Tuesday, April 07, 2020

What I won't write

A lot of playwrights are busily writing their Coronavirus plays. I’m sure there are 800 plays about couples cooped up in self-isolation. (Forget that there’s WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?).

Since the current theatre trend is to stage as many zeitgeist-themed plays as possible, what better? Suddenly all the playwrights with immigration and trans plays are out of luck. Coronavirus is the new hot thing.

I will not be writing one.

Once TV series go back into production I imagine there will be a slew of Coronavirus-themed episodes as well. Certainly on the doctor and hospital shows. But I suspect every show will have at least one main character who comes down with it. 

I will not be writing one.

And I’m sure screenwriters are busily cranking out their post-virus doomsday movie scripts.

I will not be writing one of those either.

Here’s my feeling: After this horrible ordeal, who the hell is going to want to watch a Coronavirus play, or movie, or episode of STATION 19?

I believe we will watch anything BUT Coronavirus stories.

When this is all over, it might be a good time to revisit a little genre called COMEDY.

That I will write.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Working from home

I know for many people it’s a big adjustment. But as a writer I have to say I love working at home. I know other writers who feel they need to get out of the house, go to Starbucks, or an office, even if that means renting one. One writer I know likes to write in the produce section of Gelsons’s Market.

Of course today those away-from-home options aren’t available. There’s not even produce at Gelson’s.

I do miss the camaraderie of being in a writers’ room and being on sound stages, but when it’s time to sit in a room by myself and write a script, I prefer to do it where I don’t have to wear pants.

There’s also the commute factor. Not a lot of traffic between my kitchen and office. And think what I’m saving at the pump!

I know for me this began at the beginning of my career. David Isaacs and I would meet in one of our apartments and write our spec scripts at night after going to jobs during the day. When we finally got a toe-hold in the business and were able to quit our day jobs there was something almost decadent about getting together in an apartment at 10 in the morning and being able to make a living writing. It almost felt like we were playing hooky.

The downside of writing at home is that for many people it’s harder to concentrate. Too many other things going on around you… like life. And of course, when you are writing no one takes that seriously. People feel free to interrupt you at any time. You want to say, “If I were a doctor performing an operation, would you just come in and complain about your Aunt Rose?”

Another problem some writers have working at home is they feel they can never set it aside. It’s much easier when you go to an office and carve out hours for dedicated writing, but when you can sit down at the home computer anytime it’s hard to just set work aside without feeling a little guilty.

On the other hand, an advantage (at least for me) is that when I get stuck I just can just shut it down and do something else, regardless of the time. I’m not chained to my desk. When I do get stuck I often take a shower. In a more relaxed state the solution usually comes. I can’t take a shower at Starbucks (not that I’ve ever inquired).

But writing is only one job. Lots of you are conducting your business from home now. How has that adjustment been for you? Aside from all the self-isolation annoyances and cabin fever we all feel, do you find you like working from home? Or hate it? I bet for some it’s the very first time you have worked from home.

Stay safe and remember – you don’t need your pants.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Weekend Post

I don't care what the haters say, Joe Buck is an excellent sportscaster. And he's got a great sense of humor. During this pandemic when there are no sports to call, Joe offered to do play-by-play on anything, personalized just for the person who requested it. Here's a mash-up of the results. I'm telling ya, the guy is FUNNY.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Friday Questions

Hello fellow shut-ins. How about some Friday Questions to give you something to do for ten minutes?

Jeff Alexander leads off.

With everyone encouraged (and almost mandated) to stay at home during this coronavirus pandemic, can you recommend a TV series available on DVD to "binge-watch"?

I'm sure that you would recommend "Cheers" or "Frasier," but I was thinking of ones in which you were not personally involved.

For sitcoms I would say EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, 30 ROCK, BECKER, FAWLTY TOWERS, THE COUPLING (British version), BLACK ADDER, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and TAXI. And if you want to go way back, THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW and the 39 classic episodes of THE HONEYMOONERS.

For dramas, BREAKING BAD, THE SOPRANOS, MAD MEN, JUSTIFIED, KILLING EVE, HUSTLE (British show), THE FUGITIVE, THE ROCKFORD FILES, COLUMBO, HILL STREET BLUES, THE PRACTICE, L.A. LAW, and LOST (just don’t count on a great finale).

I’m not a sci-fi or horror guy so there are a lot more if you’re into those genres.

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?

Just curious.

Traffic has gone up since our National House Arrest, but it’s hard to tell with the archive. The stats will show that someone logged onto a particular post, but it won’t know if it’s a regular reader or someone just finding that post on Google.

Interestingly, more people go back and listen to archive episodes of my podcast, which delights me.

I invite you to dive in to either or both.

Bob Gassel asks:

When MASH episodes were being performed, shot and edited, was any consideration given to leaving time for the laugh track? I always assumed there was, but recall Larry and Gene claiming that wasn't the case.

No. None. The laugh track was always an afterthought and we sprinkled it in as judiciously and unobtrusively as possible.

We never asked actors to hold for laughs when filming.

And finally, from C. Warren Dale:

More and more shows these days - almost all streaming dramas, more and more network and cable dramas, and even a few streaming (The Kominsky Method) and network (The Good Place, The Conners) comedies embrace a serialized story structure. This can make for good television but it makes it impossible to write a spec. Any assumptions you make about the characters, setting, or storyline could be blown apart by the next episode that airs. As television moves in this direction, how do you think new writers will be able to demonstrate their skills in that context?

There’s no question this is a big problem. I always tell young writers to just pick a place in the run and begin your episode there. You’re obviously not expected to know how the series really goes, but if you can find a place in the season where they take a breath, that’s usually the best place to jump in.

Hopefully your writing and handling of the characters and tone will make up for not knowing where their story is going.

I know of one producer who read a spec script of a serialized series and said, “Shit, his way was better than ours.”

Best of luck.

Stay safe. Take a deep dive into the archives.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

MASH and the coronavirus

Enough people have sent this to me that I feel I should share it with you.  Good advice from the 4077th.   Even though we were writing about the 1950's we were ahead of our time.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

EP168: Free Association Podcasting


As an experiment, Ken just free associates from one random topic to another. It’s a little of everything including throwing Neil Young out of a record store. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The Real Don Steele

The Real Don Steele would have been 84 today. You've probably heard me talk of him before. He's one of my idols.

He passed away on August 5, 1997. For thirty years The Real Don Steele ruled the Los Angeles airwaves, most notably on 93/KHJ “Boss Radio” in the 60’s and 70’s. Outrageous, electrifying, thrilling – that was Real on…and OFF the air. If you want to hear the greatest cookin’ jock to ever crack a mike in the heyday of top 40. You can check him out here.

Real also appeared in some highly prestigious films such as EATING RAOUL, DEATH RACE 2000 (starring Sylvester Stallone), ROCK N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, and Ron Howard’s first directing effort, GRAND THEFT AUTO. Television credits are equally as impressive: TALES FROM THE CRYPT and HERE COMES THE BRIDES.

I had the pleasure of working with him at two radio stations, K100 and TenQ in LA in the 70’s. He also fell off my couch stinking drunk one night and my wife still invited him to dinner again.

His catch phrase was “Tina Delgado is alive, ALIVE!” shouted by some unknown frenzied girl. No one ever knew the story behind it. Who Tina Degado was. How he came to use it. Even what the hell it meant. But it didn’t matter. It was all part of the excitement this larger-than-life personality created for “the magnificent megalopolis of Boss Angeles” three hours every day…and especially on “Fractious Fridays”.

Every year on his birthday, April 1st, I wish that maybe his passing is just an April’s Fool joke. That would be so like him. And at 3:00 I could turn on the radio, “Devil with a Blue Dress” by Mitch Ryder would come blazing out of my speaker and I would hear “The Real Don Steele is alive, ALIVE!”

He is in my heart. And always will be.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

What I learned from Neil Simon

Thomas Tucker posed a Friday Question asking what was so remarkable about Neil Simon? Yesterday, I gave an overall perspective. Today, I want to share my personal feelings.

I never took a course in comedy writing. I never read a book on how to write comedy. I may have skimmed a few while standing in a bookstore (historical note: At one time physical books were available in stores that sold them.) I learned by watching shows I admired like THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, and by reading plays by my playwright idols.

George S. Kaufman & Moss Hart were particular favorites. Comedies they wrote in the ‘20’s and ‘30s still held up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I was drawn to them because their comedy was very character-based. Smart interesting people were put in funny situations and reacted in surprising ways, and more than that, said really funny things as a result. I love verbal humor. Not “jokes.” Funny lines that stem from attitude.

And I discovered early on that no one did that better than Neil Simon. He has a couple of thick volumes of his collected plays. And those were my “graduate school.” I studied his construction, the types of jokes he went for. I tried to figure out his thought process. I studied his plays for rhythm, flow, for making every character seem real and yet endlessly funny.

What kind of joke goes where? When does a joke get in the way? How do you set up misunderstandings? How do you find humor in serious situations? He doesn’t just hit you with a string of jokes. He structures scenes and situations so that the comedy builds. He employs various tropes, like “call backs.” There’s tremendous craft in a Neil Simon play.

So a lot of what I know about comedy writing I learned directly from him, or more accurately, his example.

Once he moved out to California in the ‘80s he started writing his plays here and instead of taking them out of town before Broadway, he would mount them here. New Haven’s loss is LA’s gain. I used to go to the first or second preview and a few months later, fly to New York to see the finished Broadway version. I was fascinated by what changed, what he did to improve it – and improve it he always did. I would watch the previews and figure out what I’d do to improve it. Then I was always heartened to see the final product and in many cases the issues I saw as problematic he did too. But he addressed them better and funnier than I would have.

At the previews I used to see him in the last row with a pad and pen taking notes. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have one of those pads! Or even just read one.

So I’ve now spent two days hyping Neil Simon, and Thomas, all I can say is if you ever saw a really GOOD production of THE ODD COUPLE on stage, I guarantee you a light bulb would go on and you’d SEE what all the praise is about. He changed Broadway, and he changed comedy, and he changed me.