Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Questions

Direct from Dallas, here they are, y'all. 

rockfish has a couple. The first involves Col. Flagg from MASH.

I'm wondering if there was a discussion about turning a smaller part into a more major, recurring role from someone who was essentially a guest star – i.e Col. Flagg, who seemed to be a bolt of energy whenever plugged on the show. Sidney the psychiatrist was used almost twice as much -- obviously a completely different character who brought a different tone -- but to me added little to the 'comedy' aspect of the show.

We loved writing Col. Flagg (the hilarious Ed Winter) but always felt there was a danger in going to that well too often. So we tried to use him sparingly (once a season or every other season). He was incredibly funny but that character was very broad and we didn’t want him to wear out his welcome. Sidney Freedman, the shrink was more real and therefore we felt we could use him more often. We weren’t looking at him to carry the comedy burden. What we loved about the character (played beautifully by Allan Arbus) was how low-key he was, especially in the midst of all the madness. It was a great counter-point.

Were there other characters you wrote who you felt could have had a bigger life in the show or their own show? Thanks -- and loved your work with the M's this year!

Thanks much. You’re welcome to let the Mariners know. I won’t stop you. As to your question – no one that we felt could carry a show of their own. But there were a few characters that I wish we had used more. On MASH – Curly, the Korean scam artist, and Rosie who owned the bar outside of camp.

On CHEERS I was a big fan of Andy Andy. And Diane’s school chum, Rebecca (Julia Duffy) who we used in one episode in season one.
Also Leah Remini playing one of Carla’s kids always scored. You’d think I’d say Nick and Loretta but those characters always felt one-note to me.

On FRASIER, the last season we introduced a ditzy party girl played by Jennifer Tilly and she was hysterical. Wish we had created that character earlier.

Irwin Handleman wonders:

Was there some kind of rule amongst the writers that Sam Malone and later Frasier (in FRASIER) were not allowed to get laid?

I’m not sure what shows you were watching. They both got laid a lot. Way more than the writers.

From Chris:

Why would a writer get a consulting producer and a written by credit in the same episode of a show?

A consulting producer is essentially a script doctor. He generally works one or two days a week, helping the staff to fix the show that’s currently in production.

He would only get a “written by” credit if he wrote the script for the episode.

And finally, from Michael in Vancouver, who pulls no punches:

Why for the grace of God did you write Mannequin 2?! The first Mannequin must have been the most moronic movie ever conceived. It arrived DOA into the theatres. Then you get assigned to write the sequel to this unbelievably turgid floater. No matter how good your script may have been, it was still going to be Mannequin 2. Did you really expect it wouldn't flop?

Well, first off, I think there are those who would disagree that the first MANNEQUIN was such a disaster. In fact, it was a big hit. I’m guessing there will be a few commenters taking exception with your assessment. Be that as it may, why did we take the assignment to rewrite MANNEQUIN 2? The money of course! Why else?

What's your question?


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I didn't know that Leah Remini played one of Carla's kids on CHEERS, but I'm not surprised she stood out. I first saw her on Evening Shade as the oldest kid's girlfriend and she lit up the screen there, too. (She then did a dud Evening Shade spin-off in which Harlan and Merleen ran a home for single pregnant women...) Was not at all surprised to see her find success later.


Diblada said...

I recently went through an entire season of Stark Raving Mad (I caught your directing credit for one of the episodes). I was dumbfounded that the show, which was incredibly well-written and hilarious, didn't get a second season order. Are there any shows (excluding ones that you've created or written for) that you simply couldn't believe didn't get picked up for a second season?

Brian Phillips said...

Not a direct comment but not a surprise: Roseanne's Nuts has been cancelled by Lifetime.

Dan J said...

Without pronouncing on the quality of the film at all... Mannequin was the 27th highest grossing film of 1987 pulling in just under $43,000,000. At current ticket prices it would be a $100,000,000 smash hit.

Mr. Snrub said...


Andy Andy is in two of the best episodes of ANY sitcom ever.

To this day, my family assigns that character name to anyone we feel is seemingly normal, but, secretly insane. Brilliantly written and performed.

Clint said...

Question for you: Last night I walked into the living room and my wife asked me which real life story I thought might be the basis for this week's Law & Order SVU. Do you think SVU writers using real life stories as their basis for their scripts is genius--or lazy?


Clint said...

By the way, I correctly guessed the DSK story :)


Michael said...

Thanks for the discussion of Flagg and Freedman and the wonderful actors who played them. I have always thought "Dear Sigmund" was one of the greatest MASH episodes, and Flagg's final appearance with Winchester--Honor-ee-a/Honoria--a classic. Throw in the episode where Flagg and Sidney were together ... ah, memories.

rob! said...

I still think Dr. Sidney Freedman could have spun off into his own 1 hour drama spin-off, Lou Grant style.

Keepin up w/the Rupert Joneses said...

Recently saw Ed Winter in an old b&w flick - can't recall the name of it - and I kept hoping he'd do something Flaggish but of course, he didn't. Col. Flagg was a great character but obviously there was no reason for him to turn up in a MASH unit several times a year - and if he did, would we still think he was as appealing?

Andy Andy was a great character! Used to watch him on the Canadian show, "Little Mosque on the Prarie," but of course, by then, he was short at least one Andy.

Friday question: got your winter coat and gloves for tonight's game?

benson said...


Being short an Andy! LOL

Kirk said...

Col. Flagg was in an episode of AfterMash, wasn't he? I remember him complaining that Joe McCarthy had stolen some of his thunder.

Mike Doran said...

In which I dissent (a bit):

Colonel Flagg was a prime example of the kind of character I've always hated on sitcoms: the Straw Man - the guy who's there only so the leads can score easy points of him.
Every line Flagg had was a Joke-Joke, obviously written to make him look and sound like an idiot. The first time you see it, it's funny; repitition and reuse drains the fun out of it.

I had an idea in the back of my head once for what would have been Flagg's last appearance.
The episodes starts with an older officer arriving at the 4077th, and nobody knows why he's there. Flagg arrives a little later with the clear intention of getting back at the MASHers, and in particular at Hawkeye, for his most recent embarassment. By mid-show, we learn that Flagg's intent is to kill Hawkeye, as well as anybody else who tries to stop him.
In the second part, we learn that the older officer is Flagg's superior, who tells Hawkeye and BJ that Flagg is a loose cannon who can't be taken off line because he knows where too many bodies are buried. The older man tells Hawkeye and BJ that the higher-ups have been letting Flagg bug the MASH unit to keep him away from really serious matters where his idiocy could damage the war effort. Unfortunately, Flagg's obsession has gotten out of control, and now the older man has to stop Flagg any way he can from killing Hawkeye, even if it means killing Flagg.
When Hawkeye starts to get sanctimonious, even in the face of his own possible murder, the older oficer reveals that he knows of many of Hawkeye's doings, including at least two unnecessary appendectomies, that could result in at least a dishonorable discharge.
So Hawk and Beej (and everybody else) has to stand aside while the superior deals with Flagg.
I'm not sure how I'd have ended it: actually killing Flagg, or simply having him have a psychotic breakdown in front of everybody and then getting carted off in restraints the way Robert Duvall was in the movie.
Do you suppose that CBS - or you as showrunner - would let me get away with a story like this?
Just askin', is all ...

JOV97 said...

Hi Ken, my question is:

When writing a multi-camera script and you've written 26 scenes (unlikely but it sometimes happens), what do you call scene 26? After "SCENE Z" what comes after? "ZA"?

gottacook said...

The SVU episode (which in our house was on for the first 10 minutes only) directly mentioned DSK in dialogue, something like "Oh, another DSK?" Something deeper than laziness (or more shallow?) is at work here.

Anonymous said...

actually, that jennifer tilly character was created earlier...when she was on cheers in an episode that was very similar to the one on frasier.

Anonymous said...

Sam and I didn't like Colonel Flagg on MASH at all. Loved Sidney and Rosie.

Jim Perkins said...

Didn't like Flagg at all. Sidney and Rosie were great.

VP81955 said...

Ken, enjoy your weekend in the Metroplex -- and after what happened to the Pac-12 and Big 12 this week, make sure to steer clear of anyone wearing burnt orange. You could soon be shanghaied into broadcasting U. of Texas baseball for the Longhorn Network (while simultaneously teaching sitcom writing courses at UT).

nobody said...

fair enough, but it sure seems like there are countless examples of episodes ending with sam and frasier screwing their chances to get laid. even the jennifer tilly episode you mention includes that. or how about the cheers where they hire that great old lady, and then her hot daughter comes in and sam wants to have sex with her. how does it end? the hot daughter hates sex, sam strikes out again.

or the one where sam is with the hot psychiatrist and suddenly doesn't want to be a piece of meat, or the one where frasier is with shannon tweed, and many more like them.

point is, i was just wondering if that was intentional, but i guess not.

Mark S. said...

I've been catching up on a lot of old late 1970's, early 1980's childhood favorites like "Battlestar Galactica", "Tales of the Gold Monkey", etc.

According to IMDB, after these one-year series ends a lot of the actors that appeared in these shows often seem to maintain careers of one or two guest spots per year on various other shows. Assuming IMDB is correct, does acting pay that well, or are they supplementing their income with day jobs, theater work, convention appearances, etc. (as I suspect)?

YEKIMI said...

Roseanne's Nuts has been cancelled by Lifetime.

I'm not surprised. Too many people were saying "I KNEW she had testicles and I sure as hell don't wanna see them!"

-bee said...

@Mike Doran said...

"Every line Flagg had was a Joke-Joke, obviously written to make him look and sound like an idiot. The first time you see it, it's funny; repitition and reuse drains the fun out of it."

That's funny, this is exactly what I've been saying about the Tea Party for months now.

Chris said...

Thanks for the clarification, here's another annoying credits question:

What does a "producer" credit mean? I've seen it defined as a writer who made a contribution to the final script and if so, why would the same writer get a "Producer" and "Story By" credit in the same episode?

I've seen it on The Big Bang Theory season debut with Maria Ferrari.

Mike Schryver said...

Allan Arbus could easily have carried a Sidney Freedman series. Would have been great.
I also agree that you needed to avoid overusing Col. Flagg, and he was great when he was used.

Max Clarke said...

Julia Duffy was great in that episode. "Misha the dog lies dead in the bog...mist chokes my heart...covers the least this winter we eat."

Chris said...

Whitney Cummings seems to be in a pretty good place right now, both of her shows got picked up. Is this a "once in a blue moon" situation?

Is it common to have multiple pilots already written, if you get lucky?

Mike said...

From the UK :-
I think I accidentally watched Mannikin on daytime TV many years ago. It was pleasant enough.

Ken, you know you said you weren't going to review US X-Factor (or American Idol or whatever). Well, here's a couple of reviews for your amusement. Hopefully.
Day 1.
Day 2.

Miffy said...

That episode where Andy Andy comes back and pretends to own the bar, with Nancy Cartwright (aka the voice of Bart Simpson) as his unwitting fiancee is just hysterical. I'm laughing just thinking about it. I loved when Andy's fiancee said, "Oh, poor, poor Diane. I know how you so wanted to have Andy's child."

chalmers said...

I loved all three Andy Andy episodes. Every time we watched the third one, my brother pointed out that Nancy Cartwright's character didn't actually exist, she was just part of Diane's dream.

Ted Danson is at his best both as the sophisticate in Diane's dream: "Surely you don't believe that buffoonish facade I put on for my blue-collar clientele" and regular ol' Sam when she wakes up: "Hey, I'm smokin' in any jacket."

HogsAteMySister said...

Mannequin was a hoot. Michael, go watch Fox News.

Re Col. Flagg, he was great. Agree it would have been great to give the Korean scam artist more air time.

And I simply refuse to believe that tall, handsome bartenders get more girls than short dumpy writers. End of discussion.

Anonymous said...

Mannequin is an 80s classic!! My friends and I watched it many, many times in middle school and it is still a sick day go-to. Meshach Taylor's line delivery alone kills me.

Michael in Vancouver said...

Sorry about the tone of my question. Since I posted it, you and another commenter pointed me to your earlier post about how you got the gig. It seems like Mannequin had more success in the US than it did here in Canada. I just hope you don't write a Deuce Bigalow sequel just for the money!

Thanks for keeping such a great blog. I've given up on subscribing to cable and only watch (via download) Mad Men and Entourage. Otherwise, this is my only remaining connection to TV-Land.

Barry Traylor said...

The character of Sidney Freedman was one of my favorites on MASH as his humor was so droll.

fred said...

loved curly,flagg and sidney.
but i don't think any could carry their own show. sidney would come the closest as he could of been in charge of an after the war "cuckoos nest".

James Prichard said...

I have to say that although I love Jennifer Tilly, I've always thought it was a bit lazy to cast her on "Frasier" to play the exact same type of ditzy party girl as she played on "Cheers" years earlier, again to try to cheer up Frasier Crane.