Friday, July 20, 2012

One of my proudest achievements on CHEERS

It’s Friday Question Day (a feature you guys still seem to like).  I'll try to sneak in a few extra question days in the next few weeks. 

Mike asks:

Has a crew member ever suggesting a plot is horrible?

No, but they never had to. They had the actors for that.

We had a writers assistant who we dearly loved named Lana. The way David and I wrote was that we dictated the script to Lana. There were times we’d pitch something and she’d say, “No. Really.” Other times she’d respond to one of our hilarious jokes by saying, “Okay, now come up with something we can use.” She was always right, damn her!

Breadbaker wonders:

When you write a blog post, do you consider how many comments you might get on it? And have you ever been really surprised one way or the other?

Unless I specifically ask for comments (like I did Wednesday), I never handicap how many comments I may get. Some posts naturally invite a lot of participation while others don’t. More important is what the comments are. I’m lucky in that I receive a lot of really interesting, insightful, and funny observations from my readers. I’d rather get three of those than a hundred from idiots.

What surprises me sometimes though is that a thread will develop from an innocuous frothy little post that results in an angry political or theological argument. And then commenters will attack each other and it gets ugly. Guys, this is a humor blog!

GC from France has a first-year CHEERS question:

My favorite sitcom episode is "Diane's perfect date" written by the Maestro (David Lloyd), and you produced it. Is there something, anything, that you can share with us about writing this episode?

This was the first script I worked on with David Lloyd. The process was we’d bring the writer in and together (me, my partner David, and the Charles Brothers) would work out the story. Along the way we pitched lots of joke suggestions. The writer would furiously scribble down all the notes (pages and pages of them), go home, try to make sense of them all, and come back in a few days with a written outline.

David Lloyd never took notes. Not one.  He just sat back, relaxed, and participated in the spitballing.  As he left I thought, “We’ll be lucky to get back 15% of what was pitched.”

Three days later the outline arrived and unbelievably, it was all there. Every bit of it. How he retained hours of haphazard story and joke pitches is beyond me. And he did this every time.

Most of what you saw on the screen for that episode came straight from David’s draft. I did make one contribution though. Calling the murderer/date Andy Andy was my idea. Thank you. Thank you for the applause.

From jcs:

According to several articles I read Louis C.K. is getting paid very little for producing "Louie" on FX. In exchange he seems to enjoy a lot more creative control than other showrunners.
Do you think that we will see similar deals in the near future?

No. Networks like to be in charge. In special cases they will relinquish this control, but the results better be there – either in numbers or critical acclaim or both.

And finally, from ScottyB:

I cringe whenever childbirth comes up in a sitcom. (Woman screams incessantly, blames husband, begs for drugs too late, etc. etc.) It's been beaten to death a zillion times, yet, you'd figure *someone* in all these years would have a different take on it. SO -- if you were a screenwriter right now or a script consultant, how would you tackle this one?

I did tackle that exact problem along with my partner, David Isaacs. And I think we came up with a novel take. This was from an episode of our 1993 series BIG WAVE DAVE’S. You can check it out here. 

What's your question? 


Anonymous said...

The combination of the name Andy Andy and that particular actor WAS funny! I love that episode too. Julie

William Gallagher said...

Is there any chance David Lloyd just taped the conversation?

(It's the cynic in me, I had to ask. Sorry!)


Johnny Walker said...

William, I've had many hours of conversations with friends about scripts we've tried to get going, and they've always felt the need to keep a note of what we've discussed, sometimes even while we were talking.

For whatever reason, I don't need to take notes during these conversations. I can remember what we decide on regarding the story, the characters, the themes, the scenes, etc. Even months later. (Not specific dialogue, though.)

That's probably not comparable to Lloyd's feat, but I don't need to tape anything!

Johnny Walker said...

I have a Friday question, Ken:

How long do you spend a day (or week, if you don't work on it every day) on your blog? It's amazing to me that you keep coming up with fresh content!

Michael said...

Two of the funniest TV births ever was on that noted sitcom, NYPD Blue. Both involved one of the great comic actors of our time, Dennis Franz. In the first one, Sipowicz's wife Sylvia goes into labor and Andy is guarding the hospital room door and won't let the doctor in, then as you hear her screaming in the background, you watch him cringing. It's priceless. In the second one, when his wife Connie gives birth, all you see is that he arrives at a crime scene, and he and the other detectives are stepping over the bodies to look at the baby pictures.

Max Clarke said...

That was the first time I saw a guest actor on Cheers get an ovation, when Andy Andy leaves. He deserved it.

An exceptional episode. One of my favorite lines came after the double date.

Sam: Can I get anybody something?
Gretchen: A five-minute head start?

Steve from Vermont said...

Hey, today is Natalie Wood's birthday. I thought you'd have a tribute or something!

Johnny Walker said...

Can anyone tell me, did I imagine this: I'm sure Ken talked about appearing on a show yesterday, or a few days ago, but now I can't find any mention of it...?

By Ken Levine said...


You can find the link info here. Once the show aired I took it down so as not to confuse anybody.

The Guy Not Left Behind said...

And in other news, it's Natalie Wood day on TCM.

Lena said...

Friday Question or whenever you like to answer it:

What do you think about Cougar Town? I really wanna know your thoughts on this, please.

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks, Ken!

RJ Battles said...

Thank you ScottyB, I've been thinking the same thing for years- it's always the same- a couple weeks ago I saw a trailer for some dumb comedy and one of the clips they showed was a women yelling for painkillers.

Those scenes always end the same way too: the tough-guy father will say something about how he's gonna be right by her side for the whole delivery and then once things start he takes a look under the sheet and faints.

Mike said...

ScottyB's question reminds me of the chid birth on 30 Rock with Elizabeth Banks and Alec Baldwin. Funny and well done. They are in Canada trying to get back to the US so their child can grow up to be President one day. They hitch a ride with a rolling RV meth lab. Meth lab guy thinks she's a smuggler that she's not really pregnant. Her labor "sounds pretty sitcommie to me." Actually all of meth lab guy's lines were really well written and delivered.

Bradley said...

For my money, the funniest childbirth scene ever filmed is the one in ROSEMARY'S BABY.

DBenson said...

Great deleted scene from The Office: Jim sits holding newborn daughter and says to Pam, "Childbirth wasn't so bad, was it?" Pam, exhausted, says "F--- you."

James said...

I'd ask if the BIG WAVE DAVE'S dvd collection is coming out before or after ALMOST PERFECT, but I don't think I could keep a straight face. But seriously, rumor has it that Paramount *is* considering releasing season three of PETTICOAT JUNCTION

Mitchell Mclean said...

I have a possible Friday question:

Do quarter-hour (11 minute) shows use a two-act structure, or are they a different animal entirely?

Anonymous said...

Mister Levine, thank you for answering my question. You have your star on my writers boulevard!

GC from France

Paul Duca said...

Ken, what is your take on the pair of less than funny moments in the world of humor this week? I refer to the passing of Senator Franken's former partner, Tom Davis, and the arrest of Fred Willard for performing "a lewd act" in an adult movie theater.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hey Ken,

Friday Question - Was there any particular reason that all the barflies in cheers had their real name as their characters first name?


Washington DC

Matt Neffer, Boy Spotwelder said...

And that, of course, is a photo of Andy Andy with Bart Simpson herself, Nancy Cartwright, in an early role.

I worked with Derek McGrath (Andy) for a couple of years up in Canada on a show that I wrote on. Nice guy. One day we were shooting out in the middle of the prairies and I offered to give Derek a ride back to town. I had been working with him for over a year by that point but had never gotten around to discussing Andy Andy. I decided to broach the subject and we talked for a good 45 minutes about the show and his many appearances. Clearly he got a huge kick out of his experience there.

Jonathan said...

My Question: So what ever happened to Lana since then?

Artie said...


I've been writing professionally in another creative medium for a couple years now, and thinking about trying my hand at writing for TV. One of the skills I've developed is the ability to fix or improve already existing work of other writers -- only when solicited, of course. In my mind, there's an art to understanding what is good in the existing piece and staying true to the parts that the original writer cared about as you work to improve the overall flow or word choice or plot beats, etc.

I hear about people in Hollywood who primarily work as "script doctors," and it seems like that tends to be part of a career as a more generative writer. My question is: Is that the kind of role that someone can legitimately use as an entry point? Would including examples of rewrites in a portfolio be worthwhile?

Mark said...

Ken, what do you think of series crossovers, like CHEERS/WINGS? This effectively makes CHEERS, WINGS, THE TORTELLI'S and FRASIER exist in the same universe as one another.

Do you think, despite it being an obvious ratings ploy, that it's nice to have this shared universe among the characters?
On a similar note, what do you think of the CHEERS/FRASIER episodes?

Andrew said...

Hey, I love the blog. I was wondering, from a writer's perspective, what is the difference between a multi-camera and a single camera sitcom? Are there jokes that work on one but not the other? If so could you give some examples.

Keep up the great work,

Johnny Walker said...
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