Friday, February 05, 2016

Friday Questions

I never stand down from answering Friday Questions, even on holidays. Today is Constitution Day in Mexico. Still, I’m here for you.

YEKIMI asks:

In the later seasons of M*A*S*H* it seems that Klinger just suddenly stopped wearing dresses in an attempt to get out of the Army. Was this because of a pushback by certain segments of society or did they just decide they had gone as far as they could with the joke? Or was Jamie Farr getting tired of this plot device?

This started season eight, the year David Isaacs and I left the show. By that time we had gone through every dress in the 20th Century Fox wardrobe department.

The feeling was that that bit had been done to death. I wasn’t part of that decision but I whole-hardheartedly supported it.

In season seven we were struggling with it and looked for alternate schemes to get Klinger out of the army. We had him dress as a businessman selling aluminum siding one week. We had him in furs during a heat wave another week. Clearly, we were reaching. How long can you keep whipping the same horse (meaning the bit, not Jamie)?

From Nick:

Under the new Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences rules regarding eligibility to vote - does this mean you are no longer eligible to vote Ken? I notice that according to IMDB you have two film credits from the 1980's and one from the 1990's. I don't mean this as a criticism - it just occurred to me that you might be one of the members caught by the change in the rules?

I was never “in” the Motion Picture Academy. You needed more credits than I had, you needed to be sponsored by a member. It was a very closed organization – and that was BEFORE they offered movie screeners.

It sounds like they’re changing the eligibility requirements to allow for more diversity. I don’t get involved. I just watch the Oscars and offer a snarky review.

Jeff :) wonders:

I've read on your blog several times that writers looking to break in to television writing need to submit two spec scripts, one of an existing show and one original. My question is about the original script. Are there any rules against adapting an existing piece of work? Is this frowned upon? Do you need the authors permission given that your script is more so a showcase of your writing talent as opposed to a legitimate script to be sold?

You absolutely need permission to adapt existing literary material. I believe there are some shows that allow for fan fiction, but play it safe. You’re playing with fire if you tinker with existing work without permission – not just from the author but whoever owns that literary property. It could be a studio, or a production company that’s optioned it. Tread very carefully, my friend.

Better that your original material be original from you. 

From Frank Beans:

How much does single vs. multi-camera production affect casting choices, if at all? I mean, are there different skill sets actors need to have to work in one format or the other more effectively, and do writers and producers take that into explicit consideration?

Theater-trained actors are obviously more comfortable doing multi-camera shows. And there are some actors who just don’t like performing in front of live audiences.

It depends on the actor and the role. Some actors are very interior. They talk softly; they emote through subtle expression changes. They tend not to thrive in multi-camera.

The only time I get nervous is if I have an actor who has never done multi-camera before. Some adjust better than others. But for the most part, there hasn’t been problems.

The truth is multi-camera sitcoms are the greatest gigs EVER for actors. They’re never on location. After every three weeks they get a week off. They never have 17 hour days. They never have to shoot all night. They hear their laughter and get applause. They’re off half the year, and they make a boatload of money. How sweet a deal is that?

Chris asks:

Curb Your Enthusiasm is, to my knowledge, the only series I know of which challenges another show's universe so explicitly. We watch Seinfeld, we assume it's a real universe, then Larry David comes along saying "that was actually a fictitious show, which I wrote, here's the reality, here's me and the real Jerry Seinfeld, not the character with the same name."

Have you ever seen THE BURNS & ALLEN SHOW? It hails from the very early days of television. That show not only had two universes, but they both existed within the same show. The characters went about their business as if they were in the real world. Series star, George Burns would go up to his office on occasion, break the fourth wall and talk to the audience, then – and this was the mind blower – turn on a television and watch everyone else as if they were in a sitcom that was airing but they didn’t know that. George would then go downstairs and interact with them. Freaky, no?

Everyone talks about trying to do sitcoms “out of the box” but the most original groundbreaking idea ever was done in 1950.

Here's an example. Just go to the 8:15 mark. Not only can George watch his show, he can watch other shows and interact with them. Check this out.


Dimension Skipper said...

I just assume George Burns could do all that because he's really God. (That famous movie he did was the ultimate example of reality masquerading as fiction.)

BA said...

Many decades since I watched Burns & Allen and I'm once again struck by the way Harry Von Zell tended to sing his dialog when annoyed, like Warner Klemperer.

john not mccain said...

So funny you should mention Burns and Allen! I just started watching that on Antenna TV or something and thought it was so weird to see something so old be that meta. I saw one yesterday where George was not only watching the action happening elsewhere on his TV, he also called up the fortune teller Gracie was talking to on the TV and scared the hell out of her. Thought it was brilliant.

Casey C said...

The X-FILES are reopened, and thankfully the authors of the new episodes are actually veteran writers of the original. The latest episode, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were Monster”, written and directed by Darin Morgan, was initially a script for a reboot of KOLCHAK, but was subsequently never produced. Altered and updated to fit X-FILES, Morgan has once again written one of the most enjoyable episodes of the series.

Have you or your partner ever taken an unproduced script and reworked it to accommodate the project you were presently working on, or do you start from scratch every time?

Not really a fan of revamps, reboots, or tributes, as most come out pretty cheesy, catering to fans, but the X- FILES reopened has been a lot of fun, and better than the 8/9th seasons to be honest. With reunions in mind, what’s the deal with the upcoming James Burrows tribute? Is it really an homage for Burrows, or just a way to make the FRIENDS cast relevant again?

Also, thanks a heap for ALMOST PERFECT! Love the show! Before you started uploading, the only episodes to be found were on Bossjock93’s channel. Will you be uploading anymore? It would be much appreciated! But if not, do you have any scripts/teleplays to share?

normadesmond said...

gracie allen...brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Noted that Burns and Allen episode is from 1958 directed by Rod Amateau.
No doubt that influenced his new show the next season The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
He opened that show every week with a broken fourth wall.
And they did some great stuff with the show/real life concept. (In one show the outcome was determined because Dobie pleaded that his problem had to be solved because it was television, and in real life it would not be solved, and people wouldn't watch real life if problems weren't solved.)

Chris said...

Hi Ken. This one has a few questions. I recently watched the Cheers episode, "Heeeeere's...Cliffy!" again. I was wondering where the idea came from and how you got Johnny to go along with it? Was the filming done during one of his regular tapings or on a separate day? Also, I noticed Doc did the "Heeeeeeere's Johnny!" in that episode. Did Ed already have a commitment that day or was it some contractual thing that he wasn't in it?

Barry Traylor said...

What a great idea. By golly I'd watch a sitcom that did that today.

cadavra said...

For the record, it should be noted that adapting public domain properties is okay. So if someone wanted to try and turn DRACULA or ROBINSON CRUSOE or even OLIVER TWIST into a sitcom, that they could do. Right now the cutoff date is 1922.

CarolMR said...

What a delight to watch "The Accident." I've never seen that episode before. I've been watching the Burns & Allen show on Antenna TV for a while now. Gracie was brilliant but George was, too. I love his voice, his facial expressions, and his cigar smoking. The co-stars are excellent, too, even Ronnie.

Brian Phillips said...

In one episode of the Burns and Allen show, Burns does his mid-show observations to the audience and then he asks the audience, "By the way, have you ever heard of, William William Burns, Sid Dorfman, Keith Fowler,Jesse Goldstein, Jack Harvey,Harvey Helm and Paul Henning? Probably not, but their the writers and I like to give 'em a plug."

There is a bit of a precedent to this behavior in the radio appearances by Groucho Marx, especially in guest appearances. He veered from the script constantly, almost as if he was expected to, so the fourth wall was almost guaranteed to be broken.

In the U.K., a parallel to him was A.E. Matthews, OBE. He was a well-loved stage and film actor, but in later appearances he was known to not pay any attention to what was going on around him and entertain the audience with reminiscences and anarchy, which audiences loved and writers and producers must have loathed. When he guested on the Goon Show, a radio show that pretty wild to begin with, writer/creator Spike Milligan, didn't even bother to script the end of the show Matthews guested on, figuring (rightly) what would be the point? When someone asked Milligan about this, he said, "I didn't bother writing that, because I knew that Matthews was a complete idiot!"

Brian Phillips said...

To Barry Traylor: It's not that others haven't tried. One that jumps to mind was "American Dreamer" with Robert Urich and Carol Kane. Urich paused to address the audience. The show lasted one season.

As with any conceit, it all comes down to writing, casting and chemistry. All can be forgiven or believed on a comedy if you're laughing hard enough.

Mike Schryver said...

THE BURNS AND ALLEN SHOW was great. The only show I know of that picked up that concept and extended it was IT'S GARRY SHANDLING'S SHOW.
For example, Garry moves to New York to do a cop show and, by virtue of subletting his condo, Red Buttons inherits the show and Garry's friends. Garry gets wistful when watching Red's show during the trip. In another episode, Garry's neighbors in Sherman Oaks win a trip to Hollywood in a contest, where they watch a taping of IT'S GARRY SHANDLING'S SHOW that has a scene in the neighbors' son's bedroom.
At its best, it was mind-bendingly brilliant.

Michael said...

I had always assumed the reason Klinger stopped wearing the dresses was because he was taking over as company clerk when Radar left. Nice to learn there was more to it than that.

Patrick said...

What do you think about CBS letting their biggest starts be on NBC for a night to celebrate James Burrows? I understand that promotion is promotion but I feel like even 10 years ago that would NEVER happen.

Johnny Walker said...

Wow. Watching that episode was like a mixture of Monty Python and Mel Brooks... Or rather, Monty Python and Mel Brooks are like the more playful aspects of Burns & Allen.

Reminds me of Tristram Shandy. An early mass produced modern novel that completely played with the form of what a novel was should or shouldn't be.

Justin Russo said...

"30 Rock" constantly lampooned "Sex and the City" and "Friends" and did a whole Season 3 episode about "Night Court" being fictitious.

NC said...

Ken is right about not using spec scripts from other material. I submitted spec scripts to a show that was on TBS, and the guy who read it recognized that I was copying from Frasier. He looked at me sternly and declared "Don't steal from the Classics!"

James said...

"They never have 17 hour days. They never have to shoot all night." The surviving cast of Barney Miller may beg to differ.

Jamie said...

George Burns was always casual about that fourth wall. When the actor playing neighbor Harry Morton changed, George interrupted the scene, explained that the actor was leaving and wished him well. The actor left and George brought in the actor who was going to be the new Harry Morton, introduced him to the audience and to Bea Benaderet, who played Blanche, Harry's wife, then they proceeded with the scene as if nothing had happened. Not something you'd see on any other sitcom.

In one episode, Gracie asks George to mail a couple of letters for her. Before he mails them, George switches the envelopes the letters are in, explaining that the week's script came up a little short and they need an extra complication to pad out the last ten minutes of the show.

Anonymous said...

Tristram Shandy is apt, but we can go before that... In Part II of Don Quixote, certain characters have read Part I of Don Quixote and also its unlicensed sequel, and they wonder if the Don Quixote they meet is the guy from the books. The year: 1615.

Mitchell McLean said...

I often watch Burns and Allen on Antenna. It comes on at 5am, Eastern Time, and almost makes waking up in the middle of the night to pee worthwhile.

Diane D. said...

OMG, I had completely forgotten about that element of Don Quixote! How delightful to be reminded of something so sublime. Thank you, flipywhig.

Andy Rose said...

Speaking of radio, I always thought The Jack Benny Program had a peculiar way of dealing with its storytelling universe. It was always acknowledged that they were doing a show and that Jack was the host, Don was the announcer, Phil was the bandleader, etc. Yet they almost always had the action of the program taking place at some point before airtime, often at "rehearsal." So strictly speaking, the "rehearsal" was the show, or vice versa... or something.

Of course, this was also a show in which the host would sometimes discuss a potential "girlfriend" with his real-life wife, the "boy singer" was in his 40s, and so forth, so best not to think too hard about it.

YEKIMI said...

Thanks for answering my question!

Mark P. said...

Ken, who managed the laugh track on MASH from week to week? Did the writers put any cues for it in their scripts?

Jahn Ghalt said...

It would be fun to hear you as guest announcer at a Mariners game this season. Would you be interested? What would it take to make it happen?

By Ken Levine said...


If they ask and I'm available I'd be happy to make a guest appearance. Thanks for remembering me. :)

Brian said...

Hi Ken, Friday question. Could you go through some of technicalities of directing? For example, explaining blocking, etc. What is the process like?

MikeN said...

Re Don Quixote,

In the Mahabharata, Vyasa appears several times during the lives of some princes to act as a spiritual guide, and was also advising their mother. He is also the author of the Mahabharata.

Thousands of years BC.

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks flipywhig! Don Quixote is on my reading list! Looking forward to that.

Unknown said...

That Burns and Allen episode reminds me of The Twilight Zone. Except that the Twilight Zone would probably play such a story for drama rather than comedy.

Mike McCann said...

George Burns doesn't get the credit he deserves as one of TV's bright minds during its formative years. And let's not forget that, while not as prolific as Desi Arnaz or Danny Thomas, he also produced Mister Ed, Love That Bob and The People's Choice. All were quality series.

Joe Blow III said...

Jahn Ghalt
Is your name a tribute to Ayn Rand?

Timothy said...

Ken! I wasn't sure how best to contact you, but thought you should know (if you didn't already) you've been mentioned twice in the last week in other blogs:

Keep up the good work!


New Amsterdam Storyteller said...

This is gonna be a long one....

So Louis CK just offered a new series through his website. Shot, written, directed, financed, etc. by himself, featuring many guest stars. Only available through his site for 5 bucks. Episode 2 will be 2 bucks, and the following 3. Wrote CK: 'Part of the idea behind launching it on the site was to create a show in a new way and to provide it to you directly and immediately, without the usual promotion, banner ads, billboards and clips that tell you what the show feels and looks like before you get to see it for yourself.' The idea is that he will shoot the show during the week and have it uploaded immediately - which can make it very topical, also. What do you think Ken? The future of new shows - now that networks and the peeps that represent them are overly corporate, with all the frustration this brings for, for instance, the creators, showrunners, and what have you (you wrote about it often). And; do you see yourself go this route in the future (considering the amount of readers of your blog - for starters)?

Jahn Ghalt said...

Hi Joe Blow.

In all the years I've used that moniker, you are the first to ask that question.

My answer is: "of course it is".

Actually its more a tribute to the character in Atlas Shrugged than to author Rand, even though I gave up 10% into his 30,000 word radio address in that novel.

The "alternate" spelling makes it easy for search engines.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Here's a baseball question - triggered by the Galarage Perfect Game post.

You implied that ending the 2002 MLB All-Star Game was a poor decision (I agree). So what would you have done if you were the Commish, and/or either of the managers?

I have my own answer(s), which I'll share in the comments if you reply (or pick it up, Friday).

Here's a very broad hint: What would you do in a Little League game?

Radar O'Reily's left elbow said...

New Girl - funny or not?

Joe Blow III said...

Jahn Ghalt

I'm surprised to hear that no one has ever asked about your name, although anyone familiar with Rand probably just assumes the answer. I'm always intrigued when anyone openly indicates admiration of her ideas or novels---it frequently induces such hostility.

Do you think anyone ever read Galt's speech in it's entirety? Everyone I know who read Atlas Shrugged quit that monologue at about 10%, even those who went on to read and enjoy much of her non-fiction.

Thank you for answering my question.

Bryan Thomas said...

As an author who just spent 5 months in contentious negotiations with Hollywood for film rights to one of my novels, let me address Jeff or anyone else with his question. You adapt my work and submit it without getting clearance from me and my lawyers will be in touch, whether you make money on it or not. This is not because I am some asshole who loves to sue, it’s because Hollywood will fuck you every chance they get. I worked two years with the people I was negotiating with and when it came time to negotiate for money, the shit hit the fan. I was willing to walk away rather than sacrifice proper credit and pay for my authorship because those (credits even more than money) are what matters to my future credibility. Letting people adapt my work without permission and then offer it up to people is not something I would feel comfortable with because someone might try and take advantage of it or steal portions they could then disguise or claim were different enough from my work that they were original and owed me no compensation, and I don’t even want to go there. Hollywood takes advantage enough and makes enough changes. No need to let them have any advantages toward doing so that might lead to my getting no recognition and no pay.