Friday, November 04, 2016

Friday Questions

Friday means two things now. FQ’s and another weekend of my play, GOING GOING GONE at the Hudson Theatre. Come see it. The laughs are on me.

Cat starts us off:

Ken, I've been able to spot Warren Littlefield sitting at the bar in the final season of Cheers, but I haven't been able to spot you!

I’m in the last Bar Wars episode sitting at the bar hitting on one of the other CHEERS writers.

YEKIMI asks:

While watching an episode of Johnny Carson on Antenna TV, Woody Harrelson was on and talking about a couple of plays he was in and had written. Pretty funny actually, he plastered a playbill on the front of Johnny's desk, had a T-shirt on with the name of the plays on it and had the plays spelled out in tape on the bottom of his shoes which showed when he crossed his legs. So......Did you ever see the play he wrote? 

Did you ever discuss playwriting with him or did he come to you for advice or did you ask him for advice? 

Did that give you the inspiration to write your plays or was it something in the back of your mind that you were thinking about doing anyways one day? Or was this just "The world be damned, I'm doing this on my own!" moment?

Honestly, I had no idea Woody ever wrote plays. Or wrote anything. That’s all news to me, which is weird because you’d think he’d let everybody on the set know so we could all go and support him. But with Woody, ANYTHING is possible. 

He never discussed writing with any of us. He was very respectful of the writing of CHEERS (as were all the actors, God love 'em).

I got into playwrighting because I’ve always loved the theatre, and enjoyed all those years of writing multi-camera shows where I got the benefit of hearing live audiences react. As a comedy writer, the ultimate high for me is hearing people laugh. So playwrighting was a natural.

Also, no network notes.

From John Fox:

The original Leave It to Beaver series broke a lot of new ground for sitcoms - first to have a finale, prioritizing story over simply going for the laugh - things that were later evident in M*A*S*H, among others. Did that have anything to do with your choice of Beaver Cleaver as your "boss jock" stage name?

No. Not at all. At the time I took the name (1974) disc jockeys all had interchangeable generic names. Johnny Mitchell. Bill Williams. Tom Stevens.

I was looking for a name that would instantly stand out and be remembered.

Also, I was able to use the name to do shameless double entendres – none of which I’m proud of today.

Thomas Mossman queries:

In mentioning your love of A Confederacy of Dunces, it brought to my mind the multiple efforts to bring the book to the big screen. Why do you suppose no ones been able to do it, Steven Soderburgh's suggestion of "bad mojo" aside?

My partner, David Isaacs and I even tried to get the rights ourselves to try adapting the book. We were unsuccessful. You talk about red tape – yikes. But ultimately I think we dodged a bullet.

The text is so voluminous and so much of the humor is the lead’s character’s inner thoughts and how they conflict with the reality he’s encountering.  Just to dramatize the story doesn’t do the book justice.

There have been numerous attempts. I think I’ve read no less than five CONFEDERACY screenplays (including the one Soderburgh oversaw). All felt flat and empty.

Another major problem is finding an actor who can play the lead, Ignatius J. Reilly. It’s not easy to play fat and disgusting and still lovable and sympathetic. Our original idea was John Belushi (which tells you how long ago it was when we were interested in the project).

Recently, there was a stage play adaptation starring Nick Offerman from PARKS & REC that played in Boston. The reviews were positive to mixed. But I would sure be curious to see it. And if they pull it off I tip my hunter’s hat with two earflaps.

What’s your Friday Question?


Peter said...

Wasn't Philip Seymour Hoffman attached at one point to an adaptation of Confederacy? I don't know how far that got prior to his death, which still saddens me that we lost such a great talent so young.

My Friday Question: As I was thinking of Back to the Future II yesterday regarding the scene where the Cubs win the World Series in 2015, I have a time travel question. If you had a Delorean with functioning flux capacitor, which period or specific year in the past or future would you travel to? I'd go precisely 100 years into the future!

Stephen Robinson said...

I think frankly that CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES and THE GREAT GATSBY are both "un-filmable" for the reasons Ken gives -- although no one seems to stop trying (and failing) to adapt Gatsby. I also don't think they've ever gotten Daisy, Gatsby, Tom, or even Jordan "right."

FRIDAY QUESTION: Do you think late-night TV has gotten too overtly political? My memory of Carson or Bob Hope specials might be too rooted in youthful nostalgia but it seemed like the political humor was less "personal" and could appeal to anyone regardless of their political affiliation. Yes, these are very contentious times but so were the 1960s. This isn't to say that I don't think there's a place for political humor but I've seen clips of Samantha Bee and even Seth Meyers and they come across more like slightly funnier Keith Olbermanns (and I say this as someone who enjoyed Olbermann's COUNTDOWN series).

But perhaps this is a way that Donald Trump has "killed" comedy. When Fallon tried to approach him by the standard late night talk show norms (poking fun of his hair or ego but not really going after him in a political sense), some of his own peers knocked him. There's an Internet comedian whose satirical right wing Christian character -- "Betty Bowers" -- is overtly anti-Trump, which is not really consistent with her persona. Sadly, a majority of real life "Bowers" are Trump supporters and go into contortions defending him. I think there'd be more humor in her doing this rather than seeming to "break character" now.

Nate said...

As a big fan of the book, I nervously bought a ticket to the Nick Offerman stage play last fall. Offerman's Ignatius was amazingly close to the image I had in my head for the character's appearance and behavior, and the way the character was introduced on stage was very creative.

The audience overall seemed to be very familiar with the book and seemed to enjoy the show. I laughed a lot as the familiar situations and lines were presented. I think someone unfamiliar with the book would have been lost in some places, though. The internal dialog and the details of the book didn't come across well (or at all). I'm glad I saw it, but in my opinion it didn't stand up well on its own.

YEKIMI said...

Thanks for answering my question.

Anonymous said...

Johnny Carson used to say he didn't do politics because he'd lose half his audience.
Looks like we blew by that exit about ten miles ago.

RyderDA said...

My Friday Question: In the movie world, there are often re-makes of old stories. Sometimes, they are true to the story and copy a significant portion of dialog (THE MALTESE FALCON, 1931 and 1941 versions are virtually the same movies with different actors; also PSYCHO) and sometimes they share a name only (THE ITALIAN JOB springs to mind). Shows on TV have been "copied" from current overseas successes (STEPTOE & SONS becomes SANDFORD & SON, THE OFFICE remade), but those are current hit to current hit. Do you think it would be possible to resurrect something like THE DICK VAN DYKE show -- an incredibly funny and very successful sitcom from ~50 years ago -- on an "almost" word for word basis? Many -- not all -- of the stories, jokes and dialog are timeless.

cadavra said...

Stephen: I would disagree with you re Betty Bowers. A true Christian would disavow a man like Trump--a racist, sexist, selfish, mendacious criminal who is everything a real Christian would find repugnant. Any Evangelical who still supports him after that "grab 'em by the pussy" tape merely reveals himself as a false Christian who puts politics above God. "Betty" has it exactly right.

Ted said...

I realize some people consider this sacrilege, but when I read "A Confederacy of Dunces," I didn't find it very funny. Maybe the right actor could make it work, but I think think filming it would be difficult (especially with the enormously high expectations fans would have at this point).

Jean said...

I didn't either. Neither did my husband. The main character was WAY too close to someone we know and love, and we couldn't separate the two, and found the book sad.

Unknown said...

Billy Williams was just on stage in Grant park in Chicago for the World Series celebration. Probably close to 2.5million people came out for the parade/celebration.

Astroboy said...

Don't know if you noticed Ken, but on Turner Classic Movies, for November, Natalie Wood is star of the month.

Johnny Walker said...

@RyderDA That's an interesting idea. I honestly think the majority of the scripts would hold up. Sure it wouldn't be "edgy" but it probably would find a family audience... except for one thing: It would generate so much ill will for being a pale copy of the original. I don't know who you'd have to cast who could survive being compared to Dick Van Dyke.

CRL said...

So I'm the only one picturing Billy Dee Williams at the Cub celebration?

Jahn Ghalt said...

@ Peter who asked:
which period or specific year in the past or future would you travel to? I'd go precisely 100 years into the future!

In 1985, I indulged a fantasy - what would I do if I, like Marty McFly, were transported to 1955? First few weeks would be tougher if transported suddenly without close-enough US banknotes - easier with. In both instances get a flop, get a job, save the money, pay to get well-forged papers (SS card, birth cert). All the while write down everything I can think of about history since 1955 and get rich gambling through various front-men. For the more nerdly among us its interesting to plumb the wetware for Vegas-accepted games, elections. etc. (and later other nuggets for London gambling houses). For Peter: the interesting question is why 100 years into the future? And what makes you think you could bet away with acting like anything other than an incorrigible barbarian?

@ Stephen Robinson who asked:
My memory of Carson or Bob Hope specials might be too rooted in youthful nostalgia but it seemed like the political humor was less "personal" and could appeal to anyone regardless of their political affiliation.

Antenna TV replays two Carsons/night. Based on that, he and his writers were equal-opportunity ridiculers - main requirement being well-publicized and topical.

joanneinjax said...

I loved 'Confederacy of Dunces' when I first read it some 40 years ago. I reread it a year or so ago, after recommending it to my book club. I then realized that there was only one actor who could have successfully pulled off the role. Phillip Seymour Hoffman would have interpreted the character of Ignatius J. Reilly as both repulsive and likeable, and he would have done so skillfully. He was who I pictured in mind when revisiting Toole's novel. No one could play fat, slovenly, yet compelling, characters like Mr. Hoffman. Sadly, we don't have that gifted man anymore, I would watch anything he was in, and do repeatedly.
I first read the book after having a conversation with a friend, who was an English professor, about his trip to New Orleans to interview the infamous Mrs. Toole. He was fascinated with her story about how she stalked Walker Percy, finally persuading him to read the manuscript, and was also intrigued by her home in its much faded Southern glory. He was writing a magazine story he hoped to have published in a major literary magazine, but I don't think he was successful.
My used copy of the book is the 20th anniversary edition and at the end of his Forward Walker Percy writes: "It is a great pity that John Kennedy Toole is not alive and well and writing. But he is not, and there is nothing we can do about it but make sure that this gargantuan tumultuous human tragicomedy is at least made available to a world of readers." Couldn't have said it better myself. Perhaps COD was meant to remain only in print and not to be translated to the big screen. What do you think?

Dixon Steele said...

Sat through Woody's play BULLET FOR ADOLF a few years ago when it played OB here in NYC. He co-authored and directed I believe.

Fled at intermission...

Eric Lyden said...

Yeah, I saw CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES in Boston. I enjoyed it. Nick Offerman was as close to Ignatius as an actor could get and the other actors were all good. I'm really not much of a theater goer and went to this one because I live the book and am a fan of Offerman and I'm glad I went. Though the couple next to me left an intermission so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Unknown said...

Apologies for the newb/off-topic question but is there any way I can get in touch with Ken? I haven't been able to figure out how to send in a question for the Friday posts. Ken, if you're reading this I was wondering if I could ask about a TV script I aquired that may have actually been type up by you some decades ago.

By Ken Levine said...

Mike. Are you on Facebook? You could send me a private Facebook message.

AJ Thomas said...

Friday Question:

There was a TON of hype for NBC's THIS IS US. All of the reviews said the show was great, and quite possibly the best thing to ever grace the airwaves. Now, I don't know how many episodes were screened, but I can only imagine it being 1 or 2. Do you really think it is that possible for a show to be that good off of one episode? I mean, yes, a good first episode certainly paves a good road for a series, but can it be THAT good? Even MASH had to be saved after the first season. This may just be my combative/contrarian millennial personality, but I've almost made it a point to not watch the show because of this because in my opinion you almost need a full season to judge a show, its writing, setting, characters, etc.

Blair Ivey said...

The playbills for CofD would of course have to be printed on Big Chief paper.

Patrick said...

When a show changes networks (Supergirl, Nashville) does that void the actors contracts in any way? Are they free to just walk away? Im sure the contract is specific to the studio and network it airs on. If that changes does it give them an out?