Friday, January 22, 2021

Friday Questions

Friday Questions, anyone?

Mark Harvey Levine (no relation but one of the funniest playwrights in the biz) starts us off:

Hey I just learned (I'm slow on the uptake) that Nick, the bartender in "It's A Wonderful Life" was played by Sheldon Leonard, the famous producer of sitcoms. I did know that the two main male characters in "The Big Bang Theory" are named after him. And I just found out that his last acting job was a role on "Cheers". What was it like working with him as an actor? Did he threaten to throw you pixies out, t'roo the door or out the window?

Sheldon was lovely.  One of the few guest actors who never threatened me.

The sad thing is that most people on the set had no idea of his amazing iconic background.  I talked to him a little bit, primarily thanking him for THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.  It was his company that produced it and his foresight to tell Carl Reiner the show would be much better if Dick Van Dyke starred instead of Reiner himself (as he did in the original pilot).   Credit also to Reiner for putting ego aside and going along with that suggestion.  

Darlene asks:

I saw a promo on TV that Tim Allen's Home Improvement character would be appearing on Last Man Standing this season as a crossover (both played by Tim Allen of course). Question: When that happens, does Matt Williams or anyone from the original series get credit or money? Related, if you write an episode of a sitcom and a character becomes a break out star, are you entitled to any of the credit or money or does that all go to the show? Do writers ever wonder if they're ever creating the next Mork from Ork?

Good question.  I don’t have a definitive answer, but my guess would be yes, Williams would be entitled to some compensation.  

There is a provision in the WGA contract that allows for writers to get a royalty if they create a character that goes on to reoccur or become regulars of a series.  No on-screen credit but $$$. David Isaacs and I got creator royalties on Eddie LeBec (which is why weren’t too thrilled when we had to kill him).   The money isn’t huge, but it’s sure better than nothing.  

Along those lines, Brian wants to know:  

From what I understand, Reverend Jim Ignatowski was supposed to make one appearance as the officiator of Latka Gravas' paper marriage, but Christopher Lloyd's portrayal was so good, he was brought back.

Is it easier to get "one-shot" sitcom characters to join the regular cast? Is there less red tape and network approval to go through?

Usually what happens is if a character really scores he’ll be brought back once or twice to see if indeed they have lightning in a bottle.   Usually there’s little network resistance because the actor has already proven he’s an asset to the series.  

Beyond that, it’s all negotiation.  Is the actor interested and available?  How much does he want?  

Adding cast members can be tricky because the other cast members might resent having to give up screen time to the new darling.    They have to be convinced that a high tide lifts all boats.  The new guy might bring in more viewers and raise the ratings.  Everyone benefits as a result.  But it can be a dance.  

And finally, from Bob Gassel:

During your time at M*A*S*H, did weather ever play havoc with shooting at the ranch? If so, did scenes ever get relocated from the ranch back to the studio?  

We shot mostly in the summer when it never rains so that was not a problem.  Heat was. In the early fall we might get some unexpected rain and I do recall a couple of scenes being rewritten to be filmed on the stage.  

More often than not though, we would rewrite to shoot on the stage because they ran out of time (and daylight).  

What’s your Friday Question? 


E. Yarber said...

Even before his TV work, Sheldon Leonard was immediately recognizable to most Americans through his recurring appearances as "The Tout" on Jack Benny's radio show. "Uh-uh!"

Rev. Jim's role on TAXI grew around the same time Andy Kaufman started skipping episodes of the show, so his emergence may consciously or unconsciously have been a way of keeping a resident alien in the mix of characters.

Max said...

Three M*A*S*H questions to consider for NEXT week's Friday questions.
I've been watching the complete run (sans laugh track, hallelujah) on DVD and I've been wondering...

* Did the sets at the Malibu site have INTERIORS that were used in filming, or were all interior shots in the swamp, mess tent, etc, filmed on the soundstage?

* On the DVDs, all of the episodes have titles, but the titles don't appear anywhere on the actual films in either the opening or closing credits. (This is the case with other shows as well.) Why didn't the episode titles appear in the, uhhh, titles? (If I recall correctly, they WERE used in TV listings back then...)

* I'm learning French, so with a few episodes, I've switched the language track to French and put on English captions. Even with the little French I understand, I can tell that the dialogue is NOT a straight translation. Do you have any sense how "close" it was to the original? Did translators work at all with the writers or producers in creating foreign language versions of the show or were they pretty much on their own?

I think that's all ;) Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Ken wrote: "There is a provision in the WGA contract that allows for writers to get a royalty if they create a character that goes on to reoccur or become regulars of a series."

I wonder how that has worked for the Ted Lasso character, since he was created for NBCSN promos. I do see that there's a "based on" credit in each episode's opening titles, but I'm curious (wondering aloud, really) whether (or how much) money changed hands.

Also, Ken, shout out to Annie for her credit on "Call Your Mother." A lot of the funniest dialog between the kids and Kyra Sedgwick feels like it has classic Levine DNA.

Wm. Adams said...

I'm willing to die on this hill: Rev. Jim taking his driving exam is one of the five funniest scenes in television history.

Lars said...

On Star Trek: The Next Generation, there was an episode with guest star Robert Duncan McNeill who played a brash young cadet Nick Locarno, and excellent pilot who was expelled from the Academy for breaking rules which led to the death of a fellow cadet. When the Voyager spinoff was created, they brought back McNeill as a brash young excellent pilot who had been thrown out of Starfleet for his behavior, but this time named Tom Paris. It is at best unclear whether the change was intended to try to not have to pay the writers of the original TNG episode.

--Trek has a history here, of course -- Gene Roddenberry wrote lyrics to the Alexander Courage original series theme (they are *awful*) which are never heard in the show or otherwise, but let him get a cut on the royalties when it was used.

Bob Paris said...

For the record, Sheldon Leonard's last acting performance was on HBO's DREAM ON in 1992, not Cheers.

Stu West said...

I often see people listed as Staff Writers in the end credits of a tv show. What does that mean and how does it vary from show to show? I once heard Shawn Ryan explain that when he was behind on a script for The Shield he would get the staff writers to do a draft of certain scenes so he had something to rewrite and wasn't starting with a blank page.

Alan Gollom said...

Ken, I'm sure you must have heard that the first episode of Wanda Vision was a tribute to the Dick Van Dyke show. I loved it!! Cerebrally hilarious. I'm very interested to hear what you thought about it.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Sheldon Leonard also guest-starred on SANFORD AND SON in a three-parter where he, Greg Morris from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, and some dumb girl were a diamond smuggling gang, and lured Fred and Lamont to Hawaii to use them as unsuspecting pigeons in smuggling their stolen diamonds off the island back to the continental U.S.

James Van Hise said...

Sheldon Leonard did not do his legacy any favors when late in his life a network wanted to do an I Spy TV movie with Culp and Cosby. Leonard was part owner of the series and he said that he would only allow the film to be made if he wrote it. The script he wrote was terrible and even rewriting it couldn't have saved it but the network was contractually obligated to use it and Culp and Cosby reluctantly went along with it. Robert Culp talked about this in his 3 hour interview which can be found on line among the history of television interviews many people have done.

Andrew said...

Off the subject of these questions, but Hank Aaron has passed away.

I decided to mention it here because I saw (on Twitter) this video of Vin Scully calling Aaron's historic home run. I know Ken and the commenters here are Scully fans. This is beautiful to watch, and hear:


Howard Carter said...

You may have discussed this before, so apologies...I've been rewatching Cheers, and as season 5 came to a close and (to me) the reboot for season 6, i had to wonder if Shelly Long had stayed, where could the writers have taken Sam and Diane? As much as I think the first five seasons are by far the best (and my favorite sitcom of all time) I wonder if the show wasn't better served by Shelly leaving? Could it possibly have lasted 11 years if they had continued to focus on Sam and Diane?

Lyle said...

Ken . .. I'm fascinated by your career and your blog is a "must read" every day.

In addition to "Cheers," I love "Everybody Loves Raymond."

One of my questions - how does one become a 'casting director?" Whoever did the casting for these two shows did a magical job. A great combination of brilliant casting and brilliant writing makes for mighty enjoyable television.

The inter-acton between the Barone family is magical and I often chuckle at not only the dialogue but the interaction between the actors, even if I'm watching a re-run the second or third time. The show is still great, even after all these years.

So sad that Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle have passed on the Great Perhaps. The perfect married couple. I have, of course, fallen in love with Patricia Heaton . . . and Brad Garrett is a constant scene stealer .. and Ray Romano had the good sense to not object to Garrett drawing lots of belly laughs. It merely strengthened the show. He's a great actor. They all are.

But as I watch both "Raymond" and "Cheers" I wonder . . how in the hell do Casting Directors become casting directors. Surely there can't be a school to learn this skill/talent. It must be innate . . a sense of what works and what doesn't.

I kind of regret we don't see more of Ray Romano as I love his humor . . . but I suppose he made so much money from the show and its residuals that he doesn't need to work. Still, I imagine he misses the applause.

Love your blog. Keep entertaining us. You're the master!

mike schlesinger said...

Wm. Adams: Oh, there are many of us who are willing to die on that hill with you.

Follow-up question for Ken: I know you were joking about Leonard not threatening you, but just out of curiosity, were there ever any actors who did?

blinky said...

My Friday question is how did Nick Colasanto's experience as a TV director impact his relationships with actors and directors at Cheers? Did he ever direct an episode?

Tom Galloway said...

Going to WandaVision and their pastiches of classic sitcoms, while it would've completely confused, oh, 99% of the audience, I would've loved for something to have happened with the Bewitched episode.

Namely, with no in-show explanation at all, for the first half of episode, Vision was played by Paul Rudd. For the second half, without any visible transition between them, Vision was played by Paul Bettany. To emulate the classic Dick York/Sargent switch of course.

thomas tucker said...

I loved it when Sheldon Leonard did a bit part on The Dick Van Dyke show- he was hilarious ( "The kid breaks me up.")
And I agree with W. Adams too.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I read somewhere -- possibly here! -- that the characters Sheldon and Leonard on THE BIG BANG THEORY were named for him.

Wm. Adams, you're gonna need a bigger hill.

bmfc1 said...

If a character is no longer on a show but is seen in flashbacks or in a picture on a mantle does the actor get paid?

Howard Hoffman said...

And Cameron and Mitchell of MODERN FAMILY were also named after Sheldon Leonard. ;)

Houston Mitchell said...

Friday question: How long do you give a new show before you decide it's just not for you? I watched 15 minutes of "Call Me Kat", didn't laugh once, and haven't gone back to it. Later, I started thinking that maybe I should have been more patient. Your thoughts?

VP81955 said...

Hank Aaron remains baseball's RBI king, and no doubt two of his favorite RBI came on an extra-inning home run off St. Louis that clinched the 1957 pennant for the Milwaukee Braves; they would then beat the Yankees in the World Series. Like the far flashier Willie Mays, Aaron won but one Series early in his career, in a town he'd later return to (Mays with the Mets, Aaron with the Brewers).

Here's that pennant-clinching homer:

Kendall Rivers said...

Friday Question: I'm a big fan of the old cop\ private detective shows like Hill Street Blues, Moonlighting, The Rockford Files etc. I know you're mostly in the sitcom world but do you have any favorites in the cop\private detective genre that you grew up on that you still watch now?

Jim S said...


Friday question. I am a big fan of the Dick a an Dyke Show. And the famous episode where Rob’s mild argument with Laura about her reading his Mail being turned into a sketch strikes me as real. We see Buddy suggest they turn the incident into a sketch, then all three writers make great suggestions, and a sketch is born.

How does that match a real writing room?

Keep up the good work.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

I don't believe Andy Kaufman "started skipping" episodes of TAXI - his contract meant from the start of TAXI he was going to only to appear in half the episodes per season. But I think you're right in that the producers probably wanted to have a resident zany full-time, and after his guest shot in season 1, Christopher Lloyd's Reverend Jim fit the bill.

In another sense, Christopher Lloyd was the replacement for Randall Carver, whose relatively colourless John Burns was the weak link in TAXI's first season cast. (The producers realised Carver's Burns was superfluous because the show already had a naive, good-natured moron in Tony Danza's Tony Banta, and Danza could sell lines better than Carver could.) Jettisoning Randall Carver for Christopher Lloyd was one of the best trade-ups in sitcom history. Especially since the quality of writing and Lloyd's beautifully layered acting meant depths of personality were given to Jim Ignatowski and he evolved beyond being a one-note zany character.

Kirk said...

Jim Ignatowski was my favorite character on Taxi and one of my favorite sitcom characters of all time. He just got better season after season. One episode stands out in particular. Jim finds out Alex has been making fun of him behind his back. Jim angrily confronts Alex at his apartment. Alex defends himself by saying, "Well, you do some goofy things". Jim, with characteristic naivety, challenges Alex to list those goofy things, which Alex all-too-easily does. Jim defends himself at first, but when Alex starts laughing as he reminiscences, Jim starts laughing, too! Finally, Jim says, "Alex, I think you love me", to which Alex replies, "Oh, my God, I think you're right." Priceless.

Mitchell McLean said...

Sheldon Leonard was correct. Carl Reiner starring in a show named "The Dick Van Dyke Show" would have been confusing. :-)

ScarletNumber said...

@Howard Hoffman

How were the Modern Family characters named after Sheldon Leonard?

Prairie Perspective said...

“Light da match.”
Sheldon Leonard was sooooo funny in that part. Sad that others present that week didn’t know enough to pay homage to such a brilliant man.

Unknown said...

Since you touched on guest stars in this week's Question and Answers, I thought it would be obvious to follow up with: Of the many guest star appearances on your TV shows, who made such an impression that you (or the show) wanted to bring back but for whatever reason never re-appeared?
Also, who was your dream guest star that you actually asked or wrote for but who never was able/willing to do it?
Dan in Coquitlam
RIP Hank Aaron

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

For Jim Ignatowski touching your heartstrings, I give you the episode in which Jim develops a crush on Elaine. When he declares his love, she tries to let him down easy, the "I think of you as a really good friend" speech (not that I ever heard that...). As he leaves her apartment she says something like, "Jim, you're such a kind and generous man..." Jim gives her a wistful smile and says, "That was enough... once." And leaves.

mike schlesinger said...

"How were the Modern Family characters named after Sheldon Leonard?"

Pretty sure Howard was making a joke.