Friday, March 08, 2013

Friday Questions

Here are answers to some of your Friday Questions:

Mitch gets us going:

Your comment about ONE DAY AT A TIME falling between the cracks prompts a question, Ken. Have all your years in television, as a writer, a director and a show runner, given you any insight into why some shows remain perennially popular while others fade out? It doesn't necessarily seem to be question of quality. There are lots of excellent shows that rarely, if ever, see the light of day, while some not-so-excellent shows retain their popularity.

That’s a hard question to answer because there are so many shows and so many variables. But here are a few general thoughts. Some shows stay out of syndication because there are rights issues. These tend to be series that were independently produced. CYBILL was hung up in rights issues for years. So too BARNEY MILLER.

WKRP IN CINCINNATI had a unique problem. As an AFTRA show and not SAG they were able to use music without paying high license fees during their network runs. But that changed when they went into syndication. And as fans know, they replaced actual songs with covers and it hurt the overall effect greatly.

Other times the studio that owns the series is unaware they own it. Case in point is ALMOST PERFECT. We made it for Paramount. CBS/Viacom now owns the library and although we have 34 episodes and it has been in syndication twice (USA and Lifetime) I don’t think anyone there knows they have the show. And I don’t know who to contact.

Most long-running shows do go into syndication and for whatever reason a few don’t click. I suspect that was the case with ONE DAY AT A TIME. It didn’t get decent ratings and disappeared. Why audiences didn’t respond? I couldn’t tell you. To me it’s a lot better than other shows from that time that still air.

One element that undercuts a series’ syndication value is topical references. They make the show seem dated. The perfect example of this is MURPHY BROWN. How many of you would enjoy Dan Quayle jokes? Many many Dan Quayle jokes.

Seems to me the shows that do best in syndication – and this is comedy I’m talking about – are the ones that are more universal and more relatable. The characters and situations are as identifiable now as they were when the shows first aired. Family shows tend to age well.

Some shows survive because they’re just damn funny and entertaining. THE GOLDEN GIRLS continues to kick ass. And then there’s Lucy.

I think in fifty years in whatever platform television shows will be shown they will still be running I LOVE LUCY and MASH twelve times a day. I hope my heirs spend the ten-cent residuals wisely.

Steve Catron wonders:

Was there ever a thought of giving Winchester a spin-off show. I always thought it would be terrific if he went back to Boston with new-found humanity and clashed with his old money family.

Trust me when I say 20th and CBS approached everybody. The result of course was AfterMASH and a pilot called R*A*D*A*R that never made it to series.

But few people remember that during MASH’s run the same producers – Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds created a show called ROLL OUT. This was for the 1973-4 season and was a military comedy set in France during World War II. The war may have been won but that battle was lost.

From Adam:

I've noticed that comedies tend to keep either one director or a few directors and use them for the run of the show (or at least an entire season) where dramas will have a maybe 13 or more directors in a season. Is this just a timing issue between a half hour and an hour long show?

Hour shows require several days of prep and “tone meetings” as they’re called where the producers go over the script with the director to explain their intentions line by line. There may be complicated sequences, locations to scout, effects technicians to consult, etc. The DGA requires sufficient prep time be provided for the director.

In multi-camera shows there’s no generally no real prep. Same sets, same people, same tone.

Also, single-camera shows generally film for twelve for more hours a day. Not so with multi-cam. Most days you rehearse the actors and wrap by 5:00. It would be grueling for one single camera director to do episode after episode.

Now you might say, well the cast of single-camera shows have to deal with that week after week. Yes, but each cast member is not usually in every shot. On the other hand, sometimes they are (Kiefer Sutherland in 24, Hugh Laurie in HOUSE) and in those cases yes, the actors are fried by the end of the year.

And finally, XJill asks:

I have checked off a box on the 'ol bucket list and got tickets for some Spring Training games at Camelback Ranch. I would love some pro tips on what to do, etc. to get the most out of my Spring Training experience!

Get out there early. In the morning you can usually watch workouts, and minor league games on backfields for free. It’s a relaxed atmosphere and often you can get autographs and pictures with players.

Then walk over to the park and watch batting practice. For the game I’d suggest you bring a cap or visor because there’s little shade. And don’t even bother scoring because there will be so many substitutions.

The later in spring training you go the more you will see the regulars. By the final week the regulars will be playing six or seven innings at least.

Bear in mind this year that with the World Baseball Classic a lot of regular players will be absent for several weeks. And of course, there will always be a few idiot players who still can’t enter the country because of visa problems.

Say hi to all the guys for me.

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Play ball!


Mitchell Hundred said...

As a writer/showrunner, how can you tell when a show has run its course?

unkystan said...

Topicality can kill a sitcom in syndication. Even though the performances and writing on shows like "All in the Family" is great I find it more and more difficult to watch. Archie and Meathead arguing about Watergate and the like seems more like a history lesson now. I think I remember reading somewhere that there was an edict at MTM to stay away from current events as it would date the shows. They were so right!

Brian O. said...

Back in 1991 Ron Leavitt and Michael G. Moye struck gold when MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN entered syndication. What was the reaction of your peers at the time and are the days of sitcom creators becoming that filthy rich over?

Richard J. Marcej said...

I remember "Roll Out" and I liked it (though I was 12 years old at the time). I think a pre-Saturday Night L:Ive Garrett Morris was on the cast.

Or for you young folks out there, a pre-"2 Broke Girls" Garrett Morris.

Anonymous said...

Syndication also seems to be cruel to shows that were especially of-their-time. LA LAW and ALLY MCBEAL were zeitgeist hits of their era, but a couple of years later when syndication came around, the era had moved on and the shows seemd dated.

John said...

Merging rights issues somewhat with part of yesterday's topic, Danny Thomas, any idea why a show would put some seasons into syndication but not others? Danny's original show lasted as long as MASH, but only five of the 11 seasons ever made it to re-runs (and I could understand some sort of early episode rights issue if a cast member leaves, but by the late seasons I'd think the syndication rights concerns would be known).

Nick said...

So... in essence, in the battle between Dan Quayle and Murphy Brown, Murphy Brown won in the short term, but Dan Quayle won the war. Interesting.

Terrence Moss said...

"The Dick Van Dyke Show" had the same edict about dating itself with current events and references.

It's funny to talk about a black and white show dating itself.

At any rate, it was interesting that "I Love Lucy" had so many big stars of that era that a lot of people may not remember today. At the same time, I do wonder how much the endless reruns of "I Love Lucy" had in keeping their memories alive in people's minds.

As for "All in the Family", it is a history lesson in some regards with references to Watergate and Vietnam but the sad thing is that so much of it remains current because a lot of the topics discussed are still problems today. 40+ years later. We don't learn.

Bob Gassel said...

What kind of rights issues could there have been with "Barney Miller"?

Another show that surprisingly got lost in time is "Taxi", and don't even get me started on "Hill Street Blues"...

Jim Russell said...

The Radar sequel pilot was called "W*A*L*T*E*R", and it was broadcast, once, after failing to be picked up. It used to be on YouTube, but it looks like only the opening credits are there.

Phillip B said...

Hope you change your mind, Ken, and stop in for a bit of Arizona spring training this year. We'd be glad to see you!

Kirk said...

SGT BILKO is a show I've heard about all my life, but have only seen in snippets, as it doesn't seem to have been in syndication while I was growing up in the 1970s or thereafter (I know, I could buy the DVD--maybe I'll do that) This isn't really a Friday question, but does anyone know if there was something holding that show back?

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

*One Day At A Time struck me as one of those shows that started strong and petered out, like That Seventies Show, is it a hazard of shows that feature teenage characters/young actors?

*one of my nostalgia channels has started running Barney Miller and WKRP, irregularly. I hope they eventually replace the different strokes marathons. I hope they, and Taxi, wind up netflix streaming. Those I would marathon.

*maybe its just my undying love for Carroll O'Connor's and Jean Stapleton's performances, but AITF I think has aged very well. I can't think of many sitcoms where silent, physical comedy was used so well-- dinner table scenes, Archie or Edith alone in the house, maybe some of the Niles alone bits on Frasier.

Ron Clark said...

I think Norman Lear's shows suffer from this more than any other show from that period, and not just because they were saturated with topical jokes. His comedies have, for want of a better term, a "screechy" quality that to me is like gravel sliding down a sheet metal roof. Characters don't so much talk as they shriek at each other. In the 90's, in syndication, I found all of them (All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, even One Day at a Time) to be unwatchable. Now, thirty years after they had any relevance, they are almost like a time capsule of a unique period in television, when writers first took steps at pushing the envelope. Viewed in that context they can be interesting, but their tone still grates on me.

Rinaldo said...

I remember ROLL OUT! In the early days of BET, it aired several series seldom or never seen elsewhere. I enjoyed catching up with this one, as I had missed its original run.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE was seldom seen in syndication, in part [I remember reading] because the cuts usually deemed necessary for such showings would have made the plots incomprehensible -- each detail was necessary. (In fact, I remember the very first syndicated showings being preceded by the voice of Peter Graves assuring us that nothing had been omitted. Obviously *that* arrangement wasn't going to last long....)

Michael said...

I wonder how much of the problem with One Day at a Time, in addition to the topicality, is that the characters grew up. Setting aside Mackenzie Phillips's problems, Valerie Bertinelli's character went from discussing being a virgin to being married, etc. I Love Lucy, to cite a classic example, added Little Ricky, but he didn't end up being central to the show.

Mike said...

Agreed that many of Norman Lear's shows seem a bit screechy. But the original, All in the Family, has had a decent afterlife.

As for the question about The Danny Thomas Show: in the old days, so many episodes were produced per season that long running shows actually had too many episodes for syndication. Local stations paid on a per episode basis, and they were more happy with 130 shows that would air 5 days/week for six months without a "repeat" than 260 shows that would air for a year. So the syndicator would pare down the package to make it more palatable for syndication.

For The Danny Thomas Show, they had over 300 episodes, so they got rid of the first four seasons (they aired on a different network and were not as well known), plus the last two seasons when Danny appeared less. "My Three Sons" got rid of the B&W episodes and the last handful of color ones. "Petticoat Junction" got rid of the B&Ws. "Bonanza" pared over 100 episodes from the syndication package. And so on.

Of course, there were a few shows that were so successful that the producers were able to sell everything: "Andy Griffith" and "Beverly Hillbillies" to name a few.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

unkystan: Carol Burnett also - and it's astonishing how little the comedy parts of her shows have dated (we watch the same old movies they did in 1968!). Of course, the costume and the dance numbers (and a fair bit of the music, my god, but that was never why *I* watched the show in the first place.)

Mitchell Hundred: I'm going to guess that the real answer to that is "When they stop paying you".


Pat Reeder said...

Every night, as I clean all my parrots' cages (bet that's not an opening you see on too many posts), I watch the TV in their room (yes, my parrots have their own TV. They're much smarter than the average Neilsen family, and have better taste.) I'm not paying for cable for the parrots, so I use a digital decoder box that brings in all the subcarrier broadcast channels, like Antenna TV, ME TV, etc. They're showing all kinds of old sitcoms and dramas, so if you're into that sort of thing, just get a cheap digital tuner box and some rabbit ears.

I'm catching up on tons of shows I haven't seen in years, and discovering some I never watched when they were on or that were before my time ("I Married Joan," "Bachelor Father," etc.) Antenna TV even has "WKRP," "Barney Miller" and several of the Norman Lear shows now.

Having a parrot to watch it with is optional, but there are a lot of them who need good adoptive homes. If you'd like a TV-watching companion who'll actually laugh along with you, they can't be beat.

BTW, Ken, Kim Jong-Un just declared that the 1953 armistice ending the Korean War is no longer in effect. This could be the perfect time to revive "M*A*S*H."

Carolyn said...

As one of the ten people in the USA who don't have cable, I agree with Pat Reeder. Antenna TV, METV, THISTV, RTV, even the local religious channel, carry old movies, Canadian series like Davinci's Inquest, and for Kirk, Sgt. Bilko. Crank up your old rabbit ears. You've probably got these stations and don't even know it. (Route 66, The Saint, The Twilight Zone, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents -- though I haven't seen "Lamb to the Slaughter yet.)

YEKIMI said...

@ Kirk:

Sgt. Bilko is shown on ME TV [usually a digital sub-channel of a regular TV station] Sundays at 5:30 & 6 AM at least in the Eastern time zone. Fairly easy to pick up over the air [that is, if a station in your area has it] but on cable it's usually hidden way off the beaten HBO would be New York City and ME TV would be located on Jupiter.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I might check out this ROLL OUT, if only because I see whom I assume are two of the leads wear those pwnsome Jeep Caps (like Radar wears); I wear 'em all the time, they're great.

Chris said...

I don't know if Quayle won the war (as Nick wrote), but Candace Bergen eventually agreed with him:

"I never have really said much about the whole episode, which was endless. But his speech was a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable and nobody agreed with that more than I did."

Being a young father myself at the time and knowing how much BOTH my wife and I had to work to keep our family going, I didn't have a problem with the substance of what Quayle was saying and wondered why the media was making so much of it. It felt like it was being deliberately misinterpreted. I also seem to remember a particularly nasty and gratuitous comment from Diane English at the Emmys about it. My memory is hazy, but I think it was around the time either she or someone in her family was driving and killed a pedestrian in Santa Monica, and I couldn't help but be amazed at what seemed to be a pretty hypocritical moment.

Larry said...

I have a theory that shows that demand strong emotional involvement don't play as well in syndication as shows that are more about the gags and the specific plot of that episode. You just want to drop in on the show and enjoy it, not get all worked up.

That's why shows that were huge hits, like Roseanne, Cosby and Home Improvement, never quite hit it in syndication as big as Seinfeld.

For that matter, it's why a show like House plays better in syndication than a flat-out prime time serial.

Jonathan said...

An intriguing sidebar to the topicality discussion is how it doesn't always apply as strongly to syndication success as we might expect. All in the Family, for example, which was certainly topical, did quite well in syndication for a very long time. Mary Tyler Moore, which took such pains to avoid topicality was not a syndication success at all. (It did run a bit, but given its primetime success, its syndicated life was very disappointing.)I don't know the magic formula, although it does seem clear that serialized shows are almost always doomed in syndication. Beyond that, it seems very hard to predict.

The Golden Girls is a good example of the vagaries of the sitcom afterlife. It did very poorly in broadcast syndication, disappeared for a bit, and then singlehandedly made Lifetime a major success on cable. It continues to get huge ratings (relatively speaking) on whatever cable outlets run it to this day. Why did it fail in syndication and succeed on cable?

roger said...

@ Mike

"My Three Sons" got rid of the B&W episodes and the last handful of color ones.

This may explain why, when Nick at Nite aired MY THREE SONS reruns about 25(!) years ago, they seemed to do the exact opposite. They ran episodes from 1960 to about 1965, then skipped ahead to about 1969 to the end of the run. They never ran the early color/Ernie years.

RCP said...

I think most people would agree that fathers are not dispensable, but that wasn't the point of the Murphy Brown episode as I remember it. The point was that it was Murphy's decision to have the child outside of marriage and that single parenting is not automatically detrimental to a child.

Quayle wasn't so much defending fatherhood as he was defending the enforced nuclear family - it was part of the backlash against feminism - and the media was all too happy to jump aboard.

XJill said...

Thanks Ken! I'm excited!

Mike said...

Yeah - when N&N got My Three Sons in the 1980s, local stations were still airing the traditional broadcast package. So N@N took everything that wasn't in syndication.

Jake Mabe said...

I've always wondered why "One Day at a Time" disappeared somewhere in the mid-90s from syndication. I LOVED that show and thought it by and large held up well, fashions aside.

To me the topicality is actually a charm for "All in the Family," as well as someone's earlier point that we're still dealing with a lot of the issues with which the show dealt, Watergate arguments aside. In some ways I think we've reverted. "All in the Family" would NEVER make it on the air today and we're a worse nation for it. For the life of me, I can't understand how anybody could ever find that show unwatchable. It's one of the five or six best sitcoms to ever air on American television.

I'd love to see full episodes of "The Carol Burnett Show" pop back up in syndication (other than just the "Carol Burnett and Friends" comedy bits), but I guess that's a rights issue. I still laugh out loud whenever I see clips from that show today. Same with full episodes of Carson's "Tonight Show," but I guess that's a rights thing too regarding the music.

And, as somebody else mentioned, I'd also like to see "Taxi" again.

All of these shows would sure as hell beat "The King of Queens" or "Rules of Engagement" or, frankly, "The Jeffersons," which I loved during its original run but don't think has aged well.

Debbie said...

Quayle's point was that Murphy Brown was glamorizing single motherhood, whereas children who grow up in single parent households are more likely to live in poverty and are more likely to spend time in prison. It has nothing to do with demonizing feminism.

A two-parent household isn't always achievable and isn't always ideal in some cases. But on the whole, it's beneficial to the child, and to choose to bring a child into the world without that benefit is a large part of our problems. Look at the African-American community and see how single parenthood and absentee fathers have contributed to their problems.

I remember Diane English's little speech to single mothers at the Emmy's that year - "Don't let anyone tell you that you're not a real family." Which was disingenuous and cynical.

Michael said...

I think the concern about Dan Quayle was that some of us thought he believed Murphy Brown was real.

I've often thought that if he ever watched Roseanne, that would have blown his tubes.

Henry said...

Seems to me the majority of people who watch those old shows in syndication tend to be on the left side on the IQ bell curve, hence the popularity of simple shows with simple plots. I Love Lucy good. LA Law too hard.

Brian Doan said...

Ken, yesterday you wrote about THE PRACTICE, and said:

"We hit a brick wall the minute we pulled out of the garage. Although the story was a lovely little morality tale, gleaning comedy out of it was like getting blood out of a turnip or Larry King."

Given your description of the episode, I agree with you, and loved your anecdotes about writing it. But my question is, you also wrote for M*A*S*H, whose blend of drama, comedy, and morality tales might pose the same problem. And yet, your writing for that show went really well, obviously. What would you say the difference was? Different showrunners? The nature of the characters? The fact that you came onto the show in the middle of its run (as opposed to THE PRACTICE's start), and thus everything felt more established? Just curious, thanks!

Left side of the Curve said...

Henry said...
Seems to me the majority of people who watch those old shows in syndication tend to be on the left side on the IQ bell curve, hence the popularity of simple shows with simple plots. I Love Lucy good. LA Law too hard.

By this thinking, people on the other side of the IQ bell curve should find Days of Our Lives good, King Lear too straightforward. Convolution does not necessarily equal depth, truth, or quality. Sometimes very complex things are great, and sometimes they are just busy. Sometimes simple things are stupid, and sometimes they are elegant.

Rebecca R. said...

I'm planning on taking the leap and moving to LA in the next few months to finally pursue the dream, writing for television. I've written specs and am continuing to write but really want to get my foot in the door.

How do you find these entry-level jobs, such as writers assistant or production assistant, with TV shows and what's your advice for newcomers to LA?

John Farine said...

Spring training 1983 West Palm Beach Florida, where the Braves and my beloved Montreal Expos share training facilities. My wife decides to sleep in so I head to the ballpark alone and wander onto the secondary fields. There's a batting cage with a few players working on batting techniques. Nobody else around. I approach, and it's Atlanta slugger Bob Horner, NL MVP Dale Murphy, then-manager Joe Torre and ME. And they're bantering about Horner's swing and other stuff as he takes some cuts. I don't even think they noticed or cared that I was there even though I was feet away. We were joined by Sports Illustrated and Montreal Gazette's Michael Farber who asked a bunch of questions. Man the good old innocent days when you could do these things!

Chris said...

Friday question: some shows (Seinfeld, Married...with Children, Night Court) ended every episode with the audience clapping weather there was a punchline there or not? How do you feel about doing that? It kind of makes it feel more like a live play.

Jake said...

Having lived in Arizona almost 30 years, the most important advice for Spring Training is sunscreen. The weather is so perfect, you don't think about sunburn until around the seventh inning.

Anonymous said...

"Family Ties" strikes me as a show that hasn't aged very well. You can still see why Michael J. Fox became such a big star, but all the references to Reganism and Steven Elise's younger, hippie days really dates the show. I understand that liberal parents vs. young republican son and the issues/conflict that often came from that was one of its' selling points, but still.

Paul Du said...

Anonymous...part of the problem was that FAMILY TIES was originally meant to be an hour drama (and Matthew Broderick was originally meant to play Alex P. Keaton).

Paul Duca said... cut off

Nat Gerter (sitcom room veteran) said...

All In The Family has the advantage of being audaciously honest about humanity that was a shock at the time and is a shock today. You couldn't have a serious racist lead today. (It also has the syndication advantage that the "later seasons" were officially a different series; Archie Bunker's Place is not without its charms, but it's a different show.)

QUESTION (and I certainly understand if you want to blow it off): Certainly, there are a lot of shows that make you go "that's really good" and ones that make you go "that's just a bad show all around". What shows, if any, have left you thinking "that show has good concept/characters/cast/whatever, and I see just what's keeping it from fully working. It could be great if only they'd let me showrun it." ?

gottacook said...

I loved the first half-season of One Day at a Time (first half of 1976) because those episodes featured Richard Masur as Bonnie Franklin's significant other. After he left or was written out, the show lost any interest for me. They were really good together.

Anonymous said...


That's an interesting factoid. Curiously, there's no mention of it on the wiki page for the show. Were Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter(-Birney) originally cast as the parents?

The wiki page does mention the show being a reversal of "All in the Family", though Gary David Goldberg didn't plan it that way and it was discovered later as a happy accident.

However, part of the reason that the show doesn't have the staying power of AITF is that FT's overall cast wasn't as strong.

Again, you can see why Fox became a star. And Gross and Baxter(-Birney) are fine actors who did nice work on the show, but I don't think anyone would put their overall performances at the same level as O'Connor or Stapleton's on AITF. And neither of the daughters, particularly Tina Yothers, was much to write home about. Yothers being kind of "just there" was probably partly why they decide to add a baby/eventual sidekick for Alex to the show in 1985.

While I'm busy tearing down original "Must See TV" (that slogan actually wasn't created until 1993) shows, I would concur with what someone said above about "The Cosby Show" not holding up real well. I'm sure I'm not the first to ask this, but can it be put into words how important the success of this show was for NBC? Watching it nowadays, I think the first 2-3 seasons are still enjoyable and you can see why it became such a ratings monster, but there's a decline in quality after that. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was also about the point where they ran out material to recycle from Cos's standup act.

Other problems:

1. The kids, with maybe the exception of Theo, became increasingly unlikable as the series went on. Or boring, which leads me to...

2. Sandra, the oldest daughter/child who was cast after the series had already began. While she was boring, her boyfriend (later husband) Elvin may be the wimpiest character in prime time TV history. The two were at the center of many episode plots on the show from season 4 on.
Perhaps with better acting, the two characters may have been more worthwhile, but neither Sabrina Le Beauf nor Geoffrey Owens were very good in that department and, not surprisingly, neither has done much since "The Cosby Show" ended.

3. Claire being written to be annoyingly, irritatingly perfect/never wrong as the series progressed. Same thing happened on "Roseanne" starting around the sixth season.

"Night Court", on the other hand, seems to hold up better overall than the two aforementioned shows. That's funny to me, since it seemed to be viewed the same way "Wings" was during the 90s. Well, maybe not quite as disrespected and unappreciated as "Wings". I know that John Larroquette got his share of accolades during the show's original run.

Joel said...

Successful, off-network syndicated sitcoms usually have a shelf life of five to ten years. After that they'll start to fade away. Those are the sitcoms you think of and wonder, "Whatever happened to that show? The reruns used to be on all the time."

A handful of off-network syndicated sitcoms will reach evergreen status. Those are the shows that continue to draw audiences decade after decade, and continue to run year after year. THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW is a good example.

Just as a show can be a hit in syndication without becoming one of the evergreens, some sitcoms can become evergreens without being huge hits in syndication. ALL IN THE FAMILY, for example, was only modestly successful when launched into syndication but has endured and continues to draw audiences long after many of the shows that ran rings around it in syndication have disappeared back into the vaults.

The only sitcom to come out of the Norman Lear factory that was an out and out hit in syndication was SANFORD AND SON.

Kirk: BILKO has been in syndication since its network run ended and is still available from CBS. You've just never been privilged to live where the reruns were being shown.

Mike: The original BEVERLY HILLBILLIES syndication package didn't include seasons eight and nine. Several episodes from season seven were missing, too. They were finally added to the package in the early 1980s.

What hits and what misses in syndication is ultimately a gamble. When Paramount put LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY into syndication in the early 1980s, stations paid record prices for it. More per episode than they had ever paid for any other sitcom in television history. There was widespread belief that LAVERNE was going to be the new I LOVE LUCY. The series just died in syndication, though, and stations took a bath on it. The audiences the reruns drew didn't even begin to justify the outrageous prices paid.

Anonymous said...

One more thought/question on "The Cosby Show". Hasn't it only been middle-of-the pack ratings wise in syndication? I know it's still run (including on TVLand), but I'd imagine that shows like "The Golden Girls" and "The Andy Griffith Show" get much higher numbers, relatively speaking.

Chris said...

A fact that may have played a part in ONE DAY AT A TIME not doing well in syndication may have to do with CBS putting it into afternoon reruns five days per week interspersed within its usual fare of soap operas and game shows.

I recall the summer of 1976 (I was 9). My father worked all day so I spent a lot of time in front of the television -- even though the antenna only picked up two channels.

One day, during Hollywood Squares, on an episode where all the celebrities were wearing costumes for some reason, someone I had never heard of before named Valerie Bertinelli was dressed as a belly dancer and kept standing up and dancing through some of her answers.

That alone made me sample ONE DAY AT A TIME and I ended up getting hooked on the show.

I suppose running season one during those weekdays helped a lot of people sample the show who otherwise wouldn't, but since I can't recall any other sitcoms getting second runs in their network's afternoon blocks, perhaps it was a failed business model, particularly if executives came to believe that they were watering down the money they could potentially bring in for syndication deals.

Jonathan said...

It was just an old business model, Chris. Networks, particularly CBS did that all the time in the 60s and 70s. One Day At A Time just came af the tail end of the practice.

Mark P said...

Big Bang Theory is being shown in syndication 12 times a week here. Only the first few seasons are included (likely, as somebody said in prior comments, due to the per-episode price being so high). And they're being shown randomly; it's not unusual for the same episode to be shown two weeks apart.

What is the motivation for the local stations doing things this way? After the third or fourth showing, we know the episode by heart and are going to switch channels around 15 seconds in. Seems like they're shooting themselves in the foot by overexposing the show.

Storm said...

I've been watching and enjoying the hell out of "Barney Miller" the past few months since AntennaTV started playing it. I'd forgotten a few things about it, good and bad.

THE BAD: Wow, Fish got on my nerves QUICK. I'd forgotten how relieved I was when he left. The deadpan delivery, straight into the camera, then HOLD FOR APPLAUSE, for every little thing he said, which was only funny about half the time. Yes, you're old and you hurt all over, that's why they want you to RETIRE. I thought he got on my nerves as a kid, but now that I'm middle aged (shudder) I'm even less tolerant of it.

OMG I HATE INSPECTOR LUGER WITH THE FURY OF A THOUSAND SUNS. I hate the actor, I hate his character, I HATE HIS VOICE. SHUT. UP. I fast forward every time he wanders in.

Levitt. We get it; you're a short brown-noser. WE GET IT. SHUT UP.

The Good: EVERYBODY ELSE, especially Jack Soo and Steve Landesburg, bless their souls. Jack's been gone long enough that I just give a li'l sad sigh sometimes, but Steve's loss is so fresh, it hurts my heart. I laugh my ass off every time he opens my mouth, and then I whisper "I miss you, you freak". Barney's ability to see the good in everyone and make the best of bad situations is still inspiring to me. I had and still have a big ol' crush on Wojo and his big ol' butt (Seriously, ladies-- and some of the gents-- take a gander back there sometime. Man, he was packed into those 70s pants). And Harris... that right there is One Cool Cat, you dig?

And it'd been so long since I'd watched it, I hadn't realized until now how very pro-gay (or at least gay-cool) they were. Sometimes gay folks were the perps (like the recurring klepto-queen, whose name I can't recall), sometimes they were the vics, but they were ALL treated with humanity, and they were on the air, PERIOD. The fact that they were real enough to say "Hey, it's a show set in NY, and guess what? It's full of gay people, living their lives, here's a few of them now. DEAL." in the mid-late 70s is actually pretty amazing, even if they were kinda stereotypey. But hey, so was every kind/type of person on that show, to some degree.

Cheers, thanks a lot,


Storm said...

"every time he opens HIS mouth" is what I meant to say. My Freudian slip is showing; I always thought Dietrich was strangely sexy, as did my mother.

Cheers again,


Kitty said...

A true sitcom, which for some reason never made it beyond its initial first season, was Lotsa Luck: "an American sitcom that aired during the 1973-74 television season. The series stars Dom DeLuise as bachelor Stanley Belmont who lives with his bossy mother (Kathleen Freeman), his sister Olive (Beverly Sanders) and her unemployed husband, Arthur (Wynn Irwin). Jack Knight stars as Stanley's best friend, Bummy." That's a helluva cast.

I still remember the opening theme after all these years. I have all 22 episodes on DVD. And it still resonates 40 years later because my 10-y-o grandson absolutely loves it!

Matt Tauber said...

I don't think WKRP is hurt by the generic music. The show was good because of the great writing and quirky characters, not because we got to hear Foghat on TV?

Paul Duca said...

As long as we still have the Ferryman Funeral Home jingle...

Anonymous FAMILY TIES--"factoid" is an inaccurate piece of information. The term is constantly misused.

Chris--costumes meant a "Storybook Squares" week of shows with specific kid appeal. In 1969 it aired as a separate show on Saturday mornings.

LouOCNY said...

Storm - you are missing the whole point of BARNEY MILLER!

Lugar was SUPPOSED to be irritating - that was the whole point! He got a little 'softer' towards the end, but generally Barney and the squad couldn't wait for him to leave EITHER! Best example is the show 'The Psychic', where Ken Tigar plays a psychic who attacks someone he 'knows' is going to rob someone. He suddenly starts going:
"I feel a dark disturbance...approaching gloom...evil!"
And Lugar walks in.

The fun part is watching the guy's reactions to his war stories, his hanging around, etc.

Same thing with Levitt - Brown nosers almost by definition are irritating. The fun is in Barney's reactions to his sucking up and hyper efficiency.

Any veteran cop I have ever talked to, or have heard talking about BM, have all said without fail, that they at one point or another in their careers, have worked with every single one of those guys.And that is the test of any workplace comedy.

Michael said...

Storm and Lou, a few years back, cops were surveyed about which TV cops were most realistic. The top one, going away, was Sipowicz (a reminder of the brilliance of Dennis Franz and that he hasn't been seen much if at all since NYPD Blue went off)--about half picked him. A quarter said Lennie Briscoe (oh, Jerry Orbach, we bow toward your memory). The third, at about 10 percent, was Fish. And I thought, yeah, the old cop.

Lou, I follow you, and my grandfather was in the NYPD, 1927-47, and when I said to my mother once that Luger reminded me of him, she was really insulted. But Luger was a spoof on every old time cop who pined for the good old days.

I read a great article years back about how the entire show was Danny Arnold, the creator. Like Barney, he mediated. Like Wojo, he went off. Like Yemana, he loved the ponies. Like Fish, he complained all day about his wife and couldn't even go to the bathroom without her.

But, Storm, I'll agree. The Fish look, pause, laugh, really got old. As I recall it, Vigoda at one point walked out and demanded co-billing and a title change to Fish and Barney. So Arnold got vicious and said, no, we'll do better: your own show. He developed Fish, wrote the pilot, and then refused to have anything to do with it, and it died after a season or two.

LouOCNY said...

I think if you look at that third season of BM - Fish/Vigoda's last one, you will see how they found a way to edit around the 'Fish stares' with quicker cuts.

One thing that helped Barney, was the toning down of Harris - making less of a jive stereotype, and being much calmer and more erudite. And originally Deitrich had been just a failed med student, but then they made him more a omnibus of knowledge - a walking wikipedia, so to speak. And they made Wojo less of a lunkhead. It would have been interesting to see if they had followed through with the idea of a spin off that followed the squad in their off duty lives. They actually went as far as doing a two parter with Wojo living with a girl. They probably would have had:

Barney at home with his wife

Fish and the group home

Harris and Deitrich ass roomies in an Odd Couple-ish type of situation

Would have killed DA and all the writers, but would have been interesting...

Ron Clark said...

Barney Miller is, hands down, the only television series ever that came close to capturing what the day to day life of a detective was like. I'm a retired criminal investigator and spent most of my career in an environment very similar to the one depicted on Barney Miller, and Danny Arnold got just about every detail correct. At one time or another I worked with people whose personalities were combinations of the characters on the show, and there was no shortage of Fishes or Lugars. I have really missed that show, and I was overjoyed when they finally began to rerun it on Antenna TV. It holds up remarkably well, and it is still as laugh out loud funny as it was 30 years ago. Most cop shows are as unwatchable to me as medical dramas are to doctors, but Barney Miller is always the exception.

Matt said...

At one time, networks used reruns of prime time shows on their daytime schedules before the shows went into syndication. I remember CBS having a morning block of sitcoms, filling time between CAPTAIN KANGAROO and the start of my mother's stories. Shows like I LOVE LUCY (later replaced by THE LUCY SHOW), CANDID CAMERA, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES and THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW (retitled ANDY OF MAYBERRY, for some reason). At various times CBS had ONE DAY AT A TIME, M*A*S*H, THE JEFFERSONS, DESIGNING WOMEN, GOMER PYLE, ALL IN THE FAMILY and HERE'S LUCY in daytime.

ABC ran the daylights out of BEWITCHED for a few years, stripping older episodes Monday through Saturday while new episodes were on in primetime. ABC later had THE BRADY BUNCH, HAPPY DAYS, LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY, TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT and THE LOVE BOAT in daytime.


This was mostly in the days, of course, when prime time shows rarely went into syndication until they had completed their prime time run. These days, shows are syndicated as soon as they have between 80 and 100 episodes/

LouOCNY said...

TAGS in CBS Daytime was renamed ANDY IN MAYBERRY, so as not to confuse folks, cause TAGS was still on. Although I don't think anyone could confuse Don Knotts with Jack Burns.

It was a pretty common practice back in the day - CBS did it to GUNSMOKE (MARSHAL DILLON), NBC to BONANZA (PONDEROSA), and so on.

CBS ran the shit out of LUCY - they needed to, as they had paid Desi a TON of money for those films, after CBS had given up the rights to them when the show first started, LUCY actually did not go into syndication until sometime in the late 60's - about the time games shows really took over daytime.

LouOCNY said...

And it is interesting what makes it in syndication, and what doesn't.

Laverne & Shirley - big hit on its run, but a flop in syndication

Barney Miller - a middling hit in its run, but it ran in syndication for years before it got tangled in the mess when Danny Arnold passed away.

And I LOVE ME-TV! It truly is the reincarnation of TVLAND when it was at its peak. They quite rightly make a big deal about not crunching/minimizing the credits, and they have cool promo spots - most of which are surviving TV icons inviting you to 'watch me on ME-TV' - with a real corker right now with Bob Newhart talking to his psychologist...Bob Hartley! Pure Gold

ScottyB said...

Speaking of syndication, I remember when 'Wings' was on an endless loop on TBS and USA for years. Loved the show in first run, but I got sick of it. Then suddenly, 'Wings' disappeared from everywhere and now it's not anywhere anymore, and I miss it. God bless first- and second-season sets on DVD.

Ken's right-on about the music substitution some time ago with WKRP. For shits and grins, I once picked up some episode-compilation DVDs of Andy Griffith, Bev Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction at the dollar store. It's really weird watching the opening theme songs replaced with banjo/Muzak instead.

Music rights are a bitch. That's why 'Wonder Years' still isn't in syndication or on DVD sets.

ScottyB said...

Tip of the syndication hat to Me-TV (I don't have cable either). Introducing kids everywhere to a time when paramedics didn't exist until after 'Emergency' was created.

I'm pretty old and I'd never even heard of 'The Rebel', which Me-TV runs on Saturday late mornings. I got curious and ended up reading about the sad Hollywood tale of actor Nick Adams.

Sadly, there are plenty of shows that were good but unwatched in their first run that aren't in syndication and really deserve another run today but probably never will surface again, probably because they didn't hit the Magic 100-show milestone. Maybe syndication stations could show them once a week to make up for their short runs -- smart shows like 'Brooklyn Bridge','Open All Night' and maybe even 'Down Home' which lasted only one season and for some reason I remember being pretty amusing along with 'The Torkelsons'.

I'd mention 'The John Larroquette Show' (the one in the bus station), but that was a perfectly-great sitcom the network suits absolutely stole the souls and skullfucked into unwatchability after the first season or two.

RCP said...


I disagree that Murphy Brown was “glamorizing” single motherhood – it was surely apparent to most viewers that she was in the position to financially support a child – and though I haven’t seen the episode since it aired, I doubt she made the decision cavalierly. Do you really think women watching this episode thought: “Gee that looks like fun - I’m going to run out and get pregnant because Murphy says it okay – I don’t even have to get married!” Give people credit for having some intelligence. As with Maude’s abortion, this was a decision – like it or not – that was being made by women in Real Life – and the show reflected how one woman made her choice.

I’m not in the position to discuss the correlation between single parents and children who end up in poverty or prison, but I think that may have more to do with lack of education, lack of access to birth control, and people who are not prepared to be parents. I agree that a loving two-parent household may be the ideal, but in many cases, people become single parents as a result of divorce, the death of a spouse, or a spouse abandoning the family. No doubt this can create hardships in terms of economics and time spent with children, but I would venture to say that one loving parent working two jobs is a better role model than two parents who fight constantly and take out their misery on their children – even if they can afford nicer things.

I know exactly what Diane English was talking about. Quayle and others do believe that there’s only one “real” family – heterosexual, with Dad in Charge. This doesn’t reflect the reality for millions of Americans, however, who have every right to raise children and think of their families – single-parent, same-sex, bi-racial, extended-family, of friends, not relatives – as “real.”

Johnny Walker said...

Man, I really want to watch BARNEY MILLER now :)

Jeff said...

A friend of mine who collects 16mm films has a DICK VAN DYKE SHOW episode from the daytime run. (Networks used to make up 16mm backup prints that were complete with all commercials, promos, network announcements, etc.) The actual title during the opening credits, both onscreen and from the announcer, is THE DICK VAN DYKE DAYTIME SHOW. As if the fact that you're watching a five year old rerun at 10 a.m. wasn't enough to tip you off to that fact.

He has another similar print from BEWITCHED that has the onscreen title BEWITCHED DAYTIME.


Did they really worry so much that people were dumb enough to confuse daytime reruns with new primetime episodes?

However much CBS paid Lucy and Desi for I LOVE LUCY, I imagine CBS made the better deal in the long run. But then, who knew? Lucille Ball herself said late in her life that they figured the reruns would be good for maybe ten years at the outside. Sixty years later you can buy the show at Walmart for less than $20 per season.

Now if CBS would just release OUR MISS BROOKS they'd make my Aunt Josie really, really happy.

LouOCNY said...

There have been some real bargains, when talking about aquisitions:

Leon Schlesinger, who actually made the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies, an then sold them to Warner Bros, sold everything - the films, the studio, all the characters - to the Warners for a cool million 1944 dollars. I think Warners made THAT back..

And Paramount sure has made the 3 mil or so they bought Desilu for - which included MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, and a funny little space show called STAR TREK...

Storm said...

I'm sorry, I obviously didn't get my point across about Fish, Lugar, and Levitt; of course, they're very real in many ways. What I was trying to say was that after not seeing the show for over 20 years, I was surprised at how negitively I react to those characters now. I mean, I never liked them to begin with, and yes, you're clearly not supposed to. They just irritate the hell out of me now, and it interferes with *my* personal enjoyment of a fantastic show. If you enjoy them, great for you; comedy is subjective.

Oh, and I forgot to mention THE MOST irritating character EVER on "Barney Miller" (again, IMO); Barney's frickin' WIFE. My father was a Deputy Sheriff for L.A. County for 15 years, and if my mother had constantly called him at work with pointless random questions, he would have flipped OUT. And HE wasn't in charge of a squad room!

Cheers, thanks a lot,


Ron Clark said...

LOL, Storm, I worked with an investigator at one time whose wife called him a minimum of five times a day (and this was before cell phones were common, so we ALL had to listen to his conversations in the office). Believe me, it was as irritating in real life as it was for you to watch it on TV lol!

Freebie and The Bean said...

Do you think "marathon" showings of reruns help promote a show's popularity and ultimately its longevity? I don't think Gilligan's Island or The Brady Bunch are particularly good, but as a kid it was essentially the only show on after school and of course there were only a handful of channels back then.

ODAAT occupies a weird dramedy niche--you might not feel comfortable letting your younger kids watch certain episodes. I also think some of the humor--like the leering handyman who is the family pal is a strange character for a show that wore its feminist stance on its velour sleeve. I believe the actresses themselves also commented that it was a "loud" show...they tended to yell their lines.

chuckcd said...

Northern Exposure also suffered from music being replaced for syndication and dvd.