Friday, June 11, 2021

Friday Questions

If you haven’t already, this is the time to get vaccinated.  Our president and the CDC is being very diplomatic, but let me just say if you’re not getting vaccinated you’re just stupid.  And maybe in needless danger of your life.   And with that public service announcement, here are this week’s Friday Questions.

An unknown reader (who submitted this before I banned unknown and anonymous readers) asks:

How do you feel about studio audiences that go "Awwww!" when something sweet happens, or "Woooo!" when one character insults another or a hot woman walks in? Do any warmup guys try to discourage such behavior?

I hate it and will eliminate it from the audience track.  Emotions need to be earned, not prodded by the audience.  “Wooo’s” are distracting and in some cases rude.

I do tell my warm up people to ask the audience not to do that.  

I also hate applause when actors make their first appearance.  It takes the audience out of the show and it’s self-congratulatory.  

Personal bias but I go to great lengths to avoid any hint of self-congratulations.   Like I said, everything has to be earned.  YOU decide whether the show is good. 

DougG. wonders:

Would you like to have been a writer for Johnny Carson on THE TONIGHT SHOW?

No.  I never had any desire to do that and never applied.

I like writing stories and having my humor come out of characters and attitudes.  I don’t enjoy just writing “jokes.”  

Having to sit in a room and bang out fifty one-liners hoping I get one in is not why I became a writer.  

My first "writing" job was coming up with jokes for Joan Rivers.  I think I got $5 for every one she used.  So basically $5 for every twenty jokes. 

Not for me.  

Mike Reiss, on my podcast, also said that THE TONIGHT SHOW was a revolving door, and that it was not uncommon to get fired once or maybe twice.  

Not for me.

That said, there were some brilliant comedy writers who did work on THE TONIGHT SHOW, several who are friends.  I greatly admire what they did.  It just wasn’t my strength.  Or interest.  

From Yakimi:

A radio question: In all your radio travels, did you ever work at a station that had horribly outdated equipment?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?

Oh yes.  My first job in radio.  KERN, Bakersfield.  I think it said “Hail to the Kaiser!” on the transmitter.  

But here’s the irony: The station also had the best Chief Engineer in John Barcroft.  So even though everything was old and outdated, the station ran like a top.   And it sounded fantastic on the air.  

I’ll take that over new state-of-the-art equipment that breaks down, needs to be rebooted, has glitches, and sounds lousy.  

And finally, from Buttermilk Sky:

Friday question: Commercials. As someone who has written for movies and stage as well as TV, do you find it difficult to remember to break down scripts into ten-minute segments because of the ads? Or does it help you to structure the show?

It helps to structure the show.  When I construct a story I’m always mindful of act breaks and the best, most suspenseful way of telling the story.   Even if I did a show for a streaming platform with no commercials I would still create my own act breaks.

What’s your Friday Question? 


Glenn said...

I was a fan of Married with Children, but in the later years, half of the show runtime was hooting and hollering, wild applause for every line and nonstop catcalling for every attractive woman.

Daniel said...

POSSIBLE FRIDAY QUESTION: 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?

(Not asking if it would have been a success in the ratings, just whether it would have been as satisfying a viewing experience for the audience.)

Unkystan said...

I went to a few Craig Ferguson tapings and we were told specifically not applaud at every stupid little thing. Kept it real Although it has ruined watching all other talk shows for me Does a joke in a monologue deserve applause? No. If a guest says a hometown does it deserve applause? No. If Rachel Ray discloses that her secret ingredient in a recipe is cumin should the audience react as if she discovered a cure for cancer? (I actually saw that) but…no! Man…I miss Ferguson!

Brian said...

Regarding KERN's antiquity: My childhood (of the 1970's) bakery in NY still said "Try our Victory Bread!" on the red and yellow signs inside. I didn't have the heart to tell them that we won World War II. I miss Pakula's Bakery!

Max said...

I love the question re antiquated radio equipment. I'm guessing nothing tops college radio for this. When I was in high school (late 1970s) I got an airshift on the hometown college radio station, and their board was an antique that had been donated by the local AM station when it added an FM outlet in the 60s. My dad worked at that station part time when he came to town in the 50s and said that was the "new board" when he was there... so repurposed at the college station, it was already 20+ years old.
2014 I was back in my hometown for what ended up being a three year stay, and decided to get a show at the college radio station (sad note: lack of student interest = abundant available airshifts for community DJs). The student manager had me come in to train, and in their air studio was, yes, the same board that I'd used there in 1978 (and that my dad used in the 50s).
The station was upgrading thanks to a grant, and the board was on its way out, and it was cool to do one its last airshifts ever.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

SANFORD AND SON was one of the worst for audience applause whenever any of the actors first entered a scene, because it happened every single time in every single episode (well, in the last few seasons that is), and every time it happened, they would always just freeze in place until the audience finally settled down before resuming the scene. Can you just imagine how awkward that would be without an audience?

LAMONT: (Enters) Pop?

Long awkward silence.

FRED: (Enters) Hi, son.

Long awkward silence.

FRED: Well, speak up, dummy! What are you waitin' for?

Having said that, however, outlandish shows of the mid-60s like THE MUNSTERS utilized some really unique and extreme canned audience reactions that you rarely heard on most other shows during the time period that were given the Charley Douglass reaction treatment, such as a lot of surprised screams and gasps - it was all rather quite fitting for such a show if you ask me. It was actually bizarre to hear such a reaction come up approximately once on M*A*S*H in "Margaret's Engagement" when Frank stupidly bites the pin out of grenade in the Swamp.

Ere I Saw Elba said...

"I'm Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl"

Maddening that NEWHART would let the audience applause go on for approximately 104,000 minutes. On the plus side, CHEERS did a pretty good of reining in the "Norm" entrances while still giving the audience and viewers a chance to chuckle a bit.

As a side note, do you get the impression that none of these actors actually liked these routines?

Roger Owen Green said...

Just this week, flipping through the channels, I saw THE WORST use of a laugh track. It's Young Dylan, from Tyler Perry on Nick. EVERY line is a laugh or another reaction. Toxic. Avoid at all costs.

Cowboy Surfer said...

Do you think BJ AND THE BEAR would have had a longer run, if instead of a monkey named Bear, they went with a bear named Monkey?

Wouldn't PINK LADY & FLOYD been a better option?

I'm just here for the Starland Vocal Band references...

Andrew said...

Ohio (where I live) seems to be doing relatively well in vaccinations. The most recent info is that 84 percent of our distributed vaccines have been used. Almost half of our adult population is fully vaccinated. Still, we have a long way to go.

I don't know how much attention has been paid to him on a national level, but Gov. Mike DeWine has been a good and pragmatic Republican governor, who has navigated the ugly political climate very well. He managed to distance himself from Trump without being too confrontational, which has paid off. I have several right-wing friends who surprised me and got vaccinated.

You may have heard that we had a lottery for vaccinated people. It saddens me that a weekly lottery for a million dollars would be necessary to boost the numbers, but it worked. There was a 33 percent increase in vaccinations after the lottery was announced. It also saddens me that I did not win my week's drawing. So I'm still commenting on blogs while I work my boring job.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Some may enjoy Dave Grohl's Sound City documentary - "free with ads" on youtube.

Tie in here is that the studio never "went digital" - and had a reputation for "good drum sound" (attributed to the room) and good sound in general - attributed to the Neve console custom built circa 1973 and moved to Grohl's Studio 606 when the studio was shuttered in 2011.

Liggie said...

The "Married ... With Children" audience reactions were entirely created from the audience, not from encouragement from the staff or emcee. Ted McGinley joked that the taping crowds were like the bleacher sections at a Raiders game, while Christina Applegate had to tell the audiences to cool it with the hooting at her outfits to speed up the tapings.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Does a joke in a monologue deserve applause?

Maybe not, but Tonight Show audiences (Carson, never bothered with Leno) did it all the time - going back to the Burbank days in the 70s.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Regarding Ohio's brilliant "vaccination lottery":

Most of us, for our entire working lives (to continue in Retirement), participate in annual vaccinations involving Form 1040 and others (against the Fed Virus).

That would go down a lot better with a lottery feature.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Los Angeles Vally College had some very old equipment in their radio station when I was there in the late 70's and early 80's. And much of it was donated from otherinstitutions. (MAX) But that old equipment had that "industrial heft" to it. It was designed to last for years. It served it's purpose well.
L.A.V.C. is still in the process of building a new performing arts center. The radio station was supposed to be moved there. I haven't seen it yet, but i'm guessing they will have all new equipment. The days of analog are long gone.


DyHrdMET said...

I have a CHEERS question (and this is based on seeing the early years on Decades TV right now). What do you think the story arc, character arcs and other evolution of CHEERS had been if Nick Colasanto hadn't died and Shelley Long hadn't left the show? Both events forced change on the series by adding new characters which created more possibilities. Shelley's leaving almost seemed natural in the Sam-Diane story, but how long would the show have gone on with the Sam and Diane story arc, and what do you think would have happened to them in the end?

Leighton said...

I can't watch a show with belabored studio audience reactions. It is totally distracting.

(Oh, on another note, related to a previous post...I HATE the James Brooks laugh on the MTM episodes. I find it excruciating. Seal-like?)

Tom Galloway said...

Personally, I'm most amused by the various efforts (New Jersey, I think even Seattle [which is at 70% fully vaccinated btw]) to try to get people to get vaccinated by offering them a free beer if they do.

I mean, offering free beer is literally Michigan J. Frog level bribery....

Philly Cinephile said...

Audience reactions in the later episodes of HAPPY DAYS were out of control. Every character was greeted with cheers and applause upon his or her first appearance in an episode. (Nothing against Tom Bosley, but "Mr. C." was hardly scream-worthy.)

Philly Cinephile said...

Friday question: 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.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Roger Owen Green YOUNG DYLAN is clearly Tyler Perry's rip off of THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR. Seriously, they didn't even try to hide that fact when they started promoting the show before it first went to air.

DougG. said...

Having read your answer to my Friday Question, I understand why you wouldn't have wanted to be a writer on the Tonight Show. Not that it matters, I was just thinking in terms of being a funny writer and I figured that translates to any format but I understand now why you wouldn't have wanted to spend days having to write one-liners instead of stories/characters and how monologues aren't just as interesting.

Anyway, I have an actual Friday question: 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?

Unknown said...

Here's my Friday question - for next Friday!

Are you or any of the other Cheers and Frasier writers returning for the Frasier revival?

Kirk said...

Well, then is a play all that different than a sitcom taped or filmed before a live audience? It seems to me there would be the same plusses and minuses involved.

mike schlesinger said...

Unkystan: Ferguson returns Thursday with the second season of "The Hustler," the niftiest new game show in many a moon.

I don't have a problem with recognition applause, especially if it's a big star making a guest appearance. I remember the audience would break out in applause whenever Frank Nelson showed up on "The Jack Benny Program." It was an acknowledgment of his past great work as well as anticipation of what he was about to do.

Ed Vieira said...

Hi Ken,
In terms of the single-camera and multi-camera perspectives, I suspect that it is not an issue for writing an animated sitcom series pilot. Is this correct?

Also, are there any specific areas or resources where I should direct my attention for such a genre?

Thanks a bunch!

James said...

Two things.

1) A Friday question. I know it's trivial but I'm curious. A few TV shows, namely All in the Family and Cheers, had a big voice-over that said this show "was filmed before a live studio audience." Most shows did not. Why did the Charles Brothers think it was important to put that announcement in, particularly at the beginning of the show? How many people in the audience know or care?

2) Podcast feedback. If you're looking for ideas for your podcast, please consider doing another one where you provide a real-time commentary track to an episode of something on YouTube. Even though I'm usually driving or hiking or something like that while listening to your podcasts, I can still follow along, and I can go back and watch the video later if I feel like it. I like your commentaries--you should be on the regular DVD editions.

Also consider doing one for something like an episode of MARY. It wasn't a hit show, but it's still interesting to hear about background, decisions, anecdotes about the cast, etc. Mary had a hell of a cast, but in the past you've mostly only talked about Katie Sagal. I'd love to hear more about James Farentino, John Astin, and some of other supporting cast.

Ray said...

What are your thoughts on the apparent flavor of the month in episodic premium cable- the "genre bender" setup of a premise that turns out not to be the premise? First out of the gate was Disney/Marvel's WandaVision. It seemed at first to be just a weird mashup of two characters from a superhero universe with a chronological series of homages to beloved sitcoms (beginning with your own beloved Dick Van Dyke Show that Dick himself was apparently brought in to consult on). Then, in the final episodes, they peeled back the layers and finally explained what had been going on. HBO Max then gave us The Nevers, which for most of its first half seemed a conventional but somethng's-missing piece of steampunk scifi, before the final episode at the halfway point jumped around and back again to redefine everything we saw. And now AMC's doing it with a show with Kevin in its title that would probably get this comment moderated. It's the most obvious from the get-go, bouncing at will, sometimes in a single scene, between the multicam style of Everybody Loves Raymondy shows with a hideously loud laugh track and the single-cam shots of the main character that are more Stephen King than Chuck Lorre. All of them seem determined to not let us in on what's really going on, and with them all dropping episodically rather than all at once, they are binge-proof and spoiler-risky.