Wednesday, November 20, 2019

How long will you wait in line?

Cities are getting more crowded (Los Angeles certainly is). It seems we stand in more lines these days. And in longer lines.

The irony is a lot of lines we used to stand in we don’t anymore. When was the last time you stood in a long line to get into a movie theatre? Trips to the bank which used to mean lengthy teller lines are now skirted thanks to ATM’s or on line banking (or being broke).

But if you want a hundred rolls of toilet paper or eight cartons of Cheetos you’ve got to deal with Costco. If you want to go to a sporting event allow an extra half hour for security. And don’t even get me started on the airport.

The question becomes: Is my time more valuable than waiting in line? When Taco Bell gives out free tacos is it really worth standing in line for 40 minutes to save $3.00?  Are the Black Friday discounts that amazing? 

I spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out how I can avoid lines. Going to the Department of Motor Vehicles is a nightmare. It’s imperative I make a reservation beforehand, even if that means setting it up two months in advance. I pay the money for TSA Pre-Check. I never go to In & Out at noon. (I never go to Taco Bell at all so that’s moot.) I never go to Costco (although I do love their hot dogs). I book rental cars way in advance. I don’t go to any clubs that have velvet ropes.

I think a way of testing our tolerance is Disneyland.  We all know there are long lines at Disneyland.  They've instituted "Fast Passes" which help, but still plan on 60% of your day standing in line for Peter Pan.   This past summer they opened up a big Star Wars Land attraction.  Disney figured this would be an absolute bonanza.   And instead people avoided Disneyland like the plague.  Everyone just assumed that the crowds and lines would be insane so they avoided it.   There's a tipping point.

What lines will you stand in and which will you avoid?

The Peter Pan ride, by the way, takes like a minute and a half.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Movie Magic

I had the extreme pleasure of watching Billy Wilder direct his last movie, BUDDY BUDDY. The movie itself was not very good, but what an awesome treat watching the great Billy Wilder in action. And yes, he wore the hat. 

They were filming a scene where Jack Lemmon was gagged and tied to a chair. He shimmies the chair over to a heating vent and is able to singe the rope enough to loosen its grip and escape. Mr. Wilder explained this to the crew and one member popped up saying there was a problem. Mr. Lemmon was supposed to click on the heating unit with his foot, the filaments would then glow and he would set about freeing himself.

The crew member said that filaments don’t just turn on and glow, they take several minutes to warm up.

Wilder shot back at him: “Young man, ve are making MOVIE MAGIC here! Did you ever notice that there is ALWAYS a parking space? Right out front? Always a window table at a restaurant? MOVIE MAGIC!”

Mr. Lemmon clicked on the unit and the filaments instantly glowed.

Someone once said movies are “Life with the boring parts left out.”

When was the last time you found a parking space right out front?

Monday, November 18, 2019

TV can make your house a star!

Anything can become a must-see attraction if you first see it on TV. Ordinary buildings suddenly become Kodak Moments (although no one uses film anymore).

You’d think growing up in LA I’d be immune to that, but recently when my wife and I flew to Copenhagen, as we were on approach I spotted the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo and I became a total geek. “Ohmygod! There’s the BRIDGE from “the Bridge!” We had watched the limited series on Netflix that featured that bridge prominently. It was a bigger thrill than seeing Tivoli Gardens. Had it been a year ago I probably would’ve glanced out the window at the bridge and gone, “Hunh.”

I guess I’m immune to LA landmarks because I’m used to seeing them. “Hey great, they’re at the Hollywood sign,” but when I go out of town I get excited just as much as anybody. My first time through downtown Minneapolis I was looking for the WJM building and outdoor restaurant where Mary ate in the opening titles of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. And when I broadcast for the Mariners I had to see the Snoquaimie Falls, used on TWIN PEAKS.

Television exposure doesn’t just make people famous, it does the same for inanimate objects as well. The Bull & Finch bar (exterior for CHEERS) is a more popular tourist attraction in Boston than the Freedom Trail. The corner diner shown on SEINFELD is a huge New York attraction (and that’s a town that has lots of attraction).

This can become a problem however. A number of people have been approached by production companies asking if they could use the exterior of their house for a particular show. A hefty fee comes with that. At first the homeowner thinks he’s won the lottery. Free money! But then tourists come and gone is any privacy and serenity. Again, I go back to THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. Remember the cute little duplex she lived in for the first few seasons? That homeowner got inundated with tourists. To drive them away and prevent the endless snapping photos the homeowner put up big signs saying “IMPEACH NIXON.” Eventually the producers moved Mary to a high-rise apartment.

I feel sorry for the poor owners of the Walter White house from BREAKING BAD.  How many people tried to flip pizzas onto the roof?  

And scarier still are the people who saw landmarks like Mary’s TV house and believe Mary really lived there. How many people went into the CHEERS bar actually expecting to see Norm & Cliff? Judging by the mail I used to see when I was on that show – PLENTY.

But I find it intriguing that any crummy apartment building, any bowling alley, any tollbooth on the Jersey expressway can become as big a tourist attraction as the Liberty Bell. So if your house is the exterior for a popular TV series and the looky-loos are bothering you all hours of the day and night, there is a solution. Just put up a big sign that says “IMPEACH TRUMP.”

Actually, put up one of those signs anyway. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Weekend Post

You know we're fast approaching the holiday season when James Bond marathons begin popping up on every cable network except HGTV. Caught one I hadn’t seen in years – THUNDERBALL from 1965. I saw it originally at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on the big BIG screen. I remember loving it at the time. From the stirring THUNDERBALL theme sung by Tom Jones I was hooked. So I wondered, did it hold up after all these years?

Well, the theme song sure does. And there’s no question that Sean Connery was the best Bond. There is just a level of insouciance in Connery’s Bond that none of his successors had – even light-comedy master Roger Moore never had that twinkle. Connery’s Bond enjoyed the gig, and why not? He sure got laid more than the later Bonds. Too bad it was in the 60s though and most of these women had helmet hair and raccoon make-up.

Note to PLAYBOY magazine: NEVER do another layout showing Bond girls as they are today. No one wants to see Octapussy as octogenarian.

The dialogue, which seemed so sparkling at the time, now comes off as cringeworthy.

Bond Girl: What sharp eyes you’ve got.
Bond: Wait til’ you get to my teeth.

Yikes! Since when did Bob Hope become a British Secret Agent?

And the sensibility was soooo sexist. Women were objects, easy, submissive, disposable, or evil. In the world of James Bond, Gloria Steinem is as much a super villain as Ernst Blowfeld.

The chief baddie in THUNDERBALL is Emilio Largo (these guys never have names like Mike or Skip) and you know he’s evil because he has a black patch over one eye. In typical Bond fashion, when he’s not trying to kill 007 he’s inviting him to lunch (women always refer to him as “James”, super villains call him “Mr. Bond”, M always uses “007”, and U.S. military officers call him “Jimbo”.). When I say they try to kill Bond, that of course means through some elaborate contraption only Wile E. Coyote would purchase instead of just taking out a gun and shooting his sorry ass.

As a kid I never let plot holes get in the way of a good James Bond yarn. I remember first seeing THUNDERBALL and having no idea what the hell was going on? Now someone is trying to kill him in his hotel room, now he’s taking pictures of a boat and dodging hand grenades, now he’s in a car chase and the evil Spectre woman blows up the car that’s trying to off him, now he eludes four gunmen during a big Junkanoo celebration and the next morning just strolls through town unnoticed, now he’s in a tuxedo, now he’s in an underwater battle, now he’s shot and the next day he’s completely healed. What the fuck??!!

A plane on a routine training mission has two atomic bombs on board and takes off from a NATO base conveniently located right next door to the health spa where James just happens to be staying at the time. The plane is hijacked and lands in the shallow water outside of Nassau. It can land in water without giant pieces splintering off? Really? There’s no radar to track this? And no one in Nassau sees or hears a fighter plane land in the ocean just off the coast? Now scuba divers move the bombs. On the side of one hydrogen bomb it says (and this is absolutely true, you can see for yourself) “handle like eggs”.

But I didn’t care.

Other minor story points didn’t bother me either like how do super villains amass large armies and trained scuba divers? How clueless are the British Intelligence and CIA that they have no knowledge of 200 henchmen being recruited? And where do all these people sleep? How do secret compounds with launch facilities large enough accommodate Gemini rockets get built incognito? If Spectre is a secret society why do their agents wear rings that have its logo?

These issues didn’t concern me then and they still don’t. In later movies he goes to the moon and shit and that crossed a line but a yacht carrying one of the atomic bombs crashes into the shore and explodes and doesn’t set off a nuclear explosion that wipes out three million people – sure, why quibble?

THUNDERBALL did hold up in the sense that it was still fun to watch and now because of all the cheese there were way more laughs then when I first saw it in 1965.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Friday Questions

Hello from Minneapolis where my holiday play, ON THE FARCE NIGHT OF CHRISTMAS gets performed tonight! And yet, I still have time for Friday Questions. What’s yours?

Ryan Hall seeks some writing advice.

I am currently taking a class on comedy sketch writing, and wonder if you have any advice with regard to sketch. Pretty open ended question I understand, just things that you think are important. Thanks.

My two suggestions for sketch writing: Have a definite ending in mind and make the sketch as funny as you possibly can.

The first point is especially important. So many sketches start with a funny idea but then peter out. (See 90% of SNL sketches over the last 40 years.) Part of the problem is that the sketch is built on one joke. See if there is comic mileage in the premise beyond just one joke. Otherwise, it gets very repetitive.

Also, (I know this is more than two suggestions): shorter is better. Don’t let your sketch drag. Be ruthless.

DARON72 asks:

I would love Ken's take on eight turkey day themed episodes of "Friends" being shown at your local megaplex this Thanksgiving as one of those Fathom Events.

I think it’s great UNLESS the writers don’t get paid for it. Because if theatres are charging for tickets, Warner Brothers is making more money off the franchise. And the writers need to be compensated.

Perhaps they are. I hope so.

But there may be loopholes in their contracts. Same with the actors.

This is why it is imperative you have an entertainment attorney go over your contract. There is always tons of fine print. Attorneys will strike most of it and the studios automatically cave. But if you don’t flag those things then the studio’s got you.

Here’s one from Anonymous. Please leave your name.

Friday Question: Ken, do you think sometimes reviewers "grade" a new show more generously when it stars a well-known or likable actor? For instance, I thought the pilot for "Carol's Second Act" was lame and unfunny, and I was surprised that many of the reviewers weren't that harsh. They didn't all love it, but many of them gave tepid reviews or were willing to withhold a harsher final judgment, and even the critical reviews managed to say nice things about Patricia Heaton. I like Patricia Heaton too, but I'm wondering if you had that same pilot with an unknown actor (even if this unknown delivered a similar performance) in Heaton's role, it would get much worse reviews. Do you think this is true, and if so, should it be? Should an actor who's done two great long-running sitcoms deserve more benefit of the doubt that her new show will find its way?

Yes, there is a certain amount of good will that comes from actors who have been kind to the press, agreed to do interviews, etc. Critics like to keep those pipelines open. And it’s human nature to want people you like succeed.

But I don’t know a single reputable TV critic who will praise a show they hate simply because they’re friendly with the star.

On the other hand, I do believe some critics base their reviews not on the relative merits of the show but on its prospects for success. In other words, they don’t want to be caught giving THIS IS US a bad review if they think it’s going to be a hit show. They don’t want to look foolish or out-of-step.

Not all critics do this, but I have seen a few. I suspect more than one or two of the glowing reviews for EL CAMINO were predicated more on the zeitgeist than the actual product.

And finally, from Astroboy (since baseball is just around the corner):

Ken, in your opinion, what announcer working today, radio or TV has the best home run call?

Jon Miller of the Giants. And there’s the knock-off version of his call as stolen by Charley Steiner of the Dodgers.

Y’know, there was a time in radio when disc jockeys would steal each other’s acts. But these stations were local and if you were in Cleveland you never heard the San Francisco DJ who originated some Cleveland jock’s act. So you thought the Cleveland guy was original.

But Jon Miller’s home run highlights are on Sportscenter and MLB TV. Every other night you can hear him and then Charley’s imitation. The only real difference is Jon’s calls are actual home runs. Many of Charley’s home run calls are caught at the wall.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

EP149: Keeping it Real: a lesson in comedy


Ken discusses the importance of reality in comedy and shares a one act play to serve as an example. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Adventures in Bad Make Up

What’s with this new trend of ending movies or series with everybody made up to look old? Without giving away any story points, the series finale of THE DEUCE, THE AFFAIR, and portions of THE IRISHMAN all have actors in old age make up.

And no matter how they do it, whether by CGI or good old fashion rubber masks, it always looks ridiculous. Right away you’re taken out of the story because the actors look like they’re in a dinner theatre production of THE GIN GAME.

It’s hard to predict what someone will look like in thirty years. There was that Facebook feature going around recently that would project what you would look like old. Why would I want to see that? And certainly why would I want to post it? Especially if I were dating someone I hoped would turn into a long-term relationship. Hard enough to seal the deal without her thinking I’m going to morph into Keith Richards.

I remember once on CHEERS we did a dream sequence where everyone was old. It was weird then and even weirder now that you can actually compare the projection to real life.

For all the magic that Hollywood can do – making people fly, blowing up planets – they still can’t age actors to where they look natural. And what’s worse is when older actors get work done and as a result don’t look real in real life.

The only way I would ever end a series by projecting into the future is by hiring Clint Eastwood to play the older version of the lead character – even if the lead character was a woman. Otherwise, I’d find a different finale.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

And while we're on the subject of actors...

And as if the auditioning process wasn’t hard enough…

Now most casting directors for TV shows want actors to put themselves on tape at home and just email the auditions. This makes it more convenient for casting directors. They don’t have to arrange pre-reads.

But for the actor it requires decent equipment, professional lighting (you’ve got to look good), someone to read with you if the role requires it, and someone to run the equipment. A little editing might be required as well as any technical work needed to send the file. It would also help if the actor memorized the scene.

If you don’t have said equipment there are places you can go to do it, but of course you’re charged for all that.

Yes, one could argue it was a pain in the ass for actors to drive all over town to do these auditions, but there is real value in making a personal connection. Being able to talk to the casting director is very helpful.

Also, you’re shooting at a moving target just putting yourself on tape. When you’re in a room you can ask questions. You can tailor your performance to what they’re looking for. Additionally, the casting director or maybe producer can give notes and allow you to do the scene again. Often when casting, an actor will come in and I’ll like something about them but they miss on some level. Once given direction, they can hopefully give you the quality you want. And you hire them.

When you’re watching a series of taped auditions it’s much easier to just say “No, let’s move on.”

I’m all for changing the casting process if it gives the actor a better chance to shine. That’s not what this new process appears to be.