Friday, February 05, 2021

Friday Questions

Leaping into February with Friday Questions.  

Max has a few MASH questions.

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?

All of the interiors were shot on Stage 9 at 20th Century Fox.   We only shot the exterior scenes we couldn’t film on the stage.  At the most, only a third of an episode was shot at “the ranch” (our Malibu location).  

We also couldn't get a helicopter into the stage.  We weren't MISS SAIGON. 

I’m sure I mentioned this, but of the four years I was associated with the show I went out to the ranch a grand total of once.  Too much writing to do back at the studio.   Although, when I was out there it was a 1000 degrees so I didn't feel all that deprived.  

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…)

The decision not to put the titles on the screen was made by Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart at the start of the series run.  It’s a decision I agreed with.  Sometimes the title can give away surprises in the episodes.  

Of course when we came up with the titles we had no idea the series would someday be available to buy or rent, or that info on each episode would be available on your various screens.  

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?

Once we turned over the finished episode to CBS for original airing we had absolutely nothing to do with it.   No say on translations, no say on closed captions, and no say on further editing for syndication.  It’s the hack-job editing that always stuck in my craw and why I was so happy that the full episodes are now available on various platforms.   Suddenly the stories make sense again!

And finally, Brian asks:

You and/or David Isaacs have run many shows. Which writers adapted to your voice the quickest?

Not that these names are household words, but I would have to say Robin Schiff, Mike & Linda Teverbaugh, Ken Estin, Tom Straw, Dan Staley & Rob Long, and Larry Balmagia.  

Unfortunately, that ability does none of them any good today.  

What’s your Friday Question? 


Bob K said...

I did some translation work when I was producing marketing videos in the corporate world. In my experience, it was an art and not a science. Send your script out to two different translators and you’d get two different translations. And even then I’d have clients come back and say “that’s not what it means.” Between language, colloquialisms, and corporate-speak it was always quite the challenge.

Mike Barer said...

If I remember correctly, you and David were credited with writing the episode of Frasier where Niles sleeps with Lilith. Could you do a podcast taking us through that episode?

Timothy said...

Ken, not to disagree with someone that has actually worked on M*A*S*H, but I clearly remember at least several scenes (at least in the early episodes) where there is a POV from an interor tent while on location, either from inside the Swamp or the Mess tent.

James said...

FQ: As a showrunner, how did you determine which episodes of your show (say Almost Perfect) would be submitted for Emmy awards in each category? Is there a limit? Did you have to try and include multiple directors' and writers' episodes so that more people got a shot at a nomination and a win?

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

You write at the end of your Friday post here today that:

"Unfortunately, that ability does none of them any good today", in reference to the fact that your list of writers who could adapt to your style/voice on shows you were involved with/ran. Do you think that these writers are not receiving work _because_ they are so adaptable? One would think that being able to adapt, to have the capacity to be a good team member (and more than that, of course) is a good thing. Is it that the style show runners are looking for has changed?

Maybe I'm reading too much into your aside but I was wondering if there was more to that jab.


Joseph Scarbrough said...

Every once in a while, the interior of the Swamp was clearly out on the Ranch as opposed to Stage 9, such as when Frank was taking a tank for a joyride and was barreling right towards it while Hawkeye, B.J., Radar, and others were playing poker.

To my knowledge, the interior of the Mess Tent at the Ranch was used approximately once in "Henry, Please Come Home," where we see the Swamprats contemplating how to bring Henry back from Tokyo in a long, continuous shot of them exiting the Pre-Op Ward of the hospital building, trek all the way across the Compound, and into the Mess Tent. Makes me wonder how all of their dialogue was able to be recorded clearly without somebody following behind them with a boom mic the whole way.

Canadian Dude said...

Hey Armando - I took that line to mean their ability to adapt to Ken and David's voice isn't of much use to them now because Ken and David aren't showrunners anymore.

It felt more like self-deprecation than a jab.

Pat Reeder said...

I'm currently working with a rep in Los Angeles who deals with a record label in Japan that distributes my wife Laura's retro jazz albums there. The most difficult and expensive part of the process so far has been translating all the correspondence, press releases, interviews and album notes into Japanese so that they make sense and we don't inadvertently offend anyone. I don't know how anyone could possibly translate comedy, with all the nuances of sarcasm, exaggeration, slang, etc.

As for captions, Laura has a slight hearing problem so we have to watch TV with the captions on. I don't know who's doing them, but for many shows, they are hilariously bad. Recently, we were watching a sitcom and someone mentioned the French poet Rimbaud. The captions spelled it "Rambo." Anyone who's completely reliant on captions must have thought it was an action series.

Buttermilk Sky said...

You promised to review THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT when more people had had a chance to see it. I think we're ready now.

Joyce Melton said...

Speaking of translations, a real experience with this is to watch Laurel and Hardy in the original Spanish. For some of their shorts, the Boys learned their lines phonetically and the entire episode was re-filmed in Spanish, and I think, French and German, too.

They're hilarious just because they are L&H who could be funny walking across a room or hanging up a hat, but also because the Spanish is often poorly pronounced, has an odd cadence, or is a totally different joke than the one in English.

Brandon in Virginia said...

The decision not to put the titles on the screen was made by Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart at the start of the series run. It’s a decision I agreed with. Sometimes the title can give away surprises in the episodes.

I used to enjoy reading episode guides online, and it was interesting to me how many episode titles were literally a synopsis. The first few seasons of "All in the Family" come to mind. Like you said, no one expected DVD sets/binging or the Internet having detailed guides 50 years later...they just needed to put something on the script.

Me personally, I always got a kick out of wordplay in the title, for example your "None Like it Hot" or "Saturdays of Thunder" on "M*A*S*H" and "The Simpsons", respectively. "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" seem to do that a lot now, with the character's name often playing into the title, i.e. "Petergeist".

Ted. said...

I watched "Lupin" on Netflix with the closed-captions on, and they were very different from the spoken dialogue. I assumed that the captions were translated separately, based on the original script, while the dubbing was meant to correspond with the actors' mouths as they spoke dialogue in the original French. Interestingly, both the captions and the dubbing seemed better at different times in converting French expressions into colloquial English.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

You promised to review THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT when more people had had a chance to see it. I think we're ready now.

Buttermilk, it's right here, from November 16:

McTom said...

In defense of language translators, captioners, and subtitlers, as the first commenter said, it's as much an art as a science. You're trying to not only be faithful to the writing, but also in the case of dubbing, make the translations fit in the mouths of the actors onscreen. Some straight translations are too long or too short for the amount of lip flapping, and so you compromise to make it look natural. And subs sometimes have to economize when there's breakneck dialogue because you only have so much screen real estate, and people need enough time to read each card before the next one pops up. And unlike subs, captions often have to convey SFX or music in addition to dialogue. And THEN there's situations like when the original language has a pun or a rhyme that might not survive translation. But I certainly understand how the compromises must be maddening for the writers...

By Ken Levine said...

Buttermilk Sky,

I will post that follow up within the next few weeks.

As for MASH filming interiors at the ranch, maybe they did it on occasion during the early years but not during my tenure.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Apparently, back then studios used to do that all the time. I saw a documentary on Buster Keaton where they showed him doing the Spanish version of the movie.
And in the bonus features of my "Dracula" DVD it showed that after the English version was shot the spanish language crew came in. The Spanish "Dracula" had Spanish actors. Some critics believe that the foreign version was actually better, at least visually because the English crew worked out all the kinks earlier.

Liggie said...

My latest YouTube rabbit hole consists of old Siskel and Ebert episodes (and after Siskel's death, Ebert and Richard Roeper). I particularly enjoy listening to their intelligent discussions on the episodes' films, even when I disagreed on their conclusions.

Do you think there's room for another such movie review show on syndication -- or even PBS, the original home of Gene and Roger -- featuring professional reviewers or even entertainment industry veterans like directors, writers and producers? Nothing against the fans, their views are as legitimate as the critics, but they have YouTube channels for outlets, and I'm interested in seeing weekly film discussions from experienced critics (say, the L.A. Times and or two Hollywood insiders (you and Martin Scorcese together?)

Anonymous said...

Hi Canadian Dude,

That's true, that makes sense!


Anonymous said...

Pat Reeder “Recently, we were watching a sitcom and someone mentioned the French poet Rimbaud. The captions spelled it ‘Rambo.’ Anyone who's completely reliant on captions must have thought it was an action series.”

Perhaps a decade ago, when I used to watch broadcast TV,
I’d find some airings of hour-long relics (e.g. the Raymond Burr Perry Mason)
would somehow retain captioning for short scenes that had, at some point,
been cut for time.

Anthony Strand said...

Cheers season 9 has several cold openers that take place outside of Cheers on the street. Did the cast actually go to Boston to shoot those scenes? Were they all shot at once?

Max said...

Thanks, Ken!

thirteen said...

As I recall, titles on scripts were required for copyright purposes, but in many (most?) cases, we were never intended to see the titles. Now we have all those high-tech Buck Rogers guide-y things that use them.

DBenson said...

Charley Chase did some of his shorts in Spanish. He was pretty fluent, and the Spanish version of "Pip from Pittsburg" is expanded with Charley singing a song while playing guitar.

Hal Roach had translation problems even in silent days. Foreign distributors would replace the intertitle cards with the local language, and now and again they had translators who felt inspired to replace/add gags of their own.

Eons ago I read an article by a guy who translated films for dubbing. To translate "Pygmalion" into German, Eliza's cockney was replaced by a lower-class Berlin accent, which for German audiences would have identified her social rank. He also noted that films about military life were comparatively easy to translate into different languages, because common soldiers tended to develop very similar slang and jargon.

Ere I Saw Elba said...

Translations of television: I've seen the occasional FRASIER episode on YouTube that was overdubbed in Italian, and well, it just works. Something about the cadences of the language match up. I think it's the emotive quality. It doesn't always work out so happily, but sometimes it does. Buono.

Sonic Wave Dave said...


What's your take on the WGA/WME deal ending packaging by June 30, 2022?

Thanks for your excellent work in general and your blog in particular.


Unknown said...

Is another reason the ranch location was not used as much was because it was far away? Did the cast commute with each other to the ranch if they were both on the call sheet at the same time(I read Alan and Wayne did early on), and I know Alan and Mike carpooled a few times. Just wondering if this has anything to do with the use of the ranch.

Janet said...

Hi Ken!

I don't know if you ever caught it but there was an episode of NCIS: LOS ANGELES a few years ago now that incorporated the Malibu park and the MASH ranch into the plot, including the MASH vehicles left on site.

Jim said...

Speaking of translating puns, here's an example for anyone who understands French. In the film Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis, Kad Merel plays a Post Office manager who is sent to the North of France when caught out trying to wangle a job in the South by pretending to be disabled. The French joke in this bit sepends on the fact that the locals pronounce the word for his (sien) the same way the rest of France pronounces the word for dog (chien). Writer/Director Dany Boon had some involvement in writing the subtitles and didn't even bother trying to translate that, after what would an English speaking audience make of a captions going "you said they were the dog's" "no they were his". He instead stuck in a pretty feeble joke about a fish and a dish, which left those of us who do understand French really scratching our heads.

Liggie said...

Perhaps the greatest subtitling feat was for the German single-cam sitcom, "Crime Scene Cleaner", about a fellow who scrubs up the blood and guts of a murder scene so the premises can resume use. One episode took place in an old mansion where anybody who entered had to speak in rhyming couplets, else a curse zapped them back outside the house (I know, just go with it). Not only did the actors perform their dialogue in German rhymes, but the English subtitles matched exactly the German dialogue ... and even rhymed in English itself! Really wish somebody had a clip from that episode on YouTube.

As an aide to hearing-impaired viewers, MHZ Choice, the show's streaming service for America, includes English subtitles even if the characters are speaking English (such as if two detectives from different countries using English together if they don't speak each other's native tongue). A funny example happened in a dark German mystery, where two detectives were in a beer hall discussing a tough case. After a few pints they drunkenly sing a Nirvana song on karaoke, and the subtitles run through the English lyrics as the detectives sing in English ("Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be ...").

T man said...

The fish in a dish joke sounds intriguing

David G. said...

On the subject of "M*A*S*H" episode titles, I have a technical question that I've been wondering about for years. Not sure if this is even a Ken-type question or if Ken would even know the technical people involved who could answer it: When the "M*A*S*H" episodes got cleaned up for the Columbia House VHS tapes more than 20 years ago -- and then for the DVD releases -- any shots at the opening or closing of a "M*A*S*H episode are now noticeably darker/dirtier if they contain the credit text over the scene and/or involve a fade-in from black or a fade-out to black. Why is that? Is there some reason those shots were unable to be sharpened and brightened up to look as good as the other 99% of each episode? (I don't recall seeing this problem in syndicated episodes that were aired on regular TV prior to the mid-1990s. I -do- notice, though, that a very scratchy shot of an ambulance that was always in the opening credits -did- get fixed so all the scratches no longer appear.)

Phil said...

Friday Question: I’m 99% sure you answered this years ago, but I’ve been perusing the archives for over an hour and cannot find a trace of it, so here goes: David Isaacs was listed as the sole writer for Frasier’s season 6 finale, “Shutout in Seattle”. How come you weren’t involved with those episodes?