Friday, August 24, 2018

Friday Questions

Time to roll out some more Friday Question.

Roger Owen Green asks:

I've been noticing over the last few years how certain TV shows are starting to use great songs during important parts of the story, many of which are covers.

I have always wondered who is responsible for selecting the songs, because they always seem to be spot on in regards to how it fits with the scene.

Usually the showrunner, although sometimes he might confer with the studio music department.

Using great songs comes with some problems. First off they’re expensive and you need permission in addition to paying a hefty fee. Secondly, when you get into syndication you often find that the use of these songs would be prohibitive because of the royalty costs.

It used to be that if a show were taped, like WKRP IN CINCINNATI they wouldn’t have to pay huge fees to air songs. This was in the days when variety shows were still around and all recorded on tape. But when WKRP went into syndication, all those songs had to be removed. Not only was that costly, but substituting generic versions really hurt the show and its syndication numbers.

MURPHY BROWN faced the same music problem, although their syndication woes had more to do with content – the topicality of the show meant it didn’t age well.

Jon H wonders:

Have you ever done any 3-camera live audience sitcom episodes that featured flashbacks in the body of the show? DICK VAN DYKE SHOW had a few of these. I was wondering if the shows would be filmed/taped in order or if the flashback portions would be prefilmed/pretaped before the main part of the episode from which the flashbacks happened. On one hand the production would have the benefit of live audience feedback for all scenes and not just those in current time, but on the other hand, the audience would have to wait while the characters changed costumes back & forth from current time to flashback time again & again. Is one method preferred to the other?

We shoot the flashback scenes in advance. Same with dream sequence scenes, which I’ve had in my shows. And we show them back to the studio audience when they come to see the taping of the rest of the episode.

The problem with flashback scenes is they usually require a lot of make up and it might take the actors an hour or more to be ready to shoot. That hour would kill a studio audience. So it’s easier to just pre-shoot the flashbacks the day before.

From Andrew:

Has any line you've written ever taken on a life of its own outside the show or movie? Have you ever heard your own writing quoted out of context, in "real life"?

Several lines from the movie VOLUNTEERS. “We’ve got to be a mile from the sun.” “It’s not that I can’t help these people, it’s just that I don’t want to.” And after Rita Wilson is appalled that Tom Hanks has come on to her after chatting in a long flight, Tom’s character says: “Well I think I’ve put in the hours, don’t you?”

On CHEERS, Frasier saying “Everybody have fun tonight, everybody Wang Chung tonight” is still remembered and quoted.

And from FRASIER I’d say, “Food in the bathroom?”

But we never landed a big catch phrase, nor did we ever intend to.

And finally, from Joseph Scarbrough:

I understand when Larry Gelbart did the M*A*S*H episode "The Interview," it was filmed with Clete Roberts asking the questions, the actors responding in-character, then Larry sort of building the script around that material, as opposed to the other way around. When you, David Isaacs, and Burt Metcalfe did "Our Finest Hour," did you take that same approach?

No. We used the interview strictly as a way to get into the clips. We were looking for something a little novel; a way to do a clip show unique to MASH – but looking back I regret that decision to reprise the “interview” format. I think it tarnishes the original a little. It’s hard for me to watch that episode because I’m still kicking myself .

What’s your Friday Question? Note: I will have limited access to the internet for the next week so I will not be able to post your comments as swiftly as I usually do, but I do see them all, and I will get to them, and any Friday Question will be duly registered. Thanks much.

46 comments :

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

another Ken/David line that I have used, though not in the same way...
From Hawkeye's monologue about going blind:

I’ve never spent a more (un)conscious day in my life.

Jeff Alexander said...

Of course, I don't know if you actually wrote this one, but a co-worker once quoted a line from "Volunteers" as one of the funniest he heard.
I apologize that I may not be quoting it word-for-word, but I believe I got the gist of it.
Hanks' character upon arriving in Southeast Asia: "What is this, the face of the sun?"

Scott Cason said...

Friday question regarding the production of MASH. I've noticed the back and forth between the location shooting (sometimes within the same scene) in the show. My question is, how were the ranch shootings handled? Were they shot all at once over a week or two for the whole season?
Were y'all going back and forth during the week to shoot out there? Was there a day or two a week that you'd spend shooting scenes on the ranch?

bryan said...

did using the Wang Chung lytic in tgat way require payment of a royalty in the same way as if fge song had been played?

Janet Ybarra said...

My understanding is that often when a show--or even a TV commercial--uses a popular song but only a cover of that song it is because doing so is less expensive than purchasing the full rights to the original rendition.

Then there is the practice of a TV series writing a "sound alike" song to use when a story calls for it. The old ADAM-12 had the same ridiculous "acid rock" song they would play in multiple different episodes whenever the officers encountered hippies or entered a loud bar or such. Today it is just funny.

Andrew said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken. Always a thrill.

Dixon Steele said...

Ken,

Just thought you'd like to know.

https://www.talkinbroadway.com/allthatchat_new/d.php?id=2432479

Unknown said...

I believe I’ve asked you if this line from the Tony Randall Show. Where Randall’s girlfriend suggested the go back to his place, have dinner and then see what happens and Tony respond that they just go to his place and if anything happens there’s a diner in it for her. Obviously not the exact wording but one of my favorite ever, especially since it seemed so out of character from the Randall we’d gotten use to on the Odd Couple.

Big Matk said...

One notable exception to your comment on Murphy Brown :

youtu.be/7vs1W5_hsYg.

Cedricstudio said...

I have two questions:

1. As more and more people cut the cord and viewing habits shift to streaming, it seems to me the traditional syndication model will fade away. When classic TV shows move to services like Netflix and Hulu, is that still considered syndication? Or have the networks found a loophole that allows them to avoid paying syndication royalties? (I’m assuming there was nothing in your MASH contract about streaming rights).

2. Many classic TV shows that were released on VHS and DVD are still unavailable for purchase online, even in 2018. MASH, for example, has never been for sale as a digital download. Neither have Magnum P.I. or The Rockford Files, two of my personal favorites. This baffles me. Without the cost of DVDs to print and ship I would think that selling downloads would be like printing free money. What is the thinking behind this decision?

Terrence Moss said...

i've heard a lot of "murphy brown" being dated because of the topicality but like "all in the family", i like that each are clearly of their respective eras.

and unfortunately, the topics aren't all that dated after a respective 30 and 47 years.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Although I think many fans actually agree that doing the interview portions for "Our Finest Hour" tarnished the credibility of the original, I personally didn't mind it at all - I actually liked that episode.

Then again, as we've discussed on this blog before, most people don't like clip shows - especially in this day and age of DVDs, internet, and endless reruns, it's made clip shows rather unnecessary, because it's quite easy to go back and rewatch your favorite moments whenever you want. Still, I like clip shows myself . . . I mean, if they're done well, clip shows can basically serve as a reminder of why you fell in love with the shows in the first place. I tend to prefer when clip shows do some kind of wrap-around segments to lead into the clips, and again, if it's done well, and works within the context of the episode, I think the end results are good. SEINFELD tended to just do clips, nothing more (save for an introduction by Jerry), however, they also would package the clips into specific montages on certain themes the show dealt with (insecurities, relationships, the recurring characters, etc.), and also even do music montages, like the now-infamous "I Hope You Had the Time of Your Life" montage set to Green Day's "Good Riddance": not only has that song ended up becoming something of a traditional selection for occasions like graduation ceremonies and such, but Green Day themselves have said that's not even what the song is about: it's actually a break-up song.

VincentS said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: Since "I" comes before "K" how did you and David Isaacs decide on billing when you first partnered up?

Terry said...

Here's a possible Friday question: I was watching "Goodbye Radar" the other day and I noticed, particularly in Part 2, that Gary Burghoff's voice sounded different. It sounded deeper and gruffer. It didn't sound like the innocent kid Radar that we had come to know and love. Do you know if that was a deliberate choice, either on Gary's part or the part of the director, to make Radar sound older as he was growing up and going back home? Or did Gary just have a cold that day?

Kevin said...

I hate dream sequences. 99% of the time they're obvious and predictable and rarely do anything to move the story along. It's a weak device to show a character's anxiety (which we should already know) or fantasy (which we already know) that just eats up pages that could be used more effectively in the "real" part of the show.

My opinion anyway.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I don't know if this is the actual answer, but the whole point of that episode was about how Radar had "grown up." If you notice his hair is also different; showing a lot more forehead. Its my opinion that all of that was done to show how he had matured.
M.B.

Henri said...

Friday Question: One of the Wings blooper reels available on YouTube includes what appears to be footage of an attempted British remake of the show, jokingly presented as a "big budget feature film" adaptation. The character and location names are different, but the script seemed otherwise identical to the pilot. Jonathan Cake played Steven Weber's part. There isn't a whole lot of information out there about this, so it obviously never made it to series. Are you aware of any of the backstory behind this attempt? I'm guessing everybody laughed for all the wrong reasons if footage was incorporated into a blooper reel.

Here's the YouTube link (starts around 13:00 in): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1pTd23GnCY

Alfred Day said...

I have often said "Everybody have fun tonight. Everybody Wang Chung tonight." and didn't realize that Ken had written it!

Pam said...

Tom and Rita fell in love during the shooting of "Volunteers". That's something I learnt now.

My Question : Are writers allowed on the set? Did they invite you to the shooting at Mexico? And were you invited to the premiere of the movie? How was it? Please share your experience.

Sorry, I am new to the blog. So if you have already spoken about this, please let me know the blog link.

Thanks.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Kevin I used to be real notorious for always writing dream sequences, half the time to delve deeper into the characters, but, like you say, the other half the time it was usually a weak go-to plot device that really did nothing to contribute to the story. It's definitely something I've scaled back on (along with cultural references and meta humor).

McAlvie said...

Good questions.

Re Murphy Brown, I never quite bought into the "dated" excuse and have always wondered whether the notion was tested or just assumed. I've seen a few episodes recently on a nostalgia channel, Most of the humor was character driven. The topical stuff might well have made it that much funnier at the time, but only if you were following politics. Even at the time, that probably left out 60% of the country; and yet the show was a hit. If the hair wasn't so big and you took out the shoulder pads, I bet many folks wouldn't notice it was 20 years old. Looking forward to the reboot, if it actually does happen.

And maybe something good will come of all these reboots after all if the networks learn something from it.

Kevin said...

@Joseph Scarbrough, fair enough. It's just a pet peeve of mine because I can almost always tell it's fantasy/dream/imagination long before the character snaps to. And then I'm just irked we spent all that time establishing emotions we can usually already surmise. I prefer a flashback or voice over I guess if we are to "delve deeper into the characters."

Cultural references are fun in the moment, but I try to shy away from them as well. They are almost always useless by the time anyone reads it or it airs.

Andy Rose said...

@Janet Ybarra: Typically you have to get two different sets of permissions to use a song on TV: permission from the publishing company that owns the song itself, and permission from whomever owns a particular band's recording of that song. So if you wanted to play "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana, you'd have to negotiate with both BMG (the publisher that currently owns the music) and Universal Music Group (which owns the album recording). If you used a version that was not the original band (a soundalike version, or maybe a cast member singing it on the show), you'd only have to get permission from BMG.

Things are more complicated for commercials because of "publicity rights." For an ad, you also need to get the permission of the band itself because using their music in that context could be interpreted as their endorsement of the product in the commercial, and people have the legal right to decide what they do or don't want to endorse.

Since TV shows don't involve a commercial endorsement, they generally don't have to get the band's permission unless the band owns the music and/or the original recording. Reportedly, surviving members of Badfinger had no idea that one of their songs would be used in the final scene of Breaking Bad until it actually aired and people started asking them about it.

Eric J said...

I don't mean anything derogatory by this observation. I don't think using the interview technique a second time diminishes the original Clete Roberts interview at all. I vividly remember most of the interviews in The Interview, particularly Father Mulcahy's, but I can't even recall the episode "Our Finest Hour", though I'm sure I'd recognize it if I saw it again.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Kevin I totally understand where you're coming from. For example, even though I'm a fan of the Alvin and The Chipmunks franchise, I've become bored with Nickelodeon's ALVINNN!!! THE THE CHIPMUNKS because of how formulaic it's become over its so far two and a half seasons, and for a while, it literally became a running gag almost every episode that whatever situation Alvin got himself, or the others, into, he'd invariably have a really trippy nightmare about it . . . it got old, fast.

And that's partly the reason why I scaled back on cultural references myself. That, and mot everybody will comprehend them - especially if you're referencing something older that the younger crowd may not be familiar with.

Johnny Walker said...

Speaking of lines taking life beyond the show, the most obvious case I can think of is Cheers. When Cliff said, “Did I say that out loud?”, it was the first time anyone in TV or film had said that line, but then it became part of the modern vernacular. (Wings was the first sitcom to “borrow” this line that I’m aware of.)

Dan O’Shannon, writer producer on Cheers told me how this line came about: His own moment of embarrassment.

He had excitedly pitched a bunch of things to the writers room, but when he finished all he got was a blank stare from everyone. To make a joke from the awkward silence, he said, “Did I say that out loud?”

That got a big laugh, and the line was given to Cliff... and then it appeared in every other TV show in the 90s onwards.

So Cheers was more influential than people know!

DBA said...

Jeff Alexander, it sounds like you're paraphrasing one of the lines Ken mentioned in the post.

Stephen Robinson said...

Re: Song use in film/tv...

I was part of a local writers group a while back and one guy was working a script that had many problems already but chief of them was that he'd worked in tons of 1960s pop songs (it was set in that decade). There is a certain skill required in the song use anyway (when film students of my generation tried to copy Tarantino, it often fell flat). But as I pointed out, you're writing a script. The director will ultimately make those types of calls. You're not Tarantino/Scorsese yet.

What was most hilarious thought was that he'd used about six different Beatles songs by the first ten pages of his script. When I told him how prohibitively expensive that would be (if he even got permission) and he insisted, "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."

Wonderful.

Stephen Robinson said...

I just watched the Who episode of WKRP on Youtube. I do miss the earnestness of sitcoms of this vintage. And it was pretty bold to have so few jokes in the final half of the show, just true feeling.

I dunno. Maybe I've gotten more nostalgic and less "hip" as I've aged, but I prefer this to the sudden death of a woman being dismissed for laughs a couple decades later on SEINFELD.

Gary said...

One of the best examples of a line of dialogue taking on a life of its own must be credited to Alan Alda.

In his movie The Four Seasons (which he wrote, directed and starred in), Carol Burnett as his wife says "Are we having fun yet?" This is the first time that phrase was ever used, and I can't imagine a more oft-repeated line than that.

MikeN said...

>But we never landed a big catch phrase,

Were you responsible for
"Sideshow Bob: You've always been jealous of me. You're the one who spent four years in clown college.

Cecil: I'll thank you not to refer to Princeton in that way."

Wally said...

@VincentS Answer here: https://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2015/11/bonus-friday-questions.html

Sarah said...

For what it's worth, I think about the Frasier line you referenced/wrote: "Still, food...in the bathroom?" at least once a week. I concur! Food (or drink)... in the bathroom??

Brian said...

I like "I've eaten a river of liver and an ocean of fish", but that's from season 3, before Ken came on board Mash.

DBenson said...

I thought Bill Griffith coined that one for Zippy the Pinhead, but I could be conflating it with his all-caps declaration "I AM HAVING FUN!"

gottacook said...

Carol Burnett's line in Alda's The Four Seasons is preferable whole, although the first part was discarded as the second part became popular: "Is this the fun part? Are we having fun yet?" No one could have delivered it better.

Janet Ybarra said...

I personally found something worthwhile in both Clete Roberts episodes. I wouldn't rank one as terribly worse than the other.

I would be interested in how they got Clete Roberts as the journalist, just because in real life he wasn't considered a "major name," but he certainly did an admirable job, in my opinion.

Janet Ybarra said...

Several years ago Netflix Netflix had all the MASH episodes but eventually let those rights go.

I believe that was a terrible mistake.

Janet Ybarra said...

I knew the general idea but thanks for sharing the specific details.

Andy Rose said...

@Gary: Researchers who look into this sort of thing attribute the phrase "Are we having fun yet?" to the underground comic series Zippy the Pinhead. Zippy first used that phrase in 1979, two years before The Four Seasons was released. It would be interesting to know whether Alda was a Zippy fan, heard the catchphrase from someone else who was and liked it, or just happened to come up with the same expression around the same time. Certainly the movie was responsible for giving it more widespread mainstream exposure than Zippy.

Kirk said...

Clete Roberts is shown at the beginning of the 1955 movie The Phenix City Story. It's based on a true story and Roberts' segment, where's he's interviewing eyewitnesses to the film's events, seems to be genuine, rather than scripted.

Loosehead said...

Of course the classic case of a single throwaway line having a life of its own, is "Many Bothans died to bring us this information", which spawned an entire film series.

VincentS said...

Oops! I meant, "I" comes before "L" so I'll rephrase the question, since you reprint them verbatim: FRIDAY QUESTION: Since "I" comes before "L" how did you and David Isaacs decide on billing when you decided to partner up? Sorry about that, Chief.

VincentS said...

Thanks, Wally!

Roger Owen Green said...

More or less off-topic: First real Kwik-E-Mart from "The Simpsons" opens in Myrtle Beach

msdemos said...

Blogger Terry said...
Here's a possible Friday question: I was watching "Goodbye Radar" the other day and I noticed, particularly in Part 2, that Gary Burghoff's voice sounded different. It sounded deeper and gruffer. It didn't sound like the innocent kid Radar that we had come to know and love. Do you know if that was a deliberate choice, either on Gary's part or the part of the director, to make Radar sound older as he was growing up and going back home? Or did Gary just have a cold that day?

8/24/2018 9:33 AM




THANK YOU, "Terry"!! I've wondered this same thing for decades now. Couldn't understand why Radar seemed SO different in two parts of the very same episode, and wondered if I was the only one who was SO struck by this 'abberation' in Gary Burghoff's characterization! It almost seemed to me that, for whatever reason, the filming of the two parts were separated by a decent length of time.....though logic tells me that probably wasn't the case.

Now.....if only I can find the answer to this, if Mr. Levine ever ended up answering this (and YES, I completely get the fact that I'm posting this WELL after the fact, and will most likely never get a response to this!)...

.