Friday, July 23, 2010

Angie Dickinson: Good enough for JFK not CBS

Good grief! It’s Friday question day. Leave yours in the comment section. Thanks.

YEKIMI gets us started:

Was there ever anyone you wanted to use as a "guest star" on MASH [or other shows] but decided against it or the network decided against it because they felt they had been "overexposed"? [i.e.: too many apperances on other shows, etc.]

Not that I can recall. Generally we try to avoid that ourselves. There have been times when an actor has been suggested and we’ll say, “Jesus, haven’t we seen him enough already?” But those are usually character actors. We’d be thrilled to use Ted Danson in any project we ever do, even if there’s no part for him.

The big double-edged sword for character actors is landing a long running commercial. It’s great money but they can become typecast. I hope for her sake that the Progressive Insurance chick is making a bundle. And good luck to Jack from Jack in the Box if he ever wants to guest on LAW & ORDER.

Networks love “stunt casting” – bringing in a guest star with celebrity value that would attract a larger audience. Movie stars are preferred (duh!). And that’s fine when you’re a big hit show and it’s cool to be on it. Julia Roberts does a FRIENDS. Madonna does a WILL & GRACE. But if you’re just a struggling show (and need the audience boost the most) it’s extremely hard to snare one of those people unless someone on the shows knows a big star personally and is willing to call in a favor. I’m sure you could get Lindsay Lohan to guest on TIL DEATH if you could break her out of jail for five days.

When we were doing ALMOST PERFECT and CBS was hounding us for more stunt casting, we were unable to scrounge up any Oscar winners (living or dead). But we had what I thought was a fun idea. Since our show was set in the writing room of a TV cop show, we thought it would be fun for one episode to bring back all the classic crime fighters from years gone by. Angie Dickinson, Mike Connors, Jim Garner, etc.

We could have said, “We’d like to do a Manson Family reunion” – that’s the level of enthusiasm we received from the network.

So we settled for Marie Osmond (who was terrific by the way).

Barefoot Billy Aloha, who I assume is from Mississippi, asks:

How did you guys decide on top billing? Straws? Grenades?

We go in alphabetical order and neither one of us can spell.

Seriously though, I got top billing at first because I called David to see if he wanted to work together. Once we started selling scripts I offered to alternate billing every year and David said, “No, let’s just leave it this way. My relatives know where to look to see the credit and it’s up there so briefly that to switch every year would just confuse them.”

But within the industry we’re known as both. Either Levine & Isaacs (pronounced correctly – Lee Vine) or Isaacs & LaVeen.

From Bob Gassel:

When it came to deciding what happened to the old gang at Cheers (ie: Rebecca's divorce), were you free to do whatever you wanted, or did it have to go thru several channels?

You’re referring I assume to the FRASIER episode we wrote where Sam Malone guested. You can read the script here.

As I recall, David and I came up with the various scenarios of where the CHEERS characters were then and ran them by the FRASIER staff, which included three former CHEERS producers in Casey, Lee, & Angell. I don’t think they ran our ideas past the Charles Brothers but they might have. We were never told. And none of our ideas were vetoed.

We tried to make them funny and very character-specific. We didn’t want to do anything really crazy with them. Norm is now a big porn star, Cliff is the Secretary of State – that sort of thing (although both ideas are very plausible).

And finally, MIkeN wonders:

DO the cast while filming an episode ever say this part of the script makes no sense?

Only all the time. It pains me to say they’re usually right. But most of the time they’re polite and respectful about it. Not like Orson Welles. I’ll leave you with this recording session for a commercial Mr. Welles was asked to do. Yikes!


Tom Quigley said...

Ken said:

"We thought it would be fun for one episode to bring back all the classic crime fighters from years gone by. Angie Dickinson, Chuck Connors, Jim Garner, etc."...

Don't see why they would have objected. Seems like CBS let MURDER, SHE WROTE get away with stunt casting like that several times a season... Oh, well, that's network programmng executives for you...

RE: the FRASIER episode in which Sam shows up, loved this exchange:

SAM: Hey, Woody and Kelly had a baby boy.

FRASIER: Ah, wonderful. (THEN, HESITANTLY) But, is he...?

SAM: No, he's smart.

FRASIER: Genetics takes a holiday.

Finally, re: The Orson Welles thing -- he must have been adhering to his own dictum: "We will read no trite copy before its time (and I've intellectually shredded it to pieces seven ways from Sunday)"...

amyp3 said...

Orson Welles: I will not read your fecking script ... until after I tear you a new one.

Mike said...

I hate to think that that Orson Welles thing is him yelling at a real person. Because when I don't, I think it's one of the funniest thing in the world.

DJ said...

"Frozen Peas" -- part of the inspiration for Pinky and the Brain:

Michael Zand said...

Hey Ken,

Didn't you mean "Mike" Connors" and not Chuck Connors? If my memory serves, Chuck was mainly know for Westerns and Mike was famous for private eye, "Mannix."

Of course I could just go to IMDB and make sure, but I'd much rather be lazy and just shoot from the hip.

Steve said...


Many, many shows struggle with the issue of how to keep sexual tension between the leads without alienating fans annoyed with the "when will they do it?"question, or what to do once they finally do it. Moonlighting and Cheers are often referred to when contemporary shows (e.g., The Office, Chuck) grapple with this.

All these years later, what's your take on how Cheers handled the Sam & Diane relationship? What do you think would or should have happened if Shelley Long stayed on the show? And what did you think of the Sam and Rebecca relationship? Finally, any general thoughts about how to handle this difficult but common issue?



tb said...

Lee-Vine. I'm guessing this is some kind of blog-only running gag, I mean it HAS to be, right? RIGHT?...

benson said...

Ken, you've made me laugh many times, so allow me to share this with you and the collective intelligencia here..

On this afternoon's LA Times home page is this headline and the byline...

Oil rig's alarms were deliberately left disabled
By Rong-Gong Lin II

YEKIMI said...

Thanks for the answer!

Mike Doran said...

Maybe you should have checked with Lee Goldberg and Bill Rabkin. They did a DIAGNOSIS:MURDER episode with exactly this premise (right down to the participation of Angie Dickinson)and got no resistance whatever from the CBSuits.
Of course they were working in genre, which probably made the difference.

By Ken Levine said...

I know Lee and Bill and they did a TERRIFIC job incorporating them into DM. Best was when they actually used portions of a MANNIX as part of their story. Truly brilliant.

That was after our stint on CBS and was a different department.

And no one can accuse them of stealing our idea because a) we never did it, and b) I didn't know them then.

Michael said...

For years, Ken must have listened--whenever I was in LA, I did--to Jim Healy, who had a bunch of clips he'd play during his sportscasts. One of his classics was of Howard Cosell blowing up at his production team when they weren't ready to record his radio commentary, culminating with him bellowing, "WHO GOOFED? I'VE GOT TO KNOW." Couldn't help thinking of that in Orson's case.

You Tube has a lot of old "What's My Line" episodes, and on one, Orson is a panelist and says to the mystery guest, "Sir ..." and then nothing. Finally, John Daly asks, "Is that your question?" Orson said, "No, that is my preamble."

SB said...

Ken, I've been watching The Andy Griffith Show lately, and have been shocked by the difference in quality from the beginning of the series to the end. When it started, the show was almost shockingly refreshing with it's homespun view of American life. Each character was bursting with personality, and stories, while often with familiar themes, all seemed to take interesting turns by the end. After Don Knotts left, however, the show started going downhill, and by the time the color episodes appeared, the series was in a complete tailspin of hackneyed plots and forcing characters into tired situations.

What are some of the shows you can think of that started off wonderfully, but were sad shadows of their formers selves by the end?

Anonymous said...

'Rosebud Frozen Peas' from the highly underrated THE CRITIC...

Bob Gassel said...

"What are some of the shows you can think of that started off wonderfully, but were sad shadows of their formers selves by the end?"

I'm afraid Ken can't be too honest here, because he worked on one...

Splat said...

I have some rather anal questions about the "Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience" announcement.
a) What prompted it? I know a lot of shows did that around then. It appears in the middle of the first season and stays for good. Could it be a reaction over that taped test scene?
b) Was there some rule about which actor would introduce each episode? Maybe a character that wasn't in the cold opening would do the introduction. They were obviously pre-taped lines, but some actors are "featured" more often than others. Ted Danson isn't heard until fairly late in the run of the series. John Razenberger's opening was very frequent in the early seasons (even when he wasn't a regular), but George Wendt's was quite rare. And I think there's no opening line by Nicholas Colasanto. I wonder why.

I think that announcement fits very well in Cheers for some reason.

Cap'n Bob said...

I asked Ken the same question last year, Barefoot Billy Aloha, which he answered. Looks like you got a summer rerun.

Kirk said...

In the first season of EVERYONE LOVES RAYMOND there was all kinds of stunt casting, mainly because Raymond was a sportswriter and could interview real athletes such as Terry Bradshaw. After the first season the stunt casting all but disappeared from the show, and the series was much funnier as a result.

There's nothing like hearing Orson Welles say 'shit'.

MikeN said...

My question was prompted by Battlestar Galactica, where Xena insists she will keep killing hostages until they hand over the Final Five, but earlier in the episode she was the one who refused to reveal the identities of the Final Five, so they have no way of meeting her demands. This was arguably the biggest episode of the whole series.

TomH said...

Ken - I just read your script for the FRASIER where Sam Malone comes to visit. This is the first FRASIER script I've had the opportunity to read, and two things struck me right away:

1) There are no title cards mentioned in the scene transitions that occurred in every episode. If the script writers didn't come up with these, who did? And if the writers *did* come up with them, why are they not listed in the script?

2) There's also no mention of the final pantomimed action that occurred over the end credits. Same questions as above: why not, and who did?

P.S. There's a funny PINKY AND THE BRAIN cartoon called "Yes, Always," that spoofs the Orson Welles rant shown here.

TomH said...

P.S. I didn't think I would find it, but here it is: a link to that cartoon --