Saturday, December 07, 2019

Weekend Post

Boy, how times have changed.  To go to Disneyland today you need to take out a second mortgage.  It costs hundreds of dollars (especially now that they have the new STAR WARS land).

And for that matter, try going to a major league baseball game for less than a hundred dollars.  Parking alone will kill you.

But if you lived in Southern California in 1967 you could do this -- for $5.  AND you got to meet the KMPC and KTLA personalities! 

By the way, the Angels lost that game 4-1.  And their attendance that day: 22,519.   Maybe the tickets should have been $4.50.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Friday Questions

Another month, another few Friday Questions.

Edward leads off.

You discussed how the script for "The Jeffersons" got your career going. But you also said the show was not one that you really cared for. Once your writing career was working out, did you need to personally like a show to be enthusiastic about writing an episode or does an assignment for a show fall under keeping your career going and making sure the rent gets paid?

We were thrilled to get ANY assignment. A number of projects we wrote never got on the air – back up episodes for pilots that didn’t go, that sort of thing.

We also happily pitched any show that would hear us. We wrote two episodes of JOE AND SONS. Ever hear of it? But we were over-the-moon happy to get those assignments.

Even after we had done MASH we rewrote a couple of network pilots just for the money.

Trust me – work was work. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

From chris dellecese

About those insipid network promos we see all day long on Sunday NFL games.
Is there any evidence that those actually WORK?


Having the NFL on your network elevates your other programming.  That's why networks pay ungodly sums for NFL rights. 

Those football games bring in new viewers to their network and exposes them to their programming. An on-air CBS promo for only the CBS audience is not nearly as effective as a promo on an NFL game.

That said, the audience for NFL games are primarily men, so promos for fare they might be interested in is more effective than say, promos for GREY’S ANATOMY.

I was always thrilled when a promo for one of my sitcoms aired during an NFL game.

DBenson has a question I assume about filming last episodes of series knowing the show has been cancelled and the episode is not guaranteed to air.

Was there ever a situation where an actor or other member of the production decided "S**** this!" and just goofed off or ad-libbed through a shoot or rehearsal for a doomed episode?


Every actor I’ve ever worked with in those situations was a consumate professional. Same with the crews. Everyone took pride in their work and did the best job possible.

And to this day I admire each and every one of them as a result.

And finally, from Shane:

Talking about being protective of kids, did you at anytime worry that Hollywood would be a bad influence on your kids when growing up?

We tried to give our kids as normal an upbringing as we could. They went to public school, we never tried to get them work in commercials, they never guested on my shows, and although they certainly came to sets and went to audience tapings, they never hung around stages, and we never tried to get them agents.

I believe it was a wise decision. Of course you'd have to ask them, but I think they'd agree. 

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

EP152: Crazy Casting Stories

This week on Hollywood and Levine Podcast, Ken shares some stories of horrible casting suggestions, and inspired casting choices that were rejected. It’s why all actors are on Lexapro.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Unoriginal Broadway Musicals

Watching the Macy’s Parade last week (who can miss a chance to see Al Roker and freezing Broadway performers?), a thought occurred.

Everyone chastises TV for slavishly copying successful shows. But Broadway does the same thing.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST becomes a hit. SHREK follows. And Disney is adapting every animated film except SONG OF THE SOUTH.

BEAUTIFUL was a hit about rock performer Carole King, so Broadway mounts shows about Cher and now Tina Turner. Can the Lulu musical be far behind?


I think it’s time to merge both TV and Broadway. FRIENDS, THE MUSICAL. Start writing the songs.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: My review

SPOILER ALERT: Nothing blows up. No one flies. No worlds are targeted for extinction. This movie will not become a land in Disney World. So see it at your own risk.

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD is a very sweet little feel-good movie. Tom Hanks plays beloved TV children’s show host, Fred Rogers. I have all good things to say about it except one. The documentary last year on Mr. Rogers was way better.

That documentary really gives a great portrait into the man and his mission. In BEAUTIFUL DAY, Mr. Rogers is essentially a guardian angel who warms the cold heart of an Esquire journalist played by Russian spy Matthew Rhys. Both Rhys and Hanks are wonderful actors and watching the two of them is a pleasure. And it was nice to see Rhys not having to report to the Kremlin.

As I was watching it I thought, if Fred Rogers hadn’t really existed no one would ever buy this film. We’d all be saying, “No one is that genuine and kind-hearted.” But of course he was. And my second thought was “Boy, we sure could use him now.”

The movie I'd really love to see is MR. ROGERS GOES TO WASHINGTON.  

All in all, BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD is a very pleasant motion picture. And Hanks is more believable as Mr. Rogers than Walt Disney. I look forward to next Christmas when he plays Mother Teresa and the following when he plays Jesus.

Monday, December 02, 2019

The story behind THANKS

Over the weekend I showed a scene from the short-lived 1999 CBS sitcom THANKS, created by Mark Jordan Legan & Phoef Sutton.   I asked them both if they'd like provide the background on the series.  Mark was traveling (my heart goes out to him) but Phoef was kind enough to reflect on the experience. (By the way, Phoef and Mark host a fun podcast called FILM FREAKS FOREVER.  Check it out.) 

I’ve worked on a lot of fun shows over the years (CHEERS, BOB, BOSTON LEGAL, TERRIERS) but none of them were as purely delightful as THANKS. It’s only been shown once, but a faithful few remember it. It was a sitcom about The Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony in 1600s and it was damn funny.

I remember, I had a development deal at a network (which shall remain nameless) and they were busy hating everything I came up with, when my dear college friend and fellow sitcom writer Mark Jordan Legan came to me with this wild idea of doing a historical comedy about The Puritans, ala BLACKADDER and BEST OF THE WEST. I leapt at the chance and we wrote it in a week! I never thought the network would go for it, but I sent it off. And guess what? They hated it! Surprise!

Never ones to take ‘no’ for an answer, we sent it to another network and they decided to meet with us. (Perhaps to see if we were really serious?) We pitched our hearts out and… sold it in the room! (those were the days)

We had a glorious time making the pilot. We got our dream grandmother in Cloris Leachman; found a hilarious village idiot in Jim Rash; the perfect wife in Kristen Nelson; the delightfully precocious daughter who was always being accused of being a witch, Amy Centner. After much searching, we found the perfect Pioneer Father in Tim Dutton. We even cast ourselves, Mark and Phoef, as plague-ridden sailors.

We made only a very few episodes. People ask me if I’m sorry we were cancelled so quickly; I counter that I’m thrilled we were able to make six of these crazy things at all. The supporting cast (Keith Szarabjka, John Farley, John Fleck, Robert Machray, Michael Horse and especially the late Kathryn Joosten and the late Glenn Shadix) was everything we could have hoped for. The network didn’t give us very many notes because they couldn’t figure out what the hell the show was. We just did what we wanted to, for six wonderful weeks.

The show premiered in the summer, opposite the first run of WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? It was trounced in the ratings and quickly canceled – (though it truly got some rave reviews, with Entertainment Weekly calling it the funniest sitcom of the year). It was never shown again. But, as I said, a few people remember it. Sara Vowell wrote about it fondly in her book THE WORDY SHIPMATES. People quote it to us. (“She’s a witch!” “Fornicators!”)

THANKS lives on.

Phoef & Mark

Thanks to both Phoef & Mark for the explanation and mostly, thanks for THANKS.  

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Weekend Post

While it's still the Thanksgiving weekend..

I finally found a portion of an episode of THANKS. Created by Mark Jordan Legan & Phoef Sutton, this was a short-lived CBS show about pilgrims. Period piece multi-camera shows are hard to pull off. This and Earl Pomerantz's BEST OF THE WEST are the two best in my opinion.

So enjoy a sample of THANKS.  The humor really holds up after almost 400 years. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Black Friday Questions

Get out there and get that big screen! And when you come home enjoy some Friday Questions.

Wm. Adams starts us off:

A trivia question led me down a twisted path that ended up at "Love, American Style." It seemed to be a place for lots of writers to get a credit or two. Did you ever pitch a script for it?

That show was over before we got into the business. It’s too bad because you're right, that was a great launching pad for young writers. If you check the list of contributing writers you’ll find quite a few names of people who went on to big careers.

From Inkstreet:

In many Norman Lear comedies, black characters on occasion used the N-word (Fred Sanford, Aunt Esther, James Evans, both the Jeffersons, etc.) Today, people would probably have a problem with this, but during the run of the shows, was there any public reaction or backlash for the use of the word?

Well, accounting for the fact that there is that faction that thinks Hallmark shows are too offensive, the short answer is no.

We were not such a sensitive society back then. But we were way more puritanical. How bizarre that you could say the N-word but no euphemism that even hinted at being a sexual organ reference.

In fact, the networks had long lists of slang words to describe offending body parts. And many were expressions I had never heard. Sweater meat? Seriously???

JS asks:

How Long is Too Long? "The Irishman" is 3.5 hours long. I can't sit through that. I have a 2 hour limit How long is too long? My ideal movie - 1.45 minutes or less. If you are going over 2 hours I have to love the actor to sit through it or it has to be "Gone With the Wind" quality and I can watch it on DVD and split it up over 4 nights. There is absolutely no way I can sit in a theatre for 3.5 hours. +4 if you add coming attractions.

If the story is really engrossing and warrants it, I don’t mind a long movie. I love every frame of THE GODFATHER, BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, and GONE WITH THE WIND for that matter.

But I find that most movies could be shorter. Mark Evanier teases me about that, but I believe it. Especially comedies. They seem to play better if they’re between 90-105 minutes.

Even if a movie is funny, audiences get tired of laughing. Get out while you’re still getting laughs.

And finally, from ReticentRabbit:

When you write an episode centering on a "villain," a Frank Burns or a Roy Biggins, is it challenging to move that character to the center from the fringes? Or is it kind of fun because those characters are somewhat less featured and it's a chance to develop them more?

The trick to giving them dimension is not necessarily to soften them but to justify them. Why is that character acting like an asshole? What physical or mental insecurities have led them down that path?

I also don’t mind a villain doing something nice once in awhile. Unlike Trump, no one is all bad.

Happy Black Friday.  Get me something nice.