Friday, February 21, 2020

Friday Questions

Time to warm the winter blues with some hot Friday Questions.  What's yours?

ScottyB is up first.

Have there been any sitcoms that lasted a single season that nobody watched that, in your estimation, showcased a certain or unusual *style* of humor that gave it a little something atmosphere-wise that made them little lost gems?

Well, besides a couple of mine…

THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES and FLYING BLIND, both from writer/creator Richard Rosenstock were exceptional shows that deserved more support from ABC and FOX respectively. Think Woody Allen but fresher and funnier. FLYING BLIND also introduced the world to Tea Leoni.

Steve Gordon, who wrote and directed ARTHUR, had a great one-season sitcom called GOODTIME HARRY starring Ted Bessell that NBC killed.  NBC also killed a novel exploration of marriage called UNITED STATES from Larry Gelbart.

In the ‘60s there was a series called MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT about a Thurberesque character played by William Windom. It featured animation in the Thurber style and was created by Danny Arnold who went on to create BARNEY MILLER.

And while we’re in the swinging ‘60s, there’s OCCASIONAL WIFE, a fun romantic comedy (narrated by Vin Scully).

THE ASSOCIATES created by the TAXI team and starring a young Martin Short was a standout in the late ‘70s as was ALL IS FORGIVEN by the CHEERS gang in the ‘80s.

Also in the '80s, SHAPING UP by Sam Simon & Ken Estin and introducing Jennifer Tilly. 

I don’t know whether HE & SHE lasted one season or two, but if it’s one then include that too.

I’m sure there are others and I’ll think of them a week after this posted.

Bob Paris asks:

Ken: I have a question about a potential occupational hazard. When you are at a social event where people know you are a comedy writer, do you feel the need to be "on" and funny?

No. I’m happy to say something funny if it comes to me, but there is nothing more insufferable than a comedy writer who is “on” and trying to be Mel Brooks.

If you met me at a party you would not necessarily know I’m a comedy writer. You might even invite me despite the fact that I’m a comedy writer.

From Charles Bryan:

When writing characters unlike yourself, do you find a bit of that character in yourself? We've all got habits (or addictions) we struggle with. And Becker's a bit of wish-fulfillment for those times we want to say something tough but can't. I imagine that Larry David gets to live out a lot of conversational fantasies on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

There are some characters I write that are more like me than others. The goal is to get into the head of the character and adopt their worldview and voice. So often I will have characters saying and doing things I never would say or do.

It’s also important that the characters don’t all sound the same (at least for me). So I’ll go out of my way to give them different attitudes from each other, different speech patterns, slightly different vocabulary.

That said, sure, from time to time my take on the world might seep through.

Larry David is playing a very exaggerated version of himself — heightened for comic purposes. He’s not “that guy” in real life. Thank God.

And finally, from Mark:

A question no one asked but many would love to know.

Who is the model on your book "Must Kill TV" ?

She is the one who "peeks" at us when we open Ken Levine Blog in one of the tabs and open other tabs too, constantly reminding us to go back to Ken Levine tab and look for new comments.

I wish I knew.

In this global digital age, the artist who created that cover for me was in Wellington, New Zealand.

Where he found her I don’t know, but I wanted the cover to have one of those old classic noir/pot boiler feels and those usually featured an attractive woman… even if the woman was nowhere to be found in the book.

I was very pleased with the final cover. Glad you liked it too. Now please buy the book.


Jeff said...

Friday question Ken: when I see a sitcom and the jokes are lame, am I to assume the writers have no talent or were they just not willing to push themselves hard enough to come up with better lines (ie lazy).

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

I remember "United States" and "Goodtime Harry," and both deserved far longer runs than they enjoyed.

I would add "The 'Slap' Maxwell Story" to this list--a Jay Tarses effort with good writing and no laugh track. It aired on ABC in the 1987-88 season.

Tommy Raiko said...

"FLYING BLIND also introduced the world to Tea Leoni."

It also used David Byrne's brilliant "A Million Miles Away" as a theme song, so I like to think it introduced some folks to Byrne's post-Talking Heads awesomeness as well. (But, yeah, Tea Leoni!)

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I also remember liking HE AND SHE, but could barely get through the pilot of FLYING BLIND. THE POWERS THAT BE lasted a season and a half or something like that, but both were very short. I thought it was brilliantly funny.

Odd to think that if FAWLTY TOWERS had been a US show, its entire classic run would have been less than a full season.


Bob Leszczak said...

"HE & SHE" was one lonely season on CBS, Wednesday nights. Might I add "BEST OF THE WEST" and "I'M DICKENS HE'S FENSTER."

Mike Doran said...

I wonder if I'm a day ahead …

I'll make the guess that you've seen Mr. Trump's declaration about this year's Oscar winner Parasite.
Last night I was scanning some of your back posts, and noted that you liked the South Korean feature.
Several Questions present themselves to my mind (and this is Friday, isn't it?):

- Do you suppose there's significance to the fact that Parasite is a South Korean production?
(Or is that just a coincidence?)

- Mr. Trump's other film references yield questions of their own:
- Number One practically screams itself:
Do you suppose that That Man In The White House has ever actually seen either of these films?
GWTW is one of those Long Movies, over two hours (well past Mr. Trump's attention span), so there's that.
But Sunset Boulevard … there's a head-scratcher.
Just consider what this picture is about - all the different subjects it touches upon - and stop to consider what possible appeal it might have to That Man …
No, no, no … it doesn't add up at all.

In an earlier life, Mr. Trump has said that his favorite film was Citizen Kane.
Now there's a poser.
Oh, Roger Ebert, thou shouldst be living at this moment …
… No, strike that; I wouldn't wish the Age Of Trump on anyone who's already made Eternity.

If any of this qualifies as a Friday Question …
… or if, by chance, this might be your Weekend Post …
… or if Mr. Trump's Victory Lap should continue into next week …
(and how in Eternal Heck can anyone run a victory lap when that person has no sense of direction?)

Anyway, it's in your court, Ken.
Good Luck (and you're gonna need it …

Andrew Morton said...

Hi Ken,

I have an (admittedly) odd Friday question: I love both CHEERS and FRASIER. However, I have always felt that FRASIER was, purely from a premise POV, a bit of a strange continuation of the character as he was presented on CHEERS (it never made sense to me that a clearly Bostonian blue blood character would have a blue-collar cop father, turn out to be from Seattle, or that he would leave his wife & child and friends behind to move there). Execution is everything though, and FRASIER was so good that it makes those anomalies totally insignificant. Still, my brain has always separated the shows, and takes the goofy view that FRASIER exists in a kind of “parallel universe” to the world of CHEERS.

So I was curious: as a creative contributor to both shows, have you (or any of your FRASIER colleagues) ever taken a similar view of things?

Michael said...

I will never forget a scene in The Associates, and I won't have all of the wording right, but it starred the wonderful Wilfrid Hyde-White as the senior attorney, and there's one episode where he deals with an old law school rival named Charles Kingfield, played by John Houseman. And Kingsfield says he chose to pursue teaching the law instead of being a money-grubbing corporate lawyer with no scruples. And Hyde-White's character replies, "Oh, Charlie, I knew you always envied me."

Andrew Morton said...

Hi Ken,

I have an (admittedly) odd Friday question: I love both CHEERS and FRASIER. However, I have always felt that FRASIER was, purely from a premise POV, a bit of a strange continuation of the character as he was presented on CHEERS (it never made sense to me that a clearly Bostonian blue blood character would have a blue-collar cop father, turn out to be from Seattle, or that he would leave his wife & child and friends behind to move there). Execution is everything though, and FRASIER was so good that it makes those anomalies totally insignificant. Still, my brain has always separated the shows, and takes the goofy view that FRASIER exists in a kind of “parallel universe” to the world of CHEERS.

So I was curious: as a creative contributor to both shows, have you (or any of your FRASIER colleagues) ever taken a similar view of things?

Rob D said...

All these years later I still remember The Associates. I watched it for Martin Short, though Wilfred Hyde-White was a favourite too; my fuzzy memory says Hyde-White was used sparingly but when he was on he could get big laughs. I see on Wikipedia that the show only aired 9 episodes when it got axed. Wow, one of those rare shows that makes a lasting impression despite its very brief existence.

Another one season wonder I remember from that year was also an ensemble comedy, The Last Resort. Created by Gary David Goldberg. Not as good as The Associates but I was disappointed to see it axed.

TT said...

"He & She" was just one season. My favorite when it was on.

TT said...

"He & She" was indeed just one season. It was my favorite when it was on.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

In regards to MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT, it was a very different, and I can kind of see why it might not have appealed to the general mass public. For one thing, the main character was so bland, deadpan, and wooden for a cartoonist (but then again, maybe that was intentional), it was actually his attractive wife and his plucky young daughter who were far more quirky and entertaining than he was. My other main criticism is the way the show played out: he had these really bizarre and weird fantasies throughout the show, but they were always just quick-cut into the story, and he flipped back and forth between his fantasies and reality so haphazardly, it was very disorienting: there was never any indication that he was having a fantasy, such as a ripple effect or anything of the sort - I remember one such fantasy involved his wife and another woman he had the hots for literally beating the shit out of each out like it was an episode of DYNASTY. Also, I don't know if this is how the show was originally broadcast, or if these were edits made for syndication, but it appears that only the pilot episode had a laugh track, while the rest of the series didn't, which was highly unusual for a sitcom back in those days, and was even considered something of a death sentence.

Be that as it may, it was still an intriguing show with an interesting premise, but again, I didn't see it as something the mass would go for . . . maybe the more "egghead" crowd would have dug it . . . it seems very much like the kind of show Jim Henson would have watched, given his fascination with media that didn't really conform to the norm.

Jeff Alexander said...

Mr. Levine:

To answer your question about "He & She," it lasted for exactly one season, 1967-1968.

As a side note, it's unlikely it will ever see an official DVD release because the negatives have deteriorated to the point where it may not be cost-effective to restore them.

ninja3000 said...

He & She lasted only one season on CBS. I was a teenager at the time, and thought it was terrific. It was intelligent humor, and well, Paula Prentiss...

Liggie said...

My personal favorite one-season wonder was "The Famous Teddy Z", where a young Jon Cryer stumbled into being a Hollywood talent agent despite no business qualifications or interest whatsoever. Cryer showed he could carry a project so soon after "Pretty in Pink", the late Alex Rocco won a deserved Emmy as the wonderfully named slimeball agent Al Floss, and we met Jane Sibbett (Ross's lesbian ex-wife on "Friends") as a law degree-holding colleague who ended up as Cryer's secretary. People think the reason the well-made show didn't catch on was because viewers then didn't quite understand what Hollywood talent agents did, thus lessening the appeal.

I remember seeing reruns of "The Occasional Wife" on a Comedy Central forerunner and an episode of "United States" on the old Trio network's "Brilliant but Cancelled". I wasn't a fan of "Flying Blind" despite Tea Leoni's performance; I thought it was a big too risque and the male lead whined too much.

Brian said...

Just wanted to say I did buy the book and very much enjoyed it. Highly recommended if you like Ken Levine humor.

DG said...

I bought your book "Must Kill TV" around the same time that Mark Evanier pointed me toward your blog. I bought the Kindle edition. Do you particularly care which version anyone buys?

I imagine the answer is different for each author, but I'm asking about you, not them.

Kosmo13 said...

Twice recently I was reminded of 'The Associates.' The first was when I saw Martin Short perform live and 'The Associates' was NOT mentioned among his past credits. (How dare they!) Again a few days later when his 'The Associates' co-star Alley Mills was abruptly widowed.

sanford said...

You can find at least on episode of Flying Blind and a couple of He And She on You Tube Jack Cassidy was on He and She. I don't remember the Powers that Be. I agree with Slap Maxwell and he was also in Buffalo Bill. Dabney Coleman is 88 and still acting. Powers that be had pretty good cast, David Hyde Pierce and Holland Taylor and Joseph Gordon Levitt. The Associates was also very funny. There are a few episodes on You Tube.

Eric said...

In the movie, The Graduate, Marion Lorne has a small part in a wedding reception line.
Her line which she says to Dustin Hoffman’s character – “Enjoyed meeting you, Mr. Braniff.”
Several scenes later Hoffman and Kathrine Ross are back at the same hotel and they pass Lorne and she says the same line. A call back joke. It’s funny but for me it disrupts the story and it seems it was only left it in for the joke. I mean, why is Lorne’s character at the hotel that night? She doesn’t work there. The wedding party isn’t still going on. Your thoughts?

Cap'n Bob said...

Thanks for having Friday questions. I thought today was Thursday.

Anonymous said...

"Police Squad" didn't get a fair chance on TV

Although it was probably better as "The Naked Gun" movies without TV censors

thomas tucker said...

Not exactly a sitcom, but there was a show in the 60's starring Robert Morse, and it was live, as a musical comedy, every week- That's Life. I think it only lasted one season but I loved it.

Patrick Wahl said...

I'll add another show to your answer to question one - Wonderfalls. Unfortunate that it only lasted one season. Quirky comedy that didn't go too heavy on the quirky part. Probably the only way to see it is via DVD.

powers said...

Ken,I thought that "Captain Nice"was a hoot back in the day and should have had a longer run then just one season.

Buck Henry was involved in the production so "CN"had a similar humor to "Get Smart."

Both shows were fun. "CN"did a send up of the superhero genre,"GS"did it for the spy genre.

"Quark"was a spoof of science-fiction and also was pretty funny and deserved more than
its one season.

Y. Knott said...

The Associates had real potential -- and its theme song was by (no kidding) Albert Brooks and B.B. King! It should have been given at least a full season to find an audience.

The Marshall Chronicles was also cancelled way too soon.

mike schlesinger said...

I've always said I feel that the greatest sitcom episode ever was "The Censor" episode of "The Associates." That it got an Emmy nomination for writing months after it left the air suggest that others felt the same way. ABC pulled the plug way too early. IMHO.

Yes, I also watched the pilot of "Flying Blind" and thought, that woman is from another dimension. Unfortunately, they lost faith in the original concept and kept changing the format every 4-5 weeks. By the time they ended up working in a movie studio with Mary Woronov, it was clear the show was headed for the gallows. I just wish somebody would give Leoni another comedy. Between this and the first season of "The Naked Truth," she proved to be absolutely fearless in pursuit of the big laugh.

John Jackson Miller said...

Tommy Raiko said: "It also used David Byrne's brilliant "A Million Miles Away" as a theme song, so I like to think it introduced some folks to Byrne's post-Talking Heads awesomeness as well."

It did indeed in my case, just as MARSHALL CHRONICLES sent me off to buy Randy Newman's album. Something told me to record that series at the time, and I'm glad I did as it still makes me laugh. I wasn't much older than Marshall at the time and I swore he was living my high school life. Just a very sharp, observant, funny show. ALL IS FORGIVEN is another gem, with some episodes online.

Actually, that's a Friday Question for Ken: I have never considered posting those episodes on YouTube, out of deference to the creative team and rights-holders. But I've often wondered how the creators/actors behind short-run series feel when shows that will never be re-released by studios make their way online. Is there a sense that, if there's no way to make money from it, at least it's out there as a conversation piece? I'm assuming this is more likely the case for things like pilots and the network season preview specials, which would probably never see the light of day again otherwise.

auragoneboy said...

1992: The Powers that Be with John Forsythe, Holland Taylor, Eve Gordon, Peter MacNicol, Valerie Mahaffey, Elizabeth Berridge, David Hyde Pierce and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

s T e V e said...

for One Season Wonders how about Oh Madeline? I remember enjoying that during it’s brief run.

Gene F. said...

My favorite single season program was Frank's Place. Unfortunately, it used music too expensive to license and has never been released on DVD.

Vidor said...

"One Season Wonder" TV sitcoms...the first answer that springs to mind is "Police Squad!", by the "Airplane!" folks, which lasted only six episodes and was absolutely terrific.

Something that might have been of interest to Mr. Levine back in the day--a few years after "Cheers" went off the air Bebe Neuwirth did a sitcom pilot called "Dear Diary". It was rejected by the network. After it was rejected the producers screened it in theaters and it won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

Vidor said...

Oh, I forgot "Great News", which ran for like a season and a half on NBC a couple of years ago. Set in a newsroom, starred the shockingly gorgeous Briga Heelan, really, really funny. But the ratings were horrible and I remember they burned off the last few episodes in December when literally everything else on TV was a rerun. Too bad.

Charles Bryan said...

Thank you for answering my Friday Question, Ken! One of those things I've wondered about.

As far as beloved (for me, anyway) short-lived shows go, I think of Downward Dog and Don't Trust the B in Apt 23 (which ran maybe a season and a half with several unaired episodes available digitally). The latter starred Krysten Ritter, who was quite good in the show.

Have you watched any XFL?

Mark said...

“Oh Madeline” has a lot of potential, but the supporting cast and the setup wasn’t quite right.

“Andy Richter Controls the Universe” and “Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23” both had two partial seasons, and both had a lot of potential.

“Angie” ran a season and a half in the late 70s. It wasn’t high art by any means, but it was a pleasant show with a good premise and a strong cast, and was from the “Happy Days” producers. It should have lasted longer than it did.

JS said...

My Friday Question - how much network interference did you get when producing a show? I read an interview with the producer of Castle. he said he spent more time arguing with network execs about scripts, direction of the show than anything else. I think at some point they filmed 3 separate endings to a season finale because they couldn't agree on anything and time was running out. Did you have that type of interference on your shows?

Do You Do Any Wings? said...

Okay, here we go. So, as both a writer and as an improviser, what do you think we can expect from the reportedly “unscripted” ‘Friends’ reunion? A friend of mine actually dreamt about this the other night, and he reports each character coming to the front of the stage, riffing on their most famous catchphrase (“We were on a *break*..!”, “Could this *be* any more improvised..?”, “How *you* doin’..?” etc etc) for five minutes and then disappearing. He says it was awful.

Tudor Queen said...

I'm old enough to vividly remember most of the shows you cited here, and I agree that they were lovely and original and should have lasted longer than they did.

FLYING BLIND - I'm not as enamored of Tea Leoni as I was when this show came out but she really was wonderful in it. And didn't Ian McShane recur as her estranged husband? I remember wanting them to get back together, even if it betrayed the entire purpose of the show, just to get more Ian McShane on my tv.

Steve Gordon died way too young.

UNITED STATES didn't sound or look like anything else on tv, which was one of the reasons I loved it and one of the reasons, I'm sure, that it was canceled.

MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT was great and it won William Windom his only Emmy, which I thought was both deserved and overdue. I remember that by the time he won it, the show had already been canceled. (If you're a William Windom fan, his work in two episodes of "Night Gallery" are just two examples of how amazing an actor he really was.

OCCASIONAL WIFE brought about a short but real crush on Michael Callan. I can still hear him saying to Patricia Harty, "I want you to be my wife - occasionally."

THE ASSOCIATES and ALL IS FORGIVEN are very fondly remembered in my household. I will never forget the punchline to an ASSOCIATES scene where Wilfred Hyde-White reminisces about the two women who long ago competed for his heart. The one he didn't choose turned out to be Margaret Thatcher. (I guess you had to be there).

Gene F. - I am fairly sure that FRANK'S PLACE lasted two seasons, but it still ended way too soon. It was my mother's all-time favorite comedy series and I taped as many episodes as I could for her. We would watch the tapes together and just marvel at how good it was.

Mike Doran said...

Belated (just a bit):

A local station here in Chicago used to run the old Pete Smith Specialties every day, just before the evening news; my brother and I never missed them.
Occasional Wife came along a few years later.
I always thought that Vin Scully was styling his narration in that after Pete Smith's in the old shorts.
You wouldn't happen to know for sure … ?