Friday, July 09, 2010

LeBron is a disloyal a-hole...and Friday questions

Ready for some Friday questions besides why did LeBron pick Miami over the Cavs or Clippers?

Mary Stella gets us started.

This week's TV Guide says The Cosby Show single-handedly brought back the sit-com. Do you agree, disagree or . . .?

I absolutely agree. In the early 80s there was a lot of talk that sitcoms were dead. Many sitcom writers were writing hour MAGNUM P.I. specs hoping to still stay in the business.

Despite how good CHEERS was its first season, the ratings were dismal. They improved slightly the second year, aided by the Emmy for Best Comedy. But then COSBY premiered year three, started getting ungodly numbers like 40 shares and suddenly everything else on NBC’s Thursday night went through the roof… including CHEERS. Sort of like the Cavaliers when LeBron joined them except Cosby won championships. Within a few years all of the networks were flooding their schedules with comedies again and the genre was once again viable. But make no mistake, no sitcom has ever had the impact on network television that COSBY did. And there was no ridiculous hype fest with America's greatest opportunist, Jim Gray to announce which network Cosby would be taking his show on renewal years.

Kirk Jusko queries…

You mentioned the Mary Tyler Moore as being the Holy Grail of sitcoms, and it made me think of a question. Although the show was funny throughout its' seven-year run, I thought it lost a little something after Rhoda (Valerie Harper) left. Not laughs, but, at the risk of sounding a little corny, some heart. I wonder what your opinion is of this.

I don’t think the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW ever lost heart. The writers were always vigilant about that. I did think that the character of Rhoda lost heart when she spun-off into her own show. Personally, I thought she should have stayed in Cleveland... sorry, I meant Minneapolis. After the first season when it was clear the marriage with Joe wasn’t working, I think the producers had trouble really deciding what the series should be about. It kind of drifted from season to season. She had a much clearer role and function in THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.

I really missed her on MTM because I loved that Jewish voice. No one could write Rhoda like Treva Silverman. And Treva was not involved in the spin-off.

And finally, from Carson:

My question is about continuity. Sometimes there are glaring continuity issues that always leave me wondering, why doesn’t the actor say, “hey, this isn’t right!” A prime example is from The Andy Griffith Show where the character of Goober Pyle is suddenly, with no explanation and for just one episode, referred to as Goober Beasley. How and why does this happen?

Sometimes it happens when writing staffs change and they are unaware of previous details. I can’t speak for the ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. I never worked on it. I was Opie’s age.

Usually though, someone from the cast and crew will flag the inconsistency. But not always.

I told this story before but it applies.

In the seventh season of MASH we did an episode called Preventive Medicine. The story seemed very intriguing. The number of arriving wounded had increased because of one careless Colonel. Hawkeye slips him a mickey then to keep him from returning to the front removes his appendix. This was before malpractice suits and HMO’s but there was still that pesky question of ethics. It created a nice debate between Hawkeye and BJ. We did a lot of rewriting on that episode, the cast was happy, we were happy, and they went off to the ranch to make it.

On Friday night my partner, David tuned in to the MASH rerun that CBS was airing at 11:45. After watching a few minutes he came upon a horrible discovery – IT WAS THE EXACT SAME SHOW THAT WE WERE FILMING. Identical. Same plotline, same argument. The only difference was it was better (no surprise there – Larry Gelbart vs. us).

We were mortified. I mean, it’s one thing to steal from other shows, but to steal from your own? We looked like a couple of blithering idiots (y'know, like the owners of the Cavs, Knicks, Bulls, Nets, even Clippers). And again, the amazing thing is that no one on the cast or crew caught it. And a lot of them were there for the original episode.

So it can happen. And when it does we all look like Goobers.

Thanks for the questions. Oh well, Cleveland. You still have Betty White. What’s your question?


notfromCleveland said...

Funny Cleveland references. From Boston and can only thank Cleveland for Manny (despite how it ended). This is a great letter from the owner. He HATES "the self-proclaimed King" now.

Gughunter said...

The funniest thing, to me, about the whole LeBron thing is the "" billboards that started popping up around here a month or two ago. They had words like "HOME" and "COMMITMENT" and "LOYALTY" and I figured they were a campaign to deter sports figures from running around on their wives -- you know, be "more than a player." Then I finally looked it up on the Internet and it was a LeBron fan club.

I can't begrudge LeBron for looking for a better deal, but the way he went about it was classy with a capital K.

Lairbo said...

Now that LeBron has moved to Miami, I intend to pay even less attention to basketball than I did when he was in Cleveland.

Dudleys Mom said...

I don't think you've talked about "Hot in Cleveland". What do you think about that show, Ken? The laugh track makes the show seem very dated to me, yet the rhythm of the writing and the timing of the actors requires it (to my ear). Are we too jaded to enjoy a show with a laugh track nowadays? I do think the viewer can easily see the experience of all the actresses: they all seem so comfortable on camera and deliver their lines with no self-consciousness, even though there's a fair amount of schlock going on. It helps that I liked all the shows that featured the actresses in the past, so there's a sense of nostalgia for these women for, I grew up in Cleveland and moved to New York. It's really true: a woman of a certain age is hotter in Cleveland.

Also--did you like "Party Down"? I thought it relied on dirty words and mistaken drug ingestion a little too often for its jokes, but I enjoyed it a lot (I really like scathing humor) and was sorry it was cancelled (but not surprised). It's kind of the opposite of "Hot in Cleveland".

Brian Phillips said...

Thanks for the words about the Cosby Show. It also had two weird effects:

1. TV Guide ran an article called (something like), "Mr. Cosby, Here is How to Make Your Show Better", which was an article from viewers on improvements. Now, this show was, as you said, getting unreal numbers, unbelievably successful and in one of the few times (only times?) TV Guide solicited VIEWER input on improving a show, as opposed to a critic, as they did in their "Cheers and Jeers" section. I don't know whether that article indicates envy or a slow news week.

2. Sitcoms as a genre were helped by "The Cosby Show", but as the great Ernie Kovacs said, "If it works, beat it to death". This meant many more stand-up comedians got shows, some good (Roseanne, Seinfeld), some forgettable (Second Half (John Mendoza), The Traci Lor...I mean, Charlie and Company [Flip Wilson]), however what Cosby's show did was on one hand allow people of color a shot at a show and with it's huge success, it blinded folks to other good shows, in particular, "Frank's Place", a quality show that won two Emmys and which got kicked around CBS' schedule like a concert volleyball. It didn't get the (deserved) press hype that "Everybody Loves Raymond" did, which had awful numbers in it's first year.

In unrelated news, have you seen the number of Emmy nods "Modern Family" got? Maybe one of these days Ed O'Neill will get an Emmy.

Maybe one of these days, he'll even get nominated!

Anonymous said...


Be sure to give shallow, self-interested characters hints of complexity. For example, have them lie about their motivations: "I have to do what what's best for my family" and "I'm all about helping my teammates."

Sorry I have no more to offer as I clicked away the moment after he said "South Beach."

Gary said...

Now that the LeBronzing coronation is complete, we see he was actually King Tut's penis all along.

Brian Phillips said...

"Dudleys Mom", I am not Ken Levine.

I am not a role model.


I don't think every show needs one, but laughter, live or canned, wins out more times than not. Keeping that in mind,

"Malcolm in the Middle"
"Parker Lewis Can't Lose"
"Modern Family"
"The Larry Sanders Show"
"The Office"
"30 Rock"
"Parks and Recreation"
"Cougar Town"

...all of the above have had some degree of success or longevity without laughter on the soundtrack. Desi Arnaz knew that Lucille Ball performed better in front of an audience, so that's how "I Love Lucy" was filmed. Most of the stand-up to sitcom comics end up on shows that have laugh tracks, although Garry Shandling has had shows that did ("It's Garry Shandling's Show") and didn't ("The Larry Sanders Show").

To show how critical the choice can be, back in the 1950s, Spike Milligan was trying to get his first show on BBC radio. He recorded a pilot with a producer with Jacques Brown. Milligan wanted an audience for it, Brown felt that comedy interrupted by laughter would suffer, so Brown submitted the pilot with no laughter and it was rejected. Rightly or wrongly, Milligan blamed the failed submission for this reason.

Spike Milligan, for those who are unfamiliar, eventually got on air with "Crazy People" which was renamed, "The Goon Show" and all but two of the episodes were done in front of a studio audience, although one of his favorites was "The Starlings" which was recorded without an audience.

After all of this, I do have a question. Up until the 1990's, I could tell the difference between videotaped shows and filmed shows. Video shows usually looked bright, like news and sports shows, while the filmed shows' colors and lighting are subtler. Are all sitcoms all on film now or have some merely converted to a high quality of videotape?

Vermonter17032 said...

Lots of continuity issues throughout Cheers, which one probably wouldn't notice without the aid of DVDs and an obsession with watching them over and over.

For example, in an early episode Norm hates house painting... then becomes a house painter later in the series. Does Frasier like dogs or hate them... depends on the episode. Frasier is engaged to Jennifer Tilly one episode, the next Sam has to take him out on the town to help him forget Diane. Etc...

Discovering these discrepencies is part of the fun, though.

Michael said...

On MASH, I think Potter had three wedding anniversaries after arriving at the 4077th on September 17, 1952, less than a year before the war ended. Then again, one episode did a capsule look at 1951, so ....

I noticed the similarities between the two episodes on the colonel's appendix, and they were indeed different. But the later one struck me as the more intellectual one--a legitimate debate about medical and personal ethics.

Bob Summers said...


You talk about inaccuracies in WKRP, but would you please talk about them in a post, or just answer that question some Friday?

Matt said...


I have quite a few MASH scripts in my collection and in reading through them, none of writers indicate Stage 9 vs. Fox Ranch locations. How did the production staff decide which location to shoot scenes (aside from the obvious: EXT. CHOPPER PAD - DAY).

sophomorecritic said...

1. When I first saw Mark Feuerstein in Conrad Bloom, I found him to be a likeable actor. Then the show got cancelled and I don't remember seeing him again until Royal Pains where he's really found a niche.
You have any comments or reflections on his circuitous route to stardom? I also thought Conrad Bloom was a good show, what went wrong?

2. I thought MASH was pretty good, but then I saw the film by Rob Altman and loved it. The film's jokes seemed very intrinsic and natural. I think with the TV show's laugh track, Hawkeye's one-liners seemed too gimmicky. I still liked MASH the TV show but did you ever consider Altman's approach and how much were you influenced by the film?

GG said...

Dudleys Mom, perhaps you are not making the distinction and just mean we the TV viewers can hear the laughter watching the show, but Hot in Cleveland is shot with a live audience, not a laugh track. It may be augmented, that I don't know, but it's not all canned.

Dan Serafini said...

It was pink and it was perfect, and I took it out.

YEKIMI said...

Sheesh! The way the fans are reacting in Northeast Ohio you would think LeBron took his Hummer and ran over baskets of kittens, puppies, babies and Betty White. He's an overpayed, narcissistic asswipe...they all are. If the Cleveland press would have actually done their job instead of fawning all over him people would know this. Like going out and spending hundreds on meals and tipping the waiter/waitress one lousy dollar. Like berating people who dared to look at him when he walked into a business...."What are you looking at? You're not good enough to look at me!" I never really followed basketball and could care less where he goes but I don't think there are any professional sports players who have any class anymore. [I have friends who played ball with Lebron and were friends with him but no more...even they said he was an arrogant prick and they couldn't stand his BS anymore.

Curt Alliaume said...

Glad you noted the similarity between the two M*A*S*H episodes; I'd always wondered about that. The only difference I noted was B.J. Hunnicut's refusal to participate in the unnecessary surgery was written into the show at Mike Farrell's insistence, according to a later PBS documentary. Even then, no one said, "Oh, and when we had a similar six years ago, we didn't do that."

Dudleys Mom said...

Regarding the laugh track on "Hot in Cleveland":

Oops. I do remember now the Betty White voiceover stating the show is filmed before a live audience. But it's definitely been 'enhanced', and as I said, although it seems appropriate for the writing / performances, it feels very retro. I guess the fakeness of the laughter works against my suspension of disbelief. Just wondered what Ken thought.

Thanks for chiming in, Brian.

Lou H. said...

Was your writing ever influenced by the show's position in the schedule? For example, if the network told you the show would air at 10pm, would you write more mature situations? And would you write differently if your leadin were, say, Glee vs Matlock?

chalmers said...

Like almost everything else, I think "The Simpsons" serve as the laugh track dividing line.

Someone once explained this to me using "Homer the Heretic" after Homer is saved from a fire he accidentally set while blowing off church.

Rev. Lovejoy and the volunteer firemen are there and Lovejoy stresses to Homer the goodness in men of all faiths:

"Whether they be (indicating Flanders) Christian, (indicating Krusty) Jew, or (indicating Apu)...miscellaneous."

Apu (indignantly): "That's Hindu! There ARE 700 million of us!"

Lovejoy (sweetly patronizing): "Well that's just SUPER."

With a laugh track/studio audience, "miscellaneous" would draw a big laugh and the rhythm would be thrown off, destroying the next two funny lines.

But laugh-track free, "The Simpsons" advanced the dream of Larry Gelbart and others to pack more comedy into a show by ditching the reactions.

JKChicago said...

I remember being surprised by the second appendix episode, but I always thought that it worked as a powerful demonstration of how the war affected Hawkeye. In the first one, he was arguing against the operation, while Trapper wanted to do it. At that time, Trapper seemed to take everything harder (he was the one ready to go AWOL to go home to his family). Time goes by, and as Hawkeye sees more death and destruction he gets to the same emotional point Trapper was at. BJ, who had been there for less time, takes Hawkeye's old role as the voice of reason. Logic in the front vs. logic at home. It even made sense that Hawkeye didn't remember, since by that point he wasn't the same person.

Dave Creek said...

Regarding continuity, I always liked STAR TREK's Walter Koenig's explanation of why the character of Khan remembered his Chekov character in WRATH OF KHAN -- after all, Koenig knew he hadn't joined the TV show when the original episode featuring Khan aired.

He says Khan capturing and torturing Chekov gave him a bigger role in the movie, and he wasn't about to speak up to let George Takei or Nichelle Nichols or anyone else take those scenes from him!

DwWashburn said...

Regarding the James hullabaloo, I think the most embarrassing thing about the last four weeks of 24 hour coverage was the fact that a station like ESPN would agree to James' ego request of a full hour for "the announcement" especially since their radio network had leaked the news about two weeks ago.

On the subject of the MASH episode, I had always heard that there was not a satisfactory conclusion to the episode. Then Alan and Mike were sitting off to the side arguing about whether or not the doctors should remove a healthy organ and someone said "That's the resolution". During the Hawkeye Trapper episode there was no argument. They operated on Colonel Flagg even though there was nothing wrong with him.

Lee said...

I have always been awed by Larry Gelbart's talent, so I certainly mean no sacrilege, but Preventative Medicine was a better version of the story. Hawkeye and BJ both want to do the right thing, but disagree so fundamentally on what that thing is. It's a universal argument, and it forces them, and us, to think about their friendship and their ethics.

Again, not sucking up, but your take was better.

jbryant said...

Dudley's Mom: In the latest Entertainment Weekly, HOT IN CLEVELAND exec. producer Todd Milliner insists the live audience laughs aren't sweetened:

"We keep the original laughs. In fact, when we don't hear a reaction--like when we thought something was funnier than it was--we still want to keep that, too, because it's a true response."

Could be BS, of course, but there you go. Haven't seen the show myself.

Cap'n Bob said...

Regarding I Love Lucy, they may have used a live audience ( as opposed to one full of cadavers, I suppose), but they planted professional laughers to amp up the chuckles. If you watch enough reruns you'll hear some of the same voices burst into hysterics over and over.

I don't give a damn about basketball.

larry said...

I loved Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but I think it only got better after she left. I always found the office episodes more entertaining than the apartment episodes. (The Chuckles episode came after Rhoda left.) With Rhoda gone, it allowed Georgette and Sue Anne to rise to the fore.

In a lot of old shows I guess they figured there'd never be DVD sets and they just didn't care about continuity between seasons. Some simply rebooted, like My Three Sons. But the sitcom that had the least respect for continuity was The Odd Couple. I swear there are at least three episodes with the "first" meeting between Oscar and Felix.

Word verfication: anatrive. When Ex-Lax won't do.

Mike Schryver said...

"I swear there are at least three episodes with the first meeting between Oscar and Felix."

And I love them all. I think The Odd Couple was one show where the continuity just didn't matter. Klugman and Randall were so marvelous that whatever had to be done to build a situation around them was fine with me.

selection7 said...

I've actually noticed from video commentaries that the people who actually made the show/movie sometimes seem to have about the level of knowledge (in terms of storylines and character background) of a casual fan. Then I saw your post, Ken, and still, I gotta say. You really think nobody on staff noticed?! By saying that you're basically calling everyone on the cast and crew blithering idiots too.

And didn't you watch your own show? It wasn't like it was the 19th season of Bonanza or something. So it seems almost impossible to believe it wasn't commonly noticed. Perhaps people were being polite since the alternative is basically to criticize you for lack of originality.

selection7 said...

Now that I think about it, I'm well aware that Ken&David only joined later in the show's run. And in those days you couldn't exactly pop in the dvd sets to catch up on missed episodes. So Ken & David have an excuse, but what about everyone else on staff?

Chalmers said...

The "Odd Couple" continuity errors bothered me for awhile too, but as Mike Schryver said, it was so good that I looked at it as variations on a theme created and performed by incredibly talented people.

It wasn't just the plot points either. They changed the actors who played Leonard and Edna seemingly with no regard for whether the replacements resembled the originals.

Plus, they had Richard Stahl playing a different guest role seemingly every other episode. But he was good, and the show was good, so none of it mattered.

Anonymous said...

Just womdering: how is LeBron leaving a team any worse/different/more disloyal than a say, writer, leaving a big hit series (like, Cheers?) in the middle of its run?

Kirk said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken. Haven't been on the computer much this past week, and just now saw the post. Great LeBron tie-in.

DwWashburn said...

Thought of another one. When Get Smart went to CBS for its final year, they re-did one episode from one of the earlier seasons. This got Don Adams' ire up and he refused to film the episode. So it was slightly rewritten so that Bill Dana could play Max's part and filmed anyway. There is at least one example where a star caught on to a duplicate script.

TomH said...

Weirrrrd. I just saw my first-ever episode of MASH the other day. Guess which one it was? Preventive Medicine! And I didn't see the opening credits to know who wrote it, and I didn't know there was a similar episode until reading this post.

I like JKChicago's idea that Hawkeye is now at the same place thtat Trapper was then. That's a beautiful way to explain it.

As for not paying attention to continuity, The Simpsons is the all-time worst offender, but I think that's done on purpose, either for pragmatic reasons (the characters have to always stay the same age) or for the writers' own amusement. Homer and Marge met in high school in the early 80's, Bart was a toddler in 1985, then suddenly Marge is in college (and not married yet) in the 1990's. It's all in fun.

Fascinating about Get Smart. I read somewhere that Don Adams didn't participate in a few episodes out of simple exhaustion from doing the physical comedy. This seems a more plausible explanation.

DWWashburn: I like the handle! :)

Lanie said...

I LOVE LUCY never used "professional laughers." Film editor Dann Cahn had a small library of recordings of audience reactions that he used, not to sweeten, but to smooth over inconsistencies in the show's soundtrack caused by editing. All shows filmed in front of a live audience use pre-recorded tracks of laughter and applause for this reason. It's a technique that dates back to radio at least as far as 1946, when Bing Crosby decided that recording and editing his series on tape beat the heck out of doing it live every week. The drawback to this has always been that those tracks can become familiar to viewers if they hear them enough. (Anybody remember how, in the 1960s and into the 1970s, one could regularly hear the same laugh tracks showing up on sitcom after sitcom?)

Honestly, I always thought that similar M*A*S*H storyline was just the series recycling the older plotline.

I think BEWITCHED still holds the award for most remakes of old scripts. Which I guess is what happens when a show with a one or two season premise is a big hit and runs for eight years.