Friday, April 29, 2022

Friday Questions

This would have been my mom’s 94th Birthday.  I miss her everyday.  Here are this week’s Friday Questions:

JS leads off.

Who was nice to work with? Gary B(Burghoff) admitted he was very depressed during MASH and wasn't the greatest person to deal with at the time. Someone I know worked behind the scenes for years on different shows. She said Nathan Fillion, Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler were the sweetest people om earth. Everyone wants to talk about who was awful, who was nice in your experience?

I know this sounds like a cop out but I can honestly say 90% of the actors I worked with were nice.  Yes, there were a few nightmares, but by and large, the thespians I worked with were respectful, professional, talented, and decent people.  

If I had to name some standouts that would include (although not complete): David Hyde Pierce, Alan Alda, Ted Danson, Nancy Travis, Tom Hanks, John Candy, Adam Arkin, Kelsey Grammer, Katey Sagal, George Wendt, Jamie Farr, Ray Romano, Patricia Heaton, — pretty much the entire cast of MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, WINGS, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, THE SIMPSONS, DHARMA & GREG, JUST SHOOT ME, BIG WAVE DAVE’S, ALMOST PERFECT.  

I’ve been very blessed. 

From Michael:

When you were working as a baseball announcer, did you get get a lot of feedback or critiques from the station and/or team in-season?

No.  But I did get an early critique my first month in Syracuse.  The team owner said I shouldn’t dwell on the fact that attendance was low (every game the temperature was in the 20s with howling wind), and other than that he was fine with my broadcast.  (I wasn't.  I sucked my first month.) 

I did however, send tapes and welcomed critiques from announcer friends I had and respected.  My thanks to some great mentors:  Bob Costas, Marty Glickman, Al Conin, Bill King, Dave Niehaus, Ted Leitner, Ralph Lawler, Greg Papa, Chuck Thompson, Ernie Harwell, Kevin Calabro, and Skip Caray.  

Kendall Rivers asks:

Something I've noticed with multi cameras the past ten or so years is besides the annoying clearly mechanical laugh tracks, the pacing, rhythm and overall tone of multi camera comedies have just been off. It seems as if today's writers only are going off what they perceive a sitcom to be without actually understanding the format if that makes sense. Do you think that's mostly because today's sitcom writers grew up watching tv (and clearly watching mostly the bad sitcoms) rather than talented people who ended up writing for tv but had other ambitions or occupations? I saw Sam Simon of Cheers\Taxi\The Simpsons say something to that affect.

I think it’s a combination of things.  Yes, today’s young writers are following formulas they’re used to seeing.   They see a multi-cam as a “sitcom.”  In both CHEERS and FRASIER, we saw the shows as weekly one act plays.  

The shows are faster paced now primarily because networks are so deathly afraid of tune-out that they insist on a joke every second.  That makes the show feel very artificial.  

In my day (when the dinosaurs roamed the earth) we would gladly go a page or page-and-a-half without jokes to set up one big punchline.  Networks frown on that today.  They want joke-joke-joke-joke-joke.  So when you load your show with jokes and they’re not funny what you’re left with is a mechanical not-very-interesting sitcom.  

And finally, from Spike de Beauvoir:

Ken, have you ever collected classic jokes in an archive or folder for study or future use? I've been reading Simon Louvish's bio of Mae West ("It Ain't No Sin") and he discovered over 2,000 pages of jokes in her own handwriting that she collected during her career (20,000+ jokes overall). She studied the joke forms and often used them as the basis for the quips and oneliners need she was famous for. Some of them went back to early days of vaudeville and there were even magazines for comics that compiled popular jokes.

No.  The jokes I do best are character jokes that come out of the situation and attitudes of the characters in the moment.   They’re very specific to the scene at hand.  A joke file would do me no good.  

There have been writers who carried around card catalogs of jokes, but every joke had already been used, and they were just generic jokes.  For both of those reasons I avoided that practice and those writers.  

What is your Friday Question.  Happy Birthday, Mom.


Jon said...

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Levine. My dad also would've turned 94 this month, and I've missed him these last 5 years.

BobbyL said...

Yes, I agree with your accessment of the annoying quickfire pacing of today's sitcoms. For me it made shows like MOM and BIG BANG THEORY almost totally unwatchable. Joke joke, joke, joke, joke. The days of the great sitcom (Frasier, Cheers, Becker, Wings) are never again to be.

Scott O. said...

My mom would’ve turned 99 this month. She’s been gone for 8 years. I’m grateful she was active and healthy to the end.

kent said...

My mother passed suddenly on September 10th, 2001. We were driving north to be with my dad when we learned of 9/11 on the car radio. For me those two events have always been strangely intertwined.

kent said...

Nice to hear that about Nathan Fillion since previously I had only heard that he routinely made Stana Katic cry on Castle and then had her fired.

Michael said...

I understand what you said about your mother. My thoughts are with you.

Jack Benny told his newly hired manager that there was a line on that week's show--Ronald Colman asked his wife Benita, who was munching on an apple, about Phil Harris's band, and she replied, "Please, not while I'm eating." Benny said it took five years to make that joke funny--five years of comments about the band's behavior. And what made it funnier was a genteel English lady saying it. George Burns once said that Benny basically invented how we do comedy: characters.

Brian Phillips said...

Thanks very much for mentioning Ted Leitner. My years in San Diego seemed rather starved for good humor but Leitner was a good sports announce and was funny when he wanted to be.

Rob Greenberg said...

The problem with today's multicams is laziness. A character in a recent one picks up a lottery scratch-off card referenced earlier in the scene. He scratches 'Horseshoe.' Scratches again 'Horseshoe.' Final scratch "Horse. Now that's just mean.' End of scene.

This is the 'button' the showrunner deemed good enough.

No wonder the laughtrack is mechanical.

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday to your mom!

Genesis said...

My Friday question is: do you like prog rock?

Cap'n Bob said...

Sorry to hear about your mother not being here for her birthday. Mine died in January just 29 days shy of her 99th birthday. Alas, she was barely treading water for the last three years but she continually confounded the experts who declared she had only weeks to go.

Do characters on modern sitcoms talk a mile a minute in order to keep audiences from changing channels? I don't watch these shows but my wife does and I catch a few minutes here and there by accident. Maybe they're trying to repeat the rapid-fire dialogue technique of His Girl Friday.

Brian said...

I was disappointed when I read the same thing about Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. How he made her cry.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Here's a Friday Question:

The Podcast has addressed Everyone Loves Raymond in at least two ways. One interviewed a writer who was a fellow standup, roommate, and softball teammate with Ray Romano - back when he was "just a guy".

The other recounted directing that show - by our favorite playwrite/cartoonist/baseball-announcer/sit-com-and-feature-film writer (and one-time standup, himself - on another episode of The Podcast).

He told the cast a once-successful joke - that he had directed The English Patient - except no one laughed!



Would it be an "Etiquette Violation" to solicit a writing or consulting job while directing a show?

More specifically, did you ever write for Everyone Loves Raymond?

Jahn Ghalt said...

I looked up the schedule of the Syracuse Mets - opening day was April 5th (more or less) - no wonder it was in the 20s back in 1988!

(the Mariners confronted similar day game temps at least twice at the Twins opening series in 2021).

I remember one of my son's little league games in early May - cloudy, windy, in the 40s (latitude 60N). Could not wait to get that one over with.

Pamela Atherton said...

I have been told by people who worked the show that she was rude to the crew and he wouldn't have it. Eventually they had to write scenes that didn't include both of them. Apparently she was.the problem, not him.

Pamela Atherton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brandon in Virginia said...

The shows are faster paced now primarily because networks are so deathly afraid of tune-out that they insist on a joke every second. That makes the show feel very artificial.

Watching audience-based shows like game shows or talk shows, the one thing that irritates me is that the audience cheers over every single thing. It's almost like the producers are afraid that silence = boring. Let the show breathe.

CopleyScott said...

Here's a Friday question for you: Any thoughts on the HBO Max show "Julia"? I've found it absolutely charming, incredibly well-cast (including a couple of Cranes you might recognize), and a wonderful recreation of the time and place (beautifully filmed on location in Boston, sometimes passing for San Francisco and New York).

maxdebryn said...

I had to rub the sleep glue out of my eyes when I looked at the picture accompanying this post: I thought that Rachel Maddow had been working out.

Kendall Rivers said...

@BobbyL Named some great examples there. I'd also say having watched a bunch of WKRP and Night Court lately those are sitcoms that they try to copy but could never match today. The writing, acting and overall flow of those shows were really something special. They would be balls out hilarious and absurd but then go to really dramatic and emotional scenes without missing a beat or disrupting the show's overall comedic tone. That is something I don't know if a sitcom will ever be able to do again.

Ray said...

I assume your stint in Syracuse was during the Tex Simone years. I've followed the International League (as it's again known after the 2021 Purge) from the other two cities on the Thruway Cup circuit since the Bisons returned in the mid-80s, and the stories of Tex's parsimony were legendary.

We heard the tales of him cruising the stands during games trying to buy foul balls back from little kids so he could re-use them. A quarter was the going rate.

Later, the (Sky?)Chiefs became the home of a legendary lifer in AAA ball named Jeff Manto. His number is retired in Buffalo and should be in Rochester, as well, for both on and off field work. But when he got to the 315, he was shocked by the cheapness. He discovered that Tex had only chartered a single bus for a road swing for the entire 25-man team, coaches, broadcasters and hangers-on. This was unheard of at that one-step-below-the-Show level. So he called the bus company, claimed to be Tex Simone, and told them he wanted a second bus. The dispatcher refused. He knew Tex all too well.

ScarletNumber said...

@Jahn Ghalt

When you say The Podcast, are you referring to Hollywood and Levine, or another?

Also, the Syracuse Mets are a recent phenomena, as the Mets were affiliated with Tidewater for over 35 years. Syracuse was known as the Chiefs (or SkyChiefs) when Ken was there and they were affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Neal said...

What was the longest you ever agonized over a(n eventually successful) script, and where did your breakthrough come from that allowed you to complete it?

Jahn Ghalt said...

ScarletNumber said...

the Syracuse Mets are a recent phenomena, as the Mets were affiliated with Tidewater for over 35 years. Syracuse was known as the Chiefs (or SkyChiefs) when Ken was there and they were affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays.

When I did the search I thought "Chiefs. I wonder if that is still 'sensitive enough' ? "

Not really the point, in that I wanted some insight into late-winter, early-spring, extremes in that neck-o-the-woods. Proximity to a Great Lake doesn't always mediate extremes (see Ken's reference to tropical conditions that first summer his lovely and their kids spent in SYR).


@Jahn Ghalt

When you say The Podcast, are you referring to Hollywood and Levine, or another?

Another Podcast?!? Whatever do you mean??

DyHrdMET said...

You've worked in baseball broadcasting as well as in TV and film. Have you ever crossed paths with anyone (or even worked with anyone) in both of those distinct industries? For example, Bob Uecker comes to mind as someone who's been a long-time broadcaster but also has a few film credits to his name as well as being the lead on a sitcom for several seasons. Todd Zeile is another one with a few credits in film and TV (as a producer) as well as being a former major leaguer and now TV commentator for the Mets. Have you crossed paths with them or anyone similar in both entertainment and in baseball?

Dunkin Donuts Lover said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Ken. Thinking of you and your family. Time doesn't heal everything but I hope it can help a little.

Bradchaz said...

Totally agree!