If it’s Thursday, this must be the mailbag.
Q: Why is it that either on TV or at the movies that when people order takeout to eat at home, it’s almost ALWAYS Chinese food? Do the Chinese have a lock on takeout?
A: Much as I love all the questions people send, this one seemed to generate special affection — as well as some extended discussions with the folks around Mailbag Central. That said, there is no Chinese cartel dominating TV takeout. For one thing, I have seen a lot of pizza deliveries.
But Chinese food has one big advantage in TV production: It is a relatively tidy way to eat and keep characters talking.
The small bites of Chinese food are much more manageable than a slab of pizza — which, while delivered during a show, seems to get eaten during commercial breaks — or a burger. (How many of you have been warned not to talk with your mouth full?)
Even a finger food might prove messy, not to mention difficult to match within a scene if you have to reshoot it.
Ken Levine, an acclaimed writer/director/producer whose credits include Cheers and Everybody Loves Raymond, recalled that on a show, “We once had characters get takeout barbecue … It was a disaster matching takes because ribs would be in one hand in one take and another in a second take.”
I also wonder if Chinese food gets some more use because it can be presented as a generic or local-only dining option — coming in plain brown bags, served in containers without logos.
If you use, say, burgers, then viewers may expect a recognizable brand — and then the producers both have to get permission from the burgermeisters in question (as does happen with some foods in shows) — and risk losing advertising by competitors.
But Levine had another possible reason: “Chinese food provides you with comedy names like Moo Goo Gai Pan.”
By the way, check out Levine’s terrific blog at kenlevine.blogspot.com.
In one recent post, he reminisced about writing medical dialogue for M*A*S*H and turning to the show’s consultant doctor, Walter Dishell, for help. “Eventually we became more proficient in operating procedures and by the end of our tenure we were taking a crack at the jargon ourselves, just calling him and running the scene by him,” Levine wrote, “One of our proudest moments on the show was once writing an OR scene that required no changes. Of course the patient did die.”
Q: I very much miss “Without a Trace” and although I have seen some actors in other roles can you tell me what Anthony LaPaglia is doing? Is there any chance the show will return?
A: The CBS drama had its last new telecast in 2009, and I have no reason to believe it will be back. As for LaPaglia, he has been quite busy. Last fall he was off-Broadway in Douglas McGrath’s play Checkers, playing Richard Nixon in 1952; Law & Order: Criminal Intent’s Kathryn Erbe played Nixon’s wife Pat. In 2010, he starred in a revival of the farce Lend Me a Tenor, directed by Stanley Tucci; in fact, before Without a Trace, he was a Tony Award winner for his work in A View From the Bridge.
He has lent his voice to films like Happy Feet Two as well as appearing on camera in productions including the recent Underground: The Julian Assange Story and Mental, both films for his native Australia.
He had also signed for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, but dropped out, reportedly because delays on Django risked keeping him from making Underground.
In an Australian interview, LaPaglia said, “They’d raised the money partially on me and Rachel Griffiths (being involved). They were about to start shooting and (leaving that film) would have created mayhem and may have shut the film down.”
Nor is he done with TV; last year he starred in Americana, the pilot for an ABC series which was not picked up; at the time, according to Deadline,com, LaPaglia was considering three different pilots on three networks — a clear sign that he’s still in demand on TV.
Q: I’m trying to find a DVD of the Showtime series “Beggars & Choosers,” which debuted in 1999, I believe. Any suggestions?
A: Beggars and Choosers did in fact begin on Showtime in 1999. It focused on the maneuvering among the executives and stars at a fictional TV network, with a cast that included Brian Kerwin, Charlotte Ross and Paul Provenza. The series ended after two seasons in 2001. Unfortunately, I do not know of an authorized release on DVD.
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Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and in the HeldenFiles Online blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Twitter and Facebook.