Friday, February 22, 2019

Friday Questions

More exciting than the Oscars – Friday Questions.

Rock Golf is up first.

Kelsey Grammer was on The Late Late Show with James Corden and discussing a possible Frasier revival. He claimed to have been talking with "a group of writers" about getting this going.

So a two part question: Are you one of those writers? And do you think a Frasier revival would be a good thing?

I am not one of those writers. If I had an idea and called Kelsey I’m pretty sure I could be one of those writers.

Would a reboot be a good thing? It really depends on the premise and more importantly who is writing it? If the original FRASIER writers are involved then I might be optimistic. If a whole new group is coming in then I’d be very wary.

There’s a real legacy to FRASIER and those characters. I think you risk really tarnishing that legacy with a reboot that’s not as good or better than the original. I don’t think the recent revival of MURPHY BROWN did their legacy any favors.

From Bruce P:

I sometimes am amazed looking at old sitcoms / dramas that either had a short run or were on the decline in both quality and ratings. I realize the actors and crew are professionals and will do their jobs whether their shows are ranked #1 or #120. But is there a discernible difference in attitude on the set of a hit compared to the set of a soon-to-be cancelled show? I can understand disappointment on a low rated show set. But isn't there also tension on a hit show set as the writers, crew and actors feel like they have to continue to produce quality to maintain their high ratings.

No. Hit shows tend to have relaxed sets. There’s not that dread that “it isn’t working.”  There's something that's a rare commodity in show business: stability.   If anything, I’d say there’s too much confidence on some sets.

But if you’ve been in the business for any period of time you’ve undoubtedly worked on shows that were struggling, or just plain nightmares. As a result, to find yourself on a hit, most people involved – from the actors, writers, and crew – appreciate more what they have and don’t take it for granted.

BUT…

This is all predicated on not having a monster for the series star. The star sets the tone and a monster, fortified with a modicum of success, will become even more insufferable and obnoxious. And that will poison everything.

Oh, and to be fair, there are monster showrunners too.

Happily, those are more the exceptions than the rule. Hit shows don’t come along often. If you’re fortunate enough to be on one I hope you enjoy every single minute of it.

Brian Phillips wonders:

In your latest podcast (the one on ageism), you say that you are working solo. Do you find when you are writing that you hear your partner's voice in your head even if you aren't working with him?

Absolutely. All the time. I’ve always trusted David Isaacs’ judgment and valued his high standards. So consciously or unconsciously I’m always thinking “Is this good enough? If we were writing this together would it get in?” (In a sense he’s helping me write even though he’s not there.)

I think the proof of this mindset (for both of us) is that on those few occasions when we split a script up and each wrote one act separately and then put them together, I swear you could never tell which of us wrote which act.

And by the way, when I write a new full-length play, the first person I give my first draft to for notes is David.

And finally, from cd1515:

One thing I see in bad shows is characters constantly calling each other by their names.....like every sentence or two. It almost feels like the writers were padding the weak script with useless words. No one talks that way. Do writers have rules or theories on that?

There’s no written rules. I can only share how I address it. Generally I’ll avoid the characters calling each other by their names. You’re right, people don’t do that.

I have two exceptions: People do call each other by name if they’re particularly mad at them. “Mary, you and I are through!”

The other time I use that convention is in pilots. I sprinkle the names in there a few times to help the audience learn their names. By week three of a series I discontinue that.

What’s your Friday Question? Remember I will be reviewing the Oscars on my podcast. You can hear it Monday morning.

31 comments :

Jim S said...

Ken,

Friday question.

What was the best note you ever received from a suit, and from a fellow writer/producer?

Michael said...

Friday question in honor of spring training starting: For many years, the Mets had 3 announcers, Ralph Kiner, Bob Murphy, and Lindsey Nelson, who each broadcast 6 innings on TV as part of 2 man booth and 3 innings on radio solo each game. How hard is it switching back and forth from TV to radio within same game and did you have a preference on which to broadcast games on?

Andrew said...

Saw this online: The Jussie Smollett hoax is what you get when the actors write the script.

Glenn said...

I've heard a lot of people say the Frasier revival could involve Frasier living with Frederick, maybe even back in Boston. Frasier would now be in the "Martin" role. It's got potential but I would hate to see them do yet another "conservative father, liberal son" dynamic.

Dwight C Douglas said...

When are you going to review this book: https://www.amazon.com/Gold-God-Guns-Goofballs-Collection-ebook/dp/B07MZG45V3/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1_sspa?keywords=gold+god+guns+and+goofballs&qid=1550850152&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmrnull-spons&psc=1

It's all about the loons in DC.... enjoy

OrangeTom said...

Was watching an old Columbo episode over the weekend and much to my surprise a familiar name appeared as director in the end credits. Resulting trip to Wikipedia revealed that Nicholas Colasanto had quite a run as a t.v. drama director in the '70's. Was wondering if he ever talked about the directing craft and those experiences when y'all worked together on Cheers.

Dave Creek said...

I'd think any new FRASIER show would have to be as different from the original as it was from CHEERS -- placing the character in a completely different situation, with minimal ties to the original series (except in ratings periods, of course!).

Buttermilk Sky said...

As much as I love FRASIER, there comes a time when you have to draw a line and create new characters in new situations. I feel the same about the "updated" Sherlock Holmes shows -- he's a Victorian who shouldn't be dragged into the world of email and bio-terrorism. Create a new character as multi-faceted as Frasier Crane and I'll bet Kelsey Grammer will jump at the chance to try something new. What actor wouldn't?

DwWashburn said...

On the subject of repeating names -- Some of my favorite cartoons are the early Hanna Barberas (Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Flintstones, et al). But the one thing that drives me up a wall is that in nearly every line the speaking character says the name of the character that they are speaking to. If you had a drinking game for every time Yogi said "Boo Boo" you would be plastered in front of your children before the end title card.

littlejohn said...


Ken,

A Friday question for you:

My wife and I like Kelsey Grammar so we tuned in to his new show Proven Innocent. I'm not sure we will stick with the show but Kelsey plays a great prick. What other actors and actresses have you worked with who can do both comedy and drama as well ?


Thanks


littlejohn

Gary said...

In a Frasier reboot, I like the idea of the adult Frederick taking more after Martin than Frasier. It wouldn't have to be political at all, just as the original series wasn't. Frederick could simply be an unassuming down-to-earth character, perhaps in a blue collar job. Meanwhile Frasier and Niles would be as pompous as ever. Some definite possibilities there.

E. Yarber said...

Goodman Ace not only wrote comedy for both radio and television, but back in the early 50s penned a regular column about the small screen for Saturday Review. He noted that in adapting for the new medium, some radio writers out of habit not only carried over the too-often use of names (necessary to identify characters in audio) but would forget that the dialogue no longer had to tell the audience what they couldn't see. If a suspect pulled a gun on a detective, for example, the detective might say, "Oh, so you've pulled a gun on me."

Frank Beans said...

Regarding name use on sitcoms, I've found that the best-written and most verbose ones (MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER) actually use character names quite a lot, and it doesn't seem to be employed to pad out the script, nor does it make it seem forced or unnatural. I'm not so anal as to go back and do a word count, but I think all of those shows use character names all the time, in context of course.

Mike Bloodworth said...

In a previous blog you said that you wouldn't want to work on an animated series, but as I've said before, if they did reboot "Frasier" I would love to see an animated version. I've previously referenced "The Simpsons" "Brother From Another Series" episode.

I understand your point about having at least a few of the original writers on the reboot. Many times new writers may have the FORM of a series, but they don't capture the SPIRIT of a show. This is also applicable to the past fad of making movie versions of TV shows. "Get Smart" is a good example. Both in series reboots and the movie. They were all pretty awful compared to the original.

Speaking of "Frasier," how's this for a plot twist in the reboot or an idea for a possible spin-off. Since in real life David Hyde Pierce and Dan Butler are both gay why not make their characters gay as well. There were several episodes where people wondered about Niles' sexuality. And this would explain his more effete qualities. And Bulldog is a classic case of over compensation. Both characters "come out." Niles leaves Daphne and he moves in with Bulldog. It would make for a great "Odd Couple" type of dynamic.

I don't know if these were episodes that you and David wrote, but on "CHEERS," "Frasier" and "M*A*S*H" characters regularly called each other by name. But, I agree that this is often used to pad a weak script.

Finally, referring to this week's blog about comedy having to be cold. Considering how cold it's been here in L.A. this past week, you must have been getting guffaws just bringing in the mail or getting the paper. Although, as I've been out and about this week I haven't seen anyone laughing.

As always, I apologize for the length of this post.
M.B.


Todd Everett said...

Per the overuse of names, here's one that bothers me at least as much:

"Bill, as your accountant, I must warn you..." Bill would have a pretty good idea that the guy (or woman) is his accountant, doctor, boss, etc. Surely there's a better way to let the audience know,

Powerhouse Salter said...

Have you often or ever written an original sitcom episode mainly so it could incorporate a particularly spontaneous outtake from a previous script? I don't mean a case of "That's a clever misreading, let's keep it ," but one where the misreading or set mishap was so original and out of left field that it warranted producing a new episode around it.

71dude said...

With nothing getting good ratings anymore and even established series like "Fresh off the Boat" and "Speechless" hanging by a thread, how do actors in bubble shows decide when to audition for other pilots? Do they follow ratings websites that say their show is "likely renewed" or "likely cancelled"? Or can they just act in whatever they want when their season wraps?

Coram_Loci said...

“McSessions” — how Niles denigrates Frasier's practice.

Reboot with Frasier as CEO of “I'm Listening Therapy” a helpful but not too helpful franchise of psychiatrists. He's proud that he is helping people but embarrassed (and frustrated) that his legacy will never be that of a Jung.

To keep the comedy smart, the main characters will be other psychiatrists. (Different versions of Niles [perhaos that Rodney fella who likes his coffee with just a dollop of cream so as to emulate a nimbulus cloud wafting about the...])

To keep the comedy light, the patients will have al sorts of mental maladies ala his callers.

To keep the show fresh, Frasier can take field trips to his franchisees across the country.

To keep it poignant on a personal level he'll need his family or someone else to care for him and for him to care about.

Jen from Jersey said...

That sounds like a great idea!

B Smith said...

Friday Question: how do you feel about "authenticity" in casting? A friend of mine is directing a Short & Sweet play specially written for him which features a trans woman character. The playwright is insisting that a trans woman play the part, other parties have chimed in that to cast a male is "violence against the trans community" yet casting a woman comes under equal fire. The friend wants to keep everybody happy, but what to do?

There was even a case reported in the UK Guardian a week or two back about the uproar with a play that had one character being an 11-year-old mild-to-severe autistic boy, and the fact that there don't seem to be any on the Equity books, so they were going to use a puppet! There was also somebody criticising how able actors "crip up" to play folk with deformity problems and that it ought to be only the genuine bods with the relevant conditions that are qualified to play 'em.

Wotcha think?

Doug said...

Friday question: What do you think of San Diego's $300 million dollar move? With the caveat that the pitching won't catch up until the pitching talent is really to leave the farm for the big club over the next couple seasons.

ShatToupBlog said...

1/3

Dear Ken,

Love your blog. I was wondering if you may be able to help shed light on what appears to be something of a mystery regarding the production order of the third season of Cheers – and indeed whether “Cheerio, Cheers” was really the last full episode in which Nicholas Colasanto appeared as Coach before his passing, as stated across a variety of sources, including Wikipedia and IMDb. I humbly offer the following analysis:

Going through the records of the United States Copyright Office (USCO) yields what appears to be an entirely different, and quite illuminating, production order for the series compared with its ultimate broadcast order. Listed below is the USCO production order – I have indicated the broadcast order number, and also whether Coach appeared in the episode, in brackets:

45 – Rebound (broadcast 01)
46 – Rebound II (broadcast 02)
47 – An American Family (broadcast 09)
48 – Sam Turns the Other Cheek (broadcast 05)
49 – Coach in Love (broadcast 06)
50 – Coach in Love II (broadcast 07)
51 – I Call Your Name (broadcast 03)
52 – Diane Meets Mom (broadcast 08)
53 – A Ditch in Time (broadcast 12)
54 – Peterson Crusoe (broadcast 11)
55 – Diane’s Allergy (broadcast 10)
56 – Fairytales Can Come True (broadcast 04)
57 – Whodunnit (broadcast 13)
58 – The Heart is a Lonely Snipehunter (broadcast 14)
59 – Cheerio, Cheers (broadcast 22)
60 – Rescue Me (broadcast 25, Coach in cold opening only)
61 – King of the Hill (broadcast 15)
62 – Teacher’s Pet (broadcast 16)
63 – Bar Bet (broadcast 18, No Coach)
64 – The Mail Goes to Jail (broadcast 17)
65 – If Ever I Would Leave You (broadcast 20, No Coach)
66 – Behind Every Great Man (broadcast 19, No Coach)
67 – The Executive’s Executioner (broadcast 21, No Coach)
68 – The Bartender’s Tale (broadcast 23, No Coach)
69 – The Belles of St. Clete’s (broadcast 24, No Coach)


Of course, this chronology may be in error in terms of reflecting the true production order of the series. However, glancing through the episodes in this sequence, its accuracy seems to be confirmed by looking at the (now) gradual development of Shelley Long’s concealed pregnancy throughout the season. She starts off trim, and then her pregnancy becomes very noticeable from around “The Heart is a Lonely Snipehunter” onwards. By the end of this chronology, it’s thick jumpers, hiding behind tables etc.

This chronology also appears to correspond with Nick Colasanto’s deteriorating health and appearance throughout the series. The only apparent oddity, assuming this chronology is accurate, is the actor’s absence from the season finale “Rescue Me” (except for the cold opening) given the episode was evidently filmed so early in the season. A possible answer: the episode was registered with the USCO after only the parts involving a still-not-heavily-pregnant Shelley Long were filmed (scenes set away from the Cheers bar, including location work). The rest was filmed much later. More on this later...

As for “Cheerio, Cheers”, is it possible that seemingly inaccurate information regarding this being Nick’s last episode was somehow misreported and grew based on a reading of the broadcast order of the episodes – in which Coach disappears for a few episodes and then returns in that episode? If that was indeed his final episode, then how to explain his remarkable reversal of form, not to mention Shelley Long’s suddenly very trim figure compared with later episodes in which Coach still features?

ShatToupBlog said...

2/2

IMDb’s “Trivia” entry on “Cheerio, Cheers” notes:

“Nicholas Colasanto died two days after this episode was filmed. Production was shut down for three weeks as the cast and crew mourned and scripts were re-written. For the rest of the season, different explanations were given for Coach’s absence.”

Yet Wikipedia’s entry on Cheers Season 3 states something very different:

“Shortly after Christmas 1984, Colasanto was admitted to a local hospital with water in his lungs [...] After he was released from the hospital, Colasanto’s doctor recommended that he not return to work. Although he appeared in the cold opening of the third-season finale (‘Rescue Me’), his last full episode was ‘Cheerio Cheers’ (filmed in late November 1984)”

The first suggests Nick died two days after “Cheerio Cheers” was filmed. The other that he died at least 2-3 months after the episode was filmed, not to mention the suggestion that a perhaps partially-recovered Nick was able to at least appear in the cold opening of the finale “Rescue Me”. Both sources claim that “Cheerio Cheers” was his final (full) filmed episode. And yet the USCO chronology would appear to suggest that Nicholas Colasanto filmed three further full episodes of Cheers after “Cheerio, Cheers”.

As for the mystery of Coach’s appearance in the cold opening of “Rescue Me”, here, it is possible to deduce that this is certainly the result of reediting and juggling around a sequence from a previously filmed episode. In other words, by the time the cast returned to filming the non-Shelley Long parts of this episode, Nick had already passed away. By way of a tribute, a previously filmed Coach scene was used. Where did it come from? An episode ran long perhaps, a scene was deleted, perhaps more detective work could yield an answer on that too...

Additionally, cheers.fandom.com’s article on Nicholas Colasanto notes:

“He filmed his last full episode in late November 1984. [...] Shortly after Christmas 1984, he was admitted to a local hospital due to water in his lungs. When Colasanto was released on the week of January 28 – February 3, 1985, from the hospital after a two-week stay, his doctor recommended that he not return to work. Although he appeared in the cold opening of the third season finale episode, ‘Rescue Me’ (1985), his last full episode was ‘Cheerio Cheers’ (1985), filmed in late November 1984.”

So Colasanto returned to work to at least appear in the cold opening of the season finale? Not quite. The entry continues:

“Colasanto returned to work against medical advice, and despite his weakened state, assured his cast-mates he would be back for the season finale, ‘Rescue Me’. Unfortunately he passed away on February 12, 1985, in Studio City, California, before the finale was filmed; the producers used a previously filmed cold-opening featuring Colasanto for that show.”

The Wikipedia entry on Cheers is more confusing on this point:

“The third-season episodes of Cheers were filmed out of order, partly to accommodate the pregnancy of cast member Long. As a result, the season finale, which included several scenes with Colasanto, had already been filmed at the time of his death.”

It does appear from the USCO production order that Nicholas Colasanto’s final filmed episode was in fact “The Mail Goes to Jail”, and certainly this is the episode in which the actor looks to be in by far the poorest health of the series. After that, the chronology suggests that he never returned.

ShatToupBlog said...

3/3

Nick Colasanto evidently missed the episode that preceded “The Mail Goes to Jail”, namely “Bar Bet”, only to return (against doctor’s orders?) to “The Mail Goes to Jail”. He was then missing from three subsequently filmed episodes “If Ever I Would Leave You”, “Behind Every Great Man” and “The Executive’s Executioner”. “Bar Bet”, “If Ever I Would Leave You”, and “Behind Every Great Man” feature reasons given for Coach’s absence, albeit with the promise that he will soon return. “The Executive’s Executioner”, curiously, offers no such promise. Incidentally, John Ratzenberger appears in all these episodes as Cliff – this is relevant because there is also the following information on Nicholas Colasanto’s Wikipedia page:

“On February 16, 1985, more than three hundred people attended his funeral, including John Ratzenberger, the only cast member of Cheers to do so. NBC would not allow the entire cast to take a break from filming to fly to Providence, Rhode Island where the funeral was held. Ratzenberger, a New England native, was sent as a representative for the cast.”

How to explain this if Ratzenberger was not absent from any episodes around this time? Was NBC really being so mean, forcing most of the cast to film an episode of Cheers on the day of their castmate’s funeral? Here, too, the Cheers story would certainly benefit from more clarity.

By the last two full episodes filmed for season three, according to the USCO production order, namely “The Bartender’s Tale” and “The Belles of St. Clete’s”, Nick Colasanto’s famous “Geronimo” photograph, found in the late actor’s Cheers dressing room after his death, is hanging in its famous spot in the bar. How to explain this if the cast was awaiting Nicky's possible return to film "Rescue Me"? Additionally – and crucially – the non-Shelley Long parts of “Rescue Me” (excluding the Coach-featuring cold opening) were evidently also filmed after Nick’s death. For the bar scenes from this episode also prominently feature the “Geronimo” photograph – this picture would hang in the same spot for the rest of the series, and would feature in a final moving tribute to Coach by Sam Malone in the show’s finale in 1993. Was the remainder of "Rescue Me" the first thing filmed after Nick Colasanto's death?

The illness and death of a beloved cast member; the pregnancy of not just one, but two of its lead actresses (Rhea Perlman’s pregnancy was written into the show, so no thick jumpers or European trips for Carla Tortelli, fortunately); and a production forced to juggle, conceal, re-edit, re-write, and recover as a consequence. Cheers’ season three was clearly a very tumultuous one.

Alas, Nick Colasanto, suffering from acute heart disease, was a shadow of his former self by the time of his appearance in “The Mail Goes to Jail”. Hopefully, the mystery of whether that was indeed his final appearance in Cheers will soon be definitely solved based on archival evidence or production insider accounts. The history of Cheers is crying out for better chronicling, especially concerning the death of Nicholas Colasanto – fixing Wikipedia entries after that is the easy part...

Whatever such additional work uncovers, the episode “Cheerio, Cheers” will still offer what would turn out to be a definitive touching farewell for Coach, Sam and Diane – Coach even expresses his wish to Sam that the star-crossed lovers will let him move in with them during his old age: “I always figured you and her would get married, you know [...] I’m not kidding. I pictured you moving to a little home in the country with a rose garden out in the front, and a nice little room in the back for me, and every Sunday night Diane would make us a fried chicken dinner and we’d sit on the porch and listen to the ball game, I’d be bouncing kids on my knee – God it was going to be a happy house....” Maybe, had he still been around...

Three cheers for Nicholas Colasanto’s Coach!

-ShatToupBlog
(Of the since-retired "Shatner's Toupee" blog)

Stephen Robinson said...

Glenn said:

<<>>

SER: I'm not I would characterize the Martin/Frasier dynamic as "conservative father/liberal son." What was great about the show was that their politics weren't obvious. I could see Martin as a hardcore Joe Biden style working class union Dem and Frasier as the Reagan-era Republican. The Limbaugh-esque "mean-spiritedness" or "resentment"-filled politics that started to infect modern conservatism hadn't yet taken full hold in how we'd view Republicans or Democrats on TV at the time.

The father/son dynamic was great because Martin was a working class guy, the sort who you'd expect to see enjoying a beer at Cheers with Norm, and Frasier/Niles were fussy, sometimes snobby people. That's where the conflict came.

There is great potential for this conflict thriving in a different form: Though, personally, I think I'd find it more interesting if Frederick wasn't the "Martin" to Frasier but his Niles. I thought they had a great relationship. Also, during the 1990s, Boomers having their parents move in with them was a big thing. Nowadays, it's more the reverse: Millennials (which Frederick would be) moving in with their Boomer parents.

Andy Rose said...

@ShatToupBlog: I don't have any answers to your questions, but I just wanted to say I really miss Shatner's Toupee.

In addition to the line in "Cheerio, Cheers," I liked the farewell they gave to Coach in his final appearance in the season finale. The cold open coincidentally ended with him getting pensive and raising a hand to heaven. Even though there was a punchline attached, the editor cut out the laugh and just let the moment hang.

I agree it would be fascinating to hear about the production of Season 3 given all of the moving parts they had to deal with, not to mention the challenge of filming the climax of the season finale at the very beginning of the season. I'll add one question to all of yours: How did they do the air vent gag in "The Mail Goes to Jail"? I think the bar was built on the studio floor, but you can clearly see Sam sticking his head through the vent hole in the wide shot. Surely they didn't drill out concrete just for one episode.

Joseph Scarbrough Puppet Productions said...

All this talk of Kelsey Grammer; Geico's been running a lot of their older commercials lately, but, does anyone else besides me remember the original Geico Gecko voiced by Kelsey Grammer from waaay back when? He was a lot more posh and uppercrust, and actually hated being associated with Geico:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1VPO0JxUdQ

Andrew said...

@Stephen Robinson,
I agree with you in principle. But there was one episode, The Candidate, where Martin endorsed a law-and-order type conservative blowhard. Both Frasier and Niles considered him (Martin's pick) to be a fascist.

That episode had one of my favorite sequences ever, when Frasier had to do a commercial for his chosen candidate a second time. I still laugh every time I see it.

"And he cares about... the little people."

Jerry Gilligan said...

Friday Question - I kind of liked the Murphy Brown revival, mostly because I really liked the new characters they introduced; how do you handle it when the background/supporting characters are more interesting than the leads? Thanks.

MikeN said...

FRIDAY QUESTION:

From his interview with Robin Roberts, it's clear that Jussie Smollett is a great actor.
He actually staged his attack, but the camera was facing the wrong way, so we can't evaluate how he is as a director, though the wrong way camera suggests not a good one.
My question is, based on the report he gave, how would you evaluate him as a writer?

Ringo said...

The Frasier reboot will be a hit as long as they keep the humor witty and make the audience think. It will be a flop if the writters treat the audience as morons. There should be a rule in life that says people should not be submitted to more than one corn-ball "I Love Lucy" type show in a life time.