Friday, July 30, 2021

Friday Questions

The summer is whizzing by… for those who are vaccinated.  Here are this week’s FQ’s.

cd1515 starts us off.

Ken, how much bigger a deal we’re the Emmys in the Cheers/MASH days?
Did people working on those shows genuinely care?

As a viewer I’ve never cared and would have no idea who won what in what year.  I suspect most of America agrees.

Look, if you’re nominated ANY year you care deeply. But in past decades Emmys had more meaning because a larger percentage of the viewing public knew the shows and had a rooting interest.   

Also, an Emmy win could save a show from cancellation.  CHEERS received a big bump in audience after it won the Emmy the first season.   

Networks might also keep shows on the air that weren’t getting great ratings but were getting recognition.  Having Emmy-winning shows on your network was a huge source of pride “back in the day.”  Now it seems the broadcast networks have just given up in that regard.  

Brian Phillips wonders:

Earlier in the blog, you mentioned that you and David Isaacs spoke to people that served during the Korean War to write stories for MASH. Did you or any of the writing staff interview any blind people for "Becker" storylines?

I don’t know if others did on BECKER, but I did not.

However, when David Isaacs and I were writing our first episode of MASH — the one where Hawkeye is temporarily blind — we did consult experts and even walked around with a blindfold to try to simulate the experience.  That was scary on Beverly Glen.

From Janet:

Ken, your discussion about family sitcoms got me thinking about the old 70s series FAMILY.

It wasn't a sitcom, to be sure, but I was curious as to your thoughts.

I've been watching episodes on streaming, and to me, it just seemed terribly morose. There seemed to be precious little joy in that family. But maybe that's what was "edgy" in the mid 70s.

I didn’t watch it too often.  It was a little sappy for my taste.  But they filmed it on the 20th Century lot where we were doing MASH.    So I would see Kristy McNichol and other cast members around the campus.

My one real FAMILY memory is being in the 20th commissary and there was little Quinn Cummings, who was probably 9 or 10 at the time, screaming at her agent near the host stand.  Yikes.

And finally, from Philly Cinephile:

I've often noticed that people on TV shows clearly have no idea how to work with food. I'm obsessing over CHEERS these days and noticed that, when working with lemons, Ted Danson appears to be hollowing them out, rather than slicing, wedging, or zesting them. Eric McCormack on WILL & GRACE was often shown preparing food, but he clearly had no idea how to use a cheese grater or a Pyrex measuring cup. (I'm surprised that no one took a moment to teach him how to pick up the cup by the handle...) Do directors usually leave actors to their own devices when they work with food? Do shows ever use consultants to teach actors the correct way to work with it?

We generally don’t have chef consultants.  Dealing with food is usually an excuse for actors to have some business — something they’re doing besides just standing like a statue while they deliver their lines.  And most directors are way more interested in the text than the business.  

That’s how I am as a director.  My feeling is if the viewer is paying more attention to the cheese grater than the content of the scene I’m in big trouble.  

What’s your Friday Question? 


ScarletNumber said...

> Also, an Emmy win could save a show from cancellation.

This was even more true prior to 1977, which is when the ceremony switched to September from May.

Tim G said...

With regard to actors and food, I loved Becker. If I think of Reggie at the diner, my impression is that she was constantly slicing lemons. That's from repeated viewing because the writing and characterization were so solid. As a side note, I liked Reggie (Terry Farrell) more than Chris (Nancy Travis) for years but after reading about Nancy Travis on Ken's blog, I now like them both and as a result enjoy all seasons of Becker (well, there was Jorge Garcia as a deadweight, but...).

Jeff said...

The food question today reminded me there is something else I've always wondered about sitcom sets. Do the ovens, sinks, etc really work? I was watching an episode of All in the Family last week and Edith made scrambled eggs while she was talking and it sure looked like she really made them. Would there really be a gas line running to the stove or is this likely some kind of trick? And how about when water comes out of a sink?

Honest Ed said...

'Also, an Emmy win could save a show from cancellation.'

Could a couple of nominations do the same, or was it only a win that made a difference?

Fed by the muse said...

While some shows certainly avoided getting "the ax" thanks to Emmy noms/wins (e.g., Hill Street Blues) there were other shows that weren't helped by awards attention, some, like "My World and Welcome To it," might have found a "footing" given a second season. Also, it's ironic that by the third season of "Star Trek" both Paramount and NBC wanted rid of it despite the fact the series was nominated for the Outstanding Series Program Emmy the first two years it was on the network, Leonard Nimoy receiving three consecutive noms for Outstanding Supporting Actor, Nimoy and Greg Morris both losing out in the third year, to Werner Klemperer (for Hogan's Heroes), the one year (of that period) there weren't separate comedy/drama categories (for supporting actor).

Ted. said...

It must be even more difficult for TV shows to deal with liquids -- we're constantly seeing actors pretend to pour and drink from empty cups of coffee and tea.

Andrew said...

I could never accept that the cafe in Becker was a real cafe. It just didn't ring true to me. Not sure why.

Glenn said...

I always felt Emmys lost most of their appeal when they started being given to reality shows. Ken, you yourself said it best in one of your reviews...paraphrasng here, but it went "the reality tv montage was two minutes of people yelling at each other while curse words were bleeped out...this is the "excellence" in television we're celebrating tonight."

Steve in Toronto said...

Hey Jeff---

I've written for comedy series shot on sets on which we had a working ('practical') sink and stove.

The sink was rigged with a small tank of water for the tap and another tank to receive the water that drained out.

The stove was electric. I imagine a gas stove could easily be rigged to work from a propane tank... but then you're dealing with possible leaks and potentially toxic exhaust fumes, which most props people would prefer to avoid!

Oh - and eggs are a good thing to cook during a scene because you can do them using low heat, and they cook fast, and they can be eaten fast, too.

Michael said...

Friday question - Do you know if BECKER was first pitched to NBC before ending up on CBS? I would have assumed NBC would have been interested in Ted Danson's first new show after CHEERS.

Fed by the muse said...

Something interesting I noticed recently while watching "Rhoda" is the soda cans were of the same design as those used on "Rosanne" fifteen years later (something like "Bailey's Soda").

Mitch said...

Because of the emmys Schitts Creek won, we started to watch it. I don't always agree with the winning of these awards (if I pay attention that year), but if something big happens, it gets my notice.

I think there should be more awards shows.

John G said...

Frasier was a great sitcom, yet never seemed to catch fire in syndication. Assuming you agree that's true, to what do you attribute it? I wonder if it has anything to do with the characters not being as warm as though of big syndie hits like Friends, Golden Girls, etc. Any thoughts?

John Schrank said...

To Fed by the muse:

You see product props again and again because there are a limited number of companies that produce these for films and television. Two of the biggest are Independent Studio Services and Earl Hays Press. Independent Studio Services makes a faux imported beer can that bears the name of its designer. Some sharp-eyed observer noticed actor Ed O'Neill reading the same Earl Hays Press prop newspaper design both in Married With Children and Modern Family, and the observation was widely passed around on the internet

Ere I Saw Elba said...

@Philly Cinephile's comment:

The first thing that came to mind was the SEINFELD episode where George Costanza is bullshitting his way through a pilot show pitch to the president of NBC:

George: We did a play where an actor cooked on stage! What was his name?

Jerry: Uh, Pepe!

George: Yeah, Pepe.

NBC: You cooked? On the show?

George:, he mimed it! That's what made it so funny!

And Jerry, and the heads of NBC are all pacified. Personally I couldn't imagine cooking and acting at the same time, but sometimes that's just the route to go.

Brian Fies said...

Today's last item reminds me of a story Mark Hamill tells about working on the first "Star Wars" movie. They were shooting the scene following our heroes' escape from the trash compactor, and Hamill was concerned that his hair should be wet and dirty from his submerged dumpster dive. Harrison Ford turned to him and said, "Hey, kid, it ain't that kind of movie. If people are looking at your hair, we're all in big trouble." Ford was right.

Mitch said...

I disagree Frasier didn't make it in syndication. Played alot in Chicago, still does on the Hallmark Channel.

They had award shows on Frasier too, I think there should be more award shows.

JS said...

Friday Night Lights is an example of a show with low ratings which was too good to be cancelled. So many big careers came out of that show.

As per award shows - I don't care anymore. There are just too many shows on networks I don't even get. How much tv can you watch?

Chuck said...

Your question reminded me of being home and watching an episode of my wife's "All My Children". A scene was taking place in a kitchen. The camera angle was high and taking in the entire set. This kitchen had no sink. How did they miss that?!

WB Jax said...

Somewhat related, I wonder why soap opera characters ALWAYS dine at the same restaurant. On the Bold and the Beautiful the characters only seem to meet for lunch at this one al fresco Italian place (or did pre-pandemic). Of course, these people exist in a Los Angeles where one can get from Malibu to West LA, any time of the day, within ten minutes (and no one ever complains about the traffic!)

Mike Bloodworth said...

Back in the old days when there were only three networks it was highly likely that an Emmy nominated show was one you watched. Therefore, you really did care. You would root for your favorite shows. You would watch the "Emmys" because you wanted to see if your taste matched the rest of the nation.

PHILLY CINEPHILE: I learned this from a bartender. The reason one hollows out a lemon is to avoid getting juice in the rind. For cocktails that require a lemon twist you only want the essence that comes from a twist. Juice in the rind could change the taste of a drink in a disagreeable way. Plus, as Ken said, the actors need something to do. Watching them just standing around yapping can be kind of boring.

Jackie Mason died this week. The latest victim of "The 'Simpsons' Curse?"

Ken. You must be happy to hear that Broadway theaters are forcing actors and audience members to be vaccinated. I'll bet you wish you could do the same locally where your plays are being performed. That should solve all our problems.


Mark said...

I start noticing things like a character doing something incorrectly on my 10th or more viewing of the episode, so for me, whether that reflects the script quality depends on when I notice. That's when I also start noticing the scenery. For example, on Mike & Molly there are rooms behind the living room, including a bathroom. They talk quite a bit about a shortage of bathrooms, but they actually have one on each floor, so that mistake surprises me.

Mike said...

I laughed at loud at that comment about Quinn Cummings. I liked “Family” because I’m a sucker for dramas about families (as opposed to doctors, lawyers, police officers, etc). “Family” was interesting to me mainly because of Kristy McNichol, one of the most talented young actresses that I can remember. And also because the other members of the family were so flawed - the sometimes prickly mother, the father who had cheated on the mother, the slacker son, the materialistic oldest daughter.

Lemuel said...

Supposedly Dan Ackroyd really cooked those cheeseburgers in the Greek restaurant sketch.

Janet said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken!

Yikes indeed about Quinn Cummings. Kinda funny she made such a fuss considering that her career didn't exactly go places and is out of the business now...

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Quinn Cummings did a great interview with a year or two back with Marc Maron for his podcast where she explains how and why she left acting; it sounds like the state of mind around acting - getting jobs, auditions, etc - was tough for her, though she loved acting itself.

As an adult she's a sharp and funny writer and her assessments of awards show fashion are hilarious. This tweet from last year made me laugh more than most sitcoms: While trying to find it, I found this account of her Twitter thread on her time as a talent agent (working for the agent who represented Kathy Baker and Brian Dennehy):

Ken: she'd be an interesting interview for you.


Tyler said...

"Frasier was a great sitcom, yet never seemed to catch fire in syndication. Assuming you agree that's true, to what do you attribute it? I wonder if it has anything to do with the characters not being as warm as though of big syndie hits like Friends, Golden Girls, etc. Any thoughts?"

I think that to the extent this is true (and I do agree that it is, despite how much I absolutely love Frasier) that it's not so much the characters' warmth as it is their relatability to the audience, at least the audience that watches syndicated TV. Two of the main characters are very well-off, with multi-million dollar apartments and Ivy League educations. Their homes look fabulous but don't have the comfort and warmth of the homes of the "normal" people on Seinfeld or Friends (even if the characters on the latter shouldn't have been able to afford their places), or the Cheers bar. Frasier and Niles had their struggles, obviously, but fairly or not, they probably just don't seem relatable to working-class people the way the characters on the syndication powerhouses do.

Leighton said...

Speaking of hit shows not always doing well in was TVLand that brought MTM back in 1992 - with a bang. Prior to that, it had never syndicated in more than 25% of the country. I never saw it in the 80s. However, TVLand BUTCHERED the shows for commercials, incredulously cutting out some of the best known lines - "Mr. Grant, you've got to put some BACK!" They cut HALF of the veal Prince Orloff scene!! Cloris Leachman's Emmy winning 1974 episode ("The Lars Affair") was missing much of what actually won her the award. Thank God for Hulu. (Of course, I bought every DVD season back in the day, although 20th Century Fox botched that release, eventually.)

Michael from Belfast said...

Hey Ken, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar. It's maybe not to everyone's taste, but I loved the fact that they set out to make a movie with the sole intention of being funny - no life lessons, nothing to make you "think", just big, broad, beautifully performed, happy silliness.

Philly Cinephile said...

Ken, thanks for answering my question. I'm curious about your differentiating between the text and the action, in terms of what makes up the content of a scene. Given that TV is a visual medium, wouldn't an actor's "business" be as much a part of the content as the dialogue? And if an actor's "business" is distracting or awkward, wouldn't it fall to the director to modulate the actor's actions?

Fun seeing FAMILY mentioned here. Decades ran the show a few years ago, and it struck me as an attempt to counteract years of idealized family portrayals by presenting a flawed family. However, the writers often went too far in that direction, subjecting the Lawrences to endless misfortunes and often making the characters overly abrasive. Then they tried to bring in comic relief via poor Quinn Cummings (who deserved better), but her hijinks were never especially funny or convincing. (I think EIGHT IS ENOUGH did a better job of blending comedy and drama in its portrayal of a family.)

That said, I found myself completely fascinated by Sada Thompson as Kate. I love that they cast a stout woman who looked her age, and that the character was not especially warm and fuzzy. All these years later, I can still see how different she was from nearly every other TV mom that preceded her.

And then she went on to play Carla's mother on CHEERS!

Philip said...

This is a Friday question. I've seen two sitcom tapings, Frasier and the Big Bang Theory. For the Big Bang Theory, they would frequently redo the scene with different lines, if the original line didn't hit. Frasier was done like a play. They repeated a scene or two for coverage, but there was no ad hoc rewriting.

Which is the norm? And do you have any opinion on either method.

Lloyd said...

I'm a little puzzled by the contention that FRASIER never "caught fire" in syndication. It's been playing continuously on both local stations and on various networks since it ended its prime time run almost two decades ago, and there's been no indication that it's going to be consigned to a vault at Paramount anytime soon. What more than that does a series have to do to be a success in syndication?

Brian said...

Friday question: What chance do sitcoms filmed outside of Hollywood have at "making it"? Are they taken seriously? I once saw the filming of a sitcom in Las Colinas TX (near Dallas). The show was called "13 East". It was a sitcom based in a hospital. I don't remember if it was a pilot or a regular episode, but they had a studio audience and even a warm up guy. This was around 1989 or 1990. The main star was Diana Bellamy and, according to IMDB, it was written by Ray Hoese, Jack Lukes, David Ankrum and Patricia Rust. Directed by Scoey Mitchell. Could the pilot or first few episodes been filmed in Dallas and then if picked up, the filming moved to Hollywood? It ran for two seasons. I realize there are shows filmed "on location" where they need shots of the local city, but this was just a set.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Interesting about Danson/Sam and lemons - since he (and Carla) looked fine mixing drinks. Danson was alleged to have attended Bartending School.

Maybe because I was born in 1958, I find it distracting when an actor smokes a cigarette and clearly has never smoked.

I watched Jon Hamm and John Slattery (as Draper and Sterling) smoke their way from 1960 to 1969 - seven seasons on Mad Men.

In the same way DeCaprio and Pitt did their cigarette "business" effortlessly.

AND, Jon Hamm did an expert job in a "strange bar", mixing two Old Fashioneds for himself and a stranger. Wonder how many takes/drinks for that scene??