Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hey Hawkeye, who are all those people laughing? I don't see anybody.

What better way to kick off the Presidents Day weekend than with a few Friday questions?

Rob starts it off:

Why has reality TV lasted so long? Is the amount of money that can be made from the show really that much more than what could be made off the Simpsons, MASH, or heck, even According to Jim?

Reality shows are CHEAP to produce and people are watching them. But you’re right that they have a very short shelf life. Sitcoms play much better in reruns. There are cable channels replaying reality shows but in general they don’t draw good numbers. Even mega hits like AMERICAN IDOL, who’s going to watch old Bucky Covington performances?

But in this day and age, CHEAP is a big selling point to networks.

I do feel that the novelty of the genre has worn off and there is the danger of over-saturation. Already we can see that scripted shows are starting to make a comeback. Let’s hope that trend continues.

From LeeFranke:

Your thought on this pearl of wisdom from the internet. "Multi-cam and single cam sitcoms are very different formats. Single cams feel weird with laugh tracks, but multi-cams feel weirder without."

Single camera shows do feel weird with laugh tracks. Where are the people coming from? That was always my beef on MASH. Were there bleachers on the chopper pad? You destroy the reality when you add disembodied voices laughing.

Multi-camera shows are shot in front of a studio audience. They’re more like plays. So the laughter is coming from real people. Without that laughter the shows would feel very hollow.

There are some multi-camera shows that block-and-shoot, which means no studio audience. You do miss something without the audience but usually those shows have so many scenes that a studio audience would go batshit having to sit through all them. HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER is an example. So it’s a trade-off. They’re able to tell better stories without the restrictions an audience imposes but they sacrifice the spontaneity and energy a group of people can offer the actors.

SEINFELD did a mixture of block-and-tape and scenes shot in front of an audience.

Most multi-camera shows will pre-shoot tricky or outside scenes and show them back to the audience on filming night. And those scenes usually don’t get a great audience reaction. On BECKER there were a few times when I had to do car scenes and instead of showing the pre-shoot, we just put the actors in chairs and told the crowd it’s a simulation of the scene. Invariably those scenes would play better than pre-shoots to the audience because they were live. Or the chairs were funny.

And finally, Steve B. asks:

Here's my question, Ken: How do you do this? To me, your level of output on this blog is pretty amazing, especially during baseball season when you have so many other responsibilities. How hard is it for you to switch hats, and how much time do you devote to the blog? Do you treat this like a hobby, or more like a full-time commitment?

I view this blog as stretching exercises for writers. It usually takes me between a half hour to an hour to write a daily post. I also try to have a few in the bank in case I’m actually required to do something that day. The hardest part is coming up with ideas for entries. And it depends on what’s going on. There are some weeks when there’s so much happening I post more than once a day; other times I’m going through my files seeing if there’s a scene from our TORTELLIS episode I could re-print.

But it’s fun (mostly) and I love having an outlet, although I’m forever amazed that anybody gives a shit what I think about anything.

Update: There's another major point I want to make about the comedy test. Check back later this evening for that. Thanks.


Max Clarke said...

Ken, why not write a book about comedy writing? Maybe it's hard to get a publisher, but self-published ebooks are respectable, they aren't electronic vanity books necessarily. I expect lots of your regular readers would pay for an ebook. What you've communicated about writing in this blog has been extremely helpful, an ebook would give your discussion of comedy the structure and length needed to do the topic justice.

Unknown said...
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Dale Dram said...

You shouldn't be amazed that people care about what you write Ken. That's what good writers do - make whatever they are writing about interesting. I've never watched a single minute of American Idol, but I enjoy reading what you have to say about it.Maybe you could write an entry about linear algebra, then maybe I'll understand it.

Unknown said...

Thankfully we can crack open the MASH DVDs and watch it without the laugh track. It really plays so much better. The laugh track usually goes with the obvious jokes which caused me to miss other lines that were sometimes a bit more clever.

Where are the bleachers? Where is the PA announcer? How could he be hiding for all of those years? He seemed to know everything that was going on at camp, yet we never knew from where he spoke from. A far greater mystery to me.

Zanuck said...

I do give a shit, Ken. It is amazing. You can entertain. BTW, the initials this week's game at Mark Rothman's Blog (accessible at: are L.K. or K.L. Guess who I'm hoping to post first? (Along with a healthy plug for this blog, of course. I think it's called synergy.)

Pat Evans said...


'Cheers' is always in heavy rotation on my DVD player, I own and enjoy every season.


Some of my favorite moments of the show have been absolutely ruined by some jaw-droppingly awful music replacement. For example:

In the episode "Grease", Sam taunts Rebecca about Robin being in prison by playing "I Fought the Law" on the jukebox, and then on a boombox. Unfortunately, “I Fought the Law” has been replaced with some lousy, generic song about being in prison, thereby ruining the entire joke. I mean, the joke works because “I Fought the Law”- and it’s meaning- is instantly recognizable. With the new song, one has to listen for the unfamiliar lyrics and figure out the joke the long way-which is never fun. Not only that but, as someone familiar with the original gag, I’m left to wonder what the hell happened to “I Fought the Law”. Of course, I realize almost instantly that the answer is probably “Money”. Which makes me think Paramount clearly cares more about saving a buck than preserving ‘Cheers’ in it’s original, intended form. Which makes me very sad.

Here’s another: In “The Norm Who Came to Dinner”, the Cheers gang have invaded the Crane’s home and are drunkenly singing “Those Were the Days” as Lilith and Frasier try to sleep upstairs. Angry, Lilith dispatches Frasier to get rid of them. Frasier goes downstairs and, as he tells everyone to leave, the singing stops- only to resume again moments later with Frasier leading on vocals and piano. Lilith then has to go downstairs and confront the situation. But on the DVD version, instead of everyone signing, a radio is playing downstairs. After Frasier goes downstairs to shoo away the guests, the volume on the radio gets louder. Lilith then goes downstairs and Frasier is now inexplicably at the piano. This might not be as noticeable as some of the other music replacement but it still irks me, as it was much funnier the other way and, again, it seems to demonstrate Paramount's lack of commitment to preserve the show.

But the most egregious- in my opinion- offense comes in a Ken and David episode, “Bar Wars VI: The Final Judgment”- one of my all-time favorites. The terrific gag where Gary rigs Cheers’ jukebox, then phone, and finally the bar spray gun to play “The Monster Mash”? Completely destroyed. Instead of “The Monster Mash”, we now get some awful song called “The Vampire Twist”. Now, “The Monster Mash” is an awful song, but everyone knows it- and knows it’s awful. But like “I Fought the Law”, it’s the audience familiarity with the music that makes the joke work. “The Monster Mash” was the perfect choice. “The Vampire Twist”? An absolute failure of logic.

So –finally- my questions to you are: Were you aware of these changes? Am I right in assuming it’s simply a case of greed on the part of the studio, or are there other factors involved? And what are your thoughts on this disturbing practice?

Bonus Question regarding music replacement: In “Please Mr. Postman” from season 7, Sam tries to figure out Rebecca’s sexual “trigger” song- finally revealed as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”. However, on the DVD, the song Sam actually plays to Rebecca is “Unchained Melody”. This one bugs me, because I could swear “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was played in the original broadcast. So was this a production error, or did they replace the song for the DVD? If so, do you have any idea why?

Thanks in advance for any light you can shed on this issue- and apologies for the lengthy post!



Pat Evans said...

Oops... that should be Bar Wars V. And I call myself a fan...

Unknown said...

"...half hour to an hour to write a daily post...."

That is amazing. I tried writing a blog for a bit. It took me that long to engage my brain.

That right there speaks to me about being a professional writer. I know that some of the other bloggers I read take HOURS to create a post.

Very impressive.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Why would anyone give a shit what you're thinking?

A) You write from experience.
B) You write well.
C) You write comedy. (I at first I phrased it as "You write funny". Hmm.)
D) You write -- as an actual professional writer.

It's not like I always agree with your opinions, but you express them consistently in an engaging and entertaining way. I don't spend much time reading blogs -- maybe two or three on a regular basis, and yours is one of those.

So, thanks, Ken. Not just for some damn fine television, but for writing an equally fine blog.

Angie B. said...

I recently read "And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on Their Craft" by Mike Sacks. One of the first interviews was with Stephen Merchant. Here's what he said about the TV show MASH :

" M*A*S*H was shown with a laugh track in the States, and it never ceases to amaze me. In England, it was shown without it, and it remains on my Top 10 list of all-time great shows. But I've since watched repeats where the laugh track is included, and I hate the program. I think it's appalling. I think Hawkeye is a snide, sniveling wiseass. It's a completely different show. With the laughter, that character sounds like he's playing to the gallery. It makes him hateful. Without it, he becomes this lone voice in an insane world."

Later in the book there's an interview later with Larry Gelbart, who worked on the MASH tv scripts. He says: "We did not mean for people to be cackling throughout the show; it becomes so much more cynical and heartbreaking without all that cheap, mechanical laughter."

I thought that was pretty interesting.

Dana Gabbard said...

I have always been of the opinion blogs are like having kids, constantly demanding attention. If you don't almost daily post it quickly seems pointless. And frankly how many people have all that much worth writing about? I know one local blogger who attacked me once online, claiming to have the greatest local blog on a particlar topic. It is in fact a meandering, poorly written mess-- the thing exists as a desperate attempt at attention.

As has been pointed out Ken has done a lot of stuff AND a lot of thinking about what he has done. And so he can both tell us what he has done and talk about it intelligently. It makes for a blog that bears regularly checking up.

What I don't underatand is why Ken doesn't give us an option to tip him, like many blogs do. I guess his occasional classes are a roundabout way of doing so.

"Where is the PA announcer? How could he be hiding for all of those years? He seemed to know everything that was going on at camp, yet we never knew from where he spoke from. A far greater mystery to me."

As I mentioned in a previous post, an academic even wrote an entire article on absent characters in TV shows basically to deal with the question of who the MASH p.a. announcer was. Vera on Cheers and Maris on Frasier are two other examples of people in series never shown but often mentioned.

Baylink said...

You thought we gave a shit?

PS: got a date for SR this year, yet? :-)

Baylink said...

@Pat: I'll answer for Ken.

As a writer, the last thing he knows, generally, about an episode is when they accept the script, until it airs.

Yes, it's all about money.

And if you think Cheers was bad, try watching WKRP. They've been re-airing the syndie package lately somewhere, and mirabile visu: they cleared the original music.

It's on my sister's DVR: I gotta go snag it tonight.

Anonymous said...

I'm firmly in the camp that the best kind of comedy comes from the irony of dramatic situations. Can't stand "jokes"

Two Days Late & A. Buck Short said...

OMG! That was the problem with Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football. Multi camera and no laugh track.

I know your blog isn’t for other people’s movie reviews, but, as they say in court, you opened the door to something I haven’t thought about in awhile with your Honeymooners invitation, counselor. I slept on it, and you’re right, still a little stiff, but I’m walking it off.

It’s also a “snow day” so I’ve got plenty ‘o time to treat Friday Questions like the Cheers-keteers’ “Anything Can Happen Day” – in a separate comment to follow -- and if somebody has a problem with that, take it up with management.

BTW, in the meantime, it occurred to me that the real moron the other day in that Honeymooners clip is the first guy who decided to apply the word “address” the ball to golf in the first place. And, I’m surprised not one of you English majors out there caught how “Hello ball” was actually an homage to I Love Lucy!

2 Days Late / A.B.S. said...

Trudging onward, to quote a Gleason contemporary in that land far far away, “Here’s a really big shoe” suggestion for you youngsters out there. And by contemporary, I of course mean the great Will Jordan. So put on that long face, tilt forward, put your hands on your hips (but facing outwards) and listen up.

Whether you were with the Falange or the Republicans in Wednesday’s epic Honeymooners struggle (where like in ‘39, the Republicans were actually not only more established but liberal, go figure), if your only familiarity with Gleason is the Honeymooners, I think you need to sample the talent, range and nuance in any number of his big screen dramatic turns. No not “Smokey and the Bandit” you nummy.

Sure you’re probably familiar with the recognition he received in holding his own with Steve McQueen in ‘Soldier in the Rain.” Or more darkly as Minnesota Fats going toe to toe with Paul Newman in “The Hustler” and Anthony Quinn in “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” If you aren’t, a word of caution. If you google The Hustler, you may be misdirected toward Larry Flynt. While pool tables seem to occupy an inexplicably disproportionate role in porn (I’m still trying to determine if it’s the balls or the holes), this is not what I’m recommending.

But the Gleason picture that still leaves the most lasting and yes cherished impression on me, also released during the same incredible 3 year span as all of the above is the least familiar to most – a funny and wonderfully touching little dramady, "Papa’s Delicate Condition.”

Though you may be familiar with its Oscar-winning song, “Call Me Irresponsible.” Unfortunately, that year “The Great One” himself was robbed of even a nomination by those pikers Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Anthony Quinn, Peter Sellers and the winner Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. Sheeesh!

As the title may suggest,the crowning characterization is that of the most subtle endearing though frustrating inebriation you’ve ever seen in a man – neither Jack Lemon nor Foster Brooks.

The winning song’s title sums up the witty, sarcastic, loving, impulsive, pathetic, and yes, irresponsible nuances blended seamlessly in the same character – unlike The Honeymooners’ either/or. Gleason sings it under the influence in the picture in a way you’ve never heard – so f-you Michael Buble.

It’s a turn of the century period piece that has the look, feel, great color and photography of those Haley Mills vehicles that came out around the same time, but with a far more digestible schmaltz. No problem being “larger than life” in life, as I recall, in trying to be liked as a man and a father, Gleason’s character's excessive impulsivity includes buying his daughter an entire ice cream parlor for dessert, an entire circus when all she wanted was a pony, and a drugstore with his friends to get around the community’s alcohol consumption blue laws.

How you can feel genuinely nostalgic for a time and place you’ve never experienced, I don’t know. But it’s not just because the year the picture came out I was slaving away after school as a soda jerk at a drug store soda fountain -- two more “neat” new words for some Xers.

Kirk said...

Here's a question that just occured to me. Has there ever been a single-camera show WITH a live audience? Not something like MASH, which would be impossible, but, like a play, but with just one camera? Not even in the early days of TV?

Kirk said...
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tb said...

You wrote the Tortelli's? That was actually pretty funny.
Ok, stupid question: Why is it called a one-camera show? Because on The Office I clearly see cuts to a different shot, so I'm not following you

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,
I think that re-creating the car scenes really works better than showing the pre-taped versions. I was at a Big Bang Theory taping a few months ago and the re-creation worked well, plus it kept the studio audience in the loop. I'm guessing they taped us laughing as well to sweeten what was recorded the day before. Bryan Simmons

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken! Don't know you or who you are, but you seem to be a fairly popular blogger. Who would watch reruns of Bucky, me, me!! Thanks for the accompanying pic..that was a nice touch for those who don't remember or know who you are talking about. I'm a huge fan of "Andy Griffith" reruns. Not a surprise, I'm sure!!!

Paul Duca said...

Mr. Short--PAPA'S DELICATE CONDITION came out in 1963, and the Oscar nominees that year were Albert Finney, Richard Harris, Paul Newman
...and Rex Harrison, with Sidney Poitier taking home the trophy.

Unknown said...

Here's a question about Frasier. Why is it that every time we see Daphne she seems to be doing laundry or cooking or serving dinner? Is she a supposed to be a physiotherapist and maid in one, or was it just easier to block out scenes where she's doing domestic chores than actual physio (which might involve moving the furniture and making John Mahony lie on the ground).

Anonymous said...

so Big Bang Theory is really filmed in front of a live audience? I couldnt for the life of me imagine people actually laughing at that show... hell I should write a sitcom