Friday, July 23, 2021

Friday Questions

It must be Friday.  You know what that means?

maxdebryn has a question that I receive often. 

What is the deal with all the producers listed in the credits on many tee-wee shows ? In olden days (when I was a lad), you'd see one or two producers listed, but now there are usually more than a dozen or more. Executive producer/ associate producer/co-executive producer ?? Do these producers actually do anything, or is it just a vanity thing ? A lot of actors are now listed as producers on their own shows, too. Do that get paid extra for that ?

Most of those “producers” are writers.  They move up in the hierarchy and in pay grade by going from co-producer to producer, supervising producer, co-executive producer, executive producer.  Sometimes there’s a consulting producer thrown in there somewhere.  As staffs grow, so grow the titles.

The exceptions:  When you see “produced by” that means it’s the line producer who handles everything on the set.  Associate producers usually deal with post-production.  

Actors do take them for more money and vanity, and in some cases, more creative control.  Most of the time they're "producers" in name only.

Derek asks:

On single-camera shows, there seems to be a lot of opportunity for the director to get creative with camera angles, long-shots, close ups, special effects, etc. Some shows (eg, Breaking Bad) do this a lot. But for multi-camera shows it appears there would be far less opportunity for the director to get creative in this way. Are there things that I haven't noticed that a multi-camera director can do to "show off" his or her talents? Do you sometimes watch a show and notice that the multi-cam director has done something novel that the average viewer might not appreciate? Thanks.

If the shot is too weird it might throw the audience off.  But I do appreciate when others directors find interesting shots, and I experiment a little myself.  Usually on the fly.

If I have a pick-up that I need from one camera, I’ll have all four running and I’ll go up to each cameraman and improvise.  I’ll say, “Can you get me a raking master?”  “Can you get me a shot of Kelsey with just the two big noses on either side of him?”  “Can you get me a shot looking through the fishbowl?”   

Most of the time those shots aren’t used, but every so often one sneaks through, and I imagine other directors going “How did he think of that shot?”  

From Mike Bloodworth:

Had you ever considered writing an APRIL FOOLS episode for any of the series for which you wrote? I don't mean an episode where the characters play tricks on each other. I mean an episode, using "Frasier" as an example, where the characters are in a completely different situation. Working in a restaurant maybe. Or an entirely different cast at the radio station, etc. I suppose it wouldn't make much sense of the episodes didn't air on April Fools Day.

No.  We’ve certainly done shows where characters play pranks on other characters but not on the audience.  

As you said, the show has to air on April Fool’s Day.  And any other time you air it it wouldn’t make sense.  Since studios make their money on reruns and syndication, they don’t want you to do an episode that can only be run once.

And finally, from Ron Havens:

Who was your favorite cast addition to any show you wrote for?

That’s an easy one.  David Ogden Stiers as Charles Winchester on MASH.  Great actor, great character, and it added even more depth to the series.

I always loved writing Charles.

What’s your Friday Question?


Dave Dahl said...

My dad always noted how much more interesting the Winchester character was than Frank Burns.

Aaron Garrett said...

News Radio did a few "April Fools" episodes, one episode in which the cast was on the Titanic and one in which they were in Space. I don't believe either episode was actually tied to the first of April, and in both cases they used the regular sets but dressed them strangely, and the characters were still employees of a radio station, just in those new places. I don't recall loving either episode.

Fed by the muse said...

On "Cheers" what was tougher to write, the set-ups for Norm's entrances or Norm's glib comebacks? Also, were these usually scripted or thought up in the writer's room during the week of an episode shoot?

Ere I Saw Elba said...

Just as a riff on the April Fools' Day idea...

I would love to see an episode where the main characters switch roles, just for shits and giggles. Maybe David Hyde Pierce could play Bulldog, or Ted Danson as Norm, or maybe Alan Alda playing Radar. I would definitely watch that.

I'm sure there are a million other possibilities.

And more seriously, I think that the farcical episodes are just about that--putting the familiar characters in roles that are out of their depths. I would say that FRASIER made it work the most successfully.

Mike Doran said...

This Just In:

Beginning next season, the Cleveland baseball club will be known as the Guardians.
Inspired, isn't it? (Yes, it isn't.)
Almost as good as when the White Sox renamed their stadium Guaranteed Rate Field.

Now, more than ever, I feel relief at having given up following MLB at the turn of this century.

ScarletNumber said...

@Dave Dahl

I didn't start watching MASH until after the show had ended, so I saw them right on top of each other. When I discuss the show with others, I can't believe any of them prefer Burns to Winchester. To me, the writers wrote themselves into a corner with Burns, and Larry Linville was gracious enough to see it and step away. They got a chance to create a new character and hit a home run with Winchester, as he had so much more depth and had the chops to compete with Hawkeye and BJ. He actually seemed to have earned his higher rank.

As an aside, I have always felt the character of Frasier Crane was the spiritual descendent of Winchester.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I thought associate producers handled a lot of pre-production (i.e. casting, assisting in hiring other production staff members, those sorts of things)?

Gary said...

I agree with ScarletNumber about Frank Burns. If you watch the early MASH episodes daily (rather than weekly as intended), the Burns character is so obnoxious that it really gets tiresome. And I say that as someone who still prefers the Trapper John/Henry Blake years over the later years.

Buttermilk Sky said...

"Producer" is such a vague term that any explanation is welcome, especially in TV where it co-exists with "showrunner." Who's ultimately in charge? I always think of Jack Warner shoving Hal Wallis aside and grabbing the Best Picture Oscar for CASABLANCA.

Maybe you can explain why every movie seems to have at least seven different production companies listed before the opening credits.

Rays profile said...

Well, they WERE both from Boston...

Michael said...

The Cleveland Guardians are named for stone monuments near the park. It might actually be a good thing in terms of civic pride.

I agree on Winchester and Burns. Over the years, the writers made him increasingly incompetent as a surgeon in addition to being an evil person. Yet I always thought the episode where Hawkeye and BJ fake a fight for his birthday was nicely done because you got a sense of his pathos. That said, Stiers was magnificent. And note to ScarletNumber: there's a Frasier episode where Stiers plays a former colleague of Hester Crane's, and Marty suspects she had an affair because Frasier and Niles are so much more like him. And then Stiers's character tells Marty that he's gay and was close to their mother because she was the only person he told.

Mike Bloodworth said...

As always, thank you Ken for answering my F.Q. My question had been inspired by seeing a Christmas episode of some show during the summer. In syndication a holiday episode can run at any time of the year. So, why not an "April Fools" show?

Burns vs. Winchester. Tough call. Each had their pluses and minuses. Since C.E.W. was a new character and not a carry over from the movie he wasn't constrained by that paradigm. Plus, because C.E.W. was on the show longer that gave the writers more opportunities to expand the character. Truly Charles was a better foil for Hawkeye and the others, but I can't say he was funnier than Frank Burns.


Richard said...

I agreed that Winchester is superior to Frank but Frank's very last scene when he watches Margaret's helicopter whisk her away to her new married life gets me every time. The look on his face and the way he says, "Goodbye, Margaret" because he is saying farewell to a whole major part of his life. And that is the last time we see him. It gets me every time just as much as Sam saying goodbye to the departing Diane in "Cheers": "Have a nice life."

Poochie said...

Since you mentioned David Ogden Stiers and knowing what a big fan you are of comic books, Ken. It might interest you to know that Marvel Avenger Doctor Druid, (though created in 1961) was later inspired and directly emulated from Charles Winchester, as a sort of foil to the team.

From Avengers' writer Roger Stern:
"I always intended Druid to be the Charles Emerson Winchester of the group...pulling his own weight on the team, but often getting on other members' nerves.He was supposed to fill the group's Pain-in-the-Ass Quotient, much as (Marvel's) Hawkeye had done a very different way, of course. Druid was the erudite wise-ass, as opposed to Hawkeye's lovable butt-head."

So there you have it Ken. You very directly created a Marvel Avenger. I know how much this much mean to you.

Jeff Boice said...

You reminded me of watching the Dear Sis episode (a Christmas episode btw.) with my parents. After the scene where Charles (in his own way) thanks Father Mulcahy, my mother said "He's priceless tonight".

The movie Frank Burns was one despicable man- so terrible he's gone by the halfway mark. For TV, Frank was toned down into the typical TV sitcom villain role, but that stuck him in a mold he couldn't escape.

I remember the cast changes as being jarring- but without them, the show would have only lasted 6 seasons. The change that got the most criticism was B.J. for Trapper John. I remember an associate at work ranting- "I CAN"T STAND THE GUY THEY GOT TO REPLACE TRAPPER JOHN! HE'S SO BORING!"

Ralph C. said...

I choose not to choose Frank or Charles, Diane or Rebecca, or Joel, Mike, Jonah and Emily.

Liggie said...

April Fools: Drew Carey once had a "crazy" episode of his sitcom, where the characters wore strange costumes, did weird things, and sometimes used different voices. That was the first time I realized Craig Ferguson was Scottish and not English, because he used an English accent for his character but spoke in his regular voice in that episode. Drew also enjoys staging special April Fools episodes of "The Price is Right"; the models hosting the games while Drew modeled prizes, Bob Barker coming out at the start instead of Drew, the sets and lighting purposely malfunctioning during the episode, and Craig Ferguson and Geoff the skeleton hosting while Drew hosted "The Late Late Show".

"Guardians": I would've preferred "Spiders", which has roots in Cleveland baseball and is used by a couple of college teams. Still, it was long beyond time to dump the Indians name and logo, and "Guardians" is far better than that wretched name for Seattle's new NHL team (which I refuse to write).

Baseball FQ: The MLB network has an occasional series called "Sounds of the Game", highlighting the careers and highlights of top baseball announcers. They've done Vin Scully, Curt Gowdy, Joe Garagiola, Al Michaels, Tony Kubek, Jon Miller, and a combined episode for Mel Allen and Red Barber (and Barber's egg timer). What other broadcasters would you like to see them spotlight?

YEKIMI said...

Here's an "Uh-oh" moment for the Cleveland Indians.....their new name "Guardians" is already being used by some other minor sports team in team, badminton, horseshoes......not sure, but apparently they may have a copyright on the name. Sure, the "Indians" could buy it but if the current users of the name don't want to's gonna get embarrassing for the Indians. It'll become a "now what do we do?" moment for them.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Regarding Frank and Charles, these two characters I can only tolerate in moderation . . . they're both among the most unlikable characters from M*A*S*H, but whereas Ferret Face was one of those characters you love to hate, Boston Bull often went out of his way to be unlikable. That being said, both also had their lighter moments as well: Frank had certain mannerisms about him that Larry Linville sold really well - a certain look, a certain expression, a certain tilt of a head, that cackle; meanwhile, David Ogden Stiers had a way of delivering Charles's Bostonian drivel with such deadpan seriousness that the things Charles said were actually so unintentionally hilarious.

Regarding April Fool's Day episodes, this was something that THE LOUD HOUSE did once a season, but they kept getting worse, because these were the episodes that depicted Luan Loud as something of a sociopath in terms of how far she'd go to prank her family, regardless of how seriously injured they could be as a result of her pranks; because of this, she's one of the most-hated characters of the show based on those episodes alone - never mind the fact that other episodes portray her in a more positive light, and actually show her vulnerable and sincere side. Mercifully, after she seemingly learned her lesson, Season 4 did not carry on the annual tradition . . . unfortunately, Season 5 did an about face and gave us another one, even though she acknowledged she retired from pranking, it turns out the Loud family baby, Lily, had inherited Luan's knack for orchestrating elaborate and precise pranks because she wanted Luan to come out of retirement. That was quite a slap in the face - it'd be like if Frank finally had a moment of clarity and realized what a miserable excuse for a human being he was, and made an earnest effort to reform himself, only for somebody else to tell him they miss him being the weasel that he was, then back to square one.

Regarding B.J., I agree, he really gets far too much hate from MASHers. The most common complaint I see from people is that they feel he was too whiney about missing Peggy and Erin . . . but really, he just finished medical school, he and Peggy were just married, they were just expecting their first child, then the Army comes along and drafts him into a war he was barely prepared for, can you blame the guy for feeling the way he did? Plus, B.J. was afforded a luxury that Trapper unfortunately missed out on: during the seasons B.J. was on the show, the writers put more focus into character development, as opposed to anti-war satire when Trapper was on the show; B.J. was a more rounded character with depth, not to mention that because his personality was more of a contrast to Hawkeye's, that kept their dynamic fresh and interesting - they could butt heads, but at the end of the day, they were still the best of friends. Trapper was more like Hawkeye 2.0 . . . they just basically boozed their brains out by day, chased nurses by night, and tormented Frank inbetween; their dynamic felt more like a shtick than a friendship, which is a shame, because Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers had some genuinely incredible chemistry with each other. Just my opinion, but this is why I prefer B.J. over Trapper. Otherwise, to paraphrase what Ralph C. commented, I like both Henry and Potter for different reasons, same with Frank and Charles.

@Richard Unfortunately, that actually wasn't Frank's very last scene. Syndication often cuts the closing tag from that episode that's otherwise included on DVD (and I presume Hulu): Hawkeye, B.J., and Potter sit up with Frank in the Swamp to keep him company, while they start fantasizing about what Margaret and Penobscot would probably be doing on their honeymoon at the moment, which prompts them all to head off and grab a cold shower. It's a really awkward and cringey scene to say the least.

John G said...

FQ: The show Mom went through a pretty drastic evolution from season one to where the show ended. In fact, only one member of the original cast finished the run. Can you think of other successful shows that changed to such a degree?

benson said...

Ken, here's Friday Question related to sitcom history and a relic of that era, sponsor ads. Some of my boxed DVD sets include the original sponsor commercials done by the cast. For example, DVD and MTM doing a cigarette commercial or a dish soap ad, in character, with Ritchie.

My question is, on the Andy Griffith Show, they did commercials that were in theme with that week's script, and some even with the guest star in the spot. One had Sue Ane Langdon, who was that week's love interest for Andy, in the Sanka spot. I even saw one with Executive Producer Sheldon Leonard (doing his tout character). My question is, did the guest actors get paid extra? Leonard owned a piece of the show, so it would be in his self interest to keep the sponsor happy. And did the episode's writers get something extra for the additional dialog?

And a follow up, from the creative aspect, these characters are breaking "the 4th wall", talking directly to the camera. Might that be an issue?

benson said...


True story. About 30 years ago, in West Michigan, a new Single A level minor league baseball team was awarded to Battle Creek. Some guy, the equivalent of what we now would call a "cyber-squatter", got wind of the possible nickname and service marked it. So the Golden Kazoos never played a game, becoming the Battle Cats instead.

Bob B. said...

In many single camera programs (MASH especially) I will occasionally notice that at the end of scene the actors will stand frozen for about one to three seconds before the next scene starts. (I can provide examples if needed) My unprofessional analysis of this is this must be done to allow the editing department areas that can be trimmed to hit the exact number of minutes and seconds that an episode should be. Is this right and when filming does every scene have this "frozen actor" area which is just trimmed away in post?

Michael said...

Mr. Scarborough, one of my all-time favorite episodes is "Oh, How We Danced." It brought together the three storylines so well, I thought, but the scene where B.J. and Margaret dance just destroys me.