Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Questions

Ready for some Friday Questions?   

Robin gets us started:

Say you're pitching an idea for a show and the network passes. Is it possible for you to move on--let's pretend you were able to get a different show on TV--and after you're a bit more well-known try to get your original idea made? Or is it the case that when it's gone, it's gone?

Until someone buys your idea it’s yours. You can shop it anywhere. And even if everyone passes, if your next idea becomes FRIENDS you can take your old rejected idea out of the drawer and there will be a bidding war.

For whatever reason, my partner and I never had much luck at ABC. Routinely they would pass and another network would buy our pitch. So we always scheduled ABC first and almost used it as a practice pitch.

I don’t know how it is now at ABC but it used to be that when you pitched a comedy, they were in Burbank, and the executives would sit with their backs to the window. You would be looking at the execs and over their shoulders, out the window, was Forest Lawn Cemetery. How perfect was that?

From Marianne:

Hi Ken! In the 'Cheers' finale, we learn that Diane has led a somewhat depressing life after leaving Boston. I couldn't help but feel sorry for her! There are rumors that Diane was written this way out of spite due to Shelley Long's departure from the series. Are these rumors true?

Those rumors are absolutely false. We were thrilled that Shelley agreed to come back for the finale. She certainly didn’t have to. But having Diane return really created a sense of closure and added to the “event” status of the episode. Think about it – why would Shelley agree to return if she felt the script was out to punish her?

Here’s the God’s honest truth: the final episode of CHEERS was much better because Shelley was in it. The series as a whole was elevated greatly by Shelley’s presence. Any other actress besides Shelley Long and CHEERS likely would have been gone in thirteen weeks. We owe her an enormous debt, and it is with delight that I can dispel such rumors. Thanks, Marianne, for giving me the opportunity to do that.

Andy P. has a question in light of the recent BIG BANG THEORY actors’ holdout.

I'd read that Parsons/Galecki/Cuoco also got development deals, Ken. Could you please explain a bit more about what that means?

That means that the studio sets up production companies for the actors, gives them office space, a budget to hire development executives and funds to buy or option material.

Sometimes these turn into legitimate companies like Kelsey Grammer’s Grammnet. They actually produce successful series. But most of the time these "deals" are just vanity projects that go nowhere. The actors think it’ll be fun to be a producer developing projects. And then when they see how difficult the process is they tire quickly.

It gives you an even greater appreciation for Desi Arnaz.
Stephen Robinson has a long question for a short answer.

I've noticed that with sitcoms filmed before a live audience, the audience will "react" (laugh) to a joke that is only a surprise if you're watching at home. For example, the camera zooms in to a close-up of the character saying something inspiring or potentially upsetting and then it pulls back to reveal that everyone she was speaking to has vanished or passed out. The audience would have noticed this set-up (the characters leaving the stage or lying down on the floor) so how do they keep the audience from "reacting" until the actual visual punchline?

We pre-shoot those scenes and show them back to the audience.

Daws asks:

What's your opinion of the movie "Major League?"

I love MAJOR LEAGUE, especially Bob Uecker as Indians’ announcer, Harry Doyle. From what I understand, he improvised all his dialogue, which explains why it was so hilarious. Now that Wesley Snipes is out of prison they should have a reunion.

What’s your Friday Question?


Hamid said...

I fell about laughing when I read that the newly rediscovered Orson Welles film has the Ron Jeremy-esque title TOO MUCH JOHNSON.


Cpl. Clegg said...

Friday question:

I thought I would turn the tables a bit. It appears that you are a veteran of many pitch meetings. From those, I assume, you must have formed some opinions on studio/network executives. What background makes the best executive? Former actor like Les Moonves? Long-term network employee like Fred Silverman? Or something else?

Scooter Schechtman said...

I also love Uecker's performance in that movie. I plan to replace my old VHS with a dvd so I can jump over shitty 80s soundtrack music and go right to his bits.

Johnny Walker said...

I remember reading that Jane Leeves and Peri Gilpin created their own production company (named Bristol Cities, Cockney rhyming slang for, um, you should look it up). There was a few projects mentioned, but they never came to fruition. I guess that happens a lot!

Johnny Walker said...

PS - Another vote for Major League. I haven't seen it in a long time, but I remember it had a lot of charm.

Unknown said...

Ken, your near-constant defense and adoration of Shelley Long makes me wonder: Why DID she get so much bad press in those days?
Every story you saw about her in those days was mostly negative. Since you were there, maybe you could clue us in.
And as far as Desilu goes, it speaks to the business acumen of Desi Arnaz.(And his creative capacity wasn't bad, either, with his role in developing the three-camera format for shooting "I Love Lucy".) We owe Mr. Arnaz a tremendous debt.

Stoney said...

Good to know that there were no bad feelings about Shelly Long's departure but it does seem like many references to Diane in episodes afterward were kinda on the bitter side. One time Frasier actually said "...that bitch Diane..." and there were numerous jabs from Carla. One joke that had to be at Shelly's expense was the one made by Woody at the drive-in theater; "I don't get it. Why would an actress leave in the middle of a successful series?"

I wonder if, when the series ended, things were OK between Kirstie Ally and the rest of the cast. I recall the Tonight Show live from The Bull & Finch after the finale aired. Kirstie was not there with the rest of the cast and when Jay Leno brought her in by remote some of the others (who had reportedly been tipping a few) started razzing her.

Anonymous said...

Having grown up and currently living in LA , Vin Scully is the greatest announcer ever. But I spent 4 years in Wisconsin and Ueker is a delight to listen to on a daily basis. The quickest wit in sports. I don't know what baseball radio announcing will be when he and Vin finally retire.

Anonymous said...

That bitch Dianne did leave him at the alter. From a character perspective, it made sense for Sam and Fraiser to both harbour a lot of resentment toward her. Certainly more sense than her leaving and never being mentioned again. And Carla sure wasn't going to suddenly stop putting her down when she broke Sam's heart and skipped town. (As for Woody's comment, well, that seems almost affectionate to me.)

Stephen C.

Tudor Queen said...

Yet another vote for Major League, a movie I stop and watch whenever it comes on. It's funny, it's touching, it simply works. I'm not crazy about the romance between Tom Berenger and Rene Russo, but only because poor, valiant Ms. Russo gets stuck with all the worst lines ("Books are my life now!") The end is perfection, with every single one of the 'hapless' Indians making a real contribution to the win. They come together as a team, the city comes together around them... and you smile and sometimes cry a little, because in a 'silly' comedy, the emotion is totally earned.

Two questions linger:

How did Pedro Cerrano eventually become President of the United States?

Whatever happened to the marvelous Margaret Whitton?

mike said...

Good to see a shout to Desi Arnaz, a very underrated talent both businesswise and performingwise. And for those not in the know, Bristol Cities is rhyming slang for boobage.

Johnny Walker said...

If insults to characters are what the writers feel about the actors playing them, then John Ratzenberger must be the biggest asshole on the planet.

I'm sure the reason there was negative stories about Long is simply because, yes, she could be difficult on set (but never nasty -- only tricky in order to get things just right) -- and the press needs to sell newspapers.

fred said...

1538Give it up LA Dodger fans. Vin Scully is the biggest hum drummer ever. If anyone ever named a band after him it would be the "Monotones"!

Dan Ball said...

Desilu...there's a powerhouse. Without it, there would be no Star Trek.

Waukee Community School District said...

HOME IMPROVEMENT was a multi-camera sitcom and CHEERS was a multi-camera sitcom, but they looked different. On screen, HOME IMPROVEMENT looked more like a soap opera while CHEERS looked more surreal, like a movie. THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW used both of these looks, the movie look for 90% of the show and the soap opera look for the show-in-the-show part of the show. Is there a name gor those kinds of looks and why do shows use different looks?

Cap'n Bob said...

Fred: There was a group called The Monotones.

Cap'n Bob said...

Oh, and their hit was The Book of Love.

As for people leaving shows, I'm still bummed out about Chester leaving Gunsmoke.

gottacook said...

Waukee Community School District: Aren't you just talking about a show shot on videotape versus one shot on film? For instance, All in the Family (and the other Lear series) versus Mary Tyler Moore (and the other MTM series).

Nicolas said...

Yesterday you mentioned Dukakis guest starring on Cheers. I have long felt there was something political about Cheers. Not a partisan thing, but there were a few touches here and there. I think John Kerry also guested. What show would even think about having the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs? The 200th episode clip show was hosted by John McLaughlin, as if it was some sort of political event. Can you expand on that? Was there any desire to have that trend, or did it just come together just like that?

Hamid said...


John Ratzenberger appeared in a political ad alongside vicious homophobes Stephen Baldwin, Victoria Jackson and Pat Boone, the latter who compared gays and lesbians to terrorists. Draw your own conclusions from that.

Chris said...

Friday question: I was just watching Two and a Half Men and I just realized they keep switching between one and two stories between episodes. Some shows do that.

Who and when decides the format and does it get changed during the series?

The Fat Braying Asswood said...

I'm always happy to see you unreservedly support Shelley Long and acknowledge the depth of her contribution to Cheers. I always thought that her performance as Diane was nothing short or miraculous and wondered if any other actress could have made that character work as well. I don't recall you ever mentioning any background on her casting, so I'll turn this into a Friday question and ask whether there is a Mary Tyler Moore/Laura Petrie-type backstory to her casting on Cheers.

The Fat Braying Asswood said...

Ugh, every comment I ever post here has at least one typo... "short of miraculous," not "short or miraculous." Oy.

Splaning Tudu said...

Also happy for the shout-out to Desi Arnaz, whom seemingly few people know for his extensive contributions to the medium.

Klee said...

MTM Enterprises was the Desilu of the 70s and early 80s.

DrBOP said...

"Juuuuuust a little outside."

Cracks me up EVERY time!

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr Levine,
Does Frasier like any animals at all? I ask this because despite disliking dogs, he mentions in later appearances in cheers a slight fear of animals instilled in him by his mother whilst in his early appearances when he was dating Diane, he mentions having an owl named Plato and a dog too. Can you explain this?

Dave said...

Hi, Ken. Friday question:

When an actor announces he wants to leave a show, be it David Caruso wanting to do movies, Rob Lowe miffed he wasn't the star, or Josh Charles apparently just getting bored, it seems like they're accommodated. Does it ever happen where an actor says he wants out of his contract and is told no, because his character is too vital? Or do the writers just shrug and, as with The Good Wife, simply have another attorney show up and start flirting with Julianna Margulies?

Ed said...

I have a question about syndication. I watch Seinfeld reruns, and I notice that they cycle through the same episodes over and over. How do they pick which episodes go into syndication? Obviously they aren't airing every episode from every season, in other words. Who makes those decisions?

Thanks. Really enjoy reading your blog!

Mike said...

Waukee: Home Improvement was shot on videotape, while Cheers was shot on film. That accounts for the difference in look.

Johnny Walker said...

And the same is true for the talk show and behind the scenes segments of The Larry Sanders Show.

Ken said they tried taping an episode of Cheers to save money early on, but everyone agreed it didn't work for the show, so they kept shooting on film.

Hamid: So it WAS some bit conspiracy.

MikeN said...

If they did a reunion perhaps they could have a cameo with Kiefer Sutherland.

zhiyi said...

To be honest, I'm quite disappointed in the Sam and Diane story in the finale. It reminds me of the episode where Diane lamented to Sam how "Where are they now?" interviews on TV are depressing. It feels exactly like that.