Friday, March 30, 2018

Friday Questions

Getting you ready for Passover and Easter with traditional Friday Questions. What’s yours?

Bob Paris starts us off:

I felt that FRIENDS was running out of steam at the end of its run. When the spin-off JOEY was announced, I thought if I were Matt LeBlanc I would agree to do the show with Kauffman & Crane as show-runners but replace most of the others with the creative staff of FRASIER, that was also ending its run that season. Can you contribute your 20/20 perspective on writer's burn-out with the same characters year after year and if you think this may have helped avoid the creative fiasco that JOEY became.

I do know a little about failed spinoffs. A big problem with JOEY was that the premise wasn’t great. Nothing really distinct or interesting about it. They just took a character and plopped him down in a different setting. Matt LeBlanc was also a supporting player. Matt is GREAT in the right role like on EPISODES, but I don’t think he could or even today, can carry a show by himself (MAN WITH A PLAN).

Getting the FRASIER writers would not have helped. The writers they used were FRIENDS writers so you’d think they’d know the character, tone, world, etc.

At the end of the day it just felt like… a spinoff – nowhere close to the brilliance of the original. Hey, it happens. Like I said, I KNOW.

Edward weighs in.

You were associated with three television series that lasted 11 seasons. There was cast turnover on MASH and Cheers. What about Frasier? Was there any contemplated turnover that has not been discussed? Any drama with that show?

To my knowledge, no. Everyone on FRASIER was happy to be there the entire run of the series. And I’m being 100% totally honest here – there was ZERO drama at that show. All eleven years. It all springs from the star, who sets the tone on the stage, and Kelsey was as gracious and nice as a star could possibly be. I know it’s boring to not have any real “dish” to spill, but the FRASIER set was truly a love fest.

Mike Bloodworth asks:

In the days before Google and Wikipedia how did you deal with all the research needed for any given script? Did studios have a reference library? Did you hang out in the PUBLIC library reading the Encyclopedia Britannica? (Or the 24 volume, Grolier Encyclopedia? {Another obscure reference.}) I'd love to know.

The studios all had research departments, and for a fee (that went against your budget but was accounted for in your budget), would look things up, Xerox articles, etc. It was kind of a racket because the studio was essentially charging itself.

When David and I were working on something on our own I’d go to the UCLA library. Or we would interview someone privy to the information we sought.

And finally, from Ted:

A lot of articles are calling Golden Globes a far better managed awards show than Oscars. Their arguments are based on bringing the stars to grab the eyeballs and keeping the show short and funny, and cutting off other "useless category" awards.

I know you hate Golden Globes, but do you also think that NOW, Globes are better than Oscars?

No, for the simple fact that the Golden Globes awards are meaningless. Their award shows might be more entertaining and better for star gazing, but there’s no way of even approaching the honor and gravitas of winning an Academy Award.

Thus, there’s way more at stake with the Oscars. There’s genuine suspense (sometimes).

The best that PR flacks in the industry can do to hype the Golden Globes is to say they might help predict who will an Oscar. Find me a movie trailer that touts an actor as being a former “Golden Globe” nominee. But someone wins an Oscar – that’s a distinction that stays with you proudly the rest of your life.

A Peoples’ Choice Award can’t compete either.


john not mccain said...

I don't know about movie trailers, but DVD/Blu Ray boxes play up Golden Globe winners and nominees all the time. Perhaps those are less significant than trailers, but they are being used in marketing.

Curt Alliaume said...

I agree with your notes about the Joey premise. An underlying theme in Friends was Joey wasn't a particularly good actor; this seemed to be ignored in Joey to the point where he was starring in a major movie by the end of the series. I know they moved him to Los Angeles to make sure people weren't questioning why the other Friends characters weren't around, but I thought the focus should have been on something else (my thought was he winds up coaching a bad theater group or something similar).

E. Yarber said...

I realize the Friday question was not directed at me personally, but I'll add that any aspiring writer would be well-served to have a well-selected home library. My desk at home is flanked by two bookcases, filled with reference books and titles about show business. Perusing them just now I see Benet's Reader's Enclyclopedia, The Cambridge Biographical Enclyclopedia, The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, an anthology of famous legal cases, a medical dictionary, volumes on science, pseudoscience, religion, cultural history, fairy tales, almanacs, and naturally lots of books about movies.

Before the internet, I cribbed daily from such sources. UCLA is nearby and a wonderful resource, but try walking a mile across campus to the Special Collections Unit in 90 degree heat sometime, or needing information at 3 am when you have a deadline at 9. I can't tell you the number of times that I've had maybe ten minutes at best to calculate something like the number of pounds of cocaine you can fit into a two-engine plane (for a SCRIPT folks, for a SCRIPT!) The only way to do it in time was to cross-pollinate from various reference titles and trust my experience.

Yes, now I use the internet for a lot of that, but the thing is that it's not the all-giving fount of information that Google promises you. A lot of the time I may find a single article on a subject linked as an authority by all the other cited sources. There really is no substitute for hitting the books, even at this time. The other day I mentioned a long out of print 1984 book on television. If I hadn't picked that up God knows when, read it, and kept it as a reference, I'd probably never been able to get to the info I needed as quickly by searching the web for the same material. Sometimes you have to create your own web, with the main links being a good memory.

Andrew said...

I can't confirm this anecdote, but I know I read it somewhere.

After Drea deMatteo's character Adriana (spoiler alert) was killed on The Sopranos, she then appeared on Joey as the main character's sister Gina. Supposedly there is an episode of the sixth season of The Sopranos in which Joey is playing on the TV. I think it was being watched by A.J. after he had his breakdown. If this is true, it's a nice meta-reference to the ghost of Adriana.

Glenn said...

I agree Joey didn't really work, but it was mostly because the supporting cast had nothing to offer. The only character that was fun to watch was Jennifer Coolidge as the agent. Drea de Mateo had moments, but the nephew was useless. And trying to make Joey out as a semi-father figure was a dead end.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Indeed, if you look up the JOEY writing staff, you'll find more than half of them came directly from FRIENDS, including its showrunners. After its cancellation, a few writers moved on to 30 ROCK, including its showrunner, Robert Carlock. We know how that went....

Meanwhile, Scott Silveri went on to create SPEECHLESS, a show well-written and well-received. You can say a lot of things about JOEY, but it had a room comprised of very talented and professional writers.

Terrence Moss said...

The Oscars may still have prestige, but as the declining ratings show, it seems to be primarily within Hollywood itself.

And of the Oscars so frequently line up with the Globes, how is it that they each have the reputations they still do?

Roseann said...

This past season I watched the Bafta Award ceremony from England. Understated, elegant and short. It was perfect and even Prince William presented an award. It was so civilized. We Americans overdo EVERYTHING.

Ted said...

Thanks Ken for answering my question.

John H said...

Friday question. Speaking of failed spinoff's, I am curious about Jean Kasem and Dan Hedaya. Both always had great lines on Cheers and certainly weren't the problem with The Tortelli's. Both Ms. Kasem and Mr. Hedaya had excellent chemistry together, though like Joey, you can't just place these characters in a different setting and expect it to work. Can you comment on your experience with them? Thanks as always.

McAlvie said...

I like Man with a Plan, and I think LeBlanc does it well; but I don't think any star can 'carry' a show that doesn't have a great supporting cast, good writing, and a solid premise. I think MWAP was structured to have a lot of possibilities.

But I agree that Joey, even though I liked the show well enough, didn't have enough of a premise for a strong run. The central character wasn't strong enough to anchor the show, and too many of the other characters were, well, caricatures. This is not an uncommon problem.

Question Mark said...

My favourite "the Golden Globes are worthless" moment was the video package they ran when Meryl Streep won the lifetime achievement award. It listed her record number of Oscar nominations....but not her number of Golden Globe nominations and wins, which are both also records.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Zissen Pesach Mr Levine and Family.

Ken said...

How do shows decide which supporting characters get promoted/disappear as either regulars or frequent appearences on shows?
Feedback from audience? I imagine in some cases it might be a scheduling issue with other projects but curious.
Example is how the character "Wendy" is appearing more often in Mom. Or alternatively how on very early MASH's the cast included the dentist, the African american surgeon and others who seemed to drop off rather quickly.

Speaking of MASH saw recent rerun and it showed Radar asleep with a comic book clearly marked as the "Avengers". Since the Avengers did not make original debut until 1963 how did this get by accuracy checks?

Mike Bloodworth said...

Ken, thanks again for answering my question. Thank you, E. YARBER for your comments. I'm still trying to figure out your true identity.
FRIDAY QUESTION: What's the definition of "TELEPLAY?" I've seen this credit come up on various shows; more so in the past than now. Is there a substantive difference between that and on ordinary T.V script? Or is it some sort of pretentious, self-aggrandizement. I Googled it But, wasn't satisfied with the answers.
A happy and blessed Pesach to all.

Stephen Robinson said...

It's interesting to compare JOEY to FRASIER. They moved FRASIER out of his Boston "comfort zone" and re-established him with entirely new setting and cast (the latter primarily being unseen family members). It's a lot like JOEY but handled so much better. For instance, I don't know what the pilot of JOEY was *about* -- whereas, the pilot of FRASIER has a great *story*: Frasier is looking forward to his solitary, newfound single life but now must make room for his father, to whom he's not especially close and has little in common with. I'm really impressed with the people who put FRASIER together -- they never rested on the laurels of a "known" character and actor. It really felt like they were starting from scratch and *working * to get us as viewers.

One other major challenge with JOEY is that the title character is fundamentally a happy person (that's always death to a story!) who doesn't really want anything. What's driving him? What's his conflict? FRASIER benefited from a character who *wants* things that can range from the petty (putting together a successful dinner party or distinguishing himself from his younger brother) to the grand (finding true love or truly connecting with his father). Frasier's happiness was even the driving question of the AMAZING first season finale, which also was a grand showcase for the intimate, relaxed compelling relationship between the two Crane brothers.

Someone I know once compared Joey to Sam Malone and argued that Sam was also a fundamentally happy person and that show worked. My response is that it's not entirely comparable. For one, Sam wasn't really happy or rather while he was quite affable, the stories were often about Sam's drive to "better" himself (regain his celebrity, prove his worth to Diane, recapture his youth, finally one-up his rival Gary). Again, that was never Joey.

E. Yarber said...

Hey, I'M still trying to figure out my true identity!

tavm said...

Mike Bloodworth, a "teleplay" like "screenplay" for the big screen, is the credit used when the material is adapted from something and not an original one, otherwise the credit would simply read "Written by". "Story by" or "Based on" would usually follow "teleplay by" or "screenplay by".

Aaron said...

Question for maybe an upcoming Friday: a friend and I have developed a couple of comedy pitches and have gotten them seen by a few people but its tough to get anybody's attention, as an outsider. Recently I've heard of a couple of "pitch tests" here in LA. The internet has limited info on them as far as how useful they are - do you know anything about 'em? Is there real potential there or are they bogus??

Frasier Fan said...

"Everyone on FRASIER was happy to be there the entire run of the series. And I’m being 100% totally honest here – there was ZERO drama at that show. All eleven years."

Really? What about the split between showrunners O'Shannon & Reisman who couldn't work together? Kelsey Grammer partnered with Reisman on a deal at Paramount, burning O'Shannon but leaving him as exec prod. Then, they brought back Christopher Lloyd and O'Shannon couldn't work with him and was gone as exec prod. Sounds like EPIC DRAMA to me!

Justin Piatt said...

I think the real Friends spin-off was in Hank Azaria's character, David. They could have shown his time in Minsk, his return to New York, his failures in his job and personal life. Of all the characters, recurring or regular, I think that would have been the most interesting option with the most potential for humour.

Colin Stratton said...

Thank you! I have been saying that about the Golden Globes for years! "Who the Hell cares?" Does anyone, besides the internet, even list that on their resume? If it's not an Oscar, Grammy, or Emmy, it does not matter. Don't believe me? Then try to sell a former American Music Award or an Ace Award at a pawn shop amd see!

Boomska316 said...

Friday Question:

In the Season 5 MASH episode, "Movie Tonight", was all of that activity (during the movie) scripted or was some of it ad-libbed? I ask because a lot of it just looked like the actors having fun and goofing off on their own.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

"Ken said...": Wendy (the wonderful Beth Hall) was not in the original cast; she was only added later, possibly after MAD MEN finished (she played Roger Sterling's secretary, Caroline), first as an occasional character and more recently as main cast. I really wish they'd give her some storylines. Hall is brilliant, and IMO being underutilized. We've had some interesting hints about her character, though: she was originally introduced as very weepy at their AA meetings; she's a nurse and quite a good one, it would appear; she's a member of Mensa... Everyone else has had stories. Why not Wendy?

(btw, one of the great pleasures of MOM is to pause the playback in that little restaurant where they go for coffee and admire the five main characters, all women, all interesting, all (even if only just) over 40.)

Ken said...

Wendy M. Grossman---
1) Does Ms. Hall have dance training as well? I agree on Wendy's appeal.
2) Seems like Mary Pat Gleason's character is being brought up. Or she may be kept in a role as a foil or outragous stories ( Turkey day dinner share about her mother-sister)
3) It is appealling to see these women interact with each other.

John Pearley Huffman said...

I've never seen Friends, Joey, Episodes or Man With A Plan. But Matt LeBlanc has been surprisingly solid as the lead host of the current Top Gear on the BBC.

Who knew?

VP81955 said...

There was a third-season ep where Christy collapsed the night before a crucial exam at her community college and was taken to the hospital...where Wendy was on duty. But instead of being the mousy Wendy they knew from AA meetings, this Wendy -- in her nurse persona -- was strict and authoritarian towards Christy, Bonnie, Jill and Marjorie. Our work and non-work selves often are two different people, and this took it to an hilarious extreme.

BTW, I was at the "Mom" PaleyFestLA event last Saturday, and Beth spoke the least of the five actresses (and show creator Gemma Baker), like the side of Wendy viewers usually see. I too would like to see an ep where we not only learn more about her backstory, but she is that week's prime interactor with Christy and Bonnie.

VP81955 said...

With the focus on the support group rather than Christy's kids and ex, it's perhaps the most estrogen-laden sitcom since "Designing Women."

MikeN said...

Ken, you should have paid closer attention. Later in the episode, a different Avengers comic book is shown in his hands. You would think they would just get one, but somehow they got two, from about ten years before the show was made.

Ken said...

MikeN "you should have paid closer attention."
1) Did you know my parents or teachers? Had to ask since this is remembered as a constant refrain from my youth.

2) I was so amazed at catching one oversight I was so involved in self congratulations that I missed the second Avengers ( Plus I was channel surfing)

Jahn Ghalt said...

Harold and Lillian Michelson were featured in a recent, charming documentary titled

Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story.

Harold Michelson started in Hollywood as a storyboard artist and eventually became a valued production designer.

Lillian Michelson was introduced into research at the studio where Harold was working - starting as an assistant and soon became the head research librarian. Her library moved at least once before she retired. I don't recall if the library was saved or abandoned.