Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Questions

Here are this week’s Friday Questions.  If you're just checking in, I also wrote another post today.  Please scroll down to that.  And before we start:

Congratulations to the cast & crew of INSTANT MOM starring Tia Mowry-Hardrick.  Nick at Nite has picked them up for additional episodes this year and a full second season.  Proud that my daughter Annie Levine and her partner Jonathan Emerson were part of the team.  

Okay, now the questions.


Rich D gets us started:

I have a question brought on by the subject of "Very Special Episodes" and if I am mis-remembering things please correct me, but I don't recall an episode of CHEERS where Sam had struggles with his alcoholism or relapsed back to drinking. Was there a conscious decision to go down that road?

There was an episode the very first season called “Endless Slumper” written by Sam Simon that dealt with Sam possibly going back on the bottle. It was a wonderful (if not "very special") episode and featured an amazing stunt where Sam was able to slide a beer down the bar and it turned the corner.

And in a later season, Sam fell off the wagon because Diane was dating Frasier. 

Melissa C. Banczak asks:

I ignored my husband today and read your book. It was good fun and I encourage everyone else to check it out. And post a review. I was surprised at how few reviews you have. As you were writing, were you worried that someone would decide they were one of the characters and show up at your door one rainy night?

The reviews are trickling in, and happily they’re very good. Thanks for getting my book. (You should too, hint hint.)

Most characters in the book are compilations of people. There’s no one character that is clearly a specific individual.  (Except for the Lena Dunham character and if she came after me I wouldn't blame her.)

That said, every time we do write a specific character into a script and hold our breath that the person doesn’t get horribly offended, he will invariably say to us the next day, “Very funny. I know someone just like that.”

From Chris:

Quick question: was reading a book on M*A*S*H, and in it Larry Gelbart said that his problem watching reruns of the show is that he can't stop rewriting them in his head. Do you do that when you watch your old shows?

All the time. Especially MASH. When I watch many of our episodes I say, “I wish I had one more pass at this.” There are jokes that could be sharper, story turns better finessed. People love the episodes as is and God bless ‘em for that, but I always wish I could go back in just one more time.

Oddly, I don’t feel that as much watching old episodes of CHEERS or FRASIER that we wrote. Maybe it’s because they’re both multi-camera shows and we had more opportunities to polish them during the week of production, or just that I became a better writer with experience, but I can watch a lot of our CHEERS and FRASIER episodes and just enjoy them.  It's a very nice feeling.

What’s your question?


Chet said...

Just FYI, the link to the YouTube video works, but the video has been deleted.

Dbenson said...

Sam's brother and his first wife; Coach's daughter; Rebecca's sister -- Was there ever any thought of these characters reappearing or even being mentioned again, were they consciously erased; or were they simply forgotten by the staff?

ScottyB said...

>>>"And in a later season, Sam fell off the wagon because Diane was dating Frasier."<<<

If that was the one where Sam made Diane jump off the boat and swim and then lost his head and sailed to the islands, that was a totally great one.

But if that wasn't that one, nevermind. But it was still a killer episode.

Waves of Gray said...

I am watching MASH for the first time (on DVD) and there's an option to turn off the laugh track, for which I am thankful. Were there any discussions during production to turn off the laughter, or was the general feeling in comedy at the time that a viewer would think jokes were funnier if other people were laughing?

Anonymous said...

Friday Question:
I've been reading many multi cam scripts, and noticed they always jump from scene E to scene H. Is there a reason why there are never Scenes F and G?

Michael said...

I write books and newspaper columns, and I can tell you, Ken, when I look back at something, I find something in every sentence to redo.

Waves, I know that they made the rule early on not to have the laugh track in the operating room on MASH. As time went by, you hear fewer laughs on the track.

Carolyn said...

I was reading an article by Jan Merlin, one of my favorite actors from the early days of TV. He talked about
writing for soap operas. (He won an Emmy for writing for "Another World.")

>>Soaps are a modern art form with a tried and true formula; the major subjects of every episode are the Commercials. So one writes short scenes and fits of passion and intrigue to fill in those intermediate moments. It's somewhat challenging, but you have the advantage of seeing and knowing what your actors do best. You write for them, and for the future outcome of the show without giving away what is to happen, other than dire hints in every episode's conclusion. "Lost" is a true soap opera... just as is "Desperate Housewives..." they are merely different for being on at night instead of during the day.<<

No question, I just thought it was a great comment about writing for TV. :)

Johnny Walker said...

I'm sure Ken will leap in and answer this MASH question, but incase he doesn't here's how I understand it: The laugh track was not wanted by the producers, but it was mandated by the network. As the years went on, and the show changed, they were able to tone it down.

In some countries (like mine -- the UK) it NEVER had a laugh track, though. That is, until it was rebroadcast on satellite/cable in the 90s -- where it caused quite a stir as nobody had ever imagined in their wildest nightmares that it would have a laugh track.

Somebody somewhere at Fox Home Entertainment was paying attention, though. When the DVDs came out they included the audio used in foreign territories -- sans laughter -- to the surprise of American viewers.

Unfortunately, even on foreign releases, the laugh track is enabled by default.

John Philipps said...

I was at the Two and a Half Men recording yesterday. There were 7 pre-recorded scenes showed on the audience screens. I heard laughter on the sound track besides our audience laughter. Did those laughs come from the crew or a test audience during recording, were they added digitally, or did I just hallucinate?

Johnny Walker said...

@JohnPhillips I've been to a few sitcom tapings, and anything they shot on location/important to this episode's plot they showed to us on monitors and recorded our laughter.

I'm pretty sure that however we reacted was still "sweetened" though.

John Philipps said...

@ Johnny Walker:
Still not really clear for me, maybe my bad english:-)
When you say you have been to recordings, you mean IN the audience or part of the crew/creative staff?
My questions was, why would i hear a laugh track in the playback? The playback they showed to us ALREADY HAD laughs on the audio I could clearly hear besides our audience laughs.
Sorry if my question is not clear.

Village Smithee said...


Having worked with a number of actors long enough to understand what their ranges are like, here's a little thought experiment. Using the actors who appeared in the opening credits of M*A*S*H, Cheers, and Frasier, recast the shows –- with the proviso that no actor can appear in the same show in which he or she is credited. (If you find an irresistible match, then okay, but not in the same role.)

I like the idea of Ratzenberger as Klinger and Peri Gilpin as Hot Lips, but you're the savant here. Have fun!

Anonymous said...

Ken, love the blog. My question ... are series regulars on any level paid for shows on which they don't appear? For example, of the last two Walking Dead episodes, one featured none of the main actors and the next featured long shots of a few of them with no dialog. How do stars feel when they are not the subject of their shows?

Jerry Smith

Waves of Gray said...

To Jerry's point, Gary Burghoff remained in the opening credits of MASH "as Radar" throughout season 8, although he wasn't in most of episodes. I understand that he was ready to leave the show, but I'm guessing some negotiations took place to decide the scope of his credit.

Ava said...

I was watching Modern Family the other day, and it occurred to me that kids on sitcoms (especially siblings) tend to be some of the most boring characters on TV these days. Is there a reason for that?