Friday, September 25, 2020

Friday Questions

 Hi kids.  Time for more Friday Questions.


Kendall Rivers starts us off:


With this current reboot trend I HATE but for some crazy reason is still going on, would you be down with a MTM reboot or even a live stage revival like Norman Lear did? Or would you be completely opposed to it due to the chance they would screw it up and make it shrill, mean, preachy and frankly much less funny like most sitcoms now?


I’m completely opposed to it because – why bother doing it?  You’re not going to improve on the original cast.  The dated wardrobe and flimsy sets are going to really stick out.  The actors are going to be doing impressions of the real cast. 


So other than for a ratings stunt and a money grab, what’s the upside?  It’s the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW not the MARISSA TOMEI FILLING IN SHOW. 


Cedricstudio asks: 


Neil Simon Is constantly praised as a great playwright. I’ve never seen any of his work performed on stage but I’ve seen two movies based on his work. The Odd Couple (starring Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau) was enjoyable enough but did not blow me away. Last night I watched Murder By Death and was disappointed. The premise was promising (it’s a murder mystery spoof where five of the world’s most famous detectives—caricatures of Sam Spade, Hercules Poirot, Miss Marple, etc.—are locked in a castle and challenged to solve a murder. Then it is their host who winds up dead.) With an all-star cast and a Neil Simon script my hopes were high but I found it corny and ridiculous with most jokes falling flat. I’m not a writer so this might be sacrilege but I would take one of your MASH episodes over either of these films any day. Can you help me understand why Simon is so revered? What am I missing?


Okay, you know I love Neil Simon, but I agree about MURDER BY DEATH.  


But for his hugely successful plays: 


What you’re missing is context.  What you’re missing is being in a live theatre, hearing the dialogue crackle and the audience laughing at almost every line.  You can’t capture that in a filmed version.  You just can’t.


BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, although dated, is a joy to see on stage done right – even today.   But the movie version with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda is just a slog.  And Redford starred in it on Broadway. He was funny on stage.  In the film he's a mannequin. 


Once this fucking pandemic is over, find a decent theatre doing THE ODD COUPLE or some other highly regarded Neil Simon play, allow for the passing of time, and just let yourself go.  I bet you’ll laugh your ass off. 


From Chuck:


I'm curious what your opinion is concerning Baseball Players/Managers being "microphoned" during a game. As I'm writing this I'm watching my team, the Cubs taking on the Cardinals on ESPN. (Not as bad as watching a FOX broadcast.) During game play, the announcers spoke to David Ross, Manager of the Cubs. They then spoke to the Manager of the Cardinals, Mike Shildt. He actually cut the conversation short saying he needed "to manage." (I say, Good for him!)


After that, ESPN had Cardinals Short Stop, Paul DeJong on microphone. They gabbed back and forth during game play. Cubs batter David Bote then hit a ball that went straight to the gabbing Paul DeJong. He got the ball and threw to first, but Bote was safe. (Good for the Cubs!) In my view, DeJong messed up this play because he wasn't paying as close attention to the game as he should have been. ESPN should not have been bothering him - or any other player/manager - during game play!


So, your opinion? And if you happen to agree with me, how do we put a stop to this thoroughly irritating ESPN (and FOX) practice? I say, LET THEM PLAY THE GAME!


This is another case of the tail wagging the dog.  MLB has allowed TV networks to dictate how they want to cover it.  Mic’ing players is for the benefit of the TV broadcast at the expense of the game.   But do you think Fox and ESPN give a shit?  Of course not. 


And especially now, where MLB is JUST a TV game (with no fans allowed in the stands), the networks call the shots.  All these additional playoffs, and match-up announcement shows – none of that improves the actual game and if anything, erodes its integrity. 


But MLB is taking the money.  And really, isn’t that all that matters? 


And finally, from WB Jax:


At what point of episode scripting are titles usually conceived? For you and David did such titles as "Death Takes A Holiday On Ice" come easily to you and were there times when either a story editor or fellow writer suggested an alternative (perhaps better, perhaps not) title for one of your scripts?


Just before you turn in the outline (although sometimes the title changes).  Once you submit the outline for payment, then it goes into the system and they need a title for records.  


But I will say this, titles don’t mean much.  You rarely see them on the screen.  It’s not like a movie or a play where a good title can help grab an audience.  So I advise writers not to spend two days coming up with the perfect episode title. 


I always liked the way FRIENDS handled titles.  Episodes were “The one where…  and they just described what the general story was about.  Probably saved the writers days.


What’s your Friday Question? 


Jon said...

I remember enjoying MURDER BY DEATH quite a lot when I saw it in Jr. High School, as did a good part of the audience, but then we were in 7th grade at the time.

I've seen Jerry Seinfeld comment on his show's DVDs that he purposely wanted dull titles like "The Maid", etc., because he wanted his writers to spend the time they would spend coming up w/ funny titles on making their scripts better.

JeffinOhio55 said...

I played Felix in The Odd Couple about 10 years ago. It was one of the most enjoyable plays you could imagine, for cast and audience alike. But in the film version, the best lines and jokes just seemed to whiz by unnoticed. The argument between Felix and Oscar about where gravy comes from is a riot on the stage but barely registered on film.

And Ken, what about The Star-Spangled Girl? The film was awful. Would it be better on stage?

Craig Gustafson said...

I would say that your comments about being with an audience also apply to "Murder by Death." If you watch it alone... blah. I saw it in the theatre when it came out. The laughs were explosive and constant. True, Simon had no clue how to end it, but up until that point it was magical.

It was "The Cheap Detective" that offended me.
1. Not as well constructed as "Murder by Death." Second rate jokes.
2. Phil Silvers was billed as a co-star. He appeared as a cab driver in the last minute of the film and had one line.
3. The material for Sid Caesar was recycled from the musical "Little Me" (book by Neil Simon.)

Unkystan said...

Third Rock from the Sun never showed the titles but they are hilarious! Each one uses the name “Dick” In it (and in context to the plot) Father Knows Dick, Angry Dick, Frozen Dick, Post Nasal Dick, Much Ado About Dick, Dick and the Single Girl, etc.

Ralph C. said...

You know, it’s also okay to not think of Neil Simon as a genius or to even like anything he’s created. That’s okay, too.

Curt Alliaume said...

I'm not sure if this is everybody's cup of tea, but my introduction to Barefoot in the Park was on a 1982 HBO version starring Richard Thomas and Bess Armstrong, with Barbara Barrie, Hans Conried, and James Cronwell. Taped from a week's worth of live stage performances rather than being adapted from the film version, it seems more appropriate. Not everything works (the introductory super claims it takes place in 1963, but Bess Armstrong's fashions are strictly from the early '80s), but I was willing to overlook the odd bits. And it's on YouTube for free.

Daniel said...

I first saw Murder by Death when I was 13-years-old and thought it was one of the funniest things I had ever seen. I watched it again about 30 years later and found it downright painful to get through.

Honest Ed said...

Re titles -

Yes, they're kind of unimportant but -

I've written, on and off, for a hugely popular UK series for 20 years now (gulp, December 1 is the 20th anniversary of my first commission...) which always used to have titles. Then a couple of years ago they abandoned titles. But when writing I always found them a useful tool for keeping a grip of the thematic unity of the episodes. Now they're gone I miss them as a writer and a viewer.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,
I was wondering if you had seen the new show Ted Lasso at all? Sports comedy based off a commercial that Jason Sudekis did sometime ago. There's interesting characters that actually make you laugh. The majority of feedback I am reading is extremely positive (and I agree with it) and it seems people agree that it's a nice break from the negative shitstorm that is 2020.

Pat Reeder said...

To JeffinOhio55: I try to see all local revivals of old comedies, and last year here in DFW, I saw "The Star-Spangled Girl." I'd only read the script before and thought it was not great (Simon agreed), but wanted to see how it played. The cast was very charming and it got huge laughs all the way through and a standing ovation. Yes, it was dated, but the touches like the old-style telephone and answering machine and the '60s radical magazine article titles just added to the period piece feel. The most important thing was that the actor playing Norman had a very sweet, innocent goofiness, like Robin Williams or Andy Kaufman, that made him seem more besotted with love than like a scary stalker.

BTW, the reason I haven't commented in a while is that both my wife and I have had COVID-19. Don't know how we got it: we followed all the precautions, including working from home for years, and I've been social-distancing since high school. I suspect it's all just security theater, like at the airport. It was pretty bad for a few days, kinda crappy for a week after that, and now all that's left is a lingering wheezy cough. All in all, nowhere near as bad as when Laura had the swine flu a few years back, and I had something last winter that lasted much longer and was worse. FYI: one of the weird things about it, at least for us, is that it gives you a bad taste in your mouth like you've been sucking pennies. Don't ask me how I know that. Say, maybe that's where I got it!

VP81955 said...

In Myrna Loy's fine autobiography "Being And Becoming," she noted the producers of "Murder By Death" sought to hire her to play an ersatz Nora Charles, but she politely declined. (William Powell, who played Nick in the six "Thin Man" films, had been retired for about two decades when the movie was made.)

gottacook said...

Curt: Thanks for that link to Barefoot in the Park; I've always been a Bess Armstrong fan.

My wife and I just finished watching (over a period of several nights) the movie version of Simon's The Prisoner of Second Avenue on VHS. It was a real oddity and all I could think was, "They must have liked it in the '70s." I can't imagine how it would have been as a stage play, and I can't believe that the same Neil Simon who came up with the original-for-movies The Out-of-Towners five years earlier turned this out. It couldn't decide whether to be a comedy or not, or so it seemed.

Canadian Dude said...

There's a very funny executive story editor up here in Toronto. Once he's accepted a pitch in the room he won't let anyone go a step further until the story has a great title. Luckily, he's a kind of HUMAN TITLE GENERATOR and it usually only takes him about 5 seconds to come up with a gem. One of my favourites, about a lost parrot: "Dude Where's Macaw?" Another two: "Aquarium For A Dream" and "Inglorious Toddlers."

Troy McClure said...

Don't be coy, Ed. What show do you write for?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Walter Matthau is a pretty good Oscar in the film, but mainly because Matthau was really good in those kind of curmudgeonly sort of roles, much in the same way David Ogden Stiers was in those kind of snobby and smarmy kind of roles. Having said that, however, in my eyes, Tony Randall is Felix Unger, no one else can compare, and he and Jack Klugman's chemistry together are part of what made the TV series so much fun to watch - especially when they switched to multi-camera in front of a live audience, their performances are so much more energetic and lively, which really boosted their rapport and timing, as opposed to the single-cam, laugh track-only first season, where they both felt so much more subdued and wooden.

Andrew said...

I agree with other commenters. I enjoyed Murder by Death when I was a teenager, but found it terribly unfunny as an adult.

My favorite character (both times I watched) was the butler, played by Alec Guinness. It's surprising to know that Guinness loved the film.

Speaking of which, if anyone here is bored during this COVID era and hasn't seen it yet, watch the BBC version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Guinness, of course, plays George Smiley. Best miniseries I've ever seen, and it's all on YouTube.

Alec Guinness, however, considered Murder By Death "a very funny film." The Academy Award winning actor rarely went to Hollywood, but he liked the script so much, he made the trip in order to play Bensonmum. Guinness said, "The script made me laugh, and not many things in recent times have done that."

Brian Phillips said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: I just finished watching a movie that put all of the credits, save the titles, at the end as opposed to the beginning. I understand that from an artistic standpoint, you can set up your universe faster, etc., but from a practical standpoint, if I wrote a movie, I'd rather it be out front first, with the bulk of the titles at the end.

What is your preference?

Mike Barer said...

Regarding TV episode titles, now that we rarely watch TV live, they seem much more relevant as
they are used to identify the episode with platforms like "On Demand" and Netflix.

Brian Phillips said...

I agree with Craig, if you didn't like Murder by Death, stay ALL THE WAY away from "The Cheap Detective".

Lest anyone forget, MBD was a big success, not helped by one wag, who according to a buddy of mine who yelled out the ending as he came out of the movie.

As bad as either of these are perceived to be, run at top speed from "The Maltese Bippy", with Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. Another comedy/mystery that has not aged well at all. Strangely, this was rated G and there is blood and several shootings. Quite a surprise in 1969!!

Mike Doran said...

Murder By Death:
I think the problem here was that this was a sketch - and a sketch shouldn't last more than ten minutes, or at the most twenty minutes in two parts (commercial break optional).
Neil Simon was sort of coasting here; what Ray Stark and Columbia were selling was the all-star cast in a joke machine - and in 1976, the paying audience got exactly what it expected (that's what I felt at the time, anyway).

Here in my stacks (piles?), I have a copy of the paperback tie-in edition of Murder By Death.
For whatever reasons, this novelization was only issued in Britain (at least I can't find any record of an American edition; correction welcomed if needed).
The interesting part here is that the novel was written by H.R.F. Keating, who was an almost legendary figure in British mystery fiction (and fact, comes to that; Keating wrote some of the most respected volumes of criticism and analysis in the field).
The interesting part of that is that Keating actually tried to turn Simon's gagfest into something like a novel, with story progression and like that - I'm not saying he was all that successful, but Harry Keating was never anything less than a true professional; readers always got "value for money".
I'm just passing the story along here: I was lucky to find this book used, and I don't think it would be an easy find forty-four years on, but anyone who's interested might find the search worthwhile.

Back in the '60s, Mad did a spoof called "Football In Depth", in which a televised football game is covered as a political convention or other breaking news story would be.
Reporters were all over the field - sometimes even on the field - shoving mikes into people's faces and asking inane questions, and throughout all this the game goes on.
As I said, this would have been the early-to-mid-'60s, well before TV football became the quasi-religious spectacle we know today.
... Which, I guess, qualifies this as prophecy?

Viscount Manzeppi said...

RE: Titles.

I miss the golden age, where series episodes had (albeit formulaic) titles like "Incident of the ________," "The Night of the _________," "The Case of the _____________," etc.

Tommy Raiko said...

Another bit of TV episode title fun: the (hilarious and overlooked) show NewsRadio titled a swath of episodes after Led Zeppelin albums--and why not, since the titles never showed on screen?

The show also had an episode titled "No, This Is Not Based Entirely on Julie's Life", in reference to a producer on the show whose experiences inspired, slightly but not wholly, some plot elements in the episode.

Michael said...

Friday question: I know you were a producer on CHEERS the first season and then left to work on other shows. When you returned to CHEERS in later seasons as a writer, were you and David full-time staff writers involved with the show every week or was it on a free-lance basis?

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

There's a May 1969 "Dating Game" clip on YouTube in which Robert Reed, who appeared in "The Maltese Bippy," presents a winning couple with tickets to the film's premiere.

Jim Lange informs the audience that Reed will be starring in the fall in a new ABC series called "The Brady Bunch."

mike schlesinger said...

Put me down as another in the pro-MBD camp. It was hilarious in 1976, and IMHO, still is. When Peter Falk passed away, I introduced it at an Aero screening, and it worked like a charm all over again (though some of that may have been tinged by nostalgia, as almost the entire cast had died by then).

Semi-amusing tangent: I once met Dave Grusin and told him that MBD was my favorite of his scores, He beamed for a moment, then said, "Oh, you're not old enough to have seen that!" I could have kissed him. (In fact, I was in my 20s when it came out.)

Griff said...

THE STAR-SPANGLED GIRL is a very funny, even charming play; correctly cast, it can still amuse audiences and draw substantial laughs. It's a minor work, but it works.

The 1971 movie is utterly unimpressive and less funny than a '60s sitcom.

LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS is another very funny play -- basically three one acts about a luckless guy unsuccessfully trying to commit adultery with three very different (and hilariously unsuitable) women. This made James Coco, after years in the theatre, a big star.

The 1972 movie is moribund and morose; a badly photographed stage play. Alan Arkin is wrong (and seems tired) as the guy; the women (Sally Kellerman, Renee Taylor and Paula Prentiss) come off a little better, but the movie is a slog.

But THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE was a dark gem of a play. A lot of this is NOT a comedy, though it consistently drew laughs: an unemployed, middle-aged guy falls into a deep depression and eventually has a nervous breakdown. On Broadway, staged by Mike Nichols, Peter Falk gave a brilliant, moving (and desperately funny) performance as the guy. I'll never forget his performance or this play.

The 1975 film version is really not very good at all. Jack Lemmon (a great actor) connects well with the essential seriousness of the character, but somehow misses expressing the black humor of the piece, and it's hard to say whether director Melvin Frank understands the play. The film also makes the mistake of "opening up" the movie up and showing Manhattan locations; part of the point of the play was how desperately trapped the character felt in his apartment. It's much funnier and more effective for the guy to tell us how New York is falling apart than to actually see it here.

Of the films of Simon's plays, only THE SUNSHINE BOYS really captures something of the emotional complexity of the Broadway original. But I would say that Jack Albertson's great performance on the stage remarkably communicated -- in a subtle way -- the character's underlying rage about having grown old and decrepit; Walter Matthau is wonderful in the 1975 movie, but it's a softer interpretation of the character.

Griff said...

A lot of MURDER BY DEATH is really funny -- it's beautifully cast (except for Truman Capote), well made and the one-liners just keep coming. The ending is disappointing (this is just a sketch, after all, and eventually runs out of gas), but with a crowd this really played well.

THE CHEAP DETECTIVE, however, isn't the sum of its parts (strong Falk and supporting cast, good design, some inspired jokes) in any way; this would have made an amusing ten minute CAESAR'S HOUR (or "Carol Burnett Show") skit, but there's not enough plot or story for this to work as a feature film.

Lemuel said...

@Anonymous Viscount Manzeppi: Are you implying "Night of the Lepus" was a bad movie? Well, yes it was.

Andrew said...

Sorry, I screwed up my earlier comment. The last paragraph is from a TCM summary of the film. It was meant to go earlier, and I forgot to introduce it.

We now return to our regularly scheduled program.

TodBrowning said...

Re: Star Spangled Girl, Walter Kerr famously started his review: "Neil Simon did not have an idea for a play this year. He wrote anyway."

Kendall Rivers said...

@Joseph Scarbrough I definitely agree. Tony Randall and Jack Klugman are just unbeatable as Felix and Oscar. It's extremely rare for a television adaptation of a classic successful movie to outdo the film and stand on its own but the tv Odd Couple does just that.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I suppose titles are more common in dramas then they are in comedies. "Star Trek:TOS" always had a title. "I Mudd," "Amok Time," "The Trouble with Tribbles," etc.
I wasn't a fan of most of the Quinn Martin productions. But one of his trademarks was that the announcer always said, "Tonight's episode...(Fill in the blank)

I've only seen "Murder by Death" on television. It's O.K. I give it two stars, a C+, 6 1/2 out of ten. It has its moments. Yet I still watch it whenever it's on TV.

I agree with RALPH C. It's all subjective.

PAT REEDER: I'm glad you're feeling better. Welcome back.


Kaleberg said...

Then there was the fashion for really long titles epitomized by Naked City's "Today the Man Who Kills the Ants Is Coming".

Anonymous said...

@Joseph Scarborough, Kendall Rivers:

Cap'n Bob said...

Years ago I saw a movie called Forty Carats with Edward Albert (son of Eddie Albert of Green Acres fame) and Liv Ullman. It had exactly one laugh in it. The finest job of bad casting in history, IMHO.

A few years after that I was involved in community theatre and they presented Forty Carats, in which I had a part. It was funny and our audiences agreed. To my disappointment, the one funny line from the movie was not in the play. If it had been, I would have said it.

Craig Russell said...

From an interview on, about the titles of Friends episodes...

"David Crane and Marta Kauffman (Producer of Friends) along with Jeff Greenstein and Jeffrey Klarik earlier co-created a TV series “Dream”. It ran for six seasons on HBO between 1990 and 1996. In one interview Jeff Greenstein said "When Marta & David & Jeff & I did 'Dream On',(TV series) in which we used to spend a lot of time thinking about titles, because they were on-screen at the top of each episode. On "Friends", we decided that was a waste of time. We figured why not name each episode after the thing that people will ostensibly be talking about around the water-cooler the next day?"

thirteen said...

Years ago, I was told that scripts needed titles because the U.S. Copyright Office required them for registration.

To kaleberg, Route 66 was famous for its long, windy episode titles. I think my favorite was "What a Shining Young Man Was Our Gallant Lieutenant," about Glenn Corbett's commander in Vietnam who'd come home with a brain injury that left him thinking he was eight years old. The looie was played by Dick York and his father by John "Nancy Drew's Father" Litel.

Craig Gustafson said...

Responding to Brian:
"As bad as either of these are perceived to be, run at top speed from "The Maltese Bippy", with Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. Another comedy/mystery that has not aged well at all. Strangely, this was rated G and there is blood and several shootings. Quite a surprise in 1969!!"

Why is it a surprise? The sixties were loaded with lethal sitcoms. "Get Smart," "Hogan's Heroes," "The Wild, Wild West" (comedy/adventure) and to a lesser extent "McHale's Navy." The heroes wracked up a huge body count, on shows that were watched by a lot of kids.

Headacher said...

I watched Tony Randall and Jack Klugman as The Odd Couple long before I saw the film with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. When I did see the film, I didn't like Lemmon's take on the Felix Unger character at all. I did like Matthau as Oscar though. The only professional plays I've ever seen were "Christmas Carol" and "Monty Python's Spamalot".

Also, thank-you Ken, for answering my Friday question. -Chuck

Anonymous said...

1. Award winning comedy writers shouldn't do feature-length, multiple-character, detedtive parodies

e.g. For your consideration:
Ron Friedman’s “Murder Can Hurt You” (1980)

Actor Character
Don Adams (voice only) Narrator
Mitchell Kreindel The Man in White
Marty Allen Det. Starkos (Det. Stavros)
Victor Buono Ironbottom (Detective Ironside)
Jimmie Walker Parks the Pusher. (Mark Sanger)
John Byner Hatch ("Hutch" Hutchinson)
Jamie Farr Studsky (David Starsky)
Tony Danza Pony Lambretta (Tony Baretta)
Gavin MacLeod Nojack (Lt. Theo Kojak)
Buck Owens MacSkye (Marshal McCloud)
Connie Stevens Salty Sanderson (Sgt. "Pepper" Anderson)
Liz Torres Mrs. Palumbo (Mrs. Columbo)
Burt Young Lt. Palumbo (Lt. Columbo)

Mr Evanier recently quizzed Mr Friedman here

2. Redford and Fonda should’ve married & had multiple beautiful kids
but his ego - like Joltin’ Joe when wed to Marilyn - might not have allowed it.
(RR had a bit in Fonda’s first feature, Lindsay and Crouse’s “Tall Story” -
a production troubled in part by the fact Jane and director Josh Logan
both had a yen for her co-star, Tony Perkins

Kabe said...

Robin Schiff will be in the "Inside Conan" podcast

James said...

I remember seeing a tape of a stage version of Camelot and it had some humor in it. Then I saw the movie version and even though the same lines are in it, they just fell flat. I'm not sure if it's the delivery or the staging or the editing, but all the humor seems like it was lost.

Mike Doran said...

I think that the last series that did specialty episode titles was Jake And The Fatman, from the turn of the '90s.
They did 103 episodes over five seasons, all titled after standards from the Great American Songbook:
"The Man That Got Away"
"Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?"
"Love Me Or Leave Me"
"What Is This Thing Called Love?"
"They Can't Take That Away From Me"
"The Way You Look Tonight"
"Who's Sorry Now?"
"I Ain't Got No Body"
"God Bless The Child"
"My Boy Bill"
"Let's Call The Whole Thing Off"
"I Cover The Waterfront"
"We'll Meet Again"
... and 90 more of your favorites from the past, each one cleverly tied to the crime story they were telling.
Usually, the Song of the Week was played over the opening credits as the Crime of the Week was being done.
They just don't do stuff like this anymore ...
... and as Hoagy Carmichael said in a commercial: "Maybe they shouldn't!"

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Kendall Rivers Believe it or not, Tony Randall said the same thing about M*A*S*H: the show was much better than the movie. And, it's true. Like you with THE ODD COUPLE, I saw the series adaptation of M*A*S*H long before I ever saw the movie . . . I found the movie was far too disjointed with a choppy storyflow, the actors in their roles weren't as appealing or engaging as the TV cast, and I don't get why it suddenly turns into a football movie in the last quarter of the film.

Randy Horenstein said...

I actually like the idea of mic'ing the players during a game, but the player needs to be really into it. I watched a Fox Sports game when a player actually requested to do two innings, and the announcers were asking him about his defensive strategy for each hitter in real time. It was informative and entertaining. There was also the celebrity golf match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickleson earlier this year where Phil basically gave a golf clinic on certain holes. If you were into golf, even casually, I thought it was very cool to hear how he approached shots and putts, and then to see him execute his plan.

Kyle Burress said...

How soon was it after knowing Cheers was coming to an end that a spinoff (Frasier) was in development? Were there other characters considered and how did it ultimately come down to Frasier?

Secondary question, having been featured much more in the last couple seasons was there a possibility that Paul Willson would have been bumped up to a regular cast member had Cheers continued?

WB Jax said...

It's interesting that MASH, a series that doesn't have titles in it's opening credits, has such clever titles attached to its episodes (thank you, DVR/DVD guide!): "The Novocaine Mutiny," "The Smell Of Music," "Bottle Fatigue," "The Foresight Saga,""Snap/Snappier Judgement" (Klinger court martialed for allegedly stealing a camera), "Your Retention, Please," "Tea and Empathy," "Big Mac" (MacArthur's visit), "Peace on Us," "The Longjohn Flap" (to cite some favorites). Very, very clever stuff (and, more often than not, for standout episodes).

Breadbaker said...

@Randy Horenstein, I guess the question is at what cost? Baseball games often come down to a single play. And seasons to a single game. If a player is mic'd and misses a play, and the team doesn't go to the postseason, is your interest in learning strategy in real time the right price?

Also, baseball's problem is attracting the marginal fan. Is the marginal fan really desirous of hearing this?

Lyense said...


First of all, big fan of your work. Every time I watch Cheers, I can tell if it’s a Ken Levine & David Isaacs script or if it’s a David Angell script or something like that. Lately, I’ve been watching old episodes of the Simpsons, and I noticed that you and David wrote a couple of episodes back in the beginning of the series. What was it like writing for the Simpsons, and how different was writing for animation compared to writing for a sitcom?

Craig Gustafson said...

From James: "I remember seeing a tape of a stage version of Camelot and it had some humor in it."

Same thing with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" The play has a ton of laughs, which get slowly turned off like a water faucet as the evening progresses. The movie is just harrowing.

Pat Reeder said...

To Brian Phillips: I remember seeing "The Maltese Bippy" at a young and impressionable age and what made the biggest impression on me at the time was Julie Newmar in a very low-cut dress. I haven't seen it in ages, but I'll bet that part is as still as good as the day it was released.

To Mike Bloodworth: Thanks for the good wishes. My cough is getting better, what with all the practice.

Greg Ehrbar said...

I barely remember The Cheap Detective except that I seem to recall that it was a showcase for one of Neil Simon's wives. However, I have never forgotten how Eileen Brennan stole the movie in a few minutes, as was her way, with her performance of "A Vie En Rose," introduced here by Scatman Crothers.

Joyce Melton said...

I remember an interview somewhere with Walter Matthau where he said that he was all enthused by the Odd Couple script and told the producer that he couldn't wait to get his teeth into the Felix part. Then the producer told him that they wanted him to play Oscar and he said, "but I could phone that in." :) He also said that probably the reason everyone thought he would be great as Oscar is that without the help of wardrobe and makeup, he generally looked like an unmade bed. :)

flurb said...

I have the opposite reaction to some of the commenters here, who, it would seem, are missing audience reactions. Even in our underpopulated den, I laugh out loud at the movies of "Odd Couple" and "Barefoot." (Neal Hefti's terrific music for both is an extra.) In the latter, Jane Fonda's Corie is fresher and more interesting than any of her other rom-com performances of the era. She plays the kooky role head on, by which I mean she doesn't "comment," and gets her laughs and the audience's sympathy. I think Redford's performance is equally fine - he's playing the stuffed-shirt character rather than delivering the movie-star performance we later got used to seeing in every picture. And Natwick and Boyer are note-perfect.

I would have loved to have seen Art Carney in "Couple", but Lemmon and Matthau together are just great. (We imitate them in our house all the time.) The point (and genius) of the play and film is that these two guys cannot go on living together. The situation can only last until Felix's marriage-mourning is sufficiently concluded. And that's the problem I have with the tv series. Why do they stay together, if they drive each other crazy? Klugman and Randall and the writers built in some extra affection, which helped. But as with most of the Garry Marshall productions, I found most of the supporting characters sketchy and Komic, and I lost interest after the first few seasons.

But we trot out these pictures at least once a year. I guess Simon's best work is like jazz, in Louis Armstrong's definition: if you gotta ask what it is, you'll never know.

mike schlesinger said...

The problem with CHEAP DETECTIVE is that Simon took scenes from various Bogart movies and tried--not entire successfully--to shoehorn them into the narrative, whereas MURDER BY DEATH had its own storyline and simply added the characters to it. It's still funny, but watching them back-to-back reveals CHEAP's shortcomings.

Verbose titles were all the rage in the early 60s; a favorite of mine was NAKED CITY's "Robin Hood and Clarence Darrow, They Went Out With Bow and Arrow." THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW spoofed the trend with a Persky-Denoff episode called "The Sound of the Trumpets of Conscience Falls Deafly on a Brain That Holds Its Ears..."

thirteen said...

I want to point out for the sake of future historians that "The Maltese Bippy" was shot in IIRC 23 days, and the title was the result of a contest mounted to promote the movie. I guess I should also point out that "bippy" was a word coined by Laugh-In to mean whatever smutty thing they wanted it to mean.

I've never seen the film and don 't know if there is an actual bippy in it.

McAlvie said...

Some Simon plays work better on the screen than others. I know nothing about writing either stage plays or screenplays, but they seem to have different pacing, so that no doubt makes a difference. A while back, I think it was even pre-pandemic, so another lifetime has passed, I listened to some of his plays, including Barefoot, done as radio plays or whatever they call them. I was surprised to find I had enjoyed even that more than the movie version. Nothing against Redford and Fonda. I did enjoy The Odd Couple as a movie, though. But that might be the characters played better on screen and of course that amazing pairing of Lemon and Matthau. They were gold together no matter what they were in.

Bob Uecker Is A National Treasure said...

Friday Question: You wrote the post about how some dramatic stars were terrible comedic actors. Obviously part of that is timing -- when to wait a beat on a line, not stepping on another actor's laugh, etc. But is some of it that the dramatic actor is trying too hard to be funny? I've noticed that most great comedic actors (take David Hyde Pierce or Ted Danson) are playing the character seriously with very real motivations/flaws and the character becomes funny based on the situation. But the minute an actor tries to be funny, it absolutely flops. For most of the actors listed, do you think they could have been funny if they had some real coaching?

Tudor Queen said...

I agree with you, Ken, and the questioner, about "Murder By Death," which should have been much funnier than it was.

However, one of my Neil Simon guilty pleasures has always been "The Cheap Detective." Starring Peter Falk, it's a parody of several Humphrey Bogart films rolled into one chaotic mess and it shouldn't work but it does (at least for me). Highlights include Marsha Mason as a too-merry-widow who gets her widow's weeds on the way to see her lover, Eileen Brennan as a sexy chanteuse who does a bang-up version of "La Vie En Rose," Nicol Williamson as an evil Nazi officer in San Francisco trying to catch up with... freedom-seeking restauranteur (?)Fernando Lamas, and my personal favorite, Louise Fletcher's surprisingly effective Ingrid Bergman who delivers my favorite line: "I know now that what was, was, and will never be was again."

Also Stockard Channing, Madeleine Kahn, Ann-Margret, Sid Caesar, Dom DeLuise, Vic Tayback and John Houseman as "Jasper Blubber"

Kendall Rivers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kendall Rivers said...

FQ: You've mentioned Cheers as one of the best pilots ever made. What are your other 4 in your top 5?

Covarr said...

I got to play Paul Bratter in a community theatre production of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK. Before I auditioned, I watched the movie -- Not to see if there was anything I could copy from any of the cast members, not to be influenced by any of the performances, just to get an idea what it was about (I was entirely unfamiliar), what the different characters even were, etc. I was unimpressed, but I auditioned anyway because theatre is life.

When I was cast, I received a copy of the script, and holy crap it was VASTLY better than the movie. A few differences here and there made all the difference; the intro and restaurant scenes added to the movie ruined the pacing. I'm sure the direction had something to do with it as well, and Redford and Fonda had zero chemistry, but just the lack of those two scenes played such a big part in making the play's script better than the film's.

(as an aside, I'm proposing to the gal who played Corie opposite my Paul this Saturday!)