Tuesday, April 04, 2017

According to one fan, I must be on cocaine

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post.

It’s from Susie:

Do writers get letters from fans addressed to the show? Say like "to the writers of Cheers or Simpsons"....

I do remember that you once talked about actors getting letters, so what about writers? Have you got any fan mail or hate mail for that matter, when you were working on a show?

Very rarely do writers get letters that aren’t complaints. But it does happen every so often. On MASH in particular I would occasionally get a note from a fan saying a certain episode really touched them. I didn’t get too many of those on BIG WAVE DAVE’S.

Rarely did I get outright "hate" mail.  Even on AfterMASH.  

More often I would get letters asking for things – would I read their script? Would I send them a photo? Would I give them Kirstie Alley’s home phone number? Fans would send story suggestions or unsolicited scripts. For legal reasons, those were always sent back unread.

More than once I received a letter from someone saying they looked just like so-and-so and we should do an episode where she could play that actor’s sibling. Never ever ever did the picture of them even resemble the actor.   Maybe if they ever did a series about the Elephant Man. 

As showrunners we would get letters, but again, they were usually negative. When we were doing that series for Mary Tyler Moore we once got a missive that began like this:

I read in a recent issue of TV Guide that there was rampant cocaine use in Hollywood and thought they must be exaggerating. But then I saw your show.

It went on from there. On MASH we were always accused of being liberal Commie bastards. I imagine in today’s climate those same letters would now include death threats.

On CHEERS we were always accused of promoting alcohol use by always showing people drinking. In other words, did we have to spend so much time in that bar?

But at least the letters to us were either addressed to us personally or the “writers of…” Lots of people send letters to the actors addressed to their character names. The show was always getting forwarded letters addressed to “Diane Chambers, CHEERS, Boston.”  I wouldn't be surprised if cartoon characters don't get letters addressed to them... by adults. 

If I saw there was no return address I just threw the letter away unread. I had a pretty good idea of what was inside.

A terrific sportscaster, Bob Starr (who was the voice of the Angels, Rams, and Red Sox) had a very novel way of handling hate mail. He would write a letter back addressed to the person alerting them that some utter cretin was sending idiotic letters and using their good names.

The takeaway here is that there have always been trolls. They just had to pay for stamps back then.

TV writers work in relative obscurity, but if there’s a show you particularly like, a nice note to the writer would be greatly appreciated. The only positive reinforcement we usually get is more Red Vines for the room.


Glenn said...

"Dear Die Hard, you rock." - Homer Simpson

Glenn said...

“Dear Die Hard, You rock. Especially when that guy was on the roof. PS: Do you know Mad Max?” - Homer Simpson

Susie said...

An ENTIRE post wowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww Thanks Ken.

"I wouldn't be surprised if cartoon characters don't get letters addressed to them... by adults"

Well that's where my question came from.

When the legend "The Man of 1000 Voices" Mel Blanc was in hospital, there were letters sent to him addressed to Bugs Bunny, Hollywood to get well soon. That's when I thought, did writers get letters addressed to the shows?

Thanks again Ken.

P.S. I now recollect that you did do a post on June Foray (Granny) but missed Mel Blanc who to me personally is like the Father or rather the God of voice acting.

Boomska316 said...

Friday Question:
Ballpark, how much warm NA beer would you say George Wendt had to drink during a standard taping?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I remember that when two young characters got married on EASTENDERS, the gritty soap that gripped Britain in the 1980s, broke because her father had stolen the Christmas club money, I read that people sent real wedding presents to them.

Of course, a letter saying she looked a little like Carol Burnett is famously what launched Vicki Lawrence's career.

Now, we can send our appreciation to the writers on Twitter.


Steve Pepoon said...

When I worked on ALF, we would get letters addressed to ALF. And yes, many came from adults.

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

I've read that when The Dukes Of Hazzard was first airing on CBS from 1979 to 85, the *General Lee* (yes, the freakin' CAR, a red-painted 1969 Dodge Charger with a confederate flag on top, that was driven by the lead characters Luke and Bo Duke, played by Tom Wopat and John Schneider) would get fan letters.

At a certain point DOH's producers decided they couldn't keep ignoring them, they got so many. So they started sending back postcard pictures of the General Lee with a TIRE TRACK printed across it, to fill in as the car's 'signature.'

Good grief. I liked the show, but even as a 13-year old watching those episodes every Friday night (I admit it, Catherine Bach was quite pleasing to me as Daisy Duke), at least *I* could tell it was all pretend.

I do have to ask you though, Ken, now that I think about it: did you know any of the Dukes' writers, or would you have helped them out if they asked you?

Andy Rose said...

With ALF, at least it kind of makes sense since the performers behind ALF were never directly credited. If you really liked the character enough to write a letter, to whom else were you going to address it? On the other hand, writing a letter to Diane Chambers in Boston... that's just dumb.

Mike said...

Col. Klink! Did you get my letters?

Craig said...

Maybe Mr. Starr was inspired by this gem written in reply to a lawyer in Cleveland threatening to sue the Browns.


DBenson said...

I recall reading that when Freddie Prinze (Sr) died, the producers of "Chico and the Man" received an abundance of photos from "lookalikes" generously volunteering to take over Prinze's character.

A London bank that occupied the stretch of Baker Street that would have included 221B employed a clerk to answer letters to Sherlock Holmes,still getting mail decades after Doyle's demise. The usual response was a gently tongue-in-cheek form letter about his irrevocable decision to retire and raise bees in Sussex. In recent years a series of novels made 221B Baker Street the office of a barrister, who'd find actual mysteries in letters to Sherlock.

Tom Galloway said...

Not quite fan mail, but I once ended up telling a writer I admired their work in odd circumstances. I was living in LA, and was shopping in the grocery store across the street from my office. I noticed that one of the couple shopping about 20 feet down the aisle was wearing a writer's jacket for the then airing New Twilight Zone.

It occurred to me that I either knew or knew what every staff writer on that show looked like...except one, whose work in all of television, prose, and comics I liked a lot. So I went up and asked if he was . He said he was, I explained how I figured out who he was, and complimented him on his work. I then went back to my own shopping.

I reconnected with him via a mutual acquaintance several years later, we're now Facebook friends, etc. But I did later ask his impression of how we'd initially met, and he confirmed it felt very odd for him as a writer to be "recognized" in a grocery store...except that a week or two later, something similar happened to him while he was at the FroYo store in the same strip mall!

Edward said...

When Barbara "Agent 99" Feldon was interviewed for the Archive of American Television, she said that when "Get Smart" went on the air she was instructed to NEVER read any fan mail....This is back in 1965, so the creepy/pervy/disturbing letters seems to be an American tradition.

David said...

Glad to know you take the correct side in the eternal Red Vines / Twizzlers debate.

Wondering about your reaction to this piece by the first-season showrunner of "Smash." Her accounts of TV writers' rooms are... less than savory.


Anonymous said...

@ Edward:

Barbara Feldon (was instructed to NEVER read any fan mail.... back in 1965), so the creepy/pervy/disturbing letters seems to be an American tradition.

Barbara Feldon and Get Smart is/was American. I'll guess you associate her with Emma Peel (of the Avengers - British).

Understandable, both actresses are, say we say, tall, brunette, and quite fetching (though not exactly Natalie Wood).

Jahn Ghalt said...

@ Craig,

Letters of Note - that's a killer blog - love it - THANKS


ScarletNumber said...

Any truth that David Hyde Pierce was cast as Niles Crane specifically because of his resemblance to Kelsey Grammer?

Gary Benz said...

Ken: Your note about Bob Starr and how he would respond to fans reminded me of this great exchange, years ago, between a local Cleveland lawyer and the general counsel of the Cleveland Browns. Enjoy: http://www.snopes.com/business/consumer/browns.asp