Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Questions

Friday Questions back on Friday.

Peter asks:

Horror is one of my favorite genres but I've noticed you almost never mention horror. Are they just not your thing or are there some horror films you like?

No. Never liked horror films. There’s enough real horrors to be scared about like politics.

At first, as a kid, I thought they were fun. Frankenstein and Dracula and Vincent Price in spooky haunted houses.

Then one day at a Saturday matinee I saw a sci-fi/horror film called THE 27th DAY. It was one of those black-and-white cheesy B-movies that were popular in Drive-Ins back then. Who knows if it’s even available these days? I remember it starred Gene Barry and there was an alien from outer space and that film scared the living shit out me. I couldn’t sleep for a week.

Maybe forty years later I saw it on the Late Show and could almost tell you what scene was next and what was going to happen next – it had left that much of an indelible impression on me.

Seeing it again, I finally understood what terrified me. The film was a metaphor for the Cold War and the US and Russia were squaring off to destroy the whole world. A blood sucking vampire who over acted and spoke with a funny foreign accent did not keep me up at night. The threat of being dead myself at any moment did.

Never liked horror films since. I should probably seek therapy, huh?

James wonders:

Have you ever written a script that you would have hated to direct?

The “Point of View” episode of MASH. That’s the one where the 4077th is seen through the eyes of a patient. I talked about it in a recent post.  As proud as I am of that episode I can never mention it without heaping enormous praise on director, Charles Dubin (pictured: right)

Adding to the difficulty of creating this first-person look and getting remarkable performances out of actors not used to talking directly into the camera, Dubin was severely hampered by the bulkiness of the equipment. It’s not like today where you can literally shoot a movie with your iPhone. The cameras were big and heavy and not easily maneuvered.

Oh, and the whole show was shot in only four days.

We owe the success of that episode to Charles Dubin and the fact that I did not direct it.

Here’s a sugar free question from Splenda:

Lets say that a network greenlit a remake of Almost Perfect, under the condition that you use all new actors (can't bring back Nancy Travis, etc.). Who do you cast (assuming they are available and interested)?

Jason Dechert and Jules Willcox who starred in my play, A OR B? at the Falcon Theatre last year.
jcs queries:

You have mentioned many times that being a TV writer requires putting in long hours, sometimes until dawn. Is it possible to have some kind of semi-normal family life when working in such a profession?

Absolutely. But it takes organization, preparation, the willingness to make decisions, and not having a showrunner who is going through a divorce and would rather spend his nights in the office than alone at the Oakwood Gardens Apartments.

Time management is the key. Even on a multi-camera show it is possible to go home at 6:00 or 7:00 and still turn out an excellent product. EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND writers were almost always home for dinner.

On the other hand, there are some truly dreadful shows where the writers worked around the clock. And for what?

But if you have a showrunner who keeps changing his mind, or takes forever to decide which new line to add, or just has nowhere else to go because he’s got an unhappy home life, you could be checked into the Hotel California.

You want a happily married showrunner or one who has Lakers season tickets.

From Jeff :)

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?

All-time: Sandy Koufax. All-time that I had the pleasure of working with: Tony Gwynn. Currently: A. J. Ellis (he used to actually listen to Dodger Talk when I hosted it.)

Who will win the World Series? Whoever is not favored.  Or whoever I pick. 


Bill Avena said...

At least your distaste for horror spares you the million teen vampire franchises with all the howling CGI storms and whooshing percussion explosions. Oh wait, that's every movie.

Stoney said...

A lot has changed in the horror genre since "The 27th Day". The most notable change is that scaring has been replaced by grossing out! This factor has insidiously been making it's way into series television too. Anyone else catch the season premiere of "Law And Order S.V.U."; particularly the scenes on the beach?

Peter said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken! If you ever change your mind, check out Kubrick's The Shining, Donner's The Omen, Friedkin's The Exorcist and Polanski's Rosemary's Baby. They're my quartet of boss horror movies!

I've never heard of The 27th Day but I'm now curious to seek it out. By the way I just checked - it IS available! You can get it in a box set from Amazon which also has The H-Man, Valley of the Dragons, 12 to the Moon, Battle in Outer Space and Night the World Exploded. Love the titles!

Chris G said...

The 27th Day is, as of right now, available in its entirety on YouTube.

blinky said...

My scary SciFi was the original Invaders from Mars. It featured adults who had their minds controlled by aliens that trapped their victims in sand traps. I lived in Florida and there was sand everywhere. Also I knew firsthand about Ant Lions (doodlebugs)that made cone-shaped traps in the sand to catch ants. So I knew it was possible that aliens could do the same thing on a bigger scale.

Alan Iverson said...


THE MUPPETS series....

I watched the pilot and laughed my ass off, and this is extremely rare for me. It even used the mockumentary I/V trope which I loath, but found enjoyable on this occasion.

Has there ever been another revamping of a series where the target audience has shifted so completely? And should this series be a complete success, do you have thoughts about which other shows might follow suit? Or indeed, which series would have worked, or been improved, had they shifted genres?

Rays profile said...

Maybe it's that I'm 58, not elderly but on the cusp, and the years are going a little faster, but I am turned off by the large amounts of both movies and TV that focus on death. Whether it's teens being slashed, disaster movies, Mr. Tarantino's latest, Autopsy of the Week get the idea. I'll get there soon enough, thanks. It doesn't scare me, but I'll wait till its my turn.

blinky said...

One of my favorite inside-Film dark comedies was Action, that aired for barely 8 episodes on Fox at the turn of the century. It was like Episodes times 10. In one scene the Jay Mohr Film Exec character lays off part of the production staff and tell them everyone else has to work twice as hard as he boards a helicopter with his golf clubs to play at Pebble Beach.
HBO wanted to pick up the series, but creator Chris Thompson and Joel Silver elected to go with Fox's higher-budgeted air order instead.
Has any other promising show made that mistake?

Mark said...

An odd question, but are sound stages air conditioned? In several MASH episodes that were clearly shot on the stage, the actors seem to be dripping in sweat. And I'm talking about episodes that were not set during a heat wave. Overall, what are sound stage conditions like? In the 20th Anniversary special Alan Alda talked about a rat problem on Stage 9.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Mark: I think lights have gotten cooler and aircon has gotten better since the days when MASH was being shot - it was amazing to me to look at the original STAR TREK and see how much the actors were sweating. It was constant - and I don't remember noticing it at the time.


thomas tucker said...

This post reminded me of when I was a id in the 1960's, and I used to love to watch the old Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein, Dracula, etc. on TV. I also remember that the big thing when I was a kid was monster models that we put together and painted. One even had a miniature guillotine that worked. I love those things, and the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. Holy cow, I haven't thought about these things in forever. Time to visit E-bay.

Anonymous said...

The trailer for [i]The 27th Day[/i] is available at the Internet Archive:

David P said...

Ken, another Friday baseball question. Given the strong similarities between their offensive careers why do you think Tony Gwynn was a first ballot HoF'er, but Tim Raines is still stuck on the outside looking in?


Powerhouse Salter said...

What current drama series would you say has a good sense of humor? By sense of humor, I guess I mean a relaxed and subtly comic air that relieves the overwrought drama and succeeds in doing so without resorting to one-liner jokes or a wacky supporting character.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Jules Willcox looks kind of like Katie Holmes.

GS in SF said...

@ David P... I think if you take selected statistics you can make a lot of players look comparable. And to prove my point I think 95% of the baseball talking heads would agree with 50% of what I just wrote.

But there is no comparison. Every year Gwynn hit above .300 and many times flirted with .400. Every game he hit. And on off-days he hit. I love Tim Raines, and think he is a HOFer, but they are not comparable players. Raines probably would be in if he stayed with Montreal another 5 years and then quit. But perhaps hanging on so long ruined our memories and we forget his speed and how dangerous he was leading off. I think it goes Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, then Raines.

But if you needed a true contact hitter, you got Ted Williams, Dimaggio, Rose, Suzuki, George Brett, Cobb, Carew, and Gwynn. Pretty neat company.

Magnanimous said...

Ken - If you know someone is a jerk, treats their staff miserably, treats their own family pretty miserably, does that make you unable to enjoy a show that they work on?

For example, years ago I had a terrible professional experience with someone who is now a high level producer on Empire and because of it I can't be unbiased about the show. You seem like such a professional, but I wonder if you have this issue too.

cjdahl60 said...

Ken - off subject but I found this collection of photos of Natalie Wood at another web site I follow (Vintage Everyday) and thought you might be intereseted:

Rashad Khan said...

Friday Question: Why did "Cheers" break its customary "one actor, one role" rule for Joel Polis and Robert Desiderio, who both portrayed Gary on separate occasions? And did the change in actors affect at all how the writers wrote for that particular character?

By Ken Levine said...


Thanks for the heads up on that Natalie Wood site. Now I've got lots more great shots for future posts.

Peter said...

Amazing photos!

May I suggest this one in a future post.

Mike said...

@thomas tucker: Famous Monsters of Filmland is still being printed. It's been through about 3 different owners since Warren. Most of the Warren issues have been scanned and lounge around the internet. Dark Horse have reissued the old Creepy & Eerie magazines. Vampirella has remained in print.

Heavy Metal magazine continues. Mad Magazine continues (I think). The old EC Comics are currently being reprinted by Fantagraphics & IDW.

The Aurora monster kits are occasionally reissued. Cap'n Bob would know about this.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Almost EVERY horror movie in the 1950s was a metaphor for the Cold War and communism. October is when I'll be exposed to every iteration of Freddy Kruger and Jason and every knockoff of them ever produced. I won't be watching them - my kids will be.

I have friends in Pittsburgh, so I'd like to see the Bucs win it all. Hard to believe they have the 2nd best record in NL and still have to play a play-in game. Sucks for them they play in the best division in baseball.

Looking forward to new photos of Natalie Wood.

MikeN said...

If Raines stayed with Montreal another 5 years, that would give him 28 years in the major leagues.

He had a higher career OBP that Tony Gwynn, working all those walks, which serves also to tire out the opposing pitchers. Given Gwynn's overall lack of power it's possible this alone was enough to make Raines the better batter. Then you have the steals. Gwynn was pretty good himself, but Raines had a much higher percentage. Tim was caught stealing 21 more times, but had FIVE HUNDRED more stolen bases. Overall, the advanced stats have them about equal.

I think the answer is that Tim Raines is falling behind in comparison to a contemporary Rickey Henderson. If Wade Boggs were so much better than Tony Gwynn while Rickey had 400 fewer stolen bases, I suspect Tim would be in and Tony would be waiting.

D. McEwan said...

"Never liked horror films since. I should probably seek therapy, huh?"

If you'd embraced horror movies, you wouldn't need the therapy. Those movies were all about exploring the fears in the zeitgiest, and giving you safe make-believe stuff to fear for a while to relieve real-life worries. This is why horror movies were big during World War II and then almost completely died out for a while when the war ended. Horror movies are therapeutic. But then, you'v read my book on the subject, so you know my bone-deep love for anything with Karloff or Lorre of Vincent Price or Cushing or Christopher Lee.

The 1953 3-D Invaders From Mars was the scariest for a kid back then. The idea that Mom and Dad were Martians intent on your destruction was true nightmare material. Then it turns out to be a nightmare,and then, it starts to happen for real. Oh yes, nightmare fodder, and good for you.

Pauline Kael told us that Funny-and-scary is the best recipe for popular entertainment, and how right she was.

MikeN said...

I'm going to ruin it for you, but Natalie Wood looks like a certain politician when she was younger:


Gary said...

Probably not a true horror flick, but I stayed up late to watch Psycho one night, when it was first being shown on local stations (1966 or 1967?) It absolutely terrified me. To this day, the shot of Mrs. Bates sitting in that chair in the fruit cellar (even before she spins around) gives me the chills!

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Speaking of cheesy Horror movies,for years I wanted to see the Svengoolie show, as I heard great things about it from Chicago TV viewers, and on a website dedicated to Chicago TV stations. Now that METV has it on Saturday nights, I can't see what the fuss was all about. Anybody else here watch it?

Bill Avena said...

Albert: I know the Svengoolie show, and it's a nice kids program (which kids won't watch because it's all moldy B&W movies from the 40s and 50s). I also remember the original, Jerry G Bishop, who wore hippie costume and wig and doubled as a WFLD announcer.

Anonymous said...

Friday Question, or whenever...

Colbert is now in last place behind Jimmy and even Jimmy!

Replacing Colbert is going to cost NBC a HELL of a lot of money.

Do you think these decisions get made because essentially nobody gets fired for making these decisions? I mean, if Colbert's ratings tank this hard, this fast, it must mean someone making decisions is clueless of his/her market.

Why aren't these people ever held accountable? Or are they held accountable amongst themselves? Does word get around and someone like the one who decided to go with Colbert becomes unhirable?

–Joe from Bowling Green

DBenson said...

For those who like their horror more fun than horrifying:

Universal, which keeps reshuffling and reissuing its classic monsters, now has "Complete Legacy Collection" DVD sets for each major monster. Pretty cheap (especially at Costco); have what look to be the same bonus features and commentaries as the earlier sets Plus two enhancements:
-- If there was an "Abbott and Costello Meet..." comedy, it's included.
-- This time each monster is complete. Previously, "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman" was only in the Wolfman set; now it's in the Frankenstein set too. Dracula includes "House of Frankenstein", where he has a guest bite. Redundancy to be sure, but handy if you only want one monster.

For those of you who only want Abbott and Costello meeting monsters (and a good guy Invisible Man), those are also on a cheap new set.

For those young whippersnappers raised on Hammer, Universal and Warner have both issued sets/4packs of the titles they released.

Anonymous said...

D. McEwan:

"This is why horror movies were big during World War II"

Could you share some of the names of popular horror movies produced during WWII? I was completely unaware of that, and that's very interesting.

cadavra said...

I always say the difference between a horror movie (as in the good old days) and a slasher film (as in made since the 80s) is that in a horror movie, you root for the potential victim to escape, and in a slasher film, you root for the killer. And of course now we have what I call startle films, which are just loud noises and things popping in front of the camera to make you jump. They're not scary, they're not even gross, they're just...fucking...annoying.

DBenson said...

WWII is when Universal revived the dormant Frankenstein, Dracula, Invisible Man and Mummy franchises with B movie sequels. Wolfman was launched in 1941. Evidently there was a demand for escapist fantasies in fairy tale countries with boogeymen who were merely spooky instead of horrifyingly cold and efficient. The focus was increasingly on teen and juvenile audiences. I don't remember any acknowledgement of the war as terror stalked a backlot Europe.

Some wartime Universal titles: "Ghost of Frankenstein"; "Son of Dracula"; "The Wolfman"; "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman"; "House of Frankenstein/Dracula"; the Lon Chaney Mummy films; the Invisible Man sequels; and one remake of "Phantom of the Opera." At RKO, Val Lewton was turning out classier scares like "Cat People" and "Ghost Ship." I don't think any other studio had continuing monsters, but it seems there were various one-offs.

Peace brought the cold war, the atom bomb, and outer space. Instead of distracting audiences from a current war, the chillers (usually but not always B programmers) exploited the awe and paranoia of the postwar world. This was the age of martians, commies, and/or giant insects terrorizing YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD instead of guys in lederhosen. It was effective, and usually cheap. A never-ending parade of post-nuclear noirs began with the realization you only needed some rotting industrial buildings and shambling extras with burn makeup.

In 1948 "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" was a clear signal Universal felt the franchises were dead; a comedy effectively slammed the door on any more "serious" old-school monsters. They were rediscovered by boomer kids when the movies were sold to TV in the 50s, and local stations across the country started weekend shows with live hosts who comically underlined how their audiences viewed themselves as too cool to be really scared.

Richard Y said...

Jerry G Bishop, Now that is a name I haven't heard of for a while. I remember him from KFMB-TV in San Diego.

Anonymous said...

Wolfman was a parable of the Nazi era in Europe before the War

DwWashburn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DwWashburn said...

Friday MASH question -

In my opinion, the only two "missteps" that the series took were the introduction of Loudon Wainwright III as the camp's minstrel and the marriage of Margaret. Since you were there during the latter, can you give any behind the scenes insight for this storyline. Did they know from day one that this was a mistake? Was it dropped quickly because of fan reaction, network notes, realization that storylines were limited, a combination of these or other reasons?


Ike Iszany said...

Watching Cheers on line I notice they put a title card in where the first commercial break would be. When you write and direct a show do you use the breaks to your advantage or are they something that gets in the way? When I watch some sit-coms on DVD I feel like they suffer without the breaks. You can feel the show changes tempo a bit in the second segment without the break.

Jacob said...

I like a lot of older horror movies, from 1930s Universal classics to 1970s goodies like THEATER OF BLOOD, starring Vincent Price, which is a favorite of mine across all genres. I tend to be less interested in horror films that have come along since the 1980s, though, since they usually seem to be less about generating genuine thrills and chills than about trying to see who can come up with the grossest, most bloodily explicit make-up and special effects. I came of age in the era of the slasher film. (Yeah, my generation gets the rap for making for things huge hits. Sorry about that. I'll confess I saw FRIDAY THE 13TH along with every other teenager in 1980.) Most horror films that have come along since then have been heavily influenced by the slashers in that their raison d'etre is usually to stage a series of gory executions. Seeing a string of characters who barely have enough substance to them to even warrant being CALLED "characters" sliced and diced in over-the-top fashion has never been frightening to me.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:

"Wolfman was a parable of the Nazi era in Europe before the War"

No. It wasn't. It was a parable of the jews in the thirties leading up to WWII. The Wolfman was a metaphor for the Jews.

Shawn K. said...

I was watching Arrested Development recently, and came across the episode, it which we meet Scott Baio's character, Bob Loblaw. Every time I see it, I am amused at the concept, of a lawyer whose name is basically "Blah Blah Blah". I also, am surprised that nobody thought of it before then.

Have you ever seen a joke, or gag, on another show that made you say, "How in the world, have I never thought of that?"

Mike said...

There are very few scary films:
Dead of Night (UK, 1945). From Ealing Studios.
Ringu (Japan, 1998). Not the American remake or the sequel.

ron said...

I was watching "Fresh Off the Boat" and it seemed like the credits took up about the first third of the show. Also, why so many producers and what do they all do ?

D. McEwan said...

"Anonymous said...
D. McEwan:

"This is why horror movies were big during World War II"

Could you share some of the names of popular horror movies produced during WWII? I was completely unaware of that, and that's very interesting."

From Universal: The Wolf Man, Ghost of Frankenstein, The Mummy's Tomb, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Captive Wild Woman, Phantom of the Opera, Son of Dracula, The Mad Ghoul, Weird Women, The Mummy's Ghost, Dead Man's Eyes, House of Frankenstein, The Mummy's Curse, The Frozen Ghost, The Jungle Captive, House of Dracula. All made in 1941 to 1945. And that's not all of them. They continued making them in 1946, but the market dropped out of them in peace, and by 1947, none.

From RKO Cat People, Curse of the Cat People, The Leopard Man, The Ghost Shop, I Walked With a Zombie, The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead, The 7th Victim, Bedlam. That last ine which ended the series was 1946, as the series petered out after the war.

That's just two of the studios.

Anonymous said...
Anonymous said:

"Wolfman was a parable of the Nazi era in Europe before the War"

No. It wasn't. It was a parable of the jews in the thirties leading up to WWII. The Wolfman was a metaphor for the Jews.

Ah, Second Anonymous, you're wrong, and kind of creepily racist. Curt Siodmak, who wrote The Wolf Man, and who was a Jew who had just escaped from Nazi Germany himself, stated flat-out in his memoirs that when writing The Wolf Man> he was writing about Nazis, normal-looking humans who were monsters inside. He was unambiguous about it.

Mike said...

@D. McEwan: The Ghost Shop
"I'd like a ghost that moans and rattles chains, please."
"No, sorry, just sold the last one."

James Van Hise said...

The recent movie HITCHCOCK about the making of PSYCHO, quoted the director as stating that he wanted to show what a horror movie could be like if it was made by a good director. Interestingly, Hitchcock did a several minute promotional film for PSYCHO (instead of a traditional trailer) which was clearly inspired by the tongue-in-cheek horror movie promos being done in the 1950s by William Castle! The documentary on William Castle titled SPINE TINGLER is the best of its kind as covers his whole career, even though he peaked by the early 1960s but kept right on with one flop after another, trying to recapture his past success.

D. McEwan said...

The famous trailer Hitchcock did for Psycho was "Inspired" by the similarly tongue-in-cheek trailer he did for North By Northwest. He went on to do similar ones for The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain and Frenzy. They were all written by James Allyrdice, who wrote Hitch's intros and closers on his TV series. Hitch never imitated William Castle, for whom he had a low regard. The imitation there went always the other direction.

Also, while Hitch did indeed say that with Psycho, he wanted to see what a cheap horror thriller could be like if directed by someone with talent (As opposed to William Castle), the movie Hitchcock is mostly fictional, and not to be trusted on anything. It's based on an excellent book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, which can be trusted, as author Stephen Rebello is meticulous about getting his facts straight. But that movie is mostly fictional bilge, and gets hundreds of facts very, very wrong.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but The Shining and The Exorcist are two of the worst horror movies of all time. NOT scary at all. I have found that people who had not read the books enjoyed both. Movies and thought they were the scariest of all time. But for anyone who had read either book would see them for what they are...cheesy, over acted (and I love Ellyn Burstin and Jack Nicholson), crap.

Pam, St. Louis

D. McEwan said...

Pam, I completely agree with you about The Shining. However, I found the movie of The Exorcist terrifying, and I had read the book well before the movie came otu.

D. McEwan said...


Rebecca P said...

Friday Question - How do you come up with character names when you're first creating characters? It is very important to have a memorable name that suits the character, which I think has been done brilliantly on the shows you have worked on. Do you pull them from people you actually know? Flip through books until you find an interesting name?

Amy said...

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. My mother and I went to a matinee. We left in broad daylight, looked under the car, into the trunk , and ddouble -checked the backseat.