Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday Questions

Hello from New York.  I'm very excited to announce that my first play gets a production next weekend in Brooklyn.  It's called UPFRONTS & PERSONAL is about the process of getting TV shows on network schedules.  (Right.  What do I know about that?)   Anyway, it's very funny and I'll be there to say hi (if you like it).   Here's where you go for info.   Please come.  It's one of my better efforts. 

But just 'cause I'm out of town doesn't mean the Friday Questions stop.  No sir.  Here they are.

Jen from Jersey has a question about the FRASIER set:

Did you make any changes to the set as the show progressed? I noticed that the lighting in the radio studio was much darker during season 1.

The Director of Photography (cinematographer) is always tweaking. FRASIER stayed pretty consistent.

On the other hand, look at CHEERS. Notice how different the bar looked on the pilot to later seasons. Lighting can really change a set’s appearance.

The problem with lighting multi-camera shows is that they have to accommodate actors walking all around the set so everything needs to be lit well enough that actors don’t disappear in shadows.

Boomska316 asks:

I was wondering if you were a fan of old fashioned radio and if so what some of your favorites were? I'm partial to the old Sherlock Holmes shows starring Rathbone.

First let me establish that old time radio was before my time.

I did love the comedies. THE JACK BENNY SHOW and THE FRED ALLEN SHOW. EDGAR BERGEN (Candice’s dad) & CHARLIE MCCARTHY were also funny, although how bizarre to have a ventriloquist on the radio? That’s like a magician hosting a radio show doing card tricks. Oh, and it’s not PC anymore but the old AMOS & ANDY SHOW always made me laugh.

As for the dramas, I liked old episodes of THE SHADOW. And SUPERMAN.

Michael has another FRASIER question.

Do you know why Daphne's psychic abilities were dropped on FRASIER? Was it based on network or audience feedback or just something the writers decided to discontinue on their own?

The writers decided the bit had pretty much run its course. And they were always trying to give the characters more dimension – and it’s one of the reasons FRASIER was such a cut above – instead of just going to the same well over and over they sought to find other aspects of her character to explore.

And finally, from Matt:

You said it is easier to find jokes now than when you were younger. Do you ever go back to your earlier work and think to yourself, “what idiot wrote that?” Do you think your comedy style has changed as you have aged?

ALL the time.

I can only watch maybe three of the MASH episodes I wrote. As for the rest, just give me one more day to rewrite each one of them. There are better jokes, story turns, speeches, etc.

I don’t know if my comedy style has changed per se but I think I’ve honed it. I’m more skilled and write with more assurance. So the improvement is more a matter of craft.

What’s your Friday Question?


Jim S said...

The process of solving story problems has always interested me.

Have you ever sweated a story logjam trying to figure out a solution, only to have someone walk in and solve the problem by saying "why don't you do X?"

Conversely, have you had someone give a terrible suggestion and really push that despite your annoyance?


Neil D said...

I would love to see you post a rewrite of one of your M*A*S*H scripts. Or even just a scene, along with an explanation of what was changed or improved. That would be fascinating.

Boomska316 said...

Sorry, Ken, I wasn't trying to date you before your time. :D

Glenn said...

I always like the gag of Daphne getting a feeling of something evil or terrifying just before Lilith showed up.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Here's the location for Ken's Play:,+Brooklyn,+NY+11215/@40.6576976,-73.9956119,14.75z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x89c25ae4cab178b5:0x28824988174657ab!8m2!3d40.6671202!4d-73.9903948

It's accessible by the D, F, G, N, R, & W Subway lines.

Jen from Jersey said...

Me too! I liked how she was written to me quirky. She became stuffier during the later seasons.

cd1515 said...

Friday Q: one thing I see in bad shows is characters constantly calling each other by their every sentence or 2.
It almost feels like the writers were padding the weak script with useless words.
No one talks that way.
Do writers have rules or theories on that?

James said...

"As for the rest, just give me one more day to rewrite each one of them. "

In fairness to you at the time, wasn't that the problem then as well? You didn't turn in the script because the toothpick came out clean, you turned it in because they were screaming for the cake to be served.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

M*A*S*H had inconsistent lighting as well: seemed like the first five seasons the lighting got progressively darker (Seasons 4 and 5 are especially darker, but Season 5 also has a really orange look in many episodes, like a harsh sunset); then Season 6 got much brighter and it kind of stayed that way a little.

More recently, SESAME STREET has had a similar problem: up until the early 90s, the lighting had a dim, almost cloudy look to it; then from the early 90s and into the late 2000s, it was much brighter; then ever since they switched to "HD" they've had that sunset look I previously mentioned.

Coram_Loci said...

A Friday Question(s)

Is there such a thing as a show's life cycle, and, if so, are writers conscious of it?

To clarify...Sleeper status and a happy team....hit and happy team...lead actor wants more money....ratings slip so add more guest stars or new character...too comfortable, actors routinely show up late to rehearsal...get back to roots and then wrap up show.

Is there enough historical (or personal) perspective in the room to see what's happening? Do you make adjustments or do adjustments lead to some kind neurotic “I know that you know that I know that you know” artificiality?

mike said...

Was looking forward to seeing one of Ken's plays, and now's my chance to take the train to Brooklyn to do so, but...I have performances of my own at exactly the same days & times. What are you gonna do? And doesn't 'PC' mean 'extremely insulting to a large group of people that white folks now get called out for insulting?' Always wondered about that particular polite euphemism.

Philly Cinephile said...

Discovered your blog when I did a Google search for gossip about Cybill Shepherd and have become a regular reader.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that you were one of the creators of ALMOST PERFECT, a sitcom that was must-see viewing for me. I still have vivid memories of it -- Kim describing a recent trip to Carlsbad Caverns ("Close your eyes...YOU'RE THERE!"), Kim spending a sleepless night in Mike's noisy, floodlit apartment, and the break-up episode that earned a "Close Up" in that week's TV GUIDE. ("You're only five sentences away from a break-up when someone says, 'Well, if that's how you feel, what are you doing with me?'") If it's ever released on DVD, I'll be the first in line to buy it.

A Friday question about the Thanksgiving episode of FRASIER in which Frederick is subjected to various accidental injuries at the hands of Martin and Niles. I've often wondered if that episode was written out of a certain frustration on the writers' part with having to figure out ways to incorporate Frederick (who was inherited from CHEERS) into an otherwise child-free sitcom. I thought the episode was quite funny, and rather daring. Was there any network resistance to, or viewer complaints about, those scenes with Frederick?

Jen from Jersey said...

I know Ken said that Frasier stayed consistent with the lighting but I watched the last show of the series and immediately watched the first show of season 1 and I noticed a big difference when Frasier was in his studio - much darker.

Todd Everett said...

It's accessible by the D, F, G, N, R, & W Subway lines.

That's a lot of transfers to go see a play!

Joe said...

Help me Ken Levine, you're my only hope!

So, like many here, the Bar Wars episodes were some of my all-time favorite Cheers episodes. Bar Wars III: The Return of Tecumseh was particularly memorable for me because of a scene where Cliff shares his commentary on the movie Fail-Safe— a film that I actually purchased on VHS as a kid for no other reason than it was referenced in this episode of Cheers! Anyway, for those who don't remember, in this particular scene, it was the movie Fail-Safe that inspires the gang to retaliate against themselves, rather than waiting for Gary to attack them. However, that hilarious commentary by Cliff has been completely removed from every copy of that episode that I can find anywhere— DVD, Netflix etc... In the edited version, Cliff mentions Fail-Safe, but instead of him explaining the plot of the film, it very abruptly cuts to Norm's response. IMO, this totally disrupts the flow of the episode, especially if the viewer in not familiar with the plot of Fail-Safe.

So, I have two questions really: (1) Do you know why this scene has been edited? Was it merely cut for time or did it have something to do with the content? (Perhaps a scene where Cliff jokes that loud mouth New Yorkers deserved to be bombed didn't quite work in a post-9/11 world) And (2) Is this clip available anywhere that you know of? I'd really love to see it again— if for no other reason than just to prove to myself that I'm not crazy and that it did indeed exist!

Anyway, your help would be greatly appreciated.

Matt said...

I would like to make a suggestion. On Thursdays there is no post. I find myself having to remember to comeback. I think you should call it “Throwback Thursday’s” and just start with your first day and repost each article. I suggest this because I don’t think it would be technically very difficult or require more work. But it would be a reason for a reader to show up on Thursdays.

If I am wrong and it would be difficult, forget the suggestion.

Jen from Jersey said...

Now I have to watch that movie! I loved the Bar wars episodes too.

DrBOP said...

Perfect NYC-trip timing.....Winter Storm Harper coming right up....Ray's Candy Store Friday Special is the Drumpf Egg Cream (made with curdled milk).....and the Christmas lights in the East Village Tompkins Sq. Park finally came on:


Andy Rose said...

Most sitcoms tend to move toward broader, flatter lighting as they go on. Even some set-bound dramas. (Compare the rainbow-like bulkheads in early episodes of Star Trek to the dull grey that prevailed later.) I've always wondered if that's because the DP is getting complacent, the unit manager is telling the DP to hurry up to save money, or the actors are getting harder to constrain to their marks, forcing the DP to make a broader throw.

Anonymous said...

Ken, no more Academy screeners? How will you survive? Also: with streaming, won't the companies hosting the media be able to figure if a voter watched all the way through a movie? - RMK

Ted O'Hara said...

I just saw your M*A*S*H season 5 episode "Post Op", which you and David did while you were still freelancers. Nice episode. Gene Reynolds and Jay Folb wrote the story, while you two did the teleplay. How did that happen? Often it's the other way around - a freelancer will write the story, and then a staff member will write the teleplay.

Jen from Jersey said...

That’s a wonderful idea!

Mike Bloodworth said...

James, Great analogy. There's a quote attributed to studio head, Jack Warner: "I don't want it good. I want it Tuesday!"

Jen from Jersey said...

What is a DP? I’m starting to notice lighting more and more. Lots of dramas have a bluish hue to them. God Friended Me has a reflective type light as if there are crystals on the set reflecting light into different rainbow colors.

Bob Paris said...

In Frasier's ROOM SERVICE episode, Niles is in bed with Lilith and states "there is no point in pointing fingers." This phrasing is slightly awkward and David Hyde Pierce even hesitates momentarily in the middle of the line as if he realizes that he mis-spoke. Was this how the scene was written, or was the line actually "there is no use in pointing fingers.

Anonymous said...

I was curious about Kelsey Grammar's rehearsal style. They talk about it on one of the specials, one one of the extras of the DVD's and the cast continuously bring it up.

I understand it was his way of keeping the character fresh, but as someone who acts in local theater, I am curious on the nuts and bolts how that is for the main supporting cast, and the guest stars. How good is his line memorization? Are you aware if he continues that on new projects or? I know some of the cast in interviews said it was very frustrating for guest stars, etc.

Follow-up Question: Why was your partner David I. listed as a consulting producer as the show continued while you were not?

As always Ken, thanks for your blog and podcast. Very enjoyable!