Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The theme from Applebee's... I mean CHEERS

Lots of you have asked my opinion on the CHEERS theme being used in an Applebee’s commercial.  I’d like it a lot more if I were making money off of it, I'll tell ya that.  I don’t think this is the first time the CHEERS theme was used.  Didn’t it appear in an Allstate commercial a number of years ago?  Or am I making that up?  (And if so, why would I make up something like that?)

And then there was some diet commercial with Kirstie Alley and some of the CHEERS gang.  That I know I saw. 

Yes, I think it sullies the brand.  Do I condone it?  God NO.

But I hear Beatles songs and Springsteen songs and Dylan songs used for commercials.  Lots of popular records now hawk products.  Lots of venerable sports stadiums now are named for corporate sponsors.  (Before you baseball fans say that’s sacrilegious remember Wrigley Field and Bush Stadium.)  

It’s the world we live in. I guess the question one must ask is if you’re a rights holder do you want your show/song/stadium/franchise associated with that particular product.  When you think of CHEERS you (hopefully) think of a certain level of quality.  Is Applebee’s on that commensurate restaurant level?  I can hear you calling out the answer -- one that Applebee's would not appreciate. 

And I think that’s what riled up so many fans of CHEERS.  It’s not so much that the sacred theme is being used in a commercial, it’s that it’s for Applebee’s.  If Applebee’s used the theme from THE ROPERS I don’t think anyone would care.  But not CHEERS.  And some of those burgers look disgusting. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Outdoor football -- you gotta love it

I enjoyed this weekend’s NFL Playoff Games.  It’s nice that they actually mean something.  And it seems like every team but four make it to the playoffs and the head coaches of those teams are fired the day after the regular season.  The only job with less security was Trump's Chief-of-Staff. 

But I especially love these playoffs for a perverse reason, and you’re welcome to hate me for it.  I love them because I’m in Southern California.   Football games are always way more dramatic when they’re played in horrible weather conditions.  Snow bowls — the best.  Rain bowls — super fun.  Hail, fog, hurricane winds — that’s entertainment.  Subfreezing temperatures (like in Buffalo) — now you got a football game.  (Dick Enberg told me he was calling a Bengals-Chargers playoff game from Cincinnati and it was so cold someone poured him a hot cup of coffee and by the time they set it on the desk in front of him it froze solid.  Now THAT’S cold, friends and neighbors.)  

But the elements do add an element.  If you can’t see the yard markers that’s a game you’re not turning off.   They don’t want to hold Super Bowls in those outdoor winter venues because it would inconvenience the high rollers paying to see the game, and Lady Gaga would freeze in her trashy Tinkerbell outfit.   

Too bad because some of the more memorable games in NFL history were legendary because of the weather.  The famous ice bowl in Green Bay between the Packers and Cowboys.  Championship games between the Giants and Colts in arctic New York.  

And the enjoyment is heightened by watching in 70 degree weather.  At least for me.  

That said, I don’t know why anyone actually attends these playoff games in punishing weather.  The players are getting paid and they can go into the locker room at halftime.  You’re just sitting there.  I know some of you spartan readers will say “it’s an experience,” but so is waterboarding.  

Were I to be in Buffalo yesterday I would have been inside with a warm fire, food at the ready, my own bathroom, a better picture, the yellow stripe, and no chance to catch COVID at a super spreader.  The only downside is maybe catching an Applebee’s CHEERS commercial (more on that tomorrow).  The coffee you buy at the stadium can’t be any warmer than Dick Enberg’s.   Of all the major sports, football is really made for TV.  

There was a time in the NFL when home games wouldn’t be televised unless they were a sellout (which was rare).  Here in LA, the Rams played in the Coliseum that seated 100,000.  We NEVER saw a home game.  Ever. Not once.  The very first Super Bowl was held in LA.  Both CBS and NBC covered it.  Both were blacked out in Los Angeles.  The point is, in those days you had to attend the game if you wanted to watch it.  Not now.  When the Rams returned from St. Louis and played in the Coliseum while their new stadium was being built, it was downright eerie to finally see a Rams home game at the Coliseum.  Like sneaking into an X-rated movie when you were a kid.

Anyway, if you attended any of the games this past weekend I hope you didn’t get frostbite, COVID, trench foot, hypothermia, pneumonia, or toxic shock.  But if your team won I’m sure it was worth it.  I’m turning up the heat just writing this. 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Weekend Post


Great expression in Hollywood: Mentors get eaten by their young.

While there is certainly no shortage of that “All About Eve” type behavior, I must say that for myself, I would never be where I am today were it not for some exceptional mentors. It’s like I learned pitching from a staff of Sandy Koufaxes.  One reason I started this blog was to be able to give something back. I’m a big believer in “Pay it Forward”. So if any tips I share you find valuable you can thank these people.

Larry Gelbart, Jim Brooks, Allan Burns, the Charles Brothers, Gene Reynolds, Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Treva Silverman, and one name you’ve never heard – Bruce Anson. Don’t race to imdb to look him up. He’s not there. Even Googling him will yield no results. (There are others with that name but they’re not him.)

But Bruce Anson taught me more about the craft of writing than all my high school and college teachers combined.

I was a sports intern at KMPC radio in Los Angeles. Bruce was one of their newscasters. He was in his 60s, smoked and drank too much (which I think was a prerequisite for getting hired in that department back then). He had been a booth announcer in the early days of TV and prior to that, network radio. And now he was pulling part-time Sunday night shifts, writing and delivering news twice an hour in between public service programs the station was obligated to run. When he finished at midnight the station went off the air for maintenance. So not exactly prime time.

He’d show up in shorts, loud Hawaiian shirts, and flip flops. Other newsmen reported for work in suits and ties.

My job was to write the sports portion of the newscast. Essentially a rundown of the day’s scores. Northwestern beat Ohio State 23-10, Notre Dame edged Army 21-20, etc. The most creative thing I did was once write: LSU puffed Rice 34-14.

During baseball season all the scores would be final by 6:00. There was no Sunday night baseball. Not even in Texas. The shift was until midnight but most sports interns would write up three sportscasts that could be rotated and went home six hours early. I went to Bruce and asked if I could help write his newscasts. He said, sure, but it’s not as easy as I think.

He was right.

I’d take a story from the United Press International wire, rewrite it, and hand it to Bruce. I assumed he’d say, “Great job. Thank you.”


He said, “This sentence could be cut in half”, “There’s a better way of saying this”, “Use more descriptive words”, “This point should go ahead of that point”, “this phrase is a little confusing.” He’d then take a pen and start rewriting -- slashing words, replacing phrases, making it shorter, punchier, clearer, BETTER.

And so began a weekly pattern that lasted until football season. I would doggedly write story after story determined to just once please that son-of-a-bitch. Finally it happened. A house fire story. I don’t remember the details but I do remember I used the word “blaze”. It aired right before the vasectomy PSA. I was so proud.

Be ruthless. Always look to make it better. Have a little Bruce Anson sitting on your shoulder when you write. Ask him to put out the cigarette though.

I owe Bruce Anson a lot. I thank him for his time, his toughness, his talent. And if he were here today I'm sure he'd say "Isn't all the alliteration a little precious?"

Friday, January 14, 2022

Friday Questions

Friday Questions to launch you into the weekend.  What’s yours?

Kyle Burress starts us off.

Are you glad that you didn't have to deal with all of the social media and such that goes on in today's society during your involvement with Mash, Cheers, Jefferson's and Frasier, amongst others? Do you think that would have changed things dramatically in the way things were written or how the cast and crew were dealt with?

If there was social media in those days, here’s how I think it would play out.

THE JEFFERSONS.  The show would get buried because two Jewish guys wrote an episode.  

MASH.  Can you imagine the shitstorm when they killed Henry Blake?   The producers would have gotten death threats.

CHEERS.  I think social media would have helped us.  There would be more buzz, more word-of-mouth.  We wouldn’t be such an underground hit but ratings flop.   

FRASIER.  To some degree there was social media.  Not to today’s extent, but there were chat rooms and fan groups that discussed the episodes.  I would say, in general, that FRASIER was well received across the board. 

The shows might have been written a little differently based on the country’s sensibility, not necessarily pressure from social media.   How different?  I have no way to calculate that or even speculate.  

From jcs:

In your very entertaining podcast episodes 243 and 244 warmup luminary Bob Perlow voices his annoyance about some sitcom actors and producers being unwilling to invest just five minutes to talk to their audience before the taping. Perlow reasons that apart from showing a lack of appreciation, an opportunity to increase the show's fan base was wasted.

Did you experience similar situations in your career where you felt that not enough effort had been made to reach or to accommodate an audience?

I only did warm-up on one show (CHEERS) so Bob had way more experience with this than me.  

But I will say this:  Some actors are really concentrating on their performance — that’s their process — and they don’t want to disturb that by kibitzing with the audience.  As a director, I want my actors to be as comfortable and ready as possible and if chatting with the crowd would get in the way, then I’m all for the actor skipping it.

Might the audience embrace them and the show more had they interacted?  Probably.  It’s definitely to their benefit.  But the performance is the important thing.

blogward asks:

I was just reading about Glynis Johns, the beautiful Welsh actress who is now, at 98, the oldest Best Actress Oscar-winner alive (with Olivia De H gone). I never saw the episode of Cheers with her as Diane's mother, but I wonder if you had anything to share? T

That was the episode we first tried to get Lucy.  

Ms. Johns was fabulous.  The ultimate pro.  Knew her lines, was kind to everyone on the crew, not at all a diva.   I never got up the nerve to ask her to sing “Send in the Clowns.” Sondheim wrote it specifically for her.  

If you haven’t seen the episode, I very much recommend it.  It was from season one, was called “Someone Single, Someone Blue” and was written by the late David Angell.  

And finally, from Cedricstudio:

I recently got sick and had a froggy voice for almost two whole weeks. Which got me wondering, when an actor gets sick (loses their voice, for example) is it ever just written into the show? In season 11 episode of MASH ("Say No More") the B story is that Margaret's hero is visiting camp and she desperately wants to meet him, but she gets laryngitis and has to enlist Charles' help. I was re-watching it and noticed that she can't talk for practically the entire episode. I don't think I've ever seen the "character loses their voice" plot device used on a TV show before so it got me wondering: Was this something the writers came up with, or did Loretta Swit actually lose her voice forcing the writers to work it into the episode?

Actors getting sick used to be considered such a big crisis.  Now, in the middle of a pandemic, having laryngitis for three days doesn’t seem that big a deal.  

If we can work it in organically then we would.   But especially on a single-camera show like MASH that’s shot out of order, we might just re-arrange the schedule to give the actor a few days off to recover and film his scenes later.

A bigger problem is explaining away why a character suddenly has a broken arm or cast on their wrist that’s not coming off for two months.  Suddenly you have to dream up something to justify it.   Glad we never did a period drama.  Explaining a wrist cast in the Middle Ages might’ve taken some doing. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

EP257: Cartooning for fun and a little profit

Ken’s cartooning days from drawing Woody Woodpecker at 4 to trying to get in the New Yorker. If you’re a fan of cartoons, comics, comic books, or New Yorker cartoons this episode is for you.

More podcasts at WAVE: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/artist/wave-podcast-network/1437831426

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

A major life lesson in Margaritaville

Only a few of you will recognize the name (Boomers who grew up in LA), but disc jockey Billy Pearl passed away last week (as if there haven't been enough deaths).  I am very saddened by this. We went to UCLA together and were roommates.  Our paths drifted apart as the years went by.  But one dinner I had with him made a huge impression and shaped my worldview, especially where my career was concerned.  

Billy Pearl was one of the best jocks in the Top 40 era.  I don’t think there’s a single person in radio at that time who would dispute that.  His rise in the industry was meteoric, but no one could begrudge him because of his enormous talent on the air.  By the time he was 24 he was doing nights on KHJ, Los Angeles.  KHJ was the very top of the mountain in Top 40 radio — a legendary powerhouse of a station.  The only other stations in its league were WABC, New York and WLS, Chicago.  

Needless to say, he was the envy of all the rest of us radio nerds.  But he was a good guy and we were all very happy for his success.  And he was fun to listen to. 

At the time I had quit radio and moved back to Los Angeles to try to launch my writing career.  This was early 1975.  I was toiling at the KIIS Broadcasting Workshop during the day and writing spec scripts with David Isaacs at night and on the weekends.  Pearl was making great money.  I was pulling down $650 a month.  But I didn’t care.  I was actually enjoying this time in my life.  

One night I had arranged to get dinner with Billy after his show.  I met him at KHJ while he was still on the air.  Like I said, KHJ was Valhalla, and to see my good friend sitting behind that mic, that was really something.  Imagine going to a movie theater and there’s your former roommate as one of the stars of THE AVENGERS.   

After his shift we went across the street to Lucy’s Adobe Cafe for Mexican food and top flight margaritas.  And throughout the entire meal, all he did was bitch about how terrible KHJ was.  The audio quality on the cartridges was muddy, the promos were horribly worded, the music rotation was bad — practically everything about the programming pissed him off.   I listened and just nodded, but inwardly what I was thinking was: “Are you fucking kidding?!  You’re on KHJ!!! We would all KILL to be on KHJ!  So what if a stupid promo is worded poorly?”  

Apparently he made his displeasure known inside the building to the point where he was let go after maybe one year.  And think about it, for a station to fire one of their absolute best and most popular performers, he must’ve driven them scooters.  

Now flash-forward two years and David and I are on staff of MASH (which I guess you could say was the KHJ of sitcoms).  Not that there weren’t frustrations on that job, but there was not a day that I didn’t drive onto that lot and go “Wow, I’m on MASH.  How incredibly lucky am I!”  I’d think back to that dinner and appreciate even more my good fortune.  And I carried it over to all the stops in my career.

Sometimes you gotta look at the big picture.  We’re all going through hard times now.  It might be worth a moment to step back and appreciate those things in your life that give you pleasure, give you meaning — be they career situations or relationships or both.  Who knew great lessons could be learned at Lucy’s Adobe Cafe?  It’s still open, by the way, if you’re looking for your own epiphany.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Comments on your comments

A key feature of this blog is the comments section.  Ideally, it can create a whole little community — a real exchange of ideas.  And it’s fun for me to get your thoughts on my daily topics.  Often times I will even solicit your opinions.  

But I’ve noticed that things are starting to change.  Perhaps it’s a reflection of the dark times, but there is a meanness that has crept into the comments section.  And I’m not talking about trolls.  These are normal readers who lately have been attacking each other, often times over really stupid shit (like correct usage of punctuation).  They use the C word (I’m sorry I accidentally let that one slip through), they’re hostile, and they take every opportunity to correct me or each other over nonsense.  

Now that I’ve sold a cartoon to THE NEW YORKER I’ve had several of you ask me to share some of my cartoons on this blog.  No thank you.  Why?  I learned my lesson years ago when I wrote a spec DICK VAN DYKE SHOW episode for fun for this blog.  At the time I specifically said I don’t want any critiques.  Part of the exercise was to see what an actual DICK VAN DYKE SHOW writer would say and I promised to print his reaction verbatim — good or bad (happily it was very good).  But I wasn’t looking for audience feedback.  It wasn’t a script I was going to submit anywhere.  Nor was I going to rewrite.  

And yet, I got a flood of reader feedback.  They didn’t like this, they didn’t like that.  I should have done this instead.  I should have done that.  This joke didn’t work for some.  That bit wasn’t funny.  You get the idea.  

So I know that even if I post cartoons and say I want no feedback I’m going to get fifty readers saying they don’t like the shading or the perspective or the anatomy is wrong or the joke would be better if I did a caption they suggested.  I have cartoon mentors whose expert opinions I value highly and send everything.   But to put my toons on this blog in this current atmosphere — I would be walking into a propeller.  

The comment section is supposed to be fun.  And civil.  If I say I liked a movie and you didn’t, that’s fine.  You’re free to dislike anything I like (okay, except maybe Natalie Wood).  But to point out that you don’t like a movie because of how someone reacted to rape charges — you’re going to be deleted.  And frankly, I don’t like deleting you ever and yet I’m doing it more and more.  Even when I agree with your opinion (it’s just the tone).

So it’s time to reboot.  Time to start playing nice together.  Above all, this is a humor blog.  You all know where I stand politically, but I’d say 90% of the time I keep politics out of it.  And if you disagree with me politically you’re welcome to leave and find a blog that shares your views.  God knows, they’re out there.  My feelings won’t be hurt.  But if you’re sticking around, just know I welcome your comments as long as (a) you leave a name and (b) you show the same respect to others as you would want them to show you.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?  It's a new year, a new beginning.  Let's start 2022 off right.

Thanks in advance for your cooperation.


Monday, January 10, 2022

From Betty White to Bob Saget

What is happening with all these celebrities deaths?  It started with Betty White and it seems every day there’s one or two more beloved figures who are taken from us.  Peter Bogdanovich, John Madden, Sidney Poitier, Dwayne Hickman, and now Bob Saget.  

Saget’s was the biggest shock.  65 and seemingly fine the night before where he performed for two hours.  I met him once very briefly but didn’t know him at all.  However, going by my Facebook news feed, everybody who ever worked with him loved him and was devastated.  (I am also the only person on Facebook it seems who does not have a picture with him.)   

My newsfeed is a good indicator of how a celebrity was really received.  Most of my friends are industry professionals so these are people who know and worked with him.  And their accounts were all glowing.  

Trust me, when that’s not the case and the celebrity was a dick, the reactions are usually “Gee, that’s sad” or “Hunh.”  No testimonials, no photos — “I guess I’m obligated to acknowledge this so I am.”  

But people listed above were all admired, both for their graciousness as well as talent.  

The only one I knew personally was Dwayne Hickman.  For Boomers that must’ve been a gut punch because it’s yet another part of our childhood no longer with us.  Dwayne Hickman was Dobie Gillis.  

In the ’80s, Dwayne had left acting and was a current program executive at CBS.  He was our CBS rep on AfterMASH, and I know writers grouse about “suits,” but Dwayne was a pleasure to deal with.  You really got the feeling he was on your side.  And you could kid him about being Dobie Gillis.  Sometimes I’d call him Dobie, or if he gave a note I’d say, “I’m gonna kill that boy! (the dad’s catchphrase on DOBIE GILLIS).  

White and Poitier were in their 90’s.  Their deaths were sad, but they lived rich long lives.  Bob Saget however — 65 is way too young.  And as of this writing, the cause is still a mystery.

Like I said, what’s happening?  We haven't completed two weeks yet of this year.