Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Freely stealing material:
An unfortunate man broke the law and went to prison. He was feeling very scared his first night alone in his cell.

After the lights went out he heard one of the other inmates in a cell quite a long way off shout out "32". Then all the prisoners burst out laughing. When the laughter subsided he heard another inmate call out "66". Once again followed by a burst of laughter. This went on for some time before they all fell to sleep.

The man was intrigued by this behavior.

The next morning during breakfast in the eating area the man gathered up his courage and spoke to one of the older prisoners and asked him what was going on.

The older inmate said, "Many of us have been in here for a long time. There's not much you can do when the lights go out. So, to amuse ourselves we tell jokes. But after a while we all seemed to know all the jokes, so it became easier to just give the jokes a number and just shout out the number rather than taking all that time to tell the joke."

Ahhh. Now it all made sense.

So, for the next few weeks, the man listened to the numbers and found out what joke corresponded to what number and which numbers got the biggest laughs.

Finally, one night he decided to join in. After about five or six jokes had been told "by the numbers". He shouted out "22!" Nothing happened? Dead silence. He thought that maybe the others didn't hear him. So, he waited till a few more jokes were numbered and shouted out, as loud as he could, "66!" Again, just silence? This happened to him about five times.

The next morning he just had to find out why no one laughed at his numbers. He went to the old man again and asked him. "Why does no one laugh at my jokes?"

The old man replied, "Ahhh, it's the way you tell them."

I noticed that somebody is thinking of making a Gilligan’s Island movie. No doubt they are short of ideas, but never mind that for now. I got to wondering why it seems like such a bad idea.

I’ve never tried to cast a play, and suspect one might do a better job by having the candidates draw straws. But I’ve been in groups that just seemed to click—the conversations were lively and kept everybody involved. Replace a person, and it wasn’t quite the same—maybe nothing happened at all. Some people seem to have a knack for figuring out what sorts of groups will work (or maybe that’s just selection bias—we only remember the ones that did work).

I doubt the original show would get any traction today (that’s a whole other topic), but at the time the combination of the mannerisms of the cast and the writers writing to match the team gave a particular and very popular flavor to the humor. With a different Ginger and her slightly different tone, MaryAnn has to react a little differently, and so on. The flavor has to be different. And it might or might not catch the public fancy the same way.

That’s not a bad thing, of course. But I suspect that trying to recapture a flavor is a fool’s errand. In one Newton’s Apple episode the host was offered an ice cream cone, and gagged a little to discover it was filled with mashed potato instead of ice cream. He probably liked potatoes just fine, but his palate was set for something sweet.

I don’t watch enough movies to be able to say for sure, but from the reviews I read I gather that sequels sometimes hit the same sort of problem when the cast has to change: the chemistry is a little different, and the flavor isn’t quite the same.

I can think of a few exceptions in the serial/sequel line. The Avengers had several different female sidekicks, and the series seemed to go on anyway; though not for long after Diana Rigg left. Dr. Who seems to have survived a dozen actors.(*)

I suppose the producers wouldn’t come up with remakes if they didn’t make at least some money—nostalgia viewers if nothing else. Still, on the whole it seems like a bad idea to try to remake a show. Inspired-by, maybe. Remake—please don’t.

(*) I saw Dr. Who in the dorms at Fermilab in WTTW’s weekly BBC-fest. It exasperates the younger fans in my household that I still think Tom Baker is Dr. Who.

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