Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Questions

It’s the St. Patrick’s Day edition of Friday Questions.

ScottyB starts us off.

I was watching an episode of 'Becker', written by you, in which Becker's office is vandalized. During the scene where Becker and the rather large police inspector are at the diner counter for lunch, I swear to god those must've been the hugest burgers I've ever seen served on TV. So here's the question: Where does the food come from?

Sometimes from Craft-services but often the studio commissary provides the grub. We used them a lot on MASH anytime we had a mess tent scene. And by the way, the mess tent food was actually delicious.

When I was directing LATELINE in New York we had a scene where the backstory was a character got roped into a horrible date. So she ordered a seven-pound lobster. The scene is the next day at the office and she’s eating the leftovers.

So the studio went out and got a seven-pound lobster. But they had to get two more just in case there were a lot of retakes. As luck would have it, we got the eating scene in take one.

After the show wrapped the prop guy gave me the other two seven-pound lobsters. So I invited the entire crew to my office where we all had a lovely midnight clambake. These guys work really hard and rarely get any recognition so it was nice to thank them (on someone else’s dime).

From blinky:

I loved the Good Wife but had a hard time with The Good Fight because I kept wondering when Alicia was going to show up. Do you think The Good Fight has some parallels with After M*A*S*H? Were people wondering when Hawkeye was going to make an appearance?

Well, AfterMASH had the advantage that it was on CBS, not a pay channel. I suspect Diane is a strong enough character and Christine Baranski is a strong enough actor that she’ll be able to carry the new series – at least at the start. One of the stars of THE GOOD WIFE was the writing and from what I saw from THE GOOD FIGHT pilot, that sharp writing is still in evidence.

If it were still on CBS I’d watch every episode. Do I love it enough to subscribe? Sorry. No. I’m waiting for CBS All-Access to add ALMOST PERFECT and BIG WAVE DAVE’S. They have them in their library and could easily do that.

As for Alicia returning, Julianne has said she wouldn’t. But honestly, I’m kinda over Alicia stories. Robert & Michelle King have a great knack of creating characters so let’s see how the new series grows. I wish them the best.

As for AfterMASH, hey I was asking when Hawkeye could show up?

ScottyB sneaks in with another question -- this one regarding St. Pat's Day.

The 'Bar Wars VII: The Naked Prey' episode of 'Cheers' written by you and David is by far and away my all-time favorite episode of the entire 11-season run. Everything about it was perfect, IMO. Here's the question: Wherever did the 'Limey Scum' song come from? The whole setup to the morose Irish band singing that song *still* makes me laugh like hell every time no matter how many times I see it. That band was an absolute stroke of genius, you two. Thank you so much for that!!

Thanks for the kind words.  As I recall, one of the other writers on staff, Rob Long, suggested that when we were breaking the story.  So credit where credit is due.

Doug G. asks:

Are an actor's royalties (in terms of more or less $$$) affected by how he is credited on a TV show? The one I'm thinking of is Bob "Bulldog" Briscoe. Depending on the episode of "Frasier," Dan Butler's name either appears in the opening titles or at the end with the credit "Special Appearance by." I can't remember if he ever had the generic credit "Guest Star" or not.

There’s no set answer to this. Fees and credits are negotiated.

If an actor’s name had been in the end credits but got moved to the top of the show it usually means he’s become a series regular (or at least semi-regular) and a price hike is generally attached.

But for a guest appearance, just because an actor’s credit is not in the front doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll make less money than if it were. Some shows have a policy of only featuring series regulars at the front.

And like I said, the credit itself is often negotiated. Does the actor get an “and” before his name at the end of the guest actor credits (thus allowing him to stand out more)? Or “special appearance by?” Does he have to share his credit with one or more other guest stars? Sometimes a studio can trade an “and” credit or the placement or size of the credit for a little less money. Needless to say those are wacky negotiations.

Brian rounds it out.

What is it like when you film in an empty studio? Have you ever filmed before a half-empty studio audience?

I suspect you mean for a multi-camera show where is there is normally an audience.

Without the audience it’s just like shooting a single-camera show but with four cameras. The timing will be a little bit off because the actors won’t know when (and if) to hold for laughs. Normally a show will have a laugh spread that can last up to three or four minutes. (For the pilot of BIG WAVE DAVE’S we had a ridiculous laugh spread of ten minutes.) That extra time allowed us to trim things that didn’t work. Without an audience those clankers get through.

Generally, if you do have an audience you fill the place. There are companies that shows can hire that will provide studio audiences (even going so far as to pay them). So usually you have a full house (200 to 250 people) to start. But some shows take forever to film and exhausted audience members slip out. In those cases it’s quite common to have half-filled houses by the last few scenes. When I direct or showrun I always try to move things along to keep the audience involved and happy.

Filming before a half-filled audience is usually tedious.  I've experienced it (I've experienced pretty much everything) but like I said, I try desperately to avoid it. 

And then there’s FRIENDS. It would take so long to film an episode of FRIENDS that they had two audiences. One came in about 4:00, the other came in about 9:00. You could do that with a show as popular as FRIENDS. Good luck trying that with DR. KEN.

What’s your Friday Question? Drink safely tonight.


Glenn said...

Ken, Friday question here: In regards to how long it can take to film a sitcom episode… were there times when filming something went super fast and was over in maybe two hours, or even less? I’m thinking of the episode “Brothers” in Everybody Loves Raymond when, according to Phil Rosenthal, the entire second half of the show (Ray and Robert sit in a car the whole time arguing about their parents) was filmed in one take. Other than a screw up near the end, the whole thing took about 15 minutes to shoot. And since the entire first half took place in the usual living room set, I can’t see this being a long shooting night.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

To add to his credits, Rob Long wrote a very funny book about the business called CONVERSATION WITH MY AGENT.


Dave Creek said...

THAT'S what the "and" means! But that seems strange -- it means that actor is the last one listed, and so receives bottom billing. Or are top or bottom billing not a thing?

thirteen said...

That Irish band in "Bar Wars VII" was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. When they got to the song about the baby's crib -- oh, God, I just lost it. Brilliant. Thank you.

Breadbaker said...

In part because so many Mariners have been involved and because of the outstanding performance of the Israeli team with the Mensch on the Bench, I've been really enjoying this year's World Baseball Classic. It's only on obscure channels (MLB.TV and ESPN Desportes) and I have no idea what the ratings are. Have you been watching and do you have any thoughts on whether it's going to become a must-see event for more people? Having last night's important and exciting Dominican Republic-Venezuela game on opposite the NCAA tournament couldn't have helped.

Alfred Day said...

When I was broke and in my 20's living in LA I used to do a lot of audience work on days when I couldn't get substitute teaching gigs. It was through an extras agency where only 20% of the jobs were extra work and it was mostly sitting in audiences.

The thing is, most of the shows that needed to pay for the audience were awful shows. And it was made very clear that if you were going to get the 40 bucks for the day, it was your job not just to sit there, but to laugh uproariously, no matter how unfunny the jokes were.

Being forced laughter for unfunny jokes is probably the number one reason I went back to Graduate School.

Alfred Day said...

When I was broke in my 20's and living in Los Angeles I used to do a lot of audience filler work. It was through an extras agency where only about 20% of the jobs were as actual extras and 80% was filling out audiences for multi-cam shows.

The thing about it though, is that the shows who had trouble filling the audience were usually terrible shows. Occasionally, you might sneak in to a really good show during the first few episodes before they aired and people knew what the quality was. Caught NewsRadio that way.

Most often it was brutally unfunny shows (often a Saturday morning NBC teen sitcom). It was made clear that your job was to laugh uproariously at every joke told or you might not get your $40.00 (plus a hot dog and a coke) for the day.

Being forced to laugh at those shows is the number one reason I went back to Graduate School.

Brian said...

My friday question: Ken do you think Matthew Perry will be good in serious roles (he does look serious with that double chin ;)) as Ted Kennedy?

David P said...

As I recall, the remake of Ocean's Eleven had in its credits "and introducing Julia Roberts"

Alan Light said...

Should I assume it took FRIENDS so long to tape because cast members kept flubbing lines and such? I once attended a NIGHT COURT taping with my parents, the episode where Mel Torme was a guest star. We were tourists in town from Illinois. It was a horrible experience because it went on forever, mainly because - as I remember it - Markie Post screwed up every line she had, over and over again. And to top it off we never got to see Mel Torme. His part of the show had been pre-taped. He wasn't there.

Bryan said...

I don't like overwritten shows. Stuff like Juno, which is pretty much a string of sardonic speeches. It isn't the way people normally converse. I noticed in re-watching MTM recently that they tended not to go for punchlines but to let the situation get the laugh. So, from your perspective, which is better? One laugh too few or one too many?

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Alfred! OMG, you had to endure such crap for just $40.

Often these shows are the ones that viewers would say, "YOU couldn't PAY me to watch this show". Unfortunately, you were stuck watching them.

I can also imagine that those Saturday Morning NBC teen sitcoms were filled with young actors who didn't hit their marks, forgot their lines or whatever...

I feel for you.

DBenson said...

Recall an amusing British series about a silent movie studio called "Pictures" (a not-quite sequel to "Flickers" which starred Bob Hoskins). The title credits concluded with, I recall:
"BUT ... Anton Rodgers as Godfrey Forbes Lawson"

(Okay, I looked up the names but I remembered "BUT")

Jeff Maxwell said...

I love that photo. Looks like Hawkeye's about to get whacked with Igor's lid.

All the mess tent food came from studio commissary and, like Ken said, was tasty. Most all those scenes were shot first thing in the morning. The food was fresh, quite edible and everybody, including Igor, nibbled freely. Adjustments were occasionally made by our prop guy, Doug Stubbs, to enhance the splatter quality of some of the dishes. After an hour or so, and many takes later with the same slices of ham (some green), nobody was nibbling.

Tom Galloway said...

I believe Raising Hope had the credit "And introducing Cloris Leachman" for all the years it was on the air.

Back in the '90s, I was a potential contestant for the Fox prime time game show Greed. It had been thrown together to compete against Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, debuting just before WWTBAM's second run (which was part of how I managed to be a contestant; someone posted on Usenet about the show and its tryouts, and how the format would have them going through 12-18 people on most episodes and they'd only have time for a week and a half of tryouts before the debut. So if you passed their tryout test and didn't make a complete ass of yourself during mock game play and interview, your odds were pretty darn good).

So I was in the contestant pool for the debut episode, for which the set literally still had "Wet paint" signs up until just before filming started. There were various delays and figuring how to get things right. By an odd happening*, I stayed in the pool the entire time, which I think may have been a double, 2 hour, episode. Filming didn't finish until around 1 a.m., having started early to mid-afternoon, and the initial audience was gradually disappearing (when the warmup guy starts singing disco songs, you know things are getting bad). They brought the entire remaining contestant pool into the studio and put us in the first rows where the camera would have to film as background to the contestant shots.

*The odd happening was due to that competition with WWTBAM. They wanted to show big money winners in the premiere, and had a gimmick where the top $2,000,000 prize went up $50K for each team that didn't win it. The first team had someone win $10K, but otherwise nothing. The second team won nothing, and I was on the waiting to play third team, the producer came up and asked us if anyone had a problem with their pretending the second team never happened, putting those six back in the pool, and not raising the top prize. None of us did, which was fortunate because the same thing happened to us. I ended up on show four and won $20K. Ironically, the captain of the second team, who accepted a wrong answer about how many clues are on a Jeopardy! board, despite having been on J!, ended up winning by far the most money in the show's one season run at well over a million.

Andy Rose said...

It's interesting how credits sometimes get juggled on long-running shows, especially when certain secondary characters become unexpectedly popular and people leave and new people are hired, with the showrunners still trying to keep everybody happy.

Originally on Happy Days, Ron Howard had the opening "Starring" credit, then everyone else was separated from him by "Co-Starring" billing. Henry Winkler, who was a closing credits Guest Star in Season 1, eased his way into the fourth spot of the opening for Season 2, and then second position in Season 3 (before the "Co-Starring" roles). By Season 5, Marion Ross got an "Also Starring" legend in the third credit, followed by "Co-Starring" the other regulars. In the final season, with Ron Howard gone, Winkler got the sole Starring spot, Scott Baio and Erin Moran (freshly back from Joanie Loves Chachi) were squeezed into the same "Also Starring" block as Ross, with only Anson Williams and Ted McGinley under the Co-Starring heading. For all 11 seasons, the cast list ended with "[Also/And] Starring Tom Bosley as Howard Cunningham."

I read that there was a credits battle between the agents for Judd Hirsch and Jeff Conaway when Taxi was starting. Conaway thought he had won by having it in his contract that he would get the first credit immediately after the title. He got a rude surprise when he watched the first episode and discovered that the intro began with "JUDD HIRSCH IN TAXI" Conaway got the first credit AFTER the title, just as he was promised, but it wasn't exactly what he intended.

Jennifer said...

I once attended a NIGHT COURT taping with my parents, the episode where Mel Torme was a guest star. We were tourists in town from Illinois. It was a horrible experience because it went on forever, mainly because - as I remember it - Markie Post screwed up every line she had, over and over again.

We had a similar experience at a GOLDEN GIRLS taping. Bea Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan were fine, but Estelle Getty kept blowing her lines. The scenes not involving Estelle were wrapped up pretty quickly, but whenever she was on, taping moved at a snail's pace because they kept having to shoot over and over and over. It was very frustrating and went on so long that it really stopped being enjoyable after awhile. At one point, during a fairly long dialogue scene she had, they had cue cards for her, and she still kept screwing up. I don't think either of us ever had any desire to sit through another taping of anything.

Mike said...

Dan Butler was considered a series regular on Frasier during for a few years starting around season 4. However, his upfront credit was only for the episodes in which he appeared, and he didn't appear in every episode during those seasons. After several seasons, he returned to guest star status.

BTW, Marion Ross didn't get an "Also Starring" credit on Happy Days until season 10. Prior to that, she was "Co-starring". For the pilot only, Anson Williams was billed ahead of her as "co-starring" (those original pilot credits are rarely used in syndication these days).

On the original Hawaii Five-0, Jack Lord never allowed his co-stars to be billed as "Co-starring" or "Also Starring". It was always "With". Carol Burnett's co-stars on her variety show were always "With", until Dick Van Dyke joined the cast, replacing Harvey Korman. Van Dyke was billed as "Co-starring".

Unknown said...

Like many fans.....I LOVE watching bloopers and outtakes.
My favorite show that you worked my favorite show for these: Wings.
Two questions:
1) Could Tim Daly and Steven Weber EVER make it through a scene without at last ONE of them losing it?
2) As a writer......whose lines are being screwed up. Or as a producer.....whose
filming schedule is falling by the wayside....did you get pissed? Any lead actor (to your knowledge) ever get threatened by a producer/studio/network unless they started acting "professionally? quote Liz Lemon: "I want to go to there".

gottacook said...

Regarding the "Judd Hirsch in Taxi" credit: I recall the early-1970s MTM series that went one step further: Paul Sand in Friends & Lovers. I wonder whether Hirsch's agent had argued for the same status but settled for the "name above the title" treatment.

DaisyMae said...

The Good Fight is fantastic. By making Diane the star instead of Alicia, you actually have a main character you can sympathize with, and goddammit it is good to see a woman of a certain age in a sensual relationship. Add to that topical political writing and an emphasis on a diverse cast, and it's a winner. However I am afraid that CBS priced themselves out of reach and this series won't make it, and it really, really should.

gottacook said...

The Good Fight was reported a few days ago to have been renewed for a second season, with new episodes arriving early 2018. I suppose CBS' pay service will still exist then, but perhaps at a loss. (Its other big initial draw was to have been the new Star Trek series - like The Good Fight a 10-episode season, I believe - but its premiere has now been pushed back three times, and the more I learn about it, the less interested I become. Not that I would have paid for it in any case.)

Mike Davis said...

We had a similar experience at a GOLDEN GIRLS taping. Bea Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan were fine, but Estelle Getty kept blowing her lines. The scenes not involving Estelle were wrapped up pretty quickly, but whenever she was on, taping moved at a snail's pace because they kept having to shoot over and over and over.

A book about THE GOLDEN GIRLS that came out last year has staff and cast of the show mentioning throughout it Getty's chronic problems remembering her lines, a situation that apparently got pretty bad late in the show's run. They recall how she used to write them down all over the set, wherever she could, so that she would have those "prompts" to help her get through the taping. The writers tried to help by keeping dialogue for Sophia (Getty's character on the show) as short as possible. As a viewer, the only time I recall noticing anything was in occasional dialogue-heavy scenes with Sophia, where you can sometimes see her gaze regularly shifting away from the person she's talking to and looking past them, obviously at cue cards or some sort of prompt for her lines.

It wasn't nearly as bad as those Bob Hope specials where it sometimes seemed that absolutely everybody on the show was reading off of cue cards, but it still could be distracting.

Unknown said...


What is your favorite baseball stadium food?