Saturday, October 12, 2019

Weekend Post

Ed Sheeran sure knows how to pick a partner. Check out this "Perfect" version of his song along with Andrea Bocelli.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Friday Questions

Friday Questions served up here.

Paul B leads off:

The hilarious British TV comedy "Coupling" from the early 2000's (think Monte Python meets Friends) was written single handedly by the creator, Steven Moffat. It was only 28 episodes over 4 years, but still seems like an enormous undertaking. If that weren't enough, his wife was the director. Would you ever consider such an effort?

First of all let me just say that the British COUPLING is one of my all-time favorite sitcoms, and Steven Moffat is brilliant.

If I had an idea that good and the freedom to write the episodes at my own pace and hire the actors I wanted (not foisted upon me by a network), I would certainly consider it.

Again, if you’ve never seen COUPLING, go find it and watch it.

Robert Brauer asks:

What is it that differentiates one of your ten minute plays from a comedy sketch? I am presuming that there are differences, I just cannot make the leap of logic to determine what they might be.

Comedy sketches tend to have funny premises and then as many jokes as they can get to service that premise.

A ten-minute play has a real beginning, middle, and end. Just like a good short story. A character will have to make a big decision, an event will cause change, there will be some revelation, etc. Storytelling drives a ten-minute play, not jokes.

Matt wonders:

Was Mako Iwamatsu cast on the FRASIER first season episode "Author Author" due to his connection with you and David on MASH?

Nope. I always like to take credit for things so actors can feel beholden to me, but the truth is we had nothing to do with that casting choice. Mako got the FRASIER gig because he’s terrific.

And finally, from Douglas Trapasso:

Paraphrasing a question from the recent candidate debates, if -you- were made Baseball Commissioner, and had full autonomy, what three changes would you make in your first 100 days?

Pitchers would have to face at least three batters or finish an inning.

Eliminate interleague play.

Not allow any TV deal that doesn’t guarantee the games be available to at least 70% of the local market.

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

EP144: Writing Advice and a Rant

Ken deals with two difficult aspects of writing – structure and exposition along with helpful tips for each. And he has one of those rants of his.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Him or her again?

Along the ones of my rant of last week:
She’s probably a lovely person. I’ve never heard otherwise. And it’s not like she’s nails-on-a-blackboard. But for whatever reason, I just don’t get the appeal of Maya Rudolph.

No matter what I see her in I just find her ordinary. She’s never made me laugh. And she gets a million jobs and appearances on every award show, so it’s not like she hasn’t had chances. I just always feel there are a 100 other actresses who could do it better. And when you see her in a movie like BRIDESMAIDS with the very funny Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy it becomes even more apparent she’s not in their league.

I know there are people who love her and find her funny. I suppose it’s just a matter of personal taste. My son Matt is not a fan of Amy Poehler. I love Amy Poehler.

But every time I turn around it’s announced that Maya Rudolph has a new project. And I scratch my head. In this town there are so many truly funny ladies who don’t have the resume, connections, whatever and can’t even get in the front door to be considered for all these opportunities that Maya Rudolph snaps up.

And again, I have nothing personal against her. I just wish she were… funnier.

On the other hand, don't get me started on Mindy Kaling. 

I imagine we all have someone like that. You see them appear in a comedy sketch and go “why?” So I’d be curious. Just based on their act (not politics, not what they look like, not any kind of racial or gender bias), who is somebody that makes a good living in comedy that you just don’t get?

Should be an interesting day in the comments section. But again, nothing mean, no personal attacks, and no attacking each other (since I’m sure names will come up that some hate while others love). Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Even me.


Tuesday, October 08, 2019

How to make stupid money in television -- at this moment of time

Let’s see how long it takes for this business model to implode. Because it will. 

TV is undergoing more changes now than it has in decades, perhaps five decades.

In the old days, here’s how the few lucky talented (but still fortunate) writers got rich:

Networks couldn’t legally own shows. So studios would make development deals to tie up the best talent. That resulted in multi-year seven-figure deals. The idea was that those writer/producers were exclusive to that studio and if they created a hit show everyone stood to cash in.

Additionally, writer/producers owned part of the shows they created. And in those days the goal was to make at least 100 episodes to sell into syndication. A smash hit like CHEERS or SEINFELD could be worth hundreds of millions to the writer/producer.

Once networks could own shows those development deals began to dry up. A few high-end deals still remained but the parameters of those deals were different. At one time writers only created shows and produced pilots. Under the new model, the network or studio (often the same thing) could assign you to work on whatever show it wanted.  You don't have a pilot?  Guess what?  You're Co-EP of THE NEIGHBORHOOD. 

Now we’re in a totally different universe. Streaming services are the future. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are getting competition from Warners, Disney, Apple, CBS, and more to come. They don’t need 100 episodes. They don’t want 100 episodes. Syndication is drying up. Soon there won’t be shows with 100+ episodes.  Series used to go seven years; in the future they'll go three.  Producers once produced 22 episodes a season.  Now they produce 12.  Or 8. 

So why should writer/producers go to Netflix or Hulu when their shows won’t go into syndication and they won’t make a backend killing if the show is a smash? Good question.

The answer is that these streaming services are now paying huge upfront money to A-list writer/producers but owning the shows outright. J.J. Abrams, Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, Greg Berlanti, and a few others are making deals for over $300 million upfront. And the deals are not even exclusive. Pretty nice signing bonuses. 

Get it while you can, boys and girls, because this model is bound to collapse. Why? Compare it with the old model: Yes, everyone got rich IF the show became a big hit. If it didn’t, well, the studio was out a couple million for the development deal. Here, if shows aren’t hits the streaming service is on the hook for $300 million. How many of those hits can they absorb before they realize they made monumentally bad deals?

How has a similar model worked out for MLB? How does that Albert Pujols’ ten-year $240,000,000 deal look to the Angels now? How many championships has he led them to? How many additional fans has he put in the seats?

But at least he’s exclusive the Angels.

So Greg Berlanti, for example, has a $300,000,000 deal with the Warner Brothers/HBO streaming service, and also gets a show on NBC. If the NBC show becomes that rare hit he can make a ton in success. If the show he creates for Warner Brothers does well, so what? He’s gotten his money. Which of the two shows do you think he’s going to concentrate on more? And which of the two shows do you think he’s just going to hire a showrunner and basically attach his name to the project?

The problem for the streaming services is they have to pay stupid money to entice A-list writer/producers, especially at a time when there is a lot of competition. But here’s what will happen: Some of the competitors will fail, or more likely merge with other services. Now we have three or four big players. Next year there will be seven or eight. Five years from now there will be five again, just maybe not the same five. And once that settles, gone will be the need to overpay producers. Broadcast networks will erode even more. Netflix, Disney+, and a few others will no longer feel the need to throw insane amounts of money to a select few individuals.  They'll be the only game in town.

So like I said, get it while you can. Is there a chance if you take big money upfront and forfeit any ownership rights that the show will become the next FRIENDS and it will air over many platforms, still go into syndication, and make the studio wildly rich while you’ve left millions on the table? Sure. But in this marketplace, I’ll take the upfront money any day. When they call it stupid money, the person receiving it is never the stupid one.

Monday, October 07, 2019

MLB is striking out

WARNING:  This is one of my rants.  

Major League Baseball wonders why it's losing audience. After all, these are the PLAYOFFS. These are the games that mean something (after 162 other games). The World Series used to be a huge event. Now an episode of THE VOICE can beat it.

So what are some of the factors?

Imagine you’re plotting a movie and you decide to put your most suspenseful scenes right at the beginning and your least suspenseful scenes at the end. Kinda dumb, huh? Well, that’s the baseball playoffs.

They begin with two Wild Card games (one for each league) that is sudden death. All the marbles – ONE game. Can’t get higher stakes than that.

Then comes the four Division Series. Those are the best three of five games. So again, the stakes are pretty high. You lose one game and you’re really in a hole. If you lose the first game and don’t win the second then you have to win three straight while the other team only has to win once. That’s pressure, kids. Even if both teams win one, that game three is pivotal. And one pitcher who has a bad inning or one first baseman who lets a ball go through his legs can ruin the entire season.

And now the two league Championship Series. Best four of seven. Each single game takes on less importance. You can weather a bad game or two and still win.

Finally comes the coveted World Series. Also the best four of seven.  By now you’ve had a possible 36 playoff games (if they all go the distance). But let’s be realistic. Say there have only been 29 playoff games. That’s still a lot.

It also used to be that the World Series was the only time teams from each league would play each other. So there was a real novelty factor. Now we have inter-league play so who cares? This year the Dodgers have already played the Yankees. And who gives a shit if the Astros play the Padres?

Starting the games at 8:30 and ending them well after midnight doesn’t help generate fan interest either.  Good luck attracting kids. 

So by the time the World Series ends you’ve sick of baseball, and besides, Thanksgiving is the next day.

Another problem: There are like seven networks carrying the games and it’s not even consistent within a playoff which network is carrying which game. Many of the games are farmed out to lower-tier networks like FS-1. Game times are staggered and not announced until last minute. Fans can’t find the games on TV. Even if they WANTED to watch they had trouble. There’s no continuity.

Then there’s the game itself and the way it’s played now. Friday night the Dodgers lost to the Nationals. They struck out 17 times. That used to be an astonishing number. Not anymore. Saturday Astro's pitcher Gerrit Cole struck out 15 Tampa Bay hitters.  Everybody now swings for the fences. Home run totals are through the roof. But the game is boring. There are seventeen pitching changes. Good hitters foul off nine pitches. That’s exciting to watch. With the added commercial load and the current method of play, these games take upwards of four hours to complete. It used to take two-and-a-half.

Yes, along the way there are some spectacularly entertaining exciting games, but the majority of them aren’t.

I love baseball. I used to live for the playoffs. I would hang on every pitch. And now I’ll watch a game or two if it’s convenient or the Dodgers are playing. For the rest I'll just watch the highlights (guys homering and guys striking out). 

There was a great line when iconic playwright and director George S. Kaufman went to see a play he had directed after it had been running a couple of months. Over that time the cast added things and changed little things. Kaufman put up this announcement on the backstage bulletin board:


Baseball needs that same rehearsal.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Weekend Post

People have asked whether I’m gong to see THE JOKER this weekend, and the answer is God NO.

Will I get around to it someday? Maybe.

And I know it will make a shit ton of money this weekend. But here’s what’s holding me back:

It’s yet another comic book movie.

If I’m going to see a Batman movie I at least want to see Batman.

I understand it’s a celebration of guns.

There are deep concerns that some fucking idiot might want to shoot up a theatre that’s showing it, a la the 2012 Aurora massacre when THE DARK KNIGHT RISES premiered.

After that point, no other justifications are necessary but…

The movie got a wretched review in the NEW YORK TIMES.

The movie won the Venice Film Festival. That’s always a warning sign.

I’m not in the mood for a dark cynical empty heartless movie right now.

I don’t give a shit why some outcast becomes a serial killer. I just want to take his guns away.

And finally, the real Joker is in the White House. Why pay good money to see a pale imitation?

Friday, October 04, 2019

Friday Questions

10-4 good buddy. Here are this week’s Friday Questions.

From Brett Bydairk

I was listening to your latest podcast earlier, and a question occurred to me: how does one become a script doctor, those (usually) uncredited folk who rewrite scripts to polish them or fix mistakes?

Well first of all, there are not many of those jobs left. Shows would now rather spend the money for lower level staff writers than once-a-week consultants. There are arguments for both sides. Having a seasoned pro come in can really move things along or solve story problems during rewrites. When you’re in the trenches it’s nice to have someone you can really trust.

On the other hand, this now gives young writers more chances to break in and that’s a very good thing.

You get those jobs by spending years on staff and proving that you are good in a room – pitch lots of jokes that make it into scripts, offer story fixes that work, and present a positive energy that can keep the momentum going or jump start things when it's not.

Eventually you build a reputation, friends in the industry hire you, and you’re on your way.

Proud to say I’ve worked with three of the best: Jerry Belson, Bob Ellison, and David Lloyd.

From Mike Bloodworth

I've asked this about your plays, but it's also applicable to TV scripts. What's the best way to protect a submission from being plagiarized?

Copyright it. Register it with the WGA (you can do that on line). Make a copy and send it to yourself.

Registering with the WGA is probably the easiest.

Gareth Wilson is next.

There was a recent negative review of a Netflix show where the reviewer said the problem was Netflix doesn't have pilots. An entire season was ordered, filmed and released before anyone realised how terrible it was. Do you think the pilot system does a good job of filtering out obviously bad shows?

Every ten years or so a network will decide that making pilots is a waste of money. The result is they have a horrible development season, the shows they air generally tank, and the following development season the pilots are back.

Pilots are helpful. You can tweak as a result. Although shows do evolve and improve over time, you can tell from the pilot whether a certain show just isn’t clicking. No chemistry, the premise doesn’t hold up, the execution sucks, whatever. What sounds good in a meeting, and what looks good on paper sometimes doesn’t translate. Nor is a big star any guarantee of success.

Personally, I would love a series order without a pilot. But I would still really analyze that first episode (pilot) and make changes before charging into the season.

And finally, from Lairbo:

If you were to revive Big Wave Dave's, would you do a straight-up reboot or change it up with some sort of Next Generation twist (the kid Adam Arkin and Jane Kaczmarek find out their going to have now all grown up and in charge, or something)?

It’s not like anyone remembers this show or these characters. Truthfully, I would recast everybody but Kurtwood Smith as the ex-patriot. We would make the others younger and more age-appropriate. I say “we” because I co-created the show with David Isaacs who would join me in showrunning the reboot.

BIG WAVE DAVE’S is about three guys having a midlife crisis. We would have to rewrite and adjust the characters. Today’s 40 year-old is different from the 1990’s 40 year-old.

Meanwhile, no one is clamoring for a reboot of BIG WAVE DAVE’S despite the fact that I still have the sign.

What’s your Friday Question?