Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Questions from down under

Hello from Sydney, where I think it’s Friday Question Day. I am so jet lagged. I have no idea what day it is.  Hopefully these answers make sense.  

Anonymous starts us off (please leave your name):

Hi Ken! I have a "Cheers" question I'm hoping you can answer. Were the writers the ones who first came up with Diane's "Norman!" after everybody else says "Norm!" or did Shelley improv it?

That’s something Shelley came up herself and it just kind of stuck. Her calling Norm & Cliff by their more formal names is Diane’s way of separating herself from them. It’s just a little character moment the actress found; a throwaway line really. Shelley Long was so brilliant in that role, and a lot of the touches she brought to the character were so subtle you couldn’t really see them, but they added such warmth, and dimension, and humor to Diane Chambers. I’m in awe of her talent.

From Kirk:

Am currently reading a biography of Howard Cosell. As a sportscaster yourself, what did you think of him?

An insufferable gasbag and I would give anything to have him back today. In an age of generic sportscasters, Cosell was a breath of fresh air. If only I didn't hate him when I had the chance.

Howard Cosell was really a sign-of-the-times. In his day no one was more famous. Today, unless you’re over 40 you have no idea who he was. I wonder if anyone will remember Simon Cowell in 50 years. Or Paula Abdul in five.

Richard Y wonders:

How far back into your daily blog do you go and read the comments? That is do you find yourself going back 2 or 3 days to catchup and/or for that perfect Friday Question?

Every comment gets emailed to me. I read every one. I cut and paste Friday questions into a separate file so I don’t lose them. I may throw in an extra Question day now and again because I'm starting to fall a little behind and want to answer as many of your questions as I can.

Even if you comment on something in the archives from four years ago I will see and read it.

Half the fun of this blog is reading all of your comments. Well, maybe not half. But at least three-eighths.

From Tim Jones:

I'm a real tv trivia hound, and I've come up against an enigma the solution to which is apparently so trivial as to have vanished altogether. However, in a last ditch effort, I was directed to Mr. Levine's blog as to the horse's mouth.

Here's the question: Who is the handsome blonde woman who is seen in the background of many Cheers and Frasier episodes. In Cheers, she appears most often as a bar patron, in Frasier as a KACL employee, although sometimes as a Cafe Nervosa patron. The secret of her identity must have been an inside joke with the cast of Frasier because in one episode Roz, while celebrating their return to the air, simply refers to her as "You."

I'd be forever in the debt of Mr. Levine or anyone else who can reveal the identity of this extremely ubiquitous but unknown extra.

According to FRASIER First AD, Steven Pomeroy her name is Joan Carey. Thanks, Steve!

From Chris:

When a writer gets hired on a show, who is the actual employer, who does the writer have the work contract with?

The studio producing the show. But most studios are owned by networks… although not necessarily the network you’re doing the show for. MODERN FAMILY for example, is through 20th Century Fox, owned by Fox but for ABC.

It can get confusing. Just make sure someone pays you.

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. I will read it. Thanks.


Megan v said...

To be fair to Paula Abdul, you probably thought no one would know who she was in five years the first time she was famous, but here she is again.

Ade S said...

HI Ken, I have just read Tim Jones
post on TV trivia, this prompts me to ask; does my admittedly poor memory serve me correctly but at the end of most episodes of Cheers and some of Frasier, was there a credit for Mary Fukuto. I am sure my reading of it is wrong and the poor blamless woman has heard every joke going, but did her name cause any comment at the time.

Mike Botula said...

Here's my recollection of the first time I ever heard Howard Cosell on the air.

In 1960, I worked at a local AM station in Mt. Kisco, NY - WVIP. A big deal for us was broadcasting the Northern Westchester Little League Championship baseball game. Our owner, Martin Stone drew on his extensive TV network connections to get Cosell and Gabby Hayes to do play by play.I was back at the studio riding gain and doing commercial breaks and station ID's. Could not believe my ears. Talk about a unique experience.

I did not meet Cosell, but I did meet and spend some time with Gabby Hayes, showing him around the station. Very different from his on-screen image: well tailored, very approachable and refined. He smoked like a chimney, but refused to let his young fans see him smoke because he felt it was a bad role model example.

Can't remember the final score of the game, or even who played, but the sound of the play by play still rings in my ears 50 years later.

Nathan said...

@Ade S,

I'd gladly change my name to Shit-for-Brains-Ebola-Pussbag if it would get me Mary Fukuto's resume.

Marsha said...

Thank you so much for answering all our questions - I love all your posts, but I think the Friday Questions posts are my favorite ones.

I finally have one of my own. Because of this blog and the AV Club recaps of the first season, I've been watching a lot of Cheers reruns lately. I wonder if you could explain something about why the decision was made to put the bar in the basement. Those stairs leading down to the bar (and the stairs up to Melville's) became nice set pieces in a number of episodes, but I wonder what the impetus was in the first place.


John said...

"And now, the man who is to sports what pigeons are to statues, Howard Cosell."

-- Roger Grimsby, intro to Cosell local sports segment on WABC Eyewitness News c. 1970.

Roger was even more barbed when he had to introduce the Rona Barrett segments.

Here's a ueber-trivial trivia question on "Cheers" -- If I remember right, only one episode, the debut for Season 5, went against the show's pattern of having two long segments between the opening and closing credits and used the type of closing wrap-up short segment as MASH used to (i.e., the final commercial was placed after Diane discovers that's not Sam on the boat, but before she returns to the bar). Was that done just because the staff thought that particular episode worked better that way, or was it a test to see how the show worked in that format?

Michael said...

John, I wasn't in New York at the time, but when I lived there a few years later, people still talked about how Grimsby and Cosell went at it. One night, I read, Cosell launched into a dissertation about how honored they should be to have as eminent a personage as Himself in their midst, and when the camera cut to Grimsby, he was snoring.

Cosell was unique. Bob Edwards said in his book about working with Red Barber that he expected Red to be critical of Cosell making himself bigger than the game, but Red felt that a style was an important thing to have and Cosell had one, and did what he had to do to make it. And so he did.

Ade S said...

Nathan, I ment no disrespect to Mary Fukuto, it was just that her name always jumped out at me.

chalmers said...

I won’t repeat the story here, but Roger Grimbsy also zinged a legendary one-liner after Storm Field replaced Tex Antoine as weatherman under unfortunate circumstances.

His coworkers gave him ample targets. In addition to Cosell and Rona Barrett, others on the newsteam included a young Geraldo Rivera and Rose Ann Scamardella (whose parody long outlived her fame).

As the guy who, along with Bill Beutel, anchored the “happy talk” newscast, I remember after his death a newspaper story asking a friend if Roger would be dismayed by the current state of television journalism. His friend responded that he’d be a lot more upset that his favorite bar across Columbus Avenue had turned into a Starbucks.

Steve Zeoli said...

I agree whole-heartedly about Shelley Long. Every time I watch the show (and I watch it a lot, as I have the entire 11 years on DVD), I notice something new in her performance, especially when she isn't the one delivering the lines. She is brilliant. I wish there were an alternate universe version of the show in which she'd never left. Would have loved to see where the show would have gone.

MikeinSeattle said...

For many of us, Howard Cosell is remembered for 2 things.

On Monday night football telling us John Lennon was dead.

And being terrific in Woody Allen's movie BANANAS.

HBO did a very good documentary on Cosell in the late '90's. Well worth watching if it's available out there somewhere.

Stew said...

Ken, my first time commenting here. My favorite MASH episode is "The Billfold Syndrome." I was wondering if you, yourself, did any research into people in the war that had temporarily lost their identity or whether that research was done before you wrote that episode. Also, the casting couldn't have been better. The guy that screams out, "Stevie, Stevie!!!!!" was terrific in the part. I wondered if you knew more about him other than IMDB. And, not to mention that Allan Arbus was fantastic, as always in that episode. Mr. Arbus was so good in every MASH episode he was in. Perhaps you could give us some more info we might not know about how good of an actor Allan Arbus was. Thanks very much.

Kirk said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken. I personally enjoyed Cosell, and never quite understood the intense hatred some people had for him. But then I'm, at best, a ver-r-r-y casual sports fan, and maybe that had something to do with it.

RS Gray said...

Hey I remember Howard Cosell and I'm not over 40! At least not until July!

He, Vin Scully, and Al Michaels were my favorites growing up, but I especially liked Cosell because I liked mimicking him and it made my parents laugh if I'd do play-by-play of them cooking dinner or washing dishes as Cosell. "We're here in the kitchen, for what promises to be a GLORIOUS meatloaf casserole. A combination of savory ground meat, bread crumbs, and the pride of Pennsylvania, Heinz 57 ketchup!"

No one will ever replace Howard.

Cap'n Bob said...

I first heard Cosell on the radio in New York. He was like a pilot fish--attached himself to a shark to get around. Ali was his path to the big time, his shark.

An (is my actual name) said...

I'm with Steve Z. I enjoy watching Diane in the background of any scene. While many other actors seem to tune out a bit when not directly involved, Shelley tunes in, and unobtrusively engages as Diane. It's a whole other show if you watch her.

And yeah, Steve-- I'm all for the alternaverse too. I think it could have been great. Season 4 is awesome and I think it shows the potential direction the show could have taken, with Sam and Diane not together, but not entirely apart either.

John said...

chalmers --

I'm guessing Roger's line had something to do with Tex's getting himself fired by uttering that "When rape is inevitable" joke at his on-air birthday party (and as an aside, the second most famous ill-timed use of that joke was by Texas oilman/Republican gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams, who lost his election in 1990 to Ann Richards because of that. I finally got to ask Williams last year if he had ever heard of Tex Antoine. Nope. Thought of it on his own).

Cosell used to live two buildings down from me in New York in the late 1950s. But since I was 2 at the time, I don't seem to recall any crusty sportscaster in the neighborhood pushing me off my three-wheeler. But I do remember seeing him once in the 70s leaving his apartment building when he moved up to the 60s off Third Avenue. Must be nice to have limo curb service to drive you across Central Park to work.

chalmers said...

You got it, John. Introducing Tex's replacement, he said “Let’s all lie back and enjoy Storm Field’s weather forecast.”

Bobby Knight used that one too in an interview with Connie Chung.

D. McEwan said...

So I'm guessing that Cosell is dead now, maybe even for some long time? I never paid attention to the man, so his death must have slipped past me. He is certainly not who informed me that John Lennon was dead. That night, I was at a rehearsal with a comedy troop I was in then, and a friend phoned us with the news, and we switched on a news broadcast.

Now Lennon's death I remember.

So Ken, YOU'RE IN THE FUTURE!!!! Australia is like the Island on Lost; it's on the other side of some sort of magic time-barrier thingee, so it's always a day ahead, only, instead of a Smoke Monster, they have Dame Edna.

So what's happening in the future? Have you met Eloi and Morlocks? Who wins the S. Carolina primary? This is so weird to send messages to the future while you send blog posts to the past.

Kirk said...

Speaking of people who died, Etta James passed away today.

Max Clarke said...

About the "Norm!" gag, one of the Cheers episodes had a nice twist on it.

Norm enters and everybody shouts "Norm!"
Diane Chambers pouts that nobody greets her that way when she enters the bar.

Sam agrees, and tells Diane to go outside and come back in again.

Diane leaves Cheers and steps back inside. She says something like "Hi, everybody!"

Everybody in the bar shouts, "Norm!"

Very funny scene.

Mike said...

I still pissed to this day that I found out that John Lennon died from Howard Cosell!
My father loved Dandy Don and hated Howard. He wrote ABC once about Howard and was disapointed when he got a standard reply card and not an apology.

Anonymous said...

Ken, One of your dad's most infamous rolls was Howard Nosell, in "ComeAlot". I can't quote one of his highlight lines, but I have it on DVD.

WV: foxicat. There was one of those in ComeAlot too.

Anonymous said...

Um... am I the only one who, after reading Tim Jones's post, kinda thinks that "I'm a tv trivia hound" might actually mean "I'm a potential stalker"?

Breadbaker said...

I think one of the rites of passage I remember as a kid was when the group of friends who got together on Saturday morning stopped recounting George of the Jungle cartoons and started commenting on what Cosell had said that week.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. Leo Marvin said...

My dad went to law school with Cosell -- he was still Howard Cohen then -- and they played handball regularly. Apparently Howard never shut up for a second during their games, much less before or after. In other words, for better or worse everything we saw of him all those years was the real deal. No manufactured persona, and obviously the farthest thing from generic.

Cosell was hard to take contemporaneously in anything but microscopic doses, but like ex-presidents and Mafia dons his charm has grown with the passage of time. As far as I'm concerned, the biggest compliment to his character is that he earned the respect and affection of Mohammed Ali.

Chris said...

Here's another friday question: how ok is it to write jewish or black jokes if you're not jewish or black? Is it more appropriate if you write them for a black or jewish character?
How's the situation in a writer's room, can you pitch these types of jokes?

TJ said...

Many thanks for clearing up this obscure obscurity. And likewise for producing some of the finest writing ever on television!

Paul Duca said...

And don't forget Cosell's friends...Felix and Oscar, Nanny and Prof. Everett, and all the Partridges.

KOB said...

Hi Ken,
Have you read Fred Stoller's Kindle Single on his stint writing for Seinfeld?
I thought if you were on TV lot (Stoller is a character actor typically playing Ray Romano's whiny cousin and other neurotic/nebbish roles) you did pretty well. Well, not necessarily. I also thought writing for a comedy show would be fun. Well not necessarily.
Here's a link (for $2 it was an interesting behind the scenes look):

Michael said...

Cosell was a tortured soul. He was better educated than most of those around him--a law school graduate, after all--talking about the games people played and wanting to discuss big issues. But I think he also knew in his heart that this made him a big fish in a small pond, and to be otherwise would make him a minnow in the Atlantic Ocean.

Apparently, he developed the habit of imbibing before and during broadcasts. It made him tougher to deal with. He and Al Michaels went at it on the air during a baseball telecast. Ironically, Michaels went on about Cosell's ego, and some in the industry have suggested that, among sportscasters, Michaels has no shortage of Cosellian ego issues himself.

Mitchell Hundred said...

Do you prefer television shows where the episodes are mainly self-contained, or shows which pursue a longer story arc (and why)?

Naz said...

Howard Cosell vs. Joe Buck. Both annoying as hell.

purplejilly said...

Well, since you are traveling, maybe you can address my Friday question from months ago - I never saw it answered, allthough maybe I missed it. My husband, a huge Orioles and Cheers fan, felt that the character of Sam Malone could have been modeled on Jim Palmer. He was wondering if you could say what player or players you had in mind when creating and fine-tuning Sam Malone. Thanks!

l.a.guy said...

purplejilly said...
"Well, since you are traveling, maybe you can address my Friday question from months ago..."

Apparently you didn't see Ken's post from Friday, Dec 16, 2011".

"Actually, when first conceived, Sam Malone was a former football player with the Patriots. But when Ted Danson won the part, the Charles Brothers felt he was more believable as a former baseball player than football player. So no, Jim Palmer wasn’t the role model. But if they were looking for one, Jim would have been perfect (except he was addicted to golf instead of alcohol)."

Thomas said...

With SOPA and PIPA becoming all the rage... What's your opinion on people seeing your work for free, without ads? Do you see piracy as a legitimate concern, or are you comfortable in the knowledge that there will always be enough paying users to keep the industry alive?

Liggie said...

Sports question, even though it's not baseball. You must have heard about the passing of Joe Paterno, even in Australia. What's your immediate take on his legacy? Should his one big mistake negate an otherwise fantastic career and life? (It's a pretty heated topic back home.)

Andrew Lauwasser said...

Robin Schiff wrote that she brought you and David Isaacs the idea for "Almost Perfect" since she didn't have the cache in Hollywood to get it off the ground. How typical is this sort of team up and how does one go about finding an established writer willing to listen to pitches? Do you need to know them from a writers room?

Love the blog

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Re Cosell: I never watched sports when he was working (and today the only sport I watch is tennis, which wasn't his game), but, partly because of curiosity sparked by his appearance in Bananas, I read his autobiography. In it, he makes a point about the quality of sports reporting: that, especially on TV, too many are chosen for their backgrounds as players. He argued that modern sports reporting required a knowledge of labor relations, law, and economics (I'd add medicine, given all the stuff about drugs). I think this is even more true now - and yet very little observed.

He came across as opinionated for sure, but smart and having put a lot of thought into those opinions.

And a Friday question: Can we have your review of ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA? I thought it was ghastly.



Mark said...

Hello Ken,

My apologies if this question has been asked already, as I've only been aware of this blog since you made the top ten list with TIME. Why are there no hour long sitcoms? Some comedy variety shows have been an hour, but I can't think of a single sitcom that lasts longer than a half hour (unless it happens to be a two-parter, finale, or something to that effect). Similarly, dramas are usually an hour. Why have these lengths become so popular?

Brooke said...

Hi Ken,

So glad to see that you're having a great time in my native Australia! I am new to the writing game and am working on developing a series with a friend. I was wondering if a series bible was necessary for when it came time to pitch a show? Or if so, at what stage is it advisable to create one.