Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Questions

Who’s ready for some Friday Questions?

Justin Russo begins:

What does a show do if the lead actor becomes sick (not gravely ill where a character can be written out) but perhaps just a flu? Are they written around? What would "30 Rock" be without Liz Lemon in an episode? I recall one "Cheers" episode where Sam has the chicken pox, which excused Ted Danson from the remainder of the episode. In other instances, Joey once had a broken arm on "Friends" (which was added to the story) and I've noticed on "30 Rock" again Alex Baldwin with a stye in a few episodes.

You work around it. If it’s your star sometimes you have to shut down production. Tina Fey would qualify.  Studios take out insurance for just such occurrences.

Occasionally, you have to write an actor out of an episode. On CHEERS the first season, Nick Colasanto was rushed to the hospital with pleurisy mid-week. We stayed up quite late writing him out of that week’s show. Then on show night he was back so we had to write him back in.

But you have to be creative sometimes in finding ways to explain away absences, broken arms, and especially pregnancies.

That said, I am often in awe of how actors will persevere through ailments and injuries to do a show as planned. They are troupers.

When my play, A OR B? was at the Falcon Theatre in Los Angeles, one night our star Jules Willcox had the stomach flu. There were buckets just offstage. I had no idea about this until after the show. This was a two-character play so she was on stage the entire time. And yet, you’d never know from her performance that night that she was green. Amazing.

Dhruv from India asks a really long questions and I have a really short answer.

Recently (past few years) lot of Hollywood icons like Spielberg, Scorsese, DeNiro, others have been coming to India? [They don’t have anything to sell. But still they just come here and go on TV channels where fawning assholes and shitty audience ask inane questions of what they think of India? Its movies? Culture?]. They on their part give condescending answers and smugly go on and on about their past glory.

Since you are an acute observer of Hollywood and its people, do you think that these are icons who are fading away in America's memory, so to massage their ego and self-worth, they are coming to India for the adulation they receive here? [India being a needy country for attention from Hollywood and Indian media always looking for bones (praise) thrown by the American media and its personalities].


Did Hollywood as a whole, recently discover that India is the largest English speaking country in the world (outside USA), so are they angling to connect with newer audience?
(Hence patronizing oscars to crappy movies like Slumdog Millionaire instead of Dark Knight, one Indian character with fake Apu-like Indian accents in new sitcoms etc….)


Larry Commons wonders:

You said on your blog the first season of "Cheers" is the best season. I think so too, and as I re-watch it now I'm struck by how professionally done it is, especially compared to most other sitcoms from 1982 (think: cheap videotape). Why do you say it's the best season? And were the ratings really as poor as we've heard?

The sexual tension between Sam and Diane was delicious. And very unique for a situation comedy at that time  (now every sitcom does it). Once they were in any kind of relationship it just wasn’t as sparkling. The writing was just as good, but the circumstances weren’t as ideal… in my opinion.

From cd1515:

Why were spinoffs so big back in the day but almost nonexistent today?
even on 1 of the Seinfeld DVD extras I remember Jason Alexander saying they missed a big spinoff possibility with Jerry & George's parents in Florida.

There were more spinoffs because there were more legitimate hit sitcoms that commanded large audiences. Niche hit sitcoms don’t have the same potential.

But in the feature world – sequels (the sort of equivalent of spinoffs) – is very much alive. There is so much product being introduced to audiences that having a known franchise is a big leg up. You see that on Broadway too. They’re making musicals from movies or plays from TV shows (like for instance that show about a bar in Boston).

Spinoffs are also hard to pull off (says someone who worked on AfterMASH). WHO you spinoff and what the new situation is is key. Second bananas often can’t carry shows. And characters that are funny in small doses rarely work when they have to do the heavy lifting. George’s parents from SEINFELD to me would have a tough time sustaining a series.

What’s your Friday Question?


Unknown said...

@Larry Commons, TOTALLY AGREE. The first season of CHEERS is excellent. I can watch the episodes over and over and it's still deliciously funny. An old-skool coworker recommended that I check out the first seasons of CHEERS on Netflix, and I'm amazed at how well it's stood the test of time. 'Still relevant, still funny...

Just my 2-cents, but it seems like SHELLEY LONG CARRIED THAT SHOW for the first few years. I liked the "Rebecca Years", but the early seasons have so much more depth; Sam Malone seems much more 3-dimensional in the first 2 seasons...

Carol said...

Actors ARE troopers. Especially, if I may say so, community theatre actors, because we don't have much of a choice. I was in a show once where two of the actors had a parent pass away right before the production, one person dislocated her shoulder, another broke a finger, and more than one person has stomach flu opening weekend. (I blame the fact the director said the name of the Scottish Play whilst in the theatre.)

I find it weirdly amusing when watching a show and you can totally tell the poor actor is working through a cold.

Tom Scarlett said...

There's an episode of SEINFELD ("The Maid") where Jerry's voice is obviously shot. They dealt with it at the top of the show:
GEORGE: What happened to your voice?
JERRY: I was screaming at hecklers all night. That's the last time I open for a rodeo.

Peter said...


ROFLMAO! Ken, you kill me!

Unknown said...

Speaking of "Cheers Live on Stage", the Chicago production just had their version reviewed in today's Chicago Tribune. Chris Jones has nice things to say about the writers of the show right from the first sentence.

Jon said...

Hi Ken,

Would you please explain what the difference is, if any, between the credits "Created by" and "Developed by"? I've read in the past that, due to Writer's Union rules, whoever writes the pilot for a series receives "Created by" credit, and this is apparent with Bewitched, where Sol Saks received creative credit for writing the pilot, though he never wrote another episode of the series. However there are other shows, like all the Irwin Allen 60s sci-fi series, where Mr. Allen received creative credit for all of them, though he didn't write the pilots for any of them. Also producers like Sid & Marty Krofft and animators Depatie/Freling took the same credit though someone else wrote those shows.

On the other hand "Developed by" seems to be reserved for scripted programs based on other works, like Little House on the Prairie, but shows like The Monkees, which seem to be from no other source, have development credits with no creative credits, so this seems to break the rule as well.

I'd appreciate any insight that you can give here. Thanks!

Andrew said...

I agree (about your spin-off answer). I loved George's parents, but a whole series devoted to them would have grown tiresome quickly. It would have been like an angry version of The Ropers.
I enjoyed what Jason Alexander once said about Jerry Stiller. Jerry's memory was somewhat limited. He would remember his lines one word or phrase at a time, which is why he would spit them out with so much intensity. It made for a great character.
I still shout out "Serenity Now!" once in awhile.

Michael said...

One of the best lines I ever heard about spinoffs was after "The Bionic Woman" was spun off from "The Six Million Dollar Man," and someone asked Richard Anderson, the actor who played their supervisor, Oscar Goldman, about giving him a spinoff and he asked what the show would be: him sitting as his desk sending people places?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Remember when Tina Fey wore glasses all the time? Now she keeps trying to ditch them, setting glasses-wearers decades back.

As for potential SEINFELD spin-offs, I've heard that they were trying to develop one for Jackie Chiles, but he was such a one-note character, I honestly can't see an actual show around him working, even in the short run.

DwWashburn said...

On the subject of stars getting ill and insurance protecting the show. In 1959 the Marx Brothers were filming a pilot for a new television series called Deputy Seraph. The brothers would appear in about 10 minutes of the half hour show every week. However they had to shut down production because they could not find an insurance company that would insure Chico. Chico died two years later.

Tyler said...

I remember an episode of "Married with Children" where Ed O'Neill obviously was sick----you could hear it in his voice from the very first line. They tossed off a line of dialogue about Al Bundy himself had a cold and then just moved on. I felt so bad for Ed watching it---he had tons of lines and was in pretty much every scene, and I'm sure he would have rather spent the whole week in bed instead.

cadavra said...

I hate to be That Pedantic Guy again, but unless they served in the Cavalry, actors are "troupers," not "troopers."

Several years ago I was privileged to see James Earl Jones on Broadway in a revival of ON GOLDEN POND. He was sniffling and wiping his nose with a tissue the entire show. As he was around 80 at the time, he could have been forgiven for calling in sick, but he knew people had paid the big bucks to see him, so he fought through it and gave a superb performance.

cd1515 said...

Scarborough is right, Jackie Chiles is the other character Alexander said could've been spun off.
And to be clear, Jason was saying the spinoff would've been about all 4 parents (both George & Jerry's) in Florida.

Andy Rose said...

There was a great article in Slate a decade ago about how the companies who insure stars are critical to productions, and how conservative they can be. If you hear "that actor did all his own stunts," don't believe it.

My Friday question:
You have said that the stage-left side of the Cheers set was built on a pivot so they could open up Sam's office to the audience and cameras. Some sitcom living room sets had a hole in the wall (usually hidden by a wall hanging) that allowed for another camera angle. The ALF set was built on a 3-foot platform with trenches to hide the puppeteers.

Do you know of any other multi-camera sitcoms with unsual hidden elements in their set design to make filming easier?

gottacook said...

There have also been series that are combination spinoffs AND sequels: The main star decides to leave, but the series continues under a new title and sometimes with a new star.

I don't think there have been any such series for a long time, but a very successful one was Mayberry RFD, which lasted for three more years after Andy Griffith left, and was still popular when CBS de-"ruralized" its schedule in 1971.

Another that lasted only one season (although it did air five times a week) was Forever Fernwood, which is what Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman became when Louise Lasser left.

Bob B. said...

Was "Joey" the last sitcom spinoff? I know there have been many drama spinoffs. NCIS, Law and Order, etc.

Dhruv said...

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Thank you Mr. Levine.

I expected the answer along similar lines, but you nailed it - "Both".


Todd Everett said...

They're "troupers," too. Maybe even more acurately

Kosmo13 said...

THE SIMPSONS was successfully spun-off from THE TRACY ULLMAN SHOW and outlasted it by decades.

Peter said...

Friday Question:

Is there any movie that you hated the first time you saw it but grew on you in subsequent viewings to the point it became a favourite? I hated Rosemary's Baby the first time I watched it. I thought it was slow and dull. But it's now one of my all time favourites.

Karl Thomas said...

In 1959 the Marx Brothers were filming a pilot for a new television series called Deputy Seraph. The brothers would appear in about 10 minutes of the half hour show every week. However they had to shut down production because they could not find an insurance company that would insure Chico.

Considering how dismal the surviving DEPUTY SERAPH footage is, having the production shut down was probably a blessing. Three old men who used to be the Marx Brothers demonstrating why retirement can be a good thing.

There have also been series that are combination spinoffs AND sequels: The main star decides to leave, but the series continues under a new title

CBS tried that in the late 1950s after Gracie Allen retired. What had been THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW continued as THE GEORGE BURNS SHOW, with the same supporting cast. George Burns said that the show failed because the audience was spending the entire half hour waiting for Gracie to walk in.

Rich Shealer said...

@gottacook The Closer on TNT became Major Crimes after Kyra Sedgwick left the show.

Charles H. Bryan said...

They may not exactly be spin-offs, but there's similar activity amongst procedurals -- NCIS, CSI, Law & Order.

I think THE BIG BANG THEORY may be setting up a spinoff with Penny's family -Keith Carradine, Kate Sagal, and Jack Brayer are all too solid and can set up together back in Nebraska. Maybe. I dunno.

VP81955 said...

Andrew, I have an actress friend of mine who worked with Jerry Stiller on "The King of Queens"; I'll have to ask her about that.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Jon H In the case of the Krofft brothers, they did, indeed, create their own shows: they came up with the concepts, presented them to the networks, and then they hired their writers and directors. Marty recently said in an interview that he and Sid, personally, we not big on writing scripts, which is why whenever they did presentations for their shows to pitch to networks, they always put together large books full of sketches, designs, conceptual artwork, and the like (which helps give the executives an idea of what it is they're buying if they can actually see it, as opposed to outlines that nobody reads). Si Rose, their executive producer, often wrote their pilot episodes, and helped develop some of their shows, such as SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS.

As for BEWITCHED, Ken actually wrote about this years ago. I read through different sources that Harry Ackerman of Screen Gems was the one who came up with the premise for the show (along with a few finishing touches from Bill Asher and Liz Montgomery, who were developing a similar concept), but that they hired Sol Saks to write the pilot, and as you suggested, back then whoever wrote the pilot was credited as the creator of the series. IIRC, Ken shot all of that down when he wrote about this, and said that Sol, without a doubt, is the one who really, truly, created the series.

CRL said...

NCIS was actually a spinoff of JAG.

DrBOP said...

Off-Topic Kid on Vin Scully Day at Dodger Stadium with a piece on the umps saluting Vin, along with links to a few articles:

MikeN said...

CRL, NCIS was a fake spinoff of JAG. They just had a two-part crossover with JAG before the series started. It's like saying that Boston Public is a spinoff of The Practice, if you had started with the episode where the teacher is fired and they defended him.

DwWashburn said...

Anonymous Karl Thomas said...

Considering how dismal the surviving DEPUTY SERAPH footage is, having the production shut down was probably a blessing. Three old men who used to be the Marx Brothers demonstrating why retirement can be a good thing.

First off, they WERE the Marx Brothers until the day Zeppo died making him the last brother to exist on this world. And secondly, it's hard to make an assumption about a show when all that survives is one outtake reel. Harpo is still Harpo. He still interacts with Chico well. And at the time of filming, Groucho still had a top twenty TV show.

Is the outtake reel slow? Yep because it's a work in progress. You can hear the director coaching, there are quite a few reaction shots that were to be spliced into the story and certain times and there are no sound effects. Not the brothers' fault.

I find it very difficult to look at unfinished outtake reel and make a blanket statement that says these men should never work again. Harpo and Groucho still enjoyed working and Chico needed the money.

Adam said...

I love the Marx Brothers but the Deputy Seraph outtakes on YouTube seemed pretty lame to me.

cadavra said...

Charles: They may well be thinking of a TBBT spin-off with Penny's family, but they'd have to recast the father, as Mr. Carradine is already busy being the President on MADAM SECRETARY.