Friday, November 02, 2018

Friday Questions

First off, Happy Birthday to my son, Matt. Love you, kid.  You're a great son AND father. 

Second, thanks to everyone who checked in yesterday. I greatly appreciate your support and input.

And now, for today and the weekend, here are FRIDAY QUESTIONS.

James starts us off:

An FQ: you've told the story a few times of submitting a spec Mary Tyler Moore script and getting it shot down by David Lloyd. When you look back at it now, do you see where the faults are and what you would correct now that you're experienced writers, or were the MTM producers just wrong and passed on a perfectly good script?

They actually did a similar story later that season (coincidentally) and told it way better. It proved to be a good learning experience for us. But there were some good jokes in our spec and the characters did sound like the real characters so for what it was and where we were in our career, it was a pretty good spec. If David Isaacs and I wrote it today it would be leagues better and there probably wouldn’t be a word of that spec in the draft, but again, it served its purpose well.

And bottom line: That was the script that impressed THE JEFFERSONS enough to hire us, which started our career. So you can’t ask for much more.

From MikeKPa.:

Would you ever consider being a "consultant" to punch up jokes on a series like Ronny Graham did on MASH and Sam Simon did on numerous shows?

The big problem is those positions don’t exist anymore. I mean, why have money in the budget for writers who actually help a script when you can use that money for non-writing pod producers who basically do nothing?

That said, depending on the show and show runner, I’d be happy to do a night a week. Not full-time however. I can only eat off of Styrofoam once a week.

Johnny Walker asks:

I've seen this a million times in sitcoms: One characters says to another, "My god! You look terrible! White as a sheet! Are you OK?" CUT TO: Actor looking perfectly tan and healthy, groaning, "Yeah, I think it's that fish from last night" (or whatever).

Why don't they ever make up the actors to, you know, ACTUALLY LOOK ILL?

For multi-camera shows shot in front of an audience – the simple answer is it takes too much time to do the make-up.

But there are things you can do – muss up their hair, maybe light them harshly.

It’s not a problem that comes up often. I directed an episode of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND where he was in bed for most of the show but everyone thought he was being a hypochondriac when in fact he was really sick. So we couldn’t make him look too ill otherwise no one would accuse him of imagining he was sick.

And finally, from Jerry Krull:

To give the actual credit for the dialogue I have to reference the episode's writer "David Adler". David Adler in reality was the blacklisted writer Frank Tarloff, who had to write under different names after being blacklisted during the McCarthy hearings. Carl Reiner has spoken strongly about that time and how he would not cave in to the committee's baiting. Reiner remained good friends with Tarloff and you'll see David Adler as writer of several Dick Van Dyke episodes.

Ken - did you ever meet Tarloff or talk with other writers of that era who worked under other names?

I never met Frank Tarloff but I do know his son, Erik, who is also a terrific writer. We hired Erik to write a freelance MASH and it was one of the best episodes of the season.

I’ve stayed friends with Erik all these years. He now lives in Berkeley and in addition to scripts and plays he also is a well-respected novelist.

Frank Tarloff, by the way, won an Academy Award for the screenplay of FATHER GOOSE. Ironically, he ended his career where we began – writing for THE JEFFERSONS.

What’s your Friday Question? And again, if you’re wondering why there are no new posts this weekend, check out yesterday’s post.


brian t said...

I remember that episode of Friends where Joey had a hernia ... he really looked badly ill, like he was in a lot of pain. I'm sure I remember his face being off-colour, but that could have been his acting skill!

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Readers: Let me ask you and Ken,

I'm always intrigued by how a writer of a show/screenplay/whatever can simply say, "I am going to right a totally new draft and not include anything from the old script"
How does someone's previous version not influence a new version?
How do you pretend that anything you thought worked in the previous iteration, not make it into the new one.

Any one have thoughts?

Happy Weekend Ken.

Prairie Perspective said...

First, I would use the word “write” in the new version, cleaning up the error ...
Amiright or amiright? Or just being a dick about a typo? Both answers may be correct.

Harry said...

Friday question: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I worked for a company in the Boston suburbs, and my coworkers and I would often go to a sandwich shop called Gianelli’s for lunch. They had a great sub called the Turkey Lover. But the most distinctive thing about the place was that it was a shrine to CHEERS, with signed photos of cast members everywhere. It was more CHEERS-centric than even the Bull and Finch pub.

We knew that Steve Gianelli appeared on CHEERS as a bar patron named Steve, and assumed that he procured the photos and was kin to the proprietors. But that’s about all we knew. Do you have any Steve Gianelli stories? And how common is it in Hollywood for someone to have a small but ongoing role of that sort?

E. Yarber said...

When it comes to totally rewriting a script, there have indeed been many times when I have recommended that it would be easier to start completely from scratch than try to salvage a bad job. A good writer will develop their own pace and structure. Even if there is a touch of promise here and there in the rejected version, grafting those moments onto a new effort is like trying to staple a patch of the Nile onto a stretch of the Mississippi river. When you consider that the best scripts may have to lose great bits if they don't contribute to the story as a whole, trying to cherry-pick a few glimmers in a generally lousy work only detracts from the main effort of rethinking the material as a whole.

There are times when you may need to retain elements, but that isn't the same as trying to follow the failed writer's footsteps. I once rewrote a horror film that was an obvious plagiarism of an already-established franchise. I scrapped all the characters except the monster and completely rewrote the plot, but retained the murders because I don't like killing people. By the time I was done, no one could tell the story had been a clumsy retread. On another job, I was given a model sheet of some animated characters, read the original script, and ignored the first version entirely thereafter. In both cases, nobody complained afterward that I hadn't included this or that from the previous draft, and of course the audience would never know.

This matter is entirely different from being brought in to fix something that generally works. In the case of a historical story, I felt the author had done a good job of structuring the story, but had no aptitude for dialogue or character. There, I followed the original outline but gave the audience a reason to care about the people on screen. That would have been enough for both myself and the other guy to receive screen credit. This process is abused when a rewriter decides to arbitrarily chop up a good script in order to remove enough of the original writer's work to claim sole authorship. In those cases, the first script sells the project to the studio, but the "polish" kills the film with viewers.

sanford said...

I did not know who Frank Tarloff was. I like the movie. And of course Cary Grant makes any thing better. Here are the other nominees. The only other movie I saw was a Hard Days Night. I don't think I have heard of the other movies. If you look at the best picture nominees how did one of them not get a nominee for best screen play?

sanford said...

I was looking up something about the famous Chuckles episode. I found this clip of Ed Asner talking about how the show was short and they needed another scene to fill the time. As he explained there was so much laughter that it filled all the time they needed. Has anything like this happened with any of the shows you worked on?

Brian Phillips said...

Jerry Krull asked about blacklisted writer Frank Tarloff (David Adler). Harlan Ellison wanted to cast Jack Gilford in the 1980's in a Twilight Zone episode and he says he was told by CBS that they could not because of the blacklist. Did the effects of the blacklist really stretch into the 1980's?

E. Yarber said...

One must always take an Ellison story with a brick of salt. Jack Gilford was all over CBS programming in the 1970s, appearing on RHODA, ALL IN THE FAMILY, PAUL SAND IN FRIENDS AND LOVERS, special presentations of OF THEE I SING, ONCE UPON A MATTRESS, and Cracker Jack commercials among other appearances.

Bryan Price said...

Was watching and enjoying a first-season CHEERS you wrote - the episode Now Pitching, Sam Malone where Sam is "convinced" to make a commercial. Two questions... First, can you tell us about any complications from designing a fake commercial within a real TV show and any anecdotes in working with Luis Tiant. Second related question -- You later spent many years involved with baseball announcing, but in CHEERS episodes like this, written so many years before, you dealt significantly with the challenges of former players. It's almost like the inspiration was in reverse - or did you or your writing partner have your own past athletic experiences?

That Guy said...

If it's adapted from a prior existing property (book,comic book, play, video game, TV show, news story), very easily.

Erik Tarloff said...

Thanks, Ken. Much appreciated. For Sanford, in case he's interested in a little more info about my father, Father Goose, and that year's Oscar race:

Erik Tarloff said...

Thanks, Ken. Much appreciated. In case Sanford (or anyone else) is interested:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I've decided to - let's call it "take advantage" - of the new no-blogposts-on-weekends schedule to read the archives from before I began reading the blog regularly. One posting a day, as if they were new. If TV fans can do group rewatches, why not a Blog Reread?

Who's with me?


Y. Knott said...

Harlan Ellison was never one to let the truth get in the way of a good rant.

Jack Gilford was Ellison's *fourth* choice for a role in his 80s Twilight Zone episode Paladin of The Lost Hour, behind Hume Cronyn, Burgess Meredith, and James Whitmore -- all of whom were much bigger names.

Cronyn was unavailable, Meredith was ill. Whitmore was apparently never approached, but was essentially semi-retired at that point, doing only voice work. (A few years later, he un-retired.) Instead, CBS went with Danny Kaye ... a much bigger, more promotable name than Jack Gilford.

One can well argue that the EFFECTS of the blacklist had long-lasting ripples even into the 1980s. A never-blacklisted actor (like Kaye) may still have had a serious advantage over a formerly blacklisted one (like Gilford). The continually working actor had the opportunity to play more roles, was potentially more famous (certainly true in Kaye's case), and casting directors and audiences may have been better able to see and accept the continually working actor in a certain role because of that familiarity.

So maybe the effects of the blacklist could have had some echo effect here. MAYBE. Or maybe someone at CBS had a personal enmity towards Jack Gilford. MAYBE. But from a "what would be best for the show" standpoint? Kaye was much more famous than Gilford ever had been, or (I would argue) was ever likely to be. And Kaye was right for the role. Very right for the role. And he was able to garner more publicity for the show that Gilford would have been able to on his very best day.

Could Gilford have been right for the role too? Sure. But there's no question Kaye nailed it. (Well, except for in the mind of the ever-contrary Ellison, who basically seems not to have liked the casting choice because it wasn't his idea.)

In fact, although he would bristle at the very suggestion, Ellison puts me in mind of a certain contemporary figure for whom nothing is EVER his fault; who expects praise for all of his ideas; and who can't stand others taking credit even when they deserve it ... unless they are an approved part of his inner circle, in which case the *real* credit still goes to the person that put them there in the first place.

I'll grant that of the two Ellison was, without question, the better writer. Nevertheless, this other personage I'm thinking of may be the one who will end up creating more widely experienced dystopias....

therealshell said...

@ Y. Knott - Jeez. Harlan only recently passed away. Don't start dancing on his grave just yet.He was one of the finest writers ever, in my opinion.

ReticentRabbit said...

Ken, a Friday question for you. Julia Louis-Dreyfus will accept the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor later this month. Keeping in mind that they typically only present the award to those who are living and never repeat winners (making this something of a Lifetime Achievement award), who would get your vote? The full list of winners is here:

Cap'n Bob said...

Friday question: When you worked on The Jeffersons, were there any black writers working on the show?

Kosmo13 said...

>>> Or maybe someone at CBS had a personal enmity towards Jack Gilford.

But, he was "Simon the Likable!"

therealshell said...

Sunday question - is everything all right with you and yours, Ken ? I hope that all is well.

slgc said...

Have you seen Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel? It's a documentary about the 2017 World Baseball Classic's Team Israel, and it's very well done -

If you have seen it, what are your thoughts?

Chris Thomson said...

Hi Ken

I have just seen the US Trump endorsed caravan advertisement. Amazing stuff. I think most people would probably think it was a parody if they didn't know it was actually real. I imagine it must have been like one of your comedy writing rooms, coming up with that amount of cheesiness. It reminded me of the fake propaganda ads in Starship Troopers!

I was just wondering if you have ever done any political writing or been asked to.

Also your opinion on your fellow writers doing that sort of thing. I can't for the life of me see how they would get any real sense of personal or professional pride or achievement out of writing that crap.


Johnny Walker said...

Huh. Now I know. Thanks, Ken! I half expected the reason to be along the lines of actors not wanting to look unwell on camera. I do find it annoying as a viewer though, but I’ll try to be more understanding of the logistics.