Friday, May 01, 2020

Friday Questions

MAY DAY! Celebrate with Friday Questions.

Sharon Alford is up first with a FQ about a CHEERS episode David Isaacs and I wrote.

Just watched "Hot Rocks." Now the questions are: how did you manage to get Admiral Crowe to do his part? Did you think of the idea first and say "gee wouldn't it be great if we actually could get the Admiral to do this?" or did you think you might have to get a replacement actor in his stead and just wrote the script without a commitment? I was just wondering how it all got started - a chicken or the egg kind of question! Because without his cooperation, the episode would not have worked as well, if at all! Great episode!

Thanks.  Actually, we wrote that episode for Larry Bird in the role (which made a tad more sense that he would know Sam Malone). After we finished Bird bailed. Yet another reason why I’m not a fan.

To replace him we wanted someone prominent. The absurdity of the situation is that someone like Larry Bird would steal Rebecca’s diamond earrings. Anyway, our casting director somehow had a connection to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We said, great. How bizarre is that?

So David and I went back and took another pass at the script. I’m quite happy with the way the show turned out. Admiral Crowe proved to be a good sport. And it was weird to see the guy hovering nearby with a case handcuffed to his wrist. Every 90 minutes the Admiral had to call in. These guys weren’t playing around. But this was back when he had a government. 

Another CHEERS FQ, this one from msdemos.

I had written this in a previous blog post:

In the first year of CHEERS, three days into rehearsal for an episode Nick Colasanto went into the hospital with pleurisy. So we worked all night writing him out of the episode. Then came the weekend and on Monday (day four) he was back. So we had to write him back in. That was a fun week.

Wait.......why would you have to write Mr. Colasanto "back in" to the episode?? Wouldn't you just automatically have gone back to the original script he was planning on being in, in the first place ??

No, because by then we had drastically changed the story and the actors had memorized the new script and all of the camera assignments had been set. The best course of action was find a couple of places to add the Coach, which is what we did.

Gary has a FRASIER FQ.

I read online today that for the final episode of Frasier, the writers wanted to have Tony Randall appear as Niles and Frasier's "Uncle Felix." But apparently Randall was in ill health by then and couldn't appear. Ken, do you know if there is any truth to this? Seems like it would have been a great idea.

I had never heard of this so I consulted one of the creators of FRASIER who said the rumor was completely false and Randall was never approached.

And finally, from WB Jax:

For me, neither MASH nor Hogan's Heroes (both, for a time, benefitting from the writing talents of Larry Marks, Richard Powell) have any bad segments. What sitcoms do you consider not to contain any truly bad (or at least embarrassing) episodes?

FRASIER, TAXI, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, and THE HONEYMOONERS.  I'm sure there are others.  And there's a "worst episode" of even those shows.  But their worst is way better than other shows' best. 

What’s your Friday Question?


decal1028 said...

How many people have told you that you (and David) were a clue on Jeopardy last night? (4/30)

It's at the 17 minute mark, the category was "Totally Awesome 80's TV"

Andrew said...

"These guys weren’t playing around. But this was back when he had a government."

Wow, so you're a closet Reagan fan?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I would disagree about M*A*S*H and HOGAN'S HEROES not having any bad episodes . . . or, honestly, any show for that matter . . . almost every show has at least one rotten apple in the whole bunch. For those two shows alone, two examples immediately pop into my mind:

For M*A*S*H, it would be "Hawkeye." Yeah, I get Larry Gelbart wanted to experiment to see if one actor/character could carry the weight of the whole show, but using Hawkeye was a poor choice, because he was already the unofficial star of the show anyway . . . it'd be like if SEINFELD did an episode that was only Jerry without Elaine, Kramer, and George. Since this took place during Season 4, such an episode would have been a great opportunity for us to get a deeper look into either of the new kids on the block, like B.J. or Colonel Potter. If not that, we could have gotten to see another side to another character, like say Radar or Klinger.

For HOGAN'S HEROES, it would be "Top Hat, White Ties, and Bomb Sights." It just was stupid. Of course, this from was the first season, and the first season of HOGAN was really fluffy, and quite cartoonish at times . . . not unlike GREEN ACRES, but that was kind of the point of GREEN ACRES, and that show made it work to their advantage; with HOGAN'S HEROES being set in a German prison camp during WW2, a cartoony atmosphere did not work as effectively, which is why I'm glad the humor matured just a little over the course of the ensuing seasons.

Dixon Steele said...

I'll admit, I loved HOGAN'S HEROES growing up. And, yes, I even watch it sometimes on ME TV.

But it's definitely a Guilty Pleasure.

Craig Gustafson said...

Random Sitcom Thoughts, based on today's blog.

1. "Hogan's Heroes" - "The Softer They Fall" actually dealt with bigotry - a year before "All in the Family" showed up. Kinchloe has to have a boxing match with a German guard - and the German officers are quite specific in stating that a German boxer *must not* be beaten by a black man, invoking Jesse Owens. For a sitcom in that era, it was pretty gutsy. Kinchloe has to stall until LeBeau can photograph some Secret Plans, which means he has to stay on his feet without really putting up a fight. So there was some nice acting from Bob Crane, for once watching one of his men getting the shit kicked out of him, until the all-clear moment when he can say, "Get him!" Some really nice writing by Laurence Marks.

2. Mismatch/Bad Episodes - the final season of "The Phil Silvers Show" had some klinkers, due to a shift in focus. Instead of Bilko battling outsiders who victimized his men, he was now clearly the villain and they were the heroes trying to defeat him. There were also some episodes that were clearly out of character. And who wrote most of the bad episodes? Neil Simon, just coming off of "Caesar's Hour" and not yet adept at writing character vs. sketch.

Fed by the muse said...

"The Odd Couple" seems to have had, to use a baseball reference, a pretty high "batting average." four of my favorite episodes being, in fact, from Season 1 (single camera season): "The Jury Story" (comedy takeoff on "12 Angry Men"), "Oscar, The Model," "The Blackout" and "Oscar's New Life," featuring Ed Platt (Chief from "Get Smart," great actor) as Oscar's department editor boss, Mr. Donnelly. Car 54: Where Are You? is also, for my money, a consistently good series.

DougG. said...

Mr. Scarbrough, I think you misread the last question/answer. It was about truly bad or embarrassing episodes. While I also was not a big fan of the "Hawkeye" episode of MASH, I wouldn't say it was truly bad or embarrassing. For something like that, my mind goes to Fonzie jumping the shark episode of HAPPY DAYS. Something like that would have fit better on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND because the entire premise of that series was ridiculous. Instead of a boat pulling Gilligan, it would probably be a shark. And I completely agree with Ken's answer, "And there's a "worst episode" of even those shows. But their worst is way better than other shows' best." The worst episode of FRASIER is still better than whatever the broadcast networks are putting on today.

Lauren said...

No bad episodes? How about FAWLTY TOWERS?

Breadbaker said...

Your answer about needing to rewrite Coach back into the episode packs a lot of information into just a few words. I just finished Nell Scovell's Just the Funny Parts and it too gives lessons on how a week in a show moved things around like that. I imagine some huge moved because Nick wasn't there but others because once the actors did table reads and the blocking happened some things just needed fixing or you saw things that worked so well they needed emphasizing. A week in the life.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Within the last year I commented (something like) -

"I'll bet Pres. Bush is looking pretty good these days"

- a gentle jab like Andrew's Pres. Reagan comment above.

Big (BIG) difference relating to that briefcase is that Bush's stateless criminals held no candle to RWR's supremely competent Soviets.

(and neither does Putin, for that matter)

More on-topic - while I greatly admire Larry Bird (since his senior year at ISU while I lived in Terre Haute), and while he was a legendary "trash talker", I strongly suspect he was a "lox" like Fred Dryer - so the AWOL Bird may have been a blessing-in-diguise.

Contrast with Kevin McHale who was great in Cheers and who is one on the better "color men" for NBA games.

Rob Mesite said...

Craig Gustafson,

I agree about the Hogan’s Heroes episode ‘“The Harder They Fall” and Gen Burkhalter pointing out that Hitler would not abide with a German soldier losing to any American, but especially a black one. Great stand they took.

I also always felt that the show was ahead of its time in dealing with social issues. My favorite character among the heroes has always been Kinchloe as played by Ivan Dixon. Even though he was inferior in rank to Carter, he was the acknowledged deputy to Hogan in the running of the operation. Being a kid in the South during the run of the show, it always made me happy to see a black man treated with respect and seen as a leader. My parents were not Southerners, and racial attitudes were where we differed from many of our acquaintances. Hogan’s Heroes I’m sure reinforced that with me. Interestingly, I questioned Kinch’s role even less then than I do now; the viewer recognizes him as a leader.

One other thing about the show is that some of the action sequences, especially in the middle years of the show, actually contain compelling action sequences. Not bad for a half hour sitcom!

Mike Bloodworth said...

I had a similar, How'd you get...? question regarding Tony Bennett on the "Dancin' Homer" episode of "The Simpsons." Did your script say. "Tony Bennett sings the "Capital City" theme? Did you have another singer in mind. Or did Tony come to the show in some other way?

BAD is a subjective term. I can't think of a sitcom that doesn't have an episode or episodes that I won't watch, including "Frasier." They may not be considered bad by the creators or the general public, but they just leave me cold.
That's why I think "Cheers" was such a good show. It was never, "pee your pants" funny, But there isn't an episode that is unwatchable. Its greatness comes from the fact that it was so consistently funny.


Tudor Queen said...

"But this was back when he had a government."

You mean before a paranoid narcissist was exercising his petty resentments and lying with every 'tweet' as he nearly sprains his arm muscles patting himself on the back? And before those with a legislative role in 'checks and balances' became so obsessed with keeping even the tiniest bit of power that they became lackeys and enablers?

I know that you run a tight and honorable ship and probably won't print this, but I've wanted for so long to let you know that I agree with you deeply about our current political scene, and fear for us as a society while a pandemic ranges and the man who should be 'consoler-in-chief' would much rather take cheap shots at people he doesn't like. I sincerely hope that neither he nor the small handful of people he cares about fall victim to this virus because no one deserves that, not even someone who sees the rest of us as... well, not American, not really?

Janet said...

Admiral Crowe was in Bill Clinton's Joint Chiefs. The admiral was actually the first prominent uniformed defender of Clinton, who at the time, was getting hammered as a draft dodger.

Janet said...

Gotta disagree. I look forward to "Hawkeye" whenever it comes on.

And I would agree that MASH never had a bad episode. The worst it got is it ended up recycling a couple of plotlines towards the end...

Andrew said...

No bad episodes: HEE HAW.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I agree about the HOGAN episode "The Softer They Fall" (actually makes a great double-feature with the M*A*S*H episode "Requiem for a Lightweight" - you'll even notice both of those episodes have the exact same black extra wearing Radar's hat standing around silently), and about Kinchloe's character in general . . . at the same time, it's also a shame that, despite how groundbreaking he was for that era of television, his race was also very limiting in terms of what they could do with the character, which I believe was a contributing factor in Ivan Dixon's departure: unlike the other Heroes, Kinch didn't always do as much aside from operating the communication center in the tunnel and relaying messages between Hogan and HQ or the Underground. Not just "The Softer They Fall," but also "The Prince from the Phone Company" and "Is General Hammerschlaag Burning?" are also really great episodes for him as well - it's a shame they didn't put him in the spotlight a little bit more. However, as great as an actor as Ivan Dixon was, you could almost sense his overall befuddlement and bemusement in his performances, which both Robert Clary and Richard Dawson have spoken of before: he was usually a serious/dramatic actor, and felt out of place on a sitcom (Richard also described him as being incredibly insecure about his acting abilities, and that he and Larry Hovis would occasionally play mind games with him about it). Kenneth Washington is a different story . . . there's not much to say about Baker, since he was pretty much the same kind of character, but while Kenneth's acting was a little bland and vanilla compared to Ivan, you can at least tell Kenneth was enjoying being there: he seemed a little more prone to cracking a smile or corpsing compared to Ivan.

And I suppose I did misconstrue that particular question, and for that, I do apologize, though I am happy to see it elicited some engaging discussions in the comments today. If we're speaking in terms of an episode so bad it's embarrassing, I know the cast and crew of M*A*S*H would agree on two of them: "Major Fred C. Dobbs" and "House Arrest." While I personally have no problems with either episodes (the latter of which is one of my favorites for how hilarious it is, not to mention Mary Wickes's delightful guest appearance), I know the cast and crew hated those episodes: as far as the former goes, they all thought it was a stupid idea that there'd a gold rush of sorts in Korea - not to mention where the hell are they going to find gold paint in Korea for Hawkeye and Trapper to trick Frank by painting the rocks, the jeeps, the trees, even the speakers gold? As far the latter goes, Larry Gelbart and others admitted years later they were embarrassed and ashamed of how they ended up treating rape (or, in this case, a false accusation of rape) like a great big joke . . . and while yes, I'll agree rape isn't funny, nor are false accusations of rape, that one aspect doesn't spoil an otherwise terrific episode in my opinion.

Bob Gassel said...

To me, "Hawkeye" is Larry Gelbart at his best...

But If any MASH fan can sit thru the hour-long "That's Show Biz", they're stronger than I am...

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

I have sat through the full hour of "That's Showbiz," although the part about the recovered ballet shoes was nice.

But a similar episode, "Showtime," which aired at the end of the first season of "M*A*S*H," was far better.

Vidor said...

My question regards the "Cheers" finale "One for the Road". Both Wikipedia and IMDb say that due to Shelley Long's other commitments, the last scene was filmed later. Of course, Diane is not in that scene--so why would it have to be filmed later? The IMDb trivia page also says there was a "minor feud" about whether or not Sam and Diane would get together.

My question is, was there a different ending written at some point? Were Diane and Sam ever meant to get together, and was Shelley Long ever supposed to be in that scene?

Kendall Rivers said...

I heavily agree about Hogan's Heroes not having one bad episode because even a weaker one in comparison to their best are better then anything today or most episodes of even other classic sitcoms. Also I will say Everybody Loves Raymond, The Golden Girls, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Amen never had bad episodes. Their "worst" are B- at worst.

Kendall Rivers said...

@Ken Friday Question: Funny thing regarding cultural television talk. We always talk about how some of the greatest tv shows of all time fell off or jumped the shark by the end yet we don't talk about the shows that were great but never giant hits but if you think about never jumped the shark and actually got better as it went on til the very end like underrated gems Barney Miller, Amen, Becker, The Steve Harvey Show, Monk etc. All shows that once they hit their groove they never lost it and improved season after season yet we somehow praise shows like Friends, Seinfeld, All in The Family etc. all once great shows that absolutely fell off by the later years. Why is that? Btw, sorry for the crazy long comment.

Don R said...

I'm stuck in the house, watching Antenna TV, and I just saw a "Becker" you directed. Friday question: when directing a show in front of a live audience that's always switching sets between the diner, Becker's office and his apartment, do you shoot all the scenes needed in the one set, then move on to the next set and shoot all the scenes there, etc. Or, so not confuse the audience, do you move from set to set and shoot in chronological order?

Fed by the muse said...

I agree with DougG, especially about Frasier. When you scored as many "grand slams" as that show, a "tenth inning win," now and then, could only be expected.

Now, Friday question for Ken (hopefully one he's never gotten before): Heard Dick Van Dyke say (in his Archive of American Television interview) that, in the five years of the "Van Dyke Show" he only threw a single script, something called "Art VS Baloney." My question is, knowing the high standards established for that show by Carl Reiner (and maintained by Persky and Denoff), how could a substandard (or lousy) script make it, on any such show, to "table read stage?" Also, Carl Reiner is in his nineties, any chance of getting either he or Mel Brooks on your podcast (before it's too late) and, if so, would you consider having them answer some bloggers questions?

Hogne B. Pettersen said...

M*A*S*H had plenty of bad episode. "Edwina" and "Major Fred C. Dobbs" in season 1 are two. "Hawkeye" isn't bad pr se, but it's boring, even if I adore Alan Alda. MASH lost the plot completely during season 8, and never recovered, even if there are the odd good moment here and there in the final years too. It's just that the first years of MASH were so amazing that people tend to forget that the later seasons were... inconsistent, with ham fisted overacting and and characters that had turned into completely new characters. Ttake the dreadful "April Fools," which a lot of people find funny, for some reason. Loretta Swit no longer played the character Hot Lips, she played Maaaaargret. A character who not only disobeyed a direct order, she even went agains a general. Never would have happened with Hot Lips. Nobody changes that much.

Gary said...

One of the producers of THE FUGITIVE, easily one of the best TV series ever, commented that in the days when seasons ran thirty episodes, ten shows would be excellent, ten would be okay, and ten were there just to fill up the airtime. Probably a very realistic assessment.

Also, I'm a little amazed at all the love shown here for HOGAN'S HEROES. Really??

Mike Doran said...

That Fugitive quote comes from Quinn Martin himself, from a TV Guide interview.

In that vein, here's a quote from Efrem Zimbalist Jr., talking about 77 Sunset Strip:

" … If a show has six wonderful shows a year and the rest mediocre to nothing, it will succeed. The luster of those six rubs off on all the others …"

Someone ought to stitch that into a sampler.

WB Jax said...

"Star Trek" is a good example, particularly S3, which, though widely maligned by Nimoy and other cast members, had some true shinning, compelling hours, (e.g., "The Enterprise Incident," "The Empath"). Also, I can't recall an unwatchable (bad) episode of "Mannix," S8, the final season of that series, containing several outstanding shows.

Kendall Rivers said...

@Gary yes lots of love for a classic hilarious show lol if you don't like Hogan gotta question your taste in comedies.

Bernadette said...

I don't actually have a question but I just wanted to say I find the existence of this blog very comforting.