Friday, August 14, 2020

Friday Questions

Some mid-August FQ’s to distract you from the pandemic:

Allan starts us off:

I had heard Garry Marshall refer to "the block scene" in episodes of shows like HAPPY DAYS and LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY, and while I gathered he was referring to an episode's big comic climax, I was never clear why he used the term "block scene" or how or where that term originated. Tony is right that it may have been an earlier generation's terminology, as I don't recall seeing younger (relatively speaking) writers like Ken refer to an episode's "block scene."

We do talk about “block comedy scenes” in the writers room. They don’t have to come at the end. It’s a scene with a big comic event – Lucy stomping on grapes, Frasier trying to impress Lilith in the next room by loudly faking making love to impress her (see above photo), etc.

When putting stories together we’re always asking, “Where’s the fun?” And if possible a big scene where things go awry.

From Jrandall:

With far too much time on my hands I am watching anything and everything on any channel just to find something new or something old that I haven't watched in forever. In my journey I have noticed lots of the shows from the 60's list "Season 2, Episode 34"!!

With all of the things you have talked about over the years that go into putting together a weekly episode, let alone an entire in the world did they manage that many episodes without a new staff every year??

34? Try 39.

I don’t know how they did it either. I do know the writers worked year round. There were no two month hiatuses between seasons.

I think there was more burn-out in those days. I’ll give you an example.

In the ‘50s a number of sitcoms were done live from New York. One writing team wrote the entire 39 episode season of this one sitcom. And the deadlines were crushing because the show was aired live.

At the end of the year one of the writers moved to Los Angeles and for an entire year just sat in the backyard staring at a tree.

That's a true story. 

Unkystan asks:

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.

CBS wanted a one-hour clip show for November sweeps. We were looking for a way to tie the clips together that was somewhat unique to the show. Reprising Clete Roberts was what we came up with.

If I had it to do over, I would not have made that choice. Looking back, I think it diminishes THE INTERVIEW.

But we didn’t want to just run the clips, and we couldn’t use the convention of someone writing a letter home because MASH had done that in one form or another countless times already.

That entire clip show episode was a monumental pain in the ass. On top of everything else we would spend late nights in an editing bay screening and selecting scenes. And after six seasons (four of them Larry Gelbart’s) there were a lot of great scenes and moments to choose from.

And finally, from Michael:

After an episode you wrote was filmed, did you usually spend any time reviewing it to understand what worked, what didn't, and how it could have been improved? Or were already on to the next episode?

I don’t stop reviewing them to this day.

But to be more specific, we saw rough cuts on VHS tapes. I'd screen them and make notes, often watching at home. Each episode would go through this process maybe three or more times as we fine-tuned.

I can’t tell you how many times I’d watch a show, get out a pad to make a note, and then have to remember “Oh wait, it’s on the air.

But I’m always analyzing and trying to learn from my mistakes.

Thanks to those who've submitted FQ's?  What’s yours?


Jon said...

As with "Goodbye, Radar", CBS apparently took an episode intended for November Sweeps & ran it in October. I noticed that some of the interview clips were themselves reruns from "The Interview", including most famously Father Mulcahy's quote about a doctor performing surgery in cold weather. There did have to be some new interview clips, especially all those with Winchester (who wasn't yet with the show for "The Interview") and Margaret (Loretta Swit missed "The Interview" when she left the show a few episodes early before completion of Season 4.). "Our Finest Hour" did prove helpful for my local (Nashville) station that rerun MASH. I noticed that all its clips promoting this show came from this compilation, especially the bit from "Adam's Rib" where the people chant "We want something else!" in the mess tent.

Mark said...

Friday Question:

Do you think it's easier for one person to write a drama, but comedy is easier and better written by two or more?

I'm sure drama is enhance by more input but it seems there are a lot of successful drama writers (Sorkin, etc) who write by themselves. And comedy always seems to be done by teams and groups. It's a hard questions to formulate clearly, Ken!

Steve said...

Friday Question(s):

In the week leading up to the final episode of MASH, several entertainment outlets promoted the "fact" that MASH never repeated a joke in its 11 season run. Do you know if that was actually true? Was it a rule that was established; and if so, who would be responsible for checking? And if so, was it really unique to MASH? Aside from catchphrases, wouldn't all shows aspire for 100% originality?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I know a lot of people hate them - especially in this day and age of YouTube and such basically rendering them pointless and moot - but I've always enjoyed clip shows, and I feel M*A*S*H's was done well, what with using Clete Roberts interviewing the folks at the 4077th as wrap-arounds to lead into the clips.

Lindsay said...

Hi Ken! My boyfriend and I spotted this woman carrying around a stuffed Panda in the Cheers episode Tan N Wash. It was such a funny Easter egg. It was from a season 5 episode, I know that was from before you were involved with the show - but I was wondering if you could possibly imagine why this happened? Here’s the video:

ScarletNumber said...

I know you're not a fan, but Cousin Brucie, who just left his gig at SiriusXM that he had for 15 years in order to return home to WABC. He will be broadcasting on Saturday nights starting Labor Day weekend.

sanford said...

I might be a few years older than you. I looked up some of those old shows. Not all of them were 39. But all those old shows were in the 30's Comedies were not the only show to have 39 episodes per season. I am sure it would be terribly expensive to do so today. With so many places to stream shows we don't have to watch reruns during the summer.

tb said...

"See the tree, how big it's grown, but friend, it hasn't been too long it..wasn't big..."

Brian said...

Friday Question: What do you think it is about modern day multicams that make them far less memorable and successful than their decades earlier counterparts? A more plastic look and presentation? Unfunny, lazy scripts? Less charismatic actors? All of the above?

mike schlesinger said...

Sometimes more than 39. At the peak of its popularity, 77 SUNSET STRIP did 41 one year. But it was not unusual for some series to shoot two episodes simultaneously; this is why Efrem Zimbalist would star one week and Roger Smith the next, ditto Garner and Kelly on MAVERICK and Fleming and Eastwood on RAWHIDE. James Drury often talked about starring on THE VIRGINIAN, where he would be shuttled from one unit to the next--which is why he and McClure wore the same outfits most of the time.

Unknown said...

Friday question: Are you familiar with Franklin Leonard and his movie "Blacklist". Were any of your scripts ever on it?

Viscount Manzeppi said...

Until the early '60s, most dramas and westerns were also 39 episodes per season, with longer running times per episode. In the mid '60s, they were still shooting an average of 30 episodes per season, although running times had been reduced about six minutes per episode.

Viscount Manzeppi said...

Friday Question: What do you think it is about modern day multicams that make them far less memorable and successful than their decades earlier counterparts? A more plastic look and presentation? Unfunny, lazy scripts? Less charismatic actors? All of the above?

IMHO, all of the above.

Dave said...

Re: writer burnout.

For the past FOUR years I have been sitting in my backyard, staring at a tree. And I never remotely contemplated working on a sitcom

Troy McClure said...

Even Marge Simpson is pissed off with Trumptards!

JS said...

My favorite clip show was from an episode of Community, where they did a flashback episode but all of the flashbacks were new clips. They'd put them in these bizarre situations for a clip with absolutely no context. It was different.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Mark: teams write shows in the US because of the number of episodes. In the UK, however, both comedies and dramas are written by just one or two people, and the season is written before filming begins. None of these shows seem to have suffered for it: COUPLING, FLEABAG, CATASTROPHE, EPISODES, THE GOOD LIFE, YES MINISTER, FAWLTY TOWERS.


Chris said...

Friday question: just came across a double tag on Everybody Loves Raymond: Ray and Andy at the office and then cut to his parents' house for one short exchange. Threw me off, I thought I had the episode timing wrong. I've never seen a double tag, have you come across any?

Janet said...

I've just been rewatching "Goodbye Radar," and I've got an FQ for you.

When it came to the mess tent goodbye party, why did you and David choose to interrupt that party with a batch of wounded instead of having the party itself?

In your view, how was payoff for the viewer better?

Cap'n Bob said...

@ScarletNumber: I listened to Cousin Brucie when I was a young teenager in the sixties. I'm 72 now. He must be older than dirt.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Steve M*A*S*H repeated tons of jokes. In two Season 2 episodes, we have this exchange when a visiting brass comes to camp, and Henry attempts to make introductions. . . .

HENRY: These are Captains Pierce. . . .
HAWKEYE: And these are Captains McIntyre.

There was even an interesting occasion where writer Laurence Marks recycled a joke from HOGAN'S HEROES on M*A*S*H:

In the M*A*S*H episode "The Moose," we have this moment where Hawkeye is angered that Henry isn't going to do anything about getting Sgt. Baker to release Young-Hi as his moose:

HAWKEYE: If you haven't got anymore guts than that, then I'm not gonna work here anymore! I'll quit this outfit! I'll quit the war!
HENRY: Oh, yeah? Well, who's gonna break the news to Truman and MacArthur?

In the HOGAN'S HEROES episode "One Army at a Time," Hogan tries to persuade Carter to continue masquerading as a soldier in the German army a little while longer for their latest escapade:

CARTER: Listen, before I go back there I'm gonna quit this outfit! I'll quit the German army! I'll quit the war!
LeBEAU: Quit the war?!
CARTER: You're darned tootin'!
HOGAN: Carter, who's gonna break the news to Roosevelt and Churchill?

@Janet Ken has written about that before, saying that he and David wanted to avoid another cliched, maudlin and schmaltzy good-bye party, hence why we have the sudden arrival of wounded effectively killing the party.

Steve B. said...

I'm wondering what you think about "Mom"? It seems to be a rare example of a show that completely retooled after a few years as a pretty good show and became a pretty great show. Do you agree, and can you think of other shows that took a path like this?

Kendall Rivers said...

@Steve B I can think of two examples: The Wayans Bros and In The House. I doubt you even heard of them but both are great underrated black sitcoms from the 90s and they both started off with such different premises and the characters had such different situations that it took two seasons before they completely retooled the shows and they got good. In The House in particular went from more of a "Who's the boss" family type show to a workplace sitcom.

Lawman592 said...

Your experience with "The Interview" episodes mirrors what happened when Mystery Science Theater 3000 tried to do the same thing for the host segments in one of their episodes. While the plan was to do a clip show to give everyone on the MST3K staff a breather, it backfired when the final product when the amount of time and money spent picking out clips and writing and shooting lead-in scenes ended up equalling the time and money usually spent producing a completely new episode. I sometimes wonder if the same thing occurs on the other shows that have occasional clip episodes to save time and money.

msdemos said...


"Friday Question"

Having read some of your comments about your Directing experience, and your glowing praise for one of (I'm assuming) the best TV Directors of all time, James Burrows, what are YOUR strengths and (if you admit to any) weaknesses when it comes to directing shows (and is there ANYTHING about it you find more enjoyable than writing?), and just WHAT is it, in your opinion, that makes James Burrows so good at what HE does ??