Wednesday, August 21, 2019

10 1/2 years ago today

I did this last month and it got good response.  Since very few read the archives (and I'm occasionally lazy), here's a Friday Question post from March of 2009.   Let me deep dive so you don't have to. 

First up, Joe:

What's it like when a guest star comes in and wants to "help" in the episode he or she will be acting. I'm specifically thinking of John Cleese on Cheers.

That episode was brilliantly written by Peter Casey & David Lee. They just perfectly captured his voice and during the week of production Cleese might have offered some minor suggestions and tweaks but what you see is what Peter & David wrote.

When David Isaacs and I wrote the CHEERS episode with Johnny Carson I went to Mr. Carson before the filming and offered to change anything he didn’t feel was right and he said, “Nope. This is great.” And he did it word for word. I love that man.

Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill guested on CHEERS season one. The original scene had him at a urinal next to Norm. He didn’t think that was appropriate (congressmen actually were worthy of respect back then) so we adjusted the scene.

I do seem to recall directing Mike Ditka once and he suggested a couple of joke fixes. I then gave him some coaching tips.

John wonders:

Ken, with the more permissive (and HBO-inspired) rules the networks have adopted for their show content in the past 10-15 years, are there any episodes you and David did from the 70s and 80s that you look back at now and think it could have been done better if some of the gags allowed today would have been permitted by Standards and Practices back then (or would looser rules resulted in the network folks forcing more shows to gratuitously sexual innuendo-up their dialogue and plot lines because they thought it would add a rating point or two)?

It really depends on the episode and subject matter. Yes, there are a lot of shows we wrote that more license would have been appreciated. But there is also something to be said for being able to be funny and sophisticated without having to resort to profanity. Sometimes that added license leads to easy but cheap laughs. It takes a little skill and elegance to come up with a genuine funny response instead of just having the character say “What the fuck?!” Both will get a laugh. Especially if Johnny Carson says it.

Rogers Motley of Richmond Virginia asks:

With all of the hubbub surrounding the changing of the guard at the NBC late night talk shows, what do you think makes a good late night television talk show host?

Most talk show hosts can be funny and spontaneous (to some degree) but the big question is can they connect with the audience? Is there a likeability? Can viewers really relate to this person? It’s a real X factor that doesn’t depend on age or even nationality.

The humor can be biting, gentle, sly, topical, whatever – but the key element is this: The audience has to get the feeling that it’s the host and them against the world, not the host against them. I personally find Letterman much funnier than Leno but at times I feel he crosses that line and the jibes are at the audience’s expense. Leno never does that. And for my money, that’s why he beats Letterman even though David has the far superior show.

And then there’s Tyra Banks. What the fuck?!


Andrew said...

For some reason I have never heard until recently the Casey Kasem tape where he goes on an angry tirade. Listening to his top-40 voice say the F-word is really a treat.

Kent Finn said...

You should call the rerun posts "Best of Levine".

Anonymous said...

I have a question, Ken:

I know the old adage; If you want to write for Hollywood TV and films, you need to BE in Hollywood. But in this 21st century age of Netflix and other streaming services, is there a way to pitch scripts or series ideas to any of these content providers living outside of LA LA Land?

This is Chris from Cleveland, OH.

E. Yarber said...

I just got eleven uncut episodes of the Johnny Carson TONIGHT show for my birthday (along with an annotated Thucydides, a classic translation of Pascal and a trampoline), which reminded me that when the ultra-catty Gore Vidal wrote the second volume of his memoirs he managed to totally ignore Dick Cavett, the sort of talk-show host you'd think he'd gravitate to, but wrote at great length about his close friendship with Carson and his genuine respect for his intellect and sensitivity. Maybe it really takes a lot to get to the top and stay there for decades. I'll have to watch the episodes and see.

Toledo said...

I never knew that Thucydides was a classic translation of Pascal and a trampoline.

Peter said...

I feel sorry for America that you've got that arrogant no-talent piece of shit James Corden hosting a talk show. I once met someone who worked on a set with Corden and he said he was a rude asshole.

But at least the more he is over there, the less we have to see him over here in the UK.

Rob in Toronto said...

Hi Ken :

I know Doc Severinson was used as substitute announcer on THE TONIGHT SHOW when Ed McMahon was on vacation. Any special story as to why he was used instead of McMahon on your CHEERS episode ?

Unknown said...

Hey, you love Carson, do what he did, have re-runs twice a week. Which such a depth of posts, most probably haven't read them, or forgot they read them.

Chris G said...

On one episode of the late, lamented GREAT NEWS Briga Heelan reacted to something by saying "What the dick?" It was such an unexpected and weird turn of phrase that I laughed pretty hard at it.

tb said...

The second question reminds me of a funny bit in American Dad,where Steve and his friend Snot are writing jokes for Dad's telethon and somebody hacks in and replaces one of their jokes with one more off-color.
Steve: What? We don't go blue, that's the lazy man's comedy
Snot: Balls...
Steve: (laughs) maybe we're working too hard

Anonymous said...

The rerun post gets a mere total of 10 comments -

After an average of about 40 for the last few first run posts.

With those numbers, you're not going to get too many offers when you try and sell your rerun posts to syndication.

M Kirby