Friday, June 06, 2014

Friday Questions

Would it be Friday without Friday Questions?

Brian starts us off:

I believe you wrote the Cheers episode "The Last Angry Mailman" in which Cliff handcuffs himself in the house because he doesn't want to sell it. When Norm cuts a post with a chainsaw to free him, the house comes crashing down. Can you describe how the crash was orchestrated? Was it in front of a live audience? Was it done in one take? It looked huge, loud and messy!

It was done in one take and it was done in front of the live studio audience. It helps to have Jim Burrows as your director. All the debris was above the stage and a trap door released it. Numerous tests were made the night before, and I believe a dry run was filmed just for protection. But what you saw on the air was what the audience saw. It was huge and messy. And funny.

If possible, it’s great to do these kinds of stunts live. I directed a massive pie fight on ALMOST PERFECT in front of the audience. On RAYMOND they once drove a car through their living room.

The key to doing a stunt in front of a live audience is to make it the last thing you shoot that night.

From Name encoded in binary somewhere in the infinite progression of Pi:

This brings up a question I've always had about your continued participation in sho bidness. You are rather candid in this blog about your feelings on a variety of topics and people (e.g., the suits and their counterproductive interference). Do you suffer much fallout from that?

Well, it helps that I’m not out trying to pitch pilots to NBC I guess, but in all of my rants or commentaries I try to be fair and objective. Yes, I criticize, but I also praise. And I also try to explain my reasoning.

Additionally, I try to be honest about my own work and shortcomings. I’ve shared many of my stupid mistakes. Hopefully you can avoid them.

My objective is to see better television shows and movies. I’m not looking to create controversy or make enemies.

But I have to have credibility. When I like something or recommend something, it means nothing if I've never disliked anything.   Otherwise, I'm just Jeffrey Lyons. 

If I’m biased at all, it’s in favor of writers and giving them more creative freedom. But I’ve made no secret about that.

Otherwise, I have no personal vendetta or agenda. There are a number of "suits" who are close friends of mine, even after my rants.

As for any backlash, I don’t know. Maybe. I suspect the writing staffs of 2 BROKE GIRLS and HAWAII 5-0 hate me. But again, I'm just giving my opinion. And you know what they say – opinions are like a-holes…

The Bumble Bee Pendant wants to know:

Technology has changed things and now you can get a sense or a pulse of the show's audience expectations and tone. When you or your daughter, Annie are involved in a show (even for just one episode), do you read the TV blog reviews and critiques in order to gauge what the audiences likes or dislikes? Realistically, wouldn't these be better notes than from the folks in Production?

In the same way that I always check out readers’ comments on this blog, I would certainly scan the net to see how people responded to a show I was involved in.

But I am always mindful that this input represents just a very small portion of the audience. And included in that sliver of vocal viewers are idiot trolls. (They usually go by the name Anonymous.)

Still, you can get an overall sense of whether the audience appreciated what they saw or were turned off by it. I know some producers claim they never read internet feedback. I think they do so at their own peril. I don’t make shows just for “me.” I make them hoping to affect an audience. If I’m falling short I want to know about it so I can do something to correct it.

And finally: from Michael:

Did you have a Plan B if you and David were not successful breaking into the writing business? Do you think you would continued working as a DJ indefinitely?

I probably would have pursued baseball announcing earlier. I can’t imagine being a lifelong disc jockey. I was 24 and already disillusioned. Of course, getting fired every couple of months, moving all over the country, and playing the same nine records every night for pennies also had something to do with my disenchantment. I think I'm still paying off apartment deposits. 

The only way I envisioned a long term disc jockey career was if I could have become a top rated morning man in a major market.   There was a period when those guys made ballplayer money. Who knows? I could have been the King of all Media in Cleveland.

My other radio aspiration was to program stations. That’s something still on my bucket list, but alas, the kind of fun radio I would want to do is no longer in favor in today’s corporate landscape. So I'm guessing that will never happen. 

I could have also seen myself as a cartoonist. The only catch there is that I’d probably starve.

Thanks for all your questions. Keep ‘em coming in the comments section.


Garrett said...

Hi Ken. I work at a local tv station and our general manager was telling me a story about The Cosby Show. The station paid a huge amount to get the show when it went into syndication in 1988. But he said it was a syndication flop pretty much across the board. Any thoughts on why a super popular show in first run airings can underperform so much in reruns?

Bob Gassel said...

What live audience laugh surprised you the most...a line you thought was a throwaway that got a huge roar...

PolyWogg said...

Is there an formula to explain how:

(a) I generally dislike most sitcoms;
(b) I love TBBT;
(c) I know the "Undateable" show on NBC has nothing to recommend it; and,
(d) I'm enjoying it anyway.

WTF? Am I desperate for a summer show to watch because everything else is on hiatus? Did my barometer drop...?

How the heck did it hook me?

Lorimartian said...

I was happy to see Cheri Oteri on "Hot in Cleveland" this week. Never saw enough of her or Jan Hooks after SNL. I've also noticed the absence of Chuck Ranberg and Anne Flett Giordano in the credits, not even as producers. It's possible I just missed their credit, but if not, I wonder what happened there.

Just bought "Where the Hell am I?" in paperback from Amazon. Did you see Stephen Colbert's rant against Amazon? What is your take on Amazon's tactics targeting Hachette Books?

Brian O. said...

Jeffrey Lyons liked VOLUNTEERS?

Stoney said...

Ken, you really should check out shortwave radio station WBCQ in Monticello, Maine. It's run by Allan H. Weiner, a longtime pirate operator who made national news in the late '80s when his offshore RADIO NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL was on the air briefly before it was boarded and shut down. WBCQ is a licensed station and Weiner sells airtime to just about anyone to program pretty much whatever they please! (Extreme hate speech is the only no-no.) During the week the programming is mainly by religious groups and investment opportunists. But there are also some unique free-form programs on. Ask Harry Shearer about them; they air his "Le Show" on Sunday nights. Weiner does his own talk show, mainly about radio, Friday nights at 5pm PT. For those who don't have a shortwave radio they also stream online. BTW, there's no audience ratings for shortwave.

ODJennings said...


I'd love to hear your thoughts on the behind the scene drama at Modern Family, specifically the tension between the co-creators/writers, Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd:

Todd Everett said...

On the brighter side of things, great news on the Cincinnati radio front.

Manny said...

In the age of binge-watching, it seems shows are becoming more and more serialized. Do you prefer shows, sitcoms, in particular, with lots of continuity and continuing storylines, or do you think doing stand-alones is the way to go? I prefer serialization, but both have their pros and cons.

mmryan314 said...

Ken- I like that about you- you are honest, far more than I am. RE: your apartment deposits- I told my parents I didn't get it back and they BELIEVED me. My own kids paid me back though, in their own dishonesty.
By the way- re-watched last episode of ' Orange is....' and then this season's premiere. Binging now.

Pat Reeder said...

"I suspect the writing staffs of 2 BROKE GIRLS and HAWAII 5-0 hate me. But again, I'm just giving my opinion. And you know what they say – opinions are like a-holes…"

They write for "Two Broke Girls"?

Stoney said...

Not so much a question but I'd be interested in your take on this; here in New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is lauding the fact that more TV and film production is being done here because of economic incentives he pushed through.

Here's an article about it from Niagara Frontier Publications:

VP81955 said...

From what I've seen of "2 Broke Girls," it seems as if nobody writes for it; instead, the (mostly inane) dialogue and storylines are conjured spontaneously, as if directed by Leo McCarey in the bizarro world.

Kirk said...

Friday question: Are Hawkeye, BJ, Charles and Potter (or Hawkeye, Trapper, Frank, and Henry) the only doctors at the 4077th? Or are there other doctors we just don't see but should presume are there? I'm asking because in the mess hall scenes it looks like there's at least 30, maybe 50 people. All those extras can't all be nurses and orderlies. Not for just four doctors. Any idea how many doctors there really are?

Jeffro said...


The first season had both "Ugly John" Black, the anesthesiologist—AKA the "gas passer"—and "Spear Chucker" Jones, the neurosurgeon. While the former character always was a minor role, the latter character was dropped after a few episodes to focus on Hawkeye and Trapper John. In the first season there also was a camp dentist at least in one episode, but it wasn't the same "Painless Pole" character as in the movie.

In later seasons, but before Henry Blake and Trapper John left, there was a Captain Spaulding who was in at least a couple episodes, maybe three. He is best known as the doctor who played the guitar. I believe in one of the episodes he was in the OR as a surgeon, but I could be wrong. But I'm positive he was a doctor. He was definitely an officer, if not ranked as a captain.

If the episode required it they also had visiting doctors, such as the eye doctor who came to treat Hawkeye when he lost his sight from the gas stove explosion. And don't forget Sidney Freedman, who even spent some of his "free" time at the camp as sort of a mental health vacation for himself in various episodes.

I'm sure there were other doctors who came and went, but were intentionally omitted for character development purposes. It's just like Ken always explained with any extra wait staff and bartenders at Cheers. The audience was supposed to assume that they existed, but if they had defined portrayals, they would only detract from the focus on the main characters.

And for MASH, let's not forget the main purpose was to perform "meatball" surgery near—but not at—the front. Complicated enough to take all the bullets, shrapnel, and other foreign bodies out of the soldiers, patch them up internally and externally to stop the bleeding in order to keep them from dying, and stabilize them enough so that they could get well enough to convalesce at an evac hospital where they could receive any further specialized treatment once they were no longer in any danger of dying from their immediate wounds. And the 4077th was among a number of other MASH units dispersed among the front lines. And with the fighting in spurts, most of the time maybe only a few wounded would come in on a daily basis, followed by intermittent periods where they'd get a lot of wounded whenever there was a bigger battle.

Cory said...

Polly, I think the reason I watch Undatable (despite it being some "nice guy's" fantasy fulfillment fanfic) is Chris D'Elia. I watched Whitney JUST to see him after it was clear the show sucked. He's got a great screen presence, and can rehab bad material. Imagine if they gave him something good to do?

Well, that and Ron Funches makes me laugh every time he's on @Midnight..

Anonymous said...

Cleveland actually had some long time djs that were stars in their own right. MMS had enough fans to get the ballot box stuffed and get the rock&roll hall of fame built there.

Kirk said...

@Jeffro--Good points. I guess what I really want to know is if was in the show's "bible" that there's a certain number of unknown doctors that writers could draw upon if need be. It seems they did that less and less as time went by. Obviously, if a MASH unit was supposed to have, say, 10 doctors, you couldn't make them all permanent cast members.

Captain Spaulding, incidentally, was played by folksinger Loudon Wainwright III. Rufas is his son.

JR said...

A question: How is writing for shows with commercials different from those without? Is the structure of the script the same? Does the freer form change the process at all?

Jason said...

Sorry if you've covered this before. I did a search and couldn't find this question in any of the S&P posts you've done.

I recently remembered an interview where one of the Simpsons writers said the joke he was proudest (and most surprised) to successfully sneak past S&P was a sign that read:

Sneed's Feed & Seed
(Formerly Chuck's)

What are some of the things you're proudest of getting past S&P (that you didn't think would make it)?