Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cliff Clavin explains Yorkshire pudding

Bonus Friday question: Dana Gabbard asks:

Maybe you could give us a peek at the legal process a script goes through. I know from reading the Making of Star Trek that someone researches whether a character's name is too similiar to an actual person who has the same profession as the character, etc.

There are a couple of research firm that comb through scripts to identify possible legal problems and double-check facts. You mention Hitler and they’ll say, “Former German dictator”, stuff like that.

One time on CHEERS we had a run where Cliff explained the derivation of Yorkshire pudding. The research person called me (since I co-wrote the episode) asking where I got that information. She had been researching it for two days and couldn’t confirm our claim. I said a waitress at Lawry’s Prime Rib restaurant told me. The researcher was apoplectic. “You can’t go with historical information based on hearsay from a waitress!” I reminded her it was Cliff telling the story. Who gives a shit if he’s right? She hung up satisfied.

My other research firm story is not so amusing. When my partner, David Isaacs and I were creating the MARY show for Mary Tyler Moore in 1985 we set the series in a Chicago newspaper. We gave the research firm a list of about twenty newspaper names. They came back with five or six that had cleared. We selected the Chicago Post. We filmed the pilot and then David went to Chicago to supervise the filming of our opening credit (yes, we even had opening credits back then). We had posters on the side of buses showing Mary.

At 9:00 the next morning I get a call from a gentleman who said he just saw a bus go by and was very concerned. He was the editor of the Chicago Post. I picked my jaw off the floor and said I’d have to get back to him. I then called Chicago information and sure enough there was the Chicago Post. The research firm had fucked up BIG TIME! MTM contacted him and was willing to arrange a settlement for use of the name.

Fortunately, the words Chicago Post were nowhere in the newsroom set. But the Post editor figured we’d have to reshoot the whole pilot at a cost of several million so he really had us over a barrel. He asked for a fortune. MTM countered with a very fair offer. He said they were bluffing. They gave him a deadline. He didn’t bite. We became the CHICAGO EAGLE. It cost a few hundred dollars to loop Eagle for Post in dialogue and a few thousand to reshoot the bus shots in Chicago. Far less than it would have cost had we settled. FAR less. But can you imagine the hassle? All because the research firm (who we fired, you’d be surprised to learn) didn’t employ as one of their resources the damn phone book.


Jim, Cheers fan said...

I thought it was Ma Clavin who explained the origins of Yorkshire Pudding Cliff said "And you wonder why no one wants to come to dinner." Then later re-told the whole story in the bar. In the Elmer the Elm Tree episode.

Why are you looking at me like I'm a huge dork?

John said...

Rush Limbaugh got into trouble about 15 years ago with an animal rights/road kill food parody about a place that specialized in that called Furr Cafeteria. Turned out there was a chain called Furr's Cafeteria in Texas and New Mexico. The lawyers had a good time on that one.

Dana gabbard said...

Great story! Thanks for the answer, Ken.

Is there any buzz about the new Kelsey Grammer vehicle Hank, about an ex-CEO? Who is it from?

Cap'n Bob said...

Just had sosmeone go through the manuscript of my next novel. She flagged every reference to a real product, including cars. My favorite was that I couldn't say anything negative about any of these products. When I had my protagonist tell a mechanic a lie about having a 21-year-old Sunbeam Alpine that was sluggish on the hills, she repeated the warning about negative portrayals about real products. I told her to leave them all alone. We'll see if I ave a fight on my hands. To be fair, she did a great job on the grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Cap'n Bob said...

Too bad she didn't edit the previous remark. I would have gotten "someone" right.

Kids These Days said...

"Phone Book"? Who's that? Do they have a Facebook page? Where can I torrent their latest album?

Mike said...

And the epilogue is the Chicago Post wound up folding within the next five years, right? Karma, karma.

ajm said...

In the song "June is Bustin' Out All Over" in CAROUSEL, one of the verses describes the sheep frolicking. After the show opened someone wrote Oscar Hammerstein and reminded him that sheep mate in the fall, not spring.

Hammerstein wrote the person back something to the effect of, "The story takes place in Maine in 1873, and by a bizarre scientific anamoly, New England sheep in 1873 mated in June."