Friday, June 18, 2021

Friday Questions

Ready for some Friday Questions?

Joel Keller starts us off:

Here's a Friday Question for you, Ken, something that has had me curious for almost 40 years (I saw these episodes in reruns):

Did Mike Farrell grow a mustache on his own between seasons 6 and 7 or did you and David ask him to do it? It seems to have come with a change in BJ's character, where the clean-cut guy from Mill Valley is showing cracks in the armor due to all the horrors he's seen since he came to Korea. So it could have been part of a purposeful shift in his character.

Or he grew the 'stache over the break, didn't want to shave it, and you and the staff found an opportunity there. The irony is that Mike was stuck with the lip hair until the end of the series, even though it got fainter and shorter as time went on.

He was requested to grow the ‘stache to give him a different look.  We had read in research that lots of folks in MASH units grew mustaches and beards out of boredom.  And you're right, since Mike was so clean-cut, we all thought it might be fun.  And he could cut it at any time. 

But like I said, it was just a request.  Mike could have said no and the issue would have been dropped.   As always, Mike was a good sport.   And it looked good on him.

From Steve:

Is there a point in a series where lead actors/actresses are expected to take control of their characters? (For example, whether their character would say—or react to—something as written in the script.) Is it a source of frustration when they start exerting that control? Conversely, are there situations where showrunners / writing staff feel the need to encourage feedback from an actor to ensure they are capturing the essence of the character properly?

Steven Bochco used to say, “The first year the actors work for you, the second year you work together, and the third year you work for them.”  

The actual answer is it depends on the actor and the character.  I’ve mostly been very lucky in that I’ve worked in collaborative environments.  The actors’ input is invaluable.  They’re the ones playing the character, they generally gave way more thought to them.  Good actors can bring things to the characters and their lines that you never thought of.  On the other hand, characters are the vision of the writer.  

But with mutual respect you can usually come up with a script that incorporates the best of both camps.   Again, I’ve been verrrry lucky.  There are a lot of contentious actor-writer situations.  I've been in very few. 

Brian asks:

Have you ever written or thought about writing a play for radio?

No.  Very few radio plays are performed in front of an audience and since I write comedies, I prefer to hear the laughter.  I have featured some of my plays on my podcast, and a number of my short plays could easily be adapted to radio (they’re very dialogue heavy), but I’ve never set out to write a “radio” play.   

I wish there were more done here (with an audience).  This still seems to be a viable in the UK.  And of course, longtime readers know I love all forms of radio.  

And finally, from jcs:

I recently watched a blooper reel from "THAT '70S SHOW". Ashton Kutcher was shown having several small onstage accidents. Kutcher - to his credit - ignored the pain, stayed in character and played right through them.

Did you ever a witness an unforseen event onstage that resulted in a decent take which was later aired?

When I was directing LATELINE, starring Al Franken we had a scene we shot in Griffith Park where Al and Robert Foxworth ride horses.  It was one shot, they each had a couple of lines.  

Robert had been in Westerns and was very adept at riding.  Al, to be charitable, was not.

We rehearsed the scene a couple of times then shot it.  

On the first take, just after he got out of camera range, Foxworth screamed.  His back went out on him.  We had to have paramedics physically lift him off the horse onto a gurney.  

Fortunately we got the shot because there was no way we’d ever get a retake.

What’s your Friday Question?


David said...

AS you say, lots of radio drama in the UK, almost all of it on either BBC Radio 4 or, for older stuff, on the old stuff station BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Much of this can be listened to outside the UK on the BBC Sounds app, though downloading doesn't seem to be allowed.

There's a much better explanation than I can give of what can be listened to, and how it can be listened to, at

Jeff said...

Ken, there seems to be a formatting issue with question #1, where the question is in black font.

Chris G said...

We recently watched your outstanding "Point of View" episode of M*A*S*H*. One thing that struck us was that all of the main cast members seemed to have their intensity dialed down a notch. Hawkeye and Charles didn't get along but had a completely professional and almost friendly discussion about a patient, Potter was in a bad mood because he'd forgotten his anniversary but it never exploded into farce or went over the top, etc. Am I right that this was the case? And if so, was that decision made in the writing, directing, or performing? Thanks!

Michael said...

The Bochco quote reminds me of one of the greatest characters in TV history, Andy Sipowicz, played by one of the greatest actors I've ever seen, Dennis Franz, who read the pilot script and told Bochco the guy was totally irredeemable. Bochco said, you'll find a way. So there had to be some collaboration, I would think.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Personally, I cared not for the cheesy stache Beej grew; that's just me though. Sometimes I do wonder though what Peggy would've thought about it when she saw her husband return home from Korea with a hairy lip.

Nevin ":-)" said...

Hey, you already answered the mustache question in 2014. I should know: I asked it. Should we compare and contrast answers? :-)

Cheryl Marks said...

As I recall Fraiser wrote a radio play. Don't know who really wrote it, but it provided ample proof that radio plays should be performed performed before a live studio audience.

JessyS said...

On the issue of impossible to work with actors, Ken recounted the incident where the rest of CBS's Monday Night lineup was in Becker's office including Bill Cosby. Thank goodness, Ken didn't work on any of Bill's other shows.

To give an idea of what could happen when actors and writers clash, look no further than Amy Sherman-Palladino. She recounted her experiences in "Gilmore Girls" season 6 with the episode, "Friday Night's All Right for Fighting." Apparently that episode was a parody of her experience on "Roseanne."

Ray said...

Apropos of accidental things on set, I'll always remember Larry Gelbart's retelling of the final season 3 scene where they killed off Henry. (I remember it from the site, but it may also be in Laughing Matters.) Everybody did the scene, everyone except Alda having just seen it, and in terms of the acting it was fine but some tech thing was off. So Gary had to do it all over again. According to Elsig, he did it better. That was no accident, but in the middle of him reading the announcement somebody on set dropped a clamp or some other metal instrument. It was completely by mistake, but it wound up perfectly timed and captured the shock of the scene as much as the words and the tears and everything else we saw and heard.

Cap'n Bob said...

When I was on a troop ship going to Nam nearly everyone grew a mustache. One of our second lieutenants, who looked 14, wasn't having much luck, but one morning he turned out with a big, dark cookie duster. He'd drawn it on.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I'm still waiting for Ken to write a play ABOUT radio. I know he must have one in him. He has already written his sportscaster play, "Going, Going, Gone." He has his sitcom play, "America's Sexiest Couple," and others of a semi- autobiographical nature. But as far as I know, no radio play.
The only reasons I can think of are he doesn't want to look like an episode of "WKRP in Cincinnati," or like "Frasier" or worse, Howard Stern's movie.
Another possibility is that he has been working on one that he wants to be his masterpiece. Therefore, good isn't good enough. He wants it to be perfect.
Or maybe he's just screwing with us.

When your "radio play" is produced you know I'll be the first in line...
...Unless it's vaccinated only.


Justin Russo said...

With hundreds of CHEERS episodes and Norm entrances, do you have any particular favorite one-liners?

(Personally, my favorite is from 'The Peterson Principle': "It's a dog-eat-dog world out there and I'm wearing Milkbone underwear."

Jahn Ghalt said...

I offer a "complaint" - that most of the few "live audio" podcasts of your plays are difficult to understand.

This could be overcome with some "cheap" miking, mixing and recording. To combine this with a radio broadcast is not strictly necessary - but need not be live. Surely this sort of content would fit with all the spectrum currently available??

ScarletNumber said...

Regarding Bochco's comments on the relationship between writers and actors, please note that on The Office, the plan was to break up Jim and Pam in the last season. John Krasinski (Jim) objected and said that Jim would never divorce Pam no matter what. The writers listened, which is why they are living happily ever after, despite foreshadowing a breakup.

DBenson said...

"The 1940s Radio Hour", a holiday favorite in regional theater, is a play about a live Christmas Eve broadcast from a minor network, framed by offstage events and playing out in something like real time.

I can imagine a one or two character play based on Wolfman Jack's character from "American Graffitti": The all-night jock projecting absolute cool to teenage fans, but while the music plays he makes personal phone calls to deal with his uncool, middle-age life and perhaps offering advice to teens phoning in requests.

A favorite radio story: "The Shadow" was originally recorded before a live audience, but one season retreated to a closed studio. The actress playing the Shadow's "constant companion" Margo Lane was pregnant, and the producers were afraid audiences would think the Shadow was responsible. And/or dialogue would take on unintended meanings.

Svetlana said...

Hello! Do we comment here to get responses for next week?
I'd like to know what your thoughts are on MyNetwork TV and why it flopped so badly. I feel like with the rise of Over the Air retro channels like Cozi, Antenna TV, and Laff, there's certainly a market for it to get rebooted as a 24/7 old sitcom channel.
Thank you!

Buttermilk Sky said...

I assumed B.J.'s mustache was a little nod to Elliot Gould's mustache in the movie. Thanks for the correction.

Dave Creek said...

The instrument dropping in the episode where Henry Blake was killed is one of my favorite TV moments. As noted above, perfectly timed. I always assumed (rightly, as it turns out) that it was something that just happened and was kept in.