Friday, November 27, 2020

Black Friday Questions

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving even if it was a little weird this year.  Enjoy some leftover Friday Questions. 

Jay starts us off with a little something different.

Hey Ken,
Pointless (and fun?) Friday question/survey for you:

Name a movie you like or love that the rest of the world universally hates:

That’s easy. SHOWGIRLS.  The funniest movie ever that’s not meant to be funny for a second.  Nudity and laughs.  You’d have to go back to RETURN OF THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS to find that combination.  

Name a movie a bad movie that you *know* is bad and yet you'd still sit down to watch it:

AT LONG LAST LOVE.   Peter Bogdonavich’s mangled attempt at a sophisticated throwback musical.  Cybill Shepherd attempting to sing is up there in yucks with YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.  

Name a movie you absolutely hate and would never watch again:


Kendall Rivers asks:

As a writer myself I'm curious about your process with outlines? Do you include dialogue and go into supreme detail or just do beats with no dialogue etc?

It depends on the project.  For television I outline extensively, adding lots of possible dialogue.  You’re under such time constraints that you need to have every beat well worked out in front.

For plays, I want my characters to have room to take me where they want to go.  So I might work off essentially a beat sheet.   

What I normally do is start with the bare bones then keep filling in more detail in each scene.  Eventually I reach the point I think I’m ready to start writing and go from there.  

But I’m very tough on my outlines and change them constantly.  I’m always looking to make the story better.  Story is primary in my estimation.  

From William Adams:

Opening Credits range from excellent (Cheers, Deadwood, etc.) to cookie-cutter (Three's Company, Full House, etc.) to (lately) non-existent. Who is responsible for putting together the opening sequence? Is it a writer, a producer, or maybe the network marketing team? Do you have any favorites?

Usually the show runner.  There are some production companies that specialize in opening titles like Castle-Bryant, who did CHEERS.  But since there are fewer shows with opening titles, these production houses are becoming endangered species.  

My all-time favorite is MASH.  Then maybe CHEERS, MIAMI VICE, THE JEFFERSONS, BONANZA, and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.  And I’m sure I’m forgetting some other favorites.  

And finally, Unknown (please leave a name) asks:

What was the most political script you ever wrote/episode you directed?  In a sitcom like MASH, Almost Perfect or Big Wave Dave, were there times where you felt, 'I'd like to squeeze a topical political issue into this for the laugh value’?

David Isaacs and I wrote two pilots about the White House Press Corps (first for ABC then for HBO).  I’ve talked about those a few times on the blog and podcast.  

There were certainly politically charged episodes of MASH that we wrote.   Practically all of them.

We wrote an election episode of THE TONY RANDALL SHOW.   Tony’s character runs for Superior Court Justice.  His opponent dies during the campaign and beats Tony anyway.

I directed five episodes of LATELINE, starring Al Franken that was very much a political show.  

On BIG WAVE DAVE’S and ALMOST PERFECT we were way more interested in exploring relationships than politics.  But a number of feminism issues did come up in ALMOST PERFECT.   Nancy played a character who was the boss of an all male writing staff on a male-oriented cop show.  

Stay safe this weekend.  What’s your Friday Question? 


Todd Everett said...

I sort of disagree on “Showgirls.” While many of the principals - including writer Joe Eszterhas - may not have been in on the joke, I believe that Director Paul Verhoeven knew exactly how funny it was. About the same time he was doing Robocop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers...all very funny genre pictures. Plus, Showgirls was blessed with the presence of Gina Gershon, whom I see as a great, though subtle, comic actor. And why doesn’t SHE work more?

I am perfectly serious about the above.

I also believe that Ishtar gets a bad rap, with people reviewing the budget, not the picture.

FFS said...

Question from a non-writer. What the hell is a "beat"?

Kendall Rivers said...

Thanks for that! I myself rarely do outlines because I'm usually comfortable just doing everything in my head then just scripting it as I go but I know I need to learn to outline and to outline extensively. Also, I will definitely add WKRP in Cincinnati, The Rockford Files, Good Times, Barney Miller, The Bob Newhart Show, Martin seasons 4 and 5, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Magnum, PI, Perry Mason, Matlock, The Odd Couple, Hill Street Blues, Homicide: Life on The Street, Three's Company, Green Acres, Hogan's Heroes and Sanford and Son if we're talking greatest Tv theme songs.

Troy McClure said...

I haven't seen Showgirls yet but Basic Instinct 2 is one of the unintentionally funniest films ever made.

Max said...

Re opening credits: my favorite is ALL IN THE FAMILY, with the two stars singing the theme song live in front of the audience.

WB Jax said...

Friday Question for you, Ken: Just watched several of the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts the writing for which, I felt, ranged from cringeworthy to sensational. Wondered if you knew how those writers were able to tailor the humor to specific personalities (especially to people like Foster Brooks, Red Buttons). Was all of this scripted? Peter Falk did an amazing "Columbo" bit on the Frank Sinatra tribute and it seemed it was improvised in character (as he didn't appear to be looking at a teleprompter). In a case like this, would Falk have been "written?"

Daniel said...

My favorite credit sequences include The United States of Tara, Six Feet Under, and the new Chuck Lorre show B Positive.

Favorite theme songs are an entirely different category. The Nanny would show up on both lists, I’m afraid.

Paul Gottlieb said...

Two opening credit sequences I loved were "Hill Street Blues" and "The Rockford Files." The great music and imaginative opens captured the spirit of both shows perfectly

thirteen said...

If we're talking about unintentionally funny films, then the all-time champ (and certainly my favorite) is The Ten Commandments.

Wally said...

@FFS essentially, a 'beat' is a moment of action. search for 'tv outline sample' and you'll get some further info.

Wally said...

John August posted a pilot outline for "dc" that did not get picked up

No 2 outlines are alike, tho.

Canadian Dude said...

My all-time favourite TV series opening is THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. Funny, beautifully paced, and it establishes so much about the main characters and the style of the show in a mere 20 seconds

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Here's a seasonal Friday question for you:

It seems like many shows out there, particularly in recent years, make it a tradition to do holiday-themed episodes every season (Halloween and Christmas . . . and maybe others like Valentine's Day or Thanksgiving). But then, there are some shows that have gone for their entire runs with nary a single holiday episode whatsoever. What are your thoughts and feelings about doing holiday episodes, and the frequency (or lack thereof) of such?

Also, just out of curiosity, as a Jewish writer, do you ever find yourself having thoughts like, "Man, I wish a holiday like Hanukkah was more marketable so I could write a hilarious episode about So-and-so accidentally knocking over their Menorah and starting a fire the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Burning Bush!"?

Brian Phillips said...

At the risk of getting Facebook-y/listicle, I am quite fond of the Prisoner for opening credits, but an obscure one is the first season of Human Target, helped by the amazing music of Bear McCreary.

Brian Phillips said...

WB Jax: For information about the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, take a look at this:

Buttermilk Sky said...

Unintentionally funny: Have you ever seen THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL? Gregory Peck as Dr. Mengele and it just gets crazier from there.

Opening sequences: I always wondered how much work it was to change the opening of MASH when Mike Farrell replaced Wayne Rogers. He's onscreen for about a second -- was it a major re-shoot with chopper and all?

There have been so many hour-long dramas about brilliant, dedicated, courageous lawyers -- have you considered a sitcom about the kind of lawyers Trump hires?

Jeff Boice said...

For opening credits, I would have to go with Andy Griffith and then Get Smart, because the latter seems to have influenced the design of every Federal building constructed over the last 40 years.

ODJennings said...

Wild Wild West had great credits. If you recall, the show opened wth generic artwork filling a series of boxes, and then as the story progressed, at each commercial break the generic art would be replaced by a scene from the show. By the end you had a little recap of the action. Innovative and I don't think it's ever been repeated.

ODJennings said...

"There have been so many hour-long dramas about brilliant, dedicated, courageous lawyers -- have you considered a sitcom about the kind of lawyers Trump hires?"

AMC and Better Call Saul beat you to it.

Steve Bailey said...

You mentioned Cybill Shepherd's lack of singing skills. I read once that Peter Bogdanovich (who was, of course, her boyfriend at the time) produced an album of Shepherd singing some classic oldies. He sent the album around to various celebrities, hoping they'd give the album a rave review that he could print on the album cover. One of the people P.B. sent the album to was Frank Sinatra, who returned it with a note that read, "Some guys will do anything to ball a broad."

blinky said...

I just read that Suzanne Sommers was fired for asking for a raise on Three's Company when John Ritter was making 5 times as much as her. Were there any gender biased pay inequities on Cheers or Mash?

Ed from SFV said...

The Jetsons' open was an all-timer. For pure music, I have to admit I loved the Partridge Family theme with the Cassidys, Shirley (Jones) and David.

Two that always stood out to me for being smart, soft, and sentimental, were Room 222 (Gene Reynolds at the helm!) and The Courtship of Eddie's Father.

Michael said...

Friday question: If Shelly Long had not left CHEERS, do you think Diane and Sam would have ended up together in season six or would their relationship continue to have been dragged out? Also, would the show been able to last as long it did?

Steve said...

Ken, I want to see you answer FFS's question

Anonymous said...

Peter Bogdanovich produced an album called “Cybill Does It ... To Cole Porter” — a collection of unexpurgated Porter tunes.
For liner notes, he was able to secure submissions from four Porter pals — two of the greatest interpreters of Porter on stage/film, the star of the first Porter biopic, and America’s greatest director, who’d created a Broadway show with Porter.

What may have escaped the attention of Cybill and Pete - perhaps overly grateful for having gathered such celebrated blurbists — is the subtly amusing faint praise damning-

Astaire finds the album “intriguing” and Cybill “sensational” — but not at singing
Grant comments on neither the quality of the album nor the singer
Kelly calls Cybill a “beauty of a singer” — which is not quite the same as saying she’s a beautiful singer.
And Welles offers no verdict — even as to the singer’s ability to spell her own name.


This is really an intriguing album. It’s different—and I’m sure that’s one of the things Cole would have liked about it. The girl is sensational and the boy is O.K. too.
— Fred Astaire
I only wish Cole could have heard it.
— Cary Grant
I used to think Cybill was a beauty but now I know she’s a beauty of a singer, too.
— Gene Kelly
Way back yonder, when some of the great songs in this album were censored and even banned on the radio, I was living it up as The Shadow (‘Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?’). Week after week, just before the closing commercial, I solved another mystery. What I failed to do, year after year, was to solve the commercial. Why should the sponsor wish his product to be known as ‘Blue Coal’? Roses are red, but not of necessity, and except at Valentine’s, violets are violet. Of coal, it seemed to be even more fundamentally true that it simply had to be black. It might be beautiful, but how could it be blue? A blonde beauty — who appears to know even better than he does what evil lurks in the hearts of men — may now have come up with a clue to the mystery which for so long has baffled even The Shadow. Has Cybill Shepherd cleared herself of the charge that she doesn’t know how to spell her own name? She doesn’t need to. What she has most triumphantly spelled out for us is ... Blue Cole — in the most delicious sense of both those words. And all of his.”
— Orson Welles

sanford said...

I assume Tony Randall was running for a State Supreme Court seat. You don't run for the country's Supreme Court. I am sure it is pretty rare to lose to a dead person but it happened this year. I think it was for a seat in a state legislature.

VP81955 said...

Orson was a close friend of Carole Lombard when both were at RKO (in fact, she was considered for the lead in his unmade adaptation of the comic film "The Smiler With A Knife") and raved about her intelligence as an actor in Peter Biskind's book about Welles' conversations with Henry Jaglom. Through Bogdanovich, Welles became pals with Shepherd (one of the last things he did was to introduce a black-and-white episode of "Moonlighting"), but I fear he may have persuaded Cybill to believe she was her generation's Carole. While she could sing better than Lombard (who was dubbed in nearly all her films and only sang in "Swing High, Swing Low" at the insistence of director Mitchell Leisen), she was no Carole by any means -- on or off screen.

KB said...


Beats basically means, "this happens. Then this happens. Then this happens..."

You then put those beats into scenes. Add dialogue.

KEN enters in a huff. KEN: "When will these Friday Questions stop being about MASH or Cheers all the time?!" Ken's dog ELVIS looks up at him. ELVIS: "Sometimes they ask about your baseball announcing career." KEN: "I guess you're right. (THEN) Holy shit! Since when can you talk?!" Ken grabs a glass of water and throws it in his face. KEN: "Nope not dreaming. What other classic cliches can I do? Oh! Elvis, pinch me!" Blah blah blah until you move on to the next scene.

Lorimartian said...

I loved the opening credit sequence for "Silicon Valley" and was sorry to see the series end its run although happy that, as a viewer, I discovered the show and Thomas Middleditch.

ScarletNumber said...

> Nudity and laughs. You’d have to go back to RETURN OF THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS to find that combination.

If you are referring to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, it was written by Roger Ebert.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Ah yes, little known factoid Roger Ebert made a porno. :P

Ere I Saw Elba said...

I listen to the intro themes to shows every time, especially MASH and CHEERS, which are practically spiritual.

Friday question: What would be your personal theme song, if you got to have one?

Pat Reeder said...

"Cybill Does It...To Cole Porter" (was there ever a more apt title?) is one of the prime entries in "Hollywood Hi-Fi," my book about bizarre and little-known celebrity recordings. My favorite comment about it was definitely Cary Grant's, "I only wish Cole could have heard it." Talk about a line with a double meaning. Cybill has made other albums, and there's also a soundtrack LP of "At Long Last Love" that I have, of course. It comes in handy for driving off lingering party guests.

To Joseph Scarbrough: one of my pet peeves is when sitcoms go all out with Halloween episodes in which the characters have elaborate costumes and decorations that they couldn't possibly afford. "Roseanne" was the worst offender. The Conners couldn't afford food, rent or vaccinations for the kids, but they had more horror paraphernalia than the Universal Studios prop department.

Ken: you are wise to stay away from political humor. I write topical humor for a living, and I'm under no delusions that my material in that area will stand the test of time. Have you listened to a Bob Hope monologue from the 1940s recently? You have to be a history nut like me to make sense of it. My best friend programs an all-comedy radio format, and he tells me that a number of young comics tell him that they want to do more political humor. He asks, "Do you know who Mort Sahl is?" None of them do. He used to be hot because he was as topical as that day's newspapers. And that's why he never gets played on the comedy radio format today.

Craig Gustafson said...

"Name a movie a bad movie that you *know* is bad and yet you'd still sit down to watch it:"

"Skidoo." 1968. It has:
* Jackie Gleason going on an acid trip.
* Carol Channing attempting to seduce Frankie Avalon. She's in her underwear.
* Groucho Marx, wearing a bad toupee and his greasepaint mustache, smokes a joint with Austin Pendleton (when he isn't reading his lines off of cue cards.)
* "Batman" fans: here are the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and the Joker (Cesar Romero), directed by Mr. Freeze (Otto Preminger.) They don't interact.
* Comic stooge Arnold Stang is shot in the head, his corpse left for Gleason to find. Oh, the hilarity!
* Songs by Harry Nilsson, including the Garbage Can Ballet and the end of the film, where he sings ALL of the credits.
* Michael Constantine, the gentle high school principal of "Room 222," plays a serial rapist with the immortal line about LSD, "Hey, maybe if I took some of that stuff, I wouldn't have to rape anybody no more!"
* In a more serious mood? You want George Raft and Peter Lawford? They're here.
* In his final film, veteran straight man Fred Clark, on acid with Harry Nilsson, and with no discernable drug experience, plays it (in Bob Hope Special fashion) as wildly drunk.

The joys of this film are endless. Although, to be fair, even in a terrible film Gleason is a terrific actor, and Nilsson's song, "I Will Take You There" is very nice. And as has been pointed out, nobody sets out to make a bad film. Everybody is doing their best.

In his final Playboy interview, Gleason admitted that he had talked Groucho into doing the movie.
INTERVIEWER: Did he ever forgive you?
GLEASON: I don't think so.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Pat Reeder What I'm curious about is when characters on a show dress up as other copyrighted characters from other properties and franchises . . . I could see it if the characters they dress up as are also owned by the same company that owns the show, but suppose it's a character owned by another company? Is there any kind of legality involved with that? Like, say a character on a show owned by Viacom dresses up as a character owned by Disney, for example.

mike schlesinger said...

Showing my age, but two of my favorite title sequences are from JONNY QUEST and THE OUTER LIMITS. And for theme songs, it's also tough to beat 77 SUNSET STRIP (snap, snap).

JoeyH said...

I always liked the Quinn Martin show openers where the week's actors were visually identified. For instance:

Greg Ehrbar said...

@Pat Reeder - I have both the Hollywood Hi-Fi book and it's sparkling companion CD. To quote Milton Berle, Cybill Shepherd "was never better."

For The Jetsons big-screen movie, it's become legendary that Tiffany's manager pressured Universal, who was bankrolling the film, who pressured Hanna-Barbera to toss out Janet Waldo's finished dialogue so the pop star could speak as well as sing for Judy Jetson. Guess what else? The execs also wanted to dump the theme song in favor of opening with a Tiffany pop song "to get the kids" but composer John Debney assured them as much as possible that the theme song was iconic and there would be a cheer as soon as the first few notes came on the screen. They reluctantly agreed. I was in theater to hear the cheer, though the movie that followed wasn't as good as, say, "Rockin' with Judy Jetson."

When The Addams Family first became a movie, the execs did not want to use that moldy old TV theme song for their hot new movie. It was decided to test it with trailers. One of the trailers was a blank screen with nothing but the "snap, snap" music. The crowd went wild. Well, duh.

NBC wanted nothing to do with The Smurfs. "Kids today" wouldn't want to watch some little blue fairytale characters in simple, gentle adventures. They wanted hot, contemporary action and super heroes. Hanna-Barbera got it through with a great pilot film. One exec said it would not air unless the classical-style music was replaced with that hot, rock and roll music to "get the kids." Time was running out until the exec suddenly disappeared from NBC and the show was rushed onto the air before another exec could reapear. The Smurfs ran for nine years with 272 episodes. They got the kids.

Greg Ehrbar said...

@ Joey H
The Quinn Martin shows were a godsend to actors because of the way their images were presented on screen at the very beginning, while the announcer spoke their names. What a break for getting more work! Most shows put the names at the end and not everyone read the end credits, even back when it was possible to read them more easily. It wasn't just the stars but also the character actors.

I, for one, was glad to learn how to pronounce Alf Kjellin.

Kendall Rivers said...

@Michael I think I can answer that one for you. Hell no lol. I've seen the Charles Brothers' academy archives interviews and both have said that they all were getting a little bored with the Sam\Diane dynamic and didn't know where to go because they definitely weren't going to get them married. Imo as a Rebecca Howe fan, as great as Shelley was as the erudite bore with a heart of gold Diane Chambers, the show needed a fresh shot in the arm and love her or hate her, without Kirstie Alley's Rebecca I think the show wouldn't have made it past the sixth season.

Unknown said...

Friday Night Question offering -- you've mentioned your work on the Tony Randall Show; it was something I remember clearly enjoying as a pre-teen. The re-occurring Mario Lanza repetitive exchange made me giggle. It had a great cast and Randall as a lead fuss-budget, in the Jack Benny position as being the butt of many jokes, was perfect. Can you offer up more info of that experience and how you found it?
As to title sequences, which isn't just about the theme song, I go to many of the ones you mentioned Ken, and add the original Hawaii 5-0 and Adam-12, seasons 1-2...
Happy Black Friday weekend!

McTom said...

Flipside question - what was the most awful, laziest, phoned-in head credits sequence ever?
My vote: