Wednesday, July 17, 2019

EP132: Legendary Director Jim Burrows, Part 2


This week in part two of the interview, Ken and Jim Burrows discuss the technical aspects of directing, the challenges of filming a live show, and the unique requirements of sitcom pilots. They also discuss some very interesting stories about the huge hit sitcom Friends. Some of Jim's credits include; Cheers, Friends, Wings, Will & Grace and many more.  


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I will not be reviewing the Emmys this year

I’m sorry. They’re just too absurd. Nominations came out yesterday and I throw my hands up at the whole affair.

RUSSIAN DOLL nominated as Best Comedy? I liked RUSSIAN DOLL, but shouldn’t a comedy be funny… for at least one second?

Christina Applegate as Lead Actress in a Comedy Series? Again, funny for one fucking second? Just one? How is Christina Applegate, who played this sour one-note widow on DEAD TO ME in the same category as Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Catherine O’Hara?

BETTER CALL SAUL, which does have very funny moments in it, is nominated for Best Drama Series while RUSSIAN DOLL is nominated for Best Comedy.

And of course THE BIG BANG THEORY and MOM and MODERN FAMILY and SUPER STORE and YOUNG SHELDON and KIMMY SCHMIDT and BROOKLYN 99 and half a dozen other series that ARE comedies and do try to make people laugh are shut out. But shows like RUSSIAN DOLL and DEAD TO ME are getting Emmy love.

Meanwhile, there were more laugh-out-loud moments on THE GOOD FIGHT than any drama or comedy this season. They got zilch. 

Look, there are now so many shows on so many platforms and so much overlap in style that the Emmys in its current form is a joke. Practically every category is now comparing apples to oranges.

And TV ratings will continue to plummet because most people will not have watched these show, or even know what they’re about or how to find them. Not to mention the shows behind pay walls that they can’t watch.

The Academy still doesn’t know if it’s going to hire a host. Like that will make the difference.

Well, I’m done.

And I’m guessing America is too so why review something no one has seen? What ballgame is on that night?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Has it really been ten years?

I've been answering Friday Questions for over twelve years.  That's probably close to 3,000 questions.   And since very few people actually go back and read the archives I occasionally will repost a Friday Questions segment.  I bet it's new to you.  This is from February 26, 2009.

Randall has some questions about end credits:

1. In recent years a lot of television stations have shrunk the end credits in order to show promos for their upcoming shows. Did the stations have to be union approval for this?

2. Some credits go by so fast I don't know how anybody can read them. Conversely, sometimes on talk shows the end credits will stop for a few seconds, apparently to highlight the name of a staff member or company that has provided a product. Are there any rules / restrictions that regulate how fast or slow credits can crawl?

3. Are stations that show movies or stripped television shows required by contract to show the credits in their entirety?

No, there are no restrictions, which is why networks and stations get away with it. Trust me, if there were union rules this deplorable practice would cease immediately. The trouble is, with there being so many more pressing issues for unions to deal with during contract negotiations this indignity gets lost in the shuffle. Not too many members are going to strike over this.

But it is a huge insult to the thousands of people who work tirelessly to make television shows as good as they are. And it’s bad enough these people have to share a card with thirty others and are up there for maybe a fraction of a second, but they’re expected to go that extra mile and really take pride in what they do while the networks can’t give them so much as a full screen. I say a network executive's name on his parking space should be as large as the smallest credit on his network. That would change things instantly.

From Zach Haldeman:

What is the typical relationship between writers and actors? Naturally the show runner gets to know the actors, but is Star #2 gonna be friends with Staff Writer #5, or even know Staff Writer #5?

Depends on the cast, depends on the staff. But usually the staff writers and the supporting cast tend to gravitate towards each other. Sometimes the cast members are a little intimidated by the show runner or the star of the show is a huge time and energy suck so these supporting players will cozy up to the lower tier writers to get their suggestions and concerns heard.

The ideal situation is when everyone in the cast and on the writing staff feel comfortable talking with each other. And that usually stems from show runners who are receptive to actors’ input and actors who view writers as colleagues not waiters.

And finally: D. McEwan has a M*A*S*H question.

In the movie, The Swamp had 4 residents, who were the primary characters: Hawkeye, Trapper, Frank Burns, and Duke Forrest, played by Tom Skerritt. Duke was as important a character as Hawkeye & Trapper John.

So why was Duke conspicuous by his utter absence from the TV series? I've been curious about this for over 30 years.

Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds felt the need to pare down the number of characters since they only had a half hour to work with. Duke was odd man out. In the original TV pilot there was also a Spearchucker but he too faded into the mist.

Another casualty of war was the lovely Marcia Strassman. She was a regular the first season as Nurse Cutler. She of course went on to play Kotter’s wife, Julie and had to look amused anytime Gabe Kaplan spoke.

Strassman is best known however for her hit record, “the Flower Children” in the late 60s.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Interesting Facts (if they're true)

Since nobody actually fact-checks anymore or when they do people ignore the facts, I thought I would post this.

There’s a diner in West LA called “CafĂ© 50’s.” It’s a very cool retro eatery plastered with posters and memorabilia from the last time we hated Russia. They also hand out a monthly newsletter that has fun trivia and reprints old ads from the era. (Buy a GIANT TALKING CLOWN for only $1 that’s a whopping 42” tall!)

One feature they have is “Interesting & Useless Facts!”

And they are, except who knows if they’re accurate? But, for fun purposes, I thought I’d share some of them with you. You are welcome to take them at face value or do the fact-checking yourself. The parentheticals are me.

Men get hiccups more often than women. (does this have anything to do with drinking?)

Men can read smaller print than women; women can hear better.

Chances that an American lives within 50 miles where he/she grew up: 1 in 2. (numbers probably vary in Hawaii)

State with the highest percentage of people who walk to work: Alaska. (Makes sense, the weather is always great.)

Percentage of American men who say they would marry the same woman if they had to do it all over again: 80. (My wife guessed 30.)

Chances that a burglary in the US will be solved: 1 in 7.(And it's probably the same idiot multiple times.) 

Only first lady to carry a loaded revolver: Eleanor Roosevelt. (Melania is not allowed because she’s on suicide watch.)

They have square watermelons in Japan. They stack better. (Okay, this one is true, so maybe the others are as well – I wonder if Eleanor was a good shot.)

Iceland consumes more Coca-Cola per capita than any other nation. (There are rednecks in Iceland?)

The phone book in Iceland is alphabetic… by first name.

In the Caribbean there are oysters that can climb trees. (usually right before Happy Hour)

And there you have ‘em. Feel free to impress your friends at parties, unless these nuggets are all bullshit, in which case – what are you quoting a stupid blog for in the first place?

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Weekend Post

Is there a more interesting or weird actor than Christopher Walken? He's also an amazing dancer. Someone from the Huffington Post put this together. It's a phenomenal music video of Walken dancing. Great editing by whoever did this.  More cowbells not needed.  Enjoy. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Friday Questions

Who’s up for some Friday Questions?

Frank Beans is.

When does a spinoff cease to be a spinoff? That is, when and how do networks, producers, audiences see the series as an original show in itself?

Classic examples like LAVERNE & SHIRLEY and FRASIER come to mind, just to name some of the most popular ones. How do they establish an identity outside of the show where their characters were created?

You establish your identity by not relying on guest star appearances from the original series. You create new interesting characters and a venue that can stand on its own. You also spin-off a character (or characters) that can carry a series. Lots of supporting characters can’t make that jump.

Oh, and you hire really good writers.

Bryan Thomas asks:

How do you keep coming up with fresh ideas for your blog? I tried twice a week and burned out but here you are 13 years, 5600 posts. Curious how far ahead you plan posts, if you do, and how you generate ideas.

I’ll be very honest. It’s hard and getting harder. I’ve cut back from seven new posts a week to five, and that has helped. Also having features like Friday Questions has been a big plus. But there are days when I wonder what the hell I can write about?

I do try to stay somewhat ahead with posts that aren’t time sensitive, but it depends. Usually, a flurry of ideas will come so I try to write a few posts at one time and bank them. Other times I’ll react to something current, write it, and post it the next day. But like I said, it’s getting more difficult.

I’m also devoting more time to my podcast.

Mike Bloodworth asks:

Have you ever considered turning one of your existing plays into a musical? Have you ever considered writing a musical in general?

I co-wrote a musical in 2006 that got produced at the Goodspeed Theatre in Connecticut. It was a very different experience. Honestly, I didn’t love it.

It is so hard to make any little change without effecting the choreography, score, lighting, etc. There's a domino effect that is maddening. 

There are also Equity rules that at times handcuff the process. You can’t really get in there and make the kind of necessary changes you would like to make.

Musicals also take YEARS to get on the stage. I truly love musicals and the good ones are thrilling, and if the right composer came to me with the right idea I might consider collaborating on another one, but for now, I’ll leave it to the Broadway pros.

And finally, from slgc:

When you were making Volunteers, did you have any idea of what kind of star potential Tom Hanks had? Was there anything during his time on set that gave you an inkling that he was a truly talented actor?

We wanted Tom Hanks when we first wrote it in 1980 and he was on BOSOM BUDDIES.  At the time, no one would greenlight a movie starring Tom Hanks.

But flash forward to 1984:  VOLUNTEERS might not have been made at all if Tom Hanks didn’t agree to do it. Remember, by then he had his breakthrough movie with SPLASH. So he was already the flavor-of-the-month. But what we didn’t know at the time was just how exceptionally good he was.

We and world would soon learn.

What's your Friday Question?  Leave it in the comments section.  Thanks and have a great summer weekend.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Bonus Post

I wanted to tie up some loose ends.

But first, do check out my new podcast episode featuring director and (dare I say?) legend, Jim Burrows. He's directed over 1000 episodes, co-created CHEERS, and did the pilots for such shows as CHEERS, FRASIER, FRIENDS, WINGS, WILL & GRACE, DHARMA & GREG, THE BIG BANG THEORY, and over 40 more.  He's won 10 Emmys.  He IS a legend.   Knowing Jimmy for more years than either one of us wants to admit, I ask questions he’s not usually asked. We really get into the process of directing, his style and approach, dealing with Shelley Long on CHEERS, and other revealing topics. Just click on the big gold arrow above.

A number of you have pointed out that from Yesterday’s post (or yesterday’s post), high school and college kids are not in point of fact Millennials. They are Generation Z or Generation ZA or Generation Aught, or whatever. And Millennials have a wide breadth of knowledge and would know who the Beatles were. Maybe. I hope so. But my point was that it’s understandable if they don’t.

More surprising was the recent Teen Tournament on JEOPARDY where three extremely bright teenagers didn’t know that Tom Holland was the current Spider Man. (And for my money, he’s the BEST.)

The All-Star Game ratings were the lowest ever. And it was a good close game. Part of the problem I realized was that after the first four innings when the marquee players come out, the game is ultimately decided by All-Stars most people have never heard of. Not saying that those players don’t deserve to be there, they do, but many play for teams that get little national exposure so they shine in obscurity. And for the casual fan it means watching a meaningless game played by anonymous players.

Yesterday was the worst day of the year for sports fans. There was NOTHING. No baseball, none of the other major sports (pro and college) are in season. I wound up watching a replay of an old Dodger game from 1988. God, I miss Vin Scully. He made a 30 year old game way more interesting than Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

And finally, I have two short plays in the Brisk One Act Festival in Hollywood. I’m very proud of both. The first opens tonight and runs for four days. The second one is next week. I'll be pimping that one later.   If you’re in LA, swing by. I’ll be there every night so please say hi. Here’s where you go for info and tickets. Thanks.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

EP131: Meet Director Jim Burrows Part 1


On this week's Hollywood & Levine, Ken interviews 10-time Emmy winner, Jim Burrows, who has directed over 1000 episodes of sitcoms including the pilots of CHEERS, FRIENDS, FRASIER, and WILL & GRACE. They discuss his career, and focus primarily on his process.  It’s a master class on TV directing. 


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YESTERDAY -- my review

YESTERDAY imagines a world where only one person knew of the existence of the Beatles and took ownership of their songs as if he had written them. I wonder how many Millennials watching this movie DON’T know the existence of the Beatles.

These are all new songs to them. In the movie, Himesh Patel as failed street musician Jack Malik, becomes a megastar and the Lennon-McCartney songbook is universally recognized by the new audience as genius. They are, of course, but what about to virgin ears? Would kids today be blown away hearing “Yesterday” or “In My Life” or “The Long and Winding Road” for the first time? I’d say there’s a good chance. But what about “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “I Saw Her Standing There?” Did these early Beatles songs strike a chord because they were part of the Beatlemania phenomenon? Their later, more mature work stands a better chance.

And it’s not a hypothetical question per se because I’m sure millions of young adults and teenagers have never heard these songs. So compared to songwriters of their age, speaking directly to them, I wonder whether Beatles songs – even the greatest ones – would be so well received.

Then my follow-up question: Is this subject matter Millennials even WANT to see? Not that the movie can’t be a success regardless. There are enough older adults who do know and revere the Beatles and are just thrilled no one is in a cape to produce robust boxoffice receipts. But I’m curious.

For those, like me, who wanted to see it, it was a fun ride. The music alone is enough to carry you through. And the all-star combination of director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis assures that you’re in very good hands. Besides the tunes, there are some hearty laughs, they do have fun with the crazy premise, and the cast is very winning. Patel is great, love-interest Lily James is suitably adorable, and Ed Sheeran is very believable playing himself. Kate McKinnon also steals some scenes as his new bloodless manager. But I have one concern about Kate McKinnon. I LOVE her on SNL, think she’s a brilliant comedienne, one of the top ten all-time performers on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, but I’ve never seen her play “real.” She’s always playing a sketch character – masterfully, but a sketch nonetheless. Such is the case here. She’s funny, but she’s a cartoon. I would love to see her drop all voices and exaggerations and just play a genuine person. I believe she can do it; I just haven’t seen it yet.

High concept romcoms like this used to be a summer staple. Now they’re few and far between. I think I’m just as nostalgic for that as the Beatles music. But I found YESTERDAY immensely enjoyable, charming, funny, and even touching in places. What’s it like to live in a world without the Beatles. Either go see this movie or ask any 8th grader.