Friday, October 05, 2018

Friday Questions

Thanks for taking advantage of the free play offer.  I hope you'll visit KenLevinePlays.com often and more importantly, try to get your local theatre to produce one.  If you haven't visited the website, or you just wanna hang out there swing on by.   Just go here.  Thanks much.
And now we “Fall” into Friday Questions…

Bob Paris starts us off.

What is your opinion of out-of-period hair styles on TV shows? It seems that in a movie, the actor may get a crew cut if appearing in a 50's period piece but on a TV show such as M*A*S*H, the hair styles were more contemporary to the time the series was filmed. Loretta Swit's hair was occasionally shagged/layered which was not done until decades after the setting of the series.

Bob, I’m here to tell you it’s a fight you will not win. When the choice is authenticity vs. looking more flattering lots of actors will opt for the latter every time. You go to an actor’s trailer and try to tell them to look less hot. That’s the same assignment as giving a cat a bath.

Two questions from WB3:

If you could take DVDs of three half hours of some classic sitcom (excluding eps written by you and your partner David) on a desert island for an extended period what would you (and the community here) take along?

The CHEERS pilot
The “Private Speakup” episode of THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW
The “Chef of the Future” episode of THE HONEYMOONERS.

But that's a tough question because there are some episodes of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, SEINFELD, BOB NEWHART SHOW, FRASIER, MASH, DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, and GIDGET that just missed the cut.

Also, what is the single funniest line/exchange you recall from a sitcom?

In THE HONEYMOONERS “$99,000 Answer” episode, when Ralph is on a game show and knows every song in the world except the one Norton used to intro every other song I laughed for ten minutes. I was probably 10 at the time and never saw the joke coming. I think that’s the biggest laugh I've ever had in my life.

slgc asks:

There have been a lot of superlative commercial documentaries this year (RBG, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, Three Identical Strangers and Love, Gilda immediately come to mind). To what do you attribute this apparent trend?

I think if you look back there have been exceptional documentaries every year. The excellent ones that you pointed out also have commercial appeal and are getting a lot of crossover attention, but if you dig a little I’ll bet you find undiscovered gems from just about any year. But don’t ask me to pick three for when I'm stuck on a deserted island.

What’s your FQ?

29 comments :

Curt Alliaume said...

Now I'm dying to know your favorite Gidget episode - was it the one where she developed a crush on someone?

slgc said...

Hi Ken,

If I may ask a follow up question (is that even allowed?), why do you think it is that so many documentaries this year have commercial appeal and are getting crossover attention? Why are they suddenly so many of them in the big theaters as opposed to Art House Purgatory?

Pat Reeder said...

Thanks for the free play (I chose "Our Time," which I bet most people here will take) and for answering the question about actors' anachronistic hairstyles, which I asked a while back as well.

As for the current popularity of documentaries: I find that they make up about 50% or more of the movies that my wife and I see in theaters these days, and I think it's because those are virtually the only movies made anymore that are about real human beings. Hollywood used to be able to make dramas and comedies that seemed like realistic stories of everyday humans, but now, most Hollywood products are loud, CGI-inflated cartoons about superheroes, space aliens or monsters. If you are a thinking adult and want an engrossing story about people you can actually relate to, you're left with either documentaries or TCM.

404 said...

Ken, I have to agree with you about the "$99,000 Answer" joke and payoff. I was also pretty young the first time i saw that, and I remember laughing hysterically because it was such a perfect joke. As I remember, the audience in that episode also laughed for a long time because I don't think ANYBODY saw that coming.

For me, the funniest line/exchange in a sitcom might be the Friends episode where Joey's refrigerator breaks, and he keeps trying to get everyone else to pay for a new one. There's a quick scene where he, out of nowhere, shoves Ross into the fridge and then proceeds to blame him for breaking it. The look on Ross's face, and the quick dialog afterwards, had me rolling on the floor when it first aired. I had it recorded at the time and must have watched that thirty seconds or so about a dozen times before I could move on to the rest of the episode!

Janet Ybarra said...

Hi Ken, here is an FQ you. slgc asked about the documentary trend. I wanted to ask about what seems to be an endless stream of "reboots" and remakes both on TV and film.

To me, they often seem pale imitations of the originals. Is this trend here to stay or is Hollywood ever going back to new concepts?

Thanks!

VP81955 said...

Got my free "When Romcoms Go Bad." Thanks!

David said...

I love the implication that Ken would opt for taking one (or three) of his own episodes on a desert island.

Daniel said...

"There have been a lot of superlative commercial documentaries this year (RBG, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, Three Identical Strangers and Love, Gilda immediately come to mind). To what do you attribute this apparent trend?"

I think it has everything to do with the proliferation of digital production and digital distribution. Unlike other motion picture formats (movies, TV) which can be pre-planned in the pre-production stage so that (theoretically) the filmmakers shoot (more or less) only the material they need (Hitchcock was famous for using this methodology), with a documentary the filmmakers are often finding the story as they go. So they have to shoot a higher ratio of raw material, the majority of which will never be used.

In the old days, this was all shot on film which was really expensive (to buy the film, to process the film, to physically store the film, etc.). And since the budgets on documentaries is often very low, the number of documentaries produced every year was very low, especially compared to today. It's not necessarily that there is a higher percentage of good documentaries being produced now. It's that the overall number of documentaries being produced has gone up exponentially due to the cost barriers to entry being lowered. Only 5% of all documentaries may be good, but now it's 5% of a much higher number.

Additionally, in the old days the only way to distribute documentaries was usually through art house theatres and/or through specialty TV networks (like PBS). So the opportunity to make money on these films was very limited. Now, through digital distribution (the Web, iTunes, Netflix, etc.) there are an infinite number of distribution channels that cost less to distribute through (since there are no physical prints being produced) and, if the producers are creative in how they distribute, more opportunities to monetize the release (sales through iTunes to audiences who would never have gone to an art house theatre; advertising on the Web site where the film can be played, etc.).

Jeannie said...

Gidget?

Unknown said...

Gidget.

Thank you for brightening these dark times.

Theo said...

Do you think there is a lot of nepotism in Hollywood? Or just is it not as much as other fields.

Mel Gibson's son seems to have had it easy, breaking into movies. Here he is talking of his new movie

https://www.usatoday.com/videos/life/people/2018/10/05/mel-gibsons-son-milos-life-changing-moment-realizing-his-passion-acting/38052235/

Peter said...

Thanks for the free play offer, Ken. Just got "A OR B". I look forward to reading it!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Desert Island Episodes...

(For those who do not know, for decades now BBC radio has had a show called Desert Island Discs, which invites a celebrity every week to name the eight pieces of music ("records") they would take to their desert island. They are also allowed one book (in addition to Shakespeare and the Bible, which are assumed) and a luxury (which may not be shelter, a communications device, or anything practical, if I've understood correctly).)

1. "Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth", from THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.

2. "The Luminous Fish Effect", from THE BIG BANG THEORY. (Or "The Big Bran Hypothesis", same show.)

3. "The Key", from YES, PRIME MINISTER.

wg

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Fred Vogel said...

Any episode from Fawlty Towers.

WB 3 said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken as I’m always interested in knowing what people who do this for a living thinks is funny.

My three desert/deserted island picks:

CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?, The Biggest Day Of The Year
THE ODD COUPLE, The Fat Farm
ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES, Healthy Competition/Who’s A Pretty Boy? (on same three S3 disk, so two for the price of one).

Favorite exchange, from the “Spy For A Spy” ep of GET SMART (Max attempts late night negotiation in a park with Siegfried (KAOS) for release of kidnapped Chief of Control):

Max: (indicating Control issue fruit-flavored suicide pill to Siegfried): It’s raspberry this month. Wanna try it?
Siegfried: No thanks.
Max: Go ahead. It’s not habit-forming.
Siegfried: No!
Max: Where’s your suicide pill?
Siegfried (indicating ring): This is my suicide ring. I will have to keep it on.
Max: A suicide wedding ring? How does that work?
Siegfried: From my wife. She said if I ever took it off she’d kill me!

(Another two for the price of one).


Justin Russo said...

KEN: Regarding documentaries, I highly recommend "BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY." Though she was recognized for her beauty and "talents" during her prime, Lamarr's true brilliance took years to be realized by society. She was able to see some of the benefits late in her life, but only now (thanks to recent movements) is her true worth being exposed.

The film itself is well done and only about 90-minutes. Plus it's filled with great facts (she invented Aspen as well AND was the second top-seller of war bonds, only behind Myrna Loy!).

tavm said...

I wonder if Sally Field reads this column...

Unknown said...

Have you ever seen the very first Honeymooners sketch? It's pretty intense.

Irv Goldstein said...

Love Gilda is NOT a superlative documentary. It is a mishmash of clips, interviews and past and present faces recounting her life in a very, very superficial manner. All bones, no meat. Shame it wasn't in more capable hands. Incredibly disappointing.

Cowboy Surfer said...

Watched a cool episode of WINGS last week, where Joe and Brian fly old man Carlton across the country to see his brother with Lowell and Antonio tagging along for the ride.


Carlton does a great job annoying everyone on board. Love the last line as the show fades to black - "maybe it was las cruces"


WINGS was a very good and underrated 90's sit-com.

Mike Bloodworth said...

"When the choice is authenticity vs. looking more flattering lots of actors will opt for the latter every time." Its funny that you wrote that. Because while Loretta Swit looks pretty good in that blog photo I never thought she was that attractive. I'm not saying she wasn't, just that she's not my type. However, in the movie version of M*A*S*H Sally Kellerman's "Hot lips" was considered the HOT nurse. Her beauty was a significant part of her character. On the other hand in the T.V. series "Hot lips" was much more authoritarian. Ms. Swit's looks were downplayed, especially in the pilot episode. The change in the characters' attitudes is also reflected in the physical characteristics of the actors.

So, let's make this a FRIDAY QUESTION. How important are physical appearance/characteristics when casting a particular role? e.g. You never see an army general played by a "nerd" type. What's the ratio of acting talent to being "right for the part?" Have you ever modified a character's personality based on the actor they hired? As previously stated, one of my biggest sitcom pet peeves is siblings that look nothing alike. That's why I thought David Hyde Pierce was such brilliant choice to play Frasier's brother. I also know that in your Cafe Plays, you're shown the actor's headshots before you begin writing. That must have an effect on what and how you write for them.
M.B.

blinky said...

The play BLOG never worked for me.

Robert Forman said...

>>That’s the same assignment as giving a cat a bath.<<

Steve Martin did a joke once on SNL. Went something like this:
I gave my cat a bath last night. People told me it would be difficult, but it was no problem at all. My cat enjoyed it and, well, so did I.
Of course the fur sticks to your tongue.

Max Clarke said...


The pilot for CHEERS was exceptional and enduring. Thirty years on, watching it is like listening to a great song you still love.

Charles and Charles put so much into that script, and yet it flows like a stream.

The pilot also has the funniest line Coach ever delivered….

Sumner Sloan: Where is your bathroom?

Coach: Next to my bedroom.

Buttermilk Sky said...

TAXI: Jim Ignatowski takes the driver test

FRASIER: Frederick's bar mitzvah, with Martin's strobe camera and Frasier's speech in Klingon

FAWLTY TOWERS: The German tourists. No, the hotel inspectors. All right, all of them.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Melinda Dillon's 80's frizz-tacular in A CHRISTMAS STORY really tosses the meticulous authenticity out the window. Too bad an actor can't be asked to accept hairstyles in an audition.

Saw a pristine widescreen presentation of DOCTOR DOLITTLE last year and realized that Anthony Newley's character was channeling Mike Nesmith, only with very different singing styles. (Imagine it was Newley: "Heaaaaayyyh! Heaaaaayyyh! Weaaaaaaaahh thhhuuuuhh Muuhhhhhaaaaaaaaauuhnnn-keeeess!")

sanford said...

Funniest honeymooners line for me was when Ralph was learning how to play golf and asks Ed what does it mean to address the ball. Ed answer "Hello Ball" This leads to a Friday Question that might have been asked and answered. Who do you consider the greatest comedy team of all time. Or name a few. Obviously Laurel and Hardy, Burns and Allan, Abbot and Costello, Martin and Lewis of course.

DyHrdMET said...

I thought of a Friday Question as I was catching up on your blog entries from the summer. It looked like you were working on some short-run plays this year, and I noticed that you weren't writing them with your regular writing partner David Isaacs. How is your writing process different when you and David are working together compared to when you're working alone? I realize that part of the exercise of your plays is to do it in a day, while TV and film is a bit longer, and they are different medium, so the overall process would be different.

Unknown said...

Friday Question:
Why would there be electricity on a desert island?