Thursday, September 30, 2010

How'd you like to hang out with Hugh Hefner?


He’s 84 years-old, looks like a wizened fungo bat, and thinks that hot 24 year-old girls like him for who he is – but you’ve gotta admit, Hugh Hefner lives the life. He’s got a mansion, naked girls running amuck, a game room, a grotto, a screening room – everything a man could possibly want (if that man is Glenn Quagmire).


Up until now only his elite friends and A-list celebrities were allowed inside those big gates that guard Debaucheryland. Mere mortals like you and me could only gawk from high-powered telescopes set atop the Beverly Glen Fire Station.


But us poor simps are not on the outside looking in anymore. No sir. Now Hef has included us in his coveted inner circle. Now we’re privy to his innermost thoughts. Because now… Hugh Hefner has discovered Twitter! And even better -- somebody has taught him how to use it! I follow him.  I get vicarious thrills and more important, lots and lots of laughs.  So allow me to "re-tweet" as it were.  See what it's like to lead the life of luxury, fantasy, and absurdity.

Tonight's Mansion activities include live mixed marshal arts & boxing matches in the back yard, plus Dancing Playmates & Painted Ladies.  

I worked on my scrapbook this afternoon, Keith played tennis & Crystal visited celebrity grave sites with Mary O'Conner & Victoria Fuller.

We just finished watching Sacha Baron Cohen in "Bruno." Hilarious. And now it's time to say good night.

Crystal & Anna hung out this afternoon & got their nails done. Claire is back from her Crazy Horse Paris rehearsal in Vegas.

The Entrepreneurs Organization is holding a charity affair here tonight with Playmates, Painted Ladies, 2 DJ's & a Hookah Lounge.

The current Tea Party-Republican controversy was predicted in "Rogues of K Street" in the July Playboy. First rate journalism.

Crystal has enrolled in an acting class along with Anna.

I think Crystal & I are going to get more serious & watch "60 Minutes" before we call it a night.

A non-profit group in Houston, Texas is reading Playboy magazine to the blind.

Playboy has 2 different October covers--one with Sasha Grey & one with Kim Phillips with a college theme.

Crystal & I have had something to eat & now we're relaxing in bed, about to watch "Slumdog Millionaire."

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is having lunch at the Mansion.

Jack Nicholson's son gave his frat brothers a Mansion tour Sunday while all the girls were sunbathing. Happy pledges.

Crystal bought her own iPad today.

Buzz Aldrin was talking to Ray Bradbury last night about putting a manned outpost on the moon.

Last night's reference to "come ice cream" should have read "some ice cream."

You can't make this stuff up!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Misc-Takes

Some random odd and ends. Hey, this is how Larry King started.

Only in LA. It was 113 here Monday afternoon, highest it’s ever been since Joan Collins was born (1877). I kid you not, this became a story: It was so hot that a crew member on DANCIN’ WITH THE STARS and an audience member of THE PRICE IS RIGHT felt ill. But here’s the really really good news, the story goes on to report – neither show had to interrupt production!!

Okay, I admit it. I like HAWAII 5-0. I guess you have to buy that the governor can have her own four member police force but the show is fun. I don’t know what I enjoy more, the beauty shots of Hawaii or seeing them drive through Oahu without any traffic. The Oahu I know is the Eisenhower Expressway at 5 PM. The show stealer is Scott Caan. And I’m thrilled Grace Park is aboard. Every week I watched Battlestar Gallactica just waiting to see her surf.

In American, marriages fell to a record low in 2009. This is according to the U.S.Census Bureau and confirmed personally by me based on the lack of proposals this season on DodgerVision.

Who's going to take over for Rahm Emanuel?  Does Jim Wiatt have a brother?  

This is why networks generally don’t give second season pick-ups based on premiere numbers alone. BOARDWALK EMPIRE got good ratings its first week, HBO renewed them, and week two their numbers plunged 31%. Oh well. It’s not like BOARDWALK EMPIRE is an expensive show to produce.  I love how shows will get big samplings, the network will then tout them as "America's New Number One Smash", and by December they're shit canned.

Who had LONE STAR as the first show to be canceled?  Big question for Fox:  what to do in its weekend encore slot?   Don't they still have 18 unaired TIL DEATHS? 

Finally saw the pilot of @!&!! MY FATHER SAID. Excruciating. Like having your wisdom teeth removed without an anesthetic while passing a kidney stone while Kathy Bates is crushing your ankles. The show starts with a testicle joke and goes downhill from there. Then it's just a barrage of cheap, easy, classless, obvious, tasteless gags. I’m surprised even the laugh machine didn’t groan. Yes, Shatner is miscast but so is the son. I hated him even more.

Plus, without great writing and sparkling casts, all these new multi-camera shows feel so retro and stale. The bad joke rhythms, the laugh machine guffawing at nothing, the actors trying way too hard, the living room and coffee shop sets that all look the same.  Save money.  Just reuse the sets from DAVE'S WORLD.

I know James Burrows is getting a lot of heat since he directed most of these misfires, but hey, he didn’t come up with these premises, he didn’t cast these shows. You think Lubitsch could have made @!&!! MY FATHER SAID work?

Glad you guys liked my Monday discussion of how we broke that episode of ALMOST PERFECT.  Assuming I don't forget how to upload video (a BIG assumption) I'll do this more often.  

Now that the baseball season is ending (although the Dodger season ended weeks ago) here are my picks for the various awards.  Let the angry debate begin. 

NL MVP: Carlos Gonzales
AL MVP: Josh Hamilton
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay
AL CY Young: C.C. Sabathia
NL Rookie of the Year: Buster Posey
AL Rookie of the Year: Danny Valencia

I love Rebecca Hall.

I also love DEXTER. It’s so deliciously… disturbed. In Sunday’s season premiere he tells his wife’s kids and parents that their beloved mother/daughter was murdered… while wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Poor Julie Benz.  First ASK HARRIET and now this.

Karissa Shannon not only has a sex tape, she also has a trailer. I can only pray there will be a "Making of" feature on the DVD. 

Steve Miller from the Steve Miller Band will be teaching music this year at USC.  And the amazing thing is this isn't a reality show (unlike Tony Danza's year teaching high school in Philadelphia).  I look forward to the USC marching band playing "the Joker" and "Abracadabra". 

Headline in the HuffingtonPost: Octomom Has A Yard Sale With Bras, Bikinis To Avoid Foreclosure.  Free ball.  I leave that one-liner to you.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

All-night radio -- hookers, brawls, and dead presidents

More on my ill-fated disc jockey career. 

In March 1973 I was hired by KMEN San Bernardino to do the all-night show. My salary was a whopping $650 a month to work the coveted midnight-six shift six nights a week. As with Bakersfield, I was not allowed to use my real name. Let’s just say Levine sounded too, uh… “New York”. So again I was Ken Stevens. Of course how do I complain that my name is too generic when my program director goes by Buddy Scott?

So I did all-nights and never got any sleep. The phone number I was assigned was the same as an LA hooker’s (just a 714 area code instead of 310). She advertised in the LA WEEKLY and a hundred times a day I’m getting calls saying, “Hey, man, is Jeannie there?”

On the air, talking to cows for six hours, I needed something to occupy my mind. So I started a friendly little rivalry with the evening jock, Doug DeRoo. Doug is amazingly talented. Imagine the character Robin Williams played in GOOD MORNING VIET NAM only funnier. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn was the big hit then. We wanted to see who could come up with the most one-liners while introducing it. For days this Titanic tug-of-war continued. One bad one-liner after another. Proud to say I won. Not proud that my winning quip involved urine.

Is it any wonder that the program director kept sending me memos to just shut up and stop trying to be funny?

KMEN’s promotion budget was zero. So we were sent out on appearances that wouldn’t cost the station. A favorite was the high school basketball game between the disc jockeys and the faculty. By “faculty” they pretty much meant gym teachers vs. six out-of-shape mostly drugged out radio nerds. It was an exhibition but invariably there’d be one Cro-Magnon teacher who thought he was Reggie Evans – throwing elbows, and clotheslining guys. I don’t think this is what the station had in mind – we got into a brawl with the Redland High faculty. So in addition to always being sleep deprived I did the show that night holding an ice pack to my head.

June meant school graduations so in the spirit I brought my high school annual from home and read the idiotic things people wrote about me or to me.  It was a good schtick.  If anyone was listening I'm sure they would have enjoyed it.    But as the records were playing at 3 in morning I began leafing thrugh the book, perusing the senior pictures.  All those girls I had a crush on, I thought they were probably sleeping in nice warm beds with loving former football stars/husbands leading a contented life.  And where was I?  In a fucking cow pasture in the middle of the night.  "Most Likely to Waste His Life".  That was more depressing than playing Elanor Rigby. 

Every morning from 4-4:15 I had to do a farm report. So I’d rip all this stuff off the teletype machine and read it verbatim, having no fucking idea what I was talking about. Giving sorghum updates, pork belly prices, and harvest predictions.  Let's just say guys with uh, New York last names know shit about farming. 

I also had to do an hourly newscast. And there again I’d race into the newsroom the last minute, rip off the headlines, and read them on the air. I never pre-read them. No disc jockey ever did. God knows if I ever pronounced all those Cambodian villages correctly. Of course, it’s not like I got any calls complaining. But hard to pronounce names were always the bane of our existence. One former KMEN disc jockey got around that once with what I believe to be the smoothest save EVER. This is how he reported the following news story:

“And in other news – the President of Brazil has just died. His name is being withheld until the family has been notified”.

Genius. Sheer genius. You gotta love radio.

By the way, I called the phone company, changed my number, and explained why.  A week later the guy I talked to called back to thank me.  

Monday, September 27, 2010

Comedy Writing 101: how we break a story

Last Saturday I posted an episode of ALMOST PERFECT. As (hopefully) a fun experiment, I thought today I would break down the thought process that went into it. This might be helpful to young writers learning how to construct stories and for non-writers it might be fun or a giant snooze. I’ll try to be funnier tomorrow. This episode was written by me, my partner David Isaacs, and co-creator Robin Schiff. Stan Daniels did a terrific job directing it.

If you haven’t watched it yet, you can see it here.

The core of the series was the relationship between Kim (Nancy Travis) and Mike (Kevin Kilner). She had a high-powered job as head writer of a TV cop show. He was an assistant DA. Watching Kim juggle her career and relationship was our money.

Perfect characters are no fun so we wanted to give Kim some flaws. She was good at her job but she was also a little narcissistic and bossy. So we wanted to do an episode where she went out of her way to do something for Mike and it was something very hard for her to do. We came up with cooking. She tries to make Mike’s favorite meal.

You might be thinking, gee that sounds like a simple story. You’re right. But that’s okay if it’s really about something. This wasn’t just watching Lucy fucking up a chicken, this was about an insecure person desperately trying to prove her worth in a relationship. And along the way there was fun to be had.

Two problems: One – we had to find a B story to involve the other characters since the cooking story was primarily just Mike & Kim at Kim’s house. And this all had to take place over one night. Ideally, we could use the B story to cover the passage of time while the chicken was cooking.

Earlier in the season our line producer Larina Adamson had uncovered some stock footage of a building blowing up. We could recreate the building, dress up a structure on the New York street and make it appear that we’re blowing it up. We thought that might serve us at some point and this was the point.

It’s always good to have conflict or rivalries between characters. One of the dynamics we set up between Kim and co-worker Gary (the brilliant Chip Zien) was that Gary resented Kim for getting the job he felt he deserved. To Gary, she got it because she’s a woman. He was the voice of anti-feminism, which was a nice balance to Kim’s pro-feminism stance.

Anyway, we thought what if Kim puts him in charge that night while she goes home and cooks? And on their cop show they have to blow up a building. He winds up supervising and accidentally gives the cue blowing up the building while the cameras are off. The actual brainchild for that story came from Mike Teverbaugh, who along with his wife Linda were INVALUABLE members of our staff. 

So we began plotting out the episode.

The objective of the first scene was to establish Mike’s appreciation of certain qualities Kim doesn’t possess. How about if they bump into an old flame? That would freak Kim out. But where do they meet? We decided it might be fun outside a movie theater. We establish that Kim loves gory horror movies and thinks romcoms are lame. Right away we see she’s not your usual moviegoer.

Mike’s old girlfriend passes by. We wished to avoid introductions, boring dialogue, etc. So we had Kim get a call while Mike was chatting with his old flame. This call achieved a second purpose. We set up there’s a big stunt to come and Kim is clearly in charge of all decisions.

Mike returns and Kim learns this girl had a high-powered job (like hers) but gave it up to raise her children. She’s very nurturing and a great cook – qualities that Kim lacks.

Scene two: That night. They’re in bed. Kim can’t sleep. Decides to cook his favorite meal. Ends the scene by saying, “Hunh, I must really like you.” For Kim making fried chicken is a big deal.

And this is important: your characters must really WANT something. The tougher the task and the more they want it, the better your story will be. Even if that desire is seemingly trivial.  For Kim this dinner isn’t just for pride. She believes in some warped sense her relationship depends on it.

Now we go to the office and set up for the audience what this stunt is and why it’s a big deal. Kim is dealing with the director and special effects guy. Again, she’s comfortably in charge. We also wanted the guys to razz Kim for trying to cook. This lets the audience know that this relatively simple task is Herculean for her.

Kim wouldn’t reveal her plans to them because she knows they would give her shit. That’s why Rob enters with the fax. At the end of the scene Kim puts Gary in charge for the night. He collapses on the ground. We wanted a funny reaction to this gesture. Gary mocks her, like she’s doing him such a favor when in fact he’s more qualified (in his mind) than she is.

Off to the kitchen. Kim struggling. But what attitude to take? Anxious and apprehensive seemed familiar. So went against that. Made her manic – masking her fears by getting a little silly. We also wanted to showcase Nancy’s comedic skills. Yeah, it’s a little slapstick but she’s very cute pulling this off. And we get a big joke when Mike enters and sees what she’s doing.

Back to the office. The director enters and says that due to impending rain they either have to do the stunt tonight or tomorrow as planned but hope for the best. Gary in charge now has a big decision. Tough decisions help drive stories. Gary opts to blow up the building that night.  His co-workers think he's making a big mistake.    Look, the audience KNOWS there's going to be some fuck up.  They just don't know what.  Hopefully you can exceed their expectations. 

We return to the kitchen. The chicken is done and looks great. They go to the dining room. This was fun for us because we had never used the dining room before. It gave the show a new look. Unfortunately, it was hard for the audience to see the dining room because it was way up in the set.  We had monitors but we knew we would not get the same response had the dining room been in full view.  Sometimes you have to make that choice -- studio audience or home audience?  We opted for the latter in this case.   Sometimes we forget that the show we're making is for the millions of viewers, not the two hundred people in the bleachers.

Back to the story:  The chicken is terrible and so are the mashed potatoes. More decisions: Does Kim give up or start again? Does Mike tell her to stop or let her go, knowing full well she can’t cook worth a shit? What these characters decide informs us of who they are. Kim will try again; Mike will support her.

Next up we go to the New York street. We have fun with Gary trying to be the big shot and the other two writers amused by it. Everyone in every scene has to have an attitude. Otherwise you’re just writing one-liners that feel very unreal and forced. I think we devised a pretty clever way for Gary to accidentally give the signal to blow up the building.  If a building exploding on a multi-camera sitcom isn't an act break, I don't know what is. 

Come back and see the rubble. Instead of making Gary suddenly panicky and fall apart we thought it would be more fun to see him try to maintain control. Again, a character has to make a big choice. Meltdown of salvage the situation somehow? Sheer damage control mode seemed more ripe for comic possibilities.

Back to Kim’s house. We return to the kitchen.  Having had one scene in the dining room we didn't want to push our luck.  And when we get to the important stuff we want to do it within easy view of the audience.  Kim's next batch is black. We wanted to avoid seeing any more of her cooking. We've already been to that well. Kim calls Mike’s mother, which has to be a tough and humiliating call to make. Yet she does it because this means so much to her.  Plus it helps set up a future episode where Mikes' mom thinks Kim is a dingbat.

Back to set to watch Gary’s solution. It sucks. Should he call Kim? He still resists and tries coming up with alternate solutions.

Back to the kitchen. Mike finally puts a stop to this. We have a nice scene where they really delve into their relationship and what the future might hold. Choice on our part: there are not a lot of jokes. The discussion feels real and relatable to a lot of people so we just let it play out naturally. Finally Gary calls.

Last scene – back to the set. Kim and Gary. We see that even in crisis she’s cool and in control. She comes up with a solution on the spot, which is a talent every bit as remarkable as cooking fried chicken – and instead of taking Gary’s head off she comforts him. Would a man in that position be as compassionate? Gary is grateful and gains a little more respect for Kim.  

David, Robin, and I wrote this over a weekend after plotting it out with the staff for several days. The writing went quickly because we knew what each scene was about and why it was there. We had comic situations and attitudes already built in. I also had one of my wife’s cookbooks since none of us knew how to make fried chicken either. “Colonial pine stain” comes right from that recipe.

One final note: The power of suggestion – after writing the first few cooking scenes we broke for lunch and had to go to Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles for fried chicken.

And now that I write this, I’m getting in the car and heading right back to Roscoe’s.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

MAD MEN factoids. Why???

MAD MEN has been exceptional this year! But what is with those “factoids” they introduced this week leading into commercials and promos? What’s next? Pop Up Videos?

Joan: I can go alone.
Roger: You sure you don’t want me to drive you?
Joan: No, I’m fine.

BLIP! This appears:

“Colorado was the first state to legalize abortions”.

Don: Sally, I have two tickets to see the Beatles.
Sally screams.

BLIP

“The Beatles performed at Shea Stadium in August 1965 and Mets players complained about the resulting condition of the outfield.”

These are the kinds of extras I guess you can expect on the DVD.

Tom Selleck and the art of lazy acting

Have you seen BLUE BLOODS starring Tom Selleck?   This is a new one hour police drama on CBS created by a couple of SOPRANOS scribes.   Just the type of show I never watch unless other people tell me it's great and I have to watch it. (meaning I'll probably never see the Jim Belushi lawyer show.)

But I saw that BLUE BLOODS got big numbers on Friday night.   The odds of any show doing really well on Friday nights are the same as being hit by a meteor just moments after winning the lottery.  Clearly the attraction was Tom Selleck.

So when it was rerun last night (Saturday is now the networks' dumping ground) I checked it out.

I guess when audiences like you they just like you.  Because I have never seen an actor phone it in as much as Selleck did in this.   He did NOTHING.  In the few scenes he's in he never moves. Worse than NEWHART when Bob used to just stand at the front desk and let everyone else just come in and out. 

These were Tom’s scenes:

He’s at a podium (never moves).
He’s standing with his family (never moves).
He’s at the window of his office (never moves).
He’s at his desk making a call (never moves).
He’s conducting a press conference (never moves).
He’s at the kitchen sink (never moves).
He’s sitting at the dining room table (never moves).
He’s fishing off a pier (never moves).

There’s one scene where he opens a cab door for a woman and leans in to give her a quick kiss. I imagine they used a stunt double.

As for dialogue, he delivers every line the exact same way – as if he’s constipated.

And yet America just loves this guy. I was a fan in other things. But in MAGNUM P.I. he had actual expressions and walked.

I see no reason to watch future episodes of BLUE BLOODS. Why bother when I can just scan the stills?

But it’s a real lesson in television programming. There are just some actors people love to watch, regardless.

If only Tom Selleck was in LONE STAR or FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.

How do you upload photos in Blogger without wanting to kill someone?

Seems I’m not the only one on Blogger up in arms over their new posting operating system. Pictures in particular are now a nightmare to load. There are bugs galore in this new system. (Who do they hire to diligently test these things? Guys being chased by bounty hunters? )

And then I have the added tiny problem that I’m a computer retard.

To be clear:  If I'm on Firefox I can't upload pictures.  It just keeps saying server error.  I can on Safari but it's very unwieldy. 

First thing I did was try to find Blogger tech help. Good luck. If such a thing even does exist I suspect it’s easier to find Osama Bin Laden than their phone number. Or an email address. Or someone who has a cousin who has a friend who once was in the lobby of Google.

I clicked on Blogger Help. This takes me to FAQs and instructions on how to add ads.

Next I sought out forums. This meant sifting through thousands of people with problems. Everything from why did my blog disappear to how come the comments I get are really stupid?

I was heartened to see though that many other poor schmucks were having my problem.  But since there’s no tech help per se who reads these other than other frustrated bloggers? It has the same feel as “letters to Santa”.

The theory of course is that people ask questions and others answer. But this is what I found: Someone reports a problem and there are seven replies all saying “Yeah, me too.” And below each one a little icon that asks if this answer was helpful or not. Uh.. NO.

But every so often a helpful person will try to offer a solution. And here’s where that retard issue I have holds me back a little – I have no fucking clue what they are saying! An example: Someone was complaining that with this new ersatz system they were having trouble displaying photos side by side. And a good Samaritan offered this answer:


Okay, by the second < >  I raced down to the liquor store and became Nicholas Cage in LEAVING LAS VEGAS, just going through the aisles filling a shopping cart.

Hopefully this photo loading problem will be resolved. Hopefully, Blogger even knows it exists. They could monitor the help forum but I’m taking no chances. There’s this blog post and I’ll probably mention it six or seven times today on Dodger Talk.

This is very serious.   I'd like to think readers come to this blog for the content.  But I'm not an idiot.  They come for the photos.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wow! They must really be out of stars for the Hollywood Walk of Fame


Watch an episode of ALMOST PERFECT

Assuming I uploaded this right, here's another episode of ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis. It's called "El Pollo Loco" and it's one of my favorite episodes. Come back on Monday and I'll discuss the process that went into breaking the story, orchestrating the big stunt, and what we were attempting to accomplish. It's just like being in the writers room without anyone attacking you.

One thing: I still don't know how to edit so it starts with black and doesn't start until about 30 seconds in. But the good news is -- shortened blacks during commercial breaks!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Jeff Zucker OUT at NBC!!!

With the Comcast merger Jeff Zucker departs NBC after completely destroying it.   As head of programming he took NBC from first to deep fourth.  Normally that would be grounds for dismissal.  No.  Jeff became the CEO.  From there he further buried the network, hiring the character Will Arnett plays in RUNNING WILDE to run NBC.   Then there's the whole Leno in primetime disaster followed by the Conan trainwreck.   And along the way he managed to alienate everyone he dealt with with his incredible arrogance.

Job well done, Jeff.

And now you're free to run BP oil.


Could I direct RAGING BULL?

Here are some Friday questions.

sophomorecritic starts us off:

You mostly see yourself as a writer and TV producer. At the same time, you've directed but you seem rather non-chalante about it. How many steps were you away in training and experience from being the kind of director that gets nominated for Oscars and gets recognition for a distinct style. For example, if the same exact production team existed but you were substituted in for Danny Boyle, Sophia Coppolla or Martin Scorsese, do you think you could have directed Lost in Translation, The Departed or Slumdog Millionaire and got close to the same result?

Are you kidding? Have you ever seen one of my CONRAD BLOOMS?? Those guys are HACKS!!

But seriously, no. They are all extraordinary directors. I couldn't hold Scorsese's viewfinder.

I will say this, though, from a technical standpoint: Although I have shot single-camera scenes, most of the time I direct multi-camera shows. It's quite tricky camera blocking four cameras all moving at once to capture all the action, all the angles, reactions, masters, and sizes, not to mention having cameras move in anticipation of characters entering the scene. And sometimes you have large scenes. Five or six actors, lots of movement, and only four cameras to cover it all on the fly. It can be very complicated and daunting.

Seasoned veterans in both forms seem to agree a multi-camera director can be taught how to direct single-camera in about a half hour. On the other hand, single camera directors sometimes need months to get the hang of multi-camera. So if Scorsese wanted to do a CONRAD BLOOM I still could whip his sorry ass.

From Matt:

Several of the MASH scripts in my collection contain the Call Sheet and Shooting Schedules. On the shooting schedule, I've noticed under "Cast. & Atmos." an item called "Mini Mash"

Is this a reference to the Stage 9 set?

Yes. We had the entire camp set up on that stage. Once Daylight Savings ended we stopped filming at the Malibu ranch. There was just not enough daylight to accomplish all the scenes we needed to film. In the summer we had 6 AM to 8:15 PM. But in the winter our window was 7 AM to 4:30 PM.

So if exteriors still were needed we shot them on Stage 9. Did it look great? No. Maybe one notch above the Brady Bunch backyard.

Night scenes looked better. Dark is dark.

In planning the season, we held back the episodes that did not require much outdoor shooting and moved forward the ones that did. And that made plotting out the season that much tougher. We might break a great story but have to sit on it while scrambling last second to get the script ready that was going into production the next day.

And finally, from Michael:

Is there a strong correlation between the episodes you wrote that you feel are your strongest and the ones that were nominated for Emmys?

Not necessarily. I do think the scripts that were nominated deserved to be, but there were others that I felt were as good or better that didn’t get any real recognition.

Of all the CHEERS we wrote I feel our best was called “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”. That was the Frasier bachelor party episode (“Everybody have fun tonight… everybody Wang Chung tonight.”). I’m especially proud of that one because we worked off no outline. As an experiment we wanted to just riff and see where it took us. We knew the broad steps but nothing else. I think it came out great.

There’s a TONY RANDALL SHOW we wrote where Tony runs for office against the old incumbent. During the campaign Tony’s opponent dies and still beats him. It was a very funny show.

The best FRASIER we ever wrote – “Room Service” (Niles sleeps with Lilith) – never got nominated for anything. There were also a few episodes of ALMOST PERFECT that David and I wrote with Robin Schiff that I felt were nomination worthy.

But generally, unless you write for what we like to call a “tuxedo show”, your chances of getting a nod are slim. That is why we thought our agent was kidding when she said we had been nominated for a WGA award for one of our OPEN ALL NIGHT’S. By the time of the ceremony the show had been cancelled and the production company disbanded. We had to buy our own tickets and find someplace to sit. No, we didn’t win. The Guild wasn’t that crazy.

But I will say this, all the drafts we submitted, whether they were rewarded or not, were at least 90% ours. Lots of shows room-write and just assign credits. Others rewrite scripts extensively and keep the original writer’s name on it even though there’s nothing left of his work. There have been times in our career when teleplays we wrote were rewritten and sometimes even made better. But we never submitted those. So I’m proud to say that the awards we lost, we lost because of us.

What is your question?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The new TV season so far

It’s only the first week of the new season but so far comedy has not kicked ass. Last year was a banner bounce-back season for the genre. Freshman shows like MODERN FAMILY and GLEE became breakout hits and others like COUGAR TOWN and THE MIDDLE at least managed to grab a toehold. I haven’t seen all the new entries this year but so far things are not looking good – either creatively or ratingswise.

And understand, I’m really rooting for these guys. I want to see sitcoms come back in a big way. But so far I’ve been disappointed. Doubly so because the creative teams behind many of these new series have turned out great work before.

So far, if there's one common denominator it's that all of these new shows seem to be making ass-fun of easy targets – overweight people, white trash, senility, the silly rich.

I love Chuck Lorre’s BIG BANG THEORY. But MIKE & MOLLY is just awful. Fat jokes, fart jokes, stock cartoon side characters, and two leads who are very likeable but not particularly funny. We see two fat people wedged in a stairway, tables collapsing under the weight of the star. Lip service is paid to the plight of overweight people then they ask one to say, “Lose three pounds? My farts weigh more than three pounds”. You don’t have to be Noel Coward but Jesus, come on guys.

The premiere numbers weren’t great. They didn’t hold as much of TWO MEN’S audience as everyone would have liked, and my guess is their numbers will slide.

RAISING HOPE is a knockoff of RAISING ARIZONA. Greg Garcia is one of my favorite writers and Martha Plimpton is an amazing actress, but this show felt like all the white trash jokes they couldn’t get to on MY NAME IS EARL they jammed in here. Not to mention a plethora of old age dementia jokes. Cloris Leachman parading around in just a bra. There should be a whole separate TV warning letter for that. Maybe "Y". "This show is rated "Y" for excessive amount of times you'll say 'yikes'!"

And watching RUNNING WILDE from Mitch Hurwitz (who gave us the inspired ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) was like watching Willie Mays be a greeter in Atlantic City. First off, and I realize this may just be me, but I don’t get Will Arnett. For me he is not funny for a second. Never real. Always over-the-top. Always playing the same character. As for the subject matter, just contrast how Mitch Hurwitz treats an aimless rich boy vs. what Steve Gordon did with the same character in ARTHUR. One is crass, ridiculous, and you don’t give a shit about him. The other is hilarious, sympathetic, and surprisingly real.

Neither show did well for Fox. HOPE dropped off 50% in key demos from it's strong lead-in, GLEE. WILDE did worse. Of course, nothing is doing well for Fox. Heavily-promoted LONE STAR was a disaster. Their schedule could be in trouble. And I don't think J-Lo is going to save it.

Tonight we have OUTSOURCED on NBC, which according to scuttlebutt is a half hour of Apu jokes. There are also the two romantic comedies that are essentially the same show. We’ll see how they fare.

And I haven’t seen *! &!” MY FATHER SAID on CBS. But I heard somewhere that a lot of DVR’S can’t read all the symbols in the title so you can’t pre-record it. And if that’s the case, then they are in deep *! &!”. Reviews have not been kind.

Shows often take time to find their groove. It’s not really fair to judge a series based strictly on their pilot. They may all still turn it around. Of the three, I think RAISING HOPE has the best chance. With Greg Garcia at the helm I’m willing to keep coming back. But only if Cloris is dressed.

And there’s always the back-up series. Maybe the next GLEE or MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE (non-Fall premieres) will be in that crop. I don’t know. But I do know this: producers of those shows are being asked to get them ready to air FAST. That can't be a good sign.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My adventure-pilot part two









I know what you’re thinking – what a cliffhanger!! To refresh, I’m writing an action-drama pilot utilizing all the great writing conventions they employ on these shows. Part one was yesterday. And part two is right now. Drama is welcome and we know characters.

GUNS & EMO

By Ken Levine

FADE IN:

ANNOUNCER
Previously on “Guns & Emo”…

SUPER QUICK CUTS TO PAST EPISODES.

LIBBY
This wasn’t in the brochure.

RODNEY
I haven’t eaten all day.

HERBERT
Let me pull up the blueprints.

LIBBY
I speak Turkish. Why?

RUSSIAN SNIPER
This room is fine. Does the window open?

CRAIG
I need some new shirts. Do you think you could get me an employee discount?

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. ASHTIYAN, IRAN – DAY

FINAL SHOT OF PART ONE: LIBBY AT A CAFÉ THROUGH THE VIEWFINDER OF A SNIPER’S RIFLE.

The sniper is just about to squeeze the trigger….

When the WAITER approaches with Libby’s coffee. The viewfinder shifts to the waiter and a shot is fired.

BACK TO SCENE

The waiter drops to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

LIBBY
What the….?

Libby ducks under the table for cover. Rodney is already there, crouched.

RODNEY
Didn’t I tell you? This is why you always get a table inside.

LIBBY
Hey, gimme a break. I skipped GIA training because they needed someone with my body type to double for a double agent in Dublin. That’s always the risk the G.I.A. has sending me into the field on these dangerous assignments but it never seems to stop them from assigning me anyway.

THEIR POV -- HOTEL ACROSS THE WAY

There must be twenty identical windows.

RODNEY (V.O.)
Over there! That window.

BACK TO SCENE

LIBBY
This is a bad angle.

Awkwardly, Libby fires one shot.

THEIR POV – HOTEL

The sniper falls out of the window and crashes to the ground below.

LIBBY
Well, there goes his Hilton Honor points.

RODNEY
(breaking into smile)
Oh, Libby.

They race to the scene. Fortunately, no one else is interested and people just cross by the body paying it no mind.

Libby and Rodney crouch down and check him out.

LIBBY
Herbert? Who is he?

INTERCUT WITH:

INT. G.I.A. COMMAND CENTER – SAME

Monitors show every street from every angle. This town too must have 10,000 cameras in place.

HERBERT’S COMPUTER SCREEN – A satellite view of the planet earth. It zooms right in to the dead sniper’s face. One second later this word appear on the screen: MATCH.

BACK TO SCENE

HERBERT
His name was Abdolreza Ghazanfari – “Cooter” to his friends. Professional sniper. His services have been used by Al Queda, the Russian Mob, and the California Highway Patrol. The number 34th most wanted terrorist in the world. Up from 57.

LIBBY
So why has no one ever take him out?

HERBERT
We think he also works for us.

Rodney begins patting him down.

RODNEY
No incriminating or classified documents here.

LIBBY
Let’s check his room. Maybe we can find out who hired him and who his target was.

RODNEY
Wouldn’t it be funny if it was the waiter?

LIBBY
(breaking into a smile)
Oh, Rodney.

Libby begins climbing a hedge to begin scaling the wall in her heels. Rodney fishes around the guy’s pocket and pulls out his room key.

INT. HOTEL ROOM – MOMENTS LATER

Libby and Rodney are going through the sniper’s things. There are photos of his targets, including Libby. There are also files and folders strewn about with the words TOP SECRET on them.

LIBBY
What a break that he has Al Queda’s plans for the next five years.

RODNEY
(showing her a document)
Look at this. His boss, the mysterious head of this entire operation, the man we’ve been unsuccessfully tracking for over three years is planning to meet him here in his room tonight at 10.

LIBBY
Then won’t he be surprised when he finds us instead of him?

RODNEY
Yeah. I’d love to see his face.
(realizing)
Oh wait, I will see his face.

LIBBY
(breaking into a smile)
Oh, Rodney.
(dialing her cellphone)
Hi Craig. Listen, honey, I won’t be able to pick the kids up from school today. I’m sorry. Surprise inventory. They do that from time to time… Okay, twice a week. Don’t wait up. I’ll be in late. Tell Ally I rescued her favorite dress. I sewed on a new sleeve. Love you.

She hangs up and sighs.

RODNEY
It’s tough when you’ve got a family.

LIBBY
How do you manage this?

RODNEY
That’s right. We have seven hours. A good chance for us to sit back for a few minutes and reveal personal information about ourselves.

HERBERT
Then I’m going on a break.

LIBBY
Okay. I’ll start I guess. I was abused by my uncle at a family party when I was seven. Whoa! I’ve never told anyone that before.

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. HOTEL ROOM – SEVEN HOURS LATER

LIBBY
…So when I hold this gun in my hand, it’s like…this is what my husband’s penis was supposed to be. Not some little pathetic ladies’ derringer. Know what I mean?

RODNEY
Yeah, well, it’s almost ten.

LIBBY
Gee, we didn’t get around to talking about you.

RODNEY
Next week in Zurich.

There’s a knock at the door. They both aim their weapons. A long beat, then:

HERBERT
Uh, one of you should answer it.

LIBBY
Right.

Libby opens the door. It’s SKIP, the man with the laptop in Bogotá is standing there. Libby and Rodney are surprised.

LIBBY
You?

SKIP
Where’s Cooter?

LIBBY
Have you ever seen Cooter before?

SKIP
No.

Libby invites him in and points to Rodney.

LIBBY
This is Cooter.

SKIP
No, it’s not. It’s Rodney. He escorted me back to the U.S. yesterday.

LIBBY
Right. Oops.

RODNEY
You’d know this if you didn’t just split right in the middle of a mission.

HERBERT
That is bad form.

SKIP
Yeah, where were you?

LIBBY
Do you all mind?!

SKIP
You can put the gun down.

LIBBY
Right.
(lowers it, then points it again)
Wait a minute. If you’re here to see the sniper who was supposed to kill me then you’re a bad guy.

RODNEY
But the sniper could be one of ours, which means he’s on our side.

LIBBY
Right.
(lowers gun, then points it again at Skip)
Hey. But if he was going to kill me and you’re on his side then everyone is against me.

HERBERT
Or any one of them could be double-agents.

SKIP
Remember what I said? You can’t trust anybody.

LIBBY
You never said that.

HERBERT
You said you were frustrated by the lack of trust in this business and he said “Never lose that”. It’s the same thing.

LIBBY
No, it’s not.

RODNEY
Yes, it is.

LIBBY
Hey, you’re supposed to back me. You’re my partner.

RODNEY
(points his gun at her)
Yeah, well… about that.

LIBBY
What?! You?! You’re with them?

SKIP
Which still could be us.

Libby is completely confused. Rodney is just about to shoot her when…

A flurry of bullets enter from the window and kills Skip and Rodney instantly. Libby is unharmed.

The gunfire ends. Libby goes to the window.

LIBBY’S POV – the manager from Seattle’s Finest stands at the café holding an M-16, waving up at her.

MANAGER
No one messes with my help!

LIBBY
(breaks into a smile)
Oh… Seattle’s Finest Manager.

FADE OUT.

THE END

I’m represented by ICM. They’re now accepting bids. Who says writers can’t change genres?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I've written an action-adventure pilot you can read










I know it’s a guilty pleasure but all summer I’ve watched those action-adventure shows on USA and TNT. And like most people who watch TV, I thought: “Hey, I could do that.” So I decided to knock out a pilot for my own action-adventure series. After studying the genre carefully, I think I’ve artfully woven in all the standard conventions. So what do you think?

GUNS & EMO

By Ken Levine

FADE IN:

EXT. BOGOTA, COLOMBIA – DAY

(Actually New York Street, Paramount but some trucks and a well-placed burro accurately create the desired effect.) Crowded (within reason).

There’s a commotion. Someone is being chased. It’s beautiful, athletic, resourceful, tough-but-vulnerable LIBBY LANGER, dressed in clingy summer dress, toting a pistol, hauling ass.

Running alongside is RODNEY her young, good-looking, charming, self-deprecating, slightly-ethnic-but-we-don’t-know-from-where partner who is always available for a quick quip or another gun clip.

They’re being hotly pursued by THREE ANGRY GUNMEN with M-16’s. Thousands of rounds are fired at our heroes, just missing them.

While running, Libby turns back for a split-second. She fires one round and kills one of the gunmen.

CLOSE UP – Libby’s feet, running. Her high heels are a blur.

BACK TO SCENE

LIBBY
(into her ear bud)
Talk to me!

CUT TO:

INT. G.I.A. (GLOBAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY) COMMAND CENTER – SAME

Hundreds of monitors line the walls of this high-tech monitoring station. Fortunately there are video cameras on every corner in Bogota.

HERBERT, nerdy-but-handsome, skinny-but-athletic surveys the monitors.

HERBERT
Okay, Libby. In about 100 feet you’re going to come to dilapidated shack and then a Seattle’s Finest Coffee. Make a left.

INTERCUT THROUGHOUT:

LIBBY
See it. Thanks.

HERBERT
I’ll have a half-caff with cream.

LIBBY
(smiling and shooting)
Oh, Herbert.

Libby and Rodney turn the corner, still dodging a relentless barrage of bullets.

HERBERT
Remember Libby. You and Rodney have to get that thumb drive of the secret formula of the undetectable nerve gas to your contact within the next 90 seconds otherwise the additional chip that’s been planted in it will detonate a dirty bomb releasing the gas that will kill everyone within a thousand miles.

LIBBY
Then they better make your half-caff quick.

HERBERT
(breaking into a smile)
Oh, Libby.

RODNEY
(pointing)
I see the contact!

A MAN with a laptop strapped to his back hangs precariously from a fourth story building.

HERBERT
I’m pulling up the blueprint now.

LIBBY
Not necessary.
(to Rodney)
Cover me!

RODNEY
I’d say that dress does that sufficiently.

LIBBY
(breaks into a smile)
Oh, Rodney.

Libby leaps up on a café table, hurtles onto the café awning, which serves as a trampoline springing her high into the air where she grabs hold of a clothes line and uses it to swing up to the exact spot where the man is holding on for dear life.

LIBBY
The winter morn is cold.

MAN
But the spring night is warm.

LIBBY
Warm?

MAN
(correcting himself)
Warm-ish.

LIBBY
Okay. Just had to make sure.

MAN
You can’t be too careful. Not in this business.

LIBBY
Know what you mean. Guns and bullets I can handle. But this lack of trust… I dunno.

MAN
Never lose that.

Libby bounds into the window, turns and offers her hand.

LIBBY
Here. Grab it.

He reaches up and even though he’s 250 pounds and she’s 100 she manages to hoist him inside easily. They tumble into the room.

INT. ROOM -- SAME

LIBBY
Good thing they make those laptop lighter.

MAN
(breaks into a smile)
Oh…
(realizing)
I don’t know your name.

HERBERT
Ten seconds. Libby, if you don’t disarm that thumb drive it will set off a gas that will…

LIBBY
Yeah, yeah. Got it.

She hands the thumb drive to the man who inserts it into the USB port. Libby holds her breath, bracing for the worst. But nothing happens.

MAN
Done. It’s disarmed.

Libby collapses in relief.

HERBERT
Good job, Libby.

The door bursts open and Rodney enters.

RODNEY
(re gunmen)
Okay, they’re all dead.

LIBBY
Rodney, meet…
(realizing)
I don’t know your name either.

MAN
It’s better that way.

HEBERT
Oh hell, his name is Skip.

HERBERT
Your job now is to escort him back to headquarters. If he’s abducted by the wrong people they could use his expertise to recreate another formula he was working on that would cause half the population of the planet to fall asleep and the other half to tuck them in.

LIBBY
Right.
(checking her watch)
Oh. Rodney. Could you do this? There’s someplace I’ve got to be.

RODNEY
This really is a two-person job.

She gives him a quick peck on the cheek. He swoons.

RODNEY
Yeah… okay.

LIBBY
I owe ya.

She climbs out the window, grabs the clothesline, and swings out of view.

SMASH CUT:

EXT. NEW YORK STREET (PARMAMOUNT) -- NIGHT

Dressed to look like a New York street.

INT. KITCHEN – SAME

CRAIG, boring-but-handsome, is emptying the dishwasher as Libby bursts in.

LIBBY
Hi, Craig. Sorry I missed dinner.

She kisses him.

CRAIG
They make you work too many hours at the Nordstrom Rack.

LIBBY
I know.

CRAIG
Why are you covered in dirt and smell like manure?

LIBBY
Uh… we’re decorating the loading dock.

CRAIG
(buying it completely)
Okay.

HERBERT
(in her ear)
Good one.

LIBBY
Shut up!

CRAIG
What?

LIBBY
Nothing. Thanks for doing the dishes.

CRAIG
No, problem. Hey, you free for lunch tomorrow?

LIBBY
Tomorrow? Hmmm. Not sure. Let’s talk in the morning.

SMASH CUT

EXT. ASHTIYAN, IRAN – NEXT DAY

(New York Street on Paramount lot. Sand and some bazaar tents should do the trick. Same extras re-dressed.) Libby sits at the Seattle’s Finest outdoor patio. She’s on her cellphone.

LIBBY
Hey, Craig. Something came up. Afraid I won’t be able to make it for lunch.

ANOTHER SHOT – LIBBY THROUGH THE VIEWFINDER OF A SNIPER’S RIFLE.

SUPER: TO BE CONTINUED

CUT TO BLACK.

Tomorrow: Part two. Are you at the edge of your seat?

Monday, September 20, 2010

How to pitch a pilot or movie

Sometimes a Friday question is worth a whole post. So here’s one from Cap’n Bob Napier about pitching.

Ken, I recently worked at a writer's conference helping people practice their pitch before meeting with an agent or editor. In 99% of the cases they presented a summary or synopsis or plot rundown, but never a pitch. Would you discuss what sets a pitch apart from a synopsis, etc.?

Pitching is an art. When you walk into that room you’re not a writer, you’re a salesman. You’re Don Draper.

Your goal is to get the person you’re pitching it – be it an agent, network, studio, investor, whoever – excited. It’s way more than just about spelling out the synopsis.

So here are some tips. They apply specifically to pitching comedies although I imagine most of the same principles apply to dramas and cooking shows.

First: Your appearance. Guys, you don’t have to wear ties but show some respect. Nice shirt, maybe a jacket. Don’t show up at a network meeting in a workout suit (I’ve seen this happen). For me to give women fashion advice would be like the Pope giving sex tips, but unlike men, most women are smart enough not to show up at CBS in sweats.

Bring with you a beat sheet that has the salient points of your pitch. Don’t bring a presentation that you read aloud. That’s death.

If possible, you need to appear confident and relaxed. And it’s easier than you think. Those meetings always have a false sense of casualness. Everyone’s breezy, there’s usually five minutes of charming chit-chat. Meanwhile, you’re dying inside and they’re so sick of these meetings they could scream. But it’s all smiles and will help put you at ease. As a general rule, I find it’s best not to take a shot at them for not buying something you pitched last season. That sets a bad tone.

When you pitch, make eye contact. With everybody. Usually there will be the alpha dog (VP of Development, head agent, studio exec) and two to five assistants. Make eye contact with all of them. Some writers make the mistake of only playing to the big decision maker and ignoring everyone else. First off, that’s incredibly rude. Secondly, you want everyone on board. The more people in your corner the better. And guess what? These assistants often go on to become alpha dogs themselves. And they have a very good memory for assholes.

I’ve seen male writers only look at the male executives and ignore the women. You can’t believe how they are loathed.

Don’t mumble. Don’t say “you know” or “like” a thousand times. Don’t stop every few minutes to refer to the beat sheet, pause, and then resume.

As for the pitch itself:

Rule number one: Be enthusiastic. This is a killer idea! You’re passionate about this one. To say, “I see a lot of vampire movies are selling. Why I don’t know but anyway here’s my vampire movie” is to say, “Hi, I’m wasting your time and mine.”

If you’re pitching a movie the rules have changed. Producers and studios generally now like the whole movie worked out. You have to walk them through the entire picture. And if it’s a comedy point out block comedy scenes and trailer moments. Maybe even have the tag line for the one-sheet.

Start with the concept and why you think it’s so great. The arena is completely unexplored. This is a relationship you’ve never seen. You’ve found a way to do THE SORROW AND THE PITY but really FUNNY.

I suggest you really rehearse your pitch. You can get so lost pitching a movie, laying out unnecessary details and omitting others. Confusing the buyer is not a good thing. Neither is boring the shit out of him. If you’ve pitched for a half-hour and you’re still in act one you are so toast. Do a dry run or two for your agent or significant other.

Another usual tip I’ve found when pitching movies, have Martin Scorsese attached and have him at the meeting.

For television: If you can distill the series into a few lines, that’s a great start. For ALMOST PERFECT with Nancy Travis we said, “This is about a single woman in her thirties, having trouble with her personal life and working life and on the day she gets the job of her life she meets the guy of her life. Both are full-time jobs. How does she balance both?” CBS bought it right there.

For comedy pilots, have some jokes in your pitch. And this is very important: don’t bail if they don’t laugh. Some network executives are great audiences, others are like playing tennis against a blanket. But just plow forward. Just cause a network doesn’t laugh doesn’t mean they won’t buy your show. And on the other hand, we always have ABC rolling in the aisles and they never buy.

One more note about pitch jokes – don’t you laugh hysterically at them. Boy does that wreak with desperation.

Spell out the concept, and what the series is about. Networks want to know if the idea has legs. Will there be several years worth of stories? Where’s the funny in the series?

Give quick sketches of the characters. Again, sprinkle in laughs.

Then have four or five stories. All you need are brief summaries. But enough so they get the idea of the series.

After you’ve rundown your pitch the network will generally ask you a few questions. This is not a bad thing (unless they're hopelessly confused, that's bad) The more they talk about the idea the more you can get them excited about it.

A sitcom pitch should be about twenty minutes.

Props and visual aids are at your own peril. Sometimes they help, most times they don't. We once went into a pitch that related to the food industry with a producer who thought it would be good idea to bring in tons of chicken and side dishes. The network was horrified. All through our pitch they just stared at this food wondering what the fuck to do with it.

And finally, when they say, “Okay, this sounds good. Let us talk it over” that’s your cue to say “thank you”, get up, shake hands, and leave. Don’t keep pushing. Don’t suddenly remember something about a character you forgot to mention. Get in, make your pitch, and get out.

Like I said, pitching is an art. But unlike the ability to write, it can be learned and practiced and perfected.

And then there’s this: You can give the greatest pitch in the world. You can be Paul Harvey, George Clooney, and the Juiceman all rolled into one but if the idea itself is shit it’s not going to sell. Likewise, a great idea can sometimes survive even a subpar pitch. But most ideas are somewhere in the middle – that is until you step into the room and blow ‘em away.

Best of luck. Make Don Draper proud.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Things not to do in Disneyland

Saw this picture recently and it reminded me of a few of the stunts I used to pull at Disneyland in my younger days. Not that I'm proud of any of these of course. Tom Sawyer's Island had all those little caves and crevices. Ideal for smoking illegal substances. In the late 60's, nine out of ten teenagers would enter the park and head right for Tom Sawyer's. There could be no lines for Pirates of the Caribbean, we'd still pass it by in favor of the island.

There used to be an exhibit called "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln". A Lincoln robot would get up from a chair and deliver an eloquent speech. One time I got loaded and stood up in the middle and asked him a question. This did not sit well with others in the house.

By the way, the original Lincoln robot used to have bizarre spasms in the middle of his speech. It was discovered that the show's power supply was fed by the same sub station that fed 600 volts to the Monorail. Whenever the Monorail, ran in these sections, there would be a power surge, causing old Abe to become Jerry Lewis.

Crashing into people on the Autopia. They weren't designed to be bumper cars per se but if my friend was in the car just ahead of me -- whiplash city!

The big thing was (and is) to get Mickey Mouse hats with your name personally embroidered on it. I once slipped a guy $5 and he agreed to write "Charles Manson". This was not a big hit with Magic Kingdom patrons either.

And finally, one year I got another set of Mouse ears and had them write "Vincent" on the hat. I then tore off one of the ears. Those that got the joke were hysterical. The other 90% of Disneylan
d guests either scoffed, were confused, or just ignored me to get in line for churros.

Warning to Disneyland: The Levines will be invading you again the end of this month.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Stars Wars Main Titles -- Hawaii 5-0 style

From HaphazardStuff.com comes this great video:

This would send me into therapy for fifty years

From a 70s sex education film. Guys, don'tcha hate it when this happens??



Yeah. Knock, mom. And take acting lessons.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Never say "break a leg" to Kaley Cuoco

It’s Friday question day. Poor Kaley inspires the first one.

From Rockgolf:

I just saw that Kaley Cuoco broke her leg in a horseback riding accident and that The Big Bang Theory show is planning to rewrite the script they are filming tonight without her.

That sounds like a Herculean task to take a significant character out of an episode in two or three days. Has this ever happened on a show you were on? If so, how did you do it and what (belated) advise would you give the BBT writers.

First off, best wishes, Kaley. I imagine in time she'll return and they'll explain away the cast. And this is just the kind of thing that wins people Best Supporting Actress Emmys. I'm just sayin'.

Anyway, to the topic. Yes, once. In the first year of CHEERS we got a call in the writers room at about 7 that Nick Colasanto had just been admitted to the hospital with Pleurisy. We had to rewrite him out that night.

The hard part was reconstructing the story. But it was doable. Had we lost Ted or Shelley or had BBT lost Jim Parsons they might have had to shut down. This is why it's fortunate for TWO AND A HALF MEN that Charlie Sheen is not in prison.

You have to go into every season with the mindset that along the way there will be a few episodes that are snake-bitten. An actress will break her leg, a script will bomb at runthrough, there will be a flood on the stage on show night. You just have to expect it and roll with it.

The good news is that those late nights can also really bond a staff. There’s a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. As long as it doesn’t happen every week. Then you just want to fucking kill someone.

I really don’t have any advice for the BBT writers. I can offer my support though and say to them – good luck you sorry bastards.

From Brian:

Hi Ken, here's a question for you. Do you know any writers/producers/directors/actors involved in the soap opera industry? How can the possibly keep up with writing and filming for a one hour daily show?

Surprisingly, I don’t know any soap opera writers. Maybe because they’re locked up writing all the time. The hard part has to be plotting out the overall storylines that will stretch out over weeks and months. I imagine with practice these skilled writers can bang out the actual scripts in fairly short order. On the other hand, it’s not like they have to write a blog post every day. Now THAT’S pressure.

I do know a number of soap opera actors like Eric Braeden and Carolyn Hennessey and I’m always in awe of their ability to memorize hour scripts every day. They both say the same thing. You develop a technique that allows you to memorize very quickly. And once the show is filmed you almost instantly forget it.

Soap opera talent (on and off camera) doesn’t get the recognition they deserve. They work in a very specialized and rigorous field. So you have to excuse them for the occasional twin brother marries a girl who turns out to be his sister who was thought to be eaten by cannibals but escaped by sleeping with the tour guide who she later learned was her father.

Matthias wonders:

"Networks now pretty much control the stories." Does that mean that when we like or don't like the direction a show goes in, we should be crediting or blaming the networks as much as the showrunners?

Yes. But if the show tanks guess who gets blamed? Not once have I ever heard a network say, “You know we led the showrunner in the wrong direction. It’s really our fault.”

And finally, a rather unusual question from Steve:

As a writer, do you ever develop crushes on your characters? For instance, did you have a crush on Dharma or Diane Chambers? (I would have.) If so, did that affect your writing?

To be honest, I’ve never even thought about it. Since I work with the actual actresses, I dunno, it would be weird. Really weird. So... no. I confine my crushes to SI swimsuit models and Rachel Maddow.

Monday I’ll answer another question, but it’s a long one, worthy of an entire post. I’ll give you tips on how to pitch a movie or pilot to agents, networks, or studios. This is called "a tease". It's also called a "stall tactic" because I haven't written it yet.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

*!##*& my father said... on the air

Today is my dad's 83rd birthday. He remains my hero. You of course recognize him as the host of the restaurant Nancy Travis entered in ALMOST PERFECT. Today's post is another excerpt from the book I'm writing on growing up in Los Angeles in the 60s. I selected it because it features my father. In 1967 he was an account executive at KABC radio (yes, the same KABC that I do Dodger Talk on).

NABET, the ABC engineers’ union went on strike that spring. And AFTRA, the talent union, went out in support – at least on the radio side. That meant that KABC executives manned the control boards and became the air talent. My dad got tapped to do the morning sports and then host a talk show from 6-9 P.M. So for about three months, until the strike was settled, he worked from 5 A.M. until 9 P.M. every day. And only half those hours on the weekend.

This is the infamous strike that cost me my trip to Paris when I got unceremoniously booted off THE DATING GAME without so much as a tube of GLEEM toothpaste.

Dad’s first morning on the air I rounded up all my friends in the parking lot and had them gather around the car radio to hear his broadcast debut. I was beaming with pride. He then signed on by saying, “Filling in for Cliff Levine Sports, I’m Allin Slate.” Like I said, I was so proud.

At first he just read the scores. But within a couple of weeks he was demanding the Lakers trade Rudy LaRusso and the Dodgers man up and admit they were horseshit that year.

He began feeling more comfortable hosting the talk show too. It shocked him (and me as well) that callers were asking his opinion of Viet Nam and the issues of the day. Why the hell did they care what he thought about anything? He was just some Joe Schmoe. But because he was on the radio, they did. And then our neighbor would call constantly to badger him about trimming our hedge.

I must say it was kind of cool having my father be a minor celebrity. That was certainly new. Friends asked if it was weird hearing my dad on the radio? I’d so no, but every so often he’d voice an opinion or share some personal anecdote that I didn’t know. That was bizarre. And then I wondered, what is he revealing that I didn’t know on nights I wasn’t listening? Does Ruth in Downey and Lester from Alhambra know things about my father that I don’t? I found this disconcerting but not so disconcerting that I’d listen to him over Vin Scully when the Dodgers were playing.

When the strike finally ended he said he was relieved. But deep down inside I think he missed it. Damn the company and unions for negotiating in good faith from that point on.

Happy birthday, Dad. Love you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fall Movie Preview - Part two

Here's the concluding half of my annual Fall Movie Preview. Part one was yesterday.

LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS –Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal. Jake plays a Viagra salesman. If the movie lasts longer than four hours consult your physician.

RED – Adapted from a graphic novel. League of Justice with AARP members. Helen Mirren as an action hero? This I gotta see. Boxoffice prospects dim since every paying customer is getting the senior discount.

SECRETARIAT – Triple Crown thoroughbred of the 70s. Stars Diane Lane. She played against Richard Gere, she can easily play against a horse.

JACKASS 3D – It's like they're throwing the darts in your face! The best movie ever!!

THE KING’S SPEECH – If the buzz is right Colin Firth will win Best Actor this Oscar season. He’s even better in this than his second sex tape.

NOWHERE BOY – Story of John Lennon in the 50s. He deals with his dysfunctional mother. It might explain Yoko Ono.

MORNING GLORY – Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford as morning news anchors who hate each other. This tired premise has been around since Keaton and Ford were ingénues – so at least a hundred years. The 8 PM showing will have five people in the theater. The 11 AM showing will be packed.

MEGAMIND – Superhero animated movie with the voices of Will Ferrell and Tina Fey. Megamind looks like a blue Bruce Willis with a swelled head (which was his head until HUDSON HAWK).

TRON: LEGACY -- the second sequel to TRON. The first was the Aha music video.

DUE DATE – Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey Jr. in a buddy road trip comedy. Before you gag, just know it was directed by Todd Phillips (THE HANGOVER). Then gag.

HEREAFTER – Chick flick directed by Clint Eastwood. Matt Damon is a psychic who can communicate with the dead. You can see why women would be attracted to this subject matter.

TANGLED – Disney 3D CG-animated version of Rapunzel. Can’t be better than the Fractured Fairy Tales version on the Bullwinkle Show.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS – Russell Crowe plans a prison escape for his wife, played by Elizabeth Banks. Isn’t it always the way? Hubby just wants to kick back and watch the game but no, wifey has a to-do list.

NEVER LET GO – Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley. A sci-fi human drama. I don’t know what will scare off the Comic-con crowd more – human drama or two pretty girls.

FASTER – The Rock has decided to relinquish his title of King of Screen Comedies to return to the action genre. This leaves a huge void. Even fake vomit doesn't seem so funny anymore.

FAIR GAME – Naomi Watts as a CIA agent blows the whistle on Bush’s “weapons of mass destruction” lie. I know it’s taking creative license but to me the satisfying ending of this movie would be Bush getting impeached.

UNSTOPPABLE – Denzel Washington as a crazed villain who rigs a runaway train with toxic chemicals and points it at a big city. Yawn. 24 only did this eight times.

HOW DO YOU KNOW – James L. Brooks’ romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson. Two people have a blind date on the worst day of their lives. When he’s on his game no one is better than Brooks. Please let this be another BROADCAST NEWS and not SPANGLISH.

TRUE GRIT – On first glance, just a remake of the John Wayne film. But the Coen Brothers are doing it. Stars Jeff Bridges. The Dude becomes the Duke.

THE TEMPEST – Helen Mirren stars in this classic Shakespeare play. William Shakespeare gets sole screenplay credit. The Bard doesn’t have to share it with Babaloo Mandell.

LITTLE FOCKERS – Second sequel to MEET THE PARENTS. If the trailer is any indication, this could be the worst movie of the year. Maybe ten.

SOMEWHERE – Sofia Coppola returns to the only thing she can do well, a LOST IN TRANSLATION clone. Original title was TRANSLATION AND MISDEMEANORS.

COUNTRY STRONG – Gwyneth Paltrow takes time out from instructing people on how to give enemas to play a washed-up country singer. Hey, it worked for Jeff Bridges.

CONVICTION – Hilary Swank in the true-life story of Betty Ann Walters. What more do you need to know?

BLACK SWAN – A psychological thriller set in the rough world of the ballet.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fall Movie Preview - Part one

Before you go to the neighborhood Cineplex or even waste your time watching trailers on line, here is my annual comprehensive Fall Movie Preview. The only thing I haven't done is seen any of these movies.

HARRY POTTER (AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 1) This long running franchise will soon be coming to an end since Daniel Radcliffe who plays Harry could soon play Dumbledore.

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS – Director Oliver Stone said, “The fact that the financial crisis happened helped get this movie made”. So feel good about losing your life savings. Hollywood benefits!

127 HOURS – Directed by Danny Boyle so I’m seeing it even though it’s about a mountain climber who cuts off his own arm to free himself from a boulder. Then Richard Kimble tries to find him because he saw him kill his wife but no one believes him and… oh wait, that’s THE FUGITIVE.

BURLESQUE – Cher owns a burlesque club. “La Cage aux Facelift”.

THE TOWN – Ben Affleck stars and directs this Boston thriller. GOOD WILL HUNTING with guns and scary masks.

YOU AGAIN – High school rivals, both mothers and daughters reunite for formula studio mayhem. Betty White took time out from being in everything else to be in this.

EASY A – Teen comedy with snappy dialogue. Getting good buzz. MEAN GIRLS meets JUNO.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK – Even snappier dialogue because Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay. It’s the story of Facebook. Who invented it, the lawsuits. I hope it also explains how I can block people from sending me invitations. And then have them killed.

YOU’LL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER – Woody Allen’s 746th attempt at the same movie. He's truly become the Octomom of Cinema.

WAITING FOR SUPERMAN – Documentary on public education. The Comic-con crowd is going to be really pissed about ten minutes into this movie, especially after spending allowance they could have used for Transformer accessories.

GULLIVER’S TRAVELS – The Jonathan Swift classic set in contemporary times with Jack Black. The Lilliputians aren’t terrified that they encounter a giant. It’s that it’s Jack Black.

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE – If 3D makes people more lifelike, does it make zombies more lifeless? That’s what we’ll find out when Milla Jovovich wrassels ‘em.

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT – Hi-concept formula romcom starring formula actress Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel. They hate each other. But have to raise a baby together. What do you think happens? Did you say an hour of poopy jokes and then they fall in love? You’ve just saved yourself twelve dollars.

LET ME IN – Remake of Swedish cult vampire hit. Fans are outraged. Without the Volvos, what’s the point?

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 – Anticipating this might become a franchise the studio early on wisely signed all the ghosts to three sequels.

THE COMPANY MEN – Ben Affleck as workaholic who gets fired and must work for less pay. The heartbreak of financial ruin directed by billionaire John Wells.

The Fall Movie Preview concludes tomorrow.