Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Questions

I prepare for the Memorial Day Weekend by answering some Friday Questions.

The Bumble Bee Pendant starts us off:

Ken, as you know British shows do not have Writers Rooms, mostly because they have shorter series runs, and the penchant for Sorkin-type showrunners, plus a couple of freelancers to write everything. However, BBC is considering it. Would you prefer something like this if you had a limited Netflix type series or do you feel that comedy has to be done by the Writers Room?

I’d like a combination of both. I would like to write all of the scripts (along with my partner David Isaacs), but then when the show is in production I’d like a few writers on staff to help rewrite and fix the mess we had made. I also really enjoy the camaraderie of a writing staff. So I would not choose to go it alone even if I could.

From Liggie:

Is the age of the classic miniseries like "Roots" and "The Winds of War" long gone? Or is the format still alive today in a different look, like a 10- episode season like "Better Call Saul" our "Agent Carter" have had?

I wouldn’t call those two shows miniseries. They’re “series.” (AGENT CARTER is a former series. It was cancelled.)

To me, miniseries are stand-alones. There used to be more of them on networks because they were considered big event programming and were carted out during sweeps. In some cases they were huge home runs (like ROOTS), but they’re risky. And expensive.

Networks still do them, but more on a limited basis. And now there are so many other avenues for miniseries. But they’re around. Every year on the Emmys there are five nominees and I’ve never heard of any of them.

Neal Grinnell asks:

I see that a stage adaption of "Cheers" is coming to Boston in September. Were you or David Isaacs involved at all?

No. We also don’t know if any of our scripts are being used. But we are looking into it. Or should I say our representatives are looking into it? 

Justin Russo queries:

Can you choose a favorite joke or scene that you wrote (from any series) that you are most proud of writing?

It’s hard. Not because there are so many, but because I forgot most of them. But in the first season of CHEERS there was an episode called “Boys In The Bar,” in which the patrons worried that the bar might go gay because Sam came out in support of his former roommate who announced that he was gay.

Sam is in the poolroom with Diane and says something to the effect of: “I should have known. One time on the road we were in a piano bar and he requested a show tune.”

For some reason that got a five-minute laugh. The laugh was so long that the director ordered the cameras to stop rolling. We were wasting too much film. For a comedy writer that’s a walk-off home run in a World Series game.

And finally, Stoney wonders”

Allright Ken; let's say your phone rings. You open it and see that it's James Brooks calling. "Hi Jim" "Hi Ken; we've decided it's time to end THE SIMPSONS and we need you to write a finale for us." Well?

I would have the characters wake up and suddenly be their real ages. And I would have the episode dedicated to Sam Simon.

What’s your Friday Question? Have a great and safe holiday weekend.


Rashad Khan said...

Speaking of "The Boys in the Bar," how ironic is it that Alan Autry, a conservative Republican and born-again Christian who was mayor of Fresno, CA for a spell, was tapped to play the former teammate of Sam's who came out of the closet? (By the way, Ken, do you recall his performance? If so, what are your thoughts about it?)

Stoney said...

Been wondering if you'll have a review of HBO's "All The Way". I thought it was a pretty standard history piece but Bryan Cranston has locked in another Emmy for himself. Even more spot-on was Bradley Whitford as Hubert Humphrey.

And thanks for today's answer to my "Simpsons" q.

decal1028 said...

Hi Ken,

I can't believe I'm gonna write this as I love this site and your writing etc, blah, blah, blah.

I'm really curious about the "show tunes = gay" joke...a 5 minute laugh? Do you think it was a product of it's time? I'm not asking you to claim that you were the first to ever make that joke (were you?), maybe you were one of the first 10 or 20 but now I've heard it 100,000 times and it's the epitome of lazy?

I promise I'm sincere, not trolling, but that sounds a lot like (your favorite) 2 Broke Girls.

Terrence Moss said...

it's still a funny line regardless.

Terrence Moss said...

i love that idea for a "simpsons" finale.

Anonymous said...


Remember that back then it was still a little fresh to be addressing homosexuality directly on a network sitcom. I recently caught bits of the famous "gay wedding" episode of friends, when the topic of gay marriage was in about the same place, and it is nuts how dated that whole thing seems now, even considering the show is aimed at a very mainstream audience. But at the time it got a huge response.

Duncan said...

Recently read that someone is re-making ROOTS right now. Read a little interview with Levar Burton and after some reluctance, he said he's all for it now.

Tom said...

Interesting that the questioner specifically mentioned "Roots" as the type of mini-series they don't make any more, since a remake of Roots starts airing Monday (with LeVar Burton as an executive producer).

Duncan said...

Roots mini-series begins Memorial Day on the History Channel.

Unknown said...

How do you open a phone? Mine does when I drop it.
As for mini-series, does CBS's Under the Dome count? I think it was a summer "Event", that they renewed. It seemed like it was just a summer thing, and they changed their minds and did 2 more seasons. Last episode left a few doors open in case it gets picked up later.

MikeN said...

4 years ago USA brought out Political Animals which was supposed to be propaganda in favor of Hillary's primary challenge to Obama that Bill was recommending but she didn't do it.
It had the wife of a former philandering president who ran for president but lost to a Hispanic, and became Secretary of State. Now she runs against him again and the series makes a point of how the president deliberately set himself up to be labeled the reason for her loss so his wife could preserve her political future.

cadavra said...

THE NIGHT MANAGER qualifies as a miniseries, as it's an adaptation of a LeCarre novel. Likewise THE PEOPLE VS. O.J. SIMPSON (minus the LeCarre part). I'd say both of them are pretty high-profile.

MikeN said...

Not known at the time, but Roots is not a real story, but one plagiarized from The African, a fictional story written by a white author who got a sealed settlement decades ago.

Unknown said...

Can't wait for the sequel to THE PEOPLE VS. O.J. SIMPSON

Kevin said...

Speaking of laughs-- Sometimes I'll be watching a sitcom and someone in the studio audience will have a very loud or noticeable laugh, a laugh that is heard above the rest of the audience and often keeps going longer than the rest of the audience. I find that distracting and annoying. Why can't or won't the showrunner edit the laugh track to eliminate laughs like that?

Breadbaker said...

(Okay, apparently non-robots are supposed to consider that something that is clearly a parfait is a "milkshake")

I think the laughter for the Cheers joke was clearly a product of its time. It may have been the first time outside All in the Family and Soap that the idea of friendship between straight and gay people was dealt with in a positive fashion, certainly in a show with the reach of Cheers (and remember that even before it found its audience it was probably seen by more people than see a no. 1 show these days).

(And now the robotic thing has "expired". Apparently, I may have turned back into a robot while I was typing).

I adore the idea for a Cheers finale. And dedicating it to our mutual friend Sam is the right thing to do.

Elf said...

@Dean, I think some credit for the extended laugh has to be given to Ted Danson. The line could have been a throwaway line for anyone else, derisive if delivered as such, but with Sam it wasn't just the line but also the way he practically made you see the dim little light bulb above his head flicker ever so briefly.

DBA said...

Dean, speaking only for myself, the "showtune" line isn't funny because it relies on a stereotype. The construction of the joke itself is funny. For example, if the line had been something more like "he used to listen to showtunes"; that is not funny. Structured that way, it's too obvious and just the stereotype, and implies the behaviour were commonplace in the roommate. "He liked showtunes" is not funny.

On the other hand, the actual joke as structured is dependent on the singularity of the event. Not only does Sam indicate the memory was "one time" but also "a showtune". That juxtaposed with the "I should have known", as if one song, on one occasion, probably 10+ years earlier would be a dead giveaway is why it's funny. Mostly the "a showtune" for me is why it's funny, because also that's not usually something you reference in the singular; usually you'd either refer broadly to "showtunes" or just name the song. So there's a sort of wordplay too there that adds to the funny. It's all in the phrasing.

Eric Lyden said...

Yeah, I saw the ads for the Cheers stage play and it seems kind of weird. From what they're saying it's based on the first season of the show, but with all due respect to the actors in this play, but I can see them performed as well as they could be on Netflix any time I want. If it were the actual actors from the show it'd be great, but if not it seems pointless.

Mike said...

@BumbleBeePendant: BBC is considering it Care to expand?

Miniseries: Every year on the Emmys there are five nominees and I’ve never heard of any of them. We've discussed this before. Those are the British entries and you're supposed to have watched the screeners. Even if they are Region 2 & PAL.

Showtunes The stereotype is the joke. Postmodernism can be funny.

Johnny Walker said...

Speaking of jokes of their time, there's an episode of CHEERS where Diane is frantically and obsessively piling through books looking to prove Sam wrong on something. She appears in the bar, looking like she hasn't slept, with a pile of books under her arm, and sits down to continue her search.

Woody is stunned, and says to Frasier: "Wow, at this rate she must go through a book a week!"

Big laugh from the audience... (Woody thinks a book a week is fast!) These days I'd imagine 90% of the audience wouldn't read a book a month (and I include myself in that sad statistic).

Albert Giesbrecht said...

The joke is why are two supposedly macho men hanging around in a piano bar in the first place?

Wayne Gretzky said...

You've said before you think Doc Emrick is a good NHL announcer. It seems to me that he announces as if it's a radio broadcast, detailing very pass, announcing from and to whom. Well, it's TV, I can see what going on. Do you think there's a point in a TV game to his style of announcing? What is it?