Friday, September 24, 2021

Friday Questions

Let’s kick off the weekend with some Friday Questions.

Kendall Rivers gets us started.

What are your top five favorite comedies that you find grossly underrated but better than most of the shows that hogged all their glory?

In no particular order: 


Honorable mention:

THE PRACTICE (Danny Thomas version)

Kyle Burress wonders:

Unfortunately, the death of an actor/actress or someone at any level of a series or movie happens. Of the many productions that you've been involved in, what person's death has had the greatest impact altogether on what you were working on and how was it dealt with?

That’s an easy one, I’m sorry to say.  Nick Colasanto, who played Coach on CHEERS.  He died the end of the third season.  Woody Harrelson was great as his replacement, but a certain amount of the “heart and soul” of the show left without Coach and what Nick brought to that character.  

He was also such a dear sweet man that on a personal level it was a devastating loss.  

Mark queries:

We’ve been watching our way through The Big Bang Theory for the first time, and we’re near the end of its run. The season nine finale ends on a bit of a cliffhanger involving some guest stars (Christine Baranski, Laurie Metcalf, and Judd Hirsch) that gets resolved in the first episode of season ten.

My question is this, since all three of those guest actors are known enough to have other projects in motion when they agree to the guest spot, or to be offered other work between seasons, how would they go about ‘guaranteeing’ that those actors would be available? A contract that would preclude them from agreeing to take other work that week?

Any chance they would just film the entire season ten premiere at the same time as the season nine finale? Or at least the portions involving the guest stars? By that point in its run TBBT was popular enough that they probably didn’t have any doubts about whether it would be back the next season, so it’s not like they’d be filming an episode for a season that wasn’t going to happen.

This is another case where it depends on the situation.  Yes, the safe thing to do is film the continuation of the cliffhanger so you have it in the can because you’re right, producers can’t know what a busy actor’s schedule is going to be like in five months.  

Sometimes though, the producers are burned out by the end of the season and have no solution for the cliffhanger.  They’d rather figure something out when they return for the next season.  And perhaps an actor isn’t available so they have to work that into the story.  

When Aaron Sorkin left THE WEST WING, his last episode was a season-ending cliffhanger.  New show runner, John Wells called him and said, “how were you going to resolve this?” to which Aaron said, “I had no idea.”  His plan was to solve the problem upon his return.   

And trust me, I can understand that.  You get VERY burned out by the end of a full season.  Most long running shows end every season on fumes.  

And finally, from Phil Rosenthal (no, not that one):

Ever get a network note that helped?

You bet.  Tim Flack, the VP of Comedy Development at CBS gave us great notes on BIG WAVE DAVE’S.  It was Tim who said one of the guys needed a wife.   We totally embraced that idea, rewrote the pilot, and it sold BECAUSE of the wife.  Jane Kaczmarek tested through the roof.  

Sadly, Tim has passed on, but I will take any opportunity I can to sing his praises.  

What’s your Friday Question? 


Unknown said...

I toiled for three seasons in the ALF writers’ room. Thanks for the pat on the back.

Tommy Raiko said...

The Aaron Sorkin/John Wells cliffhanger story reminds me of another classic story: Michael Piller wrote the the Star Trek: The Next Generation third season cliffhanger thinking he was leaving the production team and wouldn't have to be the one to figure out how to resolve the story. As it turns out, he did stay with the production, and then had to figure out how to get folks out of the cliffhanger predicament he wrote them into.

Curt Alliaume said...

One thing I didn't realize about Judd Hirsch until after he guested on The Big Bang Theory in 2016--he was born in 1935, which made him 81 at the time his episodes were shot. (He then got a lead in an ensemble comedy, Superior Donuts, which lasted a year and a half.) Usually, networks and casting directors are reluctant to cast much older people in series because they don't want them to die during the run. Phyllis is the obvious example, where an 86-year-old and 92-year-old played key recurring roles, but both died during the run of the show.

Xmastime said...

anytime WINGS gets a little love I feel like my work on this Earth is finally going according to schedule. 🤗

Matthew Davis said...

Love the podcast and the blog. As a Friday question, I am curious about how professionals view others' projects. I listen to a fair amount of tv-based podcasts and they will often say something was directed or edited well. How do they determine that from viewing something they were not involved with? What kinds of things are they looking for?

Neil D said...

The situation with the West Wing was a little different from what you say, according to Sorkin himself. He knew he was leaving the show by the time he wrote the last few episodes. His intention was to leave the new writing staff with some interesting hooks that they could take in whatever direction they wanted. He saw it as more of a gift than just leaving them with a blank slate to build from.

In his mind, NSA Advisor Nancy McNally was correct when she said this wasn't a professional operation, and they would find Zoey in the back of a muffler shop in upstate New York. But he didn't write anything into his scripts that confirmed that, and the new writers decided to go a different way with it.

(Source: Aaron Sorkin's MasterClass on Script Writing)

Chuck said...

Regarding the wonderful Nicholas Colasanto, I've known this for a long time, but had been very surprised when I learned that Mr. Colasanto wasn't only an actor. He had also been a director on many television shows such as Hawaii 5-O, Bonanza, CHiPs and Starsky and Hutch.

He had directed one of my most favorite episodes of Peter Falk's Columbo. The episode, "Swan Song", featured Johnny Cash as one of the slimiest, yet likeable murderers ever featured on the show. Perhaps Johnny Cash might attribute his terrific performance to having received excellent direction from Mr. Colasanto.

Elf said...

Ken, to follow up on the cliffhanger situation, did you (or anyone else in your recolllection) ever encounter a situation where you planned to pick it up at the start of the next season but one or more of the actors was not available?

E. Yarber said...

No cliffhanger story is complete without a mention of the 1942 Warner Brothers film ACROSS THE PACIFIC. John Huston had shot most of the film, but had to leave before completion in order to accept his commission in the US Signal Corp, where he made documentaries like THE BATTLE OF SAN PIETRO. When Vincent Sherman took over the remaining direction, he found Huston had left Humphrey Bogart helpless in a room full of Japanese agents holding machine guns on him with no clue how Bogie was supposed to get out of the situation.

tavm said...

I just remembered that Phil Hartman had done a season finale of "3rd Rock from the Sun" that ended in a cliffhanger. The season premiere was also supposed to involve him but in between, his wife had shot him before offing herself. So the initial decision was to refilm Phil's scenes in that finale for the rerun so then they could film the premiere with that actor. Eventually, that was scrapped and that premiere was rewritten without Phil's character...

maxdebryn said...

My Friday Question - Ken, you mentioned t'other day that you subscribe to seven streaming services. I am curious to know which ones ?

W Trilling said...

W. Trilling
So nice to see Tim Flack remembered. Thanks, Ken!

Michael said...

We were big fans of The West Wing. Admittedly, the cliffhanger that Sorkin did was melodramatic, but it was also brilliantly done. And despite my great admiration for the rest of the crew, the show was never the same after he left/had to leave.

Law & Order did a season-ender where every single character was in a cliffhanger of some kind. And it just didn't sit right.

Liggie said...

A question for TV Producer Ken Levine. NBC has ordered a series for the "Night Court" sequel, with Melissa Rauch as Harry's daughter and a judge herself, and John Larroquette returning to his Dan Fielding role. If Raugh and Larroquette, both of whom will produce, hired you as a consultant, what advice would you give them in staying true to the beloved original show while also letting the new show develop its own identity?

thirteen said...

The AMC series Remember WENN ended on something like half-a-dozen cliffhangers, and they even included Pearl Harbor. There was no hope for renewal. They just went ahead and did it.

mike schlesinger said...

Glad you mentioned MARSHALL CHRONICLES. I thought I was the only person who remembers it.

FLYING BLIND was the first time I saw Tea Leoni and she struck me as something concocted in a lab: no real woman could be that beautiful, sexy and downright funny. Unfortunately, they murdered the show by changing the format every four or five weeks until it became almost impossible to keep track of things. Then she got THE NAKED TRUTH, and that first season was absolutely sensational. (To the frozen corpse of Walt Disney: "Don't look now, but ABC just bought your studio.") Then once again, they got cold feet about a beautiful woman being funny and revamped the show twice, turning her into a straight man surrounded by zanies. Didn't work. She's done almost no comedy since, which is a tragedy of sorts, but at least we have the six glorious seasons of MADAM SECRETARY, a show that would have a warehouse full of awards had it been on Netflix instead of CBS.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

"[Nick Colasanto] died the end of the third season.  Woody Harrelson was great as his replacement, but a certain amount of the “heart and soul” of the show left without Coach and what Nick brought to that character."

I think the loss of Nick Colasanto definitely changed the group dynamic of CHEERS. I'm pretty sure that Shelley Long remarked in an interview that Coach was Diane's only friend in the bar, and I think that's right. Coach definitely felt like more of an ally to Diane than any of the other barflies, and Diane seemed just a bit more isolated in seasons 4-5 without Coach. (During that time, Sam was the on-again-off-again love interest; Norm, Cliff, and Woody were friendly enough but Diane would have little reason to see them outside of work; and Frasier and Carla were openly antagonistic.) Coach was definitely someone Diane could turn to, and although Woody shared Coach's sweet befuddlement, he wasn't close to Diane in the way Coach was. If nothing else, the loss of Coach probably helped make Diane's eventually departure more narratively organic.

A similar thing happened in M*A*S*H, when replacing Henry Blake with Sherman Potter meant Margaret Houlihan had a commanding officer she could respect and even look up to as a father figure. This meant she no longer had to conspire regularly with Frank Burns to undermine or go over the commanding officer's head as they did with Blake. Frank was deprived of his co-antagonist and became the show's sole "villain," and with him becoming increasingly isolated and ridiculous, it felt like the character phasing out was an inevitability.

I think it's interesting, when losing or replacing characters in a TV show affects the group in such a way it helps facilitate further cast changes down the line.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Sadly, death enveloped "Phyllis" during its two-season run. In addition to the losses of Judith Light and Burt Mustin, alluded to above, Barbara Colby, who played Cloris Leachman's boss the first year, was killed in a random street shooting in Los Angeles in 1975 after completing only three episodes. Liz Torres replaced her in the role.

DBA said...

Kevin FitzMaurice, do you mean Judith Lowry? Judith Light is very much alive.

71dude said...

Underrated shows:
WKRP in Cincinnati
The Bob Newhart Show
The Kids Are Alright
Brooklyn Bridge
The Cavanaughs
The Bernie Mac Show
The Torkelsons

Necco said...


Kevin FitzMaurice said...

I'm sorry...I meant Judith Lowry (1890-1976) in the above post.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Indeed, I did, and my apologies.

Kirk said...

Friday question, and a convoluted one at that. Taxi and The Odd Couple ran for only five seasons, WKRP in Cincinnati one season less. And while there were enough episodes to go into syndication, those shows were mild hits at best in their initial network runs. Yet each, in my opinion, maintained a high level of quality from beginning to end. Now compare them to a couple of long-running Norman Lear shows. All in the Family was superseded by Archie Bunker's Place. If, as I do, you consider the second show to be a continuation of the first (since ABP wouldn't exist had Jean Stapleton signed another five-year contract), that's a 13-year run. A very successful series overall, but I think most people would agree that the quality at the end did not equal that of the beginning. Then there's The Jeffersons, which ran for 11 season. In my opinion, the first five or so seasons were terrific, but then, again in my opinion, the series lost its way when it stopped being about the comic intersection of class and race and became just another sitcom (though the acting remained good.)

So here's my question. Speaking strictly artistically, without worrying about how much money goes into whoever's pockets, is it sometimes BETTER that a show be a mild rather than a huge hit? If nothing else, it makes binge watching much more worth your time.

benson said...

Two thoughts:

I know a lot of West Wing fans don't care for the post-Sorkin era, but having re-watched it over the past six months, it holds up. A few story lines I personally didn't care for (the Toby leaking information one, in particular) but the Alan Alda/Jimmy Smits presidential race was interesting (if only we had real candidates like that). And more to the point of the transition into season 5, I loved John Goodman as the temporary president. They wrote him well.

Remember WENN (along with Brooklyn Bridge) might be the two best "forgotten" series ever. I know there are rights issues, etc, but I can't believe they couldn't find an audience on some streaming service. The great trivia about Remember WENN is it was created and written by Rupert Holmes, Mr. "Pina Colada Song", which, no doubt Ken played several times in his radio career.

benson said...

Oh, and Rupert Holmes wrote the only Top 40 hit about cannibalism, "Timothy" by the Buoys.

Neil D said...

@benson: It took me a long time before I rewatched seasons 5-7 of The West Wing. I wouldn't say it was bad, just that it had become no better than every other hour-long drama on TV. It had lost what had made it special. For the most part, everyone was just angry all of the time, which is the easiest thing to write.

The campaign storyline was pretty good, but it divided the cast and took too much of the action out of the White House, which was where the show lived. And yes, what they did to Toby was a travesty - Richard Schiff hated what they did there as well and fought against it, but to his credit he continued to give a great performance. I guess I'll also add that the promotion of C.J. to Chief of Staff seemed very out-of-left-field.

brian t said...

I suppose my question for next Friday would be about whether you've had the chance to watch Foundation yet, and what you think about it? The original Isaac Asimov stories, written in the 1940s, were long considered un-filmable, and it's taken this long for anyone to put in the effort and budget required, the writers filling in major gaps in the timeline and deviating wildly from the books for the sake of human interest plotlines.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

Hey, were the reports of Max Wright's misery and hatred during the production of ALF accurate or exaggerated?

Kendall Rivers said...

@71dude you're speaking my language with mentions of WKRP and The Bernie Mac Show but I don't know if The Bob Newhart Show could be considered underrated. It was apart of that iconic 1970s CBS Saturday night line up and many sitcoms since have taken from it.

Bob Gassel said...

Aaron Sorkin says in his "MasterClass" that he knew he was leaving the show and intentionally wrote a cliffhanger so that the new regime wasn't left with a totally blank canvas, and the transition would be easier for them.

Bob Waldman said...

Hi Ken,
Here’s my Friday Question:

What causes you, if ever, to give up or put aside a script or story idea that you originally thought was good?

Bob Waldman

ScarletNumber said...

@mike schlesinger

It is worth noting that because of The Marshall Chronicles on ABC, there was an NBC sitcom that changed its name in order to avoid confusion: The Seinfeld Chronicles.

While I enjoyed The Marshall Chronicles, it is so obscure that it doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. This is in spite of following Growing Pains, Head of the Class, and Doogie Howser on Wednesday nights.