Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Stupid Character Tricks

Got into a discussion recently on the value of “stupid” characters on TV. And by that I mean in sitcoms, not our President. My contention was these characters worked because they had their own internal logic, usually taking things too literally. Think Gracie Allen, the Coach & Woody, Reverand Jim, etc. (In the case of our President the internal logic is “But if I go to New Orleans to inspect the flood damage I’ll miss the Padres game”.)

“Stupid” characters also provide a great way to impart exposition to the audience. When Sam explains what’s going on to the Coach he’s also explaining it to the viewers.

So the trick is to find that line that is dumb but you understand why the character would arrive at it. Sometimes it’s a fine line. In the case of the Coach on CHEERS we had a contest in a writers room to see who could pitch the dumbest Coach joke. One day we were faced with the following set-up: Sam is in his office. The Coach comes in to say he’s got a call. Jerry Belson is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He pitched this:

COACH: Sam, there’s a little black man in the bar who wants to speak to you.

SAM: No Coach, that’s the phone.


But I’d like to offer this:

RUMSFELD: Mr. President, there’s a little black man outside on the desk who wants to speak to you.

BUSH: Send him in.


Scott said...

Ken -

This is not exactly appropos of your post, but I just found your blog, saw that you created ALMOST PERFECT, and felt the need to share with you that your show produced a line that my husband and I still reference and constantly repeat to friends.

Chip Zien said, "Any couple is only five sentences away from breaking up after one of them utters the phrase, "Well, if you really feel that way, then why are you with me?" (I may be paraphrasing, but that was the gist).


That is all.

Alina Adams

By Ken Levine said...


You've made my day. Thanks for the nice note. The exact line is "Well if that's the way you really feel what are you doing with me?" CBS made us fire Nancy's boyfriend after the first season but let us have him for the first episode of the second year so we could break them up. Only problem was that we left them in the first season completely commited to each other. So we came up with the device of any couple can be broken up in five sentences if the first sentence is the one listed above and had three couples break up as a result. It was one of those great episodes I wish we didn't have to do. Again, thanks for remembering the show.

Adam Renfro said...

On Air Force One
Mr. President: Those people are so small they look like ants.

Rummy: They are ants Mr. President. We haven't taken off yet.