Thursday, February 26, 2009

Everything you ever wanted to know about Marcia Strassman

It’s Friday question time. Leave yours in the comments section. I try to get to as many as I can.

Randall has some questions about end credits:

1. In recent years a lot of television stations have shrunk the end credits in order to show promos for their upcoming shows. Did the stations have to be union approval for this?

2. Some credits go by so fast I don't know how anybody can read them. Conversely, sometimes on talk shows the end credits will stop for a few seconds, apparently to highlight the name of a staff member or company that has provided a product. Are there any rules / restrictions that regulate how fast or slow credits can crawl?

3. Are stations that show movies or stripped television shows required by contract to show the credits in their entirety?

No, there are no restrictions, which is why networks and stations get away with it. Trust me, if there were union rules this deplorable practice would cease immediately. The trouble is, with there being so many more pressing issues for unions to deal with during contract negotiations this indignity gets lost in the shuffle. Not too many members are going to strike over this.

But it is a huge insult to the thousands of people who work tirelessly to make television shows as good as they are. And it’s bad enough these people have to share a card with thirty others and are up there for maybe a fraction of a second, but they’re expected to go that extra mile and really take pride in what they do while the networks can’t give them so much as a full screen. I say a network executive's name on his parking space should be as large as the smallest credit on his network. That would change things instantly.

From Zach Haldeman:

What is the typical relationship between writers and actors? Naturally the show runner gets to know the actors, but is Star #2 gonna be friends with Staff Writer #5, or even know Staff Writer #5?

Depends on the cast, depends on the staff. But usually the staff writers and the supporting cast tend to gravitate towards each other. Sometimes the cast members are a little intimidated by the show runner or the star of the show is a huge time and energy suck so these supporting players will cozy up to the lower tier writers to get their suggestions and concerns heard.

The ideal situation is when everyone in the cast and on the writing staff feel comfortable talking with each other. And that usually stems from show runners who are receptive to actors’ input and actors who view writers as colleagues not waiters.

And finally: D. McEwan has a M*A*S*H question.

In the movie, The Swamp had 4 residents, who were the primary characters: Hawkeye, Trapper, Frank Burns, and Duke Forrest, played by Tom Skerritt. Duke was as important a character as Hawkeye & Trapper John.

So why was Duke conspicuous by his utter absence from the TV series? I've been curious about this for over 30 years.

Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds felt the need to pare down the number of characters since they only had a half hour to work with. Duke was odd man out. In the original TV pilot there was also a Spearchucker but he too faded into the mist.

Another casualty of war was the lovely Marcia Strassman. She was a regular the first season as Nurse Cutler. She of course went on to play Kotter’s wife, Julie and had to look amused anytime Gabe Kaplan spoke.

Strassman is best known however for her hit record, “the Flower Children” in the late 60s.


Michael Hagerty said...

Well, what I wanted to know about Marcia Strassman was whether the infintessimal unit of measurement coined by Robert W. Morgan and Bill Mouzis in the KHJ production room ("back that off just a Strassman, willya?") had anything to do with the lovely Marcia (especially since engineers I worked with had another, more intimate term for such small adjustments).

One must imagine there was some familiarity between Ms. Strassman and the Boss Jocks...since "The Flower Children" didn't make Billboard's Hot 100, but was top 10 at KHJ.

Anonymous said...

I never saw (perhaps I avoided seeing) Welcome Back, Kotter, although a year or two earlier I heard Kaplan's comedy LP Holes and Mellow Rolls from which the series grew - I recall the LP as being pretty funny although not in Robert Klein's league.

I do, however, appreciate Strassman for her role in a late Rockford Files two-parter, "Only Rock 'n' Roll Will Never Die," which (it says here) was written by David Chase. Also guest-starring the late, great Lenny Baker (Paul Mazursky's Next Stop, Greenwich Village.)

The Bitter Script Reader said...

Hey Ken, long time reader, first time commentor. I've got a question about Lilith's exit arc on "Cheers." It always seemed strange to me that her last episode was the reconsiliation between her and Frasier. At the time that was written, did you know Frasier was getting his own spinoff and the marriage was going to be broken up again in short order? Or was bringing Lilith back done specifically so Freddie could be left with Lilith and thus, not obligating the "Frasier" team to make him a regular?

dangermandownunder said...

Hey Ken,
I am a big fan and a regular reader, but I have to disagree on credits.

Credits are boring. Yes, a lot of hard working people made the show, but a lot of hard working people also made that bag of Doritos and I don't see their name on there next to the ingredients.

I work in TV myself, and I have always advocated limited credits, usually the boss and the sponsor requirements (dressed by or whatever). keeps 'em short, and gives time for more show, or more ads/promos.

And Marcia Strassman was critical to Kotter. His Burns to her Allen. We felt her pain with every bad joke.

dangermandownunder said...

Her Burns to his Allen, that is.

Anonymous said...

I must say that I never saw the allure of Welcome Back, Kotter. Gabe Kaplan was a stiff, as were all the sweathogs with the possible exception of Travolta. The show was so contrived, I never bought it and the kids looked like they were 35 years old!

And as for credits... I don't need to know the name of the electrician or Ms. Roberts' personal assistant! Geez, people all over the world in industries far more important than show business work in obscurity; why is the person opens Ashton Kutcher's Avian bottles more important than the guy who put the engine in my car?

WV: endit -- the cosmos' plea to shorten credits at the end of the movie.

Allen Lulu said...

I always thought Strassman's biggest claim to fame was Honey I Shrunk the Kids.
I was thrilled when she turned up in that because I had such a crush on her when I was little from the Kotter days.

Anonymous said...

Ken and Doug...I read an article on Tom Skerritt in the PICKET FENCES era, where he said he was offered the part of Duke in the series but turned it down.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Allen on that.

Incidentally, even 20+ years after Kotter Strassman looked pretty shipshape, even if she had graduated from rolling her eyes at at Gabe Kaplan to roll her eyes at Rick Moranis...who at least can do a mean Martin Scorcese impression.

Anonymous said...

Ken, what's the hardest type of character for you to write for while making them sympathetic? To me, it seems as through character like Becker, or going way back, Phil Slivers' Ernie Bilko are more difficult to handle, because you've got a character who's jammed full of bad personality traits, but who the audience is still supposed to be rooting to succeed (as opposed to the bad personality trait character in the Frank Burns mode, who's going to get his by the end of every episode).

Roger Owen Green said...

the Flower Children didn't make my Joel Whitman's Top Pop Singles book; I'll haver to contact the editor for a correction.

Anonymous said...

The Flower Children was an ANTHEM! I loved it... as a 10-12 year old would.

rob! said...

It is odd how Spearchucker was around for a handful of episodes and then just disappeared, and no one ever mentioned him again.

Anonymous said...

Question: What exactly does a show runner do?

Anonymous said...

Here’s sort of a Friday Question that’s been bugging me several weeks. Why are all these people worried about Nadya Suleman, the “Octuplets Lady,” being able to support those kids? Aren’t octuplets a TV goldmine? Seems to me on commercial endorsements alone others have been able to do just fine even with quints. Had we set the bar too low?

Forget about the disposable diaper and baby food commercials and endorsements. There’s not a reality series in this somewhere? You’ve seen what’s already passing for entertainment; how hard could this one be? Why should this only be free material for late night talk show hosts? Heck, there’s even an old sitcom concept, name and all they could improve upon; and they’d only have to pay Dick Van Patten for off-camera voiceover this time, because she’s apparently always been a “single mom.” Disney’s been so successful with that Hanna Montana-Never Enough Jonas’s empire, she ought to just right out and name them Happy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, Bashful, and, by contractual obligation giving the last one a title like “Kaiser Permanente.”

A woman with 14 kids and a degree in Child and Adolescent Development from Cal State Fullerton, right out there on the cusp of the Magic Kingdom? On disability leave from a mental hospital? The mother’s Suleman and the alleged sperm donor named Solomon? What’s up with that? They could use the old Cole Porter “Tomato, tomahto” theme, finally giving some meaning to “Let’s call the whole thing off.” Gotta test well; the sucker practically writes itself.

Can you hear the dialogue? “Honey, we’re out of eggs.” “Thank God!” If CSI and Law and Order can fill their schedules with loosely disguised rehashes of actual titillating news stories, why not this?

OK, by now, Mr. L, you realize this isn’t really a question – unless you have any thoughts on the subject?

Kirk said...

In a way, Duke was an odd man out in the movie, too. When the film begins, it seems to be about Hawkeye and Duke. Then Trapper John shows up, at which point Duke becomes, in effect, a minor character. He doesn't even go to Japan! Finally, when Hawkeye get's his orders home, so does Duke, and they're a duo again (classic Spearchucker line: "Can you wait until we get out of this guy's brain?!")

Actually, that (along with the blood and guts) may lend some realism to the movie. In real life, relationships are transitory; we don't always hang around with the same "cast of characters."

Cap'n Bob said...

Someone mentioned Freddie and that reminded me of one of my gripes (I got a million of 'em). Namely, who chooses these kids? The one who played Freddie on Frasier was a dumpy creep. The one who played Richie on The Dick Van Dyke show was an annoying twit and lousy actor. The Olsen twins look like trolls--still do--and couldn't say a line without laughing (or baring their fangs?) Don't get me started on Little Ricky. That's why I'm a big fan of Leave It to Beaver. Those kids could ACT!

Alan Coil said...

Good thing Cap'n Bob mentioned he liked Wally and the Beaver, cuz otherwise we might think he hates kids.
Most shows limit themselves to 6 or 7 main characters. Normal people can't follow more than that (at least, that's what television executives seem to think). But I ain't normal.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy the Cheers episodes featuring Kevin McHale. Unlike every other athelte I've ever seen in a role separate from their day job he seemed to actually be quite good and very entertaining. How did it come to be that he got on the show?

Anonymous said...

Ren - it was great to hear you on the radio last night. I was listening to Mariners Talk with Rick Rizz and made sure I listened to the end of the show so I could hear your part. My question is - How in heaven's name do you restrain yourself so well when talking about Manny Ramirez? Seriously, though, I really enjoyed your part of the show and was glad to hear that you won an award for your work with the Dodgers. And yes, just to prove I listened, what looks like a typo at the beginning of this is a reference to the last part of Ken's interview. Still laughing at your stories, Ken. And still wishing Hollywood would wise up hire people with credentials like yours. I'd love to see the script you mentioned made into a movie. It sounds really great.

Anonymous said...

Cap N Bob,

I know you're only kidding around but you're making fun of the physical appearance of children. It's a crappy thing to do.

I suppose you can pick on their acting all you like -- although you should pick more on the showrunner who cast them -- but to make fun of a child's physical appearance is really low.

Cap'n Bob said...

Sorry, but I calls 'em as I sees 'em. If these kids and/or their stage mothers can't stand the heat, stay out of the footlights. There were a lot of kid actors I liked, and I know there are and were millions of hopefuls trying out for those roles. I can't understand why certain ones were cast because I found nothing appealing about them. If that makes me low, so be it. I've been called worse.

blogward said...

"The one who played Freddie on Frasier was a dumpy creep"

Yes, it's about time the truth came out. I'm afraid Freddie, along with Daphne's mother AND brother, were three of the biggest casting disasters since Alec Guinness in Gandhi. What gave?

Anonymous said...

Why are credits so important anyway?

They are boring, no one cares about them anyway. "Oh, so Michael Hagerty was the grip on this show, it must be a good one!". If people feel everyone should be included, why not just give an url at the end of the show so anyone that cares can go check them with all the time in the world? They could even leave congratulations for a specially good caterer (or even get their contact information).

When I go to a concert I don't get the full credits. When I go to a top end restaurant, I don't care who is the dishwasher. Why force that information and take valuable screen time?

Tim Dunleavy said...

rob, regarding your question about what happened to Spearchucker:
Larry Linville did a personal appearance/Q&A session at my college in 1986, and someone asked why Spearchucker disappeared halfway through the first season. Here's Larry reply (more or less verbatim, to the best of my memory):
"Spearchucker was a guy named Tim Brown. And Tim Brown had a friend named Jim Brown, from his NFL days. And Jim Brown convinced Tim Brown that they should both go to Mexico and make a movie and become big stars. So Tim Brown left the show to go to Mexico to make the movie. And we never heard from either of them again. Except when Jim Brown gets in the paper for beating up his wife."

Anonymous said...

Today's blog sent me a search for Marcia Strassman pictures which led me to WKRP's Jan Smithers which led me to her bio which said that--

she was born in 1949, grew up in Woodland Hills and went to Taft High. Anyone you knew? Anyone who broke yur heart? A future chapter of the book?

Anonymous said...

Cap'n Bob - and how about that Corky kid from LIFE GOES ON? He looked like he had Down Syndrome, what was THAT about? You cruel fuck.

Anonymous said...

"Tyroc said...
Cap N Bob,
I know you're only kidding around but you're making fun of the physical appearance of children. It's a crappy thing to do."

Well, to be fair, they are all ex-chldren. They're grown up themselves now (Hell, Ritchie from Dick Van Dyke is well into middle-age) and can presumably shake it off.

"blogward said...
Yes, it's about time the truth came out. I'm afraid Freddie, along with Daphne's mother AND brother, were three of the biggest casting disasters since Alec Guinness in Gandhi."

You lost me here. Millicent Martin was a wonderful monster as Daphnee's mother, and played her brilliantly. As for "Daphnee's brother," which one? She had several, all played by such brilliant actors as Anthony LaPaglia, Richard E. Grant and Robbie Coltrane. Hard to quibble with those great performances.

And Sir Alec Guinness might well have been a diaster in GANDHI had he been in it, depending on how he was cast, but he was not in GANDHI. He was, however, a disaster in A PASSAGE TO INDIA, although how casting an Australian and two Englishmen as Englishmen is a disaster along the lines of casting a white Englishman to play a black Indian eludes me.

Anonymous said...

Sephim, lighten up. You're imputing a level of viciousness to Cap'n Bob that just isn't there or, at least, he hasn't expressed.

Howard Hoffman said...

I'm relieved and pleased to report that Marcia Strassman still looks AMAZING and she's still a firecracker. I mentioned I still had a copy of "The Flower Children" when we met a couple weeks ago and she was both thrilled and horrified.

If you're an AFTRA member, she'll be on the ballot for the board of directors this year. She'd be great.

Kirk said...

Regarding credits: I don't particularly care who the grip was (though, as someone outside showbiz, I am kind of curious about the actual job description), but there might be others that do, and why should I begrudge them that information?

Obviously, I care who the writer was, or I wouldn't bother reading this blog.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ken, hope you're well

Enjoy the blog very much, esp. your wit and wisdom on situation comedies past and present.

Just was wondering if you've sampled many UK sitcoms in your time, and if so which would you rate highly?

Thanks, all the best.

Kate Coe said...

I'll jump in about the Octuplets. First, their fragile health makes them human petri dishes for about a year--and that's just too hard for a reality show to deal with. No production company is going to want to have to insure those kids.

Secondly--babies are dull TV. They lie there, they eat, they poo. No story arc, no action, nothing.

And she's not that telegenic, because she wants it too badly.

Anonymous said...

I was at Disneyland yesterday. You can see Marcia Strassmann there in 3-D (except Ken, who can't see 3-D) in the HONEY, I SHRUNK THE AUDIENCE 3-D film attraction beneath SPACE MOUNTAIN. Which means every day, a lot of people get a big thrill out of riding on top of her!