Friday, April 05, 2019

Friday Questions

If the best part of your weekend is Friday Questions you need more fun in your life. But here they are:

Peter leads off.

You've previously written about working on Mannequin 2 and how awful it was. I particularly cracked up at your anecdote about the producers wanting to pay you and David in big screen TVs. My question: do you ever get residuals from Mannequin 2? I know the movie tanked but surely every movie must provide some residuals, however small.

No. And the movie has aired on TV and cable channels. I'm actually owed a good piece of change.

The problem is the company was run by a guy who later went to prison and another guy who once swindled Columbia Pictures (when he was their president) by writing bogus checks and forging Cliff Robertson’s signature. So the company and its principles are long gone.

Ryn's Sistehr asks:

It seems like sitcoms and reality shows are so much less expensive to produce, get the highest ratings, and give the most bang for the buck in syndication, versus hour-long dramas. How and why do cash-strapped networks still mount something like 911 or The Orville, or all these cable networks I've never heard of mount period pieces, or Siren on Freeform? (Not that I think it's a bad thing that they do - it just seems so unlike money-grubbing networks to do it.)

Networks felt there was a glut of multi-camera sitcoms and that viewers were turned off by their formula rhythms. So to re-energize the genre they felt there was more nteresting things in single-camera and major audiences would return.  They haven't.  

Networks were right that there was a sameness to multi-camera shows – but just the bad ones.

Meanwhile, the most successful sitcoms in syndication (save for MASH) are multi-camera. THE BIG BANG THEORY, LAST MAN STANDING, and FRIENDS are juggernauts. Single-camera sitcoms (save for MASH) don’t do nearly as well. And they cost quite a bit more.

So why don't networks commission more multi-camera shows?  Why do networks do anything

Chris Thomson has a MASH question.

When you were making MASH, was it easier with operating theater scenes to film, as I would imagine you could almost film it once and then re-write at will, as they were wearing masks and no one could see their lips. Basically just reusing the same take?

Following on from that. If this was true, was it tempting to put extra scenes in there if time was tight (sunlight at the park running out etc)?

Only one time did an actor ad lib during an OR scene and we just removed his dialogue. As you said, it’s easy because they're all wearing surgical masks.

But no, we didn’t favor OR scenes. We just tried to tell the best possible stories in the most original way. There were weeks when we had multiple scenes in OR, and other weeks where we had no OR scenes at all.

What I liked best about the OR scenes is they really were the best depiction of the reality of the war and its price. Yes, we were a comedy, but we always felt our primary responsibility was to convey the horror and senselessness of war.

And finally, from PolyWogg:

Any "I remember seeing..." tributes to share about great plays that you've seen where they came out of nowhere for you, totally unexpected diamonds in the rough?

I saw CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD at a small theatre in LA and thought it was brilliant. I saw an early production of SPRING AWAKENING in some church in lower Manhattan and knew that was extraordinary.

Another musical that I loved early on was FOREVER PLAID.

In a small theatre in Soho I saw KILLER JOE  in 1999 and was knocked out by the writing. That was my first introduction to Tracy Letts. It was also my first introduction to Sarah Paulson. I happened to see her after the performance standing on the street and said, “You’re not only terrific; you’re also one of the bravest actresses I’ve ever seen.” Getting completely naked for fifty audience members eight times a week took a real commitment to her art. 

A play that’s kind of faded into the mist but was remarkable was ZOOT SUIT and I saw an early production of that in Los Angeles.

Sadly, I can’t think of any comedies. I saw early productions of Neil Simon and Herb Gardner plays, but they were already major names.

We need more comedies!


Mark said...

I saw Killer Joe at a small theater near suburban chicago years ago and was blown away and the nudity in such a small space was totally unexpected, especially the opening of the second act. There was an audible gasp from the unsuspecting audience. The actor had big cajones to pull that scene off, both figuratively and literally.

E. Yarber said...

My late uncle received the Purple Heart in Korea, so every time I see an OR scene in MASH I can't help but think of him as one of those kids on a table.

Ted said...

Just saw the wiki page of Mannequin 2, and the actress was Kristy Swanson!!! Wow....

Did you meet her Ken?

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

According to, the most current popular sitcom reruns on Broadcast & Cable (not counting streaming) are (in order of ratings):

Big Bang, Last Man Standing, Modern Family, The Goldbergs, Two & a Half Men, Family Guy, black-ish, Mike & Molly, 2 Broke Girls (ugh!), Seinfeld and Mom.

7 multi-camera, 1 animated, 3 single camera.

I'm also surprised Friends and the Office aren't on this list since they always seem to be on.

Curt Alliaume said...

The principals had no principles.

marka said...

Was there ever a period where studio notes (maybe better called studio interference?) was actually helpful? Maybe they had a better casting idea, or story or script idea, or was it pretty much always a bad thing to one degree or another?

Also, any Ichiro stories or comments?

Jeff Boice said...

Shocked to hear about you not getting residuals on Mannequin 2- I assumed that the current owner of the film would be responsible- I didn't realize residuals could be discharged in bankruptcy- but I guess they can. Aren't LLCs wonderful?

Reminds me of a story I heard concerning the Northridge earthquake. There was major damage to the Santa Monica Freeway, including a collapse/near collapse of an overpass. The overpass structure contained a storage facility. Someone told me it was amazing just how many entertainment industry records were destroyed (or supposedly destroyed) at that one location.

Justin Russo said...

Mannequin 2 holds a very special place in my heart (despite it's absurdity). I remember seeing this at age 4 and knowing somehow I was gay (I was very fascinated with the Austrian muscle-men).

bcelaya said...

Ken- You've been involved in TV as a writer, director, etc. so you've been very familiar withexactly how much of a program is cut out to accommodate commercials, so I come to you for some input on the subject. It sure seems to me more time than ever is taken up by commercials these days. Is that true? Especially the second half of the shows I watch seem to be almost wall-to-wall commercials. And while we're on the subject: have you noticed how many commercials lately feature biracial couples? You wouldn't have seen that not too very long ago. One more thing- it seems nowadays an awful lot of commercials include the sound of a doorbell (Wayfair, Home Advisor, and my favorite- Cologuard, etc.) If you have a dog in the house you know what I'm talking about. My theory is that whatever you're doing that distracts your attention while the commercial is playing, when the doorbell rings you immediately shift your attention to that- and are drawn into the commercial. Advertising is, after all, a science. Thanks

Peter said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken!

There must be some company that owns the rights to Mannequin 2 though? Wouldn't they be obligated to pay out residuals to you and the cast?

I'm amazed a Mannequin remake hasn't happened yet, given the frequency of remakes and reboots.

Peter said...

I looked up the Wikipedia page for Mannequin 2. It says "Mannequin Two: On the Move came out on Blu-ray September 22, 2015 by Olive Films (under license from MGM)."

Someone's making coin off the movie still!

The director actually likes the movie and says we could do with more "innocent humor".

Peter said...

Justin, you'll be amused by this interview with the director of Mannequin 2 in which he talks about the muscle men.

Their voices were dubbed because they couldn't act. He says they couldn't even say a line like "look out" convincingly!

MikeN said...

Cable networks put up these other shows because they have to stay relevant and remain in the lineup. Most of them make money by getting money from the cable networks per customer for carrying them. 100 million customers paying 10c a month out of their cable bill is good for the bottom line, and worth spending the money for a must see show. TBS, TNT, USA get about a dollar per customer. The sports networks get the most, with ESPN getting $8.

Michael Schlesinger said...

Ken, if you haven't seen THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG in New York, do catch it when it comes to the Ahmanson this summer. I guarantee you will laugh harder and longer than you seldom have.

sanford said...

Who was the guy running the company that went to prison. The second person was David Begelman. That was pretty well known story. Killer Joe was later a movie based on the play. I have seen part of the movie.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I remember that "The Odd Couple's" first season was shot single camera, with a laughtrack. There were elements of that season that I preferred to the later, live audience seasons. The comedy became much more broad, and in my opinion sillier. It was still funny. I watched the entire original run, yet it was definitely different. And as I've alluded to this before, but the problem with a lot of these single camera sitcoms isn't the form. It's the writing. They're just not funny.

Speaking of baseball,
FRIDAY QUESTION: Did you ever encounter "Morganna the Kissing Bandit?" I seem to also remember an imitator with a similar M.O.

ScarletNumber said...

> So the company and its principles are long gone.

Wow, talk about a Freudian slip ;)

Adam said...

It was Bruce McNall, who once owned the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL and who played a pivotal role in bringing Wayne Gretzky to the team in the late '80s, who went to prison.

Frank Beans said...


"> So the company and its principles are long gone.

Wow, talk about a Freudian slip ;)"

Forgive me if I'm dense, or that it's just Friday afternoon, but what slip? Is there a pun here I'm not getting?

Jen from Jersey said...

Friday question: In terms of continuity, do writers forget details about the characters and events from earlier seasons. I notice this all the time when I binge watch. One recent example is that the first episode of Wings, Joe introduces Brian to Lowell but in later episodes we find out that they all went to high school together.

PolyWogg said...

Ken -- Thanks for answering my Friday question (wow, two in one year...if you can explain more about multicam vs. single cam and how you view it as different for hte product beyond the technical, I'd have the trifecta!). I loved Forever Plaid too, but in my neck of the woods, things were great long before I saw them.

Frank -- "company and principles" / Freudian slip...normally the phrase is that a company has "principals" i.e. the people running the company (director, owner, whatever) vs. "principles" i.e. ethics, etc. So saying company and principals are long gone would be normal, but I think Ken wasn't "slipping" but deliberately punning by saying principles. If it was a slip, he should take it as credit in lieu of Mann2 residuals.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

The Bumble Bee Pendant wrote:

>>Big Bang, Last Man Standing, Modern Family, The Goldbergs, Two & a Half Men, Family Guy, black-ish, Mike & Molly, 2 Broke Girls (ugh!), Seinfeld and Mom.>>

One of the amazing things about that list is that Chuck Lorre is associated with *four* of them. I continue to marvel at both his work rate and his hit rate.

Jeff Boice said...

The weird thing is that it was the guilds who forced Gladden Entertainment (Begelman and McNalls company) into liquidation bankruptcy specifically to get the back residuals paid. Must not have worked out as well as they had hoped.

The NHL really had some wonderful owners- McNall was just one of a group that have gone to prison, including the infamous Harold Ballard (Toronto) and Peter Pocklington (the guy who sold Gretzky to McNall). Even the long time head of the player's union went to jail.

Mark said...

I wonder how the relative rate of syndication success would hold up if you threw in the single-camera comedies of the 60s. Shows like Andy Griffith are still holding up remarkably well.

Dave Creek said...

I noticed all the doorbell sounds in commercials, too, as has my dog. The ones I hate are those that have an alarm clock sound. It seems there are several of those right now. One of them features about four or five different alarm sounds. It's a sound I never liked, and since I retired I thought I'd be free of it forever.

Chris Thomson said...

Hi Ken

Thanks for answering

"What I liked best about the OR scenes is they really were the best depiction of the reality of the war and its price."

Couldn't agree more from a viewer point of view.

The ultimate obviously probably being the Henry Blake plane crash scene.

Couldn't set it any where else really for impact

Bob Uecker for President said...

I was watching an interview with Larry Gelbart where he talked about the precautions that he took to ensure that Henry Blake's death remained a surprise on MASH.

Obviously, Larry pulled this off in the pre-Twitter age, where if an audience member told their brother about the surprise, the news wasn't destined to rocket all over the world within an hour.

If you were a showrunner in 2019 on a multicam, live audience sitcom and wanted to keep a plot twist as an absolute secret, how would you do it?