Friday, May 03, 2019

Friday Questions

Here we are in May already. Time for more Friday Questions.

David Russell gets us off and running.

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?

Writers acknowledge more than actors. Actors may know but since they have to go out there and perform every week and it’s their faces up there they tend to be more in denial.

Writers, especially staff writers, see things for what they are and bitch about them.

That said, writers will sometime prefer being on a bad show to a good one if the good one is run by a tyrant and the bad one is run by a lovely person who creates a pleasant work environment.

If actors get bad reviews and are publicly told they’re on a dog then they freak and general chaos is usually the result.

At least a bad movie is in the can, but when actors have to continue making bad TV shows then you have that long death march until the end.

An actor once told me that early in her career she was in some B-movie teen comedy, and they had the cast and crew screening. When the lights came back up all of the actors were literally crying.

At least they didn’t have return to the studio the next day to begin work on the sequel.

From scottmc:

Ken; were you a d.j.when 'Delilah' was a hit for Tom Jones? My daughter is 14 and I try to play for her songs from when I was her age. She likes the Turtles (especially the byplay between the lead singer and the heavy set guy) and the 4 Seasons (some of their songs show up on the soundtracks of some of the movies she watches.) When we heard 'Delilah' she couldn't believe it. I looked at my copy of 'The Me Me' and it seems you started working in radio right around the time that song was released. Did you ever play the song, what was your reaction to it?

I played that song many times. I don’t understand what the big deal is. It’s a story song about a guy killing his girlfriend for cheating on him. The police come and I assume he winds up in the cell next to Cosby. 

There are any number of songs that had that similar theme of someone murdering someone else who they felt did them wrong. The delightful “Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” “Stagger Lee,”  “Murder Ink,” “Fulsom Prison Blues,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Hey Joe,” and of course “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I bet you can think of seven more.

RyderDA asks:

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?

I believe the switch over time was to get the audience invested in the narrative quicker. Movies didn’t have to start slowly to accommodate credits, or if the film began with an action sequence, they didn’t have to interrupt the flow by doing an opening title sequence. Or the movie didn’t open with a four-minute opening title sequence.

For the most part, I miss opening titles. What would a James Bond movie be without them?

A lot of romantic comedies used to have clever and stylish animated opening titles. I quite enjoyed those.

As for credit placement, unions negotiate that. If the credits are at the beginning of a film the director gets the final credit. If the credits are at the end of the film the director gets the first credit (followed by producer and writer).

Regarding all the crew members, I suspect there are union stipulations for that too. Personally, I don’t mind that there are a million credits. Everyone who works on a film deserves recognition. I’ve talked about this before, many of the hardest working, most conscientious members of the crew are below-the-lines people who never get the kudos they deserve.

And finally, Jim S. wonders:

What was the best note you ever received from a suit, and from a fellow writer/producer?

Network: Tim Flack at CBS. We conceived the pilot of BIG WAVE DAVE’S as three guys having a mid-life crisis deciding to open a surf shop in Hawaii. Tim said one needed a wife to bring along. That turned the premise into more of Wendy & the Lost Boys.

We hired Jane Kaczmarek, she tested through the roof, and the show got on the air because of her. I’d say that was a pretty good note.

Writer note: Treva Silverman read the original draft of my play A OR B? and said, “the first act is wonderful. You have no second act.” I completely threw out my second act, wrote a new entirely different one, and the play went on to receive numerous well-received production. Thank you, Treva.

What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section and stay away from Delilah.


Matt said...

I actually like what Marvel has done by putting another scene after the credits which forces people to stay through the credits. I just saw Avengers Endgame and was disappointed that there was no bonus scene.

Though I did find it humorous that somebody was credited as Mr. Hemsworth Dialect Coach.

Lemuel said...

No comments on The Flo & Eddie Show? Or their "pornographic" movie "CHEAP"?

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

In the old days, Sometimes the credits at the beginning are too long (see MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD).
Woody Allen always put the actor credits in the beginning (not sure if he still does since I don't see his newer films).

Of course, movies got slicker with the credits and tagged new scenes.
Sometimes these are blooper scenes or deleted scenes (which were USUALLY funnier than the stuff they left in the movie itself. IDIOTS!), or the cast and crew singing/dancing to a song (e.g. Something About Mary/Shrek/Isn't It Romantic)

And then there are the added/post credit scenes.

The Muppet Movie (the 70s version) had a memorable one.
Airplane! had the AutoPilot finding a love interest.
Mel Brooks' History of The World Part I had the "Preview" for Part II inserted...
For Ferris Bueller, not only was there new action playing over the credits, but the post-credits has become very famous and parodied ( )

Of course, The Marvel Universe has taken this to a whole new level by adding extra storylines that usually foreshadow the next movie in the Universe's story.
Here's ALL of them:

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Wikipedia (yeah, I know) has a list of Post-Credit scenes in movies.
They've become more prevalent in the past 20 years.

These don't count the movies with scenes or acts playing DURING the credits.

E. Yarber said...

A big difference regarding credits for crew members is that until the late 1940s, all such workers were on regular salary to the studios they worked for, so their participation on a given day was less about a specific film than whatever job the company needed done right then.

For example, Carl Stalling's memorable scores for the Warner Brothers cartoons were made possible because there was an entire orchestra on salary sitting around playing cards until someone came in with a score for them to play, be it for CASABLANCA or ONE FROGGY EVENING. Nobody would hire such a group of musicians simply for a cartoon short, but they were available for whatever Warners needed. Likewise, an army of carpenters, set designers, sound technicians, lighting and camera operators, etc. were all continually moving from one job to another on the lot, not necessarily fixed to a single project from beginning to end.

When the Hollywood system broke up, everyone working on a project had to be assembled from scratch instead of being on call.

Mibbitmaker said...

Being on a Bad Show:

"At least a bad movie is in the can"
Depending on the type of movie, they could still be mocked by Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Rifftrax. (The best B-movie participant has a sense of humor about it. If you're the little girl in "MANOS: The Hand of Fate", who nowadays actively embraces both the movie AND its riffing by MST, you're one of the coolest people on the planet!)

Best Note:

The moral of the story is - sometimes it's good to get a little Flack from the network.

Stephen Marks said...

So I have a Friday question. I've been binge-watching episodes of the old British sitcom "On The Buses" and on every episode the characters make fun of each other's physical appearance, such as baldness, big teeth, height, weight, small chest, etc. I was wondering if a writer has to ask an actor if it is okay to make fun of them before it's written into the script or does the writer just do it and hope the actors don't mind.

estiv said...

I'll second the appreciation of how the Muppets handled post-film credits, although I think the movie I'm remembering is not the same one that the Bumble Bee Pendant is remembering.

At the end of the film, while the Muppet voices (mostly Henson and Oz) are riffing, and the credits go on and on and on, eventually Fozzie says, "Uh, Kermit, does anybody read all these names?" Kermit says, "Sure, Fozzie, they all have families." Which I think is pretty much the same thing you're saying, Ken.

I reread this, and I gotta say, it works better if you imagine the Muppet voices.

DwWashburn said...

I had always heard that in Los Angeles, the movie capital of the world, it was considered rude to leave the theater while the credits were rolling. But as the questioner stated, you almost have to pack a lunch if you want to read today's credits. And the music that is used during the crawl is usually God-awful and also usually two or three songs because of the length of the crawl.

I'm a big silent movie and early talkie buff and I know of many early movies that would show the cast listing in the front of the movie and call the cast "The Players", a reference to live performances. My first exposure to this was the Paramount Marx Brothers movies.

kevin said...

Does the public reception of a show you have worked on affect your own perception of it? I ask because of "After MASH." It is often held up- even by you- as an example of a bad program. But when I watched it recently I found it to be a solid piece of work- after all, how bad could a show with scripts by Larry Gelbart and Levine/Isaacs possibly be?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

In regards to the first question, didn't they eventually end up doing this with that Brad Garrett show when it was in its final seasons? TILL DEATH, I believe it was called? Granted, I never watched it, but before TV Tropes banned me because their staff always holds grudges and vendettas against tropers for minor infractions regardless of your other contributions, I had proposed a work page for a trope called Later Installment Weirdness, and I seem to recall another troper added this as an example.

In regards to the third question, I often wonder why certain credits are even necessary as well, like Third Assistant to the Deputy Janitor.

zapatty said...

@Stephen Marks - If you like "On the Buses" look for the bad American version, called "Lotsa Luck!" Dom DeLuise was the star.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

One of my friends with a history of movie-going stretching back to the late 1930s always said it was STAR WARS that brought in the long list of cast and crew because Lucas felt they contributed so much to the final movie.

I once heard Jack Lemmon tell a story in an interview about some movie he was in that was a real stinker, as became clear during the screening for cast, crew, and friends. When it finished, Lemmon said he asked "my friend, my brother" Walter Matthau, who of course he'd invited to attend, what he thought. "Get out of it," Matthau advised.


VP81955 said...

Among the many things I love about Turner Classic Movies (today is Robert Osborne's birthday, BTW, and fans are suggested to buy ice cream in his memory while watching a TCM flick) is that the credits on many of the films it shows -- particularly the Warners pre-Codes that comprise a goodly portion of its library -- give you the cast, with visuals of their characters, immediately after the opening credits. So you know that's Joan Blondell as Gwen the chorus girl (then again, the lovely Joanie appeared in an astounding 35 films, from leads to bit parts, between 1931 and 1933) or Frank McHugh, another Warners regular, as the conniving card-shark Joe. Elaborate opening credits are wonderful -- Saul Bass made it an art form -- but studios, unless it's a surprise casting, a la Boris Karloff as the monster in "Frankenstein," please let us know who's who right off the bat.

Mike Doran said...

First in order:

We must acknowledge that whether a given show is a "stinker" is a subjective judgment.
What you find brilliant, I might not, and vice versa.
Years ago, I recall Jim Backus getting some grief from a snooty "pundit" about why he did Gilligan's Island.
Backus's response - practically a snarl - was something like "Well, first of all, it was DAMN FUNNY!!!"
Granted, that when you find yourself in a successful show, you ultimately develop a defense posture for yourself, but still …

Here's one on myself:
Lately, I've been looking at Hee-Haw reruns on the RFD Channel.
The usual defense posture is that the music is top drawer, and I'll sign that.
Some while back I learned (somewhat belatedly, I'll admit) that the grizzled, malapropping "newscaster" was Donald Harron, an actor that I'd seen for years playing very serious roles on dramatic shows like The Fugitive, 12 O'clock High, Mission: Impossible, The FBI, The Man From UNCLE, and loads of others (Harron was Canadian, so he was often cast as Britishers, but he was always sobersided).
Even now, I still have a bit of a disconnect when I see serious Harron on a '60s drama, and then see him as "Charlie Farquharson" on Hee-Haw - but there you are.
Think about it.

On making fun of physical features:
I think I heard Marlo Thomas tell this on herself.
In the early days of That Girl, Marlo found herself doing jokes at the expense of the then not-yet famous Ruth Buzzi.
In early-stage '60s feminism, Marlo was appalled at the nature of such jokes - until Buzzi took her aside and said (quote approximate): "This face is my bread and butter."
I believe that if you check around, you'll find variations of this quote from many performers in similar situations.
Think about that, too …

Mike Barer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kosmo13 said...

Other great murder songs include Johnny 99, Tomb of the Unknown Love and Miller's Cave.

J Lee said...

Ken: I know you did a script treatment for "The Dick Van Dyke Show" that Carl Reiner critiqued, but DVD was consistently good over its five-year run -- were there any comedies you've seen either growing up or after you were in the business that you thought "I'd like to haven written for this season of the show" but not some other season, because the show either went in a bad direction in its later years, or the show wasn't full developed enough in the early going to really take advantage of the characters/situation?

Craig Gustafson said...

"I bet you can think of seven more."
Possibly. In "The Little Blue Man," the singer shoves the title character off the top of a tall building for stalking her. He doesn't die, but the intent is there. Does this count?

Jit said...

Indeed songs about murders have been around since the 17th century.

E. Yarber said...

I should add that a lot of the old studio credits would basically list department heads where technical work was concerned, since individual employees might move from project to project on a much more fluid basis. I had lunch with ace historian Larry Harnisch, who seems to spend half his life debunking sloppy Hollywood research, and he told me the only way to honestly keep track of who did what over the course of a film is to trudge through hundreds of pages of studio records, which often tell a very different story from the accounts less diligent writers garner from press releases.

You can't underestimate the contribution of a solid movie crew. Buster Keaton's amazing run of technically dazzling shorts and features would have been impossible if he hadn't inherited Roscoe Arbuckle's unit after Arbuckle was promoted to features. Keaton was able to work with a team he'd known for years, everyone ready to tackle the most daunting challenges. When Keaton was tossed into the sausage grinder of MGM, his crew was able to make one feature with him there, THE CAMERAMAN, which the studio screened for years as an example of a perfect comedy. Naturally, they immediately broke up this combination of experts, who were fanned out over the lot for whatever movie needed a hand, and Keaton was left stranded as a performer alone instead of the filmmaker he was.

After MGM canned him, Keaton was able to bring some of the old gang back for a series of shorts at the independent outfit Educational Films, which paid him $10K a film. When that job ended, Harry Cohn of Columbia grabbed Keaton for $5K a short and bragged that since the rest of the actors and crew were already getting paid a regular salary by the studio, these new pictures were costing virtually nothing and could be distributed for free. Keaton floundered amid a sea of anonymous laborers, finally becoming one himself.

Much the same thing happened to Laurel and Hardy when they left Hal Roach and lost the crew that had developed the team's comedy right alongside them. Many of these dedicated supporting artists were left in complete anonymity until researchers uncovered their contributions decades later. When the lots began closing in the late 60s and the staff switched from day labor to freelance contractors, everyone began getting due credit, which they deserved.

Mibbitmaker said...

Stephen Marks - I've long been wondering the same thing about jokes at the expense of the Frank Burns character on M*A*S*H, about his appearance, which he had in common with the actor playing him. Did Larry Linville mind? The writers could be merciless (which Burns deserved). Similarly with Gary Burghoff's height, actually. In that case, Radar had issues with Hawkeye's ribbing, and eventually had him stop, more or less. Don't know if that reflected behind the scenes.

Frank Beans said...

@ The Bumble Bee Pendant

Yeah, I haven't seen any recent Woody Allen films either (recent for me being post-1990s) although I probably should sometime. I'm a fan of everything of his from the 70s and 80s.

I was re-watching SLEEPER recently and it was striking how looong the intro credits were, on a blank black background, not scrolling, just static. Everyone from Director to Best Boy third-string-replacement backup. At least there was his very good jazz clarinet playing over it to keep it entertaining. I can only guess that it was some kind of artistic/film industry statement.

cadavra said...

There's another reason why credits wound up at the end. Late in the 60s, movie theatres began switching from reel-to-reel projection to platters, in which the entire film was spliced together into one giant loop like an 8-track tape. (Brief pause while people under 40 look up "8-track tape.") This made less work for the projectionist, but it played havoc with the print, and often the end of the film was damaged because of the weight and tension. Putting the credits at the end meant that any ruined footage would not happen to the movie proper. Today, of course, it's moot because most theatres use digital projection, but millennials hate reading, so the credits remain at the end so they can get the heck outta there before they might accidentally learn the names of the people who starred in it.

Frank Beans said...

The song "Delilah" only evokes Homer Simpson singing it in the shower to his "No Soap Radio", I think I'd prefer to just keep it that way. Tom Jones himself was later a cameo voice in an episode, kidnapped by Smithers to help Mr. Burns impress Marge. Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

Todd Everett said...

There was a brief but horrible period when, for TV airing, theatrical films were edited (presumably) to look more like TV pictures: the beginning credits, no matter how long, were removed and placed at the end.

So a film would open cold with the protagonist riding into town (for instance) and, after the final lines, switch to the studio's logo, then (for instance) the name of the picture, then the names of all the principals ending with the director, then (if they weren't dropped entirely) then end credits. This even if there was a bit of action before the opening credits: it, too, would be moved to the end.


Astroboy said...

I was just thinking the other day how much I miss opening titles that are autonomous (for the most part) from the film themselves. Especially if they are animated. A favorite is the one Maurice Binder designed for "Two For the Road," directed by Stanley Donen, that run over some wonderful Henry Mancini music. Another style I like, in the old days, often, if the film was based on some classic story, the opening titles would start with a book with the movie title on the cover and then the book would be opened and the credits appeared on the turning pages.

E. Yarber said...

Don Harron's Charlie Farquharson character was something of a Canadian institution, going back to the 1950s and sparking a series of spin-off books written by Harron himself. HEE HAW's creators were Canadian as well, so they were well aware of the routine when they included him in the show. I have to admit it was always jarring to move from the drawl of the Southern players to Charlie's nasal Ontario accent, but nobody seemed to notice.

Buttermilk Sky said...

The first murder song that comes to mind: "Frankie and Johnny."

I'm a big fan of Warner Brothers movies from the 1930s. The opening credits often showed the stars as well as their names. It might be useful to revive this practice, for those of us who struggle to distinguish among all the Jasons and Jennifers.

In the category of stinkers, Spencer Tracy once starred in a movie called DANTE'S INFERNO. He hated it so much, he tried to have his name removed. And Paul Newman supposedly took out newspaper ads urging people not to watch THE SILVER CHALICE whenever it was shown on TV.

Andy Rose said...

The first major superhero film -- Superman -- managed to have extra-long ending AND opening credit sequences. The closing roll went on for seven minutes (a record in 1978). The opening credits were four minutes long, preceded by a one minute pre-credits prologue.

Supposedly the producers didn't intend to make the opening credits that lengthy, but they were so amazed by the then-novel "streaking" effect Richard Greenburg had created for the teaser trailer, they decided to have it redone for every name in the opening.

Cap'n Bob said...

I like the creative spelling of Folsom Prison.

Madame Smock said...

I've been reading credits since the first movie i ever saw in a theater, 'The Absent Minded Professor' (1961). What is a Best Boy ? I think it must be a thrill to see your name on screen as a contributor to a movie or television production. Mr. Marks comment on the TV series 'Lotsa Luck' is interesting. The show starring Dom DeLuise and Kathleen Freeman had a 22 episode run. The show creators were Bill Persky,Sam Denoff and Carl Reiner. Great comedy writers and it only lasted a short time. One of my favorite opening credit sequences is 'North by Northwest' by Saul Bass with music by Bernard Hermann. If you're a listener to Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast they did 2 mini episodes (#210,#211), Death Songs of the 1970's. Enjoy your weekend.

Peter said...

Unless I'm mistaken, Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers practically invented the post-credit scene back in 1980 in Airplane with the cab passenger still waiting for Robert Hays' character to return: "I'll give him five more minutes. But that's it."

Stephen Marks said...

Hi zapatty, who is located about 4 slots below me, thank you for the info re: "Losta Luck", I had no idea there was an attempt at an American remake of "On The Buses", I will check it out, thanks again.

Poochie said...

Have you been watching Brockmire at all? It's insane to think one of the wittiest, acerbic, and yet thoughtfully dark comedies on the air is about the life of a baseball announcer of all people. You yourself worked with Azaria on the Simpsons. How are you not writing for this show yet?

Danny said...

Natalie Schafer, who played Mrs. Howell on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, later recalled that at one point early on, morale was pretty low on the set, based on almost uniformly bad reviews. She said what turned her attitude around was when fan mail started pouring in, much of it from children, who just loved the show. She said she couldn't not enjoy doing a show that was bringing so much pleasure to so many kids.

DrBOP said...

I'm a big fan of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which is celebrating a 50th anniversary this year. One of the surprises this year (besides the various geezer rockers who had to cancel due to health reasons) was the scheduling of Tom Jones at one of the closing stages in yesterday's line-up. Could the 78 year-old voice hold up? Would he turn the crowd off with a Vegas-style greatest hits show? A hearty Yes to the first, and no to the second. He didn't touch Vegas,but yes, he performed Delilah:

And if you go to the 2nd page in that forum you'll see a pretty funny t-shirt referencing the Stones cancellation.

Mike Barer said...

Let's try this again. Dark Lady by Cher has almost the same theme (subject) as the Tom Jones standard, Delilah.

Greg Ehrbar said...

One of the worst movies of all time, yet worth seeing just once for the "what were they thinking of it," is SKIDOO. The best part is when Harry Nilsson sings every word of the end credits. Few movies (especially this one) were so clever.

That's "comedy mastermind" Otto Preminger you'll hear stopping the action (he already stopped the comedy).

Anonymous said...

Worth noting that Delilah was written by Cole Porter. The Platters did it much earlier.

Murder songs aren't some recent trend.

Astroboy said...

The Zuker Brothers movies always had the funniest entries during their closing credits. But I think my favorite is from a Jerry Seinfeld HBO special from the 1980s. The credits was: Personal Assistant to Mr. Seinfeld: (Yeah, right!)

Breadbaker said...

@Stephen Marks (the third response to your post, indeed): Ken actually answers the question in his recent podcast containing a Cheers episode comedy, at least in respect of making comments on certain of Kirstie Allie's assets. Worth a listen.

Loosehead said...

Regarding opening vs closing credits, how would you put the full cast of "The List of Adrian Messenger" at the beginning of the film?

Loosehead said...

Oh, and one of the recent Marvel movies, either Infinity War or Black Panther, slipped in "Disney Studio Receptionist" to the list of creative talents responsible for the movie. Too much?

YEKIMI said...

Another song that MAY be about murder, though obliquely....."Timothy" by The Bouys. Written by Rupert Holmes, the man who gave us a catchy song about cheating, "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)".

Jen from Jersey said...

Friday question: There are so many shows on air that have very low ratings but don’t get canceled. Just look at the comedy lineup on ABC. Even night time talk shows get low ratings. At what point does it make sense to pull these shows ?

Kosmo13 said...

The Delilah song confused me when I was nine. Tom Jones' odd pronunciation of the word 'hand' sounded like he was singing "I felt the knife in my head..." I thought Delilah had stabbed him in the head and they were coming to break down the door to take her away.

When I listen to the song now, it sounds more like 'knife in my hen,' as though Tom had taken along his pet chicken.

Mike Doran said...

For Loosehead:

Your mention of The List Of Adrian Messenger got me to thinking.
Actually, the "whole cast" did get a shout-out of sorts in the opening credits.
Of course, it was revealed in more recent times that that "whole cast" was at least a semi-hoax - and that's another story …
(Details -with spoilers - on request.)

Jerry said...

I just followed along on your Cheers commentary. From watching Cheers, I get the sense that Ted Danson was/is the type of lead actor who isn’t bothered at all by other actors getting most of the attention in an episode. In fact, when other characters have problems and come to Sam for help, it served as a way to give the the character more depth instead of him just being the dumb jock. Are these perceptions correct?

Thomas said...

To "Anonymous" above:

"Delilah" was written by Les Reed and Barry Mason, not Cole Porter. The murder ballad Porter wrote is "Miss Otis Regrets," about a woman who murders her unfaithful lover and later is lynched by an angry mob. The song is sung by her butler (Miss Otis is a society lady), explaining why Miss Otis is unable to keep a luncheon appointment. ("And the moment before she died, she lifted up her lovely head and cried, Madame, 'Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today.'"

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Speaking of credits, When I went to the one of the first screenings of Rocky IV, the audience cheered and nearly gave a standing ovation when the word " Vancouver" flashed on the screen during the credit crawl. Now, it doesnt even register on our brains.

E. Yarber said...

A "Gaffer" is in charge of the lighting. His or her assistant is a "Best Boy" or "Best Girl" and oversees what the rest of their crew is doing while the Gaffer concentrates on the technical aspect of the job. I guess these terms are derived from some joke on the set that has long since been lost to time, like the idea that "MOS" silent shooting got its name from a German director asking to film "Mit Odt Sound."

Andy Rose said...

@E. Yarber: When a minor adjustment needed to be made to a light hung from the ceiling grid, it would take time to set up a ladder, have a technician climb it, make the move, and then descend and stow the ladder. Sometimes to save time, they would instead use a long pole with a hook on the end that could grab on to the edge of the light and move it from the ground. It was based on a fishing tool called a "gaff hook." Hence, the person using the gaff hook was called a gaffer.

E. Yarber said...

Appreciate the gaff definition. Sometimes the OED isn't enough. I think "Best Boy" was a nautical term, but how it wound up as an official designation is still beyond me. All I could do was explain was what it means in movie credits.

TonyV said...

Hi Ken,

I recently heard on a podcast that Cheers had an episode in which Sam Malone waits for the results of an Aids test. The podcast claims it reached the stage were it was almost filmed and then was aborted. Is this real and if so, do you know the details of why it was even considered, how the writers tried to find humor in this situation, and who made the decision to kill it?

VP81955 said...

1. I believe the passenger in the cab at the end of "Airplane!" was none other than Howard Jarvis of Prop 13 infamy.

2. Tom Jones recently performed at Stagecoach, the "country Coachella" at Indio. Says something about his wide stylistic terrain. (At the start of his career, many stations which played "It's Not Unusual" believed he was black.)

Geoff said...

To Tony V "Cheers’ Sam Malone Tested for AIDS: In a proposed finale, Ted Dan-son’s sexual overachiever was going to find out that one of his girlfriends had tested positive for AIDS—leading him to question his sexual habits while awaiting the results of his AIDS test. Instead this season will end with the previously filmed conclusion of the romance between Kirstie Alley and Tom Skerritt." from

Ken, Josh Ritter's song Folk Bloodbath is a hoot. It pits Delia, Stagger Lee, and a couple other murder ballad protagonists against each other.

Beth said...

Hi Ken, would love to hear your thoughts on this Vulture article about breaking into writing for TV.