Friday, April 19, 2019

(Good) Friday Questions

Happy Easter and Passover and whatever else you’re celebrating. Here are this week’s FQ’s.

blinky is up first.

I just saw a post on Reddit that the medical adviser and Alan Alda co-wrote an episode of M*A*S*H. Tell me more!

Well, first off, it was after we had left the show. But yes, the episode called “Life Time” was written by Dr. Walter Dishell and Alan Alda. Dr. Dishell was our medical advisor (and a great guy).

It’s the episode all done in real time. The idea was really Gene Reynolds'. But it was one that required a lot of medical knowledge. Dr. Dishell asked if he could write it since he would be contributing so much, and Gene agreed as long as he wrote it with a real MASH writer (I think Alan qualified).

The episode is also noteworthy for the clock in the corner of the screen. That idea, apparently, was Dr. Dishell’s.

MASH was always experimenting and trying different ways to break the format. “Life Time” was one of the best.

From Jen from Jersey:

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.

Sometimes you have different writers who weren’t on the show when the first factoid was aired. Other times writers forget, especially if it seemed like a small detail buried within an episode. There are times I’ve been on MASH and CHEERS trivia sites and there will be questions from episodes I wrote that I still don’t know the answer.

Some shows used to keep a detailed bible, but that’s pretty time consuming, and now you have the internet to post episode guides.

And seriously, this was much less of a problem before series were all available for binging or cable networks ran eight episodes a day. Now these continuity problems are glaring.

All I can say is that for a long running series writers do the best they can to maintain continuity. Unfortunately there are getting to be fewer and fewer long running series.

Sean queries:

While binging Game of Thrones recently, I noticed something new. The opening credits only feature the actors in that particular episode. I've been an avid TV nut for decades and have never noticed that before. Is that common? It seems to me that even if Jamie Farr or William Christopher didn't appear in a particular episode, they were still credited in the opening.

Have I missed out on something?

It depends on the actor’s contract. Some stipulate their credit must be in every episode whether they appear or not, and others only get a credit on the shows where they actually do appear.

Where the credit appears and how the credit appears also are up for negotiation. Along with size and screen placement.

And finally, from Madame Smock:

Aloha Ken,

I listened to the "How did I get talked into this ?" podcast Ep. 116.I thought the Rocky Mountain Writers Guild story could have been a story premise on Frasier. Do writers use their personal experiences to come up with a storyline?

ALL the time. Our most humiliating life experiences are all golden fodder for sitcom stories.

The best stories are the ones that are the most relatable and those come from real life. I think it was Carl Reiner, when he was running THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, who said to his writers: “Go home this weekend, have a fight with your wife, then come back and tell me about it.”

What’s your Friday Question? Please leave it in the comments section. Thanks.


Glenn said...

I liked the Life Time episode. Mike Farrel was pretty solid in that one.

dgwphotography said...

I have to say that the way you handled the continuity error with Sam regarding Martin on Frasier was absolutely brilliant.

Steve Bailey said...

RE the Friday Question about TV writers using their real-life situations in their scripts: My favorite anecdote about this came from Ray Romano. One night, his wife watched a new episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and complained when one of their actual arguments ended up in the show. Romano pointed out the window and said, "You see that pool out there? You think it fills itself up on its own?"

ScarletNumber said...

> Our most humiliating life experiences are all golden fodder for sitcom stories.

> The best stories are the ones that are the most relatable and those come from real life. I think it was Carl Reiner, when he was running THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, who said to his writers: “Go home this weekend, have a fight with your wife, then come back and tell me about it.”

I don't know if Reiner literally said that, but Philip Rosenthal has said something in the same vein.

David Russell said...

Friday question:

Do writers and actors ever acknowledge, even to themselves, that they're on a stinker of a show? I've watched shows that have inexplicably been green lit, they're universally panned, or they're dying a terrible, slow death after having been on too long. Do the writers and cast still really believe in the show or is there some recognition they're working on a lousy product, and what does that do to the morale on the production?

Mitchell Hundred said...

It honestly gets kind of annoying to me when writers are overly focused on maintaining continuity at the expense of, you know, telling a good story. One of the shows I've been watching on Netflix is Teen Titans Go!, and although there are some jokes in it that I don't care for, I love that the writers will sometimes end a story with a radical change to the status quo and then return to the status quo at the beginning of the next one (with no acknowledgement that anything was ever different). It demonstrates a willingness to take the piss out of the conventions of superhero and TV storytelling, which is something that I think the medium sorely needs.

Dave Creek said...

I worked for the CBS affiliate in Louisville the night "Life Time" aired, and the entire half-hour we received phone calls wanting to know why the clock was on the screen. People don't understand that we're working on the 11 o'clock news, and not watching TV. But I called master control (it's their JOB to watch TV) and found out what the deal was, so I could tell confused viewers. Years later I got to see the episode, and it's one of my favorites.

RyderDA said...

Speaking of credits, my Good Friday Question:

In old movies (not sure when, but certainly pre 1960), the credits showed up at the start of the movie and when it was over, the movie just ended. Later movies seemed to feature some intro credits, and some credits after as well. Somewhere in the late 60's or early '70's, all the credits started showing up at the end. They got longer and longer over time; now credits are so long, they seem to list everyone who worked in the production company's office plus everyone living in the cities where the movie is made just for good measure.

I think you have written in the past how the WGA worked on getting writers properly credited, but 1) who fought to get the 4th transportation driver listed, and 2) why the switch over time from credits all before, to before and after, to mostly after?

Andrew said...

One continuity issue that stands out to me is the episode of Cheers in which Frasier's mother shows up, and threatens Diane. She's deceptive and manipulative, and quite different from the woman described when Martin and his sons reminisce about her. Friday question: was that episode of Cheers discussed during the run-up to Frasier?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I don't like THE BIG BANG THEORY and I don't watch it, but I hear they do the same thing with their opening titles; like, if Mayim Bialik doesn't appear in the episode, she won't be credited.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

I'd argue there are times writers are very well aware they might be contradicting some character detail established in a prior season, but in the long run if the current story in development is a good one, it's worth the contradiction.

Depending on the kind of show, its fictional reality should be flexible enough because telling a good story is ultimately more important than whether X went to school with Y or they met at a strip joint. Viewers will still embrace it on the strength of the characters alone.

Stephen Marks said...

David Russell, parked about 4 slots above me, asked a great "Friday Question" that I hope Ken answers. I also have always wondered what the actors are thinking when they are on a bad show. Do they just pretend it's great, with a lot of fake laughing around the script read table? If Ken answers this perhaps he could include broadcasting for a lousy team and pretending it's not lousy. There is a broadcaster for the Toronto Blue Jays, who shall NOT go nameless, it's MIKE WILNER, that's M-I-K-E W-I-L-N-E-R, who constantly insists the Jays are great, have a shot at the division or wild card even though they are 20 games out by time you guys are bar-b-queing on the 4th of July. Guy's a tool!

Now Mr. Russell doesn't need any help from me getting his question answered by Ken but I'm going to grease the skids by adding that David's Friday Question is brought to you by "HONEYBOOK," and if you go to "HONEYBOOK.COM" right now and key in the code given during Ken's podcast with Al Michaels you will receive a whole year's worth of "HONEYBOOK" services for half off. That's 12 months of stuff for 50%. I've personally used "HONEYBOOK" and they are great. So great I dumped Blue Apron. Good question David.

Justin Russo said...


I am wondering if (in this time of peak TV saturation) you've been able to watch SPECIAL on Netflix. The comedy is about a gay man in LA living with CP and managing his way through life (particularly being a gay, disabled man in modern society). The show was written and stars Ryan O'Connell who was optioned the show after his book of essays on the same topic became a hit.

The show is full of pathos and humor with a stand out performance by Jessica Hecht as Ryan's mom. 8 episodes have been released, each clocking in around 15-minutes (Netflix's choice for season 1, but it plays nicely).

I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Kirk Chritton said...

@Andrew, maybe it helps to apply a parallel universe principle to Cheers and Frazier. The universe of the Frazier show is ALMOST but not exactly the same as the universe shown on Cheers. To verify this, we just need to carefully watch Frazier to see if any clips of Star Trek are playing in the background; if Spock has a beard, we know it's a parallel universe!

Andy Rose said...

@RyderDA: The irony of long credits is, no matter how long they are, they typically include maybe a third of the people who actually played a role in making the show.

Gary said...

Even the greatest of all sitcoms, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, had many continuity errors. They usually got into trouble with their flashback episodes. When Rob and Laura recall house-hunting before Richie was born, they're in a small home or apartment seen only in that episode. However when they flashback to the day Richie was born, they're in a completely different house. Then when they bring Richie home from the hospital(and Rob decides they have the wrong baby) they're already in the famous house on Bonnie Meadow Road. In still another flashback, to when Rob was laid off for the summer, Richie is not born yet but they're already in the Bonnie Meadow house! Of course none of these errors detracted from the comedy in any way.

Liggie said...

I remember a short-lived Julia Louis-Dreyfuss sitcom "Watching Ellie", where the episodes ran in real time and there was a countdown clock in the lower corner of the screen (similar to score bugs in sports). In the only episode I saw, her character had to bake something for 20 minutes, and her inserting and removing the dish bookended the plot.

Frank Beans said...

The transition of the Frasier Crane character from CHEERS to the FRASIER universe is so full of holes and inconsistencies, it's pointless to even try to catalogue them all. I will say, however, that the one character that was put to good use was Lilith, both because she's funny, and most importantly, plausible. The other CHEERS backstory elements on FRASIER fell flat in my opinion.

slgc said...

Although I loved The Odd Couple series (the original Randall/Klugman version), its lack of continuity made me crazy (Oscar and Felix's meeting stores, Oscar and Blanche's honeymoon, etc. etc.). For a short series the writers did not have a long memory!

Anonymous said...

I always thought the MASH episode where you/they essentially put the camera in place of a wounded soldier and shot the entire episode from his perspective was one of my favorites.
I remember the "Lifetime" episode and enjoyed it but for me it echoed a bit to much of the christmas episode where B.J, as lead, kept a dying soldier alive long enough so his family would not have to associate Dec. 25 with their fathers/husbands/sons death.

tavm said...

"The Honeymooners" are full of contradictions like Alice's multiple relatives, and the various ways she and Ralph met. Ditto Ralph and Norton. But there's two good excuses for that-different writers for each ep and the fact it was originally just one sketch of many on "The Jackie Gleason Show" in which the star had other characters to do. "I Love Lucy", on the other hand, had mainly the same staff many seasons but even then some contradictions of characterizations come with perhaps the glaring being that while Ethel was expert at the piano, suddenly during the sixth season she can't even play a few bars of "Comin' Round the Mountain"!

Gary said...

Another continuity disaster was the backstory of FRIENDS. In the pilot episode the group first meets Rachel when she runs out on her wedding and stumbles into the coffee shop. But in the later years we are treated to several flashbacks where Chandler knows Rachel back in college. The writers had to know they were contradicting the pilot, but they were probably desperate for ideas by then.

I watch too much TV.

Tommy Raiko said...

I kinda hate to be that guy, but the Rachel's appearance in the pilot episode of FRIENDS isn't exactly a continuity disaster. In the pilot, it's not that Rachel randomly comes into the coffee shop and meets everyone for the first time. Rather, she comes into the coffee shop specifically seeking out her old school friend Monica, who introduces her to Phoebe and Chandler and Ross (the latter of whom she knows already, being Monica's brother.)

That later flashback episode does show Chandler and Rachel interacting in the past, but are the kinds of things that could sorta be written off as a I-didn't-remember-that-was-you! kind of thing. (Chandler tries to pick up Rachel in a bar, but he doesn't get far enough to get her name; during college Chandler comes to Ross's home for Thanksgiving and briefly interacts with Monica and Rachel; etc.) Whether those are satisfying quasi-explanations or real continuity disasters is up to the individual viewer, I guess...

Mark said...

When Dan Butler was a regular on “Frasier” and billed upfront with the rest of the cast (seasons 5 and 6, I think), his name would only appear if he were in the episode. Many of the “Dynasty” regulars would only appear in the opening if there were in a particular episode. ANd going way back, Vivian Vance was removed from the “Lucy Show” opening credits when she wasn’t in a particular episode.

DIsney continued the “only upfront” credits policy with their live action movies well into the 1970s.

Jeff Weimer said...

Considering Cheers, and Frasier, *and* Wings were all part of an Autistic boy's daydream on a snowglobe of St. Eligius hospital, it makes sense that a few details don't line up.

Jeff Boice said...

On "Perry Mason" the five principal actors were credited in every episode for the first three seasons. Then in 1960 William Talman attended that party that was raided by police. CBS fired him, then brought him back, but after his return he was only credited in those episodes he appeared in. Ray Collins continued to be credited as Lt. Tragg in every episode through the end of Season 8, although illness restricted him to a handful of episodes after Season 5. That was because (a) the producers knew he was watching at home; and (b) so he could continue receiving SAG medical benefits while he battled emphysema.

Mike Doran said...

This is a test.
I just put up a perfectly good comment which Google scotched with a bogus "security check".
I was unable to complete the process because I don't have text messaging, and so couldn't get one of the phony codes.
Now to see if this message gets through to you - or anyone.

D McEwan said...

"Jeff Boice said...
On "Perry Mason" the five principal actors were credited in every episode for the first three seasons. Then in 1960 William Talman attended that party that was raided by police. CBS fired him, then brought him back"

CBS brought him back at the insistence of Raymond Burr. Another who brought pressure to bear on CBS to rehire Talman (After his horrible crime of being at a party where pot was smoked. Excuse me. [Deep Inhale] Some leftover 420 I'm smoking here in California legally. Oh dear. Now I can never be on Perry Mason) was, of all people, the right-wing monster Hedda Hopper. The presence of her son on that show as Paul Drake made her Burr's protector (No leaks to the press about his being gay) and Burr's supporter when he was demanding the return of Talman.

Mike Doran said...

OK, trying again:

Sidney Clute was a regular cast member on Cagney And Lacey; he got the gig from Barney Rosenzweig, the showrunner and an old friend.
Early on, Clute got word from his doctors that cancer had kicked in, and he likely wouldn't be able to stay the course on C&L.
Old friend Rosenzweig thereupon put a clause in Clute's contract guaranteeing his full salary for every episode in which he appeared.
Sometime in the third season, Clute died; at that point, Rosenzweig saw to it that his face and name were in the opening credits for every episode thereafter - for the whole six-season run of C&L.
This meant Clute's family got his full pay for all episodes - and full royalties for the syndicated reruns.
It's good to have friends.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I gave some thought to that as well. I was able to to reconcile that, as Fraser's mother suffering from Alzheimers just before she passed away.

Peter said...

I asked Gregg Daniels, who wrote the Simpsons script, Bart Sells His Soul, where he got the idea, and he said that he had done that very thing to a kid in high school. Do you guys ever make anything up?

SJBosch said...

Friday Question--

Has anyone seen a British TV series from London Weekend Television over BBC1 called, "As Time Goes By"? It was written by Bob Larby and Colin Bostock Smith. It starred Dame Judy Dench and Geoffrey Palmer. It ran in broadcast and in syndication between 1992-2005, 67 episodes in all. The license to broadcast the series episodes was renewed, I think, seven times at least by our PBS stations in the Metro New York area. The overall quality reminded me of M*A*S*H. The idea was that two people who met and fell in love in 1953 are separated by war (Korea) lose touch and meet again 39 years later. I think it is the best of the medium but I may be prejudiced in favor of the cast. Has anyone else seen it? Are there any lessons to be drawn from it by aspiring writers over here?