a part do you ever think it's because you can't just find the right actor, or do ever think if you can't cast a part maybe it's because the writing just isn't there yet?

Mostly it’s that we haven’t found the right actor. There was even a pilot we once had at CBS that we pulled because we couldn’t find the right two actors and didn’t want to just settle.

When the right actor reads you see the potential, even if that means rewriting to better take advantage of his gifts.

But I will say this, after hearing fifty actors trounce my material I do start to wonder what we found funny about it in the first place. The answer there is to just trust it.

From Markus:

Wasn't M*A*S*H shot in 4:3 fit for the TV sets of the time, and showing it in 16:9 cuts significant portions off of the image (which is at least as awful als colorized black/white originals...)? Or is this some sort of deluxe remastered version using original widescreen film?

MASH was filmed on 35 mm film so yes, they could go back to the negative cut and remaster it, which apparently they did.

On the air the show never looked as good to me. But that’s because I always screened the finished product in a theater on the big screen where the color and everything else was glorious (like my credit).

Jim S wonders:

How do you write when something huge in the news happened? I remember reading the book about the Dick Van Dyke Show and one of the stories Rose Marie told was having to do their show less than a week after Kennedy was shot.

The machine roles on, and schedules must be met. How does one do that in the face of a Kennedy-death type event?

An episode of BECKER that David Isaacs and I wrote was in production the day of 9-11. In fact, it was scheduled to shoot before a live studio audience that night. Obviously the filming was cancelled. The decision was made to shoot the show later in the week but without an audience.

The short answer is you just have to adjust. The relative importance of delivering a half-hour of television is minuscule compared to the magnitude of the world event.

And finally, from Doug G.:

What are your 3 or 5 best sitcoms ever that you never worked on in any capacity. Much like a lot of your readers, you were strictly a viewer of these sitcoms.

I’ll pick five although there are more.

1. THE HONEYMOONERS
2. THE BILKO SHOW
3. THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW
4. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW
5. SEINFELD

What’s your Friday Question?

33 comments :

J Lee said...

William Asher once said that the rehearsals for the pilot episode of "Bewitched" were to start on Nov. 22, 1963, but were obviously canceled. So when you go back and look at the pilot today and how well that show (especially the Danny Arnold-Jerry Davis helmed seasons) turned out, it's hard to think of a cast together for the first time at a less ripe moment to do light comedy.

(As for MASH, my local cable company's currently farking up its signals and has the one for ME-TV in 4:3 ratio airing where the Fox broadcast channel should go. Watching the 4:3 standard definition prints of MASH on an HDTV signal really points out how muddy the broadcast prints were, compared to how they look on Blue Ray or likely how they would have looked up on a big screen.)

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Regarding world events:
Ken, I remember you went to go watch UNDATEABLE LIVE on the night of the Paris terror attacks. The show was not performed that night, since nothing was funny that night.

Andrew said...

Friday question: Just yesterday at work I heard a line from Friends, which I recognized even though I wasn't a fan of the show: "Pivot! Pivot!" I have a coworker who sometimes quotes the line, "And you wanted to be my latex salesman." The past couple of months I can remember hearing two movie lines being quoted: "I could've been a contender." "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse." I have a favorite line that I like to use: "Lighten up, Francis."
So here's my question: Has any line you've written ever taken on a life of its own outside the show or movie? Have you ever heard your own writing quoted out of context, in "real life"?

Honest Ed said...

Re 9/11 - Over here in the UK, I had written an episode of a show, an action show, which was due to TX a few days after. Prime time, lots of publicity beforehand. It was day by day as the broadcaster debated whether it could be shown or not. It was a last minute decision to go ahead. There was no indication that anyone got upset by that (and the ratings were 14 million).

At the same time I was writing an ep for another show. It was pretty dark, morally ambiguous stuff. It probably would have been too challenging to go out in a primetime family show that week, but the head of the department just killed the ep, there and then, not even factoring in that it was not scheduled to TX for another 9 months.

In the grand scheme of everything that was going on then, these were minuscule problems but still pretty frustrating at the time!

Covarr said...

Regarding MASH's new HD presentation:

It is definitely remastered from the original film. The image is sharper and clearer than ever before, and Frankly quite beautiful.

As far as the aspect ratio... it's complicated, but basically, film aspect ratio is somewhat of a fluid concept. Ordinarily, 35mm shoots at a 3:2 aspect ratio, which is wider than MASH's original 4:3, but not so wide as a modern 16:9. Widescreen movies filmed on 35mm are usually achieved through the use of an anamorphic lens, which captures a wider area and then basically squishes it down to 35mm film. It's then projected in theaters with an anamorphic lens that reverses that squishing, so it can appear as intended.

That said... MASH was a TV show, and they would have assumed a 4:3 presentation when choosing equipment. It's VERY unlikely that anything anamorphic was used (for this or for most classic shows). The best they could probably do with that without any further cropping is 3:2... and even that is assuming they don't run into excessive vignetting problems or damaged film around the sides and corners, which is common.

From what I've seen of the new HD release on Hulu, it looks like they've gone for a hybrid approach, beginning with a 3:2 open matte, and then cropping to 16:9. The end result is that more content is visible on the sides AND less is visible on the top and bottom, albeit not nearly as bad as if they'd cropped from the original 4:3 presentation. This is the same approach that was taken with Seinfeld's HD remaster, although it appears to have been done with more care here; I'm about halfway through season 4 and I haven't noticed any moments where pertinent information is cut off (this happened a few times in Seinfeld).

Curious what a very bad 16:9 transfer of a 4:3 show looks like? Check out the "orange brick" Dragon Ball Z DVDs (so named for their garish orange cases). Aside from excessive noise removal resulting in smudgy detail and missing or messed up lines, they began with an open matte and straight up used the vertical center of the image with no thought to how content was actually framed. This leads to a presentation with constant, serious framing issues, such as characters whose foreheads are cut off but have visible chests. It's seriously awful.

Andrew Ross said...

What's your opinion of the Mets broadcasters reading from the media guide during the historic blowout they suffered at the hands of the Nats a few days ago? https://youtu.be/vGJ8OiqRhO4

James said...

This list will change depending on when you ask me. And they're not really in any order.

1. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
2. WKRP in Cincinnati (I think it's grossly underrated)
3. Cheers
4. Frasier
5. Roseanne (the show, not the performer)

I love Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith, but I'm going by the shows I watch most frequently.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

@Andrew Ross,

As a Mets fan, I would say that I give the Mets' broadcasters kudos for being professional enough to stay on the air. Not just because of that game but the whole damn season.
I thought last year was bad. This year's team is worse.
Great job by Gary/Ron/Keith for not throwing things onto the field.

Janet Ybarra said...

I would settle for all of the broadcasters and nets running MASH to restore all the bits they've hacked away to make room for more ads.

Janet Ybarra said...

I would agree with WKRP.

I definitely would put DICK VAN DYKE up there.

People here know my preference is not for "mean comedy." I don't see comedy in someone being a jerk to someone else. Yes, yes, I know Frank Burns was the ultimate jerk, but you never rooted for Frank. He (usually) got his in the end.

Also, as much as I concede I LOVE LUCY is a classic, a sitcom which I believe should be highly rated but never gets its due.... THE BURNS AND ALLEN SHOW.

No contest, if you asked me to choose watching I LOVE LUCY or BURNS AND ALLEN, George and Gracie win hands down.

Gracie Allen was a true treasure, a sweetheart and gone too young.

E. Yarber said...

Well, I have complete DVD sets of all five sitcoms, so they work for me. I think vivid characters link them. No bland families ending every episode with consensus, but volatile mixes of figures stirring the pot.

The reformatting of television programs always seems like a strange reversal to me. Last year I got to spend some time at the UCLA Special Collections and archives working on a now-aborted book. The college is a major center for film restoration, which is a craft easily misunderstood (listen to Robert A. Harris's commentary track for VERTIGO, and you'll hear he's still shocked at the violent online reaction his work got from rabid horror movie fans who felt they had a stronger claim to the picture than he did).

In saving a film from physical deterioration, the main goal is to try to recreate the original experience as much as possible, even though the first-generation elements may be lost. With television, however, restoration works backwards, as the format of the original material is considered secondary to fitting the changing sizes of home screens. When TVs were roughly square, people groused that there were black bars on the top and bottom of the screen in order to show the full picture of a widescreen film. There were even DVDs of theatrical films released in "Fullscreen" to spare such viewers the discomfort of blank space on their sets. (CGI cartoons like A BUG'S LIFE actually made two versions, formatting the frame differently for each format).

Now monitors are wide and people can't stand seeing black bars on the left and right of their screens, so the image has to be changed to satisfy them. It's not even relatively vintage shows. THE WIRE was made in the style of a grainy TV documentary, but HBO eventually remastered the whole thing in a widescreen hi-def release. David Simon wasn't happy about the changes, no matter how much fans raved about how they'd make the show even grittier and vibrant (don't ask me how you can do both at once). He accepted that HBO owned the program and had sustained it despite its weak ratings, though, so they had the right to do whatever they wanted with it.

Tony said...

When you blogged about Harvey Weinstein during the scandal, many readers said that "job for sex exchange is common and now many are crying rape".
It sounds shocking but it is true.
And I quite liked they were all open about the industry and generally about their workplace.

And now the truth emerges.

News just in is that these "victims" were having consensual sex with him.

http://www.tmz.com/2018/08/03/harvey-weinstein-alleged-rape-victim-emails-love-dismiss-case/

Not just Hollywood but many workplaces including mine is a murky one. People live by the "You scratch my back and I will yours" motto. But later when the shit hits the ceiling they deny everything.

Sick of all these people.

Carson Clark said...

I agree that the MASH version HULU is running looks beautiful. It's nice to see the quality of the 35mm print finally coming through. There has only been one episode so far that I have noticed any problem with and oddly enough it's one that Ken and David wrote. In the Point of View episode when the patient is using a pad and pencil to write, at one point you can't see what he has written because it's cutoff at the bottom.

MikeN said...

Spit take as I read it as top 5 you ever worked on...

DARON72 said...

WKRP for me too! CBS did everything they could to kill that show. What a shame. I'm also choosing BARNEY MILLER as they did most episodes in just the squad room (after Barney's wife and kids were written out of the show) and it has the feel of live theater. Danny Arnold along with the cast and crew almost killed themselves working on episode tapings until the wee hours of the morning. He also worked on the unique MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT which is the only sitcom to win the best Comedy Series Emmy and only make it through one season.

dan olson said...

TAGS is always a staple of my lists, but it has lots of competition as with the ones mentioned; Silver’s writer Hilken had another masterpiece, Car 54 WAY? But I suppose a lack of longevity and its scarcity for many years cost it new viewers and fans.
New ? and realizing I’m in a minority, but how did the character of Martin come about? That 2 upper-crust Boys from old New York had a father who was street-level common guy was always too much a stretch for me, even tho I concede I’m in the wrong. It seems more plausible to get an uptight John Cleese type, or if a John Williams-type (you might recall some of these songs from the masters... tv commercial/ Hitchcock-go-to actor, yes, long dead by the time Frazier was made) to make a more realistic foundation.

Andrew said...

Ken, there's an interview with Vince Gilligan in Rolling Stone that might interest you. Money quote:

"
We both wanted it to not be AfterM*A*S*H. That’s about as high as we had set our sights: We wanted to not embarrass ourselves. We wanted our spinoff series to not take anything away from the original, to not leave a bad taste in the mouth of the fans of the original. “Let’s hope it’s more Frasier than AfterMASH.” Our rational, realistic goals for Better Call Saul were simply that it wouldn’t suck and it wouldn’t embarrass us. It didn’t rise much higher than that, to be honest."

E. Yarber said...

The casting question reminded me of a surreal experience from years ago. An early play of mine had the rookie error of featuring a character who was more or less a blatant retread of myself. When it was picked up for production, I found myself at auditions watching one actor after another trying his best to be ME. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.

Janet Ybarra said...

Oh, I *loved* BARNEY MILLER... should have mentioned it myself. Except that, yeah, technically, it might have been a sitcom but so often it got serious that you really should call it an early example of the "dramedy."

It's a shame... I think only Half Linden and Max Gail are left. The rest are gone I believe. Jack Soo was so incredible...gone way too soon.

Ted said...

There are a few viral videos going around asking for support for Louis C.K to make a comeback.

Here's one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCUsw1nZ4tU

Do you support his comeback Ken?

Ken Levine said...

No.

Dsull said...

Hi Ken,

Quick question after checking out your list. With the exception Seinfeld, all your favorite sitcoms come from your younger days. Do you think you have a bias toward that era or do you genuinely believe the shows were just better then? And if that's the case, any thoughts on why? Or is it possible that after writing professionally for so many years, the shows just don't feel as fresh to you? Granted, many lists would have quite a few of your shows on it so obviously your list will look different than most!

Janet Ybarra said...

Why on Earth would we support something like that?????

Stuart Raish said...

The TV guys are good, but the radio booth of Howie Rose, Josh Lewin, Wayne Randazzo and Maj are the best booth in the business. Mets suck beyond belief, but I listen to them all the time.

Sparks said...

Whenever this subject comes up, I can't help thinking about All The Presidents Men. There's a scene where Woodward and Bernstein are conversing across the aisle between their desks, and you can't see either of them. There was a process called pan and scan as I remember, where they moved the frame back and forth between characters when they didn't both fit in the smaller frame rather than just cutting stuff off. Not sure which was worse, that or just cutting stuff.

E. Yarber said...

John Wayne was a BARNEY MILLER fan.

Ted said...

Janet Ybarra,

"would we" ---- Didn't ask if "you" will support? Nor do I care.

But a general question to Ken if he does think that Louis C.K needs to comeback. And ken replied too.

God!!!

Chris Thomson said...

Hi Ken

First off, sad news about Alan Alda diagnosis. Horrible disease.

A Friday question

I am probably wrong, but you never seem to put Boston Legal in your examples of excellent series writing.

Just wondered if there was history there or whether you just didn't rate the writing or acting?

Or you just didn't watch it

Cheers

Chris

Elizabeth H. said...

I was interested in the question to Ken about Louis C.K., and somewhat surprised at his one word answer. What Louis C.K. did was truly disgusting, but if I have the story right, it couldn’t even compare to what most of those men were doing, and there are levels of wrongdoing that should be treated differently, Most people were truly sorry that Al Franken felt he had to resign from the Senate, and he rammed his tongue down a woman’s throat—taking advantage of a so-called “rehearsal”. Also Louis C.K. expressed true regret and contrition and a realization that it was wrong even though he asked permission. A life sentence in his case seems too much to me, unless there is more to the story than I have read.

Jon H said...

Friday Question: Have you ever done any 3-camera live audience sitcom episodes that featured flashbacks in the body of the show? DICK VAN DYKE SHOW had a few of these. I was wondering if the shows would be filmed/taped in order or if the flashback portions would be prefilmed/pretaped before the main part of the episode from which the flashbacks happened. On one hand the production would have the benefit of live audience feedback for all scenes and not just those in current time, but on the other hand, the audience would have to wait while the characters changed costumes back & forth from current time to flashback time again & again. Is one method preferred to the other?

Roger Owen Green said...

FQ that you may have answered before, but I can't find it:

I've been noticing over the last few years how certain TV shows are starting to use great songs during important parts of the story, many of which are covers.

I have always wondered who is responsible for selecting the songs, because they always seem to be spot on in regards to how it fits with the scene.

Andy Rose said...

@Roger Owen Green: The person who selects and arranges the licensing of existing songs is usually credited as Music Supervisor or Music Coordinator. One of the best is a guy named Thomas Golubić. Check out his imdb page. He also co-founded a group called the Guild of Music Supervisors, whose page has a lot more information about the job.

Larisa said...

Friday question: You talked recently about the problems with pilot season. What do you think of this "mini-room" concept, in lieu of shooting a pilot? To me it sounds bad for writers, less security in an already unstable business. Creatively, it also sounds dumb. Things change off the page because of casting, chemistry and audience response. All those pre-written episodes may need to be rewritten anyway once you actually shoot the first episode.
https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/08/the-end-of-the-tv-writers-room-as-we-know-it-mini-rooms