Wednesday, January 16, 2019

EP106: Ken’s writing partner, David Isaacs defends himself


Ken welcomes his long-time writing partner, David Isaacs to the podcast. We discuss how we broke in, how we work, writing together vs. separately, script problem solving, and David tells his side of the prank I pulled on him.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Guest blogger: Abraham Lincoln

Hello, this is Abraham Lincoln. Ken is letting me guest blog today. I asked if I could just lob in some random thoughts and he said sure.

The difference between my White House and the current one is that the crazy spouse wasn’t the one who was president.

I don’t believe in labels. For instance – I’m way more than just a “vampire hunter.”

Note to current Commander-in-Chief: Stay out of my bedroom.

Why is it always the South?

Of all the actors who portrayed me in movies, my favorite was Gilbert Gottfried in A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST.

How many of you knew that Hannibal Hamlin was my Veep?

People remember speeches, not tweets.

Come to my monument. Bring the kiddies.

They used to call me Honest Abe. That’s one nickname they’ll never give the current guy.

I want to be remembered for two things: Being the greatest president in U.S. history, and Lincoln Logs. Those things are really fun!

If I had it to do all over, I’d lose the beard.

Boy was I right when I said “you can fool some of the people some of the time.”  Jesus! Do you people have eyes?

Everyone asks what I thought of Steven Spielberg’s LINCOLN. Meh. I only saw the screener. I suppose it’s better on the big screen but you know me and theaters.

I also said, “Those who look for the bad in people will surely find it.” That’s right, Robert Mueller, I’m talking to you.

Lincoln Town Cars have more room. I’m just sayin’. 

And finally, subscribe to Ken’s podcast.

Sincerely,

Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

I Love Eve

Someone asked who my favorite TV comedienne was, fully expecting me to say Lucy. He was shocked when I told him Lucy was number three. Number two is Audrey Meadows who played Alice on THE HONEYMOONERS, and number one is someone you might never have heard of.

Eve Arden.

Who?

Eve Arden. 

Yes, you have to be a certain age to remember Eve Arden, but mid-century she was a comic star of stage, screen (big and little), and radio.   No one could deliver a line with better deadpan delivery than Eve Arden. Her voice, her attitude, her timing – she was impeccable. Bea Arthur and Betty White are close, and Carol Burnett is hysterical but in a different broader way – yet for sheer delivery of a pithy line, no one could touch Eve Arden.

She’s been on my mind lately because there’s a character in my new play that I thought, “Ohmygod, Eve Arden would have KILLED in this part.”

In movies she often played the droll wise-cracking best friend, but she was probably most famous for starring in a radio show and then TV series called OUR MISS BROOKS. It was produced by Desilu which also produced I LOVE LUCY. Like I LOVE LUCY, it was done in the multi-camera format in front of a live studio audience that Desi Arnaz originated. In fact, both shows shared the same crew. As a result, OUR MISS BROOKS was recorded on film and copies of all the episodes still exist (as opposed to all the shows done on Kinescope that are either gone or not of broadcast quality).

I remember liking OUR MISS BROOKS when I was a kid and saw the show in syndication. But it was more of a distant memory.  She played a High School teacher in a small midwestern town. 

Now, with Eve Arden in my head I looked on YouTube and sure enough, there were some episodes available. They were from 1953. That’s even before my time in front of the tube. I figured the show would be really musty, but there might be some nostalgia value to it so I clicked on one at random.

I was stunned at how good it was. I even laughed out loud a few times. I haven’t laughed out loud at a current network sitcom in years. And this was an episode produced over 60 years ago.  The story was clever, the character actors were all pitch perfect, and there was a plethora of sharp funny lines. Oh, and Eve Arden was awesome.

Some amazing things about how good that show was: They made 39 episodes a year. And the same man co-wrote and directed them – Al Lewis (not the actor Al Lewis who played Grandpa Munster). Where did he find the time? I then watched a couple more and those stories were all clever and well-constructed – way better storytelling than any episode of THE BIG BANG THEORY ever. Lewis wrote the episodes with Joe Quillian, and a lot of what they did still holds up.

And then I thought to myself, this must be what it’s like when a Millennial discovers CHEERS for the first time. He or she is probably amazed that an ancient show written by old guys could actually still be funny.  Who knew?  /And guess what -- there are lots of gems out there that are still great and just waiting to be discovered (or rediscovered). What an enormous treat is in store for anyone willing to seek them out.

If you’re 20 I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t respond to OUR MISS BROOKS. It’s just too far back and is in black-and-white. You may or may not appreciate Eve Arden’s brilliance. But classic sitcoms from the 70s and 80’s (some of which I never wrote for) are out there and available. Believe me, it’s a gift. Take advantage. Your own Eve Arden may be out there waiting.

Monday, January 14, 2019

TOO FUNNY TO FAIL

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I always have my finger on the pulse of popular culture. Something comes out – you can bet I’m on it instantly. And so this weekend I focus on the Hulu documentary, TOO FUNNY TO FAIL. What? It premiered October 21, 2017? Yes, but it never caught the zeitgeist until yesterday.

In any event, it’s terrific! Check it out.

In 1996 Dana Carvey, who was white hot coming off of SNL made a deal with ABC for a primetime variety show (after a bidding war). He enlisted the help of brilliant writer, Robert Smigel (Triumph the insult comic dog) and assembled a cast of players that included then-unknown Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. For good measure throw in then-hireable Louis C.K. Writers included Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman, Robert Carlock who went on to guide 30 ROCK and KIMMY SCHMIDT, Bob Odenkirk (“Saul Goodman”), Spike Feresten (coming off of SEINFELD), and Greg Daniels (creator of the US version of THE OFFICE).

You would think that with that line-up of All-Star talent the show would be a huge hit.

It bombed. Horribly. Disastrously.

Placed in ABC’s best time slot at the time (following HOME IMPROVEMENT) the minute-by-minute ratings showed that within the first five minutes 6,000,000 people tuned out. The opening sketch was Bill Clinton breast-feeding and managed to completely alienate an entire nation.

The ratings were a disaster. The reviews were brutal.

And from there it was like a battleship trying to make a U-Turn in a river. They made eight episodes. Only seven aired.

But I have to say, based on the segments and sketches they showed, the show was really funny. Clearly it was in the wrong time slot on the wrong network. And yes, that first sketch was a bad miscalculation, but the show deserved a better fate.

At first when I started watching this documentary I was intrigued at how so many extraordinary talented people could turn out such a trainwreck. But like I said, they did not turn out a bad product. If SEINFELD had premiered on the Trinity Broadcasting Network I don’t think it would have been a hit either.

But the interviews are all great and very candid. Everyone admits to mistakes and yet has a tremendous fondness and pride for the show. Interestingly, a few of the sketches were later aired on SNL and KILLED. Dana Carvey as Tom Brokaw pre-recording obits for Gerald Ford doing many alternate insane causes of death was hysterical.

For a TV show to become a big hit all the planets have to line up. But to me the takeaway of THE DANA CARVEY SHOW is that cream rises to the top, and real talent will somehow emerge and blossom. Ask Michael Keaton, Swoosie Kurtz, Merrill Markoe, and David Letterman – cast members of the MARY TYLER MOORE VARIETY SHOW (cancelled after three episodes).

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Weekend Post

Oh no!  The nudist restaurant in Paris is closing!   Say it ain't so!

It lasted a year.  Customers would have to take off all their clothes before entering the dining room.  If you wanted to steal the silverware you had to be really creative.  A fig leaf was considered overdressed.  The good news is you never got any stains on your clothes.  Spill all the wine you want.  Nothing had to go to the cleaners.

I assume the air conditioning was not on too high.  You do not want shrinkage in a public setting.  

The cuisine was high end -- lobster, etc.   You would think if you had to be naked in public you'd be less likely to eat dishes that put on an extra pound or five.

Anyway, the joint closed because of lack of customers.

How many nudist foodies are there?

And I'm guessing it was not a big first date destination.

One promotion that many restaurants use is "early bird specials" for senior citizens.  But boy, do you really want to see that?  On the other hand, customers can't stick rolls into their purse.

Who in their right mind thought it would be a good idea to invest God knows how much money into a fine restaurant where everyone has to be naked?   Isn't it hard enough, especially in Paris, to fill restaurants anyway?   As gimmicks go, you're shooting for a limited customer base.

In West Hollywood there used to be a sushi restaurant where you ate sushi placed on naked girls.  I have no idea if this still exists.  I can't imagine the health department giving that place an A.   New York has (or had) one too.



Oh, the money they save in placemats.

What will they think of next?

In the meantime, sorry but the nudist restaurant is clothesed

Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday Questions

Who’s up for some Friday Questions?

YEKIMI leads off.

Was watching a M*A*S*H* marathon on one of the cable channels and noticed one of the co-writers of that episode was Mary Kay Place. Checking IMDB shows she wrote for quite a few shows other than M*A*S*H*. I knew her more as an actress and didn't realize she did all that writing. Any other writers on M*A*S*H* [or other shows] that went on to become more recognized as actors than writers?

Not an actor per se, but Conan O’Brien was a writer with us on THE SIMPSONS. Carol Liefer was a writer with on ALMOST PERFECT. And then of course there’s Larry David. Mindy Kaling was a writer on THE OFFICE. Tina Fey was a writer first on SNL. And I’m sure you dear readers will think of others.

Ben Varkentine has a question about the first MASH episode David Isaacs and I wrote.

In "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind" there's a moment I've long wondered whether it was improvised.

When Klinger is leading the blind Hawkeye out of the Swamp, Alan Alda bumps into the stove and Klinger just says "Don't hit that," and Hawk replies "I'm sorry."

It just seems like such a real moment.

It was.

Good actors know how to stay in character when unforeseen things occur. This was a small one, but both Alan and Jamie (Farr) made the most of it.

Thanks for the question and not saying that was the best joke of the show.

From Michael:

I agree that the CHEERS first season stands up to the best season of any series, but was wondering if you think it would be even remembered today if NBC had elected to cancel it after that season due to low ratings? Also would Ted Danson have been able to become the big star he did?

Forget Ted. What about ME if the show had been cancelled?

But seriously, when you see how sensational Ted is in any role he’s asked to play I’m sure he would have done fine. Plus, the hardest part to cast in a comedy is a handsome leading man type with comic chops.   Ted would have offers galore.  (As would Shelley Long.) 

But would his next show or the one after that prove to be a huge hit? No one can predict. So much of success is luck. The planets just have to line up. I think that’s why that first year of CHEERS, even though we struggled in the ratings, everyone involved (certainly me) recognized and appreciated that they were a part of something special. And those opportunities don’t come along very often.

Had CHEERS been cancelled after 13 it would probably be remembered by some as one of those “brilliant failures” like Larry Gelbart’s UNITED STATES or Steve Gordon’s GOODTIME HARRY. Bootleg episodes recorded off the air might circulate. But in time it would be forgotten. Unlike BIG WAVE DAVE’S.

And finally, from Coram_Loci:

Have you ever purposefully gone easy on a critique because of the race, sex, or orientation of the actor, or because of its political viewpoint?

No. But the great thing is that I’m not obligated to review everything. I try to be as objective as I can – positive or negative – without regard to race, gender, or politics. And I would rather just not review something than to whitewash an opinion.

So when you vehemently disagree with one of my reviews please just think of me as someone who has no taste and no idea what he’s talking; not someone who is prejudiced.

What’s your FQ?

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

EP105: 129 Ways to Get a Husband and 1 Way to Get a Wife


Ken shares a hilarious and jaw dropping article from 1958 on how
to get a husband. You won’t believe some of these tips. And finally, a prank Ken pulled on his writing partner to get him a wife. You won’t be alone after listening to this podcast.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

THE MASKED SINGER -- My review

In my never-ending quest to introduce you to the most insane reality shows I have a new favorite — THE MASKED SINGER that premiered last week on Fox. Episode 2 is tonight.

Here’s the premise. B-List celebrities (or more likely C-List) put on outlandish head-to-toe costumes and compete head to head in a singing completion for the chance to… uh…  keep doing it. At the end of each episode one celebrity is voted off and reveals himself. Last week it was superstar/household name Antonio Brown. (If you don’t know who that is it just proves my point.). Ultimately one Masked Singer will survive and win…um… nothing. Maybe the winner gets to keep his costume.

What would a singing competition show be without an idiot panel and THE MASKED SINGER is well represented. Is there anybody on television dumber and less talented than Jenny McCarthy? She offers such insightful comments like “Oooooh, yeah.” Then there’s Ken Jeong who’s painfully unfunny (especially since he thinks he is funny), Nicole Scherzinger (listed as a “television personality”), and Robin Thicke.

Panels are there to offer critiques, but there’s nothing to critique. Panels are there to make decisions but the audience decides who wins and loses so the panel is useless in that regard. Panels sometimes solve mysteries but this panel hears clues and makes moronic guesses as to who the celebrities really are. One thought Lady Gaga — like Lady Gaga, on the verge of winning Oscars, is going to put on a fifty pound peacock costume and parade around incognito on a Fox reality show. So the panel is as functional as cufflinks on pants.

Nick Cannon is the hip hop hipster host. And the singing performances range from professional to your drunk cousin at a wedding. Oh, and don’t forget the audience. Shots of emo Millennials alternating between utter astonishment and crippling bereavement.

In other words, this show has it all!

Already the show is a Social Media sensation. Lots of speculation as to who the celebrities are. I have a feeling that within a few weeks all the celebs will be unmasked on the internet long before they officially take off their hippo heads.

As idiotic as this show is, there’s something addictive about it. Assuming I can tolerate Ken Jeong’s woeful attempts at humor and Jenny McCarthy’s 52 IQ I will continue to watch THE MASKED SINGER. I want to be a part of the mass mania when the ultimate Masked Singer is unveiled to be Kellyanne Conway.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

What I learned NOT watching the Golden Globes

I didn’t watch a minute of it. Didn’t watch a minute of highlights from it. To me the Golden Globes are a waste of time. The Foreign Press is a tiny number of people, some actual waiters, who can be bought. And their awards are essentially hosting a big party with lots of alcohol, fine wine, and when has Hollywood ever passed up a free meal where they can be on television and go home with prizes? It’s a night out on the town at someone else’s expense. Women get to dress up. It’s nothing more than the industry’s Senior Prom.

The categories are idiotic. A few years ago THE MARTIAN won Best Comedy. MOZART IN THE JUNGLE won Best TV Comedy. More often than not movies that win Golden Globes do not win Oscars. In fact, many consider them Oscar & Emmy’s consolation prizes.

So by not watching them, here is what I gleaned based on Social Media and friends who did suffer through them. Those of you who saw the ceremony, tell me how accurate I am.

They didn’t announce the name of the writer nominees in the Best Screenplay category; just the name of the movies. For that alone, FUCK YOU Foreign Press.

The opening with Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg was awful.

Patricia Arquette and Regina King gave endless speeches. (Who is surprised?)

The Jeff Bridges award went on forever. And he was doing “the Dude” from BIG LEBOWSKI.

Chuck Lorre finally won something.

Michael Douglas used Yiddesh expressions.

Glenn Close was a big upset winner as Best Actress (even though she’s a great actress).

THE AMERICANS won. Of course Russia could have rigged that election too. Hell, all they had to do was send Academy members a free tin of caviar.

Diversity ruled. This year Hollywood is all about diversity. Last year it was #MeToo. Next year it will be the election. Their nod to #MeToo was not mentioning Bryan Singer who directed some of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, the big winner.

Christian Bale, who played Dick Cheney, thanked Satan and that caused an uproar. Yawn.

Foreign Press darling Alfonso Cuaron won for ROMA won although everybody I know who has seen it said it’s painfully slow and confusing. (I haven’t seen it so I don’t know… but I am sufficiently scared to skip it.)

It was cool to see Carol Burnett and she said something like no network would put on her show today.

I really didn't miss a thing.  

Okay, so how’d I do?