Thursday, August 21, 2008

Friday questions of the week: My favorite lines

It’s Friday question time again.

Here are a few that a number of you have asked.

What's your favorite line that you've ever written?

It’s from a CHEERS my partner and I wrote called “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”. Sam and the gang throw Frasier a bachelor party at the bar. He enters and says:

What's your favorite line that you've ever heard?

From an episode of MASH written by the great Larry Gelbart. It was the one where there were severe shortages in the camp. Radar approaches Col. Blake and says, “We’re out of toilet paper. It’s gotten so bad the men have broken into the fortune cookies.”

Of all the shows you have written for, which episode was the hardest to write; which one was the easiest?

The hardest was our first episode of THE TONY RANDALL SHOW. We were so thrilled to get the assignment. It was our first script for MTM. MTM was like Camelot back then, and this was our ticket in …IF we did a good job. So there was a certain amount of additional pressure we heaped upon ourselves.

We worked out the story with the producers and went home to write the script. Did the first scene, no problem. Then we started on the second and realized there was no story progression. An event occurs in scene one and in scene two Tony goes home and just tells everyone what happened in scene one. Not great storytelling. So we tried to alter each scene to somehow move the story along. This became the chair with one leg shorter than the others. Over the next four days we must’ve revised those two scenes twenty times. By the time we finally turned in the script we were a wreck.

The producers liked the draft so much they put us on staff. We were thrilled. All that hard work really paid off.

We met with them a few days later to get our second draft notes. One of the producers said, “What’s with these first two scenes? I don’t remember them being laid out like this.” I explained our problem. Something happens in scene one. Scene two just reiterates scene one. He said, “Shit. If we’re going to worry about shit like that we’re gonna be here all night!” The rewrite was a breeze.

The easiest script we ever wrote had to be the “Room Service” episode of FRASIER – the one where Niles sleeps with Lilith. The story was so solid and the characters were so well defined that we wrote the entire script in two days. And probably 95% of that original draft made it to air. But things like that happen rarely. As in once.

Thanks to all who have submitted questions. I’ll answer as many as I can. And I invite you to leave yours in the comments section.


Anonymous said...

I have a rash where it probably doesn't belong. What would you recommend for it?

I mean, what are your favorite episodes out of everything you've made? (I've a feeling this question might have been asked before, but I'm too lazy for archive searches).

Anonymous said...

What kind of software do you use? I would guess it's either Final Draft of Moviemagic Screenwriter.

Also, what kind of Mac do you have?

Anonymous said...

One of my favorites is an exchange between Cliff and Frasier. Clavin unwinds one of his typical random non sequitors. There's a beat, then Frasier says, "Cliff, what color is the sky in your world?"
Tragically, I saw this in syndication recently and Frasier's comeback is clipped for time! Clavin makes even less sense than usual!

Anonymous said...

My question is in regards to Cheers. In the final season that Diane (Shelley Long) was on the air, Diane & Sam get engaged and then Diane leaves for a few months.

Previously, Sam & Diane had been on one of their break-ups. Were they reunited (temporarily) because Shelley was about to leave the series? If Shelley had decided to stay with the series, were there any long term plans for Sam & Diane - either to break up completely, get married, or continue their breakup & get back together mode, kind of like the eternally recurring universe?

Enjoy the blog - read it daily.

Bg Porter said...

You've talked a lot about the insane notes given by studio execs and the damage done -- I'd be interested to hear about any times where a note that seemed stupid at first actually ended up improving things. (broken clock is right 2x a day, etc.)

Damn -- that's not a question, exactly. Here: do you have any examples of those?

Anonymous said...

One of the funniest lines I can remember from Cheers (although I don't know which episode it's from, so I don't know who wrote it):

Cliff: I wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating crackers.

Norm: Why else would she be there?

The Last Ephor said...

What do you do when you write a scene a particular way and the actor and/or director totally misses what you were going for?

Who was the funniest actor you worked with?

Do actors ever talk to writers?

Tom Quigley said...


I knew exactly what the line was going to be as soon as I saw the freeze frame on the video -- one of my all-time favorite lines from CHEERS!(had me laughing the rest of the night every time I repeated it to myself the first time I saw the episode)...

It so perfectly nails how Frasier was always trying to bring himself to come down off his high horse and fit in at Cheers, and figure out how to relax and enjoy himself without the event being an opera or a gallery opening or the like.

Anonymous said...

I actually use that Frasier line from Cheers on occasion.

Room Service is one of my absolute favorite episodes of Frasier. Any time Kelsey, Bebe and David are on the screen for the majority of the time it's pure gold. The three of them worked so well of of each other. And the addition of the Room Service waiter..."Ohh kayyy." Wonderous writing Ken!

me said...

Mel Brooks once said if you want comedy to be timeless, don't put in pop culture references.

Nuff said.

Anonymous said...

Lisa Kudrow was originally cast as Roz, but after a day or so of filming was replaced with Peri Gilpin. Series as varied as MASH, Rockford Files and Private Practice had key roles recast between pilot and series. The second Star Trek pilot had a different doctor than Dr. McCoy. What are the factors that go into making a major cast change that early in the production of a series?

John Trumbull said...

What is the best and worst casting you've seen on a show you've worked on?

Anonymous said...

Wanted to add my two cents regarding "Room Service", which was one of my favorite Frasier episodes even before I knew you two wrote it. I had never caught the writing credit and had been guessing it came from the mind of David Lloyd (which is intended as a compliment).


Anonymous said...

I did actually watch THE TONY RANDALL SHOW and liked it. I believe it was "created by" Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses, correct. Anyway, do we give you credit for either of these exchanges (used in the original network promo that I have in my video collection)?

This one between Judge Franklin (Randall's character) and his secretary, Miss Reubner:

"You wouldn't be the first man to try and kiss me"
"Would I be the second?"

Or this between the judge and his son

"Can you still go out with girls when you're 90?"
"You can, but there isn't much point to it"

Anonymous said...

OK I HAVE to use this clip as a drop and I will.

Thanks to the wonders of voice tracking, this clip will run at about 325pm-ish Saturday afternoon Indiana time on 107.9 The Track. We stream on the web, just click my name for the website.

Ken, Willie B. says Hey!!

rob! said...

ken, how do you handle it when someone compliments you on a line from a particular episode from a particular show that you didn't happen to write? has that ever happened to you?

on the simpsons dvd commentaries, the writers have talked at length about how to accept that compliment, which is tricky because you don't want to take credit for someone else's line, yet you don't want to feel like you hurt the feelings of the person doing the complimenting.

Ollie said...

What is a good job for an aspiring TV sitcom writer to get? Say, for example, someone who will be taking night classes for writing, and needs a day job to pay the bills. Should it be in the TV industry? Or just the best job that takes care of money and gives enough time to write? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Some -- well, many -- of the references on Frasier are pretty arcane. Was the writing staff really all that familiar with the hoity-toity world; did you just grab from The New Yorker, or was one of the grips on call for the more obscure wine & cheese jokes?

Anonymous said...

exchange on WKRP in Cincinnati

Bailey: Statistics say that married couples have sex 2.96 times a week.

Johnny Fever: How do they do the 96 thing?

Anonymous said...

That fortune cookie line is gold, man! Hahaha

Anonymous said...

The Wang Chung line from Cheers is one of my favorites of all time and I've used it on numerous occasions.

Cap'n Bob said...

I've laughed at hundreds of your lines, Ken, but I don't get this at all. Maybe it's just me.

Anonymous said...

My favorite one-liner is from Frasier. In the episode where Daphne's ex-fiance returns and she creates an elaborate ruse to get out of getting involved again, Frasier is quickly filling Marty in on the "story" so far:

FRASIER- ...and I'm separated from Maris...
MARTY - You couldn't stand her either?

English Davey said...

Favorite Cheers line in Jumping Jerks, when Sam asks Norm, Cliff and Woody to take him for a parachute jump and Norm reluctantly replies:

'I'd love to Sam but my parachute is at the dry cleaners'

Ken, tell me you wrote that line.