Friday, April 10, 2020

Friday Questions

Hoping you’re safe and in need of Friday Questions instead of toilet paper.

James starts us off this week.

What's your opinion or analysis of The Andy Griffith Show? I don't remember you mentioning it before.

I’ve always liked THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW but never really loved it. The only character that made me genuinely laugh was Don Knotts the first few seasons. I appreciated the quirkiness and Americana, and the characters were very likeable. Andy, Aunt Bea, Floyd the Barber, Opie (whatever happened to little Opie???). And during its first run, if I was looking for something to watch and it was an option I always chose it. But it never was appointment TV.

Ironically, now it’s on ME-TV so I’ve been watching some episodes. And it’s better than I thought it was.

From Rick Wiedmayer:

What was the feeling like when Alan Alda first came up to the Show runner and said that he would like to write an episode and when he wanted to direct an episode?

We were thrilled.

First of all, Alan began writing scripts during the Larry Gelbart era. So he was groomed by the best.

I think we had pre-arranged with Alan that he would write three or four episodes a year. And he always turned in terrific scripts. Our only complaint was that his scripts generally came in long. We would take a pass, making trims, and adding some jokes. Alan would keep the new jokes but put back a lot of what he had taken out. So sometimes the script even got longer.

And as good a writer as Alan is, he’s an even better director. But again, the problem was he was shooting a script that was too long. And he always added lovely visual touches, especially to beginnings of scenes (interesting push-in shots, etc.).

But we’d get it into editing and it was seven minutes too long. So we had to chop all the lovely visuals and lots of jokes, just to get the show down to time with all the story points in tact.

I will say this, Alan directed one of our episodes, THE BILLFOLD SYNDROME and it’s one of my top favorite episodes as a result of his getting sensational performances out of everybody.

Vincent Saia wonders:

Since you invited us to give you questions to pass the time during what my friend Pat calls Coronafest 2020: Is there any particular reason that in sitcoms babies are NEVER born in a hospital?

They sometimes are. Phoebe giving birth to triplets on FRIENDS. Certainly the Petries had their baby born in a hospital, which led to one of the great single episodes of television.

But having babies in cabs, elevators, etc. tend to be more dramatic or comedic (depending on the approach – and as long as mother and baby are ultimately doing fine).

And finally, from Ted:

Is it true Seinfeld piggybacked on 'Cheers'to become a hit?

It helped a lot, yes. Time slots are crucial. SEINFELD on Wednesday night got tepid ratings during one of its best years. Following CHEERS gave them a huge audience to sample.

But I will say this -- just having a great lead-in does not guarantee success. We had a number of shows follow CHEERS that went nowhere. When people checked out SEINFELD they found it really delivered. So we may have brought them the audience but they sure kept it.

What’s your Friday Question?


Jen said...

Daphne gave birth in a vet's office, while they were trying to get the ring for Martin's wedding out of Eddie.

MikeKPa. said...

Since you've been on both ends -- writing a script directed by someone else, and directing another writer's script - what exactly is it that good directors do to get better performances from their actors?

Ted said...

Thanks Ken.

I have read and seen many interviews of Seinfeld creators, writers, actors but they never credit 'Cheers'. But media does highlight the truth.

There is sort of smugness about them don't you think, especially Jerry?

I remember your review of his show 'Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee' along similar lines.

Granted that success makes people like that, but I wish they would acknowledge other factors for that success.

scottmc said...

A question about when to break the 4th wall. You have mentioned the scene in Volunteers. Watching Annie Hall last night, there is the 'life'/'wife' scene. I just watched the play One Man,Two Gouvernors on-line(amazing) and James Corden breaks the wall a lot. When you are writing a play are there times you can/can't address the audience. (Recalling THE GERMAN PLAY;the actors addressed the audience at the start but not through out the play.)

Steve Bailey said...

Regarding baby births on sitcoms: Years ago, there was a good but short-lived sitcom titled ROC, starring Charles S. Dutton. The show's second season was broadcast live, I guess to try to attract more viewers. An ongoing storyline was that Roc's wife was pregnant with their first child. You've never seen a quicker birth on a sitcom: At the top of the show, Roc and his wife are in the delivery room. Roc suddenly raves about having a beautiful baby boy and waving around an obviously rubber doll. Cut to commercial.

David from Boston said...

I have a question about "throwaway lines." First of all, is that an expression writers actually use? Or is it better to say "set up?" I'm thinking of a specific scene from Cheers that maybe you had something to do with. Diane has made "un filme de Diane Chambers" to convince Woody's dad to let him stay in Boston. Of course it is pretentiously overdone (ending with an atomic explosion - making the A-bomb funny for the first time since Dr. Strangelove.) Later, when it looks like Woody is going to leave the bar, Diane asks if the film had any impact and Woody (the brilliant Mr. Harrelson) says "no, he said it was too derivative of Goddard." When a writer plants a line in script, what role does the director have in ensuring the actor delivers it correctly but also that the reaction supports the line. One of the reasons I've always remembered the line is because Shelly Long gives us this wonderful "take," in one second giving us confusion and surprise. They were both brilliant, but am curious how much directing they need (or want) to deliver the punch as intended in the script.

Chask said...

Hi Ken:
Glad you are safe and healthy. Possible Friday question:
Why to the entertainment guilds allow closing credits in TV broadcasts to be run at breakneck speed and/or shrunk down to a small box? In either case the credits are unreadable on a TV set.

WB Jax said...

Friday Question for Ken: I've always been amazed by the number of quality scripts both Rod Serling and Sidney Sheldon managed to produce for, respectively, Twilight Zone, I Dream of Jeannie, both writers, reportedly not so much writing the scripts as dictating them. Were these writers more or less the exception or was this a pretty standard MO, particularly in the late fifties/sixties, when seasons were typically 36-39 shows? Did any of your contemporaries produce scripts in this manner or typically write "straight to the page" (that is, without an outline as a guide)?

RyderDA said...

I’m not a comedy writer; everything I know I have learned from you. But I too was never a fan of Andy Griffith, and I suspect the reason why is what you taught me: All the characters were nice. Quirky, yes, but it was a cast of Father Mulcahy’s. The sweetness of everyone oozed out like treacle and I found it unwatchably “perfect”.

Lisa said...

I have a Seinfeld question too.

It's about the firing of Heidi Swedberg who played Susan.

The story is that Julia hated her and complained to Larry David. Then later Jason Alexander too complained that he can't 'play off her'.

Larry David unceremoniously dumped her. One of the most ridiculous deaths on TV.

What is your opinion Ken?

Is there such a thing as 'play off each another actor'? Or is this another pompous thing made up by actors to sound important.

As a comedy writer, would you say that that is one of the most pathetic pieces of writing? Licking envelopes and dying.

Do networks have any say in such situations, where some actors go and complain to the creator, and he just kills off that actor?

Irony : It was Larry David's last episode too. He did come back for the finale.

Brian said...

Friday Question: Will & Grace is coming to an end (again) soon. What specifically don't you like about the show?

Troy McClure said...

For anyone who hasn't seen this, there was a wonderful live streamed online reunion of the Frasier cast last week as part of a fundraising initiative for The Actors Fund. There are also surprise guests, which I won't spoil but you'll be ecstatic when you see them. It's a joyous hour and what we all need right now.

At the end, the hosts Seth and James say they'll probably do another Frasier cast online reunion in a couple of weeks. Ken, it would be awesome if you got in touch about taking part.

Unknown said...

I watched Seinfeld from the beginning (well, not the 1st season live), and still do occasionally on late night reruns. Pretty sure I've seen all of them.
Five years ago Seinfeld was touring, and we were EXCITED to get tickets. We go to the show, excited to be there, and when he comes on we laugh at everything. The great Seinfled is 100' in front/below us! But as time passed during the show, what we were laughing at wasn't that funny. Funny, but not $80 ticket funny. If he was just starting out with that performance, he never would have made it big. People (ok, us too) were laughing at his "legend" more than the material. I think he knew that later/before, and why he did a show about retiring his best bits.

Rob D said...

SEINFELD “piggybacking” on CHEERS? Is this a thing now? If it is a “controversy” it is a pretty lame one. MASH’s ratings improved when it was moved in Season 2 to follow ALL IN THE FAMILY. CHEERS’ ratings improved when it ran after popular shows like THE COSBY SHOW and FAMILY TIES. There are countless other examples in the history of television. An utterly common occurrence. (And as Ken says the audience won’t stick around if the show’s no good).

I can only guess that this “piggybacking theory” was concocted by SEINFELD haters who can’t stand that it was so popular. Hey, there are Lots of shows that I hate but are also popular, but I accept their popularity at face value.

blinky said...

Rewatching Planes,Trains and Automobiles recently we couldn't even get halfway through. The pacing and story were excruciating plodding by todays standards.
I remember the funniest line from the first time we saw it Martin and Candy cuddling in bed and Steve asking where Johns hand was. He said between two pillows. THOSE AREN'T PILLOWS.
That was still funny but when it got to the part were Steve Martin started saying fuck every other word, we stopped. In todays world they would have called security on him.

benson said...

Agreed, Don Knotts was a comedic genius, but I'd like to throw some love at Howard McNear. What a funny character actor. There's an early episode of him and Kathleen Freeman guesting on the Donna Reed Show. Just brilliant. And on TAGS, before he was felled by the strokes, he was so good. Singing "Hail to Thee, Miss May-berry". There's a scene where he's in a lineup of temporary deputies, and Knotts is addressing "the troops". Brilliant. And my favorite scene of his. From "Floyd, the Gay Deceiver", when he's reading himself the riot act in the mirror. "Floyd Lawson. You're a miserable deceitful wretch. And I'm ashamed of you." Always makes me laugh hard.

VincentS said...

Thanks for answering another one of my questions, Ken. I think this is lucky 13!

Gary said...

Rob D, those are great examples. Another amazing one is that the ratings of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW only took off after it began following THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES!

Andrew said...

I remember an interview with Jason Alexander, and he gave a lot of credit to Cheers for helping them get an audience. But he also said that Larry David, in typical fashion, didn't want to be "Cheers's younger brother." Jason was like, "Are you crazy?!"

On a more serious note, someone mentioned Father Mulcahy above. I saw an episode of MASH last night that I had completely forgotten about, in which a Catholic bishop comes to the 4077th. The Father wants to impress him. There's another plot involving Patrick Swayze as a guest that is heartbreaking. Anyway, I was so blown away by the Father's sermon, and Christopher's acting, that I looked up the script. It's the episode "Blood Brothers." Here's the main speech (sorry that it's long). Let's just say I wish certain politicians could hear this:

"I want to tell you about two men. Each facing his own crisis. The first man you know rather well. The second is a patient here. Well, the first man thought he was facing a crisis. But what he was really doing was trying to impress someone. He was looking for recognition, encouragement, a pat on the back. And whenever that recognition seemed threatened he reacted rather childishly. Blamed everyone for his problems but himself because he was thinking only of himself. But the second man was confronted with the greatest crisis mortal man can face, the loss of his life. I think you will agree that the second man had every right to be selfish. But instead he chose to think not of himself, but of a brother. A brother! When the first man saw the dignity and the selflessness of the second man, he realized how petty and selfish he had... I... I... I had been. It made me see something more clearly than I've ever seen it before. God didn't put us here for that pat on the back. He created us so he could be here himself. So he could exist in the lives of those he created, in his image."

Jude said...

Something CHEERS and THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW have in common: many ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW fans only watch the first five seasons of the series. Those are the episodes that feature Don Knotts. Likewise, I know CHEERS fans who only watch the first five seasons of that series. The Sam and Diane episodes. In both cases, after watching the first five seasons, they skip the remaining episodes and go back to season one.

VP81955 said...

Howard McNear is equally famed for voicing Doc in the brilliant radio version of "Gunsmoke" (where William Conrad voiced Marshal Dillon). Best radio oater ever, with smart scripts and superb sound effects. They still hold up nearly 70 years after its debut. Nearly all the episodes are available online; among the sites hosting them is

Dave Lennon said...

Just wondering if you've kept up with The Good Fight and if it's worth watching. I recall you were a huge fan of The Good Wife, as I was too. I watched the first two episodes of The Good Fight when it debuted. Something about it didn't sit well with me, but I can't remember what. If I pick it up again, is it worth delving into?

Edward said...

Andy Griffith never carried a gun as Sheriff. Whatever the reason (supposedly he did not like wearing the holster and pistol), I think it was an important production point for the show. Small town Sheriff in a relatively peaceful town, where reaching for the .38 was not the first reaction. After all, it was a comedy.

Bryan Price said...

Ken - You mentioned in a previous post thinking that the SF Giants were loaded with some of the best broadcasters on a team. (I agree - it's a great foursome.) Can you think of another team that has four broadcasters with such high talent?

Prairie Perspective said...

“The Andy Griffith Show” hit and maintained a high peak from its third through the fifth season. There were good episodes before, and a couple in the three seasons after Don Knotts departed and color came to Mayberry, at least on TV screens. For a North Carolina town, the lack of black residents was jarring then and now.
Still, the shows in those three middle seasons were sustained excellence. Don Knotts brought physical comedy, pathos and a comic genius he never touched before or after to his portrayal of Deputy Barney Fife, and Andy Griffith settled in as a wise, patient straight man in a town of lunatics.
Everett Greenbaum and Jim Fritzell wrote screamingly funny episodes that hold up now. Some of the funniest scenes and lines don’t advance the plot — they are just pure comedy, often created and finely honed by Knotts and Griffith, who were close friends and drew much of their humor from their own upbringing in the South.
TAGS, as the faithful refer to it, is on the short list of great sitcoms. There are several dozen episodes — “Dogs, Dogs, Dogs,” “Barney Fife, Realtor,” “Three Wishes for Opie,” and more, that are absolutely brilliant.

Oliver said...

How is Corona affecting the TV and especially the sitcom business? Are shows on halt, will we not have new TV fodder in the fall? Are studios worried or are they thrilled because more people watch TV?

Mike Doran said...

The following is pure fantasy, but based on facts:

Many years ago, there was a radio series, unfortunately short-lived, called The Casebook Of Gregory Hood.
This was a mystery, a "whodunit" created by the legendary critic/author Anthony Boucher, in collaboration with Denis Green (they had previously done a Sherlock Holmes radio show with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce).
"Gregory Hood" was an antiques dealer living in San Francisco, who solved various crimes with the assistance of his lawyer, "Sanderson (Sandy) Taylor" (think modern Holmes and Watson).
A handful of Hood episodes are available in the Old-Time Radio market; a number of different actors came and went in the roles.
One combination caught my eye, though …
Sometimes, I've wondered whether Desilu ever had a notion to do a one-shot Gregory Hood TV special, starring Gale Gordon as Greg - and as his sidekick Sandy, Howard McNear.
I think (have to check) that this particular Hood teaming can be heard in a few of the surviving radio recordings.
Seeing Gordon and McNear outside their usual TV typecasts might have been fun, even as a one-shot.

As I said a fantasy, but fun to think about …

James said...

Thank you for answering my question.

Greg Ehrbar said...

A couple of thoughts:

Been watching Doris Day movies during the crisis (we've moved on to Alice Faye now). Never saw "Move Over Darling" before, which was not only a remake of "My Favorite Wife" but also the film that had to be completed in the wake of the loss of Marilyn Monroe, originally called "Something's Got to Give."

Don Knotts had a very brief role (he was on The Andy Griffith Show at the time) but he was brilliant and made the film his for that time.

Regarding "piggybacking," it has been often recalled that The Dick Van Dyke was facing cancellation when -- depending on the person's account -- Carl Reiner, Sheldon Leonard and Grant Tinker implored its saving for another season. CBS scheduled it against the powerhouse that was The Beverly Hillbillies, incongruous as it may seem, and it brought eyes to the show and it became successful. (The fact about Tinker's specific pressure on behalf of Moore's career is in Herbie J Pilato's recent book about Mary Tyler Moore.)

CBS held strong from with Hillbillies and Van Dyke for four years but didn't have the earlier program block until 1965 when Lost in Space premiered (at the time the most expensive TV show ever), followed by Hillbillies, then Green Acres and Van Dyke. Even when Batman hit big midseason, viewers switched from ABC to CBS for the second half of Lost in Space and the rest of the lineup. The point is that placement is key, but the show has to have appeal and has to be pretty good (for its day -- say what you will about Lost in Space, but it was the first of its kind in prime time and it sure beat My Living Doll and other things that preceded it in the same time slot). This info comes from Marc Cushman's three-book Lost in Space series.

Been reading a lot lately.

Wm. Adams said...

I'm interested in opening title segments, especially since so many shows don't do them anymore. Who has the most input on developing them? Showrunners, writers, producers, Network Marketing Goons? What do you think the purpose of one should be? Do you have a favorite?

bryon said...

Seconding an interest in the questions asked by MikeKPa and Chask.

Thanks for all you do here, Ken!

BG said...

This reminds me of how many sitcoms aired at 9:30 pm ET on Thursdays, between "Seinfeld" and "ER", at the time the two highest-rated shows. Any show that aired at 9:30 naturally finished in the Top-10, then NBC would move it to a new night, and it flopped. One exception, "Suddenly Susan", stuck around for a few more years.

"MadTV" even had a sketch about this called "Test Pattern", where the entire 30 minutes was literally a test pattern airing between the two shows.

bigcat said...

Coming off brain surgery, I fulfilled my lifetime ambition by watching all five black and white seasons of andy Griffith. I wouldn't do it again, but recovering from brain surgery is the time to do it. Don Knotts really is amazing, though the rest of the show is pleasant he is the reason to watch. I think it peaked sometime in season 3 and getting through 5 was tough.

I also watched the first season of MASH recently and plan to watch more. I never really watched it before. Impressive sitcom that feels very different than anything else I've seen.

thomas tucker said...

scottmc: just rewatched Woody Allen's Play It Again Sam, which is hilarious. he breaks the 4th wall throughout.
I have always loved the Andy Griffith Show, and I don't think the characters ooze sweetness at all. they are basically nice, but not sweet. And their quirks and human flaws make for some hilarious comedy.

trail of bread said...

Friday question for you. Watching a few clips of UK Sitcom Victoria Wood's Dinner Ladies (Lunch ladies for you, I think) they said that each (of the very few) episodes was filmed twice (Friday/Saturday) in front of a live audience. This is of course expensive (VW was indulged by the BBC on the basis that she was actually brilliant), but allowed for rewriting and tweaks to get the best from the episode. I wondered if any USA sitcoms had done something similar.

JS said...

My Friday Question - I am watching the Connors - they are all just throwing out a line and right to the next person. It is all in the writing. Certain actors/actresses can add something to a line - Nathan Fillion comes to mind, but so many, they just throw out a line - here or there and that's their day. When you audition, what do you look for? Someone who can just recite a line or someone who has charisma and bring it? Just curious, because everyone on the Connors seems like they are just reciting lines - even Goodman.