Friday, October 16, 2020

Friday Questions

Halfway through October already.  Here are some FQ’s to get you through the weekend.

George starts off with a question about late night rewrites.

Since I assume everyone is fairly tired and burnt out by that stage, do you ever find that the practice is counter-productive?

Yes, and it’s a balancing act.  The bottom line is the actors return to the stage the next morning and need a script.  To push a day would be hugely expensive and not a real option.  

But you’re right.  Writers are not at their best after writing for eight or nine straight hours under pressure while sleep deprived and gorging on Red Vines.  

When David Isaacs and I were show runners, we would usually send everyone home around 1:00 AM and we had to assemble earlier the next day.  The cast would get whatever we had written and new pages throughout the course of the day.  It was a little harder on the cast, but scenes that might’ve taken us two hours to write at 2 AM we polished off in a half hour at 10 AM the next morning.  

We also tried to manage our time as best we could.  If we knew we had a tough new scene to write as part of our work that night we would do it first.  That way we got the hard stuff out of the way and then just tweaked whatever else needed tweaking.  We wouldn’t bog down on one joke at 8 at night and finally get to the tough stuff at 3 AM.  

Late night rewrites are part of the job.  But there are ways of utilizing your staff and time for maximum productivity.  

Paul D. wonders:

Although "The Dick Van Dyke Show" had done it well, when 'M*A*S*H' was made, flashbacks were jokey things used by jokey sitcoms i.e. how Richie and Fonzie first met.

However, since dramas  like "China Beach" and "Lost" started to use the device (along with flash-forwards) so well, do you think you could have successfully used these had it already common at the time? I am thinking in terms of stories/scenes set before the war, not as a way to bring Colonel Blake back.

We never wanted to leave Korea.  That was a creative choice. The members of the 4077th were trapped there, and we wanted to convey that feeling.  There were home movies and letters, but we never went to the mainland.  

There was an episode called “The Party” where relatives of the 4077th put together a stateside reunion and there was some discussion of seeing it.  But ultimately we felt that would be wrong.  We wanted to preserve that feeling of isolation that everyone in the unit felt.  

Now LOST, on the other hand, deliberately wanted to get you off that island.  And flashbacks were a great way to learn about each character and provide some variety.  But remember, LOST was an hour.  A sameness might settle in if you’re in one place for an entire hour.  

I still contend, some of the best storytelling in television was done on LOST.  

From Kyle Burress:

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?

I was pushing for it.  Paul Willson (you see his picture above), was extremely funny.  My guess is things would have stayed status quo unless Paul had an offer to go to another series and then the producers would have had to make a decision.  

I felt bad because just as we were really starting to showcase him more, the series ended.  

But I was and am a huge fan of Paul Willson.  

And finally, from Patrick:

Does an Emmy award even matter anymore now that the general public doesn't watch or care? It seems particularly self congratulatory now that the audience for these award shows has fallen away. Back when an Emmy award could save a show from cancellation it seemed to really matter who won what - now with so many shows on so many platforms - do these awards even matter anymore? (Besides to those who won?)

Well, considering the money that networks and studios shell out for Emmy campaigns I’d say yeah, they do still matter.  

Of course, I like to think they matter since I have one.  

But to the general public?  Just check the ratings for Emmy awards.  Every year they sink to new lows.   So no, I don’t think the general public gives a crap.  Especially now when there are shows and stars they’ve never even heard of.  

But my Emmy is important.  

What’s your Friday Question? 


Barefoot Lance said...

TGIFQ. Best morning of the week.

Glenn said...

I think the closet I can remember to MASH leaving Korea was the "Dreams" episode. For Klinger's dream, we see him walking the streets of Toledo. He peers through a window and sees Potter (in the MASH OR) telling him to get in there.

And speaking of that episode, I consider it one of the more chilling episodes of the whole series. Father Mulcahy standing at the pulpit, as Christ on the cross is replaced with a bloody soldier.... Hawkeye losing both arms and screaming in frustration as choppers arrive... still unsettling to this day.

J. said...

I'd argue that the dropping ratings for the Emmys is not a sign that viewers don't care any longer, but that people watch in different ways than they did in the past. The Emmys Youtube channel gets hundreds of thousands of views for every video. I suspect people are just no longer interested in sitting through a 3 hour broadcast, when they can wait a day and watch just the monologue and award presentations. Also, a lot of people (myself included) don't have cable anymore, so watching the live broadcast is off the table.

Dante's ninth circle said...

My wife and I still love MASH reruns, but that's the one episode we skip. It's an amazing episode, and captures the horrors of war so well, but it's too disturbing for us to watch.

Bob Bergen said...

The Emmys began as a celebration to recognize excellence in television by and for the television industry. The first several years just recognized programming in LA, and the show was only broadcast in LA. It wasn't until the mid 50s the show was broadcast nationally, several years after I Love Lucy debuted.

As television and audiences grew, so did The Emmys, adding categories to correspond with this growth. For decades there were just 3 networks competing, along with a handful of syndicated programs. An award show was an event. These "spectaculars" as they were once called, eventually called "specials" were a one time opportunity to eavesdrop on a dinner party of familiar tv faces dressed to the nines. Everyone knew every show, every star. These familiar faces were a nightly part of everyone's living room.

The vastness that we know of tv today began with cable. There was a time the industry tried to separate cable and network recognition, with cable having their own Cable Ace Awards. Those were eventually phased out with all broadcast programming competing in The Emmys.

Today, it is even more vast with streaming content, new media, etc. Not to mention the fact that in any given moment the viewing audience has thousands of viewing options to choose from. Add on demand viewing habits and the process of enjoying content is as vast as the industry itself. The home audience is not as familiar with many programs, which IMO is one of the reasons they may not tune in to The Emmys. But the voting members of The Television Academy are. Many are fans and even employees of these shows. Many learn of these shows during the voting process.

It is true that ratings are indeed down for The Emmys. But they are down for all award shows, as well as all programming for that matter. The tv industry needs to re-evaluate what is considered a good rating. Gone are the days of the M*A*S*H finale. (which CBS covered at my parent's house as I threw a HUGE party)

I feel we have gone full circle. We are now back to 1949, with the tv industry celebrating and honoring excellence in television by and for itself. Is this self congratulatory? Perhaps. But so is a wedding, or a birthday party. What's wrong with celebrating one's accomplishments? Of course we want the audience to tune in. All shows do. Television today is outstanding. If you are fortunate to be working in tv today, if you feel your work is worthy of recognition, well, that is what Emmy season is really all about. I love the legacy and history of tv. I love the landscape of today's tv, vastness and all. And, I am excited what the future holds for tv. I doubt in 1949 at that first ceremony anyone could conceive the idea of watching programming on what became an iPhone...let alone make a phone call on a device that fits in your pocket.

Bob Bergen
co-Governor, Performers Peer Group at The Television Academy

Dana King said...

I haven't watched any awards shows' for years, but I agree that they're important within the industry. I'm an author with a small press, no national footprint and the general public has no idea about the awards that writers such as myself might get. I'm good with that. I'm also proud that the Private Writers of America has twice short-listed books of mine for their annual Shamus Awards, even if no one outside PI writers and some hardcore readers care. It's always nice to recognized by your peers, whether you're an author or an actor or a well-digger.

Katie G. said...

Outside of Cheers, my favorite Paul Wilson character is the restaurant reviewer on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Do you have any recommendations for good Paul Wilson performances? (Obviously I could google it, but isn't it more fun to have a conversation?)

marka said...

Friday question:

Before I asked your feeling on whether you would watch someone's work who was despicable in some way. Holocaust denier or something like that. But I understand why you didn't answer it. But how about this:

Would you refuse to work with someone who pulled a Mel Gibson or something like that? (I'm using "something like that" because I just can't even type out the despicable things that might be included, I'm just so sick of how things are right now.)

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Why are we now giving Emmy awards to internet shows? Internet and television are two completely different mediums.

Bob Paris said...

Friday Question: There are a few examples where an actor appears on two series at the same time. In the case of Richard Deacon, he was on the Dick Van Dyke Show and Leave It To Beaver when their production overlapped for three seasons. Why would a producer cast an actor already working on a show and open themselves up to scheduling issues where the actor may be unavailable due to being needed on the other show?

Mibbitmaker said...

Re: MASH leaving Korea: One of the exceptions is the rare cases where we see characters in Tokyo first hand. When Hawkeye and trapper looking for Henry's desk or an incubator are examples, or meeting Dr. Vorelli, introducing Charles Winchester, and seeking out "The Moon Is Blue" (the latter a wonderful throwback to earlier episodes). But again, those weren't very common and showed the limits to how far and long they could escape Korea. Even Hawkeye and Trapper escapades in Tokyo were most often relayed through verbal storytelling, better to convey the outlandishness of their antics.

Anonymous said...

Joseph S. expresses a view that is incorrect, and becoming more so all the time. To audiences, if we can watch a show on our TV sets, it's a TV show; we give it no more thought (nor should we). NBC, HBO, Netflix, Roku, YouTube -- it's all the same thing to an audience. The only thing that matters is that it's entertaining.

-- Damian

Roseann said...

I do know that when I was working on a show that won an Emmy or an actor I was working with won an Emmy it was a really exciting time. We all were really proud.

DBA said...

Of course the Emmys are self-congratulatory. They're awards by the industry for the industry. It's the pros at this acknowledging the best of themselves. The ratings getting lower might just mean the general public isn't waiting with baited breath for this stuff. That's totally separate from whether the awards are important. It's tangential that at some point someone realized there could be money to be made by broadcasting the awards, but the awards don't exist to be broadcast. It makes no sense to judge their importance by the popularity of the broadcast.

Unknown said...

We need more award shows.
Just say'n

Michael said...

If I'm correct, they showed Margaret calling from Tokyo when she had met Donald. But, yes, they kept it in Korea almost completely, which made it even tougher, I suspect, considering the show about a three-year war lasted 11 years.

And that's a reason that the dreams episode stands out and is, for me, one of their greatest and most difficult, as suggested by others. Alda once said they got some flak for it but they were trying to convey that there was simply no escape--and a lovely subtle detail is that Hawkeye's medical school class is in the mess tent, and Charles, sitting beside him, is wearing the cap that Father Mulcahy and Radar teamed to get for him. It took guts to do that episode. But you can be gutsy when you're top-rated!

Craig Russell said...

The EMMY telecast might be irrelevant, but the award itself still matters. Schitts Creek? Hardly anyone outside of Canada ever saw it's in Syndication...probably set up way before its big win. And they sure are reaping the benefits, whether anyone saw them win all the awards. People have still HEARD about all the awards.

Nevin ":-)" said...

I think there is a difference between the Emmy Awards show itself and being nominated / winning an Emmy.

In these pandemic days of increased TV viewing, getting an Emmy is one of the factors on giving a show not yet viewed a chance. My personal combination is looking at writers and show runners of shows I already enjoy (this blog helped teach me that -- really), recommendations of friends, actors who make strong choices, and award winners (assuming I've heard of the award).

As for the awards show itself, we did watch it this year, but I would not have particularly cared if I missed it.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Paul Wilson is also a member of the improv group "Off the Wall." I met him once after a performance. He's a nice guy.
But it's logical that supporting characters might become more prominent as a series progresses. After all, you can only do so many Norm and Vera jokes or Cliff and his "ma" jokes or how dumb is Woody jokes. You need to add a little new blood to keep things fresh.

From a viewer's point of view I don't think an EMMY© means that much. That is, if I like a show I'll watch it regardless of wether it had a dozen EMMYS© or zero. The reverse is also true. A couple of days ago someone brought up "The West Wing." I looked it up. It won 26 EMMYS©, yet I never watched it. Of course back when there were only three networks and everyone was watching the same programs the EMMYS© were much more of a collective experience.
At one time at NBC there was the inside joke, "Congratulations. You're cancelled." Meaning that a show would win an EMMY© and in the same note would receive a cancellation notice.

It's 10 in the morning or 10 a.m. But not "10 a.m. the next morning." You know better than that, Ken.


Troy McClure said...

It was great seeing Paul Willson in Office Space, one of the funniest comedies of the 90s.

Troy McClure said...

Phil Collins is the latest recording artist to issue a cease and desist letter to the orange turd's campaign after they played one of his songs without authorization.

At this point, the only singers left who won't mind being associated with that monster are Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, and, as I recently discovered, Eric Carmen. Looks like being a hasbeen has had a terrible effect on Carmen.

Brian Stanley said...

I felt the increasing use of Paul Wilson was one of the indications the main Cheers characters had gone as far as they could and it was a good time to end the series when they did.

Unknown said...

Bob Newhart received an Emmy for his first show, after it was canceled. So it can fill a shelf, but not keep a show going. But hey, I would like to win one!

But look at it another way. You are creating a show, you have 2 resumes in front of you, one who worked on a show that won multiple Emmys, and one that didn't win any. Who would you hire? Of course, the person who didn't win, they are cheaper.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Damian Just because you can watch something on a TV screen doesn't mean it was made for the medium of broadcast television. Theatrical movies were made for the cinema (which is a different medium), though you can watch them on TV. Musicals and plays are made for the stage (which is a different medium), though you can watch them on TV. Web shows are made for the internet (which is a different medium), though you can watch them on TV. Not to mention, each of these different mediums have their own awards: movies have Oscar's, stage shows have Tony's, and television has Emmy's . . . either the internet needs its own separate awards ceremony, or let's just do what I've long suggested: just do away with all of these separate awards and just stick exclusively with Golden Globes, since they apparently cover all of that, plus more, anyway.

Bob S. said...

The main reason I gave up on Lost in the second season was that I was so tired of the flashbacks - it seemed like the show was treading water and wasting my time instead of advancing the plot.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

It is very popular on Netflix. That's why it won. I was just as gobsmacked as you were. It was a CBC show, so I avoided it like you know what. Now Corner Gas, why that show didn't win, I don't know.

Kirk said...

I believe there were four of those home movies that you mentioned. Henry Blake's was the first, then Frank Burns, then Radar's, and finally BJ's (though BJ doesn't appear in his home movie, just his wife and child. As for Radar's, we don't see him, but we DO see Gary Burghoff.) I think those movies were an extremely clever way of leaving Korea while at the same time reminding you that all the characters were trapped in Korea. Also, it reminded you that the show did take place in the 1950s, which was an easy thing to forget when usually all you saw were the characters walking around in their military garb amidst military tents and the like, neither of which was particularly evocative of the decade.

Anonymous said...

How do you handle actors whose characters are the object of jokes about being, fat, ugly, or stupid?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

J: If you're not in too rural an area, maybe try hooking up an antenna to receive the broadcast?


purplepenquin said...

Friday Question: Who picks the "clips" for a clip-show? Do the writers write a story & then search through old episodes for scenes that would fit in with it, or are they told to use specific clips & then the writers have to find a way to tie 'em all together?

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

Hey Ken,

Hope you and yours are well.

Have been rewatching WKRP, realized the MTM connection to you and your partner David.

I wish you had written for them. Any WKRP stories?


David P said...


Ken wrote a blog entry on "Why I didn't work on WKRP IN CINCINNATI". You can find it at:

Kendall Rivers said...

FQ: Been watching reruns of Wings every Sunday night on Antenna Tv lately and have made it to season 7 which was right when Lowell left the show and was replaced by Bud the replacement mechanic. I'm curious why the choice was made to basically have a clone of Lowell with this new character when conventional wisdom usually says it's better to replace characters with characters completely opposite of them. Personally I find the character just a poor man's Lowell and the actor just doesn't have what Thomas Haden Church had.

DBenson said...

Another Friday question: Richie's older brother on "Happy Days" is famous for vanishing from the series without a trace, but "Cheers" seemed to have a few as well. Coach's daughter appeared once, and I think was mentioned once thereafter. Rebecca had a sister who was a horror movie star, who I don't think was ever mentioned again. Sam's brother, the off-camera overachiever and rival for Diane, was likewise never mentioned again to my knowledge.

Were there discussions of bringing any of them back, or conscious decisions to pretend they never existed? Is there a reason to erase a character rather than dismiss him/her with a line ("Look! Elmer sent a postcard from Antartica!")?

On a related topic, what was the trickiest bit of retrofitting you ever had to do?