Friday, December 16, 2016

Friday Questions

Aloha. Here are some Friday Questions from paradise.

Wayne starts us off:

Now that Mike Nichols is no more, who is the top director of comedy plays?

I don’t think there is only one. Joe Mantello is pretty hot. So is Scott Ellis. And Jerry Zaks. I’m sure there are one or two others. Or seven.  At the moment I'm 7,000 miles away from Broadway.  What do I know?

From Stephen Robinson:

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).

Political humor is in now. Jon Stewart on the DAILY SHOW and Stephen Colbert on THE COLBERT REPORT showed there was an appetite for political comedy. With the 24 hour news cycle I think world affairs are more in the forefront of people’s consciousness and late night hosts are just reflecting that.

But let’s see how funny this all seems in another month when we have our new president. When the insanity is too real we might not be laughing. (NOTE: Let this not be a cue to start arguing politics in the comments section. I will delete them. I’m on vacation and not in the mood. Thanks.)

Friday Question from Jim S.:

Whose career would you have rather had, Larry Gelbart's or Ernie Harwell's?

Boy, that’s a tough one. For those who don’t know one or both of these gentlemen:  Larry Gelbart was a brilliant comedy writer – the Mozart of the form. Among his many credits are TOOTSIE, FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, OH GOD, and creating the TV version of MASH.

Ernie Harwell was a Hall-of-Fame baseball announcer who called games well into his 80’s. He announced for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Baltimore Orioles, but is primarily known as the longtime voice of the Detroit Tigers.

Both were consummate gentlemen. I was honored to be their colleague, friend, and in the case of Larry Gelbart, co-worker.

Both were masters at what they did, both deeply loved what they did. Larry’s legacy will last longer than Ernie’s. His work, especially through MASH, will live on decades. But Larry passed away in his early 80’s and Ernie made it into his 90’s and remained razor sharp. So there’s that.

At the end of the day, if I was forced to choose, I think I’d pick Larry. But I’d be lucky just to have half the career of Ernie Harwell.

The deciding factor: As much as I love baseball announcing, comedy is just part of my DNA.

And finally, from ScottyB:

Last night, I was watching the latest episode of "Designated Survivor," which has been pretty damn riveting. However, the first five minutes (or a similarly painfully long amount of time) were spent listing what seemed like 50 producers, co-producers, executive producers, co-executive producers, associate producers, consulting producers, etcetcetc. I'm sitting there thinking holy shit, the number of producers on this show must outnumber the number of extras.

So my question: What the hell?

Most of these are writers. A “produced by” credit means a line producer, someone who is in charge of the actual production. But all the co-executive producers and supervising producers and co-supervising producers – they’re just writers. They get bumps in pay depending on their title.

Ironically, the one title that isn’t given (because it isn’t sexy enough I guess) is the only title that matters. Show runner. He or she will be listed as “Executive Producer.” But when you see those titles go by just think “writer, writer, team of writers, writer.”

What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. Mahalo.


The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

it is great that the writers get a bump in salary since they're listed as co-producer.
it would be greater if they just got a credit of "writer" or "co-written" or "script doctoring". whatever.

writers never get their due. in TV or the movies, unless they are famous as an actor.
and sometimes not even then.

CASE in POINT This past year's nominations for Best Original Screenplay.
Here is the link on the academy website:

If you look at the link do you notice what is missing from 3 of the 5 nominees???


Chris said...

Now that you've mentioned the endless variation of producer titles writers get on TV shows, why is that? Who and why decided that the writer's room hierarchy needs to be announced in on-screen credits?

I'm assuming they'd get the bump and salary increase even if we had no idea about it.

I know I've read some WGA guideline which said you can only get an onscreen "producer" credit if you've made some kind of contribution to the week's script, but I'm almost sure it isn't the case anymore.

AAllen said...

Politics were contentious in the 60s because people were being drafted. Today politics is contentious because it's all about being on one team or another, and not so much about what one side is about. They say that religion and politics don't mix because you don't compromise in religion. Now politics is the religion.

Michael said...

Ah, but if the question had been Larry Gelbart or Vin Scully, might the answer have been different? Probably not, but it's interesting to ponder.

About Carson and Hope in terms of political humor. Hope angered a lot of liberals over his friendliness with presidents they disagreed with, and in his time, I think it was considered riskier to do that. Carson, I read, eventually told his writers he would tell no more Nixon jokes because the situation was too unpleasant, and it seems to me that Carson, though liberal on a lot of issues in his own right, had a sense of where the center was and what the audience wanted. He was fair: he joked about everybody, but only up to a point.

CS said...

Better question: would you rather have Larry Gelbart's career or Bob Uecker's?

DARON72 said...


What do you think of CBS wanting to reboot "The Honeymooners"? I understand they will be using some of same production staff that worked on the latest version of "The Odd Couple." Is a updated "I Love Lucy" or "Sgt. Bilko" not far behind?

Steve said...

Political comedy is one thing, political COMMENTARY is another. If shows want to get political, I have no problem with it, just don't forget you're supposed to be a comedy show. Shows like Saturday Night Live tend to forget this, usually when Michael Che goes off on his rants during Weekend Update. Seth Myers had fallen into this trap a few times, too. If you can't make a joke about something political and just resort to being one of the endless "talking heads" on every channel, you've lost me.

Peter said...

Ken, you've probably seen this already, but in case you haven't, a couple of MASH stars have taken part in this video.

Jahn Ghalt said...

The reference to Stewart and the Daily Show reminds me of his successor - Trevor Noah. He was interviewed on "City Arts and Lectures", which was broadcast last night - I listened to the last 40 minutes, 30 minutes of which kept me in the driveway. Worth a listen if this repeats in your area (and they don't do "archives" last time I checked).

He's promoting a memoir and will chat with Terry Gross today on Fresh Air - which IS archived.

John in NW Ohio said...

Here in the Midwest, the great Ernie Harwell is considered to be every bit the equal of his contemporary and longtime friend, Vin Scully. I was fortunate to shake his hand at a book signing one day, and hearing that incredibly familiar voice coming out of this diminutive man before me was definitely a wonderful experience.

I'm quite sure that he remains the only announcer who was ever “traded” for an actual player, when Dodgers GM Branch Rickey sent a minor league catcher to the Atlanta Crackers in 1948 to acquire Ernie to fill in for an ailing Red Barber. When Ernie moved over to the NY Giants’ booth in 1950, he was replaced by the 25 year old Scully. How’s that for some iconic baseball names?

Ernie was a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps (WWII), appeared in several motion pictures, donated his time to many Detroit area charities, was married to Lulu for 62 years, and had over 60 songs recorded by various artists.

In regard to his song writing efforts, the ever modest Harwell had a great line: “Needless to say, I’ve had more no-hitters than Nolan Ryan.”

Andy Rose said...

Friday question:
I've been playing some old NBC image campaigns from the 80s on YouTube to amuse my young son. These are the ones with a new network theme song each year and appearances by most of the stars of their shows, usually being forced to lip-synch to the song or clap along or dance or do some inane visual gag.

All of the actors on Cheers seem to appear on these spots at one time or another *except* Ted and Shelley. Do you know if they had some special contract deal that got them off the hook? Because I'm sure the network would have preferred that they participate, and there are some other stars in the spots (like Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, and Michael J. Fox) who I assume would have had the clout to say no.

Myles said...

Some weeks I watch SNL JUST for Weekly Update and in particular Che. I think while his "side" might not be new his voice combined with how raw SNL enables him to be makes what he says EXTREMELY FUNNY AND POIGNANT for some but it definitely isn't funny for everyone.

Patrick said...


When a show switches networks mid run the way Nashville is - how does that affect the actor's contracts? Does it void them in any way? I imagine the contract states which network the show you are staring on is to air on - does that leave wiggle room for an actor to leave if they want to?

D. McEwan said...

"I've seen clips of Samantha Bee and even Seth Meyers and they come across more like slightly funnier Keith Olbermanns"

Samantha Bee's show is hilarious, and one of the best shows on TV. She should have replaced Jon Stewart.

VP81955 said...

CBS already rebooted "The Honeymooners." It was called "King of Queens."

Ernie is part of my "holy trinity" of baseball announcers, along with Vin Scully and Harry Kalas. Harwell was easy to listen to, and like Vin and Harry always respected the audience. Not many are aware Ernie was the TV announcer for the fabled 1951 Bobby Thomson Giants-Dodgers NL playoff Game 3 at the Polo Grounds; he was #2 on the Giants' crew, but #1 guy Russ Hodges chose to call it on radio and it was his call that was immortalized when it was recorded. The TV broadcast wasn't.

One more thing: Harwell attended the "Gone With the Wind" premiere in his native Atlanta 75 years ago this month, where he met the lady in my avatar. (No, she wasn't in "GWTW," but took part in the festivities as Clark Gable's wife.)

Mike said...

A network/distribution switch does not automatically void a contract. But a switch usually involves a change in the license fee for the production company. This leads to renegotiation of actors' deals and provides them an opportunity to exit. If the production company wants to hold them to their original contracts, they can, but they must stick to the original compensation, and that's often not an option.

Nashville is moving from ABC, a broadcast network, to CMT, a smaller cable network. The license fee has likely gone down, so the actors' contracts were renegotiated. Connie Britton is using this as an opportunity to exit the show after 10 episodes. She would likely be sticking around if they were still on ABC.

SImilarly, year ago, the series Fame moved from NBC to first-run syndication. Several actors used the ensuing contract renegotiations as a way to exit the series.

MikeN said...

Steve, you are dead-on about Michael Che, instead of making jokes, he is telling people what to think. It's even worse after the election, with SNL now upset that people didn't listen to them. So now they are breaking the fourth wall, and in the middle of jokes saying 'THIS REALLY HAPPENED!' 'THIS IS REAL!'

Jason Rothstein said...

Not a FQ, but I ran across this Frasier 'prequel' today and was curious if you knew about it. (I haven't listened to it yet, so I can't attest to the quality):