Friday, June 24, 2011

Will there ever be another CHEERS or FRASIER?

More Friday Questions answered here. Keep ‘em coming and thanks!

An Anonymous reader (please leave a name in the future) gets us started:

I have a two-part question:

1) Are you considering, or would you consider in the future creating and writing a new sitcom? Or are those days over?

If David and I came up with some idea that we felt really passionate about we would definitely consider creating another sitcom. But the conditions would have to be right. And we’d have to have a lot of freedom to really do the show our way.

At the moment we don’t have a dynamite idea.

2) Do you think that we will see in the foreseeable future another sitcom that is as smart and funny as 'Cheers' and 'Frasier' are? Or are sitcoms on the whole just unfashionable these days?

Sure we will see the next CHEERS and FRASIER. These things are cyclical. The next smart, sophisticated comedy may not be your standard multi-camera sitcom (although it could be), but in some form and with a fresh voice there indeed will be comedies that rival CHEERS and FRASIER. Hurry! Cause I want to see one.

Mike from Belfast wonders:

Occasionally you mention Robin Schiff, co-creator of Almost Perfect. Given that you already had a successful partnership with David Isaacs, how did this relationship come about? Was it difficult to work out the new dynamic? Have you worked with Robin since?

We met Robin several years before ALMOST PERFECT. She had a pilot and we came in one night to help punch it up. The three of us really worked well that night. David and I usually dictate scripts to an assistant so having another person in the mix did not really upset our routine.

From there we all became friends. A few years later we had a deal to develop shows for Paramount and Robin also had a deal there. She came to us with the notion of wanting to do a series about a very independent single woman in her ‘30s. We sparked to the idea and the three of us decided to collaborate on the project. It was a very productive and happy partnership.

I have worked with Robin following the completion of ALMOST PERFECT. She and I wrote a spec romantic comedy screenplay together called BETWEEN THE COVERS in the early 00’s that we sold to MGM. It languishes in "development hell". 

In any combination, the three of us are always looking for the right project to collaborate again on. We love Robin.

Gary asks:

My Friday question is: Have you ever written a script just for one great line? It sure seems that my wife and I have seen this phenomenon on the boob tube.

Yes. An episode of CHEERS called “Breaking Out Is Hard to Do”. I wrote a whole post on it, which you can access here.

And finally, here’s another Mike -- Mike Schryver. I don’t know where he’s from but I’m guessing the Pacific Northwest. He has a baseball-related question.

I'm glad that neither you nor Rick (Rizzs) is particularly homer-ish as an announcer, Ken. What are you able to tell us about homer announcers, and how much of their act is their own, or is insisted upon by the team?

Some markets welcome announcers that openly root for their teams. The most extreme example of that these days would have to Ken Harrelson, the TV announcer for the Chicago White Sox. If you’re not a die-hard Sox fan you will HATE this guy. The White Sox are “the good guys”, he screams “Yes!!!” when they get a hit. He’s quite colorful but boy you better be a Palehose fan.

Phil Rizzuto of the Yankees was also very partial, as was Harry Caray of the Cubs and Cardinals, and Bob Prince of the Pirates. It’s a style and in some markets it’s what the fans want.

To my knowledge no team insists their announcers be shameless homers but some are supportive of it.  

In other markets, more objectivity is desired. Los Angeles for one. In LA we all grew up listening to Vin Scully, who taught us to appreciate “the game” not just your team. I think that’s more the preferred style today.

Still, there’s a way of being objective while still conveying that you’re rooting for your team. My partner, Rick, in particular, does an excellent job of giving a fair and balanced description of what’s going on while still letting you know his heart belongs to the Mariners. And for those of us who broadcast in Seattle, we were weaned on that by the great Dave Niehaus.

I prefer the objective style personally. Just like not everyone who comes to your stadium is rooting for your team, same with the broadcast. If I’m calling a Mariners-Rangers game I want Texas fans to enjoy listening, too. Likewise, Mariners fans who tune in to Eric Nadel’s broadcast (for the Rangers) will find it a great listen.


GregN said...

Interesting question and answer. I'm a life-long White Sox fan and I watch the games "muted" because of "Hawkeroo" and his homerism. The radio guys aren't much better, and I often listen to the away radio guys for sanity (AB2011 on the iPhone).
Except for the rare call that needs explaining, I wonder why the tv viewers even need announcers?

Curt Alliaume said...

Good points on baseball announcers. I grew up in the NYC area and have lived in Chicagoland for the last 11 years, and there's a definite difference. With the exception of Phil Rizzuto (who was given a pass because he played for the team for so long), none of the New York announcers for either the Yankees or the Mets were homers -- they pretty much played it down the middle. (Per Lindsey Nelson's autobiography, the three original Mets announcers had an agreement to do this.)

Here in Chicago, there's more homerism -- certainly Harrelson, but also the late Ron Santo (who was given a pass for the same reasons as Rizzuto), and even the Sox radio announcers to a certain extent. Baseball announcer historian Curt Smith has opined that it's a middle America thing, which is certainly possible.

Drew said...

You mentioned the props for Cheers a few weeks back. I was thinking that being in charge of props and wardrobe has to be a nightmare. If there is a scene with a birthday cake, are their multiple copies in case an actor drops it? Are their multiples of the actor's shirt in case the cake is dropped on said shirt? Have you seen productions come to standstill because the wardrobe and prop people weren't on their toes?

benson said...

Love the baseball anncr. question today. (And there's probably more White Sox listeners here on this blog per capita than in the general population.)

Yes, Hawk's a homer, but that's not to say he and Stone aren't critical. Same thing with Farmer and Jackson. But all four also played the game. (cue dramatic stager) No you didn't have to play the game to announce it. Also Harry Caray would criticize. But he was, to many, the voice of the fan. Obviously at the end, he was a caricature. But how many times would you hear a derisive "popped it up!" for example.

Also: @Curt, what is your opinion of John Sterling? I hear his calls on Dan Patrick's show and he seems pretty out there.

GRayR said...

Well now I have made it, my life is complete. I have had one of my questions answered for Friday. As you can imagine my life is kinda boring.

Also on the down side if I had been a longtime reader and not a Gary-come-lately, I would have seen the 2008 post. After reading that, I realize that big joke shows are common. (I did know that it had to be true, just wanted to see Ken's take.)

Thanks Ken, enjoy your baseball items as much as inside TV stuff.
Gary from SLO

Jim Endecott said...

Love the broadcasts Ken. You even made the pregame lead in up here.

"..if I had a catch phrase I'd be saying it right now!"

I chuckle everytime I hear it. Now if the Mariners would stop losing games in the ninth.


Michael said...

Great on so many levels!

As to the announcers, when the Dodgers came to Los Angeles, Walter O'Malley asked Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett whether they should start rooting on the air. At the time, LA's most popular announcer, Bob Kelley, did the Rams and the AAA Angels, and my dad grew up on him; he remembers Kelley saying things like, "At the end of five, Angels 1, the other guys 1." Vin said he and Jerry talked about it and told O'Malley that the Dodgers were like many other Los Angelenos: transplants from elsewhere. So, many listeners and spectators would be there to root for their old team, and they would offend that segment of the audience. Also, of course, Vin had been reared by Red Barber, who NEVER rooted and wouldn't even have a player to his home (I don't think Vin ever has, either, although he ran around with the players in his younger days when they were all in the same age group--he and Carl Erskine used to haunt bookstores).

Because I was raised on Vin, I never liked hearing announcers root for their teams. But the first announcers in Chicago and other cities (especially Pittsburgh) tended to root for their teams, and that's the style that stuck. In San Francisco, Russ Hodges loved the Giants and Lon Simmons could be sarcastic, so it's the perfect venue for Jon Miller, who obviously prefers the Giants but is very even-handed and will unload on them when they need and deserve it.

By the way, one of the biggest laughs in sitcom history was also one of the riskiest: The Dick Van Dyke Show episode in which he thinks they brought home the wrong baby because the hospital kept confusing the Petries in 208 with the Peters in 203 (plus Ritchie didn't look like him or Laura). If you haven't seen it, get it on You Tube.

Paul said...

Back when MLB.TV only had one video/audio feed per game (unlike now, when you can choose between the home and away announcers), I'd cringe every time the Twins played the White Sox on the road because I'd have to listen to Harrelson. Now I just switch over to that audio feed when the Twins are beating them by a lot, so I can hear him whine.

The Curmudgeon said...

Benson said it well: "Yes, Hawk's a homer, but that's not to say he and Stone aren't critical. Same thing with Farmer and Jackson. But all four also played the game. (cue dramatic stager) No you didn't have to play the game to announce it. Also Harry Caray would criticize."

The White Sox were lucky to have Harry after he left St. Louis (he only wound up with the Cubs because the Sox owners thought him too critical -- but, even if certain underachieving players didn't think so, I always thought he was fair.

And, sure Hawk roots for the White Sox, although he gets conflicted, I think, in Boston. I am virtually certain the man has a shrine to Carl Yastrzemski in his home. And when the White Sox mess up (and it's been that kind of season so far, folks) Hawk moans and groans and dadgums it with the rest of us fans. And when they really mess up, his silences are a wonder of dramatic tension. You can just see the folks at the FCC getting ready to pounce -- but only because they, and everyone else (except poor GregN who's missing it) know that Hawk is trying not to curse on air.

And this made me feel old: I just saw Carl's grandson, Mike, playing for Vanderbilt in the College World Series on ESPN. Yikes!

John said...

The difference between Rizzuto and the current Yankees radio announcer John Sterling, in terms of homerism is like night and day. Aside from getting a pass as an ex-play, with Phil the boosterism was just part of his personality -- he'd get as excited about finding a great new seafood restaurant in New Jersey or a shortcut to the George Washington Bridge as he would a three-run shot by Bobby Murcer.

Sterling made his debut with the Yankees as the guy getting nasty and hanging up on callers during the post-game shows on WMCA back in the early 1970s when they disagreed with him (try to picture Bulldog from "Frasier", minus the warmth and compassion, hosting Dodger Talk). Now, he's a homer who also makes the game as much about him as it is about the team. Aside from his now-ubiquitous "Thhheeeeee Yankees Win!" call at the end of the game, just try to sit through one of his home run calls without getting nauseous (I'm not sure if Texeria's call or Ganderson's is the worst one in his arsenal right now). And of course, even though he his booth partner, Suzyn Waldman, doesn't even get to do play-by-play, she has her own legendary moment of homerism infamy that she's unlikely to ever live down.


OK, back to the question stuff -- Ken, when you have a situation on a show where you suddenly lose a character, as with the death of Nick Colasanto on "Cheers", how does the thought process go on replacing that character -- i.e., someone pretty similar, or a chance to take the show in a slightly different direction. I know "Night Court" basically ended up doing both, when the first had Florence Halop replace Selma Diamond when she died, and then went away from that when Marsha Warfield was brought in after Halop died.

Nancy B said...

Mr. Vin Scully is the "gold standard" for this fan. Down the middle. The "homer" antennae twitch quickly after getting so used to him.

But I lived in Cincinnati for a year and listened to Reds games that season. Mr. Franchester Martin "Marty" Brennaman adds a distinctive note to the idea of the typical regional "homer" in the broadcast booth.

During an awful losing drought, not only did MB cheer for the Reds, he featured "our ever-loyal fans in the stands" by individual name.

You got the feeling he actually knew these folks, and cared as much about them as he did the team. Often, he featured those in the park (or unable to attend) with special medical updates, and even did an occasional obituary/tribute to honor a longtime supporter who'd passed away. (Spring training Reds fans in Florida got a lot of airtime.)

At first, it really smacked of minor league hucksterism at its provincial worst, but his sincerity grew on this listener.

For me, the objective style with the emphasis on the game and the players is still preferable, but Marty Brennaman's attention to the "dedicated little guy Reds' fan in the stands" was an affectionate gesture to their fans, their community, and a signature part of his broadcasts.

Long gone are those Ebbetts Field days when Red Barber and Vin Scully actually knew fans like Hilda and those wacko "Dodger Sym-Phony" band members personally -- and celebrated their quirky loyalty during some down seasons.

Michael said...

Friday question - is it common for comedy writers to switch between writing for sitcoms and late night talk shows? Did you ever have any interest in writing for a late night talk show?

Please Don't Eat Me said...

I'm curious about this list, Ken:

A number of classic shows didn't make the cut (MASH to name one) and I'm curious to find out what you think of such list? Long term comedy Tv shows seem to have been excluded and I wonder why you think that is?

Johannes Factotum said...

You've written about Jon Miller & the O's before, but it's worth pointing out here that Jon was fired by Peter Angelos for not being homer enough - a ridiculous charge, as any O's fan will tell you.

Miller loved the O's - and when the wheels starting coming off the franchise, he cared enough about the fans to call it as he saw it ... I also never heard him go pure negative about the franchise, on-air. It was all in the spirit of barroom baseball.

Moreover, history has proven him right. He probably doesn't miss the train wreck that is Peter Angelos in Camden Yards ... but I miss him.

VP81955 said...

I was fortunate to live in the Philadelphia area from 1986 to 1995 and got to appreciate just how good Harry Kalas was as an announcer. Loved his enthusiasm for the game, and his chemistry in the booth with Rich Ashburn was special and genuine. To me, Harry was right up there with Ernie Harwell and Vin Scully among the greats of play-by-play, and when he received the Ford Frick Award at Cooperstown in 2002, I and thousands of other Phillies phans made the trip. (I have since switched allegiance to the Nationals -- no fault of Harry's -- since I was a longtime D.C.-area resident without a team, and real Washingtonians don't root for Baltimore.)

Comparing Rizzuto to Sterling is unfair to Phil; he was the slightly daffy uncle every family had. Sterling is Ted Baxter (that pompous insecurity must be the reason he's the only MLB radio play-by-play guy who does every inning), or perhaps Kenny Bania (he is a hack). George Steinbrenner made many terrible decisions running the Yankees (and, to be fair, just as many brilliant ones); hiring Sterling to the same post held by Mel Allen, Red Barber and Frank Messer (certainly not in the same class as the first two, but a solid announcer nevertheless) may have been his worst.

Dana King said...

I grew up near Pittsburgh listening to Bob Prince. He was a homer, but he didn't lie to you. If the Pirates played bad, he said so. Outfielder threw to the wrong base, The Gunner would say he threw to the wrong base. (Missed the cut-off man, whatever.) That's exactly the kind of announcer I want for my home team: entertaining, partial to my team, but honest. No one has ever trod that line better than the late Skip Caray. I spent my Army years in Atlanta, and listening to Skip 150 or so times a year was a constant pleasure, so much so I stuck with the Braves on TBS for years after I moved away.

LouOCNY said...

I think Rizzuto is underrated. His reputation was MUCH worse than the reality of some of his wor. Remember, HE got trained by both Barber AND Mel Allen. When a game was serious, Scooter would be serious....but if it was September, and the Yanks were out of it, and the team they were playing was out of it, THATS when the cannoli and the George Washington Bridge and the birthdays would come rolling out.

And yes, Sterling and Waldman and Harrelson are terrible. Kay is pretty pedantic, but at least he knows how to bring out the best of some of his better partners like Singleton or Al Leiter.

Phillip B said...

You hit a nerve, Ken, when you talk about the appropriate role for a baseball play-by-play (PBP) announcer. It has certainly changed throughout the years - and now that we can hear virtually all of them on our own radios and TVs, we have a greater ability to compare.

This is only time I can recall, by the way, that a team fired a play-by-play guy in midseason - as the Texas Rangers made a quick change.

Even if you don't work for the team directly, they certainly have approval and are listening closely. Steve Stone's departure from WGN may have just been another shameful act of the end of the Tribune Company - but emphasized that point.

One last thought - anyone who spent anytime listening to Red Sox broadcasts will know that homerism spreads fall beyond "middle America"....

Mary Stella said...

Phil Rizzuto of the Yankees was also very partial, as was Harry Caray of the Cubs and Cardinals, and Bob Prince of the Pirates. It’s a style and in some markets it’s what the fans want.

So where Richie Ashburn and Harry Kalas, and that's just the way we loved them.

Mike from Belfast said...

Thanks for taking the time to answer my question Ken, much appreciated.

Mike Schryver said...

Thanks from me also for answering my question, Ken. I live in Portland now, but grew up listening to Lindsey Nelson and those original Mets announcers, so that's where my tastes were formed.

Mike B. said...


Dan Dickerson for the Tigers also does all 9 innings. The color man (Jim Price) use to do the middle innings, but he was just so awful they pretty much had no choice. He keeps his job because the Tigers' owner adores anything related to the 1968 Tigers (of which Price was a backup catcher).

I'm one of the few people here in Detroit who wish Rick Rizzs was never run out of town. I don't think I've heard a more warm, professional voice call a baseball game.

Singapore_Sling said...


Friday question for you. I recently purchased the entire 11 season DVD collection for Cheers and am enjoying reliving old memories. I always look for episodes that you and David have written. My question is how do royalties work for the writers on DVD's? With my purchase can you now afford that new BMW you have been looking at or do I need to get 10 of my closest friends to purchase the series so you can buy a Starbucks Latte?

Joey H said...

Yes, Harry Caray was a caricature by the end, but in his prime Caray was darn fine PBP man:

"They scatter like ten pins in a bowling alley"

Caray's partner in this clip, Jack Buck, stayed with the Cardinals until his death in 2002. Buck was a down the middle announcer in the Scully sense, extremely versatile, and one of the finest gentlemen I've encountered in broadcasting.

Michael said...

Nancy B, I haven't heard a lot of Marty Brennaman, but what I've heard has been pro-Red, but also critical--in some ways, like a fan, as Harry Caray used to describe himself.

Dana, I heard that sometimes Prince would ignore the "action" if there was no action, and just tell stories until something happened. I also read a great story: the Pirates GM, Joe Brown, ordered him not to say bad things on the air. One night, on the road in Atlanta with no local TV, Richie Hebner threw his bat into the stands, prompting a roar and booing. Brown, listening at home, wondered what was up. Prince was quiet, then said, "Fans, something bad has happened, but I'm not allowed to tell you what it is." Which may have contributed to Brown joining in his firing, which I think destroyed the Pirates franchise for a long time with the fans (no disrespect to his longest-tenured successor, Lanny Frattare).

Joey H, Jack Buck played it down the middle on the network, but he was another who could be considered pro-Cardinal on their broadcasts, but also critical: he maintained his integrity, and that's the important thing.

Breadbaker said...

Having spent nearly all my life listening to Ernie Harwell and Dave Niehaus, they had two things in common (which is interesting, because when Ernie died Dave expressly said on the air that Ernie was not one of his mentors): each understood the value of silence during dramatic moments in ballgames, and each could, with the tone of his voice alone and not his words, convey whether things were going well or poorly for the home team. Dave had an unbelievable instinct for when the wheels were coming off and if you listened to him long enough, you knew this pitcher was about give up back-to-back dingers without him ever saying it. Actually, they had a third thing in common: they let you know when the ballclub they were announcing for stunk. The Tigers of the mid-70s and the mid-90s and the Mariners of the 80s and 2004-2006, 2008 and 2010, neither suffered the fools for whom he had to announce gladly. And again, not by calling them out, just by describing what they saw.

Mac said...

Interesting. I was going to ask that same question. Is the era of smart yet accessible comedy behind us? It's nice to hear you have faith in the future, I'd love to see another clever but widely-appealing show again.

Unknown said...

So, I'm a White Sox fan and I gotta say...I'm pretty tired of Hawk. I think it's because his former partner DJ switched spots with Steve Stone, who was chased out by the Cubs for, get this, being slightly critical of them during their two week bust at the end of the 2004 season. Maybe Stone just seemed REALLY knowledgeable about baseball compared to his partner Chip (grandson of Harry) Caray.

Stone went to the Sox to work with Ed Farmer on the radio; they were great. Then after a year, Stone switched with DJ to work along with Hawk, and though some thing it's a great pairing for TV (perhaps they're just excited to see Stone ON TV again), it's almost embarrassing.

I don't care about golf, I don't care about obscure players that Hawk played with on the Twins and Indians in the late 60's, I don't care to keep explaining to my poor wife driven insane by Hawk's ramblings what all the farm-boy metaphors for baseball are. Stone was practically drowned out the first year there, and has to fight to get to say anything on the air. Especially anything relevant.

A lot of Cub fans worship the airwaves that Harry Caray lived on in the 80's and 90's, but Stone was the reason I tuned in every day.

And I can't stand it when Hawk calls him "Stone Pony." Just stop already!

Cody said...


I noticed a blub in one of your posts about a week back about TREE OF LIFE. Can you give us a review of it from your perspective? Not just as a comedy writer, but as a person who writes very well who has also produced and directed shows for film and television. Did it connect with you or do you feel it overreached?

Cody Evjen

Anonymous said...

I'm curious from a showrunner/marketing/storytelling perspective if you had any thoughts or insights into the whole "The Killing" debacle??

VP81955 said...

Kingvermin, it's unfortunate the Sox had to let John Rooney go -- a fine announcer, understated, easy to listen to -- but at least he went out on top in 2005 with the ultimate "White Sox winner," as the "curse of the Comiskeys" finally ended after 88 years (though there was no Chicago equivalent of Dan Shaughnessy to make a cottage industry out of it).

DyHrdMET said...

Say that you're an established writer on an established series (into at least season 2 or 3) it more difficult to have to write for a new, unestablished regular character than it is to write for the established characters?

I'm thinking of Cheers (because I saw a very old episode recently from the small period that included both Coach and Frasier on screen), which really had 4 new characters added after the show had been established.

benson said...

I believe John Rooney left to come home to St. Louis. He was a former KMOX sports guy, and it was an opportunity of a lifetime. Rooney and Farmer were very very good. USA Today anointed them the best duo in baseball around that time.

Laurel said...

Hi Ken,
I've got a Friday question about Cheers for you.
Why did the writers feel that Sam and Diane should not get married or back together permenatly in the last episode of Cheers, as personaly I think a lot of people (myself included) would have liked to have seen them together at last?

Jason said...

Hi Ken,

Let me start off by quickly saying I'm a long-time reader and watcher of your shows, and I have a huge amount of respect for your significant contributions to the pantheon of classic comedies over the years, particularly those from my personal heyday, those being WINGS, CHEERS, and FRAISER.

I have a bit of feedback for you about what I perceived to be a subtle (and/or passive agressive) slam in this post. In your answer to the question about another sitcom as good as CHEERS, you write "Hurry! Cause I want to see one."

Seems to be you're implying there are no great comedies on TV just now. Honestly, this isn't a criticsm of you, but I'm blown away by your implication considering in my view there are 2 GREAT and 1 more REALLY GOOD comedies on TV currently. Let me briefly just mention:

PARKS AND RECREATION: Incredibly funny, superb cast, and a warm, human core make this far and away the best comedy on TV. I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts on it.

30 ROCK: Some say its a bit dated, but even still it packs an impressive amount of clever, character-driven bits and even at its age is the funniest thing on TV.

And the really good one is still THE OFFICE. With its star and centerpiece leaving, the show managed to come together and produce its best season since season 3 this past year. It's reinvigorated and still humming along going into next year.

So was I wrong about your suggested slam in this post? Do you agree these comedies are ones that we'll look back on years from now as new classics?

Markus said...

Writing this, I'm in the process of watching White Sox@Cubs, which ESPN America delivers with the Comcast SportsNet audio, so it's Ken Harrelson with Steve Stone. I'm not a fan of any one of these two teams, more a (newbie) fan of the sport itself - and I have to say, this constant pro-Sox commentary is really getting annoying quickly. About every Cubs player striking out gets a happy-derisive "He-gone'!" comment. A Cubs player getting a hit in is "a thorn in our(!) side". Scores are always read out in a "Good Guys(!) vs. other team". And so on, and so forth. Massive, massive turnoff. I mean, I get it; there's a home media market to cater to. But this is an internationally broadcast game, I'm watching this in Europe for crying out loud. I just want to see some good sport, for heaven's sake.