Friday, December 22, 2017

Friday Questions

Better late than never, here are this week’s FQ’s.

Grant Woolsey gets us into the season:

Hi Ken- Friday Question here. What's your take on the mini-controversy over airing a 21-minute FROZEN short (originally meant for TV) in front of Pixar's COCO last month? It seemed to be done to shore up interest for a project in which Disney lacked faith (particularly after early criticism that COCO was too similar to THE BOOK OF LIFE), but people were quite upset at the "short" film's length (adding about a half an hour to a movie that already had a bunch of previews), the obvious "cash-grab" (Buy the dolls with new dresses! Buy the Olaf plush! Buy the new album!), and tacking on a love letter to Nordic countries to a movie celebrating an entirely different culture.

The people of Mexico were quite pissed and got the short pulled, and Disney's doing the same everywhere else after negative reviews. I found the short cute, sweet and funny, but I agree that the length is pushing it, especially for a glorified commercial (though you'll be happy to hear Idina Menzel does not power-belting). How would you react if someone shoved the "Current Hot Thing" in front of a production of YOURS?

That does seem a little long for a short, but if it was real good what’s the difference?

I have to say that when I go to see a new Disney animated film or new Pixar film and the short comes on my kneejerk reaction is “Oh shit. I’ve got to sit through this?” Sometimes I’m pleased with the result, but often I could do without them. The messages I get are (1) the movie is short and we have to fill the time, or (2) we want to win an Oscar.

But remember, I’m hardly the target audience.

Mike Bloodworth asks:

When a show stays on way too long who (whom?) is responsible? Is it ratings based? i.e. network execs thinking, "As long as its making money..." Is it the creators/writers? Are they too close to the project to see things objectively and think they can "FIX" it? Is it the cast, crew, unions, etc.? In other words, is it purely mercenary or are there other reasons?

Well for sure the network wants to keep the show on the air as long as possible. Hit shows are way too hard to come by.  And ironically, once a show becomes a smash hit, their ratings are often highest the years their quality is the lowest. 

Producers try to get as many episodes under their belt for syndication possibilities later. In general, no one wants to kill the golden goose.

Many times the original showrunners step back after several years so the quality can suffer (although in some cases the new writers are better than the showrunners and the quality improves).

Also, you just run out of stories over time.

It’s been my experience that shows generally end when the star or cast decides enough is enough.

Many long-running series tend to go out on fumes. But FRASIER and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND are, in my mind, two exceptions. Their final seasons were as good as their best years, which is truly remarkable.

The Bumble Bee Pendant queries:

Recently on the Big Bang Theory there was a storyline involving Bitcoins. The main characters said they had some wanted to sell them now that the price of Bitcoin had reached $5,000 each.
The same day the episode aired, Bitcoin had been in the news because it had passed the $10,000 mark. Now, Bitcoin hit another milestone and it's trading at $15,000.

Is it a mistake for a script to put in a specific dollar amount for a real item as things change? Whether it's Bitcoin or saying they had shares of General Electric or that gas is $2.55 a gallon, would you avoid specifically defining an amount that could change rapidly?

No, because the audience understands that the show that’s airing is not necessarily taking place this very day.

If you’re paying attention to that detail then you probably are not invested in the story itself. And that is a bigger problem to producers than specific dollar amounts.

And finally, from cd1515:

Could some of the doctor/nurse banter during MASH be considered sexual harassment today?

Would you have to be more careful writing stuff like that now?

I suppose it would, but remember, this show is set in the 1950’s. There was a very different sensibility back then. So it’s not fair to judge the doctors’ behavior based on today’s standards.

If I were writing it today I might back off a little but not much.  We tried to stay true to the era.  

Happy holidays. Check out my Christmas-themed podcast. Click on the big gold arrow under my masthead.   Ho ho ho and all.


tavm said...

The phrase "Jump the Shark" originated when someone noticed the quality in "Happy Days" really started to go down when Fonzie literally did that in a sweeps stunt Hollywood ep. But on the now-defunct JTS site itself, many commenters-and I consider myself among them-felt that the quality really went down when Ron Howard left to devote himself to movie directing. It created a dearth of relatable characters on the show and I felt the Joanie-Chachi romance was soooo contrived. But since "HD" was ABC's biggest hit at the time, the network kept it on past it's "sell by" date...

Phil said...

Ken, Matt Damon spoke some non-sense (as always) and boy is the world angry. There is a petition out, to kick him out of the latest Ocean's Crap movie. 20,000 already signed.

You think they will replace him? Should they replace him? Isn't this a mob?

People kicking Harvey is right. But this guy just said something. Yes, he is moron. But a petition with 20,000 signatures!!!???

And for a good measure, his ex Minnie Driver too took a swing at him 😂. Deserves it, I guess.

P.S. Anyone out there, who sees these Ocean's crap movies? I don't 😛.

Graham Powell said...

Hah, talk about timely - Bitcoin is way down today.

Dylan said...

You mentioned Frasier going out at the same level of quality as when it started and I agree. But I would like to hear your take on the 8th, 9th and 10th seasons. The show seemed to become too serious and someone decided that multiple "Fraiser is going through an existential crisis" episodes or "Niles is going to die from a heart attack" episodes would be funny stuff. It wasn't. I tend to skip over these seasons on Netflix and go from the 7th straight to the 11th.

Nina said...

Hi Ken,

I am a long time reader, but visit occasionally and go through all the blogs which I like.

My first question and its on lunch.

Lunch is always referred in Hollywood context. Hollywood Reporter prepares annual list of places to have lunch at Hollywood - the "IT" places for power players.

There are stories of power lunches and where one gets placed, talks of their status in Hollywood.

The long lunches running into hours where deals worth millions are closed.

Then the term "You will never eat Lunch in this town again" as a threat.

What's with Hollywood and lunches? Is it where all the decision making happens?

Please share any of your stories in this regard. I am very sure many readers who are part of Hollywood, too will chip in with their own in the comments section.

Thanks. I love your blogs. Thank you very much for the all the information, anecdotes, stories, reviews and entertainment over the years.

Andy Rose said...

I recently saw a M*A*S*H episode from the final season where the main plot is basically that Nurse Kellye (the slightly full-figured Hawaiian nurse) is offended that Hawkeye doesn’t constantly hit on her the way he does the other nurses. While there’s something to be said for the way Nurse Kellye stands up for herself (the episode was co-written and directed by women), it plays a little awkwardly today.

Earl Boebert said...

I was around during the 50's. A very large percentage of male-initiated banter with females then (in media and elsewhere) would be considered sexual harassment today. Most casual references to minorities would also be considered deeply offensive. A couple of examples from the top of my head: in most record stores in the SF Bay Area, R&B records were cataloged under "Race Music." The afternoon R&B show on KWBR was called the "Sepia Serenade." And so forth. Anybody who did a true to the period dialog of a day on the streets in the 1950's would probably get twitter-bombed today. Crank it up a notch for the military and those characters in M*A*S*H would have been considered a bunch of --- well, you get it.

Wayne said...

How come you don't like the Dick Van Dyke Show in color, which is tonight Friday on CBS at 9? Mary Tyler Moore is even more beautiful. And Carl Reiner too.

By Ken Levine said...


Good suggestion. That might even be a topic for an upcoming podcast episode. Thanks.

ScarletNumber said...

Re: Bumble Bee Pendant

Not that TBBT shouldn't have put a specific dollar amount in the episode, but it definitely got my attention that the story put Bitcoin at $5000 on the very same day that it hit $10000.

Nina said...

Thanks a lot Ken :)

Looking forward to it.

Kosmo13 said...

If Matt Damon does get edited out of Ocean's Eight, they could re-film his scenes with Kevin Spacey playing Damon's role.

Mike Schryver said...

Re: the Matt Damon petition -- I expect much of the support for that is coming from right-wingers who think they can harm someone they think is a "liberal". The petition is being publicized heavily on right-wing sites. I think it would be a mistake to assume all the support for the petition is sincere.

Dale said...

Andy Rose, your comment about Nurse Kellye reminds me of when I was 17, and horn-dogging after the other male cashiers and baggers in the supermarket where I worked. This one male bagger came to me one day and asked if I was interested in him (he was one of the few baggers that didn't strike my fancy). I knew him to be a little luckless with the girls, and I asked if he thought he was interested in guys. He said he wasn't. I frowned, uneasily, and left it at that. I've always thought about that bagger being equivocal to Nurse Kellye--I don't think either one of them was really interested in me or Hawkeye, but I guess it's important to fit in and feel noticed, even if you ultimately don't want it. I guess me and that bagger both regretted me being a selective whore, just at different points in our lives.

Anonymous said...

Thought you might enjoy this article by Gail Abrams from the LA Times. She writes about being a comedy writer (TV) in a male dominated world. She worked on Frasier and many other shows so I thought you might know her.

"The unspoken rules of a female comedy writer who survived a male world"

Anonymous said...

Sorry, here it is:

Unknown said...

As old as I am, I'm thinking that I'll yet live to see Hard-Line Political Partisanship (both Left and Right Wings) officially recognized as a manifestation of mental illness.

To all those whose stances mean All or Nothing:
Get used to Nothing ...
... because nobody ever got All.

cadavra said...

It's important to remember that legendary comedians like Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, the Three Stooges, et al, worked mostly in the field of two-reel comedies--which run about 20 minutes. I'll wager the problem with OLAF isn't so much the length per se but that no one wants to spend that much time with such a lame character. I haven't seen COCO yet, but I'm glad that when I do go I won't have to suffer through the short.

Regarding mentioning money: Whenever I see DOUBLE INDEMNITY in a theatre, there's always a big laugh when MacMurray approaches Stanwyck's house and says admiringly, "I figure that place set someone back 30,000 bucks!"

Bob B. said...

R/E the comment about Disney "the obvious 'cash grab'" -- this should be the motto of Disney and should appear below the Magic Castle in their logo. On an episode of the Simpsons, the children go on a field trip to a historical re-enactment that used to be for free but now charges. When the principal challenges this policy he is directed to a sign that says "Diz-Nee Historical Park, Sorry but there's profit to be made".

R/E shows staying on too long -- I cannot watch seasons eight to eleven of MASH. There might be one or two good episodes there but the vast majority are embarassing.

R/E quoting prices on shows -- Most shows handle this one of two ways 1) one of the characters will whisper a price into the ear of another character (What did you pay for that Manhattan apartment? Oh my word, did you get screwed!) or 2) they write it on a piece of paper and let the other character read it (You have absolutely no scruples, Mr Trump and I refuse to work for you (paper is delivered) So I start on Monday?)

Anonymous said...

The coiner of the phrase "Jump The Shark" once noted that he didn't actually intend it to mean "the point when a long-running show stopped being good" so much as "the point when a show exhausted it's original premise" (in that case, the point when HAPPY DAYS gave up being a show about Life In The 1950s and started jumping on modern attitudes and trends-like referencing the contemporary hit JAWS- with the occasional half-hearted 1950s reference thrown in).
By this standard, there are shows that "jumped the shark" and remained good or even re-invigorated themselves (CHEERS being an obvious example)

Patrick said...

I think you might have missed the REAL point of the question about BBT and the Bitcoin comment. That shows target audience (nerds) and the nerd characters know EXACTLY how much Bitcoin is worth. If that comment was on Modern Family then yea its probably not going to be as noticeable but on a show like BBT it stands out.

James S said...

"Many long-running series tend to go out on fumes. But FRASIER and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND are, in my mind, two exceptions. Their final seasons were as good as their best years, which is truly remarkable."
Ken Levine
Just so true thanks to some really good scripts and talented sitcom actors that could really bring them to life.

Pity the last season of Frasier was impaired by the not so funny Ronee Lawrence character being introduced as the romantic match for dad Martin Crane. Very strange match that one. Then impaired again by the idiotic, irritating and unfunny Simon Moon character being included again in that last season. Sadly he was not run over by a bus. I bet the talented Anthony laPaglia leaves that gig off his resume.

Still, Frasier is perhaps the best and highest quality sitcom to come out of Hollywood for decades IMHO and could well have run one more successful season if they had not wanted to wind it up at eleven. 263 episodes is a pretty staggering body of work.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Re the MASH thing: I've often thought that although lots of people like period drama, today's 1950s and 1960s shows *also* give the group who liked it better when women had less independence and status something to watch where they feel at home.

As for FRASIER, I know the writers couldn't have kept Niles pining for Daphne forever, but many people seem to feel that the show lost something when they got married.


Buttermilk Sky said...

A propos MASH, we have to remember that cultural artifacts belong to their own time and not judge everything by our lofty standards (sarcasm) and present-day obsessions. Or else we'll have synopses like: CASABLANCA (1941) -- a powerful man (Claude Rains) demands sex from desperate women in return for exit visas. With Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Greg Ehrbar said...

"Olaf's Frozen Adventure" ran on ABC last week and was a totally different experience than it was in the theater. It was faster paced, much funnier and very elaborate for TV, whereas on the screen it seemed longer, sillier and very overblown for such a simple story. Yet it was the exact same film. People on social media took some really nasty shots at it, which was sad because the creative people who actually made the film itself were tasked with making a TV special and delivered exactly that and then some. I'm sure they didn't expect the often cruel backlash to their work. Nobody does.

What might have been better for all concerned would have been prior information. Nowadays, when you sit down to see a movie and a short begins first, you expect it to end in a few minutes. Featurettes run longer, usually about 22 minutes. But featurettes are also usually part of the package you came to see, an expected bonus you knew about through extensive prior marketing and announcements. I didn't know about this film myself until I saw the soundtrack on amazon, and I keep track of these things (my bad). In the past, any Disney featurette was a welcome thing to audiences, an added value for the purchase of tickets, especially for an entire family, but it was never a lengthy surprise like this. Past featurettes were sold as part of the movie advertising or even was a campaign in itself, like Mickey's Christmas Carol or the Winnie the Pooh films.

Add to that the overexposure of the Frozen franchise that irritates some people and you get a double whammy, but even in those cases, if the moviegoers went in knowing what to expect, it would not have had the reaction that made such headlines.

"Coco," which is outstanding and not to be missed by the way, is preceded in theaters by a quick message by its producer and directors. Maybe the same might have been done for the Olaf film -- mentioning the running time -- and would have avoided a lot of the kerfuffle.

DBenson said...

Historically, old Disney animated features would run from about 90 minutes to not much over an hour ("Saludos Amigos" was well under 60 minutes). While expense was obviously a main driver, there was very serious concern over how long an audience could look at a cartoon (Starting with "Snow White", a huge amount of time and effort went into developing color palettes that were easy on the eyes). Once they had more control over distribution they tended to package them with "featurettes" that ran 20-40 minutes to deliver perceived money's worth. The featurettes were usually live-action True Life Adventures.

Pixar's main rationale was certainly to chase Oscars, but also to show off ideas and capabilities, and let different staffers take the lead on non-tentpole projects. You can argue that they also kind of acclimate audiences into a CGI world that flirts with the uncanny valley. It's not necessary to pad program length any more, since Pixar films tend to run as long or longer than other features.

Jabroniville said...

Thanks for answering my Frozen question, Ken! Sorry I was so late reading it.

Jabroniville said...

Yeah, I really like the short, so I found it unfortunate that it was so poorly received. Idina Menzel posted about it on her Facebook, and half the comments were snark about it.

Kind of a rare marketing mistake by Disney. I hear the dolls/toys aren't even doing that well. FROZEN 2 will probably still make a billion, of course.

Brian said...

Hi Ken. I have a Friday question:
As a kid I remember station sign on and especially sign offs. These were back when the stations (at least in my neck of the woods) didn't broadcast 24/7. What are your memories of these in television / radio and what do you think they would be like today? I remember stations playing the Star Spangled Banner and the Lords Prayer. Hard to imagine them airing the Lord's prayer today. Hard to even imagine a non 24/7 station for that matter.

McAlvie said...

Interesting about the 'short' airing before the movie. In ye olden days they often ran cartoons before the main movie, which meant you had something to miss if you arrived a few minutes late. Now, I don't even bother arriving until 10 minutes after they claim the movie starts. Haven't missed more than opening credits since, and there's no line at concessions.

So I guess it could be considered a lead in like the cartoons were, but then again it does sound a bit jarring to have such a long lead in. People might forget what they were there to see. Probably a lead in was all that was intended - hey popular characters from a popular movie to set the mood for the new movie ... I don't see anything ugly about that. And the target audience was kids, not just latinos. That it was a movie that would resonate more with Latinos than most movies do, well you could say that about [insert ethnic group here] and several Disney/Pixar movies of recent years. Because a good movie is all kids care about. huh, they might be smarter than the rest of us.

What I would like to see is more animation that isn't aimed quite so blatantly at the tiny princess set. I love the empowering female roles, don't get me wrong. But there isn't much in recent years for little boys to get excited about, and they need role models, too. The Cars franchise was good, but why limit it to anthropomorphic characters?

Jabroniville said...

re: McAlvie
Yeah, COCO was targeted at more than Latinos, but it was still a film celebrating THEM, so sticking a Disney Princess Movie onto the front of it irked some people. Like... stick this in front of a GOOD DINOSAUR, and you wouldn't have anybody bitching. That movie looked like it sucked.

Stephen Robinson said...


So, there's talk of a MAD ABOUT YOU revival. This one surprises me bc its success was greatly influenced by its time slot, which I don't think is an advantage that's as profound as it once was -- if it even exists. What are your thoughts? With Hulu & DVR and assorted time shifting methods, do people really stick with a show because it's between two other more popular shows?

And speaking of revivals, a M*A*SH* revival is literally impossible (even if major cast members hadn't died) -- it is set in a specific time range (the Korean War) that even the original series stretched to make 11 seasons work. CHEERS would just be depressing -- a 70-yr-old Sam Malone? I want a happy ending for him that wouldn't work for bringing the series back in any recognizable form.

FRASIER comes to mind as being the most feasible as a revival (not saying it would be a good idea, of course, or that the actors would even consider it). Thoughts?

Beth said...

I have a question - who (if anyone) keeps track of when royalties are due? Do people just take it on the honor system that they will get paid if they should? Do certain "groups" (i.e., actors vs writers vs directors vs various crew) keep better track than others?