Friday, May 18, 2012

WINGS deserved more recognition

Howdy from Denver. Here are some Friday Questions from the Mile High City.

Michael gets us started:

I always felt "Wings", while not quite at the same level as "Cheers" and "Frasier", was overlooked in terms of critical acclaim. Do you agree and, if so, why do think that was so?

I totally agree. WINGS never got the recognition it deserved.  And the truth is it was a damn funny show – funnier than CHEERS and FRASIER on certain occasions. The stories were well-crafted and clever, and the cast was top notch.  Yet, it never achieved that sheen that prestigious shows enjoy.  Why?  Pure speculation on my part but following CHEERS always put it unfairly in its shadow. 

WINGS really was discovered once it began running on USA (fifteen times a day). Personally, I think WINGS holds up great is still funnier than most sitcoms on today.

Looking back, we really were in a Golden Age of Comedy if WINGS was considered second tier.

Brian Phillips has another WINGS-related question:

While looking at the first season of "Wings" on Netflix, I noticed that one of the producers was Roz Doyle, which, of course, is the same name of Peri Gilpin's character on "Frasier". I know you have mentioned how other characters in other shows have gotten named. Are there any other stories as to how the characters on "Frasier" were named?

Roz Doyle was the line producer of WINGS and passed away very young. Peter Casey, David Lee, & David Angell were the creators of both WINGS and FRASIER. They named Peri’s character Roz Doyle as a lovely tribute.

I can’t think of any other significant stories behind the naming of the characters. Since FRASIER was essentially a family show, they really only had to come up with first names for characters. That, by the way, may be the single best reason to do a family comedy.

And yet another WINGS question, this one from VegasGuy.

I was watching Wings (I'm going through them all on NetFlix) and I swear I saw an actor (he was a vacuum salesman) that was in an earlier episode (several years back) from another episode.

This made me think about The Practice where John Laroquette was a great villan character and THEN he showed up in Boston Legal (same universe) as a different character and a series regular.

So here's the question: Why do that? Are there not enough actors out there? I love John Laroquette (Stripes) as much as the next guy but surely someone else could have played the part?

It’s not a matter of a shortage of actors. In this town you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting at least five people who all guested on NCIS. But finding special actors? That’s tough.

And if you should get lucky and find that a guest player really scores through the roof, not only will you want to use him again, you’ll want to hire six bodyguards to make sure nothing ever happens to him.

On MASH, Harry Morgan, who played Colonel Potter, originally was in an early episode as a nutcase General. It’s actually my single favorite episode of MASH, and he’s exceptionally funny in it. If there was an opening for Hot Lips’ sister I would have suggested Harry. He was that good.

Yes, you have a continuity issue if you bring an actor back as another character, but it’s so worth it. And why should you let a special actor get away just because he did a small guest role two seasons ago as patron #3?

From Bill McCloskey:

Ken, since canceling my cable, I've had great fun watching all the Cheers episodes and now the Frasier episodes back to back. One "bit" I'd like to ask about because it is used so often in both Cheers and Frasier, that I wonder if you guys invented it. What I'm talking about is the situation where two characters start calling each other names and it ends with them falling into each others arms. Of course the first time I remember it being used was when Sam and Diane got together for the first time in season one. It then popped up more frequently, most recently between Frasier and the new Station Manager played by Mercedes Ruhl. Any thoughts on this recurring plot device?

I’m sure the convention had been used numerous times before CHEERS. Not being a scholarly student of old romcoms and screwball comedies I can’t produce specific examples off the top of my head (which is a little woozy anyway in this thin altitude), but I suspect Spencer Tracy & Kate Hepburn played out similar scenes in their movies. Same with Barbara Stanwyck and every co-star she ever had.

Doesn’t Rhett Butler get pissed and sweep Scarlet O’Hara off her feet and take her upstairs? My guess is a few of you readers will be able to cite specific examples (or, more likely, correct mine).

The key is passion.   And if the passion is really at a boil, a couple can switch from hate to love in one nano-second.  

So as much as I’d love to, I can’t take credit on behalf of CHEERS for that convention. For all I know, it was first employed in ancient Greece by Lucy and Desi Paparopolis.

What's your question?  Leave them in the comments section.  Thanks.    And join me tonight with Rick Rizzs for arena baseball at Coors Field on 710 ESPN Seattle, the Mariners Radio Network, and MLB.COM.  


Charles H. Bryan said...

"arena baseball" -- Good one!

I have a couple of baseball announcing questions: What do you look for to tell what kind of pitch is being delivered? I know most parks now post speeds on scoreboards, but what are you looking for to distinguish a slider from a cutter or a splitter? Also, how do broadcast teams decide on format? (Some seem to work solo for 3 inning stretches, while others work as a duo throughout the game.)

Bill said...

That whole using the same actor twice thing is not uncommon at all.

John Mahoney (Martin) and Peri Gilpin (Roz) had both been on Cheers (as a radio jingle writer and a reporter, respectively) before ending up on Frasier.

Peter J. said...

Regarding Bill McCloskey's question, (which is great as a fan, probably frustrating as all get-out to a writer attempting to avoid cliches) suggests that Slap-Slap-Kiss goes back "at least to William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing."

Natalie said...

Loved Wings, especially Lowell!

My question:

Does accuracy/plausibility matter at all in TV world? On any level?

When I'm watching crime procedurals I usually have no trouble suspending my disbelief. I know that watching cops fill out paperwork or wait for test results would make for a boring show and I happily accept science and computer magic. Lately I've found myself shaking my head at the screen time and again at the huge, glaring plot holes. Is there ever anyone in the writer's room saying "Um, guys, there's no way the villain could have that information unless he can read minds" or "this plot depends on all our heroes spontaneously forgetting all the knowledge and skills they've developed over the entire series and making really, really stupid choices for no discernible reason."

I just can't get invested in the outcome of an episode when I spend half of it thinking "but that doesn't make any sense!"

Becca said...

I never really understand the problem people have with the same actor turning up in different roles on the same show -- or these days, with all the "franchises," turning up on a different show set in the same "universe."

It's no different to accept the actor or actress as one character than it is to accept them as another. Seriously, the audience is being expected to make the exact same mental leap. Repertory companies in theatre use the same group of actors to do several different shows in the same season.

Old TV shows (Perry Mason, Dragnet, and many more) had something of a repertory company of actors they drew from. You'd see the same actors several times in a season playing very different roles. This used to be accepted; nowadays, people claim it "messes up continuity."

I don't understand the problem.

wv: "unggly" -- as ugly as my uncle.

gottacook said...

My favorite "falling into each other's arms" moment from Cheers is, no question, the one with Frasier and Lilith at the bar after their joint appearance as guests on a local TV interview show. She leaps into his arms at the end.

Mike said...

Wings had the comic relief Antonio winning Emmies and Lowell nominated for an Oscar. Is there any precedent for that?

Kristen said...

I would like to know how much time you spent watching television when you were writing for shows like MASH, and how much time you spend now. In the "old days", how did you manage to watch so much (I'm assuming!) before DVR's? Or did you get tapes directly from the studios? Was a portion of your "work day" designated as viewing time for research purposes? I have a hard time fitting in all the shows I want to watch now and it seems like you've seen so many more!

Anonymous said...

How much do announers get together. You were just in Cleveland, did you see Tom Hamilton, etc. Are there any you particularly enjoy spending time with? More interesting but less likely to get answered would be if there were any you dislike. Also, most people love or hate their hometown announcer but are there any whom you think are undisovered gems?

Dan J said...

Maybe I'm wrong here, but I always felt the reason Wings never achieved the same fame/acclaim as Cheers and Fraiser was because of the "private airport" set-up.

We've all hung out at bars, and we all have families (and have heard radio call-in shows)... but how many of us have spent more than an hour or so in a small, private airport hanging out with the staff and pilots? It lead to contrived plots -- like Brian being knocked on conscious after taking Helen up for a flight in the plane, leaving her in solo control (a deliberate shout out to the old Airport movies)... Was it funny? Yeah, but not in the same humanistic way Fraiser struggling to cope with his family is funny.

I liked the show a lot, but there's simply little chance stories like that, in a setting like that, are going to strike the same emotional chord with viewers as stories they can relate to set in places they can relate to.

Max Clarke said...

About using characters who've already been featured, such as Harry Potter:

They did it in the James Bond movies and it worked well. Maud Adams was the girlfriend of Scaramanga in "The Man With The Golden Gun," where her character was killed off.

But the producers brought Maud back with "Octopussy" and she did a good job there.

Dana Gabbard said...

Natalie, what you describe is known as an idiot plot (a term coined by SF writer James Blish) and it is a sign of poor writing. Especially if it yanks you out of the story.

Anonymous said...

This has been an intriguing week for Wings. My TiVo has picked up the last episode(s) - "Final Approach" and the first few episodes starting with "Legacy." It's been great to see the bookends of this wonderful show.

BigTed said...

More recently, on "Two and a Half Men" Judy Greer played Alan's ex-wife's new husband's sister, with whom Charlie had a brief relationship. Now, on the revamped version, she plays Ashton Kutcher's ex-wife, and no one seems to notice the resemblance.

Of course, since Judy Greer appears in everything, it's not surprising that she does double-duty now and then.

Kirk said...

I think having the same actor play different characters throughout the lifetime of a series is fine, as long as they don't then remind you of it later on.

Here's what I'm talking about: Early on in BARNEY MILLER there's a very funny episode where a man thinks he's a werewolf. From there on in, perhaps once a year, the same actor played a variety of oddball characters. On one episode he supposedly had ESP, in another he thought he was Jesus Christ. There was no reason to believe he was same character every time, as Barney & Co never seemed to recognize him. OK, I can live with it. But in the show's final season, he's arrested once again. This time, he thinks he's possessed by Satan. As soon as Barney sees him, he says, "Hey, weren't you here a couple years ago? You thought you were a werewolf" But why didn't he also recognize him as the guy with ESP, and the guy who thought he was Jesus Christ? Especially when those episodes came AFTER the werewolf one? That kind of thing is what tries my suspension of disbelief.

John said...

Richard Stahl served as the designated returning-actor-as-different-character guy on "The Odd Couple", showing up as nine different characters during the series' five-year run.

TV/baseball question -- Since you've been around teams now as a sportscaster and know what the day-to-day life of both a team and how a baseball game is staged, does it bother you any to see episodes of shows with sports-related themes that take a lot of liberties with how reality just to make the plot work (and just for the record, the episode where Roy sings the National Anthem at Fenway Park is my all-time favorite one on "Wings")

Erich said...

Wasn't Niles and Daphne's baby, David, named after David Angell?

nobody said...

one of my favorite bits ever is on frasier when he and felicity huffman are in a big fight, and we think it's one of those hate/love fights, and so does frasier, and they're screaming at each other, and then frasier starts kissing her, and she's like "what the hell are you doing?!" and he's like, oh, i thought we were doing that thing where we were fighting but also getting turned on. such a great flip.

Anonymous said...

Until "American Horror Story", I always thought of Denis O'Hare as "That Guy Who's On Law & Order a lot"

IMDb says he was only in four original recipe episodes (and one Criminal Intent), but those eps must've shown up in syndication when I happened to be watching quite often (he's probably appeared on "The Good Wife" more now, though he's always the same character there).

(And I know now that he was on "True Blood", but I never watched that)

Matt said...

Dare I say it? LAST MAN STANDING is a fantastic ensemble sitcom in the spirit of those from the Golden Age. In the era of the frenetic sitcoms: COUGAR TOWN, 30 ROCK, THE MIDDLE, HAPPY ENDINGS ... LAST MAN STANDING is the warm blanket of multi-camera sitcom goodness.

Me said...


Me said...
Why wasn't Bebe in the series finale? I assume she had other commitments, but did the powers that be try to work her into it at any stage?

5/06/2012 8:13 AM
James said...
Speaking of Lilith... Was there a plan to have Lilth as a series regular when Frasier was spun off from Cheers in 1993, or was it decided right from the start to divorce them?

And also, was there a discussion of the two ending up together for the Frasier series finale? They were such a fantastic couple.

5/08/2012 12:23 AM

71dude said...

Sam Anderson appeared four times on "WKRP in Cincinnati" - most memorably as a Secret Service agent in a pitiful office with a picture of Nixon on the wall (because they never sent him one of Carter).


Were you and David invited to work on the "MASH" finale?

Mike Schryver said...

"Richard Stahl served as the designated returning-actor-as-different-character guy on "The Odd Couple", showing up as nine different characters during the series' five-year run."

John gives a great example of how "same actor/different role" can be handled well.
Stahl's characters on THE ODD COUPLE were so well-written, and Stahl was so good, that not only didn't it matter that you had seen him on the show before, you were tickled with delight to see him. To hell with suspension of disbelief.
Sort of like Frank Nelson on the Benny show, although Frank didn't really play different characters.

D. McEwan said...

I liked Wings very much, and watched the entire run, but it missed a chance to be so much better. I got called in one week to read for a role as a butler on an episode, and I didn't get the part. They blew it. (Bitter? Moi?)

It was an English butler, and they went and cast an English actor! The cheek! I could do "English" with enough make-up.

jbryant said...

My theory on why WINGS didn't get as much respect as CHEERS and FRASIER: Tim Daley and Steven Weber were too good looking.

Mike: Art Carney went from THE HONEYMOONERS to a Best Actor Oscar for HARRY AND TONTO.

Chuck said...

I agree, Wings is underrated -- both the writing and performing were top notch.

My Friday question is about MASH. I loved the show as a kid/teen, and back then my favorite characters were Hawkeye, Trapper and BJ.

When I watch the re-runs today, I am really drawn to Larry Linville's performances as Frank. It is difficult to be that twitchy and nervous on film without seeming forced or overacting, but week after week he just nailed that character's quirks while remaining very natural and believable.

Do you have any stories about writing dialogue/scenes that played to Larry Linville's strengths, or observations about the role he played within that great ensemble?

Breadbaker said...

Wings in some ways is better in larger doses. So few things "happen" that just watching the characters develop is easier when you're seeing an episode a day rather than an episode a week. Wings: the show made for syndication.

Eric Weinstein said...

As for actors showing up in different roles in the same show...

Dennis Franz was originally Det. Sal Benedetto on Hill Street Blues, a dirty cop that kills himself...just 2 seasons later, he becomes a regular on Hill Street, as Lt. Norman Buntz, and not only stays until the end of the run of the show, but got a spin-off, "Beverly Hill Buntz!

Paul Duca said...

And because of all that, we got to see his hairy buttcheeks on NYPD BLUE...

D. McEwan said...

"Paul Duca said...
And because of all that, we got to see his hairy buttcheeks on NYPD BLUE..."

The camera panned up from his butt to his face, so you could see it really was Dennis Franz. What a narrow escape for the poor casting director. Can you imagine having the job of casting Dennis Franz's butt-double? No amount of money is worth THAT!

Bria said...

Off topic, but this was something that was hotly debated on this blog. There was a flap regarding the relation between Chevy Chase and Dan Harmon on the set of "Community". Entertainment Weekly reports that Dan Harmon is no longer the showrunner for Community!

Brian Phillips said...

I hit return too soon! The previous is my post. Tell my wife I NEVER TOUCHED BRIA!

mickey said...

My Wings theory is that the problem was Steven Weber or his character. It seemed that the structure of the show called for Daly to be the lead, but Weber's character's personality often made him appear to be the top dog...and he was just too unlikeable. His dominance also made the Daly character seemed wussier.

Og said...

I caught a re-run of Wings the other day and was shocked at how funny it was. I remember enjoying it in first run, but holy crud, it is so much funnier than anything that is currently on. And that is worth noting.

Madame Duchery said...

I agree with Mickey about Wings, Weber dominated the show and structurally it should have been Daly. Weber is an amazing talent (I recently listened to an audiobook he read--he has such an ability to convey character with inflection) but Weber's performance was a little too "Catskills" at times for the show. Just my humble opinion--I loved the show when it was on, but I notice Weber too much when I watch repeats.

Bradley said...

I love Wings. I've had friends scoff at my season sets on DVD, but when I sit them down in front of an episode, without fail they recognize how good it is. I'm not sure why it has a second rate reputation, but if a person can see past that, it's as funny now as it ever was. Now that's good writing.

Kirk said...

Mike Schryver mentioned Frank Nelson. His shtick was all right on THE JACK BENNY SHOW, as that was kind of a cross between a sitcom and a sketch comedy. But when he became a regular of sorts during the final two seasons of SANFORD AND SON, is when that show jumped the shark. SANFORD, at least at the outset, was rooted in reality, but there was nothing realistic about an old black guy who lives in Watts constantly running into the same fussy, unctious white guy who never worked in the same place twice and always said, "Yessssss?". Also, Fred never recognized him, even though he saw him on a weekly basis! Only thing I can figure is maybe Redd Foxx was a Jack Benny fan. Had Rochester shown up on SANFORD, that REALLY would have been bizarre.

Agree with the Timothy Daley comments. I actually found him the funnier of the two brothers, his humor much more nuanced than Weber's.

Kendra said...

I loved Wings and often felt it was underrated. Not just from a comedy standpoint but from a characterization standpoint.

There have been a lot of great characters on comedies but few are explained with depth that Wings explained its characters, or at least its three main characters.

Most comedies would simply have Brian be the irresponsible one with Joe being the responsible brother and leave it at that. That's all we really need to know for something to be funny. But I've always appreciated that Wings managed to include the kind of backstory on that which we'd normally only see in a drama. Their huge differences went back to how their father and each of them reacted to the departure of their mother. It also explained why they were so distant in the pilot.

I also appreciated that they didn't use Helen's past weight issues just to make fat jokes they way I felt they did on Friends. Helen had lost the weight but not the baggage of what made her initially a fat kid nor how being fat affected her.

Speaking of Helen, I also think Wings did one of the best 'will they/won't they' arcs with Joe and Helen. They flirted for a year, broke them up and then worked their way back to one another. Once they reunited, however, that was that. They took the route I wish more shows would take in transitioning a couple they took a while to bring together into a couple that will stay together. What show runners seem to fail to understand is that there are diminishing returns on waiting too long to put a couple together and having them be too on again/off again.

Finally, it's one of the most appropriate finales to bookend a series. Their father brought them together to make them 'rich' with family. Even though they eventually found the money, it was all about sacrificing for the family in the finale. Joe for Helen (one of the few times a show ends with a man making a huge sacrifice for the woman he loves) and Brian for Joe.

I'm very glad you did this column because Wings holds a special place in my heart for all the reasons I mentioned above.

Anonymous said...

WTF Sony???? Please tell me you will talk about it Monday

cshel said...

I loved Wings! Tim Daly and Steven Weber were sooo adorable - oh, and funny. Tony Shaloub's character was great, too.

Rory W. said...

Hey Ken,

Now that all the 1 hr dramas are having their season finales, it seems like there are a lot more cliffhangers than ever before.

What's your thinking on these?

Maybe it's just me, but I can't remember how the last season ended when the new season begins, so the cliffhanger doesn't really "bring me back."

rosebud said...

OK, I'm a little late here, but I thought there must be some backstory to Martin Crane's name. Who, with a last name a type of bird, gives their son a first name that is also a bird? Is his middle name Robin or Jay?

Lou H. said...

Wings started out with 6 episodes in the spring. The season 2 premiere that fall, "The Puppetmaster", was the first episode a lot of us saw. It is still one of the funniest half hours I've ever watched.

bettyd said...

I agree the hate-to-love turnaround has been used a lot. But the reason that one in Cheers is so memorable to me is because of the writing. Diane's "Are you as turned on as I am" is such a great line.

Cory said...


I just finished watching season 1 of Homeland and enjoyed the show up until the last episode. What was that? How is the season 1 cliffhanger Claire Danes connecting some dots that the audience knew 4 episodes ago? What will happen if she forgets! Who cares?

Wanted to know what you thought of the season 1 wrap up.


chuckcd said...

Tony Shaloub is great. Was then and is now.

LulunLou said...

I have a question relating to lead actresses who have real life experiences that can impact their work. The main example which comes to mind is pregnancy. I recall that the Cosby Show went out of their way to hide Phylicia Rashad’s pregnancy on the show. I also recall that Married with Children wrote in Katey Segal’s pregnancy but had to write a “fix” when she delivered a still born baby. More examples would be Courtney Cox’s real life fertility issues being written into Friends episodes or Alyson Hannigan’s first baby belly being shown as too many hot dogs at a hot dog eating contest on How I Met Your Mother.
How often does the writer impact the decision to include or exclude the pregnancy? Or does the decision come from a much higher level? What kind of negotiations might be involved with the actor?

Texas 1st said...

I was watching the 1st season episode of Cheers called "Now pitching: Sam Malone." In it, Sam does a commercial for a beer. It really worked as a commercial with the setup. It even felt like it would work in the world today, maybe with a current era pitcher in Sam's role, and a real beer for a client. was this something you had seen, or did this come about from you and David?

Anonymous said...

How are royalties allocated when a syndicated episide airs? Do actors get more money than, say, directors? That said, how much money do you think Jennifer Aniston gets when an old episode of FRIENDS airs on TBS?

Anonymous said...

Slap Slap Kiss. True it is probably as old as art itself, but it kills me that you do not mention M*A*S*H "Comrade in Arms Part 1"