Friday, May 29, 2020

Friday Questions

Last FQ’s in May. Savor them.

Brian leads off by asking:

How soon before the networks, who are all putting out their own pay-for-streaming channels, transition slowly to streaming only and broadcast vanishes completely? (Or, if not completely, becomes the least desirable platform.)

I can’t even say for sure when it’s safe to leave my house, but I have the same prediction you do. At some point things will flip, and new shows will premier on the networks’ streaming channels and then re-appear on the broadcast network.

I think we’re a few years away from that, but this pandemic could easily hasten or slow that process by one or two years.

Seems to me it’s a safe bet though that five years from now television, as we know it, will be very different. I hope I can get out of my house by then.

RyderDA wonders:

On your advice, I've been listening to Rick Bro Radio and Great Big Radio; they're both awesome, so thanks for the recommendation! But a question regarding them: they are advertising free, and free to listen to. I don't understand the business model. If they are paying license fees for the music they play, that's gotta be funded somehow. So how does it work?

The honest answer is that both Rich Brother Robbin ( and Howard Hoffman ( lose money. Their stations are a labor of love. And as long as the royalty fees aren’t too exorbitant, I suspect they’ll keep pumping out the hits. They do it because they love radio, love to entertain, and love the music that radio, in its futile quest for demographics, has forgotten.

Both Rich and Howard are providing a great service. If you would like to donate to either or both, I’m sure they’d be very grateful.

From cd1515 comes a baseball question. 

If you were still doing games, how tough would it be to do them now with no fans in the stands?

And what do you think about announcers doing games remotely from a studio?

It would be extremely hard to call games from an empty stadium. The crowd really provides the excitement, both to the announcers and the players. Players talk about “the tenth man” – they really do feed off the energy of the crowd.

Same with announcers. In the minors I’ve called games where the stadiums were essentially empty. It’s very difficult. You feel like you’re in a vacuum.

And if there are no people in the stands, why not call the game from home or a studio? Especially for the older announcers – why put yourself at risk? How well will stadiums be sanitized? Even with a reduced crew you still need stadium operations people, you still will be in close quarters in elevators, and small broadcast booths.

Then there are the other logistics. Will everyone be quarantined in a hotel? How sterilized is the hotel? Will hotel workers be quarantined? Will stadium operations crews be quarantined? What about travel? How sterilized will team buses be, and airplanes?

So if I’m an announcer and know that the background sound will be the same at my house as it would be in a stadium, then I’d rather do it from my living room.

Yes, I’ll miss daily interaction with the manager and players, but I can Zoom so I’ll still have my pipeline to the skipper.

Jason Benetti of ESPN is calling those Korean League games from his house and he sounds just fine. (Although he sounds great whatever he does.)

And finally, from -3- :

With everybody hunkered down to avoid the Trump Flu, is traffic going up on the archives? Or is it just old weirdoes like me reading through?

Readership is up, which sort of surprises me. A large percentage of my readers log on at work during business hours. Sure, many can still work from home, but quite a few can’t and have lost their jobs. I was expecting my traffic to go down. But happily it has not.

Podcasts, on a whole, have gone down during this lockdown. That surprises me too. You figure folks would now have more time to catch up on podcasts, but most people clearly must be listening during outside workouts or commuting under normal conditions.

Fortunately, my numbers on HOLLYWOOD AND LEVINE have held steady, and I thank you for that. I’ve got some nifty guests coming up – a comedy writer who’s had a very colorful career, and an eight-time JEOPARDY champion who won $228,000.

What’s your Friday Question? Stay safe. Wear your mask.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

EP176: A Master Class in Directing Part 2

More expert advice in directing from Andy Barnicle.  Dealing with actors, the difference between TV and theatre, blocking, rewriting, lighting, interpretation, the technical part of the job.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

EP176: A Master Class in Directing Part 2

More expert advice in directing from Andy Barnicle.  Dealing with actors, the difference between TV and theatre, blocking, rewriting, lighting, interpretation, the technical part of the job.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Entrance applause

If you’re a showrunner on a multi-camera show taped before a studio audience, one decision you have to make is whether to allow entrance applause.

In the theatre, when you go to see a performance featuring a star they traditionally get a huge round of applause when they make their first entrance. And usually that first entrance is with a flourish to allow for that adoration.

On Norman Lear shows in the ‘70s that became standard. Same with Garry Marshall shows. Watch an episode of GOOD TIMES or LAVERNE & SHIRLEY. J.J. or Lenny & Squiggy enter and you’d think we just landed on the moon.

Other shows like those done by MTM during the same period took out the applause.

The Lear/Marshall camp contends that the viewer knows there’s a studio audience and the show is being shot like a play. They’re not fooling anybody so why not include the audience’s appreciation of first seeing those stars they came to see?

The MTM camp contends that the applause is intrusive and takes you out of the story. They went so far as to tell audiences not to applaud during entrances. I was at a filming of RHODA where Vivian Vance was the guest star. You know her entrance would get a standing ovation. So the producers introduced her to the audience before they started filming. It gave Ms. Vance her entrance applause without affecting the show itself.

So where do I stand on this most controversial subject? I side with no applause. But for a different reason. I feel it’s self-congratulatory and I try to avoid that. If the audience spontaneously claps later in the show at a big laugh or a story turn, well that ovation was earned. But just to have the audience go nuts the minute the show starts when someone enters the house with the mail – that feels like we’re all patting ourselves on the back for no reason.

Also now, entrance applause sounds dated, retro, very ‘70s. At least to me.

I bet it’s something you haven’t thought much about, despite its incendiary nature. But we all have a lot of time on our hands these days, and many of us are binging – either current or vintage shows. Notice whether there’s entrance applause, and whether you like it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Happy Birthday Becca!!!

Our granddaughter turns 4 today.  Wish we could be with you and hope next year and all the years after we can celebrate it in person.  Happy Birthday, Becca.  We love you.  See you on FaceTime. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day 2020

It always seems weird to me that a festive occasion should be called “Memorial Day.” The purpose of the day is to pay tribute to the men and women of our armed forces who have given their lives for our freedom. There is a national cemetery near my home and every Memorial Day American flags are posted in front of all the tombstone. It’s a startling sight – endless rows of matching white gravestones with American flags. When my kids were teenagers they helped plant the flags.

Having served in the Armed Forces Reserves, I've always considered myself incredibly lucky that I didn't have to fight in a war.  Back in those days we were drafted.  And it's all the more reason to give thanks to our current military personnel.  Not only are they there putting themselves in harm's way in awful hellholes, but they volunteered.

And this year is even weirder because traditionally Memorial Day signals the beginning of the summer season.  But most of us are still hunkered down at home.  I see all those people on beaches and the protesters and I'm reminded of my friend, Tom Straw's line for what they should write on their protest placards:

                                  Give me Liberty AND Give me Death 

There will be no summer traveling, no summer camps, no summer stock theatre.  But when you consider the sacrifice our servicemen are making -- not to mention the first responders, medical personnel, and folks providing essential services to keep this country even limping along -- all we can do is express our extreme gratitude to those brave men and women.  And that's what this Memorial Day is for. 

Thank you.  And stay safe. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Weekend Post

This is very cool.  Top TV ratings from 1951-2019.  It's like a horse race.  Watch to see if your favorite show comes up in the backstretch.  Also, make note of network dominance.  CBS kicked ass for years, NBC had its day, ABC under Fred Silverman, rose briefly to the top, and Fox hit the big time with AMERICAN IDOL.  AMC even sneaks in there. 

Also, you'll notice how there are times when comedy rules and others when it's almost nowhere to be found.  Early on Westerns ruled.  Then disappeared.  And some shows you wouldn't think cracked the Top 10 like BECKER proved to be more popular than folks assumed.    The reboot of ROSEANNE goes straight to the top and then disappears in a blink.   All interesting stuff. 

And it's kind of mesmerizing.  Light up a joint and enjoy. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Friday Questions

The only way to know it’s Friday these days is by Friday Questions. Happy to provide that service.

Michael starts us off:

Am I correct in assuming that it was unusual for relatively inexperienced writers like David and yourself to be made head writers on an established hit show like MASH? If so, did you feel any extra pressure or have any doubts you would be successful?

VERY unusual. We were promoted to head writers of MASH in the middle of season six when the previous head writer left to do other projects. I was 26.

To be honest, my partner David and I felt a little handcuffed by the previous head writer, who was a lovely guy and terrific writer but was very slow and deliberate. And that pace drove us nuts. So when he left and we were finally able to work at our pace we felt more relief than nerves.

Plus, at the time we had no idea the show would become so iconic and that 40 years later it would still be rerunning ten times a day around the world. We probably would have been petrified had we known. It’s the one time I was glad to be ignorant.

From Brian:

In light of the Jean Carroll anecdote, have you ever seen your material show up in other sitcoms?

No, but when I first started doing my snarky Oscar reviews I would email them to everyone in my contacts list. One was a very prominent talk show radio host in San Francisco. I heard from friends in the Bay Area that he would steal my material and claim it was his.

How coincidental that he had no funny observations after the following year’s Oscarcast once I took him off my distribution list.

PolyWogg wonders:

Did you ever have writers in your "group writers" rooms where someone went several weeks without getting any of their material "in"? Not really the same dynamic I guess...maybe more about needing to fire writers who just didn't fit in / couldn't produce over time?

Writers are like athletes. They all have strengths and weaknesses. A lights-out shooter in basketball might be terrible on defense, or a great catcher can’t hit.

Some writers might be shy and not great in a room but turn in terrific scripts. Neil Simon was like that. So if you have Neil in the room you don’t expect him to be a joke machine.

Likewise, some guys who are fantastic in rooms can’t write a decent draft to save their lives. And some are very good at breaking stories and solving story problems but jokes are not their strong suit.

All of that is to say if the quiet writer is contributing in other areas we are more apt to overlook his lack of jokes in rewrites. But if he’s not pulling his weight in other areas, then yes, we’ve been known to let writers go.

And finally, from Kendall Rivers:

Speaking of live tapings have you ever attended ones for The Odd Couple? I heard that back then it was as hard to get into an Odd Couple taping as it was for All In The Family at that time.

No, but even better, I saw Tony Randall & Jack Klugman and the TV cast do the ODD COUPLE play live at the Shubert Theatre. To hear them do Neil Simon’s words was a sheer joy.

Ironically, I did see a taping of ALL IN THE FAMILY.

What’s your Friday Question? Stay safe.