Friday, November 05, 2021

Friday Questions

Well, it’s November.  Christmas commercials and music have officially begun.  Here are some pre-holiday Friday Questions.

Guffman is up first.  He need not wait.

As a collector of memorabilia and autographs, I’m sure you’ve had opportunities to get a souvenir or two from shows along the way. Anything you’re particularly proud of latching onto for reasons that aren't necessarily monetary? Anything you've had an opportunity to pick up and sorry you didn’t? Anything you’ve had personally signed that means the most to you?

Like an idiot, I never took anything off the stages of either MASH or CHEERS.  I always thought having production scripts with my name on them was a unique souvenir.  I’ve got autographed scripts and an autographed CHEERS sweatshirt.  

A prized possession is a copy of one of Larry Gelbart’s hand-written first drafts from MASH, signed to me personally.   That’s way more important than a bedpan from post op.

When BIG WAVE DAVE’S ended (prematurely in my humble opinion) we had all these props from a surf shop.  I took home a bunch of surfboards and have the big “Big Wave Dave’s” sign up in our house.   No one else has that.  Of course no one else knows what that is.

ReticentRabbit queries:

Ken, you've held at least three of my dream jobs (screenwriter, DJ, baseball announcer). What jobs do you wish you'd worked but never did?

I would love to be a panelist on a game show.  The idea of sitting back and tossing out one-liners while getting paid for it and being on TV seems like the ideal job.  There’s no preparation, no pressure. Perfect for a lazy bum like me!  

I very much enjoyed hosting that TCM film festival a few years back.  I wouldn’t mind doing that again.

I’d also like to be a Benihana chef but only if I could do it without knives.  

Caleb Martin asks:

What's the largest creative similarity you've discovered between one of your shows and another sitcom, intentional or otherwise? Have you seen a scene or storyline you wrote more-or-less happen on another show, or vice versa?

Not a sitcom, but HOUSE pretty much stole our P.O.V. episode of MASH.  

I’ve seen a number of sitcoms use Sam & Diane storylines, but I can’t remember specifics.  

Many years ago I was in a UCLA library and bumped into a writer friend.  He wrote freelance episodes of dramas (back in the days when you could make a living as a freelancer).   He was there to go through old editions of TV GUIDE to come up with stories to pitch.  He’d take a story from say PETER GUNN and pitch it for a current private eye show.   He said it was a common practice, but it's sure nothing I would ever do.

Compare that to CHEERS where someone would pitch a story and if any one of us had seen something even remotely similar on another show we immediately tossed it.  

And finally, from Brian Phillips:

Have you done any or were you ever asked to do any work for the BBC or any other entertainment concern outside of the USA?

Yes.  There’s a production company in the UK called Hat Trick.  I assume they’re still going.  At the time, they had a lot of shows on the air.  This was quite a few years ago.  They invited David Isaacs and me to come to London for a year and create a series.  We were told we’d have enormous freedom.  

I must say the offer was very intriguing.  We ultimately didn’t do it because our kids were little and we didn’t want to completely disrupt their lives by moving to a different country, much less school.  Also we would be taking a very sizable pay cut at a time when American TV still paid writers well.  

But it would have been a fun adventure.  I’d do it now if it weren’t for COVID.  

What’s your Friday Question? 


Tyler said...

My Friday question...

We know of cases, especially on sitcoms, where a minor recurring character such as Fonzie or Steve Urkel becomes so popular with the audience that the entire show shifts to become about them.

Did you ever experience the opposite on any of your shows, where a character you expected to take off with the audience just never did, for whatever reason?

John Schrank said...

I believe I once read that the writers of the Daniel Boone series often took classic stories and adapted them to the series setting and format. Captain Ahab pursuing Moby Dick became the story of a hunter obsessed with a black bear. They would follow the beats of the source material because it had already been proven to work-- and they were pretty sure their audience would not recognize the source material

VincentS said...

Seriously, I'll bet a bedpan from MASH would fetch a good price on EBay.

Honest Ed said...

Hat Trick is still going strong. They make Derry Girls, among other shows.

I've never plucked stories from TV listings, but I have recycled - with success! - stories which have been bought by one show then rejected. The rejections were down to factors which rarely had anything to do with the quality of the stories.

I currently have a show in development. We're optimistic it'll get greenlit. If it is, I'm thinking of inviting a successful LA writer I've worked with in the past to come over and work on it. We won't be able to pay anything close to WGA scales but he's already pretty rich and it'll be based in Paris, which I'm hoping might be a degree of compensation!

ScarletNumber said...

It's Peter Gunn with 2 n's. As an aside, to people of a certain age, the Theme from Peter Gunn is more recognizable as the theme to the video game Spy Hunter.

The Moderate said...

That's ironic you'd hear from Hat Trick, considering their most notable show (to me, anyway) is Whose Line is it Anyway - an improv show.

Michael said...

On being a game show panelist ....

We recently discussed What's My Line and the panels of the time. The thing about those old Goodson-Todman panel shows is that while there was room to be funny, the people asking the questions also were literate and followed the news. Which doesn't strike any of us as work.

But it sure seems to be for the celebrities who yuk it up on the modern incarnations.

Bryan said...

Our local Benihana knockoff uses spatulas instead of knives.

Mitch said...

A bad "panel" show now running in syndication is "Funny You Should Ask" hosted by an old Chicago sports reporter. It's what you are talking about, a question is asked, they throw out a 1 liner, then answer the question. Has B list actors/comedians with bad jokes. Show is run by Byron Allen of "That's Incredible!" fame.
I don't suggest watching it, just showing the premise still exists.

Ted. said...

It seems as if there are some news stories and cultural trends that TV producers and writers can't resist doing, even though they know that every other show is also doing the same story. Examples: Every legal and crime drama has done a Bernie Madoff episode. Every sitcom has done an episode where the characters end up in an escape room. And recently, every single medical show (and a bunch of crime shows) have done an episode where ransomware hackers take over an important computer system.

ScarletNumber said...


Ken can answer for himself but he and David invented the character of Eddie LeBec on Cheers. Why he didn't become a bigger part of the show is a story for Ken to tell.

ScarletNumber said...


Speaking of Byron Allen, he used to host a show called Comics Unleashed. The late Norm Macdonald used to make fun of the show, saying that you couldn't be more leashed than being on that show.

Ere I Saw Elba said...

How did they set up the stage for HOLLYWOOD SQUARES? I know you weren't on that show, though I share your dream of being a panelist on it. More generally, are game show sets just different compared to sitcoms?

Mike Bloodworth said...

Here's yet another topical, "ripped from the headlines" FRIDAY QUESTION.

According to media reports because Alec Baldwin is the producer of "RUST" he is subject to greater criminal liability than he would be if he was just an actor on the film. This made me wonder...

F.Q. When a writer on a sitcom or other scripted show receives the title of "producer," is this just an honorary label, i.e. just ego stroking? Or does the writer also take on more responsibility and potential liability? For example, if someone slipped on a banana peel and broke a bone. Or if a light stand fell over and injured someone. Or if somebody got food poisoning from craft service. Would those new "producers" be held responsible for those incidents? If no, than who is the ultimate authority on a set? In other words, the buck stops with whom?


James said...

A different kind of FQ. I'm Gen-X but that puts us both in middle-age territory. Am I just being a middle-aged curmudgeon, or are modern TV action dramas all done in comic book style, with black hat villains who would twirl the ends of their mustaches if they grew them beyond stubble? I swear everything I see these days looks like a Hopalong Cassidy flick.

I realize that 60s/70s/80s police/detective/action shows weren't written by Arthur Miller, but they did seem to portray people in a more recognizable light. So many of the bad guys in modern shows make the T-1000 in Terminator II look like Dick Cavett.

thomas tucker said...

Friday Question for you, Ken: what is the purpose of table readings , and what are they like? Is it to see if lines work? Do the actors do the lines like they plan to do them during taping? Do they try different deliveries? I've always wondered about this.

Tom Galloway said...

Funny panel shows are still a thing in Britain. Just sayin'.

Houston Mitchell said...

Friday question: I recently watched an episode of Matlock, where Andy Griffith and Don Knotts recreated a Judo scene from The Andy Griffith Show. There's a video on Youtube that shows them side-by-side and it's an exact recreation, which seems fine since they both involved Griffith and Knotts. I have seen other shows do an almost exact recreation of a scent from classic sitcoms of the past, and when asked about it the creators pass it off as a tribute, which may be true. My long-winded question: Does the original writer of the scene get any money for that if they are still alive?

JessyS said...

I would second a post talking about the Eddie LeBec character and others that they expected to have a lengthy run or be killed off. On Married with Children, a character called "Seven" was created in season 7. Shane Sweet, who played "Seven" was unpopular with the fans to the point that he was dropped. On the other hand, a reporter named Miranda Cardinal, played by Teresa Parente, was very popular to the point that she got a major pop whenever she appeared.

Tyler said...

@ScarletNumber I think the Eddie Lebec story is fairly public at this point. I don't know how popular he ever was (I liked him) but when actor Jay Thomas badmouthed Rhea Perlman on a radio interview, that was the end of Eddie, as I understand it.

Yeah, people did not like Seven at all on Married with Children, myself included. That was never the right show to add a child to the cast.

Bob Paris said...

I believe that one soundstage at Fox was used for long-running shows such as LA Law and Modern Family, plus a Mel Brooks movie, etc. As a producer, did you ever attempt to secure a particular soundstage for good luck because it hosted previous hits?

Greg Ehrbar said...

On the one hand, it is difficult to imagine how writers can always avoid completely coming up with storylines that cannot in some way be traced to previous work, as there are only so many basic stories in any genre. That said, there are many classic TV and radio shows with strong plotlines that are so obviously lifted in subsequent show and feature films, particularly from anthologies like Lights Out, The Twilight Zone, Escape, and One Step Beyond, they make one wonder if the writers did really see or hear the source episode and figure out a way to twist it, hope nobody noticed or cared.

There was a time when every sitcom had episodes with an identical twin, characters stuck together, an object baked into a cake, a movie being filmed in town, someone winning a game show or lottery, etc. Even highly regarded shows borrowed plot lines. The Dick Van Dyke Show did one about retrieving an insulting script, which also happened to Ralph Kramden with a disastrous letter (and Loretta Young in the movie Cause for Alarm). Fred Flintstone re-enacted Twelve Angry Men, but so did Felix Unger and Edith Bunker.

Being derivative is a long-standing issue and depends on the work at hand. Legally, "fair use" is highly debatable and what might have been a "tribute" in years past is probably more liable to be in dispute today in a more competitive business, especially when obviously "tribute" storylines are appropriated and win acclaim, advancement, awards, and prestige.

PolyWogg said...

Here's a Friday question about retooling shows. When I watched B-Positive last season, one of the few comedies I can stand even though it's not great, I kept wondering what they would do for S02 if renewed? The whole premise of S01 is that an acquaintance from high school donates a kidney to him. End of S01, surgery's done, all is good. But what happens after that? She was living with him, sure, but that could get creepy quick as he inevitably falls for her now in S02. So what's the hook? They've retooled the show, she's running a retirement home with an opp for fantastic guest stars each season, and he's a therapist who comes into consult. It's Cheers in a nursing home! J/K. What retooling of shows for, say, S02 do you think have worked well and others that completely sank?


ScarletNumber said...


> a reporter named Miranda Cardinal, played by Teresa Parente, was very popular to the point that she got a major pop whenever she appeared

You are remiss in not using her character's full name: Miranda Veracruz de la Jolla Cardinal


Jay Thomas was actually a DJ on Power106 in LA and the callers would make fun of him for having to kiss Rhea on the show.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

According to IMDb, Woody Allen loved Larceny Inc. so much that he made Small Time Crooks as a tribute to the film, but Larceny Inc. was never credited. And Big Deal on Madonna Street used a very similar plot but more as a parody (and clever critique of postwar morale in Italy). The tunneling heist story was also the basis of episodes of Gomer Pyle ("Gomer's Dynamite") and Car 54 ("White Elephant'). The leader of a real-life tunneling into a bank heist in 1971, The Bank Street Robbery, claimed he was inspired by Sherlock Holmes's 1891 story, "The Red-Headed League," and at least he gave some credit to the original version.

I just watched "White Elephant" and it's very funny. Larceny Inc. is my favorite Edward G. Robinson gangster comedy and we watch it every Christmas (close second is Robinson's delightful A Slight Case of Murder).

Many of the early classic TV shows riffed on vaudeville routines. And The Three Stooges reworked a lot of bits from silent movies of Chaplin, Langdon, et al.

Greg Ehrbar said...

It's too easy to throw cheap shots at Hanna-Barbera and The Flintstones for "ripping-off" The Honeymooners (and dismiss how both provided the groundwork for what exists today), but just watch "Sons of the Desert," "Unaccustomed as We Are," "Do Detectives Think?" and "Berth Marks" with Laurel & Hardy. Gleason and Carney also did imitations of them on the show. There's no denying derivation, it is more glaring in some works than in others, but some seem to get more consistently dissed for it, while others seem to evade it.

BGVA said...

I'm with you on the game show thing. I'd love to have been a character actor whose name you never remember, but you know the face. Then I get to moonlight on Match Game or The $25,000 Pyramid.

Oh, and maybe I get to pull a Nipsey Russell and see just how far I can go with my poetry...

Jahn Ghalt said...

It seems you have been "in training" since the Dating Game for game show panelist. I suspect What's My Line would do well as a "reboot" - that is, if they had smart panelists and a smart moderator/judge like the old one.

At least one episode of the old show, with Groucho as guest panelist, is on YouTube. He made great sport of being inattentive along with whatever else popped out of his fertile brain.