Thursday, June 07, 2007


The first season of THE ODD COUPLE is now out on DVD. Included is a bonus track from series creators Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson. Jerry passed away recently and it was good to hear his voice again. In typical Belson style, he talked about wanting to do a joke where Oscar found a framed picture of Hitler with Felix. Hitler was thanking him for getting the German command so clean. Needless to say it never got in. We learn on the track that this ia a joke that Marshall-Belson had wanted to do as far back as THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, where Laura would discover a framed photo of Hitler with Rob. Can you imagine the "Ohhh Robbbb!!" from THAT scene??

I always loved THE ODD COUPLE but especially after the first season. Year one was done single camera, and all subsequent seasons were multi-camera in front of a live audience. The shows got funnier and the actors’ performances got brighter playing off a live crowd. Like Belson says on the track, "with a live audience you have to really make sure the joke is funny. With single-camera there were times you'd say 'yeah, that's fine' but you knew it wasn't."

In the debate between single camera (the current rage) vs. multi-camera there have been a few instances where a sitcom has switched from one to the other. And although multi-camera is soooo passé today, when you take the Pepsi Challenge, the multi-camera shows do tend to be the preferred choice.

I’m just saying.

A few years after THE ODD COUPLE was cancelled ABC reprised the series with Ron Glass and Demond Wilson, using some of the same scripts -- prompting a noted comedy writer to say, "If that's what they're doing, why don't they save money and just show the negatives?"

TOMORROW: Working with Tony Randall.


The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I absolutely love the Odd couple.
Think about it. Basically it's 2 actors. One main set stage (the living room)
There are no carry over story lines.
Try and make that work, Hollywood.
And yet they did.
And it's hysterical.

garry marshall did the same one camera to 3 camera bit with Happy days which i think was 1 camera for the first 2 seasons.
Those were like mini-nostalgia films. But very funny.

Garry Marshall had a knack for finding just the right comedic touches.
And shaping characters we loved.

blogward said...

Ken, your blog is a blog amongst blogs. Thanks. I wonder what your take on laughter tracks is? Hate 'em myself.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing the stage play "The Odd Couple" back in the 60s, before even the movie had been made, and thinking "It's a sit-com, it could go on forever." It was nice of Garry Marshall to prove me right.

I recall NEWHART going from being shot on videotape in season 1, to shot on film for the rest of the run. Result? That first season looks like crap in reruns. But then, it took that show two full seasons to really find itself and become wonderful.

But in a world where Paris Hilton is released from jail on a note from her doctor ("Please let Paris go home. She doesn't like it in jail. Doc Bribetaker"), how can TV comedy compete with reality?

I wonder if Sheriff Baca has suddenly found the financing for that summer home in Hawaii?

Speaking of that "Picture with Hitler" gag; this story is TRUE! It's about the Norweigian ice skater and film star Sonja Hennie, who was generally an appalling person in pretty much everyway. When the Nazis marched into Oslo, her home town, Sonja, who was in Hollywood, phoned her housekeeper back in Oslo, where she kept a house, and told her to put out the pictures of her with Hitler, so the Nazis would know she was a pal of the Fuhrer and leave her property alone. It worked too.

Of course, the appalling thing is that she did in fact have pictures of herself posing with Hitler. But probably not signed, as I don't think Adolf liked her. She was too mean for him.

By Ken Levine said...

I am often asked my thoughts on the laugh track. I will devote a post to that next week.

Anonymous said...

Okay, Marshall and Belson get credit for "creating" the TV series. But shouldn't Neil Simon get some credit for creating "The Odd Couple?"

Of course, as to your main point, the series did get much better as it moved to a live audience. After all, Neil Simon created the characters to be performed in front of live audiences.

doggans said...

Yes, the same way Angell, Casey, and Lee "created" the show "Frasier", and Glen and Les Charles are still recognized for creating the character Frasier Crane.

Unknown said...

I was thinking about this the other day while watching a "Happy Days" rerun. That was a much better show when it was on single camera. The vibe was just smarter and better.

But the opposite happened with the Odd Couple. It was better, smarter, and funnier before an audience.

Anonymous said...

Great news for everyone: Season 2 is being released in a few months, at the end of August:

I'm not a marketer, just another die-hard "Odd Couple" fan who's been waiting for YEARS for these DVDs, and, like all of you here, prefer the later seasons to the first one.
- Scott

Reno said...

In his autobiography Desi Arnaz claimed "I Love Lucy" was the first multi-camera sitcom, and that it was he who saw the need for, and essentially created the design for, the crab dolly. (Wonder why they display the "Chapman" logo, and not "Arnaz."

Any truth to any of this?


Anonymous said...

Didn't the writers finally find a way to salvage a form of the joke without a photo of Felix with Hitler? I seem to recall during the ticket-scalping episode, during Oscar's cross-examination of Felix he points out that he was the only American prisoner to receive a medal from the Nazis, for keeping the cleanest bunk, to which Felix defensively replies that he refused the medal and threw it right back at them... And I remember it getting a very big laugh.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I've written for a LOT of multi-camera sitcoms over the past 20 years and honestly, the single-camera format is a direct result of the twenty-something, no-nothing studio and network execs who have NO idea what is funny, therefore they have no idea what is NOT funny... which explains why they keep renewing shows like "Scrubs" which audiences keep not watching. A show like "Scrubs" would benefit from a live audience as 200 people would force those writers to actually come up with a joke now and then that didn't involve a "funny sound effect" or a "funny glance to the side" from the genius of Zach Braff. God, we wonder why the audiences stopped watching sitcoms? It's because the studios and networks stopped letting us make FUNNY ones. Bastards. These execs have singlehandedly ruined sitcoms and the livelihoods of a lot of good people with actual talent, talent that extends beyond being a young, female, African-American gay minority with a degree in communications and a full six months experience being someone's assistant.
P.S. God Bless Jerry Belson. One of the funniest men I ever worked with.

Rays profile said...

That "noted comedy writer" wouldn't have the initials KL, would he?

Anonymous said...

..."Happy Days"...was a much better show when it was on single camera. The vibe was just smarter and better.

But the opposite happened with the Odd Couple. It was better, smarter, and funnier before an audience.

Agreed. I always thought it was because "Odd Couple" got back to its stage roots.

But then "Happy Days" was a struggling show as a single-camera and a huge, network-saving hit as a multi-camera, so what do I know?

Grubber said...

Sorry anonymous, gotta disagree about Scrubs with you there. I find it one of the funniest comedies around.

Now, if you were bagging According to Jim/George Lopez Show/Hope & Faith......I'd understand and be buying you beers.


Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of sitting in on many episodes of THE ODD COUPLE (and contributing to some) and what a joy it was to watch Randall and Klugman spin their acting magic every week. A magnificent creation by Neil Simon superbly transferred to the TV screen by Marshall and Belson. God knows, TV needs more of this today.
P.S. - Ken, I HATE laugh tracks!

Todd Mueller said...

Love The Odd Couple. Always wanted to see Jack Klugmann and Tony Randall spot Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon tussling in public.
"Look at those two. How embarrasing." ...or maybe they did work that into the series at some point. Though it seems like more of a Hope and Crosby type of thing.

By Ken Levine said...

Believe me, if I said the "negatives" line I would take credit for it. Nope. Wasn't me. But wish it were.

My first staff job was on THE TONY RANDALL SHOW. I have a number of Tony Randall stories. Fodder for future posts.

By Ken Levine said... more thing.

Neil Simon is recognized on the TV version as the originator of THE ODD COUPLE.

TheMuse said...

I have Tony Randall stories too. What a hoot! An inappropriate hoot. I directed him reading an audiobook.

Unknown said...

Some great lines came out of The Odd Couple, most notably:
1) ASSUME When you assume, you make and ASS out of U and ME!
2) Happy and peppy and bursting with love?
3) Linguine? Now it's garbage...
4) I feel like I'm sitting in Deacon Jones' hand.

They may not be word for word, but darn close. Randall and Klugman were great actors that worked well together, much like Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, the original Odd Couple!

Anonymous said...



Also, I appreciate what the fans of three camera shows are saying, but I guess, where my reservations are, to use Happy Days as an example, when Henry Winkler would come into a scene. The audience reacted like apes and hyenas. It just seems to ruin the reality of the scene.

Anonymous said...

Longtime reader, first time caller. Is it true that portions of the 'Odd Couple' dialogue was improvised? I read on IMDB that: "Randall and Klugman were also involved in the creative process of the TV show. They improvised on occasion, and sometimes they would receive scripts that simply said something like 'Jack teaches Tony football' and nothing else written on the next four pages."

Sounds suspect but if any team could have pulled it off it would have been those two geniuses.

Question, is this true and, if so, is this phenomenon known to exist now in today's ultra-controlled, non-spontaneous sitcom environment?


Dana King said...

Henry Winkler appears on stage with a Brooklyn accent, thumps the juke box with his fist and the record of his choice plays, and benson thinks the audience reaction ruined the reality of the show?

I loved Happy Days, but come on.

Brian Scully said...

One of my favorites lines is when Felix in on some TV show, possibly "Lets Make A Deal" or "Password" and looks into the camera and says, "Murray! Use a coaster!" and the camera then cuts to their apartment and we see Murray scrambing to put a coaster under his drink. Brilliant!

Joel said...

I work for a TV web site, so I get the fall pilots right after the upfronts. I was shocked to see that the new Amy Sherman-Palladino show, The Return of Jezebel James, is a multi-camera show shot in front of an audience. It was interesting to see how the rapid-fire dialogue she perfected on Gilmore Girls meshed with the rhythm of having a studio audience. My thinking was that AS-P is going to need to write a little differently to get those rhythms down; the pilot felt a bit out of synch.

Just illustrating that as great a format as multi-camera is, even the best writers have a hard time writing for it. That's why we see so few good "traditional" sitcoms these days.

By the way, how odd was it that Garry Marshall was involved in two classic sitcoms that went from single- to multi-camera early in their runs? You'd think that by the time Happy Days came around he would have taken his Odd Couple lesson to heart and just start it as a multi-camera show.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of laugh tracks--can any of you insiders speak to my suspicion that about six months ago CBS started hiring a professional laugher or two to sit in Craig Ferguson's studio audience? He's about my fave talk-show host these days, but sometimes I think I'm hearing chuckles on steroids. And they don't sound overdubbed, just too hearty to be quite real.

Anonymous said...

To the rant by anonymous on the idiot execs & Scrubs, etc... this anonymous poster salutes you.

Anonymous said...

Multi-camera was indeed invented and designed by Desi Arnaz AND genius cinematographer Karl Freund. One suspects that Desi saw the need, and Freund worked out how to do it.

Freund photographed METROPOLIS and DRACULA, and directed THE MUMMY with Karloff and MAD LOVE, Peter Lorre's American film debut (And a film both brilliant and unintentionally hilarious.) He wound up his career shooting I LOVE LUCY and inventing multi-camera with Desi.

And I am SO GLAD that I'm not the only person who hates SCRUBS. I watched the entire first season and never laughed. Haven't seen an episode since. Terrible show, lavished with incomprehensible praise. I watched the FRASIER last night with Rita Wilson as Frasier's date and mother. Now THAT was COMEDY!

LouOCNY said... where is Season 2 of BARNEY MILLER??? has there ever been a classic classy show so neglected? BM did the reverse of Odd Couple - it went from audience to laugh track - and got better! No audience for Abe Vigoda to ham up to...

For a show that was nominated for 'Best Comedy' Emmys just about every year it was on, whose actors got nominated for Best Supporting Actor quite often, the boys from the ol' 1-2 sure have been allowed to slip through the cracks...

LouOCNY said...

..and speaking of Lucy...let us not forget director Marc Daniels, whose experience in live television drama helped formulate the way these multi-cam shows are rehearsed and shot. Daniels is another forgotten man in TV history - he managed the feat of directing the first episodes telecast of TV's two biggest 'cult' shows ever - I LOVE LUCY and STAR TREK!

Anonymous said...

The Craig Ferguson audience often sounds "sweetened" to me. And I'm evidently not the only one to notice it* -- a couple of weeks ago, he swore on the air that there was no laugh track, without crediting whoever was saying that there is.

Of course, he also swears that his shows are taped on the day they run.

* nor is estiv

Richard Cooper said...

It might be hard to imagine if you're in your forties, fifties, or sixties, but there appears to be a significant generation gap for some shows like Scrubs.

I've listened to teens, twenty-somethings, and thirty-somethings absolutely rave about Scrubs, The Simpsons, and The Colbert Report - and it sure seems like advertisers love those demographics, don't they?

At some point, the Odd Couple crowd (I loved that show, too!) became irrelevant and invisible to network executives.

Anonymous said...

Well I'm 57, and I love THE SIMPSONS and THE COLBERT REPORT and never miss either. Still hate SCRUBS though. (Oh WHEN will The Simpsons go to multi-camera?)

Nylouoc, you shame me. I certainly SHOULD have mentioned Marc Daniels' very important contributions to the creation of multi-camera. My omission is even more embarassing because I worked as an actor in the very last work Daniels ever directed, a dreadful religious afterschool special-type of program called MAGIC BOY'S EASTER. Check it out on the IMDb, you'll find it as the last item on Marc's resume, and you'll find me in the cast as the Apostle Peter. (It also credits STAR TREK's John Meredyth Lucas as co-director, though I never set eyes on him on the set.)

I say it was dreadful based on what I saw when we shot it. I've never seen the finished product. Bernie Kopell starred in it. When I met him again last year, he could barely recall it to mind.

And we shot it single-camera.

Febrifuge said...

I respect the experience of you TV folks, and enjoy the heck out of Ken's blog, but it seems to me that suggesting live-audience, multi-camera is the only -- or even "the best" -- way to film a sitcom is reductive. It suggests that there's only one kind of sitcom. Which is patently absurd.

"M*A*S*H" is not the same as "The Bob Newhart Show" is not the same as "The Dick Van Dyke Show" is not the same as "Ned & Stacy." Surely there's room for some variety.

And maybe you need to work in a hospital to find "Scrubs" hilarious and smart, but I don't think so. I was lukewarm on Bill Lawrence's "Spin City," and it's true Zach Braff can be a little much at times, but "Scrubs" (particularly the first three seasons) is pure top-notch sitcom, pure and simple. They bring the funny in a big way.

Hey, some people don't care for "Frasier," y'know? Funny is universal, especially when people disagree about it.

By Ken Levine said...

As someone who has done both single-camera (MASH) and multi-camera shows, I completely agree there's a place for both. I'm just saying choose the format that's best for the comedy you're trying to do. Don't dismiss multi-camera because it's not in vogue.

But this is a message more for the buyers than the sellers.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I LOVE LUCY wasn't the first series to be filmed with multiple cameras. The show's innovation was that it was the first series filmed with multiple cameras that were mobile. Prior to LUCY, the cameras on multi-camera series never moved, due to lighting requirements. Karl Freund worked out a system of flat lighting for LUCY that freed up the cameras, allowing them to shoot anywhere on the set without having to stop and adjust the lighting for each setup, as is done with single camera shoots.

While credit for the modern crab dolly is generally attributed to director Vincente Minnelli--at least as the guy who said "Build me something so I can film these shots the way I want to film them," James Wong Howe was experimenting with crab dollys in the 1920s.

Take Desi's bio with a grain of salt. In later years, both he and Ball tended to wildly exaggerate his role in the launching of I LOVE LUCY, almost invariably at the expense of LUCY creator-producer-head writer Jess Oppenheimer.

Jim Donahue said...

Speaking of terrible single-camera comedies, I happened to catch the first 10 minutes or so of "The Loop" last night. Wow. Stunning in its lack of anything approaching funny. (Yes, it's already cancelled, but I can't understand why Fox brought this back to burn off episodes. A test pattern would have more laugh lines, and might even get better ratings.)

On laugh tracks: I know that the DVDs of "MASH" have a no-laugh-track option, but I wish they'd run the episodes that way on FX. I remember hating the track on the first season of "Odd Couple," and I was just a kid. Still, it was plainly phony. There would sometimes be laughs when there was no joke--I think whoever manned the laugh knob was humor-impaired. Yes, the show got much, much funnier in its second season.

Oh, and put me in the "Scrubs"-is-funny camp, and at 45 I'm a bit out of the show's presumed demographic.

>>talent that extends beyond being a young, female, African-American gay minority

Funny, I never noticed that the current crop of comedies are being micromanaged by young black lesbians with connections. Who knew?

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or did the series ruin the play for anyone else? After the rapid-fire comedy of the series, Simon's play seems dull, unfunny and takes far too long to do anything interesting with the characters. I can't sit through the thing any more and it seldom elicits a laugh either on stage or on film.