Friday, December 24, 2010

Was Sid Caesar supposed to play the Coach on CHEERS?

Christmas Eve. The night where the family gathers together around the computer and reads Friday questions. The holiday tradition continues.

Brian Phillips is first:

Did Sid Caesar turn down "Cheers"?

No, but CHEERS did turn down Sid Caesar. I wasn’t at the meeting, but this is what I was told. Sid had a sit-down with the Charles Brothers to discuss possibly playing the Coach. Caesar spent the time ripping the script. Needless to say, that was his last meeting.

Around the same time, I had had a similar experience with Sid. I was hosting a radio talk show and he was a guest. He was surly to me and the callers. So the callers stopped calling. What a long grueling hour that was. And so disappointing because Sid Caesar was such an idol of mine.

In fairness, it came out later that Sid had a drinking problem during that period, which explains his less than stellar behavior. I think if he met the Charles Brothers or did my radio show today it would be a whole different experience.

He remains one of my idols.

Gary asks:

Ok, Ken, I just saw a Becker episode that you directed - Toast - I think it was called. I'm sure you've been asked about the orange many times, but not by me and not recently. For those who don't know...Liz goes to Becker's apt. and he offers her "something." He opens the fridge and we can see (from left to right) one orange and 3 beers. The camera goes back to Liz, then back to the fridge. The orange is gone. Becker removes 2 beers and as he turns, it appears that the orange is on the far right hand side of the fridge. Is that a prank you play w/the audience, a little self-entertainment?

Wow, you are a perceptive viewer. No, what you saw is just a matching problem from take to take. Those happen. This sometimes becomes a big question in editing. Do you use the take that has the best performance or the take where there’s not a mis-match? Most of the time, unless the mis-match is really obvious and jarring, we’ll opt for the performance take.

In the show David and I wrote the first year of FRASIER where Lilith returns, the final scene is in a hotel room. Room service breakfast is delivered. As Frasier and Lilith eat they play out the scene. In some shots the cover is over the eggs, in others it’s not. Watch it. You’ll see. But I bet you’ve seen the scene before, maybe numerous times, and you never noticed that before.

We always try as best we can to have things match, and there is a script supervisor on the set who is supposed to catch everything but they’re only human. Re the BECKER, my guess is she couldn’t see inside the refrigerator from her angle.

The script supervisor is also supposed to keep track that the dialogue is spoken exactly as written and that the actors are all on their correct marks. I don’t know how they do it. They’re amazing.

From Carson:

When a sitcom does a two-parter or an hour long episode, do you shoot all in one night. Or do you split it up over two weeks? And are these usually the result of a network request?

Depends on the show and how ambitious the two-parter is. On CHEERS and FRASIER we generally shot both parts in one night. On ALMOST PERFECT we shot a two-parter in two weeks with a week’s hiatus in the middle (so we could write part two).

Studios and networks greatly prefer you do them over one week. It saves a lot of money – two-for-one crew expenses.

TAXI did a two-parter over no weeks. How did they do this? It was a wrap around episode. The cab company supposedly went under so everyone had to get another job. Each actor had an individual scene showing his new job. After each filming they shot one of these scenes. Then they shot the scene where they all came together to share their stories. Pretty clever, huh?

On CHEERS we did something similar when Shelley Long was pregnant. We took advantage of that period before she was showing to shoot scenes of her and Frasier in Europe. Those were shot after episodes and inserted into shows later in the season when Shelley could no longer hide her “motherly way”.

What’s your question?

Okay, you can open your presents now.


Matt said...

A follow-up question about the "how did we handle drinking on CHEERS" post:

Were the actors actually nursing beer?

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Okay, you can open your presents now.

Wow, a returned hooker! Thanks Ken! ;)

WV: mashrobr - Hawkeye Pierce in a robe.

Unknown said...

"The script supervisor is also supposed to keep track that the dialogue is spoken exactly as written and that the actors are all on their correct marks. I don’t know how they do it. They’re amazing."

One of the most glaring examples of this NOT happening in a movie - at least the one that bugs me the most because my wife and I watch the movie every New Year's Eve - is the final party scene in When Harry Met Sally.

During Billy Crystal's dialogue with Meg Ryan, when the camera is focused on Meg Ryan, Billy's lines are not in sync with his head movements. It was obviously dubbed in later, and not very well at that.

It shouldn't have been a big deal to get it right and there had to be SOMEONE who noticed this - other than me and my wife each New Year's Eve.

Brian Phillips said...

To Ken Levine: I share your admiration of Sid Caesar and thank you for the confirmation. He is a physical comic genius and a verbal comic genius!

To Ed Blonski: Looping can be an issue. In an episode of "JAG", one of the female guest stars was affected by some sort of respiratory affliction. You could hear her shortness of breath in each line so they had to re-loop. The looped word sticks out like a sore thumb, so one of her lines has her saying that she has a "...pain in my FOREHEAD!!"

jimhenshaw said...

Hey Ken,

Thanks for another year of great blogging, wonderful baseball broadcasts and so much genuine TV history.

So here's a little Christmas present from the Great White North for every Dodger fan with a sweet tooth.

Perhaps being crafted out of gingerbread explains the brittle arm.

Merry Christmas.

VP81955 said...

At times I see sitcom episodes directed by cast members, which I presume is one of the "perks" of their contract. What's your experience been like in those situations? Are they looking for diversifying their resume in later years -- in other words, are they genuinely interested in directing as a future endeavor -- and do you assist them when they have to act in a scene?

Happy holidays to Ken and all my friends here.

wv: "ansco" -- haven't used their film in ages.

Bob Claster said...

Sid Caesar tells the story of his CHEERS audition from his point of view in one of his autobiographies. The amazing part of that is that he doesn't reveal the name of the pilot, but it's obvious from the context. And the way he tells the story, those guys were stupid not to allow him to rewrite their show.

Earl B said...

I remember, many years ago, Sid wrote an article for TV GUIDE where he dissed 'contmeporary' TV comedies. He really disliked 'droll' humor, and singled out CHEERS as an example. I always wondered where that came from ...

Steven said...

Hey Ken,

Question about Lilth in Cheers.

When did Bebe announce she didn't want to return for the 11th season?

How was determined that she would live underground?

Where there any plans to have her in the final episode but Bebe was too busy on Broadway to return?

I just love her and that character - any Bebe stories you have would make my new year!

Steven Brandon

benson said...

With all due respect to Sid Caesar (Uncle Goopy!), Nick Colasanto was brilliant as Coach. He nailed the comedy and was just a superb in the dramatic moment's ("Coach's Daughter" comes to mind).

A happy and safe holiday to all who visit here, too.

Larry said...

Reading Neil Simon's memoirs, particularly when he worked with Caesar on Little Me for Broadway, you can see that Caesar was, or at least developed into, a tough customer. Perhaps some of it was due to his drinking.

Caesar did brilliant work in the 50s. No one should ever forget that. Still, he's a case, all too common in show biz, of someone who peaked early and, for whatever reasons, could never recapture the original magic.

Anonymous said...

One of the funniest ways of hiding Shelley Long's pregnancy was the episode where Diane got stuck under the floor of Cheers. She still participated the A plot, shouting out her lines from the floor, with everyone looking around every time she delivered a line. It was hilarious.