Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Do I watch my old shows?

Here’s one of those questions worth an entire post. It’s from Nancy Knechtel.

Mash and Cheers and so many of your shows are on ALL the time. Do you ever watch the old episodes? Can you enjoy them or do the memories come flooding back? Does your family run out of the room? There really could be a Ken Levine Network....

That’s a pretty far-fetched idea but I imagine a Ken Levine Network would still garner better ratings in primetime than NBC.

To answer your question, there are some shows of mine I watch, and others I don’t.

For the most part I have a hard time re-visiting my MASH episodes. There are a few exceptions, but by and large I can’t watch them without saying, “Oh, we could do that better,” and “there’s got to be a better joke than that,” etc. We were very young when we did MASH. I would love one more pass at each of those scripts.

But some MASH episodes I still really enjoy including POINT OF VIEW, OUT OF SIGHT/OUT OF MIND, GOODBYE RADAR, THE BILLFOLD SYNDROME, and MERCHANT OF KOREA. And there are parts of the others I like.

Most of our CHEERS episodes I can watch without cringing. There are a few duds along the way (we wrote 40 total), but even those might not be too bad. I mentioned this story before – a few years ago while in Arizona for spring training I happened upon a CHEERS of ours that I hadn’t seen in ages and was pleasantly surprised. But I don’t know if it was just funnier than I remembered or the comedy bar has been lowered so it appears better than it is.

Certain episodes I can watch over and over. TO ALL THE GIRLS I’VE LOVED BEFORE, RAT GIRL, DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY ON ICE, ANY FRIEND OF DIANE’S, FINALLY, and BOYS IN THE BAR are just a few. Usually, what makes them so re-watchable is the performance by the actors.

Maybe because we didn’t do enough of them to have clunkers, but I gladly will watch any of our FRASIER episodes.

And there are a couple of WINGS we did that I still have a fondness for. Brian getting a nose job for one. Same for BECKER.

I also find it easier to watch shows I directed than shows I wrote. Good performances and good camera angles don’t diminish over time.

But you’re right, Nancy, that all of these shows bring back memories – some good; some Vietnam flashbacks. What I recall most though are the jokes we didn’t use. They were so appallingly inappropriate. But funny. Sick, disturbed, and in many cases libelous, but really FUNNY.

The family never goes screaming from the room when I watch an old re-run. Just when I watch baseball.

I feel so privileged and lucky that work my partner and I did thirty years ago is still being seen and appreciated. I’m my own worst critic so I sometimes only spot the flaws, but I’m infinitely proud of these shows and hope they keep playing for another thirty years. So even if I don’t watch them, you should.


An (is my actual name) said...

Of course you know this begs the follow up question on what some of those memorable inappropriate jokes were. Give. Please?

Shan said...

Ken I'm pretty curious to know what some of those jokes are too. Now reader of the blog, it's terrific.

Kev said...

Hi Ken,

Any thoughts on episode titles? I recently read a blog entry somewhere (wish I could remember which blog it was so I can give it credit) where the author was critical of any titles which gave away the direction of the story. Are there anything you aim for/try to avoid when naming episodes?


chuckcd said...

I would have been the one to come up with the inappropriate jokes. My best work never gets heard!
BTW, I would sign up for that Ken Levine Network.

MattJ said...


I believe that was the 'Complications Ensue' blog.


Erich Eilenberger said...

"Rat Girl" is one of my favorite episodes of television ever. It is so well constructed and so much fun.

Bill McCloskey said...

Recently I cancelled my cable and now 100% of my tv viewing comes from my Roku box and services like Hulu and Netflix. Over the past month I have been watching the entire Cheers series in order and I only have the final episode to watch which I will do later tonight. Having it very fresh in my mind, I hope you don't mind my comments and feelings about the whole series:

First, I was astonished how well written the shows were, right from the beginning and how well they held up. Seeing the whole series in such a short time frame, certain things are clear: The show was really two very different shows. One being the Diane years, and the other being the Rebecca .

The Diane years shows I thought were probably better written, certainly written smarter, and were incredibly entertaining.

The Rebecca years shows, while not as smart, were just out right hysterical. What we lost in "smartness" we gained in pure humor. Once the burden of Diane was gone, and it become a burden in the later shows, the show seemed free to just be funny for the sake of being funny, and while I never laughed out loud in the Diane episodes, I constantly laughed out loud during the Rebecca years.

There was that tense time just when Rebecca came on board where they whole thing seemed tense. I didn't like this woman and what she had done to the bar, and I remember feeling that when the episodes first aired. But once Rebecca started breaking down, it was Gold, Jerry, Gold.

Thank you so much for such an entertaining, wonderful series. It was as fun watching it after all these years as it was originally.

Brian said...

I'd like to jump on the request for jokes, bits, stories that didn't make it to the show because they were just too tasteless or off color to use.

Breadbaker said...

Ken, even my wife, who rarely watches scripted television, remembered and loved "Point of View". One of the things we agreed on was that the reason it worked was because by then the M*A*S*H audiences so trusted the show and its sensibilities that they were interested in seeing the show from the patients' eyes. You told us on Saturday that it took a couple years to convince the network that it would work. I'm glad you persevered and I suspect it actually came out at exactly the right time.

Ben said...

I agree with Bill McClosky about the divide between Diane and Rebecca. Both versions of Cheers are good television, just for different reasons. Sometimes, you have to be in the right mood to watch anything.

Michael said...

A related question: Did you continue to watch M*A*S*H and Cheers every week after you had moved on from their writing staffs? Or did you need to make a clean break?

Rick Nye said...

The bar for comedy may have been lowered but it seems as though the gate for inappropriate humor is wide open. I mean, have you seen what they get away with on Family Guy??? If you did a series now just imagine what you could away with.

An (is my actual name) said...

Bill McC-- Every show should be so lucky to have the burden of a character like Diane Chambers. Different strokes and all on what makes you laugh, but Diane is one of the greatest television characters ever (if not the greatest), and to my mind, anything but a burden. Yes, the episodes leading up to her incredibly poignant departure were hard on the character, but despite the exit strategy, Diane (and Shelley) elevated the show on so many levels. I missed her presence and the dynamic she brought to the entire bar.

ChicagoJohn said...

Just a day or two ago, I watched the episode of Cheers where Sam gets a poem published in a literary journal; a periodical that Diane couldn't get published in. It still plays amazingly well, particularly the scene where Diane screams and throws it in horror at the sight of Sam's name.

Diane was a great character, because she was the perfect foil for Sam. And because you could believe that Sam would somehow fall for her, despite their obvious differences.

Johnny Walker said...

Not wanting to complain or be overly negative, but I was kind of surprised to see that your and David's Frasier episode starring Michael Keaton, had a very similar structure to your legendary Bar Wars episode, where Gary dies.

Was that done consciously or unconsciously?

Both were great, though!

jango said...

this is interesting, from bar wars iii:
Sam and the gang team up to get back at Gary when it appears as if the Olde Towne Tavern had a role in Tecumseh's disappearance. Note that there is a possible continuity error made in this episode with respect to the character Frasier Crane. Frasier mentions that his parents are dead - which contradicts the Cheers spinoff series Frasier, in which Frasier lives with his father in Seattle.

By Ken Levine said...

The writers room is like VegasX1000 -- what happens in the room stays in the room.


We explain that inconsistency in the FRASIER episode where Sam comes to visit.

Mike Barer said...

Speaking of Fraser, there was another show where an established character was totally reinvented and had a successful show on his own terms. Lou Grant was a huge hit in it's own right.
Quite different then like "The Jeffersons" or Rhoda, where the character is essentially continuing from the original show. Maude was only an occasional character on "All In The Family".
Hope that is still "on-topic".

Jeffrey Mark said...

I never was a fan of the Rebecca years of Cheers. I just found the comedy too broad - too over the top for my humor taste. I was a Cheers fan right from the get-go, although at times during the first season I compared it to TAXI a lot but not quite as funny. Taxi was the standard in ensemble comedy and was such a perfect show in every way.

But I loved the back and forth banter between Diane and Sam. Their best scene together bar none - and maybe Ken would agree - was when Sam was so angry at Diane that he told her that he wants to punch her lights out. That scene, as all you "Diane years" well know, was spot-on perfect. And the way they both got into it, pinching each other's noses...entwined and tangled up in each other, daring the other to let go...brilliance...sheer unadulterated brilliance. Who wrote that episode, Ken? I believe that was the first time we saw Diane's character doing something so bold as to get her hands on Sam in that manner. Genius.

Jeffrey Mark said...

One more comment about the "Diane Years" of Cheers...Coach was so damn good...so damn spot-on with his observations and comments about the goings-on in Cheers. He had the best lines, bar none, and he was severely missed upon his untimely passing. I just couldn't get into Woody as Coaches replacement...some saw more brilliance with his character taking it to the next level, but his character didn't work for me - Coach was irreplaceable.

Best Coach scene bar none...and one of the best scenes ever on Cheers was the episode about Coaches only daughter. The scene with Coach and his daughter having a moment together in Sam's office was heartbreaking, bittersweet and loaded with amazing pathos. So damn well written and acted. Ken, do you know who wrote that episode? Did it win an Emmy? That episode cemented the early years of Cheers as a perfect show, so well acted, so well written.

By Ken Levine said...

The Coach's Daughter episode of CHEERS was written by Ken Estin.

Mister Charlie said...

What you need to do to make your millions, Mr. Levine, is to write a book (and/or an e-book) of as many of the alternate lines you can recover/remember and I guarantee it will surpass the sales of the travelog.

Of course I can guarantee ANYthing. :)

Robin said...

I really enjoy those episodes of "Cheers" that you listed, Ken.

I also agree with An when stated, "Diane is one of the greatest television characters ever (if not the greatest), and to my mind, anything but a burden."

I connected with that character like none I had ever seen on TV, and I love the way that you wrote her, Ken, as well.

Thanks for sharing this with us. I will be watching "Cheers" for as long as I live. :)

Have you thought of writing a book on "Cheers" and your experienced there? I am reading a book that was published in the mid-1980s on the show, and it would be fascinating to read even more from your pov on the show. :)

D. McEwan said...

Well I watch your old shows.

Matt said...

Afternoon Ken,

I'm in the UK and love comedy (live or on TV) and the one thing that annoys me is trying to follow a US show that is broadcast here. Due to pirating episodes are now shown a few weeks or less after the initial broadcast in the states. This means we now have the annoying 'mid-season' breaks or even worse the odd episode here or there like you currently get (yes I'm looking at you Big Bang Theory and How I met your Mother).
My question is this, would you prefer the UK way of shorter seasons that have a smaller writer team (in some cases 1 person) that are normally all recorded before tranmission (and as such all episodes are shown) or the US longer season and the worries that come with that?
Obviously there are pros and cons to both but would like to know your opinion.