Monday, November 30, 2009

A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS meets MAD MEN

A holiday tradition is A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS and we pretty much have a Mad Man to thank for it. John Allen was a Don Draper at McCann-Erickson in the mid 60s. On behalf of Coca-Cola he was lobbying for Charlie Brown. It would be the first animated adaptation of Charles M. Schultz’s classic PEANUTS comic strip. But Allen had to really twist arms because in typical fashion, CBS hated it.

They thought the animation was awful, the story too thin and depressing, the jazz score inappropriate for kids, and of course wanted a laugh-track. I'm surprised they didn't require a laugh-track on THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

And CBS was especially opposed to Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Bible. What the hell is that doing in a Christmas Special?

Oh, and they didn’t like that children were doing the voices of the…uh, children. In other words, all the things that made it distinctive; all the things that made it great. One high-ranking CBS program executive/visionary said it was a “piece of shit”.

And CBS had a lot riding on this. It was going to pre-empt THE MUNSTERS and follow GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. The quality had to be top notch to join that pantheon of excellence.

But John Allen pushed and pushed and finally persuaded the reluctant program chief to air the special. A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS premiered 44 years ago this month.

And got a 50 share.

It won an Emmy and a Peabody and became an instant holiday classic. I guess children doing the voices of children did not result in a viewer revolt.

CBS began running the special every year (taking credit for it of course). And it achieved the almost unheard of feat of getting higher ratings year after year. By 1969 it was scoring a 53 share.

CBS continued to air the special until 2000. ABC then took over. It was supposed to air again Tuesday night -- digitally remastered -- but is being pre-empted by the President's speech. It will play later this month. CBS meanwhile, will still air its holiday special this evening -- THE VICTORIA SECRETS FASHION SHOW.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY ANNIVERSARY CHARLIE BROWN.

And thanks to John Allen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Does THUNDERBALL still hold up?

You know it’s the holiday season when there are James Bond marathons on every cable network except Oxygen. Caught one I hadn’t seen in years – THUNDERBALL from 1965. I saw it originally at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on the big BIG screen. I remember loving it at the time. From the stirring THUNDERBALL theme sung by Tom Jones I was hooked. So I wondered, did it hold up after all these years?

Well, the theme song sure does. And there’s no question that Sean Connery was the best Bond. There is just a level of insouciance in Connery’s Bond that none of his successors had – even light-comedy master Roger Moore never had that twinkle. Connery’s Bond enjoyed the gig, and why not? He sure got laid more than the later Bonds. Too bad it was in the 60s though and most of these women had helmet hair and raccoon make-up.

Note to PLAYBOY magazine: NEVER do another layout showing Bond girls as they are today. No one wants to see Octapussy as octogenarian.

The dialogue, which seemed so sparkling at the time, now comes off as cringeworthy.

Bond Girl: What sharp eyes you’ve got.
Bond: Wait til’ you get to my teeth.

Yikes! Since when did Bob Hope become a British Secret Agent?

And the sensibility was soooo sexist. Women were objects, easy, submissive, disposable, or evil. In the world of James Bond, Gloria Steinem is as much a super villain as Ernst Blowfeld.

The chief baddie in THUNDERBALL is Emilio Largo (these guys never have names like Mike or Skip) and you know he’s evil because he has a black patch over one eye. In typical Bond fashion, when he’s not trying to kill 007 he’s inviting him to lunch (women always refer to him as “James”, super villains call him “Mr. Bond”, M always uses “007”, and U.S. military officers call him “Jimbo”.). When I say they try to kill Bond, that of course means through some elaborate contraption only Wile E. Coyote would purchase instead of just taking out a gun and shooting his sorry ass.

As a kid I never let plot holes get in the way of a good James Bond yarn. I remember first seeing THUNDERBALL and having no idea what the hell was going on? Now someone is trying to kill him in his hotel room, now he’s taking pictures of a boat and dodging hand grenades, now he’s in a car chase and the evil Spectre woman blows up the car that’s trying to off him, now he eludes four gunmen during a big Junkanoo celebration and the next morning just strolls through town unnoticed, now he’s in a tuxedo, now he’s in an underwater battle, now he’s shot and the next day he’s completely healed. What the fuck??!!

A plane on a routine training mission has two atomic bombs on board and takes off from a NATO base conveniently located right next door to the health spa where James just happens to be staying at the time. The plane is hijacked and lands in the shallow water outside of Nassau. It can land in water without giant pieces splintering off? Really? There’s no radar to track this? And no one in Nassau sees or hears a fighter plane land in the ocean just off the coast? Now scuba divers move the bombs. On the side of one hydrogen bomb it says (and this is absolutely true, you can see for yourself) “handle like eggs”.

But I didn’t care.

Other minor story points didn’t bother me either like how do super villains amass large armies and trained scuba divers? How clueless are the British Intelligence and CIA that they have no knowledge of 200 henchmen being recruited? And where do all these people sleep? How do secret compounds with launch facilities large enough accommodate Gemini rockets get built incognito? If Spectre is a secret society why do their agents wear rings that have its logo?

These issues didn’t concern me then and they still don’t. In later movies he goes to the moon and shit and that crossed a line but a yacht carrying one of the atomic bombs crashes into the shore and explodes and doesn’t set off a nuclear explosion that wipes out three million people – sure, why quibble?

THUNDERBALL did hold up in the sense that it was still fun to watch and now because of all the cheese there were way more laughs then when I first saw it in 1965.

And now for an unexpected treat. I went to YouTube to see if it had the opening titles so I could play Tom Jones’ theme for you. And I discovered this – an alternate theme, written and performed by Johnny Cash. I guess no one told the Man in Black that THUNDERBALL wasn’t a Western. You won’t believe this.

First -- Tom Jones


And now put on your spurs. Johnny Cash.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Speed Dating for Writers

A question I’m always asked is “how do you find a writing partner?”. I met mine in the army but I sure don’t recommend that method. The WGA has come up with a nifty idea. Speed Dating. Just like the social version with the same success rate of getting laid. Every so often the Guild sponsors evenings for writers looking for that perfect scribe mate. I’ve never been to one of course, but I imagine you hear some pretty wacky responses. As a public service, so you don’t make these gaffes, here are few of the responses I would not want to hear. (I'm sure you can think of some more yourself.)

Dennis Miller is funny now. He never used to be but he is now.

We can work at my place. I live in Bakersfield.

Hey, hey, don’t touch my Naomi Watts photos! They’re not bothering you.

I can work anywhere any time. In fact, if you’ve got a couch I could crash on, that would be sweet.

If I could go back and work on any classic sitcom from the past, it would have to be MAMA’S FAMILY.

You would be…let’s see…my eighth partner.

I’m really good at editing. You pitch me ten ideas and I can tell you which is the good one.

It's nothing personal. I don't look anyone in the eye.

Do graphic comics count as books I’ve read?

Look, if you didn’t go to an Ivy school I don’t even know why we’re talking.

Everyone who’s read my script thought it wasn’t funny. That’s why I need a partner.

I do my best work between 2 and 4 A.M.

First things first -- who gets top billing?

Let’s work at my place. That way I can watch my twins. They just started walking!

You don’t remember? You slept with me at the Sundance retreat and never called me back, you shit!

I have a spec ELLEN I could show you.

This rubber band? Whenever I start feeling this building smoldering rage my shrink says play with this rubber band. Does it bother you?

There’s a British version of THE OFFICE?

You have beautiful hair. Can I touch it?

Do you have a cigarette?

How long have I fucking been writing? Fuck knows. But I guess it was, fuck, I dunno, some fucking time around the end of last fucking year or some shit.

The only thing is… I don’t drive.

I took Robert McKee’s class twice. So I kind of see myself as an expert on story.

Would you take my hands and join me in a prayer?

Okay, well…if you’re here and I’m here it’s pretty clear our partnership isn’t working.

My Thanksgiving Tradition... and tribute to Soupy Sales

video


This is believe it or not, a Levine Thanksgiving tradition. It began one year when we had too many desserts and I made the mistake of asking my wife what she wanted to do with the cream pie.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Holiday weekend left-overs

Our family table on Thanksgiving night…
Did anyone notice the Sears commercial on MODERN FAMILY this week? An African-American couple is standing before a store clerk and asking, “Is it Black Friday yet?” Between that and Fizbo the Clown on MF I had my two biggest laughs of the month.

Don't know about your town but here in mellow LA we had full-out brawls at two Wal Marts among shoppers on Black Friday.

HuffPost headline: “Mackenzie Phillips Uninvited From Family Thanksgiving” It’s that old “Your dad didn’t really sleep with you” argument that is so prevalent among families.

I know it’s tradition for the Detroit Lions to play on Thanksgiving but Jesus, they’re atrocious. Start a new tradition and have anyone else play?

The Lions’ old stadium, the Pontiac Dome, sold recently for $580,000. In L.A. you can’t buy a one-bedroom condo in Pacoima for that.

Remember when Al Roker used to interview the big NBC stars before the Macy’s Parade? This year he was hob knobbing with the winner of WORLD’S BIGGEST LOSER.

NBC wouldn’t let the cast of GLEE perform at the parade because they were “competition” and yet they showed the SpongeBob Square Pants balloon even though SpongeBob actually beat Jay Leno in the ratings one night last week.

How come Bullwinkle’s no longer in the parade?

I’ve received screeners of A SERIOUS MAN and 500 DAYS OF SUMMER. Both are GREAT movies that I’m sure I’ll vote for! And I’m not just saying that because I got screeners (hint hint studios).

Another thing to be thankful for: Earl Pomerantz's team of twenty cardiologists have cleared him for resuming his blog. New posts begin Monday. Welcome back, Earl!

How the mighty have fallen: The big UCLA-USC game is not even nationally televised.

OLD DOGS must be great!! Their newspaper ad quotes "CBS Dallas" liking it.

Typical Wednesday night scene: Mom in the kitchen preparing for Thanksgiving. Dad/hubby enters and asks what’s for dinner tonight? Mom: “Are you fucking kidding me? We’re going out!” The Cheesecake Factory probably had a two-hour wait.

My dad just got back from a Princess cruise to Hawaii. There was some excitement on route. A fishing boat was stranded and they were the closest ship. So they veered off course and rescued the two fishermen and two dogs. The next morning the gift shop was selling pictures of the rescue.

I wish I had known about MacKenzie Phillips. She could have had Thanksgiving dinner with us. Our family argument was over what was the best season of ONE DAY AT A TIME?

Hope you’re having a great Thanksgiving weekend.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Has anyone ever REALLY hated one of our scripts?

It’s Friday Question day – something to read on your cellphone while you stand in line at 5 A.M. waiting for Sears to open.

From Ref:

The cast of "The Office" consists in large part of many of the show's writers. Is this kind of doubling common? What would the chemistry be like between the writer/actors and those who just get paid to act?

It seems rather uncommon for sitcoms. On sketch shows like SNL writers often double as on-camera talent, a la Tina Fey and Senator Al Franken. If writers have supporting roles I don’t imagine there’s much resentment from the cast. It’s not like they’re taking big jobs away from working actors.

I actually think it improves the chemistry because writers learn first-hand just how difficult it is to be a good actor.

Doug DeRoo wonders:

"have either of you guys (me and my partner, David Isaacs) ever had an exec say, "this totally blows...get outta my office!" I seriously doubt it!!"

Uh, yeah... it happened. In a BIG way. When we had a development deal with Lorimar we once wrote a pilot for HBO back in their embryonic days. Our mandate was to write something very different from a traditional network sitcom, which we did. Lee Rich, the President of Lorimar hated it, called us into his office, and ripped us a new one. He hated it so much he wanted to get out of the development deal. But he didn’t hate it enough to pay us off the remainder of that deal so two days later we were his “boys” again.

By the way, it was a good pilot. We’ve written MUCH worse shit.

Quisp or Quake asks:

I loved Stephen Bach's Final Cut (about the making of Heaven's Gate); Lillian Ross's "Picture" and "The Devil's Candy," ("Bonfire of the Vanities."). Do you have any behind the scenes favorites?

Yes. INDECENT EXPOSURE by David McClintick. It’s the David Begelman story. Begelman was the President of Columbia pictures in the 70s and was forging checks as Cliff Robertson. It’s insane. We then did a rewrite on a project for him in the mid 80s and he wanted to pay us in television sets.

And finally, from Ed O.:

When a sitcom has an opening that is an isolated joke not always related to the main story, are these written separately at all? For example, on CHEERS, did you guys ever just sit around for an afternoon and write Norm jokes for when he walked in the bar? And then keep a notebook with 50 Norm jokes in it, and just pick one when you needed it?

That’s EXACTLY what we did. When there was time to kill we’d either sit around and try to bang out some teasers (that’s what we called those opening bits) or send off story editors to do that. Same with Norm entrances. But that was just to have things in the bank. When you got a script assignment on CHEERS you were required to write your own teaser.

Since teasers were independent of the stories that followed we also shuffled teasers from show to show to fit time needs. I remember once watching a show David and I had written and it opened with a teaser I had never seen before. It was kind of odd to be watching something for the first time that had my name attached as author.

What’s your question, besides what’s the warranty on that new Kenmore washing machine that’s on sale today only?

My Thanksgiving tradition: THE HONEYMOONERS

We all have our own cherished Thanksgiving traditions. Enjoying Grandma’s famous stuffing recipe (which oddly tastes a lot like Stove Top), the game of touch football on the lawn (they still talk about the year Uncle Ed’s stitches came loose), weird cousin Marla’s holiday decorations (festive paper turkeys with hatchets), everyone bringing their favorite dish, renewing the argument over whether cousin Marla should be hospitalized, etc. My fondest tradition was watching THE HOONEYMOONERS marathon on one of the local LA channels. The last few years it’s been discontinued but thanks to DVD’s, I now own all 39 classic episodes and can gleefully watch them again for the nine millionth time.

Produced in 1955 for one season only, THE HONEYMOONERS remains my favorite all-time sitcom. I don’t think there’s ever been a more inspired cast than Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, and Audrey Meadows. And Joyce Randolph was okay too.

I wonder what people in their 20’s would think of the show. Would it seem too retro? Would the black-and-white cause a disconnect? Would the comedy still hold up? I’d like to think it would. I’d like to think any generation would marvel at Art Carney demonstrating a golf swing, or Jackie Gleason learning to mambo.

If you’ve never seen THE HONEYMOONERS, or haven’t in a long time, I invite you to get the DVD collection and have your own Thanksgiving marathon. But JUST the classic 39 episodes. The collected sketches from Gleason’s variety show or the “lost episodes” don’t hold up. But those 39, for my money, are sitcom perfection. I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Some of my favorite episodes are:

The Golfer
Better Living Through TV
Oh, my Aching Back
The $99,000 Answer
Young at Heart
Unconventional Behavior
Hello, Mom

I bet as you read this I’m watching one of them right now.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!!

The worst Thanksgiving song ever!

From Bacharach & David no less. This is from their musical PROMISES PROMISES. There are some brilliant songs in that show and then...

there is "Turkey Lurkey Time" and it's even more horrifying than that title. Get ready to throw a drumstick at your monitor.

Truly, what were they thinking???

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The nightmare of writing the Thanksgiving episode

Thanksgiving. I look forward to the holiday, never writing about it. Every sitcom I’ve ever worked on, we’ve had the obligatory Thanksgiving episode. How many variations can you have on the big family dinner going awry? I think I’ve written the “turkey gets burned”, “relatives clash”, “nutty friends invited”, “can’t find a restaurant”, “kids break something”, “Guess who’s Coming to Dinner variation, “Meet the Parents variation”,“football gambler loses big”, “tofu turkey substitute”, “someone accidentally gets dragged seven blocks by the Mr. Potato Head balloon”, “mom’s a terrible cook”, “relative accidentally not invited”, “someone is allergic to something in the stuffing and has a funny seizure”, “power outage”, “thawing frozen turkey last minute”, “food fight”, and “the pilgrim re-enactment” episode fifteen times.

Hopefully, none of these things will happen to you this turkey day. And if they do, at least you’ll have your BILL ENGVALL SHOW spec script halfway written.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

How to make $$$$ off the internet

Yes, I admit it. I read WRITTEN BY. It’s the WGA’s bi-monthly magazine. Every writer I’ve ever worked for or with has been on the cover at one time or another. I’m the only Guild member I know who hasn’t been featured. So I produced AfterMASH. I didn’t kill anybody, okay?!

Still, I always find interesting articles and columns. There’s the obligatory profile of the “hot” writer who is so pompous and insufferable you just know in five years he’ll be the night manager at Sizzlers.

There are nifty features on which writers sold books, which writers contributed to the Guild Foundation, and which writers are now dead.

Usually every month there’s a different theme. Comedy, procedurals – I haven’t seen an issue devoted to TV Westerns in awhile. Maybe that’s next month.

But for October/November the theme is the internet – what opportunities are available for writers, how might we make money off it it, etc.? Very timely and useful stuff.

Obviously no one has yet to REALLY figure out how to profit from cyberspace. But there are ways to make a buck here and there.

For us bloggers and webmasters, there is the option of attaching ads to your site. So far I’ve resisted. It doesn’t seem worth junking up my blog for the eleven dollars a month I would probably make. Plus I would want to personally endorse every product I advertise and who knows if those penis enlargement crèmes really work?

Another suggestion was to sell merchandise. There are sites that make that very easy. But who’s going to buy Ken Levine T-shirts and coffee mugs?

The bulk of the issue was centered on videos and webisodes. When done right (i.e. your name is Joss Whedon) they can lead to tangible success. But finding the right platform can be problematic.

Still, the prospect of having complete freedom when creating content is very intoxicating. Imagine a world with no restrictions on content and no network executives trying to turn your vision into GARY UNMARRIED.

The trouble comes though when you say, “Oh shit! The rent is due.” You can just put your mini-masterpieces on YouTube and hope they’ll catch on and someone from ABC discovers it. You and ten billion other Spielbergs with rented HD cameras. No, you need a little help.

Networks and studios – finally seeing the handwriting on the wall (which suspiciously looks like Jay Leno’s signature), have flocked to the net in search of portals to show and sell their wares. One article details a writer who hooked up with a studio with a mass market website for a project. He had complete freedom, could stretch the envelope as far as he wanted.

Except…

The webisodes all had to be five minutes, self-contained. And they had to be structured in such a way so that they could also be assembled into thirty-minute programs for selling to networks. And they might even be stretched to an hour or a full-length movie. (Before you think this is a groundbreaking concept, Crusader Rabbit was doing it in 1949.)

So this writer set about writing these webisodes. First he was told to write 74 five-minute episodes. Then it was changed to 50 four-minute episodes. As he was slogging through that, word came down to instead do 44 four-minute episodes.

Excuse me but, uh… isn’t this like doing a network show but worse? Aren’t there even more restrictions?

Is there really that much difference between a three-minute show and a four-minute show? Yeah, I guess with a three-minute show you don’t have time for a B-story like you would in a four-minute episode.

With new mediums comes new ways to pillage and ultimately new forms of insanity. I’d love to do webisodes someday. Love to really be able to experiment and have fun. But I think I’d rather fund them and launch them myself. Yeah, I might not make the money I would have had I attached myself to a studio. But who needs that deal with the devil? Besides, I’m starting to think Ken Levine T-shirts could just be a huge seller.

So why the picture of Natalie Wood? As longtime readers of this blog know, if I can't find an appropriate image for my story I just post a Natalie Wood photo instead.

The most insane Japanese Game Show EVER

"I'll take 50 girls in bikinis for a hundred, Alex."


Japanese Human Slip-n-Slide - Watch more Funny Videos

How has Fox missed this one?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Random thoughts about stuff

People were camped out in front of the theater in my neighborhood for three days to see the first showing of NEW MOON. Uh, it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime event or concert. It’s a MOVIE. It stays the same. It’s not like if you wait until next week Nancy Pelosi and Joe Lieberman will be playing the title roles.

Similarly, a gas station on Moorpark in the valley was charging $2.85 for regular last week. A block down a station was charging $3.19 and they practically had a line. It’s the same gasoline, morons! There’s no such thing as Techron!

Our one rule for when our kids wanted to go off to college: there must be a direct flight home. How many of you or your kids will be stuck in airports this week trying to make a connection?

In a break from the long-standing tradition of having a major network broadcast the Primetime Emmys, they will be on NBC next year. Maybe they could get Jay Leno to host them. He gets so little exposure over there.

Anyone else notice that 30 ROCK’S ratings are absolutely in the toilet this year? Fire Tracy Morgan. Use Brian Williams more. Heck, let Brian Williams host the Emmys.

Is there even one week a year that the World Series of Poker isn’t going on?

Someone is following me on Twitter now who is also following 37036 people. I’m so honored.

My partner David reports from Soho where our "Dancin' Homer" episode of the SIMPSONS is selling briskly on a Spring Street vendor's table. I hope David collected our .000000000000001% cut.

How soon until Blue-Ray becomes obsolete? Answer: Now. I just got a Blue-Ray player.

And this might just be that new thing: Scientists are researching biodegradable, silicon-silk devices that could be implanted inside the human body for various applications, potentially including the development of "LED tattoo" skin displays. You could invite friends over and show IT’S COMPLICATED on your ass.

A great recent headline in the news: Gang Killed People To Extract Their Fat

Oprah told her studio audience last week “Much prayer and months of careful thought” led her to shut down her syndicated show in 2011. By “prayer” she meant: “I’ll now have more money than God”.

It’s always odd to see what people searched on Google to get to my site. Recent searches include:

Total Drama Island Nude
Sonya Walger masturbation
How bad to teacup pigs smell?
David Lloyd pants
Erotic Nudity on Netflix
Jump Rope girls
How many F words are in the Taking of Pelham 1-2-3?
Steve Martin plastic surgery
Happy ending message (he probably meant massage)
What songs does Sinatra mention Jilly?
Another Christmas of agony
Japanese girls in white socks (I'm certainly the go-to site for that)
Hotter than two rats in a wool sock author
Arclight popcorn
Sharpay nude
Best porn star site (why did they come to me???)

For anyone in my generation, November 22nd is our September 11th.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A holiday tradition: my Thanksgiving Travel Tips!

The Thanksgiving holiday is the peak travel weekend of the year (in America. The rest of the world could give a rat’s ass about Thanksgiving.) So as a public service, here again -- and with a few additions -- are some travel tips:

Leave for the airport NOW. Don't wait until the last week .

Bring no luggage. Wearing the same clothes for a week is a small price to pay. Plus, the airlines now charge you for check-in luggage AND blankets. Pretty soon pressurized air will also be extra.

Southwest has no reserved seating. Get in one of the latter groups boarding. You don’t want to be one of the first to sit then watch as fifty people glance at the empty seat next to you, then to you, and decide to sit somewhere else. Even in the last row.

If you have children under the age of five tell your relatives one has an ear ache and make everyone come to YOU.

Those people in the Stand-By line – those are the same people who think they can get rich selling Amway products, and the Tooth Fairy really exists. Don’t fly Stand-By unless you like sleeping in airport terminals for five days.

If you rent from Hertz plan on a two hour wait just to get your car. Unless you’re one of their “preferred” customers in which case allow only one hour.

When rental car companies recommend you use premium gasoline put in regular. It’s cheaper, it’ll run just fine, and it’s not your car.

Before you pull off the road to a Chuck E. Cheese for lunch, remember their namesake is a rat.

Three words of advice if you’re driving a long distance: Sirius/XM satellite radio. Especially if you’re crossing Texas and want to listen to Air America.

Air travelers: avoid O’Hare. Better to land in Dallas, even if your destination is Chicago.

If you’re dropping someone off at the airport don’t even think you’ll be able to stop. Have your travelers practice the tuck and roll from a moving car. The first couple of times they’ll bounce but by the fourth or fifth try they should have it down.

Watch the DVD of HOSTEL on your laptop. The bigger the screen, the better.

There’s more legroom in Exit rows. When the flight attendants ask if you are willing to help out in case of emergency just say yes. Like it’s going to make a big difference anyway if you crash.

There are NO bargains in the Sky Mall magazine.

When you’re stuck in St. Louis and all flights are grounded (and trust me, you WILL be), grab lunch at JBucks.

If you’re flying on an airline that doesn’t have reserved seating never sit next to anyone whose already eating or reading the Sarah Palin alibiography.

Before you fly to New York and have to negotiate JFK just remember – the parade is on TV. And it’s the same friggin' balloons as last year. The only difference is that the stars of NBC’s big new hit from last year, KATH & KIM, won’t be there (thank God).

Never pay to see an in-flight movie starring Debra Messing.

Put a big strip of duct tape on your luggage so you’ll recognize it easily. And it makes a nice fashion statement.

If you’re flying with small children see if there’s such a thing as “Flintstones Valium”.

In-flight alcoholic beverages are expensive. Better to drink heavily at the airport before boarding.

And finally, watch PLANES, TRAINS, & AUTOMOBILES again and think of it as a “best” case scenario.

Happy trails to you all.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Who played guitar on BECKER?

It's Friday Question Day on Saturday. Also an excuse to show an episode of BECKER I wrote and directed.

LeeFranke wonders:

"Who is playing guitar between the scenes on TV's Becker?"

I asked the source, Bruce Miller, who composed the theme and did all the music on BECKER (along with FRASIER and a million other shows -- Bruce is the best!)

Ken...........the guitarist is my son Jason Miller. A short backstory is that when I met with Dave Hackel (series creator), well before the pilot shot, we decided on a very raw element to the music to represent the doc -- pretty crusty guy as we know. My example was a guitar hero of many of us, Stevie Ray Vaughn. I played him for Dave and he loved it. Now the question was who to play it for real? Jason did a little demo for me of the actual theme demo I wrote for Dave's approval and was pretty impressive. However, he was a school kid and I always favored employing people who need this for their living, along with the fact that Jason was pretty raw at the time and I didn't even consider him for doing the show with me.

Anyway, after some great guitar solo demos of my regular brilliant studio guys, Dave just couldn't get with the perfection and smoothness of these pros and asked if Jason could do it. I tried him out and he came through beautifully with all the "street rawness" that was required to exemplify the John Becker character. Since this show, I'm proud to say that my son has been carving out an impressive career in his own right, along with sharing composition duties on shows with "pops", as he sarcastically refers to me.

Thanks, Bruce. Here's an episode, complete with main titles. What is your question?





Happy Birthday Rocky & Bullwinkle!

Thanks to friend of the blog, Bob Elisberg for reminding me that yesterday Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle Moose turned 50. Their show premiered on ABC on November 19, 1959. Robert DeNiro almost killed them a few years ago in his sort-of live-action movie of the dynamic duo. But neither DeNiro, or Boris Badanov, or Natasha (who had great knockers for a cartoon character – better even than Betty Rubble’s), or Mr. Big, or the networks could ultimately squash the plucky squirrel and the moose with the IQ of Sarah Palin.

Zany Jay Ward created the series. He also had a hand in the development of Crusader Rabbit and Rags (who just turned 60 and I’m happy to report Crusader is recovering nicely from a hip replacement). The humor in the show was refreshingly irreverent, geared as much for adults as kids. Rocky’s staff went on to write THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, ALL IN THE FAMILY, THE JEFFERSONS, and BARNEY MILLER.

Here’s a sample episode. Rocky and Bullwinkle adventures were serialized into three minute segments (a format originated by Crusader, who thanks you all for the get well cards and letters). For more info on the squirrel and moose check out Bob’s article.

Hokey smokes! I love these guys!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Holiday Movie Preview Part 3

Friday's question has been pushed back till tomorrow. Too many movies, too few free passes. SHERLOCK HOLMES – Robert Downey Jr. plays the super-sleuth but with a twist – he’s an action hero. Catch phrase: “Ele-fucking-mentry, Watson!”

WHITE RIBBON – Various atrocities within a German village right before World War I. Perfect for when the kiddies are out of school!

THE YOUNG VICTORIA – Before she was a stuffy repressed wizened old crone she was known as “party in a bag”. Emily Blunt as the young Vicky.

YOUTH IN REVOLT – Michael Cera plays a nerd and his suave alter-ego in this adaptation of the novel. Not only is Cera in every youth oriented comedy made today, he’s now getting multiple roles.

DAYBREAKERS – An entire world populated by vampires. I can just hear the studio executive. “These kids today seem to like vampires. So let’s do a vampire movie. But make it different. Put in five vampires. No, wait! Better -- how about four billion?”

LEAP YEAR – Amy Adams schemes to propose to her boyfriend in Ireland on February 29th when legend says he can’t refuse. But she got the legend wrong and winds up in Brigadoon.

THE BOOK OF ELI – Hey, the Hughes Brothers are back! After an eight-year hiatus they return with a postapocalypic thriller. The only thing from our world that survives is Twinkies.

HOODWINKED 2 – Wait a minute. There was a HOODWINKED 1?

QUEEN TO PLAY – Action-adventure about a girl who falls in love with chess. Stars Sandrine Bonnaire who does her own stunts.

CREATION – Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly as Mr. & Mrs. Charles Darwin. Original Title: HEY HEY, WE’RE THE MONKEYS.

EDGE OF DARKNESS – Mel Gibson, so if it fails he’ll blame the Jews.

TOOTH FAIRY – This is what Hollywood is buying and making (actual logline): Dwayne Johnson is a hockey player known as the tooth fairy because he knocks out opponents’ teeth. But the REAL tooth fairy drafts him into duty for a week. For your consideration: Best Picture.

WHEN IN ROME – Thankfully, something a little more realistic than the TOOTH FAIRY. Kristen Bell steals coins from a magic fountain.

See you at the Cineplex!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Holiday Movie Preview Part 2

THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE – Robin Wright as a woman who looks back at her life. I wonder if any character says to her, “Well, Pippa, you made some bad mistakes in your life but at least you didn’t marry Sean Penn.”

ARMORED – Armored car robbery by its guards. Actually I wonder why this doesn’t happen 12,000 times a year.

BROTHERS – When Natalie Portman’s husband is missing in Afghanistan, she turns to his brother, Jake Gyllenhaal for solace. Uh oh.

EVERYBODY’S FINE – Robert DeNiro as a widower. That’s what Natalie Portman’s husband is going to be if he ever comes home from Afghanistan and finds her with his Goddamn brother.

THE LAST STATION – It seems like every holiday season we get another Leo Tolstoy biography. Christopher Plummer stars this time as the Tolster.

TRANSYLMANIA – All the finest universities encourage their students to study a semester in Transylvania. Transportation and lodging is provided but students are required to bring their own crosses.

SERIOUS MOONLIGHT – Meg Ryan. Title refers to the only way to light her now.

UP IN THE AIR – I couldn’t think of a better line than the one I used for the Fall Preview so here it is again. George Clooney is a habitual airline traveler who falls for another habitual airline traveler. “We’ll always have Tucson to Detroit with a stop in Dallas”.

THE LOVELY BONES – A low budget Peter Jackson film (which sounds like an oxymoron). A 14-year-old girl is murdered and there’s no giant gorilla or magic gnomes to save her.

AVATAR – The long awaited James Cameron sci-fi $9 billion-dollar 3-D blockbuster. Judging by the trailer, it’s about the Smurfs coming to life.

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? – Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant in the Witness Protection Program shuttled off to Wyoming where Brits and Jews blend right in.

POLICE, ADJECTIVE – Underground cop in Romania stakes out a pot smoking kid. Tim Lincecum stars.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL – “Let’s do it again!” “No, no, let’s not overdo it.” “But we want to do it again!” “No, really.” “We want to do it again!” “AL-VINN!”

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS – Hopefully not this season’s MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM.

IT’S COMPLICATED – No it’s not. It’s FORMULA. Because it’s Nancy Meyers. Rom com for middle-agers. Expect a mixture of 60s hits, lame jokes, and cloying sentimentality. I dare you to make it through the trailer.

The Holiday Movie Preview concludes tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Holiday Movie Preview!!

Ho ho ho! It's time for this year's Holiday Movie Preview, or what you'll be seeing on HBO in February.

THE MESSENGER – Ben Foster just back from Iraq gets a fun job in the Army’s Casualty Notification service. And you thought those telemarketers were annoying…

OH MY GOD! – Documentary about faith where some of the world’s leading thinkers are interviewed – like Ringo Starr.

PIRATE RADIO – Hey, they finally released it! For a synopsis see my previous Fall, Summer, Spring, and Winter previews.

2012 – The world blows up. So take out those 30-year loans with big balloon payments in five years. Who gives a shit?

UNCERTAINTY – SLIDING DOORS but with coin flips.

WOMEN IN TROUBLE – Damn! No it’s not a women-in-prison movie. When are we going to get more of those? This is a comedy about the lives of ten women intersecting over the course of a day. Why can’t they do the same movie but they’re incarcerated?

RED CLIFF – Cut down from its original five-hour version, this is the story of China’s Han Dynasty. Now it’s half that length. They took out the whole vase industry thing.

BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS – I hope Nick Cage has better luck picking movie roles than business managers.

THE BLIND SIDE – Sandy Bullock takes in a homeless black kid who grows up to be a pro football player and he has the heartbreaking task of telling Ms. B. she’s too uh, “mature” to be one of the team’s cheerleaders.

BROKEN EMBRACES – the 149th collaboration between Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz. This time she plays… aw, what difference does it make?

PLANET 51 – The Rock gets to really show off his acting chops. Animated movie about little green men.

STATEN ISLAND – What happens when the ferry’s late?

ME AND ORSON WELLES – Not a remake of JOSIE AND THE WHALE. This stars HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL’S Zac Efron as an actor in the 30s who talks his way into Welles’ Mercury Theater group. Most people have heard of either Zac Efron or Orson Welles. I wonder how many people have heard of both?

NINJA ASSASSIN – Korean superstar Rain stars in what I assume is a martial arts movie.

OLD DOGS – John Travolta and Robin Williams as two guys who have to baby-sit two seven-year-olds. God, haven’t we seen this movie two hundred times already? A better title might be OLD TRICKS.

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG – Disney’s hand-drawn animated film. Should be enchanting, magical, and holiday fun for the whole family. And then a ride.

More tomorrow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

SITCOM ROOM 4: An unbiased account from the guy who staged it

Thanks everybody for your anniversary wishes and feedback. It's great to know you're out there.
I think the attendees of SITCOM ROOM 4 are just now catching up on sleep. No one ran screaming from the event so I consider it an irrefutable triumph! Thanks to all those who participated. Hope you learned a lot, discovered some talents you didn't realize you had, and had FUN.

Some random thoughts:

For the first time we had more women attendees than men.

We also had three people from other countries. Austria, Australia, and one gentleman flew in from Ireland, arriving just an hour before the seminar began. He then stayed up late into the night rewriting thus simulating what it was like to be on the staff of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.

One of our attendees was an Emmy winner. Well, an Emmy contest winner. She was the girl who sent in a video and was selected to be at the Emmycast and do a few on-air comedy bits like sitting behind the Harlem Globetrotters, that sort of hilarity. It’s a good thing she never read my Emmy review.

A few meeting rooms over was the Kevin Trudeau “Make Millions” seminar. The point man for publicizing that was someone named Ken Levine. That didn’t cause too much confusion. For a moment I thought of combining our two seminars – showing the way to make millions as a TV writer or pork belly futures speculator.

It was a busy weekend at the LAX Hilton. On Sunday the hotel also hosted the Christian Faith Fellowship Service and Glamourcon.

Glamourcon is essentially a convention hall filled with porn stars, Playboy Playmates, “models”, and “actresses” who sign autographs and (for an additional fee) will let you take a picture with them. Among the notables who attended were Ida Ljungqvist (2009 Playmate of the Year, otherwise known in the adult world as “Eyechart”), Hiromi Oshima, Irina Voronina, and Judi Dench.

It was not hard to spot these model/actresses wandering around the hotel. Rarely do you see a platinum blond in 8” heels wearing only a bikini top and anal floss just hanging out in the lobby espresso bar.

One of our writing teams reported there was some porno movie being filmed in the suite across from theirs. Sleazy-looking guys with camera equipment and lights would duck into the room, followed by heavily made-up trollops clad only in bathrobes. You try coming up with a story fix when you hear that kind of commotion next door.

During my Saturday morning lecture most everyone was on their computers. Two or three were actually taking notes. The others were Tweeting or playing Minefield.

The scenes the groups rewrote were performed on Sunday and all were impressive! Every one had good laughs and very imaginative ideas. One had a condom joke and they weren’t even the group next to the porn shoot.

As usual, the writing teams really bonded. After the event they stayed together, either down at the bar or at Glamourcon. I meanwhile, had to dash off and host a three-hour show on KABC radio, talking about the prize fight and all the football games I didn’t see this weekend.

Our panel discussion was a big hit. Tom Straw, Fred Rubin, and Marley Sims regaled the attendees with horror stories and sage advice on how to get into the business, what producers are looking for in specs, new media opportunities, advantages and disadvantages of partnerships, and what it was like writing for Captain Kangaroo. We heard how one showrunner and his star both had bodyguards to protect them from each other (“collaboration” Hollywood style), and maybe the line of the day was from Fred describing an actor who was so bad “he couldn’t say a line the same way once”.

Many thanks to my partner, Dan O’Day; the actors: Andy Goldberg, Barbara Howard, Mark Chaet, and Lucy Adden; the dreaded “studio”: Howard Hoffman; panelists Tom, Fred, and Marley; and production assistants: Dow Chemical & Brock.

All in all it was a great weekend. For me it had a “happy ending” but I’m sure that has a very different meaning at Glamourcon.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The 4th anniversary of my blog!

I can only imagine how much more money I’d be worth if I were on a show that long. But I know I wouldn’t have had as much fun. Since I started back in November of 2005 I have posted 1,645 entries. This is amazing to me because I thought if I post something each day I would run out of ideas in two weeks. But somehow I manage to find new topics, even if I know nothing at all about them. Never let ignorance stand in the way of a good rant.

Anyway, many thanks to all of you for coming here. Without you I’m just writing volumes of material that will never be read – in other words, my spec screenplays.

But it’s been a great ride and I’ve met a lot of terrific new people – fifteen more just this past weekend at the Sitcom Room seminar (hope you guys had as much fun as I did).

As I like to do on these momentous occasions, I’d love to hear from you – especially you new readers and longtime lurkers. Who are you? Where you from? How did you stumble upon this blog? What do you like and don’t like (besides Patty Heaton)? Do you know any good restaurants in Santa Monica? Please leave your responses in the comments section. Thanks much.

On to the next four years. Who knew my little blog would outlive NBC?

Thanks again.

Ken

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe, Sherlock Holmes, and Steve Allen

Steve Allen created THE TONIGHT SHOW. He was an enormously talented man. Additionally, he was an accomplished musician and as if that wasn’t enough, a frequent game show panelist. He wrote numerous books on comedy. He won Emmys and God knows what else. He was one of my idols growing up. And one of my comedy writer heroes was his head writer, Stan Burns. But sometimes talent is not limitless. Mr. Allen could do a lot of things but solving crimes wasn't one of them.

Among his many endeavors, he wrote several mystery novels in which he and his wife Jayne Meadows were the two master sleut
hs. Needless to say there’s just a touch of grandiose ego in these unfathomable tomes. My favorite is MURDER IN VEGAS. Steve and Jayne go to Las Vegas. Steve performs in a big hotel showroom. And the bodies start to fall. The police are baffled. Ah, but not Steverino. Master entertainer by night, dynamite detective by day, Steve Allen does it all. Here are a few ACTUAL hard boiled excerpts. Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler – eat your heart out.

********


The first thing I did on coming off stage was to remove my formal dinner jacket and throw it on the couch in my dressing room, picking up a tan windbreaker in its place. From my dressing room closet, I also grabbed a tropical straw hat with a wide brim and a pair of dark glasses: private eye Allen was about to go incognito.
********
In the dream, after having erotic, but unfulfilled designs on an unidentified but highly desirable woman, I was suddenly swimming in an ocean at night…

(There’s an image I could live without – Steve Allen seducing a hot babe. Yikes!)
*********
Jayne reached out once again and felt the leg, a towel-covered thigh, and slowly her hand traced upward over the unconscious form, until coming to a cord wrapped tightly about Christie’s neck. It had been pulled with such vigorous force that Christie’s neck seemed broken, with her head lying to one side at an impossible angle.

Jayne loosened the cord, though she knew it was too late. Her heart was racing. “Oh dear!” she said. It was impossible to fool herself any longer into thinking this was a faint – Christie Hamilton had been murdered.

*********
I cannot claim the distinction of being Jewish, but a whispered “oy” escaped my lips at that moment.
*********
“Mr. Allen… there’s a phone call,” said the pretty slave girl in a pale lavender mini-toga.
********
As for young women, some of them seem to feel that since men are titillated by the revelation of a bit of kneecap, breast, shoulder or navel it logically follows that to quickly proceed to a state of either near or totally nudity is a wise course. They are quite mistaken in this. Or, to put the matter in simpler terms, one Sophia Loren is worth a thousand Madonnas.
*********

(And finally, I kid you not….)

And this young woman too, was obviously trying to sound as if she had spent her early years in a black ghetto. There’s something dumb about that, ladies and germs.

Chuckles follow-up from being there that night

Worth mentioning: Mary did that funeral scene absolutely pitch-perfect. AND she did it again -- a second take -- and was also right on the money. One of the greatest comic performances I have ever seen. And then she duplicated it. Extraordinary.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chuckles Bites the Dust

I imagine you've probably already seen it (many maybe times)but it's sure worth seeing again. This is David Lloyd's classic MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW episode, "Chuckles Bites the Dust". I've seen it forty times. I still marvel.





Thursday, November 12, 2009

Everything you wanted to know about Syd Field and Penny Peyser

As I head off to do another SITCOM ROOM seminar, here are a few Friday Q’s and even A’s:

From Sammy Glick (I love THAT name):

Who is Syd Field and what prompted him to write screenplay instructional books? Do you know of anyone who read the book and went on to write a successful screenplay? What did would be screenwriters do before Syd published his book(s)?

Of all the how-to screenwriting books, his have risen to the top. Not sure what he did before. He doesn’t have a lot of credits. Now he teaches at USC and Harvard and makes a shitload of money conducting seminars.

His three-act structure for screenplays is very sound. If you’re looking for a book on the subject, it’s as good or better than any of the others out there. Certainly better than those goofy “How to Write a Screenplay in Eleven Minutes” books.

According to Field’s website there have been a number of former students who have gone on to write successful movies including John Singleton, Kevin Williamson, and Randi Singer just to list three (of the six).

One word of caution: This goes for all screenwriting books. Use them as guides not the gospel. You do need sound structure but don’t slavishly squeeze your vision into one format.

unkystan has a TONY RANDALL SHOW question:

I was wondering why Devon Scott was replaced by Penny Peyser for season two.

Honestly, CBS wanted someone more attractive. Now usually the trade-off is looks for acting ability but I have to say, with no disrespect to Devon, that in this case Penny was better and funnier.

From leor:

This year, Rob Thomas remade his show Cupid, and although that didn't work, do you think a show like Almost Perfect could be more successful if remade now, with perhaps a more sophisticated audience (if you believe that to be the case in the first place)? And would you ever want to revisit a previous effort that you were proud of and felt didn't get a good enough chance?

Actually, Robin Schiff, David Isaacs and I tossed around the idea of rebooting ALMOST PERFECT but it’s a very hard sell. Networks would much rather try something new. We also wondered if it would be as timely now as when it premiered in 1995. A highly successful career woman trying to balance work and a personal life was novel back then. This was even a few years before ALLY MCBEAL. Now there are any number of them.

The other problem for us was casting. Nancy Travis was just so wonderful and special in the role it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing that part. You spoiled us, Nancy, damn you!

There are a couple of unproduced pilots from our checkered past I’d love to see get another shot. I’d also like a subway on the Westside of Los Angeles.

And finally: From Alan Coil:

In regards to the number of writers on a movie (as opposed to a television series), I'm generally of the opinion that a movie with a large number of writers is likely to be a bad movie.

Does this seem to be true, or am I making a generalization based on anecdotal information?

More often than not it is true. There have been exceptions but what you usually end up getting is a mish-mash of styles. And if a LOT of writers are involved that generally means the script is in trouble.

What you lose is a singular voice and vision. You can argue that writers assigned to rewrite are better and more experienced than the original writers and in many cases this is true. Especially when a studio buys a spec. But ultimately, when is art by committee ever much better?

What’s your question?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Directing in New York

Directing multi-camera shows can be a challenge in the best of conditions but in New York, it can really be a test.

A number of years ago I directed several episodes of LATELINE for NBC in New York. It starred now-Senator Al Franken and was filmed at the Kaufman-Astoria Studios in Queens. We were on the stage next to SESAME STREET. Maria is really hot... but I digress.

Multi-camera shows are generally on five-day schedules. The first day is the table reading and maybe a little rehearsing. The next two days are rehearsing with just the actors. The fourth day the full crew arrives and you do the camera blocking. And then the fifth day you rehearse with cameras and shoot the show that night.

Shows are either on a Monday through Friday schedule or Wednesday through Tuesday. I prefer the latter and explain why in this post from my dusty archives.

LATELINE was on that Wednesday to Tuesday schedule. Usually, you finish shooting a show on Tuesday night and a crew comes in and strikes the swing sets during the middle of the night. When you arrive on Wednesday the new sets for that week’s show are already going up.

Not in New York.

We’d finish Tuesday night and then Wednesday afternoon a crew would wander in to swap out the sets. This pretty much obliterated any rehearsal. I said to the line producer, “Don’t you have crews in New York that can strike sets in the middle of the night?” He said ominously, “Yes. But trust me, you don’t want ‘em.”

O-kay.

To get around this I just didn’t rehearse on Wednesdays. We did the table reading and I sent the actors home and made up the time on Thursday.

One week however we got Allison Janney to guest-star. This was before WEST WING. She was just a very highly respected theater actress then (which isn’t exactly chopped liver). We were thrilled that she accepted the part but had one proviso. She had a prior commitment for Thursday she couldn’t get out of. We said, no problem, we’ll just rehearse on Wednesday instead.

So after the table reading we get down to the stage at about noon. Soon after the striking crew arrives. In order to get the sets in and out they had to open the big stage door. That’s usually not a big issue in Hollywood because you’re on a movie lot. But here you’re on a city street.

The huge door is rolled open and now we’re basically rehearsing in a loud construction site on a street in Queens, right across from a Gyro restaurant, dry cleaners, and lamp repair shop.

And this is November. It’s like a giant Nor’ Easter blew in.

So picture the scene. We’re all rehearsing in parkas and gloves. Noisy crew guys are hammering and banging and crashing into things, wheeling sets in and out, and yelling instructions to each other. And passersby are watching. A few really curious spectators decide to just enter the stage and stand behind me as I try to block the scenes.

When we got to the scene where Allison was supposed to seduce Al and they looked like two Eskimos clinging to each other during a blizzard I called a wrap.

And then to top it off, one of the spectators was annoyed and said to me, “Hey, is that it?”

I love New York. But there are times I greatly prefer Culver City.

In memory of David Lloyd

In the famous “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, Lou and Murray and Sue Ann just can’t stop laughing at the absurd circumstances that led to their clown colleague’s death. At one point Murray asks why they laugh and Lou elegantly responds:

It's a release, Murray. A kind of defense mechanism. It's like whistling in a graveyard. You try to make light of something because it scares you. We laugh at death because we know death will have the last laugh on us.

The man who wrote that passed away himself this morning. David Lloyd has died after a long illness. He was a true giant in the industry and one of the major influences on our career (me and my partner, David Isaacs). Proud to say we received our first rejection letter from David Lloyd. Seven years later we would work together on CHEERS and I mentioned that to him. He was very apologetic. I think his exact words were: “Then I’m sure the script was a piece of shit.”

We wound up working with him for twenty years. Most of what I learned about rewriting and pitching in a room I learned from observing David Lloyd. There’s never been anybody like him. He was a cyclone. Once a week, on his night to consult, he’d sweep into the room (wearing his customary white shirt with red pin stripes) and completely dominate it. Always bringing positive energy, very strong opinions (about EVERYTHING), hilarious anecdotes, and the jokes that would get the best laughs in the show.

He was so bright, and so fast. The show runner would say, “We need a joke here for…” and bam! David would have it before he finished his sentence. He was awe-inspiring and I don’t mind saying – intimidating as hell! If you pitched a bad joke, duck!

So you learned to pitch good jokes. He made you better.

And room writing wasn’t even his best act. David Lloyd also wrote the best first drafts. Normally when a writer turns in a first draft the staff rewrites it to a varying degree. Not David’s. You sent his right down to the stage. When you see a David Lloyd writing credit on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, THE TONY RANDALL SHOW, THE ASSOCIATES, RHODA, PHYLLIS, CHEERS, TAXI, FRASIER, LOU GRANT, BEST OF THE WEST, AMEN, or WINGS you are seeing his original work.

Story meetings with David were unique. Generally the staff and writer pitch out ideas and eventually cobble together a story. The writer takes extensive notes, goes home, and writes the outline. David kept no notes. Ever. Even with a million thoughts flying around. He’d come back three days later with an outline that contained every detail. Contrast that with David and me. Even taking furious notes we still taped the story meetings because invariably we would forget or miss something important. David Lloyd kept it all in his head.

And his outlines themselves were a thing to behold. No other CHEERS writer that I know could get away ending a scene by saying, “Carla says something really crass and stupid here and we move on before the audience hates her.”

David Lloyd attended Yale where he was classmates with such notables as Dick Cavett and Richard Maltby Jr.. He went on to write for Jack Paar, Dick Cavett, and the TONIGHT SHOW. Legend has it (a legend perpetuated by him) that he wanted to come out to California so he dashed off a spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW without ever having seen the show and he sold it. And throughout his entire sitcom career he never had an agent. He negotiated his own deals. Like I said, there was no one like him.

He had a passion for the finer things – art, literature, wine, model trains. He was the Algonquin Round Table but funnier and more caustic.

The first sitcom filming my partner and I ever attended was a MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. It just happened to be “Chuckles Bites the Dust”. We walked out of there in awe. I remember saying, “Do you think we could ever write anything that good?” and David answered, “No one can.”

He was right.

I go back to that classic funeral scene. As the preacher is delivering a eulogy Mary begins stifling laughs. The preacher spots her, asks her to stand, and says this:

You feel like laughing, don't you? Don't try to stop yourself. Go ahead. Laugh out loud. Don't you see? Nothing could have made Chuckles the happier. He lived to make people laugh. He found tears offensive. He hated to see people cry. Go ahead, my dear -- laugh.

As Mary (and everyone who ever knew and was touched by him) bursts into tears, we:

FADE OUT.

Here is a link to the script of “Chuckles Bites the Dust”. See for yourself the brilliance that was David Lloyd.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

One of those great Hollywood stories

Looking forward to the Sitcom Room seminar this weekend. It’s for would-be writers not looking for short cuts. As opposed to this story:

I was a Story Editor on MASH and was invited to speak to a sitcom writing class at UCLA along with my friend Larry, who at the time was a Story Editor on RHODA. We talked about how to break into the business – the importance of writing great spec scripts. Do’s and don’ts (a lot of which I’ll be discussing this weekend although writing a spec BARNEY MILLER is no longer a “do”.)

We stressed the need for hard work, really studying the shows, setting high standards for yourself. That was the path to a script assignment for one of our shows.

A friend of mine was in the class and overheard the following:

Two coeds talking. Near the end of our discussion one turned to the other.

COED #1: So what do you think, Ken or Larry?

COED #2 (after some consideration): I’ll fuck Larry. I’d rather get a RHODA.

Postscript: Neither of us got lucky that night. And she never got a RHODA. But it was nice to know the students really were taking our career advice seriously.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Dressing like Captain Kirk

Here's another taste of my growing up in the 60s in LA book. Some friends have said, "Why are you posting this? No one will buy a book if they can read it for free?" Well, I'm not sure anyone will buy this book anyway, but what I'm sharing are just small snippets. There's another 90%. Or at least there will be when I finish writing it. Anyway...

January 1967

Historians claim 1967 was a year of growing polarization. The Hippies vs. the Establishment. Hawks vs. Doves. Long hair vs. short hair. But every year was a year of polarization. Those merely joined the list of: Jocks vs. Me. Scholars vs. Me. Musicians vs. Me. Goyim vs. Me. Guys Who Could Get Girlfriends vs. Me.

My wardrobe was starting to change. I wore jeans (when I wasn’t at school or at work so four hours a week). I recall having a gold velour long sleeve shirt for some ungodly reason. Did I want to look like Captain Kirk? Add to the list: Me vs. Me.

The very first Superbowl took place in Los Angeles in January. It didn’t have a Roman Numeral because no one was certain there’d be a Superbowl II. Both CBS and NBC carried it.

Except it was blacked out in L.A. The 100,000 seat Coliseum wasn’t close to selling out. The Superbowl is a major event today but back then it was more of a novelty. The established NFL was far superior to the upstart AFL. It was like when John Ratzenberger was invited to compete in DANCING WITH THE STARS. The mighty Vince Lombardi led Green Bay Packers easily defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.

But people in Southern California were pissed that access to the telecast was blocked. There were articles in the paper showing how you could string wire hangers together and create antennas strong enough to receive the signal from San Diego. There were probably more deaths that year in Los Angeles from idiots falling off of roofs than car accidents.

I did get to see the game. We visited my grandfather who was in the Veteran’s Hospital in West Los Angeles and somehow they were provided a feed. So me, my little brother, and fifty of the scariest old men you’ve ever seen in ratty blue bathrobes on crutches toting portable oxygen tanks sat in the dayroom and watched one black-and-white TV. I’m proud to say I attended the first ever Superbowl Party.

I can also say I was the first person at Taft (or anywhere where white people lived in the Valley) to discover Wolfman Jack. One night I was tuning around my radio looking for distant signals and came upon this eerie station from Mexico. The music was all hard R&B and Blues and the disc jockey had this macabre otherworldly voice drenched in echo. He called himself the Wolfman and was broadcasting on the “Big X” – XERB. His only sponsor was something called “Mr. Satisfy”, a bottle of pills you could send away to Tijuana for that was guaranteed to give you guys “staying power” in the sack. This was quite a contrast to Dippity-Do hair gel being hawked on KHJ. What I loved most about the Wolfman was how subversive he was, how utterly non mainstream. A few years later he’s starring in George Lucas movies, trading Muddy Waters songs for Bobby Vee oldies on a syndicated radio show, hosting network dance parties, and emceeing shows at Knott’s Berry Farm.

Add to our list: The deeply committed vs. the sell-outs.

At least in the early part of 1967 the deeply committed were still holding strong though.

For the moment.

Boomers may deny it but who’re we kidding? At some point within the next few years the huge majority of us succumbed in some way or another to our own personal “Knott’s Berry Farm”.