Friday, July 03, 2015

Friday Questions

What better preparation for the 4th of July holiday weekend than Friday Questions?

Pete starts us off:

There's a Mindy Project episode where a character has been looking at porn on his girlfriend's computer. She mentions finding it on her browser history, to which he responds, "What's a browser history?"

It's a really funny scene. But as I laughed, I thought there's just no way a NYC doctor--even a semi-Luddite--could be so clueless. As a sitcom writer, if you have to pick one, what's more important: Telling a good joke or not straining credulity in the process?

My firm rule is to always play characters at the top of their intelligence. Sacrificing that for a joke, even a great joke, undermines your character and series.  I won't do it.  Period.  But that’s just me.

Now… in this instance, a case could be made that the character wouldn’t know browser history. I can’t say. I don’t know the character well enough. There may have been spirited debate in the writing room. They may have believed that that blind spot was credible for that character. If that’s the case, then the bit was valid without sacrificing any integrity.   But if they were just rationalizing in order to keep the joke, then we have different priorities. 

David Kruh asks:

Back when you were writing for hit shows like mash and then in the 80s for cheers, television audiences had very few channels from which to choose. Now with hundreds of channels and a fractured audience does that change the way you would write for a sitcom today? In other words would you target your writing for a specific audience, or do you feel that funny is funny no matter how broad the demographic?

No. I write to the premise and theme of the show. I try to make it as funny as I can while being true to my vision of the show.

And we (David Isaacs and I) try to only write shows and subject matter we feel we can write with authority. Since our humor is character-based we hope that it resonates with multiple generations.

But we don’t do things like throw in a bunch of pop culture references because “that’s what the kids like these days.”

From GS in SF about my post where I chided musicians for introducing band members and yammering during the emotional songs people came to hear.

Here is a question for Ken... does he want the song to remain the same as it was on the record? Or is an acoustic version of a hit song appreciated? Or a different riff or a medley used on a standard song? Because while a talk over may take someone out of the moment of the song, I think all music is like improvisational jazz. I do not think the same can be said for all plays.

A different version or arrangement of a song can be interesting. But often what I hear are just singers being lazy, screwing with the songs because they’re bored with singing them. Especially when part of the attraction of a song might be the purity of the performance, I feel cheated when the singer sloughs it off in the name of “variety.”

I saw Bette Midler recently and was very impressed with how well and how enthusiastically she still sang her songs. She delivered their full impact. Meanwhile, she had plenty of time for patter and goofing around.

DwWashburn has the final question.

With the All Star game being played this year in Cincinnati, it has been rumored that Pete Rose will participate in the festivities. Interesting how MLB will call Pete when it benefits them (All Star Game, All Century Players, anniversary of Rose breaking Cobb's record).

What’s your opinion on the whole Rose / gambling mess in baseball?

Pete Rose broke the one cardinal rule of baseball. Players and managers can’t gamble. Major League Baseball can withstand just about any crisis as long as the fans don’t think the games are fixed. Commissioner Landis went to extraordinary lengths to rid the game of all possible offenders during the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

Rose knew all of this but thought of himself as above the game. He’s not. No one is, no matter how many hits they've gotten.

And he continues to lie.  He's always insisted he never bet as a player (only as a manager).  Now proof is coming out that indeed he did bet as a player. 

GREAT ballplayer.  Complete knucklehead.  For continuing to lie for almost thirty years I say he's got zero chance of getting in the Hall of Fame.   Sorry Reds fans, but that's how I feel. 

Have a safe and sane 4th of July.


Johnny Walker said...

I was just thinking that the browser history joke would have worked great in the late 90s/early 00s -- but then only a few people would have gotten it. The reason it gets a laugh today is because EVERYONE knows what a "browser history" is... but that also means the character has to be pitched as incredibly tech dumb.

Brule Eagan said...

I've always thought it was to Pete Rose's benefit that he's not in the Hall. Once he's in, the conversation is silenced.

RockGolf said...

Pete Rose IS in the Hall of Fame!

Okay, it's the WWE Hall of Fame, but hey...

As to artists changing up a song, one of the best examples is Joe Jackson. He had a minor hit with "Is She Really Going Out With Him" and every tour he completely rearranged it. One year, he did it as 4-part accapella. Magic. A live album has 3 different versions and all are worth listening to.

Allan V said...

Have to agree on the Pete Rose thing. I once read "Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms", a book by 1930's major-league pitcher Elden Auker (who eventually became famous for being the last living pitcher to have struck out Babe Ruth). Auker had nothing but contempt for Rose; he said that the no-gambling rule was so prominently posted in major-league clubhouses that there was no absolutely no excuse for breaking it, and that Rose got what he deserved by being banned. I think he even called Rose a "lout" or a "louse" or something like that.

Oat Willie said...

Those mindless medleys are comedy gold! Remember the Sweeney Sisters? "And she's buying a stairway to...CLANG CLANG CLANG GOES THE TROLLEY!" Medley's are also funny in airline food:"complemented by a vegetable medley."

Stephen Robinson said...

JOHNNY WALKER: My issue with the browser history joke is that the punchline is basically that the character is dumb. Too many sitcoms make their character's stupidity the entire joke. I also agree that the reference is about 15 years past its prime. It's like when someone makes the "jury duty joke" ("A jury is made up of 12 people who can't get out of jury duty!") That's not a clever observation anymore.

Jokes about a character's intelligence work, I think, if someone is not as smart as they think they are and their machinations fail because they overlooked something obvious (though, not so obvious that we saw it coming a mile away). Both FRASIER and CHEERS did this well: One of many examples is the "Crane Brothers" mystery episode where they believe they've solved a murder. And on CHEERS, one of Rebecca's schemes to climb the corporate ladder.

And I also like when "dumbness" has its own internal logic. A great exchange from FRIENDS is when Chandler is reading the newspaper:

JOEY: Can I see the comics?

CHANDLER: Joey, this is the NEW YORK TIMES.

JOEY: Oh, sorry... *may* I see the comics?

Anonymous said...

@ RockGolf
Joe Jackson had a minor hit with "Is She Really going Out With Him"?
Did he record that before or after the 1919 World Series and he was banned from baseball?

Hamid said...

Stephen Robinson another good Frasier example is the episode where he "helped" build the Habitat for Humanity house. Feeling a sense of having newly acquired blue collar skills, he makes no small show of announcing his intention of "fixing" a drawer that won't close with his tools. Niles walks over and points out that if he simply places the stapler back on it's side, the drawer would close just fine.
OF course the flaw here was that there's no way that heavy stapler could've popped upright without Frasier shuffling heavily in the drawer.
Clever, but there should've been more effort with the props to make it believable. You can't have Frasier deliberately arrange the stapler, but it should've been setup so that his shuffling moved it without him noticing. That failure really ruined the episode for me.

RockGolf said...

Anonymous: After the World Series. Before he fathered Michael.

Daws said...

I own a small technical support business and have many, many doctors as my clients. I'd need three hands to count the number of doctors that are not Luddites, but care only about technology to the degree it helps them do their jobs. And I've had more than one who made it clear they don't know a browser from a Bulldog. So it's entirely possible. These are attending physicians, by the way -- way past residency.

Igor said...

@ Daws - "but care only about technology to the degree it helps them do their jobs."

Yep. And IMO that describes most of the world. The upside for them is: They don't spend time learning lots of stuff they don't really have to know. And when someone asks them, "Can you help me fix my computer?", they get to say, honestly, "Sorry, I don't know how."

Especially over recent years, I've been regularly surprised by "basic" computer stuff that people do not know.

sanford said...

On either Monday or Tuesday baseball tonight podcast they discussed the Pete Rose situation. If I recall they think Pete should at least be on the ballot. Rob Dibble was on Mike and Mike yesterday and they also talked about Rose. It was certainly well known at the time that Rose pretty much bet on everything. If you have the ESPN radio ap, you can listen to the talk about Rose at about the 54 minute mark or so. It seemed to me that Dibble inferred that others bet on baseball but they didn't get caught.

Mike said...

Sitcoms undermining a character's already-established intelligence or intentions for the sake of a cheap (and often not funny, but even if it is, it's not worth it) joke bugs the crap out of me whenever I see it on a show I love. I remember a late-season (may have even been the final season) How I Met Your Mother had a "fake flashback" to very early on in the series, when it was revealed Marshall bet Lily $5 that Ted would end up with Robin. What that meant was that all those moments in the ensuing seasons where Marshall was giving heartfelt advice to Ted, it wasn't heartfelt advice at all; it was purely so that Marshall could win his little bet. It was a very disappointing sacrifice of character and for the sake of a dumb joke.


kent said...

Hallelujah. Someone finally gets what the Rose issue is all about. Moreover, it's irrelevant that he bet on his own team. What if he rested key players at the expense of winning on a Monday because he had a bigger bet on Tuesday's game? You can't bet. Not ever. He knew it, he knew the consequences, and he did it anyway.

MikeK.Pa. said...

"A different version or arrangement of a song can be interesting. But often what I hear are just singers being lazy, screwing with the songs because they’re bored with singing them. Especially when part of the attraction of a song might be the purity of the performance, I feel cheated when the singer sloughs it off in the name of “variety.”

Have to agree with you. I heard the record (CB, MP3) hundreds of times. That's what I paid good money to see. You want to rif on it and get lazy, then give a free concert - I'll pass. Paul McCartney is anal about every note has to be played the same way as it was done on the original, at least according to one bio I read about him. He's always appreciated the fans and still gets a rush from playing live, which why he's still doing it in his 70s.

The mention of Rose and HOF always makes me think of Shoeless Joe Jackson. He and the other Black Sox like Eddie Ciccote were taken advantage of by their tightwad owner, Charlie Commiskey. The Old Roman paid below average wages, welshed on bonuses for winning the pennant (and in Cicotte's case, winning 30 games). Jackson couldn't even read or write. They get blacklisted and Commiskey gets into the HOF.If Rose is ever allowed to enter the HOF, it better be in the same class as Shoeless Joe.

Canda said...

Agree completely with Kent, who debunks all those people who say of Rose, "But he only bet on his own team".

Cap'n Bob said...

One other live concert thing that I hate is when the singer yells, "Everybody!" I don't pay good money to hear a mob caterwauling, I want to hear the band.

Klee said...

FRIDAY QUEsTION Do you know if they ever used Nichoals Colasanto's TV directorial expertise in Cheers? I recently watched a Logan's Run episode directed by him.

Nick said...


Which sitcom do you think had the most extraordinary cast? I was watching a rerun of Taxi recently and it was remarkable how many of the cast went onto successful careers in television and movies after the series ended. I wondered whether Taxi is the gold standard here or is there another sitcom which did even better in terms of casting a whole range of actors before they became stars?

Anonymous said...

I'm all for putting Rose in the HOF... After he's dead. His statistics belong there and accomplishments do but he does not.

Pam, St. Louis

Todd Everett said...

If I want to hear the hits exactly the way the were on the record, I play (er, stream) the record. Or go to a tribute band show.

Barry Gilpin said...

Ken, a lot of Reds fans agree with you on this one. Quite a few, maybe not the majority, but a large segment of the fanbase wish he would just go away. He's an embarrassment.

Bob B. said...

The front offices of baseball are so hypocritical. They will take money from casinos and from the Las Vegas Chamber to advertise gambling, and they have endorsed a gambling site (DraftKings) as the official vendor of MLB, but they point to ancient times (1919) when it comes to Rose.

So the owners and the organization of major league baseball can benefit from gambling but if the actual people who participate in the game and bring the fans in even touch it they're banned. Ridiculous!

Anonymous said...

@Bob B;
Your point is valid on the hypocrisy of the front offices, but let's not draw the wrong conclusion.
Because the suits take money and accept gambling is not an excuse to let players do it.
The sport itself depends on the absolute integrity of the actual contest. You let players gamble on it, and that will be gone in short order. Even if no one throws games, you won't be able to convince fans of that every time a questionable play comes up.

Jose said...

ken, what's the best thing you've ever written? and/or are most proud of

cadavra said...

Did Rose murder anyone? Did he rape anyone? Did he blow up a building? Did he sell drugs to children? No, no, no and no. Yes, what he did was wrong, but a lifetime ban is overkill. He's paid for his sins and then some; time to reinstate him into MLB and put him into the Hall, where he belongs.

Diane D. said...

If Rose hadn't bet on his own team, he would have been reinstated at some point. The rule says a life-time ban, so they cannot reinstate him unless they change the rule and make it retroactive, right? He has applied for reinstatement 4 times. Why does he do that when he knows it can't be done? Or, can they override the rule? Whatever the answers are, I do think a lifetime ban is too much. A 25 year ban would end a player's career, so it would be as big a deterrent as a life-time ban, but would allow someone like Pete Rose to eventually be recognized for his accomplishments. It's very sad, but he knew the risk he was taking, and chose to do it.

Richard said...

Hey Ken, I loved your book on growing up in the 60s. I found it very relatable even though I grew up in the 80s and 90s.

Would you ever do one on your experiences in the 70s? You've shared a ton of great stories from being in radio and I'm sure you have a ton more.


Shawn said...

This isn't really a Friday question, but I was wondering if you've had a chance to hear Kevin Smith's new podcast, "Talk Salad and Scrambled Eggs", where he, and Matt Mira intend on doing commentary for every episode of 'Frasier'?

chuckcd said...

I work with doctors and believe me, it's possible they don't know what a browser history is. Just because they are doctors doesn't mean they are smart.

Tyler said...

Do sitcom directors tend to be more amused or irritated by repeated takes being blown by one or more actors in a scene laughing and giggling? Have you worked with any actors who got irked by co-stars who repeatedly did so? I've just been re-watching all the Seinfeld blooper reels (often as funny as the show itself) and Michael Richards at times gets clearly annoyed with blown takes.

j gillespie said...

I'm very late to this- I would have commented on the Pete Rose stuff if I'd seen this a couple weeks ago- but as someone who's worked in a technology/ presentation field with doctors- You'd be amazed by what they don't know