Friday, March 20, 2020

Friday Questions

Friday Questions anybody?

cd1515 starts us off:

Why does seemingly every movie have the “no way in hell“ moment in the first 5 to 10 minutes, where the main character insists there is no way in hell he’ll do whatever the plot of the movie has him doing (climbing Mount Everest, teaching third grade, meeting his ex for lunch, etc)?
We know he’s going to do it. There’s no movie if he doesn’t do it. Couldn’t we skip this part and just get to the story?

I couldn’t agree more. It’s such a cliché and you’re right, the audience KNOWS he’s going to do it. We call that “schmuck bait.” The MADAM SECRETARY pilot was like that. She was offered the job, she didn’t want to take it, but that’s the title of the series so you KNOW she is going to take it.

Similarly, in sitcoms when someone quits their job or gets fired – you know they’ll be back.

Rich wonders:

Do you think the new Matthew Broderick/Sarah Jessica Parker production of "Plaza Suite" will work on Broadway, or is the comedy too specific to the 1960's/70's?

Well, assuming it ever gets on – I think parts will work better than others. There are three acts with Matthew & Sarah playing three different characters.

The last act is a killer – that’s the one where the bride locks herself in the bathroom. It’s uproariously funny.

The second one about the agent and his reunion with an old flame may come off musty.

And the first act about a marriage breaking up probably will still work.

I will say this, George C. Scott played it originally on Broadway It’s hard to picture Matthew Broderick and George C. Scott in the same role.

From Dave H:

Is there a topic on your blog about old shows that have not aged well? Where you cant believe that people thought they were funny.

LAUGH-IN. I thought it was hysterical at the time (like everyone else), but it is painfully unfunny.

GET SMART got stupid.

THE MONKEES. I still love their music but their show is hard to watch.

And finally, BATMAN. Hilarious for two months and then just awful.

And finally, from Glenn:

What do you think of the sitcom "Night Court"? Some of the actors admit they had the reputation for being too lowbrow or silly, but damn if the show wasn't hilarious. (The character of Dan Fielding is one of my all time favorites.)

NIGHT COURT was broad and silly but always made me laugh. They had some great goofy characters and the writers serviced them beautifully. I miss the days when shows just tried to make you laugh out loud.

What’s your Friday Question?


Anonymous said...

The Monkees was dreck from the start but the music was excellent.
You had some of the period's best writers writing- Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Boyce and Hart, Neil Diamond,Mann and Weil, Jon Stewart and even a Mike Nesmith tune occasionally.
Don Kirshner, the Man with the golden ear, was picking the tunes.
The music was done by the best of the Wrecking Crew, when they were at their peak.
And the boys did not do a bad job singing.

They were pilloried fro not playing their own music, but many, if not most of the groups did not play their own music back then. The Beach Boys and The Byrds had the wRecking Crew playing for them as well (Except for Roger McGuinn but he was a musical genius)

Their act wore old quickly but their music did not. It took the Monkees, who wanted to be cool, 20 years to figure out their music was good.Most of the cool kids they wanted to be like didn't last as long.

Craig Gustafson said...

Well... this is going to ramble a bit.

"Similarly, in sitcoms when someone quits their job or gets fired – you know they’ll be back."
Well, yeah... but how else would we have known that Buddy and Sally were paid by a company that made Martin & Lewis coloring books?

"Who is Robert Redford?"
When the above-mentioned episode first aired, I was six.
CRAIG: Who are Martin and Lewis?
MOM: You don't know who Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis are?
CRAIG: Well, yeah. But I didn't know they knew each other.
A cultural reference gap that would have been unthinkable just a few years before.

"Laugh-In," "Get Smart," "The Monkees," "Batman."
Them's fightin' words, partner! Those are some of my favorite shows... none of which I really watch anymore.
I'm still going to argue about "Batman." Some of the greatest comic timing I've ever seen came from Victor Buono and Julie Newmar, and that was later in the series.

So what do I watch? Very little these days, except I'll pop in on "Perry Mason" or "Matlock" if they're on while I'm cooking. I avoided "Matlock" for years because of the ageist crap spewed out about that and "Diagnosis: Murder" and "Murder, She Wrote." I still haven't watched the latter two, but it doesn't kill my point. Why shouldn't older people have shows they like to watch? They're the ones who usually don't have much of an option for going out and staring at their phones in public settings.

As a student of comedy, I got started on "Matlock" when I came across a clip of Andy Griffith in Las Vegas, running into Sheldon Leonard -- playing the racetrack tout he played on "The Jack Benny Show." And the show isn't bad. I really liked one where his client was guilty and basically said, "Suck it up. I'm your client and you have to get me off. I'm not pleading guilty." So, in court, Matlock coerced his own client into having to plead guilty by setting up the client's best friend to be arrested for the crime. He went where no Burr had gone before.

And what *do* I watch? I recommend "Good Omens." If you love "Monty Python's Flying Circus," "Blackadder" and especially "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," you'll go nuts about this.

I warned you. Rambling.

Karan G said...

Friday Question: "What's on your playlist?" During this very challenging time when (most of us) are isolating inside, watching way too much depressing news and attempting to stay upbeat and calm during this horrible period....What's on your playlist? No doubt (if your readers know anything about're probably doing a lot of writing.) When it comes to your entertainment downtime...What fun tv shows, movies, or even music are you binging on to lift your spirits and offer a momentary escape... a laugh or two? What do you recommend? (Prayers for all medical personnel and those who are keeping things going.)

Kirk Chritton said...

Night Court's Dan Fielding seems like a classic example of finding an actor who can do more with the material than the writers ever dreamed and then the writing staff leaning even harder into actor's strengths. John Larroquette just sparkled in that role. And the same goes for Richard Moll as Bull.

blogward said...

The drive-in peep show, Las Vegas.

Brian said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: In the (five-star!) podcast, you and Jay Kogen mention a "Put Pilot Penalty". What is that?

Also, as much as I enjoy Aaron Sorkin's work, he does tend to lean on the "no way..." moment. In the West Wing, One of several examples is "Lord John Marbury" who produces groans at the mention of his name, but, darn-the-luck, that who shows up and (a Sorkin trope) he's disliked, but good. I'd feel a bit better if he did this with characters that were established, but he tends to do this on introduction, which, for me, cheapens the impact of the character's worth.

J Lee said...

All four of those shows were brief cultural phenomenons, where the initial concept just caught fire and pushed the success of the show for a brief time period, even if the writing and the gags were sub-par.

You'd see something similar in the late 1970s with "Happy Days", which caught fire in Season 3 when Fonzie suddenly become a pop culture icon. By the time you get to Season 5, the writers pretty much have the episodes on cruise control, where a few actions and catch phrases make up for really having to write anything funny. Then when the show goes into syndication, it's not strong in the ratings, because once the phenomenon wears off, there's nothing there to justify repeated viewing.

Dan said...

Also tough to picture George C. Scott locked in a bathroom wearing a bridal gown, but I'm trying

KLAC Guy said...

I found Leave it to Beaver, Hazel and The Brady Bunch almost impossible to watch when I tuned them in recently. On the other hand, I was happily surprised at how many laughs I got from Green Acres and Burns and Allen.

Jeff Alexander said...

Mr. Levine:
A Friday question for you:
With everyone encouraged (and almost mandated) to stay at home during this coronavirus pandemic, can you recommend a TV series available on DVD to "binge-watch"?
I'm sure that you would recommend "Cheers" or "Frasier," but I was thinking of ones in which you were not personally involved.
Also, on the flip side, is there, in your opinion, a series (with all the seasons on DVD) that don't really hold up well for "binge-watching?"
I have tried, for instance, to binge-watch "Lost In Space," but, so far, I haven't even made it through the end of the first black-and-white season!

scottmc said...

I haven't seen the film version of PLAZA SUITE for some time and it has been longer since I've read it. (I saw a way off-Broadway production years ago and can only recall the third story.) On Broadway George C.Scott and Maureen Stapleton were in each story. This wasn't the case with the film. Walter Matthau was in each; Maureen Stapleton was his co-star in the first, Barbara Harris was in the second and Lee Grant was in the third. I loved Barbara Harris,(A Thousand Clowns, Who is Harry Kellerman, Nashville and Family Plot) but the movie should have followed the play and cast each actor in all three. Or failing that, a different pair in each three. I don't recall if Plaza Suite was one of the films you introduced when you hosted the Neil Simon series on TCM. (I think that you later posted the intros here, I'll have to check.)

Jason Langlois said...

"Refusing the Adventure" is one of those Joseph Campbell monomyth steps that seems to have made it into the screenplay superstructure as one of the beats you need in the script. The hero has to refuse the call to the adventure, to establish the norm (Luke trying to turn down Obi-Wan despite wanting off Tatooine, Frodo trying to give anyone else the One Ring despite envying Bilbo's adventure, etc.).

I suspect since many screenwriters have read the same screenplay writing books, they're all including that moment in the first act with out understanding its mythic context.

Unknown said...

I think Batman and Monkees hold up, just plain goofiness. Expect more, you get less.

p.s. I was the 5th Monkee

Brian said...

I watched all of "Night Court" last year and loved it. As broad and silly as it could be, it balanced that out by having real sincerity and heart, but never became overly sentimental. Harry Anderson was perfect as the anchor, while John Larroquette was a master at those smarmy zingers and physical comedy. (Though I will say I preferred Ellen Foley to Markie Post as the public defender. As wonderfully wholesome and charming as Post was, I never thought she was especially funny, while Foley had more spunk and pizazz.)

John said...

Get Smart was one of my favorite shows growing up. Sure it was silly,but I thought it was done quite well. I have the full box set of DVD's and watch them occasionally. I still find it enjoyable. Lots of good, silly laughs. And, yes, I still have a crush on Barbara Feldon.

I'm just glad you didn't mention my other favorite show from the 60's, F Troop. Another fun show that I still enjoy in my old age.

Pat Reeder said...

I didn't know there were plans for a Broadway revival of "Plaza Suite" (if they ever revive Broadway), but by sheer dumb luck, I happened to attend a live performance of that play by a local company just a couple of months ago, so maybe I can speak to whether it still works.

All three acts went over very well with the audience I was part of and didn't seem dated, but there were some adjustments made by the director/actors that helped. For instance, they used three different sets of actors, not the same ones in all three acts, which enabled them to cast people who perfectly fit each role so there was less suspension of disbelief required. It's hard to imagine Matthew Broderick playing the dad in the last act with the proper level of forceful frustration and rage. Also, while they didn't change the dialogue, the direction made it seem less dated. Example: at the end of the first act, they made it clear through silent eye contact and body language that the wife wasn't just going to sit there and feel neglected after her husband left, she made up her mind that she was going to seduce the Room Service waiter.

I don't know if that's what Neil Simon intended, but it definitely made it feel more contemporary.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Another variation of 'No way in hell' is the maverick character. He, or she, ignores a direct order or is antiathoritarian in some way. Can they be trusted? Or does that make them perfect for the job?
The example I'm thinking of is the "Lost in Space" movie. Which, by the way was God Awful. It soured me within the first five minuets when Maj. West (Matt LeBlanc) is ordered NOT to attempt a rescue. Of course he attempts it anyway and rescues whomever it was. His bravery/foolhardiness gets him the assignment.

You just did a blog about shows that don't hold up. You mentioned the very same shows.

I was never a fan of "Night Court." I watched it, but mostly because there was nothing else on. "N.C." benefited from the "only three networks" scenario. Maybe four. Was FOX on yet?

Stay safe.

Jeff Boice said...

Danny Thomas comes to mind. That show ran for 11 years, and they filmed over 300 episodes. but the reruns didn't last long on Nick-at-Nite or MeTV.

I occasionally watch an episode of Hazel not because I like the show but to appreciate Shirley Booth's acting. I think she owned part of the series, so I like to think she made some decent money.

Then there are two shows I disdained growing up- My Three Sons and Bewitched. I only remembered the color episodes of both series- but when I finally got to see their black-and-white episodes I was surprised at just how good and innovative they were.

sanford said...

A large problem the Monkees faced was accusations that none of them could play a musical instrument, because the music on their first records was mostly made by studio musicians. Nesmith and Dolenz played guitar, and Dolenz took drum lessons, so he could play drums on camera. Tork played guitar, keyboards and banjo. Davey Jones was the only one that didn't play an instrument as he was more of a theater actor.

Anonymous said...

GILLIGAN: I'm not gonna dress up like a girl, and you can't make me!

(picture flips and we see Gilligan dressed up like a girl.)

GILLIGAN: You can't make me, you can't make me!

Interesting how "prescient and innovative" in its storytelling Gilligan's Island has turned to be, now that such critically acclaimed, "importan" TV shows (that have characters crossing their arms and grimacing in all their ads to underscore such gravitas in case you missed it) are doing pretty much the same thing.

Ginger Grant would be proud.

Tammy said...

I'd just like to say how nice it is to sit back and read Friday Questions on a week like this. Thanks Ken.

Mickey said...

Friday Question:
With all the tv productions having been shut down, what are the writers and producers doing right now?

Jack D. Zipper said...

Also tough to picture George C. Scott locked in a bathroom wearing a bridal gown, but I'm trying.

I'm succeeding.

Fap fap fap fap fap fap

James Van Hise said...

I'm glad to read what you said about the 1966 Batman, which has inexplicably had a revival in recent years in both comics (titled Batman '66) and even an animated film shortly before Adam West died. I always thought the show had a one joke premise which it just repeated over and over but it took American audiences 2 years to finally tire of it. Even as a kid I felt the show was making fun of me for watching it.

VP81955 said...

Friday question:

If the coronavirus pandemic continues for a prolonged period, could you see some series try to satisfy fans by creating audio-only episodes? I could see this working for some sitcoms, especially since each actor (including potential guest stars) can work from their individual homes without actually having to physically interact. (Many in TV also work as voice actors for animation and such.) Of course, someone from each series would have to come up with musical bridges and beds and other audio effects.

I'm not suggesting that as-yet unfilmed episodes be completed in this manner; you don't want to lose them down the road when production returns. No, these would essentially be old-time radio-style eps, separate from the series canon and created merely as a gift to fans of that show while everyone awaits things to return to "normal." Perhaps one such ep could place the characters into "coronavirus world."

kkozoriz said...

I was once picking up my nephew after ha'd attended a Star Trek convention at the Las Vegas Hilton. He wasn't waiting in the lobby as we had arraigned so I walked back to the ballroom, hoping to catch him on the way. About halfway there I notice Brent Spiner approaching, surrounded by a number of handlers that were keeping the fans at bay. Realizing I ony had a moment I called out "It's Bob Wheeler, ya Yugoslavian recidivist knucklehead"

I got a big laugh from Spiner, probably glad that it was not something Data related.

Paul G said...

Ken, in these stressful times, I find myself drawn to classic comedies. I just re-watched (on Hulu) the episode of Frasier that you and your partner wrote in Season 1: "The Show Where Lillith Came Back." It is such a gem and on so many levels. Thank you, thank you, thank you...

Anonymous said...

All four shows were cool.

Dave Creek said...

Whenever I see the "Refusing the Adventure" trope, it seems to me as if the writer(s) forget that we see trailers or promos for movies and TV shows. As others have mentioned, we pretty much know what adventure the protagonist is going to go on.

Douglas Trapasso said...

Response to VP81955:

I'm sure I'm not the first person to make this connection, but "Barney Miller", in particular, could have had a second life on radio or as a podcast. Nothing flashy, just crisp dialogue and direction that didn't necessarily need the visuals.

Breadbaker said...

I started watching The Andy Griffith Show from the beginning, which probably precedes my memory of it (I was four when it debuted). Two things I noticed: there was a lot of music, including Andy playing and singing, and the basic theme of "I'm going to subvert the law in pursuit of my own idea of justice" was incredibly strong from the very beginning.

They're the kind of thing you don't have to concentrate on, which works quite well in these parlous times.

Ligg said...

"Night Court" was a joke-based comedy, pure and simple. I remember one episode where a gunman was holding people in the courtroom at bay. Somebody in the group he was pointing the gun at, while trying to reason with him, said a joke that drew laughter from the audience. The gunman lowered his weapon slightly, looked up in contemplation and delivered a funnier response. When the laughter subsided, he drew the gun back up to the people and resumed his serious manner. On other sitcoms the gunman either keeps the gun pointed when delivering his line or says a subtly different to maintain slightly more realism. But in the "Night Court" world, it was appropriate and funny.

@Brian: I read that they replaced Ellen Foley because they wanted a character to create some romantic spark with Harry Anderson's character; Markie Post's provided that while Foley's gave off more of a little sister vibe.

Now for a comedy FQ. Marisa Tomei, after her well-regarded performances in the two "All in the Family" recreations, she said she'd love to star in a sitcom. What other performers with little prior experience in sitcoms do you think would do well in the three- or single-camera format, like Tomei certainly would or Anna Faris and Allison Janney have in "Mom"?

Francis Dollarhyde said...

That's exactly right. Another example I can think of is TAXI's Jim Ignatowski, who began as a one-note "zany" character before being promoted to series regular. Thanks to both Christopher Lloyd and the writers, Jim evolved into a character who remained a funny weirdo but who could also be unexpectedly poignant and oddly Christ-like.

Joyce Melton said...

Watching Leave it to Beaver is a game of Spot the Trope. The thing is, most of those gags were old, from radio or theater, when Beaver subverted and lampshaded them. The acting is broad, theater-like, and the fun is watching the "types" play against each other.

Oddly, I was Beaver's age when the show was first on and thought it embarrassing to watch. :) Beaver was played more real than the other parts and I kept wanting to warn him not to be such a dope.

kent said...

My mother was on a deadlocked jury that only reached a verdict because the jurors were afraid they would miss the second half of a two-part Batman episode if they didn't finish quickly. This was before VCRs and DVRs and they had already seen part 1. What else could they do?

Anonymous said...

Leave it To Beaver is not actually a comedy.
IT's a little morality play that had to play as comedy.
It has more in common with Twilight Zone than Father Knows Best.

And it was good at that.

Anonymous said...

Some defenses of the Monkees:
--If you view the Monkees as a conventional sitcom, it doesn't work. If you think about it a stream of conciousness trip, it works perfectly. Complaining the Monkees don't have coherent plots makes about as much sense as complaining about the plots of "Monty Python". I mean what other show, much less one aimed at teenagers, would put this on?
--They could have and did play on their records. The reason they and other bands relied on studio musicians was they had to cut albums in just a few weeks with relatively primitive studio technology. You had to get the music right quickly or else. By the 70s, bands were expected to take months to record an album and recording made it possible to micro-manage errors. If big-name modern day bands were forced to put out albums in weeks, they'd still be using session musicians.

DwWashburn said...

I like all four series that you listed. i LOVE the Monkees and Get Smart. Batman has to be taken in doses but is still a lot of fun. And Laugh-In is great if you stay away from the last two seasons when nearly all of the original cast was gone.

There are several series that I watched growing up that I cannot stand today. A very brief list is I Dream of Jeannie, Three's Company, and anything with Lucille Ball in it. Never was a Lucy fan in my youth but watching her sitcoms now from 1950-1970 is torture.

Anonymous said...

Maybe The Monkees could have played on their records but let's face it, Mickey Dolenz would never be able to play like Hal Blaine and Mike Nesmith was never going to be Joe Osborn.

Mike Doran said...

Welcome once again to ALMA!tm - as in "You have to be At Least My Age …":

Looking at all the comments here, I'm compelled to note that the main theme seems to be the practice of Binge-Watching.

A Fifties Kid like me couldn't have imagined such a thing.

A TV show was on once a week - Period.

Maybe you might be able to see it again once - months later (if that).

And if it was a show from years before - one that had run a long time, perhaps - you might see an episode in an off-hour sometime … maybe.

The idea of seeing a series episode every day was a rare thing indeed - never mind three or four of the same show in a row … unthinkable.

In our Modern(?) Age, when I began collecting/accumulating/piling up (whatever) what became my old DVD Wall, I made a point to pick up as many different programs as I could.
This way, I wouldn't repeat myself so much - something different every time … indeed, many different things every time.
It kept things interesting - still does today, comes to that.

My Point (sort of):
Binge-Watching calls attention to the perils of the Long Run - none more self-evident than having a lot of do-overs in stories, lines, characters, and like that there.
You know, the things you wouldn't notice over a five- or ten-year period of weekly viewing, but start to become kind of obvious if you watch the whole output in about a month.

My Advice, for what it's worth:
If you've got collections of shows -space them out!
When they were first released, once a week worked just fine.
These days, it works every bit as well!
You might have to retrain yourself as a TV watcher - but believe me, it's well worth the effort.
Give it a try (and let us know how it works for you).

Bob K said...

“Schmuck bait.” I love it! It’s like when someone on social media makes a big dramatic exit announcement and you know they’ll be back in a day or two.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

My mother was on a deadlocked jury that only reached a verdict because the jurors were afraid they would miss the second half of a two-part Batman episode if they didn't finish quickly. This was before VCRs and DVRs and they had already seen part 1. What else could they do?
that's hilarious-- I wonder if it was the one where Batman and Robin were about to be devoured by a giant man-eating clam....

One that hasn't aged well: Murpy Brown. I caught a rerun a couple of weeks ago and was actually embarrassed for Candice Bergen. Five emmys, as I recall? I think people on my side of the aisle were just traumatized by Dan Quayle. Remember when we thought Dan Quayle was as bad as it gets?

sanford said...

I don't but Robert Blake is uploading his autobiography to You Tube. I know there are at least 7. It's called I ain't dead yet. I am on episode 6 which is 41 minutes long. It is the longest so far. 4 & 5 were less than 10 minutes.

Unknown said...

Hi Ken, I was reading a site about "Cheers secrets". I know most of them already from reading your blog, but one I didn't know was that there was a mini episode to promote buying savings bonds called "Uncle Same Malone". What can you tell us about it? said...

Carol Burnett did a version of PLAZA SUITE where she played all the women. The men were, IIRC, Hal Holbrook, Dabney Coleman, and Richard Crenna. I thought it worked better than the Matthau film. Now, Burnett and Matthau could easily have done the whole thing just the two of them.


Anonymous said...

Recently saw a Frasier where dreams in Cabin was the theme.
In one sequence the dream featured Martin engaging in a song and dance production number.
I have seen theses sort of scenes slipped into a number of non musical shows ( Taxi with Marilu Hemmer is example).
The question is do the performers suggest or ask for them so as to dust off their singing and dancing chops? or do they come organically by the writers realizing that a member of the cast have these skills and find a way to exploit them?

Justin Russo said...

I usually leave a comment about Old Hollywood as that is my escape (at age 33!)--considering the correlation between now and the 1930s, Screwball comedies are the perfect distraction (or Tiger King). My question for you is two-fold:

1. What are some of your favorite farces from the 30s-50s? (Bringing Up Baby is my personal go-to, then Ball of Fire, and any Preston Sturges)

2. Who are some of you dream stars of this period you would have loved to put together in one program that you wrote?

StoicJim said...

Jeri Ryan has said that there was one episode of Star Trek: Voyager where the writers had her in a scene with Harry Kim and her character asked him "So you wish to copulate?". She thought that the scene went against what her character was about and she's still angry about doing it.

Have you ever had or heard of an actor or actors rebel against doing a scene that they thought was offensive and the scene had to be re-written?

Mike Doran said...

In a memoir, Lee Goldberg wrote of the time when he and his partner Bill Rabkin were writing a cop show for Sammo Hung, the Chinese martial arts star.
In one episode, they had him going undercover as a manservant in order to catch the crooks.
The problem arose when Lee & Bill had him working for one of the policewomen.
Sammo wasn't bothered by being a butler; he just didn't want to be perceived as taking orders from a woman (apparently the Chinese are touchy about things like that).
It took quite a bit of negotiation (not helped by the fact that Sammo was never fluent in English) - but somehow the thing got done …

Fun business you guys are in, isn't it?

sanford said...

Stoic Jim wrote concerning Jeri Ryan. She was on 2 and half men 3 times. I have watched those shows a million times. I think she heard a lot worse on that show.