Monday, November 30, 2020

To the victor go the spoils

In general, Hollywood stars are not beloved in Hollywood. Why? Because they make so much money AND they now take jobs away from people who don’t make much money.

I think this started with commercials. Young actors could make an okay living picking up commercial work. Then in Japan, companies would pay absurd amounts to American stars to be spokesmen for their commercials. And the actors felt the commercials would never be seen here so no one was going to accuse them of selling out, so what the hell? Think: the plot of LOST IN TRANSLATION. Bill Murray is in Japan to film a whiskey commercial.

Eventually, Madison Avenue came calling and started offering commercials to Hollywood stars. We had moved past the era where selling out was a bad thing. So stars became spokespeople squeezing out the brick and mortar actors who just scraped by as it was.

Similarly, voice over work started going to stars. Why hire a seasoned voice over artist who studied for years when you can get Jon Hamm?

And by the way, I don’t begrudge Jon Hamm or the stars who take these deals. Why not? Someone is offering it to you, it’s a lot of money for just a few days work, and if you pass they’ll just ask another star instead. Might as well take it.

Another area where stars have taken over is animation voice over. Here too, gifted voice over actors who have worked for years perfecting their craft are now being replaced by Ellen DeGeneres and Tim Allen. Does Ellen do a good job? Yeah. Could seventeen voice over artists do just as good or better a job? You bet. Will Ellen’s name in the trailer bring people into the theatre? My guess is of course not. So what’s the big whoop in hiring Ellen DeGeneres?

Cartoon voice over people can do many voices, can shade their voices, add nuance. That’s what they do… or at least, did.

How many extra takes are required by stars because they’re not really used to working in animation? Considering the extra money it costs for stars and the extra production time, is it worth it? It is for the producers or, in the case of advertising, the Mad Men who get to meet and hobnob with the stars.

The latest example I’ve found is game show hosting. Yes, it looks easy but there’s an art to hosting a game show. To move things along, be spontaneous, follow the game, make the contestants feel comfortable, read the questions without stumbling – it takes a certain polish and charm. There’s a reason you see the same guys hosting shows over the years. Very few have the necessary skill.

And I’ll tell you who sure doesn’t have the skill – Anthony Anderson or Elizabeth Banks. (To be fair, Alec Baldwin has a flair and is funny and brings a lot to THE MATCH GAME – and it’s a game not to be taken seriously anyway.) Plus, I'm a fan of Anthony Anderson and Elizabeth Banks -- but in the right role, which is not introducing lightening rounds.

That said, I’m sure if ABC had their way, they’d do JEOPARDY by replacing Alex Trebek with Tracee Ellis Ross.

So you want to come to Hollywood and be an actor?  You better have a day job and hope that Starbucks doesn't offer barista positions to Ellen. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Weekend Post

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire weekend post.

It’s from Ben Scripps:

Ken--you're clearly a fan of "Jeopardy!". My question for you is: what would be your six dream categories--your "Clavins", if you will--if you ever made it up to the lectern? And what would be your six nightmare categories? (And you have to stick to "real" categories--no fair listing "The 1991 Baltimore Orioles" or "Little Known Facts About 'Big Wave Dave's'".)

Categories I would not embarrass myself answering:


1960s Top 40 Hits

American Theatre

Los Angeles landmarks

Screwball Comedies

Radio Station call letters (they give the call letters, I have to name the city the station is in)

Baseball Rulebook

Now there are many many categories that I know absolutely nothing about.  These are just the first six that popped into my head.

Anything about Africa

The Bible

The Periodic Table

Roman Numeral Math

Before and After

Opera

The episodes with Alex continue until early January.  No new host has been announced. The plan is to do some on-air auditions.  First interim host will be Ken Jennings.   But if they're still looking -- I’ll tell you my totally-out-of-left-field choice — NBC News’ Hallie Jackson.  



Friday, November 27, 2020

Black Friday Questions

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving even if it was a little weird this year.  Enjoy some leftover Friday Questions. 

Jay starts us off with a little something different.

Hey Ken,
Pointless (and fun?) Friday question/survey for you:

Name a movie you like or love that the rest of the world universally hates:


That’s easy. SHOWGIRLS.  The funniest movie ever that’s not meant to be funny for a second.  Nudity and laughs.  You’d have to go back to RETURN OF THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS to find that combination.  

Name a movie a bad movie that you *know* is bad and yet you'd still sit down to watch it:

AT LONG LAST LOVE.   Peter Bogdonavich’s mangled attempt at a sophisticated throwback musical.  Cybill Shepherd attempting to sing is up there in yucks with YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.  

Name a movie you absolutely hate and would never watch again:

HATEFUL 8.  

Kendall Rivers asks:

As a writer myself I'm curious about your process with outlines? Do you include dialogue and go into supreme detail or just do beats with no dialogue etc?

It depends on the project.  For television I outline extensively, adding lots of possible dialogue.  You’re under such time constraints that you need to have every beat well worked out in front.

For plays, I want my characters to have room to take me where they want to go.  So I might work off essentially a beat sheet.   

What I normally do is start with the bare bones then keep filling in more detail in each scene.  Eventually I reach the point I think I’m ready to start writing and go from there.  

But I’m very tough on my outlines and change them constantly.  I’m always looking to make the story better.  Story is primary in my estimation.  

From William Adams:

Opening Credits range from excellent (Cheers, Deadwood, etc.) to cookie-cutter (Three's Company, Full House, etc.) to (lately) non-existent. Who is responsible for putting together the opening sequence? Is it a writer, a producer, or maybe the network marketing team? Do you have any favorites?

Usually the show runner.  There are some production companies that specialize in opening titles like Castle-Bryant, who did CHEERS.  But since there are fewer shows with opening titles, these production houses are becoming endangered species.  

My all-time favorite is MASH.  Then maybe CHEERS, MIAMI VICE, THE JEFFERSONS, BONANZA, and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.  And I’m sure I’m forgetting some other favorites.  

And finally, Unknown (please leave a name) asks:

What was the most political script you ever wrote/episode you directed?  In a sitcom like MASH, Almost Perfect or Big Wave Dave, were there times where you felt, 'I'd like to squeeze a topical political issue into this for the laugh value’?

David Isaacs and I wrote two pilots about the White House Press Corps (first for ABC then for HBO).  I’ve talked about those a few times on the blog and podcast.  

There were certainly politically charged episodes of MASH that we wrote.   Practically all of them.

We wrote an election episode of THE TONY RANDALL SHOW.   Tony’s character runs for Superior Court Justice.  His opponent dies during the campaign and beats Tony anyway.

I directed five episodes of LATELINE, starring Al Franken that was very much a political show.  

On BIG WAVE DAVE’S and ALMOST PERFECT we were way more interested in exploring relationships than politics.  But a number of feminism issues did come up in ALMOST PERFECT.   Nancy played a character who was the boss of an all male writing staff on a male-oriented cop show.  

Stay safe this weekend.  What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

EP202: The Annual Turkey Show


Ken plays some of the worst (and most amusing) songs you will ever hear.  A Thanksgiving tradition.

Listen to other podcasts similar to this on iTunes!


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

My 15th anniversary

 

Actually, it's tomorrow.  November 26, 2005 is when I launched my blog.  Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving and no one reads blogs on Thanksgiving, I thought I would celebrate it today. 

I honestly would have been shocked if someone said to me that first day that I'd still be doing this 15 years later.  Especially since I post at least five new pieces a week, and for years posted seven.  I figured I'd run out of things to say by June 2006.  (And maybe I did but just don't know it.) 

How long I'll keep doing it?  I don't know.  This was a pandemic year and I was home every day anyway.  

But I sincerely want to thank you all for reading.  I can tell by the comments section that often someone will find the blog, read it every day, comment every day, and then just lose interest I guess because they go away and never return.  At least to the comments section.  But happily, others seem to take their place.   So thanks for reading however long you stay with me.

One feature I began very early on was Friday Questions.  I figure that I've answered roughly 3,500 FQ's so far.  147 were the correct answers.

For today, I thought I'd go back and re-post my very first entry.  It's kind of a wandering mess, but in there somewhere are kernels of what the blog eventually has become.  Enjoy.  Since this post, over 35,000,000 visitors have stopped by.  I so appreciate that you're one of them. 

For everyone who has said to me "you should start a blog" here it is. Now what?

So until I figure that out, I thought I'd post the kind of stuff I have been writing -- namely humorous travelogues and award show reviews that up until now have only gone to those unfortunate souls in my address book. As I learn how this works and come up with original thoughts I shall add to it. Or take requests. Or go on to podcasting.

Interests will include pop culture, show business, baseball, radio, the 60's, the theatre, baby boomers, bragging about my kids, hawking my various projects, and general bitching.

But for now, here are examples of what I've done should anyone care what I do in the future. And if you're reading this, congratulations, you're probably the first to ever log on to this blog site.

****************

November 2005 -- Halloween in Frisco

I hope you’ll bear with me. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately. That means more travelogues. The good news is more material for a possible book. The bad news is you’re hearing more from me than the prince of the Contonou-Benin republic and he at least has a fabulous business opportunity. So at the risk of becoming spam, here’s another travel report. This is actually a compilation of two recent trips up to the bay area to visit my son, Matt. Enjoy….or delete.

As part of Debby’s social work doctoral program at the Lilith Sternin Institute she had to attend a convocation the first weekend of October in beautiful Emeryville, nestled cozily between the hills of Berkeley and the gang wars of Oakland. We decided to fly up to San Jose, hook up with Matt, and continue on to the Baghdad of the East Bay.

First stop was the Apple campus for a tour from Matt. As opposed to the last time I was there I thought I actually saw a pretty girl. Probably 600 engineers have taken secret pictures of her with their cellphone cams and now use it as their screen saver.

Debby got her first look at Matt’s apartment – the New Dehli Arms. He is the only resident of the building not named Kumar and not living with eight people in a one-bedroom unit.

On to San Francisco but veering off to Emeryville. That’s like bypassing New York City to vacation in Yonkers.

Emeryville is merely a collection of airport hotels without the airport. Why anyone would stay there that doesn’t have a 5 a.m. flight is beyond me.

While Debby spent the weekend listening to lectures on dementia Matt and I went to Berkeley to see the effects of it. The 60’s are alive on Telegraph Avenue. It’s as if a retirement village put on a production of HAIR. Tie-dyed shirts, head shops, hat shops. What better father-son bonding experience than shopping for bongs together?

I hate to tell these people but the Janis Joplin look did not even look good on Janis Joplin.

A panhandler went up to Matt claiming to be Jerry Garcia. (True story) But when Matt didn’t give him enough change he proved to be a member of the Un-Grateful Dead, or at least the Not-Sufficiently-Grateful Dead.

Bumper stickers seen: “Clinton lied but nobody died”. “Impeach Bush”, “FUCK LBJ”.

The Krishnas have a copier service. Considering they chant the same thing over and over it only makes sense.

But Berkeley does have Amoeba Records, the mecca of music stores. Now in three California locations, the Telegraph Ave. Amoeba was the first. And it’s still the best place to replace your Moby Grape and Joanie Sommers albums. Only drawback: Everyone who works there is weird. And by that I mean Manson Family with a knowledge of showtunes and the entire “Biff Hitler and the Violent Mood Swings” catalogue. Dress code consists of mohawks, tattoos, turquoise hair, tongue studs, nose rings. What kind of sex life can they have when the only person who will ever touch their genitals is the one doing the piercing?

Telegraph Avenue was quite a contrast to University Avenue in Palo Alto, the Stanford equivalent, which Matt and I visited last weekend. Upscale, yuppified. The funkiest thing you can buy there is relaxed fit jeans at the Gap. Their sports bar has a wine list.

We were there to see the big Stanford-UCLA football game. Bad enough the UCLA marching band tried to do a salute to Queen, but the team itself played like crap. And the stadium with its backless aluminum benches could not be more uncomfortable if it was designed for Al Queda prisoners. So with Stanford humiliating UCLA 24-3 with less than seven minutes to go we did the smart thing and left. We beat the crowds, we beat the traffic…and we missed UCLA’s stunning 30-27 miracle comeback win in overtime – one of the most dramatic finishes in the school’s history. What a couple of SCHMUCKS!!!

For the rest of the weekend we did nothing but bang our heads into walls.

Meanwhile, Debby went into San Francisco. At Golden Gate Park she stumbled onto the “Wonder of Cannibis” festival. Everything you wanted to know about marijuana but had no more brain cells to ask. I’m sure a lot of former comedy writers had booths.

Stayed at the Galleria Park Hotel in the city. Charming or musty depending on whether you’ve been to the Cannibis festival. Our room was the inspiration for the Sam Spade pistol whipping scene in Maltese Falcon.

There’s not one radio station in town that will play Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. But six will play “Gangsta Sh**” by Lil’ Eazy-E.

And no longer will the bay area be blessed with the rich vocal tones of Bill King. The longtime voice of the Raiders, A’s, and Warriors passed away recently. You gotta love a sportscaster who was an aficionado on opera and ballet, a history buff, lived on a houseboat, never married the woman he was with for well over thirty years, turned down numerous lucrative network TV offers because he didn’t want to shave, never wore socks, and never paid more than $300 for a car. And was by far the best overall announcer in the country.

Hit the Original Pancake House in Cupertino. Try their famous German apple pancake. It’s the size of a manhole cover and one would give the entire Von Trapp Family diabetes. For something less sweet you could order (and this is true) clam pancakes.

How could we leave that game early? What were we thinkin’????

Halloween weekend in San Francisco. You can imagine the costumes. It reminds me of the time I was announcing for the San Diego Padres and we were in town to play the Giants. The team bus headed from the hotel to the ballpark but took a wrong turn and wound up in the Gay Pride Parade. The team couldn’t understand why everyone was cheering. What a good sports town San Francisco must be.

For Halloween Matt plans to hand out “Slim Jim” beef jerky sticks. The Kumar kids should love that.

Side note – Halloween: Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in it. So the one night of the year when people would open their doors to them they stay home.

Must be sweeps. News4 at 11 on Monday night begins a five part series on gang members now in the army. Will they return home and use their military tactics on YOU? And by that do they mean you might catch them sleeping under your jeep?

Even though it was Halloween weekend I did not make it out to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Built by some insane woman in 1884, this Victorian mansion has staircases leading to walls, hallways that go nowhere, fireplaces every which where, dead ends left and right, windows in interior rooms, etc. The Haunted Mansion meets the United Airlines Terminal at O’Hare. If they held the Cannibis festival there no one would ever or could ever leave.

Happy Halloween. And once again, how could we leave that game??????

Next stop New York and that’ll be it for awhile. I promise.

Ken Levine
***********
November 2005 -- New Yawk, New Yawk

Back from Gotham where I helped out on a musical going into workshop production called THE 60’s PROJECT. It’s a fun and poignant journey through the decade, complete with all the music and assassinations you remember. My main contribution was getting them to take “Who Put the Bomp?” out of the Tet Offensive section. But it’s a terrific show despite the fact that an audience member called it “important”.

Stayed again at the Shelburne Murray Hill. But no Diane Lane this time. They should tell you that when you make your reservation. Seven whole days I stayed in that dump!

The tree is back! The world’s largest Christmas tree was delivered to Rockefeller Center this week. It was their second attempt. The first time no one was there and they had to leave a note. Usually city workers decorate the 75 foot Norwegian Spruce, adorning it with 25,000 lights. This year the task goes to Martha Stewart’s APPRENTICES.

Big Broadway show in town is the revival of ODD COUPLE with Matthew Broderick, and inexplicably, Nathan Lane as the slovenly “guy’s guy” Oscar Madison. I know it’s stunt casting but Jesus. Why not just go the whole way and cast Carol Channing?

Best panhandler: the guy at Broadway and 42nd holding a sign that reads: “YOU CAN YELL AT ME FOR A DOLLAR”.

Close second: The Naked Cowboy. This skeesix has long blonde hair, wears nothing but a Speedo and a guitar. I would still believe him as Oscar Madison before Nathan Lane.

Had a meeting at NBC at 30 Rock. The security has gotten ridiculous. They now even take your picture for a visitor’s pass. If they were really worried about someone bringing down their network they should just keep the producers of FEAR FACTOR out

There is barbed wire around the Plaza Hotel. It is being converted to condos. But the Oak Room will remain. The city was able to get its upscale hookers at the bar registered as historical landmarks.

Had breakfast at “Friend of a Farmer”. New York has officially run out of restaurant names.

The best pizza in New York is no longer Ray’s. It’s now John’s. So expect “Original Johns”, “John’s Original”, “Jon’s”, “Original Jon’s”, and “Jon’s Original” to pop up all over the city.

There’s a Home Depot on Lexington Avenue in Midtown. How do people get anything home? They have to lug their new garage doors or Jacuzzis or lumber on the subway?

Went to Carnegie Hall for the first time to see singer Linda Eder. Both were quite spectacular . (Andrew Carnegie, for those who didn’t know, was one of those American robber barons who made his fortune in fatty corned beef.) Linda received a standing ovation the moment she appeared. Very different from her July performance at an outdoor venue in San Diego when the only person who stood was a guy in a Hawaiian shirt trying to flag down the vendor for his fifth pina colada.

There are five balconies. The top one is above the timber line. Scalpers could easily sell $35 top balcony seats for $2000 saying they were the only Barbra Streisand tickets still available.

The only weird moment of the concert was when Linda said “Judy Garland had a huge influence on my life” and I was the only man in the audience who didn’t say “me too”.

The after-show party was fun. And when people asked what I was working on now I was able to say Broadway musical instead of failed Fox pilot.

There is a strange woman who always makes and hands out commemorative Linda Eder refrigerator magnets. Mine will be proudly displayed next to the Clippers 2003 home schedule.

You are no longer allowed on Avenue of the Americas unless you have a Blackberry. There are checkpoints.

A hotel was bombed in Jordan so currently there is extra security and SWAT teams at certain NY hotels. (Nothing at the Shelburne. They don’t even provide valet service). So now for your $700 a night at the Parker-Meredian (actual charge this week) you are in the heart of the theatre and terrorist target district.

Debby flew in just in time for the best sidewalk food vendor announcement. A bratwurst hawker on Broadway who was presented his award and arrested for not having a permit.

Cathy Rigby is doing her final performances of PETER PAN at Radio City. Next year she segues right into ARSENIC AND OLD LACE.

Meanwhile, Nathan Lane is segueing from THE ODD COUPLE to PETER PAN.

With all the amazing Italian restaurants in New York there is an Olive Garden. And it was packed. This is why “three card monty” takes in more money annually than the Statue of Liberty.

Languages spoken by my cab drivers: Urdu, Russian, Czech, Farsi, Klingon.

Forgot to set my alarm (all five days) for 5 a.m. so I could stand in the window of the TODAY SHOW, wave my arms like an idiot, and hold up a sign that says “HI JANE! HI BRYANT!”.

Now that all hotels employ recorded wake up call messages, this should be the one they use: “Good morning. This is your wake up call….(beat) Hey, fuck you too. You asked to be called.”

A street vendor on 6th Avenue was selling one of our SIMPSONS scripts for $15. Linda Eder magnets were going for $20.

Went to my favorite museum – the Margo Feiden Gallery, home of the glorious Al Hirschfeld collection. I was there so long I counted 4,362 Nina’s.

Latest fashion trend: kids wearing Yankee baseball caps two sizes too big. They all look like Sluggo.

Actual radio station press release: Clear Channel Urban WWPR (Power 105) and PREMIERE syndicated morning duo Star & Buc Wild have replaced newsman “Crossover Negro” (Reese Hopkins) with “Chris the Queer” (aka Chris Hart).

Bring back Dan Ingram!!

The MET LIFE building will always be the PAN AM building.

Annie flew in from Chicago for the weekend. First stop was Long Island and a big gathering of Debby’s relatives. We all met at an Italian restaurant on Queens Boulevard (Friend of an Undertaker) and had lunch. Just like a Sunday dinner scene in the SOPRANOS except Tony and the family never said “No cheese, I just had meat”, “what comes with that?”, “are the capers fresh?”, “I can make the same thing at home for fifty cents,” and “the last time I had cannelloni I went into labor”.

Stephen Sondheim came to our show on Sunday. And wound up sitting next to Annie. She’ll be dining off that story for years. The performance went very well until one of the leads, in the middle of “Sugar Sugar” broke into “Being Alive”.

If you put a Linda Eder refrigerator magnet together with a Barbra Streisand refrigerator magnet would they attract or repel?

JFK has been remodeled and refurbished, now sporting humongous Tomorrowland-like terminals and a monorail system. Once Zagat rated the worst airport in America, now with all the improvements it’s rated even worse. Instead of building bigger terminals how about providing more than two ticket agents at 6 pm on a Sunday?

Spending a week as part of the New York theatre scene was very heady indeed. Everyone was so friendly, so gracious. All of that will end of course when they find out I write for TV. But at least I met Stephen Sondheim. And he and Annie are now exchanging recipes.

Thanks so much to Janet, Richard, cast & crew, Dave, Ronni, Linda, and the Naked Cowboy for everything. I feel very lucky.

YOU CAN RUB ME FOR A DOLLAR.

Ken Levine
************************
Oscars 2005

Welcome to my 7th annual bitchy Oscar review. Where has the time and my feature career gone?

Hiring Chris Rock to host provided the only buzz and suspense of the show. His piece at the Magic Johnson theater said it all. No one outside of LA or NY has SEEN these films. It’s the Tonys but for two cities instead of one. And we’re supposed to watch to see stars? The nominees were Imelda Staunton, Sophie Okonedo, and Catalina Sandino Moreno. It'll be 2016 before any one of them appears on INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO.

The pre-Oscar coverage is always amusing. Most inane (as always) was Hollywood tool/footstool/bootlicker Sam Rubin and his co-host this year, the brainless Toni Senecal (who I assume is Sam’s gushy sycophant counterpart in New York) on KTLA. Sam to Catalina Sandino Moreno: “Did you spend a lot of time getting ready?” Has he ever actually talked to a woman?? Toni then asked her: “It’s your first movie, you’re the first Columbian to ever be nominated – call me crazy – how do you feel?” Toni asked Sophie Okonedo what was the best gift she had received.

Nominees I never heard of or recognized were blowing them off. Maybe if they weren't trying to lure them with Tic Tacs.

The KTLA fashion expert said about Hilary Swank; “It’s a surprise to everyone. She looks fantastic.”

Sam to P. Diddy: “People watching at home, having an Oscar party, what can they learn from you?”

There should be a spam blocker on my TV to save me from ever seeing Joan and Melissa Rivers. This year they’ve been relegated to the TV Guide channel which answers the question “what could possibly be less entertaining than a 24 hour program guide crawl?”

Chris Rock was as funny as he could be under the circumstances. Certainly they didn’t need the five second “dull-ay”. But when he went into the Bush bashing you could hear a loud collective CLICK as 49% of the nation turned off the show and went bowling. Expect this to be the lowest rated Academy Awards show ever. ABC will wish it showed DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES instead.

Everytime they came back from commercials you saw a stagehand running for backstage. For about an hour that was the only amusement.

Paul Giamati was robbed. He should’ve been nominated.

Thomas Hayden Church was nominated for being himself. The rest of the WINGS cast has been on suicide watch since the announcements.

The set looked like THE WEAKEST LINK.

Halle Berry now has a rival for most beautiful – Beyonce. Wow! And such an amazing singer. I could almost sit through all three of the nominated songs she sang.

I hope Natalie Portman enjoyed her nomination. She’s sure not getting one next year for STAR WARS VI: ENOUGH ALREADY.

Kathryn Hepburn wins Academy Awards even when she’s dead.

Adam Duritz from Counting Crows looked like a bottle washer.

Thank God the Pope didn’t die. The “In Memoriam” tribute is always dicey. I’d hate to see his photo followed by Russ Meyer’s.

And by the way, they forgot Sandra Dee.

Scarlett Johanson’s dress was a work in progress.

Steven Spielberg was a no-show. Guess if he’s not nominated there’s no need to come and support “the community”. I’m sure he’d say “why sit through an excruciatingly boring three hour show?” and I would say “how do you feel the rest of us felt watching TERMINAL?”

Drew Barrymore came as Morticia.

Selma Hayek and Penelope Cruz are stunningly gorgeous. But presenters have to actually be able to pronounce names.

The three trophy models (now there’s a job that requires an advanced degree) were all 6’ because as director Louis Horvitz said “the stage has a lot of verticals. I wanted them to be very tall and thin so in the wide shots they blend in and become almost architecturally pleasing.” Mr. Horvitz, ‘Now’ on line three for you.

$20,000 goody bags were given away again this year…as if Thomas Hayden Church or Sophie Oronedo wouldn’t have come otherwise. And KTLA was offering Tic Tacs.

Just remember – Cher has won an Oscar.

This just in – the Red States have voted and CATWOMAN is the best picture of the year.

As long as Robert DeNiro continues to do movies like MEET THE FOCKERS Thomas Hayden Church will have a better chance at getting future nominations

Laura Linney looked like a raccoon.

I loved the Johnny Carson tribute. Were the Academy Awards ever better, ever classier than when he presided over them?

I’d like to thank the academy for honoring Sidney Lumet.

And for showing his Jessica Rabbit daughter. Or at least, I think that’s his daughter. She was very architecturally pleasing.

It’s bad enough to be nominated and lose but to be on stage when it happens? Yikes. Talk about pulling the rug out at the last second. I wonder if the losers then got to go to the backstage interview rooms and not be allowed to speak.

When the winners were announced from the audience I thought I was watching “Stump the Band”.

Mike Myers is never funny. Robin Williams used to be.

Where else can you see Mickey Rooney and Prince in the same audience?

For best song why not just use anything from RAY?

Johnny Depp came as Alfalfa this year.

What could the fun motif be for the HOTEL RWANDA after-party? Hopefully they consulted P. Diddy.

Boy, I bet Kevin Spacey was surprised when he wasn’t nominated for best actor, director, producer, writer, art director, hair stylist, and Gene Hersholt award for BEYOND THE SEA. Maybe if there was a category for largest ego, best mimic, and creepiest 50 year old playing 20.

Every academy member who received a screener tape of SPANGLISH gave it to their housekeeper.

Annette Bening should have been in the AVIATOR since she is married to Howard Hughes.

My vote for movie of the year: THE INCREDIBLES. But in all fairness, I haven’t seen WHITE CHICKS.

Of the 28 billion people who supposedly were watching I was the only one who appreciated just how good the off-screen announcer, Randy Thomas, was.

If you have Tivo I bet you zipped right through the Gene Hersholt award. And every non-actor acceptance speech. And the last twenty minutes of Jaimie Foxx’s.

Prince and Rene Zellwegger had the same hair style, used the same motor oil.

I don’t care what Sean Penn says. Jude Law was in every bad movie. And contributed to each of them.

Okay, now that Hilary Swank has thanked everyone in the world let’s give the award to someone else.

My son, Matt, is convinced that Hilary Swank is a man. So he was less impressed with her performance since it was a man portraying a woman acting like a man.

Leave it to a writer, Charlie Kaufman, to make the most refreshing speech.

If ever there was a lock it was Jaimie Foxx. No way he’d be singing “Cryin’ Time” tonight.

Julia Roberts looked pretty good for a new mom. Assuming she wasn’t wedged into that dress like a sausage.

Poor Martin Scorsese gets shut out again. And he talks fast. At least his speech would be quick even if he thanks a hundred people.

Clint Eastwood’s mom is still alive? I thought that was Warren Beatty.

Barbra Streisand is fast turning into Lainie Kazan. And seeing like Ray Charles.

The theme for the Best Picture nominees seemed to be “guy looking to cheat on his wife or girlfriend”. All except MILLION DOLLAR BABY. At Clint’s age all he can lust after now is pie.

I was happy MILLION DOLLAR BABY won….I guess. Oh hell, I didn’t care. And I’m sure at the Magic Johnson theater ticket sales for it won’t go up by one.

At least Jim Carrey wasn't on the show. See you at the DVD rental store.

Ken Levine
**************

Okay, that's me and what you'll get. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Thanksgiving Plans

 It’s downright surreal listening to the two distinct realities that various news outlets are spouting.  With Thanksgiving just days away and COVID cases skyrocketing in America at an alarming rate, you would think everyone in the country would be scared shitless and heeding the CDC’s warnings to not travel and not have large gatherings on Thursday.

But instead you have Fox News mocking the CDC’s warnings.  Meanwhile, over at MSNBC you have Rachel Maddow relaying the horrific story of her partner’s battle with COVID and telling viewers to re-calibrate their risk acceptance because “you do NOT want to get this thing.”  

Two diametric opposites.  It’s mind-boggling to me.  

The states that are getting hit hardest are the states that believe the threat the least.  Utterly mystifying. This isn’t a debate over whether zombies are real.  Actual footage (even on Fox) of hospitals being overrun are dominating news coverage.  CNN keeps a running total of cases and deaths on the screen at all times.   By now, practically everybody knows someone who has it or has had it.   Soon we all know someone who died of it.

So you’d think, at the very least, people would take this pandemic seriously.  And news outlets would not politicize it for the sake of appeasing a deranged madman.  Folks would err on the side of caution.   We’re just talking common sense.   Wearing a mask does not qualify you for Mensa. 

But you know how this will play out.  Millions will ignore the warnings, get horribly sick, and some will die.  Needlessly.  To have one stupid meal.  

It won’t be many of my friends.  They take this seriously.  They social distance.  They wear masks.  They don’t travel through crowded airports and sit on packed airplanes that keep their ventilation systems turned off until they’re taxiing.  They live without Aunt Carol’s jello mold (which isn't very good anyway).  

So two realities.  One where people stay healthy, and the other where people get gravely sick and die by their own choosing.  

What are YOUR Thanksgiving plans? 

Monday, November 23, 2020

RIP Charlie Hauck

 

So sorry to hear of the passing of comedy writer, Charlie Hauck.  He was 79.  One of the funniest people I knew.  

Here’s how I first met Charlie.  My partner, David Isaacs and I pitched him story ideas when he was the story editor of MAUDE.  He rejected us fifty times.  

In fairness, it was the show runners above him.  We’d bring in ten ideas.  He’d like two, send ‘em upstairs, they’d get rejected, and Charlie would ask us to come in with ten more.  I really liked him.  And if you can like someone who rejected you fifty times he has to be a pretty decent guy.  

We worked together on FRASIER and ENCORE ENCORE (the Nathan Lane sitcom).  Some comedy writers are loud and brash and desperately want to be Mel Brooks.  Charlie was soft-spoken, erudite, laid back, and funny, insightful, and deliciously sarcastic lines would come out of his mouth effortlessly.  If I had to pick one colleague who deserved a seat at the Algonquin Round Table it would be Charlie Hauck.  


And don’t take my word for it.  Charlie wrote a comic novel called ARTISTIC DIFFERENCES that is the best satire on the TV industry ever.  And I say that having also written a satire on the TV industry.  If you only have time to read one, read Charlie’s.  

Worth sharing: On one page of his book he explains how you can tell a bad sitcom.   Simple rules, worth repeating here.

Any show in which any character at any time during the life of the series says the words “Ta da!” is a bad sitcom.


Any show in which one character says to another, “What are friends for?” is a bad sitcom.


Any show in which a character says “Bingo!” in the sense of “Eureka!” is a bad sitcom.


Any show in which an actor or actress under the age of seven says cute things in close-up is a bad sitcom.


Any show in which an actor or actress over the age of seventy-five says vulgar things in close-up is a bad sitcom.


Any show that resorts to the use of Dr. Zarkov dialogue (named for the villain in the FLASH GORGON series, where one character tells another character something they both already know, for the benefit of the audience) is a bad sitcom.


Any show in which a character, in the closing minutes, says, “I guess we’ve all learned a lesson,” and then goes on to explain what that lesson is, is a bad sitcom.  


He’s also helped launch careers, including Michael Keaton’s.  

I will miss him always, but particularly this time of year.  Charlie used to send Christmas cards with his yearly “update.”  They were always spectacularly funny.  The two things I will miss about Christmas are the Andy Williams/Claudine Longet TV specials and Charlie’s annual card.  

If anyone’s reading this from the Great Beyond, do yourself a favor, invite Charlie Hauck to your next dinner party.  You can contact him at the Algonquin Round Table. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Weekend Post

When my partner and I started out we would lock ourselves in a room whenever we wrote. We couldn’t have any distractions. Most of the time that meant working in one of our apartments so it was easy to do… except for the neighbor across the courtyard who kept playing the Jethro Tull WAR CHILD album over and over. But we eventually killed him so that problem was solved.

When we finally went on staff of a show and got our first office we would always keep the door closed. Just the idea of people going by or our secretary answering a phone was too distracting. How could we be funny if we saw two people walking down the hall?

Then we got a job on MASH.   By then we had worked on staff of a show and were somewhat used to being in a writers room... with other writers.  It's a different form of writing, everybody pitching at once.  You learn to fit in.  

But it was still a writers room.  And a writers assistant sat in the outer office keeping anyone from disturbing us.  Genius at work -- that sort of thing.

The first day of filming every episode was a rehearsal day. The cast would move from set to set on Stage 9 at 20th Century Fox and rehearse their scenes. Once they were satisfied, David and I were summoned to come watch the scene and then go off and do any rewriting that was necessary. But since it made no sense to keep schlepping back and forth between our office and the stage every half hour, we just did our rewrites right there on the stage. We commandeered a table in the mess tent and that’s where we worked – with actors, crew people, extras, God-knows-who walking by. And in some cases just sitting down and joining us. We’re trying to fix a scene and some extra plops himself down at the table and begins eating a burrito. We eventually killed his character.

Again, it’s a skill that most writers have to learn.  A lot of writers prefer working in public, like Starbucks.  There was a lot more of that before the pandemic.  So for them, I'm sure the Mess Tent would not present a problem.  

What you realize when you're lucky enough to enter the business is that a big reason TV writers are paid more than police dogs is that they're not only talented, but they can create on demand.  We couldn't afford the luxury of isolating ourselves because we felt more comfortable that way.   You work when you're sick, you work when you're tired, you work when you're aggravated, and you work on a soundstage.

On multi-camera shows in front of an audience, writers will huddle to fix jokes that didn't work.  So there's a hundred member crew and two-hundred member audience staring at you.   Oh, for the halcyon days when it was only the Mess Tent.