Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Questions

They’re stacking up so let’s get to some Friday Questions, shall we?

Rob W. starts us off:

I recently had the distinct pleasure of watching the "Frasier" episode, "The Show Where Sam Shows Up," written by you and David (and directed by Jim Burrows). I was blown away by the remarkable sequence where you guys filled in the major inconsistencies of Frasier's backstory that carried over from "Cheers" to the new show. A number of fantastic lines also brought us up to date on life in Boston. That says nothing of the incredible payoff to Sam and Tea Leoni's storyline. I'm curious what it was like to write this episode-how you balanced the backstories and the payoffs for fans of both shows.

The amazing thing about that episode is that they pretty much left it to us to fill-in the CHEERS backstory. We knew we had to cover CHEERS establishing that Frasier’s father was dead and he had no brother. But we also figured we needed to update the audience on what was going on with the other Cheers regulars. And to that end, there was not a lot of discussion. So David and I just made up what we thought might happen and turned it in, figuring the FRASIER producers were welcome to change it or run it by the Charles Brothers, or whatever. But for the most part, they kept it.

I also remember we had to write the episode quickly. The producers approached us during the Christmas party. Ted had signed on but NBC wanted the episode ready to air for February Sweeps so they needed the script pronto. We were all too happy to oblige. The chance to write Sam Malone one more time was a great incentive. And we always loved writing FRASIER episodes.  How could you not?

I was also thrilled that they cast Tea Leoni. She’s wonderful in comedy. I’ve been a fan of hers since FLYING BLIND, where she really shined.

J Lee asks:

Ken -- When you were show-running in Season 6 on MASH, there were two guest-stars -- Bernard Fox and George Lindsey -- who were extremely well-known for their supporting roles on previous sitcoms, who were asked to play more serious roles here (Fox's as the taciturn major a little more than Lindsey's surgeon). Is there ever a concern when casting that the viewers aren't going to be able to see that actor in a different, and more serious role, than what they had been used to seeing them in for 5-10 years or so, and that's going to impact the ability to get the story across as best as possible?

No. It’s quite the opposite. We like casting actors in roles they’re not known for. First off, they are good actors with more range than people give them credit for. And secondly, it’s much fresher to see George Lindsey when he’s not playing Goober.

To me the best example of this is Margo Martindale in JUSTIFIED. For years she was always cast as the sweet frumpy housewife. In JUSTIFIED she played the most delicious evil villain since Alan Rickman in DIE HARD. Who knew? Casting against type may not be the safe choice, but at times it’s the inspired choice.

Adam Chase queries:

How do you feel about shows that are on the "bubble" ending with a cliffhanger? Do producers, knowing full well their show is in a precarious situation, do this hoping it will put pressure on the network to renew? From a fan perspective it's really annoying because we are sometimes left never knowing what happened.

That’s the problem with all serialized shows. You get invested in them, the networks cancel them, and you’re left hanging. Frankly, that’s why I now prefer to wait on new serialized shows until I know they’ll be around next Tuesday and then binge watch them if I’m interested enough.

Cliffhangers are a tricky subject because a show must be in some contention or the network won’t approve the story. So if a network lets a show that’s on the bubble do a cliffhanger then a lot of weight is placed on how well that episode does in the ratings. That’s the REAL cliffhanger.

And finally, Jahn Ghalt has a couple of FQ's after listening to last week’s podcast about my baseball career. (Have you heard it yet? What are you waiting for?)

Loved this podcast, Ken (I like all of them, actually). I would tune in, with notice, if you could do a guest spot for an M's at Angels game with the M's announcers - radio, TV, streaming, whatever.

Would it be gauche to sic your agent on this?

I would be happy to do it if they ask and my schedule is free.  I guess I should get an agent too.

You left out a good minute on this one (maybe three) - how did you get the Mariner's job?

When I was broadcasting for the Orioles there was a night we finished a road trip in Kansas City and the Mariners flew into Baltimore for our upcoming series. As the M’s were busing in from the airport, their announcer Dave Niehaus was listening to me call the play-by-play on his transistor radio. When I saw him the next night he was very complimentary, which blew me away. Dave Niehaus was one of my radio idols.

After the season, the Mariners’ number two guy, Rick Rizzs accepted a job replacing Ernie Harwell in Detroit so there was an opening. Niehaus remembered me and called. I then submitted my tape, was brought in for an interview, and happily was offered the job. So I owe it all to luck and Dave Niehaus.

What’s your Friday Question?


Bill O said...

An amazing cliffhanger was James Garner's western, Nichols. His Maverickesque character no longer working in the spaghetti western era, Garner killed off his own character, reappearing in that last episode as his more macho, mustachioed twin brother.

NBC didn't care.

Michael said...

About casting against type: Alan Alda, after 11 years as the wonderful Hawkeye, beautifully playing villains. Great actors are just that: great actors.

About your Mariners job: Ken, you don't look like Lana Turner, but it does sound like the equivalent of the ice cream shop!

cd1515 said...

FQ: I'm watching This is Us and there's one thing bugging me: the current-day scenes with the lovely Mandy Moore are AWFUL because it's just her in a bad wig. If there's an award for Worst Hair & Makeup, this should win. In no way do I believe she's the mother of these people; she's probably younger than most of them and still looks it.
I remember a Cheers with "old" Sam & Diane that was much better executed.
Am I unrealistic in my expectations here?
Is this harder than I think to pull off?

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your insights on the Sam Malone episode of Frasier. Along with I'm sure millions of fans, I was always delighted by the Cheers crossovers and felt they were always doled out at the appropriate pace. Too many would have felt pandering, too few like the show was trying to ignore its history.

That said, on a few occasions, it felt like the Frasier writers (lightly) stomped on the legacy of a couple of Cheers characters.

I didn't like learning that Rebecca and Don had broken up in the Sam episode. While it made for a good, quick joke, it felt like it walked back her growth at the end of the show, to finally settle down and be happy with a good guy, status be damned.

And why was there no reference at all to Woody's political career during his episode of Frasier? The episode says he's still tending bar at Cheers with nary a mention of what happened to his career as a city councilman. Again, it was a moment where Cheers advanced the character at the end of the series, but then "Frasier" ignored or obliterated that bit of character growth.

What gives?


Breadbaker said...

Not a Friday question, but Facebook reminds me today is four years since we all got together in Seattle before a M's game for lunch. There were about 20 of us and you were both gracious and generous with your time.

Glenn said...

Hindsight and all that, but I always thought having Sam and Roz hook up, while Frasier desperately tries to tell them both how bad they would be for each other, would make a good episode.

gottacook said...

Michael: Alan Alda was the lead in the 1971 movie The Mephisto Waltz, a deal-with-the-devil story in which his pianist character becomes a dazzling Liszt specialist. Alda was just as good playing characters with a dark side before MASH as he was afterward.

MikeN said...

Jeff, it's obvious that Woody's political career would have ended in a way that Frasier would not have brought it up with Woody.

LouOCNY said...

Glenn said...
Hindsight and all that, but I always thought having Sam and Roz hook up, while Frasier desperately tries to tell them both how bad they would be for each other, would make a good episode.

Funny, yes, but it would almost be a cliche. What would have been funnier, would be Sam wanting to hook up with Daphnie, with say, Daphne being a bit naive about it, Niles and Frasier knowing exactly whats going on, with reactions in character. Roz would be (excuse the expression) too easy.

Michael said...

Gottacook, thanks. I should have said more clearly that those 11 years established a persona for Alda, and then he played against it. The other fun thing is when he shows up on You Tube as a panelist on To Tell the Truth and What's My Line? It seems to me Hawkeye also would have been great on those.

Carson said...

In the MASH episode with George Lindsey as a visiting doctor from another MASH unit, the actor sports groomed (not neglected) sideburns and an over-the-ears haircut typical of the late 1970 when the show was filmed, instead of the 1950s when the show was set. I'm curious why on earth the episode script has Colonel Potter describing the Lindsey character's regular commanding officer is "a stickler for regulations, especially hair length."

Peter said...

I saw a fun movie the other day, Unforgettable, a thriller starring Katherine Heigl and Rosario Dawson.. It's not actually out yet either here in the UK or in the States, but I got to see it for free when I went to the cinema to watch another movie. How, you ask? Simple. The trailer showed the ENTIRE story. It even shows how one of the supporting characters dies.

Both the story and the trailer are very reminiscent of the Beyonce movie Obsessed, which coincidentally also revealed the whole plot.

I'd love to know what goes through the mind of the people in charge of trailers. Why would you intentionally spoil a movie for the audience? I now know everything that happens in Unforgettable, right down to the climax.

brian t said...

Another example of Alan Alda playing against type was as a Republican Presidential candidate in The West Wing, though his character wasn't the type you'd call "Republican" today.

I should also mention, for those wondering what Téa Leoni is up to these days, she's doing great in Madam Secretary - which is a serious role but with some comic moments.

Charles H Bryan said...

Poor Rick Rizzs. Replacing Ernie Harwell, after Harwell had been stupidly fired by the Tigers, was a no win situation.

McC said...

Margo Martindale has also had terrific roles in The Americans and Sneaky Pete - great range indeed!

Unknown said...

In re unexpected casting:

Tea Leoni in Madam Secretary may be the best example of this around today.
And not just because Sec'y of State Elizabeth McCord is so much better at that job than the moax who has it in real life ...

Personally, I think that every year that Tea Leoni isn't at least nominated for Emmys is the injustice of this Millenium.

The male haircuts (or lack thereof) on MASH:
This was generally ignored throughout the run, and does more to date the series than any topical references in the scripts.
If it were being done today, with the buzz cuts and baldy sours that are commonplace these days among younger actors ... now that I think of it, that wasn't quite right for the '50s either ...

Peter said...

Téa Leoni is a goddess.

MikeN said...

Peter, maybe the people who made the trailers are using as a role model the trailer for The Godfather. Mo Greene, Barzini, it's all in there.

VP81955 said...

Leoni today would be known as a comic goddess if NBC hadn't put "The Naked Truth" through its mid-'90s sitcom sausage factory (think "Suddenly Susan" et al) once it acquired the series following one season on ABC. There, it was original and funny; on NBC, it was hackneyed and predictable.

B Smith said...

Friday question: When shooting outdoors scenes for MASH out at the Malibu Ranch, you were presumably shooting as many bits and pieces for various episodes as you could to take advantage of light, climate etc. But since various episodes were directed by various directors, did you send a number of them simultaneously with you so they could shoot their episode parts? Or did you just go for one episode at a time, and if finishing early shot generic footage that could be edited in anywhere, or even knocked off early?

Tom Galloway said...

Another Mayberry example of playing against type, but sorta in reverse, would be Andy Griffith. Admittedly this is before he played Andy Taylor, but his performance in the excellent (and way too topical for the 2016 Presidential election in several ways) movie A Face In The Crowd was as a pretty much pure evil character, very different from the folksy nice guy persona he'd already established.

Jahn Ghalt said...

I would be happy to (be a guest announcer for M's at Angels) if they ask and my schedule is free. I guess I should get an agent too.

I don't suppose most announcers have agents? I suggested it for the "optics" - supposing it's better to have a hired gun approach them than darkening their door yourself.

Anyway, you may find an Angels Schedule here:

And The Mariners':

I owe it all to luck and Dave Niehaus.

Best to be lucky AND good! I regret that I didn't get more chances to hear Niehaus. I LOVED that he used old-time baseball lingo. You don't hear "can of corn" much these days.

the Mariners’ number two guy, Rick Rizzs accepted a job replacing Ernie Harwell in Detroit

I'm sure you know that Rizzs is back on the radio gig for the M's. Rizzs is real good - clearly an experienced professional. Sims and Blowers have been the TV team going back at least to 2015 - they're good, too. I like that Blowers weighs in with his player's perspective.

Angie Mentink (who does pre- and post-game duty) is one of my favorite Sports Gals, along with EPSN's fabulous Doris Burke and a "newcomer" on NBATV - Kristin Ledlow.

Unknown said...

The episode When Sam Shows Up is actually my least-favorite Sam Malone thing ever, but not because I don't like the episode - but because it so clearly shows how sad Sam's womanizing becomes when it continues on and on and on and he can't seem to get control of it. Cheers did an amazing job of dealing with his alcoholism and his womanizing being essentially a way of coping with not having access to alcohol anymore, and I hate watching Sam on the Frasier episode because you kind of realize he hasn't really changed, even though he's tried. I just dislike watching it because it makes me sad. Which sucks because it's an awesome episode.

Re: Woody's political career, I think we can assume that it ended when Woody either genuinely realized he was in over his head and didn't want to do it anymore and would rather be happy back at the bar, or that it ended when Woody committed a political gaffe he couldn't come back from.

Splenda said...

Question: when you and David wrote the episode "Saturdays of Thunder" for the Simpsons, was it your decision to have Homer watch the McBain movie or did the Simpsons staff room ask you to put that in? I've seen the supercut video ( that shows all of the McBain clips, making a pretty decent short film. How did you have to work in your stuff into the prior clips?

David Rooney Vs The RoonMeister said...


Thanks for this blog and your writing. I adore cheers and i watch it whenever ive had a bad day. So thank you.

My question is if you were to write a cheers 2017 episode where do you see the characters now? Obviously Norm is still on his stool. If you were forced to write this what would you do with the characters?