Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday Questions

Who’s up for some Friday Questions?

YEKIMI leads off.

Was watching a M*A*S*H* marathon on one of the cable channels and noticed one of the co-writers of that episode was Mary Kay Place. Checking IMDB shows she wrote for quite a few shows other than M*A*S*H*. I knew her more as an actress and didn't realize she did all that writing. Any other writers on M*A*S*H* [or other shows] that went on to become more recognized as actors than writers?

Not an actor per se, but Conan O’Brien was a writer with us on THE SIMPSONS. Carol Liefer was a writer with on ALMOST PERFECT. And then of course there’s Larry David. Mindy Kaling was a writer on THE OFFICE. Tina Fey was a writer first on SNL. And I’m sure you dear readers will think of others.

Ben Varkentine has a question about the first MASH episode David Isaacs and I wrote.

In "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind" there's a moment I've long wondered whether it was improvised.

When Klinger is leading the blind Hawkeye out of the Swamp, Alan Alda bumps into the stove and Klinger just says "Don't hit that," and Hawk replies "I'm sorry."

It just seems like such a real moment.

It was.

Good actors know how to stay in character when unforeseen things occur. This was a small one, but both Alan and Jamie (Farr) made the most of it.

Thanks for the question and not saying that was the best joke of the show.

From Michael:

I agree that the CHEERS first season stands up to the best season of any series, but was wondering if you think it would be even remembered today if NBC had elected to cancel it after that season due to low ratings? Also would Ted Danson have been able to become the big star he did?

Forget Ted. What about ME if the show had been cancelled?

But seriously, when you see how sensational Ted is in any role he’s asked to play I’m sure he would have done fine. Plus, the hardest part to cast in a comedy is a handsome leading man type with comic chops.   Ted would have offers galore.  (As would Shelley Long.) 

But would his next show or the one after that prove to be a huge hit? No one can predict. So much of success is luck. The planets just have to line up. I think that’s why that first year of CHEERS, even though we struggled in the ratings, everyone involved (certainly me) recognized and appreciated that they were a part of something special. And those opportunities don’t come along very often.

Had CHEERS been cancelled after 13 it would probably be remembered by some as one of those “brilliant failures” like Larry Gelbart’s UNITED STATES or Steve Gordon’s GOODTIME HARRY. Bootleg episodes recorded off the air might circulate. But in time it would be forgotten. Unlike BIG WAVE DAVE’S.

And finally, from Coram_Loci:

Have you ever purposefully gone easy on a critique because of the race, sex, or orientation of the actor, or because of its political viewpoint?

No. But the great thing is that I’m not obligated to review everything. I try to be as objective as I can – positive or negative – without regard to race, gender, or politics. And I would rather just not review something than to whitewash an opinion.

So when you vehemently disagree with one of my reviews please just think of me as someone who has no taste and no idea what he’s talking; not someone who is prejudiced.

What’s your FQ?


Jen from Jersey said...

Question: My 15 year old son watches Cheers and Frasier with me. He prefers Frasier for what it’s worth. However, he says he likes the way that Frasier is written on Cheers and that he’s “nerdier” on Frasier. I think nerdier to him means cultured. Did the writers purposely tweak the character or did Frasier just evolve? I also think he seemed more that an average guy on Cheers.

Frank Beans said...

Regarding writers who became actors/talk show hosts--SNL has numerous examples, notably Chevy Chase, who was hired only as a writer at first, but Lorne Michaels thought he was funny in his delivery so he put him in the cast, (temporarily) bumping out Bill Murray. And Seth Myers started out just writing, before acing and going on to greater fame.

Also, SNL is where Conan O'Brien actually got his start in the biz, as a writer. He did appear on the show in uncredited bit parts a few times in the early 1990s.

YEKIMI said...

Thanks for the answer. Had forgotten about Tina, Mindy & Larry. But then again, didn't watch "30 Rock", anything Mindy was in or "Curb Your Enthusiasm".

E. Yarber said...

Given my own experiences in a job which largely consists of telling people what they don't want to hear, I had to get used to would-be writers slamming me personally, insisting that my criticism of their writing could only stem from knee-jerk prejudice on my part, if not mental instability and social maladjustment. It's called an ad hominem fallacy.

I still remember commenters piling on you as racist, woman-hating and reactionary when you made points for or against various performers from an aesthetic level instead of taking broader aspects of their identity into consideration first. When your main consideration has to be the quality of the final product, however, it's impossible to make excuses for a writer based on factors outside the work itself.

Justin Russo said...


As a huge fan of Ted Danson's (and an avid CHEERS viewer), I am enamored by his performance on THE GOOD PLACE. The show, overall, is hugely underrated and Ted's chemistry with his fellow cast mates (in particular Kristen Bell) is sublime.

I was wondering if you had your own thoughts on the show and Ted's great work!

Elf said...

Jen from Jersey: I think Frasier didn't evolve as much as he adapted to his surroundings. When he hung out at Cheers he made attempts to be one of the guys, though he clearly felt like he was lowering himself. I don't recall the specific details, but I recall one episode where Frasier tried to introduce the barflies to some piece of classic literature, but when he couldn't keep their interest he turned it into a salacious novel. Then, once he was back home in his element in Seattle, he didn't have to pander quite so much to fit in. Plus there's the whole dynamic of being a supporting character vs. the main character, so Frasier had to be centered a bit. Fortunately, they had the "More Frasier than Frasier" Niles to accomplish that.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Another writer for SNL and The Office who later became a some-time bit actor is Michael Schur who was Dwight's Cousin Mose in the office. He also created/co-created Parks & Rec, The Good Place (with the aforementioned Ted Danson) and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

There's also The Office co-star and writer, Paul Lieberstein (Toby!) who wrote for King Of The Hill and the Drew Carey and Bernie Mac Shows before The Office. According to IMDB he now produces mostly.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Carol Leifer not only also wrote for SEINFELD, but she's also the "Real Life Elaine," much like Larry David being the real life George, or Kenny Kramer being the real life Kramer.

Michael said...

A Friday question. I read this book years ago from the library and my wife bought it for me for Christmas. It's called "It's Gone ... No, Wait a Minute." I enjoyed it then and enjoyed it now. But I wondered: since you were still broadcasting when it came out, did you get any reaction, pro or con, from anyone, especially the people in it?

therealshell said...

Join the club. I also have never watched a full episode of Modern Family. Yay, me.

Ted said...

Avengers cast is going to save the Oscars.

This seems like a promotion for 'Avengers: Endgame'.

How pathetic and desperate is the Academy?

Why not have Sandra Oh and Jenny McCarthy host? At least they will be more funnier and soothing for the eyes.

Friday Question : The $388 million Oscars museum is set to open in late 2019. Is there a bigger waste of money than this, by Hollywood?

Janet said...

The senator formerly known as Al Franken also, I believe started on SNL as a writer.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I was watching the film THE HORSE'S MOUTH not long ago and was surprised to see that Alec Guinness wrote the screenplay (from Joyce Cary's novel). But if you've read his two volumes of memoirs, it's clear that he was a talented writer as well as a great actor.

Nathan said...

Do you have any memories of the 1989 Oscars? That was the last time when there was no host.

It's remembered for Alan Carr and Rob Lowe and Disney threatening to sue the Academy. But any memories about the general show with no host or monologue to begin with?

Prairie Perspective said...

Mary Kay Place co-wrote that “M*A*S*H” episode with Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who went on to create “Murphy Brown.” Mary Kay Place also appeared as Lt. Louise Simmons in the brilliantly funny "Springtime.” She was the demure-appearing new nurse who turned into a tigress in the tent when seduced, albeit somewhat accidentally, with chocolate and poetry by Walter “Radar” O’Reilly. They apparently had a mutually satisfying slaking. Hilarious episode, which also features a major-twirling Alex Karras, in a “Paper Lion” reunion with Alan Alda, and Kilnger getting married over the two-way radio. Mary Kay Place’s voice is heard as a woman on a crossed wire during the wireless wedding. It’s an all-time classic.

Mike Bloodworth said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: Regarding your sports career. How did you even get your foot in the door?

I think every kid has the fantasy of calling the games for their favorite sport or team. Especially for someone that grew up here in L.A. where we had such great role models. (Vin, Chick, Dick, the other Dick, Ralph, Jaime, etc.) But, you can't just walk into a team's offices and say I want to do the play-by-play. Even with your radio background I believe that most organizations would have expected you to have some kind of sports background. Was it easier to get work for a smaller market franchise?
Was this a career goal? A fortuitous accident? I'd really love to hear how you got started.

As always, if you've answered this question before I'll accept an archived answer.

Brian said...

I was seeing the movie "Ted" and there was a "Cheers" reference. Ted tells John to come over to his house and watch "Cheers" DVDs, where in the interviews they all talk shit about each other.

Is that true? Or just Seth MacFarlane taking a swipe at "Cheers"?

DBenson said...

Recalling an interview with Gene Wilder. When Mel Brooks came aboard "Young Frankenstein" as director, he not only co-wrote the script with Wilder but made him sit in on the editing. Brooks was emphatic that Wilder needed to learn this stuff, because sooner or later he'd want to direct to protect what he'd written.

Was your own interest in directing driven by some of that thinking?

estiv said...

Off topic, two shows you were involved in made this list:

Not sure if this info has been posted to your blog before, so just in case.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Frasier and Cheers.
I seem to remember Frasier in an episode or two of Cheers speaking of his father as a "professional" ( lawyer, doctor type) who pushed him.
So when I first watched Frasier seeing his father as an ex cop and a beer drinker seemed inconsistent with what i heard about his background on Cheers.
I remeber first visit of a Cheers regular to Seattle wondering how Frasier would explain the difference.
Do these sort of inconsistentcies occur often and is just moving on and ignoring them the only way.

ps another sort of inconsistency was in early MASH shows Radar having a drink/beer. Where but last appearence he is shown gagging on a sip of whiskey. Odd as the "war" went on for Radar he seemed to get more innocent rather then the increased cynicism one would expect from some one in that situation.

Jeff Boice said...

Interesting that the two Brilliant Failures you mentioned both aired on NBC in the 1979-1980 season, and both got slotted at 10:30 PM. I remember the Seattle Times TV critic loved Goodtime Harry (remember when local papers had their own TV critics?) and lamented Fred Silverman's treatment of the series. Also recall listening to an NPR interview with Ted Bessel who seemed pretty bitter over the experience, which apparently led him to switch to directing.

Myles said...

You're missing out on some of the best comedies ever. Curb, 30 Rock, and the Mindy Project are GOLD.

Lionors said...

Linda Bloodworth-Thomason created Designing Women.

Diane English created Murphy Brown.

Andy Rose said...

There are really very few writers who become television actors with no prior performing experience at all. Conan O'Brien had some time at the Groundlings and did Happy Happy Good Show in Chicago long before getting his talk show. Larry David was a performer on Fridays long before he co-created Seinfeld, and a stand-up before that. The aforementioned Paul Lieberstein is one of the only people I can think of who literally had no performance experience at all when he was given a role on The Office by the showrunner, his brother-in-law. Mindy Kaling was originally just a writer on that show, but she also had some stand-up and stage experience before her Office role.

Out of curiosity, what is it about United States (other than Larry Gelbart's imprimatur) that made it such an acclaimed program? I was a bit too young to watch an "adult" show when it first came on, but everything I've read suggests it's sort of the proto-example of "a sitcom too clever to be funny," which I know you're not generally a fan of. All of the contemporaneous reviews I've read have a whiff of "This show seems smart, so I guess I have to like it." What am I missing?

gottacook said...

What I remember about United States (which I watched once or twice in early 1980) was that it was one of the earliest half-hour "dramedies" (no laugh track) and that NBC didn't have a good idea how to promote it: The ads used the phrase "The state of being united", as though a condescending explanation of the title would increase the potential audience. The leads - Helen Shaver and Beau Bridges - were well-chosen, but perhaps the show was ahead of its time.

YEKIMI said...

@ Myles.
Major reason I didn't watch "30 Rock" was because of Tracy Morgan, I just think he's not very funny.. "Curb Your Enthusiasm' Is on HBO and I don't have cable [even though I said in my question that I saw the M*A*S*H* episode on a cable marathon, it was probably on one of those digital sub-channels that probably had a marathon of them going on] so I've never seen it. Same goes for Conan, watched him all the time when he was on NBC. Once he went to cable he became "out of sight, out of mind". I may check out the DVDs one day, especially since I found out that the late Bob Einstein was on it. "Mindy Project" was on opposite of a show I usually watched so never saw it except in rushing past it to get to my show. I did see her a couple of times on the NBC show "Champions" as the mom of the gay kid but another show I lost interest in fairly quickly.

Diane D. said...

Mike Bloodworth
I hope Ken has time to answer your question, especially since you are so curious, because he has written about it several times in the years since I have been reading this blog. It is every bit as interesting as you could possibly imagine, and if I knew how to search for things in the archive, I would do it (I’d Love to read them again myself). I have been seeing your name for so long, I would have thought you had seen at least some of them. I have seen some of the other commenters refer people to specific posts in the archive, so maybe they can help you out if Ken doesn’t have time. Good luck!

Andrew said...

"Thanks for the question and not saying that was the best joke of the show."

It was. The best joke on the show, I mean. Allow more improv, Ken. Be flexible.

Just kidding.

Jonathan Weiss said...

Hi Ken - Assuming all the M*A*S*H interior scenes were shot in Stage 9 at Fox, what was inside the buildings at the Ranch? Are there pictures?

Mike Bloodworth said...

Thanks for the advice. I've seen Ken refer to his baseball jobs in previous blogs, but have never heard the full story. His archives are kind of hard to navigate because they're listed by date and not buy subject. But I'll keep trying.

DyHrdMET said...

I'm up to season 3 on CHEERS now (I'm stopping soon once my free month at Netflix runs out). I know there was a lot of off-screen stuff happening during that season (Shelley Long and Rhea Perlman being pregnant and Nicholas Colasanto's health and death). How much did all of that change the storyline and production schedule from what was originally outlined before the season?

VP81955 said...

Didn't Diane English create "Murphy Brown"?

Also, while Nick Bakay is primarily known as a sitcom writer ("The King Of Queens," "Mom"), when he wrote for "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch," he voiced the animatronic cat Salem. He's also acted in bit parts on a few other series, including Peter Mehlman's "it's know..."

E. Yarber said...

If you really want to go back to a writer becoming known as a performer, there's Robert Benchley, who was one of the primary humorists of the 1920s and went on to a long screen career including his own series of shorts as well working in features with everyone from Fred Astaire, Carole Lombard, Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney. The last anthology of his work to appear in his lifetime, BENCHLEY BESIDE HIMSELF, is virtually a film tie-in with a picture section of stills from his MGM series.

Do You Do Any Wings? said...

I’m sorry if this has come up before - I missed it if it has - but do you have anything to say about the Scrubs episode ‘My Life in Four Cameras’? I understand that it was critically well received, but obviously there was a bit of a dig at the alternate sitcom format, and they made a point of featuring a (presumably fictional) writer from a well-known sitcom as part of the plot. I won’t lie to you, I’ve not seen it, but it came up as one of those IMDB wormholes one isometimes falls down.
Thanks for your time and attention.

Bryan Thomas said...

If you have not covered this yet, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Spanish CHEERS and how that differs from the American version. What changes they made, why, etc. should be fascinating. Thanks.