Saturday, July 11, 2020

Weekend Post

Here's another excerpt from my book, THE ME GENERATION... BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60s).   Check out my website.  It's loaded with photos and videos, and here's the best part -- If you want to buy the book, you can!   Seriously!  It's for sale!   I'm posting this because Disneyland is currently closed (among one or two other places).  And if I can't have Disneyland, at least I can have fond memories. 

So travel back to 1964.  We take a family trip to the Magic Kingdom.  

My other grandmother, Nana Pearl, surprised me later that summer by saying, “Fuck!” You don’t expect to hear your dear sweet old world, refined grandmother scream, “FUCK!!!” And at Disneyland no less.

The family made a sojourn to the Magic Kingdom and took Nana Pearl with us. At the time she was probably in her mid-60s. No one knew the ages of their Jewish grandparents back then. They all came over from Europe or Russia and no one arrived with accurate documentation. If Cher had entered the country via Ellis Island she’d claim to be 36 today.

But Nana Pearl was a kick. Always full of life. Your basic strudel-baking furniture-cleaning grandmother but game for anything…except…

Thrill rides.

So at Disneyland she was not interested in any roller coasters. We found ourselves at the Matterhorn bobsleds and of course Corey and I wanted to go. My father suggested Nana Pearl join us. He told her it was just a nice lazy boat ride. Dad has a mischievous streak in him. Either that or he was getting back at her for grounding him one weekend in 1939. Anyway, Nana Pearl agrees to go.

I’m in the back of the bobsled and Nana Pearl is in my lap. The sled slowly ascends up the center of the mountain. About halfway up she figures it out. That is when, for the first time ever, my grandmother dropped the F-bomb.

The bobsled begins hurtling down the mountain and all the while she is yelling, “I’m going to KILL him! If I ever get off of this damn thing I’m going to fucking KILL Clifford!” I didn’t help matters by laughing hysterically.

I think she chased him through three Lands.

My favorite Disneyland ride at the time wasn’t a ride at all. It was the Monsanto House of the Future. You just walked through this ultra modern house made entirely of plastic. A plastic house might sound ridiculous but when they finally closed the exhibit in 1967 and tried to demolish it, the wrecking ball just bounced right off of it. The one day demolition took two weeks.

Among the House of the Future’s visionary features – an oven that cooked food within seconds not hours, a TV that hung like a framed picture on the wall, telephones that allowed you to see the other party, and the most unbelievable wonder of all – a toothbrush that was electric! You would just push a button and the bristles rotated all by themselves! I’m sorry, this was beyond science fiction.

Like all kids, and probably adults too in 1964, we thought that by the year 2000 we’d all be living like the Jetsons. We’d all be flying around in space ships that folded into briefcases and even brushing our teeth without having to move our hands up and down.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Friday Questions

July is jumping with Friday Questions.  What’s yours?


The first question comes from DwWashburn (which was a long-forgotten Monkees song): 


It seems like Wendie Malick pops up on every show. Always working. And what a voice. How was it working with her?


An absolute dream.  Wendie is fun, ultra professional, and super smart.  And a director’s dream because if she would nail a line in rehearsal, you could tell her and she’d lock it in. 


It also helped that she has extraordinary comic timing.   And never ages.  I don’t know how she pulls that off. 


I worked with her on several shows and she was nice enough to do a couple of play readings of mine.  One paired her and Jason Alexander.  You can imagine how great they were together. 


Mike Bloodworth asks:


Did you and David write practice scripts before you got into the business?

I'd like to know.


You bet.  Like all writers trying to break in we wrote spec scripts.  We were incredibly lucky.  We wrote a spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, RHODA, and two pilots before getting our big break.  Only four scripts (although we were outlining our fifth).


We gave ourselves two years.  The plan was to just keep writing as many specs as we could hoping that someone somewhere would recognize our talent.

JS queries:


I live in Baltimore - I'm used to the Orioles losing, what is the best movie to watch about a losing team (Hoosiers Excluded).


That's an easy one.  BAD NEWS BEARS.   Most of the others losing-sports-team movies are just pale imitations of BAD NEWS BEARS. 


And finally, from Bob Paris:


What is your opinion of openings of shows such as Andy Griffith or Dick Van Dyke where the announcer exclaims, "The Andy Griffith Show, starring Andy Griffith." Did they really think the audience would not know who the star of a self-titled show is?


On YouTube I recently watched a montage of opening titles from 1961 and I was surprised by how many of them had announcers introducing the show and starring cast.  


My guess (based on nothing) is that it was a holdover from radio.  When radio shows transferred to TV they kept the vocal introductions to provide some continuity. 


But of course they weren’t needed.  As late as 1969 some shows still had them. 


The one that used to drive me nuts was FATHER KNOWS BEST.   The announcer started by introducing the stars, so he began by saying “Here are Robert Young…” 


Wednesday, July 08, 2020

EP182: Meet TV Critic Alan Sepinwall

Alan Sepinwall is the Chief TV critic for Rolling Stones magazine and author of numerous books on television. With the industry changing so fast, it’s difficult to cover it all. But Alan does and explains how. 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Do the math, broadcast networks

Reader Craig Gustafson posted a comment on Monday regarding my rant on the viability of smart sophisticatedcomedy.  I thought his comment was so incisive I’m reposting it since most people don’t read the comments.  But it’s a commentary that deserves to be read. 


Thanks, Craig for unknowingly becoming my guest blogger. 


I broke a huge rule and watched a colorized version of a black & white TV show. Why? Because the person who originally made the show supervised the colorization. And it wasn’t perfect, but it was well done.


So why am I now abandoning all commercial broadcasting?


Earlier the same day, I had the TV on. The Three Stooges. When I was a kid, there would be one commercial break in a 20 minute short. Now, there’s a break every two minutes. A *long* break.


After watching “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” I was mad enough to do the math. I had DVR’d the show, so I could be as anal as I pleased about it. Here’s how things went originally:


A sitcom ran 25-26 minutes. One commercial break after the credits, one in the middle and one before the tag. That’s it. A total five minutes (or less) of commercials. And your concentration on the story was only broken three times.

Show: 83%

Commercials: 17%


I timed the “Coast to Coast Big Mouth” episode. Every five minutes or so, there were over 3½ minutes of commercials.

Show: 67%

Commercials: 30%

Dick Van Dyke’s Intro: 3%


They cut 30% of the episode. It should have been called “Scenes from the Dick Van Dyke Show.”


1. How can anyone with an attention span enjoy this bullshit?

2. If I want to watch this show, why would I watch it with a boatload of commercials? There are so many other options these days.


The only benefit would be people becoming newly interested in the show and tracking down the DVDs. But consistently watching network TV and wasting 30% of my time? I'm out.


Get off my colorized lawn.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Final thoughts on fireworks

I don’t remember this ever happening before in Los Angeles.  On July 5th there was so much residual smoke from the previous day’s fireworks that the general air quality was hazardous. 


How insane is that? 


Oh, and home fireworks are illegal in LA County.   And yet, enough of them were set off to turn the entire city into an ashtray.


Where I live they were going off until 1:00 in the morning. 


I feel so bad for pets.   How many of these revelers scared the shit out of their beloved cats and dogs? 


I don’t get it for so many reasons.  First off, they’re dangerous.   They’re also not cheap.  As thrills go they’re pretty quick.  And finally, what the hell are you possibly celebrating?   This is the darkest, bleakest period I’ve experienced in my whole life.   So what is there to celebrate?  It’s like if Germany held a victory parade right after V-E Day. 


The point is, when home fireworks are banned it is for your own safety.   It is not a punitive action.   For the life of me I will never understand how self-preservation has become a political dividing line.   It’s not ideology, it’s common sense.   Taking precautions to save yourself and your loved ones should be the most bi-partisan issue there is.   If there’s still a United States in a hundred years, I think history will record this period as the time America lost its mind. 


Asking you to be safe and take care of yourself is not asking you to vote Democratic. 


But getting back to fireworks because I’m not going to change anyone’s mind with reason. 


I used to love going to city parks on the 4th of July and seeing the fireworks show with friends and family.   Once I became a baseball announcer fireworks meant it was hard to do the postgame show – although I must admit I had fun with it.  One time when I was with the Mariners we were on the road and they were shooting off fireworks.  I came on the air and said, “Live from Beirut, it’s the out-of-town scoreboard.   In the American League, Minnesota beat Detroit 3-2, Texas over Oakland 7-4, (BOOM!), oh no, they just got our embassy, and Boston edged Baltimore 2-1.” 


So I miss going to fireworks shows too.   And you have to physically go to fireworks shows.  Staying home this 4th of July (like I’ve stayed home every night for the last 17 weeks), I came across the Macy’s Fireworks show on NBC.  Is there anything more mind-numbing boring than watching fireworks on television?  The Yule Log is more entertaining.  

You gotta be in the venue that it happens. 


It’s now three days after the 4th.   Home fireworks have continued every night and I suspect tonight will be more of the same.  I don’t mean to be an old guy, but if someone wanted to fire a bottle rocket from my property I would tell him to get off my lawn. 

Monday, July 06, 2020

If you produce it, they will come

As a tribute to Carl Reiner, last Friday night CBS aired two colorized versions of classic episodes of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. 


How’d they do? 


They got Friday night’s biggest audience.  3.73 million viewers. 


Pretty good for a couple of 55 year-old episodes of television. 


I found this very heartening.  THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW still holds up. 

And it says something more:  There is an audience for smart sophisticated comedy that is grounded in reality and resonates because it explores universal truths. 


We still can relate to it today because the situations and emotions resonate.  Clearly, there are societal changes, the show was set in a different era, but human nature is still the same, our wants and foibles haven’t changed. 


There are so many shows on so many platforms – why can’t there be one or two that strives for this today? 


If you produce it, they will come. 


Saturday, July 04, 2020

4th of July Weekend Post

Why the hell do people buy home fireworks?

How many fingers and eyebrows do they have to lose? How many trailer parks have to burn down before they learn?

What parent in his right mind with children would set off something called a 12 inch “strike force missile”?

Or a “Mad Dog”
 “Bazooka Bear”
“Titanium Cracker”
“Dragon’s Wrath”
“Big Mama Jama"
“Brutal Force”
“Nuke Power”
“Pull String Grenade”
“Assorted Color Ammo Smoke”
“Caliber Blast”
“Car Bomb”
“Big Earthquake”
“Jumboshell Fountain”
“Cracker Jack in a Box”
“Deadly Fire”
“Battle of New Orleans”
“Pay Back”
“Mucho Grande – small” (isn’t that an oxymoron?)
“Air Raid”
Or of course the ever popular “So X*@! Good”?

Explain to me where these are “safe and SANE”.

And this year there's something even more dangerous:


With the "Bazooka Bear" you could lose three fingers.  Not wearing a mask could cost you your life.

I'm staying home this Independence Day.   Next year hopefully I'll have way more to celebrate.

Happy 4th of July.  Don't do anything stupid.  Be safe. 

Friday, July 03, 2020

Friday Questions

Remember when this would be the start of a big July 4th weekend?  Here’s some FQ’s to distract you.


benson  gets us started.


Assuming there was a TV writers wing of a Television Hall of Fame and it was similar to baseball's, on you plaque, which "cap" would you be wearing? MASH, Cheers, Big Wave Dave's?


The big assumption is that I get inducted. 


but I would say MASH.  It’s the series that’s most revered, and there’s certainly a special place in my heart for it.  MASH is absolutely the show that launched our career.  I wear that hat proudly.  But can I wear a CHEERS scarf?


scottmc asks:


Antenna TV just aired the BECKER episode 'Drive, They Said', which David and you wrote. The description of the show indicated that 'Becker finds three men(Bill Cosby,Ray Romano and Kevin James) side by side in his waiting room". A couple of questions; were you on the set when it was taped, had you worked on Everybody Loves Raymond prior to this? The scene with Cosby, Romano and James was cut. At first, I just figured it was cut so the station could add commercials. But I read that the scene isn't included in the DVD. Any insight connected with this Becker is appreciated.(Were you responsible for the description of the poetry of baseball. Was the opponent always going to be McGuire and the Cardinals?)


Yes, on the last two questions. 


As for the Cosby/Romano/James teaser – this was a promotion that CBS ran one night.  All four Thursday night sitcoms at that time took place in New York, so they thought “wouldn’t it be fun to have crossover episodes for all four shows?”  Each show would do a teaser featuring all four stars in character.  Each show had to figure a reason for the four to get together.    And if I’m not mistaken, they filmed the one for Cosby on the West Coast.    His show was actually filmed in New York. 


I was on the BECKER set the day they shot that teaser.  This was before I directed Ray so I didn’t know him at the time. 


Here’s what I remember:  Ray Romano and Kevin James were lovely.  Bill Cosby was a giant asshole.  Fortunately, Cosby came with his showrunner, who was basically his wrangler. We'd still be there if it wasn't for him. 


But Cosby questioned everything, balked at everything, and made it a much less pleasant experience for all concerned.  It also took several hours to film instead of a few minutes.


To my knowledge, that teaser has never aired beyond that one night.  I don’t miss it.  I’m sure if I saw it again it would just bring up lousy memories. 


From Troy McClure:


Ken, I've never seen a Natalie Wood movie (I'm sorry). Which do you recommend I start with? Splendor in the Grass, West Side Story, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice?


I would say SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS.  Maybe LOVE WITH A PROPER STRANGER.   She’s delicious in THE GREAT RACE, but I don’t know how well the comedy holds up. 


In WEST SIDE STORY she plays a Puerto Rican, which is a stretch, and her songs are all sung by someone else.  Not her shining hour. 


And finally, from marka:


I'm here listening to your podcast where you're talking about rewriting jokes for your play "A or B" until six in the morning.


Are you mostly coming up with new jokes in a situation like that or rewriting the original jokes - different words, different beats, different dialects, different set ups, but essentially keeping the same joke?


Mostly new jokes.  In some cases I may toss out a run and substitute a new one. 


I’m less inclined to tinker with an existing joke that doesn’t work.  I’d rather shoot for something new.


What’s your Friday Question?