Friday, November 29, 2019

Black Friday Questions

Get out there and get that big screen! And when you come home enjoy some Friday Questions.

Wm. Adams starts us off:

A trivia question led me down a twisted path that ended up at "Love, American Style." It seemed to be a place for lots of writers to get a credit or two. Did you ever pitch a script for it?

That show was over before we got into the business. It’s too bad because you're right, that was a great launching pad for young writers. If you check the list of contributing writers you’ll find quite a few names of people who went on to big careers.

From Inkstreet:

In many Norman Lear comedies, black characters on occasion used the N-word (Fred Sanford, Aunt Esther, James Evans, both the Jeffersons, etc.) Today, people would probably have a problem with this, but during the run of the shows, was there any public reaction or backlash for the use of the word?

Well, accounting for the fact that there is that faction that thinks Hallmark shows are too offensive, the short answer is no.

We were not such a sensitive society back then. But we were way more puritanical. How bizarre that you could say the N-word but no euphemism that even hinted at being a sexual organ reference.

In fact, the networks had long lists of slang words to describe offending body parts. And many were expressions I had never heard. Sweater meat? Seriously???

JS asks:

How Long is Too Long? "The Irishman" is 3.5 hours long. I can't sit through that. I have a 2 hour limit How long is too long? My ideal movie - 1.45 minutes or less. If you are going over 2 hours I have to love the actor to sit through it or it has to be "Gone With the Wind" quality and I can watch it on DVD and split it up over 4 nights. There is absolutely no way I can sit in a theatre for 3.5 hours. +4 if you add coming attractions.

If the story is really engrossing and warrants it, I don’t mind a long movie. I love every frame of THE GODFATHER, BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, and GONE WITH THE WIND for that matter.

But I find that most movies could be shorter. Mark Evanier teases me about that, but I believe it. Especially comedies. They seem to play better if they’re between 90-105 minutes.

Even if a movie is funny, audiences get tired of laughing. Get out while you’re still getting laughs.

And finally, from ReticentRabbit:

When you write an episode centering on a "villain," a Frank Burns or a Roy Biggins, is it challenging to move that character to the center from the fringes? Or is it kind of fun because those characters are somewhat less featured and it's a chance to develop them more?

The trick to giving them dimension is not necessarily to soften them but to justify them. Why is that character acting like an asshole? What physical or mental insecurities have led them down that path?

I also don’t mind a villain doing something nice once in awhile. Unlike Trump, no one is all bad.

Happy Black Friday.  Get me something nice.


David Simpson said...

I've long thought that the ideal length for a movie is 87 minutes, including credits.

There are, of course, many exceptions to this, but a film has to be very good to justify extra length.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I watched THE IRISHMAN last night on Netflix, where I could pause for bathroom breaks, etc. It is engrossing but way too long -- maybe an hour could have been trimmed without harming the story. GONE WITH THE WIND and other blockbusters had intermissions, but I saw no place where one could be inserted here. The morality of asking the audience to pity a serial murderer -- that's a whole other issue we could discuss after Ken posts his review.

Michael said...

It's Black Friday, but it's Vin Day. Today he turns 92.

Glenn said...

The Godfather is good but the Italy scenes are boring.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Watched THE IRISHMAN last monday in a movie theatre. The whole experience uninterrupted. All 209 minutes of it, including credits. Tt was worth every minute, and it never felt as if time was passing slowly. That's how engrossing the experience was.

Of course, I was smart enough to go to the bathroom BEFORE sitting down. Then I took the care to not drink during the screening, only allowing for a glass of juice during the final 30 minutes.

Danny said...

In its early days, ALL IN THE FAMILY was criticized by some because the N-word was notably absent from Archie Bunker's bigot's vocabulary. Those critics accused the show of wimping out. At the time, Norman Lear insisted the reason was that the N-word was used only by whites who genuinely hate black people. Lear argued that Archie's racism was born out of ignorance and misunderstanding. Not hatred. He also felt letting Archie use the N-word would have made the character too unlikeable. That you could laugh at a guy who threw around ridiculously outdated words like "coon," but not the N-word. In later years, Lear also said that CBS wouldn't have let them have Archie use that word.

mike schlesinger said...

I saw IRISHMAN in a theatre. The 3 1/2 hours flew by, and I was so engrossed I never felt the need to take a pee break. In fact, if you count the long wait until it started and the Q&A afterwards, I was in my seat for the better part of five hours, and walked out of the theatre exhilarated. But YMMV.

James said...

Don't quite agree. I don't know how Larry Linville felt about it, but I always admired him and Larry Gelbart for going all the way with Frank Burns--he was an onion, and every time you'd peal away another layer, it was rotten underneath, too. Every time you think you'd hit the chocolate candy center, it never was. It made him a cartoon character, but was nice to have a character you could enjoyably hate completely and without reservation.

Stephen Robinson said...

I think almost every successful story (movie/ongoing TV series) with a villain lead tends to have an even worse or just less sympathetic antagonist opposing the villain. We wind up rooting for the "bad guy" in spite of ourselves. (Season One of DEXTER is a quick example).

Frank Burns was such a creep, it would be hard to give him an antagonist who's much worse or less likable. Margaret benefitted from her relationship with Burns -- he was the jerk cheating on his wife with her and essentially using her.

I feel like the writers of M*A*S*H corrected for this right away with Charles Winchester. His superior "banished" him to the 4077th for petty reasons. We kind of were already inclined to feel a little sorry for him.

Buttermilk Sky said...

The only time we felt sympathy for Frank Burns was when the others watched film of his wedding. It sort of explained his attachment to Margaret.

VincentS said...

To your point about justifying a bad guy's behavior, one of the things I liked on MASH is how they gave little tidbits about Frank Burn's past and civilian life which painted a rich picture: When he was a kid his father took away his nightlight because, "it was dark 12 hours out of every 24 and he wouldn't put up with a son who was a coward half the time," his dad only "pretended" to like him, he meets his receptionist two days a week at the Golden Goose Motel, he takes prescription kickbacks, etc. PS - Happy Thanksgiving, Ken.

VincentS said...

I think if movies are to be more than two hours exhibitors might consider having intermissions.

Jeff Boice said...

In the 70's Richard Pryor's albums had the N-word in their titles- and you could find those albums in the Columbia House Record Club ad that ran in each week's TV Guide.

M*A*S*H had the episode There Is Nothing Like A Nurse where we saw the home movie of Frank's wedding, and it was the saddest, unhappiest affair you could imagine. Col Blake commented about how sorry he felt for Frank.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I'm old enough to remember when movie theaters ran double features and you could sit through a movie several times If you wanted to. It's had to believe we once had that much patience.

I agree. I'd much rather watch a long, good movie than a bad movie no matter how short it is. I was only about a half hour into "Mannequin 2" when I started checking my watch.
KIDDING! I've never seen "M2."

I also remember when blasphemy was prohibited or at least discouraged. But now, I occasionally hear "G*d damn." Yet, "f***ot" is bleeped.
I'm withholding comment on that.

Matt said...

Hi Ken,

I was wondering if you saw Knives Out and what you thought of it.

DwWashburn said...

On the subject of "too long" I guess everyone has their own definition but I apparently have a very short attention span. I've never been much of a movie fan because they take too long. The same goes for hour long dramas on TV. I can sit through an hour program like "60 Minutes" since it's really three 20 minute programs but I have found few hour programs that appeal to me.

Baseball is my game and those games (with commercials) average a little longer than three hours. I can take that because of the human drama and the live action. But to watch a scripted 2 to 3 hour program would put me into a coma.

Astroboy said...

@Mike Bloodworth---I miss those days too. I remember sitting 'Raiders of the Ark' three times in row, I loved it so much! And having to wait over 30 minutes between showings. When my sister and I were little kids our Dad took us to see "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and we all laughed so hard we sat through it a second time.

Charles Bryan said...

This is a concept that I've applied to books, as well. 300 pages, ok. 400, it better be damn good. 500+, no.

Hope that your Thanksgiving was a good one, Ken!

Mike said...

Archie Bunker actually did say the N-word, at least once. In the “Two’s a Crowd” episode, where Mike and Archie are locked in a storeroom, Archie recalls that a black kid punched him once, and MIke asked why. And Archie says it’s because he called him that slur. But that’s a different context than Archie using that word to refer to the Jeffersons or other black people in the present day. In fact, at Jenny and Lionel Jefferson’s engagement party, Archie proudly proclaims, “I ain’t said said that [word] in three years.”

Michael said...

Larry Linville was SO good, and another time when he won you over was when he learns of Margaret's engagement. First, his reaction and then ripping the doors off of the mess tent. Then, when he went off to find prisoners and Radar called Frank's mother and he told her he had made a friend who only pretended to like him, then a little breath and he said, "Like dad." He did it brilliantly.

But he also said once that there was nowhere else to go with the character. That was true. They couldn't suddenly make him a good surgeon after years of making him out to be incompetent (which he wasn't at first--he wasn't in Hawkeye's league, but he wasn't terrible--and that WAS where they made him a bit of a caricature).

Winchester was, above all, a worthy opponent. And the problem that was evident from the outset was that he was in a world of which he had no conception, with his upbringing. I think of the episode with the Christmas candy, and of course of the episode with the compositions for left-handed musicians, but I think of the one where he took the stutterer under wing. When the kid asked why, he wouldn't answer. Then, in The Swamp, he listens to Honoria's tape, and she stutters, and the look on his face ... David Ogden Stiers was a brilliant actor, and it showed here.

MikeN said...

I think longer movies might be better, with an intermission. Theaters would be more likely to place a movie if they know there's a concession break in between.

How about a mystery that goes for an hour and a half, then a 30 min break, where you get popcorn, and discuss who you think is guilty, then come back for the last hour?

PolyWogg said...

I was just thinking today while watching a show like Amazon's "Modern Love" that it is likely one of the few upsides to an anthology series like ML, i.e. that you get a bunch of different writers and producers and directors working on the same show. Last year, AMazon did one (THe Romanoffs) with long segments, Youtube Originals did Weird City last July.

I watched the premiere EP for Modern Love and was really surprised. It is 30m long (real 30m, not 22), and it felt like watching almost a one-act play. Covers about 2 years then time jumps 5. Mostly about a relationship between two main characters.

As a Friday question, are established writers interested in doing an anthology series or is only those trying to break in? Or does it depend on if it is a hit show already?


Douglas Trapasso said...

If anyone is into MASH fan fiction (should it even exist), I would love to see a script where Frank pulls rank on Hawkeye over a medical decision (maybe even without meaning to) - and turning out to be right.

Brian said...

Not quite a sexual organ reference, but in the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Ted and Georgette are having trouble conceiving, and Ted addresses the issue of sperm count as his "babymakers". To cover for his low motility he says he's fine, "They're comin' out of my ears!"

Michael said...

Brian, on one later episode, Mary has dinner with an old boyfriend and her current boyfriend is upset and winds up showing up at the restaurant. Before he goes, the guys from the newsroom are spending the evening with him, drinking. When he gets back, Ted is splayed across Lou and Murray on the couch. Joe, the boyfriend (played by Ted Bessell), asks if Ted is drunk. Ted says, "First time!" Lou looks at his drink and says, "Tonight, in drinker's terms, Ted lost his olive."

Ted Bessell nearly lost it. And Ed Asner stayed completely deadpan. And I am as amazed that got through as the time on MASH in OR that during a riff, Hawkeye said to a nurse, "And what would you say to going to the supply room for 10 minutes of heavy breathing?" Frank yells, "Will you knock it off?" Hawkeye replies, "That's what I'm trying to find out." The censors weren't reading too closely that day.

Dixon Steele said...

I also remember an episode of MASH, where Frank called his mother and said something like, "They don't like me here either, Mom", etc

Another humanizing moment for Burns...

Andy Rose said...

I not only appreciate shorter run times, but also shorter TV seasons. I used to feel cheated by brief runs of shows on cable and streaming. Now, at any given time there may be 15 different shows I’m interested in, and I don’t have time to watch 22 episodes of all of them.

When a new series is released on a streamer, the first thing I do is see how many episodes there are. More than 10, I’m probably not going to watch. 10 episodes is good, but still results in one or two that seem like filler. 8 episodes seems to be the sweet spot.

memocartoonist said...

This conversation reminds me of the show Bette Midler did a number of years back where she played a celebrity not unlike herself... but rather than lean into her character as a vain, selfish person, every episode ended with smiles and a good turn.... I remember wanting to love it (esp as a fan of hers) but finding it sort of hollow. I think she should have just had fun being a holy terror and had the show revolve an assistant who had to deal with her.

I always felt sorry for Frank and hoped that the show would soften him up abit but that never happened.... I did like the growth the show let Margaret experience - seeing reruns now, the ep where she tells off the other nurses for not including her is kind of preachy, but at the time it felt revolutionary - we got a 'villains' side of the story and it was easy to empathize with her... and she didn't lose any of her bite for the rest of the run. Winchester's character really showed how much the show had learned from Frank and turned out to be a perfect foil.

mike schlesinger said...

On a recent "Will & Grace," Karen tells guest star Patten Oswalt (prior to a high-stakes poker game) that "I am going to eat you alive." He replies, "However I end up in your mouth is fine with me."

Imagine THAT getting by the network censors back then! Hell, I'm a little amazed it got through today.

Andrew said...

Once in a rare while, there was a softer side to Frank Burns. I remember an episode where Hawkeye made some kind of medical mistake. When he operates on the patient a second time and discovers what he overlooked, Frank says, "Well anybody could have missed that!" Hawkeye says, "Thanks, Frank." You could still sense Frank's insecurity, but he at least was trying to sympathize. (And what a great actor you have to be to pull that off.)

I haven't seen that episode in probably 25 years (and may have the details wrong). It's amazing how real those characters were, that a scene like that sticks with a person.

Anonymous said...


Apparently the state of California has just banned freelance work? Which seems bonkers to me. But, anyway, given how much of the TV & film industry runs on freelancers, especially writers, is this going to have an impact? Given how important that industry is to the economy of the state of California, could that lead to the law being repealled?

Cheryl Marks said...

Friday Question: Who "hires" the show runner after the original show runner moves on? I'm thinking of a situation when the show has been on the air for several years and there have been several iterations of show runners. I figure the person, or persons, are promoted from the writers room and have held the position of Executive Producer. So who makes the decision especially if the original creator is no longer in the picture. Also, is it the case that another one of the Executive Producers (aka seasoned writers) that didn't get the job might leave if they didn't get the promotion?

I ask because one of the shows that I really enjoy hasn't suffered until the latest change in show runners. I really don't like where he's taken the show. That's why I ask.