Friday, August 10, 2018

Friday Questions

Some Friday Questions to kick off your weekend.

Chris Thomson is up first.

I am probably wrong, but you never seem to put Boston Legal in your examples of excellent series writing.

Just wondered if there was history there or whether you just didn't rate the writing or acting?

Or you just didn't watch it.

I watched it and liked it. So no disrespect intended. A couple of my friends even wrote on it (when David E. Kelley let them). It was entertaining, but there are better shows. I didn’t even think it was David Kelley’s best series. There were a few years of THE PRACTICE that were way more compelling in my opinion.  

From Marty Fufkin:

If the proposed Frasier reboot does a Lou Grant and become a drama (which I think is a great idea) would you still be interested?

No. The big attraction for going back and writing for that character would be having the chance to once again write smart sophisticated TV comedy.

LOU GRANT was an excellent show but the character Ed Asner played in that show was not “Lou Grant.” He was someone else just taking Lou Grant’s name.

Christopher Lowery wonders:

Watched an episode recently with Colonel Flagg (Edward Winter-"Rally 'Round the Flagg, Boys'"-Feb 14, 1979) with the new ensemble/tone.

Was the style of writing/timing/anything different bringing a character from the more "zany" early few years of the the show?

What were your impressions of the final outcome compared to the character's early days of the show?

I think we did a pretty good job of keeping the spirit, tone, and humor of the Flagg character. We modeled our “Flagg” after the one Larry Gelbart established.

And I thought it worked. Flagg was such a fun character to write, but we were well aware that a little went a long way because he was so broad. So in the four years that I was with the show we only used him once.

And finally, from jcs:

In the first season of FRIENDS there is a wooden support beam close to the flat's door, in the left corner of Monica's kitchen. This beam later magically disappears as it probably blocked valuable camera angles.

Did sets on your shows ever lose certain features without explanation?

We had a very limited budget on the ALMOST PERFECT pilot. So for Nancy Travis’ house we just used Helen’s house from WINGS and re-dressed it. When AP got picked up to series we had to construct a whole new house. We kept the basic structure – where the front door was, etc. but suddenly her house went from Cape Cod to Craftsman.

Same with her workspace. It completely changed after the pilot.

We wanted to reshoot the pilot to make the sets consistent and Paramount just laughed. Looking back, we never got complaints from viewers.

What’s your Friday Question?


Duncan Randall said...

Where do you come down on the "mini-rooms" trend? (Joy Press' article in Vanity Fair: )Is this the end of the writers' room?

Anonymous said...


cadavra said...

My two cents: BOSTON LEGAL was the best drama series of the 00's. Apart from the all-star cast and its ability to break the fourth wall so cleverly, the writing was absolutely sensational. To swing back and forth from farce to tragedy repeatedly within the same hour was little short of alchemy. Given ABC's dislike of the show, it's a miracle it lasted as long as it did, but still not long enough. If Kelley had done nothing else, this would still put him in the Pantheon.

By Ken Levine said...

I will do a whole post next week on my thoughts on Mini-rooms. Stay tuned.

Mike said...

This has become a trend. Keep asking about a subject continuously using various names and giving links to the articles on that subject repeatedly........... till Ken says "I will do a blog on that subject".

It started with Kathleen's comments and then has now continued with mini-rooms.

So next week 2 blogs will be due to this repeated harassments.

Jeff Weimer said...

IMO, Picket Fences was Kelley's best series.

The *almost* X-Files crossover was outrageous.

Lisa said...

Vanity Fair is blaming Harvey for the new Oscar rules.

By Ken Levine said...


It's not harassment, it's readers wanting to know my opinion about something. I'm flattered that they do. And there have been times when they've asked me to comment on something I don't wish to in public so I politely decline.

Peter said...

Why would anyone want Frasier to become a drama? That's like wanting a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel to be a musical.

Jon B. said...

For those who don't know, LOU GRANT was a terrific drama. And Ed Asner deservedly won two more Emmys in that role.

Anonymous said...

Concerning changed sets on long-running TV shows: I remember watching "Happy Days" in first-run network during the first season and then daytime network reruns as a very young kid and not noticing any difference concerning the interior of the Cunningham house. But when it went into syndication when I was older (when it was called "Happy Days Again" because of continued first-run eps on network prime time), I suddenly noticed how the shelf of the living room was in a different position when done one-camera/no audience as compared to three-camera/live audience. Same goes for the front door. The things one remembers when watching a TV show several times in a certain period...

J Lee said...

CBS seemed to have a bug in the late 1970s about taking sitcome characters' names and using them as the hooks on dramatic shows. Trapper John got the same treatment as Lou Grant, though in that case, with a Pernell Roberts replacing Wayne Rogers in the rolw.

The living room sets changed for both "The Odd Couple" and "Happy Days" when Paramount flipped those shows from single-camera to three-camera series. With "Happy Days", it was mainly a matter of switching the front door of the Cunningham's home from the left to the right side of the set, though they did do a three-camera show during Season 2 using the original living room set-up (the bigger problem was the live audience hurt, instead of helped the quality of the show, while the three-camera format was a major benefit to the comedy on "The Odd Couple")

Janet Ybarra said...

In that case, Ken, I've still got an inquiring mind for you to scribble away on two topics I've mentioned in the recent past.

1) All of Alan Alda's increasing roles behind the scenes on MASH and how they manifested over time (especially his creative consultant role) and

2) Just the total and complete lack of continuity on MASH. Now, I know you and David weren't there the whole time but perhaps what you gleaned from Gelbart, et Al. For example, half the time Henry's was Mildred and the other half Lorraine. Then Col. Potter's wife became Mildred.

Speaking of Col. Potter, his first episode says he arrives September 1952 but then in "War for All Seasons," he and Charles and BJ are present all through 1951 into 1952.

What happened to Henry, Frank and Trapper?

Those are just a couple continuity goofs that come to mind.

Obviously, I get the trouble stretching a 3 year war over 11 seasons.

But was there ever a show Bible? Or did you guys just make it up as you went along as long as the storytelling was there?

Inquiring minds want to know....

Lysander said...

Yes, I assume Ken has the wherewithal to say "no" to covering topics he doesn't want to ... or to ignore the requests, or simply (as blog administrator) not allow the requests to be posted in the first place!

Here's my Friday question: "Cheers" had a "one actor, one role" policy they faithfully adhered to (the only exception in 11 years being the role of Gary.) "Taxi" is the only earlier show I can think of that adhered to this policy. With every other long-running show, it was not uncommon for guests to come back in different roles two or three times over the years. (Some, like "Barney Miller", even took a rep company approach, with favourite guests appearing in six or seven different roles!)

Was "one actor, one role" an innovation of James Brooks. or perhaps the Charles brothers? Also -- was it universally accepted, or were there times when a staff member might campaign for a previously used guest to return in a different role?

MikeN said...

Boston Legal was a horrible show, seemed intent on highlighting crazy people for laughs.

It had some funny parts, like when Odo left, and Capt Kirk realizes he was just doing it to get respect.

VP81955 said...

Does Vanity Fair have some tie-in to Disney we don't know about?

Andy Rose said...

It's very common for major settings on single-camera shows to change appearance after the pilot. Single-camera pilots tend to shoot most of their interiors on location because there's no need to spend a lot of money constructing sets for what may be a one-off production. But once the series is ordered, it's too much trouble to keep returning to those locations, so they make new sets in a studio (often replicas of the real places, but rarely exact).

These days, the look of some shows changes a lot as they move from one city to another chasing tax credits. The Quantico pilot was filmed in Atlanta, then they moved production to Montreal, and then to New York.

Janet Ybarra said...

The series LEVERAGE kept changing filming locales even after it moved to series. Chicago to LA to Portland.

Then, of course, there was the Great SciFi Migration 15-20 years ago. Due to tax credits, etc., it seemed all the sci-fi series of the period were shot in the the Canadian Northwest... Stargate SG-1 and BATTLESTAR GALATICA just to name two.

Can't tell you how many alien planets are covered in familiar looking evergreen forests. ;) They became a familiar sight on those shows.

Mitchell Hundred said...

I have watched all five seasons of Boston Legal, but not because I have any great affection for David E. Kelley. I was aware that one of the characters had the same name as me (my meatspace name, not the name I stole from a fictional character to use as a pseudonym on here), and was curious to see him.

Anyway, I hate the show. There are a bunch of little things that bug me about it, but the main thing is that they never really earn the victory at the end of their episodes. Like, The Good Wife stretched credulity from time to time, but there was always a plausible reason that seemed to be based in law for why they won their cases. Boston Legal almost never had anything like that beyond "here's a speech explaining why I should win this case."

Chris said...

Regarding the beam on "Friends", I have read that it was removed because it was interfering with production but that it reappeared whenever James Burrows directed an episode

Janet Ybarra said...

Edward Winter was a great actor... probably my favorite actually as "Captain Halloran" in one of my favorite episodes of all time...."Deal Me Out."

Bob Paris said...

I have been watching GLOW on Netflix and noticed that the episodes are various lengths. I imagine that in your career you have had episodes run long where material that you deemed too good to cut had to be eliminated in the final edit. Since there are no time-slots on a streaming site, this allows episodes to run "long." Do you think this is good or bad - it allows stuff to make it to the final cut that maybe would have been rightfully left on the cutting room floor. Bob Paris

Ted Kilvington said...

Actor Allan Melvin, perhaps best known for his role as Sam the Butcher on "The Brady Bunch", played eight different characters on "The Andy Griffith Show" over seven seasons.

Ted Kilvington said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen Robinson said...

I sent this question to Mark Evanier, but thought it might also be a good Friday Question for you, Ken:

When I saw Woody Allen’s BLUE JASMINE back in 2013, I was not alone in noting the similarities to A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. I didn’t dismiss the film as a “rip off” of the Williams play but thought it was an interesting modern spin on the story. However, I was surprised when the film was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. I presume there are specific rules for what qualifies as “original,” as opposed to “adapted,” that it somehow still met. Personally speaking, I’d just assume that I’d get sued into oblivion if I tried something similar with, say, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS — even if I changed the names, the genders, and the type of competitive business they’re in. And if I managed to avoid that, could my script really be eligible for “original screenplay”? This has puzzled me since BLUE JASMINE was released and thought you might have some insight.