Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Who is the guy with that weird laugh?

Once again I'm slipping in a ten-year-old Friday Questions post.  This has been a crazy month, I need a bit of a break, and I bet 90% of you are reading this for the first time.  So stagger back down memory lane with me. 

Here are answers to some of your Friday questions.

velvet goldmine wondered this last week:

I know that even shows filled before a live audience sometimes used to "sweeten" them with recorder laughs. But there's this one man's laugh that you hear on TONS of shows from the 70s, from MTM to Taxi. You know the one I mean? First there's a startled "Haw!" as the setup gets underway, then this extended "Haw Haw Haw..." when the joke reaches its zenith.

Why in the world would they keep using this familiar, even annoying laugh? And if by chance it was the same guy at all the tapings -- say, a superfan, or a self-impressed writer -- why wasn't he muzzled?

This is less of an answer than a confirmation. As several people correctly mentioned in the comments section, the distinctive laugh you hear belongs to James L. Brooks (pictured above). It’s less annoying when you realize it’s genuine. And when he laughs at something I’ve said or written, it’s sheer music.

There are also two very distinctive laughers on the last seven years of CHEERS. Phoef Sutton and Bill Steinkellner. I can’t describe them but watch any episode from those middle and later years and you’ll know what I mean.

Jim Stickford asks:

What's the procedure for deciding what particular line to use. I saw Carl Reiner in an interview years ago and he said one of the reasons he stayed in the writer's room for Your Show of Shows was that he could type, which was a bid deal in the days before computers and photocopiers. When the writers threw out lines, Carl picked the one he liked best and typed it in.

Is there a procedure? Is it decided by the show runner? Do you vote on it?

It’s either the showrunner or the person designated to run the room in the showrunner’s absence. Someone has to have the final say otherwise you have the scene in GODZILLA with all the people running through the streets crazed. Although, wait a minute. It's like that normally.

From Jaime J. Weinman:

Do you prefer writing sitcom episodes with a tag before the closing credits (M*A*S*H) or episodes that have no tags and end the episode with the second act (Cheers)?

Also what are the reasons for having tags or not having tags: is it usually network policy (like in the '80s when almost none of NBC's sitcoms used tags), or is it sometimes the showrunner's decision?

Tags are those little two minute scenes at the end of sitcoms. They serve the purpose of rewarding the viewer for staying through the last spot break. Some shows have them, others don’t. It depends on their format and needs of their network. There seem to be fewer today as networks are going more to a three-act format -- again, all in the cause of audience maintenance; none in the cause of better storytelling.

I MUCH prefer writing tags to the teasers we employed on CHEERS. At least with tags you could draw upon content established in the episode and just do a call-back. Teasers were completely independent of the story that followed. The Charles Brothers thought it would be novel and help establish the world of the bar. They were right of course, but teasers were a bitch to pull out of our ass every week.

What’s your question???


Philip said...

Interesting - Going purely from (faded) memory it seems like Frasier ALWAYS had a tag, but (almost?) NEVER had a teaser. Some of the Frasier tags were my favourite scenes from the episode. A personal favourite: The one where Niles has lucky hair for the NBA player and Marty rubs his head while playing cards at the end.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

I'm sorry. As much as I respect Mr. Brooks, I couldn't stand that laugh of his. Forty years later, I still cringe when I hear it on reruns.

The laugh may have been genuine, but it seemed to come at moments when the studio audience wasn't responding as much as Brooks would like.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Its too bad that so many of the shows in syndication have had the tags (Or as Quinn Martin called them the "Epilogue") edited out. I suppose its to make room for more commercials. Most of the time when you see a full version, with the tag, its nice, but you also realize that they really aren't always necessary. Other times the tag is like the cherry on a sundae. It wraps up everything and makes the show somehow feel more complete and satisfying. THE BIG BANG THEORY still has tags. I actually look forward to them.

Andy Rose said...

Through the 60s, tags were also used as commercials when a show had a single primary sponsor. Sheriff Taylor and Barney enjoying a bowl of Grape Nuts, Lucy and Ricky drinking Sanka, or (infamously) Fred and Barney smoking Winstons.

Tags had a resurgence in the late 90s when NBC pioneered the use of uniform split-screen credits at the end of every show. If the show didn't provide a tag, the network would take up the time with extra promos. The timing of that decision coincided with the beginning of Frasier... I assume that's why they decided to do such a unique tag on every show?

Stephen Marks said...

"...teasers were a bitch to pull out of our ass every week" Its the same with porn flicks only in the opposite direction. Ken's been busy all week, wonder what he's up to? A play? Lunch each day with Earl at the Brown Derby? Due diligence on Ms. Wood's murder? Somethings brewing and it ain't Ken's coffee. By the way, where I come from "tags" is short form for "The Andy Griffith Show", just ask Earl he's from Canada also. That's all I got.

James said...

Friday question: in the past you complained about how difficult it could be to write the teasers for Cheers. How difficult was it writing the silent piece that played under the closing theme and credits to Frasier? I often thought those were very clever and often the best part of the episode.

Anonymous said...

The CHEERS teasers might've been a bitch to pull out of your ass every week, but DAMN were they worth it! I don't think a FRASIER tag was ever as good as a CHEERS teaser.

CHEERS should be celebrated for two things: going 11 years and filling those years with great teasers. Sometimes the teasers were better than the episodes they teased.

I just don't think tags work. Okay they're good for an extra laugh, but it's more like a weird encore. The episode's energy is waning and the laugh is never that strong. Whereas the teaser is a great warm-up that gets you pumped up for what's ahead. Many times, CHEERS teasers would leave you craving more Norm before--guess what!--more Nommy!

I think the reason the teasers were probably better to watch than write is because of the risk. Ken, like you said...a tag was easier because you could just make it a callback. Little risk there. Aim small, miss small. With the teaser, you're going for anything that will stick. After 11 years, it was clear that CHEERS was stretching, but MAN it never sucked.

Frank Beans said...

FRASIER put a novel twist on the use of its tags, because as far as I know, no other show used them as purely visual humor (silent except for the outro theme song, of course). Many of them in the early seasons involved Eddie, which was a nice touch.

In the interest of honoring the late Harry Anderson, I think a mention of NIGHT COURT's cold-opening (teaser) should be mentioned. It's particularly effective with the theme music's bass line kicking in at the start. Who could ever forget that?

Anonymous said...

Seems like most comedies now have one last scene that plays out during the closing credits. Of the "big 4", I think CBS is the only network whose live-action sitcoms do a tag scene. ABC has done this for several years, and I think FOX and NBC slowly followed suit.