Friday, June 25, 2021

Friday Questions

Start your weekend with Friday Questions.

DougG. gets us rolling.

Have you ever directed an episode of a tv show that you (or you and David Isaacs) also wrote? If not, was that just luck (good or bad?) or did you want someone other than you to direct your work? Or did the showrunners that you worked with not want writers directing their own episodes or episodes they co-wrote?

As you can see from the above screen shot, I have directed shows I’ve written (that one was from BECKER).  I’ve also directed shows I’ve written with David Isaacs along with shows I’ve written with David Isaacs & Robin Schiff.  

A bigger thrill was directing two shows that my daughter, Annie Levine wrote with her partner, Jonathan Emerson.  

I love directing my own stuff.  But I always have to tell the actors beforehand to think of me as your director so if something in the script bothers you you’re as welcome to tell me as if someone else had written it.  And as it happens, that was never a problem for them. 

Daniel asks:

My favorite TV series is Frasier. Do you think the series would have worked if it had been a single-camera show with no studio audience (and no laughter on the soundtrack) and maybe more cinematic lighting and camera placement? Same scripts, same interstitial title cards between scenes, same cast, same basic sets (except with the addition of the fourth wall). I guess my question is: How important was the studio audience and the three-camera style/aesthetic to the creative success of the series? Would it have played the same way without the audience's presence?

Interesting question I had never thought about.  

I think FRASIER would lose a lot not being done as a multi-camera show.  FRASIER was a weekly one-act play that could’ve played Broadway.  The stories, dialogue, tone all lean towards a theatrical production.  

FRASIER is enhanced by a studio audience.  I also think the actors feed off the energy of the audience, which elevates their performances.  

And bear in mind, the audience laughter you hear on FRASIER is real.   I don’t see any way the series could have been enhanced by not shooting it multi-camera.

From Philly Cinephile:

Any thoughts on the "We're going to Las Vegas!" episodes that so many sitcoms do? Are they mandated by the networks? I find that they tend to be among the weaker episodes of a series -- contrived and usually lacking the overall flavor of the series. I've often imagined them as a rite of passage for the writing staff of a show -- the dreaded "send them to Vegas" memo from the network.

Well, the simple answer is they run out of ideas.  

But Vegas does provide you with lots of new stories your series wouldn’t have otherwise.  Characters impulsively off to get married, characters having gambling problems, characters just going wild, etc.  

There’s so much gaudiness in Las Vegas, so many things to poke fun at, that it’s somewhat of an easy target.   How else are you going to work in Elvis impersonators?  

And finally, from Paul:

One of the things I have been doing to keep sane in this insane world is to watch all 11 seasons of Cheers.  I am now on Season 9 and last week saw episodes 8 and 9, the 200th anniversary episodes.  My first question is this:  how is that John McLaughlin ended up the host of the show?  It seems an…unlikely choice.  Second, was it difficult to get Shelley Long to return for this show?   Is there a story behind that?

At some point, long-running series are asked to do a clip show (highlights of their many seasons).  Let me tell you from personal experience, those are a giant pain in the ass. 

The trick is to find a novel way to do it.  CHEERS thought a panel discussion would be interesting.  I loved the idea because it meant the Charles Brothers and Jim Burrows would finally get some screen time.  

Not sure who came up with the idea of John McLaughlin, but he did lend a certain gravitas to the show.  And he certainly was not someone you’d expect.

As for Shelley’s return, there was no difficulty at all.  Remember, Shelley left the show on good terms.  They were happy to invite her and she was happy to accept.  

Shelley also did the final episode and two episodes of FRASIER — one (that David Issacs and I wrote) was just a ten second cameo and she still agreed to do it.   And may I say, thank you, Shelley.  That was a great joke thanks to you.

What’s your Friday Question?


ScarletNumber said...

Because of the Dana Carvey impression on SNL, John McLaughlin was enjoying a bit of a career renaissance.

Unkystan said...

It seems every ABC sitcom ends up at Disneyland. Coincidence?

kent said...

It's been awhile since I saw Frazier, what was Shelly's great 10 second joke?

Mibbitmaker said...

There were actually 3 Shelly Long appearances on FRASIER: the cameo (perfect, btw), her visit episode, and her part on the "Don Juan in Hell" motel scene with all the women in his life (a favorite of mine). Seems like even though he Frasier and Diane had closure in the 2nd, he still had issues to iron out with her internally in the 3rd.

JeffR said...

Hi Ken -
My thought on the question about an audience for Frasier is personal as I work as a fundraising auctioneer and after 20 years of looking at faces and having the feedback, I have been doing virtual auctions with NO way to have that feedback - the good news is this past Monday I did my first in person event since March 4, 2020...the difference was incredible!
You talk about actors feeding off of the audience, I need that as an auctioneer as well! it DOES make a difference for any performer to work off of an audience and channel that energy, it raises your game immensely!

Ere I Saw Elba said...

If FRASIER had not been a live multi-cam show, it would have been a one season show, remembered only as a quirky spinoff television footnote.

I couldn't emphasize enough how important the live audience was to keeping the show's vitality for so long. The writing, acting, and direction would still have been genius, but the energy just wouldn't have been there. The live stage performances were the lifeblood of the show.

Pat Reeder said...

Unkystan brought up the same issue that first occurred to me: I don't mind the Vegas episodes as much as the ones where ABC sitcom characters are required to trek off to Disney World. They always come across as overbearing commercials, and there's never any explanation of how characters that might be poor as church mice in every other episode can somehow afford a first class weekend at the Most Overpriced Place On Earth.

Sparks said...

I always figured the cast and crew wanted a free trip to Las Vegas and were happy to go.

Elf said...

I always thought of Frasier as a stage play. There was something just theatrical about it.

I don't begrudge shows for taking the cast to Vegas since lots of people do enjoy it. What I hate is when they trot out all of the Vegas stereotypes to pound home the fact that THEY'RE IN VEGAS. I've gone several dozen times and maybe once have I seen an Elvis impersonator and the biggest celebrity I ever encountered was a professional poker player.

Though as Unkystan said, yes, it does seem like every ABC show ends up at Disneyland, because otherwise, where would people at home ever get the idea to go to Disneyland. Then on the show, just like in my Vegas comment, the characters' experience is absolutely nothing like what any real person encounters.

DBenson said...

Disney and Vegas are the tourism product placement leaders, but I remember the Brady Bunch going to Cedar Point and the Ricardos and Mertzs attending the then-current Broadway production of "The Most Happy Fella". The last included bits of songs and Lucy rhapsodizing how wonderful it was.

Sort of in the same camp are guest appearances by celebrities playing themselves. In recent years these tend to be ironic and self-deprecating (Big Bang Theory and Married With Children constantly chose that route). But once upon a time, a sitcom would abruptly reveal that a character's all-time absolute favorite star was some mid-level actor/actress in a mid-level movie or series, usually under the same corporate ownership. He/She would turn out to be Just Folks as the character made a fool of self upon meeting (The Nanny kept this tradition alive). Or a concert by, say, one of Michael Jackson's brothers was a bigger deal that Elvis and the Beatles combined. The episode would be about desperately seeking tickets and would involve a gift of My Latest Album.

Did you ever get asked/pressured to do a star informercial episode?

On a related note, did you ever get asked to do a back door pilot? That is, do an episode where the regular characters recede into background while the focus is on establishing a different show's cast and premise. I wouldn't count Cheers launching The Tortellis, as Carla's ex was a long-established presence. I mean like, "Give Frasier a toothache, and we'll wedge him into this script about Chevy Chase as a dentist."

Mike Bloodworth said...

The one thing I've never understood was why shows set in New York went all the way to Las Vegas and not Atlantic City which was so close. After all they didn't actually go to Vegas, they were just casino sets. It's like when people in southern California go to Disneyworld in Florida instead of Disneyland.

One Shelley Long cameo was in was in "Adventures in Paradise: Pt.2. All she says is, "Frasier?!"


Buttermilk Sky said...

Some sitcoms that I watch in syndication have been subjected to hi-def "enhancement" and it's terrible. Scenes meant to be exteriors (the MASH compound for instance) are clearly shot on the soundstage, and rear projection is equally obvious. And it doesn't make the shows any funnier. I know there are people who won't watch anything in black and white, but is this the new frontier? How can we stop it?

Mike Schryver said...

I think FRASIER as a single camera show would have played like the first season of THE ODD COUPLE, which was greatly enhanced later by the presence of an audience.

Matt Maerten said...

"How else are you going to work in Elvis impersonators?"

Well, The Golden Girls managed to work in Elvis impersonators into Sophia's wedding in Miami. With a young Quentin Tarantino to boot!

ScarletNumber said...

@Mike Bloodworth

I remember Family Ties, Murphy Brown, and How I Met Your Mother all going to Atlantic City. Those shows were based in Columbus, Washington, and New York, respectively. In fact Murphy Brown specifically went to the Taj Mahal, which was owned by you-know-who. Ironic considering the last season of the show.

JC in DC said...

@Buttermilk Sky, the real crime in “Hi Def Enhancement” is chopping off the top & bottom of the 4:3 frame to pretend like it was shot 16:9. Absolutely criminal, and typically ridiculously unwatchable, (regardless of whether anybody ody’s tracking the verticals). I bought the entire series of MASH in iTunes streaming, and immediately returned the whole damn thing when I saw they had done it.

Ken, I don’t remember seeing you comment about this practice, but it surely shows the species is doomed.

Carter said...

Friday Question: Most people know that early “Wings” episodes featured a few “Cheers” crossover appearances, but those ceased after “Cheers” ended its run. Was there ever any talk of doing a crossover between “Wings” and “Frasier”?

Anonymous said...

Ken, this quote from the wonderful veteran actress Jacqueline Scott, who was in so many classic TV series in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, as well as some really good films, including the classic caper drama “Charley Varrick,” reinforces your view on the problem with TV today, with writers not being allowed to create and complete their work.
“I just think that too many people are getting their fingers into the soup these days. You see these credits with six producers and I don't think it's good for the scripts. I don't think the writers are any less good than they used to be. I think all the producers have the option of changing a couple of lines and that's not good for the script. I can remember when scripts, like for Gunsmoke, were ‘white.’ Everybody didn't get their own opinion in the script.”

Scott died in 2020; she was 89, and left behind a legacy of solid performances on quality shows. Just wanted to pass that along.

Kosmo13 said...

The most annoying and egregious cross-plugging was 'Medium' and 'Memoirs of a Geisha.'

Linda said...

Regarding the 200th Cheers anniversary, those two episodes are ones that I tend to skip. I am probably in the minority here but I think John McLaughlin was a terrible choice as moderator. His questions and delivery come across as super awkward.

Greg Ehrbar said...

My favorite was a "Donna Reed Show" in which "The Stones Go to Hollywood" and get a glimpse of a "real Hollywood movie production" and meet director George Sidney.

It's a promotion within a promotion within a promotion because "The Donna Reed Show" was a Screen Gems presentation, Shelley Fabares (who played Mary Stone) had a number one hit with "Johnny Angel" on Columbia's Colpix label, followed by Paul Petersen (Jeff Stone) with "My Dad." The albums featuring Fabares and Petersen proclaim, “as seen on The Donna Reed Show.” They sang both songs on the show.

The movie being promoted was "Pepe," an episodic showcase for Columbia stars of TV and movies, tied together by Mexican comedian Cantinflas wandering through... Columbia Pictures studios. When we watched this as kids on local TV, the highlight was the appearance of Jay North as "Dennis the Menace" in color instead of black-and-white.

An animated scene by Hanna-Barbera involving Cantinflas and a bullfight was planned but cut. George Sidney was a co-president of Hanna-Barbera for its first several years (there were also several silent partners within Columbia). Sidney knew Hanna and Barbera since he directed "Anchors Aweigh," where Gene Kelly danced with Jerry the mouse.

The early H-B shows were distributed by Screen Gems, their first two animated features were released by Columbia--as was Sidney's "Bye Bye Birdie," which included product placement of Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear. This is why Stoney Curtis and Ann Margrock, as well as Darrin and Samantha from "Bewitched" appeared on "The Flintstones."

In other words, this has been going on since the stone age. Years later, when The Banana Splits were seen in their theme song cavorting at King’s Island, it’s became the park was owned by Taft Broadcasting, which bought Hanna-Barbera in 1967.

This is the Donna Reed episode, but they seemed to have cut Mary's delighted line about "that wonderful 'Pepe' movie,' perhaps for syndication. "Pepe" was not a very big success.

By Ken Levine said...


Big celebrity siting: I saw Cantinflas eating at the Crab Cooker in Newport Beach once. Trust me when I say I was the only one who recognized him.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

It's been awhile since I saw Frazier, what was Shelly's great 10 second joke?

If no one else answered, I believe it was TWENTY PLUS YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT a tag at the end of the two-parter where Frazier and his girlfriend of the moment (JoBeth Williams?) made romantic trip to Bora Bora only to find Lilith and her boyfriend/fiance in the next luxury room. At the end, Frazier was back on the terrace of the room, and called out to his companion, and we heard "Frazier?" from next door and Diane Chambers poked her head through the foliage (replaying the scenario with Lilith from part one) just before Frazier woke up screaming. It was all (the tag) a dream

and again, as I recall, it turned out Niles was Frazier's companion for the second trip to Bora Bora

Jim, Foolish Literalist said...

and was there ever a clunkier episode of "The Tourism Board of X Presents..." than the Modern Family goes to Australia episode?

Philly Cinephile said...

Thanks for the answer to my FQ!

I enjoyed your response regarding Shelley Long. Her 10-second cameo is one of my favorite FRASIER moments. I have long admired SL for it because I can easily imagine that not all actors would be willing to participate in such a short scene, regardless of the quality. (It is the perfect capper to that episode.) Glad to know that it was a happy experience for all involved.

Mark said...

Hi Ken. I have a Friday question: The little girl who played Alice in Season 8 is so darling, and she really seems comfortable with everyone. IMDb doesn't credit her. She's so comfortable with Peri Gilpin I thought maybe she was hers, but a check of Peri's bio tells me that's not the case. Was she the child of another cast or crew member? Thanks!

Will Maybury said...

Hi Ken, Friday question. Something I've noticed in writing of all stripes, amateur and pro, is that when characters get long in the tooth they can end up getting treated very preciously, since naturally the people who have been getting in their heads for a decade plus have gained some affection. Recently I watched "The Show Where Sam Shows Up," which to its credit conspicuously goes the opposite way: the epilogues of Cheers characters who aren't Sam (or Frasier of course) are not overly dwelled upon, and save one relationship, every character mentioned from Cheers had a comically rotten time of things after the TV show ended. Was this deliberately pushing against that instinct toward preciousness (potentially exacerbated by nostalgia), or was that not a consideration?