Thursday, August 20, 2009

Diana Ross as Hot Lips

Time to kick off the weekend with some answers to your questions.

From Mark:

As far as making a sitcom believable, could you comment on filming vs. taping? Is the technology advanced enough to make a four camera show look real with tape?

Back in the days when some multi-camera shows filmed while others taped, the taped shows never looked real. They always looked like you were watching a play. They featured stark lighting and a very flat look. The sets looked like, well… sets. Audiences were used to film – either on TV or at the movies. So multi-camera filmed shows felt more real. So real that CHEERS had to announce that each show was filmed in front of a live studio audience. Otherwise viewers didn’t believe the laughs were real.

So why were there taped shows when they didn’t look as good or as real? Because they were CHEAPER.

I told the story about a year ago how CHEERS experimented with switching to tape.

I’m not a technical guy so I don’t know specifics, but with today’s new HD cameras it’s much easier to achieve a filmed look on tape. Some will say it looks as good but I think that’s stretching it. It’s the same as Diet Coke and regular Coke but with pixels instead of sugar. To my knowledge all multi-camera shows are now filmed in this high def process.

And Fred asks:

Years ago I noticed you wouldn't see Margot Kidder in a movie without Michael Ontkean showing up in the same movie. There was another actress, Kaki Hunter, who also showed up with both Kidder and Ontkean in movies at this same time (thanks to IMDB for her name).

Just this week I saw an episode of Psych with Christine Baranski as a guest star. Cybill Shepherd has also guest-starred on Psych. Do I need to mention that they were in a situation comedy together a few years ago?

Perhaps some of these were coincidences. However, I wonder if agents make package deals for their clients. Nowadays you couldn't imagine someone saying "if you want Margot Kidder, you also have to take Kaki Hunter," but there was a time when Kaki Hunter wasn't the box office poison she is now.

Does this happen, or am I a conspiracy theorist in need of a much better conspiracy?

Wow. This was my first Kaki Hunter question. TV networks like to “stunt cast” – hiring guest stars that will attract a larger audience. Madonna on WILL & GRACE. Britney Spears on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. Betty White on everything else.

When we were doing AfterMASH the studio wanted us to bring in Loretta Swit for an episode to reprise her role as Hot Lips. But she declined. That didn’t stop the brilliant 20th exec. He said, “It doesn’t have to be Loretta Swit. Just find anyone to play Hot Lips.” Oh yeah? I suggested Diana Ross.

Sometime pairing people from other shows is a big draw (a la Cybill & Christine). I know I’d love to see Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards do a guest shot on GARY UNMARRIED.

This “reunion” concept works in features too. When Tom Hanks and John Candy clicked in SPLASH they were re-teamed for our movie, VOLUNTEERS. “If you liked them in one, you’ll like them in one not as good.”

As for Margot Kidder and Kaki Hunter et al, I have no idea what that’s all about. I would imagine Margot Kidder’s only demand is “hire me!”

Sometimes producers and directors have favorite actors they use time and again. Maybe this was the case with Margot-Kaki-Michael. Who am I kidding? I have no fucking clue.

From friend-of-the-blog Rory L. Aronsky:

What items (of value and of little value) have you taken from the shows you worked on? When "Almost Perfect" was cancelled, did you try to swipe Nancy Travis on your way out?

No. Like an idiot I have the bathrobe she wore in one episode (which you can watch here) but I didn’t have to foresight to throw Nancy in my trunk.

When BIG WAVE DAVE’S folded I took a few surfboards. Otherwise, I never lifted anything from one of our sets. I was probably stupid. Some folks from MASH at the end took everything they could fit into their cars. Oh wait. I do have one of the helicopters.

Having my name on printed scripts from the shows I’ve been lucky enough to work on is all the keepsakes I need. And the helicopter.

And finally, from Jose:

After a late night in the writer's, about how much turnaround time would you guys get before having to come back for the next work day?

Depends on the show. For most multi-camera shows we got in at 11:30 in the morning. That gave us the afternoon to work of future scripts before the late afternoon runthrough. Rewrites varied but generally wrapped up around midnight or one. So we could in theory get a decent night’s sleep.

But when we were doing that comeback vehicle for Mary Tyler Moore, one of us had to be on the stage every morning for the table reading of the new draft. So that meant going home at 6:00 a.m. and returning by 10:00 a.m. I don’t recommend it.

What’s your question?


Charlatan said...

My read on the Margot Kidder/Michael Ontkean thing is that they are both Canadians and the productions were likely Canadian and needed Canadian actors to tap into tax credits.

At certain period in time, these two were recognizable as reasonably hot properties in the US that also happened to be Canadian.

The same was true a few years back of Wendy Crewson. She was in a heck of a lot of Lifetime made-for-TV movies for the same reason.

Anonymous said...

When I saw your twitter plug for this post, for a second I read it as "Diana RIGG as Hot Lips." That I would love to see...even with a blonde wig.

WV: blemett: facial flaw in clown makeup.

velvet goldmine said...

My question, either for here or next Friday. I'm easy! I have a feeling this one has come up before, but here's a laugh track question.

I know that even shows filled before a live audience sometimes used to "sweeten" them with recorder laughs. But there's this one man's laugh that you hear on TONS of shows from the 70s, from MTM to Taxi. You know the one I mean? First there's a startled "Haw!" as the setup gets underway, then this extended "Haw Haw Haw..." when the joke reaches its zenith.

Why in the world would they keep using this familiar, even annoying laugh? And if by chance it was the same guy at all the tapings -- say, a superfan, or a self-impressed writer -- why wasn't he muzzled?

BD Johnson said...

As a guy who does the camera thing, today almost two-thirds of scripted episodic TV shows (cable and network) are "filmed" on Hi Def. In the next couple of seasons, the transition will probably become complete. Right now the phrase is, "That's shot on Hi Def?" When looking a the final show, it is very hard to tell. Last year's "Benjamin Button" and "Slumdog Millionare" was shot digitally. Both were nominated for cinematography. (Slumdog Millionare won) Hi Def may be nutrasweet, but it is getting better all the time.

David K. M. Klaus said...

Charlatan said...

> My read on the Margot
> Kidder/Michael Ontkean thing is
> that they are both Canadians and
> the productions were likely
> Canadian and needed Canadian
> actors to tap into tax credits.

Yes, the picture would have to have a certain amout of "Canadian content" to qualify, which led to an SCTV sketch in the early '80s about the typical Canadian-content movie: regardless of where in the world it was set, it always had the Toronto skyline, it always had ice hockey in it, and always starred William Shatner.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Thank you for posting my question, Ken. And a friend of the blog I intend to be for as long as you keep it going. God forbid the end comes, I may snipe at you behind your cyber back. ;)

Anonymous said...

"today almost two-thirds of scripted episodic TV shows (cable and network) are "filmed" on Hi Def. In the next couple of seasons, the transition will probably become complete."

That transition was undoubtedly hastened by the recent SAG-AFTRA battle since traditionally SAG covered film productions, AFTRA video, but HD is up for grabs. It's no coincidence the majority of new television shows are under AFTRA's jurisdiction.

Speaking of agents influencing casting... the one movie that struck me as being a product of that was "Casualties of War". DePalma and Michael Fox had the same agent. It's hard for me to believe that Michael Fox would have done or been cast in that role if not for his agent. (Not that he wasn't good) I always thought it would have been more interesting if Fox and Penn had switched roles.

Paul Duca said...

I read in the TV Guide article on the M*A*S*H finale how the cast and crew petitioned Fox for years to get bathroom facilities on their main soundstage, and when they did someone put a sign on the door..."The Official M*A*S*H Can". Needless to say, someone made off with that souvenir.

Matthew said...

One of the big reasons for going with digital cameras is that all of the post production these days goes through a computer anyway. Even stuff that gets shot on film gets run through a scanner and converted for various post work. So now that the cameras can capture as much data as the scanners could, it's cheaper and easier to just grab everything with a digital sensor to begin with.
It's why film is nearly dead in still photography. Yes, film does have a few advantages (but not so many anymore and those advantages are often lost in the digital transfer), but the simplification and cost-reduction of digital makes it hard to justify celluloid.
And don't get all misty-eyed. The first photographs were taken on pieces of glass. No one demands we go back to that because it's more "traditional" (except greenhouse manufacturers who tapped into a cheap source of building material when someone dumped their negatives).

Rinaldo said...

velvet goldmine, according to what I have read, the reason is that the annoying laugher was James L. Brooks. And as the producer, he couldn't be kicked out or muzzled.

amyp3 said...

Are the likes of Baranski and Shepherd even repped by the same agents? (I'm too lazy to look up on IMDBPro or whatever.) In cases like that, it's perhaps just that the people at the show like a certain kind of performer or liked the entire cast of a previous show.

I hadn't thought about the whole vid v. film thing in a long time until I happened to catch a bit of 30 Rock repeats back-to-back with Parks and Rec. 30R's film but P & R is one-camera vid, right? I really feel the difference in the lighting/ look there.

It's like the debate in recorded music - first it was vinyl v. CD. Now it's my understanding that the really poor quality of iPod DLs make CDs seem like hearing it live.

Toledo said...

I thought I saw Cybil Shepherd in Mamma Mia!

Lawrence Fechtenberger said...

Am I being nitpicky if I point out that (at least according to the IMDB), Margot Kidder and Michael Ontkean actually worked together only once, in the film WILLIE AND PHIL? And that this film is also the only time Kidder worked with Kaki Hunter (though Hunter and Ontkean were reunited in JUST THE WAY YOU ARE)?

Granted, Kidder did work with some actors easily mistaken for Ontkean--Tim Matheson, Robert Carradine, Robert Hays, Michael Sarrazin--all with the same sort of bland good looks. Maybe this confused Fred?

Anonymous said...

Amazing to me...I know MANY people that can't at all see if something is taped or filmed.
It is (or at least was...maybe I can be fooled by newer technology, but I am sure about things from the 70s'-2000) just so freaking obvious. Film was softer, more...filmlike, and tape always too harsh, contrast and movement was less "natural".

Rob said...

For a time, video was processed with "filmlook" which gave the shows a grainy meets high key look.

Grant said...

The historical sitcom post yesterday inevitably brought up a bunch of BBC shows. They seemed to have the tradition of using video indoors and film outdoors. Even as a kid, it drove me crazy when they'd mix-and-match film and video in the same episode of Doctor Who. Worse than if they would have stuck with one or the other.

Lawrence Fechtenberger said...

...which, of course, reminds me of the classic Monty Python sketch in which Graham Chapman tries to leave a room, only to find himself "surrounded on all sides by film."

D. McEwan said...

"Grant said...
Even as a kid, it drove me crazy when they'd mix-and-match film and video in the same episode of Doctor Who. Worse than if they would have stuck with one or the other."

Fortuantely, Doctor Who stopped doing that decades ago. The revival of the series has been shot one-camera on film, although, as of the most recent episode, PLANET OF THE DEAD, they have gone to Hi-Def, although still single-camera.

The first Jon Perwtwee DOCTOR WHO story, SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE (in 1970), got publicity for beig the first DW story entirely shot on film, and Tom Baker's DW debut, ROBOT (1975), was the first shot entirely on tape, but as per BBC policy, most of "Classic Doctor Who" was mixed. But this is true of most BBC series from those days.

The first season of NEWHART was shot on tape, all the rest were all on film, and as a result, the first season looks ghastly next to the others.

Diana Ross as Hot Lips. That would make Loretta seem sweeter. I collaborated with Loretta on a project once. Not a warm lady, but she's Billie Burke next to Diana Ross.

Jim Stickford said...

Question: What's the procedure for deciding what particular line to use. I saw Carl Reiner in an interview years ago and he said one of the reasons he stayed in the writer's room for Your Show of Shows was that he could type, which was a bid deal in the days before computers and photocopiers. When the writers threw out lines, Carl picked the one he liked best and typed it in.

Is there a procedure? Is it decided by the show runner? Do you vote on it?

Rory L. Aronsky said...

I thought I saw Cybil Shepherd in Mamma Mia!

Hey, you're right! I went over the DVD a bit (yes, I own it, the two-disc set), and I think she's the old lady throwing the tree branches to the ground and thrusting her arms out in triumphant song. Amazing the makeup advances in film today. ;)

velvet goldmine said...

Rinaldo -- well, that would certainly fit, given that the last time I noticed it was on a "Taxi" DVD! If true, it's kind of touching that after writing and/or directing an episode, he'd still get such a kick out of watching the taping.

Lawrence Fechtenberger said...

Alright, I think I have figured out how Fred developed his peculiar notion that there were several Margot Kidder/Michael Ontkean/Kaki Hunter teamings. My theory is that he has never watched WILLIE AND PHIL from beginning to end, but he has repeatedly come across it on TV, and has watched a few minutes at a time, and each time thought he was watching a different movie.

The problem with this theory is that it presupposes that there have been multiple TV showings of WILLIE AND PHIL, and that does seem unlikely.

Kirk said...

This is kind of related to tape vs film realism. I've noticed that technicolor movies from the 1940s, unless they're filmed on location, often look fake. Black-and-white films from the same era look much more realistic (this in spite of the fact that real life is in color)

PALGOLAK said...

I protest!

Volunteers was a classic. I still use lines from that film to this day.

If I am taking a stapler from a colleague's desk, I might hold it up in the air and declaim "I liberate this stapler in the name of the people" and take it to my desk.

Just an example.

Splash, on the other hand, not so good.