Friday, December 31, 2010

Some final questions as we wrap up this year

How fitting to end the year with questions. What’s yours?

Matt starts with a follow-up question about the "how did we handle drinking on CHEERS" post:

Were the actors actually nursing beer?

They were drinking “near-beer”, 3.2 alcohol content, and it was warm. I don’t know George Wendt guzzled all that swill each week.

However, the Heinekens in the writers room were real.

VP81955 asks:

At times I see sitcom episodes directed by cast members, which I presume is one of the "perks" of their contract. What's your experience been like in those situations? Are they looking for diversifying their resume in later years -- in other words, are they genuinely interested in directing as a future endeavor -- and do you assist them when they have to act in a scene?


Some actors are excellent directors. Three that I have worked with are Alan Alda, Kelsey Grammer, and Adam Arkin. There have been other times when actors have directed and the results have been, uh… “less than stellar”. In one case, and I won’t name the actor, anytime he directed it was bizarre. Normally he was the nicest guy in the world, but the minute he stepped onto the stage as the director he became a tyrant, even snapping at his fellow cast members. The next week he was just an actor again and went back to being the sweetest guy on the planet. How the rest of the cast didn't kill I do not know.

On multi-camera shows, when actors direct they pretty much leave all the camera blocking and technical stuff to the camera coordinator. And of course, if you’re blocking a scene without regard to just how you plan to shoot it, you may block it in such a way that is hard or impossible to shoot.  Actors are too close to walls, upstaging each other, in spots where the camera can't find them, etc.  Those camera blocking days can be total nightmares. 

Kelsey was the only one I saw who really studied the cameras and participated in that aspect of the job.

Generally, when an actor directs an episode it’s one in which he’s very light. Some will ask for an objective eye like the first AD and others won’t. Of course actors in long-running series generally know their characters so well that they don’t need much guidance.

Do you know which actor was also a director? Someone I bet you wouldn’t expect. Nick Colasanto, the Coach on CHEERS. He directed tons of episodes of HAWAII 5-0 (the good version), COLUMBO, STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO, and even BONANZA.

I wonder if Ron Howard ever asked the producers of HAPPY DAYS if he could direct an episode and they told him to just stick to acting.

From Cedric Hohnstadt:

I'd love to know your thoughts, Ken: Is it possible to train yourself to be creatively "in the zone" when needed or is inspiration something that always strikes on its own random schedule?

If you write for television, especially on staff, you cannot afford to wait for the muse to come along and inspire you. You must train yourself to write on demand. Morning, night, late night, when you’re tired, have a cold, dealing with family issues, ducking a drug cartel – it makes no difference. You’re expected to be productive. This takes discipline, experience, and fear (I mean, “motivation”).

A large part of the job is being able to perform under pressure. During filming nights on multi-camera shows, when a joke bombs the writers quickly huddle and with the cast and crew waiting and two hundred people in the audience impatiently looking on, you’re expected to come up with that new killer line. You can’t say, “Let me go up to my cabin in Arrowhead for the weekend, pour myself some nice Swiss Miss, light a cozy fire, put on my “Pat Boone Sings Heavy Metal” CD, and work on it. I’ll have the joke for you on Monday.” You need it now.  Just like the drug cartel. 

Phillip B wonders:

Have you ever been approached -- or tempted - to work on an "unscripted" show?

I have an idea for an unscripted series. It’s one of those outdoorsman-type shows, where everyone wears hats and totes around rifles. HUNTING THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS. What do you think?

Happy New Year to everyone. Drive carefully tonight.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The guy who built the MASH set comments for this blog

A few weeks ago I posted photos of a MASH set built in someone's backyard.  The person who did that very graciously left this anonymously in the comments section, but I felt it was worth re-posting because as unbelievable as this might sound, not everybody reads the comments.  Thanks much to this person, whoever he is. 


I sold it over a year ago. It's now in a museum.
These pictures were not posted by me. I did not want this attention. Mainly because I could write the "wayyy to much time on his hands" comment in my sleep. These pictures were first posted on a blog I had never heard of by a friend that was last here 2 years ago.
It was something I wanted to build, and I did. Nothing more,nothing less.
I ask you. Has your hobby, or "obsession" been asked to be in a museum? If not. Maybe you need more time on your hands.
Thanks very much to all of you who made kind thoughtful comments.

My favorite quotes of 2010


Elton John -- "I think Jesus was a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems".

"If vibrators could light the barbie and kill spiders in the bathtub, would we need men at all." -- Kathy Lette, novelist, wonders whether marriage has had its day.

"Meryl Streep looks like an unmade bed”. --  Sharon Stone.

Shaquille O'Neal, asked about becoming the fifth NBA player to score 28,000 points: “I got a call from my father and he said, ‘I'm not going to congratulate you, dummy, because if you had hit your free throws, you would have made 33,000.'”

Lil Wayne -- "Safe sex is great sex, better wear a latex/ Cuz you don't want that late text, that I think I'm late text"

"I didn't really had a good answer, as so often -- is me." -- Sarah Palin, on writing notes on her hand during her Tea Party convention speech.

LPGA star Christina Kim, referring to Japanese player Sakuta Yokomine before the final round of the U.S. Women's Open: “Phew. I'm glad I don't have to play behind Yokomine today. She's slower than trying to bake a pie with a lighter.”

"We thought we could put it to better use." -- Yigal Palmor, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, on his country's purchase of Twitter account @israel from Israel Melendez, a Spanish owner of a porno website.

"A lot of people say, 'I would rather have a heart attack at the height of sexual passion'. I think I would prefer to be killed by a bookcase." -- Tom Stoppard, on the ideal way to die.


James Franco -- "I spend a fair amount of time alone, especially when I travel . . . So, when I'm alone, I do masturbate a lot."

"I thought it was gum." -- Paris Hilton, denying responsibility for packet of cocaine Las Vegas police found in her bag.

"Life is such a fuckin' rollercoaster then it stops/But what should I scream for, this is my theme park" – Lil Wayne

Chris Snyder, Pittsburgh Pirates catcher, after dropping a throw that led to a one run loss: “That's a play I make 99 times out of 100. Well, I guess now it's 98 times.”


Julia Roberts on why she won’t get Botox -- "Your face tells a story - and it shouldn't be a story about your drive to the doctor's office."

"I want to help clean up the state that is so sorry today of journalism. And I have a communications degree." -- Sarah Palin, Fox News interview with Sean Hannity.

Tweet from Paris Hilton -- "So scary. Just got woken up to a guy trying to break into my house holding 2 big knives. Cops are here arresting him."

Al Michaels, NBC Sunday Night Football announcer, on how lucky he is to be living his current life: “I don't want to come back in the next life because I'll be in Mongolia in a sulfur mine working the night shift.”

"To the passenger who called me a motherfucker, fuck you., I've been in this business for years and that's it I've had it." -- Air steward Steven Slater, who grabbed two bottles of beer and slid down the emergency chute after being abused by a passenger.



Lady Gaga -- "I have this weird thing that if I sleep with someone they're going to take my creativity from me through my vagina."  Yeah, what guy wouldn't want a piece of that?

Ned Colletti, Dodgers general manager, on having seen free-agent Chien-Ming Wang throw only in a parking lot before the right-hander signed with the Nationals: “He had good command, though. He didn't hit any cars or anything.”

"It's a good thing to be old, because that means you haven't died yet, right?" -- Penelope CruzUh, yes, Penelope. You’re right.

"Refudiate. English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it." -- Sarah Palin, who created the word 'refudiate', compares herself to Bard.

Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics head coach, after Glen “Big Baby” Davis suffered a concussion in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals: “I don't know what kind of test they can give him. He's delirious half the time anyway.”

"You have the honesty of Abe Lincoln and the charm of the guy who shot him." -- Dane Cook, comedian, pays tribute to departing American Idol judge Simon Cowell.

Ethan Hawke, who married his nanny after having an affair with her -- "I liken my situation to The Sound of Music, not to Jude Law."

Ringo Starr, on Vatican newspaper editorial praising band on 40th anniversary of breakup -- "I think the Vatican - they've got more to talk about than the Beatles."

"Listen, he's a nice person, but he couldn't sell watermelons if you gave him the state troopers to flag down traffic." -- Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather on Barack Obama.


"We used to hustle on over the border for health care...And I think, isn't that kind of ironic now." -- Sarah Palin, admits her family used to go to Canada for medical treatment when she was a child. Canada has a single-payer system, which Palin opposes.

"I want you to know, Mrs Obama, that I'm your husband's No 1 fan. And not just because he's a black man. He's mixed. And I wouldn't really know what that looks like anyway." -- Stevie Wonder greets Michelle Obama, wife of US president.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Best & Worst of 2010

Every blogger is pretty much obligated to do this.  So here are my Best & Worst in all the important categories. 

BEST ENGAGEMENT – Tie: Shania Twain, who is marrying the ex-husband of the woman who cheated with her husband. And Hugh Hefner (84) & Crystal Harris (24). So Christie Hefner will be 34 years older than her new mother. Personally, I think Hef is just settling, but that’s just me.

BEST MOVIE – SOCIAL NETWORK (and not just because Aaron Sorkin wrote a piece for this blog). I hear THE KING’S SPEECH is great but haven’t seen it. So I may change my mind.  That happened once before.  2004.  MYSTIC RIVER was my ultimate favorite but originally I had said FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY. 

BEST COMEDY MOVIE


BEST MOVIE I WILL NEVER SEE – 127 HOURS. I don’t care how good it is, I’m not going to watch a movie where a guy cuts off his own arm. I didn’t like it when it was suggested for an episode of FRASIER, and I don’t like it now.

WORST MOVIE I WILL NEVER SEE – LITTLE FOCKERS. I’d rather cut off my own arm.

BEST MOVIE THAT’S STILL A CONFUSING MESS – INCEPTION.  Wow but huh?



BEST TV DRAMA – THE GOOD WIFE. Sorry MAD MEN but THE GOOD WIFE has evolved into a spectacular show. Each episode is so layered, so engrossing, and yet seems so effortless. Other than Christine Baranski, I care about every single character. What’s so amazing is that this is a show on a broadcast network. Please let there not be a spinoff like THE GOOD WIFE: MIAMI.


BEST SINGLE EPISODE OF TV – Okay, this one I give to MAD MEN. The show where Peggy and Don spend a long night together, written by Matthew Weiner, is worthy of Chayefsky.

BEST TV COMEDY – MODERN FAMILY.  One of the few sitcoms these days that is funny but won't sacrifice character or story for a laugh. 

BEST 3-D MOVIE – LA BETE, starring David Hyde Pierce. The actors seemed so lifelike I actually thought I was in the same room with them. Oh wait, LA BETE is a play. I was in the same room with them. Okay. I can’t see 3-D. So I have no idea.


BEST BEVERLY HILLS HOUSEWIFE – Camille


WORST BEVERLY HILLS HOUSEWIFE – Camille


BEST FINALE – LOST. They wrapped up most everything and brought Elizabeth Mitchell back. 


WORST FINALE – Larry King.  As with LOST, it spent the last year in the afterlife.


BEST ACTRESS IN A MOVIE – Annette Bening. I don’t care what Meryl Streep was in this year.


BEST ACTRESS WHO PLAYS AN IDIOT – Rebecca Hall in THE TOWN.

BEST CANCELED SHOW -- TERRIERS

BEST FIRING – Kara DioGuardi off AMERICAN IDOL.  Why it took two years and not two minutes I'll never know. 


BEST FIRING ALTHOUGH SHE SAYS SHE QUIT BUT WHO WE KIDDING? – Ellen DeGeneres off AMERICAN IDOL


BEST WRITING STAFF THAT WAS FIRED – WALKING DEAD


BEST TALK SHOW SIDEKICK – the robot on Craig Fergeson.


BEST COMEBACK – Betty White.  I've loved her on all seven TV shows she's been on and all twelve movies. 



WORST COMEBACK – David Hasselhoff. He’s won this category eight years running.


BEST CABLE SHOW YOU MIGHT NOT EVEN HEARD OF – JUSTIFIED on FX. Tim Olyphant is a great lead, the characters are all very rich, and ignorant anti-Semite red neck assholes get shot every week.  I hope Mel Gibson guests next season.

BEST NEW BOOK – Mark Twain’s Autobiography. Shania’s ex tells-all!


BEST DOCUMENTARY – WHO IS HARRY NILSSON? If you have to ask that question yourself you should really see it.

BEST AWARD SHOW HOST – Jimmy Fallon, the EMMYS

WORST AWARD SHOW HOST – Chelsea Handler, the VMA’s


BEST AWARDS SHOW – Southern California Sportscasters Association awards lunch. Hey, gimme a break. I was one of the winners.

WORST CROSSOVER PORN STAR – Sasha Grey on ENTOURAGE. It’s tough when you have to use your mouth to talk.

WORST STATUE UNVEILED – Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig at Miller Park, Milwaukee.

BEST STATUE UNVEILED – Tom Selleck in BLUE BLOODS.

BEST NEW VIDEO GAME – Anything created by the other Ken Levine. I keep hoping I get his royalties by mistake.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How to sell a one-hour drama to FX or USA or A&E or whoever.

It's very simple.  I have discovered the basic cable one-hour formula.  Follow these steps and you premiere right after BURN NOTICE. 

Start with a handsome likable actor. Heavy on charm, athletic, has a dimple, and can deliver a joke without needing a stunt double. For background, he was in some branch of law enforcement. Cop, U.S. Marshall, CIA, secret service, security guard at Warner Brothers.


And we learn he’s a real rogue. Does things his own way. Often gets in trouble with his superiors. He’s just incorrigible. But he’s the best cop/Marshall/CIA agent/gate guard at Warners that has ever been. Lightening fast draw, sharp shooter, explosives expert, Mensa candidate. He’s absolutely fearless but super cool. He drinks beer. He sleeps with any woman he’s assigned to protect.

As the pilot begins his rogue-ness gets him in trouble. He’s fired or reassigned. If fired, he’s trying to get his job back. If reassigned, he’s sent to the most fish-out-of-water locale you can find. Let's say he's from Chicago. Ship him off to the Everglades.

If possible, set the show in some sun drenched city. Miami, San Diego. Great excuse to show hot girls in bikinis, bright beauty shots, and easier to duplicate when you shoot in San Pedro, California.

Also, try to set him in a town where he has ties. Give him a hot ex-wife or ex-girlfriend that he still sort of loves and still sort of loves him. They broke up because of his rogue-ness or some fault that he has that every woman in America would ignore in two seconds to snare a prize like this.

He has a dark past that he needs to work through… when it’s convenient. Former lover died.  Former partner died.  Steve McQueen died.

 
For good measure, throw in an eccentric parent (preferably one who was hot and starred in a show his or herself in the 80s).

He also has to have a partner who’s either crazier than he is, or the total opposite. Someone has to say, “You’re going to get us KILLED!” at least once an episode.

It’s very important that your hero have a moral code. He only kills bad guys. He has a soft spot for innocent downtrodden saps who are in trouble. Yes, he’s tough but he’s empathetic, and don’t you dare make a big deal of thanking him. He’s adorably shy.

In addition to solving crimes, and dodging ten thousand stray bullets an episode, there’s always a larger story arc. Some secret to uncover, or an elusive nemesis he needs to catch… when it’s convenient.

Throw in some action sequences, chase scenes, explosions (at least for the pilot), and there has to be a helicopter in at least one scene (I have no idea why but you do). Then mix in some "character" scenes so we see the hero is sensitive as well as strong. 

Give the show a snappy title that’s no more than two words. JUSTIFIED, TERRIERS, THE GLADES, BURN NOTICE. And you’re good to go.

Best of luck. Give me shared creator credit when you sell your show. And you better hurry. Other writers have figured out this formula too. And John Corbett is not going to be out there forever.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The winter wonderland of Hawaii

We like to think of it as our second home. Our two-bedroom condo in the E-Coli Village in Wailea, Maui. Okay, we don’t own it, and if we show up any other time than the three weeks we book it we’ll be shot on sight, but still, it’s ours alone.  The above picture is one I took from our balcony. 

Hawaii is my sanctuary, my oasis. The beauty and serenity are unmatched, and as dismal as the state of the world is, somehow it’s not nearly as bleak when reported by newscasters in Aloha shirts. Once again the Levine family ventured to the land where the volcanoes meet the cabanas.

There’s no better way to relax on Maui the first night than by learning you might have Hepatitis A. I came across a story online warning anybody who ordered a sandwich at Jerry’s Deli in Westwood on specific days that they were in danger of contracting this acute infectious disease. Apparently, the nimrod who made the sandwiches was infected and possibly passed it along. (As if the chopped liver sandwiches alone couldn’t kill ya.) My wife was one of the unlucky sandwich orderers. Customers were urged to get a Hepatitis A vaccine or a Gamma Globulin shot in the next two days. Good luck on Maui.

Remember the nurse’s office in your elementary school? She had some band-aids and a bottle of baby aspirin. Well that’s the equivalent of a full-service Maui hospital. Debby called around for Gamma Globulin or a vaccine. She might as well have been asking for Plutonium. The clinics were all in shopping malls. One doctor’s office address was an apartment number.

We finally found a place next to a nail salon. Debby got the shot. It cost $350, and Jerry’s is refusing to reimburse because they “didn’t know the employee had Hepatitis at the time so they’re not liable”. Oh really??? I don’t think it will require Erin Brockovich to win that case in court.

The latest Twitter trend is to Tweet where you are every five seconds. So for those who don’t follow me on Twitter, here are some entries:

@Maui airport – waiting for shuttle van to Alamo Rental Cars. 1:40 PM

@Maui airport – still waiting for shuttle van. 2:40 PM

@Alamo – waiting in long line to get my car. 3:30 PM

@Alamo – Finally get the keys. 4:05 PM

@ Alamo – In car. Chasing Alamo employees around the lot, trying to run them down. Sure, NOW they move fast. 4:10 PM

Forget the Alamo. They’re the Goldman Sachs of rental car companies.


How to get a better table at Mama’s Fish House: Have the hostess spill a glass of water on your wife. Better table, free t-shirt, and round of drinks! Too bad it wasn’t wine. Those appetizers looked really yummy!

There’s a “backpack bandit” who has robbed four local banks at gunpoint. Four? Where the fuck is HAWAII 5-0? What are you idiots doing? Stop trading barbs and joy riding in your product-placement Chevy and protect us for godsakes! Jack Lord is spinning in either his grave or the wax museum; I forget where he is now.

Obama isn’t even popular in Hawaii anymore.

There’s more Reggae music being played in Hawaii than Hawaiian music. To save face they call it “Jawaiian”. And the closer we got to the holidays the more we heard “Chriswaiian” music.

Two sure signs that the world is coming to an end: The Roy’s in Kihei is being replaced by a Ruby Tuesday’s. And a tour bus was spotted at the Kahului Walmart.

At one point we had my son Matt, his fiancée Kim, and my daughter Annie joining us at the same time. Five people, all trying to recharge their Kindles, eReaders, iPads, iPods, iPhones, laptops, and cameras at once – there were not enough outlets. My wife and I had to move out to the Grand Wailea.

Now that Hilton owns the Grand Wailea, they’re cutting corners and foolishly assuming guests don’t notice. They recently eliminated all mini-bars and fired the twenty long-time employees who serviced them. I guess the twelve dollars profit on every Toblerone bar just wasn’t enough for them.


We were given a gorgeous room overlooking the parking lot, a trash dumpster, and the back end of another hotel… excuse me, I mean, a “mountain view”. You say, “How did we get so lucky?” We’re Hilton Honors members.

Our room safe didn’t work so we called Security. They said they’d send someone up in five minutes. It took twenty. Now, it’s one thing if Room Service is a little tardy but Security? And it’s not like we can call the Hawaii 5-0 guys. They’re still investigating Pearl Harbor (although I understand they almost have a suspect).

Grand Wailea security officers must all be former Alamo customer representatives.

Actual Hawaiian headline: Kids Smoke Nutmeg For Cheap High. Hey, gasoline costs $3.95 a gallon. Pretty soon stoners won’t even be able to afford spices.

Black Friday sale at the shops at the Kapalua!! Mark Ups slashed to only 60%!!!

Here’s the kind of shit you do in Hawaii: watch giant sea turtles bob in the water on the beach. For twenty minutes. Hey, don’t laugh. It was still far more entertaining than the NBC Fall line-up.

Some nights we had meteor showers. I wonder how many tourists waited around for rainbows.

Went to Mama’s Fish House again. Told Debby that if they gave us a bad table she had to “take one for the team”. The problem was finding a nice evening dress that’s also water-resistant.

Nothing deters my love for Hawaii, even the two minor earthquakes we experienced. But that was just the islands’ way of saying, “Don’t be homesick”.

When there’s a big earthquake (and it’s highly unlikely – there’s only one active volcano in the area), you do have eight full minutes to get to higher ground before the tsunami hits. On the other hand, Hawaii papayas are really sweet!

The Honolulu Marathon was held again. 25,000 runners all yelling, “On your left!” I did not participate this year because a) I wasn’t in Honolulu, b) I’m not from Kenya, and c) unlike the other Hollywood types on the isles, I don’t have a housekeeper or nanny to run for me.

Most of the wet weather we got came during our last few days. I thought it was the influx of tourists that angered Hina Kuluua, the Hawaiian Mistress of Rain. Nope. She just found out that Rain is not going to leave his wife for her.

Cell phone service was also out for a day. I guess, Wendy Williams, the Goddess of Incessant Talking, was also out of sorts.

Flew home on the redeye. Usually I never fly First Class unless a network or studio is paying for it. So I haven’t flown First Class in years. But Debby and I decided to use miles and upgrade, hoping to maybe get some sleep. So we boarded first and sat patiently as the Coach passengers filed past us to their seats. Now this I’ve never experienced before – random people just taking shots at us. “Oooh, it’s the First Class people.” “Look who the lucky ones are.” “Got enough room in those seats?” What the hell?! Since when did travelers turn hostile towards First Class passengers? And this was in Maui after a vacation. What happens in Detroit? Does the guy from 42A just enter the plane and arbitrarily slug the man in 3B?

By the way, the seats weren’t that big, there were no footrests, the meal was a cold cup of corn chowder with six grapes, and we didn’t sleep. Is it really worth staging another Russian Revolution over American Airlines’ supposed premiere service?

So now we’re home, just in time for the holidays and monsoons. Verbal abuse and earthquakes aside, we had a fabulous time. Oh sure, my wife’s skin is a little red, but hey, at least it’s not yellow.


Hau'oli Makahiki Hou -- which either means Happy New Year or pass the nutmeg.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Great name for a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED swimsuit model

Leafing through my 2011 SI Swimsuit Calendar (you know me, I want to see what day Thanksgiving falls on this year), I came across this model.

How's this for a name?  Cintia Dicker

Noted without further comment.  From me at least.  

L.A. is so much better without people!


The best week of the year in Los Angeles is always this one, the final seven days of the year. More property taxes and obligations are on tap for me in January, but here in the waning days of December I can bask in the glory of the city that Zorro once called home.

First of all, the town is practically empty. Most people from the industry are gone, terrorizing the help in Hawaii and Aspen. There’s very little traffic. You can actually make the fifteen minute drive between Brentwood and LAX on the 405 Freeway in only forty minutes. It’s like you’re flying! Hard to get into restaurants? Not this week. Spago will even make reservations for people they don’t know. And at 7:00 not 10:30. (Unfortunately, their chefs are probably in Aspen and Hawaii.)

Los Angeles is so deserted I heard of a friend who found a parking place at the Grove shopping mall. But that’s still just a rumor.

For industry guild folks there are free movies. In the hopes of snaring nominations from any organization that gives out awards (even the WGA), studios let eligible voters and guests attend contending movies gratis. It’s also their way of giving back to the community. However, the nanosecond the nominations are announced this lovely gesture ends instantly. And they go back to the business at hand – busting the unions.

Most of the city’s attention this week is on the upcoming Rose Parade and Bowl. If you have six friends over to your apartment to play poker, the Rose Queen and her court will come and speak to your group.

The Rose Bowl is the "Granddaddy of Bowl Games" and this week.  It's the 97th edition and second being sponsored.  So this year we must refer to it as the "Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO". How fucked is that? This year's teams are the Wisconsin Badgers and TCU Horned Frogs thus reprising one of the longest and greatest rivalries in sports.

Highlight of the Rose Bowl festivities is the Lawry’s Beef Bowl. Lawry’s is the greatest prime rib restaurant in the world (a more popular attraction to Japanese tourists than Disneyland). Every year they invite each team and feed them as much prime rib as they can eat. Usually the winning team tops out at around 630 pounds of beef. During the Rose Bowl, you’ll notice half the players sleeping the bench. That’s why.

The New Year's Eve tradition is to watch Dick Clark and experience the year change in tape delay. Unless you have satellite. Then you can watch the East Coast feed in which case you're in 2011 for three hours while the rest of us are still in 2010. Not sure if Dick will be there this year. On the one hand I hope so. But on the other, it's really starting to get creepy.

The Rose Parade is Sunday morning. Today some idiots will start staking out spots along the parade route. Every local channel will broadcast the parade. KTLA gets a 50 share, everyone else gets a 2. Why these other stations still bother is beyond me. KTLA coverage begins at like 3:00 a.m. Five hours of watching people paste flowers on floats and the idiots from today freezing. KTLA will begin replaying the parade immediately upon its conclusion. Then they replay it again. And again. Sometime around January 15th they return to regular programming.


Bob Eubanks has been hosting the parade since the floats were powered by horses. For many of those years his co-host was Stephanie Edwards, a popular local personality who was mostly known for being the carnie for Lucky Markets. She was replaced in the booth a couple of years ago by local KTLA morning news anchor, Michaela Pereira. This caused quite a stir. Most people felt that Michaela was horrible and resented her in that Deborah Norville/TODAY SHOW way for squeezing out our beloved Stephanie. (Fans would show their support for Steph by shopping at Lucky but Lucky no longer exists.) Now Stephanie is back. Although she will have to go by "Stephanie Edwards Presented by VIZIO".

Then on New Year’s evening all the locals will go out to dinner, have to wait 45 minutes for a table since the Wisconsin rooters got there first, and things will return to normal.

So for my fellow Angelinos – enjoy it while you can!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Xmas show by Matt Weiner & me

Here's a BECKER Christmas episode, written by Matthew Weiner and directed by me.  I wonder -- whatever happened to Matt?  For that matter, whatever happened to me?

Merry Christmas



My favorite Christmas video

Merry Christmas everybody!  And by everybody, I also mean the Jews.  Here's the fabulous Darlene Love.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Was Sid Caesar supposed to play the Coach on CHEERS?

Christmas Eve. The night where the family gathers together around the computer and reads Friday questions. The holiday tradition continues.

Brian Phillips is first:

Did Sid Caesar turn down "Cheers"?

No, but CHEERS did turn down Sid Caesar. I wasn’t at the meeting, but this is what I was told. Sid had a sit-down with the Charles Brothers to discuss possibly playing the Coach. Caesar spent the time ripping the script. Needless to say, that was his last meeting.

Around the same time, I had had a similar experience with Sid. I was hosting a radio talk show and he was a guest. He was surly to me and the callers. So the callers stopped calling. What a long grueling hour that was. And so disappointing because Sid Caesar was such an idol of mine.

In fairness, it came out later that Sid had a drinking problem during that period, which explains his less than stellar behavior. I think if he met the Charles Brothers or did my radio show today it would be a whole different experience.

He remains one of my idols.

Gary asks:

Ok, Ken, I just saw a Becker episode that you directed - Toast - I think it was called. I'm sure you've been asked about the orange many times, but not by me and not recently. For those who don't know...Liz goes to Becker's apt. and he offers her "something." He opens the fridge and we can see (from left to right) one orange and 3 beers. The camera goes back to Liz, then back to the fridge. The orange is gone. Becker removes 2 beers and as he turns, it appears that the orange is on the far right hand side of the fridge. Is that a prank you play w/the audience, a little self-entertainment?

Wow, you are a perceptive viewer. No, what you saw is just a matching problem from take to take. Those happen. This sometimes becomes a big question in editing. Do you use the take that has the best performance or the take where there’s not a mis-match? Most of the time, unless the mis-match is really obvious and jarring, we’ll opt for the performance take.

In the show David and I wrote the first year of FRASIER where Lilith returns, the final scene is in a hotel room. Room service breakfast is delivered. As Frasier and Lilith eat they play out the scene. In some shots the cover is over the eggs, in others it’s not. Watch it. You’ll see. But I bet you’ve seen the scene before, maybe numerous times, and you never noticed that before.

We always try as best we can to have things match, and there is a script supervisor on the set who is supposed to catch everything but they’re only human. Re the BECKER, my guess is she couldn’t see inside the refrigerator from her angle.

The script supervisor is also supposed to keep track that the dialogue is spoken exactly as written and that the actors are all on their correct marks. I don’t know how they do it. They’re amazing.

From Carson:

When a sitcom does a two-parter or an hour long episode, do you shoot all in one night. Or do you split it up over two weeks? And are these usually the result of a network request?

Depends on the show and how ambitious the two-parter is. On CHEERS and FRASIER we generally shot both parts in one night. On ALMOST PERFECT we shot a two-parter in two weeks with a week’s hiatus in the middle (so we could write part two).

Studios and networks greatly prefer you do them over one week. It saves a lot of money – two-for-one crew expenses.

TAXI did a two-parter over no weeks. How did they do this? It was a wrap around episode. The cab company supposedly went under so everyone had to get another job. Each actor had an individual scene showing his new job. After each filming they shot one of these scenes. Then they shot the scene where they all came together to share their stories. Pretty clever, huh?

On CHEERS we did something similar when Shelley Long was pregnant. We took advantage of that period before she was showing to shoot scenes of her and Frasier in Europe. Those were shot after episodes and inserted into shows later in the season when Shelley could no longer hide her “motherly way”.

What’s your question?


Okay, you can open your presents now.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The digital Nativity scene

How did we handle drinking on CHEERS?

Home from Hawaii.  I see the mail and The Friday questions have started to pile up in my absence so I thought I’d sneak in an extra day of answers. Please leave your queries in the comments section. Thanks.

Lairbo is up first.

On CHEERS, I can recall few, if any, scenes of someone actually being drunk at the bar. Were there rules or guidelines about this? If so, were they from the network or the creators?

I think everyone (the Charles Brothers, Jim Burrows, NBC, Paramount) were in agreement that the drinking had to be handled responsibly. No one ever drove home drunk. There were a few cases where cabs were called for homeward bound patrons.

The conceit with Norm was that he could hold his liquor. So we never played him drunk or with impaired judgment.

I want to say we never got laughs out of drunks at the bar but there was Al. A case can be made that he was just punch drunk, not alcohol drunk, but he sure acted like a tosspot.

Sam of course, was a former alcoholic and the message was delivered many times that you don’t solve your problems by drinking. And that goes for egg nog, by the way. The benefit people got from going to the CHEERS bar was the camaraderie and support they gained from each other. Remember, the theme is “where everyone knows your name” not “where fifty dollars will get you shit-faced”.

From RockGolf:

Which IQ is easier to write for: smart or dumb? And which do networks prefer?

Both have their plusses. It’s “easier” I suppose to write dumb characters, but smart characters allow you to write with sophistication, and I personally prefer that. Anyone can write morons; it takes a certain skill to service witty, truly intelligent characters.

But I can’t stress this enough: play every character to the top of their intelligence, regardless of their IQ. I’ve said this before, but the best dimwits are the ones who are dumb for a legitimate reason. Coach was hit in the head by too many fastballs. Woody was a naïve country boy. There’s a logic to everything they said. It’s just not the correct logic.

Networks prefer any show that gets ratings. If it’s FRASIER, fine. If it’s HEE HAW, also fine.

Kevin asks:

Ken, You've talked about not liking it when the director of Volunteers broke the fourth wall. What do you think about the practice of putting an "inside" joke into a sitcom? For instance, How I Met Your Mother has done it at least twice: Barney recreating the end of Doogie Howser in one show and recently when Jorge Garcia shouted out the "Lost" numbers in an episode. Even Frasier did it once when Laurie Metcalf as Nanny G asked Fraiser how he'd feel playing the same role for 20 years. For the joke to work, the audience has to know the reference, which can be a big risk.

Inside jokes are tricky. They can be great little rewards for fans who are really paying attention. Or your close friends, or eighth grade teacher that you want to rip.  But you have to be careful that the audience doesn't feel excluded because there are too many references they don’t get.

Personally, I like inside jokes. Always have. I loved in HIS GIRL FRIDAY that Cary Grant makes mention of an Archie Leach (which was his real name). And he describes Roz Russell’s fiancée as looking like the actor Ralph Bellamy (Ralph Bellamy actually played the part of the fiancée).

I’ve slipped in my fair share of inside jokes. But the trick is to hide them so they go right by the general audience. It’s comedy camouflage. But never do an inside joke at the expense of a bigger joke that everyone would get. You’re doing a show for millions of people, not just your eight friends (unless you’re on NBC at 10:30).

And finally, from Debby G:

You're taking an improv class? Just for fun or to help your writing or because you see a job at The Groundlings in your future? Once you became an established writer, did you still take classes, read how-to books, etc.? Or did you feel you'd advanced beyond those things?

I’m taking it mostly for fun but also to keep sharpening my skills, in the same way that professional golfers still take lessons. I have no aspirations of performing in an improv group or becoming an actor, but learning how to create characters and even more importantly, commit to them helps me as a writer.

Plus, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

I’m in a class taught by Andy Goldberg. Most class members are improv veterans so it’s primarily a group of enormously talented people (and me) essentially having a jam session.

Did I mention it’s great great fun?

The question no one asked and everybody should be asking is:  Ken, what present would you like this year?  

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Confessions of a night person

The U.S. Army once had a recruiting slogan that proclaimed, “We do more by 9:00 in the morning than most people do all day!” Excuse me, but… that’s an incentive? By 9:00 in the morning I’m hopefully still sleeping.

I must admit I’m a night person. Always have been. Practically every job I’ve ever had since high school was a night job. Of course, now that I think about it, I bet I would have sold more Amway products door to door if I didn’t start out every night at midnight.

I know a lot of writers who are morning people. They get up at dawn, go right to work, and get as much done as the Army without cleaning toilets. Notice in that Army slogan they never specify exactly what they do? The truth is, a lot of potatoes get peeled, floors get buffed, and trenches get dug before 9.

But I prefer working late at night. It’s quiet for one thing, and when I write during the day I’m always wondering – what’s going on out there that I’m missing? I never feel that way when the option is watching Carson Daly.

Morning writers contend that they can enjoy the day more knowing they’ve already done their allotted work. That makes great sense to me. Until the alarm clock sounds. Then I’m thinking, “What the fuck?! I don’t get up this early to go to the goddamn Rose Parade. I’m going to drag myself out of bed to write three scenes for this spec screenplay that no one is going to buy?”

About ten years ago, when I was hosting Dodger Talk on XTRA 1150, I filled in on the morning show for about a month. The program director then offered me the position full-time. I graciously declined. He asked why? I’d be done at 9:00 and then have the whole rest of the day to write and direct. I said, “Yes, but see, here’s the thing: by 9:00 I’M FUCKING DEAD!!!” I don’t know how morning men do it. Like I said, this was ten years ago and I’m just now catching up on the sleep I lost.

There’s also a practical reason why I like to write during the wee hours. Lots of writers feel they have to finish a scene before they can put it down for the day. So they’ll sit for as long as it takes to wrestle that bad boy to the ground.

I’m the opposite. If I’m stuck on a tough story point or a long character speech I just stop – in the middle of a sentence even. I find that it’s much easier to solve story problems when I’m relaxed. So I’ll go to sleep and let my subconscious work on it awhile. Invariably, in the morning, after just mulling it over in bed or taking a shower, the solution will present itself. Then I’ll return to the script to finish the scene.

So maybe I don’t get that much done before 9:00 but from 9:15-9:25 I kick ass!

And it's great here in Hawaii.  Because of the time zone, I can work late at night and still be getting lots done by 9:00 AM at home.

How about you? Are you a morning or night person, and why?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Christmas movies recommendations

A CHRISTMAS STORY is my all-time favorite holiday movie. I’ve seen it probably fifty times, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched it from the beginning to end in one sitting. Like most people, I catch the annual 24-hour marathon on TNT or TBS or one of those networks with a “T” and see various segments at a time. Usually, by the end of 24-hours I’ve pretty much seen the whole film, albeit disjointed.

But there are other Christmas movies I recommend as well.

DIE HARD certainly. A company Christmas party goes bad but like Santa saving the day, Bruce Willis sweeps in and kills a lot of people.

LOVE ACTUALLY – Eight different stories interweave in this delightful romantic comedy. You’re bound to be charmed by at least three.  And you get Keira Knightley before her eating disorder.

BACHELOR MOTHER – Okay, this is an obscure one. 1939 starring Ginger Rogers and David Nivens. A screwball comedy set in a department store filled with misdirection and confusion. Warning: Ginger doesn’t dance.

BAD SANTA – Very dark comedy starring Billy Bob Thornton as a Santa who robs stores. People either really like it or they loathe it.  Sort of like with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS – All you need to know about this 1964 sugar plum is that 8-year-old Pia Zadora plays a Martian child.

ELF – worth it for Bob Newhart alone.

HOME ALONE – A John Hughes classic. The Macaulay Culkin “AAAAAAA!” movie that is still funny year after year.

STALAG 17 – Most people don’t think of this Billy Wilder classic set in a World War II German Prisoner of War camp as a holiday yarn, but it was set during a Christmas season. And it is a phenomenal movie.

SUSAN SLEPT HERE – This 1954 comedy starring Dick Powell and a very young Debbie Reynolds is one of my favorites because it takes place in my neighborhood and I think you can see my house from Dick Powell’s balcony. I don’t know if the movie’s any good. I’m always just looking out the windows.

There you go. I know it’s a short list, but if I see one more Scrooge reboot or fantasy with Jim Carrey in make-up I think I’ll vomit. Oh, and one final warning: There are a lot of bad Christmas movies and a lot of bad comedy movies but MIXED NUTS might be the very worst of both. It’s the “Aunt Edna’s Fruitcake” of holiday films.


What are your favorites... and least favorites?  

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Sing Off

The Johnny Mann singers were the first a cappella group I really fell in love with. Their KHJ radio jingles from 1965 were fabulous. And then I learned there were groups who sang a cappella songs that were actually longer than three seconds. Then I was really hooked.

When I heard that NBC was airing a show called THE SING OFF I was very excited. I was also surprised to learn this was the second season. Guess all their promos last year were on the LENO SHOW.

When I finally did learn of the show I thought, this will have limited appeal. A cappella singers are probably trending below Hootenanny groups and Polka bands on the list of hot musical acts. And yet THE SING OFF is a hit.

Why? Two main reasons in my opinion.

First - the shows are entertaining. All of the groups are terrific and the hour (or two) is filled with performances, not a barrage of QUEEN FOR A DAY feature pieces on the contestants’ miserable lives, not seeing their high schools and trailer parks, and not subjecting us to endless scenes of emo-crying (like some shows I won’t mention – AMERICAN IDOL). There are no Sanjayas. There are no members of Sarah Palin’s shameless family. We are just treated to talented musicians showing off a unique skill.

Reason number two: Ben Folds. What a revelation this guy is. I knew of him as a successful artist but had no idea how charming, funny, and knowledgeable this Rick Moranis clone is. As opposed to a buffoon like Randy Jackson, who has a smaller vocabulary than the Talking Dora Surprise doll, Ben Fold really knows his music and can articulate his insightful points. Regardless of who ultimately wins the competition, he’s emerging as the star.

As for the rest of the judges, Shawn Stockman from Boyz II Men offers intelligent comments while presenting a likeable quality, and Nicole Scherzinger – how can I best describe her ability as a judge? She has great hair.

But the big surprise is Nick Lachey.  As the host, he's, well... he's, uh...good.  I’m used to seeing him in that appalling reality show where he was married to Jessica Simpson and had to explain to her that “Chicken of the Sea” tuna did not contain chickens.  But Nick can read a teleprompter.  Well played, sir.

Four groups remain heading into tonight’s finale. And America gets to vote. So Jerry Lawson and the Talk of the Town, veteran middle-aged doo wop singers, have no shot. But any of the other three groups would be worthy winners. I’m sure the final determination will be which group has the cutest guys and the hottest girls?


I don’t know what they’re going to sing on the finale, but if I may make a suggestion, I’d love to hear how they all handle the KHJ jingle package.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Finally! Something important to vote for!

My two favorite internet radio stations are both up for “station of the year” from a prestigious site. I invite you to listen to and vote for them both.

GREAT BIG RADIO features constant kick-ass rock & roll, production that’s better than any terrestrial or satellite station, and has a sense of humor. It’s what the Jack format wishes it could be.


RICHBRORADIO.COM is flat out the best oldies station on the planet. Mostly 60s but choice 50s and 70s tunes too. And a very deep playlist. You’ll hear stuff you haven’t heard in years. Also, Rich has some great music features, and vintage jingles.


To vote, just go here.

Thanks.

A touching Christmas story

This is a holiday tradition -- and fits in well with stories from my radio past.   Just as CHARLIE BROWN'S CHRISTMAS is guaranteed to leave you with a warm feeling, so is this tale of holiday humanity and kindness. 

One of the many reasons I became a writer is that I got tired of being fired as a disc jockey. Today marks the anniversary of the last time I signed off my show with “see you tomorrow” and was never heard from again.

1974, I’m Beaver Cleaver on KSEA, San Diego, playing “The Night Chicago Died” and “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” five times a night and seriously considering blowing my brains out.

The fall rating book came out, the numbers were not good, and at 3:00 I was told to hurry down to the station for an all-important staff meeting at 4:00. We all assembled and were told the station had decided to change formats to gospel and we were all being let go. “Even me?” I said in mock amazement. “Especially you.” “But I could change my name to Eldridge Cleaver.” “I’m going to need your station key”.

Quick aside: a year earlier at KMEN San Bernardino they wanted to get rid of me by moving me from the evening shift to the all-night show. The cheap bastards were hoping I’d quit so they wouldn’t have to pay severance (maybe $300 at most) and be on the hook for unemployment insurance. I asked the program director to at least do the humane thing and fire my sorry ass. “Nope”, he said, “Starting tonight you’re midnight to six.” So I stopped off at the local record store, picked up an LP, and dutifully reported on time for my shift.

Like KSEA, we were a high energy Top 40 station. (Our program director was in love with WLS whose slogan was “the Rock of Chicago” so we became the much catchier “Rock of the Inland Empire”.) I signed on and started playing the hits. Then at 12:30 segued smartly into FIDDLER ON THE ROOF….in Yiddish. The entire album. I was fired during “Anatefka”.

Back to the KSEA staff meeting -- Our morning man, Natural Neil asked when this format change was taking place. A month? A week? The program director looked at his watch and said “45 minutes”. And with that we were all canned. KSEA was gone…along with the promotion we were running at the time --

“Christmas the way it was meant to be!”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How could EVERYBODY get this wrong?

My friend RR pointed this out to me and he’s absolutely right. For all the Hot Stove League scuttlebutt, all the “insiders” who have access to confidential information, and all the baseball experts who can predict the future, nobody had Cliff Lee going back to the Phillies. No one had Carl Crawford going to the Red Sox. One prominent reporter announced that the Adrian Gonzalez/Red Sox deal was dead, just hours before the deal was done.

As someone who is also in the media, covering the Los Angeles Dodgers (although not from Hawaii, I’m not insane) I have to say this is really embarrassing. We work very hard to establish relationships with General Managers, owners, players, agents, scouts, and groupies. It’s disheartening to learn we know no more than the 50-year-old virgins who still live in their mothers’ basements and churn out critical Orioles blogs.

I mean, somebody should have had the Cliff Lee rumor.  Where are our reporting skills?  Is Cliff now following the Phillie Phanatic on Twitter? Did he give his Metro card to the neighbor kid? Did he immediately try to re-sell the autographed copy of George Bush’s new book that he received last week in the mail? There had to be signs. Did he make smores up in the hills with Roy Oswalt? I dunno, anything!

Clearly, we are not doing the best job. Even though there are 24-hour Cable networks, and satellite radio channels, and year-round publications, endless sportstalk stations, and major sports behemoths like ESPN and Fox with unlimited resources, major stories are still flying right under the radar.

So I say it’s time for a change. I say we get Perez Hilton to cover baseball. I say we put Joel McHale on the case. And whoever is responsible for Page Six. Ryan Seacrest would not let the Cliff Lee story get away. Neither would Cindy Adams. Take Giuliana Rancic off of Kim Kardashian watch and put her on Adrian Beltre.

I say it’s time we got it right! Even if it takes Melissa Rivers, the baseball media can not be scooped again!   There's still two whole months before pitchers and catchers report.

Some dude built the MASH set in his backyard

From what I can tell, he did a very nice job.  But he's not finished yet until I see a replica of my office.  Here are some photos.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Debunking Robert McKee

Aloha and mele kameekeiiemaaakaaa (I think that’s how you spell it). Here are some Friday questions you’ve posed over the last couple of weeks.


paul get us started:

I just finished reading Robert McKee's Story, about screenwriting for film. One of the interesting things he instructs is about how in each scene there must be a change of value, from positive to negative, or vice-versa. Do sitcoms follow the same rule?

No. Because it is a made-up, bullshit rule. We try to make sure each scene moves the story forward and is as fresh and funny as possible. I’m not saying that Robert McKee doesn’t provide a valuable service in stressing the importance of story structure, but his dogmatic theories and over-analysis do as much to strangle the process as aid it.

I’d love to be in the room where Chuck Lorre is pitching out a scene and a writer says, “There’s still no change of value yet in this scene”.  Talk about a "big bang"...


Ed Blonski asks:

What is your favorite "era" to write for?


Was it the 50's for MASH? Contemporary for Cheers & Fraiser?


The reason I ask is because I miss the sitcoms or dramadies set in the 30's & 40's. Such as Tales of the Golden Monkey, Hogan's Heroes, Remember WENN, and the Waltons.


Any possibilities that we would see something like that again on TV?

I tend to prefer writing contemporary because there’s more to draw upon, but it depends on the project. The problem with period comedies is that to be authentic a lot of the references will be too obscure.

We had that issue with MASH but honestly, just ignored it. We were sprinkling in Adolph Menjou jokes. We knew most people wouldn’t get them but oh, those that did really got some boffo laughs.

There have been some historical sitcoms including THANKS and BEST OF THE WEST. And so far audiences have had a tough time connecting to them (despite the fact that both were terrific shows). But you know this business – someone with clout will do a period piece comedy. It will be a big hit. And the next year there will be eight of them.

Care to guess how many GLEE-type musical shows are being developed this year?

From Alex:

Back in college I had a Korean friend who hated MASH because, in his words, the Koreans were always played by Japanese actors. I know that wasn't literally always true but a lot of times it was.


So I'm curious if there was any particular reason for this. And secondarily when it comes to casting and the character is presented as a specific race or ethnicity, how much effort is put into the actor matching that.

On MASH we always tried to cast Koreans first. But there just were not that many of them. We were forced to widen our net. What became really tricky was when ywe had two actors vying for a role. One was Korean, the other was not, but the non-Korean was a better or funnier actor. It depended on the case, but sometimes we opted for authenticity and other times we just went with the better performer.

John wonders:

Ken, What's the longest you've ever held a story idea, because the premise/key scene was good, but overall just didn't feel right of flow correctly for whatever reason and required retinkering before it was strong enough to film?

There are movie and play ideas in my drawer that have been there for twenty years. What I do, when I think of a notion, I write it down and file it. Often something will come along months or years later and I will say, “that’s the element that was missing!” And suddenly the project takes shape. The key is to always be on the lookout for ideas, or interesting characters, or stories. You never know when that “aha” moment will hit.

Sometimes movie or play ideas come to you whole cloth. Other times you have to be patient.

For series, at the start of each season, we’ll usually spend a few weeks just spitballing ideas, coming up with possible stories. Some work out, some don’t, some get held over until later seasons.  It took two years to get "Point of View" off the ground at MASH.

And finally, from sjml:

Ken, I notice that the overwhelming majority of How I Met Your Mother episodes are directed by the same person, Pam Fryman.


How common is it in sitcoms to have this level of continuity in the director's chair? Do you think it can adversely affect a show's tone to have too many directors?

It’s more common now that there are fewer sitcoms. Directors used to like the variety and flexibility of working on different shows. Now they’re happy to just lock up a series.

Especially if a show has a very distinctive format, like HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, it’s a big advantage to have the continuity of one director. And in the case of that show, they have one of the very best in Pam Fryman. I love her so much I had her direct a pilot of ours… and I’m a director myself.

The main thing is the director has to get along with the cast. The crew may love him, the writers may love him, but if there’s friction with the cast, it’s just not going to work.

But when there is a director that everybody is comfortable with, it does make the process easier. A certain rhythm is established.

That said, sometimes it’s very helpful to have a different eye and sensibility once in a while. On the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW they had a series director, Jay Sandrich. There was one script he absolutely loathed; to the point where he refused to direct it. So the producers got Joan Darling instead. And she did a pretty spectacular job on “Chuckles Bites the Dust”.

What’s your question, bruddah?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

FRASIER starring Lisa Kudrow?

Peter Casey, one of the creators of FRASIER, has been kind enough to share with us the complete story of how that classic series came to be. Part one was yesterday.  Here’s the final segment. Again, thanks Peter. GREAT stuff and it’s nice to have a couple days off.

As I mentioned earlier, Roz was the least developed of all the main characters in the pilot. We hadn’t really come up with a definitive take on her, so as a result, we told our casting director, Jeff Greenberg, to bring us the whole rainbow coalition of actresses to read for the part. We saw every age and ethnic background. We read dozens of actresses. One thing we felt pretty sure about was that we wanted the character to be ballsy and salty. She was supposed to be someone who Frasier was smarter than, more educated than, but was completely inferior to in the setting of the radio station. That was her stomping ground and she was the alpha dog there.

After all the casting sessions we had narrowed our choice to two actresses; Peri Gilpin and Lisa Kudrow. Lisa didn’t exactly fit the mold of what we were looking for in terms of a strong-willed character, but she was really funny. Her quirkiness made lines that weren’t intended as jokes hilarious. So we brought both of the ladies to NBC for the executives to see. Both read, and in the end it was decided to cast Lisa.

Shortly thereafter we had the first reading of the script. It was the first time we gathered the whole cast together. Paramount and NBC executives were there. Agents and managers were there. And apparently the guardian angel of comedy was somewhere in that room, too, because the reading was hysterical. Huge laughs. Everyone felt we were embarking on something very special. As is always the case, the script was long and there were jokes that either needed sharpening or were just plain duds so we set about re-writing. This is how each day of the pilot production went; the cast would rehearse, the writers would come to the stage in the afternoon for a run-thru, then we’d go back to the offices to re-write and cut.

By the third day of rehearsals it was becoming apparent to Jim Burrows, Kelsey, and the three of us that things weren’t going so well with Lisa as Roz. Although she remained funny in her quirky way, we found that each day we were re-writing the character less strong because Lisa just didn’t play forceful. More importantly, what Jimmy noticed was that Kelsey was pulling back in scenes with her because if he went all out like he usually did, he completely overpowered her. This was a big problem. We didn’t want the star of the show to have to compensate like that in every scene with one of the regulars, so with great regret we called Lisa and told her we were going to have to recast the part. We felt awful because she was a really, really lovely person with whom to work. And I know she was heartbroken that it had come to this, but she handled it with a lot of class. (Our consciences were assuaged the next year when she was cast in FRIENDS)

Jeff Greenberg contacted Peri, who was having lunch at a restaurant, and told her to report to Paramount the next day to play Roz. Jeff said he could hear her scream from across town without needing the phone.

So, finally our cast was set. From that point on through the rest of rehearsals things went smoothly. We re-wrote Roz back to her original character and Peri made it work wonderfully.

Our art director, Roy Christopher, had created amazing sets for us, and he would be rewarded that first year with an Emmy nomination. Frasier’s condo was stylish and contemporary with multi-levels and lots of doors and hallways to provide us with a multitude of exits and entrances. It had a piano (which both Kelsey and David could play) for a big prop and a balcony (equipped to rain when needed) and that gorgeous Seattle skyline (day and night). The radio station was modeled on the KABC radio studios in Los Angeles which we had visited while doing research. Café Nervosa was completely Roy’s creation and was designed so our character could sit and play a scene at any table in the café (after all, you rarely get the same table every time you go into your favorite haunt)

The night we filmed the pilot was magic. We’d had a dress rehearsal that afternoon with an audience (the first time we’d let the public see the show) and it had gone better than we could’ve hoped. They were laughing from the beginning to the end. And when Jimmy Burrows finally called out, “That’s our show!”, the audience rose to their feet for a standing ovation. We all said we should’ve filmed that show because that evening’s audience couldn’t be any better…but they were. Again, big laughs in all the right places and again a standing ovation. Two things about that filming have stood out over the years for me. First, Jane Leeves had invited her friend, Valerie Bertinelli, to the filming. Valerie must’ve really loved the show because you can hear her laugh all the way through the show on the soundtrack. Second, all the NBC executives were in a glassed-in booth above the back of the audience during the filming. At one point during Frasier’s first scene with his father, Martin makes a sarcastic remark about his ratty chair fitting in with Frasier’s expensive furniture because “it’s eclectic.” It’s a great callback joke from earlier in the scene and the audience just erupted. I turned around and looked up to the NBC booth to see their reactions. Not only were they all laughing, but all I could see of Warren Littlefield, the president, was the soles of his shoes because was tilted back in his chair he was laughing so hard. I nudged David Angell, pointed to Warren’s shoes and said, “We’re in.”

Our biggest struggle after filming the pilot was cutting it down to time. We were something like six minutes long, which is a lot. We cut and cut and cut some more. We cut things we liked and we cut things we loved. Still, after 6 or 7 passes at the show we were still a minute long. We felt we had cut it to the bare bones. Any more cuts could damage the show so we went to Paramount with our dilemma. Thankfully, they agreed with us and asked NBC to give us some extra time. After viewing what we hoped would be our final cut, NBC agreed to give us that extra minute which was a very big favor. So, how do they come up with that extra minute of programming time for us? Don’t think that all they have to do is cut a commercial or two. Are you crazy? That’s money. No, to give us that extra minute, they asked the three other comedies and one drama on that Thursday night to each cut 15 seconds out of their programs. It’s not something that’s done very often and it’s not something the network likes to do, but for that pilot of Frasier they felt it was worth it.

Well, that about covers the creative process that went into FRASIER. I want to thank Ken Levine, funnyman, baseball announcer, and longtime friend for inviting me as a guest on his blog. And I would also especially like to thank you, the fans of FRASIER. You’re the reason we ran for eleven wonderful years and the reason you can still see the show in syndication. I wish I could buy each of you a grande nonfat double espresso latte with caramel, but then I’d have to create another hit series.

GOOD NIGHT, SEATTLE!!!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How FRASIER came to be

Aloha, while I’m in Hawaii, I have a guest blogger. Be nice to the substitute teacher, kids.

A number of readers have asked about the creation of FRASIER. Instead of giving my version, which has ME responsible for the whole thing, I asked Peter Casey, one of the show’s creators if he wouldn’t mind telling you the real story. Not only was he gracious enough to say yes but he filed a wonderfully detailed and comprehensive account. There’s even stuff that I didn’t know… and I was there.  For you long time readers, yes, this is a re-post... from four years ago.  Since very few people read the archives, and the surf's up, I thought it was worth re-sharing.  Enjoy!

Ken

Hello, everybody from beautiful Los Angeles, California. Peter Casey here, co-creator of FRASIER. I want to thank Ken Levine for offering me this space on his blog and I especially want to thank those of you who showed such interest in the creation of FRASIER.

As best I can recall, and these days that’s a real iffy proposition, we (David Lee, David Angell, and myself) were approached by Kelsey Grammer in the spring or summer of 1993. He wanted to know if we would be interested in creating a new tv series in which he would star. He felt that CHEERS was coming to an end and it was time for him to have his own show. At the time, the three of us were working on our first creation, WINGS. The previous season on WINGS, Kelsey and Bebe Neuwirth had been guest stars on a very funny episode written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs. We had worked for a number of years with Kels on CHEERS, and he apparently enjoyed the WINGS experience and hoped that we could re-unite.

David, David, and I had always felt that the Frasier character was the most interesting and complex on CHEERS. However, we were skittish about doing a spin off of one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. When we had created WINGS, most of the reviews were favorable, but the phrase, “CHEERS in an airport” was mentioned a few times and not in a favorable fashion. We frankly feared that anything we created for Frasier would pale in comparison to CHEERS. Kelsey wasn’t particularly interested in continuing the character of Frasier either, so we came up with a new concept. Kelsey would play this very high-brow, eccentric multi-millionaire publisher (think Malcom Forbes) in New York who was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident. He would run his publishing empire from his bed in his fabulous Manhattan penthouse. His live-in nurse would be a very street smart, dedicated Hispanic woman (we pictured Rosie Perez) who would be a thorn in his side, but bring out the humanity in him.

Kelsey liked it, Paramount hated it. They said we were crazy if we didn’t capitalize on the popularity of CHEERS and the huge audience that would tune in to the finale. They ultimately persuaded Kelsey they were right and when he told us he was willing to do the CHEERS spin-off, we reluctantly agreed.

Okay, we’d do a CHEERS spin-off, but there was no way it was going to stay in Boston. NBC was enamored of this scheduling stunt called the crossover. A crossover is when a character from one series “crosses over” and appears as that character on another series. We did it on WINGS with Norm and Cliff and also with Frasier and Lillith. It was logical because Nantucket is not that far from Boston and we were struggling some in the ratings. It gives the show a temporary bump in the numbers, but you frankly don’t feel good about yourself. You’d like your show to succeed on its own merits and not need a boost from another show. We only did those two on WINGS, but we felt if Frasier stayed in Boston, NBC would be demanding guest appearances from all the CHEERS cast throughout the first season. How could we form our own identity and make people forget we were offspring of CHEERS if those characters were constantly visiting Frasier? So, we decided to move Frasier out west.

Our original city was Denver, but soon after that decision the state of Colorado voted in a law, with which we disagreed, that was very unfavorable toward gays. So we decided to move Frasier even farther west. Kids, it doesn’t get much farther west than Seattle. Ultimately, it was a much better choice. Seattle was pretty cutting edge at that time. It was the center of the grunge scene, the coffee revolution was taking off, it had a great arts community, and their restaurants were exploring new and exciting cuisines. All in all, it was fertile ground for Frasier and an inconvenient schlep across the country for the CHEERS gang. We didn’t have a problem having Lilith visit because she was his ex-wife and they shared a son. It was organic. The other characters would take some fancy footwork, but after the show established itself that first season, we didn’t have a problem doing one CHEERS character a season.

The original concept was for Frasier to work in the radio station surrounded by a group of wacky, yet loveable characters. (The term “wacky, yet loveable” is music to the ears of the network execs. “Stern, yet despicable” gets you shown the door) This idea came from a story idea at CHEERS which we were never able to make work where Frasier sat in for a local Boston radio host. We didn’t want to have Frasier in a private practice because we felt like it would look too much like the BOB NEWHART SHOW. Yet, the more we worked on the radio station concept, it sounded like WKRP IN CINCINNATI. What to do? Well, like a lot of writers we went to our own lives for material. David Lee’s father had recently had a stroke and David, being an only child, was helping his mother by taking on a lot of the responsibility of arranging the care for his disabled dad.

One day David came into the office and pitched the idea of Frasier having to care for an ailing, aging parent, something many people Frasier’s age were facing. We could keep the radio station, but now add a home life. David Angell and I both liked this idea immediately. We had seen very little of Frasier’s home life in CHEERS so this seemed to open up the possibility for lots of stories. Frasier didn’t have much of a family history so we pretty much had free rein to create what we wanted. (It was only after we were in rehearsals for the pilot that Kelsey mentioned that he had said his father was a research scientist in a episode of CHEERS which was produced after the three of us had left the show. At that point we pretty much said, “Screw it. We’re not changing our concept . We’re moving on”)

To create Frasier’s father we wanted to have someone very different than Frasier. Those differences create conflict; conflict creates humor, so we came up with Martin, a down-to-earth, no-nonsense ex-policeman. (We took Martin’s career out of my life. Both my father and grandfather were San Francisco policemen) Initially, some people said how do two such sophisticates as Frasier and Niles come from a guy like Martin? We told them the truth…David Lee is every bit as different from his father as the Cranes.


Niles wasn’t in the initial concept for the show. He came about through one of the greatest strokes of luck in tv history. Our assistant casting director at the time, Sheila Guthrie, came into our office one day with and 8x10 headshot of David Hyde Pierce and said, “Have you guys thought of Frasier having a brother because this actor really looks like he could be related to Kelsey.” We said we hadn’t thought of that (because we had just done a show, WINGS, about brothers), but was David any good as an actor? She said he was wonderful and left us some tapes of a failed series DHP had been a regular on called THE POWERS THAT BE. We watched the tapes and were blown away so we began creating the character who became Niles. After we had a good outline of the character we arranged to meet David at our offices. We pitched him the character and the series concept (what we had at the time) and asked if he was interested. He said he was so we had the studio set about making a deal with him.

Shortly thereafter, we felt we had a good enough concept to pitch to NBC so a meeting was set up with Warren Littlefield who was president of the network at that time. We went to his office in Burbank. In the meeting were the three of us and John Pike and John Symes representing Paramount Studios, and Warren, Perry Simon, and Jamie Tarses representing NBC. This was immediately encouraging to us because quite often the network will populate these pitch meetings with lots of lower level executives who tend to clog up the room and they frankly never laugh at anything unless the boss does. This was actually a small, influential group for us to pitch to. For years we had told NBC we would never do a family comedy situated in a living room. It wasn’t our style. We were more into the “gang” workplace comedy style of a CHEERS, or TAXI, so when David Lee started the meeting by saying, “You’re not going to believe this, but from the guys who said they’d never do a family comedy…” Perry Simon literally fell off the couch onto the floor. Funny reaction, the ice was broken. We proceeded with our pitch and something amazing happened. The network people never interrupted us. Usually they are constantly butting in with questions or their own suggestions to make it better, but they just listened to us. It was the best pitch I’ve ever been a part of. Each time we’d introduce a new character, we’d reference it with an actor we used as a template. So when we pitched Niles, we said think of David Hyde Pierce. That’s when something else amazing happened. At the mention of DHP’s name, Warren said, “We love him. If you can get him, he’s pre-approved.” This was huge. It meant we didn’t have to go through the tedious process of reading dozens of actors for the part, then bring a couple of them to the network to read for their approval. If the network rejected them, we would read dozens more. With this, if a deal could be struck with DHP, he was in. When we pitched the character of Martin, we said to picture John Mahoney. Warren said if we could get John, he was also pre-approved. Awesome. Martin’s home care worker was based on the therapist from our other idea for Kelsey, so we said to picture Rosie Perez. Warren asked if we ever pictured her as English because NBC loved Jane Leeves. If we went that way, Jane would be pre-approved. Whoa. That’s darn near the whole cast without having to jump through the network casting hoops. The only character we were vague about was Roz because quite frankly we didn’t have a handle on her yet.

When we finished the pitch, there was silence in the room for about a minute as Warren, Perry and Jamie let it sink in. Then they looked at each other and nodded and Warren said, “Go do it”. Incredible. Not a single network note. No changes. They loved it.

About halfway through writing the pilot script, Kerry McCluggage, the new President of Paramount Television, told us that he had spoken with John Mahoney regarding playing Frasier’s father. Kerry had a relationship with John dating back to Kerry’s days at Universal Studios where John had done a dramatic series called “The Human Factor.” John said he would like to meet with us and discuss FRASIER. We said that was great and could Kerry set up a meeting. He told us he had, but there was a catch. John wasn’t coming to meet us. We were going to meet John and that meant the three of us were flying to Chicago because that’s where John lived. The plan was we’d fly in the morning, arrive in the afternoon, have dinner with John, then return to LA the next morning. We were on a roll with the script so we weren’t thrilled about having to break our momentum. On the other hand, dinner in Chicago with John Mahoney sounded pretty cool so we went. It was late January or early February, cold, with snow on the ground, but what did we care? Paramount put us up at The Four Seasons and had provided us with a car and driver. We met John and Kerry at a restaurant called Shaw’s Crab House. Being a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, John was quite a local celebrity, so restaurant patrons were constantly stopping by the table or waving across the room. John was absolutely charming with everyone. Over dinner we pitched John the series concept, went into the character of Martin and his relationship with Frasier, and outlined the plot of the pilot episode. John was definitely interested, but he wouldn’t commit until he had read the pilot. Fair enough. We returned to LA the next morning and resumed writing with renewed enthusiasm picturing John Mahoney as Martin Crane.

It took us another week to finish the script, so two weeks total. I have to say it was one of the easiest scripts I’ve ever written. Everything seemed to flow naturally. This gave us a very good feeling about the project, but of course you never know how others are going to react to it. We sent it over to the Paramount executive offices and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Kerry McCluggage immediately FedEx’d it to John Mahoney. The next day we received an enthusiastic “yes” from John. Months later in LA, John told me he’d read through a two foot stack of pilots before the FRASIER script arrived and our script was so superior that it was the only project he wanted to do. So we had the main male roles cast and we felt great about them. Now it was time to cast our female leads.

As I said earlier, Warren Littlefield had endorsed Jane Leeves for the part of the home care worker. While we were writing the script we still hadn’t made up our minds whether she should be Hispanic or English. We didn’t make that decision until we literally reached the point in the script where Frasier hears the doorbell ring and goes to answer it. At that point there was no more stalling. Our first instinct was to try English so that’s what we did. Daphne turned out to be quite a quirky fun character and we really enjoyed writing her in the pilot. When Kelsey read the script he wasn’t as enthused and was evasive about his reasons. We had Jane come in and read for us and she was fantastic. We loved her immediately and called Kelsey to see if he could come over and read with her. He was kind of grumpy about the whole idea and he arrived at our offices in a bit of a dark mood. We pulled him aside and asked what the problem was and after some hemming and hawing he said that he worried that having an English housekeeper with Frasier would look like the old sitcom “Nanny and the Professor” which he was not a fan of. We felt the Frasier/Daphne relationship was nothing like that and pleaded with him to read with Jane. Finally, he begrudgingly agreed, but said it would be just the two of them in the room. David, David and I would have to wait outside. He went in, closed the door, and we were left in the outer office sweating. About one minute later the door flew open, Kelsey strode past us saying, “She’s in,” and left. We talked to him later and he told us his worries about “Nanny and the Professor” dissolved immediately when they started reading together and that Jane was really funny. Yahoo! We had almost our whole cast and hadn’t been required to take a single network casting meeting. That was going to end in a big way when we tried to cast the character of Roz.

Tomorrow, the concluding chapter of Peter Casey’s look back at the creation of FRASIER.