Friday, August 04, 2017

Friday Questions

Friday Questions for August begins now.

Okay, not RIGHT now.  First a quick plug.  My one act play, THE FUGITIVE runs this weekend only at the Short + Sweet Festival in Hollywood.  Opening night was great.  Would love to see you sometime this weekend.  Here's where you go for discount tickets.   Just use the Promo Code 410.  There might also be some cheap tickets on Goldstar.    Okay, NOW we begin. 

WOKcreativeWritings gets us started with a question about the crew on a multi-camera show.

If you can make them laugh you know it is funny. How much do the writers take that run through into consideration for rewrites?

The camera crews come in on camera blocking day, which is the day before filming. The scripts are usually far along by then. So they come in with virgin eyes and give you your first real test of the material by objective sources.

I’ve found it helpful and reassuring if the crew laughs. And for the most part they’re a good indication of whether the audience will laugh.

But not always.

On the famous “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW the crew didn’t laugh once. The cast and writers were completely stymied. Showrunners Jim Brooks and Alan Burns went to the cast before the show and apologized. They said it was too late to change anything now. Just go out there and give it your best and they vowed to give them new scenes later.

Then the audience came in. I was among them. And the show went through the roof. From the very first joke. It was a magic night, but you’d never know it from the crew that week.

From Ted:

Just started reading Joe Eszterhas's autobiography.

He says that Sharon Stone slept with him once as gratitude for giving her life's biggest hit. And he is extremely grateful to her for that. Ha Ha Haaa.....


My question: You are a writer whose writing has helped many actors and actresses. Has any one of them shown their gratitude to you in any way - not just "Thank You or Good Job" but say like a gift or something more ;)

Joan Plowright slept with me on ENCORE ENCORE. No, I’m just KIDDING.

Sorry to say that no, no hot actress, no young starlet, no promising ingĂ©nue, no hayseed from Indiana ever had sex with me. I hope I don’t lose your respect.

Longtime friend of the blog, Pat Reeder asks:

You wrote about a DJ's show that you thought was hilarious when you were younger, but you were stunned by how unfunny it was when you re-listened to it. I'm curious about the other side of that. What shows/performers did you think were hilarious when you were a child that still crack you up today? For instance, as a little kid, I loved the local reruns of Jay Ward cartoons (especially Bullwinkle, Super Chicken and Fractured Fairy Tales) and Homer & Jethro records. Recently, I revisited both (Ward on YouTube and a download collection of H&J rarities from the early '50s), and I still laughed my head off.

For radio, Dan Ingram, Dick Whittington, Lohman & Barkley, Don McKinnon, Gary Burbank, Gary Owens, and Larry Lujack still make me laugh when I hear tapes.

I too loved Jay Ward cartoons and still do. Same for Looney Tunes.

THE HONEYMOONERS, BILKO, and THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW make me laugh as much today as they did when I was a kid.

And movie-wise, Laurel & Hardy kill me. Always have; always will.

For records, the albums of Jonathan & Darlene Edwards and Tom Lehrer.

Tom Asher has sort of a similar question:

Your personal DJ Mount Rushmore? Mine would be The Real Don Steele, Dan Ingram, George Michael, and Terry Young (all but Young were discovered via airchecks).

Well, first of all, Terry Young would be nowhere near my list. He’s a complete rip-off of Jackson Armstrong who would be on my list. If I had to pick only four they would be Jackson, Dan Ingram, the Real Don Steele, and Robert W. Morgan.

And finally, from Jim S:

Long way to get to my Friday question. I am sure that the writers thought they got some great stories out of the baby plot (I agree with my old editor). But they wrote themselves in a corner and never got out of it.

Have you ever gotten yourself into a situation like that -- wrote something and realized the consequences put you in a corner?

On ALMOST PERFECT we ended season one with Nancy Travis and her boyfriend pretty much declaring their love and commitment to each other. Then in the offseason we were told we had to fire the boyfriend. So now we had to figure a way to break them up in one episode. Here’s how we did it.

What’s your Friday Question?


Peter said...


Hi Ken,

Have you got any advice for people living outside of the US on how to break into writing for US TV?

Tom Asher said...

Thanks for the answer! I've only heard Armstrong on airchecks, but I understand what you mean. I grew up in Philadelphia with Young, and saw Michael as a god (but only knew him on the Sports Machine).

David C said...

Hi Ken

A Friday question.

What TV shows do you think are absolutely necessary viewing for an aspiring TV comedy writer? Which more modern ones, which older ones?

Thanks in advance.

David C

Jay Thurber said...

Ken: Long-time reader, first-time caller. Er, commenter. I enjoy the heck out of your podcast, especially your radio stories.

If "Jimmy" is who I think he is, he got himself in serious trouble during one of his dalliances and is now on a watch list ... yet until as recently as 2014 was still broadcasting for a minor-league affiliate of a major league team.

I also enjoyed your pilot, but I wonder if the characters had "legs," because none of them (except for Clay) was especially likable. It seemed like a show full of Frasiers without any Daphnes or Martins to leaven it.

My question is, do you think that's why it wasn't picked up? And would the characters have had to evolve to be a bit more likable as time went on?

jcs said...


LA is the entertainment capital of the world. There must be thousands of tourists that visit the city every day. The metro area has a population of 13 million. Why do you think is it so tough to fill theatres in LA with paying customers? Why isn't there a thriving theatre scene when there are actors, writers and producers galore?

opimus said...

Going back to your radio day's . What did you Jocks who prepackaged bits and did know any?

Tom said...

Regarding the Chuckles Bites the Dust episode, Ed Asner was interviewed a while back on Gilbert Gottfried's and Frank Santopadre's podcast. He said he (I don't recall if he meant just him or the entire case) decided they had to oversell how funny their characters thought Chuckles' death was, to cue the audience that they were supposed to find it funny, too, and set up the final scene at the funeral home. He said that's one reason Lou and Murray are laughing so hard about it in the newsroom.

Arthur Mee said...

Jonathan and Darlene Edwards!

The joke is that they're really Jo Stafford (a phenomenal singer) and Paul Weston (a first class pianist/arranger), playing a ...shall we say... musically challenged duo. Jonathan and Darlene were characters they invented to entertain guests at parties. Google their version of Stayin' Alive to get a sense of their unique style....

Jo had a ton of hits in the pre-rock era (many arranged by her husband Paul) -- same era and general feel as Rosemary Clooney or Doris Day. She could sing ANYTHING. And you'll note that as Darlene, she always manages to find EXACTLY the wrong note to hit...and her diction is flawless.

Kosmo13 said...

Gary and Patty got lucky surviving that marble staircase. That's what killed Michael Garrison.

Ted said...

Hoooo Ken!!! Why did you have speak the truth? You could have said some name like say ..... Nancy Travis, and I would have died a happy man. Ha Ha Haaaaa....

Anyway, thanks a lot for answering Ken.

But my question in the end was "Has any one of them shown their gratitude to you in any way" - not just "actress sleeping with you gratitude", but any real show of gratitude by the numerous actors/actresses whose career got a boost because of your writing.

Candy Cummings said...

Bravo Bruce Miller!

Could certainly see that coming. The fact that you told us it was coming might have been a bit of an influence!

Kevin got screwed, and not on the balcony. Always has a solid screen presence. Recently saw him playing an FBI agent on Blue Bloods (is that ironic!). Remember the episode of Frasier that he and his wife played the couple with the gigantic noses? One of my faves. And just saw Lisa Edelstein on Wings.

Who replaced Kevin on your show?

normadesmond said...

If Joan Plowright had slept with you, I would've had to rethink...everything.

Liggie said...

Do you think we'll ever see more movies that aren't tied to the three-act structure? I came across this article that says rigid screenplay formulas like Syd Field's, Blake Snyder's, etc., have hurt independent filmmakers' cinematic creativity because producers look for screenplay structure first. (Link: ) I remember studying in college the artistic merits of Bergman, Fellini, and the French New Wave, where the films were more tied to theme than moving the plot, and sometimes were even improvised, and they still drew audiences. Are the days of "La Dolce Vida" and "Breathless" (Godard, not Gere) over?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Ken: Thank you for letting us hear the THE SNOBS pilot.

Jay Thurber: I don't think characters need to be likable necessarily, but I do think they need to be relatable. While I was listening to the reading I was struck by how much I could hear Kelsey Grammer's/Frasier's voice saying many of Carl's lines, and I wonder if following so closely after FRASIER that might have been the bigger issue at the time.


Pat Reeder said...

Thanks for answering my question. Jonathan and Darlene Edwards was a delightful surprise. I don't know how many people remember them, but as a connoisseur of bad singing, I love them. As you know, my wife Laura is a singer, and her voice has sometimes been compared to Jo Stafford's. She likes that because Jo also had perfect pitch and a very well-trained voice. Laura says you have to be a really good singer to sing badly that precisely, that it's actually harder than singing properly.

Two writers I discovered in about the 4th grade and got obsessed with were James Thurber and Robert Benchley. I used to haunt library basements for bound copies of the New Yorker that had articles that hadn't been collected yet, since I had all the books. To this day, the line I quote most often is from Benchley: "Wish I were getting paid by the word for THIS one!"

I also share your love of the Dick Van Dyke Show (so much I became a comedy writer and married a hot chick named Laura) and Tom Lehrer, although I started with Spike Jones, Homer & Jethro and Allen Sherman and didn't discover Lehrer until college. I made up for it, though. I once went to a production of the revue "Tomfoolery" in a tiny basement theater here in Dallas. After the show, the cast greeted the audience in the lobby. One of the actresses told me that during intermission, the actors were saying that if anyone forgot any lyrics, just look at the guy sitting at the end of the front row (me), because I was silently mouthing along to every word. Oh crap, they noticed that...