Thursday, May 06, 2010

"Harry the Hat" on CHEERS

Here are your Friday questions and answers and a note: For all those of you who asked me to go into more detail on my Moe encounter, I'm writing that now and will post it tonight.

Brian wonders:

Did you write any episodes with "Harry The Hat"? I'm reading his book "Games you can't loose", and the first one in his book is the one he pulled on Cliff - "I bet I can drink this drink without touching the hat".

“Harry the Hat” was the flim-flam character who popped up from time to time on CHEERS played by Harry Anderson (pre NIGHTCOURT and DAVE’S WORLD). Yes, David Isaacs and I wrote two – one in the first year and one in the last.

He appears in the teaser of “Boys in the Bar” from season one (the one where the bar regulars fear Cheers is about to go gay), and in the final Bar Wars (we wrote all of the Bar Wars episodes -- we're sick individuals) Harry helps the guys in the ultimate one-upsmanship of Gary’s Old Towne Tavern.

Harry really is a magician. We used him six or seven times in the first season and a lot of the scams were suggested by Harry himself. I would not play cards with this man. I would not give change to this man.

Matt Patton asks:

How much input, if any, would the writer of a show have on the casting of a role? I'm not necessarily thinking of the one of the main characters, just a guest role. Would a staff writer have enough pull to at least suggest an actor they like for a role, or is that entirely in the hands of the show-runner or network executives?

It always varies from show to show but most of the time casting suggestions are very welcomed by the writer. Or, for that matter, anyone on staff. The names can't be worse than the network casting suggestions. They once recommended an actor for a role who was dead.

But we used to kick names around in the room all the time. There's also a phone-book-size "Actor's Directory" that gives you names and pictures of just about everyone out there. We spend hours combing through that book.

Writers will sometime imagine certain actors or types as he writes a character. Knowing what was in his head can be very helpful.

On some dramas the writer of an episode essentially produces it. He casts the guest roles, supervises filming, and post production. Do try to get on one of those shows.

Anonymous has a question, which is ironic considering it’s about identity.

When hiring for new shows - how does the producer know that a "Written by" in resumes doesn't mean "Pizza-runner" or "slept with a producer" ?

Very simple. You read samples of his work and they MUST BE first drafts. If I receive a submission and it’s a shooting script I just toss it. I need to see the writer’s work BEFORE the staff gets a hold of it. And even then it’s hard to tell because the staff probably helped break the story and along the way pitched some good jokes that found their way into the writer’s original draft.

The plus side of the writer in question being on someone’s staff is you can snoop around and get feedback on how well he’s liked, how much he contributed, did he chew with his mouth open, etc.

If the writer is on staff of a show like BIG BANG THEORY that I know is room written then I want to see something original, not from the show.

By the way, if I do receive a shooting script as a submission I blame the agent, not the writer. The agent should know better. Often times the writer doesn’t know exactly what script has been submitted to whom on his behalf.

What is your question?


Sally creeping down the alley said...

My Friday Question is about influences, when it comes to writing, who were you influenced by and when did you realize they influenced you?

And do you prefer The Three Stooges or The Marx Brothers? Why?

Steve said...

My favorite thing about working with Nicholls and Vickers: no table. You write your draft, the boys take their pass, then the script goes out to the rest of the writing staff for punch-up. But that first draft is all yours.

(Actually, that's my third-favorite thing, just behind conjugal Fridays and the free lemonade.)

A. Buck Shorter said...

Harry Anderson does it for me every time, and I'd like to think he's also every character he ever played. Moving on to another subject….

Today's events prompt trying to get one last Friday question in under the wire:
"So Ken, how's that Proctory-Gambly thing workin' out for ya'?"
When EF Levine speaks, Wall Street listens.

The plunge in the P&G stock price was said to have been triggered by a California financial analyst’s offhand comment last Sunday, implying that the Cincinnati laundry detergent and personal hygiene mega-manufacturer should sell off its profitable Pringles division and stick to its core business.

Asked to comment on today’s events, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested, “Shit like this wouldn’t happen with Pete in the Hall.”

A. Buck Short said...

Bernanke then added, “We narrowly averted an even bigger mess on the Exchange floor by requiring all P&G preferred stock traders to wear Pampers.”

Incidentally, for those fans of this blog who still haven’t gone out and purchased that perfect last minute gift for this weekend. Yes, I know you’ve probably already got the inflatable Dodgers glove chair – but that’s for poor people. On the ungloved hand, what do I know; I still can’t figure out why she won’t go to Hooters for Mothers Day? .

Rose said...

Oh, I LOVED seeing Harry Anderson on CHEERS! I enjoyed his other roles, too, but Harry the Hat was awesome! I remember reading that he was a magician, and a lot of folks seemed to feel the same way, Ken: don't play cards with him. :-)

Whatever became of Harry?

EK said...

Harry Anderson was certainly entertaining. The Harry the Hat episodes were fun, and I always enjoyed Night Court (but mostly for John Larroquette). Harry's Wikipedia page linked to this NY Times story from 2006 about his years living in New Orleans after he left Hollywood, and his decision to move to North Carolina. He, Markie Post, and Charles Robinson were on an episode of 30 Rock a couple of years ago as themselves.

Todd said...

Another question for another Friday:

Ken, what are your feelings about "table writing" vs. having a single writer complete as much of the script as possible (I'm talking specifically about 1/2 hour comedy here)?

Just curious, with all your years of experience, where your philosophy ended up.



Anonymous said...

I know a young woman who wants to write, and eventually become a show runner. She is at community college, and will have to transfer to a 4 year next year. Someone told her that screenwriting degrees are a vanity degree at the undergraduate level, and to major in another interest, then take a master program for screen writing. What are your thoughts on this, and do you have any suggestions for schools for her?

Your Humble Correspondent said...

Harry, I am scratching my nose because it itches.

blogward said...

Strange, and I appreciate the opportunity to say this to a key figure in the show I loved for so long, but Harry the Hat never worked for me at all. I completely bought into all the Cheers characters, even John Mahoney's jingle writer - but Harry the Hat was like Harry Mudd in Star Trek; through the fourth wall. That's just me.

ajm said...

Glad to know you co-wrote so many of those "Bar Wars" episodes -- always my favorites. About 10 years ago I wrote up a detailed history of CHEERS for a multi-volume pop culture encyclopedia. In my haste to capture all the nuances of the show, I inadvertently called 'Gary’s Old Towne Tavern' 'Gary's Old Time Tavern.' I humbly beseech your forgiveness.

PS: Oh yeah, one more thing: I also misidentified the 1993 episode where Sam revealed his toupee as being the next-to-last CHEERS episode. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Ken, what are your thoughts on the Betty White craze? I thought she did a fine job on SNL considering the weak writing. But seriously, how many more times are we going to laugh at an old lady spewing dirty words?