Monday, March 18, 2013

Passing the comedy torch

The torch has been passed from Levine & Isaacs to Levine & Emerson. My daughter Annie and her partner Jon saw their first script produced last Friday night – a GOOD LUCK CHARLIE episode for the Disney Channel. It was a hard-earned assignment after six spec scripts and God knows how many nights sitting at PaleyFest events listening to showrunners talk about how great they are. If you’ll indulge a proud dad, here’s my account of that memorable night:

GOOD LUCK CHARLIE is filmed in downtown Los Angeles in the same studio that produces other kid favorites like MAD MEN, BONES, and SOUTHLAND. It’s multi-camera, shot before a live studio audience of adoring fans.

The security to get into GOOD LUCK CHARLIE was way more extensive than the security to get into the Pentagon. They went through every kid’s backpack and mother’s purse. I wonder how many diaphragms they pull out each week. (Note: this would make a great episode for THE AMERICANS. Mom spy & dad spy take their tykes to LA and go to a GOOD LUCK CHARLIE taping. Not knowing there will be security, Keri Russell has to explain why she’s got a revolver, switchblade, six passports, and a container of borscht. I want shared story credit when they use that.)

The truth is the only building in this entire neighborhood that doesn’t need a security check is the GOOD LUCK CHARLIE studio.

In typical Disney fashion, the crowd management was second-to-none. Everyone was led in and seated orderly, quickly, and by the most courteous studio pages I had ever seen. I directed a show at a studio once and the pages were like the security detail from the Altamont concert. But I’ve got to hand it to Disney. They go out of their way to make the experience as pleasant and fun as possible.

A number of shows hand out candy to keep their audiences from turning into an angry mob. Here they distributed candy, granola bars, string cheese, and juice bottles. String cheese? I remember back in the '70s when they were filming THE ODD COUPLE the warm-up guy used to toss out bite-sized Snickers bars and Tony Randall’s manager (who had to be 90 then and worth $90 million dollars) used to crawl underneath the stands and retrieve the candy that had fallen through the bleachers.

Many in the crowd were young fans so there were also games and raffles. If there was one blemish on the evening it’s that I was only two numbers away from winning the princess dress-up game. Damn! That looked so cool!  I also almost won a signed photo of the child who plays the baby (wait a minute – can she even write?) but it was that princess game I had in my crosshairs. Of course, I’m not very lucky when it comes to raffles. The only thing I’ve ever won is a XXX DVD the night I went to porn star karaoke. So I was hoping they’d give those away because there I felt I had a chance. But alas, it was just toys, iTunes gift cards, and autographed photos and posters.

This was probably the first time in twenty years that I watched a taping from the bleachers. And I realized how blasé I had become. I’ve been to hundreds to tapings/filmings and usually my sole focus is how to make the episode better? Either as a writer, director, or producer I’m concentrating so intently on details that I no longer stop for a moment and think, “Hey, this is really awesome!” But Friday night I was once again hit with that wow factor. All these sets and monitors and crew people and equipment and actors – all coming together to film a show my daughter and her partner wrote. That was mind blowing. And it should always be, no matter how many of these you’ve done. For aspiring writers, hopefully the dream of that will keep you going, keep you pushing until it comes true. And for you crusty TV veterans, let it be a reminder to pause once in awhile and realize just how fortunate you really are. (A good time to do this is as the network guys are crossing the stage en route to you with five pages of notes for a two-page scene.)

The taping went very well. It was exciting to see their script come alive and hear the laughter.  (although the bigger the laughs the more choked up I got -- I assume this is not the normal reaction to a Disney Channel sitcom).  The cast knew their lines and the show moved along at a good clip. Again, professionalism.  Sitting in the stands I was reminded of all those World Series games you see on TV where they keep cutting back to the pitcher’s parents. Mom is tricked out in team merchandise waving a big cross and Dad is always caught sneaking a quick chug from his flask. My wife and I just sat there discreetly stealing place cards off of chairs because they featured the writing credit.

After the show there were curtain calls and Jon & Annie were introduced as the writers. I was more thrilled hearing that than any introduction I’ve ever received.

Next came something I’ve never seen in all the thousands of years I’ve been in television. The audience was invited to come down from the bleachers onto the set where the entire cast was available to sign autographs and take pictures. Fans could walk through the set, take as many pictures as they wanted, and God bless ‘em, the entire cast stayed around for about 45 minutes greeting and accommodating fans. And this was after a twelve-hour work day. I asked if this was a Disney decree and they said, no. Only GOOD LUCK CHARLIE did it. Very classy. And lovely of the cast to go along. How’d you like to be the poor schmuck who had to tell Roseanne after a long shoot that she has to remain on the set for forty-five more minutes to sign autographs? Good luck, Charlie.

Hopefully this will be the first of many produced scripts for Levine & Emerson. Readers of this blog know how funny they are. People always ask if I was worried when my daughter said she wanted to become a comedy writer, and my answer is yes until I read her stuff.  And then when she partnered with Jon I knew it was only a matter of time before I'd be eating string cheese in downtown LA.

My favorite comment is from my writer friend, Gina Gold who said, "Congrats on your first grandsccript."

My thanks to Dan Staley, Phil Baker, Drew Vaupen, and everyone at Disney for taking a chance on two young scribes. Their first experience was far better than mine. The first script for me and David was an episode of THE JEFFERSONS. At the taping the warm-up man, who was the showrunner and a bit hard of hearing, was introducing everyone but us. Finally someone in the audience asked, “Who wrote tonight’s show?” and he hemmed and hawed so my charming date yelled out from the front row: “Hey, they’re sitting right here, fucker!” We were banned from the Lear company. It's amazing we had any career at all past that night.

Of course if we want our career to continue we have to hope that Levine & Emerson hire us.

Photos by me and Michael Emerson (no, not the one on PERSONS OF INTEREST). 

44 comments:

Larry said...

My kids love that show.

Mark said...

Congrats, that sounds like an awesome experience.

And as my daughter entered my alma mater this past fall, I can certainly relate to getting choked up at the stragest of moments.

Carol said...

It might be because I have a cold, but I tend to be sentimental at the best of times, and this post made me cry a little. It was so sweet.

Congratulations to your daughter and her partner.

PS. This might be a good time to mention casually that I'm still hoping for a sequel to your book. I want to hear how you met and married your wife, and more about your early career and stuff.

John said...

Congratulations, Ken. Any idea when the show's going to air on the Disney Channel?

Your date's pithy response at "The Jeffersons" taping sounds like it would also be good sitcom material (though I think the quiet man/loud-tacky female date bit goes at least back to The Jack Benny Show).

(Also nice to know Charlie's apparently not a diva in the Cybil Shepherd/Bret Butler/Rosanne mode and making life miserable for her writers...)

The Curmudgeon said...

So happy for you and your daughter. Congratulations, Dad. Your pride in your daughter's accomplishment had me misty-eyed.

JJ said...

Friday Question:

On the subject of kids shows I was wondering do you perfer Disney Channel sitcoms or Nickelodeon sitcoms or are they one in the same?

MikeAdamson said...

Good for them...great account of their first show.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Sounds like a great moment. I remember meeting Annie at the Sitcom Room, albeit briefly. Congrats to all!

wg

Michael said...

Ken, I'm a softie at heart, so I thought it was a sweet post.

I also think of Marty Brennaman's line about his son Thom doing a game with him, which Skip Caray said about doing a game with Chip: the kids were fine; the fathers were in terror.

Johnny Walker said...

Huge congratulations to them both!

LouOCNY said...

Congrats to both you and Annie! Her posts here have always been hysterical, so its no surprise someone FINALLY gave her a job.

May Levine & Emerson become at LEAST as successful as Levine & Isaacs!

Johnny Walker said...

Also, a very touching account from you, Ken. *sniff*

Kirk said...

Congrats to your daughter.

Tudor Queen said...

Mazel Tov. May your talented and funny daughter continue to bring you naches.

And now I guess I should start watching "Good Luck, Chuck"

Markus said...

Ken, in case you ever wonder where your smile is: your daughter has it.

Max Clarke said...



It's nepotism, I tell ya! Nepotism!

What a great story, Ken. The odds are so stacked against new writers getting anything produced, I always cheer for somebody who can get it done. And it's better when you see the co-writer is Annie, who has made me laugh over the years.

Which means you've got a son who works at Apple and a daughter who works in Hollywood. Cool.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Wonderful!

Dorothy D said...

I am so happy for Annie (and Jon, in the abstract, for now) but mostly my eyes are moist thinking about how you and Debby experienced the moment. May they continue to have fun in this enterprise and enjoy success and may you and Debby continue to have naches from all of them. xoxo Dor

Tim W. said...

Congratulations, Ken. You just be incredibly proud.

Also, it's nice that you took your mother to your first taping.

Ane said...

That's very cool, congratulations. And I have to say, of all the shows my little sister watches on Disney Channel, Good luck Charlie is the only one I will sometimes watch with her.

Anonymous said...

My daughter loves "Good Luck Charlie"! Congratulations to your daughter. I have always enjoyed her posts. I hope I can see that episode. AND read a sequel to Ken's book. Julie, Burlington, Iowa

Anonymous said...

Oh, hey, the dad on Good Luck Charlie was on a Cheers episode, wasn't he. Julie, Burlington, Iowa

VincentS said...

Congratulations, Ken.

Cap'n Bob said...

Congrats to all, but admit it, Ken. You were mentally compiling notes in your head during the entire taping.

Alan said...

Beautiful.

Eric said...

Congrats! Like several others here, my kids love Good Luck Charlie, and I've found it to be a cut above the rest of the Disney factory kidcoms. (And incidentally, I think Bridget Mendler is really talented has a good career ahead of her post-Disney.)

RCP said...

Congratulations Annie, Jon, and proud family members and friends. What a wonderful experience it must be.

Mike Barer said...

Awesome Post. I think the entire "Levine Nation" is cheering!

Eric Herman said...

Congrats! That's terrific, and I watch and enjoy that show with my 8 and 10 yo daughters, so please let us know which episode it is so we can have a heads up. That show and A.N.T. Farm are quite solid family comedy shows on Disney. A.N.T. Farm in particular has a very clever absurd comedy style that I like, but Good Luck Charlie is also very well done.

Marianne said...

Congrats to your daughter and her partner!! Good Luck Charlie is my kid's newest obsession, and even though I don't watch it, I'll watch out for this episode. It was nice to hear about what happens after the taping.

scottmc said...

I want to second what 'John' and 'Eric' wrote regarding letting us know when the episode will be broadcast. GLC is one of my daughter's favorite shows and it is nice to know how much the cast and crew cherish their audience.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Congratulations...it's a writer!

I agree that Bridget Mendler is a talented actress. She was very good in a Disney Channel movie called "Lemonade Mouth," in which she played a more complicated role. Maybe it's me, but she reminds me of a very young Audrey Meadows.

Most of the Disney Channel sitcoms seem to be the kinds of shows that used to be on TV, with kids as the protagonists. Those of us who spent weekday afternoons watching Lucy, Gilligan and Jeannie can see how the models for those shows have been successfully retooled for kids on cable.

Thanks for sharing the warmth of a special moment.

D. McEwan said...

On one ocasion I attended a TV taping where audience members who wanted to could hang out after on the set with some of the stars. It was Dame Edna's Hollywood, taped at NBC Burbank 21 years ago. The guest stars took off, but Barry Humphries, not only still in costume, but still in character stayed and signed stuff and posed for photos with fans (like me for one) on her set, as did Emily "Madge Allsop" Perry. It was the night I first met Barry.

I attended a Dame Edna Edna Time TV taping for Fox where Roseanne was one of the guests. Not only did she not stay behind to sign autographs, but in fact, she left halfway through the taping. Since She was to "sing" with Dame Edna in the finale, they had to shoot the finale in the middle of the show to accomodate her. Barry's revenge was sublime: On the show, she and Tom Arnold had discussed at length their "Loose Meat" restaurant in Ohio and also discussed in overly-personal detail what they were going through to get her pregnant, dwelling on Tom's low sperm count. (Edna's face every time Tom said "sperm" was hilarious.) So after they were gone home, during a filming break, Edna told the audience: "I don't think I'd want to eat at a restaurant run by a man so obssessed with his sperm; I certainly wouldn't trust the Bouillabaisse."

When I saw Soupy Sales do his live club act at a club down in San Climente in 1994, after the show, Soupy stayed behind and mixed with the crowd. Not only did he sign every last bit of Soupy memorabilia people brought (I brought record albums of his I had had since 1960), but he brought a Polaroid camera and posed for photos with anyone who wanted one, so he could sign the pictures right then. And ON HIS OWN DIME! No one was charged for the Polaroids. Soupy was there for nearly an hour. He would not leave until every single fan there was fully satisifed. Total class act.

XJill said...

Aww, congrats Annie and Jon!

jbryant said...

That's awesome; congrats! I wrote a couple shows for the Disney Channel, but they were single-camera series (and not sitcoms) shot in Canada, so I never got to mingle with the hoi polloi.

But I don't think your plot suggestion will fly for THE AMERICANS, unless you make it Keri Russell's grand-kids or maybe great-grand-kids. Her kids would be in their 40s or so by now, according to the show's timeline.

estiv said...

Congratulations to Annie, Jon, and proud papa. I get the impression that in this kind of work, success itself will open doors, so may this be the first of many.

Mark said...

Wonderful news, and I'm not ashamed to say that GLC is the DC show most likely to make me laugh out loud.

DrBOP said...

"Write On! Write On! Write On!".....said the shameless 60s vernacular devotee.


YOUR post was WONDERFUL......but I'd also be interested in their account of how the evening went.....especially with the loud sentimental sobbing erupting from a particular member of the audience every punchline :+)

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to Annie and Jon! I love how wonderfully supportive you are. As a writer, hearing your own words read by actors is always a rush, but hearing the audience laugh hard at your daughter's words has to be truly amazing and beyond words.

Mazel Tov to all of you!

Carson
(for some reason it won't take my Wordpress ID)

Derryl Murphy said...

I went to high school with Eric Kramer, the dad in the show. When I asked if I could get signed cast posters for a friend's daughters, it was no problem at all. Everyone was happy to sign it, and Eric was happy to mail them on his own dime. So I am not surprised to hear how classy they all were.

Derryl Murphy said...

Oh, and Eric Kramer appeared in an ep of Cheers, although not one that you wrote, I see.

sophomorecritic said...

By partner, do they mean romantic, writing partner or both?

MrTact said...

Here's another Friday question for you: say your daughter writes a better dick joke than you. Parental pride, or parental horror?

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