Friday, October 19, 2018

Friday Questions

Who’s up for some Friday Questions?

Andrew Morton starts us off:

I've been re-watching a lot of CHEERS on Netflix, and noticed at a certain point that the character of Paul was featured almost as a regular. Was there a reason he was brought in so frequently? He's always fun, but for a show that had so many main characters to service, it had me wondering if there was a behind-the-scenes reason for his prominence.

Paul Willson is one of the funniest people on the planet. I was first introduced to him when he was part of the improv group, OFF THE WALL.

I don’t think there was any conscious effort to make Paul a regular but he always scored so we all just kept giving him more lines and even subplots.

I think part of it was to keep the show fresh. How many Cliff know-it-all and Norm beer-drinking jokes can you do? Paul gave us another option. And like I said, he always delivered.

David Isaacs and I even wrote an episode where a hot woman preferred Paul to Sam. It’s one of my favorite episodes.

From Donald:

Would you consider writing a spec "Bob Newhart Show" script as you did for "The Dick Van Dyke Show?"

No. THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was a one-time exercise. Part of the attraction was that I was too young to write a DICK VAN DYKE SHOW when it was originally broadcast. Not so with THE BOB NEWHART SHOW.

When David Isaacs and I were trying to break in we wrote specs for THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, RHODA, two pilots, and we were in the process of outlining a HAPPY DAYS script. After HAPPY DAYS our next spec would have been THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. So in a sense I'm thrilled I never did write a BOB NEWHART SHOW because it meant we had broken in and were working writers. 

But you get the idea we were sort of driven?

Janet Ybarra asks:

I would be very interested in your thoughts on why--given the poor performance of so many reboots--why producers and networks remain so fixated on them as a trend?

Well, let’s see if networks continue to have an appetite for them. They might not.

What reboots give the networks is familiarity. With all of the new shows being introduced on all the various platforms, at least people KNOW the reboots. And since a couple have been successful that’s enough for all networks to grasp at that brass ring.

But clearly they’re stunts and a short-fix. If a reboot opens well, even if it then starts to slide – the hosting network is happy. I don’t think they’re looking for a possible nine-year run. They want decent ratings for thirteen weeks and a built-in audience.

And finally, from B. Alton:

Was wondering if writers agonize over the funniest numbers (such as a reference to a certain year in a line of dialogue), that is, a number that sounds funnier than another. An example that comes to mind being in Bob Newhart’s old standup routine where the Codfish’s captain announces to his crew (via intercom) that their submarine holds the record for sunken Japanese tonnage, established in 1954. Would 1953 or 1956 have sounded less funny?

Life’s too fucking short. Yes, there are writers who might spend an hour deciding on a number, but I would submit they’re insecure comedy writers. If I’m depending on a laugh based on whether I choose 1954 or 1953 I’m not delivering the goods.

For me it has more to do with rhythm. If I have to make up a date I’ll generally use a low number because it’s quicker and easier to say. “He hasn’t gotten laid since June third” has a better flow than “He hasn’t gotten laid since June twenty-seventh.” But is 3 a funnier number than 27? That’s for scholars to decide.

What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Hollywood Way Back Machine stops in 1969

One of the cool (but annoying) things about living in LA is that they film movies here. Annoying in the sense that it can block traffic, take away parking spaces, and just generally be a nuisance. And if you’re inconvenienced so they can film GOTTI 2, fuck them.

But many times the shooting is fun. A few years ago I got to just hang with George Clooney as they were setting up a shot down the block. The GO DADDY girl was filming a few houses over one day. (She wouldn’t let me get near her.) I was in Westwood one night and Usher asked for a light.

What’s really fun is when locations are dressed to look like period pieces. And such is the case currently in Los Angeles as Quentin Tarantino is filming a movie set in 1969 Hollywood. For the past couple of months his crew has been going around to various spots recreating the LA I knew and loved from the late ‘60s. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to stepping into the Way Back Machine. Unless someone builds BOOMERLAND, an amusement park for hippies with attractions like SUNSET STRIP LAND and FREE CLINIC LAND, Quentin’s movie locations are the best I'll ever be able to do.

Earlier this week he filmed in the Westwood Village (near UCLA). This was particularly cool for me because I went to UCLA in 1969 and the village was my stomping ground. So talk about a blast from the past. A lot of the replica storefronts looked pretty close. At one point I said to myself, “Gee, Campbell’s Men’s Store” was not on this street” and then I thought, “Idiot! Who the fuck is going to know? Just be glad you’re seeing Campbell’s Men’s Store again.”

What struck me, walking around Sunday night when they were setting up, was the incredible attention to detail. There are actual promo photos from the Dean Martin movie that is supposedly playing at the Bruin Theatre. No one’s going to see them. In the theatre lobby there are concession prices. I’m sure someone looked them up for accuracy. If a viewer is squinting to see how much popcorn was back then he’s sure not interested in following the story. At the beauty salon there are photos of different hairstyles. I can’t imagine a world where you’ll be able to see and register that. But it’s there.

I’m sure Quentin Tarantino is not examining every single storefront and saying “The LA Free Press was to the left of the LA Herald-Examiner.” But someone did.

And it again brings home the fact that Hollywood is filled with superb craftsmen who take enormous pride in their work. Their attention to detail often goes unappreciated. Their names scroll down in the end credits as the audience is making its mass exodus. But they’re every bit as important in Hollywood as any other filmmaker.

So thanks to them and Quentin Tarantino for a lovely nostalgic trip back to my youth. I hope the movie is good.

Here are a few photos I took Sunday night and Monday.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

EP94: Becoming a Voice Over Artist w/guest Neil Ross

In part 2 of Ken’s chat with legendary Voice Over Artist and Voice Actor, Neil Ross he discusses how to break into the world of Voice Overs, what it takes to learn your craft, the odds of success, cartoon voices, and what it’s like to be the announcer for the Academy Awards. 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Bring back comedy

A few weeks ago when I launched I offered scripts of my plays for free on the first day. Since then I have received many nice compliments for which I am enormously grateful. All of my plays, full-length and ten-minute one acts are available to buy. But my main focus is trying to get theatres to perform them. You can license my plays for very reasonable rates.

I would hope I’m providing a service (or a couple of them).

Many theatres don’t want to do new full-length comedies. (Many theatres don’t want to do new plays period.) Comedies lack the prestige and importance that more serious fare offer. Which is fine except audiences like to laugh and be entertained. When theatres put together their subscription seasons they usually have one or two comedies but they’re often established hits by established playwrights like Neil Simon and Chris Durang. Nothing wrong with that – they’re two of my favorites and I would encourage anyone to go see their work if it’s in a theatre near you – but there should be room for new work that might resonate more with today’s theatregoer. BAREFOOT IN THE PARK is a masterpiece in my opinion, but it is a little dated. The first ten minutes is a guy installing a telephone.

Since playwrights don’t get a lot of encouragement to write comedies they either don’t or they head to Hollywood to write for TV or movies. You make a lot more money writing sitcoms than for regional theatre.

I, on the other hand, have enjoyed great success in television and now really enjoy the experience of seeing my work performed live. So I don’t care that there’s not a huge market for comedy or that plays that today pass for comedies are really dark. I write what I want and the satisfaction I get is hearing an audience laugh and have a great time. So hopefully some regional and community theatres will be willing to take a chance on one of my comedies. So far they’ve been extremely well received everywhere they’ve played. A lot of those theatres were so delighted they're doing more of my plays next year. 

And then there are the ten-minute plays. Quite a few theatres are doing ten-minute festivals. They’re less risky. If an audience member doesn’t like one play it’s over in ten minutes and they might like the next. I enter quite a few and am extremely lucky to get into some. Usually they receive around 400 submissions for six slots. So the odds of getting into even one are pretty slim. I’ve gotten into thirty this year. Although, truth be told, of the 400, probably 300 were terrible. And I understand why theatres put themselves through that because it’s a way to acquire material. But man, that has to be brutal slogging through all those awful clueless ten-minute plays.

My hope is through the website I can cut through some of that for theatres. If you’re looking for comedies, how many playwrights bring a background of FRASIER, CHEERS, and MASH to the party? You could present an evening, or even part of a program with quality comedies without having to read 400 scripts.

So those are my goals. Please stop by the site and look around. You can read samples of all my plays and licensing is easy. And if EVER there was a time when we needed comedy it is NOW.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Thanksgiving Day

You didn't know it but today is Thanksgiving... or at least for me.

It was on this date many years ago (before the internet even) that I entered the military.  I was in serious danger of getting drafted so I signed up to be in the Army Reserves, which is a six year commitment including six months of active duty. 

On October 16th I was ordered to report to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri to begin Basic Training.  For an uncoordinated geeky kid who didn't want to touch a rifle much less fire it and clean it and hated the cold, this was the ultimate nightmare.  I barely graduated Basic Training.  

And I made a vow at the time.  I said, "As the years go by and memories fade most people tend to forget the bad stuff and remember the good.  You look back and say, "Aw, it wasn't that bad." Well, no matter how much or little I retain, always remember this:  It WAS that bad." 

So on October 16th, every year I stop and give thanks that wherever I am and whatever I'm doing, whether I'm stuck in traffic or wrestling with a tough script, or in a dentist's chair -- it's still way better than what I was doing in 1970. 

And here's the other thing:  The reason I was in such danger of being drafted (and thus sent to Vietnam) was because in the Draft Lottery my number was 4 (out of 366).  At the time I thought I was the unluckiest son of a bitch on the planet.  But you know what?  It was a BLESSING.


If I hadn't been in the army I never would have met my writing partner, David Isaacs.  He was ultimately assigned to my reserve unit and we met in Army summer camp.  I never could have written MASH if I hadn't had a military background and really understood the culture and its thinking.  And MASH was our big turning point.  I probably would have had a much less successful career without MASH (or more likely -- no career at all). 

So today is Thanksgiving Day.  Thanks that I was in the Army.  And thanks that I'm not in the Army.

I imagine we all have our own individual Thanksgiving Days.  I'm still trying to organize a parade for mine.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Going to the theatre with Jackie O.

Since a number of people who read my post yesterday asked about my brush with Jacqueline Onassis, I thought I would reprise a post I wrote on this a few years ago.

Yes, I went to the theatre with Jackie O.

Okay, pick yourself off the floor.

We didn’t go together in the sense of “arrive” together, but we did sit together.

You’re still not buying it, but it’s true.

Backstory: Larry Gelbart had a play on Broadway called SLY FOX. (Needless to say it was hilarious.) My wife and I were in New York and Larry arranged for us to have his house seats.

We sit down, third row center, settle in and I glance to my left. Holy shit! It’s Jackie.  In the seat right next to me. 

During intermission I decide to get up and go to the lobby. As I pass by her I rub up against her knees (which were bony by the way).  Okay, that was a dorky thing to do, but that was my brush with greatness.

The next day I called Larry and thanked him for the tickets. I mentioned that Jackie O. sat right next to me. He got very excited. “Did she laugh? What did she laugh at?” I said, “Yes, and hey, you never asked whether my wife and I liked the show.” He apologized, asked us, then wondered if I could remember any specific lines Jackie laughed at.

I’d like to say that’s my favorite Jackie/theater story, but it’s not. Supposedly she was at a theater and bumped into Stephen Sondheim. She asked what he was working on. He had to really hedge. How do you tell Jackie Kennedy you’re working on a musical called ASSASSINS?

Sunday, October 14, 2018

My life from A to Z

One of those dumb personal quizzes circulating the net. I'm admitting things here even my shrink doesn't know. Of course, he doesn't care.

• A-Available/Single? Not according to my wife
• B-Best Friend? My partner. I'd be a lot poorer emotionally and financially without him.
• C-Cake or Pie? I'll have to go with Elvis and say cake.
• D-Drink Of Choice? Makers & ginger ale but only after 7 a.m.
• E-Essential Item You Use Everyday? My Pocket Fisherman.
• F-Favorite Color? Green. They asked me this for the Dewar's ad, too.
• G-Gummy Bears Or Worms? Whichever one is not banned from commercial flights.
• H-Hometown? Los Angeles
• I-Indulgence? Irene Jacob movies even though I can't understand them.• J-January Or February? February. Pitchers and catchers report.
• K-Kids & Their Names? Matt, Annie, and maybe some in Bakersfield.
• L-Life Is Incomplete Without? Laughter.
• M-Marriage Date? July 8. Same date that crime boss Soapy Smith was shot to death in 1898.
• N-Number Of Siblings? 1
• O-Oranges Or Apples? Apple, if we're talking pies or computers. Orange if we're talking women's prisons.
• P-Phobias/Fears? Mimes.
• Q-Favorite Quote? Enough is as good as a feast to an idiot.
• R-Reason to Smile? Linda Eder singing
• S-Season? Bob Gaudio
• T-Tag Three or Four People? I don't know four people.
• U-Unknown Fact About Me? I touched Jackie Kennedy's knee.
• V-Vegetable you don't like? Fucking Republicans
• W-Worst Habit? Sweating the small stuff
• X-X-rays You've Had? Teeth, chest, and what kind of stupid question is that?
• Y-Your Favorite Food? Lobster...but must not still be alive.
• Z-Zodiac Sign? Aquarius man.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A Scary Time for Boys

Discovered this video by Lynzy Lab. She took the (many) words right out of my mouth. Great video worth seeing.  It's a song called A SCARY TIME FOR BOYS