Friday, April 30, 2021

Friday Questions


Closing out April with Friday Questions.  What’s yours?

Alan Gollom leads off.

It seems to me that generally comedic actors adapt to drama better than dramatic actors adapt to comedy? What is your opinion?

I think good comedic actors tend to transition to drama easier because underneath the comedy they’re playing real people with real dramatic problems.

You need a certain ear to play comedy.   You have to feel the rhythms and timing.  And I don’t believe that can be taught.  Some dramatic actors have it; others don’t.  

Ed Asner played heavies his entire career until landing THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.  Leslie Nielsen, Alec Baldwin, Gene Hackman, Brad Pitt, Nick Colasanto, Robert Duvall, Kurtwood Smith, George Clooney, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Hugh Laurie, Cate Blanchett, Diane Keaton, Bryan Cranston, Meryl Streep, William H. Macy, Allison Janney, Candice Bergen — are just some of the actors who adapted well to comedy.  And there are many others.  

From Liggie:

Question for an entertainment industry veteran. Of all the movies about Hollywood ("The Player", "Day for Night", "Singin' in the Rain", etc.), which is the most accurate at depicting the day-to-day moviemaking business? Also, which of those do you enjoy watching the most?

None of the above.  My favorite Hollywood movie is THE BIG PICTURE from 1989.  It’s a small movie that came and went starring Kevin Bacon, Martin Short, Michael McKean, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Teri Hatcher, and more.  Biting satire that’s both hilarious and somewhat chilling.  

James asks:

Was it a conscious decision never to mention Sam's ex-wife on Cheers? She's mentioned (and fleetingly seen) in the pilot but never afterward. It seems like an ex-wife could have made for some interesting complications in Sam's life, especially in later episodes when the writers are struggling for ideas.

His ex-wife is mentioned in only the second episode of the series and basically as a punchline.  We got Donna McKechnie to play her.  

As the year unfolded the general consensus was an ex-wife only got in the way so it was swept under the rug.  I’m not sure she was ever mentioned again.  

In other words, if we had it to do over again Sam would be a lifelong bachelor.   

Remember, Sam almost remarried in an episode of FRASIER that David and I wrote.  He was engaged to Tea Leoni.  

And finally, from Saul:

Do you think it’s fair to say that audiences are becoming harder to please? Negative reviews from critics and viewers are becoming less objective and more vitriolic, and everything out there seems to generate some sort of controversy. Perhaps one could view this as tastes becoming more discerning, but shows or films people previously simply wouldn’t like are now generating outright hatred and anger towards the creators. What is your take on this?

We do live in angry times.  And that spills over into reviews. Not to mention the hate trolls (who would call Mother Teresa a whore).  

But I think the problem is the audience has gotten jaded.  Very little seems fresh to them.  Viewers are way more savvy now in how the sausage is made.   

So it takes more to surprise and delight them.   They can spot certain jokes coming a mile away.   

That’s not to say you can’t thrill and delight them; it’s just harder to do.


Arthur said...

In terms of Hugh Laurie, I think it is fairer to say he is a comedic actor who transitioned well to drama.

Brian said...

To add to the "sausage", we have Streaming, DVD's, etc. ALL of this, radio, movies and television, in their infancies, were made to be ephemeral. This is not to say that talented people didn't do their best, far from it. It's just that no one thought that someone was going to experience these over and over from the comfort of their homes, leaving folks to catch flubs, boom shadows, continuity gaffes and the like.

Not only do we see how the sausage is made, you can LIVE with it, which, initially was not in the design.

It's "Fahrenheit 70 or so".

David Simpson said...

Including Hugh Laurie and Judi Dench in a list of actors who successfully transitioned from drama to comedy seems very odd from over here in the UK where Laurie spent many years in TV comedy before becoming a dramatic actor and Judi Dench was best known in the eighties and nineties for appearing in sitcoms, although she started in TV drama, and her sitcom career ran in parallel to her movie career.

Anonymous said...

Just before he was Lou Grant, Ed Asner was a good guy Italian cop in Elvis's last movie, Change of Habit.
Mary Tyler Moore is a nun but she and Ed never play a scene together.
Elvis is an inner city doctor and he's pretty good in it.

Keith R.A. DeCandido said...

Um, Hugh Laurie didn't have to "adapt" to comedy, he started out as a comic actor. He made his bones playing comic roles, mostly by playing genial idiots, in places like Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster and A Bit of Fry and Laurie and elsewhere. House was a major departure for him into drama after a career of being a silly bugger. So his recent comic turn in Avenue 5 was a return to his roots, not a major departure for a dramatic actor.

Keith R.A. DeCandido said...

Just one more thing (he says, channeling Columbo): a great movie about movie-making is the Steve Buscemi film Living in Oblivion.

Anonymous said...

Good call on The Big Picture. Such an under-rated film. Also, Hugh Laurie had an extensive comedic career prior to landing on US TV.

Bill O said...

Terrible self-destructive poster on The Big Picture. It has a joke reference to Vic Morrow's death - with Morrow's daughter cut into the scene.

Unknown said...

I think overly negative reviews, and bad snarky comments are done to just get attention. If a review said the movie was boring, no one would notice, but if you say "I only know it gives one the creeps and that I kept wishing they'd let a little sunshine in.", it gets noticed.

DanMnz said...

"They can spot certain jokes coming a mile away."
I 100% agree. I have had many problems with jokes, plots, overall endings, etc. I have seen so many movies that new ones are just not cutting it anymore. I can watch a movie that's new and point out nearly everything in it that was copied 10 times before it. I can call scenes ahead of time and I couldn't tell you the last time I saw a movie with a twist ending (even 6th sense was obvious for me, still can't figure out how nobody saw that coming)

I still enjoy movies, but I really wish the fresh jokes were not just coming from raunchy comedies.

William Rabkin said...

JUdi Dench didn't really "start" on sitcoms. By the time she did "A Find Romance" she'd spent 25 years at the Old Vic, the National Theatre and the RSC...

Steve Bailey said...

RE how audiences are getting harder to please: In a documentary about Monty Python, John Cleese made a comment that has always stuck with me. He said that he found himself laughing far less these days than he had in the past because he'd already heard all the jokes.

Joe said...

Hi, Ken. Not so much a Friday question but a minor nitpick. Your first MASH was on last night. I watched it and it was great, but when one nurse says she can't get undressed in front of Hawkeye, another says, "Come on, Lieutenant, he can't see anything." Would nurses who worked and lived together and seemed to be friends call each other by rank? Why not just give her a first name?

Brother Herbert said...

There was a Season 4 or 5 episode of CHEERS where Sam tells Woody that "...I drank myself out of baseball and a marriage," to which Woody replies that he didn't know Sam had been married before.

MWire said...

Has anyone mentioned that Hugh Laurie has a background in comedy?

scottmc said...

I listened to this week's edition of HOLLYWOOD AND LEVINE and it sparked a number of memories. I too listened to those radio countdown specials. The station that I listened never put Hey Jude on the top, they always put In The Still of The Night. It seemed that for years that song was Number One. The Top 10 would also always include You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin', a song that I never warmed up to.
Your mention of 'It's A Wonderful Life' brought back a time when there were only about eight or nine broadcast channels and around Christmas half of them would be showing the movie. The filmed slipped into the Public Domain and between Thanksgiving and New Year's there were numerous times when the movie would be scheduled against itself. I wasn't a fan of it when I was young. However, when I learned that it was the first film that Stewart and Capra made after the war I looked at it differently. Suddenly, it wasn't the saccharine car wreck I remembered growing up. Seeing it now, I appreciate Stewart's performance and enjoy a early screen appearance by Gloria Graham. The movie I never liked was THE SOUND OF MUSIC. I understood why Christopher Plummer was less than thrilled whenever he was asked about it. A few years ago I saw a stage production. It included the two songs that the movie had eliminated. I liked the stage version but the movie was, to quote Plummer, 'The Sounds of Mucus'.

Brian said...

The only flaw in "The Big Picture" was the ending. If it had been a truly accurate movie then when given the opportunity to screw his best friend, Michael McKean over again, Kevin Bacon's character would have done it. Also, Dan Schneider couldn't get arrested in Show Business but he sure should be arrested.

Ted. said...

Of course, George Clooney got his start doing small roles on sitcoms like "The Facts of Life" and "Roseanne" (and, interestingly, one called "E/R"). But you could argue that he was never very successful (or very funny) during that period.

"The Big Picture" also co-starred Emily Longstreth as Kevin Bacon's sweet girlfriend. She was a lovely, talented actress who could have had a bigger career, but apparently had some personal difficulties and disappeared from Hollywood.

Re hard-to-please audiences: I think the studios don't know how to make audience-pleasing movies anymore. The big action films that are supposed to be the most entertaining -- say, Marvel or D.C. superhero movies, the "Star Wars" franchise, the "Fast and Furious" movies, or monster movies like "Godzilla vs. Kong" -- are all kind of boring, and often depend on increasingly arcane backstories that are impossible to keep up with. And I can't remember the last time I saw a laugh-out-loud comedy. Meanwhile, Netflix and other services are spending millions on successful directors, but what they end up making is usually fairly mediocre compared to their best work. The irony of all this is that home streaming has made new movies easier to watch than ever, but there are fewer and fewer I actually want to see.

DBenson said...

Recently viewed the eight "Mexican Spitfire" movies from the 1940s. Seven of them boast the same basic plot: Lupe Velez presses her uncle-in-law Leon Errol into impersonating an alcoholic English lord (also Errol). Inevitably you get two Lord Eppings barely missing each other in hallways, at dinners, etc., and boggling whoever they meet. Individual gags and plot twists are carried over largely intact from film to film, and most involve Velez's unwitting husband and a business rival trying to get Lord Epping's signature on a contract. Yes, Errol is really funny in both roles. But even allowing for the fact the movies were several months apart and each was essentially unseeable when the new one arrived, the level of moxie is amazing.

sanford said...

I don't know if Hitchens would have called Mother Teresa a whore but he didn't think very much of here.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I probably shouldn't say this after SAUL's "...harder to please" question, but here it goes.

FRIDAY QUESTION: How much influence does a producer with a successful track record have over a network?

I'm referring to Chuck Lorre. I was a fan of both "Two and a Half Men" and "The Big Bang Theory," but his two latest "comedies" are jaw droppingly unfunny. They may have been hurt by the fact that they didn't have a live audience due to the pandemic. But even if they had an audience there's nothing to laugh at. On "B Positive" Lorre has worn out the mismatched pair scenario. Plus, personally I don't find either of the leads particularly appealing.
"The United States of Al" switches to the fish-out-of-water trope, but today it seem a little outmoded. However, unlike the former I do like Adhir Kalyan. He was good in "Rules of Engagement." But this character is too much like his character in "Aliens in America."

Here's the point. Was CBS so desperate for content that they would greenlight these shows even though they aren't very good? Or did Lorre push them on the network hoping his previous successes would be enough to get them on the air?


Wendy M. Grossman said...

David Simpson: Judi Dench was doing Shakespeare (she was in MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM with Diana Rigg when they were both very young) and a load of other theatrical drama before she started in sitcoms. I thought Diane Keaton was an odd inclusion, though, since she made her name in Woody Allen's comedies before showing she could do drama in LOOKING FOR MR GOODBAR. And Maggie Smith was doing comedy movies as early as 1968 and HOT MILLIONS with Peter Ustinov (which, btw, is also the first computer crime movie ever made, I'm fairly sure).

British actors have always crossed over more from theater to film to TV - no other way to make a living in a smaller country! - so their IMDB listings can be very deceptive.


Mark said...

At one point, there was a plan at the end of season 7 of “Cheers” to marry Sam Malone off to Rebecca’s sister, Susan, to be played by Joan Severance. It was going to be a story arc over a number of episodes. But someone nixed the idea, and Rebecca’s sister only showed up for a single episode, played by Marcia Cross.

Bob Paris said...

Ken: When you and David started out, you pitched ideas and if accepted, were assigned to write the script. Now scripts are written in the writer's room by committee. When did this come about and why? Is it just sitcoms that are done this way or does it also apply to dramas?

Necco said...

Actually, the STAGE version of "The Sound of Music" is much more cloying. Scott, do some Googling. The comment from Plummer is something that he backtracked on, later in his life. I believe that Julie Andrews has commented, that she only agreed to do the film, when they removed some of the more "sugary" aspects of the stage play, which is quite different. The NUNS sing "My Favorite Things" originally. "I Have Confidence," a wonderful tune, was added for the film. As was "Something Good." I liked two of the original stage songs, which didn't make it to the film - "How Can Love Survive," and "There's No Way to Stop It."

Carrie Underwood's live NBC version in 2013, combined film and stage versions, in a mash-up.

Chris Thomson said...

Hi Ken

Probably an odd question and you don't have everyone's point of view, actors, crew etc. so feel free to tell me it is none of my business, but I have been reading your posts for a while now, and a few are related to "last episode"

MASH, Cheers etc.

I am probably not wording it right, but at what point, and what are the signs/vibes that you realise a show is basically needing to finish?

I mean do the actors and crew start saying "Yeah. This again, like that other episode 3 years ago", or geezes I can't be bothered writing with this trash again. Or I wrote this joke 5 years ago, and it was funny for the actor that time, put it in as I can't be arsed anymore.

Or is it all driven by ratings and you don't see if a program is past it's sell by date till someone up stirs says "Tough luck people. Been great, but bye"


Chris Thomson said...

With regard to Hugh Laurie

The dude was doing comedy in the Young Ones days. In fact he was doing it while still being at Uni.

Heaps with Stephen Fry as his comedy partner and best friend and some of the funniest episodes of Blackadder (my favourite program of all time, admittedly)

Definitely would be put in the Comedians, who can do drama rather than the other way round.

Just my opinion obviously

Kyle Burress said...

With the reboot of Frasier officially happening what are some of the hopes and aspirations you have for it? Last I saw you weren't involved (as of yet anyway, but perhaps that's changed), so what type of direction would you like to see it take and what familiar faces would you like to see on it?

Pete Grossman said...

The Big Picture. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Alan Gollom said...

Hi Ken, I appreciate you answering my question. It never occurred to me some of the actors you mentioned who made such good transitions to comedy. These days one of my favourite dramatic actors who now makes me laugh is Robert De Niro. Yes, he's a bit of a goof ball in his comedic parts, but I feel his joy. As for comedic actors turning in stellar dramatic performances I will forever be blown away by Robin Williams. However based on his life we now have a better understanding of the depth of his soul and why he could do all that.

Anonymous said...

We've become an audience of spoiled Beverly Hills/Bel Air kids. Celebrities are easily accessible today through social media. We have a screening room in our house to watch the latest movies. We don't have to wait for anything.

When you have everything you want almost all the time you lose the gift of anticipation. You can't be impressed anymore, and you can't impress others because they can see all these things too. The next step is picking them apart. What else is there to do? You've lost the gift of anticipation. You no longer appreciate how lucky you are to have this abundance, something that previous generations could never have dreamed could have been possible.

On the subject of transition from drama to comedy, the medium left unmentioned is radio. In America, quite often a dramatic actor would be very funny when appearing in comedic roles on anthologies or variety shows. Radio continued to thrive in England and many actors moved easily from comedy to drama constantly.

Not a huge fan of Mother Theresa said...

Mother Theresa may not have been as saintly as portrayed.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

There was a Season 4 or 5 episode of CHEERS where Sam tells Woody that "...I drank myself out of baseball and a marriage," to which Woody replies that he didn't know Sam had been married before.

Oh, I believe you were a drunk, Sam, I just didn't know you'd been married

as for last shows, didn't Cheers end because Ted Danson said he was done?

scottmc said...

Thanks for the heads-up regarding THE BIG PICTURE. I just noticed that Turner Classic Movies will be broadcasting it early Friday morning May 14th at 1:45 AM.