Friday, May 06, 2016

Friday Questions

Let’s dive into some Friday Questions, shall we?

Igor is up first.

About "Coupling", which I really liked. Great characters and casting. And as with Seinfeld and Curb, it always circled back around (in its own way) to cleverly bring everything together at the end. (Yes, the remake here failed quickly.)

Why do shows like that have to be remade for the US? Why not a sitcom that's set in the UK _and_ intended from the start to also play in the US? Yes, some jokes are "local", but (1) so what, and/or (2) could some scenes be shot twice, or do cut-ins?

British humor (mostly) works here. (And Downton Abbey sure works here.) I'd like to see a first-run British sitcom here w/ actual British actors speaking with their native accents. Can't happen?

You’re preaching to the choir. I’ve long maintained that the original COUPLING by Steven Moffat would be a hit in the US if given a proper platform. It has aired in the US but on a BBC channel.  COUPLING is one of the smartest, funniest sitcoms EVER.  Period. 

I should also note that the reason the U.S. version of COUPLING failed is because of casting and network interference.

British dramas like LUTHER and DOWNTON ABBEY do very well across the pond. I would think a well-constructed truly funny comedy would as well. And if not, I would sure put COUPLING on Friday night over DR. KEN.

Shea Griffin has some CHEERS FQ’s.

Had Shelley stayed for season 6, how would their relationship have progressed? Marriage? Kids? Status quo? And could Cheers have carried on for 11 seasons with the Sam-Diane relationship as the cornerstone?

Hard to say because the Charles Brothers always resisted the idea of them becoming a married couple and turning the show into MAD ABOUT YOU.

So the question becomes how long could we keep them on-again/off-again? How many different twists and turns and arcs could we devise? 

I honestly don’t think we could have gone eleven seasons with that as our primary engine. I’ve always maintained that Sam & Diane was the heart of CHEERS, but Rebecca revitalized the series and kept it going a few more years than it otherwise would have.

But that’s just one man’s conjecture. There was never any long range storyline in place. There’s no telling what might’ve been had Diane stayed and in season seven or eight we introduced a new character and that character took off allowing the show to go in a different direction and stay on the air for fourteen years. You just don’t know.

Here’s an unusual question from Peter:

If you could bring back to life three celebrities who died prematurely, who would you bring back and why? I don't mean celebrities who lived a full life and passed at a grand old age, I mean those who went before their time. I know Natalie Wood is a given, so what three OTHER celebrities?

I find it difficult to just pick three, and they keep changing all the time, but my current three I'd bring back are Robin Williams, Heath Ledger and Dominique Dunne.

Interesting question for you readers as well. Unfortunately so many choices. Like you, mine might change from day to day but for today I’d say Natalie Wood, Grace Kelly, and John Lennon.

Is Larry Gelbart considered a celebrity?  Because if so then him for sure.  

And finally, from The Bumble Bee Pendant:

Improving...or even pitching jokes in a writers room... Many people have small short term memories, and the last thing they've heard is the first thing they remember. Probably why there are so many Bachelor jokes, or topical jokes in today's sitcoms. I'm worried that would be me...I'd just freeze and blurt something about Adele.

Ken, As you're going into a Sitcom room or Improv room, do you go in trying to access every memory file in your life, because other wise, all your answers would be "Beiber" or "Trump"?

I try to avoid all name references because they date your show. That’s the big reason why a terrific series like MURPHY BROWN died a horrible death in syndication. It was filled with name references that today mean very little. When was the last time you heard Dan Quayle mentioned?

I’m not saying never do it, and sometimes a well-placed name reference helps establish the time period, but for me the best jokes come out of attitude and characters. Relatability and human foibles never go out of style.

What's your Friday Question?  Or three celebrities you'd like to see take one more bow?  


tavm said...

John Belushi, Elvis Presley, and Judy Garland

Anonymous said...

Isn't the main problem with a US channel showing Coupling that there exist, in total, 28 episodes of it — and they were made over a period of five years?

US channels don't seem to want to show any comedy unless it can run for nearly six months every year, and no sitcom made under the British system could possibly do that; even My Family, which I heard was done using a US-style 'writers' room' system, topped out at 16.

That said, what about Episodes? It went down well here in the UK — how did it do in the US?

Peter said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken!

I agree with all your choices.

Like you say, there are so many one could choose. Here are a few more, but again not exhaustive.

Princess Diana


Victoria Wood - probably unknown to anyone outside of the UK but she was a funny and talented comedienne and actress who sadly died of cancer aged just 62 only a few weeks ago.

Kenny Everett - again, another one only known within the UK, he was a brilliant DJ and comedian who did sketch comedy. I grew up watching him. Tragically died from AIDS in 1995.

Freddie Mercury

John Hughes

Michael Jackson

Tony Scott

David Bowie

River Phoenix

Paul Walker

Brittany Murphy

Philip Seymour Hoffman

James Gandolfini

Patrick Swayze

Unknown said...

Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon and Garry Shandling (I know he was 66, but still too young).

VP81955 said...

The lady in my avatar obviously would be among my three. It would be fascinating to see Carole Lombard do a film noir or two, be a Hitchcock blonde on his own turf (Hitch'S only out-and-out comedy, the 1941 "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," was done as a favor to his friend Carole), or pursue TV just as buddy Lucille Ball did.

McAlvie said...

As a big fan of British tv, I've been ranting about this for years. It isn't a new problem, either. Back when Hollywood first had a go at putting an Agatha Christie novel on film, they blew it big time because they assumed American audiences were stupid. Publishers were no better, changing titles because, in my best whiny voice, "Oh, nobody will know what that means." And they did it again with the Harry Potter books. Because people who like to read are incapable, doncha know, of comprehending what we read. I'm surprised they didn't try to make the Hogwarts Express into a Greyhound Bus.

Anyway, the problem is that they take something that's really good and then try to dumb it down to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and then they don't understand why nobody else watches!

Okay, moving on. Interesting, Ken, that you considered Sam and Diane to be the heart of the show. I always thought the heart was in the regulars. Sam provided the anchor, and I think that was necessary ... somebody has to be the grown up; but while I liked the character of Diane and thought she provided a good counter perspective to the rest of the cast, I never thought she was pivotal.

Stephen Robinson said...

The Rebecca Years on CHEERS felt like a separate series, connected to the Diane Years but different in many ways. Perhaps it wasn't as stark a change as CHEERS to FRASIER but it felt close.

The first Rebecca episode works more like the pilot of a new show than the previous season openers. The previous five years are effective backstory for Sam: Former sports star and owner of the bar who fell in love but it ended badly and he sold the true love of his life -- the bar -- to forget about his fiancee.

Unknown said...

First of all, my three celebrities would be River Phoenix, Phil Hartman, and Gilda Radner.

It's interesting, too, that you comment on the use of pop culture references in scripts. Watching old classics like Dick Van Dyke or Mary Tyler Moore, they hardly ever mention current events or pop culture of the time. Nowadays, it seems like pop culture references abound. Just look at last night's cold open for The Big Bang Theory that found Penny quizzing Sheldon on pop culture figures like the Kardashians. Will that be funny in five years? Ten years?

Here's a potential Friday question: When season five of Cheers began, did writers already know Shelley was leaving? I seem to remember as a viewer knowing her exit was coming (and thus realizing that Sam and Diane's engagement was doomed), but I can't remember how soon in that season we knew. I binge-watched Cheers last summer on Netflix, and it seems to me that Diane became particularly grating as the season wore on, almost as if the writers were making it easier for viewers to say good-bye to her.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

In regards to the Sam-Diane question, I've always observed that there seems to be some sort of an unwritten rule among storytelling in that you can't progress a relationship in fiction, because otherwise, it becomes "boring" and your audience will lose interest. I guess I can kind of see how that works: when a fictional couple is constantly in a will-they-or-won't-they phase, that creates tension, and from tension comes conflict, and conflict is what gives you your story . . . and that conflict is always what keeps people interested. So, if you progress a relationship in fiction (finally bring them together, marry them off, what have you), you lose the conflict, which means you lose the story, which means there's nothing left to hold the audience's interest.

Or so I've heard. I haven't written much about relationship woes, so I really don't know exactly if that's the case or not, but it seems to be.

Fran in NYC said...

George Gershwin (gone much, much too soon), John Lennon (untimely in a very bad way, had a lot more to do), and Gandolfini/Hoffman (also way too soon, each should have had another 30 years of career).

It was very sad to lose Prince & Bowie, but despite their relatively young ages, I think they fulfilled their potential in their given lifetimes. The 3 men above had more to do when they died.

cd1515 said...

the Rebecca era started great, IMO, and got worse and worse the longer it went.
she went from smart to stupid, strong to sniveling.

scottmc said...

Thinking of people who left us too soon the first name that came to mind was Steve Gordon,'Arthur' remains a great movie and an introduction to what he could have achieved as a writer/director. I also wonder what Larry Gelbart might have written-especially for Broadway in the wake the success of musical comedies like The Producers and The Book of Mormon. Also, Paddy Chayefsky was just 58 when he died.

Cat said...

Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Princess Diana.

I agree that the Charles brothers wrote themselves into a corner with Sam and Diane. They marry, have kids, Diane has to be off somewhere taking care of the kids or you have to have stories of marital strife and/or domestic situations, a la Everybody Loves Raymond. It wouldn't have worked, and the lifespan of the series might have been a lot shorter. The Charles brothers had said that Shelley gave them a gift by leaving, and she did, whether we liked it or not.

Tom said...

Neil Diamond wrote a song called "Done Too Soon" which, with the possible exception of John Wilkes Booth (probably included because it scans and sort of rhymes in the song...) could be a good list. The first three names: "Jesus Christ, Fanny Brice, Wolfie Mozart."

Bill Jones said...

Friday question: I have always thought that two of the best episodes of Cheers are the two episodes that "recalibrated" the show. The first is "Birth, Death, Love, and Rice," in the Fourth Season, where Woody is introduced after Coach's death, and Sam finds Diane after she left Frasier at the altar. The second is "Home is the Sailor" in the sixth season, which, of course, is the first post-Diane episode and had to both tie up loose ends (what happened to Diane? How did Sam cope with it?) and introduce new ones (Rebecca as the new manager). These episodes are so wonderfully written and performed, I can watch them over and over. Do you have any comments/insights you can offer on these episodes in particular, or how to approach writing an episode that has to "recalibrate" a show after a major cast event or change in story arc?

Mike Schryver said...

I like Fran's criterion of "had so much more to do" - my choices there would be Gilda Radner, Heath Ledger and Carole Lombard, and there are so many others. It's hard to leave out George Gershwin and John Belushi.

H Johnson said...

Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.

Oh, maybe Gary Busey too.


Rick said...

A Friday question....
There is going to be a stage production of 'Cheers' in Boston. I'm guessing you still get the occasional check for re-runs. Anything for when the scripts are re-purposed?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@H Johnson That's a joke about Busey, right? Because he's still around, even if he isn't all there.

VP81955 said...

It's fascinating that for as lionized as Marilyn Monroe is, I don't believe anyone has mentioned her. (She was only 36 when she passed; in fact, Monroe, Lombard and Jean Harlow combined didn't live to 100.) Do people here believe she would have worn out her welcome, that all she had to offer was being a sex symbol? I'm not the world's most avid Marilyn fan, but I will say that during her final years (1960 onward), her appearance became far less dated than in her '50s "look." Your thoughts?

Andrew said...

"It's people like that who make you realize how little you've accomplished. It is a sobering thought, for example, that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years." - Tom Lehrer

I hate the fact that Mozart died at 35. Imagine if he had lived even 5 years more? Same with Schubert.


Concerning British TV, one of my favorite shows was Poirot. The episodes could be hit or miss (sometimes Christie's plots were ludicrous), but the acting and production values were always superb. You would think that Poirot's popularity would show there's an audience for British shows on this side of the pond, and they don't need to be watered down or over-explained for an American audience. Surely the same thing is true for comedies.

benson said...

@Melissa Agar,

I believe I read where Carl Reiner purposely made it a rule to avoid current pop culture references. Some made it through,though. (The Redcoats are coming, some vague references to Jack Paar and Johnny Carson)

My, this is though...

Jim Croce, John Lennon,

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Thanks for answering the question Ken, though I specifically was curious how you mentally prepare going into those situations.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Lots of great choices so far.
Here are 3 that were so young and were still very relevant (and weren't the causes of their own death: so, no Jimi or Kurt etc).

Buddy Holly (22),
Sam Cooke (33),
Otis Redding (26).

BA said...

Let's not forget the Martin and Lewis coloring books, and the trial episode that featured a Prosecutor Mason and a Defender Berger. And speaking of Crummy Buttons, why hasn't that name been used for a band?(or has it??)

thomas tucker said...

Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and George Burns.
All prematurely gone; they should have lived to 200.

H Johnson said...

@Joseph Scarbrough, yeah that's a joke. Busey is still with us. Kinda.

Oh and @benson, Jim Croce's a great choice. If only, huh?


Anonymous said...

Hank Williams
Irving Thalberg
Alexander the Great

SharoneRosen said...

tough to narrow it down to three. Today's choices would be
Roger Miller
Jim Henson
George Gershwin

next choices... not that anyone asked
Cass Elliot
Cole Porter

in no particular order

Jake said...

Stevie Ray Vaughan
John Ritter
JT Walsh

Anonymous said...

Alan Rickman, sigh.... Janice B.

fred said...

Hendrix / Morrison / Joplin

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@H Johnson Much like Leif Garrett as well.

authorized personnel only said...

James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and River Phoenix

Francis Dollarhyde said...

Ken, in online discussions of "Cheers" I often come across the claim (mostly from fans of the show) that the Sam/Diane relationship had run its course and it was just as well that Shelley Long left the show when she did. To me, that's a knock on the writers, and on Shelley Long (who seems even more phenomenal every time I re-watch the show). Maybe the Sam/Diane dynamic couldn't have lasted for 11 seasons, but it certainly could have lasted longer than 5!

There actually was a lot more room to explore with Sam and Diane. One thing that fascinates me is that the characters who rivalled Sam's love for Diane - or who were brought in simply to throw a spanner in the works of their relationship - tended to be on the highbrow side: Sumner Sloane, Phillip Semenko, Frasier Crane, etc. They were all from Diane's social or cultural strata. I think it would have been interesting if you guys brought in a long-term love-interest for Diane who was more blue-collar or down to earth. THAT would have shaken Sam up - what could he offer to Diane if Diane was in relationship with, essentially, "another" Sam? It's the sort of arc you could have stretched out for a full season, or at least a few episodes, and it could have put a totally new spin on the show (well, except it might have been the gender-flipped version of Sam's arc with the councilwoman played by Kate Mulgew).

Is that close to anything you or the Charles Brothers or anyone might have considered had Shelley Long stayed on? (This comment might have just turned into a stealth Friday question...)

ELP said...

Jonathan Larson, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Poirot was my Late mother's favourite too. PBS made a lot of money off Canadians from Poirot.

Stephen Robinson said...

I think the problem with Sam/Diane if it had confinued pasf the fiffh season would be repeating itself: Yes, as Francine notes, you could do variations on the false romantic lead for Diane or Sam but ultimately you are reinterpreting a theme.

Rebecca, I dare say, was more narratively compelling than Diane because she had a purpose for being at the bar. Diane was a waitress who could have found employment anywhere else and among more accepting people. Rebecca was trapped on a slippery rung of the corporate ladder. Not only did she expand the series by allowing for more pointed satire of the '80s corporate world, she had a logical motivation to explore each episode.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

@ Stephen Robinson: "

"Rebecca, I dare say, was more narratively compelling than Diane because she had a purpose for being at the bar."

I disagree. Rebecca's purpose for being at the bar pretty much ended when Robin Colcord went to jail and Sam got the bar back. After that, it seemed like the show had to invent far-fetched reasons for Rebecca to hang around: the ill-conceived - pun not intended! - notion of Rebecca and Sam wanting a baby; and after that, Rebecca pestering Sam to buy the bar off him, etc.

(The Rebecca-wanting-the-bar arc is where I lost whatever remaining sympathy I had for the character. Not just because her motives were unconvincing, but because Rebecca knew how long and hard Sam had campaigned to get the bar back. Why would he turn it over to her? If memory serves, Rebecca even tried to force Sam's hand, by teaming up with John Allen Hill and taking ownership of the back room.)

After the Sam/Rebecca plotlines fizzled out, Rebecca seemed to float to the periphery of the bar, and the show itself even started making jokes about how superfluous she had become to the show. Why do you think Carla was making almost meta-textual zingers about how Rebecca didn't seem to do anything in the bar? (I think it's also telling that Rebecca wasn't included in the show's very last scene.)

MikeN said...

So you WOULDN'T fill a show with references to Sarah Palin?

The confirmation thing just took me 3 minutes.

mike said...

Duane Allman, Jimi Hendrix, and Buddy Holly.

Johnny Walker said...

I guess they could have wrangled a new season out of Sam and Diane, but they already had done so much:

Season 1: Getting together
Season 2: Falling apart
Season 3: Lying to themselves (Diane gets engaged to Frasier)
Season 4: Healing wounds/Getting back together
Season 5: Getting engaged

Season 6 would have been them (at best) deciding to go their separate ways (with another convoluted excuse to keep Diane in the bar). Or them being married and the inevitable struggles that would have entailed (presumably with the season ending on a colossal fight, indicating they might be through again). It's difficult to imagine if they could have kept Sam/Diane stories going, and really I think the best thing Rebecca brought to the bar... was the bar. Her character really allowed the show to open up into the bar setting, giving us the opportunity for the secondary characters to come to the fore.

Andy Rose said...

I've found pop culture-filled shows from the past a lot more enjoyable to watch since the Internet became a fairly reliable research tool. The more topical old-time radio shows like Jack Benny, Bob Hope and Fred Allen used to lose me a lot with contemporary references in their jokes. But now I can just Google a name or film title or news story, and the joke makes sense. Plus I've learned something in the process.

The old Warner Bros. cartoons were often jammed-packed with pop culture references, but they didn't really stop me from enjoying them as a kid. And now that I get what they're talking about, it makes them even more charming that they're so firmly rooted in the 40s and 50s.

CRL said...

Jim Croce, Robert E. Howard, and Jerry Ross.

Croce has been noted.

Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, dead at 30.

Jerry Ross and Richard Adler were composers who won back to back Tony Awards for The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. Jerry Ross died suddenly when he was only 29. Richard Adler lived another 60 years and produced very little of consequence.

John said...

I can't believe no one mentioned Bob Marley. Left us at 36 and the man was a force of nature, truly one of a kind. Or John Bonham, imho rock's greatest drummer, who died at 32. And of course, John Lennon.

Breadbaker said...

Douglas Adams. Jonathan Larson. Christopher Marlowe.

Bill said...

Ian Curtis
John Kennedy Toole
John Candy

Igor said...

So I take a few days off, skip a Friday Questions, and whadya know?

Ken, thanks so much for your answer. I figured I must be missing something, some obvious "No, a US network can't run a UK sitcom, you idiot, because..." Apparently I wasn't. Again, thanks.

md said...

Just wanted to note for folks that Coupling is available on Hulu, in case anyone wanted to check it out. It really is a great show.