Friday, May 05, 2017

Friday Questions

“May” I interest you in some Friday Questions?

Brad Apling starts us off with an FQ about audiences for multi-camera shows.

Did you ever have an episode that you thought was really good but the audience acted ho-hum about or one which you thought was average humor yet the audience reacted as if it was the greatest piece of humor the world has ever known?

Yes. Sometimes you just get a bad audience, but when you watch the show edited together it plays great. Steven Moffat, the great writer of SHERLOCK, DR. WHO, and one of my all-time favorite sitcoms, COUPLING said there was an episode very early in the run of COUPLING that died before the audience. Part of the problem was that there was going to be subtitles through a large part of it. When the show was assembled and the subtitles were in place the show played so well that Steven feels that was the episode that really launched the series.

And the flip side of your question is also true. There have been times when a show played gangbusters in front of the audience and then when we watched the rough-cut we scratched our heads and said, “This is terrible. What are they laughing at?”

From John J:

Sometimes when I watch a show I will wonder where I know some random actor from. On IMDB I will see that he does a couple of episodes a year plus some smaller movies. So my question is, can he make a living like this? How does the average non A-lister pay the bills?

Uh, he has another job. He’s a waiter, an Uber driver, a real estate agent, a carpenter. Character actors who support themselves and their families on acting alone are very fortunate. Most have to supplement their incomes.

That’s why I always say if you want to be an actor you have to really really love it.

Johnny Walker wonders:

Thinking about the realities of having to produce work on demand, have you ever been given an assignment where you were really unhappy with the story? Obviously I guess your job as the writer is to do the best job you can, but how do you reconcile the fear that your name is going to be on something you may not even like?

Yes, and eventually I learned to call the showrunner and work through the problem. But when David Isaacs and I were starting out and getting freelance assignments we had one that absolutely stymied us. It was an episode for a sitcom called THE PRACTICE (not to be confused with the David E. Kelley legal show of the same name years later). We actually came in with the story and they bought it. But once we started writing we realized it didn’t work. We were afraid to tell the showrunner for fear he might just cancel the assignment.

But writing every line was like pulling teeth. Finally, David had a good idea. He said, “Let’s shake things up. Let’s get out of here and write somewhere else.” So we drove down to San Diego, got a hotel room, and pretty much locked ourselves in while we powered through the draft. If he hadn’t made that suggestion I think we’d still be on page three.

I never worry about my name being on something that's not outstanding.  That's the breaks of the game.  There are episodes we've written that got rewritten and I felt made worse.  You live with it.  

And finally, Jim S. asks:

Do you have any special phrases for baseball that you use in non-home run situations?

For example, the late, great Ernie Harwell used to say, when a player took a called third strike, "he stood there like the house on the side of the road."

I will use that phrase when I just might sit stunned and not do anything for a couple of seconds when something surprising happens.

No, I don’t. That’s kind of a folksy style that was perfect for Ernie and a few others like Red Barber, but it’s not me.

I also never developed an exclamation phrase either like “Holy Toledo!” or “Holy Smokes!” or “How about that?” I wanted to use “Fuck-a-doodle-do!” but for some reason radio stations frowned upon it.

What's your Friday Question?  


PolyWogg said...

that last line was worth the price of admission all on its own. the next time i see a grumpy morning person, I'm going to say "well, FADD to you too."

Andrew said...

Friday question: (Since your previous post was on "why radio sucks.") Over the years I've heard several people compliment Rush Limbaugh for breathing new life into AM radio, despite disagreeing with his politics. I've never seen you post on Limbaugh, or political talk radio in general. What's your assessment of Limbaugh's influence? Do you find anything commendable about him, or do you think he has done too much harm to deserve any accolades?

Michael said...

Ken's dear friend Dave Niehaus had pet phrases, and certainly his grand slam call will go down in the annals. But--not criticizing him--it worked because it's who he was. Red Barber told The Vin, and The Vin said of Joe Davis, that what matters most is being himself. Does The Vin have any pet phrases? No. Someone asked Davis if he had a home run call and he said, no, because each home run is different. And I thought, that young man will be fine.

VP81955 said...

Vin didn't have any pet phrases? How about "chowder and marching society" (the one line of his I couldn't stand)?

Cat said...

What the heck happened to your Mayday celebration, Ken?

Houston Mitchell said...

Question: I was watching an episode of MASH the other evening, and it opened with an elaborate fight scene in Rosie's Bar. During the fight, Klinger and Zale had some funny lines as each were trying to avoid fighting. How is something like that handled in the script? Do you write "Fight scene" and then include the dialogue to be placed in the scene?

Ken said...

On baseball announcers
I have felt that Jack Brickhouse has been disrespected as the voice of the Cubs by the enthronement of harry carey.
I always felt more comfortable with Jack, who seems to me, to be more natural the carey who I felt was working harder to make himself the focus of the entertainmanet of the game rather then letting the game speak for itself.
But just a side note and a rememberence of the "hey hey" ( Brickhouse tag for home runs and other notable game events) announcer.

Peter said...

Make sure to check out Guardians of the Galaxy 2 this weekend, Ken! You'll love it and the Cheers related scene is the icing on the cake!

Andy Rose said...

Another thing to keep in mind about IMDb is that it only covers TV, films, and video games. There are lots of actors who seem to have thin credits on IMDb because they spend a great deal of their time working on stage rather than in front of the camera. If you went by that website, you'd think Roger Bart was a struggling actor until about 2006, when in reality he was busy winning Tonys on Broadway. Or people like Bill Hickey, who is listed mostly for sporadic bit parts (including Carlton on Wings), but spent most of his time as a very respected acting teacher.

Bruce said...

I wrote an episode of "The Practice" that I really liked. I still believe to this day that the rewrite made it worse.

Brian said...

A few years ago, Ken mentioned a book by Fred Stoller, a character actor who has made a living in bit parts, including as Gerard on Everybody Loves Raymond. I enjoyed his book and recommend it. He has had moderate success in later years, but for the longest time, he struggled to get parts, but still earned a decent living.

VP81955 said...

To Ken (not Levine, since I know he wouldn't misspell "Caray"):

Harry may best be known for his work with the Cubs and Cards, but his most important tenure was the 11 years he spent with the White Sox. That franchise was at its nadir when he joined them in 1971, but he (and Dick Allen) made the South Siders relevant again; without him, they're probably no longer in Chicago. And remember, his singing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at the seventh-inning stretch began at Comiskey Park, not Wrigley Field (just as the Jimmy Fund is identified with the Red Sox, but was initiated by the Boston Braves). It was Bill Veeck's idea during his second tenure as Chisox owner.

And speaking of the Sox, my pal Dan Day Jr. today retro-cast "Star Wars" in the '60s (and I know Ken will love his choice as Princess Leia):

Anonymous said...

@ Ken:
The feelings on Brickhouse here in Chicago have always been mixed. Yes he was more of a native Chicagoan (Peoria actually ) than Harry Carey, who was more a St. Louis guy. And he was less flamboyant of course. And a good announcer, always prepared.
But - Brickhouse was actually a sort of nasty guy in person. He was not the warmest guy outside the booth. And a little bit of a homer/ company man to the point he would never criticize some bad teams as opposed to Carey.
The Chicago Harry Carey was a party guy, at a time when a lot of people wanted a party guy. And while he may not have always been the nicest guy either, especially when he was over served, he was the life of the party and people enjoyed his company whether they knew him or not. Couldn't say that about Brickhouse.
As for Carey as an announcer - in Chicago his announcing was a sideshow. It was part of the shtick people wanted. Make no mistake though, when Carey was with the Cardinals and even when did his brief stint with the White Sox (he and Jimmy Piersall were the best tandem ever, anywhere) he was a superb announcer. No one was more baseball savvy than him. He could anticipate a pickoff before it happened - and even with the Cubs he could amaze you when he called one. You had the sense there was a sharp baseball mind there- as good as Scully or Mel Allen or anyone. He just didn't need it anymore.
Brickhouse kept the Cubs fans together thru the bad years- Harry Carey made them the franchise they are today.

norm said...

If you were S. Colbert you could use the F%$# word.

Brad Apling said...

Thank you, Thank you for having this blog. If a person lives in Hollywood region, I'm sure a lot of this info comes through, one way or another. But here in the Mid-Atlantic region, where there's not exactly a studio presence, one wonders a lot about the mechanics of what goes on behind the scene in TV shows and scriptwriting. You bring great info and great clarity!

Mike said...

@Brad Apling: here in the Mid-Atlantic region, where there's not exactly a studio presence
No, I can see that.
Albatross: Well, Brad, I'm glad you asked me that. If the weather holds up, I'm hoping to fly around a bit and catch some fish.

Johnny Walker said...

Much appreciated, Ken. Makes sense that you just have to do the best you can with what you're given, and accept the breaks. I can understand why you'd be fearful of telling the showrunner that the assignment wasn't working, too. A potentially very risky prospect when you're not established!

Digging the new podcast format, btw. Just listening to you pick subjects to talk about is fun.

Dave said...

The Girl With Two Breasts

I agree, that is one of my favorite episodes...and that IS saying a lot!

Prairie Perspective said...

And the windup and here's the pitch ... Fuck-A-Doodle-Doo! That one's outta here!

Ken said...

Back again.
I am a Chicago guy.
I remember seeing the Shiners pre season game when it was cross town with the Cardinals ( Football) at Soldiers Field when I was a wee lad.
And you may be right about the personalities of brickhouse v. Caray ( Royko was another who later on had issuess while in his cups) but your comments reinforce what I said about keeping the focus on the game v. becoming an alternative entertainment act.
Brickhouse may have rarely critized the home team but remember this was when the P.K. Wrigley Jr. still owned them as and kept them as a sense of nobless obligee. The Cubs were the only "business" directly willed to PK Jr. without going through boards and other tax dodges.
During those years they didn't get a lot of money for the team. Royko's famous comment was in regards to the Cubs was that PK Jr. threw nickels around like they were manhole covers.
Minor personal trivia saw afternoon game at Wrigley which was Ken Holtzmans first game ( boy wonder at the time) and Fergusan Jenkins v. Koufax and Drysdale.
Most vivid memory, oddly enough, was of one of the Cubs coaches with the most radical case of bowlegness (?) I had or ever had seen.
That and watching fans pour beer on opposition right fielders when they went to the Ivy for a catch. Right field Bleacher Bum only place to be.

Dave Z said...

Here'a a Friday question for you: When a new multi-cam studio audience show is shooting its 2nd, 3rd, 4th episodes (likely being shot before the Pilot has aired), is the audience shown the pilot or explained some of the relationships so jokes that rely on knowing a little about the characters or their backstories don't fall flat?

Michael said...

VP, I follow your point, but Vin used the phrase when it belonged, and didn't use it ALL the time, as opposed to every big moment leading to a "holy cow" or whatever. That's what I meant. At one point, Vin fell in love with the words marvelous and magnificent. It doesn't mean he sat there thinking, that's my catch phrase, I have to get it in.

Scott said...

I bet some of those character actors get a few more jobs a year that haven't made it onto IMDB. Probably some of them do theater work too.

Unknown said...

The Girl With Two Breasts. Thanks, Ken. But actually there weren't any subtitles - your kindness is tricking your memory. What the studio audience saw was exactly the show we later put out. And they HATED it. They were stampeding out of the place like there was a fire alarm with bad breath. Never seen anything like it, never been so horrified. The sheer stomach-exploding terror of joke after joke dying in lunar silence. My sphincter contracted so hard it nearly ate my chair. The warm-up man was in pieces afterwards. I fed him drinks as his hands shook, and he told me he'd never seen an audience in such a state of hatred and, well, speedy departure. We apologised to the cast, the BBC, our Gods, and put the episode as late as possible in the run. Then, when we showed it, The Girl With Two Breasts was a massive hit and everybody told us how clever we were. We said, yeah, we know.

Unknown said...

Friday question: how do residuals on Netflix work? I binge Cheers and Frasier constantly; are residuals granted every time someone watches an episode like it happens with syndication?

MellaBlue said...

Friday Question: I'm sure you've been asked this before, but.... when you hire a "name" celebrity to play a potentially recurring character, how does that affect the writing/storytelling process? I'm thinking of, for example, Mercedes Ruehl's arc on Frasier. Do you have a set number of episodes and stories planned based on that person's availability or do you write and hope (and have a contingency plan if they're not available)? It always felt to me like there was more story to tell with Kate Costas but suddenly she was moving away and the story was gone. I always kind of wondered if it was because Mercedes Ruehl wasn't available.

Johnny W said...

@Steven Was the audience laughter all canned for that episode, then?