Friday, May 11, 2012

Questions Friday Style

Hello from Noo Yawk! The Mariners begin a pivotal, crucial three-game series with the Yankees tonight. I’ll be calling the play-by-play for the Seattle Mariners Radio Network and MLB.COM. If there are lulls I can answer Friday Questions on the air, but just in case the action is too jam-packed, I’ll answer them here.

Matt leads off:

Recently, "METV" reran "Love, American Style." This is the first time I've watched the show from a writing perspective and I really admire how the segments are tightly written, funny and well paced. I wonder what your thoughts are on this show as an example of how to get right into a story, on creating characters and dialog.

The great thing about that series was that it provided work for lots of writers. You would think those little featurettes would be easy to write since they were just ten-minute in length. But in fact, they were a bitch because in a sense you were writing mini-pilots – introducing characters, setting up the premise, telling the story, and getting laughs.

I always rooted for that show because it was the only comedy series on the air that was an anthology. It broke the rule that you needed to follow familiar characters to be a success.

I never got an assignment for LOVE AMERICAN STYLE but did get to write for THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW, which was very similar.

About ten years ago one of the networks tried to reboot LOVE AMERICAN STYLE. A pilot was produced but it never made it. REJECTION AMERICAN STYLE.

Here’s a question from Becca that she posed in the comments section of an entry from a couple of weeks ago. But it’s a great question and you are invited to weigh in as well.

What are some TV shows from the past that you felt were canceled too soon? This is a question flung out there into the universe for anybody who wants to answer.

Okay. You asked. It’s a rather long list, probably includes a lot of shows you’ve never heard of, and I’m sure I left out six more.  But here goes.


From Anth:

When you're writing a script and you envision a non-specific celebrity cameo of some sort (like, say, last year's The Muppets), is it considered presumptuous to include that note in the script? And is it preferable to leave it anonymous or "assign" the role to give the reader a better way to envision the scene?

We generally do not write a celebrity cameo into a script unless we know ahead of time that we have him. Of course, that’s not to say that plans don't change after you complete the script. We wrote a CHEERS episode expecting to use Larry Bird. He backed out so instead we got the Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, Admiral William J. Crowe.  No joke.  And they essentially played the same part.

If you are writing a spec script I would recommend that you not use any celebrity cameos. It’s kind of a cheat. You know you’re not going to get Julia Roberts to appear in your pilot or spec ROB. So why do it?

And finally, Adam White wonders:

As an aspiring staff writer, how to get agents to focus on reading specs vs original material. It seems that every time I get an agent or manager wanting to see my work, they just want to read the pilot. I have a solid original pilot, but I feel like my specs are out-and-out better displays of my talent/funniness as they don't have to waste as much time laying pipe and can focus on my strong points: nailing character voices and being funny.

Sorry, Adam, but today you do need original material. You need specs for existing shows too, but even if an agent loves your spec BIG BANG THEORY he’s going to ask to see a pilot or something original.  That's just the way it is.  I guess you could always write a couple of LOVE AMERICAN STYLE scenes. 

What’s your question? Leave them in the comments section. Many thanks!


Dana King said...

Thanks for reminding me of some shows I'd liked but had forgotten about. I sometimes wonder what would have happened to SALP MAXWELL and BUFFALO BILL has they been released 10-15 years later, after audience had come to appreciate characters who were less than lovable. (BECKER comes to mind.)

Are you doing any mariners games in Baltimore this year? If so, will there be an open house? I'm in if there is.

Dana King said...


unkystan said...

Cancelled too soon? Where do we start? "George and Leo". Bob Newhart and Judd Hirsch (and Jason Bateman). Hilarious and smart. I remember that the ratings were very good but didn't have the demos (which is insane). "Welcome To New York" with Chistine Baranski and Jim Gaffigan. "The Ellen Show" (the one after 9/11). I have the DVD sets of all three and am amazed that they were tossed so early.

Max Shenk said...

"When Things Were Rotten"!!! Yes! Totally forgot about that show.

And glad you remembered POLICE SQUAD! ("In COLOR!")

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT would go on my list, too.

Max Shenk said...

... oh, and one more I just remembered: sometime in the early 90s, Dave Thomas (of SCTV) had a summer replacement sketch comedy show on CBS. I don't think it lasted six episodes. It was just called THE DAVE THOMAS SHOW. One of the funniest half-hour shows ever. I keep hoping it'll get put on DVD; no luck yet.

Donald said...

A Friday "Cheer's"-related question: related to your "worst songs" post. Never mind that "Ringo" is awesome and shouldn't have been on the list, but the flip side of the 45 featured Lorne Greene singing the words to the "Bonanza" theme. I assume those are the official lyrics, but they are different than the ones sung in the classic "Cheers" first season episode cold open. Did the writers concoct their own lyrics ("We got a right to pick a little fight/Bonanza....") and why?

Anonymous said...

Terriers is my biggest one. Bakersfield PD, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and Arrested Development & Newsradio (both to a degree..1-2 more seasons of each would have been outstanding).

Agree on George & Leo as well.

Glad Cougar Town & Community are off the list at the moment :)

Brian Phillips said...

I would add "Frank's Place", "Bent" and "Gabriel's Fire".

GF was a show that was quite good and well cast when someone decided to "fix" it. It was originally about a policeman who killed his partner to save the life of a family. He is released from jail many years later and works for the law firm that helped obtain his release. One would think this would provide a wealth of stories, but the "fix" was to change it to a comic-tinged drama called "Cops and Robbers"


"The John Larroquette Show" ran for too short a time with the original show runner. It degenerated from a dark comedy about a man confronting his drunken past in a seedy setting, to a whacked-out show where a cop keeps a wolf as a pet, another cop longs to be a beefeater and a homeless guy character changes from homeless to a man that dresses like a turn-of-the-century bootblack.

See paragraph 3.

"Mr. Sunshine" - The one about a blind professor with Jeffrey Tambor.

"Mr. Sunshine" - The one about an entertainment coordinator with Matthew Perry.

To unkystan: I disagree with you on "Welcome to New York".

Occasionally, I'll see a stand-up comic (not Gaffigan, who is hilarious) and after several jokes about their parents, one wishes they could have gone to a therapist and spared the audience. WTNY as well as "Allen Gregory" struck me as shows created by someone with a gripe against something and decided to create a show as vengeance. In these two cases, I didn't care for the results. WTNY felt like knee-jerk cynicism.

I liked "George and Leo", but I thought "Bob" was also starting to find its footing when it was canceled.

The best way around this I have seen is a radio show, "Old Harry's Game". Andy Hamilton can write these shows and complain about any number of current and past human foibles because the main character is the devil, who, let's face it, hates everyone anyway.

Chris G said...

I'm delighted to see that someone else remembers The Marshall Chronicles. I was a sophomore in high school when it aired, and the SAT episode scared me to death...

Curt Alliaume said...

When I was a kid, I picked out my favorite sitcom to watch each fall - most of which had an amazing knack for being canned quickly:

1972 - Anna and the King (what can I say, I was nine years old)
1973 - Lotsa Luck
1974 - Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers
1975 - When Things Were Rotten
1976 - On Our Own
1977 - The Betty White Show
1978 - WKRP in Cincinnati (which was cancelled, then brought back due to popular demand)
1979 - The Associates

ABC brought Love, American Style back on the cheap in 1985 as a five-a-week daytime show. It didn't do very well.

GFoyle said...

I would love to know more history about why Larry Bird didn't appear on Cheers. I was raised on a farm Nowhere Podunk, central Texas - no neighbor kids, 10 graduates in my senior class (most of them were the same ones I started school with in elementary). Larry Bird was a big childhood hero of mine.

DC said...

Talking about Love American Style you mentioned, "you were writing mini-pilots". Wasn't Happy Days inspired by a LAS story?

Tom Quigley said...

A big vote for FM. Not only did it have a great sitcom cast (Robert Hays, Patricia Richardson, Fred Applegate), but it was created by and co-produced by Allen Burns, one of the original execs (with James L. Brooks ) on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. I once had a chance to work with Fred on a forgettable sitcom entitled LIFE... AND STUFF, and told him I remembered him in FM. He said it had been a great show to work on and was sorry it didn't last longer. Agreed with him 100 percent.

71dude said...

"We've Got Each Other" (with Oliver Clark and Beverly Archer) and "The Tony Randall Show" - both aired on CBS's Saturday sitcom block in the fall of '77, which went to seed without Mary, Archie, and Harvey Korman on "Carol Burnett". Carol was getting crushed by "The Love Boat", Bob Newhart reluctantly did a 6th year (and sat out a handful of episodes) and "Maude" was sent to Saturday to die midway through the season.

We can also add "Awake" to the list within the next week.

Steely Dan said...

Cancelled too soon: As much as I love "Police Squad," I think six episodes was the perfect length for that show. Having re-watched it on DVD recently, even by the sixth episode it started to feel like it was on the verge of getting repetitive and predictable.

I think some shows just aren't meant to run indefinitely, and that's fine by me. My favorite show of all time is a Canadian show called "Slings & Arrows" which ran for three seasons and a total of 18 episodes. As much as I love it, I'm glad that it didn't keep going on. I don't think short runs are a bad thing.

Becca said...

Yay! You used my question. That basically makes me famous, right?

I actually WOULD add "Almost Perfect" to my list, and not just to suck up. I didn't catch it until it was in reruns (on Lifetime?), but really enjoyed it.

"Buffalo Bill" as well. Dabney Coleman in a sitcom just never clicked with the American public at large, although they tried again and again. I guess I like irascibility, because I love him. I have to wonder if '80s Coleman could get in a time machine and come forward to this time of hundreds of cable channels and splintered audiences, he could have a hit show on basic cable. If "Mad Men" can be considered a hit with an audience of 2.5 million, surely Dabney Coleman could have similar success?

RE: "Police Squad." My understanding is that it was always conceived as a series with a very limited run. And honestly, there are only so many cop show tropes to send up...I think that, as brilliant as PS was, it would've rapidly become boring as they repeated the same gags week after week for the typical 22-episode season.

Becca said...

I would LOVE to be able to see any Steve Gordon shows. His script for "Arthur" is one of my all-time favorites (another all-time favorite is Larry Gelbart's script for "Tootsie"...honestly, I'm not sucking up, Ken, we just have very similar taste in comedy).

Unknown said...

My biggest disappointment in the past 10 years has been the cancellation of Invasion ( by ABC. It was created by the Shaun Cassidy and featured a top notch cast of character actors.
It's one season of 22 episodes and thanks to great foresight of the writing staff, the season wrapped up as a series conslusion, so it's basically a long miniseries.
Seek it out

Stef said...

Hot L Baltimore - 1975

Just loved it.

jbryant said...

I reluctantly mention a couple of shows that I liked at the time, but have no idea whether they would hold up today: EISENHOWER AND LUTZ (1988, Scott Bakula, Patricia Richardson, DeLane Matthews--the latter two went on to co-star in the aforementioned FM) and IF NOT FOR YOU (1995, Elizabeth McGovern, Hank Azaria).

jmontyb said...

I can't believe no one has mentioned "Better Off Ted" yet. The show was hilarious, and ABC treated it like crap.

Jeffrey Mark said...

Becca, I agree with you about Dabney Coleman...always dug the guy's act on Buffalo Bill - loved that show, watched every episode. Remember the one where he dangled his daughter out the window of his office? Perfection. Only a few "chosen people" got that show.

I also loved Slap Maxwell, Coleman also brilliant on it - I eagerly watched each week. I think they coined that show a "drama-dy" or something like that. The quirkiness of the show just didn't catch on...just too subtle...not enough big laughs to interest the mainstream. I even wrote a spec script for it and tried shopping it around town for a short time.

sanford said...

A lot of shows there that I have forgotten about. One show that I liked was called Shannon's Deal. It was about a corporate lawyer who lost everything.He became sort of a low rent lawyer. There is a much better description than I gave here. I thought it was a good show. Might have worked today on a premium channel or a cable channel.

Jeffrey Mark said...

Just a plug for a show that was amazingly brilliant in its use of black humor and great comedy: Hill Street Blues. Now, that show, while very sad a lot of the time, was drop-dead-spot-on FUNNY. Watch the episode about Vic Hitler, the stand-up comic who continuously falls asleep in the middle of his act. Or the one where cop Andy Renko brings home his big idol, a country singer, only to have to throw him out because he was making passes at Andy's wife. Comedy writers out there, y'all can learn a big lesson watching this show. Seriously. Brilliant comedy.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Brian Phillips: The first season of THE JOHN LARROQUETTE SHOW was, as you say, wonderful - the darkness and struggle produced some of the most real comedy I've ever seen.

Canceled too soon - HE AND SHE, yes. THE FAMOUS TEDDY Z (well, *I* liked it), THE POWERS THAT BE (complete with prototype Niles and Maris Crane). Also the first of the two attempts to build a sitcom around Dudley Moore - DUDLEY - it got dumped just as I thought it was beginning to find some potential. (The second attempt was godawful.)

I'll toss in a good word for ALMOST PERFECT - but only if the network lets Kim and Mike stay together.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Yes also to EISENHOWER & LUTZ and BETTER OFF TED. The fourth episode of the latter (in which the company's new building sensors turn out to be color-blind - that is, they can only see and respond to white skin) was one of the funniest things I've ever seen on TV.


Carol said...

Wizards and Warriors from 1982-83.

Do Over - guy finds himself back as a teenager in the 1980s. I enjoyed that.

Ben said...

Buffalo Bill was great. Got the DVD set when I saw it a few years ago in a used CD store. I saw a new copy for even cheaper in a "cheapy bin" at a grocery store and got it for a friend.

Jeffrey Mark said...

Shannon's Deal - yes! I forgot about that show, and I never missed an episode. Great low-key, under-stated show, brilliant cast of off-beat characters. Excellent show never given deserved recognition. Not over-the-top enough for the masses. I'm gonna have to hunt down a dvd of it if it's available. I forgot, though...when did it air - what year. I think early '90s? Thanks for jogging my memory,Sanford.

Anonymous said...

SPORTS NIGHT - Brilliant show. I have the DVD set. There were still stories to be told in that one. I'm still angry that it got cancelled. I remember that it had a rotten spot on the schedule.

Writer said...


I caught an episode of FRASIER last night entitled: Roz and the Schnoz, and low and behold there is was: Directed by Ken Levine!

Would you care to comment on your experience in directing this episode vs. directing the episode of WINGS which you elaborated on -- in great detail -- in a post from a few years back?

If anyone missed this one, I have provided the LINK BELOW.

From Saturday, January 16, 2010:

P.S. That was some hilarious material to work with. Joke, after joke, after joke! I especially enjoyed the SHOT where NILES is FLANKED by the NOSY couple whose BACKS are to CAMERA. Great blocking there! Never seen that before on Frasier.



Sue said...

Right on Diane. Sports Night was brilliant and what a cast. Sorkin at his weakest is better then most of what is on today.

gottacook said...

"Roz & the Shnoz" (which I just caught again recently; we don't do cable and get Frasier at 1:30 a.m. weeknights) features Almost Perfect alumnus Kevin Kilner.

As for the "Love and the Happy Days" episode of Love American Style, I don't think I saw it upon first broadcast (I tended to watch more during its earlier years) but it was always planned as a pilot, as far as I can tell; it featured some of the eventual cast. Even non-anthology series did this sort of thing more often in those days, for example, the 1968 Star Trek episode "Assignment: Earth" starring Robert Lansing and a very young Teri Garr in present-day New York City with whom the Enterprise officers interact via time travel.

Becca said...

Jeffrey: Hill Street Blues was amazing, and extremely groundbreaking in its day, though I don't know I could honestly say it was canceled too ran out of steam before it was given the axe, IMO.

But as far as "dramedy" -- I remember in the late '80s when those were touted as the "new thing" (Hooperman, Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, etc.) and I thought at the time "Wait...this has been DONE." by Blues as well as M*A*S*H as early as the '70s. One of my favorite HSB moments: Renko and his partner (forget his name, sorry) discover a corpse who's been stuffed into a trash bin, his arm sticking out at an awkward angle. Really gruesome stuff for early '80s TV. They take the scene in, then Renko leans in to put his ear to the wristwatch on the corpse's arm, then turns to his partner and says "How about that. Takes a lickin', but keeps on tickin'." !!!!!!

Wendy: "The Powers That Be"...yes!! I loved that show. That was my first exposure to David Hyde-Pierce but in a way, thank God it was canceled because otherwise we wouldn't have Niles. He and Valerie Mahaffey played off each other perfectly and like you, I pictured the unseen "Maris" as her. I remember one scene in which she fell asleep (or passed out? I haven't seen it since '92, forgive me) and Pierce and his character's son briefly debated the pros and cons of them just running off and leaving her there, and starting new lives (her character was an incredibly obnoxious anorectic). Then her eyelids flutter as she awakens and with perfect timing, Pierce turns to the kid, they exchange a look, and he says "Next time."

chuckcd said...

I have to agree with "When things were rotten" and would like to add "The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr."

chuckcd said...

"Mr. Sunshine" - The one about a blind professor with Jeffrey Tambor.
I have already discussed this show in a previous post.
I am biased because I worked on this one.

YEKIMI said...

Most of the shows listed are ones I liked and I agree that they were canceled way too soon. It's a big reason why I rarely watch TV nowadays except for a couple of shows. Why invest my time in a show that a month later is gone from the airwaves? Another show that was gone to soon, "Lotsa Luck", starring Dom Deluise & the GREAT Kathleen Freeman [even to this day, I can sing the lyrics to the theme song as I can with the theme of "When Things Were Rotten"]

Which brings me to a Friday question: You've written and directed and been a DJ but have you ever had tried to write a TV theme song? Or is that best left to professional musicians/songwriters?

Jennyfromtheblock said...

Canceled too soon: "Knights of Prosperity" (2007. It was hysterical and only lasted 13 episodes. Linda Bloodworth did a funny show called "Filthy Rich" (1982)that shot maybe 14 episodes. And The Smothers Brothers Show, of course.

Birdie said...

I agree with what everyone is saying about Dabney Coleman - if only we had those shows now, so they would have had a chance on cable. In fact, HBO did rerun episodes of Buffalo Bill shortly after it had been cancelled.

Slap Maxwell used to be on back to back with Hooperman, another excellent show whose ratings were kind of on the cusp and was cancelled after two seasons. Slap Maxwell only made it for one, but if I recall correctly Dabney Coleman had some well-publicized disagreements with the show's writers/producers (I suspect he's not all that far off from the characters he plays, to be honest). Anyway, it was a good hour of television that I watched regularly.

Kirk said...

Anybody remember THE POPCORN KID, about a group of teenagers working at a movie theater? I found it funny, though if it had run for five seasons, the lack of employee turnover might have streatched credulity.

CALLUCI'S DEPARTMENT a very funny show with the very funny James Coco that took place in an unemployment office. One line has stuck with me all these years: "It's as plain as the writing on the bathroom wall, you just have to read between the tiles" Unfortunately, it went up against another very fuuny show with a very funny star, SANFORD AND SON.

Speaking of which, I thought the second show called SANFORD, which went on the air a couple of years after the first S&S went off, with Redd Foxx returning to his old role, was pretty good. SANFORD was a little more rooted in reality than in the later seasons of S&S (so no Fred entering a Redd Foxx lookalike contest) and even had some fleeting moments of drama, which was verboten on the original show. A couple years ago when I was snowed in during a raging blizzard, I saw the whole series rerun on BET, and was both surpised and impresses at Redd Foxx's ability to play Fred Sanford seriously without sacrificing the character in the process, which is unfortunately too often the case with most sitcoms when they do those "special" this-should-win-us-an-emmy dramatic

Speaking of dramas, there was ELLERY QUEEN with Jim Hutton and David Wayne that ran only one season. The original KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER. And, finally, INVASION, which ran after LOST for one season. Sure, it was basically a rip-off of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, but at least it was an intelligent rip-off.

Mike Schryver said...

I'll join in and speak up for MR. SUNSHINE (Tambor) again, which I also did here recently.
I agree with many of the others mentioned, exsecially TEDDY Z, BENT and THE POWERS THAT BE.

Someone mentioned Shaun Cassidy's INVASION, and I want to put in a word for his AMERICAN GOTHIC. This was a brilliant, brilliant show that was utterly destroyed by CBS (big surprise, huh?)
It had a serial element, and they ran the episodes out of order, pre-empted it every other week, and forced cast changes midway through the season.
Still, the pilot is my favorite hour of television ever, and the show has some of the creepiest moments you'll see on TV. Sam Raimi and his team also were involved.

Scott said...

There was a show in the mid-80's called "It's Your Move," starring a young Jason Bateman. I remember loving the show and thinking that it got the axe too soon, but not much else about it other than the basic premise, which was Bateman's teenage character constantly outwitting his apartment neighbors in various intricate schemes of deception of his mother. It only lasted a couple of years, with two different primary antagonists.

Does anyone else remember this show?

Mike Schryver said...

Just poking my head in again to agree with Kirk on ELLERY QUEEN. Great, great stuff.

Larry said...

Not sure if these have been mentioned yet, but:




LAprGuy said...

I can still hear the BEST OF THE WEST theme song in my head - that was a funny show.

Yes to @Scott on IT'S YOUR MOVE. That was a terrific one, and I never tired of the Jason Bateman vs. David Garrison interplay. (Nor of "My Tutor's" Caren Kaye.)

Cap'n Bob said...

How about a list of shows you wished were canceled a lot sooner? I'll open with Roseanne.

cadavra said...

Boy, a lot of wonderful memories on all your lists! I'll chip in HIGHCLIFFE MANOR, a horror spoof that got canned after four weeks; BROADSIDE, a McHALE'S NAVY spinoff centered on WAVES, and going wa-ay back, MR. LUCKY, which despite its enduring reputation only ran one season. And I really wish SOAP has gotten one more season just to resolve all the cliff-hangers.

Brian Phillips said...

I forgot about FIREFLY! The DVD set can be had for cheap. This also was run out of order.

To Wendy: the 2nd Dudley Moore show was "Daddy's Girls". He looked quite tired doing that show. I don't recall where I read it, but just after "Arthur" came out someone wrote that Moore's success was well-deserved but he may have difficulty picking good scripts.

Then "Wholly Moses" came out, proving that theory.

Paul Duca said...

Curt--I was going to bring up the 80's version of LOVE AMERICAN STYLE if no one else did. But ON OWR OWN was the same year as BETTY WHITE...for 1976 go with ALL'S FAIR, about a Washington columnist and a photographer in a relationship that was May-December in political outlook as well as age.

gottacook--I really think Garry Marshall meant "Love and the Happy Days" as a one-off. In fact, I once read that when ABC wanted him to make it into a series, he would have set it in the present (1970's), but doing so meant the protagonists would have to confront things like drugs and sex. Marshall didn't want to do that, but didn't want to make another BRADY BUNCH, either...a show oblivious to present day issues. By returning to the the 1950's setting, he could avoid those things while remaining culturally true, as that era was defined by avoiding those things.

Paul Duca said...

Brian...I remember watching a show in the 1980's--a Showtime sitcom where Bill Maher played a private eye. In one episode one of the characters told Maher after his latest dating disaster that "You pick girlfriends the way Dudley Moore picks film scripts".

rchesson said...

Thanks for mentioning one of my favorites THE DUCK FACTORY.

Birdie said...

Cap'n Bob you beat me to it it only begs the question - would love to hear from Ken his top shows that went way, way too long.

Roseanne's last season was notorious but I think there are other shows that top it in the "seriously it ran that long department?". Like One Tree Hill, which I can't believe JUST went off the air. Or - and I can say this bc Ken wrote for the show only once - The Jeffersons, which I can't get over ran 11 seasons. There were actually quite a few second tier shows of that era that I always can't believe we're allowed to go on as long as they did. The Facts of Life ran for nine seasons. And even though Happy Days was once a top rated show, it ran waaaay too long. Im not a big Roseanne fan, but it ran about one maybe two seasons over. Considering it was number one for so long I would have expected anywhere between a seven and nine season run, so...fairly expected.

Dallas is another one that should have had the plug pulled way sooner. And I was a fan, but 14 seasons was way excessive.

David Baruffi said...

I found "Buffalo Bill" on DVD awhile back, and you're right about that show. It was just a little too ahead of it's time, would've been great for HBO. Also, "The George Carlin Show," wasn't cancelled. FOX actually wanted to do a second season but Carlin decided to end the show, 'cause he didn't particularly like doing the weekly sitcom and chose to focus on stand-up, and while I was disappointed their isn't more episodes of the show, I can't particularly blame him for that.

I have a question about the May upfronts that's consuming the TV landscape right now. I'm following it as much as I can, and I'm excited about a few projects, but being a little outside of Hollywood, I can't quite figure out how to judge it, per se. I mean, unless you're a real insider, we haven't seen any of these shows, and most of which we never will, so who knows which network screwed up and didn't pick the next "Cheers," or something like that, but more importantly, I don't know what I'm looking for in terms, what's a good idea or not, what's going to be a major show, what show gonna's get the most buzz, why, why not? A few current shows got cancelled or re-upped, or in "Cougar Town"'s case, switched networks, (Don't get TBS's thinking there, but if they want, they can have it.) but what should the non-insider TV insider look for when studying these upfront announcements by the networks, and what shows they pick up on or not, before we actually see the shows at least?

Oh, and to that list of cancelled too soon shows, "United States of Tara," "Hung," "Bored to Death," and "mr. Sunshine" to name recent ones, but also "Sports Night," "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," and for an older one, "The Critic", I don't think was ever given a real chance to succeed, and that was a shame.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of revealing myself as the oldest visitor here, I was furious when they cancelled "I'm Dickens, He's Fenster" after just one season!

pumpkinhead said...

Is it possible that I didn't see Taxi mentioned anywhere in these comments? Not only a show that was cancelled too soon, but maybe the all-time winner term of shows that stand up to multiple viewings. (Maybe we should do a "shows that best stand up to multiple viewings" list next.)

Okay, I have a cancelled-too-soon that I really didn't expect anyone else to list, or even remember, but, I really enjoyed it: Stark Raving Mad, with Neil Patrick Harris and Tony Shalhoub.

pumpkinhead said...

"winner in terms of shows..." I was more focused on deciphering the captcha than proof reading.

Johnny Walker said...

Firefly... Obviously. But also Bakersfield PD, Stacked, Angel, Twin Peaks (although it had already gone off the rails by the time it wasn't renewed).

Edward Copeland said...

Agree with you on Freaks & Geeks, Buffalo Bill and The Slap Maxwell Story all going too soon. I recently did a 30-year retrospective on Police Squad! and on one of the commentaries, the Zuckers and Abrahams admitted it almost was a relief when they got canceled. The show actually was losing steam by the end of six episodes. No way they could have done 22 of them a year for who knows how many seasons? Others that ended far too soon. HBO's Deadwood for not being allowed to finish Milch's five-season vision for the show and not giving him the wrapup movies either. My So-Called Life went to soon as did Undeclared. I think if Lynch and Frost had kept a more watchful eye on season two after the reveal of who killed Laura Palmer, Twin Peaks could have lasted a bit longer. I may be the only person in the world who liked it, but I enjoyed the all-too-brief run of The Powers That Be with a pre-Niles David Hyde-Pierce. I don't know that it should have gone on longer, but giving into the pressure of Donald Wildmon amd yamking Soap with a multiple cliffhanger ending still bugs me.

Keith said...

Question: I just finished making an animated version of my pilot spec. Is this a valid way to get noticed, or would one need a large following to be taken seriously? Problem is, it takes about six months to make an episode (in spare time), so gaining a following would take years. Should I, instead, just focus on new pilot specs?

- Keith

I know links may be borderline spammy, so feel free to delete these.

yatesy said...

I remember IT'S YOUR MOVE! Jason Bateman and David Garrison (who some of you might remember as Steve Rhodes from Married With Children). Garrison's character played a guy named Norman Lamb who, I think was dating Bateman's character's mom. I remember liking it a lot!

Ken: is there any way you might be available to read a pilot I wrote?

less said...

how many unions (or union like) organizations are you or have you been a member of at one time or another?

Which have been worth it? which haven't and if you want to indicate why not, why not.

Rudy said...

John From Cincinnati

yibei123 said...

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jbryant said...

Thought of some more:

Sam Peckinpah's THE WESTERNER, with Brian Keith.
ONCE AND AGAIN (although they did get 63 episodes)
CUPID -- the first version, with Jeremy Piven and Paula Marshall.

More recently, HUGE on ABC Family was really getting good before the plug was pulled.

Joe in DC said...

So many good "canceled too soon" responses! I grew up in the ’70s and remembered a lot of the titles. "Hot L Baltimore" in particular, featuring the terrific Conchata Ferrell.

I want to toss in two of my personal favorites -- "Tenspeed and Brownshoe" (which I managed to find on DVD recently) and "Grand."

pumpkinhead said...

Oh, and here's one that will probably inspire some serious vexation - The Jackie Thomas Show. At the time it was cancelled, it had actually developed into a truly hilarious show. Just no one else knows it because I was the only one still watching by then.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

diane: AIUI SPORTS NIGHT didn't get canceled - and the final episode, which wraps up almost all the storylines and gives the characters happy endings, is a testament to that. AIUI Sorkin gave up SPORTS NIGHT to concentrate on THE WEST WING.

THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS - yes! *And* the sitcom they did before it, that I begged to be allowed to stay up late to see. The show had a third brother, if I remember right, who was an angel.


Jeffrey Mark said...

Becca: I remember that HSB scene with Andy and Bobby Hill like I just saw it yesterday. Another sad-hilarious scene when Andy discovers the body of his father. He says to Bobby, "oh lordy, that's my daddy." That show seamlessly wove deep pathos with brilliant black comedy. Such perfect writing and character development the likes rarely seen on TV since then. One more quick scene: The supermarket hostage standoff. Renko and Bobby go to the meat department while on guard at the market and steal a huge hunk of meat and stuff into their patrol car. Just perfect comedy...always the unexpected on the show that made it so damn hilarious. That's brilliant comedy...something coming out of left field when you least expect it. Young writers out there, take note and be inspired by this show. Let's not forget the brilliance!

Greg Heberlein said...

I know you are a big fan of Vin Scully. He's one of kind, but your baseball work is sensational. Reminds me somewhat of the humor in Mark Harris's outstanding trilogy, or possibly "Ball Four." I just wish the Mariners would give you 162 games.

Greg Heberlein said...

A year.

gottacook said...

WMG: I remember the Smothers Brothers Show (the black-and-white sitcom) and even a bit of the theme; I was 9. There was no third brother - it was Tommy who was Dick's brother the (incompetent) angel.

Nick said...

Friday Question for you Ken.

I've just finished watching 'Spooky Buddies' with my five year old daughter (Disney straight to DVD) and while groaning at the cliche ridden, unimaginative, unrealistic dialogue spoken by the poor actors forced to slum in this schlock... it raises a question in my mind.

Writers employed to work on movies or TV shows such as this - are the scripts they write really bad because they're just lousy writers - or are they selling themselves out by writing to a specific formula that requires such... lack of creativity? Like is this stuff written badly on purpose - or is there a writer out there who writes this stuff and sincerely believes they've done a good job? And if it is the former - how do writers (who naturally pride themselves on their work) feel about having this kind of stuff on their resume?

Or third option - are there no writers at all - merely a piece of software called 'icliche' used to pump out scripts for movies like this?

Actually I'm kind of hoping you'll say it's the third option...

Unknown said...


I love your blog. Thanks very much for giving us your time and sharing your wonderful stories and experiences with us.

Here's a Friday question for you.

I've been seeing some TV series stars who are now getting producer credit as well (e.g. James Roday and Dule Hill on Psych, and Colin Furguson on Eureka). Why do they get producer credit? Is it just a way for them to get paid more money? Or is it a reflection of their creative input into the series? If the latter, do they really have that much more creative input then other series' regulars?

Finally, how do other cast members and production staff typically feel about one or two stars getting this kind of extra recognition and/or money?

Todd Waddell
Portland, OR

Geoff G said...

The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and Whitney. No. Wait. I'm happy Whitney was cancelled.

Wait. What? NBC renewed Whitney?

(Ken, I'm going to pretend that your inevitable reaction is a response to this question. As a bonus, please also throw in why there is no god.)

Birdie said...

Ken, I'm assuming it was clear but in case not, I meant for my " which shows ran too long" post further up to be a Friday question. Would love to hear your thoughts!

Andrea said...

If an actor has had some tragic happen in their past, how do you approach them if a story line involves this? For example, Kelsey Grammer lost his father and sister to murder but Martin Crane's homicide cases are referenced quite often on Frasier. Alan Arbus's ex wife committed suicide and suicide was mentioned often in Sydney's episodes.

Bob Claster said...

You've obviously never seen BAKERSFIELD PD or it would be near the top of your list. And you must have had a brain fart to forget about FRANK'S PLACE. Another great one that NOBODY saw was called EMPIRE (DALLAS as a comedy) which starred Dennis Dugan and Patrick Macnee, and only ran six episodes. Great stuff.

G R Kent said...

The Amazing Teddy Z... (in addition to a bunch of the shows already mentioned)

I might add that it seems to be nearly impossible (for me at least) to match the word verification... In fact, I feel very much like the batter who feels the umpire is blind.... What would be really nice if, when you didn't do it correctly you could see what it should have been.... it is now a game to see how much time I will waste in posting my insignificant comment)

cadavra said...

"Anonymous said...

At the risk of revealing myself as the oldest visitor here, I was furious when they cancelled "I'm Dickens, He's Fenster" after just one season!"

So was I!

Liggie said...

The old TRIO channel had a "Brilliant But Cancelled" slot featuring gone-too-soon shows like "Teddy Z". Great cast, especially Alex Rocco as the smarmy talent agent Al Floss.

I remember "Hot L", but as a kid then don't recall many details. How close was it to the play (which I have read)?

Would love to see "Tracey Ullman" on DVd, but I'm guessing the rights fees for all those songs makes a release unlikely.

Liggie said...

Forgot to mention: Imagine if Internet dating and the like were around during Love, American Style"'s run. They would've had some interesting vignettes.

Robert K. said...

I didn't run into The Good Guys until it was already cancelled and being aired on NetFlix, but my wife and I have watched all of the single season several times and don't get tired of it! The Dan Stark character just has us rolling every time. We couldn't believe we came to the end so soon!

Kendall said...

Friday Question:

I was wondering if you have read Warren Littlefield's book "Top of the Rock." Even though it's one of those first-person "oral history" books, pretty much everyone interviewed comes off as a total asshole (with the possible exception of Casey & Lee). Are people in the business that un-selfaware? I actually felt bad for Don Ohlmeyer at one point.

chuckcd said...

Timothy Hutton did a send up of "Ellery Queen" on his show "Leverage"
it was pretty cool...

chuckcd said...

"Lucky" with John Corbett. Never given a chance.

chuckcd said...

"Stark Raving Mad, with Neil Patrick Harris and Tony Shalhoub"
Yes, I have to agree with this one too.

Mike C said...

I'm sure you've answered this before, but I couldn't find it on your blog. When did you first start the running gag of Norm entrances, them asking him how he is and Norm's one-liners? Did you come up with one and it was successful so you kept doing it?

Anonymous said...

NBC did an anthology show last year, "Love Bites." It ended up being delayed and then being burned off much like "Bent." I thought it was charming, but your mileage may vary.

I also liked the second "Ellen" and "Molly Dodd" (though it sort of got derailed when it ran on cable.)

My all time favorite show cancelled way too early was "Wonderfalls." So much promise, cancelled after three episodes. Ugh.

DouglasG said...

Any recollections of the actress Rachel Roberts? She met such a tragic end, but was a gifted comedic (Foul Play)and dramatic actress (Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Michae Rafferty said...

Brooklyn Bridge.....