Thursday, July 05, 2018

What if "Diane" stayed on CHEERS?

As an experiment I recently sprinkled in a few Friday Question Days from ten years ago.  Nobody goes back and actually reads the archives.  I received good response from it so I'm doing it again.  Hopefully you're not reading this in the Emergency Room having lost two fingers due to last night's fireworks. 

From Brian:

Have you ever considered or were you ever offered the chance to write commercials? Many commercials leave me thinking "What ad genius thought that one up?" and "That's supposed to make we want to buy that?"

There was a period before my writing career when I was pretty much considering anything other than movie stars’ personal assistant. I was always leery of advertising because I had always heard it was a pressure cooker, everyone had ulcers, and you had to come up with campaigns without the benefit of a wife who’s a witch. But desperate times called for desperate applications. I got a meeting at J. Walter Thompson’s and was asked to go home and write up some copy. I did and never heard back from them. I’m guessing they didn’t love it.

Several comedy writers started in advertising. Allan Katz (MASH, Rhoda, All in the Family, Roseanne) came up with the name “Screaming Yellow Zonkers”, and Steve Gordon who wrote and directed ARTHUR started as a Mad Man.

Tyroc asks:

Where do you think the Sam/Diane relationship would have gone had Shelley Long stayed on it? Do you think the show would've run as long as it did?

There were no long range plans for Sam/Diane and the thing about CHEERS is that the Charles Brothers always encouraged as many different ideas and directions as we could think of. The goal was to find the most original story arc possible. So who knows? There was resistance to marrying them but if someone came up with a fresh unexpected take on the institution we might have gone in that direction.

And from Ski:

I have noticed that on some TV shows, some writers play characters on the shows they write. Do any of these writers ever switch jobs and become actors? Or conversely, are there any actors who say "screw it I wanna write"?

A couple of writers for THE OFFICE are part of the ensemble. And of course there’s Tina Fey.

But there have a number of instances when comedy writers go before the camera. I’ll give a few examples but I’m sure there are quite a few more. Conan O’Brien went from the SIMPSONS writing staff to some talk show, I forget the name. Jay Tarses, one of the driving forces behind THE BOB NEWHART SHOW and BUFFALO BILL was in the cast of OPEN ALL NIGHT (a show he co-created) and THE DUCK FACTORY. Everett Greenbaum, who I profiled recently, made a nice living as a character actor the last ten years of his life. And most writers wind up doing little cameos, further proving that it’s the one-or-two line guys who kill you. That wasn’t the case with me, however. I was great in the two shows I acted in.

A number of stand-up comics gravitate towards the writing room. A few do both. Dana Gould on RAYMOND is one. Carol Leifer is another. And don’t forget Larry David.

Several actors also write, like Alan Alda and Jerry Seinfeld but aren’t about to trade the greasepaint for grease boards.

And then there’s Rachel Sweet, a wonderful writer with such credits as SEINFELD, DHARMA & GREG, and SPORTS NIGHT. She was an 80’s punk rock star. That's the way I wanted to break into the writing field.


Brian Phillips said...

Jay Tarses not only went in front of the camera, he went "in front of the mic", co-writing and starring in a BBC Radio comedy that takes place during the Revolutionary War, called "Revolting People". His co-writer Andy Hamilton is also well-known for his writing and performing. Hamilton plays the devil in the BBC's "Old Harry's Game".

Janet Ybarra said...

While not a comedy, the late great writer/producer Stephen J. Cannell did his share of acting--notably on his series in the '90s, RENEGADE. Rather than a bit part, he played the overarching villain, Dutch Dixon.

Through most of the series, he was credited as a guest star. But in the the last season he elevated himself to main cast status.

He made a really good bad guy.

Peter said...

Ryan Reynolds is no slouch. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw he shares co-writing credit on Deadpool 2. AND he's married to the beautiful Blake Lively. AND by all accounts he's a really nice guy.

I wish I was Ryan Reynolds

therealshell said...

Rachel Sweet has/had a terrific singing voice ! I had no idea that she was a writer. B-A-B-Y Baby, was a firm favourite of mine when I was a younger chap, still full of piss 'n vinegar. Now, I'm just full of the former.

Kirk said...

Allen Burns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show fame came up with Cap'n Crunch

E. Yarber said...

When I first came to LA, the only contact I had was the sister of a woman who had worked with me in a bank. Every few days she'd call me with some job lead. On two occasions she suggested that I apply for Personal Assistant positions, which was something of a stretch because I have never owned a car and would presumably have had to run multiple errands.

The first star looking for someone was Randy Quaid and his wife. Boy, I'm sure sorry I didn't wind up with those two.

Then she called with a number for Sean Connery. I assumed I'd get a staffer, but the voice that answered the phone had that unmistakable Scottish burr as well as a decidedly impatient tone. Taking my life in my hands, I stammered that I'd heard he was looking for an assistant.

"The position has been filled!" he barked at me, hanging up at once. I have to admit even getting blown off in that way had its charm. Sounded like a witty euphemism for some wannabe screenwriter getting two bullets in the gut.

In the end I wound up working alone at home, as God intended.

ML said...

Peter, these big stars just give a few suggestions and sit along with the writer a few hours, take them out for lunch, have a few beers and the poof.... get the co-writing credit. Who's gonna question them? Remember Ken's blog about Redford claiming credit?

It's like the executive producer, co-producer and other non-sense titles given to every guy who had lunch with anyone related to the movie. That's Hollywood for you.

"by all accounts he's a really nice guy" and those accounts are all interviews, talk show appearances etc.... all well choreographed PR exercises. Of course everyone will appear like a saint. By those "same accounts" I had thought Kevin Spacey was the coolest guy, with all his charm and mimicry of other actors.

tavm said...

Lorenzo Music, the writer who wrote/produced with partner David Davis on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and co-created "The Bob Newhart Show" with him, then was the voice of Carlton the Doorman on "Rhoda" before becoming Garfield on a series of cartoon specials co-written by Mark Evanier.

Peter said...

ML,I think you're being a bit too cynical. Reynolds has personally shepherded Deadpool through years of development hell. If what you said is true, every Hollywood star would get a co-writing credit.

It's true interviews and chat shows tend to be the prism through which we perceive celebrities, but it can't hide all the truth all the time. No amount of choreographed PR puff pieces can disguise the fact that Hugh Grant is a huge asshole and is known for being an unpleasant SOB.

Roseann said...

I worked on a music video, in the '80's I believe, and Rachel Sweet was one of the stars. I wondered if it was the same person. Know I know it is! Thanks.

BTW, E Yarber, thank your lucky stars you did not work for Quaid and wife.............

Y. Knott said...

I always thought Diane exited at the perfect time, at least for the good of the show. They'd basically played though every romantic variation:

- Sam and Diane are attracted to each other, but are not a couple
- Sam and Diane are a couple
- Sam and Diane are exes who work together
- Sam and Diane are exes who don't work together, but still are somehow involved in each others' lives
- Sam and Diane are still attracted to each other but don't get together
- Sam and Diane are still attracted to each other but are involved with other people
- Sam and Diane are back together as a couple

After all that, there wasn't anywhere else to go with these two that they hadn't gone before. Even "Sam and Diane are a married couple" wouldn't be too much different from "Sam and Diane are a couple."

As much as I loved the Diane years, it would have been a real disappointment if Cheers just spun its wheels by having Diane continue to hang around -- no matter what the issues were that caused Shelley Long to leave, the timing of the departure really ended up serving the show well. The Cheers staff had to reinvent the show...and to their credit, they did!

Brian said...

Hey, that's my question (the first one). Wow, can't believe its been that long. Thanks Ken, for thinking enough of my question to include it again.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I DO read your archival blogs. However, they are difficult to navigate. From what I've seen they are listed chronologically, not by subject. Since I'm not that familiar with I don't know if its technically possible to set up some kind of a cross referencing system. That is, if someone was curious about M*A*S*H they could search for or click an icon and blogs about M*A*S*H would come up. The same thing could be done with CHEERS, BECKER, you and David, etc., etc. A FAQ would probably save you some time because you wouldn't have to keep answering the same questions over and over. I'd do it for you, but I'm about as computer illiterate as they come. Maybe you could go the "Tom Sawyer" route and trick a computer savvy student/intern into doing it.
But seriously, I would read your old blogs if they were easier to locate.
P.S. All my digits are intact.

Carol said...

Here's a hypothetical for you. Let's say that a network came up with enough zeroes to toss at all the actors and writers, and everyone agreed to do the show again, Where do you think the characters would be? How would you get them all back in the bar? Would you want to have Sam and Diane together as a couple?

Frank Beans said...

I think Shelly Long needed to leave CHEERS for essentially the same reason Larry Linville needed to leave MASH. Their story arcs as comedic foils were simply played out, and there was no plausible relationship to the other actors on the show that could be written into their characters anymore.

And they are two of my favorite actors in their respective shows, but leaving was simply the right thing to do. And as an extra note, MASH could have had a lot more life to it if there had been a bit more character change in the later years.

Janet Ybarra said...

The last years of MASH were still good television--sometimes great television--but it was also noticable the writers and producers were running out of ideas. (And I'm speaking of the years after Ken and David left.)

Then of course with MASH all throughout you had so many continuity problems to fly a helicopter through.

For instance, Col. Potter takes over September 19, 1952. Says so right in his first episode. That means in "real life," he would have been in charge of the 4077 for about 9 months before the end of the Korean War. In the series, course, it was more like 9 seasons of television.

In the end, you just have to accept it as good storytelling even when it diverged from any sense of continuity.

Still, kind of surprised Gelbart or someone didn't come up with a show Bible for everyone to work off of.

Janet Ybarra said...

Frank, actually toward the end, I think there was character change. Hot Lips had become softer, kinder and more likeable.

Same really (maybe to somewhat lesser extent) of Charles, but he had become friendlier, less of a boob.

And Hawkeye in someway was the biggest change. Good or bad, by the end, I don't think he was the womanizing scoundrel he started as.

By the end, it seemed it was just earnest Alan Alda playing earnest Alan Alda in the name of Hawkeye. Much more serious.

Janet Ybarra said...

The write-out of MASH I always felt least satisfying was Trapper.

Yes, I know Wayne Rogers left at the last minute, so the need for the off-camera departure.

But we never hear from him again. Sure, Trapper is mentioned here and there after he is gone. But the viewer perspective, after Trapper departs Hawkeye never so much as received a letter from this guy who had been his best friend.

Something always seemed off about that. Surely, some imaginative writer could've come up with a script that gave us some real goodbye to the Trapper character, even if Wayne Rogers declined to lend even his voice to a letter to Hawkeye.

That's the MASH episode I always thought was missing.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Louis CK was a writer for Conan O'Brien. Now he shares a desert island with Kevin Spacey, and neither of them is happy about it.

Janet Ybarra said...

Carol, in your hypothetical situation, would you have rehired just Shelley Long or both Long and Kirstie Alley?

Diane D. said...

They had played through every relationship variation for Sam and Diane, except marriage. That rarely works, unfortunately. I loved FRASIER, but when Niles and Daphne got married, they couldn’t make it work. However, if any 2 actors could have done it, it would have been Ted Danson and Shelley Long (with the help of the outstanding writers on that show :) I would have loved to see what they did with it.

Tom Galloway said...

Friday question: What if instead of Shelley Long/Diane leaving when she did, Ted Danson/Sam left (and she stayed)? Any thoughts on how y'all would've handled that?

As a side note, I'm currently in Singapore. There's a chain of convenience stores named "Cheers"; logo's a little like the show but not IMO excessively (you pretty much have to be trying to compare them rather than the show immediately coming to mind, and their colors are the UMichigan like blue and yellow.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

Considering that the men who came between Sam and Diane tended to be pretentious intellectuals (Sumner Sloane, Philip Semenko, Frasier Crane), it would have been a change of pace to have a story arc in which Diane hooks up with a down-to-earth, non-snobby, handsome guy. Because it would be interesting and funny to see how Sam would cope with Diane getting serious with a guy similar to *him.*

JJ said...

Hi Ken, I'm struggling with my latest pilot and I have a possible Friday (or Wednesday if you're feeling wacky) question: When writing an original TV pilot, how do you go about creating the characters, and especially how do you go about balancing the traits of the main characters so they will be play off each other well? Are there character archetypes that you use to make sure you've hit certain types? Or are there rules you have about always needing a certain kind of character or always pairing one kind of character with another? Or am I way overthinking this and my characters just need to be interesting?

E. Yarber said...

JJ: Start with "interesting" and the rest will sort itself out.

Coram_Loci said...

Friday Question: Was there any talk (do you wish there was any talk) of an animated episode of Cheers or Frasier?

Roger Rabbit had success during Cheers's run.
Kelsey Grammar had success voice acting on a new hit show called The Simpsons.
Any talk of hopping aboard that animation train to Al-bu-quer-que?

What episode from either Cheers or Frasier do you think could be even better if adapted to a cartoon?

AAllen said...

Wow, I had no idea that's what happened to Rachel Sweet. I discovered her when I got a turntable a few years ago. Now her discography is available with all the other Stiff Records artists on Freegal.

Chicodee said...

Everyone wishes they were Ryan Reynolds :)

Craig Larson said...

I LOVED Rachel Sweet. Thanks for the info, I did not know that about her. I guess I missed her name in the credits.

Reverend Wayne said...

AAllen, if you don't have it already, you'll want the pink vinyl English issue of Rachel's first album. Better sound and better track selection than the US Epic version.