Friday, March 15, 2019

Friday Questions

Beware the Ides of Friday Questions.

Unknown has the first FQ:

I just came across the movie Critical Condition on television. I checked the credits, thinking it was directed by Sidney Lumet. I was surprised when I saw David's and your name listed as co-screenwriters with John and Denis Hamill. I don't recall your mentioning this film on the blog. Was your work here similar to Jewel and the Nile? Were you ever on the set? 

It was directed by Michael Apted, who did the 7-Up films, Coal Miner's Daughter and Continental Divide-my favorite John Belushi movie. Do you have any positive memories of working on it?

I have no fond memories of it because David and I had nothing to do with that movie ever. As much as we all want to believe if it’s on the internet it’s true, in this case it’s not. Nor was I once the “Dialogue Coach” for FLIPPER (true story – IMDB has since removed it).

I mention this because when you are sick and go to the internet to see what you have and are told it’s some horrible terminal disease that will kill you within a week, you don’t have to believe them. It’s probably an allergy to your neighbor’s cat.

Boomska316 is next.

Ken, I was wondering what you think of this trend of streaming services artificially stretching out the aspect ratios of older shows to make them full screen? I can only assume that someone complained about the black bars on the sides of the screen, but I find it off putting.

I hate anything done to alter a show’s original presentation whether it’s visual or speeding it up. I understand that older shows were not produced with the wider dimensions in mind, but so what? Let’s enjoy them the way they were meant to be shown. It’s not such a hardship to watch something with black bars on the side of the screen, is it? More disconcerting is everybody looking like Shrek.

Here's a question from Peter:

David Mamet has tried to defend the indefensible by saying college admissions procedures are a joke and his friends Felicity Huffman and William H Macy should be forgiven. What do you think about Mamet basically trying to excuse exam fraud just because his friends are involved? 

I think it's inexcusable.  First off, worthy students are being denied slots because of this.  And secondly, great values to be teaching your kids. 

We live in an age of entitlement.  Partly because people are willing to just look the other way.  

Felicity Huffman KNEW she was doing something wrong and something illegal.  I'm glad she got caught.  And as for David Mamet, it's people like him that have put us in this horrible political situation we're in right now.  Forget justice, ignore facts, reward greed and dishonesty.   Would it surprise you to learn David Mamet is a big Trump supporter?   I could care less what David Mamet says or thinks about anything.

From Jen from Jersey:

When you and Isaacs wrote sitcoms, did you have Assistant writers too? If not, how were you able to write the dialogue so quickly for 20+ episodes?

Starting on CHEERS we dictated scripts so yes, we indeed had a writers’ assistant in the room. Note: "Writers Assistant" is the new, more PC way of saying "Secretary."  And since this was before computers became the norm our assistants would take shorthand.

It took a special person to get everything down in shorthand and then accurately type it up. Throughout our career we had some nutty writers’ assistants but also some sensational ones. We could not have written our scripts so quickly were it not for Sue Herring, Lana Lewis, Ruth Horne, Nancy Koppang, Barry Zajac, Katy Pentland, Sherry Falk, and Linda Silverthorn (who was mentioned extensively in Ronan Farrow’s second NEW YORKER expose on Les Moonves).

And finally, Marka wonders:

Did they film the Eddy tricks before the filming, without anyone on the set, in case the tricks didn't work out during the live run?

Occasionally but most of the time we did them with the audience present. We usually asked Eddie’s trainer, Mathilda DeCagny beforehand if the trick we proposed was easily done. Mathilda, by the way, was the most loving animal trainer I’ve ever met. All tricks were learned by positive reinforcement.

And one final note on Eddie, his real name was Moose.

What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. As always, thanks so much for your FQ’s.


Peter said...

Holy shit! I didn't know Mamet is a Trump supporter! Eeeew.

Thanks for answering my question, Ken. And thanks for revealing that fact. I'm not sure I can enjoy his work anymore. Is he even aware that some of the most vocal Trump supporters are anti-Semites?

I'm so disappointed in William H Macy. Although he's not been indicted for some reason, he was in on it and he was secretly recorded agreeing to the scam with his wife Felicity. Naturally, Twitter has had hundreds of jokes about Macy being on a show called Shameless.

Lori Loughlin has been dropped by Fuller House and by Hallmark from their movies. I wonder what the fallout will be for Macy and Huffman's careers.

Peter said...

I had a look at your IMDB and sure enough Critical Condition is still listed there.

I also noticed that you and David are listed as uncredited writers on Mother, Juggs and Speed. Is that another internet error or did you really work on that film?

therealshell said...

I could be wrong, but Sidney Lumet never directed a comedy film, did he ?

McAlvie said...

I agree re changing the aspect ratio of old movies. My thinking is that a lot of thought went into making the best use of the limitations at the time, and often to great effect. Take that away, and you lose something from the movie.

I also agree re the college admissions scandal. I know some young people with terrific SAT scores and stellar high school experiences who didn't make it into a college of choice. They weren't trying for ivy league, but it was no less crushing. Which makes me think that we will be hearing more about this kind of scandal even beyond the ivy league schools.

Frank Beans said...

Forgive me for being dense, but your response to the question about CRITICAL CONDITION--that was sarcasm right? Seriously, are you just trying to disown it, or did you rally not have any involvement?

blinky said...

Today I Learned that "Ides" means "the middle". So I guess we are in the Ides of Trump.

therealshell said...

My bad. I was groggy when I posted - I was aware that Sidney Lumet had directed a few (very) black comedies, but not silly-ass comedies like the Pryor one mentioned. I believe that Peter got Lumet's CRITICAL CARE mixed up with CRITICAL CONDITION.

Carson said...

I've really gotten into listening to the Radio Classics Channel on satellite radio while I'm driving for long stretches. I'm amazed at how well done the shows are considering their technical limitations at the time and they were done live! Do you think you would have enjoyed being a writer during that "Golden Age of Radio" and flying by the seat of your pants live every week for 39 weeks?

VincentS said...

If I'm not mistaken, David Mamet is also a libertarian who believes climate change is a matter of opinion. So I guess we can ad enabler to his resume. Too bad. Once upon a time, he was a great writer.

E. Yarber said...

Some people can get away with having an ego in the movie business, but most of us can't. One survival skill the "Making it in Hollywood" books rarely cover is the need to let things slide when a client decides to sling a lot of condescension or outright contempt your way. While I'm always gratified to receive respect for my contributions from some very talented people, I can't take such professionalism for granted. Many, many times I've been asked to do my job for someone who acted as though I were there to clean out the ash trays. It's not worth getting outraged and picking a fight. If I have to vent, I save it for a sympathetic co-worker, since there's no way I'm going to change any personalities in this status-hungry field.

That said, sometimes it's not so easy to keep a poker face. I've been hired now and then to enable the writing ambitions of some second-or-third-generation LA kids, which gave me a close-up look at the sort of mindset behind this week's college scandal. These budding aristocrats weren't bothering with me to learn how to develop their craft but to receive praise for the self-indulgent half-baked nonsense they put on the page. One studio executive's teenage son told me he was in a hurry because he wanted to outdo CITIZEN KANE before he got as old as that late bloomer Orson Welles. If I dared to suggest the world really wasn't interested in stories featuring the wonderful adventures of incredibly wealthy offspring who want the masses to be impressed with all their expensive accessories and inborn superiority, I needed to be put in my place and nod accordingly while being lectured how stupid and clueless I was.

I was not unprepared for this mindset. I once worked in the office of a very wealthy fellow who had nothing to do with entertainment. Some Fridays one or another of his children would pop up and cheerily tell me they needed some money for the weekend, never considering I saw anything unusual in cutting them a check for more than my yearly salary.

It's way too easy to use cases like the school admissions business to attack filmmakers in general, taking the abuses of a few high-profile names to snort and declare yourself superior to anyone who is trying anything creative. You have to draw a line between talent and entitlement, however. There are a few cases where a jerk has both, but most of the worst stuff is posturing by someone who definitely didn't get through the door on grounds of merit. The vast majority of people I've met in movies work like dogs and have no public profile.

Celebrity is generally a matter of PR as studios concoct fantasy backstage images of performers to sell tickets. When those images slip, there's always someone to leap forward and declare that show business as a whole is a cesspool of pampered perverts. Before moving to LA, I drifted among jobs in warehouses, brokerages, a hospital, hotel, insurance company, legal firms, and private investigation. From what I saw, just about EVERYWHERE is a cesspool with its share of creepy predators, awful behavior and privileged abusers, from Hollywood to some Home Depot in Cedar Rapids.

That said... God, I hope I never have to deal with another overaged spoiled brat. If it's any consolation, they don't seem to realize they're despised by every clerk, waitress or service person who has to put up with their behavior because they throw money around. I get free coffee all over town just to listen to stories about them at the various eating spots I haunt.

brian t said...

therealshell said "I could be wrong, but Sidney Lumet never directed a comedy film, did he ?"

I suppose that depends on how high you were when you saw "The Wiz"!

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

The original aspect ratio should always be maintained. It represents the director's vision, after all, how he envisioned audiences would follow the action. Either stretching the picture or cutting off parts of it are in direct violation of this principle. I'd rather watch original episodes of FRIENDS in the origina 1.33:1 aspect ratio (with black bars on the sides) than the cropped widescreen we currently get on streaming and reruns. The same applies to any blockbuster film made in 2:40:1 or wider. Keep the picture uncut and enforce black horizontal bars as necessary.

As for Mamet, I knew he was a far gone right wing nutjob the day I saw the pilot for his show THE UNIT. That was back in 2006 or so. Militaristic, xenophobic, appalling. A byproduct of the worst Reagan values and the blind rhetoric of the W. Bush era.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Peter... just so you know, that if the most Vocal Trump Supporters are anti-Semites, the most Anti-Trump Supporters also are Anti-Semites. They at least have that much in common.

You can always count on anti-semitism to bring the Farrakhans, Sharptons and the David Dukes together. Oy vey.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I'm surprised ANYONE is surprised about this College scandal.

We all know that giving money to any place will give you special treatment.
We all expect that.

Why should this be any different?

Buy a wing of a school and you get in.
Have your parent be a legacy and the kid is in.

Be a Kennedy and you are set.

CarolMR said...

Ken, I don't know what the point was in mentioning that Mamet is a Trump supporter. Mamet didn't commit any crime. Huffman, who hates Trump and supports liberal Democrats, is the alleged guilty party.

Michael said...

These scandals are now a pastime for the Hollywood saints to preach, especially Olivia Munn.

Brett Ratner gave us the lowdown on what she did to get roles but later under the Metoo backlash retracted. But that sums up the life of actresses like Olivia Munn.

Not joking but when I read that the FBI went to Felicity Huffman's house with guns drawn, I thought about William H Macy and the scene from 'Fargo' replayed in my mind.

Daws said...

Don't know if you've already addressed this, but: FQ

Episode run times. My wife and I have been re-watching the original Star Trek on blue ray, and the episodes clock in around 50 minutes. A current "one hour" drama is about 42-44 minutes depending on the network and show. The reason I bring this up is because we're about halfway through season 1, and maaaaan do these episodes seem to drag. I've thought several times if they were re-edited to bring them down to 44 minutes, the episodes would be easier to watch.

So, do you think that the shorter run times enforced by the networks to add advertising have had a positive effect on the writing, in the sense that you have to get the story down to its essentials instead of having to stretch and fill to get to 50 minutes?

Shaun said...

David may be a Trump supporter but not the ones caught.

And anti-Semites are everywhere.

Phil said...

Thanks Ken for your take on this scandal.

It seems everyday some scandal keeps breaking in Hollywood.

Here is one about an actress who was "friendly" with many top executives and producers in Hollywood and pushed everyone to get her roles and she did get it too. Looks like some heads may roll on this issue.

therealshell said...

brian t said: "I suppose that depends on how high you were when you saw "The Wiz"!"

I have never seen "The Wiz," but, as a sixty year old male, I take them frequently.

Earl Boebert said...

For Frank Beans:

The DVD cover for Critical Condition does not have Ken or David's names anywhere, so I think Ken was serious. The credits on the cover are: Story by Dennis Hamill & John Hamill and Alan Swyer Screenplay by Dennis Hamill and John Hamill

May Ken can enlighten us on the significance of the ampersand vs the word "and" in the credits.

Oh, and I don't own a copy -- as scan of the cover is online at:

Saburo said...

FWIW "Critical Condition" is one of the worst movies I've ever paid $$$ to see in a theater. On a worst-five list, definitely.

DwWashburn said...

I went to a Baptist liberal arts college in 1971 and knew two guys who were there only because their parents made large donations to the college. So a form of this has went on for decades.

I don't understand these rich people's end goals. So you got your kid into a college? OK, but what are you going to do now? If they're not academically qualified they'll flunk out the first semester unless you're bribing the teachers, coaches and deans too. Take Loughlin's kid for example. She plops herself in her dorm, goes right to YouTube and records a video that says she doesn't want to be there. Is it more impressive to your rich friends to say that you couldn't get your kid into an Ivy League school or that your kid got in but was discovered to be a fraud on her first test?

Buttermilk Sky said...

Sidney Lumet also directed BYE BYE BRAVERMAN, which is pretty funny.

Peter said...

The Wiz is a painfully tedious film. And if you've never seen it, you definitely shouldn't bother with it now, as that paedophile freak Michael Jackson was in it.

Coram_Loci said...

College is too often more about credentials and contacts than education.

It is the next institution that needs major reform. College administrators, not students, should be the one’s jumping up and down when your son or daughter chooses their college.

That doesn’t happen in part because of easy, up-front money from Uncle Sam. The money will come, from you or from someone like you. So, if you are college, why bother competing? Too many professors “teach” political vanity courses of little pedagogical value. Too many parents and students want just the credentials and the expected salary that comes with it. Decadence.

And why we tolerate it can best be expressed by Helen Lovejoy

Good intentions. Bad economics. Higher Education and Hollywood meet in a scandal exposing their mutual decadence.

PJ said...

Hey, I just realized where the opera singer's name came from in the episode Out With Dad!

YEKIMI said...

A two part question: As a director, it seems that you do all your directing on sitcoms. Has no one come to you to direct any crime dramas [CSI, Law & Order, etc.] or other non-sitcom directing jobs or is that just something you wouldn't be comfortable doing or just not in your wheelhouse? And are there any directors that can handle anything that is thrown their way?

Janet said...

I don't disagree with a word said on this but also I believe should not some blame rest with the institution for going along?It really says something negative about that university.

Janet said...

To say nothing of what these kids might possibly do eventually for a job...

Janet said...

I don't know who else remembers Leona Helmsley and her tax problems. She rated a TV movie back in the 80s.

So my question is, is someone going to make a movie about this college scandal? If so, who will play Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin?

tavm said...

Earl Boebert, an ampersand means "writing team" while the word "and" means "rewritten".

Peter said...

Janet, the FBI said the universities were unaware of the scheme. That was the whole point of the scam.

Kirk said...

I'm curious as to why someone would falsely list you and David as writers of that Richard Pryor movie. Maybe they think your names will a few more DVDs. In a way, it's kind of flattering.

Earl Boebert said...

For tavm: Thanks.

Janet said...

Hi Ken,

I've got an FQ, if you've seen any episodes of Kelsey Grammer's new series, PROVEN INNOCENT?

If so, I wanted your opinion of Grammer's performance. To be honest, the performance seems to me one-dimensional, like he is playing Frasier as an asshole.

Am I missing something? Does Kelsey have anything deeper to offer or is everything a version of Frasier?

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Most of the Hallmark Films are lensed in Vancouver, so the story was at tge top of the Suppertime newscasts. I myself was in a Hallmark film, Love Is Never Silent, staring Mare Winningham. For some reason, Mare couldn't keep her eyes off of me in between takes...what where we talking about again?

GoodScout said...

Very interested in your current take on WGA's battle over agents packaging deals. Washington Post had a good summary of the controversy today: ( )

You may have posted about this late last year, but curious what your current views on the issue are, and the likelihood that the WGA can bring these huge megaagencies to change their approach.

Cedricstudio said...

Friday question (sort of). I'm a huge MASH fan and thought I had seen all the specials, interviews, reunions, bloopers, etc. related to the show. Turns out I was wrong. Someone has uploaded a 90-minute PBS special on the making of MASH narrated by Mary Tyler Moore (circa 1981, which I think was season 8). It includes extensive interviews and lots of footage of scenes being rehearsed and shot on the soundstage, complete with lights, cameras, and crew. It's a fascinating gold mine and a must-watch for the diehard MASH fan. Thought your readers might be interested:

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