Friday, May 27, 2022

Friday Questions

Better late than never, here are this week’s FQ’s.

TBaughman starts us off:

Do all of your reviews offer constructive criticism? Aren’t reviews to inform—and sometimes entertain—the public, not assist the author or performer, though that might occur incidentally?

I’m sure each reviewer has his or her own agenda.  When I review things for this blog it’s mostly for the reader, but occasionally I will offer what I think might be helpful notes, not so much for the writers of the project being reviewed but to better explain my problems with it.  If the writer should read it and not hate me that would be a bonus.  

But it’s not like I’m reviewing Broadway for the New York Times.  I hardly  expect the creative team of the project under review to be reading me.    

From Jahn Ghalt:

You clearly relish the "high wire act" of writing (and directing?) a one-act, two-player cafe-play all in about eight-hours.

The Question - do you write any kind of an outline in this situation.

No, but before I start writing I do figure out where the play is going and what the ending is.  

In most of my ten-minute plays I build to a character having to make a tough decision. That decision often comes at the end but other times it’s early to set into motion a problem that must now be dealt with.    

To me, that’s what separates a play from a sketch.  In most sketches (see practically every one ever done on SNL) you have a funny premise, fill it with jokes, then look for any way to just get out of it.  

Speaking of funny, the other thing I do before writing my ten-minute play is make sure I can service both of my characters equally.  They each have to have laugh lines.  I can’t just make one person the straight man and the other get all the laughs.    A trap a lot of playwrights fall into is having one character just ask questions during the whole piece.  Actors understandably hate that.  

So once I know I have a direction and characters I can have fun with I throw caution to the wind and just start writing.  

Terry asks:

This has nothing to do with today's post, but your post from yesterday made me think of a possible Friday question (and forgive me if you've answered this one before): 

You're forgiven.  I forgot I answered it too.

On Cheers, was there ever any consideration given to having Rhea's then husband Danny DeVito guest star? I know the two appeared on Taxi together. This seems like a missed opportunity to me.

I actually answered this back in 2011 which a couple of commenters brought that to my attention.  So for the 90% of you who don’t read the comments (okay maybe only 87%) here was my answer (with thanks to those two commenters).  

There was some talk about it the first season but nothing really serious. At one point we thought of including Danny in the Superbowl scene as a lark but ultimately it was decided the objective of the scene was to promote CHEERS and it would just confuse people with TAXI. Were they watching Louie & Zena?

But if you listen carefully, you can hear Danny laughing offstage. He was there when we filmed it.

The first season of CHEERS proved to be the final season of TAXI, and Danny went off to have a hugely successful feature career. I once said to him, “Now that you’re a big star, I hope you won’t forget us little people.

And finally, from JessyS:

Did you and David break the 4th wall in any of your series?

No.  But I have used that device in one of my plays.  

I’m not against doing it on a TV series but the premise needs to be enhanced by the device otherwise it’s just a gimmick.  

I actually thought they did it very well in the early episodes of HOUSE OF CARDS.  Also on FLEABAG.

But the all-time best use of the device was done in the early 1950’s if you can believe it.  On the BURNS & ALLEN SHOW, George Burns would go upstairs to his office and watch the show as it was supposedly being broadcast (see: above photo).  He could then comment to the audience or set plot points in motion based on his inside knowledge.  It was very surreal.  None of the other characters knew they were on television (and of course, where were the cameras?).  But it was novel and somehow it worked.   

The various series David Isaacs I created however, tended to be more realistic and did not lend themselves to breaking the fourth wall or done in the documentary style.  

What’s your Friday Question? 


Marv Wolfman said...

Even as a young kid in the 50s I got what Burns and Allen were doing and found it funny. The other show I loved that later did a variation of that was Green Acres.

gottacook said...

Regarding Burns & Allen: Occasionally Star Trek would use the device of the voiceover captain's log to reveal something the crew doesn't yet know (e.g., "unknown to us, a totally new and unusual disease has been brought aboard"). As for Fleabag, I've already reached my breaking-the-4th-wall limit and I've seen only 1 episode.

kent said...

It wasn't one of Ken's, but MASH did stretch the fourth wall when Clete Roberts interviewed the troops at the 4077th, thereby allowing them to speak directly to a distant audience

Mike Doran said...

I'm backtracking a couple of posts here:

Mention has been made of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, by common consent the most beloved British comedy team ever.
Eric and Ernie did what was probably the greatest set-up/call-back in British comedy history.

It began on the first show of their long-running BBC comedy-variety series.
A regular feature on this show were "plays wot Ernie wrote", which featured appearances by major British stars who had to contend with Eric & Ernie's wildness.
On the first show, they did a version of King Arthur, with Special Guest Peter Cushing.
This was the set-up.
A week or so later, Peter Cushing turned up unannounced on stage, to politely inquire when he was going to paid for his appearance; Eric & Ernie gave him a funny runaround, to big laughs.
The call-backs continued on an annual basis for the rest of the BBC run - about ten years worth: at least once or twice each season, Cushing would wander on unannounced to ask about when he might expect to get "the twenty quid" he was owed for Ernie's "play".
This became a tradition of sorts: even when Eric & Ernie moved back to ITV, Peter Cushing found his way onto the new show, in search of the twenty quid.
The ultimate payoff (so to speak):
A few years after Eric Morecambe's passing, Ernie Wise was feted on the British This Is Your Life (on ITV).
Many major BBC and ITV figures appeared to salute Ernie and "his short fat hairy legs".
But at the finish -
- Peter Cushing (then in less than robust health - he passed on not long afterward) came on the Life stage, to once again ask Ernie Wise for the twenty quid he was owed "for the play wot you wrote".
And Cushing & Wise did an improvised bit in which poor Peter once again came in second ...
... and the studio audience roared its approval.
You can find lots of Morecambe & Wise on YouTube - and you should.

Dana King said...

The Beloved Spouse and I are now into the sixth season of FRASIER and look forward to our two dinnertime episodes every day. While Niles is clearly the second-most important character, Jane Leeves is billed above David Hyde-Pierce. Is that because Daphne was supposed to be more prominent and things shifted when the writers saw what a brilliant talent they had playing Niles, or did she just have the better agent? (Hopefully not Bebe.)

Ted. said...

On "Call Me Kat," Mayim Bialik often breaks the fourth wall -- something that began with "Miranda," the British comedy it's based on. And at the end of each episode, all of the actors dance and wave to the camera. It's a little strange -- but considering that the entire show seems like a stage play derived from sitcom scripts written in the 1990s, it actually kind of works.

Gary Crant said...

I feel obligated to mention the best breaking of the fourth wall scene of all time, in TRADING PLACES where Eddie Murphy stares directly at the camera after being explained to what bacon is. You can't improve on that.

FQer said...

No one has mentioned "Moonlighting" yet!

Friday question: Can you (or Jamie Farr, if he wants to chime in) talk about writing for Klinger on "M*A*S*H" and the changes in that character? I find him the most interesting character in the series, and Farr an actor who can do anything.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Here's a FRIDAY QUESTION based on your cartooning.

What were you into when you were a kid? Did you read MAD magazine and/or the NATIONAL LAMPOON? Were you a comic book guy? What were your Saturday morning viewing habits? Bugs and Daffy? You were probably too old for the "Groovy Ghoulies" or the "Banana Splits." They're more my generation.
And when you were supposed to be paying attention in class were you doodling? Setting the stage for you current drawing phase.

Just curious.


P.S. F.Q. Supplemental: Considering your drawing ability, have you ever considered combining your playwriting and illustrations in to sort of a "graphic novel " or comic book format? I'd read that.

Lemuel said...

I liked Gary Shandling's fourth-wall breaking on his show, as well as George Burns'

Mibbitmaker said...

CHEERS did have a meta moment (not a Levine-Isaacs script, though) late in the series, when some of the gang were at the drive-in. Woody reacted to talk about an actress in the movie, asking, "Why would an actress leave right in the middle of a successful series?", an "inside" joke about Shelley Long.

MASH seemed to do something like that, but not about any in-show thing, but rather a current event - a 1974-era thing referenced in a show taking place between 1950 and 1953. In its own way a wink to the viewers. This was pre-Levine-Issacs altogether. In "A Smattering of Intelligence", while waiting to surreptitiously check Frank's File, the non-Flagg spy answered a comment with, "It's called 'breaking and entering'". Hawkeye replies in a tone of concerned-sounding sarcasm, "It's a good thing you're a cop, or that'd be illegal... you know?" A sneaky chance to mock the Watergate break-in... at least that's what I took from the moment, years later.

Masked Scheduler said...

Behind my desk on my wall at both NBC and FOX I had framed photos of
The Honeymooners
Rod Serling
Howdy Doody
Rocky and Bullwinkle
Ernie Kovacs
Burns and Allen

Those were my muses. You are right Ken nothing has ever risen to the level of that show in terms of breaking the fourth wall.

Kosmo13 said...

In some of the early Burns and Allen shows I've seen, Gracie breaks the fourth wall, too. At her first entrance, she breaks character for a moment to look at the audience / camera, smile and acknowledge the audience's applause. I'm glad they dropped that later.

kcross said...

I wish I could remember the name of a series that ended a show at an airport with many of the cast waving goodbye at the rest of the cast flying away to an event. They then turned around and the ones who flew away were standing there. "What are you doing here"? "They cancelled the series". They then waved to the audience and faded out.

E. Yarber said...

Most constructive criticism rightfully belongs during the creation of a piece, not afterward. A mainstream movie review is generally meant to ask, "Is this worth the price of a ticket?" while one in a trade paper might be more concerned with "How will this affect Disney stockholders?" The creators themselves have pretty much staked their claim with the finished work by then.

Likewise, you have to adjust to the situation at hand. If one is dealing with a beginner just starting to develop their skills in a workshop, you'll be focusing more on general principles of craft than with someone presenting their work for professional presentation, who would be expected to already know what's required critically and commercially in terms of the business. This can be a problem with some film students who approach a studio shoot at the level of a class project without understanding that the bar has become much higher. Ideally, you're looking for a filmmaker who treats a class project like a studio shoot.

If you're helping a writer prepare a project for submission, it's like being a defense attorney trying to make sure your client has the strongest possible case ready before going into court. On the other hand, if you're reviewing the same script for a producer or executive, you're a prosecutor expected to immediately identify any and all weaknesses inherent in the proposal. A story editor once asked me, "Is this screenplay worth having a makeup artist show up for work at five in the morning?"

Joyce Melton said...

A show I remember breaking the fourth wall was Dobie Gillis. They did a lot, frequently through a framing sequence but also, sometimes a character would just stop mid-scene and deliver a lengthy aside to the audience while the other characters waited for him to finish. It worked and I laughed, but since I was only about eight at the time, I didn't always get the jokes. I still laughed.

Gary said...

FRASIER came pretty close to breaking the fourth wall when "Nanny G" asked Frasier if he could imagine what it would be like to play the same part for over twenty years!

Kevin from VA said...

Way way back, before TV, and as early as the 1920's, Oliver Hardy was constantly and hilariously breaking the fourth wall over Stan's antics.

JS said...

Not exactly a question, but Antenna TV runs Burns & Allen and Jack Benny around 6 in the morning. Compared to "I Love Lucy" the video quality is stunningly bad. The audio is awful. Desi really did change it up in terms of video and audio.

I think you asked a question awhile back, who broke the 3rd wall in TV? it was Burns & Allen. They froze the frame, said there is a new "Harry" and brought in the new Harry (Larry Keating). "Burns and Allen" did a lot of stuff shows copied. Ahead of it's time. Many shows ripped them off. Modern Family was the most blatant.

ScarletNumber said...


That's the exception that proves the rule. When you're doing a documentary you are explicitly allowing the characters to communicate with the audience.

Paxton Q said...

When I was a very little kid in the 1950s, I watched repeats of the Burns & Allen Show on TV in the daytime, and I was fascinated by George eavesdropping on the other characters via TV. He would then have conversations with them, in which they would be baffled as to how he knew what had happened when he wasn't actually there. However, I never thought that what he saw was being somehow broadcast. I always thought he had some kind of closed-circuit cameras and microphones secretly installed around the house and that's what he was watching, and sharing with us, the viewers. Of course, TV cameras were massive back then and this would have been impossible, but what did I know? It was a great gimmick though, and the one thing I remember most about that show.

Daniel said...

Possible FRIDAY QUESTION: What are your thoughts on Weird Al Yankovic? I recently introduced the kids (both seven) to his music and it got me listening to it again for the first time in probably 30 years. I'm impressed by how well it holds up. Equal parts clever and stupid. I find myself laughing out loud quite a bit.

Anonymous said...

There was a brief fourth wall moment in Frazier when Laurie Metcalf as a children's performer asked Frazier if he knew what it was like to play the same character for 20 years.

The best fourth wall breaker besides George Burns is a toss-up
Groucho Marx or Bugs Bunny.

Milton the Momzer said...

A Friday question (three): Every TV drama, almost, ends every season with its version of Who Shot JR. Why do most TV dramas, especially renewed shows, have to end on a cliffhanger? Do they think fans won't return in the fall? Is it against the writers code to end a season with a satisfying episode?

JessyS said...

Ken, Thanks for answering my question.

@ Marv Wolfman, my Friday question was indeed inspired by Green Acres. For those that missed it, here is the link to the video that inspired my question.

Kyle Burress said...

Did you ever have a character that you wrote for that you later wished you had taken in a different direction from how they ended up?

Dave said...

Hi Ken, You've mentioned in your blog and your podcast about B Positive being cancelled. I have to say that show fascinated me, not for the laughs, but with what happened between S1 and S2. During S1 I must admit to really enjoying Annaleigh Ashford in her role. I had seen her in other things but it was her delivery that had me chuckling. Thomas Middleditch was the main star and everything was based around him and his kidney transplant. Come S2 and suddenly it was Annaleigh's show, she was front and centre in the new credits and the show was now about her running the retirement village. That village then allowed a host of older actors to get a regular gig and it was great watching them in action. They even threw the previous star on an RV and sent him away on a trip. I was looking forward to S3 just for the actors playing the village regulars! I know some shows change course and an extra or regular comes to the fore more than others, but have you ever seen such a change in a show before. It was amazing to see just that side of a show.

Cap'n Bob said...

Did anyone mention Inspector Clouseau as a breaker of the fourth wall?

Gary said...

Going back even further, at the end of many OZZIE & HARRIET episodes Ozzie Nelson would give a quick look to the camera. At the end of one episode he even asks which camera to look into!

Anonymous said...

Dobie Gillis: Why do you suppose everybody looks at television every night?
Edward J. McClusky: Why?
Dobie Gillis: Because television's better than real life. I mean, if real life is better than television, then people'd look at each other every night, wouldn't they?

Bronson said...


This may be the episode you are referencing, if not, my apologies. Ken has mentioned being involved in the writing of "point of view" ( I wonder if that coined the term "POV filming?")

and also "Our finest hour"

Speaking of trailblazing ideas, Ken's idea for the Capital City Goofball (mascot) made a reappearance 5 days ago in the season finale of season 33 of the Simpsons

Its 5:45 in the video (can be found on Hulu) but they actually call it "The Freak." Licensing maybe, like when Star Trek Voyager renamed Nick Locarno to Tom Paris.

Cowboy Surfer said...

Bear broke the wall in every episode of BJ and the BEAR.

Can't believe I had to be the one to bring this up...

Don P. said...

@kross : I bet your show is "I Married Dora".

As to Morecombe and Wise: I suspect a fair number of readers here are familiar with them, but for the best of the best, go to youtube and look for their Andre Previn sketch. I was living in London in 1971 when this was shown, and I knew even at a young age that I had just seen a stone cold classic.

David said...

I Married Dora 1987

Dave-El said...

In Gentleman Jack, a period drama set in 1830's England, Ann Lister will break the fourth wall with a monologue or knowing look.

Big Bang Theory used the 4th wall for a place to hang up that horrendous painting of Penny and Amy.

JonCow said...

The most puzzling use of breaking the 4th wall is at the end of the movie "The Bad Seed." The story is about a little girl, who appears perfect to the world, but is in fact a sociopath who ends up murdering school mates and the handyman of her apartment building.
At the end of the movie, the actors, one by one, walk onto the apartment set, face the camera and bow, as if this was a stage play. The actress who played the mother comes out, takes her bow. Then the actress who played the little girl comes out and takes her bow. This tells us that this is "just a story" and these are actors portraying fictional characters.
Then, the actress who played the mother takes the actress who played the evil little girl, over her knee and spanks her. ?????

tavm said...

John Hughes and Matthew Broderick raised the Fourth Wall to an art form in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

D. McEwan said...

"Ted. said...
On "Call Me Kat," Mayim Bialik often breaks the fourth wall"

She's even worse on Jeopardy, where she breaks the fourth wall constantly!

In The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong and The Goes Wrong Show, the character of "Sandra," as played by Charlie Russell, who considers herself to have a special relationship with the audience, often breaks fourth wall, not verbally, but only with her eyes, giving audience looks on entrances and emotional moments that are played as the actress's ego getting in the way, so on her entrances, she generally does an eye-contact look to the camera only to walk smack into a piece of furniture she didn't see as she was too busy primping to the camera.

Her real-life boyfriend Dave Hearn, who plays "Max" in all those shows, also constantly breaks fourth wall, in his case it being that "Max" has no concentration and is easily distracted by the live audience's presence, and any audience reaction whatever distracts him, and he will abandon character entirely and clown when things go wrong. So in "A Trial to Watch" he plays a corpse getting an autopsy, like so many actors have on Law & Order, but "Max's corpse" can't stop giggling and mugging to the audience. In "Harper's Locket," when his dejection at his firing and his rejection from the family provokes an "Awwww" from the audience, it makes him giggle and then he milks the "Aw" over and over, breaking up over his power to make the audience say "Aw" at will each time.

But it's Henry Shields, also of The Goes Wrong Show, who kills me. He plays Captain Hook in Peter Pan Goes Wrong, and he can't stand the audience booing him, and tends to shout "OH GROW UP!" at the audience (In "Peter Pan," a play that sentimentalizes never growing up!), and when he loses patience with the audience altogether, screams "SHUT UP!" at them. Oh, how many times over the years have I wanted to yell "Shut up" at an audience. Hearing Henry scream that at his audience just breaks me up every single time.

D. McEwan said...

Jon Cow, that spanking gag at the end of The Bad Seed was a gag they did onstage. Mervyn LeRoy saw the Broadway stage production and decided to try to film it as close to what he saw and loved on Broadway as possible. So not only was most of the Broadway cast imported to play their roles (Which meant filming it quickly, before Patty McCormick outgrew the role), but the play is only barely opened-up, with 90% of the movie played on the living room stage set, and everyone over-acting, playing to the last-row of the top balcony, since Mervyn never told them to bring it in for the camera, and even keeping that awful taking-bows spanking gag. (The reason Nancy Kelly's performance has become a camp classic is because she's giving a performance scaled to a Broadway house on camera, and it comes across as excruciatingly terrible over-acting.)

Worse though, is what they did to how the play ends. After all, the bows are essentially the closing credits and it's over. But they RUINED the actual ending due to the MPAA code. The play ends with the mother having successfully killed herself while Rhoda survives to commit more murders (With the nosy neighbor upstairs clearly marked out as the-next-victim to be). The movie lets Mom survive (But she will be "punished" for trying to kill Rhoda), and then has Rhoda struck by lightening. God punishes Rhoda! Ruins the movie! But the Production Code wouldn't let a murderer, even a ten year old one, go unpunished.

Mark said...

Though I've never been able to find it, there's an episode where they recast the next-door neighbor between acts with George explaining the change to the audience in real time.

Mark said...

We should also add to the list the show-of-show meta-subgenre. Best known example is Seinfeld with the show "Jerry," but there have been numerous others.

The otherwise forgettable went meta in a big way when the character played by Timm Sharp was diagnosed with a condition where he has delusions that he's in a sitcom. His therapist is Mayim Bialik playing a fictionalized Mayim Bialik

JS said...

Burns & Allen did a lot of groundbreaking stuff. In addition to breaking the 4th wall, they had 2 of the main characters named "Harry". It's pretty odd to see 2 sitcom characters with the same name.

JonCow said...

@D. McEwan
Thanks, I figured it was a hold over from the stage, but really?
from IMDB:
'The original ending of the play, in which Christine dies and Rhoda lives to kill again, so angered Broadway audiences that when the performance was over, "they were almost literally ready to kill someone." The "curtain call," where Christine turns Rhoda over her knee and spanks her, was a way of breaking the tension and sending the audience off with a laugh, by having Rhoda get her comeuppance.'

I guess the best thing to come from the experience was the movie career of Henry Jones, as the handy man.

L'Atalante said...

The two Harrys on Burns and Allen may have been a weird element, but it wasn't conceived as such. The character of Harry Morton was already established on the show when Harry Von Zell replaced longtime cast member Bill Goodwin. Since both were technically the show's announcers, they were billed under their real names like Don Wilson on Jack Benny's program.

Mark said...

And they pretty much always referred to Harry Von Zell as “Harry Von Zell”, so it wasn’t too confusing.

There was a TV remake of The Bad Seed in 1985. In that version, the mother doesn’t survive but the little girl does. The other thing I remember about that version was that Lynn Redgrave was playing an American and I was super distracted by her accent - it didn’t sound quite right and I missed her fantastic regular accent.

JS said...

My Friday Question - whenever I see a musical number in a show that is not known for musical numbers, I figure the writers are out of ideas that week. The Goldbergs did it for years, Jack Benny did it all the time - I mean, Dennis Day. Am I wrong?

D. McEwan said...

"JonCow said...
@D. McEwan
Thanks, I figured it was a hold over from the stage, but really?
from IMDB:
'The original ending of the play, in which Christine dies and Rhoda lives to kill again, so angered Broadway audiences that when the performance was over, "they were almost literally ready to kill someone." The "curtain call," where Christine turns Rhoda over her knee and spanks her, was a way of breaking the tension and sending the audience off with a laugh, by having Rhoda get her comeuppance.'

I guess the best thing to come from the experience was the movie career of Henry Jones, as the handy man."

While The Bad Seed was Henry Jones's second movie (His first being a small role in This is the Army 13 years earlier), he had a mountain of New York live television credits before The Bad Seed. (Really! I counted 50 TV credits on his resume before The Bad Seed, including an episode of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show!) I would add that Henry is also the voice on the radio in The Bad Seed that tells of the drowning tragedy at the picnic. Since on Broadway he had doubled that offstage voice, Mervyn had him do it in the movie, where it sounds like LeRoy moonlights as a newscaster, good job for a total moron like LeRoy. (Speaking of same-name confusions, as I will in a moment, LeRoy the moron handiman is directed by Mervyn LeRoy. I had to rewrite one sentence above when I saw I'd used the name "LeRoy" twice in a sentence, referring to two different people.)

Apparently Broadway audiences didn't know a good horror tale ending when they saw one. You're supposed to send the house away with shudder, not a laugh.

On another topic, having two "Harrys" on Burns & Allen made for confusion, which was why they did it. Anything that could increase Gracie's confusion increased the comedy. And it happens in real life. I was in a four-man sketch comedy troupe 42 years ago in which two of the members were named John. 50% of the troupe was named John. So they got called by their last names.

Two of the three authors and stars of The Play That Goes Wrong and all the other Goes Wrong productions, are named Henry. So 2/3rds of the writing team behind those shows are named Henry. And as if that weren't enough confusion, the third author is named Jonathon, while the character played by Greg Tannahill in all their "Goes Wrong" productions is named Jonathon. Off stage the author/actor Jonathon Sayer is generally called "John-O" to distinguish him from the fictional character played by Greg.

"Mark said...
There was a TV remake of The Bad Seed in 1985. In that version, the mother doesn’t survive but the little girl does. The other thing I remember about that version was that Lynn Redgrave was playing an American and I was super distracted by her accent - it didn’t sound quite right and I missed her fantastic regular accent."

Yes, the remake did the ending correctly. Gee, you must hate the great movie Gods and Monsters in which Lynn does a very odd, hard-to-pigeonhole, accent of no set ethnicity. The person she is playing in real life was Hispanic, but I guess to avoid the cliche of the Hispanic housekeeper, they made her a "Somewhere in Europe we think" non-specific ethnicity.

The remake showed Rhoda's first murder, the one from before the play and earlier movie begins, in which Rhoda pushes an old lady down a flight of steps. The old lady was Eve Smith, whom I was in an acting class with for a couple years. Delightful lady. I acted with her in a number of comedy scenes, and never pushed her down a flight of steps. (Eve is also in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as the old lady in a hospital that Dr. McCoy gives a pill to, and is last seen being wheeled down a hallway, happily shouting "The doctor gave me a pill and I grew a new kidney!")

D. McEwan said...

"JS said...
My Friday Question - whenever I see a musical number in a show that is not known for musical numbers, I figure the writers are out of ideas that week. The Goldbergs did it for years, Jack Benny did it all the time - I mean, Dennis Day. Am I wrong?"

Yes, you're wrong. You're forgetting the old Variety Show format, which always included singers and dancers and musical numbers along with the sketches. Dennis Day was a hold-over from the radio show variety format. Dennis's numbers, or the numbers of musical guest stars, were a regular feature of the show. And they often were worked into the sketch plots, like the one where Jack Benny is assaulted and attacked by assassins in the pay of Dennis Day, who is angry that a male guest star was allowed to sing instead of him. Jack ends up giving Dennis an on-screen spanking for that one. The songs fill one segment, but they are not included because the greatest writing team in TV history was "out of ideas."

And if your tolerance for Dennis Day is as low as mine, well, these days his songs are easily fast-forwarded past.

D. McEwan said...

Around 30 years ago the play of The Bad Seed was revived in West Hollywood as a camp comedy. They did the script as written, but hyped up the over-acting to insane heights, and had an adult man in drag play Rhoda, complete with the long blonde braids. It was hysterical!

thirteen said...

George Reeves gave us a knowing wink once or twice on Adventures of Superman. They even had a painting wink at us at the end of one episode.

JS said...

D. McEwan - I was putting aside variety shows. I expect them to do musical numbers. I was talking about regular shows who all the sudden throw in a musical number. i don't know what Dennis Day had on Jack Benny.

D. McEwan said...

"thirteen said...
George Reeves gave us a knowing wink once or twice on Adventures of Superman. They even had a painting wink at us at the end of one episode."

George winked a lot, usually at some "After all Lois, I'm not Superman," line. The wink told the kids in the audience that we and Supes were the only ones who knew his secret. It made we kids feel Superman was our buddy, and that we were smarter than all the other adults on the show. None of those others even knew we were watching.

One thing that amused me: George Reeves, Jack Larson and John Hamilton got to do Kellogg's breakfast commercials, where Jimmy and Clark were having breakfast together in Clark's kitchen, and Perry White drops by for some delicious corn flakes, like you do. Noel Neill complained that she never got any of the extra money for doing them because it was not felt proper for Lois to be having breakfast in Clark's apartment --- but it was cool if Jimmy Olson had spent the night with Supes.

Helen East said...

Hi Ken,

I know it's not a Friday but by the time it comes around I might forget to send in my questions. So here goes. What is your opinion on the series Grace and Frankie?

Brian Phillips said...

In the UK, Anthony Newley's character suddenly realizes he is in a TV show...and walks off.

See a preview of the vintage show, "The Strange World of Gurney Slade":

Spike de Beauvoir said...

I've been watching some first-season episodes of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show on Tubi. It's very enjoyable except for the extended commercials for Carnation that are woven into the show as if they're scenes. It got a little obnoxious to keep hearing the same bits about contended cows, mix with water, as good as real cream, etc. while waiting for the story to resume. I don't know if this was a pattern throughput all the seasons.

I love Gracie Allen, recently watched Damsel in Distress and Honolulu. Also Leo McCarey's Six of a Kind. Such perfect timing and wordplay. She was relentless and unique.

Mike Doran said...

For Spike de Beauvoir (who I believe is somewhat younger than many of us here):

Welcome to the Lost World of Full Sponsorshop!

Back in those long-lost days of ad agency contol of TV programming, which are directly descended from radio programming, many shows and stars were as identifiable by their sponsors as by their story content.

On radio, Burns & Allen were sponsored for years by Maxwell House Coffee, which they ardently praised at the start of every episode.

Meanwhile, Fibber McGee & Molly had The Johnson Wax Program, wherein announcer Harlow Wilcox would drop by the McGee house about midway through the show to sing the praises of Glo-Coat floor wax (Fibber sometimes called Wilcox "Waxy", in tribute).

In TV, this continued with Lucy and Desi lighting up their Philip Morris cigarettes, and Danny Thomas drinking deep of his own Maxwell House coffee, and then Andy Griffith happily enjoying this General Foods product or that one ...

I still remember Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble lighting up their animated Winstons - even as the Clampetts would do the same with their own live-action gaspers ...

... And so on and so on, on all the networks, every night of the week; if you had a sponsor, they got their star spiel (for which the stars were well-compensated each week).
The practice ended when the FCC (or whoever) thought it would be better if networks instead of advertisers controlled content of shows, and implemented the necessary changes (and I think we know how that turned out, don't we?).

ScarletNumber said...

@Mike Doran

I don't think the FCC had anything to do with sole sponsorship or it being ended. I think the networks realized it wasn't such a good idea to give such control to a single entity. Dumont started the trend, and after they folded the remaining networks picked it up.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

@Mike Doran

Thanks for the overview of full sponsorship, I didn't realize how prevalent it was. Most retro shows don't include the ad sequences. The I Love Lucy DVDs had episodes of My Favorite Husband, which was sponsored by Jell-o (every episode opened with Lucy shouting "Jell-o Everybody!"), and there was a catchy jingle at the break.

On the Burns and Allen Show, the rapport with the audience is kind of set up when George does his opening monologue and addresses them directly (of course I liked the one where he explains what a straight man is in comedy). But it seems weird to just continue a scene with a protracted discussion of how wonderful the product is with the same framing, staging, etc. as a scene in the show. It gave them a captive audience but I wonder if the smiles slid off their faces as the show came to a full stop so they could hear the praises of condensed milk. It's comparable to a scene in Frasier shifting into the characters hyping crepe pans, clotted cream, or sharkskin suits.

It Should Happen to You with Judy Holliday and Jack Lemon has a lot of fun tweaking advertising ploys when Gladys Glover becomes a media sensation by doing nothing at all except advertising herself.