Friday, May 10, 2019

Friday Questions

And now for some Friday Questions:

zapatty gets us started.

Premature Friday question - what did "creative consultant" Ronny Graham do when he worked on M*A*S*H ? I recall him appearing on Carson back in the day, and found him wildly amusing, and silly.

It’s a fancy title for a writer. Usually a Creative Consultant works one night a week but Ronny was full-time. He was a delight in the room. Pitched great jokes. And he also wrote several terrific scripts (one in which he also appeared).

As you’ll hear if you listen to this week’s podcast episode, his good buddy Mel Brooks would come into the room and hang out with us from time to time. That alone was worth hiring Ronny.

He was a true character. He was in NEW FACES OF ’52, wrote with Mel Brooks, was a semi-regular on CHICO AND THE MAN, and for years was the very popular spokesman for the Mobil Oil TV campaign as “Mr. Dirt.” Additionally, he did a cabaret act.

From scottmc:

After watching the episode 'Frasier Gotta Have It’ I was curious about Lisa Edelstein's credits prior to that episode. (I remembered that she was in a Mad About You episode) I noticed that before appearing on that Frasier ,and years before 'House', she appeared on several episodes of 'Almost Perfect'. Were you involved in casting her in AP? Were you or David working on FRASIER when that episode came up? Did you like her work on The Kominsky Method?

First off, I LOVE Lisa Edelstein. She is insanely talented and nice.

We cast her in ALMOST PERFECT because David Isaacs and I had seen her a couple of years earlier when we were casting BIG WAVE DAVE’S. She wasn’t right for that part but we made note that she had a real special quality. The ALMOST PERFECT part originally was just a few lines, but she was so hilarious we brought her character back. Eventually she became a semi-regular.

She was such a good sport. On ALMOST PERFECT we had her pelted with pies while she sang karaoke. On another episode she had to be almost naked (I think our show would have gotten higher ratings if it were called ALMOST NAKED instead of ALMOST PERFECT), and any physical comedy she could do. She also had the gift of making an unlikable character likeable.

Trivia note: I also directed Lisa in an episode of JUST SHOOT ME.

I love her on THE KOMINSKY METHOD. She’s essentially playing the same character she played on ALMOST PERFECT but drunker.

Stephen Marks is next:

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.

I always clear it with the actor first if I want to make a joke about his appearance. I’m very sensitive to that.

And as a comedy writer I like to think I can derive humor from someone without having to trash his appearance. I think we got lots of laughs from Norm on CHEERS without having to resort to fat jokes.

And no joke, no matter how hilarious, is worth it if the actor isn’t comfortable. To me it’s not a body-shaming issue, it’s a basic decency issue.

What’s your Friday Question?


Honest Ed said...

RE On The Buses...

Wow, haven't heard of that show for a long, long time. Moat of those actors came from tough working class backgrounds, grew up in WW2, worked in factories, working men's clubs. Indeed, one was a stripper in her younger years. They will have had very thick skins and taken a 'give as good as you get' approach to life. I doubt they'd have gotten upset over a joke about their teeth. The humour was also very much Britain in the 70's. In an era when many UK sitcoms were being remade in the US, there appears to have been no interest. It's bizarre to read an American talk about it, It's not a show which is particularly fondly remembered, or much repeated, unlike some other shows of that time such as Till Death Do Us Part or Dad's Army - which is rarely off the BBC and still has new generations repeating it's most famous gags. Only last week, the resignation of a government minister prompted the endless recycling of a Dad's Army gag.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

That particular episode Ronny Graham wrote and appeared in, "Your Hit Parade," is always my personal favorite episode of M*A*S*H, because Radar's DJ persona of Big Daddy O'Reilly and how he was making everybody cringe over it is very reminiscent of when I was one of my school's DJs in Grade 8; I went by the handle of DJ Salvatore, and while it got my recognition, most of the other kids didn't care for my taste in music . . . my middle school was in the ghetto, so they wanted to hear rap, hip-hop, dirty pop songs, and I'd play a wider variety of everything else but. The teachers enjoyed it, though.

I also remember Mike Farrell mentioning in an interview that Ronny was the one who came up with that button, "Starting tomorrow, he gets taller," after Hawkeye and B.J. had spent an episode switching out Charles's uniforms to make him think he's losing weight, then gaining weight.

Michael said...

"A new fang on the ol' tone-arm cobra." The least Radar-like line Gary Burghoff ever uttered. And given my feeling about blood tests, Ronny Graham captured my existence ... though not the drinking part. Well, not since grad school, anyway.

Dixon Steele said...

I remember seeing Graham on the Tonight Show, where he sang a song about, of all things, Glenn Ford.

Johnny loved it...

therealshell said...

On the Buses was Americanized into Lotsa Luck. Dom Deluise starred.

Tim Dunleavy said...

Honest Ed said...
RE On The Buses...
In an era when many UK sitcoms were being remade in the US, there appears to have been no interest.

Actually, "On the Buses" was remade in the US - as "Lotsa Luck," which aired on NBC during the 1973-74 season. Repeats have been running recently on Saturday nights on the Antenna TV channel.

While Stan (the protagonist) on the British series was a bus driver, this was changed for America, probably because they thought it would remind Americans of Ralph Kramden from "The Honeymooners." The American Stan worked in the Lost and Found department at a bus company, though he still wore a bus driver's uniform.

I've seen a few episodes recently, and while they don't indulge in stereotypes (at least in the ones I've seen), the show comes off as surprisingly crude for American television of the early seventies. Sort of like "All in the Family" without the political point of view - or any point of view at all.

Bill Persky, who developed the American version, tells an interesting story about the show, and its demise, on Gilbert Gottfried's podcast.

Stephen Marks said...

Hi Honest Ed, in the number one slot. You wrote re: On The Buses, "It's bizarre to read an American talk about it." It's more bizarre then you think, I'm Canadian!

Thanks for answering my question Ken.

Andy Rose said...

It seems as though shows are getting a little more careful about making fun of the appearances of their younger stars, at least. In the 80s, on Growing Pains, Tracey Gold's character was ridiculed by her older brother for gaining weight as a teenager. (And allegedly, producers on the show harassed her about it, too.) Gold was so embarrassed, she became severely anorexic and eventually was too ill to continue on the show.

By contrast, on Modern Family, both of the Dunphy daughters gained a noticeable amount of weight for a while due to unrelated real-life medical issues. Despite the fact that everyone on the show constantly bickers and makes cutting insults -- and Eric Stonestreet's size is an occasional target -- the girls' weight was never once mentioned.

Marcus said...

Friday Question: Did Crystal Bernard actually play the cello on Wings? If so, did she learn it for the show or know how to beforehand?

Jeff Boice said...

On the Buses did air in the 1970's on KVOS- Bellingham WA and I think also very briefly on KIRO- Seattle. KIRO aired the show late Saturdays. I've read that the CBC also aired it late night back then. I'm not aware if Stan and Jack's misadventures aired anywhere else in America- I imagine once Lotsa Luck was greenlit Buses was withdrawn.

KVOS aired a number of British sitcoms back then including Doctor in the House and Dad's Army- UK sitcoms do so few episodes per season (sometimes as few as 6) that the only way to syndicate them in the US is to bundle several shows together and sell it as a package.

Keith Nichols said...

Your reference to "fat jokes" makes me wonder what became of "fat Jack Leonard" and his comedy career when he lost about a hundred pounds. But that was late in his career, which may answer my question.

Unknown said...

If I remember correctly, Ronny Graham was on a few episodes of Wings.

Mike said...

I remember seeing Lisa Edelstein on an episode of Larry Sanders playing Sharon Stone's assistant. She was so convincing I thought she really must be Sharon Stone's assistant. A few years later she had a recurring on The West Wing and I was all, "she was Sharon Stone's assistant. Good for her."

Buttermilk Sky said...

Lisa Edelstein was on the first episode of THE WEST WING, too. As I recall, she was working her way through law school as an escort and had just spent the night with Sam Seaborne. Since he was surprised to learn about her job, we were meant to understand that he didn't pay. Because the Bartlet Administration was that pure.

Dr Loser said...

In re: On The Buses. (Not an especially funny UK comedy even at the time -- compare and contrast to, say, "Rising Damp.")

Nobody cared about cruel physical caricatures at the time, becase we British knew better. Also, we mostly looked like that in the 1970s.

It's a school playground kind of humour, but it seemed to work.

zapatty said...

@ Jeff Boice - I'm from Toronto, Canada, and grew up watching lots of British sitcoms. The CBC aired many of them (they were the first network outside of the U.K. to air episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, curiously after Saturday night's Hockey Night in Canada). The CBC did *not* air "On the Buses". A small station out of Hamilton, Ontario - CHCH-Channel 11 aired the show, usually on Wednesday nights at 10:30P.M. Apropos of "On the Buses," there were also three films made - "On the Buses," "Mutiny on the Buses, and Holiday on the Buses".

therealshell said...

I preferred Leonard Rossiter in the brilliant "Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin"

k said...

2 questions
1) Shows these days seem to put a greater emphasis on final scene zingers. Law and Order seems to be very much an example of this.
Question is are there writers who are known to "specialize" on these wrap up comments?
2) I have heard Tom Hanks repeatedly ask for a role in a super hero movie. Any ole even a bit part. If the Lord of the Rings could find a cameo/bit part for Colbert why can't Mr. hanks find the same sort of consideration?
Studio conflicts? I assume that ther is more to this then meets the eye. Or am I wrong?

Frank Beans said...

Actors, needless to say, are incredibly image-conscious. I think the handling of physical attributes as subjects of jokes on shows can be done in good fun, or mean-spiritedly. Hopefully it's mostly the former.

I think the show that did that the most has to be MASH, where every major character, except perhaps Father Mulcahy, had their stock physical put-downs:

Frank Burns: No chin

Henry Blake: Shaped like a pear

Winchester: Bald

Klinger: Big nose, hairy, swarthy

BJ Hunnicut: "cheesy" mustache

Margaret Houlihan: large hips, fat ass ("like two bulldogs in a burlap bag")

Radar: Short, nearsighted

Col. Potter: Bad partial, also short

Hawkeye: Not so much, but allusions to his lack of athletic ability

There are probably more, these are just off the top of my head. My head that's slowly losing its hair.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

I love Ronny Graham's performance as the increasingly-exasperated Minister in SPACEBALLS. He plays slow-burning impatience so well.

J Lee said...

Saw the tweet on Friday that Constance Wu apparently was not pleased that ABC renewed her sitcom, "Fresh Off the Boat" for another season ( ). She
s since taken those Twitter posts back, but as a showrunner, how do you handle a situation where one of the main characters really, really hates being there? (i.e. -- Shelly Long left "Cheers" after five seasons, but she wasn't going around prior to that letting people know how depressed she was about working on "Cheers" and was hoping the show wasn't renewed)

Johnny Walker said...

Ugh. "On the Buses" :( Makes Benny Hill seem like the height of sophisticated comedy :(

kitano0 said...

Also was so impressed by Lisa Edelstein in The Kominsky Method. It took me awhile to recognize her, since the last thing I saw her in was House. I've never seen her in a role like that, and she was great. She really looks fantastic in a bikini, too!

Greg Ehrbar said...

I've been immersed in comparing episodes of Sanford and Son to Steptoe and Son, the original BBC series that seems to have legendary status in the UK and spawned several foreign language versions as well.

Sanford and Son is a great comedy but Steptoe is more of a tragicomedy along the lines of The Honeymooners, because the British version leans more on the son's dead end life and his hopeless stabs at the elite. Sanford was Redd Foxx's star vehicle (though Demond Wilson really handled the less appreciated role of Lamont with remarkable skill and strength). But Steptoe had Harry H. Corbett, who was a major "get" for TV in his day, celebrated on stage, to play the son Harold. And Wilfred Brambell became so famous that I'm sure that his presence in A Hard Day's Night meant more in the UK than it did to us in the US.

I came upon Steptoe though BBC Radio 4 Extra, where they constantly rerun audio adaptations of the episodes (two featuring Leonard Rossiter). The complete series is on DVD but it's region one. My Mac will only play Region one four times, so I enjoyed seeing it and comparing it to Sanford. Over a dozen scripts were used as templates for the first two Sanford seasons and it is fascinating to see what changed and what did not. It made me appreciate the work of the people behind each show.

BBC did a TV movie about how Steptoe "ruined" the careers of the two leads, but there is apparently controversy about whether that was really true and the film had to be re edited because of complaints from Corbett's family. What is true is that these performers were phenomenal.

B Smith said...

"I'm sure that his presence in A Hard Day's Night meant more in the UK than it did to us in the US."

The whole "He's very clean" business was a play on his role in Steptoe as a (literally) "dirty old man"...which at the time would have gone over the heads of anyone outside the UK.

Ogmont Fulcrum said...

As for what Lisa Edelstein did before FRASIER: She was a VJ on MTV for awhile.

Jeff said...

I'm curious about your thoughts on this article regarding beloved/despised long-running sitcom The Big Bang Theory: