Friday, December 01, 2017

Friday Questions

Don’t you find yourself at the beginning of every month saying “I can’t believe it’s ______________ already?” I do. Insert: December. Here are this week’s Friday Questions.

Poochie gets us started.

You talk a lot about plays on your blog. You talk a lot about Cheers (obviously). So maybe I missed it, but have you ever discussed Cheers: Live on Stage. It sounds like it came straight out of Diane Chamber's guest stint on Frasier. My mind is blown that such a thing exists. I'd love to see it, but apparently they canceled plans for a national tour and the reviews were mediocre, putting it kindly.

Can you comment on this? Had you seen it or read a script? What did you think about the show itself or even just the concept of a bunch of look a likes recreating snippets from Cheers? Were there royalties?

I thought it was a terrible idea.  Just a Paramount money-grab.  The TV characters are so ingrained in your mind that the best these actors could do would be to mimic their TV counterparts. I felt bad for the actors. They were in a complete no-win situation.

And none of the CHEERS writers were involved. What I understand they did was cobble together a story using sections from actual scripts from the first season. Now this really pissed me off. If they were using any of my dialogue or my storylines I should have been paid and given credit. I wasn't.

Understandably, when my agent asked for a copy of the script Paramount would not provide it.

I am not brokenhearted it's not going forward.  If you want to see CHEERS at its best, watch the TV show.

Edward asks:

You mentioned on one of your podcasts that while on MASH staff, you and David replicated an episode that already aired years earlier (unnecessary surgery). As a writer, I am sure you felt horrible from a creative perspective (and maybe there were WGA/plagiarism issues), but if you are the Exec Producer, is repeating a similar storyline that bad if its 4-5 seasons later and it involves different characters? There are many new viewers to the show that likely missed a few seasons or long-time viewers that missed a few episodes for whatever reason.

I feel it is bad to knowingly repeat yourself. And with the way people binge-watch today, it’s not five seasons later it’s two days later.

That said, I’m way more forgiving for shows that turned out 39 episodes a year instead of 22. We're talking the '50s and '60s.  And shows weren’t quickly in syndication back then so four or five years could go by before an early episode was ever shown again. Look at the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. There are a couple of episodes in its final season that are direct copies from episodes in their first. But like I said, they made almost twice as many episodes a year as we do now. I don’t know how they did it – especially the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW which was so well-written and smart.

From angel:

My question is in regard to the helicopter story lines on M*A*S*H. I have heard that it cost a lot of money to call in a helicopter. Were you restricted as to how many stories could involve the helicopter each season?

I never dealt with the budget. Our showrunner, Burt Metcalfe handled that. But we knew if there was an episode with a lot of production one week we needed a “bottle” show the next. A “bottle” show is one that is generally very contained and under budget. An example might be an episode that centers around a poker game in the Swamp or an all-night OR session.

But I don’t recall Burt ever telling us we couldn’t do something. He and the production staff were great at making things happen. And we did our part by balancing the expensive episodes with the inexpensive ones.

Terry has another MASH production question.

I'm watching the MASH episode "Point of View" right now and I was wondering if the way it was shot required the construction of any additional sets (e.g. putting walls where the 4th wall would normally be) or was it all done with camera angles?

Camera angles although mounting a camera in a helicopter was no easy feat and orchestrating that great shot where the patient sees everyone running up to the chopper pad and landing was pretty spectacular. I can never mention the POV episode without giving a lion’s share of the credit to director Charles Dubin. These were the days before hand-held cameras. He did a remarkable job of pulling off a potential technical nightmare.

What’s your Friday Question?


Anonymous said...

"Last episode of "Dobie Gillis" in 1963 virtually the same as the first episode in 1959.
Done better in 1959.

Diane D said...

As much as I love CHEERS, I knew I would not want to see someone else playing Sam and Diane. I lived near Chicago for a number of years and could have visited friends and relatives in the area during the play's run in that wonderful city, but I wasn't tempted for a minute. You just don't mess with perfection.

ScarletNumber said...

I find it amazing that for M*A*S*H seasons 1 through 8, the season finales were between February 24 and March 27. This is in spite of having between 24 and 26 episodes per year. That means some years they pretty much went straight through, maybe taking a break for Christmas.

Unknown said...

The MASH "unnecessary surgery" episodes:

Remember, MASH essentially was two separate series.

MASH 1.0 was seasons 1-3: Rogers and Stevenson, and mainly gag comedy.
MASH 2.0 was season 3 onward: Farrell and Morgan, the receding of Linville, and a more serious approach to stories.

The first "unnecessary surgery", with Leslie Nielsen, was done almost purely as a comedy: Nielsen hadn't yet done ZAZ, but he was directed to play his character as a vain buffoon.

The second one, with James Wainwright, was far more serious; Wainwright was played as genuinely dangerous, his ego serving as his excuse for horrendous behavior.

In version 1, Nielsen's sudden "illness" is just another MASH caper, with Hawk and Trap pulling another anti-Army scam.

In version 2, however, you added a complication: BJ objecting to the surgery scam, for moral reasons - you don't cut a guy open just because he's offensive.

This is one of those MASHes in which Hawkeye's self-righteousness came back to bite him on the ass. Alan Alda deserves some props for being willing to make himself the bad guy/fool on occasions like this.
Also, Mike Farrell's BJ was starting to assume the role of reluctant conscience for the MASHers (second only to Harry Morgan's Potter in this regard). Even in a "gang comedy", someone has to be the voice of reason, and Farrell pulled it off well.

One viewer's opinion, of course; your mileage may differ.

Cat said...

I did hear the actor playing Sam had Ted's line delivery down to a T. Seemed like a nice tribute.

Curt Alliaume said...

There wasn't any surgery performed on Leslie Nielsen's character in his episode (The Ringbanger); Hawkeye and Trapper used tricks to convince Nielsen's character he was losing his mind. Video is here:

White Gold was the first episode with unnecessary surgery, toward the end of Season 3. But given the victim of surgery was Colonel Flagg, it seemed perhaps a bit less unnecessary.

Some of the writeups of Preventative Medicine note that Mike Farrell had a problem with performing unnecessary surgery, so the script was adjusted to take his point of view into account.

Jim said...

Years ago the British magazine The Spectator employed one Jeffrey Bernard, a lifelong drunk and Damon Runyon style hustler, to write a weekly column entitled Low Life. As Bernard's drinking ground had been London's Soho he had shared a glass or two with many well known names which added a certain glamour to his columns. He could however be a bit unreliable, and the phrase The Spectator used to use when he hadn't quite got round to delivering his column before publication time, "Jeffrey Bernard is unwell", became widely known far beyond the macazine's usual readership. But nothing beats the apology that was printed one week: "Jeffrey Bernard's column is not present this week due to the remarkable similarity it bears to last week's"

Mike Bloodworth said...

Friday Question: About "Friday Questions." I'm sure that most of the questions I would want to ask have already been answered in previous blogs and/or F.Q.'s (Including this question) What is the easiest way to access your archives? As I've said before I've only been reading your blog for a short time. There must be a gold mine of information I've missed.

Stephen Robinson said...

The CHEERS on stage debacle is depressing because I feel like it *could* be done right -- pay the writers to fully adapt their work to the stage as an obvious start and let the actors be free to interpret the characters without behaving like a tribute band at a bad dive bar.

I know it's difficult because after a point, the writers start to craft scripts with the actors in mind. "Room Service" from FRASIER is brilliant but I'd imagine Ken worked on it with Kelsey, David, and Bebe in mind.

MikeN said...

David Kelley has reused storylines.
The Practice and Boston Legal, and presumably Picket Fences, have the following:

Rapist found not guilty because lawyer attacks the victim's dress.
Lawyer later goes shopping and has pleasant conversation with store clerk.
Realizes that the clerk is the rape victim, and now feels horrible.

Murder trial, sympathetic murderer.
Judge calls in lawyers, says jury asked if they can convict on manslaughter, which tells me they don't want to find him guilty, but they don't want to let him go either. So the question is who will blink first. Close up on lawyer's steel gaze.

benson said...

Yes, but Ken hit it on the head. "Cash Grab".

I understand when times are crappy like they are now, nostalgia becomes king, but did we not learn anything from NBC's attempt to reboot Casablanca into a series with David Soul?

Frank Beans said...

I don't want to besmirch my (fake) name, or harm anyone's day for that matter, but I dare you to click on this link to "Cheers - Live On Stage!"

Yeah, this should've been shot, alright. As is in, taken behind the barn.

DwWashburn said...

Repeating and rewriting plot lines from early episodes has been done since television began. I remember Don Adams refusing to do a show in the final year because he had "done it before". So Adams was written out and Bill Dana was paired with Barbara Feldon for the episode.

Easy access to complete series today brings up "problems" that are not really problems at all. For example, the Van Dyke show would constantly bring back character actors to play different characters. No one really thought much about it but today people would consider that to be an inconsistency. Heck, I remember that the Monkees had a character actor in their second season (Monte Landis) who appeared in seven episodes and never repeated a character. And it is so easy with home entertainment access to tag reused plotlines.

cd1515 said...

Got an admittedly strange Friday Question:
We’ve seen in many moves and TV shows where a minor character is introduced, a very unattractive woman and the whole joke is she’s hideously ugly, no one would ever want her and the guys laugh at her ugliness (Woody in the bachelor auction on Cheers is an example).

My question is: what actresses would audition for these parts, and how many?
What woman thinks to herself “they’re looking for a hideously ugly woman to make fun of——I’d be PERFECT for that!”
Wouldn’t they be almost embarrassed to actually GET the role?
“Gee, of all the hideously ugly women who tried out, I was the ugliest!”

Diane D. said...

Similar to cd1515's question: there is an opening for an episode of CHEERS where 2 couples are in the bar waiting for a table at Melville's. Coach gets a call that a table is ready for the Andersons. Coach calls out, "Table ready for the Andersons!" But that turns out to be the name of both couples. Coach tells Melville's the problem, and asks which Anderson couple the table is for. He then says, "I'm sorry, that was a mistake, the table is for the Blubber Butts." He then announces, "Table ready for the Blubber Butts!" The very chubby couple then heads upstairs. It was very funny, but I wondered the same thing---how do you get actors for those parts?

VP81955 said...

There's a difference between "hideously ugly" and truly repulsive. Many character actresses make a good living out of not playing glamour roles. If it's a part with personality, she'll laugh all the way to residuals.

Douglas Trapasso said...

I kind of wish there were a few more of these in the MASH canon. I would have loved, just once, for Frank Burns to override Hawkeye on a medical call . . . and later shown to be right.

cadavra said...

Benson: They REALLY didn't learn anything with "Casablanca," as they'd tried it once before in the 1950s with Charles McGraw!

Funny you should mention recycling in the early days. I've been revisiting 77 SUNSET STRIP, and I couldn't help but notice how many of the episodes from the fifth and final "official" season were remakes of earlier episodes. (And that's not including the ones made during the 1960 writers' strike.) They tended to reuse actors as well; Richard Long played a murderer in one episode, and then played another, different one a month later. Did they think we'd not notice? Apparently they were right.

Wally said...

They don't get the parts because they're the 'ugliest'. They get the parts because they're the best for the part. Sure, you'll see an 'unorthodox' line up for casting but at the end of the day, it's who made them laugh, cry, think of new lines which leads to that break. See Allyce Beasley on "Cheers", Episode 5. I believe the part of Coach's Daughter was described as 'homely' in the script in the final cut (I may be wrong). The actress is far from homely. Stereotypically beautiful? No. But, she came in and nailed it, I'm sure. And, if you doubt that, see "Moonlighting", episodes 1-66.

"Beautiful", "ugly", whatever. You have to stand out in some way, big or small.

Side note: I've heard that TJ Miller tripped when coming into the Cloverfield audition. On purpose? Accidental? Who knows. He made them laugh. He had them at the trip.

Unknown said...


Re 77 Sunset Strip and "repurposing":
Did Warner Bros "think we'd not notice"?
WB knew we would notice.
In fact, they were counting on it.

77SS - in fact all of WB's western and detective series - was 'B' moviemaking, like our parents used to go to when they were kids.
Back then, TV was one long Saturday matinee. The familiar character faces turning up week after week in different shows - spotting them was part of the fun.
That's why TV Guide ran cast lists for all the shows. When I was a kid, I'd go through the Guide each week to see who was playing where.

It was in 77SS's first season when Richard Long, who'd just landed at WB after years as a contractee at Universal, did his killer twofer - both of which were "digest" remakes of Hitchcock's Warner features (Strangers On A Train and Dial M For Murder in that order).
In both cases, all the different writers who'd worked on the features received full screen credit, so how could we not have known?
Of course, Richard Long moved his Bourbon Street Beat character over to 77SS in the third season - and of course we all noticed.
That was the Warners Way - and the Revue Way, and the Screen Gems Way, and the Ziv Way, and everybody else who was filming TV in the '50s and '60s (and '70s, comes to that).

The emergence of the Continuity Dweeb was some way off.

Side note: when they get around to the early episodes of Law & Order again, look for an early show (second year, I think) in which the slick defense lawyer is played by -
- drumroll, please -
- Jerry Orbach.
... and you know, I don't believe anybody minded? ...

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Speaking of sitcoms recycling situations, I was watching the B&W episodes of My Three Sons, for the first time, and I couldn't believe how many times they recycled storylines. The ones most repeated involved Asian People discovering America, or the boys discovering Asian culture. Most of these stories involved young women of course.

Andy Rose said...

@Mike Doran: I'm convinced there's not a single working New York actor who has not appeared as at least three different characters in the L&O-iverse.

As far as actors' appearances are concerned, in a town full of beautiful people, those with a different sort of look stand out and can often find a lot of work. Supposedly the busiest background performer (a.k.a. extra) in Hollywood is Jesse Heiman. When I did a little background work during some professional down time in Atlanta, the man who got the most bookings locally was a guy named William Tokarsky. I'll let you Google both those names to figure out why they got so much work.

Earl Boebert said...

Re: recycling in the early days: many of the later Perry Masons were recycled from earlier shows.

Supposedly somebody is working on a "reboot" that is more true to the books (and therefore noirish) than the TV series.

Anonymous said...

Similar to the "ugly" casting call - If an actress (or occasionally actor) is only being hired to be the eye candy, is that what the casting sheet says - "34C with great legs and slim belly. Must be willing to be shown from all angles for lingering shots in a bikini?" Is it really that blatant? Or what about sweeps periods on a borderline show? If Friends was struggling in the ratings during the first couple years, would there have been a beach trip to put all of them in bathing suits? And how would you approach that with the main actors? Are contracts written so that they have no choice? And especially now, does a producer risk harassment claims by just asking for it.
Follow up - have you ever been involved in a situation where the network or a producer just said that a show you were involved in needed a beach/bedroom/shower scene for ratings?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Here's my Friday question:

Off the top of your head, what are your five favorite episodes of Fraiser?

Frederick Herman "Freddy" Jones said...


I read your post with great interest.

As a Friday Question, I'd like to ask about occasional political humor within sitcoms.

I read this blog post about it, and wanted to get you insight since it involved Cheers:
Cheers Is An Unexpected Political Time Machine

I think it would be a matter of good writing, but I'm not so sure. I know when you bash Trump often as a pun, stab, joke, funny aside or whatever, it seems to take me away from any point you are trying to make, and I look at it more as a way for you to bash Trump just because you dislike him or his politics.

So, is it possible to write a funny sitcom scene today using a political figure as a guest star (or in a cameo) without alienating half of the audience, or has the mere idea now become impossible due to it being too polarized?

ADmin said...

I read a small article about the writing environments preferred by Monty Python writers such as Eric Idle and John Cleese. Basically, what type of room they like to be in, lighting, distractions or lack thereof, napkins, notebooks, typewriters, compooters, etc. It's probably been asked but what's your ideal environment? Has it changed over the years?

Bill said...

Watching a multi-camera sitcom where they do the classic(/tired) joke along the lines of "I don't care what you say, I am never, ever, EVER wearing a chicken suit" and then they cut to him wearing a chicken suit. How do you do something like that for the live audience? It's not even remotely funny if there's a 15 minute break in the middle for costume changes. Do you pre-tape one of the parts?