Friday, November 22, 2019

Friday Questions

It’s been so long that many people don’t automatically equate November 22nd with the day John Kennedy was killed in 1963. But we need to remember. And it was also a Friday. Here are this week’s Friday Questions:

scottmc is up first.

I am curious about a Becker episode which you directed. The episode involved two groups of extras, a group of construction workers lining up to use the diner's bathroom and a group of Backer's neighbors in the lobby of the building. Was the number of extras in both decided upon before you began working on the episode? Is there a way of directing a scene to make it look like there are more extras? Could one of the construction workers have doubled as one of the neighbors, if necessary? Is a scene with a lot of extras any more difficult to direct?’’

Lots of questions. I’ll try to address them.

The line producer and the 2nd Assistant Director coordinate the hiring and placing of extras, typically during the week of production. They wait because the scene might change or be cut.

There are stand-ins for the actors during camera blocking that are permanent extras. So they pop up every week.

Generally extras don’t double up unless one scene is a big crowd scene and they can fill in in the background.

On multi-camera shows, extras are usually hired just for the day a show is shot. But sometimes you bring them in the day before if their scene is very complicated. Case in point this pie fight scene I directed in ALMOST PERFECT. I rehearsed for two days using rice cakes and choreographing the whole thing to get specific gags, not just have a free-for-all.

I always liked directing scenes with a lot of extras. Yes, the scenes were more challenging but way more fun than just two people sitting at a table. I felt like a real “director.”

For an episode of DHARMA & GREG I had over 100 extras for a scene shot up in San Francisco. I had scaffolding, ten guys on walkie-talkies. I was David Lean directing a sitcom.

To make it appear there are more extras than there actually are, I will have extras cross in front of the actors. That gives the scene more depth. It’s not just your lead actors and people in the background. With extras occasionally in the foreground it gives the impression that there are more extras in the scene, just off camera.

To my knowledge it was Jimmy Burrows who came up with that trick.

From tb:

Ken - I keep seeing something on sit coms that I don't get: People are talking - then we suddenly have an exterior shot, and music-then right back to the same conversation! Not the next day, or that night or anything. No passage of time. Not even a joke we need to laugh at or let breath. What's going on? Why? I keep seeing this and it just seems bizarre to me.

You’ve hit upon a personal pet peeve of mine. I’ve seen this practice less in sitcoms but more in movies. It’s the old “montage of the city” while two characters have an uninterrupted conversation. You’ll never see that on any show I direct, write, or produce.

And finally, from Sue T.:

I have watched on youtube some completed TV pilots that were never aired because the shows were recast before their network premieres. For example, ALL IN THE FAMILY (recasting of the son-in-law character), BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (recasting of the best friend character), and DICK VAN DYKE (recasting of the lead actor). Can you suggest any other popular TV series whose pilot episodes were recast and remade, and thus never aired?

There is a version of the THREE’S COMPANY pilot that was written by Larry Gelbart and starred Valerie Curtain. Not sure if it’s online but it’s worth seeking out. The tone of the humor is way more sophisticated (as you’d expect with a Gelbart-penned script).

I don’t think any of it survived the eventual pilot, but Larry continued to get royalties throughout the run of the series.  And at one time it was up against MASH so Larry was making money off two competing shows at the same time. 

What’s your Friday Question?


Andrew said...

Oh man. If Larry Gelbert had written Three's Company throughout its run, what a great show that would have been! (Not that it was bad, but it certainly wasn't sophisticated.)

On a more serious note, have you (or other commenters) reassessed JFK in light of revelations about his sexual harassment and exploits (Mimi Alford, for example), medical condition, family dynamics, etc.? Or reconsidered his policies which led directly to the escalation in Vietnam (the assassinations of
Ngo Dinh Diem, and Ngo Dinh Nhu, for example)? This is not at all to minimize the personal and national tragedy of JFK's assassination. But in retrospect it seems that "Camelot" was really a media creation, and that as a President he was decidedly mediocre, and in some ways criminal.

Col. Flagg said...

@ Sue T Kelly and Bud Bundy from "Married with Children" were originally played by other actors. Clips of the unaired pilot is on YouTube.

Gene F. said...

The Big Bang Theory pilot is out there, and it is quite different.

Thomas Galloway said...

Not sure if this counts as a separate pilot per se, but Big Bang Theory had an initial pilot a year or two before it aired with a different female lead character. I'm not sure if there was a second pilot with the Penny character.

Friday question: What currently active comedy writers in tv, movies, and plays do you particularly like and try to catch their work?

VincentS said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: I just read on IMDB of a MASH episode that was filmed but never aired during your tenure there. It involved soldiers staying outside in freezing cold to get hypothermia in order to obtain discharges. The piece said the network refused to air it because they felt it was anti-military. I never heard this before (although I do remember the episode where Klinger tries to do that on his own). Can you shed some light on this?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

There's actually two different versions of the ALL IN THE FAMILY pilot, both of them with a different actress in the role of Gloria: one had Candice Azzarra, and the other had Kelly Jean Peters (a.k.a. that classy, high-brow nurse whom Radar tried to impress with, "Ahhh, Baaach!")

There's an also unaired pilot of THE MUNSTERS that was filmed in color, and had a very bland Joan Marshall as Lily (whose name was Phoebe) and a rotten, almost-feral Happy Derman as Eddie; and also, since it was just a test pilot, a lot of the make-up and wardrobe wasn't solidified - Fred Gwynne lacked the bulky padding, so Herman looked strangely gaunt and frail instead of bulky and lumbering as he did on the series.

J Lee said...

Screen Gems did the original pilot for "Hazel" with Edward Andrews as Mr. Bxater ... but still with Whitney Blake as his wife. The May-December creepiness of that pairing is probably why they recast with Don DeFoe in the Mr. B role (which is still sort of a May-early October relationship, but doesn't scream out 'Trophy Wife' nearly as much as the original pilot did....)

Rockgolf said...

The aired pilot of Three's Company is almost word-for-word the script of the original British version of the show "Man About the House". Both included a scene where Mr Roper, thinking a real woman was actually a man in drag, repeatedly poked the woman's breast with his finger to show they were fake.
When the episode aired in Canada, that scene stayed in. The ABC aired version took it out.
I still remember the line "He SQUEEEEEEEZED my boozum!", but not which version it came from.

Mike Doran said...

The first AITF pilot for ABC, "Justice For All" ('Justice' was the family's original surname), had Kelly Jean Peters and Tim McIntire as the daughter and son-in-law (they were married in real life).
The second pilot, "Those Were The Days", had Candice Azzara and Chip Mayer as the kids; this was the ABC production that Harlan Ellison wrote up in his "Glass Teat" column in '68.
The third pilot was the one that CBS bought: All In The Family became the title, and Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner came on as the kids.
Note: up to this point, the son-in-law had been portrayed as Irish; Rob Reiner's casting dictated a different ethnic slant, to Polish.
It was in Pilot #3 that the family name was changed from 'Justice' to 'Bunker'.

In another venue, we can perhaps discuss Carroll O'Connor's allegations that Norman Lear essentially hijacked the whole project from another producer - or perhaps not …

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Thomas Galloway: They kept parts of the original BIG BANG THEORY pilot and reshot everything with the original female character.

TRANSPARENT also reshot parts of its pilot after recasting the roles of Tammy and Syd. (This was interesting, because the two Tammy actresses had very different takes on the role (Soloway also rewrote some of the dialogue).

There are *three* pilots of THREE'S COMPANY floating around, two of which were unaired. They really worked to get that one off the ground.

And, a Friday question for Ken: It looks like BOB HEARTS ABISHOLA is picking up enough steam that it will likely be renewed. So the question: given Chuck Lorre's track record, how low would ratings have to be for CBS to actually cancel something of his? (Granted, DISJOINTED only lasted one season, but that wasn't CBS. He had a vanity card last year sometime that mentioned CBS's nervousness whenever he suggests a single camera project, which explains why that one and KOMINSKY METHOD are to be seen elsewhere.)


Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

Have you ever seen the British sitcom Only Fools and Horses? If so did you enjoy or not, and if you haven’t you should check it out

Jon said...

@ J Lee: Don DeFore was a full year older than Edward Andrews, but maybe Andrews' lighter hair & glasses made him look older.

@ Rockgolf: I remember the aired version of the THREE'S COMPANY pilot had the woman say, haughtily, "He touched my bosom!". In Gelbart's version the woman seemed to enjoy having Roper poke her chest, which is very different from what aired. Kit McDonough, who played the woman in the aired pilot, played the nurse w/ whom Klinger fell in love on M*A*S*H in the late Season 7's "Ain't Love Grand".

Brian Drake said...

We HAVE to remember John Kennedy?

OK, boomer.

Todd Everett said...

I recall reading that Ozzie Nelson, who was as budget-conscious as he was smart (which is to say, plenty) would gather a bunch of extras and film crowd scenes for several episodes at a time.

Anne said...

Thank you, Ken, for remembering the murder of John F. Kennedy. A new doc series has been announced for Spring 2020 (JFK: Destiny Betrayed), looking forward to that. So many powerful people benefited from his death: notably Lyndon Johnson, who was about to be taken down by the Senate's Bobby Baker investigation. And former CIA Director Allen Dulles, who had been fired by JFK, had his revenge by running the Warren Commission.

I just found Johnny Carson's interview of Jim Garrison on YouTube, it's astonishing what Garrison accomplished. I hope a new generation of writers and investigators will be inspired. JFK's record and reputation is still being assassinated to this day.

(If this isn't appropriate for your site, I understand. Just wanted to say thanks for remembering.)

Mike Bloodworth said...

Regarding large groups of extras: Every production must hire a minimum number of union extras. I can't remember how many. Then, after that they can hire an unlimited number of non-union extras.
Stand-in and "permanent" extras are some of the highly coveted background jobs. They're very difficult to get. Believe me. I've tried.
I have doubled up several times. Once "JAG" had a Native American episode. We did our Indian thing and then they had us change into military fatigues. One of the wardrobe people kept complaining that she could see my hair sticking our from under my cap. But, we were so far in the background that we could have been chimps for all anyone knew.
For group scenes they regularly rearrange the extras and/or have them change clothes. That's so they can shoot from different angles and it makes it look like different people.

Everyone already knows this, but one of the most famous examples of a second pilot is "Star Trek." (T.O.S.) There's the original pilot with Jeffrey Hunter and the second with William Shatner.

Cap'n Bob said...

The Leave It to Beaver pilot had a different Ward and Eddie Haskell. And a different title: It's a Small World. I'm so glad those roles were recast and the title changed.

Liggie said...

Some clips of the original "Big Bang Theory" pilot are on YouTube. Besides changing the original female character for Penny, Sheldon was hypersexual (!), and there was a secondary female character who got swapped out for Koothrapali and Wolowitz.

A baseball issue: The Houston Astros are under investigating for using video to steal opposing teams' signs. If guilty, how and how hard should MLB penalize them? And is this alleged cheating a bigger deal than cheating via steroids?

No said...

Friday question:

How much creative control do producers or showrunners have over how music is used on shows? That is, can they insist that music is only used when part of the story, as in FRASIER (outside of the opening and ending themes of course) or scene bumpers (as in CHEERS and early MASH)? I noticed that the transition music seemed to disappear from MASH around the later seasons. Was that a creative call, or a network decision?

Anonymous said...

Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK by himself as a crime of opportunity.
The motorcade route was announced three days before so all these bizarre conspiracies would be impossible because no one knew Oswald and Kennedy would be in the same space until three days before (seven if you count the Secret Service).
It was a Marxist thing, Lee being a good Marxist. A lot of stuff he wanted has come down so you coud make a case he won, he just didn't live to see it. l
Had Kennedy lived it's interesting to speculate whether Hoover would have released the sexual stuff on JFK including a possible East German spy and a definite Mafia mistress. Blackmail and spying are why presidents shouldn't have extramarital affairs in office.
Monica Lewinsky wasn't a plant -but she could have been.
As for the OK, Boomer guy -sure you don't have to remember Kennedy.
as Cicero said “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”
But then you probably don't give a rip about Cicero either. So what's the point?

Pat Reeder said...

I hate the "Okay, Boomer" crap. I respond to it with, "Okay, child."

It reeks of the kind of pride in ignorance that leads people to believe nothing of import ever happened before that golden moment when they arrived on the planet. As someone who writes topical humor, I'm very well aware of current news. Are they as well-versed in history? When I was a kid, I was much more interested in what older people had to say than what my classmates thought. Most of my favorite performers were long dead. I was a silent movie buff by age 12, and trust me, I wasn't old enough to have attended the premiere of "The General."

As the Credibility Gap, a great comedy group of the '60s that I was too young to hear firsthand but discovered later, liked to put it, "Ignorance of your culture is not considered cool."

thirteen said...

Thanks, Ken, for mentioning JFK. I know it's been a long time, but there's still something wrong to me about, say, premiering a film on this day. That today is a Friday, too — well, I just hate that. No rational reason. It's just the way it is, at least for me.

BTW I knew that as soon as "OK boomer" came to general notice — like, three weeks ago — there would soon be people who'd beat it to death with the stick of overuse or misuse.

StoicJim said...

Do you mean Valerie Curtin?

sanford said...

I looked for the Threes Company with Valerie Curtin. I couldn't find that but I found a clip with Suze Lanier Bramlett playing the Chrissie part.

Anonymous said...

If two of the commenters here are going to give the "ok boomer" guy a slap on the wrist then get your facts straight first. His "ok boomer" thing had nothing to do with him being ignorant of Kennedy or his legacy, it was a comment about those who want him to remember Kennedy, two different things. Two of you read "ok boomer" and then started to tell everybody not to be ignorant of what has happened before they were born. You have no proof "ok boomer" guy has no knowledge of Kennedy, Oswald, or anything else that happened before he was born. You guys got it wrong. Perhaps that is ignorance.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

Yep, Tina Caspary and Hunter Carson rather than Christina Applegate and David Faustino.

There's also an unaired pilot episode of BLACKADDER (that was later refilmed as the second episode, "Born to Be King"). It features different actors playing Baldrick, Prince Harry, and the King (Philip Fox, Robert Bathurst, and John Savident rather than Tony Robinson, Robert East, and Brian Blessed). Interestingly, the episode is set in a different century than the actual first series, and Rowan Atkinson plays the title role as an intelligent character (i.e. similar to the characterisation from season 2 onwards but different to the mugging moron he played in season 1).

The pilot episode of THE A-TEAM had a different actor playing Face (the role subsequently played by Dirk Benedict) but that episode did air. Ditto the pilot episode of M*A*S*H, which had George Morgan rather than Bill Christopher as Father Mulcahy (although Morgan's Mulcahy remained a blink-and-you'll-miss-him presence in the opening credits of every episode of the show).

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous
You're right
I have no idea whether the OK boomer guy knows anything about Kennedy or Oswald or what happened before he (or she) was born.
But my question is what do the caps for HAVE mean in his post?
Why caps?
How do you know we got it wrong?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Liggie All of the characters are THE BIG BANG THEORY are hypersexual, that's one of the reasons why I hate that show.

ScarletNumber said...

@Cap'n Bob

The original Ward was Casey Adams, but the original Eddie Haskell (named Frankie Bennett) was played by Harry Shearer, who of course went on to much greater fame, mostly with Spinal Tap and The Simpsons.

The original Wally was Paul Sullivan, who grew too tall to play Wally fulltime. He went on to make appearances in five different shows up until 1961.

Bubba said...

Friday Question: When watching Cheers, either on DVD or streaming, I've noticed a number of episodes seem to be missing the film masters for certain scenes or camera angles, which have been replaced with videotape backups of substantially lower quality. I know you're not responsible for editing, but do you (or someone you know) have any idea why this is? It's especially jarring for the missing angles - i.e. how one scene will have a closeup of Ted Danson with the film intact, but when the camera cuts to Kirstie Alley for her dialogue, it switches to tape, then back to film when the camera returns to Danson. Any ideas on how this may have happened?

Mike Doran said...

'Casey Adams', the first Ward Cleaver, might be better remembered by his real name, Max Showalter, a highly regarded character man for all his life (my favorite Showalter role was as the songwriting minister in Blake Edwards's "10"; there were many, many others).

Anonymous said...

Why the caps in "HAVE"? He/she doesn't want to be told what to remember and what not to remember. I agree that not knowing about Kennedy, Nixon and Watergate, LBJ and social reform, Hitler's bullshit, John Lennon's assassination is ignorance, no question about it. Just last week in Canada a well-known sports commentator was fired for telling people they should wear poppies in remembrance of veterans. His words were, "those people who come to Canada for the milk and honey should be wearing a poppy." It was the "those people" phrase that screwed him as it was clearly a jab at immigrants, but what he forgot was that perhaps "those people" did have knowledge of and respect for veterans.

If you want people to remember all things Kennedy then don't get upset if they also remember the broads, the bootlegging, the Bay of Pigs fuckup, the death of Marilyn Monroe, the marital cheating, the election rigging, Chappaquiddick, and Vietnam.

MikeN said...

JFK assassination being referred to as '6 seconds in Dallas' is a mistake. The Zapruder film had a bad timer, and it is really 10 seconds.

Rod Serling said...

More than a man has died...More than a gallant young President has been put to death.

What has been assassinated is a faith in ourselves. What has been murdered-a belief in our decency, our capacity to love, our sense of order and logic and civilized decorum.

VP81955 said...

Casey Adams/Max Showalter resided for many years in the Hollywood Boulevard house Carole Lombard called home from spring 1934 to early 1936 (her budding romance with Clark Gable led Lombard to find a more secluded residence in Beverly Hills, where she lived until she married Gable and she bought director Raoul Walsh's ranch home in Encino). Morrissey was a subsequent resident of Carole's Hollywood Boulevard home.

Adam said...

Hi, Ken. Has there ever been an instance on any of the shows you’ve worked on where in an episode, a guest character does something so egregious to, or at the expense of, one or the show’s main characters that the audience turns on this character vociferously, resulting in the guest star receiving unfair scorn and ridicule for years after? (I’m talking about one-time guest roles e.g. David Dukes’ memorable guest role on “All in the Family,” Gordon Jump’s memorable guest role on “Diff’rent Strokes,” & James Karen’s guest role as a bigoted racist on an episode of “The Jeffersons.”)

On a related note, has there ever been a time where you and/or David Isaacs are writing an episode around a particular guest character, and you think, “If we make this guest character do this to a main character, the audience will have a lot of hatred toward him/her,” resulting in the aforementioned unfair scorn/ridicule toward the actor. (The examples with David Dukes, Gordon Jump, & James Karen come to mind.)

Andy Rose said...

When background is needed far enough upstage that they can barely be seen (such as walking past a store window or down a hallway at the rear of the set), shows will take just a few extras and have them walk back and forth over and over again behind the action. Got a sitcom episode you've already seen 100 times? Amuse yourself by picking out extras and counting how many times they cross the scene.