Friday, July 13, 2012

Standing up to the star

Egads! It’s Friday the 13th. But answering a question of yours is considered good luck, so here are a few.

John starts with a question that harkens back to a previous post about how actors should give writers notes.

Any corresponding anecdotes about actors/actresses who protested loudly/petulantly about a scene, didn't get their way and then had to watch the 'horrible' scene score a bull's eye with the audience?

Well, I have a variation of that. This was back in the late ‘70s on THE TONY RANDALL SHOW. There was one scene that Tony hated. It was between him and luscious young guest star Annette O’Toole (pictured: above). He tanked it in rehearsal. We all went back to the room and didn’t know how to change it. It should've worked. So we left it in. Next day, same thing. He buried the scene in rehearsal. One of the showrunners, Tom Patchett took him aside – and I’ve never seen this before or since – he told Tony they weren’t going to change the scene. Tom said it even worked when the casting director was reading the scene during auditions. Tom reiterated that the staff really believes in the scene and knows that if Tony wanted to commit he could hit it out of the park. But if he wanted to keep playing it the way he had been he could just die with it in front of the audience. Tony’s choice.

Tom then walked away. I was in awe. What cajones!

Tony did commit to the scene, it went through the roof, and afterwards Tony came up to us and said Annette O’Toole was really sensational and we should bring her back.

All these years later I still tip my cap to Tom Patchett. Wow.

Matt asks:

Some actors have some experience writing or at least writing jokes, such as Ray Romano as a stand up comic. Are you more likely to take notes from somebody with this experience?

I have one simple rule: the best idea wins. Whether it’s from Ray Romano or the craft-services guy.

In the case of Ray, he was very involved in the creative process, even coming back to the room during rewrites. And I must say, having sat in on a few of them myself, he never played the “star” card. He was just one of the writers around the table. And yes, most of his suggestions were excellent ones.

Tim Simmons queries:

I love the deleted scenes from the office on their website. They are usually real quick jokes. Do writers add short, non-story related jokes to pad (or if running long delete) to fit time?

Sometimes. In the first year of CHEERS David and I wrote a bar run about what was the smartest barnyard animal? I think that was the bit. We wrote quite a few. Anyway, it was filmed, but then the show ran long so it was cut. A few weeks we put it back in another episode. Same thing. The actors rehearsed it, memorized it, performed it on camera and it wound up on the cutting room floor.

This went on about four times until the bit finally aired. By that fourth time the actors understandably were ready to storm the writers room.

Now you may ask, if you filmed it once, why not just use that? Because the wardrobe and background wouldn’t match. If this were MASH we would have been able to do that.

And finally, from DwWashburn:

In the pre VCR/DVR days of television it was not uncommon for a semi recurring character to be played by more than one actor. For example, Rob Petrie's father was played by at least two actors. Nowadays it seems like if a character is going to reappear, even if just for one or two episodes a season, the production company retains the same actor.

My question is does the actor (or their agent) call up the program and say "I'm available from insert first day to insert last day and then the writers get to work on a script featuring the semi-regular?
Or is a script written first, and then an effort made to find the actor and check his schedule?

Usually the producers will call the actor’s agent and check on availability first. If the actor’s free they’ll write the script, or they’ll adjust their schedule to accommodate the actor.

But not always. Remember the Bar Wars episodes of CHEERS? We used Joe Polis (pictured: left), but then he wasn’t available when we wanted to bring him back so they re-cast the part with Robert Desiderio. Over the next few Bar Wars episodes they kind of traded off depending on who was free. Too bad Annette O’Toole wasn’t available.

What's your question?  Leave it in the comments section and stay away from black cats.    Thanks. 


Johnny Walker said...

I just watched the first Bar Wars episode last night. Classic!

MomQueenBee said...

I'm guessing you don't read a ton of chick lit, but I thought of your blog when (on recommendation of NPR's Monkey See blog) I read Jennifer Weiner's "The Next Best Thing." Have you read it? Reactions?

Unknown said...


"Anger Management"


Matter-Eater Lad said...

Annette O'Toole in SUPERMAN III is the reason I have a thing for redheads.

Mike said...

There was a hilarious SNL skit with Ben Affleck that looked like it was unrehearsed. Ben was laughing at how cutting the jokes were.

The scene was Ben filming on the set of Gigli and a retarded guy on staff is arguing with him about how bad the movie is. "On screen romances of real life couples never work." "If people wanted to see you with a lesbian they could watch Chasing Amy"

Has anything like this ever happened to you with a crew member suggesting a plot is horrible?

BigTed said...

If I can give my own opinion of "Anger Management": It's not that funny, but it's surprisingly inventive for what could be a very typical sitcom. They're trying out some unexpected ideas, like the sleep-deprivation experiment in last night's episode.

I would credit this to creator Bruce Helford, because I felt the same way about "The Drew Carey Show" -- it tried a lot of different things to change up the traditional sitcom format.

As for Charlie Sheen, he's okay in the title role, though playing a supposedly super-smart guy doesn't fit him the way his "Two and a Half Men" character did. The psychology aspect seems even less realistic than on the old "Bob Newhart Show," and the same quirky characters in his small therapy group each week are getting tiresome. But there are some good comic actors in the supporting roles. Overall, I'd say it's not the best comedy ever produced, but it's far from the worst.

Joe said...

Friday Question:
Really enjoy your blog, Ken. Looking forward to reading your book on growing up in the '60s. Speaking of which, what were your thoughts on the WONDER YEARS? Were you a fan of the show? Did you relate to a lot of the storylines? Putting on your showrunner hat for a second, anything you might have done differently with the show? And would Jack Arnold approve of Kevin Arnold becoming a sitcom director?

Unknown said...

I totally forgot you had two different guys playing Gary!
Robert Desiderio was also in the Sopranos as Jack Messarone, one of Tony's contractors who wears a wire and ends up shot and stuffed in a trunk. Same episode as when Steve Buscemi first appears as Tony Blundetto.

DwWashburn said...

Thanks for the Friday 13th answer. I need all the luck I can get!

ump902a said...

"Too bad Annette O'Toole wasn't available" should have been the last line in my divorce papers.

Question Mark said...

Just realized Joe Polis was also the "victim" of George Costanza's legendary/terrible jerk store comeback on Seinfeld. Huh.

Fun fact: Annette O'Toole is an Oscar-nominated songwriter. She and Michael McKean co-wrote the nominated song from A Mighty Wind

Cahootsguy said...

I think you mean "cojones".

"Cojones" = testicles
"Cajones" = crates

John said...

Hi Ken, love the blog! (i put the same question in last friday's questions, so just trying again.)

My friday question: when developing a script/show with a producer AND network and doing more and more drafts of the same script, do you recommend changing jokes/specifics for change sake to keep it fresh? Or do you recommend not changing jokes that work perfectly fine, especially you've received no notes regarding them.


Mike said...

Hey Ken, here's a Friday question you've likely been asked before, but nonetheless: I was doing some wikipedia reading last night and saw you were one of the writers of The Tortellis, the short-lived Cheers spinoff. Having never seen an episode, I was wondering: why do you think the show failed? Nick was one of my favorite recurring characters on Cheers. He lifted every episode he guested in. Do you think, though, he was best seen in small doses, and a whole show built around him was too much? Just what do you think happened here?


Jonah D said...

Friday Question:

Hi Ken,

Started watching Wings on Netflix and saw that late in season one (I think it was) Tony Schaloub played a waiter in one episode. He then showed up later playing "Antonio" the cab driver. He is credited as a "guest star". Can you tell me how it came about that his character grew to become a major player on the show? Was this intentional or did he blow the writers away with his talent, and a character was specifically developed for him? Also, at what point does an actor move from being a "guest star" in the credits to a "star"?

Ref said...

O'Toole and Michael McKean are married.

rockfish said...

Do you have a favourite home run call? And do you think it's important for one to have just one -- i'm amazed at some of the ordinary or even dumb ones (sorry to pick on one of your pals, but 'Goodbye baseball' ranks right up there IMHO)... Over all the years and the number of announcers, it must be impossible to create an original sounding one... What's yours?

Kaley said...

I just finished reading Jennifer Weiner's book "The Next Best Thing." She writes a story about a new showrunner who writes a TV show about an "average size" girl. The actress cast in the part then loses 30 lbs between shooting the pilot and when the show gets picked up.

Jennifer's been open about the fact that this was based on her experience when she created The Great State of Georgia about an overweight girl who wants to be an actress. Raven Symone was cast in the role and then lost a lot of weight (to great fanfare) right before they started filming the show.

Apparently, recasting Raven Symone wasn't an option since the network liked her. I know this was Jennifer Weiner's first time as a showrunner (or TV writer, for that matter). Would a showrunner with more clout have the right to recast an actor/actress who no longer right for the part? How are these things decided?

Stephen said...

What do you do with live studio audiences for new shows? I don't mean the pilot, but those first 4 or 5 (or more if it's debuting at midseason) episodes before the show premieres. How do you get them up to speed so that they understand the character humour? For example, was the live studio audience for episode 3 of Cheers made aware prior to taping of the circumstances that put Diane in the bar two episodes earlier?