Thursday, December 07, 2006

More Evil Than The Shark

Just a follow-up to my post below: if you want to see how far Happy Days fell, and how fast, you need look no further than Fonzie's first confrontation with Mork From Ork. The one thing that always interests me about these Paramount shows of the late '70s is that even though the studio had given up on one-camera filming, in favor of loud, obnoxious studio audiences, they were still resistant to the prevailing '70s method of shooting comedy shows. That is, most comedies by that point were shot and staged like little plays. Paramount was still putting in the mood music and cheesy optical effects familiar from their one-camera shows like The Brady Bunch.

And, for those of you who weren't traumatized enough by the above, there's always the Saturday morning cartoon The Mork and Mindy Laverne and Shirley Fonz Hour. Thanks again, Fred Silverman.


Gene said...

My sister once attended a Happy Days filming and told me later that the screaming when cast members made their first entrance and, in her words, not theirs, "hysterically overblown reactions," were actively encouraged during the pre-show warm-up. I've always wondered what made the show's producers think that was a good thing. It just annoyed the hell out of me.

However, she did note that filming went very quickly, the cast and crew were thoroughly professional and seemed to know exactly what they were doing, and took less than an hour. A far cry from the Friends I once sat through. Almost two and a half hours and only the first half of the show was completed! They brought in a new audience for the remainder of the episode. Not that I minded. Take after take after take after take of every scene, and no one seemed to know their lines. Considering I liked the show, it was a disconcerting experience, to say the least.

Pardon me for drifting off topic.

J Lee said...

Sevemtoes shows -- not just Garry Marshall's but all of Norman Lear's work at CBS -- were characterized by hysterically overblown reactions, which apparently were a reaction to the elimination of the artificial laugh track on most sitcoms in that period. The idea, I suppose, was the if the eal human beings in the audience could be made to laugh like lunatics, the home audience had to go along (and at least in the case of Lear's stuff, the reaction would be "sweetened" if the audience reaction wasn't strong enough in certain spots). It got to the point you really expected hysterical audience members to run up on the stage and high-five George Jefferson after his latest bon mot to Weesie or one of the other cast members, because they audience obviously thought this was the funniest thing ever made.

It's a credit to the folks at MTM during that period that none of their sitcoms ever sunk to that level of annoying live audience reaction (the "psycotic laughter" problem was created while Silverman was at CBS, but to his credit, he left Danny Arnold alone with "Barney Miller" and didn't push the ex-MTMers to jack up the laugh volume when they moved to ABC to do "Taxi"). And until TV Land decided to start shoving the Lear sitcoms down viewers' throats, none of those shows other than "Sanford and Son" ever did as well as they were expected to do in syndication, just as "Happy Days" underachived when it went off-network.

Buzz said...

Oy! The animated MORK & MINDY was an abomination in the eyes of God and man -- and I oughta know, I worked on it. I forget if this was a Ruby-Spears show or an H&B show farmed out to R-S as a sub-contract. The person in charge of the scripting (and I won't identify him other than to say it wasn't producers Joe Ruby or Ken Spears) insisted Mork's trademark "arr-arr-arr" sound was really "onk-onk-onk" and changed all the scripts accordingly. Robin Williams reportedly recorded all his tracks flat on his back in his bedroom; it sure sounds like it given the amount of enthusiasm and energy in his voice.

This show (and the accompanying LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY cartoon) represent what was pretty close to the bottom of the barrel of 1970s/early 80s kid-vid (LITTLE CLOWNS OF HAPPY TOWN probably best represents the absolute nadir -- and I wrote for that one, too -- ouch!). Small wonder a goodly hunk of the R-S writing staff speedily migrated to Sunbow productions where we embraced the relentless violence of TRANSFORMERS and G.I. JOE plus the Lovecraftian horrors of INHUMANOIDS.

Anonymous said...

The Ruby-Spears MORK AND MINDY series was in fact a Hanna-Barbera show, that was handed to sister company (both studios were owned by Taft Broadcasting in that era) R-S to do because H-B had too many shows that year to complete on its own and R-S didn't sell that many. The MORK AND MINDY animation was done at H-B's studio in Australia. Rumor had it that Ruby-Spears edited out several of Robin Williams' funny nonsequitur ad-libs, prior to locking down the vocal tracks. (So did the producers of "FernGully: The Last Rainforest", a few years took Disney, in their "Aladdin" feature, to finally pay attention and play to some of that genuine comedic brilliance.) That's just how dense the people running animation studios were back in the nadir of the 1980's. Today's cartoon kingpins are challenged by a micromanagement-heavy, corporate mindset, which is no improvement.