Friday, April 23, 2021

Friday Questions

Getting excited about the Oscars yet?  Yeah, me neither.  Here are this week’s Friday Questions.

Dave starts us off.

I've been enjoying Jenna Elfman's performance in Fear the Walking Dead and everyone loved Bryan Cranston's role in Breaking Bad. As you've worked with a lot of actors in sitcom's have you ever been surprised by an actor performing a dramatic role very well after working with them or seeing them in a sitcom/comedic role?

Oh, this is an easy one.  Margo Martindale playing a villain on JUSTIFIED, season two.  Find whoever streams it and treat yourself.  She normally plays these sweet dowdy characters.  Not here.  And she’s riveting.  Watch out if she offers you a glass of "Mama's Apple Pie." 

Ere I Saw Elba asks:

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?

I would say AfterMASH.  

From Brian Phillips:

Musicians have favorite studios, do you have a fondness for a particular sound stage or studio when you direct?

I know it’s sentimental, but I’d have to say Paramount.  I’ve directed a lot of great shows there and have had wonderful experiences.  And for those who are scoring: Stage 25, Stage 19, Stage 32, and Stage 31. 

From Neil Weinstein:

As a lifelong Mariners fan, I always think of you fondly this time of year, especially the year you were trying to explain Passover food to Dave Niehause on the air during a spring training game back in the early 90s.

I've become hooked on The Bob Newhart Show.  Now that you have taught me to pay attention to the credits, I noticed a stable of writers in the early years that I didn't recognize, except for Jay Tarses.  In the later years (I'm on season 5), I've noticed some more familiar names like David Lloyd and James Burrows pop up into the credits. 

Since this was an MTM show, was there a go-to group of MTM writers that then expanded?  What did it take to break into this club, like David Lloyd did?  Did you and David Isaacs ever write specs for Bob Newhart? 

I loved Dave Niehaus and miss him every day.  Mariner baseball is not the same without him.  Now to your question. 

MTM in those days was like Camelot for writers.  It started with THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW then THE BOB NEWHART SHOW and from there grew into a powerhouse, adding RHODA, PHYLLIS, THE TONY RANDALL SHOW, THE BETTY WHITE SHOW, LOU GRANT, ST. ELSEWHERE, THE WHITE SHADOW, PAUL SANDS FRIENDS AND LOVERS, THE TEXAS WHEELERS, REMINGTON STEELE, DOC, HILL STREET BLUES, NEWHART, MARY, and I’m sure I’m forgetting six others. 

But in those early and mid-70’s days, as the shows were expanding, they were grooming writers to fill out the expanded number of script assignments on their various shows. 

Among those writers:  Earl Pomerantz, Charlotte Brown, Pat Nardo & Gloria Banta, Michael Leeson, Glen & Les Charles, Gary David Goldberg, Hugh Wilson, Lloyd Garver, Sy Rosen, and of course, David Lloyd.

David Isaacs and I joined THE TONY RANDALL SHOW and would have gotten into that mix except we left after the season to go on staff of MASH.

We never wrote a spec BOB NEWHART SHOW.  But we did write a spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and spec RHODA.   Both were rejected. 

The show runner of RHODA is now my neighbor and we’re good friends.  As a running joke I’ll say to her, “Read it again.  Just once.  I think you’ll find there was stuff you missed.”

What’s your Friday Question? 

39 comments :

Bob Gassel said...

Seem like an easy way to have helped AfterMASH's premise was to set in an actual hospital instead of a veterans hospital.

Prissy said...

Friday Question: What’s your opinion of modern day “biopics”? A lot of them seem more intent on nabbing awards than telling a truthful portrait of a living person, and they tend to cast people the Academy likes. Do you find any worthwhile, or are the mostly self-indulgent?

Andrew said...

Ditto on Margo Martindale in Justified. She deserved her Emmy.

Her final scene was amazing. Up there with Kevin Spacey in L.A. Confidential.

https://youtu.be/LVEfATF9xU0

zapatty said...

Margo Martindale was also excellent on The Good Wife, a show where the supporting characters were more interesting than the main character (for me).

ventucky said...

I have seen a lot of Margo Martindale recently via streaming. I can not recall one role where she was NOT sinister in some regard.

tavm said...

One of those six other you forgot: WKRP IN CINCINATTI.

Gina said...

Friday question: Why do the song parodies in "The Simpsons" not use the original tunes? Parody is protected speech so they COULD do it free and clear. Why don't they?

Steve Bailey said...

EVENING SHADE was another wonderful MTM show.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

Mags Bennett was one of the great Big Bads on a show that had a lot of them.

I have seen a lot of Margo Martindale recently via streaming. I can not recall one role where she was NOT sinister in some regard.

In Paris, je t'aime, she'll break your heart as a lonely woman stepping out to try something new.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uyy3RCY27E8


Buttermilk Sky said...

Dave's question reminded me of one of your discoveries, James Cromwell. After all those goofy sitcom roles he was quite a revelation in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.

Bob Gassell, there was already a MASH spinoff set in an ordinary hospital. Remember TRAPPER JOHN, MD?

Greg Ehrbar said...

I'm not sure if parody extends to the permanent recording, archiving, marketing and distribution of a work that uses a copyrighted melody in a parody, with the intent to sell that production with the music in it. It's one thing if someone sings a parody in a video on YouTube or in a live performance. (Records may be a different deal. I understand that Weird Al always gets permission.)

But if a parody is included in a film or TV show that would otherwise have to pay the composer for the use of the tune, it would be like the show getting the melody for free, despite parody lyrics, and then making money on that production in various broadcasts, packages and streams. It must come down to fair use. Sesame Street and The Simpsons use soundalike melodies probably to avoid such infractions.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Martindale was also great as the Russian spy minder in THE AMERICANS.

wg

DBenson said...

I've always thought that AfterMASH was an excellent premise, and if it had appeared some seasons earlier it would have been extremely relevant, just as MASH was extremely relevant during the Vietnam War. The irony is, MASH outlasted the Vietnam War and became a show about other issues. When it was finally possible to do AfterMASH the subject of young vets had been largely swept under the rug, except when weaponized by politicians or used as an action movie cliche.

Then again, AfterMASH might not have been possible too close to the end of the real war, or without MASH and other shows broadening what was acceptable on network TV.

thirteen said...

I think the audience was sated with the M*A*S*H finale. AfterM*A*S*H was like making it all the way through Thanksgiving dinner, and then Mom jumps up and says "Now it's time for the roast beef!" Perhaps a year's gap would have been helpful.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

WKRP might have been produced under the MTM banner, but it sure didn't have an MTM "feel." While its predecessors were on film, products of the World War II generation, and underscored by a certain adult elegance, KRP was--not to overstate the obvious--pure rock 'n' roll aimed at baby boomers. Videotaped, loud, and sometimes gritty, KRP was a good show, but so different from the rest of the MTM staple.

Liggie said...

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?

maxdebryn said...

@Liggie - You left out The Stunt Man.

Necco said...

During my time at Tulane University, 1980-82, "MASH" reruns at 10:00 P were the focus in our co-ed dorm. About thirty people gathered every week night, in the TV/study room, while everyone else watched the news. (New Orleans, Central Time.)

On another note - I am watching the 5th and 6th (final) seasons of "The Bob Newhart Show" - probably the first time since the original airings. I own the first four seasons on DVD, but 20th Century Fox did a horrible job on the seasonal releases - I think Shout! came out with the last two season, years later. Regardless, I am surprised at how weak those two season are. A lot of silly, unfunny episodes. Others have noted that different writers were brought in. It no longer had the "classic" feel of the early years. I'll probably not watch those two seasons again.

During this pandemic, for a year, I have watched 2 - 3 episodes of "Frasier," EVERY DAY. "Golden Girls" and "MTM Show" are not far behind.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Stable.

Prairie Perspective said...

Swung on and ... BELTED!
Dave Niehaus was great. He added to the game, which few announcers do.

Unknown said...

@Greg Ehrbar - There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. If you perform a song parody for broadcast or recording, you owe for the rights to the music at least, unless you have a tune that is enough different to have its own copyright. But you don't need permission, you just have to pay for the use. If you use part of the real lyrics you may also owe for that.

Weird Al is just being nice in asking for permission. He has gotten burned a few times by people who have denied that they gave permission or changed their minds. But in live shows, he will perform some of the parodies that he will not record or perform for broadcast.

Someone closer to the music industry than I am might want to correct me if I'm misstating any of the above.

Anonymous said...

Volunteers question - I recently rewatched it. I was surprised to see there was a story by credit for Keith Critchlow not involving Levine & Isaacs. I’ll bet there is a good story there. Is there?

DougG. said...

RE: Comedic actors in dramatic roles. George Wendt in Columbo: Strange Bedfellows (1995). I'm not smart enough to say whether Wendt's performance is good, bad, or upside down but I can say for sure that it was entertaining to see him playing the complete opposite of Norm Peterson. The most disappointing part of the TV movie was that instead of Columbo telling us how he solved the case, he scares a confession out of the killer.

I remember it was originally broadcast on ABC in Spring 1995 and the reason I remember that is Wendt's character was named Graham McVeigh. I don't know specifically when it was filmed other than prior to the Oklahoma City bombing that made Timothy McVeigh a household name. I think ABC put out a press release saying it was just dumb luck the last names matched and that's where the coincidences stopped.

Chris said...

Ken, by any chance is your neighbor Charlotte Brown? If so, one of my students tracked here down for an interview and she was AMAZING.

Mike Doran said...

For DougG.:

In re: Columbo: "Strange Bedfellows".

- Did you know that this was based on an actual murder case?
Here in Chicago, we had Silas Jayne and his younger brother George, who were part of the horsey set in the Gold Coast area of the city.
Silas was, as they say, "mobbed up", which meant he always needed money to stay in good standing.
So when younger brother George turned up dead under unusual circumstances, the police would have more than a passing interest.
The Chicago Police solved the case, Silas went to prison, and we had a true-crime story to read for a year or so.

- Some years pass, and Peter Fischer, who's working on nuColumbo while on a break from Murder, She Wrote, decides the Jayne brothers story, with its Mob element, might make for an interesting Columbo: "Strange Bedfellows" refers to the Lieutenant going to a Mob boss for help in catching the wealthy perp.
What happened next: apparently Peter Falk himself decides that George Wendt should play the culprit (exactly why is unknown: it might be that Wendt, a longtime Chicagoan, would have known about the Jaynes and bring something from that, but we don't know).
Peter Fischer had other ideas; his 'Graham McVeigh' would have been someone like James Woods or James Spader (the examples he gave in his memoir), particularly since disguise was a plot point in this story.
Anyway, ABC goes with George Wendt, and Peter Fischer winds up putting his red-flag pseudonym 'Lawrence Vail' on the episode.
Fischer tells this whole tale in the aforementioned memoir, Me And Murder, She Wrote; the effect was to end his long-term association with Columbo.
As for "Strange Bedfellows", the best part of that was Rod Steiger as a composite of many late-history Chicago mob bosses; somehow, seeing George Wendt stuffed into tony riding clothes didn't work out quite as well ...
Anyway, check out the DVD if you like.

Alan Gollom said...

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

AndrewJ said...

The fundamental problems with AfterMASH -- the actress(es) who portrayed Mrs. Potter just didn't match the image of her the we had in our minds. Once everything was spelled out, something vital was lost. Also, MASH derived its strength from the idea that everyone at the 4077th was trapped there seemingly in perpetuity. On AfterMASH, Potter, Klinger and Fr. Mulcahy could always clock out of the VA hospital at 5PM. Imagine Gilligan's Island if the castaways could fly to and from the mainland US on a whim.

Mark said...

Evening Shade was not an MTM show. Nor was it wonderful.

Janet said...

There was a lot more wrong with AFTERMASH than that.

It's always tough taking a spin-off of a mother series with just a subset of the characters from the mother series.

And it's worse when you, as a viewer *know* that the beloved stars from the mother show that made the original so watchable will *never* set foot on the spin-off.

It was that way with AFTERMASH, because you knew that, for instance, Alan Alda was never going to do AFTERMASH.

The same thing happened on JOEY, the FRIENDS spin-off. Just Joey and a new gang -- none of the old gang.

Fred said...

Friday Question: Sometimes a photograph of an actor will appear in an episode even if he doesn’t (i.e. the posters decorating the KACL hallways of their employees). What kind of compensation do they get when just photos appear as opposed to themselves in person?

Richard G. said...

Love the blog-Friday Question: Jackie Cooper, who directed 13 episodes of MASH according to IMDB, wrote in his autobiography that most of the cast, minus Wayne Rodgers and Larry Linville acted like divas on the set, especially Alan Alda. He also gave very specific examples of said actions, which if true would back up his claim. Is there any truth to his beliefs from your personal knowledge or what you have heard and if not, why do you think Cooper wrote such things?

Mike Doran said...

In Re: MASH, Alan Alda, and Jackie Cooper:

What we have to remember here is that Cooper's MASH episodes were all early in the show's run: the first few seasons.

MASH would have been in shakedown mode at that point; Alan Alda was being sold by CBS as The Star Of The Show, for the first time in his career - and that can be heavy going if you're not used to it.

Jackie Cooper, on the other hand, was a well-established director in TV; he was considered MASH's major get on staff, and got commensurate publicity as a result.

Result: turf wars.

Cooper's account is mainly about his and Alda's circling each other for authority positioning; his phrase, " ... cliques and wounds developed ...", says a lot.

By the time Ken Levine and friends came aboard (about midway through the run), the shakedown had long since taken hold; all differences had been smoothed over, and harmony prevailed - and any insecurities that Alan Alda had at the start were superseded by his eventual takeover as the setside leader.

Or so it seems to me (based on my reading and observation; your mileage may differ).

philosophymom said...

For what it's worth, rights and such aside, I think using parody melodies rather than the actual ones makes those Simpsons songs funnier. They're already going to be sung in very specific character voice -- as opposed to how Weird Al, a really good singer, often imitates the original performance in his parodies. The almost-but-not-quiteness of the tunes works for Springfield.

blogward said...

A Friday question please: maybe not your particular area Ken, but how does a car chase get 'written'? Is it 90% down to the director, being told, 'We need to fill 5 minutes', or does a writer have as much input as in a regular scene?

JessyS said...

Here is the full list of "MTM Enterprises" shows. A trivia note, the company is now owned by Disney.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Bob Newhart Show
Friends and Lovers (failed show replaced by The Jeffersons)
The Texas Wheelers (failed show that starred Mark Hamill)
Rhoda
The Bob Crane Show
Three for the Road
Phyllis
The Tony Randall Show
Lou Grant (Another example of a comedic actor switching to drama.)
The Betty White Show
We Got Each Other
The White Shadow
WKRP in Cincinnati
Mary (variety series)
The Mary Tyler Moore Hour (variety series)
The Last Resort
Paris
Hill Street Blues
Remington Steele
St. Elsewhere
Newhart
Bay City Blues
The Duck Factory
Mary (the show created by Ken and David)
Fresno
The Popcorn Kid
Beverly Hills Buntz
Eisenhower and Lutz
Annie McGuire
Tattingers
City
Capital News
Evening Shade
The Trials of Rosie O'Neill
You Take the Kids
The New WKRP in Cincinnati
XUXA (Children's program)
Boogies Diner
Wild Animal Games (Children's game show)
Family Challenge (Game Show)
Wait Til You Have Kids
Bailey Kipper's POV (Saturday morning kids show)
Shopping Spree (game show)
Sparks
The Pretender
It Takes Two
Good News

Mike Doran said...

I think I told this story before:

On the night Mary Tyler Moore premiered, my dad said this about Ed Asner's performance as Lou Grant:
'You know, I've never seen him do out-and-out comedy before; he's really good ..."
That was true - before MTM, Ed Asner was one of the most dependable heavies in movies and TV.

(To a lesser extent, the same was true of Ted Knight - but that's another story ...)

Ray said...

I thought you'd get a kick, or possibly want to level a kick, out of this. I was on somewebsite dot com yesterday, and there among the clickbaits at the bottom was one I was fool enough to follow:

‘M*A*S*H’: Here’s What the Cast, Crew Say About Whether the Show Could Be Replicated Today

And it quotes you! Must be Must-see HTTP, right?

Well, it's just a regurge of something The Hollywood Reporter did, who knows when? And then I saw this: "The publication spoke to series creators Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart and stars Alan Alda and Loretta Swit, as well as executive producer Burt Metcalfe and writers David Isaacs and Ken Levine."

Oh, did they? Well, unless they've got a hotline to heaven, they didn't talk to Elsig anytime recently. Hell, I knew Elsig from his alt.tv.mash days (a treasure trove of stuff about the show that he shared in real time with real fans). Elsig virtually autographed a copy of "Laughing Matters" for a friend of mine. You asshats did NOT talk to Elsig.

Anyway, supposedly you said its universality meant the series could be replicated. So, since you're actually here, I'll ask: could you reboot? Would you? And in what timeframe and with any particular actors?

Mike TeeVee said...

A Friday Question, Cheers edition:

In season 1 episode 11 (One for the Book), elderly World War I vet Buzz at one point gives Norm a hug from behind. Buzz apologizes to Norm and says he mistook him for old "Pinky Peterson". My question: was this sort of an easter egg implying that Buzz maybe served with Norm's grandfather, or did the writer just randomly pick the same surname as Norm's without realizing it?

Dave said...

Friday Question:

I've been watching a lot of Becker recently. So funny, superb writing and I like all the characters.

Last night, I saw the episode in which Kelsey Grammer guest-starred ('Because I Have Friends I Haven't Used Yet'), which aired just two days before a Frasier episode ('Daphne Does Dinner'). How could Grammer do both in the same week?

I'm guessing he maybe had to miss the read-throughs and rehearsals for Becker or they had to tape it on a different night. Or maybe his packed schedule explains why he was limited somewhat to three scenes.

Love the blog, by the way, and always come back here!