Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday Questions

Some Friday Questions and even answers.

Andy Rose starts us off:

If a show’s main set is due to be damaged in some way on camera and then fully restored later (the Cheers bar gutted by fire, Frank driving his car through the front door on Everybody Loves Raymond), do they typically damage the real set and then rebuild it, or do they build a temporary replacement that gets damaged in its place?

They build a duplicate set, or the part of the set needed. And it’s often not exact down to the letter because a car is going to go through and smash it in two seconds.

There was an episode of CHEERS that David Isaacs and I wrote where Cliff was distraught that his mother sold his boyhood home. So he chained himself to the main beam holding up the house. Eventually Norm uses a saw and cuts the beam, releasing him. Once they exit the house the second floor collapses and crashes down to the first, toilet and all. We did that live on the stage in front of the audience. Jimmy Burrows directed.  Needless to say, the audience went wild. 

But if the main set needs to be doctored, they often just pre-shoot the day before. Remember one of the Bar Wars episode of CHEERS (also written by me and David) when Woody is trapped in the bar area which has been enclosed by cinder blocks? We just shot that the day before.

From Don Burke:

How does a freelance director get hired? Is there a directory and the show runner rifles through a bunch of names? Is it just through personal relationships? Does a certain script come across the show runner's desk and he thinks "You know who'd be great for this? Ken Levine?" Just curious how certain directors get paired with certain shows/scripts.

Personal relationships help A LOT. Or recommendations. But networks and studios have lists. There are certain directors certain networks just like working with.

Agents also do a lot of the heavy lifting. They pitch directors to show runners. They pass out directors’ reels, etc.

And the reality is many freelance spots are filled by crew members of that show. An editor, First AD, camera coordinator, DP, writer might get that coveted one or two open slots.

Beth wonders:

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?

The various Guilds police that. I can’t speak for all of them but with the WGA, you can now go on line and see what residuals you’ve received. And if there’s something you feel is missing you can call the Guild.

The truth is we all get cheated out of residuals.

VOLUNTEERS (a movie David Isaacs and I wrote) aired several times on ABC, for months on HBO, then in syndicated packages all over the country. We didn’t see a dime. I called the WGA. They investigated. David and I each received huge checks. But if I hadn’t flagged them we never would have received what we were owed.

There is no such thing as "the honor system" in Hollywood. 

Brad Apling queries:

What does your podcasting setup look like? Did you build a sound booth at home or you just plug a microphone into your laptop, setup your script, close the office door & fire away with stories and advice?

Here’s the beauty of radio (and podcasting) – everything is left to your imagination. Radio stations that I imagined looking like the bridge on the starship Enterprise were old shit piles. But boy did they have mystique.

So for my set-up, I’ll just say I do it at home with really excellent equipment. And I’ll let you picture the rest. Hint: think “Norad.”

Do you have a Friday Question? Please just leave it in the comments section. Thanks.


Glenn said...

Marie drove the car through the house, not Frank. Though Frank apparently never had the brakes checked so...

Johnny Walker said...

In a film group I’m in someone complained that they just saw SNATCHED with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn and, while it wasn’t the worst film they ever saw, it was close. They asked: How does this happen? How do terrible movies get made?

Obviously nobody sets out to make a bad film, but if the script is awful to begin with, how did it get greenlit? When you see a bad film, who do you blame?

Ty said...

Weird...I would swear that today's Friday Questions is a re-run, as both the questions and Mr. Levine's answers all sound familiar. But scrolling back through the last 3-4 months of Friday Questions, I can't find the "original" post I am remembering. Perhaps I am cracking up...

By Ken Levine said...


This is not a repeat. This is a totally new post. I may have touched on some of these issues in the past (I don't remember. I do a post every day), but today's post is completely new as the readers who asked the questions will attest.

ScarletNumber said...

How did Keith F. Critchlow fit into the Levine & Isaacs partnership?

Phil said...


Volunteers has music by James Horner. James Horner was one of my favorite music director (Commando title theme being my favorite).
I looked into your many posts on Volunteers, but couldn't find any mention about James Horner.

Have you met him anytime? Who are your favorite music directors among the many who have scored music for the TV Shows and movies that you have worked on and also others in general. Any particular movie soundtrack or TV title song?


E. Yarber said...

This story is almost a reversal of the first question. Back in the 1960s, the horror soap "Dark Shadows" was filmed in a small studio. Some workmen were trying to save space and came across a group of flats that were absolutely filthy and covered with cobwebs.

"Nobody's been using THESE for a while," one said, so they threw the lot out.

The staff was horrified. Those discarded flats were one of the main sets... the home of vampire Barnabas Collins. The crew had to work around the clock over the weekend to replace them for next week's episodes.

Ty said...

I believe you, sir!

YEKIMI said...

Was there ever a radio station that you visited where after you looked around you said "No thanks!" or was it an "I'll take anything I can get!" situation. I can remember making the rounds in the early 80s and stopped in at a station in Florida and saw kitchen appliances stacked everywhere, even in the production room [mostly hand mixers]. They were doing a "tradeio" format, I can't remember who gave me a tour; station manager, on-air guy, janitor, engineer, and a hard sell to come work for them. I asked if they played ANY music at all and the answer was "Well, we used to." I was out the door in a shot and if they hadn't had a gravel parking lot I would have left rubber tire burn marks getting away from there. I thought to myself that if I had wanted to sell appliances I would have gotten a job at Sears. That station evolved into HSN. If I could bend my leg that way, I would kick myself in the ass. The one I ended up working at turned out to have a cockroach problem and when one the size of a VW minibus crawled across a turntable you could have heard me screaming all the way to Nebraska. {I HATE, DESPISE, LOATHE cockroaches!] They ended up tenting the whole building to fog the place to kill every insect in it and for a week we had to broadcast from the transmitter shack.

Trevor said...

Ty, I had the exact same thought and even knew some of Ken's humorous side comments before I read them. Not a dis on you Ken, just a very strange and crystal clear case of deja vu.

Mark said...

Weird...I would swear that today's Friday Questions is a re-run, as both the questions and Mr. Levine's answers all sound familiar.

Ken, I believe this was the set of Friday questions posted by accident one evening a couple of weeks ago. They were removed quickly, but not before a few of us saw them. That's probably why they seem familiar to Ty. Wendy Grossman mentioned the accidental posting in the comments on the set of Friday questions that has the McLean Stevenson photo at top.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Ty: I thought I'd read it before, too, and now I'm wondering if this is the posting I saw late one night that had vanished the next day - perhaps a snafu in the scheduling function I assume Ken uses. Depends when he *wrote* it if that's possible (because given how much Ken works I would expect him to have a queue of postings waiting to publish themselves.)


K Fig said...

I also had a feeling like I had read this post before. Have I finally been reading this blog long enough that I have heard all of Ken's stories?

Unknown said...

Not sure if you're planning a dedicated post on this but what are your thoughts on the Woody Allen developments? I've read your blog for a few years now and I gather you're a fan of his, particularly his early work. I'm still very much on the fence regarding the allegations but I find it interesting that actors and actresses are only now distancing themselves from him, even though the allegations have been there for over 25 years.

Unknown said...

"me and David"

Whoa. Maybe I'm an old fogey (and using that term alone just made me one), but my parents and English teachers would never let me get away with that. I passed that lesson down to our kids as well.

Dave said...

Re: Deja Vu. So here I was thinking I had a genuine psychic event, that I had previously seen Ken's questions as they appear in the future!

Is it too late to retract that phone call I made to my SportsBook?

Will said...

Like another reader asked, I too am baffled as to why after all these years, all these actors are distancing themselves from Woody Allen.

Are they ingrates? where they used his talent to further their career, now acting like saints.

Will Woody be able to get funding for his future movies? After 'A Rainy Day in New York', he has nothing else.

Any thoughts Ken?

Todd Everett said...

Wendy M. Grossman

Why do you assume Ken uses Depends when he writes?

Dr Loser said...

Somehow, and what with new contact lenses, I read "Norad" as "Naked."
I probably shouldn't be sharing this...

Mike Bloodworth said...

Yes. On Jan. 5th this F.Q. first came up. In fact, the evedence is still on my phone. As you said, Wendy, he must have several blogs banked "just in case." My guess is that he pushed the wrong button and accidentally sent out a first draft and/or an incomplete blog. Then he said to himself, "Holy shit! What have I done now?! This is going to make me look as stupid as..." (fill in the blank) Then quickly pulled the blog. Fortunately for Ken his "false alarm" didn't panic Hawai'i. Or maybe it did, but didn't make the news.

Dr Loser said...

@Jim Briggs
Ain't much declination going on in English nouns (or pronouns), and 'taint always all fer the bestest, nowise.
"Me" is a perfectly acceptable substitute when you want to add stress. (To da woid, not to dose teachers.)
It's also perfectly cromulent in the breezy spoken demotic, as with: "My and Bobby McGee."
Now, be reasonable. "I and Bobby McGee" just sounds prissy, doesn't it?

Chris said...

Friday Question:

On MASH, how often would you use Walter D Dishell as a consultant? Was he the only one you would used?

Terrence Moss said...

The man has posted a blog entry everyday for over TEN YEARS.
Even if today was a repeat or some themes were replicated, give the man a break!
[not that you need my backing, Ken, but such comments just bugged me.]

That said, the car through the living room scene on "Raymond" was HILARIOUS.

Blue Mudd said...

T. Moss
Not one person voiced anything disrespectful or critical. There was only completely understandable curiosity. Why be so eager to be offended for no reason? Ken does repeat occasionally, as long time readers know, but he always identifies a repeat. His ability to post every day for so many years (even when on vacation!) is truly remarkable, but new readers might be surprised to see a repeat since he so rarely does it. Asking a question should not be considered offensive. The only thing I've ever seen that seems to annoy Ken is commenters attacking each other, or him.

Andy Rose said...

Thanks for the answer! I actually had that Bar Wars scene in mind, too (always wondered if they were real cinder blocks), but brevity is the soul of getting an FQ answered. I did notice one item on the Cheers set that was not restored after the fire plot: the "Square House" sign kept its burn marks for the rest of the run.

Crappy facilities sometimes work well for a radio station. In the 90s I visited a friend during his DJ shift at a station that had been AOR for more than 20 years. The studio was dark, dank, stained, partially below ground, and reeked of two decades' worth of smoke (cigarette and otherwise). The station cultivated a "bad boy" image, so the studio was almost exactly as I had imagined it would be. The following year, corporate did a fancy renovation. It was nice, I guess, but the place just didn't have much of a rock feel anymore. Although they did discover after a deep cleaning that the black faders on their board were actually light blue underneath all that grime.

Edward said...

What's your opinion on reformatting sitcoms originally broadcast in 4x3 into 16x9 widescreen? Obviously it's nice not to have black bars on either side of the image when watching on modern televisions, but sometimes opening up the frame reveals things not intended to be seen. At least one "Frasier" episode reveals the camera crew moving down the KACL hallway behind his booth, for instance. Are you a purist who feels these shows should be left as originally presented, or are you okay with it?

Ty said...

Terrence, I don't think anyone was criticizing Ken over the possible "deja vu" posting---I know that I wasn't. I was just making an observation and expressing my puzzlement at it, since I couldn't find the original post I thought I had seen.

I'm grateful to Mr. Levine for this wonderful blog, and also grateful to the other people who backed me up. Glad to know I wasn't imagining things, and the explanation provided makes sense!

Peter said...

Friday Question

What's your guilty pleasure TV show you like to watch? Mine is Judge Judy!

KariH said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for your podcast, I really enjoy it!


1) Shep Gordon says in his book "They call me Supermensch" that you cannot be polite in moviebusiness. One have to curse and swear all the time and threaten to kill to get things done. How'bout in tv-business?

2) Now you can curse and swear tv-style when I ask why is the logo of your podcast black and white? It feels like you're talking 'bout golden times of Hollywood and you're not. Make it more technicolour and you'll get younger people to listen your great stories.

All the best,
Kari Hynninen
Helsinki, Finland

Nick said...

Hey Ken - you've probably addressed this previously and I've missed it but I have a FRIDAY QUESTION for you: At what point did you stop being a full-time sitcom writer/show runner and why? You've talked a lot about your career from the early days, the stint at MASH, Cheers, Fraser, Almost Perfect etc etc... But clearly you don't do that anymore. So what was the point where you decided to give it a break and why?

Anthony said...

I've always wondered something about the bridging between Cheers and Frasier. I don't recall it ever being talked about how Frasier went from private practice in Boston to an interest in being a radio personality. I know in the pilot's opening scene Frasier says "6 months ago, I was living in Boston". But how did the radio thing come about within those 6 months? Amongst you writers, was there ever an explanation about how this all materialized, which you just didn't work into a script?