Friday, March 05, 2021

Friday Questions

It’s Friday Question time.  What’s yours?

Michael starts us off.

When you direct an episode on a show you haven't worked on before, does the showrunner first give you a heads-up on any unusual on-set dynamics such as 2 co-stars who don't get along or an actor who is overly sensitive to feedback?

Yes, although if there’s bad behavior on the set it’s generally well known around town.  I’ve never personally encountered that in all the shows I’ve directed.  Of course I told my agent don’t put me up for ROSEANNE or CYBILL or GRACE UNDER FIRE because who needs the headaches?  

But I like to meet with the showrunner beforehand and find out when he likes runthroughs, what he expects of the cast and me, whether I have the freedom to toss in a joke, how hard the cast likes to rehearse, and maybe a heads-up on an actor who will ask a lot of questions.  By the way, I don’t mind if an actor asks a lot of questions.  That’s his process and that’s my job to answer them.  My goal is to get every actor to peak performance when the cameras are rolling.  

sueK2001 queries:

What are your thoughts on Disney Plus (or any streaming service) putting an "offensive content" label on The Muppets or any retro comedy?

I think it’s utterly ridiculous.

Children are going to be scarred emotionally by something on THE MUPPET SHOW, but Disney + is fine with kids being turned into donkeys in PINOCCHIO, or Bambi’s mother dying, or Dumbo’s mother being locked up, or the witch in SNOW WHITE scaring the shit out of everybody with the poison apple?  

Let the Snowflakes watch the Hallmark Channel.  

From 71dude:

You said you never worked on any family shows, but do writers generally ask the child actors or their parents before they hand them a potentially embarrassing or puberty-related storyline?

Absolutely!   The parents, the network, the studio, standards & practices, and the child.    There are all kinds of guidelines in place for the protection of minors.  

And finally, Mike Bloodworth has a MASH-related FQ.

Was having only Asian actors play Asian characters a conscious decision on the part of the creators/producers? Was it just coincidence? Had they ever considered using a big name, white guest star in Asian makeup?

It was a conscious decision.  We tried to be as accurate as possible.  And it was nice to give these Asian actors roles because there weren’t too many of them at the time.  

We never once considered putting a non-Asian actor in make up.  Even back then in the writers room we made fun of John Wayne as Genghis Khan in THE CONQUEROR. 

What was fun was meeting veteran actors like Keye Luke who had been in tons of movies and shows.  Imdb lists him in 226 different projects.  He had amazing stories. 


Andrew said...

The pink elephants sequence from Dumbo could use a trigger warning, followed by "Just Say No."

Wm. Adams said...

Friday Question: This may have been answered before. When watching the credits of a show, is there any way to know who is the "Showrunner?"

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Makoto Iwamatsu (1933-2006), credited as Mako, immediately comes to mind from his several outstanding and versatile appearances on "M*A*S*H."

And Jack Soo (1917-1979) showed up a couple of times in the Wayne Rogers-McLean Stevenson years before "Barney Miller."

Tommy Raiko said...

I understand why folks think the Disney+ language for certain Muppet Show episodes is ridiculous, but I can't get too worked up about it either. The language they added wasn't about content that's offensive because of violence or narrative villainy; it's about content that includes "negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures." It's saying that some of these scenes play on cultural stereotypes, which really isn't cool.

And while I don't think anything in the Muppet Show approached the level of, for example, a Jim Crow minstrel show, I do think some of its sketches played off of shallow stereotypes of Arabs, Native Americans, Native Africans, Romani, etc.. Maybe it is ridiculous that anyone would take offense at those sketches. But it's not necessarily bad for Disney to acknowledge those stereotypes either.

Disney could have decided to not release the show, or hold back some episodes, or edit those episodes and I think it's good that they didn't decide to do any of that. And if the only inconvenience a viewer has to put up with is a statement on-screen for 12 seconds that makes them pause and think--even if what that viewer ultimate thinks is "this is ridiculous"--I don't think that's too bad a circumstance for this case.

Lemuel said...

Let the Snowflakes watch the Hallmark Channel.
But Hallmark shows The Good Witch, who practiced The Black Arts! Also single women who run vineyards that produce wine!

John Parrish said...

Friday Question: What's you're take on the Alex Trebek replacement front so far? It may be a little early to judge, but seems like all the other people who are going to be hosting is more like stunt casting rather than real auditions. Do you see Mike Richards or Ken Jennings hosting? Or maybe someone else?

maxdebryn said...

My skiffle band is called The Shallow Stereotypes. Our version of "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight?)" always goes over well.

scottmc said...

I too thought of Mako. Academy Award nominated for The Sand Pebbles and the star of the Stephen Sondheim musical Pacific Overtures.

ScarletNumber said...

@John Parrish

I'm so out of it that I thought Mike Richards was Michael Richards. That would certainly be a bold casting choice!

gottacook said...

The other top-billed star of the original production of Pacific Overtures, Soon-Teck Oh (1932-2018), was also often on MASH; IMDB lists him in five different roles.

Craig said...

There are two episodes of THE MUPPET SHOW not on the service at all. One of them features Brooke Shields and has music rights issues too extensive to overcome. The other missing show guest stars British actor Chris Langham, who was one of the show's writers and appeared as a last minute substitute for Richard Pryor. Langham is a convicted sex offender (child pornography), and Disney+ considered that sufficient reason to keep his episode on the shelf.

cd1515 said...

Friday question: loved the podcast about bad reviews, interesting how everyone’s first reaction to a bad review is to say is bullshit but of course if it’s a good review they believe it 100%.
Have you seen or heard of anyone getting a great review and saying “Gee that’s a little overboard, it wasn’t THAT good”?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Don Trump, Jr. has been going off on wild tangents about how the Muppets are "being canceled" by the disease known as liberalism . . . it's like he doesn't even know that Jim Henson himself was rather liberal and very progressive himself.

But screw Disney, honestly. They never even finished releasing the last two seasons of THE MUPPET SHOW on DVD after all these years; they're just pushing people to pay into their own streaming service for the money, plain and simple. This is why cable is still superior: you don't have to pay for multiple different services to watch content, it's all just one service with a vast library of content: both live and On Demand - and, it doesn't require usernames and passwords.

Ron said...

I don't know. I can't get too worked up over the MUPPET SHOW thing. I mean, except for the two episodes mentioned above, the whole series is on Disney+, albeit with some edits for music rights clearances. It's a ten-second screen basically apologizing for some out-dated, sometimes pretty outrageous, ethnic stereotypes. That just doesn't bother me. I had a grandfather who spent years acting like it was a major violation of his rights that he couldn't watch AMOS AND ANDY reruns on TV anymore. When I finally saw the show I was thinking, "Seriouly? You're defending this?"

My kid asked what the screen preceding THE MUPPET SHOW meant. I explained to him. He understood. We went on with our lives.

Greg B said...

Yeah, Jack Soo getting Colonel Blake's desk was a priceless episode.

Stephen said...

The "offfensive content" label isn't on there because anyone thinks kids are being "emotionally scarred" by anything they're going to see on "The Muppet Show." It's there to send a message that ethnic and racial stereotypes are unacceptable. Kids need to know that.

You're just in a bad mood because they don't want a grumpy old man writing for the "Frasier" reboot.

Boomska316 said...

Friday Question:Why are finales(season or series) so hard to get right? Is it different expectations between the viewers and the creators?

Michael said...

Richard Lee Sung was great in his episodes, too. But the all-time winner in terms of being an Asian or Pacific Islander would be the wonderful Kellye Nakahara. I loved the episode where she got to shine and turn the tables on Hawkeye.

Dream Police said...

Stephen, just curious, when you were a kid did people have to warn you that something was about to be offensive? Or did you get to decide for yourself?

blinky said...

A possible Friday Can-o-worms for you.
Harry Shearer is no longer doing Dr Hibbert because he is a black cartoon character. Alison Brie is sorry she played a Vietnamese girl on BoJack Horseman. There is another story of a gay character only being voiced by a gay voice actor.
If all this plays out will black actors only be allowed to play black characters? Will gay actors be restricted to only gay characters? Will Cynthia Nixon be erased from Sex and the City reruns because she is gay and the character she played was straight? Isn't acting the ability to pretend to be someone you are not?

Liggie said...

Disney+ also isn't releasing "Song of the South" because of its racial issues.

Speaking of, TCM has some specials this month discussing movies that are classics but still have features, racial, sexual or otherwise, that rightly cause problems with modern viewers (Mickey Rooney's Chinese landlord in "Breakfast at Tiffany's", "Birth of a Nation", Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer", etc.). The emphasis seems to be that we can still appreciate these films for their artistic and historic importance while understanding that they included sensibilities common then but not acceptable now.

Howard Hoffman said...

I'm begging for more Asian actors to be recognized. If I see Ken Jeong in one more damn show, I'm selling my TV.

kitano0 said...

With all the mentions of the great Asian actors appearing on MASH, no one has mentioned the beautiful Rosalind Chao, who's had a great career! Saw her recently in Mulan.

Tom said...

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita was brilliant in the MASH episode "Deal Me Out." That whole episode is a work of genius, from casting to writing to acting. Also the first MASH appearance of Edward Winter, who later came back as Col. Flagg.

ScarletNumber said...


The new Dr. Hibbert is horrible.

Modern Family would have lost something without Eric Stonestreet, and he has never identified as gay.

@Howard Hoffman

Randall Park seems to gaining popularity. For those who don't know him, his breakout role was as Jim on The Office.

Call Me Mike said...

Better to have Statler and Waldorf introduce the episodes in question rather than some boring corporate line to cover their fuzzy rear ends.

"The episode you're about to watch is old and dusty-"
"Just like us!"
"And it doesn't represent the values of inclusiveness-"
"We asked them to EXCLUDE us every show!"
"Oh ho ho ho..."

Tommy Raiko said...


Yes! Noriyuki "Pat" Morita was fantastic on MASH, and "Deal Me Out" is a genius episode. It has what's probably my favorite MASH moment that doesn't really involve any of the main characters. The Edgar Winters character bursts in on the poker game, notices Klinger in a dress and asks if he can be trusted. Morita replies "That's my wife." Allan Arbus--as psychiatrist Sidney Freeman says "That's a very interesting joke." And Morita subtly hands him a poker chip and says "Thanks for seeing me, Sidney." It is just such a perfect MASH moment.

Mike Bloodworth said...

blinky: I had wanted to ask a similar question, but you beat me to it. I hope he answers yours.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Ken, once again, thank you for answering my question.

Keyes Luke was also a skilled artist. Many years ago the SAG magazine showed some of his illustrations. He was very good.
Sab Shimono was another actor that frequented "M*A*S*H."

If you want to be offended by outdated material watch the "Dean Martin Roasts."

Regarding "The Muppet Show," I for one am tired of the negative image of Swedes on that show. Just as I'm sure that the Ursus community is upset about Fozzie being portrayed as an idiot. The Ranidae are torn about Kermit. On the one hand he was in charge. On the other he was often out of control.

But as I have asked before, what will we be apologizing for fifty years from now? What that is acceptable today will be "offensive" in the future?


Kosmo13 said...

I would've loved getting to hang out with Keye Luke. Also three-time MASH guest star Philip Ahn.

Cap'n Bob said...

Yes, but how many Asian actors on MASH who played Koreans were actually Korean? We need an investigation here.

Janet said...

Following up on the question about MASH guest stars, do you have any interesting stories to share about any guest stars who passed through during your time there with David?


Buttermilk Sky said...

I'm so old I remember when conservatives wanted to "cancel" the Muppets (and all of PBS) after they decided Ernie and Bert were more than friends/roommates. The horror.

Soon Tek-oh was the go-to actor when MASH needed someone who could speak Korean. Apart from Mako I think all the others were Asian Americans. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

S. said...

Friday Question: Hi, Ken. I have a question about Cheers. Sorry if this has been asked before. According to IMDb trivia, there were three endings filmed for the Season 5 finale, ‘I Do, I Adieu’. I was wondering if the third, never-before-seen ending exists and will it ever be shown to the public?

mike schlesinger said...

I just think the term "offensive content" is too extreme. The Starz/Encore networks use a much more nuanced term--"outdated cultural depiction"--that I think would be a better choice.

Todd Everett said...

But screw Disney, honestly. They never even finished releasing the last two seasons of THE MUPPET SHOW on DVD after all these years; they're just pushing people to pay into their own streaming service for the money, plain and simple.

I'm just as upset as you over the DVDs, but in NOT releasing them, Disney was losing money -- well before Disney+ existed.

Unknown said...

Ken, did it ever happen where you wrote something for a particular scene and the actors did not like it and made it difficult to get the scene completed? I read this happened on M*A*S*H sometimes and it led to arguments between Alan and Mike. I realize some journalists will write anything to sell a magazine or newspaper, but did you ever have that happen to you? Thank you, Irene Saylor

SummitCityScribe said...

I haven't seen the Muppet Show in years, so I can't speak to its offensive content, but not long ago I did have a conversation with a neighbor about Breakfast at Tiffany's (specifically Mickey Rooney's racist caricature of a Japanese man). When I expressed disgust at Rooney's performance, my neighbor said: "But you're not Asian. Why do you care?"

Why do I care? Because I'm a human being capable of possessing empathy, maybe? The people our society has marginalized have been decrying these bigoted stereotypes for years, but because they don't have the keys to power, those harmful depictions persist. If white folks like me don't act as allies and help produce change, real progress can't happen.

So, no, I'm not Asian, I'm just a white guy who wants to live in a society that doesn't mine cheap laughs from stereotypical depictions of folks who don't look like me, and without enveloping bigoted movies & TV from those so-called good old days in some kind of warm, nostalgic bubble.

normadesmond said...

Not a question.

Ken, just wanted to let you know that I watched "Penelope" with Natalie the other night & it was a complete joy.
Yes, the goofiest of plot lines, but a joy to watch the gloriously gorgeous Natalie. You should noodge your readers to watch it.

Anonymous said...

For the record, I don't care if there's a disclaimer, as long as the material is made available. They could have left it in the vault and they did not. People should be happy.

But I am startled to see one "ism" traded for another with this comment from "Stephen" to Ken:

"You're just in a bad mood because they don't want a grumpy old man writing for the 'Frasier' reboot." What a rotten thing to say to Ken, or anyone.

Maybe it's supposed to be funny, but it cuts like a knife because there are thousands of people who cannot work because of assumptions about them -- their skills, their views, their dispositions, their values -- due to their age. JUST like prejudices due to sex and gender.

You may have been kidding when you said it to Ken, but you said it to a lot of people who are locked out for something that happens to everyone, yet does not affect everyone in the same way.

SBell said...

And did those Asian actors speak the language of the characters they were portraying, or did you write their dialogue and have it translated? Some Korean conversations on MASH are fascinating (and not fully understandable due to the lack of subtitles), but I’ve often wondered if you wrote them, or just let the actors improvise?

Anonymous said...

"Andrew said...
The pink elephants sequence from Dumbo could use a trigger warning, followed by 'Just Say No'."

It's the black caricature crows that are the problem with Dumbo.

D. McEwan said...


I posted the black crows Dumbo comment above, and hit "Anonymous" by error.