Monday, September 25, 2017

First night parties

New shows are premiering on network television, and returning shows are starting their new seasons. As a writer or producer on staff one of my favorite events of the year was the “first night party.”

This is when the writing staff, directors, and cast would get together to watch the first episode on the air. On MASH we would meet at Gene Reynolds' house (one of the two creators of the series along with Larry Gelbart), and on other shows the party would be held at a restaurant. There was dinner, lots of drinking, watching the episode (I had probably seen ten times already), and then going home.

My favorite first night party was the original premier of CHEERS in 1982. First off, it was at a swanky place, Chasen’s. Back in the 40’s and 50’s Chasen’s was THE Hollywood hotspot. You could expect to see Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, you-name-it dining on the Hobo Steak (not on the menu), Dave Chasen’s world-famous chili, or the ice mountain of seafood appetizer. Okay, so we had chicken pies, but also had a private room. TV’s were set up. We all dressed nice. It was an elegant affair.

What made this one so special was that we were finally taking the wraps off the show. We all had been working on it since the spring. By September we had filmed probably six or seven episodes. I had seen the pilot no less than twenty times. But there’s something about it actually being on the air.

A few weeks before I caught a promo. It was maybe 15 seconds, but there was the bar – for the first time ON TELEVISION.

So the night was very festive. Dinner was good (why chicken pies were ordered for everyone I do not know, but they appeared every year). Drinks were flowing. Earlier in the day we had received mostly positive reviews from critics. There was also an idiotic two-page ad (the one shown here). The best way to sell a sophisticated comedy is not with a page of HA HA HA HA’s.

Several people at the party had heard from friends and family back east who had seen the show three hours earlier. Thumbs up from them (but that was to be expected). Director James Burrows’ dad liked it, and that meant something. His dad was Abe Burrows. My father-in-law in Brooklyn said the waitress and bartender should get together. I had to agree.

As 9:00 approached things got quiet. The monitors were turned on and the sound was turned up at 8:58. There was an NBC News Break (remember those?) and for me the kicker, right before the show, was the station ID. “This is KNBC, Channel 4.” Holy shit! It really IS going out over the air. And then the show began. I can’t begin to tell you the sense of pride I had being a part of it. Everyone cheered at everyone’s credits – especially the Charles Brothers and Jimmy. And the show seemed to whiz by in five minutes.

When it was over there was a lot of hugging. The next day we would learn that the ratings were truly abysmal (so much for the huge impact of TV critics), but that night was euphoric.

Then began another CHEERS tradition. Speeches. More like toasts, they could be short. But everyone on the writing staff was called upon to say a few words. Wish I had known ahead of time. I don’t recall what I said but I think I got a laugh. My favorite speech was from Jerry Belson. Jerry was one of the funniest writers ever. He was an uncredited consultant. After everyone praised the show and each other, Jerry stood up, said, “Thanks for the money” and sat back down.

What a contrast between that party – a small group of unknowns meeting in a backroom to the ultimate finale, held in Boston, where we had probably 600 people inside the building and 20,000 outside on the Commons watching on giant Jumbotron Boards in a light rain.

So for some premiering shows, this is just the start of hopefully a long exciting journey. And for all shows it’s the culmination of months of hard work.  Congratulations.  Enjoy every minute of it.

That is, if they still have first night parties.


Arthur Mee said...

I was one of the ones watching -- not at Chasen's -- that very first night. Cheers was a classic right out of the gate, and I didn't miss an episode during the Diane years. If only someone had slipped a Neilson box in my direction, I could have helped you with the early worries about ratings!

Jim said...

My favourite aftershoot party speech is the one told about the Bye Bye Birdie wrap party. Person after person stood up to praise their hot young new star. Then it came to Paul Lynde who began "Am I the only one here who doesn't want to fuck Ann Margeret?"

A close runner up comes from the third marriage of British MP Michael Mates. At the time he was in his mid sixties, so asked his middle aged son to be his best man. At the reception, said son stood up to make the traditional speech, "Well. Here we go again," he began. I never heard what his new step-mother's response was.

blinky said...

Speaking of first shows... How did you like the new Star Trek? Besides being very movie-like, all dark with great costumes and special effects, it seemed like the dialogue was very stilted and cliche. "I want answers people!"

Earl Boebert said...

Chasen's Hobo Steak: Wrap sides of a 3 in think New York Steak with bacon, tied with string. Mound a salt paste on top. Put under broiler. Remove salt crust, turn, replace salt, broil other side. Discard bacon and salt. Slice meat. Fry slices in butter. Serve slice on toast with hot butter spooned over it. Enjoy with EMT standing by with defribillator.

From George Geary's "LA's Legendary Restaurants." (Well, not the EMT part).

John Mazur said...

The quiet hero in the success of 'Cheers'
was NBC Pres. Grant Tinker who after that 1st year's low ratings said 'Why would I cancel such s Great Show despite it's low ratings. What would I replace it with?
The audience will find this excellent show'.
He knew (as did the excellent NBC promo dept.).

Ted said...

There's so little genuinely original new programming on the networks now, it's hard to see what's worth celebrating. Do you really need to throw a party for "Sequel to Current Hit," "Prequel to Current Hit," "Drama About a Different Profession in the Same City," or "Drama About the Same Profession in a Different City"? Or, my favorite, "Another Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Horror Thriller Mashing Up Well-Known Characters From the Public Domain"?

Tom said...

I noticed that the print advertisement used the upward diagonal billing so that neither star is 'first'. But perhaps when the advert looked like that, it's because neither wanted to be?

Cap'n Bob said...

The artwork for the ad looks like someone who was a Mad Magazine artist. Kurtzman & Elder, maybe? Any idea?

Donald Benson said...

It's too small and pixelated to be sure, but my first guess from the background figures would be Jack Davis or somebody working in his style. Davis did a lot of movie and TV art, and was especially in demand for comedies. An epic piece from 1965:

YEKIMI said...

And I guess this could be a Friday question: Do the producers, studio, etc. have any say so in how their show is advertised? I've seen some ads where I thought "there's no way in hell that looks interesting to watch" only to find out in re-runs or a couple of years down the road that it's actually was a pretty good show I had been missing. Or do the producers, studios, etc. just scream in silent anguish about how the networks are promoting their show?

Potter Zebby said...

That Ha! Ha! HA! HA! Ha! HA! Ha! ad may be dopey, but it was definitely drawn by the great, prolific Jack Davis.

Davis drew for Mad Magazine, a lot, but Davis drew for EVERYBODY-- Time Magazine, TV Guide, movie ads, TV ads, album covers, sports teams, comic books, comic strips, character designs, even U.S. stamps.

Jeannie said...

I was at the "Cheers" finale party inside the Bull & Finch pub in Boston. What a scene. I think I recall Wade Boggs walking his chicken-loving behind around the room with his latest wife or mistress, and the cast getting plowed before the "Tonight Show" live shot.

Andrew said...

@Jim: "At the reception, said son stood up to make the traditional speech, 'Well. Here we go again,' he began. I never heard what his new step-mother's response was."

Thanks for the laugh. That reminded me of Don Rickles's speech honoring Clint Eastwood, where he tells Eastwood's newest girlfriend, "Good luck!" and rolls his eyes.

Ken, that print ad with "Ha Ha Ha" is very funny, but not in the way the artists intended. Who comes up with that sort of thing? Was it a committee meeting?

Mark said...

CHEERS premiered my senior year of high school and I was hooked right away. It was definitely must-see TV for me right from the start. In the college dorm for season 2 and I let it be known that I was not to be disturbed Thursdays at 9 because I had important things to watch on tv.

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks Earl! That was fascinating. Probably tasted delicious, but Wow! The only thing missing was deep fat frying in lard.

Ken, was there a loss in enthusiasm when you got the ratings in? That first year is still the best, but I wonder how it affected the morale of the cast and crew.