Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas leftovers


Hope Santa was good to you. Please take your lights down by February.

No one reads a newspaper on Christmas. So it only made sense that the article in the LA TIMES Calendar section that quotes me ran December 25th. It’s about comedy writers not finding STUDIO 60 funny. Others were quoted too. It wasn’t just me. Only thing I would take issue with in the article is that I don't "hate" STUDIO 60. I was disappointed. I hoped it would be better...and still do. Here’s the article.

Went to see Jackie Mason in concert recently. As we were pulling into the parking lot, my daughter, Annie said, “I bet the handicapped spots were taken immediately.”

A film exec, Franklin Leonard, has compiled THE BLACK LIST – a list of the best unproduced screenplays of the year based on recommendations from other studio execs, readers, and agents. Obviously some great work is not hitting the screen while DECK THE HALLS gets made. All of these writers are represented, mostly by the big agencies. And that got me to thinking – how many equal or better screenplays are out there by people who don’t even have an agent? ROCKY BALBOA is not the best Hollywood can produce!

Who do you root for in the “big” feud between Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell? And poor anguished Barbara Walters caught in the middle. If there was ever a cry that as a country we need to “get a life” it’s that the cause of this fracas was a half hour Miss USA press conference that CNN felt the need to air live and in its entirety. Jesus, even replaying the recent NBA brawl for the nine millionth time would’ve been more news worthy.

The William Shatner game show was cancelled. So wait, maybe there is hope for the nation.

For baseball fans – December is officially “players injure themselves in ridiculous home accidents” month.

When will the DVD complete first season of SMITH be out? The sad thing is it will probably be released before the 34 episodes of ALMOST PERFECT.

Am I the only one who cringes at IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE? It makes my teeth hurt.

What a treat hearing Dick Enberg on Westwood One calling Thursday Football on the radio. For my money he’s the best NFL TV announcer ever. And his radio call is even better.

I’ve lost track. Have there been five Iwo Jima movies this year or just four?

Not to be a name dropper, but I happen to know the father of the Rose Queen.

31 comments:

david castro said...

re: It's a Wonderful Life - Ken, yes it does make my teeth hurt as well. My hair too. You might want to read one of the great underappreciated books of all time - Suspects by David Thomson, the brillliant film historian. He takes famous characters from film noir and gives them 1-2 page full biographies. And he connects them to one another in a narrative that takes us to a remarkably surprising ending. Which oddly enough leads to It's a Wonderful Life. And i bought it all, all the lives, all the connections. It is the one book I recommend to anyone seriously interested in movies. And the writing of same.

shtove said...

My beloved brother in the City told me that It's A Wonderful Life is a favourite film for investment bankers with small children, after they've lodged their bonuses - the moral is so refreshing at this time of year.

Barbara Walters' face is frozen from Donald Trump's hairspray misfires. Up Rosie! - as the laydeees say ...

Jason Pettus said...

Thank God someone's finally mentioned in public what a lot of us think -- that "It's a Wonderful Life" is creepy, wrong-headed, and sends about the worst message to humanity that one could. Get out of Bedford Falls, ya redneck schmo! There's a whole world out there to see!

I'm a new reader to the blog, by the way, and absolutely love it. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

"No man is a failure who has friends" is "the worst message to humanity that one could" send? You really can't think of anything worse? What an asinine thing to say.

Paul said...

I love "It's a Wonderful Life".

zazupitts said...

Well, there I was last night, watching Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed hugging and kissing and happy I'm sniffling along with my wife and daughter and I thought the movie was, well, wonderful...and don't tell my friends.

Mike Barer said...

They look so beautiful when they're angry!

Anonymous said...

I love Dick Enberg, too! Saw him in Portland, OR in person once upon a time. He has one of those dulcet voices that just makes everything he says sound so damned credible. Parade Magazine in our Sunday paper (Seattle Times) answered a question about why Studio 60 wasn't a hit even though it's peppered with pretty good actors... Parade thinks it would bode well for the show to hire GOOD comedy writers. Hmmmmm...know anyone? Damn! You make me wish I, too, hate IAWL, but I'm a sap for Zuzu's petals and angel's wings...

Anonymous said...

You have to blame a clerk somewhere for it all:

"Television is the medium which made this movie a classic. When It's a Wonderful Life was first released during Christmas week of 1946 (primarily to make the deadline for Academy Award consideration), it merely broke even on its near $3 million budget. American critics heralded the film while British found it to be bloody awful. The film sank into relative obscurity and due to a clerical error, its copyright lapsed into public domain in 1973. Independent television stations across the nation took well advantage of this and began running it, and running it, over and over again during the holidays. Videotape distributors released it in any number of versions for home consumption in the 1980s...including a colorized version which infuriated director Frank Capra who felt it was "splattered with Easter egg colors." Fans were treated to an ultra-dose of this angelic tale of triumph, and a super classic was born. Capra, who died in 1991, was as surprised at its rebirth as anyone."

VP19 said...

In Slate, Elbert Ventura (sounds like a name a screenwriter would conjure, albeit not as inspired as Preston Sturges' Trudy Kockenlocker) writes about James Stewart's other, relatively unrecognized Christmas gem, "The Shop Around The Corner." (Although today, people would view it and say, "Hey, there's the original, low-tech version of 'You've Got Mail.' " Pity.) Plus, it's directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who at his best was better than Capra.

http://www.slate.com/id/2156016/

Herb Popsfarter said...

Right there with you on IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. OOOver-rated!

"Don't ya know me, Mary?" - NO! She doesn't know you - NOBODY KNOWS YOU! Wasn't that obvious in the first 5 minutes of your Time Warp? Sheesh! You thick-headed lunk

And for the record (like it's a surprize) Both O'Donnell and that fraud Trump should shut their gum-holes. They're both stating the painfully obvious.

Here's a fun take on It's a Wonderful Life, from Warren Fleece - called "It's a Wonderful Idea" -- http://warrenfleece.blogspot.com/

mcp said...

Before you slam "It's a Wonderful Life" to much, remember without it there would be one less idea for a Christmas show.

The best parody was the episode of "Moonlighting" called "It's a Wonderful Job." In it, Maddie finds out that had she not met David his and everybody elses life would have been better except for hers. And considering how Chuck Lorre (Creator of "Cybill") feels about "Cybill" Shepherd possibly true to life as well.

BrianScully said...

Speaking only for myself, I wouldn't criticize "It's A Wonderful Life" until I had written something that lasted 60 years that people still looked forward to watching and made them feel better afterwards.

Paul Duca said...

Ken, you are so right...one can only take so much George Bailey. Peter Casey said it best in the WINGS pilot, when Joe Hackett hectors brother Brian about the opportunities given him that he squandered, while he stayed on Nantucket running the business and caring for their father. Brian cuts him off with "No, no, this is like that movie where Jimmy Stewart stays home and everybody else goes off and does wonderful things...well, let me tell you something--Jimmy Stewart was a sap".

Oh, and Anonymous...blame Frank Capra himself. He was feuding with his lawyer and wouldn't even open mail from him--including the notice to renew the copyright on IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE...that's how it wound up in the public domain.

Tom Quigley said...

Watched IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE for maybe the 200th time the other night... I guess I'm still trying to convince myself that it is... On the other hand, when I was a kid, my favorite song ws "Eve of Destruction" by Barry McGuire....

Anonymous said...

PaulDuca wrote:
"Oh, and Anonymous...blame Frank Capra himself. He was feuding with his lawyer and wouldn't even open mail from him--including the notice to renew the copyright on IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE...that's how it wound up in the public domain."

Thanks - nice follow-up! Capra was his own "clerical error". I actually had read it off of the recent posting on the Archives of Television site. It turns out by re-copyrighting the music, some company figured out how to regain control.

Boris the Spider said...

Oh, but the SNL parody was great -- the "lost ending" to the movie, where Jimmy Stewart (Dana Carvey) finds out that Mr. Potter took the money and leads the town mob over to Potter's place for justice. They yank the old coot out of his wheelchair and proceed to kick him in the gut. As this violence is committed, the town breaks out into a cheerful Christmas carol. Cut to the Church bells ringing; the end.

Boris the Spider said...

I'm always amazed by the Internet. Here's the script for that SNL skit:
http://snltranscripts.jt.org/86/86hlife.phtml

Doesn't say who wrote it, though. Shame.

Frank Strovel III said...

Not to be a name-dropper myself but Kevin Kilner ("Almost Perfect") is my brother-in-law's cousin. I met him (and wife Jordan) at a wedding recently.

Joanne Smith said...

I just wanted to respond to the Times article, since it seemed to imply that the bulk of comments made were by Hollywood insiders.

I LOVE Studio 60. It touches all the places that make me feel good, which is why I watch it. I don't find Sorkin preachy or whine that the skits within the show aren't funny enough for me - that wasn't my expectation (especially after Sorkin made a point to say he wasn't trying to highlight the sketches in the show before the first episode aired). I'm just a regular person who never liked the "who can we be vile to in order to win" shows and was disgusted by the characters on Seinfeld.

Sorkin writes about things I care about. He makes me think about things I wouldn't be exposed to and reminds me about things that still exist in our world.

I'm not watching Studio 60 to find out what goes on behind the scenes in Hollywood. I'm watching Studio 60 because when Aaron Sorkin creates a show, he makes his characters a solid ensemble. They become family. There's a certain spirituality about these people; i.e. they think about things other than greed, being shallow or how to disembowel the competition.

I don't care if every episode isn't the perfect Emmy-nomination jewel the world expects it to be. It may not be the funniest show on earth, but it does tell a story. In the end, that's all I'm looking for - characters that make me want to turn on the TV again and again.

The Curmudgeon said...

Judging by the comments, you hit a nerve with you one-liner on "It's a Wonderful Life."

I think you were too hard on the movie, however.

The movie was just done to death when it was in the public domain. When my kids were little, we'd be up all night on Christmas Eve trying to assemble toys -- "Some Assembly Required" is one of the most vicious, evil lies of our age -- and we could watch George Bailey on every channel.

After awhile, I couldn't help rooting for both George and Clarence to drown.

But let the movie rest awhile; come back to it in a few years and I'll bet your teeth won't hurt a bit.

Meantime, if we're going to run Capra movies -- when's the last time "You Can't Take It With You" was on?

Or "Meet John Doe"? (Which may still be public domain -- and has a Christmas theme -- but was too dark to beat to death like "Wonderful Life."

Anonymous said...

I have to say, I'd rather sit through an It's a Wonderful Life 24 hour Marathon than 2 hours of Jackie Mason

Cyndi said...

Ken - I love most of your shows, but must admit that I found Almost Perfect unwatchable . . .

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Hey Ken. Long-time lurker, but time to come out of online anonymity because after Frasier at 2:07 this morning, the local L.A. CBS station aired "The Ghost of Christmas Presents," your Becker Christmas episode. Briskly done, man. Very enjoyable, especially the end analysis of whether what Becker experienced was actually a Christmas miracle.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Two things I forgot:

1) There's a lengthy time in the episode with Becker in a car, eventually with the robber. Were those scenes filmed on a separate soundstage before the audience taping?

2) Quite a while back, I went to a taping of the second-to-last episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and I was more fascinated with watching Gary Halvorson watch the monitors and call "Cut" and everything else that a director does. Mind you, I have no intentions of being any kind of a director. In my work, I have an almost unhealthy interest in directors' contributions to TV and movies.

But one thing I was curious about was after the audience files out when the taping's over. Is the next day spent in an editing room and how much time do you get for that?

Ken Levine said...

Rory,

Those scenes were shot on the New York street at Paramount. They were shot the day before the filming in front of an audience, edited, and played back on monitors. We then used the actual laughter when the audience watched those scenes.

Once a show if filmed the editor takes a few days or a week to assemble his first cut. The director then gives notes. Although, I would often give notes during the filming, having the script coordinator mark takes I thought were the best.

That was a fun episode to direct. I think we used twenty cars (there was a traffic jam), fake snow, multiple cameras. It wasn't David Lean but it did have some scope.

Thanks for the kind words.

Anonymous said...

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http://projectgay.blogspot.com/

Tom said...

A lot of the anti-It's a Wonderful Life sentiment is indeed due to TV stations running it incessantly in lieu of having to pay for a movie that someone may not have seen a dozen times before. But James Howard Kuntsler comes up with another reason not to be so crazy about the movie. Of course, no one in the barely-post-war time that the film was made would know how bad suburban sprawl would become, and Kuntsler is wrong about it being a choice between either Bailey Park or Pottersville; Peoria, for one, has both the shabby subdivisions and the sleazy downtown. But it's still food for thought.

Plus, of course, the parallel-universe Mary is damned to the fate of the spinster librarian. Except that quite a few of those old-time librarians were lesbians who were glad to have a professional career in a non-male-dominated field. Hmm. Maybe Mary Bailey wasn't as happy being a hausfrau as she pretended to be.

Oh, and WRT the Rosie-La Donald "feud", I'm becoming convinced that it's all part of a scheme to keep people from forgetting that the Miss USA pageant, the eternal runner-up to Miss America, still exists. I don't know that Rosie is really part of the plot, but I wouldn't put it past Trump--has he ever had an expression on his face that didn't suggest that he was thinking of something really sleazy, right at that moment? If the poor young "scholarship winner" is forever after known as a drunken slattern, well, eggs must be broken.

Anonymous said...

I'm a television viewer who loves Studio 60. I don't care if the show is accurate in it's portrayal of life behind the scenes of a comedy show. It's television. Not reality. The central part of the show is not the comedy sketches, it's the relationships between the characters. This show is well written, well acted and by far the best new show this season.

EmployeeMegan said...

Late getting to this, but as one of the other folks quoted in the Studio 60 article, I would agree that hate is the wrong word. If I hate at all, then I at least love to hate.

Also, as to the sketches on the show, you could argue that they are unimportant. But Matt Albie being the most super talented comedy writer ever? And Harriet being a brilliant comedic actress (one who rose through the ranks at the Groundlings through unnecessarily fictitious means)? If I don't believe these things, how do I believe any of it?

Lastly, I love It's A Wonderful Life.

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