Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Questions

Friday Questions anyone?

Unknown starts us off with a timely one.

Ken for non-Americans like me why do they call your baseball competition a world series?

Because people here think America IS the world.

Actually, when the term was coined a few centuries ago America was pretty much the only country playing organized baseball so technically the term applied. And now it’s just a “thing.”

Matt wonders:

Sometimes there are episodes where an established cast character isn't in the episode/script. For example, "The Late Captain Pierce" from 1975. Radar isn't in the episode even though it would be four more seasons before he left.

Are these absentees scheduled in advance? Or is it a "last minute" thing where a script had to be adjusted/rewritten to accommodate?

It depends on the actor’s contract. Sometimes an actor will sign a deal for say 10 out of 13 but included is the stipulation that their credit appear in every episode.

For the episode you mentioned, Gary Burghoff might have been sick and just written out that week.

In the first year of CHEERS, three days into rehearsal for an episode Nick Colasanto went into the hospital with pleurisy. So we worked all night writing him out of the episode. Then came the weekend and on Monday (day four) he was back. So we had to write him back in. That was a fun week.

From Mike Bloodworth:

The 9/28 episode of The Orville was a complete rip-off of the Star Trek:TOS episode, "For The World is Hollow..." Now, they're not the first sci-fi show to steal from S.T. and they won't be the last. And other shows seem to shamelessly steal plot lines and jokes from movies and other series. As it says in Ecclesiastes, "...there is no new thing under the Sun." So, what is your opinion about shows that use other writers' material? Other than an obvious homage. Have you ever "borrowed" jokes or story lines from other shows. And how do they not get sued for plagiarism?

“Homages” get into murky area, at least for me. Unless it is CLEARLY a nod to a specific work there is the danger that the new work is lifted. How do you achieve that clarity? Generally you have to do something meta that lets the audience know that you know you’re treading on someone else’s property.

In terms of similar story areas, this too is a gray area. Often two shows will unknowingly hit upon a similar story. The showrunner of “Show A” sees a story on “Show B” that is close to the one he has airing next week. But both shows were filmed months before. It’s not like the showrunner from “Show A” says, “That’s great. Let’s do that,” gathers the staff, writes and films the show the next day and have it ready to air on Tuesday.

That said, on shows I’ve worked on, anytime we’re looking for stories, if someone pitches something and one of the writers says “They did something like that on (pick any show),” we automatically just throw it out. No discussion, no rationalizing. It’s tossed.

Let’s just say other showrunners don’t strictly adhere to that policy.

And finally, Carson Clark asks:

You've written before about a good writer does his or her best to service all of the main characters on a show. This made me wonder, was there pressure to write content for Moose, a.k.a. Eddie, on Frasier? Was he treated like a character or more like a prop?

Moose never counted lines.

We saw him as a character but tried to use him in a limited fashion and always conferred with his remarkable trainer, Matilda de Cagny (pictured above with Moose) to make sure whatever we asked was easily doable for Moose.

What’s your Friday Question?


Matt said...

The name World Series comes from the New York World newspaper sponsoring it.

tavm said...

Thanks, Matt, for satiating another of my various inquiries...

Dr Loser said...

'Fraid not, Matt. Snopes claims that this legend only started circulating in 1991 or so, and anyhow, the paper never sponsored the Red Sox/Pittsburgh series, or any following it.

Nor does the name imply the assumption of American dominance in 1903: after all, roughly half the assets in the US were owned by the British at the time. (This would change dramatically with WW1.) I quite like the idea of "The Baseball Fall Classic, Sponsored by The British Raj ..." but, alas, it was never to be.

Nope, it's just plain old boosterism. The American entertainment industry has always been supremely good at this, and god bless it for such a skill. If Barnum and Bailey could have the best circus in the world, I don't see why the NL and AL can't produce a world champ.

(As a comparison, consider soccer. The World Cup in 1930 was hosted and won by Uruguay -- nobody's idea of the best side in the world at the time. Only four teams from Europe took part: the not-quite-powerhouses France, Belgium, Romania and Yugoslavia. Amongst other notable absentees were England, Scotland, and Germany, any one of which would probably have won it.)

The soccer World Cup is an invention of FIFA and the perfidious French. The Baseball World Series, in comparison, at least stood up to its own logic. If only because practically nobody else played professional baseball at the time.

Anonymous said...

one of the two or three greatest episodes of the Dick Van Dyke Show (That's My Boy?) aired in late September 1963 featuring Rob believing he has the baby of what turns out to be a black couple (Greg Morris as dad).

There is an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock (The Lonely Hours) that aired March 1963 that featured a very similar episode during its story (altho not comedic). A couple searches for their baby and one of their leads turns out to be a black couple.
Seeing it, you have to wonder the DVD writers watched it and decided to turn it into a comedy episode.

Bill M. said...

Some additional information on the term "World Series."

From Wikipedia:

The series was promoted and referred to as "The Championship of the United States",[4][5] "World's Championship Series", or "World's Series" for short. In his book Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883, Simon Winchester mentions in passing that the World Series was named for the New York World newspaper,[6] but this view is disputed.[7]

From Snopes:

The New York World never had anything to do with the World Series, however, other than being one of the many newspapers to report the results. The modern World Series (like its predecessor series waged between National League and American Association teams from 1884-1890) was so named not because of any affiliation with a corporate sponsor, but because the winner was considered the “world’s champion” — the title was therefore simply a shortened form of the phrase “world’s championship series.”

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum concurs, a 1999 article noting of this claim that:

[O]thers have asked that question of the staff at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. in recent weeks. “There’s no evidence suggesting it was ever sponsored by the New York World newspaper,” said Hall of Fame researcher Eric Enders. When the World Series between the National and American leagues began in 1903, the owners borrowed the name from the world championship series held in the 1880s between the National League and the American Association. Enders concludes the name didn’t originate from the name of the long-defunct newspaper. It sounds like an urban myth.

Bob Sharp said...

Star Trek TOS wasn't above stealing material, either, or at least using material the script writer had heisted. The classic "Trouble with Tribbles" is largely lifted from Robert Heinlein's novel "The Rolling Stones." When the producers belatedly realized the tribbles were the same as Heinlein's Martian flat cats, they asked him for a waiver, which he granted, perhaps in part because he himself had lifted the gag(s) from Ellis Parker Butler's story "Pigs is Pigs."

Heinlein, who had never seen Star Trek at the time, and didn't even own a television, was less than pleased when the producers sent him the script, AFTER his waiver, and he saw how closely it tracked the scenes from his novel. He was even more pissed, when the script writer started selling "tribbles" at SciFi conventions -- which wasn't covered by the waiver. Still, he did nothing about it.

By Ken Levine said...

Re DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and the baby confusion episode -- that came from writer Bill Persky. Something similar happened to him.

Kendall said...

Speaking of ripping off ideas, what about when someone rips off the entire premise of a show, with a few minor adjustments? I watched Wisdom of the Crowd this weekend and it is exactly the same as Person of Interest, right down to the black detective secretly working with the protagonist. I know there was Bewitched/Jeannie and a slew of Friends rip-offs, but this seems so obvious it couldn't have gone unnoticed to everyone at the development level.

J Lee said...

Seth McFarlane's stealing from Season 3 of Star Trek TOS? At the very least, he could have stolen from Season 1 or even 2, when the plots were better. Is he going to steal the "Spock's Brain" episode next?

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John E. Williams said...

The plot of "The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" was a well-worn science fiction trope long before it reached STAR TREK. Arthur C. Clarke wrote the definitive version with his novel RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, and Harlan Ellison created an entire TV series around the concept (THE STARLOST -- Ellison's essay about his experience is a must-read for Ken Levine), but it had been kicking around as a plot idea for years.

Dr Loser said...

Fascinating about Heinlein and Tribbles -- I'd never heard that before. One more item to add to my list of cocktail party ice-breakers. Or probably SciFi con ice-breakers, really, since I've never been to a cocktail party. What do they do with the other bits of the cock?

Not sure what a sci-fi ice-breaker would be, though. "In space, nobody can hear Kate Winslet fall over the side?"

I suddenly feel the need to (mis)quote Heinlein to the effect that "Daphne Moon is a harsh mistress." Luckily that urge has just passed.

MikeN said...

The Orville is a parody of Star Trek, so it makes sense they would copy the plots.

Kendall, I also noticed the similarity, but found this show boring.

I'm Outraged! said...

Is this 'Peter' troll going to have one of his irrelevant ugly rants posted on every comments page?

Justin Piatt said...

What? Seth McFarlane stole from another show? I don't believe it! Not him!

(Sarcasm laid on fairly thick)

Peter said...

Not sure why my post was shown and then deleted, but I'll leave off posting on that subject again.

Thanks, Fred, but I'm not a troll.

Justin Piatt said...

I have a question, though maybe you've already answered it elsewhere. I've been going through Cheers again on Netflix, and absolutely love the way continued stories are re-capped by the show's characters, particularly when Cliff uses the opportunity to show his Florida pictures. How did that come about? Recaps on other shows are (especially now with DVR and streaming media) always boring and seem pointless -- were the writers thinking about avoiding "boring" or was it just something silly you felt like doing, episode to episode?

Hope that all makes sense. Also, I'm a big fan of NewsRadio, I was wondering what you thought of that show? I enjoyed it even after Phil Hartman sadly died (though I always thought instead of replacing him they should have had his part filled by a different guest star each week, as if the broadcaster kept getting fired).

DBenson said...

Another canine query: Early on Moose would sit and stare at Frasier, who made clear he didn't like it. And now and again he'd do things that obviously upset the human characters; presumably having done it before in rehearsals with the same result.

How does that work? Does he just block out and ignore Daphne's reaction when he fetches her bra, or Niles's when he savages the flour "baby"? Does he "get" when the humans are pretending to be angry or giving commands? Does he relate to the actors at all when they're out of character?

I recall an interview with an actress who appeared in one of the "Beethoven" movies. In one scene she had to yell abuse at a usually happy and friendly dog. The dog skulked off miserably, evidently thinking the actress was really mad at her. Was this sort of thing ever an issue with Moose?

John Nixon said...

It's obvious that The Orville is similar to Star Trek but I kinda like it. I think it's fun to watch and quirky and feel that it's about time somebody came up with a show that's fairly simple and entertaining with lots of tongue-in-cheek humor that doesn't take itself too seriously. On one week's show they wound up as an exhibit in a zoo....I remember that being an episode of Twilight Zone.

Personally I don't mind if writers re-use stories from the past. If the stories are good then why let them just be buried, never to be heard or seen again? But, yes, there should be some sort of reference in the credits to the original story when one has been used as an influence. Or, in light of the nature of this show, maybe they could have written it into the script. Something like...curtains open on the new exhibit and a zoo patron says 'wow, this is like the Twilight Zone'.

Sean MacDonald said...

Here's a question:

How do you feel about otherwise grounded TV shows having episodes where suddenly magic is real?

One example (of a not particularly grounded show) is Gilligan's Island, wherein the main characters themselves generally don't have access to magic but instead have to rely on the Professor's knowledge of science. However, occasional episodes will involve magical items having real effects, which somewhat makes the Professor seem like a fool. To me, this undercuts the character quite a bit, which I don't like. And, I know, the science on the show is not exactly super-realistic but it still feels weird to me.

But a better example is M*A*S*H. The show only really works because of the realism, with the doctors using humor to keep themselves sane while stuck in one of the worst places to have to work. But in two episodes, magic is real. One episode involves the camp being cursed and eventually the curse is undone by a Korean character using his particular style of magic to remove the curse. In another episode, a ghost is real. The ghost talks to a delirious Klinger who remembers the conversation with the ghost after he recovers from his fever, so we know the ghost's adventures are actually real.

This always seemed wrong to me, that magic would be real in another wise grounded show. It's like if on Law and Order, the lawyers pulled out magic wands to determine the guilt or innocence of a suspect. It just goes against the grain. But I think others have different views.

Tom Galloway said...

Let's go further back; the plot of a generation ship whose crew forgets it is one goes back to at least, oddly enough, Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky.

With respect to Tribbles, as I recall Heinlein's OK included that flatcats were preceded by guinea pigs in Pigs is Pigs, a 1905 story by Ellis Parker Butler.

And the Heinleins and David Gerrold were on good enough terms decades after Tribbles that Virginia Heinlein gave Gerrold their cat when living arrangements changed such that she couldn't keep it.

Bob B. said...

"World Series" is probably more meaningful now than ever. American baseball is known the world over as the highest quality baseball. And now nearly every team has players from various nationalities who have migrated here to play with the best.

Unknown said...

In the early Teens, when Ring Lardner was writing baseball for the Chicago Tribune, he took to referring to the post-season championship as "the World's Serious".
It never quite caught on ...

Here and There said...

A lot of shows use bits, jokes and asides from "Frasier"; sometimes a variation thereof, and other times a bit more blatant or noticeable.

It doesn't necessarily detract from those shows. I often enjoy pointing out to friends that a situation or setup and punchline was lifted from an episode of "Frasier".

Conversely, an episode of "Frasier" borrowed a bit from "I Love Lucy" where the characters translated a conversation between three people who spoke three different languages. It is a testament to the skills of the cast of "Frasier", that they pulled it off so seamlessly with similar comedic effect.

A Courageous Old Astronaut said...

Friday Question. Do you feel that maybe the audience is losing out on sufficiently different and possibly better treatments of a similar premise by summarily discarding a premise if someone did something similar already? The one premise I see over and over again is, "I told this childhood friend of mine that I'm the boss, married, a celebrity, etc., when I'm really not, and I want you to help me keep up the ruse when he visits next week." I have seen vastly better treatments of that premise in some places than others - in fact, the Frasier treatment of a similar premise when Daphne's old boyfriend visited and Niles had to pretend they were married is one of the funniest episodes.

Beautiful Screamer said...

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to old Cheers episodes in reruns, and I could just swear that the theme song sounds different in the past year, like it was re-recorded to sound like the original, but isn't a perfect match. (Maybe to save money?) Am I dreaming?

Ssshhh, I'm Thinking said...

I certainly can't argue with the results, but, still, I have never understood the whole thing I seem to recall being mentioned where the writing room on Frasier was a group of people sitting in silence until someone had something stellar to share. Isn't some of the best comedy written by starting with a not-great idea and tweaking or building on it, or realizing an entirely different idea that was triggered by the weak idea?

DBenson said...

According to legend, gagmen working on a silent Laurel & Hardy short were trying to come up with an ending. One gagman, getting no reaction to his idea, lamely suggested a pie in the face as a close. Everybody heckled him, since the custard pie was already a despised cliche. Somehow, this led to the idea of a pie fight so big it would be the last word. The result was "The Battle of the Century"; well worth looking up.

Greg Ehrbar said...

There was an episode of "I Dream of Jeannie" in which Jeannie thought Major Nelson was overstressed, so she made every day repeat so it was always Sunday. It was probably done before, but Groundhog Day, Christmas Every Day, Last Day of Summer, and now Happy Death Day all have the same premise with variations.

This was likely not a new premise, but just a little nod to Jeannie, if you please.

thirteen said...

Tom Galloway is right about Heinlein's "Orphans of the Sky" predating Trek's "For the World Is Hollow ... ". In fact, the first section of "Orphans" dates from 1941, and it still isn't the first sf story about a multi-generational ship whose passengers have forgotten their origins.

As far as I know, from Virginia Heinlein, her husband Robert never objected to the merchandising of tribbles. What was important to Heinlein was courtesy, and David Gerrold had demonstrated that by asking Robert for his permission (however belatedly) to use tribbles in Trek. Similarly, when Diane Duane wrote an early video game for Trek, she asked Robert for permission to name one of the ships the USS Robert A. Heinlein. He was very agreeable.

Shaun S said...

Bob B: What are you talking about, world series means teams from around the world otherwise it's just an American league. I've never meant a single person in my country who has ever spoken to me about baseball except for "Field of Dreams" or "Who's on first" There are probably some people that play it but I've never met any. Cricket is truly an international competition played amongst different countries. I think that the first question that Ken gave is the real reason, I've literally had Americans say to me that America is the world.

Bart said...

Friday question -- What do you do when you have an actor who requests a scene in which they sing? I'm thinking of the episode of Halt and Catch Fire, where, for no real plot reason, Boz (played by Toby Huss) sings Frank Sinatra. Wasn't really a part of the story, and could be done without. I'm guessing the actor asked for it? Has this happened to you?

Unknown said...

In re "Ripping Off":

I'm sure that Ken and his contemporaries would know the term "haircutting": i.e., reusing, in whole or in part, a story or elements therein from an older show in your newer show.
One example, to serve for many:
Circa 1962, Naked City did a story in which a stoolie (played by Frank Gorshin), on the run from The Mob, is trying to get out of NYC. He spends the whole show playing phone tag with Paul Burke; ultimately, he doesn't make it ...
A dozen or so years later, Police Woman did a story in which a "confidential informant" (played by Patty Duke), on the run from The Outfit, is trying to get out of LA. She spends the whole show playing phone tag with Angie Dickinson; ultimately ...
Several years back, at a time when MeTV was rerunning both these series, I had the chance to see these two shows in close proximity.
Naked City and Police Woman were both owned by Columbia Pictures TV.
The credited screenwriter of the Naked City also received credit on the Police Woman, sharing with one of PW's regular writers (I'm guessing that it wasn't a "one-on-one" collaboration, but all concerned got paid).
As noted above, it happens all the time, especially in weekly TV; that's why it has a name - giving scripts a "haircut".
Since Seth McFarlane is doing a genre parody, reusing basic storylines is practically a given. If someone who did a certain plot earlier wants a payment, more than likely he's getting it.

Mike said...

@Shaun S: Cricket was the most popular game in America until circa the Civil War, when the easier-to-play-but-inferior baseball took over. The colonials got upset at always losing to touring English sides. In England, baseball is known as rounders.

Pseudonym said...

Sean MacDonald: "How do you feel about otherwise grounded TV shows having episodes where suddenly magic is real?"

That one episode of DARIA bugs me to this day.

MellaBlue said...

This is one you've maybe answered before, but I've not seen it.....

How did you handle the phone calls on Frasier? Did you write the calls with specific people in mind? Cast people after the calls were made? And how did you recruit those fabulous callers? Did you ask them or did they ask you?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Seth McFarlane borrowing other people's stories: There's an episode of FAMILY GUY that is an actual, official adaptation of the Richard Matheson story "The Splendid Source".
I give McFarlane credit for, er, giving credit... but I can't help but wonder what Matheson would have thought.

Hank Gillette said...

Calling the U.S. baseball championship “The World Series” is nothing compared to calling the winner of a beauty contest limited to inhabitants of earth “Miss Universe”.

msdemos said...


In the first year of CHEERS, three days into rehearsal for an episode Nick Colasanto went into the hospital with pleurisy. So we worked all night writing him out of the episode. Then came the weekend and on Monday (day four) he was back. So we had to write him back in. That was a fun week.

Wait.......why would you have to write Mr. Colasanto "back in" to the episode?? Wouldn't you just automatically have gone back to the original script he was planning on being in, in the first place ??