Friday, June 24, 2022

Friday Questions

Let’s dive into some Friday Questions.  Also, I haven't posted a Natalie Wood photo in awhile. 

Mighty Hal starts us off:

Ken, how long did it usually take for you and David to write a television script? Did you ever take weeks or months to write one? What's your record for one written in the least amount of time?

That depends on where we were in our career.  Originally, it would take two weeks to write a half-hour script.  By the end, usually three or four days.  Sometimes two if we were really under the gun.    We wrote “Night at Rosie’s” for MASH, “Bar Wars” for CHEERS, and “Room Service” for FRASIER all in two days.  I don’t recommend it as a general policy. 

Movies obviously take several months.  I can write a first draft of a full-length play in a month if I have no other obligations. 

And then we once wrote a half-hour script in 45 minutes, which will be the topic of next Monday’s post.  (How’s that for a cliffhanger?)

Michael asks:

Ken, did you ever have to deal with a star insisting that they should get the funny line instead of a supporting player, and what did you do about it?

No.  That never happened and never would because we would have quit immediately.   We told our stars in advance we wouldn’t tolerate that for a second nor counting lines.  I worked too hard to write scripts actors would be proud of to put up with that shit.  

Fortunately, like I said, that never became an issue.  The actors that I worked with were very respectful.  That’s not to say they didn’t have script issues and believe me, we rewrote plenty and spent many long nights — but it was always in service of the show and making it better.  

From Bronson:

Looking back, was there a time when there was a clear zenith in your career?  I'm thinking a story like "I was working on X, consulting on Y, and in talks with Z about producing a movie.  Everyone wanted a piece of us."

If so, did you realize it at the time?

Over one utterly insane 24 hour period in 1995 CBS picked up my series, ALMOST PERFECT, I sold a spec screenplay, and was hired by the San Diego Padres to do play-by-play.  Hard to top that day.  And yes, I realized it at the time.  I should have bought a lottery ticket.

And finally, from SueK2001:

I did have a FQ that relates to MASH. I recently watched the episode where Houlihan loses her voice and can't speak. Is there a certain skill to playing "sick"? Was she sick during the shoot? Does acting hoarse hurt your voice in the long run?

There is definitely a skill to playing sick, especially if you also have to be funny.  The trick is not to go overboard and sound like Elmer Fudd.  

And yes, acting hoarse does put a strain on the vocal cords.  Do you know there is a woman who is a professional screamer?  That’s right, she can do various different screams and she is quite in demand.  She must have leather lungs.  But it saves the stars from straining their pipes.  

Too bad WHAT’S MY LINE? is not still on.

What’s your Friday Question?


maxdebryn said...

WHAT'S MY SHOE SIZE was good, too.

Daniel said...


"Originally, it would take two weeks to write a half-hour script. By the end, usually three or four days...Movies obviously take several months."

Can you expand upon this? I'm sure that most people would jump to what they consider to be the logical conclusion that, if it takes three or four days to write a 30-minute script for a TV show, and a movie is three of four times longer, then a movie script should be written in 12 to 16 days.

Obviously, it's not that simple, but what are the other considerations that result in it taking significantly more time to write a movie script?

-- No heavy exposition or character introductions needed in a weekly TV series where the premise is already established?

-- More money involved in making a movie, so more careful consideration of each line to make sure that it's as perfect as can be so no money wasted on set?

-- Is it also possible that there's a mindset in TV that there's another episode next week, so if we fall short on this episode, we'll regroup next week and make it up on the next one? Whereas in movies, the sequel is never guaranteed so there's only once chance to get it right?

maxdebryn said...

@Daniel - Like most of us, I am still awaiting Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League ! And I mean the movie, not the book, thank you very much.

Kendall Rivers said...

FQ: Always loved the Bar Wars episodes of Cheers. How did this initially come about?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I heartell that if an ODD COUPLE script called for Felix to be sick, that Tony Randall would actually go out and get himself sick for it. There was one early episode where Felix is in bed sick when Oscar tries to have some female company over for a date, which of course, Felix ends up ruining anyway - both Jack Klugman and Garry Marshall said Tony actually got himself sick when they filmed that episode.

TCB said...

Thanks to the far right members of the Supreme Court, it's now legal for anyone of any background to buy assault rifles that can massacre schoolchildren in seconds, but it's illegal for a victim of rape and incest to avoid the horror of forced pregnancy. Welcome to the Republican dream.

On a lighter note, I saw ELVIS and it's fantastic. Austin Butler is a dead cert for best actor and Tom Hanks is a dead cert for best supporting actor. You forget you're watching Tom Hanks. You just see the awful, unscrupulous and greedy son of a bitch who exploited Elvis for his own gain.

Natalie Wood even gets a mention, Ken.

Although there is the visual bombast you'd expect from Baz Luhrmann, it's actually far more restrained than I expected. It doesn't have the exhausting frantic style of Moulin Rouge. The last five minutes are particularly emotional and masterfully directed.

See it on a huge cinema screen with awesome sound. TV won't do it justice.

Howard Carter said...

"No. That never happened and never would because we would have quit immediately. We told our stars in advance we wouldn’t tolerate that for a second nor counting lines. I worked too hard to write scripts actors would be proud of to put up with that shit. "

How Ken's says "I never wrote for The Nanny", without saying it :)

Leighton said...

"Room Service" is indeed a "Frasier"-favorite. That being said, having worked in hotels during college (Miami and LA), a room service waiter is accustomed to delivering to just about any scenario imaginable, without batting an eye.

Dennis Higgins said...

Sorry, was there some other content on this post besides the Natalie Wood pic? I got distracted ...

Michael said...

Thanks for answering my question. And I thought the answer would be what you gave.

About playing or being hoarse: Harry Caray was training Joe Garagiola as a broadcaster and would take him to see small women singer (I have the feeling Teresa Brewer was one of them), and tell him it's all in the diaphragm. Dick Van Dyke said that when doing "Bye Bye Birdie," he got hoarse by not singing correctly. It's an art and a science.

I thought of this in connection with two things that are totally unrelated. I am a country music fan (stick with me, this is relevant), and the Statler Brothers did an album, "Lester 'Roadhog' Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys, Live at Johnny Mack Brown High School." It was a spoof of all of those little bands on little radio stations who had heart but no talent. They used the Nashville "A-Team" of musicians, and they loved the fact that they were intentionally trying to sound bad. It's hard to do.

Similarly, we just binge-watched "Madam Secretary" (Ken has said Tim Daly is a great guy--I believe it, although he is such a great husband on that show that I was apologizing to my wife the whole time). On one episode, Daly as the First Gentleman does Colbert, and has to be silly. Well, he's a good comic actor. But I realized that he had to play a character who was not being normal, and how difficult that had to be.

chuckcd said...

45 minutes? It takes me 45 minutes just to boot up the computer...

Jim S said...

Friday question. How important is it for a sitcom to have a deep bench of recurring players? On Newhart, they Jim and Chester; Larry, Daryl and Daryl; Officer Schiller. Cheers had Roger Rees and Keene Curtis. MASH had Sydney and Col. Flagg. You get my point.

They added something to the show, but weren’t there every week. How do you decide when to write them in. How do you decide create a recurring character. Do regulars resent time being given to a recurring?


Mike Bloodworth said...

I have never tried to write a screenplay, but from the sketches and other things I've written I've learned that some scripts just seem to fall easily into place. (The old cliché that they almost write themselves) Other times every word is a struggle. Sometimes even writing a comment for this blog is an ordeal. It also depends on the subject and the characters.
I would imagine that after a while some shows get easier to write for because they fall into regular patterns. Coming up with an original plot is another matter. And in general it's not surprising that David and you would get faster over the years because your skill level had risen. "Practice makes perfect" as they say.

Speaking of rapid writing, I've seen several of Ken's "Cafe Plays" at the Ruskin Theater in Sta. Monica. For those of you that don't know what they are, several writers get a topic or theme and then have to write a ten minute play in a few hours. Then those plays are produced and staged later that evening. In other words, it all takes place in one day from start to finish. Needless to say that the quality varies considerably from playwright to playwright and from show to show.
Ken, you said that you "...can write a first draft of a full-length play in a month..." but you didn't mention how long it takes for you to write your shorter plays. Is the process the same? Or can you just crank those out? Not an F.Q., but I am curious.


P.S. Thanks for the pic of Natalie's legs. I'm a leg man.

VincentP said...

Since Quentin Tarantino enjoys creating alternate history, a few years from now he should create a version of "Elvis" where Presley signs with Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic Records. Imagine his sessions with Ray Charles!

Caleb Martin said...

Michele Roth, one of the big professional screamers of the time, was actually booked on a pilot for a remake of To Tell the Truth in 1990.

The pilot—bad lighting, weak host, and all—accidentally aired on NBC's east coast feed instead of the intended series premiere, which featured Gordon Elliott and a lighting design Mark Goodson didn't do all by himself while blindfolded.

Mighty Hal said...

I was pleased to see my Friday question answered. Thanks! I'd wrongly assumed that a t.v. script would take much, much longer to get into shape. And I can't wait for Monday's post.

James said...

I believe you worked with John Astin on the old Mary show. He's always intrigued me, both on that show and others. Do you have any stories about working with him?

Lemuel said...

Mike Bloodworth: If you haven't seen "Bob & Carol..." you're in for a treat, Natalie-wise.

Philly Cinephile said...

@Dennis Higgins

I'm here for the articles...

Bill O said...

Kelsey Grammar has gone public about Shelley Long stealing lines.

Brian said...

Friday Question: Ken, what do you think of "The Boys" on Amazon Prime?

Storm said...

@maxdebryn; I have always liked your moxie and the cut of your jib (I love "Endeavour", too), but this is too much; "Buckaroo Banzai" is my all-time favourite movie, and I'm always so tickled to death to meet/read another fan! (Raises spliff) To your very good health, Sir!

Cheers, thanks a lot,


Blue Blaze Irregular Code Name: BIG RED

maxdebryn said...

@Storm -

My Blue Blaze Irregular Code Name: MANDO BAXTER.

Here's to your health, too.

Kendall Rivers said...

@TCB Wow, way to bring down the room with talks of politics. How kind of you lol.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

@Jim S

How could you forget Ma Clavin! And Nick and Lo-Retta Tortelli! The return of Nick and Lo-Retta for Seraphina's wedding is one the best episodes. IMHO

I think Seinfeld was another show that used recurring characters really well: George's parents, Jerry's parents (pour one out for the great Barney Martin), Mr Peterman, Newman. Uncle Leo, Mr PItt

Bob Paris said...

I remember watching Mission: Impossible in the sixties and loved the scene where the tape would self-destruct. Can you think of any other gimmicks that caused you to like and watch a series?