Friday, February 24, 2017

Friday Questions

Gather around kids for some Friday Questions.

John E. Williams gets us started.

On the many shows on which you worked, which actors in your opinion played their characters the most distant from their real personalities? For instance, I know you've told us Nicholas Colasanto was nothing even remotely like Coach, and I think we all know Kelsey Grammer in real life couldn't be less like Frasier Crane. I have always assumed Alan Alda is very much Hawkeye in a lot of ways, but for all I know I could be wrong.

Ted Danson – twice. Sam Malone was a former athlete and womanizer. Ted knew very little about baseball and was as far from a Lothario as one could be. It actually took him a while that first year to get into a groove because he was so the opposite of Sam.

And then as Becker. Ted is the world’s nicest guy playing a disagreeable crank.

Alan Alda was indeed a lot like Hawkeye, but I’ve seen him in roles where he pays villains and assholes and he’s great in all of them.

Did you ever see him in that Louis CK series, HORACE AND PETE? He plays a bigot that makes Archie Bunker look like Mother Teresa.

I emailed him to say how much I enjoyed him in that role and he wrote back saying it was great fun to do.

From Alec Nickopopoulous:

"Friday Question" - Ken, I love the podcast. What is your studio setup? Quiet garage? Professional soundproof booth at home? And what mic are you using?

I do it out of my home office. I’m very lucky. The acoustics are great. When I close all the doors there’s no echo. Everything I record is edited and assembled on the computer, assisted by Adam Butler, who is an audio wizard.

It’s pretty amazing actually. People can now get studio quality or near-studio quality out of their homes or garages or sensory deprivation tanks.

Not sure of the mic.  It looks like a baby Sennheiser.   Or one of those mics you use to say "Number 12, your pizza's ready!"

GlennNYC asks:

I've been watching the TV show "The Good Place", which recently ended it's 13 episode first season. They've made "Extended Episodes" available on the NBC website and ON-Demand on some cable systems. It's been fun seeing extra dialogue and extra scenes which sometimes have good jokes or plot points which clarify later events. Other times, I can see why they felt the need to tighten the show up. I was wondering what you thought about it; is it a gift to the fans or does it dilute the impact of the show? Also, would you have liked the option to release Extended episodes when working on MASH, Cheers, Frasier,... or would you rather just leave well enough alone once things are final?

On the one hand, anything you can do to generate more fan interest in the show is a good thing. So if people are willing to log on to watch supersized versions of your series, great.

On the other, often less is more. Even if it means cutting some good jokes, usually the shorter version of a show is tighter and better. So the extended version is like serving a dish that is still under-cooked.

Of the shows I’ve worked on, the only one I wish we could offer longer versions is MASH. We crammed so much into those shows and if we had to cut for time we sometimes lost some real great stuff, but we had to in order for the stories to make sense. There are a few episodes during my watch that I feel are choppy and could use an extra two or three minutes.

But CHEERS and FRASIER – I prefer the air versions.

Longtime friend of the blog, Wendy M. Grossman has a FQ:

Over at his blog, Earl Pomerantz has a post up marveling at the number of outlets current writers have to pitch to. This is a situation freelance journalists are familiar with, and standard advice to beginners is always to study the markets (magazines, newspapers) you want to sell to and tailor your pitch to them. You can still, if you do it right, resell the same story to multiple non-competing outlets if you find different angles or ways to tell it for different audiences. So I'm wondering: do today's aspiring sitcom writers need to tailor their pitches differently for HBO, AMC, CBS, etc. Do they need to do more rewriting and rethinking for different outlets than they did in the past when there were just three networks?

You’re right, Wendy, pitches today do have to be tailored for each potential buyer. Every network has their own “brand” even if they really don’t but just think they do. Gone are the days you come up with one pitch and just peddle it from network to network. Today you have to illustrate how your show fits into their distinctive (even if its not) brand. A series you might pitch to CBS would never fly at Fox. Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and AMC and USA and TV LAND, etc. all have their agendas and a young writer would be wise to learn what those are.

The downside is you may only have one or two options per idea, but the upside is if you get lucky you can sell three different projects to three different networks.

What’s disheartening on the broadcast network level now is that you almost have to come in with a package deal. It’s not enough to have a million dollar idea. Now you have to have a director attached, or a star attached, or an A-list pod producer attached to get their attention. And it helps a lot if your idea is just an adaptation of a foreign show that is a success in that country.

And finally, from another longtime friend of the blog, Johnny Walker:

Ed Catmull talks a lot about the major benefit that Pixar experiences from visiting the places their stories are set in, and I know that you're from a school of TV writing, Ken, that benefited a lot from primary research (M*A*S*H, and the Charles Brothers on Taxi).

Did you get a chance to do any research before starting Big Wave Dave's? That would have been fun! :)

As a matter of fact, yes, I did. I went to the North Shore of Hawaii, interviewed owners of surf shops, and took a lot of photos. I also connected with Ron Jacobs, a radio icon who was born and raised in Hawaii, and got a lot of background from him. Ron remained aboard as our technical consultant.

And the best part, of course, is that I was able to write off a trip to Hawaii as business and have it legit.

David Isaacs and I once met with a movie director who was very hot at the time, coming off a series of big hits. He said he didn’t care what his next movie was about as long as it was set in Hawaii. He wanted to spend several months in Hawaii. That’s what I call “artistic vision.”

What’s your Friday Question? I answer them on my podcast as well. Please check it out. You can leave your FQ’s in the comment section. Mahalo.


Peter said...

Loved Alan Alda's performances as assholes in The Aviator and Murder at 1600.

MrCarlson said...

I always loved Alan Alda in Same Time Next year.

Chris G said...

That's interesting about The Good Place; Mike Schur has told interviewers he likes the way being on a network, rather than a streaming service or cable, forces him to make cuts and produce tighter episodes. Is he involved with the extended episodes?

Jymbo05 said...

How can "Heaven Can Wait" not be listed in your top Rom-Com's? Great cast, strong comedy, decent romantic story...Oscar nominated!

VP81955 said...

The podcaast sounds great, and I'm enjoying the KHJ-like jingles. Wasn't around Los Angeles then, but it reminds me of WOLF in my hometown of Syracuse, which returned to Top 40 in 1969 (after a few years as a country station) with a Bill Drake-inspired "more music" format.

Howard Hoffman said...

You did a great job in picking and choosing your location for BIG WAVE DAVE'S. I've worked with a few of the cast members of CLUB PARADISE which involved three months of summertime shooting in Jamaica. Sounded like a good idea until you factored in hurricane season, mosquito invasions, impossibly humid conditions, dealing with the locals and the logistics of getting anything done in Jamaica...none of which they really thought about beforehand. Needless to say, it created a lot of tension - and a lot of ill-advised relationships - among the cast and crew.

At the time, they said they'll eventually look back on it and laugh. They're still waiting.

ScottyB said...

FQ for Ken: What are your thoughts on MLB's new rule to get rid of the four pitches for an intentional walk? MLB's rationale is that it'll speed up the game (seems doubtful; that's what, hardly a minute per 3-hour game?). Seems like MLB is taking some of the suspense/excitement possibilities out of things when you consider the couple of instances where a batter wailed on one of those way-outside pitches, or either the pitcher or catcher muffed it. I'm not much of a baseball fan, but jeez -- seems a bullshit way to chip away at the game.

ScottyB said...

Ken: Thanks for touching on actors playing against their real-life personalities. There came a point in MASH's run where I got kinda sick of Alda's Hawkeye, which carried over to his films that followed. But I became a renewed fan of his starting with his short stint as Sen. Arnold Vinick in the final few seasons of 'West Wing'. He plays hard-asses and dicks awesome -- just like Kevin Tighe, who we originally knew as ultimate nice-guy Roy DeSoto on 'Emergency'. And since you mentioned it, I *still* totally love Danson's Becker, and am absolutely glad to see that show being shown again in syndication. It was a lost gem for the longest time, and I was sorry to see it (and especially Shawnee Smith; hubba-hubba!) go away during its original run on CBS. Matter of fact, whenever I hear anyone say "Here's the thing" during the course of conversation, I can't help but think that saying exists in popular vernacular *because* of 'Becker'/Shawnee Smith.

Ken said...

About intential walk rule.
I remember an old Bill Veeck ( as in wreck) story from I think from when he owned the st. Louis Brown's where he had his catcher and pitcher set up for an intential walk and the first pitch was a trike that the catcher barely made it in time to catch then the catcher and manager had a time out and talked to the pitcher on the mound the next pitch same thing strike this timecatcher and manager go ballistic on the pitcher then 1 or 2 balls and strike 3.
the whold thing was set up
Never see that again with new rule.
I think this was about the time he had Eddie Gaedel on the roster. 1 time at bat and into the record books.

Andrew said...

Alda was also great as the pompous director in Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Brian said...

Thanks Ken, for everything. I like the podcast. Sometimes I really am on the treadmill. I always thought that the show Becker was underrated.

Pat Reeder said...

Adam Sandler must have incredible artistic vision, since I've heard that a number of his movies were made by deciding on some tropical vacation spot he and his friends wanted to visit, then writing a script set there.

I will add from personal experience that if you want to have a quiet room for home recording, you probably shouldn't have 13 rescued parrots and cockatoos in your house. That's why all recording around here has to be done in the middle of the night.

BTW, your system to verify that I'm not a robot (anti-robot bigot!) asked me to click on all photos that showed store fronts, then proceeded to show me one store front after another for about five minutes. I think it has nothing to do with screening out robots, it was just testing my attention span.

ScarletNumber said...

Holy shit, it's Red Forman AND Malcolm in the Middle's mother.

Markus said...

I think watching Becker was when it really did sink in for me that there must be a lot more about Ted Danson as an actor than I previously might have thought (had I actually been giving much thought about it, that is). Malone and Becker are so completely different characters, yet he shapes and fills them so convincingly, it's amazing.

(And of course, part and parcel of the Becker premise is the fact that he's also an agreeable crank, who frequently spells out an unspeakable truth regardless of potential backlash, and then unfairly gets shit for it from his folks.)

Is that title of "Consultant" or "Technical Consultant" actually a paying gig? In the past I've been kinda sorta involved in a TV and movie production or two here and there, only very remotely though, but enough to make me casually think at times "gee they sure got a nice little bit of input and fixing out of my efforts there without even as much as a thank-you or a wet handshake in the credits"...

Johnny Walker said...

Haha. Excellent, and I bet the research was actually useful, too. Maybe you could try and reboot BWD as a single camera show :)

Re: The podcast (since everyone else is chipping in). Love the new jingles, too. Interesting list of "romantic" comedies :) I came away wanting to hear more of your opinions on things. Take from that whatever you will.

As ever, thanks for answering my questions.

AJ Ford said...

Hi Ken,

This is excerpted from a Mary Tyler Moore Show blooper reel. The long intro from (I assume) the warm-up comedian is not on this clip but is part of the blooper reel if you search YouTube.

I am wondering if you have seen it live or heard about it. The performer is one of the producers, Stan Daniels. I am curious about him - was he also a writer for the show, did he come up with this or it performed by others.

I almost see Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner coming up with it.

Anyhow, though you would enjoy if you had not experienced it.

MikeN said...

If you're pitching to USA, mention the setting and the shots of the city coming out of commercial. In fact, I don't think you need anything else.

Captain Schmideo said...

Speaking of Alan Alda:
In Jackie Cooper's autobiography "Please Don't Shoot My Dog, Mister", the portrait that Cooper paints of Alda during the time that he (Cooper) directed M*A*S*H was less than flattering. It was one of a nasty, snarling man who jumped all over him, claiming that no one on set liked him, that they were laughing at him, and laid into him so venally that it almost brought him to tears.

Did you ever see that in your experiences with Alda?

Curtis Burga, OKC

Anonymous said...

Friday Question: What was the reason for the opening sequence change on AfterMASH after the first season? I like the beginning of Suicide is Painless and the pictures of the war, which turned to the happier post-war melody. I thought this was a good way to tie it back to MASH and would think that would draw more people in.

Anonymous said...

FQ: hi Ken! So I really really want to create my own show, most likely a sitcom, and I'm just wondering once I have the script how do I actually get it on the air? I know this is prob a very complicated question and there's still a lot I need to learn but even if u have the greatest script in the world, you need to be able to make it become a reality and I have zero clue how to do that

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Another Alda role was the asshole Dr. Robert Gallo, in And The Band Played On. You could say that Gallo was "The Bad Hawkeye.

Matt said...

Hi Ken, I've been a lifelong Cheers fan. Burned through the series so many times over my life, and one thing that's always eluded me in my research of the show, is a picture of the actual set. I've read about the set being on a hinge so Sam's office could be revealed, but I really want to SEE it. The nerd in me won't die happy until I can see some behind the scene pictures of the working set. Are there any? Could you post?

I'm at the point when I watch the show where I obsessively watch for the side curtains whenever an actor bananas too wide around the bar. Sad, I know...