Friday, September 03, 2021

Friday Questions

And we are now in September already.  Yikes.  Here are questions from vaccinated readers.  What’s yours?

Stephen Cudmore is up first.

MASH had a lot of anachronisms in it, like Radar doing an impression of John Wayne from McClintock. Were these goofs, or at some point did the writers decide they were okay with the show not being set in any particular decade?

I would say that 90% of the goofs, mostly anachronisms, were unintentional.  Here's one you may not know:  In our first episode, OUT OF SIGHT/OUT OF MIND in the tag if you look closely, you’ll see one of the nurses is reading the paperback of JAWS.  

But it was tough since the show lasted 11 years and the war lasted 2.  Trying to keep a timeline was impossible.  And later in the run they did an episode that all took place over one the course of one year and the completely obliterated any timeline and the existence of Trapper, Henry, and Frank. I wasn’t with the show then.  

B Smith asks:

Perhaps I haven't looked hard enough, but I've yet to see a film or TV show that acknowledges the COVID-19 pandemic (never gets mentioned, no-one wears a mask, no restrictions or anti-vaxxers). Given that it's probably not going to disappear miraculously, do you think films and TV set in the present day ought to?

There are shows that deal with it.  Two, off the top of my head, are THE GOOD FIGHT and BULL.  I’m sure my astute readers will have other examples.

It’s a tricky dance. You want to be true to the real world, but audiences don’t like seeing it.  And I think when the idiots finally get vaccinated and this goes away (years later than it should with much more hardship that could have been avoided), there will be no nostalgia for this period.  Viewers won’t want to be reminded of it.   So for a show to dwell on the current situation does so with the understanding that their shelf life might be limited.  

How I would handle it?  It truly would depend on the show and how necessary it was to deal with the pandemic.   Bring back MASH.

From MikeN:

Why are Cheers and Frasier on Paramount instead of Peacock?

Because the shows are Paramount shows and they’re owned by Viacom, which owns CBS and Paramount +.  Although those shows aired originally on NBC, they have no hold on them and so Peacock is out of luck.  

It’s one of the main reasons why networks wanted to own their own shows.   Peacock would love to have FRIENDS.  But they’re owned by Warner Brothers so HBO Max is their home.  

And finally, Darwin's Ghost has a question about the JEOPARDY host opening.


Serious question, Ken. Why don't you audition? You've got tons of presenting experience, you're funny, and you know the show inside out. And the only thing anyone could dig up from the past is Mannequin 2, and that wasn't your fault.

Call your agent to get on it Monday morning!


Thank you for your faith in me.  I think they’re looking for someone a little younger and someone who has an actual name that people know. 

But when Vanna White retires…

60 comments :

Barry Traylor said...

From the time of the 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic I have never seen anything in magazines of the period with anything about the pandemic. I collect old magazines from that time.

Brian Phillips said...

Not seeing many shows dealing with the pandemic = The reason why we don't see Murphy Brown re-runs.

Brian said...

Season 7, episode 3 of Black-ish included the pandemic as part of the story.

I thought the episode was well done, not sure how well it's going to 'age' though given everything that's happened since original air date (October, 2020).

Brian Phillips said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: You've mentioned favorite writers, actors and directors. Who were/are some of the favorite people you've worked with that are not one of the above?

Oliver said...

THE CONNERS dealt with covid. Funnyly enough in every scene that played inside the store or café, everybody took of the masks as soon as they started talking. Yeah, its better if we see the faces of the actors, but the masks ... are ... meant for the exact opposite of that.

MellaBlue said...

There are quite a few shows that have dealt with the pandemic -- Superstore, Black-ish, The Conners, Grey's Anatomy to name a few.

John Trumbull said...

Superstore did a lot with pandemic related stories in its last season. We saw lots of scenes of the cast masked, and they did one storyline where the staff was celebrating all the holidays they missed in one fell swoop.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine acknowledged COVID-19 briefly in its premiere episode this season, then skipped ahead in the timeline to a time where most everyone was vaxxed. Dirk Blocker's character of Hitchcock has only been seen via Zoom calls this year. In-universe, it's because he's retired from the force and calls in from Florida. I'm wondering if the real world reason is because the actor was quarantining, but I haven't seen anything confirming that.

Honest Ed said...

Here in the UK, I've spent the last 18 months working on 2 shows, both medical dramas. One took it head on and launched the last season with a Covid special about the time the pandemic hit. It was actually a huge hit for them, in terms of audience and credibility - it basically won them a BAFTA. They, however didn't have a lot of choice - the only way to possibly film that show involved the ac tors and the characters having to wear lots of PPE. Shooting restrictions means the cast will likely still have to wear PPE long after it's required in hospitals. The other show, however, took the decision to largely ignore the pandemic.

Curt Alliaume said...

John Trumbull wrote:

>>Dirk Blocker's character of Hitchcock has only been seen via Zoom calls this year. In-universe, it's because he's retired from the force and calls in from Florida. I'm wondering if the real world reason is because the actor was quarantining, but I haven't seen anything confirming that.

Per Blocker's Twitter feed, he's fully vaccinated and stresses vaccinations for all:

https://twitter.com/DirkBlocker/status/1383808618013741068

https://twitter.com/dirkblocker/status/1429477038272901121

Chris G said...

Mythic Quest did a lock-down special last year, then the most recent season largely treated the pandemic as something that happened in the past.

Greempa said...

Others have mentioned Superstore as a show that is set in the COVID world. I've watched Superstore since day one and this last season was my least favorite simply because it reminded me of the pandemic every time I watched it. I see masks in stores whenever I go shopping. I don't want to see it when I'm watching a TV show.
BTW, I'm definitely pro mask and have been fully vaccinated since early March. I just didn't enjoy being reminded of it watching a silly sitcom at night.

YEKIMI said...

Law & Order: SVU has had some pandemic related issues: Characters wearing masks, temps being taken in the squad room, stuff like that.

johnachziger said...

NCIS had several episodes that dealt with the pandemic.

Michael said...

As I recall, Colonel Potter had two different wedding anniversaries with different lengths of marriage, and there was a third reference to how long he had been married that was different. To be fair, on I Love Lucy, something similar happened to the Mertzes, so maybe it's a TV thing.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Just for the hell of it, I once developed this "M*A*S*H" timeline (I was really bored):

June 1950--Korean War begins.

August 1951--Henry discharged and subsequently killed.

September 1951--Trapper discharged. B.J. arrives, followed a week later by Potter.

April 1952--Frank transferred home. Charles arrives.

October 1952--Radar discharged.

July 1953--War ends.

Michael Dorsey said...

Hey Ken, guess what? "Cheers" and "Frasier" are on Paramount + AND Peacock!

Viacom has been infamous for grabbing quick cash by renting the rights to many of their properties to other platforms before they created Paramount +. So many of their shows and movies will show up in strange places.

Wm. Adams said...

Both iterations of the FBI franchise dealt with the pandemic.

Ted. said...

"Grey's Anatomy" really dove into the pandemic story for a significant amount of time. It provided a realistic look at what it was like for doctors when their hospital beds were overflowing, patients kept dying, and they were afraid of bringing the virus home to their families.

Meredith Grey, the lead character (in a large and shifting ensemble), nearly died of COVID herself -- but didn't, of course, because Ellen Pompeo still has a contract. This also led to a ridiculous series of scenes in which she was some sort of spirit-world limbo, on an Instagram-filtered beach, and was visited by several characters who passed away during previous seasons -- resulting in unsatisfying cameos from actors who left the show, or were pushed out, years ago.

"The Good Doctor," which is sort of like "Grey's" with a smaller cast, also did a series of pandemic-themed episodes. But then they just skipped to the near-future when it was all over -- probably because even a show about surgeons finds it tough to film actors acting in masks.

John Parrish said...

“This is Us” addressed the pandemic: https://ew.com/tv/this-is-us-creator-dan-fogelman-season-5-pandemic-black-lives-matter/

Call Me Mike said...

@Barry Traylor

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to remember reading somewhere that it was only called the Spanish Flu because Spain was the first country that bothered to publish news about the pandemic. I believe the theory is the virus actually originated somewhere in Kansas, but whether any newspapers there reported on it, I have no idea.

Get vaccinated, Kansas.

J.W. Booth said...

Ken "vaccines cure everything" Levine

Leighton said...

It has nothing to do anachronisms, but "The Golden Girls" is one of the least consistent sit-coms around, regarding characters' histories. Names change, children change, family history changes, etc. It's as if they didn't even bother to check previous scripts. I know, it was the 80s, and you couldn't binge a show and catch the flubs. However, it is really glaring.

Unknown said...

"And later in the run they did an episode that all took place over one the course of one year and the completely obliterated any timeline and the existence of Trapper, Henry, and Frank. I wasn’t with the show then."

This episode pissed me off SO much when it aired. I know, it's just a tv show, but it just ticked me off that I knew the time-line of the show better than the people in charge. It's all good, I'm over it now......

Leighton said...

"Frasier" is also on Hulu (ABC).

Jim said...

Your daughter and her writing partner should pitch AfterPandemic. Your fatherly and professional advice will surely serve to seal the success of their venture.

They can have the show premise here, for free:

Dr. Fauci, Trump and My Pillow Guy (he’ll need the gig by then) or the Florida governor (he’ll need the gig by then) reunite at a Missouri bleach factory after all of Trump’s quack theories were proven to be medically effective. Drinking special Trump bleach becomes the one and only treatment to quell what was otherwise the doomsday variant found in Covid-23.

Hijinks and hilarity follow the 3 principals’ ineptitude as they battle for glory, the spotlight and the unprecedented bleach profits - all from the perspective of the madcap administrator running the bleach factory.

Your experience and gentle guiding hand will allow the series creators to avoid any pitfalls that may have doomed previous “After-“ projects if there were any, although none come to mind.

D. McEwan said...

It was always the Godzilla references on M*A*S*H that drove me nuts. The word "Godzilla" didn't exist until 1956.

D. McEwan said...

"I think they’re looking for someone a little younger and someone who has an actual name that people know."

Then why did they hire Mike Richards?

Brian Stanley said...

They didn’t, Mike Richards did.

Buttermilk Sky said...

As long as we're nitpicking, a MASH episode is devoted to the effort to obtain the "racy" movie THE MOON IS BLUE, which was released in 1953. (It was considered edgy because the word "virgin" was uttered for the first time.) When they finally saw it most people were as underwhelmed as the 4077th.)

Liggie said...

"Superstore" *had* to address the pandemic. A large part of its audience was people who have worked or are working a soul-sucking retail job, or three (myself included). Those employees have had to face continual ridiculousness from customers during this pandemic, and the show had to poke fun of that.

Customers taking merchandise as soon as employees stocked them, Dina hosing off Glenn because a customer sneezed on him, someone refusing to wear a mask because "I have a condition!!", the toilet paper the employees were hiding in the ceiling crashing down to the floor, causing a customer dogpile; stuff like this probably happened in real-life big-box stores, as a friend who works in one can attest.

It didn't bother me much, we needed to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. The only issue was that the actors' voices were muffled when they wore masks, but that wasn't an issue. It was more acceptable than obviously canned laugh tracks in three-camera sitcoms filmed before pandemic-induced empty soundstages.

Jeff Boice said...

The timeline issue did bother me but I imagine nobody thought the show would run 11 seasons- seems like at one point they were anticipating a 5 year run. I suppose we could adopt the strategy of DC Comics and say that the early seasons happened on our Earth, with the later episodes occurring on a parallel world ("an Earth similar to ours, but with surprising differences!" as the caption would explain).

Darwin's Ghost said...

J.W. Booth

Only people who have zero understanding of vaccines would come up with that straw man argument. Vaccines are not, by definition, cures. But this sort of scientific illiteracy is prevalent in the US.

Darwin's Ghost said...

You're too modest, Ken. As D McEwan says, Mike Richards isn't young.

As for "someone who has an actual name that people know," you could always tell the producers you're the Ken Levine who designs games.

Mibbitmaker said...

In my current web comic, I set things in a fantasy world where I wouldn't feel the need to make my characters endure the pandemic. Since the comic is an allegorical satire, I cast the COVID situation as a TV miniseries in their world as a way to still address it. Later on, I did a short scene with my only 2 overt caricature characters, Michael O'Donoghue as Death (serving all universes, including our real one), and Nixon as a troublemaking bat, briefly talking about the actual pandemic. Wanted to make sure the readers didn't think I thought of COVID as a fiction, after all.

iamr4man said...

Regarding Leighton’ comment on the Golden Girls:

I alway understood that shows kept a “Bible” that could be used as reference by writers of a show to keep continuity on such things as former wives, children, etc of a character. Just looked it up on Wikipedia and found this which I think is apropos this blog:

>> Bibles are updated with information on the characters after the information has been established on screen.[2] For example, the Frasier show bible was "scrupulously maintained", and anything established on air — "the name of Frasier's mother, Niles' favorite professor, Martin's favorite bar...even a list of Maris' [dozens of] food allergies" — was reflected in the bible.[2] The updated bible then serves as a resource for writers to keep everything within the series consistent.[2]<<

So I guess as a Friday question, Ken, did you have anything to do with the Frasier “bible”.

Mike Barer said...

I would love to see you guest host Jeopardy.

Mike Doran said...

Filming throughout the decade of the '70s, MASH was one nonstop anachronism - from the men's haircuts (or lack thereof) on down.
Alan Alda's cut of that time looked more like a combover - which the Alda of 2021 would likely welcome ...
... and don't even talk about sideburns ...

But the fun things to spot on your digital flat/widescreens are Wrong Props!
One example to serve for many:
Paperback books in the early '50s looked nothing like their '70s counterparts: they were a third smaller in size, and nowhere nearly as colorful.

I remember when Winchester had to read I, The Jury to Klinger - from a Signet paperback from the '70s.
By the bye, you guys missed a real bet by not using Vengeance Is Mine - which did surprise-end on the very last page (as almost every mystery novel of that era did not).
The way I would have done it: Charles would have gotten caught up in Spillane's writing (as many snobs of the '50s did), and when he got to the Missing Last Page - he would have gone berserk, even more than Max would have ...
That might have been fun, no?

maxdebryn said...

Maybe I'm just a plebe, but I don't watch tee-wee and look for mistakes, anachronisms, and other shit like that. It's an escape from the ghastly real world. So I didn't give a flyin' handshake when "Ann-Margrock" appeared on THE FLINTSTONES.

David said...

"when the idiots finally get vaccinated..."

Has calling someone an idiot ever been a particularly effective way winning them to your side? And if the goal is to get these people vaxxed, and you're doing nothing but making them really dig their heels into their anti-vax position, because that's what happens you resort to name-calling, then you're as much a part of the problem as they are, Ken.

Randy @ WCG Comics said...

Someone mentioned it already, but Mythic Quest did do what I thought was a well done episode -- the series is a workplace comedy set at a role playing gaming company, so doing a whole episode with everyone on Zoom was a natural, and they did a brilliant job. It was an episode that dropped right before the start of the their newest season. F. Murray Abraham is in the cast and continued to appear remotely in the new season via a talking head on an iPad screen in the office -- I heard that due to his age/health reasons, he needed to remain isolated when they started shooting the new season, but they ran with it and made it a funny running gag, often placing the iPad on top of a sitting mannequin.

Fred said...


"I think they’re looking for someone a little younger and someone who has an actual name that people know."
D. McEwan said...
“Then why did they hire Mike Richards?”

Sony’s upper management was told it was the other Mike Richards, and they were impressed with his crowd work

Randy @ WCG Comics said...

BTW, I always took the approach that all the episodes of MASH together just took place over the two years of the war. I'm sure at the end of the day all those episodes together would still exceed 2 years, but it would be an interesting exercise (for someone) to actually build out a timeline based on all those episodes, especially since some took place over more than a few days if not more, and see how many days/years it actually covered.

Saburo said...

I never did pay attention to the MASH timeline crunch. I thought canon in the different Star Trek universes was tricky... Forget the 4077th!

The only thing I mull over are the what-ifs of the different casts: Trapper interacting with Colonel Potter or Winchester dealing with Henry Blake. Would love to see *those* episodes in the parallel MASH universe.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Actually, the fighting in Korea lasted three years, June 1950-July 1953. Most real-life doctors served one-year tours.

Janet said...

Both NCIS and NCIS NEW ORLEANS both featured characters wearing masks on camera in their most recent seasons.

And Jimmy Palmer, a character on NCIS, lost his wife to COVID-19.

BLUE BLOODS, dealt with it early on but -- not taking anti-vaxxers into consideration -- quickly segued to a "post-COVID" world...

Tore from Norway said...

Hi, Ken!

I have a really nerdy question. The last few years, CHEERS, SEINFELD, M*A*S*H, FRIENDS etc. have been upgraded to high definition (HD). Sadly, FRASIER is still not available in HD (except the final two seasons). I’ve read that FRASIER was originally mastered onto video, thus making it impossible to transfer those masters to HD. So, apparently, Paramount will have to re-edit all the episodes from the original negatives.

So here’s the question: Have you heard any news or rumors or hints that Paramount are/will be upgrading FRASIER to HD some time in the future?

It’s really a shame that such an outstanding series (one of the absolute best ever, in my opinion) should suffer when it comes to sound and picture quality. I know it’s all about money, but I am still hoping that great art will survive ruthless capitalism.

(By the way: I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s so I am more than used to watching SD. It’s just that I prefer HD.)

All the best,
Tore from Norway.

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Ray said...

I've gone back to watching some Lou Grant episodes after hearing of Ed Asner's passing, and they're holding up well. (Edward Winter just popped up in one, as he apparently did in several.) I don't see you or David with credits on the show, but it's a lot of the old MTM/MASH gang, so maybe you have a thought:

That show assiduously avoided any crossovers from Lou's past- except for the occasional reference to the colder climate at his last job, and one "old flame" who came back for an episode. But Murray never pulled into port, Ted never stopped by to drop off a cartoon cow, and Mare of Minneapolis was never mentioned, much less seen.

Any inside info on this decision? Especially toward the end when ratings fell and network suits might have wanted a Very Special Reunion to get a boost.

Philly Cinephile said...

FQ: You mentioned a later episode of MASH that was inconsistent with the show's established timeline, and that the episode was made after you had left. When you leave a series, is it hard to leave it behind? I'm sure that your focus is always on the new project, but I imagine it must be tempting to watch the old series to see how it's being handled. I also imagine that it could be frustrating if you don't agree with the creative choices made by the new team, and that it might be better to make a clean break.

Big Murr said...

• A more niche anachronism in M*A*S*H* is once or twice we get a quick glimpse of Radar reading his comic books. The issues shown were current 1970's titles. Obviously some props flunky was sent down to the corner store to grab a handful off the rack and no more thought was given to it.

Coroner, Law & Order: Organized Crime, and a couple of other shows had the characters wearing masks and following most of the Pandemic Rules. Only Coroner (having the medical slant) actually mentioned the pandemic in a major way. The other shows just had people wearing masks and no reason was offered as to "Why". The irritating factor was the characters would take off masks and generally ignore all the bubble rules and guidelines willy-nilly.

There. I had to get those trivia tidbits out of my system.

David G. said...

"This Is Us" in (I think) a 2019 episode had a flash-forward scene to the fall of 2020 in which Rebecca went into a restaurant after going on a walk from the family cabin. When the opening of the fall 2020 season caught up with that moment, they were stuck with the setup of that earlier scene, and had to build the rest of the sequence around a restaurant that had NO customer restrictions and NO staff or diners inside wearing facemasks. Otherwise, we've seen all the characters living life like the rest of the viewers during 2020 and 2021

I've always felt the "M*A*S*H" episode "A War For All Seasons" (which starts on Dec. 31, 1950, and ends on Dec. 31, 1951) works if you think Mike Farrell is playing Trapper for the first part of that episode, Harry Morgan is playing Henry Blake for the first part of that episode, and David Ogden Stiers is playing Frank Burns for probably most of that episode.

Russ DiBello said...

Regarding shows that deal with COVID-19:

A coupla years ago, I started watching "All Rise", an absolutely lame show (I stopped watching it too) that was a walking engraved invitation for an IMDb "Goofs" column (e.g., the glass ceiling-shattering Black female judge gets called on the carpet regularly by her white, blonde, severe, middle-aged "boss" at the court. As if).

Well, the production company of this seemingly woke show underwent internal "Me Too" and/or diversity issues, their management team blew up... and then pandemic hit. And the show went on hiatus. Amazingly, it eventually came back.

When it did, the wise judge (you know... the main character?) was confined to her bench behind a giant plexiglass shield and she and everybody else was wearing industrial strength masks throughout each episode.

Understand that when film and TV production resumed in 2020, the industry was hell-bent on getting back in gear and making money fast, so the most stringent requirements of any industry I can think of were put in place for both actors and crew.

This meant that everyone tested twice before shooting day; you have apps which keep digital records for everyone going to work on a set; and masks were worn, at least initially, right up to the exact moment the A.D. called "ACTION!" (speaking of goofs, look for masks sticking out of pockets on your fave TV shows! :-)

So safety on the sets was not the problem. This SHOW apparently decided to make a statement about The Times We Live In.

As the Former Guy would say, it was a disastuh. It quickly became apparent on "All Rise" that if a television viewer was tuning in to be entertained, seeing an entire show where all the characters performed their normal activities in shields and masks would be a distraction akin, say, to watching a show taped in Israel during a rocket attack, where the normal storyline was being acted-out by performers in gas masks.

My much sought-after professional advice to the film industry: your viewers are watching this junk to escape their horrible, mundane, modern day existence. Don't feed it right back in their faces. It doesn't work.

Leighton said...

When the LIVING HELL did the word "died" become a bad thing? I am SO sick of reading "passed" and "passing." Did they FART?????

Leighton said...

IDIOTS don't get vaccinated. Period.

lawwolfe said...

No, they, and only they, are the problem. Nobody need to accommodate anti-vaxxers tender widdle feewings, as Tweety Bird would put it. Also, putting stuff in bold type doesn't make a statement more convincing, just more desperate-seeming.

Andrew said...

On the subject of Covid-19, but off the subject of TV shows and movies...

The Plague by Camus is fascinating reading, under the present circumstances.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

"Lou," given his newspaper background, really was the only MTM character who could credibly make the transition to a gritty drama. Some of the others--especially "Ted" and "Sue Ann"-- were too cartoonish to be believable in such a situation.

DyHrdMET said...

You asked about COVID in current shows - THE CONNERS has it as a subplot (sometimes it's just there, sometimes it's part of the episode's story). That feels like the right way to handle it for them given their overall theme is struggle. Another one (I think it was your daughter's show) that ABC had kept mentioning "during quarantine" but they were past it (while we weren't) and it didn't seem genuine. Other shows ignored it. I almost wish THE BIG BANG THEORY was still on the air and included COVID just to see how Sheldon would handle it, but even that would wear thin after a few episodes. I think some dramas have incorporated it too, but I only know them from the commercials I don't fast forward.

DyHrdMET said...

Playing on the question about you auditioning to host Jeopardy!, if you think your name isn't recognizable, why not go with your 1970s radio persona "Beaver Cleaver". I'm sure that would get some eyeballs. But seriously, why not at least audition? You were a sitcom writer who made it to the Major Leagues calling baseball games. Not sure why you don't think you couldn't pull this off. Maybe you get on for a week with topics including they heyday of FM radio, baseball, TV sitcoms, and poorly received movie sequels.

Kendall Rivers said...

FQ:

Been watching a lot of ISpy with Robert Culp and Bill Cosby on Youtube lately. I never seen the show before this year but wow I'm impressed with what a great, smart, compelling and funny show that was and how the writing, acting, directing, cinematography, storylines and use of locations put most crime shows today to shame.

My question is, do you think you could even get a show like I Spy on today? We're not talking about Cosby and his heinous actions, here, we're talking about the fact that the show never commented on Scottie's race and represented him as an intelligent, skilled and equal partner to Culp who happened to be black. Today everything on tv and movies seems to have to address the race(or gender, sexuality etc.) of the characters to death to where I wonder could you have a show where you just show a black character as cool, sharp and a great representation without having to do the obligatory references to his being black or without the corny and preachy "racism episode" where he'd get pulled over by a cop and get shot or something like that?