Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Cycle of Television

A reader from nearby Oz, Nick has a question.

In American the TV seasons seem to be set in stone (September - April; is that right?). Two questions to ask - when was this decided, who decided and why and - secondly if the summer season is the non-ratings period because it's off season then how to networks determine how much to charge for advertising during shows that run during summer? Or is the idea of a non-ratings period more a label than an actual fact.

Two main reasons, and they go hand in hand. Summer ratings in the U.S. are the lowest of the year because the weather is good, it stays light later, and really, who wants to watch television when you can do anything else?  But come September the nights gets colder, the kinder are back in school, you're broke after taking the family to one Yankee game, and all of a sudden the ol' flickering magic box looks pretty good to you.  TV draws its largest audience of the year in the fall.

Also, that's when auto makers would traditionally unveil their new models for the year.  This was a big deal!  All summer we were teased with car commercials showing the new models hidden under sheets and a bombardment of promos for the new shows.

By September they had us whipped up into a complete frenzy.    Think of the crazed anticipation fanboys have for the new Dark Knight movie opening this summer.    Now multiply it by a thousand.  That was us over the new Corvair '62 and the premiere of PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES.

Advertisers pay networks based on the size of the audience.  So rates are adjusted accordingly. 

One difference between now and the early days of TV -- the fall schedule is now locked in in early May.   It used to get set in February for a late September start.   But that was also when shows delivered 39 episodes a year and not, at the very most, 24.   Producers needed that lead time.    Of course, back then networks didn't yank shows after only two airings.  On the other hand, they never made shows as bad as WORK IT. 

Sorry - that was like five questions. I'm curious though because here in Australia we start playing all the high rating shows in early February (rule of thumb says they all premiere the week after the Australian Open (Tennis) finishes) and they run to about June. Then we enter a non-ratings few weeks... but it includes some very high rating sport events, before a second season of shows that weren't played in the first half of the year (generally the CSI's are played in the 2nd half of the year) runs run like July - November. December and January are completely dead TV wise. Hence I am writing this instead of watching Ice Road Truckers :)

But that makes sense because your February begins your Fall.   You're pretty much on the same cycle as we are just flipped.   So you can expect WORK IT around July.  Enjoy!  Meanwhile, I'm bringing THONG CHALLENGE back to the U.S.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Some thoughts on rewriting

Got one of those Friday Questions that is worthy of an entire post. It’s from SeanK.

You’ve mentioned a couple of times doing an un-credited re-write for Jewel of the Nile. I’m curious about that, mainly as it pertains to the ability to add it to your resume. Assuming only known writers would be asked to do a re-write, I suspect there’s enough Kevin Bacon-esque connections that it would be easily verified should it come up. But, well, does it come up? Why was it un-credited (your call or theirs)?

Larry Gelbart once stood up at a WGA membership rally just before a strike and said, “At some point everyone in this room will rewrite everyone else in this room.”

He was right.

Rewriting is as much a part of Hollywood as rumors and hookers. It is such a common practice in the feature world that the rare exception is the screenplay that makes it to the screen not having been rewritten by six other writers.

Screen credit is determined by a Credits Manual sanctioned by the Writers Guild. An arbitration is ordered any time a new writer is put on a project, whether the new writer requests it or not. In general this Credits Manual is there to protect the original writer. In the old days directors would routinely futz with scripts and slap their names on them. No more unless they deserve it.

Those arbitrations can get very hairy. The 1994 FLINTSTONES movie had no less than sixty writers involved at one time or another. (I know what you're thinking -- sixty writers for that?!)

Many A-List writers make a handsome living doing uncredited rewrites and polishes. What they sacrifice in credit they make up for in compensation. Some of these scribes command $100,000 a week to provide their genius. (I’ll pause a moment while you pick yourself up off the floor.)

When a studio brings a new writer on a project they are contractually obligated to let the other writers know. Of course they don’t but they’re supposed to.

There are no gag orders on rewriters. The Hollywood trade publications often print who is now rewriting what. There are websites that list project status reports complete with the latest writers assigned to scripts.

So I’m not breaking any confidentiality agreement by revealing that my partner and I did a rewrite on JEWEL OF THE NILE. A paper trail does exist. Plus, I have our draft (in English and French. Our script had to be translated into French for the Moroccan government to approve before allowing us to shoot in their country.). So if you want proof of our involvement you’re welcome to check with 20th Century Fox, the WGA, or call the King of Morocco.

For a couple of years we did a lot of rewrites. Both MANNEQUINS and several movies that ultimately never got made. We rewrote some big names. One in particular is a prominent comedy writer I truly admire and even though the script needed work and he wasn’t available I still felt weird about it (but not weird enough to turn down the assignment).

And just as Larry Gelbart said, a number of big names rewrote us. Often there’s animosity between the original writer and the new guy brought on to fuck up your brilliant screenplay. But not always. David Isaacs and I had an original script rewritten by Cameron Crowe and we became friends with him. (It also helped that we thought he improved our script considerably.)

In television it’s the showrunner and staff that rewrite practically every script. There’s the old adage – “Writing is Rewriting.” What it should really be is – “Writing is Rewriting Someone Else”.

At least no one else rewrites this blog. Although, if that prominent comedy writer did it would be a whole lot funnier, damn him.

Meanwhile, I continue to trample through Australia/New Zealand.  A full travelogue will appear once I return home, but I've been posting observations along the way on Twitter.  You're welcome to follow me.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The night the last CHEERS aired

Hello from an ocean (I think).  I've been tweeting about the trip should you care.   Speaking on our cruise ship about my ersatz career I was asked about the last CHEERS. The night is best remembered for the cast being smashed on the TONIGHT SHOW that followed the finale’s airing. May 20, 1993. Here are my recollections of that night in Boston.

The CHEERS bar you see on television (now called CHEERS but originally named THE BULL & FINCH) is owned by Tom Kershaw. He owns the entire building. Upstairs are lounges and libraries.

The final airing was a national event. Far different from the premiere on September 30, 1982 when the cast and writers had a modest viewing party in the small back room at Chasen’s. We ate chicken pies, watched the show, and left. But for the finale, wow! Honored to say I was present for both.

The festivities began around 7. Thousands of people gathered outside the building and watched the show on two giant Jumbotron TV screens specially set up for the event. My guess is one or both of them are now in Simon Cowell’s living room. It had rained earlier in the day and even the threat of more did not deter the crowds. At most there were drizzles that night. No one was seriously electrocuted.

We were not allowed downstairs in the actual bar. Technicians were setting up for the TONIGHT SHOW. And to be honest, there wasn’t much to see. Unlike the TV show, the real CHEERS bar is tiny. The bar itself is up against the back wall. That night it was filled with thirty guys in T-shirts toting walkie-talkies named Dave.

The party was on the second floor. It was packed with invited guests, VIPS, NBC execs…oh yeah, and a few people who worked on CHEERS. Governor Dukakis was behind me in line at the buffet. Wade Boggs cut in front of me at the bar. I spent some time with Bob Costas who I knew from my sportscasting life. There were so few people he knew in that throng that he was actually happy to hang with me. Large monitors were scattered around the room and this is where most guests watched the show.

On the third floor there were two smaller lounges. That is where the cast, CHEERS people, studio and network honchos watched the program. I was sitting next to NBC Chairman, Bob Wright. Tried to talk him into letting me anchor the Olympics but he didn’t seem to go for it.

Every time there would be a big joke you could hear thousands of people laugh outside the window. Where were they for the AfterMASH premiere?

As the show unfolded the realization that CHEERS was really coming to an end began to hit us. Eleven years of dedicated talented people pouring their hearts into one project. 275 episodes. All the re-takes and rewrites and now all that will be left are reruns.

The show ended at 11. The next half hour was an emotional tsunami. Everyone was hugging and crying and doing a lot of drinking. We were all completely wrecked.

And at the very height of that, a rep from the TONIGHT SHOW popped her head in and said, “Okay, we’re ready.” The cast, in no condition to face anybody much less 40,000,000 dutifully trooped downstairs to do the live show. Us non-celeb types stayed back and watched on TV…in horror. But in fairness, they should not be held accountable for anything they said or did. And I do believe, that Jay’s inexperience with running the show then contributed to the whole thing falling apart. I’ve always maintained that Letterman would have kept things more in control.

When the actors returned they were so blitzed they still didn’t realize what a trainwreck the show was.

Two final memories:

During that emotional half hour from 11-11:30 the thousands of fans in the park remained and cheered. At one point Ted Danson leaned out the window and waved. As a goof I joined him. I said, “I have a feeling you’re the one they’re waving at.” And he said, “Yeah, but a year from now you’ll be working.” Obviously Ted scraped together one or two jobs since that night.

Second memory:

My partner David Isaacs and I have what we call the “Prince of the City” theory. Simply put it means the moment you think you’re hot shit is the moment you will be cut back down to size. It never fails.

So it’s about 2 a.m., I’m walking back to the hotel. It’s a bit chilly, I’m wearing a trench coat to protect against any more rain. And I’m reflecting on the night and how this little show I’ve been involved with had become a national phenomenon. And I allowed myself to think I must be a pretty damn good writer to be a part of it. Just at that moment a passing truck roared through a big puddle and I got completely drenched. I mean, sopping wet, soaked to the bone. And I had to laugh. Hail to thee, Prince of the City.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

My mentors

Great expression in Hollywood: Mentors get eaten by their young.

While there is certainly no shortage of that “All About Eve” type behavior, I must say that for myself, I would never be where I am today were it not for some exceptional mentors. It’s like I learned pitching from a staff of Sandy Koufaxes. (And by the way, happy New Year, Sandy) One reason I started this blog was to be able to give something back. I’m a big believer in “Pay it Forward”. So if any tips I share you find valuable you can thank these people.

Larry Gelbart, Jim Brooks, Allan Burns, the Charles Brothers, Gene Reynolds, Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Treva Silverman, and one name you’ve never heard – Bruce Anson. Don’t race to imdb to look him up. He’s not there. Even Googling him will yield no results. (There are others with that name but they’re not him.)

But Bruce Anson taught me more about the craft of writing than all my high school and college teachers combined.

I was a sports intern at KMPC radio in Los Angeles. Bruce was one of their newscasters. He was in his 60s, smoked and drank too much (which I think was a prerequisite for getting hired in that department back then). He had been a booth announcer in the early days of TV and prior to that, network radio. And now he was pulling part-time Sunday night shifts, writing and delivering news twice an hour in between public service programs the station was obligated to run. When he finished at midnight the station went off the air for maintenance. So not exactly prime time.

He’d show up in shorts, loud Hawaiian shirts, and flip flops. Other newsmen reported for work in suits and ties.

My job was to write the sports portion of the newscast. Essentially a rundown of the day’s scores. Northwestern beat Ohio State 23-10, Notre Dame edged Army 21-20, etc. The most creative thing I did was once write: LSU puffed Rice 34-14.

During baseball season all the scores would be final by 6:00. There was no Sunday night baseball. Not even in Texas. The shift was until midnight but most sports interns would write up three sportscasts that could be rotated and went home six hours early. I went to Bruce and asked if I could help write his newscasts. He said, sure, but it’s not as easy as I think.

He was right.

I’d take a story from the United Press International wire, rewrite it, and hand it to Bruce. I assumed he’d say, “Great job. Thank you.”


He said, “This sentence could be cut in half”, “There’s a better way of saying this”, “Use more descriptive words”, “This point should go ahead of that point”, “this phrase is a little confusing.” He’d then take a pen and start rewriting -- slashing words, replacing phrases, making it shorter, punchier, clearer, BETTER.

And so began a weekly pattern that lasted until football season. I would doggedly write story after story determined to just once please that son-of-a-bitch. Finally it happened. A house fire story. I don’t remember the details but I do remember I used the word “blaze”. It aired right before the vasectomy PSA. I was so proud.

Be ruthless. Always look to make it better. Have a little Bruce Anson sitting on your shoulder when you write. Ask him to put out the cigarette though.

I owe Bruce Anson a lot. I thank him for his time, his toughness, his talent. And if he were here today I'm sure he'd say "Isn't all the alliteration a little precious?"

Friday, January 27, 2012

Answering questions and dispelling myths

Hello from somewhere between Australia and New Zealand.  You can follow my progress on Twitter if you're bored enough.   Just go here.   Never standing down from my blog watch, even from the end of the earth, here are Friday Questions:

RockGolf is up first:

According to EW.com, there are plans underway for a TV series based on Romancing the Stone. Since you & your partner largely re-wrote the script for the original, can see it working as a regular series?

We re-wrote the sequel, JEWEL OF THE NILE. Big difference. I see no reason why it wouldn’t work if they stuck more to the original and less to ours and cast the show well. A romantic-adventure series sounds fun. The hardest part to cast will be Danny DeVito’s character. He added so much to both films. Hey, maybe Danny could just do it himself. He still looks great in a white suit.

birdie wants to know:

Is it true that Alan Alda's (absolutely hilarious) character in Crimes + Misdemeanors was at least partially or loosely based on him? It is listed in the imdb FAQs but you can't always trust those, so I was wondering if you have any additional insight.

No.  Not at all.  This guy was a pompous egomaniac who took delight in pontificating on comedy despite knowing nothing about it.   Alan couldn't be more gracious, humble, and down-to-earth.  He never lectured, never threw his weight around.  He was a sincere pleasure.  Trust me, if Alan were like that character he brilliantly portrayed in CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS, he would have been killed in his dressing room by season four.

LouOCNY asks:

Does every show make a gag reel up, and do some of the stars and crew get a copy of it? Some of them are so classic: the Trek ones, MASH, the LAUGH IN is funnier than the show was - I could watch Arte Johnson riffing dirty on Tyrone Horneigh (thats Hor - NAY) forever...

Most shows prepare gag reels for either their Christmas party or Wrap Party. Generally, they are not meant to be distributed. At one time the show’s editor would just slap together a montage of outtakes. But over time these gag reels became more elaborate, with graphics and themes. On CHEERS, FRASIER, and the shows we ran we always insisted on a montage of all the guest stars that appeared throughout the season, even if they only had one line. And on ALMOST PERFECT we also included shots of every crew member.

But most gag reels are filled with expletives and it’s not fair to the actors to have them released publicly. I have a couple of ours but they're not for release.  Just for private viewing and blackmail.

Usually, gag reels that are distributed have been edited to remove any real objectionable material. When you see these Dick Clark blooper shows, you’re seeing just the tip of the iceberg.

That said, I love those blooper shows. The first show I ever directed, a WINGS, Crystal Bernard drops a cake in an outtake. That has been shown numerous times and I get a nice residual check from Dick Clark every airing. Keep showing it! The cake slips out of her hands. It’s hilarious! Other blooper shows should show it too. Or maybe THE SOUP. Anyone who can write a check.

And finally, from Tamara @31dates:

I recently heard an interview on NPR with the founder of M.A.D.D. She was talking about the early days of her non-profit and how she wanted to gain public support. She mentioned that she approached Cheers and that the show helped. Can you share that story? Thanks!

As I recall, the cast did some public service announcements for them. And we made sure our characters always acted in a responsible way. We did whatever we could to champion their very worthwhile cause.

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks! Now I’ve got to get back to looking at...water.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Writing advice you might not want to hear

Since I can't think of an appropriate photo...
This is one of those Friday Questions that deserves a separate post. It’s from Chad (even though he admits that that is not his real name).  

My question is about crafting and selling scripts. You mention that story credit goes to the person who submits the episode outline. I realize this is a necessary part of the process in getting each story told...but I'm not really an outline kind of writer. I jot down some relevant notes/lines/jokes and then head into the first draft, which is where the story really takes shape. Writing the entire story in advance always throws me off because I know that when I get in the groove, it's gonna shift directions easily. So the basic question is, is this practice frowned upon and if so what's your advice on how to amend it?

Chad (or whoever you are) – how can I say this nicely? If you want a career writing for television throw out that shit and become an “outline kind of writer”. Outlines are mandatory.

Let me walk you through the process.

First off, you only have a limited amount of time to tell your story. And you have to tell another story next week. And the week after, and the week after that. You have no time for seeing where the Muse might want to take you.

TV episodes are highly structured. As a showrunner, this is my method and thinking:

Working with the staff, we arrive at a notion we feel would make a good story. We then construct the beats – usually not in a linear way (first this happens, then this, then this, then that, the end). I want to know the act breaks first. I want to know the ending. I want to know where the fun of the story is. I want to know the characters' attitudes.  Then we work back from there and fill in the rest.

Then we revise. Is there a better act break? Is there a more inventive ending? Are we getting the most bang for our buck comedy-wise? Is the show too plot driven? Are all the characters well served? Does part of the story work but part still feel undercooked?

In the interest of efficiency and good story telling, I make sure all these questions are answered before someone goes off to write the draft.

Once we’re all happy with the story I ask the writer to give me an outline. Each show is different but I like detailed outlines. 8-12 pages, complete with a lot of suggested jokes.

I give the writer notes on the outline. Sometimes minor, sometimes throwing out whole sections or subplots. If the story changes significantly I request a new outline.

Once the outline has been approved then the writer goes off and does the first draft. Usually under time constraints. But he’s got the story all worked out, the block comedy scenes all in place, and a lot of good jokes.

When my partner and I set out to write an episode, even if we’re the showrunners, we take the time to write an outline for ourselves. We just don’t have the time to feel our way around blind alleys. We can’t count on finding “our groove”.

And now more than ever, outlines are mandatory. Because now stories have to be approved not only by showrunners but by the studio and network as well. I’m not saying that’s a good thing (in fact, it’s not) but hey, that’s the new reality.

I don’t know how Aaron Sorkin or David E. Kelley (pictured right) work. I know they’re very prolific and write scripts very quickly. I suspect they may not work off outlines as lengthy as ours but (a) they still work out the story in some detail first, and (b) they’ve been doing it for so long that they’ve developed internal mechanisms to guide any mid-course corrections. But that comes after years of experience and extraordinary God given talent.

Look, here’s the bottom line: constructing stories is the hardest part of the process. It’s much easier and more fun to just go off writing. So human nature would suggest that if you can skip the hard part why not do it?

Because that method is fraught with traps. It’s inefficient, it’s unreliable, and it’s not collaborative in an industry that is built on collaboration.

So my advice? Learn to outline, and more than that – accept the process. It’s here to stay. And you know what? It’s a bitch, but it works.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is anybody really listening?

When network ratings are low we always joke that “no one is watching”. And by nobody we mean probably a million. And yes, when that number was more like fifteen million for even low rated shows, one million seems paltry. On a smaller scale is radio. Even when you’re a small station playing informercials for colon cleanser you always assume there is somebody listening.

This theory has been put to the test.

Back in 1988 I was broadcasting minor league baseball for the mighty Syracuse Chiefs (the then-AAA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays). I had a great partner, Dan Hoard (now the voice of the Cincinnati Bengals and U. of Cincinnati) and a truly horrible radio station. Our signal was so bad at night that you couldn’t hear it in parts of the ballpark. Eventually the team sought a better station, but in my year fans would move from section 30 to section 6 to hear us once the sun went down.

During one roadtrip we traveled to Denver to play the equally-mighty Zephyrs (this was before the Rockies). The venue was the old Mile High Stadium. The park sat 70,000. For Zephyr games against us they drew maybe 2,000. So the stadium looked completely empty every game.

There was no baseball pressbox per se. They just stuck us in a luxury booth near home plate. And that was fine. There was more than enough room. But there were three rows of seats behind us and the team sold those. So there were paying customers in the broadcast booth constantly telling us to shut up. "Hey, we paid ten dollars for these seats!"

One of the games became a marathon. We were in maybe the 14th inning. It must’ve been 1:00 AM in Denver. The fans in the rows behind had long since left.  Dan was doing the play-by-play that inning. He wondered out loud how many people were listening. He said, “Tell ya what, if you’re listening right now call the station (he gave out the number) and we’ll give you two free tickets to an upcoming Chiefs game!” I was waving, “Stop! Don’t do this!  This can't end well.” It was 3:00 AM in Syracuse. But Dan went ahead.

You can probably guess how many calls we got. None. Zero. Zilch. The big goose egg. Despite several mentions (bordering on pleading).

Sometimes when someone says no one is listening, they’re RIGHT.

Oh… and when the game was over – we then had to do a half hour postgame show. Needless to say, we really gave it our all.

Hello from Melbourne, by the way.  For updates on my journey I invite you to follow me on Twitter.  Just go here.   Thanks.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

R.I.P. Dick Tufeld

One of the great all-time voices has been silenced. Dick Tufeld passed away. For many years in the 50’s & 60’s he was the voice of Disney, a gazillion movie trailers, two gazillion variety shows, and the Academy Awards. He would always finish the closing announcements and say, “This is Dick Tufeld speaking.” I’m sure many people thought “Speaking” was his last name and “Tufeld” his middle.

You might know him as the voice of the robot in LOST IN SPACE. No one ever made more money saying, “Danger! Danger!”

He was a longtime friend of the family. Only once did I impose upon his talent. Back in college a friend and I tried to put together a syndicated radio series – one hour profiles of singing stars. Forget that we had no idea how to market or distribute these. But we put together a demo. I wrote the script. We needed someone to voice it. This was a program we had hoped to sell to major stations of the day like KMPC Los Angeles and WNEW New York. We couldn’t just grab some skeesix who worked at Shakey’s and whose sum total of broadcast experience was, “Number twelve, your pizza’s ready!”

So I called Dick. Asked if he’d do it as a favor. We had no money to offer but promised him a partnership. Even at the time he had to know he his chances of making a dime were the same as being hit by a meteor. But he agreed to do it anyway.

I booked a session in a recording studio, Dick arrived (on time), scanned the script, said “Okay, let’s try one.” For the next two hours he voiced the copy. And not only was he effortlessly magnificent, he could not have been more professional. He would ask if we wanted something a different way. He would do multiple takes until he was satisfied. Did we have any notes?   As if some 19 year-old pisher is going to tell Dick Tufeld how to read a line. 

Trust me, a lot of big time voice-over guys would have blown in, said, rushed through the script in one take, and split before the engineer could hit the “stop” button on the tape recorder. Not Dick. He treated this and us as if it were the General Motors campaign.

The project went nowhere. But years later when I was doing BIG WAVE DAVE’S we needed a voice-over for one line. I called Dick. He did it. It took two minutes, and we paid him a thousand dollars. I told him it was the profits on syndicated show.  Watch out for meteors. 

In a very transient business he worked for over half a century. Why? Because he was the best at what he did, and equally important over time -- he was the best person at what he did.

The only thing more beautiful than his voice was the man himself.  I will miss him.  The next time God needs an introduction it will be Dick Tufeld Speaking.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Short-sighted casting

In a follow up to a Friday Question from ChicagoJohn (who wondered if we had ever passed on an actor who later became a big star and did we have any regrets?), a few more names have come to mind.

And one rather unusual incident.   Especially in light of my post on how difficult it is to land a part in a TV series. 

Like I had said, when you pass on good actors it’s generally because they’re just not right for the particular roles.

We passed on Lisa Edelstein (but hired her for something else). We passed on one actress but made a note that she’s really funny and we should definitely keep her in mind for something else. That was Jane Lynch.  Whatever happened to her?

And then there are the actors we wanted to hire but didn’t get approved by the network. I won’t mention their names because I don’t want to embarrass any of them. Although examples of network gross misjudgment is legendary. At one time Tom Cruise, Madonna, and Tim Robbins were all not approved for projects.  And George Clooney was not approved numerous times. 

One actor we wanted to hire backed out when he found out it wasn’t a pilot but a series. He was just looking to make a big pay day on a failed pilot and then move on. When he learned this was a series and an actual commitment he ran for the hills.

Again, no names, but in one case we wrote a character with a specific actor in mind. We were thrilled that the actor agreed to meet with us. And he read it just the way we pictured it. But once we heard it we thought we could do better.

But the strangest incident was this: We were casting AfterMASH. Martin Short came in to read and was wonderful. Too wonderful.

We took him aside and said, “Look, if you want the part, it’s yours. But honestly, this role might be too restrictive for you. You’re too talented and funny for this part. We’re not sure you’d really be happy. Again, if you want it, it’s yours. We’d love to have you. And it is a regular on a (then) prestigious network series. But you might be better served elsewhere.”

He passed. We wound up eliminating the character.

Actors always talk about regretting the parts they declined. I bet there are quite a few examples of actors regretting the parts they did accept. You’re welcome, Martin.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Great letter from Eric Stonestreet

A post I wrote a couple of years ago about how tough it is for actors to get cast in TV series has suddenly gone viral.   Here's the post entitled Guys are not going to want to f**k her.   Among the comments I received a fabulous one from Eric Stonestreet -- Cam on MODERN FAMILY, so I thought I'd share it.    Thanks, Eric.  Continued success to you and every actor trying to realize their dream. 

I have read this and passed it along to other actor friends ever since you wrote it. It is such a great read and is so accurate.

I honestly lost count of how many jobs I didn't get through the years because no one thought anyone would ever wanna fuck me. Let's just say, for argument sake, it was EVERY job.

I hope what an actor takes when reading this is; so much is out of our hands. And to focus ONLY on the things that ARE in our control: The prep we put in, the read we give, the time we respect, and the courtesy we show each other.

It was 12 years before I got the job I have now. I know some have gotten breaks in a shorter time and I know very talented actors who have yet to get their break. Whatever the case, if the passion is there, keep up the fight. I am proof it can happen.

And I have taken your advice Ken. I go to the parties, do the photo shoots, do the parades, and fly on the company jet.(once) I'm enjoying the ride because I know one day it will all be over and then no one will wanna fuck me again.

Eric Stonestreet

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The No-Frills Airline

After flying fourteen hours to Sydney, this seemed very appropriate. Talk about being ahead of their time -- this is a sketch from THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW from either the late '60s or early '70s. It stars Carol, Harvey Korman, and the incomparable Tim Conway. And they thought they were exaggerating.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Questions from down under

Hello from Sydney, where I think it’s Friday Question Day. I am so jet lagged. I have no idea what day it is.  Hopefully these answers make sense.  

Anonymous starts us off (please leave your name):

Hi Ken! I have a "Cheers" question I'm hoping you can answer. Were the writers the ones who first came up with Diane's "Norman!" after everybody else says "Norm!" or did Shelley improv it?

That’s something Shelley came up herself and it just kind of stuck. Her calling Norm & Cliff by their more formal names is Diane’s way of separating herself from them. It’s just a little character moment the actress found; a throwaway line really. Shelley Long was so brilliant in that role, and a lot of the touches she brought to the character were so subtle you couldn’t really see them, but they added such warmth, and dimension, and humor to Diane Chambers. I’m in awe of her talent.

From Kirk:

Am currently reading a biography of Howard Cosell. As a sportscaster yourself, what did you think of him?

An insufferable gasbag and I would give anything to have him back today. In an age of generic sportscasters, Cosell was a breath of fresh air. If only I didn't hate him when I had the chance.

Howard Cosell was really a sign-of-the-times. In his day no one was more famous. Today, unless you’re over 40 you have no idea who he was. I wonder if anyone will remember Simon Cowell in 50 years. Or Paula Abdul in five.

Richard Y wonders:

How far back into your daily blog do you go and read the comments? That is do you find yourself going back 2 or 3 days to catchup and/or for that perfect Friday Question?

Every comment gets emailed to me. I read every one. I cut and paste Friday questions into a separate file so I don’t lose them. I may throw in an extra Question day now and again because I'm starting to fall a little behind and want to answer as many of your questions as I can.

Even if you comment on something in the archives from four years ago I will see and read it.

Half the fun of this blog is reading all of your comments. Well, maybe not half. But at least three-eighths.

From Tim Jones:

I'm a real tv trivia hound, and I've come up against an enigma the solution to which is apparently so trivial as to have vanished altogether. However, in a last ditch effort, I was directed to Mr. Levine's blog as to the horse's mouth.

Here's the question: Who is the handsome blonde woman who is seen in the background of many Cheers and Frasier episodes. In Cheers, she appears most often as a bar patron, in Frasier as a KACL employee, although sometimes as a Cafe Nervosa patron. The secret of her identity must have been an inside joke with the cast of Frasier because in one episode Roz, while celebrating their return to the air, simply refers to her as "You."

I'd be forever in the debt of Mr. Levine or anyone else who can reveal the identity of this extremely ubiquitous but unknown extra.

According to FRASIER First AD, Steven Pomeroy her name is Joan Carey. Thanks, Steve!

From Chris:

When a writer gets hired on a show, who is the actual employer, who does the writer have the work contract with?

The studio producing the show. But most studios are owned by networks… although not necessarily the network you’re doing the show for. MODERN FAMILY for example, is through 20th Century Fox, owned by Fox but for ABC.

It can get confusing. Just make sure someone pays you.

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. I will read it. Thanks.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why I love LA!

There are maps to the stars homes (even though most of the stars have long since moved or died, or both), tours of Hollywood studios, tours of Hollywood, tours of “old Hollywood”, tours of Beverly Hills, even tours of Hollywood cemeteries. But now comes the best! And this is not a joke. This is REAL.

You can now tour LA’s slums. That’s right. See the street gangs, crime, squalor, graffiti, and violence that marks tropical South Central. I’m not making this up!

An enterprising company is now offering bus tours of the inner city. Driver Alfred Lomas, who is a former gang member, takes you through a guided tour of his crib. Other former gang members are on board with you. You can get your picture taken with one, but he probably charges more if you want to hold his AK47.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t vicious street gangs somewhat particular about who enters their territory? So the Crips and Bloods will literally kill each other if they should enter their neighborhood, but it’s okay for tourists from Iowa to swing by?

Hey motherfuckers, please check out our visitors center/gift shop, next to the roped off crime scene.”

Who needs to write satire when stuff like this actually occurs? Lomas wanted to offer T-shirts reading “I Got Shot in South Central” after the riders would have been shot with water guns. But for some inexplicable reason he scrapped the idea.

Among the stops are the Los Angeles River, which contains more graffiti than water, and the Los Angeles County Jail, where 120,000 gang members have visited at the state’s request. I’m not sure if the home where Marvin Gaye was shot by his father is on the tour but it should be. And what about the house where Patty Hearst’s captives were sprayed with bullets? If I’m paying good money for a tour it’s not enough to see some graffiti and a drive-by murder.

And you're not allowed off the bus.  You can't shoot hoops with members of the Florencia 13 gang.  

Again, true fact: Passengers must sign a release form stating that the tour is inherently dangerous. This eliminates the possibility of any Jews ever signing up, and it cuts in half the number of Girl Scout troops who would do this as a field trip.

But this is just one more reason why I love this town. I think Frank Lloyd Wright put it best:  

Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.

I land today in Australia.  Okay,Sydney, I challenge you -- I hope your ferries and beaches and opera house and world-class attractions can stack up to Compton. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bon voyage, dear readers

Heading off tonight to Australia. I feel very safe seeing that Olivia Newton-John is flying the plane.  My wife and I will be spending the weekend in Sydney. Then boarding a cruise ship for a two week jaunt to Melbourne, Tasmania, and various stops in New Zealand. I’m guessing harbor towns. Fortunately, the ship is not going anywhere near Giglio so we should be relatively okay. Still – movies I’m avoiding on the flight over are THE TITANIC, THE POSIEDAN ADVENTURE, the remake of THE POSEIDEN ADVENTURE (I’d avoid that one anyway), and SHIP OF FOOLS. But I will be watching NIGHT AT THE OPERA, THE LADY EVE, and season two of THE LOVE BOAT.

Blog posts will continue as always. I can be opinionated from anywhere. And a travelogue will follow when I return home. And (assuming there’s wifi) I will be tweeting my observations and whereabouts along the way. So if you don’t already, I invite you to follow me on Twitter. Just go here or click on the Twitter icon along the right hand side.  I promise to only tweet fun stuff.  Who gives a shit what I have for breakfast? 

If you’re also on this cruise, I’ll be speaking on television and baseball, so if the origami classes fill-up stop by.

Thanks again to everybody for your suggestions. Without you I never would have known about these great bars, eateries, and the sex & death museum.

Behave yourselves while I’m gone. Talk to you from Oz.

Comedy sluts on parade

This is what happens when all the networks chase the same idea.

This year’s sitcom notion de jour is the crude girl – a female lead who is crass and edgy and hateful (within the bounds of network acceptability so adorably hateful). They’re jumping on the feature bandwagon. BAD TEACHER, YOUNG ADULT, and whatever that goofy thing was with Julia Roberts showing her tart and cynical side (that no one believed for a second).

TV comedy has sure come a long way from Mary Tyler Moore and Elizabeth Montgomery to Whitney Cummings and Chelsea Handler.

CBS was first out of the box with 2 BROKE GIRLS. This show has the advantage of funny likeable Kat Dennings and its time slot. 2BG is the perfect complement to TWO AND A HALF MEN. Penis jokes segued neatly into vagina jokes.

FOX hedged their bet with NEW GIRL. Zooey Deschanel is more quirk than snark.

NBC charged forth with WHITNEY. Stand up comedienne Whitney Cummings, who also co-created 2 BROKE GIRLS, was promoted as NBC’s next big thing. Here in LA you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Whitney billboard or bus board.

And despite the full-court print and on-air press, WHITNEY has not caught on. In fairness, the show has gotten better and personally I really like the boyfriend. But this is not a hit despite NBC giving it a full-season order. They gave OUTSOURCED a full-season order last year.

Networks play around with numbers. For example: last week -- WHITNEY (2.1/5, 6.1 million) was down 9% from the debut of UP ALL NIGHT in the same time period in September but up 11% from WHITNEY’S most recent Thursday telecast December 8. Up 9%, down 11% -- significant numbers except you’re talking about 5 and 6 shares. Big difference in being up 9% if you start at a 19 share than a 5.

And then last week ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA? premiered. Here’s how committed to the frat boy with tits concept NBC was: They picked up the series, then replaced three regular cast members and changed the title. Now that alone doesn’t spell doom. Shows get redeveloped and recast all the time and quite frequently the changes are big improvements. They were in this case. But it’s a warning sign. And it must really irk those creators of the other NBC pilots that didn’t get picked up in favor of…elements of a Chelsea Handler project.

Why does this happen you might ask? Sometimes it’s because the network really wants to be in business with a person. This year it’s Chelsea Handler. I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t have peacock feathers coming out of her ass. But if in three years the trend is virginal Christian girls, Chelsea couldn’t get on the NBC lot if she were in the presidential motorcade. Who remembers Margaret Cho?

NBC paired CHELSEA with WHITNEY, which makes complete sense since they share the same sensibility. The all Chlamydia hour. But it’s almost impossible to launch a new show behind another new show. Especially one that starts with a 5 share. Plus, it’s on at 8:30. This is not 8:30 subject matter. So why don’t they schedule WHITNEY/CHELSEA for 9:00? Because they would be up against MODERN FAMILY and would get slaughtered. And guess what? AMERICAN IDOL is back.

CHELSEA did okay in its debut. And by okay I mean 2.3/6 in adults 18-49, and 6.4 million total viewers. That’s better than the FREE AGENTS’ debut in the fall (1.3/4, 3.9 million), but who are we kidding? Those are low numbers. It’s like substituting a ballplayer with a .167 average over one hitting .083 and thinking you’ve solved your lineup problem.

And let’s see how they do tonight in their second week. I hope okay.  I'm friends with several of their writers and wish them well. 

Don’t think ABC hasn’t chased this slut girl trend. They have their own psycho B--. DON’T TRUST THE B—IN APARTMENT 23. Trashy skank girl takes in wholesome Midwestern roommate. Hilarity ensues. Hilarity example: The guy in the next apartment can look right into their kitchen window. So he watches them and publicly masturbates.

How similar is this to 2 BROKE GIRLS? The pilot stories are THE SAME. Midwest girl thinks slut slept with her boyfriend. Only the cave of wonder jokes are different.

DON’T TRUST THE B—IN APARTMENT 23 premieres in April. But ABC is launching it behind MODERN FAMILY at 9:30 so yes, the network doesn’t think it’s good enough to debut in mid-season, but they are still willing to give it a decent shot. Yet there is the compatibility issue. A lot of families gather together to watch MODERN FAMILY. Imagine them ten minutes later watching a guy jack off. That’s a Waltons Moment to be sure!

And all the while, COMMUNITY and COUGAR TOWN remain on the shelf.

Like all trends, this one will run its course. There will be one or two winners and next year it’s onto something else. But the networks might be worried. I’m sure they figured that yes the zeitgeist changes from year to year but they always had vagina jokes. You can’t miss with vagina jokes. And now if vagina jokes are getting a 5 share, then truly, what is left for broadcast television?

Wanna take a guess on which network will be the first to show one?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From Golden Globes to Giant Breasts

Ken Levine wants you to stop staring at Elizabeth’s breasts

This was a headline I saw recently. It seems the other Ken Levine (the successful one) who created BioShock Infinite, has a character in his very cool new video game named Elizabeth who has a boffo rack. This apparently has caused quite a stir among fanboys. Really guys? You’ve never seen large animated breasts before?

The me who’s not me says he never gave it much thought, and frankly the me who is me hasn’t either. Ken thinks the internet might be too hung up on this. And I have to agree with me… me being him.

I'm reminded of an incident when I was doing a pilot. We got a network note that our leading lady’s breasts were too large and were distracting. Yeah, like we could go back to the writers room and just fix that.

But the network took this very seriously. Camera angles were discussed, wardrobe options reviewed, everything short of surgery – this insane conference lasted half an hour. Highly-paid, well-educated broadcast executives debating an actresses' "Golden Globes" size. For thirty minutes.

By the way, you’d think they’d want them big. No wonder they were the last place network back then (and now, coincidentally).

Ultimately, we did nothing. I made sure she didn’t wear tassels, but otherwise we shot the show as is. And the result? The network didn’t pick us up. Instead they ordered a variety/sketch show starring a Japanese singing group that performed comedy bits in broken English. Our show was better. Our script was far better. So why did they get on the air and we didn’t? Here’s the only explanation I can think of:
I know I’m speaking for Ken Levines everywhere when I say –

If Elizabeth’s tits are too large for you move farther back from the monitor. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

My review of the Golden Globes

So that was the big deal? Eddie Murphy jokes? Thirty-year-old Madonna “Like a Virgin” jabs? Mel Gibson shots? Justin Bieber zingers? Wow! No sacred cow was spared. Not James Cameron, Adam Sandler, not even Kim Kardashian! After staging a full-on media blitz to proclaim how daring and offensive he planned to be, Ricky Gervais was a giant bust. MODERN FAMILY’s Steve Levitan was funnier in his three-minute acceptance speech than Gervais was the entire night.

For all the promise that this was going to be the best Golden Globes ever, it still fell way short of 2008, which is still its pinnacle. (That’s the year the show was canceled due to the Writers Guild Strike.)

What we were left with was a smug host who most Americans still only know as “Who is that guy?”, nominated movies that aren’t even playing in 90% of the country, and shots of Dustin Hoffman falling asleep in the audience.

I was very glad THE ARTIST won. If it ever comes to your town go to the one theater showing it and get tickets. It’s easy to see why the Foreign Press loves it so. It’s an American film not in English.

Let’s face it, people watch this egopalooza to see their favorite stars. That’s why the Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy category was so exciting this year. Which one of these household names did you root for? Shailene Woodley, Octavia Spencer, Janet McTeer, Jessica Chastain, or Berenice Bejo?

Personally, I was thrilled Octavia Spencer won for THE HELP. The first part of her speech was very touching. The last ten minutes when she thanked everyone but Cedric the Entertainer was insufferable.

The big highlight for me was HOMELAND’S Morena Baccarin. I’ve never seen a gown that was both backless and frontless. She has now starred in the TV series and dress named V.

More on the ceremony in a moment, but first a look back at NBC’s Red Carpet Arrival Show. First, it started without sound. Then it was hosted by the least talented person on the planet – Carson Daly. When interviewing Leo DiCaprio he had to look down at his card before asking the following question: “So how are you doin’?” Why is this lox on TV? I never got the names of his two magpie co-hosts (because there was no sound). I just know they were Natalie (?) and Jeannie (?).

Natalie (?) asked everyone the same question. “Are you nervous?” But unlike Carson, did it without the benefit of a card. Seth Rogen said to Jeannie (?) “I’ll just read exactly what’s on the teleprompter” to which she replied, “Right. Free styling it.”

There must be a Red Carpet Interviewer IQ test and if you score higher than 60 you’re disqualified.

The ceremony itself was held in the glittering Beverly Hilton Hotel Ballroom, site of the Temple Emmanuel Purim Ball.

Did HOMELAND win because it is the best drama on television or because it originally was an Israeli show and there’s that foreign connection? I was surprised OUTSOURCED wasn’t named best TV comedy.

As usual, the TV awards went to slumming movie stars. Kate Winslet and Laura Dern each got their third Globe, and Jessica Lange copped her fifth. If Tina Fey and Amy Poehler want to win for Best TV Comedy they need to do WAR HORSE II first.

Rob Lowe and Julianne Moore had to vamp when their teleprompter malfunctioned. Lowe handled it deftly, ad libbing, “When was the last time you did a cold reading in front of Steven Spielberg?” Carson Daly in the same situation vomits on himself.

My daughter Annie thought Charlize Theron’s dress got caught in her underwear.

Do seat fillers get to eat the meals of the people they're substituting for?

Dustin Hoffman is starting to look like Bob Uecker.

I love Clair Danes. If you haven’t seen HOMELAND, add that to THE ARTIST, LUTHER, BOSS, EPISODES, A SEPARATION, and all the other Golden Globe winning projects you haven’t seen.

Seth Rogen paid his co-presenter, Kate Beckinsale, the ultimate compliment. He announced he had an “enormous erection”. That’s his idea of just reading the teleprompter?

When Ludovic Bourne won Best Original Score for THE ARTIST, I was hoping he’d thank Kim Novak in his acceptance speech.

Debra Messing came as Tin Tin.

Tilda Swinton came as David Bowie.

Another deserving winner was Asghar Farhadi for A SEPARATION, although Annie's writing partner Jon called out, “Okay, Iran, we gave you a Golden Globe. Give us back our drone!”

With big stars like Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman in the audience, why were they cutting to Piper Perabo for reaction shots?

Since Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese were there the HFPA had to give them awards. Same for Madonna, George Clooney, and Meryl Streep. Otherwise they end up with the stars of MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS and the cast of SUBURGATORY.

And Meryl darling, you had more than enough time before the get-off music started. You have more people to thank? Thank them next month when you win something else.

There was some debate at our house whether Jessica Biel came in her wedding dress or bubble wrap.

Who was more revved up on stage, the dog from THE ARTIST who was humping legs or Jimmy Fallon? Both needed leashes.

They keep touting BRIDESMAIDS as a serious Oscar contender, but all you ever hear about the movie is that women shit all over themselves.

A lot of actresses look like they’d been hit by a car. Reese Witherspoon had been hit by a car and looked exquisite.

Nice tribute to Morgan Freeman. He’s made 50 movies. In half of them Ashley Judd gets kidnapped.

Sidney Poitier’s introduction to Morgan was elegant. Helen Mirran’s was balloon juice. Annie kept yelling, “Un-knight her!”

Kenneth Branagh was nominated for playing Sir. Lawrence Olivier who once won a Golden Globe and the statuette literally broke apart in his hand during his acceptance speech.

Since Leo DiCaprio was there for J. EDGAR, Annie's partner Jon thought it would have been great if he had shown up in a gown.

Wow! THE ARTIST’S Berenice Bejo is beautiful in color.

The ceremony took place one mile from my house. Albert Brooks should have known he wouldn’t win when his table was on our front lawn.

After the Tim Tebow debacle on Saturday, Jesus Christ was no longer on the guest list of the Weinstein Co. after party.

Jessica Lange's hair looked like a Monet haystack. She thanked all the writers, which she should, since they’re killing off every character on her show but her.

Paula Patton looked like the world’s yummiest yellow Peep.

Happy that Matt LeBlanc won. Not surprised though because it was for a show made in England. But he was very funny and showed more range playing himself than I thought he had.

Instead of screeners, voters got vouchers for free appetizers at Jennifer Lopez’s Madre restaurant in Pasadena.

70 year-old Jane Fonda looked spectacular. I love the new hip, Janie!

The Golden Globes are the only award show where Maggie Smith and Sofia Vergara are nominated in the same category.

Madonna is starting to look like a female impersonator.

Glad she took shots back at Ricky Gervais. No witty retort from him of course. He was probably too busy offstage writing an article for ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY about how fearless he is.

Angelina Jolie looked chic and stunning. I loved the patterned sleeves. Oh wait. Those were tattoos.

Madonna beat Glenn Close for Best Song. How does that happen???

And then Glenn lost to Meryl Streep. Considering the part, Ms. Close would have had a much better chance if she put herself up in the Best Actor category.

Congratulations to Kelsey Grammer who won for that show he’s on on the network no one can get. I’m sure he was very deserving. He’s a gifted actor. But the STARZ network has eleven subscribers total in all of America. So did he win on merit or because ex-wife Camille was so rude to all the voting members of the Foreign Press when they waited on her at Jerry’s Deli?

And did THE DESCENDENTS win for Best Drama because it’s set in Hawaii and many foreign voters didn’t realize Hawaii is part of the United States?  

So ended another endless Golden Globes ceremony, filled with tedium, Harvey Weinstein, and Jodie Foster beaver jokes. I’m guessing Ricky Gervais won’t be asked back. Knowing the Academy, next year’s host will be Carson Daly.

On to the Oscars!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Getting you ready for the Golden Globes

The Golden Globes are tonight.  I will be reviewing them.  I consider it a warm-up for when I review a real awards show -- the Oscars.   But to get you in the mood, here's my review from several years ago.
It’s okay that you didn’t see the show, remember the show or the movies involved. The really famous targets are ageless.

It's the lid lifter to the 2004 Awards season, beginning with the show where the awards can be bought -- the Golden Globes. Winners are selected by the "foreign Press" meaning your busboys at Jerry's Deli. To put the Golden Globes in perspective, Pia Zadora won one. Jaimie Lee Curtiss once threw a big brunch at her house for the "Foreign Press" and copped a best actress award.

They are presented at a hotel owned by Merv Griffin and televised tape delayed to Hollywood with Dick Clark as producer. All meals are prepared on a George Foreman grill.  (Note:  this year they're not tape delayed to the west coast.  We'll be ignoring them LIVE.)

The big incentive for stars to attend is that they do provide dinner. And they can thank the busboys for voting for them.

Three weeks ago I was in that same ballroom to attend a gala dinner honoring the Chairman of Fox Television. Two days later he was fired. It's clearly where Hollywood goes to express its sincere gratitude.

Where else can you see Clint Eastwood and the Queer Eye guys considered peers?

Always glad to see Barbra Streisand...when she doesn't have to talk. And I loved her sheepskin gown. Last worn by Sonny Bono in 1965. Notice how they showed Babs on camera fifty times and her husband (a nominee) maybe twice?

Great that Anthony LaPaglia won...on NBC. This is the same network that refused to approve him for the co-starring role in the short-lived comedy, KRISTIN. Judging by the shot of his wife falling out of her dress, he already has two golden globes.

When Francis Conroy is not the most obscure actor to win an award you know you're in trouble.

Other than Rene Zellweger, none of the other Best Supporting Actresses were in movies that played anywhere other than art houses. What a surprise that she won. The FP loves her. She eats out a lot.

When Rene Zellweger actually thanks the guy who makes sure she doesn't lose anything in her purse then you know these people are taking themselves just a tad too seriously.

The theme this year was "lessons". Every actor learned a "lesson" from either their director or family or guy who made sure they didn't lose anything in their purse.

I'm sorry Diane Lane lost. Stop blaming her for JUDGE DREDD.

How many times did you scream "Get Off!!!" during actors' acceptance speeches? I stopped counting at ten.

Diane Keaton actually prepared that hideous, rambling, incoherent speech of hers. We get it. You're old.

Jaimie Lee Curtiss should have hosted a brunch this year. But it's an honor just to be nominated.

Pacino is starting to look like Frank Zappa. And sound like him. What the hell was his speech about? Even he got lost. I was impressed however, that he acknowledged his twins and actually knew their names.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY did so well I say it's time for a sequel.

Peter Jackson, its director, forgot to thank the talking tree.

Can you imagine if Sofia Coppola had beaten out Peter Weir, Peter Jackson, and Clint Eastwood? Notice how Jackson acknowledged all of his fellow nominees except Coppola? So Coppola and the talking tree both got dissed.

All five Best Actress nominees were blondes. The foreign press loves that exotic American look.

Charlize Theron won for a great performance. Who knew she could play ugly?

For the eleventh straight awards show Jim Carrey wasn't funny. And for the eleventh straight awards show he thought he killed.

LOST IN TRANSLATION -- Best COMEDY??? Good movie but excuse me, aren't comedies supposed to be funny? I guess when you work the back sink at Jerry's nothing is funny.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Anyone know anything about Australia or New Zealand?

G’day, mate. For all you Australia & New Zealand readers, I’ll be heading your way later this week. I’m speaking on a cruise ship that goes from Sydney to Auckland. I’m very excited. Never been to that part of the world before. The Outback Steakhouse doesn’t count.

So today as I gear up for reviewing tomorrow night’s Golden Globes (making snarky comments about everything as a warm-up exercise), I thought I’d reach out to you guys for sightseeing and eats recommendations.

I’ll be spending three days in Sydney, two in Melbourne then it’s off to Hobart, Tasmania before cruising on to New Zealand.

Then it’s on to places I’ve heard of but know little about. Timaru, Akaroa, Wellington, Tauranga, and on Feb.7th I have a whole day in Auckland after the ship dumps us all off.

I’m not a climb to the peak of a 10,000-foot mountain kind of guy. Nor am I a visit ancient churches and graveyards sort of fun devil. And if there’s a Universal Studios Citywalk or Legoland in Akaroa, not interested in seeing those either. I’m big on people watching, eating, drinking, bargains, and discovering odd attractions.

I also get lost easily.

Any thoughts, suggestions, warnings would be appreciated. I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers. As they say in Australia: Thank you.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday (the 13th) Questions

It’s not just Friday Question Day. It’s Friday the 13th Question Day. Don’t read while operating heavy equipment.

Andy Ihnatko starts us off:

Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant's book about screenwriting mentions an dirty trick: an unscrupulous screenwriter hired to polish the seventh draft might change the name of a central character, just so that later on, he can claim co-screenwriter credit even though all he did was make some basic tweaks and trims.

What other ways do screenwriters sometimes game the system to either get more credit or even just protect their contributions?

They change genders of the main characters. They change locations. They capriciously change dialogue but characters essentially say the same thing. Most arbitrators easily see through these transparent alterations.  And if not, the original writer is more than happy to point them out in his statement.

Dan Tedson asks:

In general, what months do staff writers work through the year? Is it 6 months on, 6 months off, that sort of thing?

We should be so lucky. Usually the writing staff will assemble around Memorial Day. They’ll work on stories and scripts and production begins around the beginning of August. Depending on the show (half hour/hour, single/multi camera) a full season could end anywhere from March till the end of April.

So it’s more like a month or two off, not six. Think of an NBA season if you go deep into the playoffs. And when shows are in production it’s not unusual for writing staffs to work weekends and late nights.

From Matt:

I'm getting started as a comedy writer and I want to be versatile. One of the things I've noticed is that a lot of comedy writers know how to write everything from one-liners to sketch to half-hours to full screenplays.

A lot of the same rules apply to multiple formats, but I'm wondering, what "rules" do different formats have? How do you view them differently?

The only rule that covers all of those formats is you have to be really funny. Otherwise, I’d say versatility is fine but when starting out concentrate on one format, learn its rules and head in that direction.  Especially if you don't know the rules.  Take classes, read books, and follow relevant blogs. 

It's hard enough to master one format, much less three or four.

Agents, should you be lucky enough to get one, need to know how to sell you. They generally don’t take the scattershot approach. You’re either a TV writer or a screenwriter or a sketch writer. So decide which form is right for you and focus on that.  Once you establish yourself you can spread your wings and show your versatility. 

Collin wonders:

How do shows, once shot and edited, get to the network? Also, do they go to New York or LA? Did you ever have a show you work on have an episode get lost or damaged on its way to the network?

Networks provide very specific formats. They tell you what to deliver, in what format, and how many copies. Likewise, they tell you exactly how long the show can be, and what the delivery deadline is.

Each network has different requirements but I believe you can turn it in to LA or NY depending on where your show originates from. It’s so easy today to beam shows around the world instantly. And because they’re digital, there is no loss of quality from generation to generation. But unless things have changed, someone hand delivers the material to the network. 

Usually the line producer or someone from the production screens the final version one last time before sending it to the network. And every so often a mistake is caught and last minute scrambling has to occur. I remember once on AfterMASH they forgot to include credits and had to race to correct in time (although in this case, we might have preferred no credits).

Line producers do a spectacular job and are usually taken for granted. But they have to check on so many things – sound, color balance, mix, music, and editing.  A million details. 

And I don’t know if this is true anymore but when we delivered a show way back in ancient times (mid ‘90s) we had to leave space for the commercials, so those had to be built in as well.

What's your question? Please leave it in the comment section. And Happy Friday the 13th.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

In defense of Diablo Cody

I love when blog posts generate other blog posts. My review of YOUNG ADULT prompted reader Tim W. to write this:

You should do a blog post in defense of Diablo Cody. What seems to be the biggest complaint among her detractors is that her dialogue is not realistic and too stylized. That bothers me because there are few writers that actually seem to have a unique voice and when one does, they get jumped on.

I’m not opposed to stylized writing at all. But for many writers it’s a double-edged sword. They get discovered because they have a unique voice, but if that’s the only style they can write in they run the risk that the style goes out of style and they can’t adjust. How often have you seen this in rock bands? How are all the Disco groups doing these days?

At the moment Diablo Cody is very much in favor (despite my disappointment at YOUNG ADULT). She was nominated for a WGA Award the very day I panned her movie (proving again – what do I know?). I personally like her style. I loved JUNO. This was my review. And then I had some fun imaging the notes Diablo Cody would receive from a typical studio executive. You can find that here.

The big knock is that all of her characters sound alike and that’s true. Going in you have to know you’ll be watching a very stylized movie – the same way you would going into a Coen Brothers or Tim Burton film. Or a movie musical. You sacrifice realism, which can make the movie special and unique or kill it. You could get ROGER RABBIT or HOWARD THE DUCK.

All of David Mamet’s characters sound alike. Same with Harold Pinter’s. And Larry Gelbart’s. To me that's a good thing.   If the writing is good. 

Do you like the TV version of MASH? That was all Larry. I think we’d all agree that no one talks like those zany medicos at the 4077th.. We’d like to be as clever and funny at Hawkeye. But the truth is if Hawkeye Pierce were your co-worker, after two weeks you’d be throwing him down the elevator shaft.

I love Aaron Sorkin’s style, but he has to have the right subject matter. WEST WING was phenomenal. So was SOCIAL NETWORK. Those brainiac characters were right in his wheelhouse. But when the arena was behind-the-scenes at SNL, Tina Fey’s style was more on the mark than his.

Look, if TV and movie dialogue were true to real life no one would watch. Who wants to listen to endless prattle, incessant stammering, and a million “y’knows” and “likes”? I bet if someone really did a documentary on a paper products office, in order to put together one half hour that had as many funny things as the TV version they would need to shoot ten million hours of film. (I know that’s a little off topic. We’re talking about very stylized writers. But the point needs to be made that all dramatic writers need a little latitude.)

So in this age of network interference and homogenization, I say thank goodness for Diablo Cody, and Aaron Sorkin, and David Milch, and Amy Sherman, and every other truly distinctive writer except Tyler Perry.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My review of THE ARTIST

It would have been soooo easy to do it wrong. Soooo easy to just make it an exercise, a novelty, a curiosity piece. But THE ARTIST manages to pull off the near impossible – a thoroughly charming love story with multi-dimensional characters without the benefit of dialogue, color, or Clooney.

THE ARTIST is a period piece silent movie set in Hollywood in the late ‘20s made by the French. Not exactly fanboy catnip.

But it works! Without any Spielberg schmaltz, Scorsese scope, or Tarantino too-coolness.

Director Michel Hazanavicius is to be applauded for three things – the script, the direction, and marrying the leading lady.

Bérénice Bejo is luminous as the young ingénue. Picture a prettier and goofier Anne Hathaway (along with Frenchier and marriedier). Everything Meryl Streep does with accents and make-up she does with just her eyes.

But Jean Dujardin steals the show as the swashbuckling leading man. He has the panache, the pencil-thin mustache, and soon a lot of awards. Consider this: he’s the first actor in a hundred years asked to carry a silent movie. (Clint Eastwood was just a day-player, not a leading man back then.)

THE ARTIST is a melodrama – which was the Merchant-Ivory drama style of the day. It uses every silent movie cliché but only to better recreate the genre. This is a loving homage, not the world’s longest Tracey Ullman sketch.

As a writer, I must say it’s a little humbling to see how little dialogue you need to tell a good story. This film is brimming with wonderful little character moments – subtle gestures, body language, glances. One of the many dangers of doing a modern-day silent movie is that the audience is paying way more attention to the technique than the story. But that doesn’t happen here. You get sucked in emotionally. Or at least I did.

I’m curious to hear what young people thought of this film. I’m curious to see whether young people even went to this film. Unless you’re a student of cinema, I would imagine most people under 40 have never seen a silent movie. Maybe they’ve seen clips but not an entire full-length feature. The Gish Sisters don’t ring a bell. Will THE ARTIST resonate with audiences who have no frame of reference? Will the deliberate mugging be perceived of as just corny? Will they become engrossed or say, “I gave up seeing THE MUPPET MOVIE for this?”

For my money, THE ARTIST was one of the most ambitious and satisfying films of the year. And it was so refreshing to see a silent movie where everyone in it isn't dead.

I think it will win some Oscars. Some Golden Globes for sure. (The Foreign Press and a film made on foreign soil? Unless the French restaurants where all the voters are employed as busboys and waitresses fire them, THE ARTIST is a shoo-in for those statutes.)  Note:  I will be reviewing the Golden Globes next Monday.  

I understand that there's a campaign to get the dog an Oscar nomination.  As if Albert Brooks isn't bitter enough -- can you imagine if he loses a Best Supporting Actor nomination to a dog?  Woof!

Oh, and a note to Ted Turner:  Please don't colorize this movie.  Thank you.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A follow-up to yesterday's post on Spec Scripts

Yesterday’s post on which spec script to write has generated a number of good questions and comments so I thought I’d serve ‘em while they’re hot.

Vivian Darkbloom is up first.

I am writing a sitcom pilot and have a question about the number of acts for the script. Some shows have two acts (e.g., "30 Rock," "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," "Friends"), whereas others have three (e.g., "New Girl," "2 Broke Girls," "Community").

What are your thoughts on writing a pilot with two acts versus three? Is it just a matter of personal preference?

Your call, Viv. Whatever format allows you to best tell your story. But generally that means the two-act structure. Shows went to a three-act format not as a way of improving storytelling. They did so because the networks want to sprinkle their heavy commercial load around without causing too much tune-out. But where best to schedule GoDaddy.com, Lexus, Cialis, Miller Lite, Disney Cruises, Pepsi, and seventeen WHITNEY promos is not your concern.  

From Paul:

Ken, what do you think about writing a spec for an animated show like Archer?

I think it’s great IF you want to get a job on an animated show. But you shouldn't let a spec ARCHER be your overall writing sample submitted to live-action shows.

I have no idea whether you can write MODERN FAMILY based on a FAMILY GUY.

The best solution: write two specs – one for animated shows and one for live. Cover your bases.

And having written both I would encourage young writers to consider adding animation to your arsenal. Especially if your strong suit is jokes. There’s less of a burden on character development and story in animation, but you better really bring the funny.

A reader suggested that animation studios don't consider material from outsiders.  I don't agree.  Maybe in his studio and if so, they're idiots because they're shortchanging themselves talent. 

Bob Ross has an ageism question.

...Speaking of writers over forty, is it possible to get your first writing job if you are over forty?

I won't blow sunshine up your skirt.  It’s harder.

But not impossible. The good news is when you submit your script you never have to list your age. If the spec knocks people out you’ll get work.  The odds aren't great but much better than if you wanted to join the NBA at 40.

KingCooky weighed in with:

My style is more drama. I've recently written a Mad Men spec. Any thoughts if this is over done like Modern Family?

My next project will probably be Boardwalk Empire and possibly Boss. Any other ideas on great drama shows I should pay attention to?

Also, I try to stay away from the law/CSI stuff as i think shows like are also overdone. 

Drama is not my field but I would instinctively agree that procedurals are not ideal for specs unless you hope to get hired by a procedural.

To me the problem with dramas is that so many of them are episodic.  How do you write a MAD MEN when you don't even know what year the next season will be set in? 

I would pick a show that best fits your sensibilities.  Are you a SONS OF ANARCHY fan?  THE GOOD WIFE?  FRINGE?  ONCE UPON A TIME?   BOARDWALK EMPIRE?  The styles are so different. 

I suppose I would pick the show you feel you know the best and try to write as self-contained episode as you can. 

But I worry about BOSS simply because not many people have seen it.  On the other hand, there sure won't be a glut of them.

DyHrdMET wonders:

Could producers rip off elements of your spec script? has that happened before? 

When a spec script is submitted by an agent it's with the understanding that the studio is no longer liable if a similarity of the script finds its way into an episode.  Without that protection studios would never read anybody's script.   Does stealing from spec scripts occur?  I'm sure it does but in my experience, I've never seen it.  More often specs will stumble upon an upcoming storyline or beat that was already in the works.   

On the other hand, I have seen instances where a studio will buy a spec because they like the story, even if they don't like the writing.

You may think your story is completely unique and original and the truth is a producer gets fifteen specs that all have the same story.  

And trust me,  if a producer has to rely on spec scripts for story notions he won't be in the business very long. 

From Chris:

After you get work on various shows, do you/would you write any more specs? I've always thought I'd do that if there would be shows out there that I would really like.

That does happen. And the truth is, if you’re a working writer on a show that’s not well thought-of in the community, writing a spec may be the only way you graduate to a better show. So swallow your pride. The best example of this was on CHEERS. Peter Casey & David Lee were not just writers on THE JEFFERSONS, they were the showrunners. But to get a CHEERS assignment they had to suck it up and write a spec CHEERS. They did, it impressed the Charles Brothers, and the rest, as they say, is profit.

Have you ever done that?

Not specs for existing shows, but I’ve had to write a lot of specs. When my partner and I were on MASH we wanted to break into features. No one would hire us without a spec screenplay. Our agent would argue that we write a movie-caliber show every week, but they still wanted to see how we did in longform. So we wrote a spec, which got us our first assignment (VOLUNTEERS).

When I went off to do baseball, David tried to get feature work alone. Same story. They only knew him as a member of a team. So he (and later I) had to write a spec screenplay solo.

Now, had we said, “We’ve won Emmys, WGA awards, and we're known at the 20th commissary and barbershop. We’re not going to write on spec” then my guess is we’d have no movie career, either together or separately.  And today we couldn't get into the 20th barbershop if we had a note from George Clooney.

Now here are a couple of comments from yesterday worth re-posting:

From Anonymous Reader:


As someone who works for the Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship (a great program for aspiring writers, btw!), let me just tell you that the glut IS "Modern Family".

Used to be "The Office", the "30 Rock", but making your script stand out amongst hundreds of "Modern Familys" is going to be an uphill battle for sure.

I imagine the situation must be the same at agencies.

Personally, I'd advise against it.

Good to know. What follows is a GREAT comment by David Schwartz. I could not agree with him more.

Here's a suggestion that I think is very valuable (and one I wish I knew years ago). It is important that even after you write your spec scripts and secure an agent that YOU KEEP WRITING! When I started writing specs in the early 1980's my partner and I wrote a couple of good scripts that landed us an agent, and then we stopped writing. Our attitude was, "We've now written our scripts, it's time for our agent to get us work." We felt that our next assignment should be a paying one. In contrast, at the same time, our agent had another writer that wanted to write for Family Ties. We were told that this writer wrote a Family Ties script practically EVERY WEEK and submitted it to the show. After a couple of months of this, the producers took notice! I believe this writer was Michael J. Weithorn who went on to an incredibly successful career (starting with Family Ties). The point I'm making, is that while you may not be able to write a script every week, persistence is more likely to pay off than inertia. If I had my writing career to do over again, the one thing I'd do differently would be to write more scripts, and then write more scripts after that. First, I'd have gotten better, and second, I'm pretty sure I'd have impressed the producers with my perseverance.

Thanks, David. That letter should come with every scriptwriting computer program and cup of coffee at Starbucks. The more you write, the better you will become and the more opportunities you will have for success.

As always, good luck to everybody!!!