Friday, July 22, 2011

Can Emmys cause tension on the set? Does Raggedy Ann have cloth tits?

More Friday questions for your mid-summer pleasure. What’s yours???

Wendy M. Grossman gets us started with an Emmy question:

I note that one of my favorite shows, The Good Wife, has multiple nominees in a couple of categories. Do the actors manage to be genuinely happy for each other and regard it as a joint reward for a team effort, or does it cause strain when this happens? I imagine a lot depends on the general atmosphere on the set - and TGW is full of experienced stage actors who are (I would think) more geared to thinking of themselves as a team. But it has to be tricky on the night.

Can’t speak for THE GOOD WIFE but on some shows Emmy competition can cause tremendous tension. When Christine Baranski won an Emmy for CYBILL and Ms. Shepherd didn’t that merely set off World War III on the set.

From what I hear, on MODERN FAMILY no such friction exists.  I have a feeling it's that way on THE GOOD WIFE too.  There was never a problem I observed on CHEERS or FRASIER.

I was directing an episode of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND that began production the day after that year’s Emmys. Both Ray Romano and Patty Heaton were nominated. Ray lost and Patty won. This was my first directing assignment for that show. I didn’t know what to expect but I was holding my breath. Ray could not have been more gracious. He gathered the entire cast and crew to congratulate Patty and celebrate her win. No wonder everybody loves that guy.

Steven asks:

I recently started watching episodes of Cheers again and one thing that struck me as peculiar was the camera angles and how on many episodes there will be scenes where you can clearly see the edge of the set and background of the studio (i.e. one being the episode where 'John Hill' has a heart attack and in the scene where 'Carla Tortelli' visits him in the hospital room you can clearly see about a foot off the set to the left). Is there any reason for this or was it just an error in production?

I’m guessing you’re now watching the episodes on HD. Those shows were filmed before HD. They’re framed for the traditional TV set. The HD borders are larger and that’s why from time to time you may see off the set.

By the time I was directing BECKER in the ‘90s I had to frame shots for both and at times that was very difficult. The HD picture would look fine but horribly composed for the traditional frame. Heads were cut off, little things like that. But if I set the shot for the traditional frame I’d encounter that same problem of shooting off the set. And if I compromised, neither shot looked good. At the time I cheated more towards the traditional frame. Today I would do just the opposite.

Back when we had a multi-camera pilot in the late ‘70s, one of our cameramen was maybe the worst ever. He pulled back for a master so far that you could literally see the guy on the catwalk perched over the set. And we didn’t know this until we screened the dailies. There was no video assist back then. We had to rely on the camera operators to tell us if they had missed a shot. I guess seeing a guy in the catwalk did not qualify as an unusable shot to this moron.

From bettyd:

You have called baseball for both the National League and the American League. You also said you didn't like interleague play (although I assume the World Series is OK with you!). Which league do you prefer to call, or doesn't it matter?

It doesn’t matter. It’s the particular game itself rather than which league it’s in.

There’s more strategy in the National League, which is fun. But there tends to be more scoring in American League games due to the Designated Hitter so I get more highlights on postgame show, and really, isn’t that what it’s all about? I’ll be back on the air with the Mariners starting August 1st for nine games, by the way.

And finally, from Steve J.:

As a Cheers viewer, it always bugged me when there'd be an episode where Sam and Woody would be off having adventures, as I pictured poor Carla tending bar and waiting tables all by herself. Then, of course, there were also episodes where all three of them would be away from the bar at the same time, presumably leaving it either closed or unmanned.

Was there ever a temptation to explain on the show how Cheers stayed in business when the staff was constantly skipping out? A throwaway line about other employees at the bar we just never saw or something? Or were you fine with not overthinking it?

Oh, this is a topic came up almost weekly. We decided to not try to cover this inconsistency since there really was no plausible explanation.

But trust me, someone in the writers room was always saying, “So who’s running the bar? Is Cheers on the honor system?”

Billy Wilder used to call it "Movie Magic".  I prefer to go with that.


Anthony said...

Commenting on Steve J.'s question: This bothered me most on a M*A*S*H episode where Potter, Hawkeye, BJ, Frank and Radar were lost on a bus on the way back from a medical conference. I wondered who green-lighted every doctor (that we were aware of) from the same staff to leave the 4077th at the same time. I can never concentrate on the story.

Anonymous said...

Anthony - It was the Korean War's "day off" on that day.

Markus said...

You don't mean HD (image resolution), you mean widescreen (image ratio/dimensions). Widescreen television existed way before HD came up. Cheers was shot in the traditional 4:3 ratio, but when Becker was shot, the shift towards shooting in 16:9 widescreen ratios was well underway.

That said, the reason why nowadays you see more framing errors off the side of the scene is that you're most likely watching it on a flat LCD screen, which virtually has no overscan anymore. Old-style "tube" TV sets had copious amounts of overscan. ("Overscan" is the area on the four sides of the picture that disappears under the screen "border" - modern LCDs don't have that anymore, you now see pretty much the entire picture.)

Ian said...

Whoa. "Cheers" went off the air in what, 1993? And it was multi-camera sitcom, shot on film? I'm no technical expert, but I don't think your explanation about why some viewers are seeing the edge of the set when watching reruns makes sense.

If the show was originally produced in the old 1.33:1 aspect ratio, as I believe it was, then the original film would have been transferred to tape in that format and it would be maintained throughout the entire post-production process.

Old TV shows don't magically become hi-def when viewed on a modern TV, which has a 16:9 aspect ratio. Instead, there usually blacked-out areas on either side of the picture.

Old-style CRT televisions suffered from something called "overscan," in which the outside edges of the picture tended to be cropped away to various degrees. TVs from some manufacturers cropped away more picture than others, but they all had this problem. Camera operators knew to leave a generous margin when framing a scene to compensate for this. It was SOP.

I don't think tha today's flatscreen TVs suffer from overscan, so it's likely that this is why some viewers see more of the set today than they did twenty years ago.

Shinwell Johnson said...

My recollection is that the earliest episodes of M*A*S*H did have two or three anonymous doctors in the background of the operating room scenes, but this was soon dropped. Similarly, NEWSRADIO originally showed extras in the broadcasting booth, but by the end of the series Maura Tierney and Jon Lovitz were literally the entire on-air staff. One episode actually shows the office being shut and the station presumably going off the air when they finish their shift.

A contrary example is WKRP IN CINCINNATI, which originally gave the impression that Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap were the station's only disc jockeys (and left you wondering what was on the air while they were hanging out together--syndicated programming, I suppose), but did eventually take to mentioning (but never showing) other DJs.

Howard Hoffman said...

"Does Raggedy Ann have cloth tits?"
Does a wooden horse have a hickory dick?

Howard Hoffman said...

And I posted before I finished my thought. b only did I wonder who ran the bar when Sam, Woody and Carla were socializing, but I was always fascinated at how Cheers was the world's only bar where no one smoked (it WAS the 80's) and no one paid.

John said...

I've noticed that since Frazier re-runs moved from Lifetime to Hallmark, the latter still prefers to show the episodes in the 4:3 aspect ratio, even on the later episodes where presumably there would be HDTV-suitable prints in the Paramount vault. When it was on Lifetime's HD channel, either they were stretching their prints to fit the wider screen or they were using prints with the 16:9 ratio.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Something doesn't add up. Even if the show was shot on film, you still shot it on 4:3. There's no way a current HD station can broadcast it on widescreen unless it crops the top and bottom of the picture, resulting in the cutoff heads of protagonists.

I could be wrong though. Was Cheers ever shot on wide lenses, even if it was framed for 4:3?

I honestly don't know if the reason more of the frame can be seen is due to overscan correction on newer screen models, but that explanation seems to make sense.

For one, I don't recall ever seeing an episode of Friends in 16:9, even on the DVD versions.

ER was always shot on widescreen, even though they didn't broadcast it that way until 2000. Back then, the directors didn't frame the shots for wide, so there used to have some empty space on the sides during the early trauma scenes.

Shinwell Johnson said...

Oh, and I should have mentioned BARNEY MILLER, which prominently displayed a duty roster that included the names of all the detectives at the 12th Precinct, including many who were never seen--and a few, such as Wilson and Wentworth, who were seen in only a few episodes (so, you assumed that they had not disappeared, they had merely been given different shifts--though eventually we were told that Wilson was laid off during New York's big budget crisis).

One of the names on the roster was Velie. I wondered at first if this was an allusion to the Ellery Queen books, which featured a New York City police detective by that name. Then, I noticed that a Grant Velie was listed as lighting director in the end credits, and I realized that this was a nod to him. I suspect that most of the names on the roster came from the crew.

Mike said...

I'd be surprised that if somewhere in the depths of the Internet, there wasn't some Cheers fan fic written from the perspective of the unknown barstaff.

But, though I respect those who like shows enough to use their time and talents to create stories based on their favorite franchises, I'm not going to go spelunking to find it.

Michael said...

Anthony, to be fair, it's likely that kind of conference would be planned for a lull and anything would have been shifted to the 8055 or 8063. But we have to be careful to check our reality at the door. How DID Lou Grant put on a TV newscast without any reporters and then a daily Los Angeles newspaper with only two reporters, anyway?

As for jealousies, I think of Night Court, where John Laroquette deservedly won every award known to man. Others were recognized, but certainly not to THAT degree.

WillH said...

Newsradio and WKRP were two of my favorite shows. When no one was in the booth I assumed they had gone to a network feed. Many stations only went live for a part of the day. Even moreso now (unfortunately)with only a few monolithic companies owning most stations. As an ex-radio announcer I miss local talent.

D. McEwan said...

This column title made me laugh out loud.

I always assumed that there were magic elves who ran the Cheers bar when needed, on their time off from finding horcruxes and aiding lazy cobblers.

WV: "cauquing". "Caulking" as spelt by a sexophobic.

Kirk said...

Taxi was fairly realistic as workplace comedies go. In addition to the regular cast memebers, you also saw plenty of other cab drivers in the background, enough to make The Sunshine Cab Company seem like a real business. So why did Alex, Bobby, Elaine, Tony, Latka, and Jim Ignatowski all hang out together, and never with anyone else who worked there? Simple. They were a clique. We all know there are cliques in workplaces. The people in the background probably belong to their own cliques, and had adventures that we didn't know about. One thing, though, the clique that we did know about seems to have had first dibs on the only table in the place. I wonder if that made any of the other cab drivers jealous. "They're the in-crowd, so they ALWAYS get the table."

benson said...

Well, then most obvious thing on TV shows about radio- Headphones! Some shows did have staff use them, but most didn't.

LAprGuy said...

Ken - Interesting (I'm sure in jest) comment about announcing for the highlights. I think one difference between Vin Scully and other announcers is that Vin will let the tension of the moment play out with the crowd noise providing the relief, while other baseball announcers are busy redescribing what they just saw and updating the score and player's stats. In other words: It sounds like they are announcing for the highlight package.

So my question: How much does the highlight package (and, maybe moreso, the demo reel) come into play when you are announcing a game?

Jon said...

Seems like Laroquette took himself out of the running for any future Emmy nods after the first couple of times on NIGHT COURT, where I believe he was the only cast member ever to get that acknowledgment. Gracious--and likely very wise--of the man. I've read that Art Carney used to hide his Emmy whenever Jackie Gleason--who never got one--visted him.

Mike Schryver said...

Talking about Scully remaining silent at the right time puts me in mind of game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
The ground ball is hit to Buckner, and Scully's call is "It gets comes Knight and the Mets win it!"

Vin remains silent for what seems like 2 minutes while there's mayhem on the field, and then says "If a picture is worth a thousand words, you've just seen about a million words."

(I also agree that the lack of overscan has a lot to do with seeing things on TV we didn't see before.)

Mac said...

Not knowing who Raggedy Ann is, I read the column expecting to find out if she does in fact have cloth tits, but Google has now answered that for me.

Chris said...

Here's one for next friday: do you have any idea how they used to write Dream On? It had these old movie/tv sequences in between characters' lines to make things more funny. Did the writers come up with the jokes based on old tv shows/movies they remembered or did they have people to help them with those/come up with better ones?

Jaime J. Weinman said...

As Markus says, the issue here was overscan. Most TVs did not show the very top or bottom and sides of the frame.

So if a boom mike was visible at the very top, the show might leave it in, knowing that it would not be visible on TV. But when you watch the same show on your computer screen, or an LCD TV, you see all of the frame, even the parts nobody saw at the time.

Similarly, there are some films from the '50s and '60s where the director shot in a 1.33:1 frame but intended it to be "matted" for theatre exhibition, with the top and bottom of the frame blocked off. Sometimes the directors would leave in boom mikes or the edge of the set or something like that, knowing that nobody would see them -- but you did see them when they played in full-frame on TV. here's an example.

Geoff said...

In fact, based on information in WKRP it is possible to construct a full day's schedule. Mornings: Dr. Johnny Fever. Midday: Rex Erhardt. Early afternoon: Dean the Dream. Late afternoon/evening: Venus Flytrap. Overnight: Moss Steiner aka Steiger. Weekends: Some Guy on Tape.

Eventually Rex was seen in an episode, played by Lost's Sam Anderson (who had already played three or four different small roles in the show.) And in the union episode Johnny addresses a room full of unnamed announcers.

Bradley said...

Question: What books/memoirs by TV writers would you recommend? I have enjoyed those written by Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Sid Caesar & Alan Alda. I would like to read more, perhaps those less known. Thanks!

DwWashburn said...

Question -- In Potter's Retirement, the last scene shows the cast in Potter's office trying to convince him to stay in Korea. Hawkeye, in a quiet voice, says "Colonel . . . Sherman" at which time Harry looks up apparently surprised and with a half smirk. I've always thought that the "Sherman" was an ad-lib because of that reaction. Was it?

Michael said...

I think Larroquette did withdraw. Later, as I recall, so did Candice Bergen. Apropos of that, I've always given Roseanne's writers credit for breaking the fourth wall in the credits. One time, you see Laurie Metcalf sitting on the couch, polishing her Emmy. Roseanne looks at her and says, "Gimme!" She says no, and they start chasing each other. John Goodman joins in and they run out through the audience. I thought it was really cute.

On Vin and the highlight reel, has anyone ever noticed, over the years, how the play-by-play of one Bob Costas has tended to become far more carefully crafted and literary as he has realized that if one were to broadcast only with proper grammar and a plethora of allusions, one might wind up in a literary omnibus, as did Vincent Edward Scully?

jbryant said...

Yes, Larroquette took himself out of the Emmy competition for NIGHT COURT after winning Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy four years in a row.

Chris: I'm sure the DREAM ON writers had to work from a list of shows/films that were in the public domain or that HBO had rights to. It wouldn't make much sense to do it any other way.

LAprGuy said...

Today's announcers describing the 1986 World Series:

"And the ball goes through Buckner's legs ... here comes Knight to score ... and the Mets win, 6-5 ... what a finish! ... Mookie Wilson ... struggling in the Series ... with a groundball that Buckner should have had ... it'll be an error, so no RBI ... and the Mets come all the way back to win it ... the Mets are storming the fiels ... although I don't see any sign of Keith Hernandez or Daryl Strawberry out there .... I wonder if they are already in the clubhouse with their jerseys off, we'll have to check on that ... just incredible ... Bring On Game 7."

cadavra said...

I'd also add Scully's one-minute-plus of silence after Kirk Gibson's famous home run in the '88 World Series. Never was so much said in zero words.

Geoduck said...

"I’ll be back on the air with the Mariners starting August 1st for nine games, by the way."

My condolences.

Johnny Walker said...

Whaaaa....? Why are they broadcasting Cheers in 16:9 HD instead of 4:3 HD? Just because something is HD doesn't automatically mean it has to be widescreen. (Citizen Kane, Seven Samurai, etc are all in HD on Bluray... but they're still 4:3.)