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.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday (the 13th) Questions

This Tuesday is the All-Star Game so with baseball in the air I’ve got a couple of baseball-related FQ’s to go among the others.

Rory Wohl gets us started.

Now that every team broadcasts every game on a cable regional sports network, how does the camera positioning work at the ballpark? Are there two sets of cameras, one for each team? Does the visiting team have to schlep their cameras from one stadium to another on a road trip? Are the positions fixed, home and away right next to each other?

There are separate cameras for both team broadcasts along with some shared cameras either can use (like the one looking in from centerfield).  And yes, often two cameramen are in position side-by-side.

Visiting teams hire crews from the local venues to provide the equipment and manpower. A team will generally travel their own producer, director, and graphics person.

But you need your own cameras. If, for example, the announcer wants to talk about something happening in his team’s dugout the director needs a camera to show it.

There are times when a broadcast won’t have its own crew and just has to use someone else’s feed. Foreign language broadcasts typically. And that’s murder.

I called a game like that once. I’m talking about something and for no reason they cut to a guy sitting in the bullpen chewing bubble gum. Obviously the announcer from the host feed was talking about him but I wasn’t, and sometimes I didn’t even know who the guy was. Lots of scrambling. The way I dealt with it was to cop to it. I let the audience know we were using a borrowed feed and had fun every time they showed something that seemed completely random. But that was my approach. Other announcers try to scramble and justify what the audience is seeing. Good luck to them.

Today’s other baseball question comes from Rick.

You were my favorite color commentator with the Orioles. How would you even begin to go about repairing the current situation??

Thanks, Rick. I loved doing Orioles games and still root the birds on.

The announcer solution is simply to hire people who have a personality. Be less concerned with voice, age, even gender. Hire for content. Don’t be afraid of offending six listeners.

Don’t judge a demo tape based on an exciting inning. Everyone sounds great calling a ninth-inning come-from-behind rally. When the Orioles hired me they wanted three continuous innings where absolutely nothing happens. They wanted to hear how I sound when I have nothing else to fall back on other than my ability to hold an audience’s interest.

Good guys are out there. You just have to find them. Or not stupidly pass on them.

UPDATE:  I'm referring to the general state of announcers, not the Orioles specifically.  In fact they have two terrific announcers in Gary Thorne and Joe Angel.  As for fixing the Orioles, replace Peter Angelos.  

Rock Golf (which might not be his real name) asks:

Friday question: A follow-up to your comment about Robert Altman's son making more money from the (mostly) never-heard lyrics of the M*A*S*H theme.

What kinda money are we talking about?

Barenaked Ladies were asked last year if they made enough money to retire from the Big Bang Theory theme they wrote & perform.

Here's their reply:

"No," laughs Robertson. "I would have to radically alter my lifestyle to be set for life from that song."
"I believe a single woman living in Meductic, New Brunswick, would be set for life," Stewart adds.
"A single woman … no children … and a part-time job," Robertson clarifies.
"And, she inherited the house."

-- And that's on the biggest show in the world that gets syndicated several times daily by multiple outlets. I can't think of any more often played TV theme. (And they also wrote and perform the closing credits music too!)

So what determines royalties on TV themes? Is there a fixed price? Is it negotiated?

Composers make their real money on record sales. The theme from MASH was covered extensively. Young Altman literally made millions.

When a group is hired to sing a TV theme song usually a fee is agreed upon. The big money for the group is if the song itself becomes a huge hit, or the exposure from the show helps catapult the group. But none of that is a given.

Gary Portnoy’s career didn’t skyrocket after singing the CHEERS theme. Neither did the group that sang the FRIENDS theme.

I’m sure Barenaked Ladies have enjoyed increased popularity from the BIG BANG THEORY theme, but no, the fee itself is not enough set you up for life.

On the other hand, Paul Anka wrote THE TONIGHT SHOW theme (actually as a record for Annette Funicello) and that got played every night for decades. Anka made a pretty penny.

And finally, from Peter:

Ken, I was in a bookstore earlier today browsing the film section and flicked through a book called Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency by James Miller. Have you read it? The guy has interviewed almost everyone who's ever been connected to CAA in some way. I love juicy industry gossip.

I read it and enjoyed a lot of it. But I think it’s because I personally know many of the players. But I know a few former CAA agents and they felt it was a lovely piece of fiction.

I think if you can cut through the ego and spin you’ll find it quite informative.

Mike Ovitz is coming out with his memoir this year. That should be interesting too. And I expect it to be 70% fiction too.

Stay away from black cats.