Friday, June 02, 2017

Friday Questions

June and Friday Questions have arrived. What’s yours?

J Lee starts us off this week.

Ken -- You grew up in the 1960s, when sitcoms of the day also often were either cartoony to begin with, or ended up there by being 'dumbed down' (though obviously without the ability to do the sex-related jokes of today). The Sheldon Leonard-produced shows tended to be the exception, until the break-out in the 1970s with the more reality-based characters.

Were there any of the more cartoony/fantasy-based shows of the 60s that appealed to you, based on their writing?

The first year of BEWITCHED was pretty great. I watched it the whole run because of my super mad crush on Elizabeth Montgomery, but the show got progressively stupider as the years rolled on. But that first season, with Danny Arnold at the helm, was as much a sophisticated romantic comedy as fantasy.  Worth checking out.  Warning:  It's in black-and-white.

And believe it or not, the first season of THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES was very funny. Trouble is, it’s one joke and that joke wore thin.

But even as a kid I tended to gravitate towards the more adult comedy fare – THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW of course, but also HE & SHE, LOVE ON A ROOFTOP, and OCCASIONAL WIFE. I have no idea if the latter three hold up, but I liked them at the time.

From Glenn:

Are you working on any new plays, Ken?

Yes. I have a new full-length called OUR TIME, a very loosely autobiographical tale about breaking into the various worlds of comedy in 1975. I finished the first draft, had a reading for my EST playwrights’ group, got some terrific feedback, and just finished my second draft based on their input. Now I’m looking for a home for it. And thanks for asking!

William asks:

What is the toughest schedule you've been given? Did you ever write for a show that had to go up against Cosby, Seinfeld or a similar juggernaut? How did your set react to "oh, damn... we're up against Friends" or whatever your tough opponent was?

Well, the first year of CHEERS we were up against SIMON & SIMON, which was a big hit for CBS at the time. I can’t use that as a real excuse because we were also losing to TUCKER’S WITCH on ABC.

When we created that series for Mary Tyler Moore in 1985, we were up against HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN, a top five show. And we were a brand new show leading off a night. Usually new shows get placed behind existing hits to maximize their exposure. We got none of that. And yet we got a 25 share, which even thirty years ago was damn respectable.

Believe it or not, when I joined MASH full-time we were on Tuesday nights at 9 and we were getting our butts kicked by THREE’S COMPANY on ABC. So CBS moved us to Monday midseason and the show really took off from there. MASH remained on Monday and enjoyed its highest ratings for the rest of the run.

B.C. Christiansen wonders:

Do you think it really even matters any more what night things air? I am always two or three days behind with DVR, and I record two or three shows that go against each other anyway.

It obviously doesn’t matter as much, but yes, there is still the majority of the audience that watches TV the night-of. And how a show fares against competition is a strong indication of its popularity.

And that can cut both ways. Like I said, piggy-backing off a hit show can provide a newbie much needed exposure. That’s how you launch shows. But if you’re following a hit and drop 50% of its audience that’s a strong indicator that no one involved should buy a house.

And counter-programming is still a thing. Shows may get on the air because the network has a need for say a comedy to go with an existing sitcom, or a reality show to take on two dramas.

Beyond that, shows are scheduled based on advertiser needs. Example: Since movies come out on Friday, studios tend to advertise a lot on Thursday night. So that’s the night networks want to deliver strong 18-34 year old shows.

In short, there are still “time slot hits.” And every showrunner whose show was ever cancelled complains that the time slot killed them. That’s just TV tradition.


JED said...

According to Wikipedia, the uncredited narrator of Occasional Wife was Vin Scully. Maybe that's why you liked that show.

Anonymous said...

The Beverly Hillbillies is one of the most underrated shows in television history. The first season was great -and remember that was 39 shows, equivalent to nearly 3 seasons today. But years two and three were also great so that's five or six years of excellent shows. Ken is wrong- it was not a one- joke show - the jokes were the constant satire of America and the emerging trends of Southern California. Rich/poor people, fads, spy movies, rock music there is plenty of excellent satire there in the first three years that went over the heads of most Americans including the sophisticate, who saw it as only as cornpone comedy.
Combine that with the ensemble of actors that was as good as any sitcom ever done - yes that includes Friends or even Cheers. Jed, Granny, Jethroe and Elly Mae are iconic characters in American culture and imagine how hard it was for those actors to stay in those characters as long as they did, accents and all - remember none of those actors really talked like that. And the supporting cast -the avaricious but sympathetic banker, the man hungry secretary along with the occasional appearances of Flatt and Scruggs.
Yes, by the fourth season and beyond the show was not the same and by the late 1960's it jumped the shark. The culture was moving on by then. But that's a great run for any sitcom with over 100 episodes, especially one that was so highly rated for so long.

Orwell said...

I love the first couple of seasons of The Beverly Hillbillies. Although the show got dumber and dumber as time went on - they had to invent more and more outlandish plots and settings - it was very funny for the first couple of years. Although the characters were obviously caricatures, the actors were absolutely terrific, and the writing was top-notch.

Mike Barer said...

Bewitched question. In today's comedy writing, would they get away with the nosy neighbor's name being Mrs. Kravitz?

Unkystan said...

Hi Ken. Whe I was in LA last year my family and I caught "Going, Going ,Gone" and had a great time (meeting you and your wife was a bonus). Any chance of any of your plays being staged off- Broadway in the New York area?
Also I enjoyed the full "Everybody Knows Your Name" that you played on the podcast. Just curious what the B-Side was.

Unknown said...

Friday question: Lately I've been hearing promos saying "new scripted show on CBS" or whatever network. Is this a new thing, to call out scripted shows vs non-scripted shows? Did the WGA contract change things?

Unknown said...


In its first season, Cheers's competition on ABC was Too Close For Comfort; that was the sitcom where Ted Knight got to be the smart one (over Jm. J. Bullock, but it counts).
Tucker's Witch was on CBS on a different night, and was one of the faster flops of that season - but that's another story ...

I picked up a "collector's edition" DVD set of Occasional Wife not long ago.
What I remember mainly is Patricia Harty, who made an ideal high school crush for me in '67.
I couldn't have pinned it down for you back then; years afterward, someone used a word that applied perfectly: Pat Harty was "attainable".
By that I mean she was somebody that an average-looking guy like me (I admit I'm being generous to myself here) might have had a chance with: pretty without being overwhelming, friendly without being seductive, someone I would just enjoy being with.
I wonder what became of her ...
I mentioned somewhere (it might have been here) that Vin Scully's narration reminded me of the old Pete Smith MGM shorts that I'd seen on TV not long before; I still believe that was the producer's intent.
What I wonder to this day is how they would have resolved "the man in the middle" - and if the show had been a hit, they would have had to. Whenever I see him in the DVDs, I admit to looking for "clues" - some kind of groundwork for a big reveal down the line.
"What Might Have Been ..." and all that.

Back for a second to Tucker's Witch, another show I have on "c2c DVD":
The star of that show, Catherine Hicks, is another example of "attainability", as with Patricia Harty, op cit..
Perhaps significantly, the original choice for the part was Kim Cattrall; she did the pilot, but the "tests" came back negative, and Hicks got the gig.
But we'll never really know, will we?

LouOCNY said...

Beverly Hillbillies is one show that really suffered when it got switched to color - the more realistic look kind of killed the tone of the show. Andy Griffith is the same, as well - although losing Don Knotta at the same time hurt even more - it's almost a different show without him.

Although I agree the first season of Bewitched is the best, it was still fine until Marion Lorne passed away, and they started overdoing the other wacky relatives, depending on THEM for laughs- Uncle Arthur was best taken in small, rare doses.

You have said that you and David were offered the show runner job on Barney Miller - it would be interesting to hear about your encounters with Danny Arnold...

Kirk said...

Green Acres was a cartoony show that got funnier as it went along. It's almost a satire of rural comedies.

YEKIMI said...

Regarding "Bewitched" and the nosy neighbor Mrs Kravitz even at my young age I was thinking that after the first couple of times of her poking her nose in where it doesn't belong that "Samantha's a witch, why doesn't she just cast a spell on Mrs. Kravitz that anytime she even looks in the direction of the Steven's house she gets violently ill or peeks in the window she just imagines that she's seeing them watch TV?" I think even Darren or "Durwood" would look the other way regarding his "no witchcraft" rule for Samantha when it came to Mrs. Kravitz. If the show was on nowadays, Mrs Kravitz would be arrested and sentenced to a mental institution till she "minded her own business".

Johnny Walker said...

Two things I didn't plan on adding to my "to watch" list today: THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES and BEWITCHED.

I guess it's sad to say the above conversation will apply to THE SIMPSONS in the future ("No, really! It was once brilliant!") as young people will have grown up watching the modern episodes.

Actually, thinking about it, I guess there's lots of hit shows that fall into that category, being marred by their later episodes.

It's a shame when shows are pushed past their prime :(

Fun fact: Carl Reiner chose to end the THE DVD SHOW early, because he wanted it to go out strong. History genre shows that to be a wise move!

What are some shows that NEVER outstayed their welcome? Hmm!

cd1515 said...

Friday question: recently watched the John Cleese episode of Cheers, one of the finest ever IMO and I noticed you didn't write it.
Respectfully, have you ever worked on a show, seen an episode someone else wrote and been a little jealous of how good it came out?

Anonymous said...

The counter programming drives me nuts. Thursday night is a nightmare trying to get everything on my dvr that I want to watch. (Charter/Spectrum is behind the technology times with a dvr that only records two shows at once and you have to watch one of those two) When they first announced the lineups, NBC had moved This Is Us to Thursday and I about had a heart attack. But they came back and said they would leave it on Tuesday night. There is very little on network tv that we enjoy...why does it have to all be on Thursday?

Pam, St. Louis

Earl Boebert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sanford said...

To Anonymous, get a tivo You can watch a show a tivo two others. The only problem is no vidoe on demand. You can just buy a box. You don't have to use charters equipment. You can probably find a box that where you can dvr two programs and watch a 3rd.

As for He and She, here is a good article. It is from a few years ago. The writer contends that it was a fore runner of Mary Tyler Moore. He thinks if the show was on a few years later it would have been a big hit. I always liked Paula Prentiss. I wonder why she stopped acting.

DBenson said...

"Beverly Hillbillies" lasted long enough to do a Clampetts-meet-beatniks episode and a Clampetts-meet-hippies episode. Towards the end they gave Ellie May a nice, unfunny boyfriend who happened to be a Navy frogman and had Granny freaking because she thought he was literally a frog-man. I always thought they missed a huge bet by not giving Ellie or Jethro a suitably loony partner -- a clueless rich city kid, who could bring Eva Gabor-type misunderstandings (and snobby family) to fuel new plots.

MikeKPa. said...

I always thought Michael Callan, a homeboy, from OCCASIONAL WIFE would have had a bigger career. He was great in CAT BALLOU. Just could never catch on to a show that had legs.

Earl Boebert said...

Besides being a delight, "Beverly Hillbillies" gives you an opportunity to watch Buddy Ebsen, one of the great professionals in show business. Before TBH he had done 15 years on Broadway, around 25 movies and about 100 television episodes of one show or another. After the end of TBH he did 178 episodes of Barnaby Jones. His last gig -- at the tender age of 91 -- was as a voice actor on King of the Hill (a very funny and underrated show, BTW).

Ted said...

I'm happy to see so much appreciation for "The Beverly Hillbillies," which I've also always thought was one of the most underrated sitcoms ever. Here's what I think is most misunderstood about it: The Clampetts' main attribute wasn't that they were dumb (although the show got a lot of humor out of their confusion surrounding the details of urban living -- and, yes, with the exception of Jethro). It was that they were good. Their generosity, lack of pretension and, yes, hospitality is what clashed with the people around them, and that's what made the show a high-quality (if often silly) satire of modern life. Beneath those tattered clothes wasn't just people no one believed were multi-millionaires, but people who didn't care that they were multi-millionaires -- and who would still be happy to fix your furniture or invite you over to dinner. What made them stand out was their basic human decency.

ODJennings said...

The first episode of Hillbillies has some great gags as Grannie inspects her new kitchen. She opens the side by side refrigerator and shakes her head saying, "Who ever heard of putting the cool cupboard on the South side of the house." She then walks over the electric range and tries to build a fire in the oven with a match. When it won't light she yells, "Jed, the stove ain't got no draught!"

Didn't every show suffer when it switched from B&W to color? I can't think of one that didn't, but the westerns got hit the hardest. The old B&W Gunsmokes were tight little dramas even if Dodge City was on a soundstage and made up of mostly painted canvas backgrounds. As soon as color came along instead of dialogue you had long shots of Matt Dillon riding across the plains with beautiful sunsets and snow covered mountains (in Kansas? But that's another post) and it became a completely different show.

Can anyone think of a show that actually improved with color?

Mike said...

I Dream of Jeannie got better with color. She had a temper in the first season (even trying to murder a rival in a first-season episode). In the second season, they settled down into good-natured, fast-paced fun.

I liked the post about The Beverly Hillbillies essentially being good people. I felt the same way about The O.C., the Fox teen soap from about 15 years ago. What separated it from its peers was that the characters were essentially good people who went out of their way to help others.

Y. Knott said...

Better in colour? The Avengers, at least for the first colour season. Some of those B&W episodes creak baaaadly.

Wayne K said...

Is there a resource for 1940's radio slang? What was their way to say "Don't touch the dial"?

DougG. said...

Why did AfterMASH fail so miserably but Frasier succeeded to the point of winning 37 Emmy awards. We think of everything Larry Gelbart touched as turning to gold but not AfterMASH. On the other hand, I remember one tv writer in a 1993 Fall TV preview suggesting that "Frasier" had little chance of success because taking Frasier out of the Cheers bar is like a fish out of water: there's nowhere for him to swim.

Y. Knott said...

Mike Doran, Tucker's Witch started on Tuesdays, but was put "on hiatus" after six episodes. When it returned in March to burn off the unaired episodes, it was on Thursdays.

And even though it was critically blasted, unloved by the public, and cancelled, those episodes STILL beat Cheers in the ratings.

Hard to fathom it now, but Cheers really was a near-total flop in season 1 ... except, of course, creatively.

Andy Rose said...

@Wayne K: The most similar term of the time probably would have been "stay tuned to this station," as immortalized in this contemporaneous magazine article on World War II news coverage:,9171,792133,00.html

Of course, "don't touch that dial" would not have been a completely foreign concept at the time, as radios have had tuning dials since their invention. But some higher-end models had push-buttons for easier station selection, a concept that was carried over into car radios.

Len said...

Re: "Don't touch that dial"

There was a radio sitcom that ran for several years in the '40s titled BLONDIE. It was an adaption of the comic strip that's been running forever. Anyway, BLONDIE always opened with the show's announcer urging, "Uh uh uh uh! Don't touch that dial! Listen to . . . ." Then the actor playing Dagwood (Blondie's husband) would yell, "Blonnnnndieeeee!"

It was kind of a stupid sitcom, with Dagwood as one of those idiot husbands who got into some kind of a mess on a weekly basis from which his wife always had to rescue him and straighten everything out. Nevertheless, it ran for about ten years.

Edward said...

Comedies/Variety Shows got better for the viewer (Gilligan's Island/Bewitched/Hollywood Palace). If these shows stayed in B/W, they would be forgotten. I am glad that the first year of GI and other shows that began in B/W then switched to color were colorized for the early seasons.

Bonanza was filmed in color from day one. That's why the program was a hit for NBC and in syndication.

I agree that dramas in B/W keep the viewer focused on the story instead of the scenery.

Hank Gillette said...

To Anonymous, get a tivo You can watch a show a tivo two others.

Actually, TiVo has had models with four tuners for some time. I can record four shows at once on mine and watch a previously recorded show at the same time. TiVo recently came out with a model that has six tuners.

AndrewJ said...

Michael Callan from OCCASIONAL WIFE was Riff in the original Broadway production of WEST SIDE STORY -- on the cast album that's him singing "Cool."

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Gunsmoke actually got it's start on Radio, with William Conrad as Matt Dillon. IMHO, was better than any of the Television incarnations.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Stay tuned to this radio station.

Gary West said...

I'm not so sure "Bonanza" was a hit because it was in color. I am sure that - its first season - it got clobbered by rival "Perry Mason" - then a staple on CBS Saturday nights. NBC got smart - moved the Cartwrights to Sunday nights at 9pm, where they owned that time slot from 1962 forward. Interestingly - "Perry Mason" was moved to that time slot in its last season. And - well - that was that.

slgc said...

Here's a Friday Question - The film Movie Movie had been in heavy rotation for a long time, but now it is nowhere to be found. Why does that happen to some films? Why do some of them simply fall off the face of the Earth?