Friday, July 29, 2022

Friday Questions

Last FQ’s of the month.  Come and get ‘em.

Spike de Beauvoir gets the ball rolling:

What are three of your favorite classic Looney Tunes cartoons?

The one with Michigan J. Frog, Duck Dodgers, and the one where Bugs goes into the nightclub and mingles with all the WB movie stars.  

I also loved the Road Runner and Foghorn Leghorn.  

In general, I lean more to the Chuck Jones era.  

Andrew asks:

Have you ever had to write in the bitter cold with a frozen hand, like in Dr. Zhivago? What's that like?

The climate in Hollywood tends not to be subzero.  And most of the time when I write it’s indoors.  

I did go through army basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri in the Ozarks in the bitter winter, but out on those rifle ranges and obstacle courses we never had creative writing courses.

However, when I broadcast for Syracuse in the International League the temperature for night games never got up to 30 the entire month of April.  I did have to buy special gloves that allowed me to hold a pencil.    I wanted to set the booth on fire for warmth but my partner wouldn’t let me.  

Kyle Burress wonders:

Can you name some examples, if any, of guest stars you liked so much that maybe only appeared once in a series you worked on that you wished had come back to reprise their role?

On CHEERS we wanted John Cleese to come back and he agreed to but at the last minute backed out.  We had some great guest stars on CHEERS.  Emma Thompson, Alex Trebek, John Mahoney, Glynis Johns.  One guest star we did bring back was Kevin McHale of the Boston Celtics.  He was a natural.  

On WINGS: Debbie Reynolds, Tyne Daly.  

On MASH:  George Wendt, Shelley Long, Rita Wilson — I hope they found work after our show.  

On FRASIER:  Tea Leoni, JoBeth Williams.

On BECKER: LaVar Burton.  

And I’m sure I’m leaving out a whole bunch more.  

Finally, from Craig Gustafson :​

Have you ever underestimated an actor and then found a performance that upgraded your opinion?

Yes.  The one that immediately springs to mind is Tim Daly on WINGS.  I thought he was a good-looking charming guy, but I had no idea how funny he was and what great comic timing he had.  

Same with David Clennon on ALMOST PERFECT.  I knew he was a good dramatic actor, but when he came in to read he said his very first line and we knew “that’s the guy.”  

I directed a show called FIRED UP that featured Jonathan Banks.  He was okay but nothing special.  Then I see him on BREAKING BAD and I’m gobsmacked at how amazing he is.

What’s your Friday Question? 


Paul Blake said...

Set the booth on fire huh? Well, many years ago here on Long Island, we had a minor league hockey team, the L.I. Ducks (their league was the inspiration for "Slap Shot"). They played in an old Quonset hut style building, the Long Island Arena. It was always cold in there. One night it got so cold, fans broke up several of the wood seats and set them on fire to keep warm. The color announcer, who was also the team owner, announced "This game is being brought to you by the Smithtown Fire Department"!
True story, verified many times in local news media.

Anonymous said...

Lot of people consider Duck Tracy, the film noir parody featuring Daffy the best single Warner Brothers cartoon.

Charles H Bryan said...

Your note on Jonathan Banks got me thinking about actors and roles - not necessarily a fresh observation, but it makes me sympathetic with their career when they can spend a lifetime acting and then that certain role comes along that is just a perfect fit and they get a chance to truly shine. And I'll throw in a plug here for the Better Call Saul Insider podcast - it's a lesson every week in television production with people who genuinely seem to appreciate and enjoy each other.

VincentP said...

Ken, from this native Syracusan, welcome to the Salt City.

Tom Asher said...

Ken, if you've written about this before, forgive me... but a very popular TikTok video right now is the scene between Coach and his daughter on Cheers regarding her beauty... any insight you could provide on this episode?

And I've always wondered how actors are cast for roles like this, where the subject of their appearance is being questioned...

Anonymous said...

Penny on BIG BANG said she did a performance of ANNE FRANK on a stage over a bowling alley. Did you and David have any similar experiences?


ScarletNumber said...

Until 30 Rock I had no idea that Alec Baldwin had the capacity to be funny. Now for all I know he isn't funny and it was all the work of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, but he was able to pull it off.

Mibbitmaker said...

"Duck Amuck" (Jones) is my favorite animated cartoon short of all time, not just WB. My favorite directors are Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and (mostly for his MGM output) Tex Avery. My favorite Clampett short is "Kitty Kornered" (Porky throws his cats out for the night, and they scheme to get back in). The abovementioned Duck Tracy one, "The Great Piggybank Robbery", is another Clampett masterpiece. The whole part with "I'm gonna rub ya out, see?" through the bad guys tackling Daffy all at once is great animation!

My favorite era's the 1940s, though there are favorites in the '30s and '50s, too. Hell, my favorite Road Runner cartoon is from 1962 ("Zoom at the Top").

Roderick Allmanson said...

Got a Friday Question for ya!

I hear a lot of show creators talk about writing improv into their scripts - not Curb Your Enthusiasm style, but just leaving spots blank and counting on actors to come up with something funny in the moment. What is the utility of improv vs. scripted reactions and how common is that?

Michael said...

My bride binge-watched Madam Secretary, and I knew Tim Daly from Wings and Tea Leoni from her Frasier appearance. And they just blew us away. Then we found out that they became a couple themselves, and that was nice. But I have to say, Tim Daly said that men were coming up and thanking him for playing a competent husband on TV. My take was, I'm sorry I'm not more like him!

Glenn said...

Moose (and then Enzo) who played EDDIE CRANE (The Jack Russel Terrier) always catch my eye every scene he's in when I watch Frazier. Talk about believability! I've always wondered how he was directed to ALWAYS turn in such a pitch perfect performance. LOVED HIM (them)!

D. McEwan said...

Well, any list of the greatest Warner Brothers cartoons should lead with What's opera, Doc.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I actually wasn't surprised re David Clennon, because I'd seen him in THE COUCH TRIP...


Dixon Steele said...

Paul Blake,

I too grew up on Long Island and went to Ducks games at the now-gone LI Arena in Commack.

At the end of the game, they let kids out onto the ice, so I went, slipped and almost cracked my head open.

flurb said...

My favorite WB short of all time is Chuck Jones's "Feed the Kitty" - because it has a great story development with brilliant callbacks, and features the divine voice of Bea Benaderet. Also, in the end, it delivers an unexpected heart-tug, all in seven minutes. Delightful.

I also have witnessed twenty-first century children busting a gut at "Buccaneer Bunny" - priceless.

Brian said...

I have a question: You talked about family sitcoms and that got me wondering what brought about the period of "Rural Sitcoms". I enjoyed and still think "Beverly Hillbillies", was a pretty good show, but I didn't much care for "Green Acres" or "Petticoat Junction".

Randy @ WCG Comics said...


Alec Baldwin proved his comedy chops on SNL, resulting in being asked to host a record number if times (17, surpassing Steve Martin’s 15). Tina Fey, of course, knew him from working with him and specifically wrote that role for him on 30 Rock, never thinking he’d take it. If you watch Seinfeld’s Comedian in Cars Getting Coffee, he’s been a guest at least twice and he is indeed naturally hilarious. I suspect when given lines, he can make them even funnier with his delivery and timing.

Saburo said...

For me, Jonathan Banks will *always* be Frank McPike in WISEGUY.

Second is the bad guy in BEVERLY HILLS COP.

VHS Village (Formerly The Beta Barn) said...

Ken, my condolences on the passing of Burt Metcalfe.

JS said...

Road Runner > Bugs Bunny.

By Ken Levine said...

My tribute to Burt Metcalfe will post tomorrow. Thanks for everyone's best wishes.

D. McEwan said...

"JS said...
Road Runner > Bugs Bunny."

Road Runner = 1 joke with endless variations. Can't do verbal jokes at all.

Bugs Bunny = Versatile. Can play anyone anywhere. Does great verbal jokes.

DBenson said...

Okay, Boomers! Let's Talk Cartoons!

Looney Tunes and MGM seemed to dominate for laughs (RABBIT OF SEVILLE, BULLY FOR BUGS, A TALE OF TWO KITTIES and BAD LUCK BLACKIE are personal picks this week, as well as any with Tom and Jerry as musketeers), but let's recognize some other studios:

Fleischer: POPEYE MEETS ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES, and most of the B&W Popeyes and precode Betty Boops. The Supermans aren't funny, but are still really cool.

Disney: More comfort food than comedy. THE BRAVE LITTLE TAILOR, LONESOME GHOSTS and MICKEY'S TRAILER are a delight to look at for the level of craft on display. DONALD'S DIARY is full of surprisingly subversive touches (at Donald and Daisy's wedding we see a gaggle of sobbing sailors) and a lot of Goofy holds up as pure slapstick.

Famous/Paramount: The former Fleischer studio's output grew increasingly and gratingly focused on kiddies, but at the same time had a weird mean streak. Casper cartoons always demanded pity, Baby Huey was kind of creepy, and Herman & Katnip were the original Itchy & Scratchy. There's funny violence and cringe violence, and they didn't always know the difference. Still, if you're in a certain mood ...

Terrytoons: Mighty Mouse had his moments, but mostly the cartoons you watched when there was nothing elseon but grownup shows, and never when friends were around.

Universal: Woody Woodpecker and Chilly Willy likewise had their moments, but mainly okay at best. Perfect nostalgic preface to Universal B movies, from Abbott and Costello through Don Knotts.

UPA: Less funny than visually interesting, many being more experiments than anything else. Some do knock it out of the park, such as ROOTY TOOT TOOT, UNICORN IN THE GARDEN and Magoo before they sweetened his disposition. Sadly, cheap limited animation by other studios imitated the modern UPA look, and UPA itself descended into low-grade television that mocked its innovations.

DePatie-Freleng: The early Pink Panthers, before he devolved from cool to a big pink idiot. And some of the Inspectors. The studio came along just in time to see their business move from theater screens to Saturday morning television, and their output changed accordingly.

JS said...

D. McEwan - at least the Road Runner had a cool punk song dedicated to him!

Steve Lanzi (f/k/a qdpsteve) said...

Can't believe no one's yet mentioned the Jay Ward/Bill Scott produced cartoon series.
"Kill Moose and Squirrel!!"

kent said...

She wasn't part of the WB stable but I think the best classic cartoons were the original Betty Boop reels. Written for kids and dads at the same time.
I tend to remember Johnathan Banks for a brief but indelible performance as a good cop at the beginning of 48HRS.

Andrew said...

I'm genuinely stunned that you answered my tongue-in-cheek question. Thanks, Ken.

Kyle Burress said...

My first memory of Jonathan Banks was as the deputy in Gremlins. Took me a bit to make the connection when he first appeared in Breaking Bad. It's always good to see actors still working and having success throughout so many years.

gottacook said...

Last time I watched Lou Grant, a few years ago (on Youtube), I was impressed by Jonathan Banks - three different roles in three episodes, no less. I'm surprised he was never cast on MASH, actually. He was given a lot to do on Wiseguy, at least; I'd like to hear his side of why the star Ken Wahl was given a producer credit, then left the series, which soon died (the replacement star also ended up in the Breaking Bad universe: Steven Bauer, who played Don Eladio).

iamr4man said...

Since this is the blog of a writer, I think it’s important to mention that most of the Warner Brothers cartoons mentioned by others here including One Froggy Evening, Duck Amuck, Duck Dodgers, Feed The Kitty, Baseball Bugs (my favorite), and many many others were written by Michael Maltese. I think Maltese made me laugh more than any other person.

JessyS said...

Friday Question,

If you were in charge at Seinfeld while the show was in production, how would you have grown the four main characters despite the no hugs/no lessons rule?

D. McEwan said...

"JS said...
D. McEwan - at least the Road Runner had a cool punk song dedicated to him!:

There is no such thing as a "cool punk song."

Robbie Lewis said...

RE: no such thing as a "cool punk song" - Jonathan Richman would beg to differ.

Hank Gillette said...

Well, any list of the greatest Warner Brothers cartoons should lead with What's opera, Doc.

Eh, What’s Opera, Doc is not even the best WB cartoon about opera. Rabbit of Seville is superior.

D. McEwan said...

"Hank Gillette said...
Well, any list of the greatest Warner Brothers cartoons should lead with What's opera, Doc.

Eh, What’s Opera, Doc is not even the best WB cartoon about opera. Rabbit of Seville is superior."

Rabbit of Seville
is certainly an excellent cartoon, but does Elmer kill the wabbit in it? No. Only in What's Opera Doc, with it's wonderful impressionistic backgrounds. I love them both, but for me the edge goes to WOD.

Brother Herbert said...

David Clennon is one of the many actors I admire who just shows up in a movie or TV show and does a damn good job. He played an ineffectual State Department liaison on BARNEY MILLER, hippie Palmer in THE THING, and an acerbic writer dying of AIDS on DREAM ON. Talk about range.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

Thank you, Ken, for answering my question! One Froggy Evening is a perfect little masterpiece.

I was trying to find a quote from Mike Maltese about how sometimes people asked him why he spent his talent on "kid stuff" and he responded that cartoon creators took their art seriously. I couldn't find that quote but located an interview Maltese did in 1960:

"In the cartoon business," says Maltese, "no one can take the credit for the finished product. One hand washes the other. The beautiful part of animated cartoons is that, even though we may all hate each other, everyone is working for the same thing. You can't tell where one animator leaves off and the other begins. No, I don't mind the anonymity. We animators are a sort of exclusive club and none of us would want to do anything else."

Then he sighs and adds: "Except -- I might have been a comedian in pictures."

A few of my favorites in addition to the cartoons mentioned above:

Wabbit Twouble
Book Revue
The Old Grey Hare
I Love to Singa
Daffy Duck in Hollywood
Tweety Pie
The Aristo-Cat
The Coo-Coo Nut Grove
Frigid Hare
The Hypo-Chondri-Cat
8 Ball Bunny
Wackiki Wabbit
Rabbit Fire
Thugs with Dirty Mugs
For Scenti-mental Reasons
Hare Conditioned
The Ducksters
Broom-Stick Bunny
Bewitched Bunny
Water, Water Every Hare
Drip-Along Daffy
The Three Little Bops
The Scarlet Pumpernickel ("1 kreplach...$1,000")
Jumpin' Jupiter
Ali-Baba Bunny
Bully for Bugs
Snow Business
The Trial of Mr Wolf
Slick Hare
Hare-Raising Hare
Swooner Crooner
Birds Anonymous
You Were Never Duckier
Rocket-Bye Baby

Mark said...

Feed the Kitty is wonderful.

Rabbit of Seville > What’s Opera, Doc

Little Red Riding Rabbit also features a great performance by Bea Benaderet.

Greg M said...

Friday Question: I read James Burrows new book. You are named in it. It seems that sitcom writers don't have much job security. Besides show cancellation, writers are hired and fired (let go?) to keep ideas fresh.

How does that feel, to be more vulnerable than the actors? SoCal is expensive and you have less job security and pay than many players. Do writers usually have another gig to go to or it is back to spec scripts and the unknown? Is there "day work" to fill the gaps in steady employment?

Yes, Ive watched Dick Van Dyke and Larry Sanders but the life of a sitcom writer is a big mystery that I fantasize about like its my dream job