Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday questions

Hello from Boston where I survived the Redeye and I’m with the Dodgers for their big weekend series with the Red Sox. Manny Ramirez says hello to everybody, by the way. Here are some Friday questions from the home of Cheers.

LouOCNY gets it started.

My question is this: I recently saw a BECKER episode you directed where Gilbert Gottfried played a doctor even MORE obnoxious than Becker. The question that the whole world wants answered is: what is Gilbert REALLY like?? Is there a time where he is 'off', and fairly normal?

Gilbert was a lovely guy, surprisingly shy and low key. He even tended to underplay his character and I had to keep telling him to be more like “Gilbert”. He was too normal. One thing is certain though, he’s funny.

Anonymous wants to know:

There are the Archives of American Television which slowly manage to do interviews even with writers on some level. Ken, how come you haven't done one of these interviews yet?

Uh… no one’s asked me. And I’m sitting here in makeup.

From Stephen:

What does a show-runner do when there are too many regulars on a series? I look at shows like Will & Grace, which had 4 regulars through its entire run, and at shows like Grey's Anatomy, which at last count has 13 regulars. Can even the best writer in your experience serve every actor every week?

That’s a very sticky problem and there are two schools of thought on how you handle it. One is to service everybody every week, even if it’s with just a few lines. That’s why you see a lot of “B” stories in sitcoms. You’re looking for ways to wedge everybody in even if they don’t figure in the main story.

The other philosophy is to say to your cast “You’re not going to be heavy in every episode, you might not even be in every episode, but we will make you the centerpiece of several episodes so you just have to be patient and you just have to be a team player.”

This is even true in sitcoms. EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND only did one storyline per episode and had only five regulars and they still didn’t use everybody every week.

Personally, I’m in the second camp. You only have so much time and it’s hard enough to tell a good story without having to shoehorn lines in for actors who aren’t directly involved.

Anonymous has another question. PLEASE use your name.

A followup on the producer question -- what are the non-writing producers who aren't the line producer doing on the show?

They’ll tell you they’re shielding you from the network and studio and allowing you to devote your time to creative matters. But the truth is, for the most part, they do nothing but provide another level of obstruction, another layer of notes, and a partner you didn’t ask for to share some of your hard earned backend profits.

Here’s the bottom line: If you can do the show without them you don’t need them. And for years writers have been doing the show very nicely without them.

What is your question?


Anonymous said...

Hey Ken. Thanks for uploading the Cheers superbowl special on youtube. Do you happen to have the NBC All Star Hour from September,1983 featuring the Cheers cast?

Unknown said...

Does a writer know he or she is writing an episode that is "jumping the shark"?

I guess what I'm really asking is, how do you know that you've plumbed the depths of a character or story and it's time to move on?

Jim Stickford said...

What are some of the different ways writers work?

Do some write on legal pads, dictate to a scribe, write on computers? Typewriters?

Do some writers do a nine to five, while others work all night? Do some wait until the last minute while others get their stuff in early? Which technique drives produces crazy and which method would you as a producer rather work with?

Cap'n Bob said...

Gottfried is supposed to be notoriously cheap. True?

Dana Gabbard said...

Jim Stickford, in later years Eric Stanley Gardner rode a horse through his ranchland while dictating. He had satchels on posts at key locations where he could drop off tapes and pick up fresh ones. An assistant came by later to get the tapes and take them back to the compound where the recordings were trascribed for final editing. I understand Rod Serling also dictated during the Twilight Zone years to keep up the pace of writing so many episodes.

chicoruiz said...

I was just reading today how the great comedy writer Al Boasberg used to dictate his material via phone while sitting in a huge bathtub. Largely forgotten now, he was one of the greats; how about having A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, Keaton's THE GENERAL and creating Jack Benny's stage persona on your resume?

Which is a question for another Friday-if there were a TV comedy writer's Hall of Fame, who should be the first inductees?

Chris Riesbeck said...

Two names immediately pop to mind: Nat Hiken and Larry Gelbart.

Mike said...

This isn't a question but a comment. Last Sunday night I saw the episode of Cheers where Rebecca learns Robin has been two-timing her (well, really three-timing her), and while I'd seen that episode before several times, I guess I never noticed it was a Levine/Isaacs episode. I just want to say, I really do love that episode, and have for years. While the Diane years are still my favorites, this episode ranks as one of Cheers' all-time greats. Lots of laughs, from basically all the characters (i.e., Frasier's rueful memory of "that bitch Diane" leaving him at the altar, Woody losing faith in Sam as a hero and says he'll now have to go back to his previous hero, St. Thomas Aquinas), and really a tour de force performance by Kirstie Alley. When she tells Sam she'll have to end it with Robin, her delivery of "That's it, sweet baby" cracks me up every time I see it. It's a great episode and, like I said, one that's been making me laugh for years.

It's not often I get the chance to tell a writer how much enjoyment I've gotten out of a particular episode he's penned. But thanks to this blog, I now get the chance to do it.

P.S. Like anonymous said, thanks for the Super Bowl Cheers clip. I've been wondering for years what it was like.


D. McEwan said...

Al Boasberg, a total genius.

I knew Gilbert Gottfired a bit, 30 years ago, and he was indeed a somewhat shy sweetheart. We got on really well. Oddly enough, I knew him offstage before I ever saw his act. Then I saw him work onstage, and he KILLED me. Really, really funny.

Can't answer for his being cheap or not. He never bought me a drink, but then, I never bought him one either.

Good guy. VERY smart!

Jeff said...

This is a great blog. I've really enjoyed perusing the archives. It looks like your writing either parallels or has directly influenced my sense of humor, as I'm a huge fan of Cheers and Frasier.

IMDB lists you as the writer of the "Miss Right Now" episode of Frasier. This was the second time Jennifer Tilly played a bimbo that Frasier was set up with. The first was the "Second Time Around" episode of Cheers.

Did anybody notice this during production? Her characters have different names, and there are no references to this during the episode. It just seems too coincidental to go unnoticed.

Assuming it wasn't noticed, if it had been, do you think you would have commented on it or ignored it?

benson said...

Well, along the same lines, John Mahoney was a piano playing jingle writing huckster on an episode of Cheers. And I don't know if it was said on Cheers, or just referred to on Frasier (when Sam Malone showed up), that Frasier's dad was dead.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

Well, along the same lines, John Mahoney was a piano playing jingle writing huckster on an episode

He was great in that ep: "how 'bout if you be Sy Lembeck and I'll be the annoying broad?" Peri Gilpin also had a small role in the last season of Cheers, and I always wondered if that was a quasi-audition. And wasn't Roy from Wings the fire inspector? I always liked that character/actor.

Cap'n Bob said...

Dana: You mean Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason, among many others.
"That's it!" is one of those Scientology phrases. So did you write it, Ken, or did she suggest it?

Pat Reeder said...

Count me as another big fan of Al Boasberg. One of his early lines:

#1: My brother slapped Al Capone's face.

#2: I'd like to shake his hand!

#1: Oh, we're not going to dig him up just for that.

Paul Duca said...

My question is simply "what's your opinion of HOT IN CLEVELAND"?, being that you worked with two of its stars (Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick). And are any professional/personal experiences with Valerie Bertinelli or Betty White (aka Thorn in Tallulah Morehead's Side)?

crackblind said...

Not a question. Just curious if you saw this appreciation of John Ratzenberger and his Pixar work on Slate:

gih said...

that's great ken.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"Paul Duca said...
Betty White (aka Thorn in Tallulah Morehead's Side)?"

Nonsense. I adore Betty. As long as she's alive, I'll only be the second-oldest woman in the Screen Actor's Guild.

Now Allen Ludden was sometimes a thorn in my side. He had terrible aim!

Paul Duca said...

Funny you bring that up, Tallulah...I was listening to the radio a couple of mornings ago and the DJ was discussing a report that supposedly there are racy pictures of Betty and Allen in existence. The story is that the current owner of a house that White and Ludden owned, came across a box of photographs--and some of them are a little va-va-voom. I don't make any claims to authenticity of the story--I am simply repeating what I heard.

Dana Gabbard said...

Ouch--yeah Cap'n Bob, I meant Erle Stanley Gardner. I think I read he once cranked out an entire Mason mystery novel in a weekend.

Timothy said...

I have two questions, both related to MASH (sorry, I hate to ask about MASH!).

First, whats the deal with the unseen announcer on MASH? Why wasn't it a regular character (like Radar or Klinger)? They even had those characters doing announcements from time to time.

My second question goes along with your failures theater. I recently stumbled across "The Fighting Nightingales", but could only find some archived reviews from obscure websites that told very little. Do you know anything more about it?

Question Mark said...

Re: finding screentime for a big cast. One of the things that made LOST so special is the episode format. The fact that virtually every episode was centered around one specific character was a great idea and it really helped you delve into all the various people on the island. Also, it couldn't have hurt when telling, say, Yunjin Kim that "okay, your character will be C-level for most of the series, but you'll still get an Emmy submission ep every year. Capiche?"