Thursday, June 11, 2009

The M*A*S*H regular you never saw... until now

It’s Friday Question Day, Mousekateers. And remember, if you have questions for my free teleseminar here's where yo go. Thanks.

Cap'n Bob Napier starts us off:

When you and David write you always get top billing. Did you flip a coin for this? How was it decided?

We went in alphabetic order and neither one of us could spell. Actually, I got top billing originally because I called David and said I wanted to write a script and asked if he wanted to write it with me. Once we started actually selling I offered to alternate top billing, either script by script or year by year. David said it was easier this way. His relatives knew where to look for his name and the credit was on screen so briefly there was little time to search.

Anonymous (PLEASE leave a name) asks:

No one is always right and no one is always wrong. Do you have any examples of one of those evil network suits saying, why don't you try x instead of y, and x being the better idea.

CBS in the 90s had a GREAT Director of Comedy Development, Tim Flack. Sadly, he is no longer with us. When David and I did the pilot for BIG WAVE DAVE’S our initial concept was three middle-aged guys chuck it all and open a surf shop in Hawaii. Tim suggested one of them have a wife. It would provide an outside perspective and give the show a better dynamic – kind of like Wendy and the Lost Boys from PETER PAN. He could not have been more right. He also suggested we do a scene in the pilot where they have to convince her to go along with this hare brain scheme. It proved to be the best scene in the show. You can watch the pilot here.

Conversely do you have any examples of a suit saying, I prefer x instead of y, but I'll defer to your judgment and having y absolutely bomb?

On ALMOST PERFECT there was an actor we liked that the network did not. Begrudgingly, they let us have him. On the day of the table reading it was clear they were right. So we replaced him with another actor the network didn’t like. But when they saw the first runthrough they totally fell in love with him.

Today’s world of television pilot casting is very different. Networks make all the key decisions; there’s no such thing as them letting you go with someone they have reservations about. They have complete and final say. You hope they even ask for your opinion.

And finally, from Mike da Canuck:

Recently, we had a discussion at work about the P.A. announcements in M*A*S*H, and someone asked who the character was that made them as it seemed Radar wasn't the guy on the mic. We couldn't seem to find any info online, so I thought maybe you could fill us in?

The person who voiced all the announcements was actor Sal Viscuso. We used him three times on the show, all as different characters. Otherwise, you've seen him in hundreds of shows.

What’s your question?


Unknown said...

I read that 'Burn Notice' was originally set somewhere dark and gritty and the network said 'how about relocating it to Miami?' The showrunner kicked and screamed and fought to stay true to his vision but ultimately lost the battle. Only when he finally gave in did he see that there was merit in the idea.

Anonymous said...

No offense to previous question askers, but this was my favorite Friday questions post yet! (Though I do love them all.)

Thanks Ken!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the identity of the P.A. announcer. Did the writers ever think of where he was doing these announcements from, or were we just never suppose to think about that?

Jeff Greenstein said...

You mean Tim Flack, God rest his soul.

By Ken Levine said...

Thank Jeff. I made the change. The one time I say something nice about a network executive I get his name wrong.

cb said...

Tim Stack...still alive, and very funny...this isn't snark, just saying perhaps the source of the mis-namer...

Rinaldo said...

Sal Viscuso's identity as the PA announcer has been pretty well publicized over the years. However, many sources now say that Todd Sussman also did a lot of the announcements. Is that not true?

Mrs. Trumbull said...

I enjoy Chicago's MeTV, home of "I Love Lucy," "Dick Van Dyke," "Andy Griffith," "Bob Newhart Show" "The Cosby Show" etc. All reruns. What is the typical deal for actors, writers and others these days on reruns? DVDs? Hulu?
I remember Audrey Meadows was savvy enough to have some residual clause in her contract--but none of her fellow actors were. Is it pretty standard now? How many episodes are required for syndication/repeat sales? I know some shows never attained popularity until they were seen in repeats. But I also think some shows must not hold up in the repeat market. What determines price? Does the price go down with time? (Is "I Love Lucy" a bargain these days?) Our Fox channel in Chicago 32, must have run MASH at 10 pm for decades....

Anonymous said...

What about a post-mortem or two on:

- an episode of a show which didn't work (at least as well as hoped) and why. I'm talking about from a story/structure/cast perspective, not "so & so blew their line." This could be a show you worked on - not necessarily an episode that you & David Isaacs wrote - just one of the series you wrote regularly for.

- a show that had potential that didn't quite work. Again, not because the network screwed up the scheduling but because something in the basic concept or casting or execution wasn't working.

The point would be to better understand the dynamics of a successful episode/show.


gottacook said...

What a wonderful thing that MASH DVDs allow viewers to choose to omit the laugh track. Did you ever imagine, when working on the show, (i) whether such a thing might be possible one day for home video, and (ii) whether there might eventually be comedies (such as the "single-camera" type) that were laugh track-free?

(Related note: Once on SciFi years ago, I happened to see the Carol Burnett episode of The Twilight Zone without the laugh track; originally it was the only episode that had one. I wrote SciFi an e-mail asking about this; no reply.)

olucy said...

@Sarah -- you're right. According to imdb, Burn Notice was originally to be set in Newark! Matt Nix runs a great show, but I'm kinda glad he lost that particular battle.

Dana Gabbard said...

There was even an academic paper that dealt with the mystery of the absent MASH P.A. announcer. I wrote the author after seeing it and she admitted her interest was mostly about MASH but she added some examples from other programs to keep the editors happy.

Sawyer, Corinne Holt. "Kilroy Was Here--But He Stepped Out for a Minute! Absentee Characters in Popular Fiction (With Particular Attention To M*A*S*H)." Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), Fall 1984.

Mrs. Trumbull, my understanding is residuals are now a matter of those SAG/AFTRA contracts you hear about every so often. In the 60s you got money for the first 6 repeats according to the Star Trek actors (so they missed out on getting a slice of the profits when word got around how well it did in reruns and in the early 70s it). That changed by the time MASH started airing. Not that these payments are always a boon--I remember an actor or writer said a check for one cent wasn't even useful as a joke item because all your fellow scribes had gotten similar tiny payments. Plus since most guild mail is tossed by creative folk the envelopes started being stamped "residual" so they would be opened. But it can be a lifeline--Marc Cherry kept afloat at one point by the residuals from Golden Girls when it was picked up by Lifetime. And eventually he struck gold creating Desperate Housewives.

Dana Gabbard said...

In re Star trek re-runs, I left off the rest of my though that by the early 70s it was running in every major market after the initial 6 runs had occurred so Shatner et al missed out on sharing a piece of that action.

Jim Stickford said...

Mr. Levine,

I want to thank you for choosing to answer my questions. As a person who worked as a newspaper reporter for 16 years, I am always fascinated by the writing/editing process. I've had stories cut to pieces and made better and cut to pieces and made worse or even libelous.

Anyway, thanks.

playfull said...


Hi Ken,

Who is the funniest person you ever met? And were they in the business?

And being greedy now a follow up question -

Who was the least funny 'comic' or 'comic actor' you ever met?

Thanks for the Blog it's a fun read.

Tom K. Mason said...

Sal Viscuso also had a nice long-running role on "Soap" as Father Tim Flotsky. Its run coincided with MASH so I was able to match the PA voice with the face.

wv: "asten" - what a Texan calls the author of Pride and Prejudice

Brendan DuBois said...

Here's a question Ken... on Frasier, at what point were the title cards written, the ones that used puns and such to introduce different scenes? Were they part of the original script, or were they added on later?

Thanks... have read your blog for months and have greatly enjoyed it....

CrackerJacker said...

Hi Ken, not sure if I should have posted this on a newer article, but I've got a question.

With the current state of affairs of TV networks - visa vi ignoring internet strategy for a decade and criminalising impatient viewers, producing crap et al - I was reading this morning about how the UK Government thinks that the licence fee(Used for paying for the BBC), should be shared with commercial UK networks, to "help companies cope with the impact of the internet"(That terrifying new danger). And while I'm asking for your thoughts on what looks like the first bailout for commercial tv, do you think we're in any danger of networks changing their act and beginning to respect viewers at all?

Thanks, Chris.

And keep up the blogs, I love 'em.

Dr. Fortyseven said...

I was just watching MASH 3x12 ("A Full, Rich Day"). They were holding a memorial outside for a (seemingly) deceased soldier from Luxembourg. After bumbling through some words, Blake yells "Tony? Hit it!". Piano music begins, and Sal Viscuso's PA voice says "...the national anthem of Luxembourg." Of course, we never see anything beyond Henry talking and gesturing off-screen.

Could Sal's never-seen character have been named Tony? Of course, 'Tony' could have just been a random soldier who, in turn, signaled Sal's character.

But, a fun clue. :)

"I thought you said he was dead?"

"He got better."