Friday, February 12, 2016

Friday Questions

Friday Questions anybody? Oh, and Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln.

Cathal O'Brien leads off:

On Frasier you and David Isaacs were listed as Creative Consultants. What exactly did that mean? Where you in the Frasier offices every day or just reachable at the end of the phone? Did you read over all the scripts and offer input or rewrite?

Am just curious what that title meant compared to the other titles staff had such as producers etc.

The title can mean different things. In our case, it meant that once a week we worked on the show as script doctors. We would go to the afternoon runthrough and come back to the writers’ room and stay for the rewrite that night. Usually this was the first day the script was on its feet and thus needed the most work.

But anytime there is a part-time position, the writer is usually assigned some sort of “consultant” title. In some cases a writer lives outside of LA and is sent scripts. He then suggests jokes and changes and sends it back. In others, a writer may work two days a week, or work the table reading day instead of rewrite night.

Sadly, there are fewer and fewer of these gigs. Shows are tightening their budgets and consultants are deemed a luxury. It’s unfortunate because “consultants” offer two very valuable things: They contribute great jokes (the good ones do), and they offer a virgin perspective to the material. Is a story point confusing? Are they over-explaining something? Writing staffs can easily get too close to the material. It helps to have fresh eyes take a look.

I was fortunate enough to work with three of the very best – David Lloyd, Jerry Belson, and the incomparable Bob Ellison.

From Dene:

My question is: as TV episodes are usually made one after another without a break, how does that work with regards to the lead actor sometimes directing? Don't they need prep time?

When, for instance, Alan Alda directed M*A*S*H, which he did often, did he work his prep around acting in the previous ep, or would there maybe have been a production break of some kind beforehand so that he could prepare for directing?

We had very few hiatus weeks on MASH (usually three or four the whole season). We would try to schedule Alan’s directing assignments as the first show after a hiatus so he’d have the break to prepare. But there were times he had to prep while acting in the previous episode.

What made it a little easier was that he knew the location and tone of the show. And often he directed episodes that he also wrote so he had a pretty good idea going in just how he wanted to shoot it.

Michael wonders:

Besides your daughter Annie and her partner, are there any writers that you helped mentor that have become successful comedy writers?

Yes. Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, Robin Schiff, Boyce Bugliari & Jamie McLaughlin, Tom Straw. I’m sure there are others that I can’t remember. And I’m sure there are young writers who I mentored that didn’t realize I had mentored them.

On the directing side, I taught Jerry Zaks camera-blocking. I guess that counts.

DrBOP asks:

Have you ever been tempted to call, or have you called any basketball games? Do you have any favorite basketball announcers ; and/or any Vin Scully level b-ball broadcasters?

Yes. When I was learning how to announce baseball I would also go to the stands of basketball games with a tape recorder and call those for practice. I would go to Clipper games, and back in the ‘80s I had entire sections all to myself.  That was sweet.  Not so easy to isolate myself across town at Laker games with Magic and Kareem and "showtime" happening every night. 

The only time I ever called a basketball game on the air was when I filled in one night on a Golden States Warriors game on KNBR radio, San Francisco.

As for favorite announcers: My all-time favorites are Chick Hearn of the Lakers and Bill King of the Warriors. Honorable mention to Marv Albert.

Today, for TV I like Ian Eagle, Gus Johnson (you either love him or hate him; I love him), Mike Tirico, Kevin Calabro, and Mike Breen.

Dan Hoard does a great job calling University of Cincinnati basketball.  On a national level:  Dave Sims, John Sadak, Kevin Calabro, Ted Leitner, Dave Fleming, and Tom McCarthy. 

And my current favorite is Sean Grande, the radio voice of the Boston Celtics. I think he is absolutely phenomenal. While everyone else is just calling the play-by-play, he’s also weaving in strategy, pop culture references, on-going discussions with his terrific partner Cedric Maxwell, statistics, NBA history, descriptions of everything going on in the building, opinions, overviews, and insights. And his play-by-play calls are crisp, visual, and exciting. He has great command of the game and language. I’d rather listen to Sean Grande than watch the game on TV.

What’s your Friday Question? Don’t get all crazy tonight celebrating Abe’s B-Day.


Terrence Moss said...

John Sadak and I went to the same college. Nice shout-out.

Mitchell Hundred said...

It's become not uncommon for TV shows (at least a few of the ones I've seen) to incorporate overt product placement into their plots. But a lot of the time this can come across as either blatantly ham-fisted adspeak or derisive to the product and concept as a whole. Would you do this on one of your shows, and if so, could you do it in a way that avoided both of these pitfalls?

Mitchell Hundred said...

Also, I didn't know it was the birthday of the Lincoln Car Company's founder. Happy Birthday, sir.

David said...

Hi Ken

A Friday Question

If you where an up and coming writer today what existing show would you choose to spec?

Thanks in advance.


Carson said...

The question about the old days of series doing 39 episodes a year brought up a question for me. With the networks spending a lot of money on rights fees and struggling to find hit series, why do they order a much smaller amount of episodes now? I would think a show like The Big Bang Theory would be churning out at least close to 30 a year. It's a hit. Milk it for what it's worth and ultimately everyone makes more money.

J Lee said...

Ken, on the 39-episode talk from Thursday, since you and David broke into writing at a time when many of the writers from the 1950s (or even back into the 39-week radio series), did you ever get around to talking to them about what that type of work was like, or the transition in the 1970s from the more 'generic' type stories to more topical ones that, post "All In the Family" also were opened up to far more situations than writers had been allowed to touch in the past?

DBA said...

Carson, they're already milking BBT by renewing it for, I think another two years already? This deep into the run, that's ridiculous and it's already getting stale. But theoretically, they can keep it going spread over more seasons, they don't need more new within one seasons. Even the reruns perform better than some new stuff. Crappy new show gets cancelled, you can bet they're slotting in an extra repeat of BBT in its place. The cast renegotiated for GIANT per-episode salaries. The money conscious way to milk it would not be to produce more episodes within a year. Plus, stars and staffs at this point are accustomed to a certain schedule and number of breaks.

Breadbaker said...

It's nice you mentioned Kevin Calabro, who had the unenviable task of succeeding Bob blackburn, the original "Voice of the Sonics" and ended up as beloved as his predecessor if not more, twice.

Did you ever discuss with Rick Rizzs his struggles replacing Ernie Harwell, which did not go well, and then Dave Niehaus, which obviously has gone better?

Andy Rose said...

Friday question:
When audience and critical feedback indicated that a character or plot line was beloved (or hated), how quickly could you incorporate that feedback into your writing? Is it harder for limited-run cable series where an entire season is shot before the first episode has aired, so they have no audience feedback at all during production?

I ask because I was an extra on a cable drama where the seasons are 10 episodes. In the first season, the big criticism that quickly emerged was that the show was focusing on Character A, when Character B was more intriguing and Character C was more entertaining. It was awkward because I had already seen the finale being shot, so I knew B was going to continue being a marginal character, and C wasn't even in last couple of episodes. Even if the producers realized the critics were right, it was too late to change anything.

Not surprisingly when it was renewed for a second season, C came back, and B was suddenly a much more important character. I feel like if the showrunners had seen that criticism in the middle of first season production instead of at the end of it, they could have addressed it a year earlier.

DrBOP said...

Thanks much for a few names I'm not familiar with......LOVE hunting down the broadcasts (mostly on the net) to hear new (to me) announcers. One of the things that keeps me from signing up to NBA TV is the lack of being able to listen to the "hometown" announcers. They say they offer it during the regular season, but not really.....and none for playoff games. It wouldn't matter to most folks, but it takes ALOT of the enjoyment away imho.

And it is interesting that your anecdote of announcing games to yourself for practice is one shared by not only many sports announcer, but many comedians as well.....both Martin Short and Billy Crystal talk about mimicking ENTIRE Carson shows as announcer, host AND guests; and in Short's case, TAPING it for critical review afterwards. Must be something in the blood.

Victor Velasco said...

Ken, here's a question: what year did you fill in on the Warriors game? Been a fan for a long time, going back to hearing Bill King and Hank Greenwald call the action. I would stare at the radio as if it were TV...exciting and riveting!

Unknown said...

Thanks for answering my question; something that has been intriguing me for years finally put to rest.

(And I can't believe someone who wrote for MASH, Cheers and Frasier answered a question asked by me! :) )

Cheryl Marks said...

So glad you included Kevin Calabro. He just won the Keith Jackson Award the other night which is awarded to the member of the media for excellence in communicating sports stories in the state of Washington. Personally, I think Kevin is one of the best, if not THE best play-by-play man for basketball. I'm thrilled that he does college games as we no longer get to listen to Sonics' games .... sigh .....

By Ken Levine said...


This would have been '87 or so. Greg Papa was calling their games then. Greg is another terrific announcer.

Canadian Dude said...

This isn't for posting - just FYI:

The Phoenix rises!

David said...

I had the honor of calling some college (Boston U.) hockey games with Sean Grande. I say "honor" because, even then, as raw as we both were, you could tell this is what Sean was supposed to be doing. Very proud to be able to say I shared a booth with him, waaaaay back when.

Roseann said...

Have you read this article and where do you fall on it?

Blair Ivey said...

I much prefer radio broadcasts of sports to TV. Baseball was made for radio. Back before TV went to delay, I'd put a game on with the sound off and tune to the radio broadcast. Best of both worlds. The only TV announcer I really enjoyed was John Madden. If you listened, you could learn a *lot* about football from Coach Madden.

In Portland, I listen to Brian 'Wheels' Wheeler and Antonio Harvey for Blazers games. They're both total homers, but they're enjoyable to listen to, and Mr. Harvey provides a lot of insight in how the game is and should be played.

I'll see if I can catch Sean Grande on the Net.

DonR said...

While watching "Grandfathered" the other night I noticed it's produced by ABC Studios, yet it runs on Fox. How does that happen? Did ABC pass on its own show and sell it to Fox?

Joe Blow III said...

Sexual *discrimination* is rampant in every industry in this country, none more so than film and television, but in those industries I am referring more to those who work "behind the camera". When it comes to film and television stars, of course beautiful, sexy women will get the roles (just as gorgeous men will). I don't see how this can be seen as sexism. A film is a work of art (many of dubious quality, granted) and most people love art that is beautiful, whether it is the men and women in movies, paintings, sculptures, or any other art form or allied art such as architecture. To see a beautiful woman moving gracefully about in a film is an enormous pleasure---not just for men but for women too (in a non-sexual way). Great physical beauty is a glorious gift, and I don't think women (or men) should be made to feel guilty for it. God knows, it also has it's downside.

There was a television show that had a major female character who was extremely unattractive, and every time she was on the screen, it is all I could think about. It took me completely out of the story. In real life, I doubt I would have even noticed her looks (nor would I have noticed her looks if she had been a minor character or certainly if she was a character actor).

To wrap up, I don't think it is sexism to have a writer describe a character as beautiful or sexy. The story may evolve into a sexist one, but that is a different issue.

Joe Blow III said...

The previous comment was in response to the article suggested by Roseann. Sorry.

Mike Moody said...

Not a question but a compliment. I always watch Everybody Loves Raymond episodes before bed. Last night I got to the episode where Ray tries to prove to Debra that he's good in an emergency. For the first time I noticed a familiar name as the director. Every time I watch them wrestling across the living room I crack up, even knowing what's coming. Nice work. Oh, yeah, I guess Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton did okay, too.

Yuppie Scum said...

Cedric Maxwell has some kind of a screw loose. Whenever something crazy happens in the game he starts yelling about food - "oh, sandwiches!!!!" "Get him a sweet potato pie!!!" Nobody in Boston, even the other media guys, knows why the heck he does that.