Friday, July 20, 2018

Friday Questions

It’s Friday Question Day. And Natalie Wood's birthday.  She would have been 80.  Happy Birthday, Natalie!

DARON72 is up first.

You wrote a few episodes of "Open All Night" which was based on the British series "Open All Hours." Have you seen the 2016 sequel series "Still Open All Hours" and do you think a show with a format like that would work today?

I’ve never even seen the original British series. I didn’t know there was a British series. So… no.

Sure the show could work today. It’s a fun workplace setting that you could populate with colorful characters.

Although, the best comedy about a convenience store for my money is Kevin Smith’s movie, CLERKS.

From Carson:

I notice that HULU now has all 11 seasons of M*A*S*H. By the way, it's in 16x9 HD and it looks great. I was wondering, do you get residuals off of this? I don't care to know how much, I'm just curious if you still get some type of compensation or if things in the 70s were just structured much differently.

I am supposed to get something but I don’t know the formula and so far I haven’t received much if anything from streaming platforms.

I still do receive residuals from syndication and cable, and since MASH is now on three or four cable channels and numerous broadcast channels I continue to see some compensation. Not a lot, but hey, it’s something.

I’m also thrilled that episodes I wrote decades ago are still being seen and enjoyed.

Dhruv has a question after reading my post on Pepe Le Pew.

Since today's blog is about cartoons, thought I would ask the question I wanted to ask for a long time.

Why do many people in Hollywood hate Disney?

Family guy makes a whole lot of parody about them and none of them paints them good.

Oscar hosts like Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg too made fun of them in their monologues. Billy about Walt and Whoopi about Euro Disney.

This is just a guess on my part. But it’s because Disney is the establishment. And wildly successful.

The criticism is like people throwing rocks at the palace wall.

Also, Disney has a very clear image. And it’s easy to make fun of that image.

But Disney is still the gold standard when it comes to animation (especially with Pixar now in the fold).

I think the palace walls will stand.

And finally, Nancy wonders:

I am binge watching "Entourage". Is this anywhere near the real Hollywood? The abusive agent, over the top lifestyle, the girls throwing themselves at the stars and other excesses showcased in the series.

The abusive agent is real for sure. He was my agent for eleven minutes.  I believe the series was loosely modeled on Mark Wahlberg’s rise to fame. Mark was also one of the show’s executive producers.

I would hope the lifestyle excess is an exaggeration (although it probably isn’t). Surrounding yourself with toadies is certainly real.

The women throwing themselves at these people, that unfortunately I would have no way of knowing. All I can say is it has not happened to me. And I keep waiting.

And waiting.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

An Emmy for Megan?

The most interesting Emmy question for me is whether Megan Amram wins.


Megan Amram is a TV writer with impressive credits (THE GOOD PLACE, SILICON VALLEY, THE SIMPSONS, PARKS & REC). She may have figured a way to practically steal an Emmy. There is a category called “Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series” and one for “Outstanding Series.” Essentially a six-episode web series. Anyone can mount one of those.

Megan figured that if she did a web series that qualified she could win an Emmy. The title of her series clearly tells you her intent. AN EMMY FOR MEGAN. The whole point of this exercise is to win an Emmy.  Credit her for an ingenious idea. 

And because Megan is in the business she was able to get cameo appearances from such Hollywood luminaries as Ted Danson, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Rogen, Rian Johson, and even J.J. Abrams. Plus, she’s well enough connected in the community that I’m sure she has plenty of Academy member friends who voted her in.  These same friends will doubtless vote for her to win.   So she probably will.  

All of this is fun. And her website is amusing. But if she wins, I think it makes the Television Academy look like idiots. If someone can beat the system as a goof that easily and actually walk away with an Emmy then the award itself is cheapened and the credibility of the Academy comes seriously into question.

Once the TV Academy starts letting web series with minimal requirements eligible for Emmys then the whole award means nothing. It is supposed to represent excellence in television. If GAME OF THRONES receives the same award as some amateur prankster making a homemade video how prestigious is the award? Jesus. Even the Golden Globes don’t give out statues for home movies.

The television landscape is changing, that’s for sure. More platforms, more ways to watch. It's clearly a dilemma for the Academy.   My heart goes out to them.   But they better find a way to preserve the honor and dignity of Emmys or they’ll just become trinkets you can buy for the price of six five-minute episodes.  Actually, they don't even have to be that long.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

EP81: Casting Director Sheila Guthrie: Part One

Casting Director Sheila Guthrie talks to Ken about what it takes to get hired on a TV show. The do’s and don’ts. Every actor and waiter needs to hear this episode and take notes.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Political plays

Scene from my political play -- with Hudson Long & Cloe Kromwell
I want to see a political play last Saturday night. It was a period piece so the issues were more historical. And although I enjoyed the play very much, I have to say that when the characters were debating politics I glassed over. My interest returned when there were emotional problems.

But I guess politics were rattling around in my brain the next day when I participated in the Ruskin Theatre one day-play festival. The idea I came up lent itself to politics, and I figured, as an experiment, I would write a political-themed play.

The writing of it was not that difficult. The current administration is a rather easy target for comedy. I was happy with the finished product although I felt a little distanced from it. Like I said, it’s not the kind of subject matter that really excites me. I was also aware that the shelf-life of topical plays is like eleven minutes. Especially today when every time you turn around Putin’s Puppet is doing something else despicable that you never thought you’d see in your lifetime.

The one thing I didn’t worry about is whether I’d offend anybody. I didn’t care. If you’re going to write a political satire you have to take a stand. And with political plays it seems more important to get your message across than to get laughs. Laughs are a bonus.

The audience response was okay. They laughed where they should have. I suspect I was preaching to the choir. And the cast and direction was excellent so anything that fell flat was on me.  But I just didn’t get any real joy out of the experience. I think there is such a dark cloud hanging over the world right now that theatregoers prefer not to be reminded of it. It’s more than available on TV, radio, and the internet – any form you want – satire, anger, false reporting, analysis, whatever.

In a sense I felt a little like I had cheated the audience. There was nothing NEW I was going to present, no issue they weren’t already familiar with, no fresh perspective. It was a comedy with laughs but it wasn’t fun, if that makes any sense.

I’m glad I did it. I’m always looking to try new things. And there are political play festivals so who knows? There may be more productions. That would be great. In the meantime I think I’ll go back to writing about human foibles.  I'm way more comfortable celebrating humanity, or what's left of it. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Now batting: Babe Ruth

With today being the All-Star Game, I thought I'd share with you a remarkable video.  Early Movietone News footage.  These were actual sights and sounds from a Yankees-Red Sox game in April of 1931.  Step into the Wayback Machine to a time where there was no walk-up music, all the men wore hats, and Ruth & Gehrig were in their prime.

UPDATE: From my friend David Halberstam. The 1968 All Star Game - 50 years ago played in primetime did a 25.8 vs. last year's 2017- did a 5.5 -

That's a 79% drop in the Mid-Summer Classic ratings in 50 Years

Monday, July 16, 2018

Okay, that explains it

One day last week I noticed that within five minutes I had lost 2,000 followers on Twitter. Wow. What did I do? I hadn’t even tweeted. Did 2,000 people suddenly hate me because of the tie I wore on CNN? My blog post that day was something really controversial – how I mixed the sound for opening title sequences.

I never know how these statistics are compiled. Or how accurate they are. I get a notification that ten new people are following and my total goes down by three.

I’ve tried live tweeting as an experiment, like during the Super Bowl and I got thousands of retweets and twenty new followers. I’m beginning to feel I’m at a distinct disadvantage because I’m not one of the lady wrestlers on GLOW.

But getting back to the mystery of the mass exodus it seems that Twitter recently purged millions of accounts belonging to Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks, all implicated in the Russian tampering of our election (which by the way, is NOT a witch hunt). And when you see how many accounts were purged you start to get some idea of just how insidious and pervasive the Russian interference was (except for the cretins who still believe it’s a witch hunt). I imagine there are people in the Red States who lost all their followers as a result of this purge.

I hope the purge continues and more Russian meddlers are weeded out. None of them were going to submit Friday Questions or go to my play readings anyway.   So screw 'em! 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Come tonight to see the play I haven't written yet

Today I am participating in another one-day Cafe Play festival at the Ruskin Theatre in Santa Monica.  At 9:00 five half-asleep playwrights will be given a topic and assigned two actors and will have 3 1/2 hours to write a ten minute play on that topic all set in a cafe.  Actors and directors (hopefully more awake) then spend the afternoon blocking, rehearsing, and memorizing and at 7:30 and 9:00 PM they perform the show.  This will be my seventh time.  One of the other playwrights, Keith Sumrall, is writing his 49th. 

This has been a great exercise for me for several reasons.  I get to skip my gym appointment for one.  But I'm the kind of writer who really likes to plan everything out first.  And you can't in this instance.  I have to come up with an idea and just go.  And what often happens is that I veer off into interesting directions I would not have gone in normally.   It's scary yes, but also kind of exciting.   Writing out of your comfort zone always is a good thing. 

So come tonight and see how we all do.  There's always a certain charge of electricity because no one really knows what's going to happen.  But that's the fun part. 

Also, I'm continually amazed at how good the plays tend to be and how terrific the acting is -- all without the luxury of weeks of rehearsal and rewrites.  You're watching talent, instinct, and pure adrenaline.  If you're interested in joining us, here's where you go.  Warning: the 7:30 show sells out quickly. 

Wish me luck. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Disney imagines the Jetsons

This is from a 1958 Disney show predicting what transportation would be like today. They got the GPS system and rearview TV cameras right. The air conditioned tubes through Death Valley, and driving under the ocean -- maybe next year. Their most extraordinary prediction is that at any one time there would only be four cars on the road. Anyway, it's great fun to watch.