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.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

EP151: Thanksgiving Turkeys

Once again Ken plays some Thanksgiving Turkeys, songs that don’t try to be funny but just are.  Get ready to laugh and cringe, but mostly laugh. 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Let the holiday season begin

Okay, you can put up your Christmas lights now.

Allright, you can start playing Christmas music on the radio.

It’s safe to cart out Charlie Brown’s Christmas again.

Studios are free to unleash their big holiday tentpole releases.

Take that bottle away from Santa and send him out to the center of the mall.

The tree can go up at Rockefeller Center.

You can open the ice skating rink now.

The Radio City Holiday Show can now officially open. Please close it by March.

Bring on the baseball winter meetings.

It’s still not okay for CBS to colorize and air classic black-and-white sitcoms, but that’s another story.

Networks prepare for their live musicals. Too bad the novelty has worn off.

Hollywood officially shuts down until January. The only business that gets done now is firing known celebrities and executives charged with sexual harassment. And of course their shocked reactions.

Travel today becomes an absolute nightmare. If it happens to snow a quarter-inch in Seattle, all flights in and out of O’Hare are cancelled till January. 

Frantic cooking is taking place. People all over America are making that string bean casserole with Campbell’s Mushroom Soup. (“Why?” I ask.)

And finally, it’s time to stop and give thanks to all the people and things in your life that you’re grateful for. In my case, I start with you.

Travel safe this holiday weekend.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

My 14th Anniversary

Wow.  Today marks my 14th anniversary doing this blog.   I couldn't imagine when I started this in 2005 that I'd still be doing it.  And who knows how much longer I'll continue?  But for now I'm going to keep going.   I've had over 35,000,000 page views although that could just be the same 35 people coming back a million times. 

But thanks to all of you for reading it.  I know by the comments that folks come, stay for awhile, then move on.  Hopefully enough new people arrive to replace them.  But thanks to everyone (even the ones who left but will never see this because they, well... left).

It's heartening (and a little odd) that people I don't know care about my opinion about anything.  And also have affection for shows I worked on (and am very proud of) from years gone by. 

For the ten year anniversary I had a party.  This year I'll just finish the rest of the leftover Halloween candy. 

I thought it might be fun to revisit my very first post.  Here it is. 

And in terms of an appropriate picture to mark this auspicious occasion, what better?