Friday, September 04, 2015

Friday Questions

Back from Vegas and I may be broke, but I can still answer some Friday Questions. What’s yours?

Carson Clark asks:

I've been listening to some of the old radio show comedies on the Sirius/XM classics channel. I was wondering what it would be like for you to write a radio comedy script? Would it be easier, more challenging? On a side note, I can believe audiences piled into a theater to watch actors talk into microphones.

In a sense I have written radio plays. Director Jim Burrows always contended that CHEERS episodes were just radio plays. Many times during CHEERS filmings Jim would turn away from the stage and just listen. The cadence and the pace and the words were more important than camera angles.

I agree with him. Today it’s more about style – mockumentaries or shotgun dialogue or naturalistic dialogue so naturalistic that everyone is mumbling.

CHEERS was about characters and attitudes and emotions. To appreciate the show you had to listen. I don’t know if it was easier or harder, but it was more rewarding writing something knowing the writing was the most important factor.

As an experiment, put on a first season episode of CHEERS and turn away from the flatscreen. Just listen. See what you think.

To your other question – I believe people came to watch radio shows for the same reason they come to watch TV shows – to see how they’re made. There’s something special about being on the inside. For audiences used to listening to radio shows it must’ve been a hoot to see how they were done, to watch the guy insert sound effects, to see their beloved actors in person, and for radio there was the added attraction that the shows were going out over the air live. Believe it or not, I’m too young to have ever been in a studio audience of a radio show, but I would have loved it I’m sure.

From Keith:

Friday question: Any thoughts on Antenna TV bringing Johnny Carson back?

I don’t imagine they will hold up all that well overall. The monologues will feel very dated. Spiro Agnew jokes won’t land. The sketches quite frankly, were always hokey.

But what I hope does hold up are the interviews. Carson was an absolute master at those. He got a lot out of his guests, he really listened, and he was incredibly quick with a quip.

Plus, he got good guests. So it will be fun to see some of those.

I suppose there is also the nostalgic value of being able to watch an entire old TONIGHT SHOW and not just clips. It’s like taking the Way-Back Machine for a spin. For me, two or three spins should be enough.

scott has a Friday question regarding sitcom sets:

The interior courthouse set on The Andy Griffith Show is the only set I can recall where we get a 360 degree view of he interior. Were there others that you can recall?

Most single-camera sitcoms have sets that can be shot from any direction. The Swamp on MASH for example.

But what about multi-camera shows, filmed before a studio audience? You’d never expect to see them have a fourth wall.

Well, again I refer you to the first year of CHEERS. In a few episodes there is a fourth wall. You see the other side of the bar. We filmed those angles after the audience had left. The only reason we stopped was because it took too long to bring in the fourth wall, move the cameras into the set, and shoot it. The added depth wasn’t worth the time and effort. But check it out, although not when you’re just listening to an episode.

And finally, from Alex:

Speaking about sets, Ken, I have a question. When a show filmed in front of an audience requires a major change to a set, how is that handled? For example, there is an Everybody Loves Raymond episode where Marie backs the car through Raymond's living room wall. Later in the episode, the wall is repaired again. And there's a Cheers episode where Rebecca turns the pool room into a chili parlor. The pool room is wrecked when the pressure cooker Rebecca is using explodes. When major changes have to made to a set, are those scenes filmed separately from the rest of the episode, or does the audience just sit and wait for the crew to make the necessary changes?

Those scenes are pre-shot, usually the day before. They’re then quickly edited and shown to the studio audience the next night.

However, there have been exceptions. If the big stunt happens at the end of the show sometimes they will film it in front of the audience.

For example, there was a CHEERS episode David Isaacs and I wrote where Cliff was distraught that his mother was selling the family home. So he chained himself to a beam in the living room. Norm eventually talks him into giving up, and saws through the beam. The moment they exit the house the second floor collapses and everything crashes to the ground including a toilet. With the great Jim Burrows directing, we did that live for the audience. Needless to say, they went nuts.

On ALMOST PERFECT I directed a big pie fight and we did that in front of the audience too. Although, to cover my ass, I also pre-filmed it the night before. It took about twelve hours to clean up. I’d hate to be the warm up guy who had to fill twelve hours.


Anonymous said...

On a side note, I can believe audiences piled into a theater to watch actors talk into microphones.

Assuming that's 'can't', well, disbelieve it all you like, but not only did they, they still do; last year I went to a recording of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, and tickets for Cabin Pressure recordings were always in great demand (I failed to get one for the final episodes in the draw).

They may only be talking into microphones, but they are still actors, they still work with the audience, and there is still something special about a live performance that just can't be captured even on the highest of D equipment.

(And it's not like they just stand ramrod-straight and talk into the microphones, either, especially when they are relating to each other: actors feed off the performances of other actors, and if they are good they give a full emotional performance, even if they are constrained in how much they can move.)

Stoney said...

Listen to "Cheers" without watching? Been there, done that! I used to have one of those multi-band radios that picked up TV sound. Must confess though that having seen the episodes several times before I pretty much knew what was happening visually.

Stan Freberg, who favored radio over TV, once recorded a bit about what a TV western would sound like on radio. Very few words and a lot of sound effects. Not his funniest piece but it made it's point.

Gotta love this brilliant scene from the "A Prarie Home Companion" film:

tavm said...

My favorite movie is It's a Wonderful Life. So when PBS did a special which had modern actors enacting an old radio version of that film and called it "Merry Christmas, George Bailey", I taped it and still have it as of now. It was very enjoyable to watch all the actors enacting all those roles reading their scripts and doing their own interpretation of them and hearing the audience reactions at the same time. Both Bill Pullman as George and Robert Guillame as Mr. Gower, I especially remember.

Janice said...

Regarding major set changes, there's an episode of I LOVE LUCY where they redecorate the Mertz's apartment. Lucy rips open Fred's chair to reveal all the feathers just as Fred plugs in a fan and the feathers fly everywhere.

Well earlier in that episode they're in Lucy's apartment and they haven't yet come up with the idea of redecorating, yet one lone feather drifts in front of the actors. I don't know if it was from a rehearsal or if they filmed it ahead of time, but I always smile at the thought of the poor schlubs having to hand-pick every single feather out of the air before filming.

Matt said...


I think Ken meant that he could believe they would watch live radio and he explained why. People don't go to TV shows just to see a play. They want to see how it works. That would be the same with radio.

David said...

Hey Ken

A Friday question.

What do you feel is the best stuff you've ever written or been apart of? Produced or otherwise. What are you proudest of? What would you consider to be the essential viewing for a fan of Ken Levine and David Isaacs?

Anonymous said...

I think Ken meant that he could believe they would watch live radio and he explained why

The reply was to the questioner. The point was that not only did people go to see radio comedy programmes being recorded in the past, they still do.

People don't go to TV shows just to see a play. They want to see how it works. That would be the same with radio.

While getting to see 'how it works' is interesting, that wouldn't explain why people keep going back, even when they have seen loads and already know how it works.

The truth is that there is something about a live performance that just can't be captured, and that's as true for a radio recording as a TV recording or a play. It's worth going to a radio recording in its own right, assuming the actors are good, not just to satisfy one's curiosity about how it works.

Oh, and also you get to hear it before everybody else, that's quite cool, too.

YEKIMI said...

Actually, you're not too young to have been in the audience of a radio program. I believe up until 1979 CBS still did radio drama program, I distinctly remember hearing it on a local CBS affiliate in the evening and it was sorta big news among the retirement set when the finally decided to end it. No, they weren't replays of old-time shows either, brand new productions were put on usually in the vein of mystery. And for what it's worth, from the bastion of incredibly reliable information [tongue planted firmly in cheek] Wikipedia:

Scripted radio comedy and drama in the vein of old-time radio has a limited presence on U.S. radio. Several radio theatre series are still in production in the United States, usually airing on Sunday nights. These include original series such as Imagination Theater and a radio adaptation of The Twilight Zone TV series, as well as rerun compilations such as the popular daily series When Radio Was and USA Radio Network's Golden Age of Radio Theatre, and weekly programs such as Ed Walker's The Big Broadcast on WAMU. These shows usually air in late nights and/or on weekends on small AM stations. Carl Amari's nationally syndicated radio show "Hollywood 360" features 4 old-time radio episodes each week during his 4-hour broadcast. Amari also broadcasts old-time radio shows on "The WGN Radio Theatre" heard every Sunday night on 720-WGN in Chicago. Local rerun compilations are also heard, primarily on public radio stations.

And Zoomer radio [CFZM AM740] out of Toronto, Canada broadcasts old-time shows at 10PM, first 1/2 hour a drama, 2nd is a comedy] Monday through Friday. I usually listen OTA but if you're not in range of the signal you can always listen online.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

Maybe I'm giving into nostalgia, but having never found Carson that funny, and the skits awful, some of the funniest TV moments I remember were Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles, Jonathan Winters and Mel Brooks on The Tonight Show. I think the standard explanation is that Carson was both willing and able to stand back and let it happen, understanding that he was making great television by not insisting on being the star for couple of segments. Letterman would do that with Rickles and Robin Willaims, I don't watch Fallon and haven't started watching Kimmel as I thought I would when Letterman retired.. also, I suspect Carson had more freedom with timing than anyone who came after. He could let a segment run long, or bounce a guest without much pushback. Wasn't TTS ninety minutes through the seventies?

tavm said...

Concerning entire "Tonight Show" reruns on Antenna TV: I'm guessing not much from before '72 is on that roster...

Breadbaker said...

Both of my favorite BBC comedies, Yes, Minister and Blackadder, were released on audio by the BBC. Both hold up quite well, even though there are sight gags on the shows that don't translate (and nothing is done to accommodate that). Cheers for radio would be interesting.

Max Clarke said...

Ken's remark about Cheers being a radio play was good to see, because my first exposure to most Cheers episodes was as radio plays.

When Cheers went into syndication in the 1990s, I did not own a television. I caught the shows on KTVU in the Bay Area by listening to their signal on a radio with a TV band. At least half the episodes, and maybe two-thirds, were new to me.

Hearing them for the first time instead of seeing them, I appreciated how easily a listener could follow the episodes. It wasn't just a question of remembering where the bar was, where Norm sat, and knowing where the tables were, and the phone in the corridor, and the men's room and the pool room. It was the care of the writers and the sound effects people to let us know where we were.

For example, in "Little Rat Girl," Frasier tells the viewers what he has discovered in Liluth's purse. Just like a radio play. He doesn't say, "Look at THIS," letting the camera do the rest of the work telling the story. Good writing.

There were a few times listening wasn't enough. There was an episode when Rebecca's sister visited, and Sam tried to use them to make each jealous of the other. When gunshots were fired in the last couple of minutes, I had no idea what was going on.

But for the most part, catching a Cheers episode on the TV band receiver was like listening to a baseball game with Jon Miller calling the action. I have all the DVDs now, but hearing them and never seeing them would have been perfectly fine.

Dave said...

I always thought Carson's great strength was as an interviewer. He made his guest, whoever it was, the "star" for that segment. He was perfectly willing to play straight man to them. It didn't seem to bother him to let his guest have the spotlight. He always made them seem special and somehow worth a chunk of his show's time. At the same time, he didn't fawn and slobber all over them.

I agree that the monologues are bound to date, and that the comedy bits he used to do (Art Fern and His Tea-Time Movies, Floyd R. Tubro, Aunt Blabby, Carnac) were more silly than funny. Floyd R. Turbo's sketches were build around the idea that Floyd was a redneck conservative who was doing an editorial in response to one "this commie, pinko station" had broadcast. I still remember one of those Carson did one night that started weak and got worse. By the time he was about halfway through it, the laughs had dried up and the audience was just sitting there, in silence. Carson finally got about halfway thought a joke, said, "Oh, the hell with it," and walked off. He was laughing about it after the commercial break, assuring us that "Floyd" was leaving tomorrow morning for a looooong vacation.

Mark said...

My Friday question:

Why is stupid funny? I know that in many commercials it's just bad writers taking the easy way out, but what about with Extras (an amazing show) with the girl friend who was just painfully stupid. Or the roommate in Notting Hill. There have been characters who weren't very smart but they had redeeming qualities (Don Knotts on Andy Griffith, Coach on Cheers but maybe they were just naive and unworldly rather than not very smart), but I just don't get these. Especially the commercials when I wonder if they think their aim is only to sell to idiots.

So, is stupid funny or not? Isn't it a difficult knife edge to walk along to do it right?

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Binging Cheers this week while the lovely wife is out of town. Netflix is like a narcotic delivery system: the episodes just keep rolling and rolling...

Chips and beer: They're not just for breakfast anymore..

Bill Avena said...

I assume the Carson package will only include late 70s at the earliest, because the cable corporations don't want to show an actual earlier period when shows were 90 minutes. I've seen a couple of those recently (including ciggy ads) and some of the interviews are of the paint-drying type, as if they're stuck in a bus station and trying to make conversation.
(the only "earlier period cable channels seem to care about is the 1980s they're still milking the hell out of that demographic. "OMG a John Hughes marathon!!!")

Dave said...

The era of big network variety shows and sitcoms was pretty much over by the mid '50s, so Ken would have been a little young to have been in a JACK BENNY audience. The dramas that endured past that date, and '70s network revival dramas, like THE CBS RADIO MYSTERY THEATER, didn't have an audience. Just the cast, gathered around microphones.

That photo at the top, by the way, is from one of Jack Benny's radio broadcasts. "L.S. / M.F.T." is short for "Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco." Run out and buy yourself a pack of Luckies, today.

Jack Benny's is probably my favorite of radio's big comedy-variety shows. Those shows hold up remarkably well. Another radio favorite of mine is Fred Allen, with whom Benny had a "feud" for many years. Allen isn't well remembered. (His series ended in 1949, his television work was early '50s ephemeral and he died in the mid '50s.) He's very funny, though.

There's also Abe Burrows, James Burrows' old man, who was a very funny writer-performer, and was co-creator of a long-running radio sitcom titled DUFFY'S TAVERN, set in, well, a tavern. Burrows also had his own shows, as well as co-writing the book for GUYS AND DOLLS on Broadway and being a very in-demand, all around "script doctor."

Speaking of contemporary radio shows that use a live audience, there's also Garrison Keillor's A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION, a public radio favorite, which has been packing them in for some forty years for a (usually) live broadcast that combines music, comedy sketches, and Keillor's monologues about Lake Wobegon, his mythical home town.

Adam said...

If you're seeing Johnny Carson shows with cigarette ads in them, they're from December 1970 or earler. Cigarette ads were banned from television as of January 1, 1971. Only thirty-three complete shows aired prior to May 1, 1973 exist. NBC was erasing the tapes for reuse, assuming the shows would have no rerun value after a few years.

THE TONIGHT SHOW dropped from 90 minutes to 60 in September 1980, at Carson's request. When Carson started, the show started at 11:15 (Eastern) and ran until 1 a.m., because at that time it still was common for local stations to air only a fifteen minute newscast. By 1966 Carson had insisted that the show start at 11:30. Too many stations weren't carrying the 11:15-11:30 segment, which meant he had to delay his monologue until 11:30, leaving Ed McMahon and the band to fill that fifteen-minute segment.

For years, NBC offered a TONIGHT SHOW rerun on Saturday night at 11:30 p.m., as an option to local affiliates who didn't want to fill that time slot with an old movie or reruns of OUR MISS BROOKS. This was discontinued when SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE premiered.

Antenna TV will air sixty minute shows on week-nights and ninety minutes shows on weekends. The title THE TONIGHT SHOW will be edited from the Antenna TV repeats. Carson's estate owns the shows, but NBC still owns the name THE TONIGHT SHOW.

James Prichard said...

In the "Three Valentines" episode of "Frasier," Niles accidentally destroys Frasier's living room by burning the couch and spraying a fire extinguisher everywhere. I always wondered whether that was a duplicate set or if simply a gigantic cleanup effort was required afterward.

Diane said...

Oh, that fire extinguisher mess was nothing. My sympathies lie with the poor souls who had to clean up after that pie fight Ken talks about staging for ALMOST PERFECT. Talk about a mess!

John Hammes said...

Due to something of a technical quirk (for lack of a better term), analog television broadcasts allowed radio listeners a unique treat... that is, if you were near the broadcast facilities of any given Channel 6.

(Going by what I remember from journalism school in days of yore:)

Back in the analog day, each television station needed both an audio and visual spectrum, separate spectrums yet exclusive to each channnel, both going out over the analog airwaves allowing the happy viewer to enjoy each broadcast day.

Whatever the scientific reason, the audio spectrum for any given Channel 6 overlapped with the lower end of the F.M. radio spectrum, logging in somewhere at 87.5 . The radio listener was then able to enjoy the somewhat Twilight Zone-ish experience of listening to a "radio station" that really did not exist... it was just the scientific audio spill-over from television Channel 6. Kind of a throw back to what the golden age of radio must have sounded like in real time. It was always a neat experience, and most (granted not all) still translated coherently.

Those T.V. audio band radios - on the other hand, purposely designed to pick up Channels 2-13 audio - were great fun for late night/long car travel/camping listening. Digital is amazing, but over the air broadcasting - radio and television - is still a very wise, mutually benefiting business practice.

norm said...

Back in the day (1968) I worked on campus at Indiana University as a night janitor.
Working 6:00pm to 2:30am, and the local NBC was on channel 6, so when it came to 11:30pm I could tune into Johnny C. This was during the summer of it all, the Olympics, the Chicago Demo. convention, and riots all over the radio as stated above.
Some funny bits, like Tiny Tim where enjoyed then without the pictures.

Greg Ehrbar said...

So many fine comments, so please allow me to share my thoughts, too:

• I've been listening to TV shows as audio since I was a kid. Columbia Pictures' Colpix label released several of their TV shows as LP records, so I memorized two episodes each of shows like TOP CAT and DENNIS THE MENACE. Very little was lost without the picture, except visual gags that were either deleted or narrated. Most Hanna-Barbera, Jay Ward, Total Television and Filmation cartoons were called "illustrated radio" by some, and about 70% of them work great with no picture. Rankin/Bass released many of their holiday specials -- and the animated HOBBIT -- in their complete form on records, because the narration was built in already.

• Radio comedy and drama never died in the U.K. I love BBC Radio 2, 4, 4 Extra and Scotland the best. You can stream enough programming to fill days and weeks of listening pleasure. New, recent and classic shows like "Think the Unthinkable", "An Actor's Life for Me", "I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again" are gems, and the radio version of "Flight of the Conchords" is even funnier than the TV show (particularly the "Wambi" episode, which was not adapted for TV).

• In the '70s and '80s, we had a channel six in Miami that ran lots of syndicated cartoons and sitcoms. I had a very long commute for several years and, in rush hour traffic, I would enjoy WKRP, BARNEY MILLER, LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY, I LOVE LUCY and others. I also used to make audio cassettes of favorite shows, so I create my own "Colpix soundtracks".

• I stopped watching late night TV years ago and almost exclusively listened and/or listen to Letterman, Leno, Ferguson, Kimmel, Fallon, Stewart, Colbert, Myers and even SNL. If I want to see a certain visual, I can always find the episode online and watch it.

• Listening to great sitcoms, season by season, is a unique experience because it helps you appreciate the writing, acting, timing and editing in a more focused way. Hearing a vintage Bugs Bunny cartoon is a showcase for the great Mel Blanc, composer Carl Stallings and the underappreciated sound editor Treg Brown. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW as audio is a showcase for the verbal mastery of Ed Asner and Ted Knight, both superb voice actors as well on on-camera performers. I just finished MTM (DICK VAN DYKE came before that), now I'm listening to RHODA and M*A*S*H. Next up is CHEERS and FRASIER.

• Over the last several years, Carl Amari produced every TWILIGHT ZONE episode as a radio drama (except "Come Wander with Me", perhaps because of music rights). Hosted by Stacy Keach, stars actors like Karen Black, Malcolm McDowell, Stan Freberg and Louis Gossett, Jr. with a fine "stock company" of Chicago actors. They found clever ways to convey the visuals (I won't spoil how they did this for the adaptation of THE INVADERS, in which Kathy Garver plays the Agnes Moorehead role). These shows were syndicated and can be found on amazon as well as

• As to whether watching a classic radio show in person, when Lucille Ball began starring on MY FAVORITE HUSBAND (the prototype for I LOVE LUCY), she had difficulty making the comedy work until Jack Benny told her to play to the audience more directly. It worked better than anyone could have dreamed because the performer and the audience need such a connection.

Anonymous said...

If any of Ken's readers aren't listening to THE CARSON PODCAST, which exclusively interviews people who worked on or appeared on (mostly stand-up comedians), you probably should give it a chance.

It's wonderful

MikeK.Pa. said...

So, what was the context of your photo with Johnny Carson. Looks like you were on THE TONIGHT SHOW set, but have a name badge on.

sanford said...

It will be interesting to see what the ratings will be for the reruns of the Carson show I wonder how many households get Antenna TV. I understand that they are not running the shows in order which I think is dumb. I guess I can understand showing the 90 minute shows on Saturday, but there are quite a few of them. You might be right that the monologues might not hold up. I still like Art Fern and I still laugh at Carnac. TMC runs some Carson interviews. They are still great to watch. I saw one the other night with Oliver Reed and Shelly Winters. They kind of got in to it with one another. Winters left the set and then came back and dumped what I though was water on Reed. He said it was whiskey. Either way a great moment.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Although it just ended regular production, THE THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR released podcasts of their live shows from LA's Largo. There is a DVD of one of the shows. Frequently quite funny, and I believe all of the episodes are available at Nerdist and through iTunes. The cast is excellent, especially Paget Brewster. "New time stories done in the style of old time radio." It's delightful.

Jeff :) said...

I have a baseball question Ken. Who is your favorite player both currently and of all time. Also, your pick to win the World Series for this year?

Jeff :)

Pat Reeder said...

To Greg Ehrbar: When I was a poor kid in rural Texas, we didn't have no newfangled video recorder dohickeys, so I would also wrap the cord of a cassette mic around the channel knob, let it dangle in front of the speaker, and record the audio tracks of shows and movies. That's why, to this day, I have the entire soundtrack of the Marx Bros' "Duck Soup" memorized.

I also love old time radio. There are websites that offer free downloads of thousands of shows. Whenever we take a long car trip, I stock up on Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, Dragnet, Bob & Ray and Lights Out, and the miles whiz by. Attending a live radio broadcast is just as much fun as a TV show. I think more, because there are no long delays for scene changes: the "On Air" light comes on, and you're off and running for a complete show with no retakes.

There's a local troupe here in DFW that performs live radio shows that aren't broadcast, and they always pack 'em in. I've seen "Prairie Home Companion" live several times. The last time they were in Dallas, we had second row center comp seats, thanks to being friends with a couple of the regular vocal cast members. Good thing, because the entire Dallas Music Hall was sold out otherwise, so some people must enjoy watching live radio broadcasts.

Several theater companies here have made them Christmas traditions. One does "It's A Wonderful Life" as a broadcast from a '40s radio station. And last year, we saw a great one-man show with local comic actor B.J. Cleveland. The idea is that a '40s radio station heavily promoted its live Christmas Eve broadcast of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," but a blizzard has kept everyone but the nervous station manager from getting to the studio. So he has to do the entire show by himself, playing all the characters while cuing up the music and doing the SFX. It's a terrific high-wire act that deserves the regular standing ovations he gets when that "On Air" light finally goes off (the tension is so thick, you tend to forget that it's not really a live broadcast). At the end of the performance we saw, he dedicated that show to a lady in the front row who was blind. He said she was the first person who truly appreciated his performance the way that the character he plays would have wanted.

Pat Reeder said...

PS - Happened to find a story about the blind lady who was sitting in front of us at the radio show performance we attended. It makes a good case for what's so special about live radio:

Stoney said...

One of the best "latter day" radio shows, IMHO, was "Alien Worlds". It was a wonderfully produced sci-fi series syndicated by Watermark. (Same folks who gave us "American Top 40") There were 26 episodes produced and it ran between 1978 and 1980. Coming in the wake of the initial "Star Wars" mania helped it's appeal to station programmers. And, like "Star Wars", had a music score by the L.S.O.

Daniel said...

Interestingly (at least to me), the Armed Forces Radio Service used to run a "radio" version of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. They edited the program down to thirty minutes, sans commercials, as is customary on the AFRS, and sent them out on 12" LPs, as they did back then. I have a number of these, all dating from the late '60s and early '70s. They're interesting to listen to.

I've been in the audience for Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" twice, and my experience was the same at Pat's, in that both times, the venue was sold out.

The BBC runs "A Prairie Home Companion," too, except that they edit the show down to one hour and retitle it "Garrison Keillor's Radio Show." Maybe "A Prairie Home Companion" doesn't make sense if you don't live in the US.

The BBC runs a lot of fine radio drama. I enjoy listening to it.

I used to record soundtracks off of television, too. Generally, certain old movies. It worked surprisingly well, though occasionally, if you listened carefully, you could hear my sister in the background, asking, "What retarded old movie are you taping THIS time?"

Albert Giesbrecht said...

In Canada, the CBC still produces radio plays, not as much as before, but they still get made. Several years ago I went to an open house and on the tour, our group took part in a mock radio play, and we sang, "Don't Fence Me In" one of the best experiences in my life.

Craig Gustafson said...


"Stan Freberg, who favored radio over TV, once recorded a bit about what a TV western would sound like on radio. Very few words and a lot of sound effects. Not his funniest piece but it made it's point."

Freberg was actually making fun of the radio version of "Gunsmoke," where (in the interest of realism) there was occasional silence when people would have nothing to say while crossing the street or getting themselves hidden behind a bar to jump the bad guys. Freberg shortened the dialogue and extended the walking/riding sound effects as Bang Gunleigh investigated the mystery of a broken fence. If you know what he's making fun of, it's hilarious.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Dave, Daniel: I was actually on A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION once, in about 1978, before it went national, and even then it was sold out; I remember it was July and they'd moved the show outdoors somewhere. Honestly, I think it's a live local show first and a national radio show second.

If you like live folk on radio, you might check out the 40-plus-year-old BOUND FOR GLORY, broadcast Sunday evenings on WVBR-FM at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. I performed on it some in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I lived in Ithaca.


Old Hippy said...

I've always been a MAJOR fan of network radio programs produced during Radio's Golden Age. The comedy programs of the 30's through the mid 50's were written by some of the greatest writers in entertainment. The incredible comedic styling of gifted writers such as Harry Conn, Al Boasberg, William Morrow, Edmund Beloin, Hugh Wedlock Jr., Howard Snyder, George Balzer, Sam Perrin, Milt Josefsberg, John Tackaberry are stuff of comedy legend. Many of those radio writers made the transition into Television and had continued success. Proof that good writing doesn't depend on the medium, good writing can stand on it's own.

The "Theater of the Mind" dramas written beginning in the late 1920's by Wyllis Cooper, followed by Arch Oboler, Orson Welles, and many others are still unmatched. Then of course there's the master Norman Corwin whose writings are still revered by many to this day. The radio writing and performance troupes such as the Firesign Theatre were creating the type of magic that only the mind's eye could provide into the 21st century.

Johnny Walker said...

Wow. Some fascinating comments here. Thanks for sharing how things changed on The Tonight Show, Adam. Hard to believe there was a time when people would happily watch Ed Mahon and the band for 15 mins, or that the show could run for 90 mins!

Are they airing them in order? (Apart from the 90 min shows on the weekend?)

I'd love to watch Johnny Carson from bed as I fell asleep (I doubt I could watch an entire episode every night). I wonder if there's a way to get Antenna TV here in the UK.

They follow it with The Larry Sanders Show.

Andy Rose said...

You could tune in to Channel 6 on the radio because the analogue audio subcarrier for Channel 6 was at 87.7 MHz, and the first frequency on the FM band is 87.9 MHz. My local Channel 6 advertised that people could "Tune in to 87.7 FM" during a big storm to get their severe weather coverage if their home power went out. They made it sound like a big public service, but it was actually just a quirk of the way the spectrum was laid out.

One of the best set destruction scenes I remember was, oddly enough, on "ALF." I don't remember why, but the living room floor collapsed and the entire couch fell through the hole and into the basement. This was possible because the ALF sets were already built on elevated platforms with trap doors in order to accommodate the puppeteers. All they had to do was remove the section of the elevated floor under the couch, replace it with a quick-release platform, and cover it up with an area rug.