Friday, May 14, 2021

Friday Questions

Halfway through May.  Ready for some Friday Questions?

Dave is up first.

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.

Each of those shows worked on the following schedule:  Three weeks on then one week off.   And each show had a different schedule.  Kelsey guested on BECKER during a week’s hiatus from FRASIER. 

Once episodes are completed the network is able to shuffle the deck — move one episode up a week, move one back, etc.  So it’s not unusual that both episodes featuring Kelsey were shown a couple of days apart. 

From Glenn:

Ken, have you ever had an actor forced on you who turned out to be great?

No.  Never. 

However, we had one actor forced upon us that was so terrible we quit the show once the pilot was filmed.  The show didn’t get picked up, nor should it have been.  And we didn't care.  We were never going to walk onto a sound stage with that guy again. 

Chris Thomson wonders:

At what point, and what are the signs/vibes that you realize a show is basically needing to finish?

A number of signs. 

You ran out of stories three years ago but kept going anyway.

Ratings are falling.

The star is tired of doing the show and his contract is up.

With rising costs for the actors, and above-the-line people, the show is getting too expensive to produce.  Especially if you already have enough episodes for a large payday in syndication or streaming, why bother making more when it’s costing you more? 

And finally, from Poochie:

So I've been watching a series of Youtube vids where a real lawyer breaks down courts scenes on TV. As you can imagine the majority of these shows and movies get it wrong. Just totally and not remotely how it operates in the real world wrong.

My question is could these productions staff lawyers for the pure purpose of writing/dialoguing ONLY the court scenes? Is that allowed by the WGA? Would the lawyer/writers need to be credited? Residuals? Is this something remotely possible? How would it work? And why don't more productions at least try to get this remotely accurate?

Shows are allowed to hire “technical consultants.”  They’re allowed to tweak dialogue.   On MASH we had Dr. Walt Dishell.  We would write operating scenes and say things like “Nurse, hand me that frabbazabber!”  And Dr. Dishell would put in the correct term (although I think frabbazabber is the correct term).  

Technical consultants do receive a credit. 

We had a medical consultant, a military consultant, and a nurse on the set to make sure everything looked right. 

Other shows have lawyers and law enforcement consultants. 

The gray issue comes when the producers want to do something that is a little iffy.  There’s creative license, but just how far do you bend?   That’s a case by case judgement call. 

As for Dr. Dishell, there was one episode of MASH (“Life Time”) where he was so involved in the writing that he was awarded shared writing credit with Alan Alda. 

What’s your Friday Question?  


Tyler said...

Related to the topic of when you know it's time to call it a day on a long-running series, do the stars of those shows sometimes feel morally pressured (even if only from themselves) to keep the show going for the sake of some of their co-stars who will have fewer options for steady work once it stops? Would an Alan Alda, Ted Danson, or Kelsey Grammer, whose shows all ran 11 seasons, feel like they should keep going even if they want to move on?

Honest Ed said...

I've written medical drama in the UK. The times I've had a script go to one medic, the note comes back tells us to have the doctor do procedure X, I write it in, the script goes to another medic who tells us to change that as prexedure X will kill the patient...

That particular medical drama has multiple doctors, nurses and paramedics poring over every script and on set. There's a very famous writer here who is an ex doctor and is very vocal about that medical drama's lack of accuracy. That writer has his own cop show which is a huge hit. Of course, that show is famous fro sacrificing accuracy in the interests of drama...

Craig Gustafson said...

"The star is tired of doing the show and his contract is up."

In an interview for "Ironside," Raymond Burr expressed the opinion that the nine-year run of "Perry Mason" was four years too long; that the quality kept dropping after year five.

Covarr said...

I think I know what YouTube channel Poochie is referring to, and it's one of my favorites. I'm no lawyer myself, but I used to be a court clerk so I can at least sniff out some of the more obvious nonsense that shows frequently attempt.

I'm curious how many shows even HAVE legal consultants. I would assume courtroom dramas like Boston Legal, Law and Order, and Better Call Saul would have to have one, right? I've heard some of them do, but I don't know how much they're actually used. On the other hand, I can't image that It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia had an attorney on-hand to help with with "McPoyle vs. Ponderosa: The Trial of the Century". The show is so over-the-top ridiculous that accuracy isn't really important, especially when it's only one episode.

I'm fairly confident Grey's Anatomy didn't hire a consultant to help with the episode "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word", though. Not only was it filled to the brim with pretty basic mistakes, but many of them could have been fixed without negatively impacting the plot or dialogue at all. Rushing through the discovery process to get to the trial? Not accurate, but it can make for more engaging television; that's perfectly reasonable creative license. Saying "prosecution" instead of "plaintiff" in a civil trial? No consultant would let that one through; it doesn't add anything and JUST makes the show look incompetent even to a casual viewer.

Vrej said...

Friday question: I've been rewatching Frasier lately and in season 5, we learn Roz is pregnant. Then a few episodes later, in "Voyage of the Damned", Roz is drinking alcohol on a cruise, no mention of her pregnancy. So then I checked the production order versus airing order season 5 and it's all over the place! The 7th episode aired 4th, the 8th episode aired 17th, etc. I've seen instances in the past of an episode moving up or down a slot in the order but the Frasier season 5 schedule is wild. Do you have any idea why that is?

Rich said...

Ken - Friday question. Forgive me if this has been "asked and answered." Do you ever suffer from "decade envy"? That is, have you ever fantasized that your talents could have been better in a different era? Two come to mind: the 1930s, when George Kaufman could bounce between writing hit Broadway comedies and writing for the Marx Brothers in Hollywood, and the 1950s, when a staff of three would write 39 shows a season. Thanks!
Rich Procter

Elf said...

But isn't the problem that hewing too close to reality usually isn't entertaining or even interesting? Who'd want to see a drama about what a long court trial or medical emergency is really like? I think in 2021, most viewers are sophisticated enough to know dramatic license and can accept when what's on screen doesn't reflect reality. The exception is the CSI effect when science can solve any crime in an hour then real crime victims wonder why it takes more than a few minutes to do a DNA test or facial recognition match against every person in the country.

. said...

As a lawyer-judge, it’s always difficult to watch any legal shows or scenes. It is agitating.

But that’s mild compared to the horror of watching non-athletes performing as Hall of Fame legends.

I always look at fictional baseball-show credits to see the “Technical Advisor”. Rod Dedeaux and Dodger players show up often due to proximity. I generally judge them harshly - the results are so awful.

Did you ever supervise a baseball player scene? Did you make sure the selected actor could freaking throw or swing a bat at the most elemental level? I don’t recall seeing Ted Danson throw a ball on Cheers, and for purposes of this comment let’s assume his doing so would be a horror which maybe I’ve blanked out.

To heck with your Dramatic License when it comes to filming baseball scenes. It is an illegal suspension of reality to subject me to Eddie Deezen as Sandy Koufax.

Was there a Sam Malone mound appearance? If that was never foisted upon us maybe I’ve got you to thank.

Before the pandemic ruined me getting infuriated over nothing, I would get infuriated seeing John Goodman waving a bubble wand as if he was the Bambino, Anthony Perkins as an All-Star outfielder (OMG), Gary Cooper so physically inept (only on the field, so they said) they ran his film backwards and it didn’t help a bit. I’m still not fully over Levar Burton as Ron LeFlore. There are a thousand more.

Then there is the converse, Don Drysdale on the Brady Bunch for example. Of course he didn’t throw one ball, just acted. Oy. I get the disgust and outrage of actors over that type of casting. THAT was worse than seeing Robert Sorrels (there’s a story) as a mechanical MLB pitcher on the Twilight Zone - worst throwing form on camera.

Aaron Sheckley said...

I've had my share of experience in a courtroom (as a criminal investigator, not a lawyer), and I can tell you one thing: if writers scrupulously followed the rules of criminal procedure while trying to create scenes, those scenes would be so excruciatingly boring that the viewer would tune out long before the conclusion. I've been in trials where there were so many sidebar conversations between the lawyers and the judge that the jury would audibly groan every time one was requested. I've been in homicide trials (the kind of trial that you'd think would be an edge of your seat experience) where there were so many objections made for procedural issues that you could see the jurors totally losing the thread of what was going on. All of those rules have a purpose, but one purpose they don't have is to make trials interesting to a passive viewer. They've improved slightly since the days of Perry Mason (no one ever is tricked into confessing to a murder on the witness stand), but legal shows still bear about as much of a relationship to the legal profession as Muppets in Space does to NASA.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Supposedly, high costs were at least partly behind the cancellation of "Mom." (The show wrapped up on an acceptable, charateristcally uncompromising note Thursday night--a dignified ending for such a fine, indelible program.)

Philly Cinephile said...

Recently discovered the joys of BECKER. I love seeing a lead character who is annoyed by everyone and everything because I am annoyed by everyone and everything. Shocked that Ted Danson never received an Emmy nomination for the series because his acting is as good as anything he's ever done.

Michael said...

It surprised me that, according to the producers, BIG BANG THEORY ended just because Jim Parsons decided he did not want to continue. Kaley Cuoco has said when the cast was called to the producers office and told it was ending, she was actually expecting to be told they would be returning for another year and she was initially disappointed. They probably would have needed to also write out Mayim Bialik's character, but I thought the ratings were still high enough and the rest of the cast strong enough to continue on without Sheldon and Amy.

Todd Everett said...

Michael: I think the very existence, not to mention the subsequent success, of “Young Sheldon” shows that suits thought of him - correctly, as it happens - as BBT’s breakout character. I can only thank the producers for not overwhelming the show with them completely, like The Fonz and Alex P. Keaton.

Michael said...

The story about MASH is that the cast would vote on whether to continue, and I've read--Ken can correct this, please!--David Ogden Stiers was the one whose vote changed after the 10th season, meaning that would be it, but I've also read they were going to quit then and CBS offered the final movie as an incentive to continue.

Carl Reiner shut down The Dick Van Dyke Show after five seasons over concerns about quality, and of course it was still brilliant. That's also why we still think of it as brilliant. They didn't stay too long at the fair.

mike schlesinger said...

Just out of morbid curiosity, when you said that actor was "terrible," did you mean a terrible actor or a terrible human being?

Brian said...

I too have been enjoying Becker from the beginning on (free). I saw the episode last night where George Wendt is a bartender and Becker is a customer. Fun reversal of roles.

Garry said...

re: Carl Reiner and "The Dick Van Dyke Show"

I'll not deny that Reiner certainly had an eye on the show's quality, but it's worth noting that he had other motives to end the series. Hollywood was offering him feature film deals, and he wasn't inclined to turn them down to keep the "DVD Show" going for another couple of seasons. Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore similarly had Hollywood offering them feature films and were both ready to bail on the TV show. Not surprisingly, the cast members who were very vocal about being uphappy that the series was ending and insistent that it could go for another two or three years were Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie and Richard Deacon, the cast members who weren't being flooded with offers to do features. (Although if you've ever seen Morey and Rose in "Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title," it may be obvious why.)

Not surprisingly, Reiner, Van Dyke and Moore all ended up back on television a few years later, after their feature film careers ran out of steam.

YEKIMI said...

A radio question: In all your radio travels, did you ever work at a station that had horribly outdated equipment? I mean, consoles that Fred Flintstone would have been using long before you got there? Reason I ask is because most TV shows about radio seem to have the newest [as far as I can discern] equipment that was out at the time. In the late 70s the station I was at was still using the same console that had been installed in 1949 when they first went on the air. I know the CE had rebuilt it a couple of times by the time I had gotten there. But it did have some "updated" turntables from the early 60s that still worked great. Even today in my area there's a talk station using a phone system from the 1980s. Mainly because the owners were such cheapskates that they even took the light bulbs out of the vending machines because "they were wasting electricity".

Mike Bloodworth said...

Miscellaneous thoughts. I once asked Ken about how much he relied on the technical consultant/advisor on "M*A*S*H." At the time I was thinking about writing a spec script for "The Big Bang Theory." Could I write parenthetically, "Sheldon says something scientific." and have the T.C. fill in the blank? Or would I have to research a theory, formula or experiment and let the T.C. correct it? Needless to say I never wrote that script.

I heard that one of the reasons why "Frasier" went on way too long is because Kelsey Grammer was intent on breaking some record for playing the same character. Or something like that. I don't know if that was true, however.

Some mentioned how boring it would be if a legal show reflected actual court room procedures. Steven Bochco produced a legal drama called "Murder One." The hook was that the entire season covered a single trial. It only lasted two seasons because in my opinion it was incredibly boring. But, of course the critics praised it. Side note, I was an extra on that show.

Speaking of baseball...
This won't mean anything to people outside of Los Angeles, but do you have any opinions on FARMER JOHN being replaced as the supplier of the "Dodger Dog?"


ScarletNumber said...

In terms of medical consultants, Scrubs used Dr. Jonathan Doris. He was a college classmate of Bill Lawrence and was the basis of the protagonist of the show, even keeping the same initials.


It's funny if Stiers was the swing vote, because the other three who voted to continue went on to star in AfterMASH. This means that the three biggest stars (Alda, Farrell, Swit) went on longer than they wanted to help the other four.

@Mike Bloodworth

Gunsmoke aired for 20 years, so Kelsey wanted to play Frasier for the same length of time. Recall that he didn't appear on Cheers until season 3.

sanford said...

I wish Ken would name names. At this point who is really going to care. As for Big Bang there was no way they could continue with out Parson. I had the same feeling about Mom. After all how could they call the show Mom without Christy. It turns out they did fine. Janney as the lead was not happy about the show ending. Interviewed last week she said she was told not to say anything. Chuck Lorre was also surprised it was stop. He was given the reason that salaries and high production costs were the problem. He said they could have continued a couple of more years. I wonder if that is why they decided to marry of Jill and have a baby. Happy ending. Life happens but Adam having cancer was kind of a downer. As for Carl Reiner, he really never approached the heights in movies or tv for that matter. And I felt it was a real comedown for him to play a dirty old man in 2 and half men. As for MTM she made one good movie and never had another hit tv series. Although that is rather hard to do. She was great in Ordinary People. I wonder why she wasn't more successful when it came to movies.

Jeff Boice said...

I see that Google Chrome considers your site dangerous and deceptive- they tell me they've detected phishing. But Microsoft Edge still loves you.

Mike Schryver said...

All Blogger sites (including Ken's) are being flagged as deceptive by some browsers. Don't know what's going on.

Mark said...

Mark Harmon reportedly was ready to move on from NCIS after this season, but he relented when he learned that CBS would cancel it without him. So he’s going to be on the show in a lesser capacity next season.

Call Me Mike said...

It's good to see Becker finally getting some appreciation. I remember watching the series as it first aired and being confused why it didn't have a bigger audience.

Would love it if Ted Danson brought back the character to have an epic rant about... well everything going on right now.

DanMnz said...

When asking Friday questions, do we leave them here?

"When an actor is talking on the phone in a show/or movie, is there usually just dead air on the other end, or does someone assist with lines or maybe the timing in which the actor should deliver their lines to make it more realistic?"

James Van Hise said...

I sometimes wonder what a legal consultant does. Some years ago I saw a show about a lawyer and a magazine had published a nude photo of a 16 year old girl but the magazine won because there was a legal contract. Watching this I said, waitaminute! She was only 16 years old. That's considered child pornography even if the contract was legal. There does seem to be an odd gray area around that, though. Brooke Shields posed for nude photos when she was ten years old and as an adult she tried to get them suppressed. But it was decided that the contract her mother signed was legal and so those photos are still out there.

Dixon Steele said...


You write that Carl Reiner never "approached the heights"? Really?

The last time I checked Reiner was a comedy legend who also directed 4 terrific Steve Martin movies incl. The Jerk and All of Me as well as Oh, God!

Philly Cinephile said...

Sometimes BECKER hits a little bit too close to home. That episode in which he tries to see a movie could have been taken directly from my own life.

John Schrank said...

Dick Van Dyke has said many times in interviews that he wanted the series to go on longer. Two or three more years, he's said

Necco said...

@ John Schrank

Where are you getting this info? The cast was offered a lot of money to do another season of "The DVD Show," in COLOR, and they turned it down. Van Dyke and MTM were moving into movies (briefly). If DVD had wanted to continue the show, it would have.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

A big profile of DVD in today's Washington Post
n 1966, Carl Reiner wrapped up “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” He wanted to go out strong and he worried that, after more than 150 episodes, the show would grow stale. As much as Van Dyke wanted to continue, he had plenty of movie offers. But what he found quickly is that Bert and Rob Petrie were not easily forgotten. When he made family-friendly films — “Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.” or “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” — audiences responded.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I just did a quick survey and the MTV Movie and Television Awards show is being carried by eleven (11) cable channels tonight. Meanwhile the Oscar ratings have never been lower and the Golden Globes may not be broadcast after losing Tom Cruise as host. Maybe you could post about the future of awards shows and exactly what you think is going on.

Necco said...

Tom Cruise as host? He just gave up the three Globes that he had won.

Necco said...

@ Jim:

That segment from the Post profile really doesn't say much. Also, "Chitty" was somewhat popular, but lost $8 million on its release.

John Schrank said...

Necco, the most recent place I heard Dick Van Dyke say he wanted the show to go on longer was during his interview on Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast. Another thing he's said on more than one occasion was that although his name was in the title, he really considered it Carl Reiner's show. Carl Reiner wanted the show to end on a high note

PolyWogg said...

Friday question for you, and you've touched on it a bit previously from a writing perspective, but now I'm wondering about an "actor's" perspective...I've just binged Lois & Clark (I blame the pandemic) and I'm amazed how many actors from other, umm, "real" shows played the cartoon villain of the week. Were there any sitcoms where you saw guest stars show up and thought, "How did they GET him or her????". Were there shows that were so revered by actors that they would kill their last agent to get on the show, particularly some that might have been "over-rated"?

PolyWogg said...

I think Ken's summary of why shows "end" is the softest version of "it's all about the money", and answers many of the Qs we hear about star x or y wanting a series to go on longer, but totally surprised when it's cancelled and doesn't understand why. That's like a midlister wondering why their publisher cancelled their next book.

I am not as hard-core on the business side as the blogger/predicter TV's Grim Reaper, but he's got a pretty good track record of predicting cancellations based on their ratings and how many years they've been running. As Ken noted, every year, production costs go up. If the ad revenues and syndication deals can't offset those costs, they have to find a way to reduce the overall cost or cancel the show. It's not rocket science for most cancellations.

I also feel like there are a bunch of shows where the "star" said they wanted out, and suddenly they had a new contract and went another year. While I like the idea there were other variables at play, sometimes those other variables were the Brinks trucks that backed up to their house while supporting casts get trimmed to bring down overall production costs, or the opportunity to produce or direct some EPs.