Friday, April 02, 2021

Friday Questions


Sean kicks it off.

I know you’ve mentioned liking “I Love Lucy” even if you don’t love it as much as some. What is your opinion of Lucille Ball’s later TV shows?

Never liked them.  The gags and situations just seemed forced and formulaic.  It’s like the current version of the Beach Boys.  Mike Love and none of the original members singing the same songs.  75 year-old men should not be singing “Be True to Your School.”  And Lucy shouldn’t be carting out old routines she did better in I LOVE LUCY.  

And don’t get me started on LIFE WITH LUCY.  Imagine Willie Mays trying to play centerfield at 70.   ‘Nuff said.

Ben wonders:

How often do you meet with David to write nowadays? What kinds of projects do you do? Are you looking to keep up the same pace as when you were younger or just freelance as needed?

David is currently the Chairman of the Graduate TV Writing Department as a tenured professor at USC.  That’s a full-time job.   We’ve worked on a couple of pilots over the last couple of years.  But he’s busy with USC and I’ve been concentrating on playwriting.   So not that often.  We still see each other socially (or at least we did before the pandemic — and we still Zoom each other).  

Unknown asks:

Someone on Reddit posted the opening and closing to a foreign version of “Cheers” from c. 2011. When another country wants to produce an American product (or vice versa), how much input or consulting does the original crew offer?

Not much.  I believe they redid CHEERS in Spain a few years ago.  They used the original scripts from season one.  So I got a nice royalty.   But my understanding is that no one from the original show contributed any input.    And it was short lived. 

When Russia decided to reboot EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND they brought over co-creator/showrunner, Phil Rosenthal to consult the process.  This resulted is a terrific documentary called EXPORTING RAYMOND.  It deals with the culture clash between the US & Russia and is quite entertaining.   That show became a big hit. 

Most countries will just play the original American series and maybe have them dubbed.  But there have been examples of American shows being rebooted locally.  Germany has done this on several occasions.  I think they redid THE NANNY.  And from time to time countries will hire American comedy writers to either consult or write scripts.  

And finally, from Mark Solomon:

Ken, speaking of writers, I noticed that your daughter and son-in-law, whom I believe have been a writing team for some time, are now Co-Executive Producers of the new Kyra Sedgwick comedy “Call Your Mother.” After watching their episodes air, does your Writer/Producer instinct kick in to “offer notes” to Annie and Jonathan? Would it be something of a bucket list item to someday direct an episode of your daughter’s show?

I would give notes when they were writing specs trying to break in.  But they’ve been working writers for over eight years now and I don’t give any notes.  Most of the time I never see a script.  My first exposure is watching it on TV.   And no, I don't offer after-the-fact notes based on the episode that just aired. 

Besides, their job is to serve the show runner.  Not me.  

And to answer your other question, I have directed Annie Levine & Jonathan Emerson.   Twice.  It was back when they were on INSTANT MOM on Nick at Nite.   And I have to say it was an incredible thrill. 


Lark Hawk said...

Let's not be ageist. There are plenty of counter examples of people doing great work at an advanced age. Betty White won an Emmy for hosting Saturday Night Live at age 88, and did 6 seasons of Hot in Cleveland in her 80's. I would love to see Dolly Parton or the Rolling Stones perform today, and they're in their 70's.

Andrew said...

"Germany has done this on several occasions. I think they redid THE NANNY."

No wonder they hate us.

maxdebryn said...

Friday question: what happens to the Friday Questions that don't get answered/featured on Friday ? I'm still curious to know what everyone thinks of (possibly) having to pay to read certain blogs ?

Mike Barer said...

Lucy Carmichael or Lucy Carter, I lost track of which show was which in the post Lucy era. I do remember that her children starred with her in one of the later series.
The constant was Gail Gordon.

Markus said...

Back in the 90s, one of the fledgling private stations decided to redo shows such as "Who's the Boss" and "Married with Children" using the original scripts, both of which were doing very well on said station in their original incarnation (dubbed in German, of course(*)). The results were horrific, and rightfully canned after a rather short while. I doubt there have been all that many reruns of that crap since. No idea why they even tried. Imagine your favorite shows and episodes now done in cheap copies of the sets by cheap copies of the cast. The degree of producer ineptitude was staggering.

(*) Basically everything on German TV is dubbed (and in some cases rearranged), which can be anywhere from godawful or annoying to an actual improvement in case the original sucks. Though ever since the advent of digital Pay-TV this is less and less of a factor, because there's a very good chance the original audio is available as an alternative track if you so choose. All my TV sets and receivers are set to default "Original Audio" for that matter.

Ere I Saw Elba said...

Do you think that there are shows that have good characters, actors, and directors, but just have an overall shitty premise? That is, you want to write for them but it's just impossible to advance any kind of story?

Jeff Boice said...

I thought the Lucy Show was fine in its early seasons (which I saw in Daytime reruns). Then Vivian Vance left, Lucy moved to California, her kids disappeared, and the trust fund premise was ditched for one where Lucy is Gale Gordon's secretary! I suppose that allowed them to have lot of "special guest stars".

Mike Barer said...

Maxbebryn. Your question, well, If every visitor paid a dollar to read my blog and the numbers held up, I would have made a million.

kcross said...

Lark, I think Ken's point was that people should play "age appropriate" material. Betty White was great on SNL, but she was playing an old lady, not Sue Ann Nivens. It's like when Burns and Allen saw their radio ratings going down and decided to switch from "Flirty Single" material to "Married Couple" material. As Ken said, 75 year-old men should not be singing “Be True to Your School.”.

I'm sure they could get away with more timeless material, like Tony Bennett with "I Left My Heart in San Francisco", or Herb Albert doing "Puttin' on the Ritz".

Mike Bloodworth said...

The later Lucy comedies weren't as good as "I Love Lucy." But because I grew up watching them in the 60's they do hold a special place with me.
BTW, a few years ago a 70+ year old Mick Jagger impregnated a hot, twentysomething model. So there is still some demand for the old guys to do their "classic bits."

Have any of David's students gone on to do great things? If not then why not save the money and take a writing course at a community college or a seminar at The Learning Annex.

In one of Chuck Lorre's Vanity Cards he mentioned that one of the former Soviet bloc countries, I think it was Georgia, has a comedy about some brainy, nerd scientists and their hot female neighbor. Basically he said that they had thoroughly ripped off "The Big Bang Theory" and he didn't get a cent from it.
Believe it or not "Hogan's Heroes" was very popular in Germany for a while. However, they changed the dialogue to eliminate most of the Nazi references and to make them look even more ridiculous and inept than ever.

I've met Annie a couple of times at Ken's improv class. She's a lovely, intelligent girl. As far as her writing goes, I haven't seen any of her shows except for the one with the fat guy. And it wasn't very funny.

Off topic. Very often I will be out somewhere or doing something when I'll get a great idea for a sketch or a play or a funny line. But then I'll forget it before I have a chance to write it. I can't tell you how many good ideas I've lost to the ether. I've tried carrying a note pad, but it's not practical. I even bought one of those little mini recorders, but ironically I can't remember where I put it. It's incredibly frustrating.

FRIDAY QUESTION: How's your memory? I'm not being facetious. When inspiration strikes while you're in the car, in the supermarket or on the toilet how do you handle it? Are you able to remember a good idea? Or do you have to write it down so you don't forget it? What is your process?


Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. appeared on "Here's Lucy," her third series and the immediate successor to "The Lucy Show." The two shows combined aired on CBS from 1962 to 1974.

Miltom the Momzer said...

Quite a few of the LAW & ORDER scripts were re-written as LAW & ORDER: UK. It ran six seasons or so, but UK TV seasons are shorter. The stories were localized and de-Americanized, and were quite entertaining to watch. BBC-America sometimes shows them. And, for Doctor Who fans, two of the six regulars have appeared as companions of the Doctor at different times, and the Fifth Doctor himself appears as the Director of Prosecutions ("District Attorney") in some later seasons.

Brian said...

Thanks for pointing out "Exporting Raymond". I watched the trailer and it looks pretty funny.

Mark said...

The Lucy Show is the first show Lucille Ball did a few years after I Love Lucy, and she plays Lucy Carmichael. The first half of the series has her sharing a house with Vivian Vance’s character and their respective children. For the second half of the series, Viv and the kids are gone, and Lucy plays secretary to Gale Gordon’s character.

When Lucy sold Desilu to Paramount in 1968, that included The Lucy Show. She wanted to own her TV show, so she came up with Here’s Lucy, where she was Lucy Carter, secretary to Gale Gordon’s character again, but with her real-life children as her onscreen kids.

The first several seasons of The Lucy Show are decent (but not up to do the standards of ILL) because she still had her ILL writers and Desi was producing the first season. After she bought him out, he left, and the old ILL crew eventually drifted away too. The show’s quality plummeted, but the viewers’ affection for Lucy, plus the fact that it was only a three network universe, kept her shows in the top 10 throughout the 60s and into the early 70s.

It’s too bad Lucille Ball didn’t try to play a different character on TV after ILL, like the warmer, more maternal character she played in Yours, Mine, and Ours. Perhaps her later work would be better regarded.

Ollie said...

I believe MANY countries have remade “The Nanny”. I recall a friend of mine who’s Russian telling me that their version was very popular. There’s also a Latvian “I Love Lucy”.

I think there were two Mexican remakes of “Desperate Housewives” - apparently both used the same sets but different casts.

I’d love to learn more about the attempted British remake of “Wings”. A few clips of the pilot were included on one of the blooper reels.

Bri said...

I enjoyed “The Lucy Show” and “Here’s Lucy” more as a kid than I do now. I still respect and enjoy a number of episodes, but some are terribly dated and just too silly...silly without being genuinely funny.

Curiously, I feel “The Lucy Show” started out stronger and grew weaker, but with “Here’s Lucy” it’s the opposite. Two of her original writers returned part-time for the final three seasons, and the scripts took a noticeable upturn. Not on par with their “I Love Lucy” material, but much better than the preceding seasons overall. The whole boss/secretary premise was never fleshed out as well as it could’ve been, so a lot of episodes were just pretexts for shtick.

maxdebryn said...

DeBryn, actually. What's the link to your blog, Mike Barer ?

Mike Barer said...

Bob Paris said...

Ken: In the past, if an actor got signed to a series they would be working on at least 22 episodes a season. Now an actor may sign for a series where as few as eight to ten episodes are shot for the year. Are these "exclusive" deals where the actor is precluded from taking other work? Makes you wonder if attaching yourself to a series that makes a very limited number of episodes per season makes economic sense.

Mike Barer said...

Maxdebryn, sorry about the name misspelling.

Don Kemp said...

I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about Lucille Ball's career, but certainly not as detailed obsessed as some. Looking at her career arc and landing on My Favorite Husband on radio, it was during that time period in the late 40's where the Arnazes were yet in another phase of saving their marriage. They wanted to do TV but no one would buy them as a couple, even though in real life they were. So, they took the show on the road, modified radio scripts and managed to eventually convince CBS to give it a shot. There's a very good Desi Arnaz slanted account of all this in his memoir, A Book. These accounts are generally confirmed as factual by other sources.

The original I Love Lucy still relied heavily on recycled radio scripts run through the typewriters of Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll and especially Jess Oppenheimer, one of the pioneer showrunners of his day. Desi oversaw all of this, but co-equals were roughly Lucy, Desi and Oppenheimer for the final creative process. They eventually came up with their own original story lines, especially when Lucy became pregnant for real, but if you had to generalize all the scripts of the L Love Lucy run, it's easy to do. Lucy wants into the act, bumbles her way into some silly dilemma, Desi gets steamed, but in the end they resolve it anyway because well, he loved Lucy. It certainly led to some classic shows, but the underlying premise was there.

All good things must come to end and so dd I Love Lucy. Can't live with him/her, can't live without 'em, though. Remember, they wanted Gale Gordon for the Mertz part originally but he had radio commitments and besides, he was quite good at radio. He was available finally and Lucy, if nothing else, was loyal. So what I'm leading up to is this- her first series after I Love Lucy was produced by Desi. Bob Schiller and Tom Weiskopf, veterans of the first show, were still aboard. Oppenheimer was gone. Davis and Carroll's involvement was less. Not wanting to stray from a successful formula, all involved just kept producing variations on the theme and recycled the old scripts. That happened until the end of her last Desilu show, making for a marked sameness. However, since Lucy was already 40 when the first show started, it just seemed that much more forced seeing a woman in her late 50's going for the same gag years later. By the time the atrocity of her last series came along in the 1980's, no one had an idea of what to really do with her. You couldn't recycle the old ones anymore.

She was a brilliant comedian,, wicked instincts, but it is not unfair to say she made her career from the 1950's on based on the foundation of the same I Love Lucy scripts, over and over and over. We'll never know, as someone else noted, if she had continued down the path of roles such as Yours, Mine and Ours what else she could have done.

Anthony Hoffman said...

Apples & oranges. Are you actually offended or just looking for brownie points from the internet?

Markus said...

@Mike Bloodworth:
"Believe it or not "Hogan's Heroes" was very popular in Germany for a while. However, they changed the dialogue to eliminate most of the Nazi references and to make them look even more ridiculous and inept than ever."

It's still rather popular. On heavy daily rerun rotation right after MASH. The German dubbing makes it a little more silly than the original, but also adds some rather fitting texture by means of accents and dialect, which would be lost on a non-German viewer. There's basically nothing realistic about the scripts and stories, but for a show with a rather farcical premise, it's actually a reasonably decent sitcom.

Stealthlite said...

A Wings question: I notoced the Bud Bronski character was quickly and quietly dropped after only a few episodes. Was the character just not working or was he only intended to be a temporary replacement for Lowell?

Greg Ehrbar said...

Lucy's voice in successive series are handy ways to describe the severity of one's head cold:
Ricardo level, Carmichael, Carter and Barker.

Chris Thomson said...

Hi Ken

Just on that overseas versions.

Sometimes it works out big time.

I remember an interview where Ricky Gervais said he and Stephen Merchant made a lot more money from the US version of "The Office" than they did from the original.

Pretty good given I think he kind of distanced himself from it after the initial pilot, as he had no real emotional investment into it, if you know what I mean.



Philly Cinephile said...

During the run of "The Lucy Show," there were discussions of going with a new format that would have featured Lucy as the editor of a fashion magazine. The idea was to take her in a more sophisticated direction, but Lucy was always concerned that audiences wouldn't accept her as anything other than the "Lucy" character. A shame because she was a terrific dramatic actress. Fans of her TV work who are unfamiliar with her film work should check out "Dance, Girl, Dance", "Stage Door", and "Beauty for the Asking", among others.

She was also an astute businessperson. She was presented with two pilots, both of which her advisors told her to pass on because of the costs. She felt both had great promise and greenlit both of them. Those pilots were "Star Trek" and "Mission: Impossible", both of which went on to become major franchises in Hollywood.

ScarletNumber said...


The viewers had so much affection for Lucy that Warner Bros gave her the lead role in their production of Mame. They felt that Angela Lansbury, who did the role on Broadway eight years prior, wasn't a big enough name to carry the movie.

The problem is that Lucille Ball couldn't sing, especially when she was 52. For an example, here she is belting out "We Need a Little Christmas".

Jim said...

I think what bugged me most about Ball's later TV work was its over-reliance on guest stars. HERE'S LUCY was particularly guilty of this. Pretty much every other episode was built around some big celebrity guest. It seemed like Lucy couldn't go to the ladies' room without meeting Carol Channing or spend an afternoon at home without Tony Bennett showing up on her doorstep to ask for directions.

I was surprised to learn of a connection between LIFE WITH LUCY and FRASIER. Husband-and-wife team Linda Morris and Vic Rauseo, who worked on FRASIER in various production and writing capacities, wrote a script for LIFE WITH LUCY. I assume they didn't spend much of their time in the FRASIER writer's room bragging about that.

MikeN said...

Anyone remember the different seasons of 24? I forget if he was a good guy or bad guy, but in one of the later seasons, a foreign leader was played by the host from Slumdog Millionaire.

He enjoyed it so much he arranged for 24 to be done in India, with him as the star.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I would love to see the dubbed German version of Hogan's Heroes, I understand it's quite funny.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

The episode with Jack Benny is a classic.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Given that, I'm surprised they didn't do a crossover episode with The Beverly Hillbillies.

Brian said...

Having seen all of “Life With Lucy” now, courtesy of the DVD release, I think that show got a bum rap. True, there was significant room for improvement, but viewing the episodes in production order does show it was steadily getting better. ABC didn’t give it enough of a chance to grow. Also, considering how rushed the development cycle was compared to most shows, it’s no wonder the premise was a little shaky. It’s also tragic how it’s failure personally affected Lucille - many close to her felt it contributed to her death.