Friday, August 07, 2020

Friday Questions

As we enter the dog days of summer and the pandemic, here are this week’s Friday Questions.

blinky gets us started.

Some great shows have exceptional seasons. While re-watching 30Rock from the beginning, we were struck by season six. It seems like they hit their stride to an exceptional degree. The writing, the character development the acting, all were firing on 12 cylinders. In fact I would say season 6 episode 3 was the peak.

Did any of your shows have a exceptional season and a best episode? I bet you would say Cheers season one, but what about Frasier or MASH?

Yes, I would put the first year of CHEERS up against the best year of any sitcom.

I would also say the first year of FRASIER was its best. 

For MASH, season four (a Larry Gelbart/Gene Reynolds year that we had nothing to do with).

Don R asks:

I'm watching M*A*S*H on ME-TV and they seem to be playing them in order. Last week you and David were listed as story editors, but this week you're listed as executive story consultants. Had you moved on from the show by that time, or were you still part of the staff?

They’re all just “titles.” In the middle of season 6, while we were listed as “story editors” we became head writers when the gentleman who had been doing that job left.

Season 7 we got a loftier title but remained in that role.

If I’m not mistaken, Larry Gelbart had the same credit season one.

From Kevin B:

What 1980's sitcom did you like that would surprise your friends/colleagues? Like "I Married Dora" or something.


Probably one or two that I’m forgetting.

And finally, from Houston Mitchell:

I happened across a "Happy Days" rerun the other day, and I had forgotten how annoying the live audience, particularly in the later seasons, was. Every cast member got a huge ovation on entrance and the crowd seemed to think they were part of the show. Did you ever have this trouble on any of the "live in front of a studio audience" shows you wrote or directed? Did the audience ever try to say "Norm!" when George Wendt walked in for example? And if so, how did you combat that?

One time on CHEERS we had audience members shout back at the cast and it threw them. The warm-up guy (me) had to politely ask them please STOP IT.

On my shows, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve always discouraged applause at entrances. The cast and guest stars were introduced before shooting and the warm-up guy (not me) would ask the audience not to applaud when people entered.

If they applauded spontaneously during the course of the show over a line or story turn or performance that warranted it, those we kept in. But never applause that we didn’t feel was earned.

What’s your Friday Question?


Unkystan said...

I’ve been re- watching MASH on Me-TV Last week they ran the two-part Crete Roberts episodes which were clip shows. Was there a reason for this? Was it a budget issue? Did the network want additional episodes that season? Just curious

Michael said...

"I Married Dora" has one of the best series endings, in my opinion. The last scene is set at an airport and one of the leads is leaving on a plane. He returns and says "It's been cancelled" and someone says "the flight?". He responds "no, our series". Then the cast waves to the studio audience as the camera pulls back.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

The Happy Days audience I would remember would throw me off when I was a kid.

As a kid, I would think the whole thing is filmed live and in order of the scenes.

So, when the show started at "Arnold's" hangout, Fonzie would get a big entrance applause. Of course! However, a scene later we were now at the Cunningham residence, and the front door would open and in comes Fonzie. And the audience applauded louder as if this is the first time Fonzie had appeared before them.

Anonymous said...

OK an identification question. A message board I frequent wondered about the actor marked by
the yellow dot in the linked photo. He appears in multiple episodes as an extra but never speaks. Who is he and why is used so often if he's a non-speaking character?

Mike Barer said...

Since you incorporate radio into your blog posts, I want to recognize Pat O'Day, who at the time of his death this week, was probably Seattle's biggest pop culture, with perhaps the exception of Bezos,Gates, and Seahawk Quarterback Russell Wilson.
O'Day was the morning drive DJ for KJR 95, as well as a concert promotor. He was also known as the voice of unlimited hydroplane racing during the Sea Fair Celebration in early August. He put the put the Seattle music scene on the map. O'Day was 85.

NOT RACHEL said...

I’ve seen every Frasier so many times that by now the show is “comfort food” to be enjoyed before bed. The episode that makes me laugh the hardest is Roz and the Schnoz and what makes that episode stand out isn’t the writing or acting, excellent as always, but the directing. And after many viewings I realized last week that the director was you. Well done!

Glenn said...

I liked the early seasons of Married with Children, but when it got really cartoon-ish, I gave up. They were also notorious for having obnoxious audience behavior, but they seemed to encourage it. There are scenes where Al or Kelly Bundy walk in the door and the audience hoots and hollers for a full minute.

Kendall Rivers said...

Interesting choices of favorite seasons for Cheers and Frasier though I wouldn't agree with either of those because for shows I love I have a really hard time choosing a favorite season if I love every season but If I had to choose the season that had some of my favorite of the entire series in a row where they were on fire, everything clicked the very best with the actors being most comfortable in their roles, the chemistry between the cast was at its best and the humor was kicked up a notch so for Frasier that'd definitely be season 3, Married with Children season 5, Martin season 2, Fresh Prince of Bel Air season 4, The Middle season 6, Sanford and Son seasons 3 and 4, Everybody Loves Raymond season 3 and Barney Miller's got to be the hardest so I'll pick at random: season 5.

thirteen said...

I think the airport-cancellation joke was from "Bette" and not "I Married Dora."

"Bette" recast Kevin Dunn, who played Bette's husband, with Robert Hays after a dozen or so episodes; that last joke went to Hays. BTW Bette Midler had wanted to film "Bette" in New York, where the pilot was shot, but CBS insisted they make the series in California. Lindsay Lohan (still a fresh-faced lass of 13), who played Bette's daughter Rose (get it? huh? get it?) in the pilot, didn't want to relocate, so they recast her.

Rob Greenberg said...

I was at a final season Happy Days taping while in High School (had a 'standby' ticket for 'Cheers' when someone a producer came over and I went for the sure thing). The audience was encouraged to react. Jerry Paris directed, and he and another producer would actually toss candy into the audience to keep us lively. I personally overdid one of the 'awwww' reactions and can hear myself on that episode's soundtrack.

Kirk said...

In the Make Room for Daddy episode that served as a pilot for The Andy Griffith Show, there's an applause when Andy enters the scene--he's just stopped Danny Thomas for speeding--and it's an applause that Andy seems to momentarily acknowledge, which kind of takes you out of the whole thing. Perhaps that's one reason his subsequent series was filmed without an audience.

Annie C. said...

"If they applauded spontaneously during the course of the show over a line or story turn or performance that warranted it, those we kept in. But never applause that we didn’t feel was earned."

Thank you so much for that!

Joseph Scarbrough said...

If you want an annoying studio audience, look no further than SANFORD AND SON's later seasons. Likewise, every single time a character enters the scene, the audience goes wild with applause and cheers, and the actors just stand there and freeze until the audience settles down to resume the scene. Can you imagine how awkward that would be without an audience?

One of the reasons why I prefer a laugh track over a live audience.

Arthur Mee said...

Interesting to see "The Duck Factory" on your list of favourite 80s sitcoms, Ken. I recall the show, and also recall finding it hard to get into. Young, naive kid moves to LA -- and almost instantly becomes the producer of a long-running network show? I just couldn't buy it, and I stopped watching early on.

Now I find that, apparently, NBC showed the episodes way out of order. The producer thing wasn't supposed to happen until much later in the run....instead, NBC had it happening in episode 2. Maybe if the network had stuck to the intended order, I would have gotten into the show...

Which leads to a Friday question: did networks ever mess up a show you were working on by airing episodes out of order? And if so, how did you handle it?

Bradley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mike schlesinger said...

Me-TV just started rerunning "The Beverly Hillbillies," so I've been revisiting it. Given it was shot without an audience, they made the interesting choice to use canned recognition applause when a big guest star first shows up. Call me crazy, but I think it's kinda cool.

Possible FQ: You mentioned "All Is Forgiven," which was truly a wonderful show, yet despite being an instant Top Ten hit, it was yanked after two months. When asked about it, Tartikoff cryptically said, "Anybody can cancel the #99 show. It takes real guts to cancel the #9 show." Which struck me as the verbose version of "SQUIRREL!" With all your show-biz connections, have you ever found out the real reason it was axed?

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

I agree that the fourth season was the pinnacle of "M*A*S*H," especially impressive since the show introduced two new cast members--Mike Farrell and Harry Morgan--that year.

One good thing about Clete Roberts's second appearance on the show is that it gave Loretta Swit and David Ogden Stiers, neither of whom appeared in "The Interview," a chance to work in that format.

Kevin B said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken. And I'm pleased to see ALF make your list. I was initially going to use that as my example in lieu of "I Married Dora" because I loved ALF!

Kendall Rivers said...

@Glenn I actually love how into it the audience was of Married with Children. Shows just how amazing the cast and characters were that the audience was that excited to see them that for me personally I find it quite enjoyable and I actually miss the enthusiastic audience whenever I watch the first couple of seasons. Al Bundy is an king among men, an icon so of course he commands applause :)

Michael said...

Interesting point about MASH Season 4: It was the year that introduced B.J. and Potter. And I honestly thought they were better than their predecessors, with all due respect to the characters and the actors who played them. In a sense, both Hawkeye and Trapper being cut from such similar cloth didn't seem to me to play as well over time, and Henry was, in a sense, too incompetent as a commander. But then again, as The Vin might say, I'm a member of The Harry Morgan Marching and Chowder Society.

Apropos of those entrances, yes, Happy Days was pretty silly in that regard. As I recall, on Mad About You, when Carroll O'Connor and Carol Burnett played Helen Hunt's parents, they wrote it to have them enter separately because they knew the audience would go crazy and they felt, these are such a pair of legends, they deserve it. And they did.

Matt said...


"The Odd Couple" started out as a filmed sitcom and then transitioned into a live studio audience show. The same thing with "Happy Days." Both were Garry Marshal shows at Paramount. Why do you think this happened? And if they learned something with "The Odd Couple", why did it happen again with "Happy Days."

I understand you didn't have anything to do with these two shows, just thought you might be able to shed some light on it from your point of view.

Elf said...

Ken, how could you possibly feel even remotely odd for enjoying some of those shows you listed, particularly Newhart, It's Garry Shandling's Show, Slap Maxwell and WKRP in Cincinnati?

Anonymous said...

Entrance applause and laughter certainly existed in live theatre, and spread-
did they hold up applause signs ? - into radio from its earliest days.

The Bilko TV show’s later episodes were filmed w/o audiences, and
then screened for folks whose responses were recorded and used on
the broadcasts.

Here’s Leo McCarey’s Charlie Chase comedy- The Rat’s Knuckles -
with and without live audience reaction :

Matt Gerhard, accompanist, in front of a live theatre audience

Dave Glass’s longer reconstructed version, without audience

Mike Doran said...

The airport cancellation gag is from I Married Dora.
I saw it when it aired.
You can find it on YouTube.

Chris Barts said...

If a show someone writes for gets "translated" into a show in a different country, like how "Cheers" became "Prost Helmut" in Germany, does that author see any more money if episodes they wrote for make the jump to the international version?

Max said...

Totally agree that M*A*S*H season three was its best, and I've always thought of "The Bus" from that season as being a pinnacle of some kind.
Not a comedy show, but I'd cited season three of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION as being far above the show's other seasons in nearly every way that matters

ScarletNumber said...


I, too, loved ALF when it aired. I don't know if it would hold up. I know Max Wright, who played the dad, disavowed it.

@Kendall Rivers

I'm with you on this. I think both Cheers and Frasier needed time to hit their stride. The first seasons for both shows are far below what they later became. Generally speaking, sitcoms need time to blossom, and their characters need to develop, so their first seasons seem off. Dramas, on the other hand, are more plot driven, so the best ideas are in the first season.


You are wrong and @Michael is right. I Married Dora is singularly famous for its airport cancellation scene. As for Bette, its last two episodes never aired, so it wouldn't make sense for them to have such a scene. They were famous for mocking the concept of changing leads when they themselves did the Dunn/Hays switcheroo.

OrangeTom said...

Great to see the original Shandling show and the Duck Factory get shout outs. As to the former, I often think it might have been better than Larry Sanders. Didn't hit you over the head quite as much.

And the Duck Factory even in its short life had a great comedic rhythm and close to perfect case. Wish it had more time to develop.

Max said...

Oops... I meant M*A*S*H season FOUR...

jim kosmicki said...

Duck Factory seemed tailor-made for a young animation history nerd like me at the time. I was not surprised at the cancellation as I was, to my recollection, the only person I knew who even knew it was airing, much less watching it.

All the episodes are on Youtube in one fashion or another, and it holds up in my eyes.

Troy McClure said...


You kinda answered your own question. Extras are used repeatedly precisely because they're extras, or background artists as they're now known. I know a background artist who's been in several episodes of the same show. It's not unusual.

Gary said...

It's interesting you think the first seasons of CHEERS and FRASIER were their best. Very often a sitcom will need a full season to iron out the kinks, determine the right direction and write to the actors' strengths. For example the first seasons of DICK VAN DYKE and ANDY GRIFFITH were clearly the weakest. And the first season of THE ODD COUPLE is almost unwatchable.

Mark said...

Friday Question:

One of my favorite things i've read on this blog is the folly of remaking good movies instead of remaking failed ones. Would you be willing to list five films you wish would be remade? And maybe why you think the first ones failed -- script, casting, direction, editing, studio interference?

Bradley said...

Season 1 of Frasier left in A LOT of punchline applause. Watching the episodes again, it seems like overkill. Do you think this a way to help convince audiences at home that the new setting and characters have been accepted? Because it does not continue beyond the first season.

Parts Unknown said...

Cheers Season 9 is a personal favorite of mine. It has everything I want in Cheers; Sam owns the bar, Rebecca's more neurotic, Lilith is basically in every episode.

The second season of The Office I'd say is when it hit a stride. Very well banced, they were characters who were funny in pretty grounded reality compared to the later seasons where they're all so wacky. At least they didn't take an office trip to Hawaii or the Grand Canyon like old sitcoms.

WB Jax said...

For me, Frasier seasons 4/5 are good as TV sitcoms get, so many of those shows being flat-out classics: To Kill a Talking Bird, Are You Being Served?, Ham Radio, Halloween, The Gift Horse, Perspectives on Christmas, The Ski Lodge, Room Service, First Date. about a series firing on all cylinders!

No said...

I agree that season 4 of MASH was the best, and probably the best season of any show ever on television. But give yourself some credit, seasons 5, 6, & 7 are great as well. The entirety of the first 8 seasons of MASH are gold. It got kind of well, boring after that. I think once Radar left, a lot of the purpose of the show did as well.

CHEERS was excellent during the entire Shelly Long years, but still solid after that. FRASIER is the only show that was superb beginning to end, an amazing 11 seasons. How did they do that?

Mike Barer said...

Let me correct what I said in my above comment, Pat was afternoon drive in his heyday at KJR, not morning.

My 15 Minute Show said...

Howdy, @kenlevine. This might be a long FQ, so strap in and give it a thought. OK, so a script over the transom doesn’t work anymore, and nobody anywhere looks at unsolicited scripts anymore unless you have an agent or some sorta bullshit. So — what’s the percentage of possibility in any of this?

At it’s base bottom line, every script tells a story, right? So what’s keeping any scriptwriter from taking that script, writing it, and then just make a digital book out of it first, put it put out on whatever digital avenue you please, make a few bucks off it — and ... AND ... maybe if The Universe smiles upon you — it might get noticed and optioned if it’s halfway good and you get paid quote well even if the thing never gets made and hopefully you have a few others in the hopper if it does. Because if it was’t a great story you wrote, nobody would be interested in it, right?

I bring this up because there are so many movies I see that see “story by.” Usually followed by “screenplay by” if the author actually is involved in writing the screenplay (more $$ and work involved in that, I’m guessing).

So. How much smarter might it be for someone who thinks they have an awesome script to also sit down and write it as an actual story book as well? Because if it’s a great story (even if everybody fucks your screenplay — not your story) it’s a still great story, right?

So FQ for you @kenlevine: What say you?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I think season 1 of most shows is the most interesting, if not always the fan favorite. It's when the creators' vision is freshest and clearest, and it's the closest to the story they wanted to tell. (I'm excepting things like BREAKING BAD, MAD MEN, and THE SOPRANOS, which were conceived with multi-season story arcs.) FRASIER's first season focused on the three main characters repairing their damaged relationships with each other - not something that could continue forever. But for me it was the most compelling part of the show.


Charles Bryan said...

MeTV is running MASH episodes in order -- they're in the later part of S7 now. Recently, they showed the POV episode of the soldier whose larynx was injured. Great story, great approach, and the B story about Potter forgetting to call his wife on their anniversary was beautifully woven in. Nice work, Ken and David!

Paul Duca said...

I thought that was Dora...given that the show's premise was her being an undocumented immigrant.

Evan S said...

The Best of the West theme song has been stuck in my head for nearly 40 years.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I thought that was the horny crew members prompting the audience to cheer when Kelley would make an appearance in a skimpy outfit. The voice is always the same.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Yes, I agree, I feel that Martin lost his edge as the series went on, and by the last season it was too much of a farce.

Tobin said...

1) I've never seen anyone mention season 4 as being M*A*S*H's best, and I'm glad to see it get some recognition, by Ken and by others posting here. It's a terrific season with numerous outstanding episodes. "Deluge" is among my favorite episodes.
2) Ken mentioned NEWHART as a 1980s sitcom he liked. I think it's one of the best sitcoms of all time -- and maybe the most underrated. And I'm sorry the finale has overshadowed the fact that it's such a great SERIES.
3) THE ODD COUPLE improved when it switched from one-camera to multi-camera. But HAPPY DAYS declined in quality, badly. The audience applause is unbearable, but that's just one part of a larger problem. HAPPY DAYS is exhibit A in what happens when you pander to your studio audience too much. Endless applause, endless catch phrases (most of them unfunny from the start), over-the-top performances. It's a shame, because this was a show with many talented people involved.
4) I agree the first season of CHEERS was the best.
5) I agree the SANFORD AND SON applause was out of control toward the end. The contrast between the first season and the last is like night and day. It's like two different shows.
6) I think it was Andy Griffith's decision for his show to use the one-camera approach, instead of multi-camera. And he was right.

Kendall Rivers said...

@Wendy M. Grossman. Have to disagree big time there. First while Frasier had a stellar first year the second year surpassed it in every way and it only got better with each season reaching its peak in season 7 though seasons 8-11 still were perfectly good seasons if not at the high point it was before. And second If the first season of a show is it's best that usually spells disaster lol. Sophmore slump follows and the show never recovers. I can think of only a few shows that first seasons that were their best and didn't fall apart right After but I think those are more exceptions than the rule. But you're entitled to your opinion I just don't see it that way.

Kendall Rivers said...

FQ: Do you have a favorite Wings season and why?

slgc said...

In recent times, during commercial breaks you often hear a commercial, then hear a different one, and then hear the first commercial a second time.

Personally, I find this counterproductive. Even if I like the ad initially, I often hate it when it's repeated in quick succession.

Why do they do this? Does anyone actually enjoy this repetition?