Friday, November 13, 2020

Friday (the 13th) Questions

It’s Friday the 13th but so far a very lucky month.  Here are Friday (the 13th) Questions:

Blinky starts us off.

We were looking for a new comedy to watch and saw UNICORN with Justified's Walton Goggins. The pilot was laugh out loud funny but after that, the later episodes collapsed into a made for Hallmark channel, Family Values, Treacle infested blob of cliched mediocrity. It was as though they had A-list creatives for the pilot and then handed it off to a Liberty University creative writing 101 class. How can a show end up being so different from the pilot? (Plus I saw it was renewed for a another season.WTF?)

The writers have months to write the pilot then must slam the rest of the season together in short order.  The show runner is bombarded with network and studio notes, he might be forced to put writers on his staff not of his own choosing, change the tone of the series based on testing, and the show runner might not be adept at guiding a series.

As for THE UNICORN, I can’t speak to that.  I don’t know any of the particulars, don’t know anyone associated with that show.   Are the writers not delivering?  Are the actors constantly complaining?  Are the notes suffocating?  Is the production schedule too short?  Is the show runner not organized?  Are they getting mixed signals from the network, studio, and testing?  I have no idea.

Then there’s the other thing to consider:  Maybe it’s just you and the subsequent episodes are connecting with an audience.  I don’t watch the show myself so I can’t personally weigh in one way or the other.  But if it got picked up, they must be doing something right.  

Mike Bloodworth asks.

Have You and David (Isaacs) ever inserted an "inside" joke into a script that no one else would get, but that makes you laugh every time you hear it?

Only all the time.  We’d work in names of girlfriends, pets, friends, former teachers, former colleagues, relatives, grudges, you name it.  

Moral: Be nice to writers. 

From Mark:

When it comes to radio broadcasters flying solo -- no records, no partners, no guests – just one person alone talking into a mic late into the night, who would be in your hall of fame? Arthur Godfrey? Henry Morgan? Jean Shepherd? Possibly Phil Hendrie though he’s kind of in a genre to himself.

Who am I missing?

All that you mentioned, although Godfrey was a well-known asshole in the industry.  

Names I would add (and it’s a very incomplete list) would include Doug McIntyre, Vin Scully, Paul Harvey, Ray Briem, Garner Ted Armstrong, and Ronn Owen.

And finally, from Troy McClure:

One of my favorite character actors is Stephen Root. He can do comedy and drama, and he was terrific in the Frasier episode Detour. Have you ever worked with him?

Not really, but he’s always been one of my favorite actors too.  

He just morphs into whatever role he plays and whatever genre.   He’s TV’s answer to John Lithgow or Gene Hackman.

I’m currently loving him in BARRY and PERRY MASON.  He plays judges a lot — notably in JUSTIFIED and THE GOOD WIFE.  And I first noticed him in OFFICE SPACE and NEWSRADIO.   I knew I was a big fan when he made me laugh more than Phil Hartman.  

Someday I’d love to work with him.  Hey, Stephen, you free? 

Don’t walk under any ladders today.  What’s your FQ?  


bmfc1 said...

I strongly disagree with Blinky. "The Unicorn" started strong and stayed strong. Perhaps it was too warm and family-focused for Blinky's taste but I love the characters and was invested in their stories. I happily watched S1 for a second time and Netflix and enjoyed the S2 premiere very much. Different strokes for different folks, Blinky.

Troy McClure said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken. I recently rewatched one of my favorite films, Ghost. Stephen Root played a cop, and even in that one small scene he was terrific.

On a different subject, did you read the recent twitter thread by screenwriter Brian Koppelman telling the story of when he and his writing partner David Levien were working on the script for a Sean Connery movie that never got made? Although he doesn't mention him by name, the shitty director who pissed Connery off and resulted in him quitting the project was Brett Ratner. Ratner claims Connery decided to retire to write his memoirs, but the real story is he's a hack who angered Connery with his incompetence. The funniest quote is Connery referring to Ratner as a bucket of smoke.

Anonymous said...

I'll second enjoying s1 of the Unicorn. Yes it's sweet but enjoyable. I'll also add if you want a nice, relaxing, charming comedy, try Rosehaven, based in Tasmania and the opening scene is always an aerial of the town Rosehaven and that alone drops my blood pressure a few points. Any small town comedy that has a 24hr Emergency Butcher gets me laughing.

Wm. Adams said...

FQ: Opening Credits range from excellent (Cheers, Deadwood, etc.) to cookie-cutter (Three's Company, Full House, etc.) to (lately) non-existant. 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?

Chris K said...

I'll third the Unicorn recommendations. It's a solid sitcom that's part of the comedy TV anchor (with Young Sheldon) in my household.

M Shayler said...

Since Mark mentioned Jean Shepherd in his question about solo radio announcers, it's worth noting that Shepherd, on his Christmas Eve 1974 show on WOR, read his original text of the story of a boy who wanted a BB gun ; nine years before the movie "A Christmas Story".

Mike Doran said...

M. Shayler:
Jean Shepherd's BB gun story story appears in toto in Shep's 1966 book, In God We Trust - All Others Pay Cash.
According to the copyright page, the story appeared in Playboy in 1964; I believe we may safely assume that Shep might have done it on the air a time or two before that.
Like just about everybody else in the business, Jean Shepherd had his 'greatest hits', available for use at any and all times.

I first heard Shep on radio in the early '60s; here in Chicago, Dan Sorkin played some of his early LPs on his early morning radio show on WCFL ("1000 On Your Dial!").
WCFL was the home station of the Chicago White Sox, who were the subject of a Shepherd monolog called "Balls", which celebrated such South Side legends as Bullfrog Bill Dietrich, Mike Kreevich, and Banana Nose Zeke Bonura.
That was enough to hook a South Side Irish kid in the '60s ...

Kendall Rivers said...

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

ScarletNumber said...

You might have to be from New Jersey to appreciate this, but here is Jean Shepherd's TV piece on Route 22, which runs out of Newark Airport out to Pennsylvania. The beginning stretch is famous for having stores not only on each side, but in the middle of the road, including one shaped like a ship!

Jim S said...

Friday question Ken.

Are there any genres you'd like to tackle. For example, Alexa Junge wrote for both Friends and The West Wing. Two very different styles of shows.

So, say, someone you knew said "we're bringing back Columbo and looking for writers with all different kinds of experience, would you care to take a crack?"

Would you? Are there genres you would wish to avoid?


Sparks said...

FQ: When a show gets rerun or put into syndication, who gets residual payments? I assume it depends to some degree on one's agent, but generally, who? Stars, director, writers?

Chris said...

I loved Stephen Root who did a couple of the voices on King of the Hill and he also played a Klingon Captain in 2 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Truly versatile.

Pat said...

So glad that you mentioned Doug McIntyre. He is greatly missed!

Dixon Steele said...


Glad you came around on PERRY MASON. I remember you hating the pilot.

Gotta say I loved the series and was not surprised when the second season
got the green light.

And what a cast: Matthew Rhys and John Lithgow, both brilliant.

RF Burns said...

Fourth on the Unicorn. I like the cast (I'll watch most anything with Walton Goggins) and the stories seem relatable. Bonus for me...I live in Raleigh NC, the official locale of the series, and it's fun to hear all the local references. Obviously it's not filmed here, but someone on the writing staff is at least somewhat familiar with the area.

Bryan said...

You kept watching perry mason?

Andrew said...

I remember watching No Country for Old Men, and thinking, "I know I've seen that guy before. Oh, wait a minute. Talk Radio?!"

Andrew said...

Newsradio I meant, of course. Sorry.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I think the first thing I ever saw Stephen Root in was an early episode of CYBILL. He's fabulous, and I'll at least try anything he's in. Which leads to a point: I wish there were some way we could signal to TV networks and movie studios when we watch their movies DESPITE the star actors and FOR the character actors. How many of us had no interest inthe MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies or Tom Cruise, but wanted to see Philip Seymour Hoffman do the Martin Landau face-changing tricks?


Wendy M. Grossman said...

PS: Isn't John Lithgow TV's answer to John Lithgow? (cf THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN.)


Michael said...

It's interesting: Vin never did all-night radio, but he would have been great. When I was in school in New York City, Steve Somers had the late-night shift on WFAN, and he was fun to listen to.

As for inside jokes, did anybody ever top Warner Bros. cartoons?

gottacook said...

wg - the best example of a TV series where the character actors far outshone the supposed leads was the ABC series Relativity, which lasted not quite a whole season more than 20 years ago. It's where I discovered Richard Schiff (as Barry Roth, father of the male lead, and the only character whose name I still remember from that show because of how absolutely perfectly Schiff embodied him). Other non-lead regulars were Adam Goldberg, Lisa Edelstein, Jane Adams, Cliff DeYoung, Mary Ellen Trainor - an embarrassment of riches, if you ask me.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

I'll add Larry King. He could be entertaining in the later hours of his old all night show on Mutual radio (be-doop).

Unknown said...

In Chicago a few people that come to mind for overnight talkers that were great, Mitch Rosenberg, and "Chicago Ed" Schwartz

John Schrank said...

When I first saw Stephen Root on television, I knew I recognized his name and face as the man I had seen playing Boolie, the son, in the touring company of Driving Miss Daisy. The leads were Julie Harris and Brock Peters, and Root was the only other member of the cast. When I watched all three, I felt the way people must have felt seeing Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie or Ethel Merman in Gypsy... that we were witnessing classic performances that would never be captured and only existed in this time and place. Years later, I heard Stephen Root interviewed in detail, and he said that being onstage and exchanging lines with Julie Harris and Brock Peters was like a Master Class for a young actor

Mike Bloodworth said...

Thank you for answering my F.Q., Ken. As always, it's much appreciated.

I'm not the Stephen Root fan the rest of you are. I've never seen "Office Space," but in almost everything else he's pretty much playing the same character every time. Maybe it's his voice. It's too unique and too recognizable. Any time I see him I say, "There's Root doing 'Root.'"

I'm willing to give "The Unicorn" a try. Mostly because I'm completely burned out on syndicated programs. I can't watch any more "Star Trek." (TOS or TNG) I'm tired of "Married with Children." And I'm sick of "Seinfeld." However, it has been so long since I've seen "Cheers" that it's new to me again.
I'm also looking forward to Chuck Lorre's new sitcom, "B Positive." Even though I haven't enjoyed his last few outings.
Speaking of syndication, "Schitt's Creek" is becoming a real disappointment. Maybe it will get better. But so far It's just not funny.

He may not be applicable to the above mentioned radio conversation, but I miss sports caster, Jim Healy. I don't know how well known he was outside of southern California, but he was very entertaining even if you weren't that into sports.

Ladders don't bother me. It's broken mirrors. Is their bad luck concurrent or consecutive?


Zoinks said...

I'll FIFTH on The Unicorn! In fact, I think it's one of the best sitcoms on network TV right now, just below Black-ish.

Shoutout to the creators Bill Martin and Mike Schiff (who also created the under-rated-in-my-mind Third Rock From the Sun and Grounded For Life.....but, uh, let's ignore Cavemen).

Also props to the stellar supporting cast; Michaela Watkins steals the show for me, Rob Corddry, Omar Miller, and Maya Lynne Robinson are terrific. Even the children are amazing: Ruby Jay and Mckenzie Moss.

We'll see if they can avoid the 'Walton Goggins-dating-a new-hot-girl-of-the-week' syndrome, but do check it out.

Kevin from VA said...

Hi Ken,

Speaking of "inside" jokes, last year you posted a great story of your meeting with Al Hirschfeld and how he always snuck his daughter's name into his caricatures. I left a very slight "inside" joke in the comments section from that post that may have slipped by you and possibly even some of your loyal readers.

My question is when you've done inside jokes, have you enjoyed it more when others "got" the joke or more when they didn't?

RobW said...

How many of us had no interest in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies or Tom Cruise, but wanted to see Philip Seymour Hoffman do the Martin Landau face-changing tricks?


Very few, considering there have been FIVE massively successful MI films without Philip Seymour Hoffman ( although a fine actor in his own right ).

Astroboy said...

Garner Ted Armstrong....there's a name I hadn't heard or remembered in forever. Even though I'm an atheist I used to really enjoy watching his religious programs on TV. It's true, he was great talker. I just looked him up right now on YouTube and started watching one of his old videos and I was just as captivated now as I was then!

Pamelajaye said...

I remember my brother told me to read one of your answers today but I couldn't remember what it was by the time I remembered he wanted me to read it turns out it was Garner Ted Armstrong. I pretty much completely missed his stay in the worldwide Church of God but my mother listened to him all the time. I've only heard him speak once and I think it was on YouTube. I have heard him sing.
There's this amazing song someone uploaded from an old church album that he sang. It's called imagine and it's not the same one. The interesting thing about it is that all the problems of the world that he sings about in the song have changed. Or at least the combatants have changed. Of course the wars go on, but they're no longer fighting in Belfast or the Sinai.
Of course some people say that brexit could bring back that Belfast thing.

About a year ago I found that book or a book that he wrote. The Real Jesus. I meant to read it but other things God in the way. So it's a few levels down in my pile, probably after a history of WCVB, two historical novels and a two-volume US history textbook. And I never finished that book by John Bolton. Do you think I could trade it for the one by Mary Trump? I'm just not into geopolitical stuff.

Scott Rosenberg said...

Love Root. Jimmy James made that show, so underappreciated (slash buried by one prick scheduler at NBC). Definitely don't think he's the same character in every show as one poster suggests. See him in West Wing or his guest spot as a grieving scientist on fringe, and of course Milton was just a cartoon brought to life.

James Van Hise said...

I liked The Unicorn at first when it was about him and his immediate family but then it started being more and more about his annoying friends, and his friends are REALLY annoying in that they think anything they say and do is important, so I gave up.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Gardner Ted Armstrong! I used to listen to his father every night and he literally scared me more than Orson Welles.

Rory Wohl said...

Hi Ken,

Was just reading the Q&A with Garry Trudeau in the month's AARP Bulletin (yes, I'm old) and that got me wondering what you thought of his work?

One of his comments in the Q&A was in response to the question, "What kind of jokes work better with millennials than with Boomers?"

"I haven't a clue. I couldn't wire a joke if my life depended on it. I write character comedy, specific to the individual."

You've often spoken/written about the importance of comedy being based in the character and, given you interest in cartooning, thought you might have an opinion on Mr. Trudeau, Doonesbury, etc.

- Rory

Tom said...

Re: the MASH episode "Fallen Idol." I was 17 when it aired and soon to begin my own writing career, and the raw hurt between Hawkeye and Radar remains deeply affecting. Have we seen that kind of rift between series regulars before or since? Did it pose any challenges as it was written?

Dixon Steele said...

Root's performance as the pathetic Milton in OFFICE SPACE is comedy genius and certainly the most memorable part of that movie imho.