Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Questions

Aloha from Wailea, Maui.  If you have any restaurant suggestions, please pass 'em along.  Mahlo, y'all.   Even in paradise I never stand down from my Friday Question watch. What’s yours?

Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Kveller (what a name) starts us off:

The mention of the awful series finale for Mad About You brings me to a Friday question - series finales. How does a good show go bad with its series finale?

I'm sure it has something to do with the pressure to do something "special" to end the series, but, still, why do these people who have just spent seven years successfully separating good ideas from bad ones suddenly lose that ability when they hit that finale?

As opposed to movies, the overall “story” of a TV series moves very slowly.  Like a glacier but not as speedy.  There may be little changes along the way but by and large it’s the same people in the same situation week after week. Now suddenly you feel compelled to make a big story turn. The audience is expecting some sort of closure. You want to satisfy them while also doing it in a fresh way. That involves a risk. Sometimes the risk doesn't pay off.

Also, how much closure? Is it just getting two people married or is it like LOST where you have 50,000 loose ends? Are you going to wrap up the storyline for two characters or eight? It can get complicated. Plus, it’s the natural tendency to want to be extra grand and special. After all, you know you’ll be getting a huge audience.

And networks want you to do longer last shows so they can sell more advertising. This takes you out of the rhythm of your show. MASH for example works best as a half-four. The lines come at you so quick. And for one 30-minute chunk that’s fine.  But once it goes for an hour or more the pace gets tedious.  The last MASH was 2 1/2 hours.  Goodbye already! 

My three all-time favorite final episodes were THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, NEWHART, and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. All three were just a half-hour.

I mentioned this before but had we known we were going to do a last episode of our series, ALMOST PERFECT, we would have brought back the characters from our two previous series (MARY and BIG WAVE DAVE'S) and wrapped up all three at once. 

From Iron Fist:

Can somebody more experienced answer this question: Let's say you're in season 2. Do the network and cable executives personally approve the script of each episode or they trust the showrunner?

In most cases, yes. I remember talking to the showrunners of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER during (I believe) their third season and they were still having to get stories and scripts approved. And by then their show was already a big hit.

Eventually they leave you alone but first year shows – unless they’re run by Aaron Sorkin, Chuck Lorre, or David Kelley – have to deal with it.

Talk about the good old days – when the Fox network began they asked James L. Brooks to do a show. He said he would (the result was THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW) but that not only was the network never to give notes, they weren’t even allowed to come to the tapings of the show. Oh, I miss those days.

Jeff Hysen asks:

In his latest podcast, Alan Sepinwall said that Sam Malone "devolved" from smart to stupid as the show went from Shelly Long to Kristie Alley. Do you agree?

Absolutely. This was always my pet peeve. The general feeling was that they needed to make Sam dumber to get comedy out of the character. The original cool/street-smarts Sam was hard to write for – especially without Diane to play off of. I don’t agree. I liked that original version of Sam – maybe because it so mirrored me. Hey, stop laughing.

Greg wonders:

A lot of your work, particularly MASH and Cheers, have been parodied a lot in pop culture. Any of those parodies you found particularly amusing?

As a kid I idolized MAD magazine. And when they did a parody of MASH and used one of our episodes, it was like one of the greatest moments of my life.

And finally, a radio question from Bert:

It seems like an increasing number of FM radio stations are turning to a sports format, and some of these (for example KGMZ in the San Francisco area) broadcast major league baseball games.

My question concerns the FM sound quality of a major league broadcast. Having been raised on Vin Scully on KFI, KABC, etc, it sounds strange to hear the much more clear FM sound. Because the fidelity is so much better, it oddly sounds to me less like a professional broadcast.

What are your thoughts?

Here’s what you miss on FM – on AM the station generally compresses the signal to make it sound fuller. As a result, the crowd noise is raised and you have that bigger sound. FM is cleaner and with better fidelity but if you’ve listened to games on AM your whole life it just doesn’t sound right.

I still say the best way to listen to sports play-by-play is on a transistor radio under your pillow at night.


Barbara C. said...

I love the MASH finale, no matter how long it is. I cry every single time I watch it, and I have since I was a kid.

bill said...

"I still say the best way to listen to sports play-by-play is on a transistor radio under your pillow at night."

Boy, is that a lost joy. When I was a kid growing up in Philidelphia, I would listen every night to Jean Shepard on WOR out of New York on my transistor radio under my pillow. Years later when his "Christmas Story" came out and more people became hip to him, I remembered hearing those stories about his childhood every night when my parents thought I was asleep.

dgwphotography said...

"I still say the best way to listen to sports play-by-play is on a transistor radio under your pillow at night."

So many nights I fell asleep listening to Bob Murphy paint the word picture.

rockgolf said...

A minor correction, Ken. The last episode of Newhart wasn't over in 30 minutes. While not expanded to an hour, it did go something like eight minutes over the half-hour mark. It actually made news in the weeks leading up to the debut of the finale (which I agree does sound like an oxymoron).

Paul Blake said...

Hi Ken
Boy, talk about Karma, I was just talking with a friend on Wednesday about Cheers, which we've both been enjoying again on whatever cable channel is showing it during the day. I've always loved the show, it was so well done from beginning to end, but the one thing that really did disappoint me was Sam's character becoming such a dope during the later years. I think rock bottom was hit on the show where John Allen Hill bricked up the Cheers restrooms; sam is little more than a comic strip buffoon in that episode. So my question to you is, did the network executives either endorse, or dislike this overall change, or did they not even notice it? Just wondering exactly how much micro management might have gone on back then.
Love the blog, keep up the great work!

Matt said...

As a lifelong MASH fan, I have to say the finale left me flat. It "felt" weird. It never felt like MASH. It still doesn't. This isn't a criticism and I don't know what could've been done differently. I was part of that record setting audience and have fond memories of watching the show that night, but it was strange.

My favorite series enders:

Mary Tyler Moore Show


The Family Ties final curtain call. Michael J. Fox sobbing in Meredith Baxter Birney's embrace still gets me.

St. Elsewhere

Janice said...

When "Friends" began, Rachel Green was so scatterbrained that she couldn't correctly deliver a muffin to a customer. By the end of the series she was a buyer for Ralph Lauren. Really?

Kirk said...

While the ending to NEWHART was great, I also like the ending to the earlier THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. Anyone remember that episode? The whole cast is singing Oklahoma, and Bob's landlord, eager not to have to return the safety deposit, throws up his hands and shouts in despair, "Sodom and Gommorah!"

Johnny Walker said...

I really enjoyed the CHEERS finale I just watched. It's interesting you mention the dumbing down of Sam, but I can totally see that, without Diane to play off, he just would have been obnoxious and unfunny.

I kinda liked the "dumb" Sam. He was very lovable, which made his womanizing a little easier to watch. Speaking of which, the episode where he goes to the sex compulsives support group was masterful.

YACFQ (yet another Cheers Friday question):

How did Ted Danson removing his hairpiece come about? Was it something he suggested? Was it something the writers pitched to him?

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Never underestimate the power of Gracie Films and Jim Brooks.

If I'm not mistaken, Fox almost never gives notes to The Simpsons. Even, now in season 24, they're still as hands off as they were 20 years ago.

Ray said...

whatever you did to your RSS feed about a week ago, could you undo it? Much easier to read the full story in my feed than to click through.

Michael said...

The MASH finale, I confess, annoys me more as time goes on, but as I recall, the cast used to meet and vote on whether to continue, and what got everybody to agree to come back was the chance to do a "movie" finale.

I also note the photo from the Seinfeld finale. While I was never a fan of the show, really, I checked out the finale and thought that those who criticized it missed the point. Seinfeld was trying to get across that the show was about nothing, that those who read more into it missed the point, and that his real point was that most of us are interested in meaningless things. Am I off on that?

As for transistors, Bill and David, I'll take The Vin any way I can get him.

ScottyB said...

I kinda disagree with the "Sam went from smart to stupid" sentiment, especially when the guy who actually *wrote* Sam Malone agrees. Maybe I'm more stupid than Sam, but he never struck me as being dumber after Rebecca showed up. (That was always Woody's turf.) I just figured if anything, Sam was just trying to get laid even worse because, well, Rebecca was way hotter than Diane. Guys just tend to *seem* dumber around that shit. During its run, I never lost the feeling that Sam wasn't in on some big private joke only he knew.

However, I started getting the feeling that the show itself was getting stupider when Sam and Rebecca actually started hooking up and talking about having a baby and a future together. That was just painful.

John said...

The Arc of Sam (sounds like the bad title for a Lucas-Spielberg movie) pretty much destined he was going to he dumbed down, since part of the battle with Diane was her putting Sam down as dumb due to her high opinion of her own intellectual abilities. By the time we get to Kirstie Alley in Season 6, the 'Sam is dum' schtick was as much a part of the show as the hatred Carla had developed towards Cliff in the first five years.

There's a great story in upstate New York about the slightly-longer-than-30-minutes 'Newhart" finale. CBS had warned stations the show was going to run over its time slot, but the Albany affiliate apparently was sleeping in class that day and as a result, just before Bob gets hit with the golf ball and we get the big reveal, the station cut to a computer-scheduled 11 p.m. pre-recoreded news update with anchorman Ernie Tatreau. Who immediately became the most hated man in the Capital City area for the next several hours.

Baseball announcing question -- Now that we've gotten to the point that virtually everything in the game is sponsored ("This call to the bullpen is brought to you by GEICO. Just a 15-minute call....") do they give you notes or iPad reminders to mention all the required sponsor plugs when certain game situations come up? It just seems like there are so many in-game plugs now it would be hard to keep track without a bunch of reminders (I swear next season if a Yankees pitcher spits on the mound, John Sterling's going to have a sponsor for that, too).

Stephen Robinson said...

FINAL EPISODES: I always thought CHEERS had *two* great finales. Watch the end of the fifth season (Shelley Long's last episode). It really does work as the "last" episode of the show and the final shot of the old Sam and Diane dancing gets me every time.

SAM'S INTELLIGENCE: I think Sam somewhat returned to his original personality once he "bought" back Cheers. During the first two Rebecca seasons, he seems content to just sling drinks and chase women, and unfortunately, Rebecca was never a true "match" for him. She was an obnoxious (though always funny) martinet in the first couple seasons then a basketcase afterward. Diane, even at her most pompous, was capable of making Sam look at himself and perhaps even grow. I never got that from Rebecca.

There was always a subtle class-war going on in CHEERS: Sam vs. Diane, Diane vs. Carla, and so on. What saved Diane from being a complete jerk is not just her vulnerability but that she was a smart woman (just not street-smart). Especially in the early 80s, it was great to see a woman holding her own and speaking her mind.

This balance was lost with Rebecca and Hill as upper-class "antagonists." Rebecca wasn't a good businesswoman: She was a flake who just wanted to marry well. I wonder if she could have had some Diane-like traits -- Diane, as the pilot demonstrated, was a good waitress, and she cared about the Cheers group.

During the seasons where Sam and Rebecca are co-managing the bar but it's clear that Sam is the boss and Rebecca is just sort of there, it might have been nice to see her as a talented businesswoman trying to take Cheers into the 21st century... and still keep her funny.

Shorter version: The Diane Chambers character was incredibly complex and Shelley Long was incredibly talented and convincing.

ScottyB said...

Speak of the devil, rerun-TV just showed the MTM series finale the other night. I remember it being a lot better the first time around, but still, I imagine something at that level has gotta be REALLY tough to come up with. Or maybe not. 'Blossom' probably went out with a bang for 12-year-olds, too.

All I know is 'All In The Family' ended up (and if it even had a finale, I don't remember) being a sad piece of slop at the end, where a big series finale wouldn't even have mattered to me. Most cases, it's just a sad bit of writing, like the 'Leave It To Beaver' finale where they were going thru a show retrospective disguised as a photo album. Now *that* was writer-sad.

John said...

Blogger Matt said...

As a lifelong MASH fan, I have to say the finale left me flat. It "felt" weird. It never felt like MASH. It still doesn't. This isn't a criticism and I don't know what could've been done differently. I was part of that record setting audience and have fond memories of watching the show that night, but it was strange.

What was the funniest moment of the last episode of MASH? People who saw it can remember Hawkeye's flashbacks to the bus as those played out, the fire, the final helicopter lift-off, but it's really hard to remember anything really funny (as opposed to trying to be funny but coming off as forced) over the 2 1/2 hours of the final episode.

That, to me, is what made the show fall a little flat -- or at the very least, not be all that compelling as repeated viewing, the way so many of the other episodes are. MASH made 'dramadies' hot in the early 1980s, but by the time we got to the final few seasons, the 'drama' was really starting to outweigh the 'comedy' (some of the final season episodes fell more as if they were written by dramatic writers with the same touch for comedy Aaron Sorkin showed in "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip").

You're naturally going to have some sad/emotional moments in the final episode of a long-running comedy, and there was a lot of that in Cheers' last episode. But they didn't forget what got them there, as with Frasier and then Sam's reaction to seeing Diane on TV and her long-winded acceptance speech, which picked up with the character right where they left off in Season 5).

ScottyB said...

Disagree with me all you like, but blowing up Walnut Grove and leaving nothing but scorched earth for the 'Little House On The Prairie' finale was a stroke of genius nobody expected out of Michael Landon back in the day.

Steely Dan said...

"As opposed to movies, the overall “story” of a TV series moves very slowly. Like a glacier but not as speedy. There may be little changes along the way but by and large it’s the same people in the same situation week after week."


I think this is probably why, all things being equal, I greatly prefer the model for non-U.S. series (or in some cases American series that air on cable). I like shows that have fewer episodes and move at a faster clip, and which have a definite beginning, middle, and end built into the series structure so that they don't just go on and on in perpetuity until someone decides to arbitrarily pull the plug. That's why I've always liked the British version of "The Office" better than the American version. It's why my favorite series of all time is a Canadian series called "Slings & Arrows." 18 episodes over three seasons. Every episode brilliant, and the entire series extremely emotionally satisfying.

I did a little experiment a couple of years ago in which I did a special "edit" of "Frasier" where I went through the episode descriptions on Wikipedia and watched only the 45-or-so episodes in the first seven seasons that I determined were focused on the Niles-Maris-Daphne storyline (with a few extra episodes thrown in here and there to fill in continuity holes (for instance, if a character who was integral to the Niles-Maris-Daphne storyline was introduced outside of that story arc then I included that episode anyway). I ended it with the episode where Daphne leaves her fiancé waiting at the altar and drives away with Niles in the Winnebago. And I have to say that watching the series in that fashion was really interesting. It felt very brisk and lean and streamlined. It didn't feel like the characters were marking time in space. And it gave the entire arc a clear beginning, middle, and end with definite forward momentum.

Harry Murphy said...

Five Palms Restaurant, halfway between Waileia and Kihei. For lunch, Moose McGillicuddy's in Lahaina. Best not to mention my name.

ScottyB said...

@Janice said "When 'Friends' began, Rachel Green was so scatterbrained that she couldn't correctly deliver a muffin to a customer. By the end of the series she was a buyer for Ralph Lauren. Really?"

That's another thing we only see in hindsight long after the series has run, where we go "Gawd, how did I not see this when it was happening back then?" This is why I always tell my teenage kids that, if you ever buy a TV-series box set, just the first and second seasons, because beyond that, things have usually just gone to shit.

Maybe that's a good Friday question for Ken: As a writer, how do you go about the balancing act between keeping characters the same to some extent (or at least retaining some of their personal characteristics/flaws that endeared them to us in the first place) and evolving them thru their lives into someone who ends up completely different in the end?

Kerry said...

Aloha- I read your blog everyday and love it. Her is a restaurant suggestion: Mama's Fish House on the north shore. It is a drive from Wailea but worth it :)

ScottyB said...

Speaking of finales, exactly who the fuck shot JR???

ScottyB said...

@Janice's comment re 'Friends' also made me think of a reverse point within the context of the dumbing-down of Sam Malone.

And that would be the dumbing *up* of Phoebe Buffay.

'Friends' simply disintegrated into a cultural/writing clusterfuck of I don't know what, but at one point, you just knew Phoebe wasn't the same girl you fell in love with when the show started.

Terrence Moss said...

"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" finale was excellent and will always be the gold standard by which all others are compared.

Besides "Newhart" and "Raymond", "Ugly Betty" and "ER" had stellar final episodes.

Say what you will about "The Cosby Show" in its final seasons, the sight of Bill and Phylicia as Cliff and Clair walking off the set through the studio into television history always makes me smile.

As for Ted Danson's Sam Malone, Danson's acting was far superior during the Diane years because of what Shelley Long brought to the table as Diane.

Sam was funnier during the Rebecca years because she was a much funnier character -- which is what Kirstie Alley brought to the table.

Johnny Walker said...

M*A*S*H's finale was a weird one for sure. I sort of remember watching it, and maybe not getting it, as a kid. The thing I remember most is the "Goodbye" written in stones on the ground, which I always thought was really sweet (and still do).

I saw part of that episode again recently and I was like "WTF?!". It SO wasn't M*A*S*H. It wasn't even the movie. It was just so horribly dark and unpleasant. I guess after making 11 year's worth of chuckles from the Korean War they felt the need/had the freedom to do something completely hideous, but it didn't feel necessary to this viewer.

Probably the darkest television ever willingly watched by 122 million people.

Rob Rogers said...

Restaurant suggestion: Erik's Seafood Grotto in Kaanapali.

Jonathan Ernst said...

If you're planning a trip to Hana from Wailea (or even if you're not), stop in Paia at the Paia Fish Market. Best Mahi Burgers on the island.

Brian Phillips said...

MASH was parodied in Mad twice, as a movie and as a TV show:

"M*I*S*H M*O*S*H" and "MASHuga"

Brian Phillips said...

Frasier's finale was a good one. "The Prisoner" finale was a great, "the end...or is it" show.

"I Married Dora" is distinguished by the fact that they announced their cancellation on the last broadcast episode.

cadavra said...

Wow. Transistor radios. Why do I feel that term needs to be explained to most everyone under 50? :-(

Stephen Robinson said...

BTW: I've been rewatching CHEERS on Netflix (it's part of what I call my CHEERS diet -- I watch two episodes each morning on my iPhone while on the elliptical machine), and I just reached a trio of great first-season episodes by Levine and Isaacs. First is "Any Friend of Diane's" with the excellent Julia Duffy, "Friends, Romans, and Accountants," which is a great showcase for George Wendt while still furthering the Sam/Diane romance, and one of my favorite episodes, "Truce or Consequences." I could quote the entire show (I won't) but this exchange is brilliant:

Carla: You sound like a lady who is gettin' tired of her teeth.

Diane: I'm tired of your teeth and all the vermicelli in between.

IHaveWatchedWayTooManyFriendsReruns said...

Re: Rachel on "Friends" - in a way, her "besmartening" doesn't bother me because before becoming one of the gang, she didn't HAVE to use her brain for much of anything. She never really had to grow up or be responsible. She was a society gal, no job. Then when she leaves that cushy life and strikes out on her own [well, on her own in the Friends gang], she had to learn and grow and take care of herself. So yeah. She grew into the Ralph Lauren job.

Stephen Robinson said...

@Janice said "When 'Friends' began, Rachel Green was so scatterbrained that she couldn't correctly deliver a muffin to a customer. By the end of the series she was a buyer for Ralph Lauren. Really?"

SER: That seems reasonable to me. I know quite a few successful business people who have tales of their utter incompetence as waitresses/bartenders/bagboys or what have you during their college years/early 20s. Someone isn't necessarily stupid because they can't do what others might view as an entry-level job. Skill sets vary.

Jennifer Aniston, by the way, like Shelley Long or Kirstie Alley, is a brilliant comedic actress. It's unfortunate that there are often few good roles for brilliant comedic actresses, especially in film and especially as these ladies mature. The options seem to be the girlfriend of the guy in a romantic comedy or the girlfriend of the guy in an action movie. They wind up competing for roles with, say, Halle Berry when they could carry a great comedy themselves. Why couldn't Morgan Freeman make Jennifer Aniston God? She would have been brilliant.

But I digress.

Stephen Robinson said...

Wow, John's comment on the M*A*S*H finale is spot-on. I have several great memories of the episode involving Hawkeye and Winchester, especially, but none of them are funny. If I shared them with someone, they might think I'm talking about a drama not a comedy.

This is why CHEERS was so great. My favorite moments are all funny, though also poignant. I mean, Norm and Sam have a nice scene together -- just the two of them -- before the episode ends. It's perfect -- funny, yet also touching. These guys are friends.

It reminds me of the second-season finale, where we watch a couple painfully break up, and there's anger but also inspired physical comedy (the nose-pulling bit is classic), and then the punch of Sam's last line in the episode when he looks at Diane's portrait.

Wow, indeed.

YEKIMI said...

I believe that at one point Sam was described as a former alcoholic that was "on the wagon". I just assumed that he got more stupid as the show went on because the brain damage caused by prior alcohol consumption was finally catching up to him. {If that's the case, I should be as dumb as Paris Hilton}.

Ahhh, transistor radios. I remember back in the mid 60s when my grandpa bought all of his grandkids one, younger brothers and sisters went "ehhh" and tossed them aside. I, on the other hand, fell asleep many, many times with that radio tucked under my pillow. I went through 9 volt batteries faster than ABC can cancel TV shows. Somewhere in my vast collection of busted radios and other electronics I still have that radio tucked away.

Anonymous said...

I know its not a comedy and it wasn't written by Mr. Sorkin, but the final shot of The West Wing makes me sob. President Bartlett opens the package Mallory left for him: the cocktail napkin on which McGarry wrote "Bartlet for America" in a third season flashback while persuading Bartlet to run for the presidency (and which the President had framed for Leo as a Christmas gift. Throughout the entire episode, I missed John Spencer's grace and outstandig acting.

Pam aka sisterzip

Anonymous said...

boy, my typing was really bad in that post, lol.

pam aka sisterzip

tb said...

I don't know how some of you got away with the "transistor-radio- under-the-pillow" bit. When my brothers and I got one for Christmas one year, the older bro put it under his pillow that night - next thing I know, they're waking me up, the room's full of smoke and Dad is dragging a burning matterss outside to soak with the hose! Don't try this at home, kids!

Elf said...

I've always been OK with the MASH finale not being very funny. They wanted to tell one big dark, final story, allowing for some of the reality of the horrors of war to sink in. A single episode wouldn't have been enough, so they'd have needed at least a two-parter. But the other issue was that if the events were to have a lingering effect they would change the characters forever. Therefore, by saving it for the very last and showing us enough of how dark things could have become, we were then spared seeing it play out because the war had ended.

JT Anthony said...

It's amazing how well everyone on The Simpsons has aged. Nary a new wrinkle on any of them. Even after 24 yrs, no one on the cast--all of whom have certainly made enough money to retire comfortably--has ever even made the papers in a negative way, let alone called their show "filthy." True roll models as child actors. Also speaks to families that work together, stay together. I'm sure Homer and Marge are so proud.

Anonymous said...

Places to dine in South Maui:

Newish: Ko at the Kei Lani
Amasia at The Grand Wailea
Fabiani's (Matteo's replacement)in Kihei

Not So New: Tommy Bahama's and Kai Wailea in The Shops of Wailea
Monkeypod at the Wailea Gateway
Capische [mispronounced] in The Hotel Wailea
Five Palms in Kihei's Mana Kai
And of course, Sansei...

gottacook said...

Random responses to these responses:

MTM Productions did great finales generally, and some of them were more subtle than the ones already mentioned such as the MTM Show. I'm thinking specifically of those for Lou Grant in 1982 (which I have on tape someplace) and Hill Street Blues in 1987. [In the case of Lou Grant I think they didn't have as much prior notice, but still pulled off a very representative show in which the finale aspect was indicated only musically; the first few measures of the show's theme (by Patrick Williams) was turned into a new cue heard at the very end of the last act, with a sweetly played soprano saxophone coda.]

Where I lived in early 1983, it actually made the news (TV column of newspaper) that the MASH finale was going to be lengthened from 2 to 2.5 hours. With that kind of attention to your "movie," and the accompanying advertiser interest leading to CBS asking for an incredibly long show, how could anything palatable have resulted? The only story line that was memorable, in my opinion, was Charles and the musicians he trained to play Mozart. It was so sad (properly so), and so effective, that any comedy in the vicinity would seem awkward.

The episode in which Danson momentarily lifts up his hairpiece is the second-to-last episode (not the finale itself), right?

It was 28 degrees here this morning (minus 2 C) and I was last in Maui in November 1982; I live a lot farther away now than I did then, regrettably. Drove the Hana Road in a four-speed first-generation Toyota Tercel, stopping for drinks at the fabled Hana Maui hotel. Is it more "gated" these days?

I love The Prisoner unreservedly, except for the hopelessly dated and in any event disposable episode "The General." It was clear to me during the whole last half of the run of Lost that it would end most satisfactorily by emulating the Prisoner finale, "Fall Out" - that is to say, by raising new questions in such a way as to cause you not to care that old questions might remain unanswered. Still wish they had done so.

SciFiGuy said...

Any love for Babylon 5 out there? There's a great example of singular showrunner and writer with a vision.

Potter Zebby said...

Brian Phillips said...
MASH was parodied in Mad twice, as a movie and as a TV show:
"M*I*S*H M*O*S*H" and "MASHuga"

"M*A*S*H" was actually parodied a THIRD time (second for the TV series), as "M*U*S*H" in 1982.

The 1982 MAD parody was all about how long the show had been on the air, and the ways the series had transformed (maudlin Hawkeye monologues, repeated plotlines, characters changing (Hot Lips as a born-again virgin; Klinger to a psychiatrist: "Suddenly I'm dressing in the weirdest clothes! Men's!").

The opening of the parody had the 1982 cast lined up for Mail Call, with a soldier handing out letters:
"Radio O'Reilly!"
"No longer here! Radio retired right after the seventh season!"
"Crapper John!"
"He's not here either! Left us after the third season!"
"Lt. Colonel Blech!"
"Missing! Flew out after the third year, and was destroyed by a bomb!"
"Blech was KILLED?"
"Not exactly! He left this series to do "Hello Larry"!"

Brent said...

"I still say the best way to listen to sports play-by-play is on a transistor radio under your pillow at night."

Add me to the choir. I remember telling my folks I didn't want to go to a movie with the rest of the family because the Giants were playing the Dodgers, and Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons were counting on me to listen.

I still did it as an adult - I'd have Dave on the radio lying in bed hoping the game wouldn't go extra innings since I had to get up at 2 AM.

Chris said...

Here's one for next friday: Do they still futureproof shows done in HD or do they just shoot in 1080p and when 2k/4k hits television they'll look as bad as those shows shot on videotape now?

Phillip B said...

At the time of the Mary Tyler Moore finale, some of the coverage cited The Fugitive as a truly great finish for a series -- although David Janssen is a distant memory.

Aired a a two partner in late August 1967. Really. August.

C H U K said...

Thanks for answering my question!

Joey H said...

I thought it was nice that David Janssen found the one-armed man.

Cap'n Bob said...

The gentleman who suggested that Rebecca is hotter than Diane hasn't got one scintilla of credibity, IMHO. She's not even hotter than Carla.

My question, which I'll just repaet every week until banned from this excellent blog, is: Do non-actors like Judge Judy have to have an Equity card or be a member of an actor's union? Thank you in advance, Ken.

DBenson said...

Remembering the bizarre finale for "Dinosaurs". The very broad message / joke was always front and center: Dinos are now extinct because they were just like us, especially vis a vis the environment.

In the final episode, self-inflicted ecological disasters result in something like nuclear winter, and we leave our lovable dino family quietly waiting to die. Close on exterior of dino house, with snow falling and no music.

This on a sitcom marketed with toys, comic books, and costume characters at Disney World.

RyderDA said...

You've missed it this trip, but next time, you GOTTA make it over for lunch at the Class Act restaurant at the Maui Culinary Academy in the Maui College. Beautiful room, rocking food, inexpensive, BYO -- the BEST (and most under rated) dining experience on Maui.

Scott Y. said...

One of the best lines ever on "30 Rock" is Alan Alda's "A grown man crying about babies and chickens? I thought this was a comedy show."

Mike Barer said...

Gilligan's Island never did a final show during it's season and I think that it worked for the best.
I know that they did a special where the castaways got rescued, but who watched it?

Mike Barer said...

By the way, unless time clouds my judgement, Frazier had a good closing show. So did Friends.
Unfortunately, Seinfeld, about the same time had a bummer of a close.

DwWashburn said...

On the subject of characters "getting dumber" as the series progresses, I believe that this is true of almost all sitcoms if you subsitute the word "dumber" for "caricatured".

We've seen it in the Simpsons where the main characters haven't had depth since the ninth season (Homer dumb as a rock and compulsive eater, Lisa a nerd, etc), Will and Grace after season 4 (Jack became flaming, Karen completely self absorbed), Friends (Joey was made so stupid it's a wonder his brain could produce enough power to move his legs) and countless other sitcoms.

I think that this is just a product of the writers getting lazy and the networks saying "It a little is good then a lot is better".

In the case of all three sitcoms above, I stopped watching them long before they left the airwaves because the one dimensional caricatures of the characters made the plots predictable and the shows unwatchable.

LouOCNY said...

I always thought the way Barney Miller did it was great: a three show arc about the closing of the precinct - this way you still had the needed constraints of half hour shows, while still wrapping things up.

Speaking of Barney: You once mentioned that you and David were offered the show runner job, but turned it down - mostly to preserve your relative sanity. Have you ever thought about you might have done with the show? I believe this was just after Sheehan and Weege had left, no? Just curious

RC said...

I have to get one hundred percent behind DwWashburn's opinion. I've lost count of the number of series I've stopped watching (Friends and The Office come immediately to mind) because the characters become caricatures of themselves. I don't know that I'd call it laziness on the part of writers. It's more about greed on the part of the network, I think; the desire to keep the show going long after anyone on it has anything to say, until every possible dime has been squeezed out of it. I often wonder if the writers of these shows realize that they have become unwatchable, or do they just ignore the opinions and keep grinding away until the plug is pulled?

Greg Ehrbar said...

It seemed to us that, in the last few seasons of Everybody Loves Raymond, that Ray became "dumber" and more annoying as Debra became snarkier and more annoying, where the show had really been resonant at first.

On Will and Grace, perhaps the popularity of Jack and Karen had something to do with the way Will and Grace often became shallow and self-centered, at least as compared to how the seemed in the first two years.

When my kids were little, it was touching when they waved goodbye to Steve on "Blue's Clues" as he went off to college. Maybe it was also touching because it was another moment in which our kids were growing up.

When I was a kid, the episode in which Emma Peel was replaced by Tara (boom-de-ay) King on "The Avengers" was a bit of a finale. When Mrs. Peel met Ms. King on the steps, one leaving and one arriving, Mrs. Peel advised that "Steed likes his tea stirred anti-clockwise."

AndrewJ said...

The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Newhart, St. Elsewhere -- no company put together better TV series finales than MTM Enterprises.

1251 Thepurpo said...

No one remembers the short-lived James Garner vehicle NICHOLS, but it had a remarkable final episode, that managed to simultaneously bring the series to a definite end AND suggest two distinct ways of continuing it.

Garner played Nichols, the pacifistic, motorcycle-riding sheriff of a small Western town (also named Nichols) circa 1914. In the opening minutes of the last episode, he is killed by a drunken hoodlum. The funeral brings in his heretofore-never-mentioned twin brother, a more combative sort. Everyone expects him to assume the job of sheriff, but he keeps insisting that he does not want it--but he does eventually bring his brother's murderer to justice. At the end, he gets on his brother's motorcycle and rides out of town. The final shot is of a sign reading "You are now leaving Nichols."

So: an unambiguous conclusion, that says goodbye both to Nichols the man and the town. However, if NBC had changed its mind about cancelling the show, there would have been at least two ways of bringing it back--the twin decides to return to town and take the sheriff's job after all, or he keeps on riding and the series focuses on his travels.

It was an interesting series, but I am not really sorry that it was cancelled, as it left Garner free to do THE ROCKFORD FILES.

cadavra said...

Re Jennifer Aniston: She has her own production company. There's nothing to prevent her from developing projects in which she can play whatever kind of character she likes. The fact that she chooses to play "leading man's girl friend" and Type-A bitches over and over again as an actor-for-hire speaks volumes.

Kirk said...

Though uneven, I thought the final MASH was OK, and I say this as one who's often criticized the last three seasons for not being funny enough. I guess I just remember what little comedy there was in the finale as being pretty edgy and not simply "relief", as was too often the case the last few years. I know some dislike how the Charles storyline ended (the death of the Korean musicians) but it just showed you how comedy can turn to tragedy at the turn of a dime.

It also helped to have stuck with the series for the whole run. For me, the funniest, and maybe the most touching, moment in the series finale was Hawkeye's and Margaret's long kiss, as Potter, BJ, and Charles awkardly look on (or pretend not to look)

Unknown said...

Da kitchen in Kehei.

Anonymous said...

no better way to listen to a baseball game than under you pillow.
On AM I could listen to at least half the baseball teams east of the Missippi including St.Louis.

Linkmeister said...

I don't know how good Bev Gannon's restaurant in Wailea is these days, but she was one of the group of ten or twelve Hawaiian fusion chefs who put that cuisine on the map back a decade or so ago.

sophomorecritic said...

1. I recently saw that Office cast member Jenna Fischer was listed as producer of the last episode in opening credits but I don't believe she usually has that credit. I also heard Alonso Ribiero from Fresh Prince of Bel Air mention in an interview that he got behind-the-camera experience by producing a couple of the show's episodes.

You said that with the exception of the showrunner, a producer is essentially someone who has veto power and interferes with the creative process. Does this mean that for selected episodes in those show's runs, Jenna Fischer and Alonso Ribiero are just given the opportunity to go into the writer's room and nag the writing staff? Isn't that awkward?

2. Among producers and the people who greenlight shows, is there a lot of open talk about race? It appears that some shows are clearly designed to appeal to an African-American audience and some shows with primarily white casts might use a token black character to get that crossover demographic. The average viewer is aware of this, but how much discussion is there about it on set and is this openly discussed with African-American actors guesting on a show or being on a cast?

Jake Mabe said...

My three favorite last episodes:

"M*A*S*H" -- felt like I was saying goodbye to members of my own family.

"The Fugitive" -- "The day the running stopped."

"Newhart" -- Didn't see the end joke coming...thought it was brilliant.

Bubbling under:

"Mary Tyler Moore" -- "Ted, you're staying."

Dene said...

Ken -

You've mentioned the time "Cheers" tried shooting on tape and the results were disastrous.

I've just read an interview with "M*A*S*H" producer Gene Reynolds that seems to have taken place around Year 5 of the show, and he mentions that they were just about to try shooting it on VT.

Do you know, did this experiment take place and if so, did you see the results?


Sara said...

It's been awhile since I've watched the Rebecca years in full (by "awhile" I mean like two months, which actually is awhile for me because I watch Cheers compulsively!) -- but I never really thought that Sam got dumber as the show went on. He definitely became more pathetic as he came to terms with his aging, and maybe more of a caricature... But the thing I liked about Sam's character is that he always WAS kind of a caricature, or at least wanted to exist as one. Diane was the same, and I saw their whole relationship as a kind of violent dismantling of the personas they concocted to mask their insecurities (Sam as a Lothario figure, Diane as an intellectual). That's also why I really liked them together and think that despite all their bullshit, they really were a good match: they couldn't lie to themselves as easily when they were together. But anyway -- I thought it made sense that as Sam aged and progressively realized how unsatisfied he was with his life, he would cling more to that caricature version of himself. Maybe this is reading too much into it, but that's how I like to interpret the shifts in his character. If he did get dumber, it definitely wasn't in an over-the-top way like Joey on Friends, where he went from being lovably dumb to borderline incompetent.

I also have a question for you, Ken. I'm curious about the names of sitcom characters -- how they're chosen and how much thought goes into it. Do writers ever pay attention to name origins/meanings, or just go with something that sounds good and fits with the character's backstory/heritage?

Johnson said...

Not really a typical Friday question, but not sure where else to ask, so here I go...

I bought your book (The Me Me) for my dad for...I can't remember, but it was either father's day or his birthday (they're within a month of each other so it's really a wash anyway). He grew up in the '60s, and loves baseball, television, and, well, the '60s.

He LOVED it. I mean, I was blown away by how much he liked it. I'm pretty sure if I ever give him a grandchild, his reaction to this book will still be the best response to a gift ever.

So I think he'd really enjoy your book "It's Gone...No, Wait a Minute." Is there anywhere in existence where I can still pick up a NEW copy? Or should I just settle for the Used In Good Condition types on Amazon?

Been following your blog for awhile and really enjoy reading. Also grateful for the LA restaurant reviews (because they're typically for normal people with normal people budgets).

Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
By Ken Levine said...


Thanks so much. Please tell your friends and have them buy copies for their parents.

I don't know if there are new copies of IT'S GONE... NO WAIT A MINUTE. It's a 20 year old book.

But you can order new copies of my compilation of travelogues. I'm sure your dad would enjoy those too. It's called WHERE THE HELL AM I? TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED and you can get the paperback version here.

Thanks so much.


Johnson said...

I knew it was a long shot, but I figured it couldn't hurt to ask.

I actually already gave him your compilation for another gift-giving occasion, but I gave him the Kindle version. Though since I haven't heard any rave reviews on that one, I can only assume he hasn't figured out his Kindle yet. Maybe I'll get him the hard copy. And I'll settle for a good-condition copy of your first book. Gotta round out the trio!

Thanks again!

mike said...

All in the Family deserved better from CBS, they just let it peter out with a tepid episode about Edith working so hard to put on a St. Patrick's Day party she made herself ill. They really deserved a good finale. (Nobody loves that show more than I, but with hindsight, they should have pulled it on the last shot after Mike & Gloria left. They go out the door, Archie sobs, Edith doesn't want him to know she saw him so loudly announces she's coming in with a beer, does so, and Archie says, 'All right, Edith, leave it there.' Now THAT would have been a way to go out faithfully.)