Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday Questions

Friday Questions to get into the Mother’s Day weekend.

Brian Phillips is up first.

I enjoy physical humor.

For you and David Isaacs, are sight gags easier or harder to come up with than verbal ones? Also, do either of you have a better knack for coming up with them?

We both love sight gags. It has less to do with whether they’re easy to come up with and more to do with whether they fit the tone of the piece. If we have a scene that’s pretty slapstick we can come up with tons of sight gags. But if a show is primarily verbal, the sight gag has to fit the situation and the reality.

I love to put in sight gags even in sophisticated comedies (like FRASIER). It breaks up the comic rhythm and generates laughs from a different source. In all of my stage plays, which are very verbal and grounded in reality I always have a few sight gags.

Another BIG factor: Can the actor perform the gag? You could have the most hilarious sight gag ever, but if the actor isn’t skilled in physical comedy it’s going to die a horrible death.

I’ve been very lucky in my career to work with actors like David Hyde Pierce. You could throw anything at him and he would crush it.

Francis Dollarhyde wonders:

Given that Nick Tortelli was mentioned in passing in lots of episodes (of CHEERS) prior to his first actual appearance, there seemed to be sense of anticipation for when he'd finally show up at the bar (which didn’t happen until halfway through season 2). This sort of points towards a big guest star.

Was it ever on the cards that Danny DeVito would play the part of Nick, to reprise the DeVito/Rhea Perlman dynamic in TAXI (especially since Nick Tortelli's general scumminess was not so far removed from Louie De Palma's?) Or am I totally off base? (Not that I'm sorry Dan Hedaya got the part, which he nailed).

No, it was never considered. Partly for the reason you stated; we didn’t want to just do Louie & Zena again. And we wanted Nick to be his own unique brand of scum.

Dan Hedaya was a gift from God. He was so funny in that role.

From MW:

Potentially dumb question about your podcast, which I like quite a bit. Your radio background is evident and makes the listening much better than the standard hemming and hawing most of us would do. a segment ends you say you'll be right back with... or something like that. Why? There is no pause or commercial where you go away. I'm assuming you don't "record" it all in one take and it's to let you know to find the next section, but why do you keep it in when there's no break in it. Told you it was a potentially dumb question.

Not a dumb question at all. I do record things in segments. And I don’t always know ahead of time whether I have commercials that week or not. If there are I want the audience to stay through them to the next thing. So that’s why I do it.

Worse comes to worst you get a five second music bumper then on to the next thing.

Steve asks:

I have a story idea that seems ideal (and others I have polled agree) for a particular sitcom, but I'm not a writer, and already have another career.

I could go through the effort of writing an entire episode spec script, but I understand those are pretty much ignored now for new shows.

What's the best way to get that story idea in front of the show? Try to contact one of the existing writers for the show?

I’m sorry to be blunt, but Steve, if you just have an idea for an episode of an existing show your chances of selling it are slimsly and nonesky. If you write a script you stand a slight chance.

You’re right in that most shows won’t read unsolicited scripts, but if the script is good it might attract an agent and that agent could then submit it. Yes, it’s a long shot, but crazier things have happened and I have to be honest and say that’s really the only way I see this working for you.

And finally, from Mike Miller:

Why hasn't there been a great TV Show about a sports team? There has not been a great, long running show about a team. The only ones I can come up with is "The White Shadow" and "Friday Night Lights" and they were more about high school.

Several reasons. First off, they tend to be expensive. Getting crowds and doing elaborate game situations takes time and money. Especially on the big league level.

Also, if you want to do a professional sport like MLB or the NBA you need permission and must pay royalties to use club logos. And sometimes the leagues want creative say or even creative control.

David and I had that with a pilot idea we once had involving pro basketball.  The NBA wanted creative control.  That was the end of that idea. 

Another problem, internationally shows about American sports don’t sell well.  And we live in a global economy. 

There have been attempts, notably PITCH on Fox a couple of years ago. So far no one’s really cracked it.

What’s your Friday Question?


Jim S said...

Follow up question to the Dan Hedaya question.

Nick Tortelli was an "unseen" character for a long time. Just like Maris and Vera. Was it a difficult decision to make him a "seen" character given the comic descriptions given of him? Mohair pajamas is one description that comes to mind.

Do you make the decision when you have an actor in mind? Or you make the decision and hope the right actor shows up?

What do you do if you can't find the right actor?


Rory Wohl said...

Hi Ken,

Happened to catch the "Depressing News" episode of M*A*S*H last night - the one where Hawkeye builds and then blows up a tower made out of tongue depressors. At the end Col. Potter gives Hawkeye a painting of Hawkeye next to the tower to remember it by.

That got me wondering, who was in charge of painting the Col. Potter paintings? Since they're all of a similar style, was it one person, or was anybody in the prop (or scenic?) department able to copy that style?

I know, we're really getting in to the M*A*S*H minutiae here.


John Hammes said...

A static medium/long distance camera shot. Someone or something running/falling/tossing themselves across or down the static camera frame. During five years on the air, "NewsRadio" (Phil Hartman) knew how to set up this physical comedy enough, but not too much, all the while making said gag almost understated. Progressively stranger any episode could get, the more matter of fact (mostly) the characters would react. "Complaint Box", Season 3, being good an example as any.

E. Yarber said...

The question about the sitcom premise reminded me of a story that may put such a procedure into perspective. I'm not trying to put the questioner down, as he probably has more of an idea than this one.

One night I was just about to stop work when the phone rang. It was the head waiter from a once-prosperous restaurant that now mainly served former stars. He had convinced some network executives to let him pitch a series to them, possibly by holding their Gemelli with Shrimp hostage, and needed me to write up a prospectus for the meeting the next day. The lead character was the head waiter from a once-prosperous restaurant that now mainly served former stars.

"Who are the other characters?" I asked. "I don't know," he said. "Is it an hour or half-hour?" I asked. "Depends," he said. "Give me five storylines for individual episodes," I asked. "That's for the writers to decide," he said. "What sort of program does this network typically do?" It was a sports channel that didn't show scripted drama. "Actor X has agreed to do the show," the head waiter told me. Actor X may have been trying to get out of the restaurant away from this guy, since I'd read in the trades that he'd signed to do a show of his own that fall.

"What do you want from me?" I asked. "Just give me a piece of paper so they'll have something to hold while I sell the show," he said. I was tired and hungry, so I wrote three paragraphs of nothing and emailed it to him. (Look, I once slapped together a screenplay in two days for one persistent pest when I had the flu and was too sick to manage any real writing). I never heard a word from him after it arrived, but I somehow doubt the show made it to air.

There are eight million stories in my undressed apartment. This has been one I'd like to forget.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I find it extremely odd to think that one professional organization owns the entire sport of basketball. I get that they can trademark their own name, but sports like baseball, basketball, and football existed before the professional leagues were founded. I'd love to see the claim legally challenged.

Not that I'm disputing what you're saying.


Andy Rose said...

@Wendy M. Grossman: You can make a show about pro basketball without the NBA's permission by making up a fictional league. But it gets sticky again if you ever intend to mention the NBA or any of its players or teams. It would be kind of odd to have a show about pro basketball where no one ever even mentions their idols or dreams of playing for the NBA.

There was a show that revolved around a fictional professional football team entitled The Game, first on the CW and then on BET. Part of their solution to the problems Ken mentioned was to focus on behind-the-scenes issues rather than actual game play, kind of like how you rarely saw an actual comedy sketch on 30 Rock.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I also love physical comedy. Most of THREE'S COMPANY's dialog was pretty insipid, but John Ritter's physicality made the sight gags truly funny. That's also the reason that Cary Grant is one of my all time favorite actors. He could do just about anything including some marvelous, physical comedy. And, of course, there's always the THREE STOOGES vs the MARX BROS. argument. I've never felt that liking one precluded you from liking the other.
As for teams, etc. The late Gerald S. O'Laughlin used to live in my neighborhood. I once asked him why "The Rookies" used a made up police force even though they were clearly in Los Angeles? He said, " basically, it costs less." When you watch some old cop shows that are set in L.A. some use actual L.A.P.D. badges and some don't. Its for the same reason that Ken mentioned. I believe that there's a royalty or few associated with using the image of the L.A.P.D. badge. Plus, it gives the department a say in how that image can be used.

Cat said...

They not only found the right actor for Nick Tortelli, they found a great choice to play his son, Anthony (or, sorry--Antny. Kid looked like he could genuinely be Dan Hedaya's son, and carried himself and spoke like the spawn of Carla and Nick.

Myles said...

Glad someone mentioned The Game. It worked extremely well but yep they rarely showed actual games. They showed a lot of locker room and practice scenes but not a lot of games. Pitch was great and sadly ended before it's time. There was this NBA show that sold a while back from Dan Fogelman that didn't make it to air. They actually sell but rarely make it for whatever reasons.

Unknown said...

Gerald S. O'Loughlin follow-up:

Once he was asked what the letters SCPD on the uniforms and insignia stood for.

He answered "Sin City Police Department".

Sums it up pretty well, no?

VP81955 said...

Compared to Cary, William Powell received relatively little credit for his skill at physical comedy, but he too was brilliant at it. Witness this fishing scene from the 1936 screwball classic "Libeled Lady":

mdv59 said...

"Slimsly and Nonesky"... an underrated comedy team from the 1930's, tragically Laural & Hardy stole their act and they were never heard from again.

Andy Rose said...

@Myles Warden: I was a crowd extra in one of the rare scenes on The Game where they played a game on camera. They rented out the Georgia Dome for it. By the time they paid for that and all of the specialized background (people who could plausibly look like pro football players) they would need to play both teams and their coaches and refs, they could only afford about 100 extras for everything else. So for different takes, we were playing spectators on all sides of the stadium (which seated 70,000), fans of one team and then the other, reporters, cameramen, spectators in a skybox... I hope it looked good on the air, because it looked pretty silly in person.

Even beyond the licensing and background issues, it takes a lot of careful choreography to shoot a sports scene properly. You have to service the script and look realistic, but also make sure the director gets coverage and nobody gets hurt.

Coal Porter said...

Friday question:

If Harry Morgan and Colonel Potter somehow had a baby together, would they have to name it Harry Potter?

John Jackson Miller said...

Ken, when you mentioned a few days back liking it when you got a two-part episode out of a story, I started to wonder: I'd always heard that syndicators didn't like serialized shows, because you never knew what order things would air in. Certainly "Lucy" had theme seasons and "Hillbillies" had running arcs, but I don't recall the cliffhanger "TO BE CONTINUED" sitcom episodes becoming much of a thing until the 1970s. (The old "One Day at a Time" was chock full of them.) What do you think changed, if anything? I'd have assumed with shorter first-run seasons, the networks would have worried that multi-parters would've been harder to schedule at rerun time.

Anonymous said...

Their baby’s surname would be Morgan, and she grow up to be a rum drinking Captain.

repoob said...

Friday question: I remember reading long ago that Dudley Moore had to be replaced (by George Segal) in "The Mirror Has Two Faces" because he suddenly couldn't remember his lines. Of course he soon became quite ill. When I see an older star who is cast in a movie or TV show, I often wonder, if there's any sort of "Hollywood grapevine" as to who can still remember their lines, and who may be slipping. So I guess my question is, have you ever cast someone based on reputation, only to learn that they can no longer perform?

VP81955 said...

I'm certainly many of you (including Ken) heard about this today, but Fox made it official: "Last Man Standing" is joining the network this fall after a year's hiatus following six years on ABC. Moreover, Nancy Travis will return as Tim Allen's spouse. Glad to see her back.

The announcement came a day after Fox canceled three single-cams. Methinks the multi-cam is returning to fashion.

BTW, the upfronts are next week. Looking forward to next fall's lineups.

Annie C. said...

You're not alone Rory. I've wondered about Col. Potter's paintings myself.

ChipO said...

Coach ?

Jessy S. said...

Coach was actually a show which featured a college football coach for the fictional Minnesota State Screaming Eagles. But a lot of the things took place behind the scenes such as in the head coach's home and office. What really helped is that college recruiting was a major issue and storyline source. The show's magic was lost once the scene changed to the fictional NFL Orlando Breakers.

Ralph C. said...

“1st and 10” was an HBO sitcom about a fictional pro football team. That ran for seven seasons, 1984 to 1991. The show starred Delta Burke and O.J. Simpson.

Ali said...

In recent years,there has been revivals & sequels to popular television series from the 80s & 90s.

Have you ever consider doing a limited sequel series to Frasier?
If that gets green lighted,would you throw in a Cheers reunion & get Frasier & Lilith back together for the grand finalie.