Saturday, October 10, 2020

Weekend Post

I made a comment recently that it was hard to write Norm entrances on CHEERS.  A reader then asked why?  I was going to answer but then found this article by Samantha Highfill of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY.  

She had interviewed me and my writing partner, David Isaacs for another piece on EW but the subject came up in both of our interviews.  I suppose our answers were worthy enough of a whole article.   So that's what I'm posting this weekend.  

You can find it here. 

It's me talking but someone else writing. 

One clarification:  A detail was missing from my description of the HONEYMOONERS episode.  Ralph Kramden studied all week with buddy Ed Norton playing the piano.  But to warm up, Ed would play "Swanee River" before every song. Needless to say, it drove Ralph nuts.  And the big joke was that the first song he had to identify was "Swanee River" and that was the only song in the world he didn't know.  

The rest of it is all true. 


Michael said...

I have probably shared this before, but Jack Benny was the master, of course, and a couple of things related to him fit here.

One is that the line, "Your money or your life/I'm thinking it over," got a huge laugh, but he always said the biggest laugh he ever got on his show was when opera singer Dorothy Kirsten was in an extended discussion with his announcer Don Wilson, an opera buff. Benny knew nothing about opera but had to say something. After about a minute of opera discussion--quite a set-up--he said, "Well, I thought"--and Mary Livingstone said, "Oh, shut up!" And the point was that everybody knew he would say something and everybody knew she would destroy him. He said his best jokes took five years to write. And that's the point with "Norm" and the Cranes.

But the other Benny episode is a tour of Hollywood stars homes, and you hear Dennis talk about him and then sing, and Phil and the band talk about him and then play, and Rochester talk about him at his home, and so on. At the end the driver said, "Here's the home of Jack Benny" and you hear Benny say, "Driver, this is where I get off." That was his only line in the show.

So I thought of the MASH episode where Hawkeye goes to the 8063 and George Lindsey plays his replacement surgeon (and was great, of course). It would have been interesting to have a MASH episode where Hawkeye is the main point of discussion but barely appears. Was that ever discussed?

Charles Bryan said...

So I popped over to Hulu to watch the episode and I'll tell you this: Even knowing what the payoff would be, I still laughed. Great work! The bits where Cliff was describing psycho-killers and Lilith asked about drinks for failures were excellent.

Anonymous said...

Technically, it wasn't that Ralph didn't know Swanee River - he didn't - but it was that he didn't know who wrote Swanee River.
And his answer, after a "humma humma" was Ed Norton? A question, not an answer (and not like Password)
There has never been a better look on a TV character's face than when the announcer tells him what the song is and he realizes it was what Ed played to warm up.And he has no clue - after all that prep and bragging.
then when they drag him off stage -it's classic.
I think the Odd Couple reprised that bit to drag Felix off after he lost on Password. Tony Randall added his own little touch with "What a gyp!" (gyp being a common term meaning something unfair - no longer politically correct).

Mike Doran said...

Part I:
"The $99,000 Answer": When Ralph and Ed were doing their drill in the apartment, there was one other song that Ralph couldn't name.
The "Swanee River" vamp was annoying Ralph no end, and frankly most of the audience was caught short by Art Carney's pianistics (which were very real), but the minipayoff came with Ed's final selection, which Ralph went through the agonies trying to name - and couldn't.
The studio audience did recognize the melody, though - it was "Melancholy Serenade", Gleason's main theme for his Big Show for years (which Jackie didn't use for the Honeymooners series).

Part II:
Jack Benny made a guest appearance on one of Lew Grade's London-made summer shows (can't recall which one *darndarndarndarndarn*).
Jack walks into a British haberdashery to buy a new tie.
He asks the clerk how much the tie costs, and the clerk replies in British currency.
Benny asks, "How much is that in American money?"
The clerk answers, "That would come to thirty dollars."
And Jack Benny freezes in position - holding the tie, leaning on the counter, big friendly smile - for what I'm remembering as about two or three minutes (this was years ago, and I probably have the details wrong, but this is how I'm remembering it).
While Benny is standing there, another customer comes in, and the clerk attends to him; Benny holds his position like a West Point cadet.
I can't recall if this Grade show was ever repeated anywhere, which is a shame, because I'd love to see it again.

Cheryl Marks said...



I am such an idiot. I didn't see that coming even with ALL of the set-up, but boy did I laugh; I almost did a spit take with my coffee.

Thank you Ken - I needed this bad after these last few weeks.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Coincidently, that "Norm" article was the same one from the click-bait I mentioned on Oct. 2nd.

Usually I always try to read everyone else's comments on Ken's blog. But as I've said before once they get around +/- 35 I start to run out if steam. When I logged on to Ken's anniversary blog there were already 65 replies. I checked back a few of minutes later it was up to 84. Once it got above that I gave up. So, if I didn't read your comment it wasn't personal.

Go Lakers! ...And I suppose the Dodgers, too.


Roger Owen Green said...

(Per the interview) So what was Lilith's rejoinder after Frederick's first word?

Troy McClure said...


Agreed, go Lakers! If they win, you'll have every right as a fan to be proud, boy!

Cap'n Bob said...

The height/weight joke, coincidentally, was told by Gleason long before Cheers. After discussing the height/weight tables he said, "I'm not fat; I'm too short."

Rory L. Aronsky said...

So what was Lilith's rejoinder after Frederick's first word?

"He said 'Mommy'!"

VincentS said...

I don't know if anybody else asked you this but I know I did, so thanks again, Ken.

No said...

My favorite "Norm" entrance was this:

Coach: Can I draw you a beer, Norm?

Norm: Nah, I know what they look like, just pour me one.

One-liners work when they connect immediately.

Troy McClure said...

Gal Gadot is Cleopatra. Hell yeah.

Charles Bryan said...

For anyone who might be interested, Robyn Schiff will interview Merrill Markoe via Zoom at 6PM PT on Thursday, October 15.

Dave Wrighteous said...

WOW, I never knew you wrote that episode where Frederick yells "NORM!!!"
That was beyond awesome and one of my favorite Cheers moments, if not THE favorite.
Thank you!! Pure brilliance!

Anonymous said...

Why do they still call it "Entertainment Weekly," when it's now a monthly?

Unknown said...

If I remember correctly, when the baby said Norm, Lilith said "he said Mommy!" and Frazier said at same time, "he said daddy!"

So the joke was great on 2 levels

Saburo said...

Lilith's line to cap that "Norm!" episode was perfection.

The Bubster said...

'My parachute is at the dry cleaners' in Jumping Jerks is a Cheers Top 10.

John Jackson Miller said...

Friday question: Ken, in retrospect, were the story options available to CHEERS writers more numerous because of the low ratings early on? More than anything, I think it was the sheer numbers who saw the final M*A*S*H and Rhoda's wedding that made it impossible for later writers to do anything else — once you done something with a 50 share, you're writing in permanent ink, so to speak. The masses won't let those moments be tampered with; the story's frozen in place.

If the Cheers Season One finale had somehow had a gargantuan record-setting audience, could you have broken Sam and Diane up even once? I suspect just getting those numbers would be a problem most shows would be willing to learn to live with -- but I also think Cheers may have told a better story because it did start out under the radar.

Dana King said...

Thanks for the link to the article. My favorite Norm entrance, which I have stolen a time or two in my life, is when Sam(?) asks, "How's life treating you, Norm?"

"Like it's a dog and I'm wearing Milk-Bone underwear."

Kendall Rivers said...


Recently watched the classic Fresh Prince of Bel Air scene from the episode where Hilary's boyfriend tried to propose to her while bungee jumping and you know the rest. One of the funniest death scenes in television history, up there with the Chuckles the clown episode from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The thing is though I saw quite a few comments from the usual type of lot who of course were offended by the dark humor. My question is, Ken, could a sitcom even have such humor in something as tragic as death today like MTM or Fresh Prince etc? Would a network even let them do that?