Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday Questions

It’s Friday Question Day with new Friday Questions. What’s yours?

Gary starts us off.

One of the most annoying trends in family sitcoms is that the children always talk like adults. In fact this is so ingrained I don't think it can even be called a trend anymore. The last TV comedy in which the children actually spoke realistically may have been Leave it to Beaver.

My question is, have you ever had to write any extended dialogue for children? Did you find it unusually challenging? And if so, how did you go about it?

Okay, first off, I agree with you. Smart-ass sitcom children drive me up a wall.

I’ve rarely had to write for small children, but part of that is by design. I tend to avoid projects that require very young kids. And the few times I have had to I didn’t place any comic burden on them.

The other thing is that most child actors can’t deliver these lines. There are a few exceptions like Rusty Hamer (pictured: above) on the old DANNY THOMAS SHOW, but for the most part, they don’t have the skill, discipline, or diction to hit jokes out of the park. And frankly, it’s not fair to expect them to.

I did like the Richie character in THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, played by Larry Matthews. Here for the first time was a truly goofy kid.

But for my money, the best use of children was on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. Those kids were used very sparingly. There were some episodes devoted to them, but in many others they didn’t appear at all. And I don’t think the show suffered as a result.

Duncan Randall asks:

Why would a network launch a new show on Sunday nights, starting the first two shows when the time will undoubtedly be delayed by the NCAA games? I'm talking about Instinct on CBS.

CBS did that show a favor. The NCAA games brings a large holdover audience. Folks who normally wouldn’t be watching CBS are tuned in for the games, and a lot of them stick around. Ever notice what a big deal it is for a show to follow the Super Bowl?

Secondly, in that case, INSTINCT also followed 60 MINUTES, which that week aired the Stormy Daniels interview, and that program got huge ratings.

One final note, Sunday night traditionally has the most viewers of the week. That’s why big network specials air on Sunday night. That’s why HBO puts their marquee shows on Sunday night. So even if your show doesn’t win its time slot, it can still attract more viewers than if it did win its time slot on Friday.

Mike Doran wonders:

I've often read about how members of the Writers Guild register pseudonyms that they can use on scripts that get "noted" beyond recognition by network or studio suits. The red-flag pen names enable the writers in question to maintain their payments and future royalties for work that they slaved over, only to see the work mishandled this way and that.

What I was wondering was if you and Mr. Isaacs (separately or together) had such a pseudonym, and if you ever had occasion to use it; I won't ask exactly where you used it (unless of course you'd like to tell us ...).

No, David and I have never used a pseudonym. If I did, I think I might go with the name Aaron Sorkin.

The guiding creative force of the TV show MASH, Larry Gelbart wrote the screenplay for the movie ROUGH CUT. He so hated how it came out that he took a pseudonym. Frances Burns. (Think about it.)

José María González Ondina rounds it out.

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:


I did know about it. And actually saw a few dollars. They just redid actual CHEERS script, and in one case, David Isaacs and I got screen credit. I have not seen any of the episodes, but I remember at the time the reaction was quite negative. But I liked the money.


Ted said...

Saw a few dollars?!!

I really wish there was some website or article which actually spoke about residuals and what it really amounted to?

Few dollars, small paycheck, chump change etc... just not getting the idea......

J Lee said...

Rusty Hamer pretty much was Patient Zero for the creation of all future smart-assed kids on TV who would deliver lines an adult might say, but not a child (which seemed to creep into the three-camera sitcoms before it affected the single-camera shows, probably because those shows rely more on the set-up/punchline format, and having the zinger come from a kid at first was something different).

McAlvie said...

I guess what to do with the kids is a problem all family sitcoms face. I agree that small fry snapping out snarky dialog is annoying because kids like that are annoying in real life. But the other side of the coin is when you never see the kids at all even after a season of pregnancy/birth plotlines. I can't help but wonder, when both parents are hanging out with friends, either together or separately, who is watching the baby. If they are writing in a pregnancy/birth, then they ought to write in the actual baby, too.

I know that writing in a baby or small child changes the dynamics of a show, but couldn't it also open up new story ideas? They were hot in the 80s, but the only time you get a family sitcom now is when it's retro or poking fun at sterotypes ... Black'ish being a terrific exception and a show I enjoy a lot, having grown up with "back in my day we didn't ..." stories from my rural, small town born and raised parents.

Jon said...

I noticed that on DVD Show, Ritchie made fewer & fewer appearances per season to where he only appeared 7 times in the final season. Garry Marshall wrote that he & the other writers hated writing for Ritchie, so this may have explained Ritchie's lesser usage in later seasons. Ritchie existed only as a device for Rob & the other adults around him, and the same can be said about the Barone kids on their show.

As far as tv kids go, I also think the Brady kids mostly acted their ages, as did the 2 youngest Partridge kids. Obviously Danny Partridge didn't, but that gave their manager Reuben Kincaid a funny line in the pilot, where he asked for Danny's age (10 at the time) and stated surprise, as he suspected that Danny was actually a 40-year-old midget (his word, not mine).

Unknown said...

Here's the opening of the Spanish Cheers:

Brian said...

For those readers who didn't see the Spanish version of Cheers, here is a promo. I don't understand Spanish, but the physical stuff just seems off to me.

VincentS said...

As to the first question, I wholeheartedly agree with you and the questioner as well shows and movies where the kids are depicted as smarter than the adults. That being the case, I have to call out one of your shows, Ken. I think it was a horrible idea to get Roz pregnant on FRASIER. I thought that at the time but I was willing to see if you guys could prove me wrong and come up with an episode in which the daughter, although a toddler, could be used in an interesting, entertaining way but I don't remember it ever happening. The daughter added nothing to the show. Yes, the big-nosed parents episode was funny but that could have been re-written to be the parents of Roz's younger boyfriend without a child or her being pregnant being any part of the story line.

sophomorecritic said...

Two questions:

1. Why do people spend time when they win awards thanking so many people? Can't they thank them in private and avoid boring the audience? Is there some internal pressure?

Stephen Soderbergh got away with it when he won an Oscar for Traffic. He literally said "I want to thank these people in private" and spoke about the power of creating art. It was the most memorable acceptance speech I've heard.

2. Is it accurate to say you're "famous" but not "recognizable on the street"? Is that the best of both worlds? Did you find any of your coworkers on the other side of the camera were deeply uncomfortable with fame?

tavm said...

Two series where kids are dominant and yet appealing: "Peanuts" specials where some of the adult-tinged lines from actual child voices are mainly mouthpiece lines courtesy of creator/writer Charles Schulz, and "Our Gang/The Little Rascals" where it's mostly kids sassing each other (though when M-G-M took over the series from Hal Roach, they added some of the most unappealing kids ever among them Robert "Mickey" Blake!)

Anonymous said...

Not enough credit is given to Connelly and Mosher for creating not just the dialogue but the plotlines for Leave It To Beaver.
In the last 60 years no one has been able to accomplish realistic television children as well as they did in the black and white era.
It's harder than it looks.

(and Eddie Haskell remains one of the top 100 characters in television history).

other Ken said...

I always enjoy the stories such as Woody told about his home town ( and French Lick) and family, as I enjoyed Rose's St. Olaf stories.
Question is are these stories written by a "specialist" one who is really good at some of these convoluted and improbable stories and seems to have a mind that goes in that direction with the rest of the writers contributing and fleshing them out or are they a product of the room where beginning point, skeleton if you will, of the story comes from different writers by happenstance?

Is there any site/ dvd/ super cut of just St. Olaf's stories? Or others of this genre ( Woody's and others)

Gary said...

Ken, thanks for answering my question about the way children talk in today's sitcoms! I agree with you that Richie Petrie was written to sound like a normal kid. Come to think of it, so were Opie Taylor, Chip and Ernie Douglas, and even Eddie Munster! I guess they knew what they were doing in the good ol' days.

Scott said...

I think Roz’s pregnancy is pivotal to the humor of the big nose gag; most of her horror seems to be about what her unborn child will look like, doesn’t it?

K said...

Possible foddder for outragous jokes.
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After heavy flooding on Kaui (Hawaii) there are up to 100 Bison's running amok on Kaui.
Video available do search.

VillageDianne said...

The Dick Van Dyke show's Ritchie didn't just talk like a real kid. Laura would open a cabinet near the floor in the kitchen, and he would be hiding in there, just like a real kid would do. It's one of the many things that made that show great.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Is that why Frederick made so few appearances on Frasier? The fact that he lived with his mother in Boston was probably very handy for you. At the planning stages of FRASIER was there ever any talk of making him a single dad? To digress for a moment, I'm old enough to remember KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS. Both the original with Art Linkletter and the inferior re-boot with William H. Cosby Jr. PHD. They even came to our elementary school looking for kids. They chose one girl from my class. The point is that children can and do say some pretty outrageous things. But, usually out of innocence and not cynicism. I suppose you could have a kid say almost any line of dialog if its approached in the right way.

Dr Loser said...

Kids on a decent sit-com?

I'd recommend the kids on Tim Allen's "Home Improvement." Nice kids, blended in easily, actually worked well with, say, Wilson, the neighbor.

Once again, this comes down to "do these words sound believable from this character?"

In the case of Home Improvement and the kids, then, yes they did.

The jury is still out on Minnie Mouse.

Bruce said...

The worst thing about working with kids is the parents.

Tobin said...

I would argue that THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW's Opie is one of the better sitcom child characters. Granted, there was a time in the first season when he tended to wisecrack too much, but that's also the season when Barney was too dumb, Andy was too much of a hick, the town was too quaint, and everyone involved -- including the writers -- were just trying too hard to be quirky and folksy.
As the show evolved and improved, and the characters deepened, Opie stopped wisecracking and started acting like a more believable child. At least to me. Ron Howard was in the vast majority (but not all) of the episodes, and Opie was the focus of many episodes. In short, he's not a Ritchie.
And I think the Andy-Opie relationship is one of the more believable father-son sitcom relationships.

DyHrdMET said...

Have you ever seen a sitcom pilot which got picked up, but then the series was either cancelled after a few episodes and/or just lost its way that quickly, and you thought that it would have been better as a feature film instead of a TV show? I'd name the ones over the years that have given me that thought, but they didn't last long enough to be THAT memorable. And do show creators and/or show runners get bad reputations in the business if that happens to them a lot (I mean having a premise that's better as a film, not simply having a show cancelled)?

Y. Knott said...

Ron Howard was terrific as Opie ... the character was written well, but boy did he deliver.

Lisa Gerritsen as Bess on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, I thought did a good job.

Jodie Foster was always amazing as a child actress (and thereafter as well, of course). She popped up here and there on a number of sitcoms, but was a regular on the TV version of Paper Moon. Nobody saw it, but she was first-rate ... in my opinion, better than Tatum O'Neal (who won an Oscar for the same role).

Kirk said...

I thought Danielle Brisebois as abandoned child Stephanie Mills provided a nice contrast to Archie Bunker on the final season of All in the Family and successor series Archie Bunker's Place.

justsomeguy05 said...

re: children speaking like adults.
You used the term "smart-ass". Yes, I find that type of writing for child characters to be very annoying.
But more than that, I think the questioner was ALSO referring to children that speak, analyze situations, dispense wisdom or observations, and stay calm in a manner that a well adjusted adult would. The content is wrong and the TONE is wrong. Which is something that I find JUST as annoying.

Steve B. said...

Ken, a question: have you heard Rob Long's "Cheers Infinity Wars" on "Martini Shot," and if so, what do you think?

bruce said...

I always heard that the 1962 play (and later movie) "A Thousand Clowns" was influential in the kid-talking-like-an-adult motif. From the other examples, this was clearly in the air in the early 60s and might even be one of the first indication of the Baby Boomer influence. (Full disclosure: I was born in 1953)

Edward said...

*** Question ***

I listened to an old "Writers Room" podcast that included several people including you and Bill Lawrence. One comment made by Bill Lawrence was that he was fired several times early in his career for writing the show he wanted instead of the show the producers wanted. Are there any first-hand stories of this problem during your tenure as writer or producer?

MikeN said...

As I was reading your post, I was thinking that you wrote Everybody Loves Raymond as the opposite. Now it looks like that wasn't you.
Nevertheless, the kids there are realistic. Breaking up a drama set rather than play their parts. 'Why were you on the bus today?' is the longest line you'll see from them.

MikeN said...

Leave It To Beaver has generally been unappreciated as to the finer details, and is now regarded as just 1950s Hays code stuff.

There is a more detailed analysis that I can't find, but here is the general idea.

MikeN said...

Here's the essay I was looking for. Turns out Jerry Mathers came up with the explanation.

Cap'n Bob said...

Rusty Hamer killed himself. He couldn't get acting jobs after Make Room For Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show, and was poorly educated.

I couldn't stand Richie Petrie. Thank god he was always being shunted out of the room.

Leave It to Beaver was one of the finest TV shows ever. Period.

Pat Reeder said...

I also hate shows that expect us to believe smart-ass kids are wiser than their elders (although that seems to be an increasingly popular delusion in current culture). Not having kids of my own, I can't judge that well what would be age-appropriate dialogue for them. However, I recently treated my eight-year-old niece to a Toys R Us clearance sale shopping spree. She led me all around the store, delivering a non-stop monologue on the various positive and negative attributes of the different toys and the TV shows that spawned them. At one point, she said, "I'm going to let you in on a secret. I like My Little Pony. Don't judge me."

I nearly fell over laughing, but if I'd heard line that from a TV sitcom kid, I wouldn't have believed for an instant that it actually came out of an eight-year-old's mouth.

Kaleberg said...

George Winslow was one of those child actors who could deliver a more grown up line. Granted, he was playing Henry Spofford III in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I remember his ridiculously deep voice agreeing to help Marilyn get through a porthole, "The first reason is I'm too young to be sent to jail. The second reason is you got a lot of animal magnetism."