Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday Questions

It’s Friday when we Question things.

blinky has the first one.

Are you, and comedy writers in general, funny in person? Or do you treat your skill like a job, such that you don't want to give out the funny for free. In my imagination I see comedy writers being like Hawkeye or Mory Amsterdam, unstoppable joke machines. But then again I've met some comedians who were not the least bit funny in a normal situation.

I tend not to be always “on.” That’s fine when you’re Mel Brooks, but it can get exhausting being around those people. I can be funny when I want to, like if I’m on a panel, or I’m in a writing room where it’s my JOB to be funny. And throughout the course of a day I’ll say funny things if they occur to me. But no, I’m not a joke machine.

I was in improv workshops with Robin Williams, and even he had his down time. We would all go out to eat after class and there were nights Robin would just sit quietly like a church mouse.  I've also been with Jonathan Winters and Steve Martin and neither are "wild and crazy guys" when not on stage.  And that's a good thing. 

Personally, unless the zany manic joke machine guy is a comic genius, I avoid him like the plague. It’s like being trapped in a Volkswagen with Gallagher.

From Ray:

My question is on the popular notion that "Hollywood is controlled by Jews". What is your take on that?

Not until Rupert Murdoch converts.

Jonny M. wonders:

Cheers Season 3. It says produced by Sam Simon & Ken Estin. But then they will have individual writing credits. Were they a producing team but not a writing team? I thought the ampersand denoted a team.

They were a producing team going into the season but decided to go their separate ways during the course of the season. And both had written individually extensively so doing solo scripts was no problem.

J Lee asks:

You've mentioned before how you would have like to have written for The Dick Van Dyke Show but were a decade too young to have made the cut -- are there any other shows from the 1950s, 60s or early 70s you liked while growing up that you wished you could have written for, but were gone by the time you broke into the business?

THE HONEYMOONERS, SGT. BILKO, HE & SHE, the first year of BEWITCHED (it was a much more sophisticated romantic comedy that initial season), GOOD MORNING WORLD (produced by Persky & Denoff who did THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW), and THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW.

It wasn’t a sitcom but the show I really wanted to write for in the late ‘60s was THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS SHOW.

What’s your Friday Question?


Paul said...

My question is on the politics of Oscar season.

Often dirty slander is used during campaigning. Susan Sarandon too has said that once, I think about the PR machine of another actress.

Now here is a new accusation that has cropped up now:

Since you know Hollywood pretty well, do you think all these are the dirty ways to slander other movies for getting votes?

Ray said...

Deftly avoided Ken 😜

Brian said...

Robin Williams had down time too?

But these Family Guy writers always take every opportunity to portray him as some sort of 24*7 clown.

VP81955 said...

"Good Morning World"? OK, so it was a radio-set sitcom (a decade before "WKRP"), but admit it, Ken -- you also had the hots for the young, leggy, pre-" Laugh-In" Goldie Hawn. (Hey, most of us guys did.)

Unknown said...

Friday Question:
US Copyright now expires 70 years after the death of the author and 120 years after its creation due to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 (also called the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act." (As a librarian, I think that this is way too long a time.)

Since you are only approaching 39 after your recent birthday, ;-), as an author, do you have set in your will which of your grandchildren will be your literary executor when you finally pass away after 2060? Will your great-grandchildren still be getting royalties for Frasier and Cheers after 2100 since they are still under copyright for the studio? Is there some mechanism for the studios and your publishers to track who gets your royalties now or in 120 years? Or alternatively, who gets to sell the movie/tv/virtual reality rights to your plays and books?
Kathryn a Librarian

Bob Gassel said...


I notice MASH never did a flashback to events from before the series started (Hawkeye getting drafted, Klinger first putting on a dress, etc), was this ever discussed, or was it forbidden in the show playbook.

Mike McCann said...

Gotta admit I'm surprised you didn't wish to write for either BURNS AND ALLEN or MISTER ED. I can easily envision the kind of caustic observations you gave to so many of your characters coming from the sarcastic personas of George and/or the Palomino his production company brought to TV.

julian said...

Bewitched : watching re-runs after school was the 1st time i experienced the "what happened to this great show?" feeling. If an 8 year old and his 10 year old sister pick up on it, it's not exactly a subtle diminishment of quality.

Carson said...

So you mentioned you would like to have written for the show "Good Morning World." I find that interesting because Antenna TV has just recently started showing the reruns. I like the show and it seems like one CBS would have given at least another season to, but it was canceled after one. So I imagine this is probably the first time the show has been seen since it originally aired. And it looks great by the way. Any thoughts on why it got the ax?

VP81955 said...

Oscar voting must still be going on. I hear numerous spots on KNX hyping music or other parts of nominated films: they all follow a similar pattern and are unconvincing, to put it mildly. (The worst offenders are the "Dunkirk" ads, all evidently designed to soothe Christopher Nolan's ego.)

gottacook said...

I gave Good Morning World several chances on Antenna TV (having seen it a few times on network TV as a 10-year-old), but it seemed 'off' somehow - not the scripts so much as the rhythm of scenes and dialogue within scenes.

DwWashburn said...

During the first year of Mork and Mindy, HBO showed Robin Williams in concert. Brilliant as always. Then the cameras followed him back to his dressing room. He sat before the mirror looking drained and speaking very meekly. Since the only Robin I ever knew at that point was the Mork Robin, I found this 180 degree change amazing especially since it occurred so quickly.

I saw many interviews with Robin throughout his life and was impressed how he could speak in such a quiet serious voice throughout most of the interview but then "turn it on" when he wanted to say one or two funny lines and then immediately go right back into his serious mode.

Susan said...

Reading what Paul has said, it seems that Guillermo Del Toro is not gonna win the Oscar.

Any guesses whose dirty tricks department is behind this?

Matt said...

"...but it can get exhausting being around those people..."

You've got that right. I work with someone who is always, always, always "on stage." Always. One day I walked up beside him and looked up. He said "what are you doing?"
"I'm looking for the spotlight. Yeah. I don't see it. There isn't one. Can you please step off the stage?"
I have another friend who runs at 10,000 miles an hour and is the TV and movie quote machine. She once started acting out an entire episode of "Family Guy" and I said "I love you. You know that. But if you don't stop, I'm gonna run this pencil through my ear and into my brain for relief."

I don't get these people. They are exhausting.

Tudor Queen said...

Thank you for your succinct, witty and properly dismissive response to the old, old saw about 'Jewish domination' of Hollywood (and other industries).

blinky said...

The Smothers Bros show was cancelled by CBS because they criticized the president and the war in Vietnam even though it was a top ten show. That was pretty bad mojo. I don't think something similar has happened in the Trump Upside Down, yet.

Paul Duca said...

Mr. reason is that the actress playing the wife of one of the DJs suffered a stroke after the pilot was filmed. She recovered, but those who study such things say she never had the same "something" during the run.

Paul Duca said...

Ken is too modest to brag...but at the tender age of 19 he was offered a staff writing job on the most popular show in America, LAUGH-IN. With reluctance he turned it down, as remaining in college protected him from the military draft.

Anonymous said...

Most of the shows on your wish-I-had-written-for list make sense since you've talked about your admiration for them before e.g. HONEYMOONERS, BILKO. GOOD MORNING WORLD was about radio so that's a natural. I'd love to see the episode where the Hell Angels and the SLA meet at your front door at the same time, and want to hear different records. Sweet Cream Ladies or Eve of Destruction--what to do?

But THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW surprised me. My image of you is of a very urban guy, not Garrison Keillor. What draws you to one of the CBS rural comedies?


Maris Crane said...

I saw a Reddit AMA that Michael Schur did where he said as a writer, he "got" Jim Halpert more than he did other characters -- he understood Jim well and had a better grasp on who Jim was and how he would react. He listed other writers he worked with who had a similar grasp of other characters on his shows -- the late Harris Wittels "got" Jean-Ralphio Saperstein, etc.

On the shows you have written for, are there any characters that you just instinctively got?

Matt said...

So you mentioned you would like to have written for the show "Good Morning World." I like the show and it seems like one CBS would have given at least another season to, but it was canceled after one. Any thoughts on why it got the ax?

Ratings. GOOD MORNING, WORLD followed Red Skelton's show on CBS. Skelton was still one of TV's top-rated programs. Too many people were switching to NBC after Skelton to watch the Tuesday night movie. Not enough eyes hung around CBS to see GMW. So GMW got the ax.

It does seem unjust. I mean, the frickin' FLYING NUN got three seasons.

Y. Knott said...

Carson Clark: Good Morning World had mediocre ratings. As well, there were cast issues:

- Joby Baker had extreme difficulty adapting to the constant pre-taping rewrites and the pace of weekly, live-in-front-of-an-audience performances, which caused production delays.

- Julie Parrish's illness also slowed down production to some degree.

- Goldie Hawn became a star on Laugh-In halfway through GMW's only season, and probably would have been difficult to get back on the show if it were renewed.

Maybe if the show had better ratings, those other issues wouldn't have mattered as much. Or maybe if those other issues didn't exist, CBS would have given GMW another season to find its audience. But everything all together? That did the series in...

Anonymous said...

I think that was the first TV show about radio. Ronnie left Gomer Pyle to star in the show and after it was cancelled rdturned to Pyle playing a corporal replacing Roy Stuart.

Dr Loser said...

As Ray said, Ken, deftly avoided. I'd have skewered the guy, and I'm not even Jewish. And I'm afraid we'll all have to accept that there are people like Jim out there: not even "useful idiots," in the choice words of Vladimir Ulyanov, but simply "idiots."

On a happier note: "It’s like being trapped in a Volkswagen with Gallagher."

With, or without, the watermelon?

blogward said...

Teaching Force: I'm toying with the idea of pitching that as a serial drama. Can you tell of any similarly ridiculous pitches - and some that may have been green-lighted?

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken, if you are going to be trapped in a car with Gallagher, I hope you have a raincoat on. You know with all those watermelon seeds and all!! Janice B.

norm said...

Ah The Smothers Brs.

Where are you Pat Paulson when we need you? !

Cristina Graziella said...

I am an enthusiastically devoted fan of M*A*S*h series and I trly think that the episodes written by Ken Levine and David Isaac are the best. You are a great writer, Ken!

Anonymous said...

The Smothers Bros show was cancelled by CBS because they criticized the president and the war in Vietnam even though it was a top ten show.

Not exactly. They had been criticizing the Vietnam War for some time. While Nixon wasn't crazy about the government criticisms by the show and probably pressured Paley, he wasn't the kind to meekly submit. The proximate cause of them being cancelled was they refused to submit the show to the censors before airtime. The Smothers Brothers portray it today as huge corporate repression and it was partly that. But the other side of that was that they put the network in an untenable position.

Jon said...

I read an interview with Roy Stuart years ago where he said that he left GOMER PYLE because he had an offer from Nat Hiken in 1968 to act in his movies, but then Hiken died by the end of the year, leaving Stuart without the show or Hiken's movies.

Unknown said...

GMW had me at Billy De Wolfe. Just love him.

Gary said...

I've read about Joby Baker's struggles with learning his lines during the run of Good Morning World. It's surprising, because he had previously guested twice on The Dick Van Dyke Show playing different characters, and he was dynamite both times. I'm guessing the network thought they had another Van Dyke-like talent with him, and they cast him as the lead in GMW. Too bad.

Liggie said...

I recall Williams saying in an interview, about his "on" times, "If I was like that all the time, my wife would be exhausted." Makes sense; if a fiercely competitive baseball player had his "game face" on in his entire private life, he'd be worn out and his family and friends would be walking on eggshells.

My favorite Williams experiences was watching him go bonkers on TV interviews. He had Barbara Walters' jaw on the floor while her off-camera crew were cracking up, Oprah said she just sat back and let him loose, and then there was that classic "Inside the Actors Studio" where Williams was on as soon as he stepped onstage, and James Lipton couldn't ask his first question until five minutes in.

There's a biography about Williams coming up this year, by Dave Itzkoff.

Ray said...

Dr. Loser,

"skewered the guy"? Who me? I just asked a question. And I loved Ken's answer. Like many things many readers ask about, I asked him a question. Like I said in the question, it's just the notion that many have. So what does he think of it.

Google itself was giving this answer when searched. And many talk about it. So I asked.

I don't why you got all worked up and have to hyperventilate.

Don't imagine a slight, when there is none. And who cares what you think. I am interested in what Ken says, not you.

Just another pathetic loser in the virtual world trying to police people 😏

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I liked GOOD MORNING WORLD at the time, but it *was* another of those shows featuring young women whose lives didn't appeal to me *at all* (with all its great qualities, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was also one such - I loved Sally Rogers, hated Laura Petrie). (I recall liking HE AND SHE better, but then I've always really liked Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin's work.) I didn't even remember Goldie Hawn was on it until I got hold of the DVDs a few years ago. There was a reason Ann Marie had so many fans on THAT GIRL - it wasn't a great show, but the lead female character's career aspirations and willingness to get back up and try again when things went wrong really resonated.

Though my favorite female heroine from that time was of course the awesome Emma Peel.


Dana said...

@Wendy M. Grossman:

The only thing that ever bugged me about Sally on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was when they would do one of those "poor, lonely, unmarried Sally" stories, which, in the show's defense, were mercifully few. For the most part, Sally came off as content with her life.

Anonymous said...

@Wendy Grossman
More than a little tension early on between Mary Tyler Moore and Rose Marie.
Rose Marie had even then been in show business for 35 years, was once one of the biggest stars in the country as a girl, and was supposed to be the female lead. Mary Tyler Moore was the young up and comer who became the lead and hot star. Carl Reiner had to adjudicate their places. Rose Marie hung out with the older cast and crew. Mary hung out with the younger ones.
Later on it was all lovey-dovey but it didn't start out like that.

Steve Bailey said...

A Friday question:

I just read an anecdote about the wonderful Nanette Fabray, who recently died at age 97.

She and Sid Caesar clicked with themselves and the public on "Caesar's Hour," and they worked together for three years. Then, unbeknownst to Fabray, her agent demanded equal billing and pay with that of Caesar. When the request was refused, her agent told Fabray that she'd been dropped from the show. Neither Caesar nor Fabray learned the true story until years later, to the regret of both of them.

My question: I've heard a lot of agent anecdotes like this. Do you think such behavior is an aberration, or the norm, for most agents?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

It's interesting that you mention you would have liked to have written for THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, because two of your M*A*S*H colleagues were favorites with both Andy Griffith and Don Knotts: Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum. They penned a plethora of classic episodes, such as "Convicts at Large," "The Bank Job," "Man in a Hurry," "High Noon in Mayberry," "Class Reunion," "Opie and the Spoiled Kid," "The Darlings are Coming," "Barney's First Car" (Andy's personal favorite episode), "Dogs! Dogs! Dogs!" "Mountain Wedding," "Ernest T. Bass Joins the Army," "Gomer the House Guest," "Up in Barney's Room," "Citizen's Arrest," "Barney's Side Car," "The Education of Ernest T. Bass," and so many others; Everett Greenbaum was even brought back to co-write the RETURN TO MAYBERRY reunion movie with Harvey Bullock.

On an observational note, I've noticed that Season 4 of M*A*S*H almost has a feel all to its own compared to other seasons, in that much of the season has a simple, almost "homey" feel to it - probably because there's many episodes involving characters writing letters home and such . . . and coincidentally, it seems a majority of the episodes of that season were written by Fritzell & Greenbaum . . . almost as if they were filtering a little sense of Mayberry into the 4077th that season. Maybe it's just me, but I find Season 4 just has that feel to it.

Gary said...

Among the Andy Griffith episodes that Fritzell & Greenbaum wrote, "Man in a Hurry" is the most interesting. It's almost like a second pilot episode, as it perfectly showcases and defines the personality of each character. And it establishes that the town of Mayberry is indeed in a time warp and completely out of step with the world (even in the early 60's). If you wanted to show one definitive episode to someone who had never seen The Andy Griffith Show, "Man in a Hurry" would be the one.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Gary Yes, and not only that, but a lot of fans (myself included) felt the black-and-white helped lent itself to Mayberry's atmosphere of almost being frozen in time, and that the switch to color made it seem like Mayberry was suddenly trying to catch up with the times. And this is coming from someone who loves the look of color shows from the 60s.

While we're on the subject, here's a related (non-Friday) question for Ken: a number of people from M*A*S*H's earlier years came from HOGAN'S HEROES, including writer Laurence Marks; in addition to the other 60s shows you mentioned, could you see yourself writing for HOGAN as well?

Anthony said...

Friday Question -

I've always wondered why Dan Butler (Bulldog) didn't appear in the Frasier finale? Was it a scheduling conflict? It seemed like a concerted effort was made to include all of the other recurring guest cast, particularly the KACL talent.

Jmg said...

Friday question,

Have you heard about the Spanish version of Cheers. I think it was aired on 2012, to very bad ratings and was cancelled after very few episodes (the original version was very successful in its time). The actors are well known Spanish comedy actors, although I don't find them very funny.

I wonder if you know anything about it. At the time it was said that the original creators "overview" the production.

Here is the awful version of the intro:


Xmastime said...

Longtime fan, love this blog :) but how does one submit a question? Am I missing where to find an email or what for?

Thanks! :)

By Ken Levine said...

Just leave it in the comments section. Thanks much.

Xmastime said...

Thanks! My question: what are your thoughts on British sitcoms? Thanks to streaming services I've discovered dozens over the last few years, including the greatest of all, "Only Fools and Horses." Would love to know if you've ever had any favorites.

Thanks again :)

Kenneth said...

Hey Ken, after years of writing for primetime network television, do you live in a mansion?