Friday, October 25, 2013

Stealing jokes

Getting ready to hold my annual Sitcom Room seminar this weekend. Here are some Friday Questions before I go. One even involves Alf. 

A recent post on Roseanne and her accusation that a joke of hers had been stolen prompted Kay to ask this:

I'm not sure how a writer should handle that. Ken, what you would suggest? Do you abandon or re-write your own original joke, after you hear a similar joke, for fear someone will accuse you of having stolen it or that it might sound stale? Or do you say, "This is my original joke; it works where I need it, and I'm leaving it intact."?

Personally, when my partner David Isaacs and I are writing a script and are made aware that a joke we’re considering is similar to one that had been aired we’ll scrap the joke immediately. It’s not so much that we’re afraid of being sued or even accused of stealing; it’s that as professionals we would be horribly embarrassed. We take pride in our work and try to deliver the best and most original material we can.

Are there writers who will keep a joke anyway and try to rationalize it to themselves? Sure. But they wouldn’t work very long for me.

Daniel has two questions:

I've seen many TV writers make comments about residual checks being only a few cents.

Is that true or are you exaggerating for comic effect?

And secondly, without getting into specific dollar figures, can a writer ever get significant residual checks (thousands of dollars (or more)) when a series first goes into syndication?

I’ve actually received residual checks for one cent. Yes, miniscule residuals are a reality. There is a bar in the San Fernando Valley called Residuals. And if you brought in a royalty check of less than a dollar you could trade it for a drink. But so many people were doing that that they had to discontinue the offer.

One time I got a letter from MTM saying that the year before they over-paid me by three cents and demanded I return the money. Take a guess as to whether I complied.

On the other hand, yes, you can make significant dollars on first run syndication… assuming you’ve done multiple episodes. Thank God for residuals because there are a lot of writers, directors, and actors who are now living off them.

From Michael:

There appear to a large number of deals being signed for pilots this year being produced by actors for shows they will not appear in. Examples include Rashida Jones, Zooey Deschanel, and Kristen Ritter. Do they have an inherent advantage in being able to get meetings with network executives and/or more skilled at pitching projects?

I’ll be honest, it’s a head scratcher to me too. Networks always have “hot” people they want to be in business with, but in most cases these actors bring nothing to the project other than their names. Maybe network people just like taking meetings with stars.

If Zooey Deschannel showed up for meetings dressed like this I'd certainly hear her pitch.

It used to be major stars for a network would get a vanity production deal – like Kelsey Grammer’s Gramnet Productions – but that was when Kelsey was starring in FRASIER. NBC needed him.  They don't need Kristen Ritter.  (They didn't even pick up the pilot she was in last spring.)   Production deals are a way of keeping stars happy. And in Kelsey’s case, he did get a few series on the air. But that was thanks to the executives he hired to run his company.

This is just the newest trend in non-writing producers. First it was former executives, now it’s stars with production deals. And top flight writers, whose talent and experience is more than sufficient to selling and executing a pilot on their own now have to get in bed with one of these non-writing producing units. That said, I’d rather be hanging with Rashida Jones than Jeff Zucker.

And finally, two from 404:

Have you ever been completely surprised about a sitcom? You were convinced it would be a big hit and then it just tanked?

Yes. Ours. ALMOST PERFECT… although to the fair, it did not tank. It lasted into the second season and had respectable numbers when it was cancelled. We actually won our time slot for the first three weeks and then we were paired with a show that was so bad it was cancelled after only one episode. We were collateral damage.

Or the opposite, you felt it wouldn't last two episodes and it turns out to be a huge hit (and I don't mean "hanging in there" like TWO BROKE GIRLS, I mean the breakthrough hit of the year). Or anything like that?

Not that I assumed it would be yanked after two airings but I received a tape of the ALF pilot and thought, “This is funny but I can’t really see a puppet show really catching on.” And then my kids watched the pilot and loved it. They kept watching it all summer. And that’s when I figured, “Y’know, they might just have lightening in a bottle here.” So by the time it finally aired I was not surprised by its major success. The networks should have given my kids all the pilots.

What’s your question?


Jim S said...


Theoretical question. As a favor you read the spec script of your butcher's grandson who wants to break into the business. It's not very good, but it contains one great joke and you'd like to use that one joke and only that one joke in a script you're working on.

What do you do? Do you not use the joke out of professionalism? Do you, or the outfit you're writing your script for, pay the guy for the joke?

I'm just curious. Keep up the good work.

Quiet Jim said...

To whom it may concern; If you cannot see the Zooey picture it's worth the effort of a couple extra clicks even though it looks photo shopped

Charles H. Bryan said...

@ Quiet Jim: Well, thank goodness for Photoshop.

Hi Ken! I have a question (and it's background): This morning, I had a song stuck in my head that was used in the recent finale episode of a well-known and well-respected one hour cable drama (there's some spoiler avoidance) and it made me think: Is using a song a bit of a dramatic cheat? As a writer, do you ever see that choice and think "What? They couldn't come up with dialogue?" Would the same apply to montages where you can see the characters speaking to each other but there's a song overlaid?

Charles H. Bryan said...

That should be "its" not "it's". Grr.

GTO said...

If Zooey showed up dressed like that you wouldn't hear anything at all.

Pat Reeder said...

One of the funniest lines I ever heard on "American Dad" was when Roger the alien, posing as an agent, landed Francine the mom a deal for a sitcom with Fox. Roger proudly declared, "I got a deal for myself, too, as a non-writing associate producer! They pay me, and I don't have to do anything! I might even be a hindrance!"

Nell said...

Hi. I think you do a disservice to Zooey Deschanel (and all women) to post that photo of her in this context. Zooey is a bona fide producer on The New Girl and deserves to be taken seriously. Did you know she founded an influential (and extremely successful) website for teen girls called "Hello Giggles"?

I know you claim not to be sexist, Ken, but reducing a powerful woman to your sexual fantasy is dismissive.

Jill said...

I'm on Nell's side here. Taking a producer of a successful show and then saying THAT's why you'd listen to her pitch? Sorry, I'm done reading here.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Wow, you guys really aren't getting Ken's humor today, are you?

emily said...

Someone forgot to take their meds this morning...

Steve the Creep said...

I'm with Nell and Jill, Ken.

How dare you force Zooey Deschanel to take that picture and post it in a public forum! She is an actress, do you really thing she should be judged on her appearance? Shame! SHAME!!!

Anonymous said...

I've got my new screensaver...

Wannabe Producer said...

Anonymous said...
I've got my new screensaver...

Me too! Man, ALF was fantastic!

And now I've got my spec pilot all worked out: Unite and reboot two beloved franchises on TV: Star Trek: Alien Life Form. Alf boards the USS Enterprise F, bringing space adventures and intergalactic comedy back to TV!

There we go! Now I can be a useless producer as well! I can even give notes!

chuckcd said...

I laughed as soon as I saw the Alf photo.

The Zooey photo received a different reaction.

ScottyB said...

Funny you should mention 'Alf'. How many critics gave 'Mr. Belvedere' (starring the venerable Bob Uecker being his damn-great self out of the radio booth as he was in it) a snowball's chance in hell of even being remotely funny, much less a fairly strong show for ABC for a few seasons?

Sometimes you don't have to be stellar and re-slice bread. Sometimes you just gotta be actually *funny*, both in your casting and writing, and ride the train however short the tracks might end up being.

Jeffro said...

If you're thinking that Zooey Deschanel picture is a photo-shop job, you're right. The original is here.

Jim said...

As atonement for his insensitivity to women, tomorrow Ken will be posting erotic photos of Glen and Les Charles and James Burrows. Next week: Ken himself will model the 2014 men's Speedo line for us.

Ken Levine said...

I guess I should just put a disclaimer in my bannerhead stating this is a HUMOR blog. The Zooey picture was selected because it was the least appropriate business attire one could wear to a pitch meeting. I cold have used the Jason Segel frontal nude shot from the Sarah Marshall movie to make the same point. Of course then I would get angry comments questioning my masculinity.

This is a humor blog.

Phil In Phoenix said...

Ken, I find it very hard to believe that you could not have erected today's column without slipping in that picture of Zoey Deschanel.

I'm sure you thought it was an incredible stroke of genius. Maybe you thought it would pump up the hits to your site; pump them up big and hard.

But it turned out to be a big boner.

And while I tried to not let it arouse deep feelings inside me, I can't help but think of the Jills and Nells and Zoeys out there and take the matter into my own hands and tell you the picture is dirty. It's a DIRTY picture and she's a DIRTY BAD girl for posing like that!

Maybe I'm alone here, but I feel a great sense of self-gratification for releasing my pent-up frustrations over that picture. I'll get off now. I'm done.

nell said...

Oh no. You don't get to hide behind "humor" on this one. Your blog does not exist in a historical vacuum, Ken. The fact is you DIDN'T use the Jason Segal shot and I argue you wouldn't because it's not as funny. Why isn't it funny? Because it's more "fun" for you to think of women as sexual objects. Most men agree with you. This is demeaning to Zooey Deschanel and the fact that you can't see that is even sadder than you posting it originally.

(As a side note, I find it interesting that Michael who wrote the original question ONLY cited females as getting deals. Lots of male actors get them, too, but perhaps we don't question them as much.)

Butthead said...

But it turned out to be a big boner.

You said boner.

Pat Reeder said...

I liked Nell better when she was speaking a make-up language nobody could understand.

Ann said...

@ Jim: Stop that! You just made me spray Diet Sprite across my desk.

Richard J. Marcej said...

Reading some of the comments here, I started to think I'd inexplicably clicked onto a You Tube post instead. Wow, there's an image enforcing a joke on a blog written by a humor writer and it's that of a *gasp* scantly clad woman!!!

Thankfully there aren't many sites on the entire World Wide Web that feature image of half naked men or women. Whew!

(by the way Nell, that's sarcasm)

Michael said...

As the person who wrote the original question, I only listed females as examples because they are the only ones I remember reading about on some entertainment websites. I am not in the entertainment industry so don't follow pilot deals that closely. As an outsider, it just struck me as odd that people I only know of as actresses were getting multiple pilot deals.

RG said...

I agree!! Zooey is such a serious actress, producer, musician she REFUSED to pose for that photo. In fact, I heard Fox hired the US government in an act of rendition, took her to a black ops site, drugged her, forced her into those clothes, sans panties, and placed her in that exact pose. If you notice in the photo she is not smiling because she is not even awake! Nell and Jill -- tell me where to sign up for your blog because I will be all over THAT! Please call it And that will show all those pussies out there.

Butthead said...

And that will show all those pussies out there

You said pussies.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

"Reading some of the comments here, I started to think I'd inexplicably clicked onto a You Tube post instead."

Ahahahaha! Admittedly, these comments are cracking me up.

Seriously people, I don't get the deal is... hasn't Zooey actually appeared nude in a couple of movies before? Wasn't she a recurring fixture on a raunchy cable series within the previous decade or so? And doesn't everybody already think Zooey's a hotsy-totsy in spite of this "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" stigma she has placed on her?

Ken's just making a point in a humorous manner: matter of fact, Ken, didn't you write about a pilot you and David Isaacs were pitching to FOX, and among the notes that were sent back on your script, didn't one of them request you just throw a hot girl into the story, didn't matter who she was, as long as there was a hot girl in the story?

I think Ken's point was basically nobody's going to really pay much attention to any kind of pitch in this day and age unless something about a hot dame grabs their attention.

nell said...

Thanks for lecturing me about comedy, Richard. Being a female, I obviously don't know anything about that subject.

Aaron Sheckley said...

A) It's not Zooey, it's a photoshopped photo.

B) For those that scream "exploitation" every time Ken shows a photo like this; I've scrutinized these photos and nowhere have I seen a gun being held to the actress/model's head to pose like that. For God's sake, you can't get Miley Cyrus to stop lolling her tongue around in every photo taken of her like some deranged cow with BSE. Is she a poor naive waif being exploited? I wonder who is actually being exploited here; is it the poor girl who is being pushed into appearing half naked for men's pleasure, or is it the famous actress/model/singer who is exploiting the men's desire to look at her boobs, thereby enriching her fame and finances? I think in the entertainment industry, there is plenty of exploitation to go around for both sexes, and both sexes are reaping huge rewards from it. Lena Dunham can't keep her clothes on in her show; is she being exploited, even though she's actually the producer and writer of the show? Or is she just an attention whore who knows that, for the moment, people will tune in to her show just to see her nude? For these women that do pose like this willingly, and do in fact make a boatload of cash doing it, would your solution be to forbid them from doing it, because you feel that it exploits them, even though they personally don't feel that way?

But yes, that moral outrage tastes sooooooo sweet, doesn't it?

nell said...

I will quote Gloria Steinem after she was asked about Miley Cyrus in response to Aaron Sheckley:

"I wish we didn’t have to be nude to be noticed ... But given the game as it exists, women make decisions. For instance, the Miss America contest is in all of its states ... the single greatest source of scholarship money for women in the United States. If a contest based only on appearance was the single greatest source of scholarship money for men, we would be saying, "This is why China wins." You know? It’s ridiculous. But that’s the way the culture is. I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists."

Aaron Sheckley said...

You're making my point for me, Nell. I didn't say that it was right or wrong; my point was that women take as much advantage of "the way things are" as do men. Saying that the culture needs to be changed is like saying that winter is too cold and needs to be warmer. If you truly believe there will ever be a time when men don't want to look at nude women, and will exploit women for that purpose, and that there won't be scads of nude women willing to profit from that, and exploit men for that purpose then I admire your optimism. Both Lena Dunham AND Sonia Sotomayor can make choices about how they want to conduct their lives, and both can be equally correct.

As for Steinem saying that we blame women for taking advantage, she speaks for herself, not for me. I don't blame someone like Miley Cyrus for exploiting herself for profit, but it seems like maybe YOU want to blame them for conducting themselves is a way that you find personally offensive.

Igor said...

nell quoted Gloria Steinem as saying: "For instance, the Miss America contest is in all of its states ... the single greatest source of scholarship money for women in the United States. If a contest based only on appearance was the single greatest source of scholarship money for men, we would be saying, 'This is why China wins.' You know? It’s ridiculous."

So, the Miss America contest is "the single greatest source" of scholarship money for women. Hmmm.

Well, even if that is so, I would then ask, "What is 'the single greatest source' of scholarship money for men?" And I'd betcha that, whatever the answer to that is, that source is also open to women on an equal basis.

IOW, we have sources of scholarship money for both men and women, and then there's this other pot of scholarship money that excludes men/is only available to women.

Also, I'd suggest that - assuming for the sake of discussion that it's meaningful to segregate scholarship money onto "the single greatest source" - one could argue that the correct answer to that would actually be: Title IX.

As for the photos, nell, do you think the photo of Jason Segal would have been (a) more funny, or (b) equally funny?

Mike Schryver said...

Maybe people who think it isn't possible to present a humorous take on sexual stereotypes should avoid this blog.
And Ken, what was with all those jokes on MASH? Don't you know that war is a serious business and people get killed? How dare you treat it lightly?
And you worked on a comedy set in a bar? Don't you know that alcoholism is a serious problem? What's wrong with you?

Richard J. Marcej said...

You sign your post Nell. How am I supposed to know that you're a female? What, Nell is a woman's name?
How do I know that's your real name? Signing a comment on the internet with just a one word name could EASILY not be a person's real name.

And I had to point out what humor was, since if I'm to take what you wrote in your earlier posts to be truthful, you obviously missed the humor on Ken's blog entry.

DBenson said...

If memory serves, Gary Coleman -- then still a kid -- had some kind of deal and his company did a television bio of Evita Peron.

R. said...

You can learn a lot about comedy writing on this blog. Something you can learn about yourself is this: if anything you read or see in this blog offends you, causes you to take to your keyboard with indignation, makes you want to storm out of this virtual room, then do yourself a favor and don't become a comedy writer. Not for television. If this blog upsets you, you're not going to last till noon in a writer's room. Writers say a lot of things, much of it politically incorrect, much of it inappropriate, much of it shocking, much of it silly and juvenile. It's just a part of how comedy writing for television works. Write screenplays instead. Or essays. Write a humor blog. Just stay out of the writer's room, 'k?

Mike said...

All these comments bring up a question:

Did you ever get complaints from MADD about Cheers?

I think that would make a good SNL skit, or perhaps even a whole show.

McAlvie said...

yeah, Alf was definitely a surprise. The Neighbors remind me a lot of that show. It's so not in my usual taste, but somehow it gets me anyway.

And I've been meaning to say, Ken, that I well remember Almost Perfect and really enjoyed that show. It had a great cast all around.

Bill said...

Nell is just upset the California Supreme Court tossed her lawsuit against the producers of Friends.

bmcmolo said...

Holy God, people. These reactionary shouts of "sexism!" and tired arguments proceeding from false premises are reductive to ACTUAL SEXISM. Good lord.

Everyday I see or read something new that convinces me we are now a society arguing about proper representation of pictures of trees while cutting the actual rainforest down.

Johnny Walker said...

I seriously can't imagine you posting a nude picture of Jason Segel and then writing:

"If Jason Segel showed up for meetings dressed like this I'd certainly hear his pitch."

thomas tucker said...

I agree with Nell and Jill. Nothing is funny, becasee it is always at someone else's expense. Down with humor. Power to the humorless!

Anonymous said...

Wasn't that joke in "Volunteers" stolen?
Plimpton's "just let me have this one fantasy" joke.
Please correct me if I'm wrong, because all these years I thought you stole that joke, since I'd heard other comedians do it a couple years before onstage. When I heard it said by Plimpton, I thought "holy crap. they didn't just do that, did they?"
I knew the punchline word-for-word before it was said.

Igor said...

Johnny Walker said...

I seriously can't imagine you posting a nude picture of Jason Segel and then writing:

"If Jason Segel showed up for meetings dressed like this I'd certainly hear his pitch."

Wait, wait, wait. You can't IMAGINE Ken doing that?

I mean, it's not a pretty image, but... (gimme a second...) I can IMAGINE it.

Paul Duca said...

I read that ALF was a hellish show for the (human) cast. The main set had 14 open holes in the floor for ALF and his puppeteer, Paul Fusco. So the cast had to make sure they didn't fall into them during rehearsal or taping.

Anonymous said...

Nell, if men and women were treated equally, a hell of a lot of great-looking women would be living in homeless shelters. Because many are morons and annoying to be around, and have no specific talents except for their ability to deliver amazing blow jobs on request.
If men and women were treated equally in the entertainment field, I for one would miss Salma Hayek, Ben Affleck's wife, the redhead with the big tits on "two broke girls," Jessica Alba, Brad Pitt's wife, and the list goes on.

Albert said...

It was funny. But I feel horrible that Zooey was forced to pose so provocatively for such a sexist photo JUST so someone like me would someday get a laugh out of it.

And Nell? Here's a simple solution: if this blog and its attempts to "hide behind humor" offend your sensibilites so, then DON'T FUCKING READ IT. Go somewhere else where you don't come into contact with horrible people like ourselves.

We won't take it personally, honest.

Anonymous said...

Quiet Jim said...
"To whom it may concern; If you cannot see the Zooey picture it's worth the effort of a couple extra clicks even though it looks photo shopped"

Zooey has always creeped me out. I can't get my penis behind a girl who tries to affect an expression of the perfect inflatable doll in every photo she's in.

I mean, who does that? Who poses in every picture as if they're expecting that picture to be jizzed on?

To begin with, how cynical does Zooey have to be about men to make that her standard pose? Second, how could she make a career out of doing that without wanting to kill herself eventually? How do some women live like that?

"Hi, I'm Zooey. I paid my mortgage with lonely man jizz. Nice to meet you."

Kevin said...

Some people are just dying to be offended.

Anonymous said...


"This is demeaning to Zooey Deschanel and the fact that you can't see that is even sadder than you posting it originally. "

What is demeaning for Zooey Deshanel is to wear a hairstyle that usually prepubescent girls wear, while opening her eyes wider than they usually are, to create the illusion of being a prepubescent female.

She attempting to be the Irish version of a Japanese blowup doll. If anyone is actively and effectively demeaning women, it's Zooey.

By the way, Nell, do you shave your legs? If so, why?

Chip Keyes said...

I agree with Nell, about 75%. (I found the photo pleasant and a little erotic. As it was originally intended to be.) AND I got that Ken's use of it made a point, even if it was an easy joke, mainly for the guys. (Sorry Ken.) What I DON'T get is all the responses (mainly from men as far as I can tell) self-righteously invoking the demons of political correctness, censorship and hyper-over-sensitivity in response to Nell's perfectly reasonable & fairly respectful comment. Why so defensive gentlemen? (And I won't even address the endless crappy whacking-off jokes & puns.) Ken's a big boy and a pro, he can take it. That was generally a knee-jerk over-defensive over-response, fellow fellows, aimed at an undeserving (surrogate?) target. (Same for the person who implied he or she was now through with the blog.) Black & white moralizing polarization. What should have been a brief, interesting dialogue on a joke choice turned into a very petty (reactionary) spat on both ends.

Ken Levine said...


No reason this discussion has to sink to name calling or trashing people whether it's Nell or Zooey.

I'm going to have to start deleting comments if they get too mean. Or too anonymous.

Play nice, kids.

RCP said...

Frankly, I'm upset that you didn't post a full nude frontal of Jason Segel. I may continue reading this blog or not - you're on probation, Ken.

Nell and Jill: Sexism most definitely exists - and it's easy to have fun with it if you've never experienced it yourself - but there is such a thing as context and choice and choosing your targets appropriately.

Hamid said...

Well, this has certainly proved a lively Friday Questions. Here's my 2 cents (or 2 pence, as I'm in the UK).

A mild joke about an attractive actress does not amount to regarding women in totality as sex objects. Basing a woman's value purely on her looks is of course wrong. But saying you find her sexy and that you like looking at attractive women is not only normal, it's hardwired into us from evolution. And guess what, folks, none of us would be here if men didn't like looking at women. Some people have conflated sexism with even just saying you're attracted to a woman..

And how come Kate Bush, Joan Armatrading, Aretha Franklin and Joni Mitchell have managed to have long careers and sell millions of albums without taking their clothes off? On the flip side, even after selling hundreds of millions of albums, Madonna still thinks exposing a nipple is really shocking and subversive, while there are those of us who think she's just a tired hasbeen who's outstayed her welcome by about 15 years.

Finally, let's put this into perspective. A mild joke about a sexy actress on a humor blog written by a highly accomplished comedy writer doesn't make me angry and indignant. Girls in islamic countries having their genitals mutilated and being forced to cover themselves head to toe and marry men in their 50s makes me angry and indignant.

As for Miley's habit of sticking out her tongue, are we sure she hasn't got Tourette's? Oh shit, now I'll be accused of making an insensitive joke about people with tic disorders.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

"Some people are just dying to be offended."

There you go. Kevin summed it all up.

Really, it almost seems as if people just LOOK for reasons to be offended by something... not to plug, but I recently posted about this very subject on my own blog a while back about how overly-sensitive people get so uber-offended by something insignificant that was intended to be humorous by pretending to boycott McDonald's over their Mighty Wings commercial in which one of the football players blurts out, "I hate puppets!" because I'm a puppeteer. I COULD be offended by that for being a puppeteer, but I'm not, because I have a sense of humor... but people out there DO get all worked up over things like this.

As for Ken's choice in a picture of Zooey to post on his blog... ya know, personally, if he posted one of the thousands of pictures in existence of her in her short shorts or mini skirts wearing her black tights, I'd be sold, but that's besides the point.

What I find ironic is everybody's complaining about the pic of Zooey Ken posted today... but this is EXACTLY what's all over TV today: sex, sex, and more sex, and yet NOBODY is complaining about THAT... so how is that women are always displayed in provocative manners all over TV and in movies and it's "entertainment", but Ken posts a provocative picture of Zooey on his blog and funnily points out that this is how entertainment sells today, and all of this sudden he's a sexist bully?

Come on, isn't this like that SNL skit where John Edwards, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel all wanted to make Hillary Clinton look bad during their live debate, but at the same time, wanted to avoid looking like obvious sexist bullies?

Dan Ball said...

Ken, I've got a GREAT Friday question. Maybe so good it's worth its own post...?

Here it goes:

With production equipment and means of distribution (Youtube, Vimeo, etc.) becoming so accessible, why would someone still try to "make it" in Hollywood, rather than carve out this new frontier of entertainment right where they're at?

To me, it seems like it would only take manpower and maybe some money from sponsors to generate enough capital to start a small web sitcom or other series anywhere in the world. They may not be perfect at first, but the cheap format lends itself to trial and error. Really, if you generate enough interest in your content and it 'goes viral', you've basically got it made, right?

Hope that's some good blog fodder for a rainy day, aside from the Zooey Deschanel. My favorite part of her is her roots: her dad's AMAZING cinematography on THE RIGHT STUFF and THE NATURAL. NEW GIRL's not bad, though.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Dan Ball

The problem with the internet is there's no promises or guarantees you're going to get any notice; in fact, producing content for the internet is always a big gamble.

The pros of the internet is that you have the creative freedom to do what you want to, but the cons are you're only getting a limit audience, and there's not a lot of room for originality... people don't go to the internet for original content, they want to see something that can't obtain on DVD or isn't on TV anymore. Almost everybody has TV, and people still go to the movies, but not everybody has internet, let alone computers or cell phones (particularly the elderly and poor people).

But getting back to being successful on the internet, that's really only possible because you have to pay people to get your noticed. Look at all the internet celebrities on YouTube, they're "famous" because they paid YouTube to make them famous. But for other people, it doesn't work so well; I've been producing content for the internet for the past six years, and I've barely been noticed... in fact, this past year, I've really tanked in audience and viewership, mainly because YouTube has messed up the entire site beyond comprehension (that and I refuse to give them any kind of support since they don't care about the people).

Non Anonymous said...

"But I feel horrible that Zooey was forced to pose so provocatively for such a sexist photo JUST so someone like me would someday get a laugh out of it."

It's an obvious photoshop job, genius.

LOT of overly-defensive, one might even say shrill, responses in this thread to one quite mild and reasonably-stated criticism. I think some of you easily-wounded keyboard warriors need to grow a sturdier pair.

Ralph C said...

Back in 1985 or 1986 I received a phone call from NBC about watching a pilot for a new TV show, then they would call me back and asked me my thoughts about the episode. When they call me back I told them that I thought it was awful I didn't like it and I think the show would make it on the air. That show? "Alf".

nell said...

The fact that Ken hasn't taken down the (apparently phony) photo despite a colleague's objections is further proof of how sexist this industry is.

But I'm done. It's hard to argue with a man who is willing to stand by a "joke" that works against his own daughter.

ALF said...

Open letter to Planet Earth,

What's the deal with you people? On the one hand, ya got these females who wear these nutzoid uniforms and strike these comedic come-on poses, and yet they're powerful 'cause they're rich TV stars with companies.

On the other hand, you've got other Earth females on street corners and nightclubs doin' about the same thing for a lot less money and prestige. I'll bet they don't even have production companies!

Even weirder, when you Earth males give a hearty salute to these ladies' strategic use of their bits and pieces, some other ladies (including Dudley Do-Right's horse-lovin' girlfriend) climb on boxes and stand behind podiums sayin' you guys are doin' somethin' wrong, 'cause wavin' your butt at the son of a failed TV talk show host and stickin' out your tongue is some brave and bold kinda art or somethin' and it deserves respect and reverence.

Then there's this tubby guy on another TV show who likes to make movies with his pasty butt in 'em but he doesn't dress in wacky stuff like the other ladies or get all contorted like 'em. What's that big doughy dude got to do with the price of eggs?

I don't get any of it.

Why can't all the planets just get along?

By the way, Ken, thanks for postin' one of my best nude shots.

But ya better take me seriously. I posed that way because the script called for it. That doesn't mean you should be aroused by it, you earth sexist! I have a successful production company! You're all tryin' to exploit me!

I have a brain, too!

In fact, my brain was given to me by the supreme leader of my planet Melmac.

ZOOEY, the Great and Powerful.

D. McEwan said...

Now, now. Speaking as a gay man, there's a major difference between a near-nude photo of Zooey and a nude photo of Jason Siegel. Zooey is sexy. Jason is NOT! You'd need to use a nude shot of Hugh Jackman or Channing Tatum, or Ricky Martin, or some other attractive male to be fair there. I would not take a meeting with a nude Jason Seigel. I would take a long, long, long meeting with a nude Hugh Jackman. No calls.

I would definitely, happily, have sent MTM an envelope with three pennies in it. The fun in acceding to that ludicous demand (Given that it was their error, not yours) is that you know it would cost them more than three cents just to process it. Hell, the postage on their request must have been more than three cents. If I were really pissed off, I might have sent a note to whomever was the sender's boss, showing them just how much they were spending to try to get three cents.

Regarding hearing your own joke elsewhere: Just today I watched last night's The Colbert Report. On it, Stephen Fry said he was planning to write a sequel to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, to be titled 13th Night: Malvolio's Revenge

I wrote a sequel to Twelfth Night titled 13th Night: Malvolio's Revenge 20 years ago! We did a full-cast public reading of it in a theater in Santa Monica in 1993. I have the scripts. I have a video of the reading. I have numerous living witnesses.

Now it's probably a coincidence, yet... the play is dedicated to Barry Humphries. Barry read the play. He sent me a lovely letter praising it which is framed in my home. Barry knows Stephen Fry. They've worked together numerous times. In fact, they're both in The Hobbit. It's wholly possible, given that Stephen might well have mentioned to Barry that he was soon to play Malvolio on Broadway, that Barry might have menitoned my play to him in passing.

Anyway, I'm sending Fry the play with a note to the effect that I've saved him the trouble of writing it by already writing it back in 1993. I'll be curious to see how he responds.

(Back in 1980, a comedy sketch my partner and I wrote surprised the hell out of us by popping up on The Tonight Show, played identically by "The Mighty Carson Art Players." I know for a fact that Carson's stand-up comics booker had seen us play it onstage at The Comedy Store about two months before it materialized on The Tonight Show. What could we do against Johnny Carson, then the Godzilla of American comedy? Nil. All we could do was cut the sketch from our show.)

Greg Ehrbar said...

Steal or no steal?

From "The Honeymooners"
"TV or No TV" October 1, 1955

NORTON: When we flipped a coin, he won. He said before he flipped, he said, "Heads, I win, tails, you lose," and it was tails, and I lost. He won.

(ALICE gives RALPH a knowing glance.)

RALPH: Don't look at me like that. I learned that trick from you. That's how we got married!


From "I Love Lucy"
"In Palm Springs" April 25, 1955

RICKY: All right, so who's gonna go to Palm Springs?

LUCY: Either Ethel and I or Fred and you. Shall I flip the coin?

(Everyone agrees.)

LUCY: All right, heads we go, tails you stay.

RICKY: Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You're not gonna catch me with that again. That's how I happened to get married!

GC said...

Nell, i am not sure that "all women" will agree with you. Kristen Stewart tells you "the best way to get a job in Hollywood" (0:21)

Nell said...

I am not discussing all women. My only point in this forum is that Zooey Deschanel deserves to be taken seriously as a producer. For Ken to "jokingly" say that he'd only listen to her ideas if she were scantily clad is dismissive and sexist. . And by dismissing her, he perpetuates a negative stereotype that hurts all women.

Mike said...

> but reducing a powerful woman to your sexual fantasy is dismissive

If Ken created that picture, or suggested it, you would have a point.
You post Gloria Steinem's quote about changing the culture. Do you have anything to say about the type of work Zooey goes for?

Nell said...

Nope. She can go for any work she wants which includes producing TV shows.

ScottyB said...

It would serve everyone right if in next Friday's "answers" column, Ken posted a cheesecake shot of some amusing fat chick.

See how everyone likes that. As the lord can giveth, He can also taketh away.

Gift horses. Just sayin'.

YEKIMI said...

TV show re-boot: Alf returns, instead of eating cats, wants to eat Zooey Deschanel instead [Hey, Hey, HEY....get your mind out of the gutter, people!]

@Ken: If you had posted that frontal shot of Jason Segel you wouldn't have received any angry comments from me....I would have been too busy gouging my eyes out...and barfing.

Funny that she signed her posts "Nell". Wasn't Dudley Do-Right [a MAN] always rescuing Nell who couldn't keep herself out of trouble? If it had been a scantily clad picture of Roseanne, would Nell be complaining as loudly as she has been about Zooey?

Aaron Sheckley said...

Nell, you read Ken's blog selectively. He did NOT say that he would ONLY listen to Zooey Deschanel if she showed up to a pitch meeting dressed like that. He said, and I quote, "if Zooey Deschanel showed up for meetings dressed like this I'd certainly hear her pitch.” There's a difference. I don't believe that you are throwing out the idea that, if a nude attractive woman walked into a meeting, she wouldn't grab the attention of every man and woman in the room. You choose to rephrase Ken's words because it suits your purpose in trying to make your point. It WOULD be sexist if a man said that he wouldn't listen to a woman's ideas unless she was naked when they were presented. It's not sexist to say “wow, a naked woman giving a pitch would sure get my attention”.

Exploitation is the absence of consent. If a woman CHOOSES to project the image that is shown in that photoshopped picture (and even if it isn't Zooey, it's obviously some woman who we can assume willingly posed for that photo and was compensated for it), who are you to say that she is being exploited, or that it's sexist for a man or woman to be ogling her in a salacious way? That is the effect that she is trying to achieve by posing for the photo in the first place.

nell said...

You really want to split hairs between the word "only" and "certainly"? Let's be clear: Ken's big "joke' was that he would CERTAINLY be willing to hear a pitch from a woman who is 30 years younger than he if she showed up nearly naked. HAHAHA. See, it's funny because there's obviously nothing in her head that would interest him, but, hell yeah, he'd be happy to ogle her a professional situation!!!

Can't type anymore....laughing too hard....

Gimme A Break said...

Remember when Nell said she was "done?"

nell said...

It was a joke!

Actually, it wasn't. I wanted to be done but then people kept attacking me and talking about women being fat for some inexplicable reason so I felt I had to defend my original statement.

Storm said...

Way to prove that women can troll just as well as men. Great work. That is, if you're even actually a woman.

This whole pseudo-argument has set back actual feminism and made me ashamed to have a vagina. And I love my vagina.

Cheers, thanks a lot,


Hamid said...

Nell, do you think it's wrong and offensive when some women talk about how hot and sexy Bradley Cooper, David Beckham, Brad Pitt or One Direction look without their shirt on instead of talking about their acting, soccer and musical skills? And are the women who are over 40 and go to clubs to watch young male strippers disgusting and offensive for only being there to watch young guys strip instead of being there to talk to them about their opinions on the fiscal cliff and the Syrian crisis? Or is it only men who should be ashamed for saying they find someone attractive?

ALF said...

I notice Nell has no comeback for the clever puppet with the high ratings. Alienist!

404 said...


Ken, just wanted to say thanks for answering my questions.

Nell, for what it's worth, my objection isn't to you being upset at the picture he chose to post. It's that you went over the top with a knee-jerk reaction and basically branded Ken a sexist, misogynist pig. It's okay to take offense at a picture. Everyone has a line that they wish wouldn't be crossed, and when someone else crosses it it's natural to get upset.

But if you've been a long-time reader of this blog you'll know that Ken is anything but. He talks fairly and honestly about everyone in the business, regardless of their race, gender or background. The fact that he at the same time is a guy who enjoys pretty girls and occasionally makes a joke about it doesn't make him anything other than normal.

To call him out and say "Hey, you crossed a line for me, I wish you wouldn't do that" is fine. That's happened before. At times, Ken has even changed what he writes about (this blog used to have a lot more political jokes in it, for instance). But instead, you just labeled him a pig and seemed to move on. Based on one joke. Do you automatically do the same for everyone else who makes some sort of pretty-girl related joke? Because then you're left with old copies of Poor Richard's Almanac to keep you company, because you've just dismissed every other book, magazine, movie, TV show, radio program, or youtube video ever made.

Pat said...

Yeah, why is it okay to call people names but when they do, you can call them names (or infer negative labels)? When you accuse someone of awful things and assume intentions that are not their nature, you get huffy and offended when they do that (or you assume that) they do that to you?

The reason so many people are reacting to this thread is that we are all frustrated by this kind of attitude. It's what is making life difficult for millions of people of both genders. You're gunning for trouble and don't care about the true intentions of others.

The economy, the international situation, the government -- all of these things are issues, but what is tearing us all apart is the kind of people who use the illusion of righteous indignation and offense to discredit (and sometimes destroy) others.

Achieve something on your own hard work and merit. Don't trump up personal affronts to crush others and advance yourself.

I don't know you, Nell, and I don't know if you're consciously doing these things in your life and workplace. But there are millions who are doing it and much worse and millions who suffer because of it. People are using "offense" as a tool to quell competition and punish those they don't like. I see it happen again and again to countless people.

That's why there's such a massive outcry at your attack on Ken.

We feel helpless to really affect it any other way because of the kind of accusations you have leveled at him.
Anyone who disagrees with you has got to be wrong. Or worse. And you're going to make sure.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I bet Ken is sifting through all of these comments on this post, and thinking to himself, "Zach Braff, all over again..."

Remember that?

Ron Rettig said...

Reminds me of time in our teen years when my twin and I screened pilots (on 16mm film!)at home my dad brought in for our opinions. He was Pres of NBC production company California National Productions.

Hal said...

And yet another blog post disintegrates into insults, name-calling and idiocy, discouraging me and a lot of other people from digging through all the crap to find the sensible, intelligent posts.

jj said...

Friday question: Do you remember a time in a writers' room when someone got so offended by a comment or joke that it started a fight, or it created a big problem?

My Gal Sal said...

Gee "Hal," I wonder where you stand on this issue?

And isn't "idiocy" another way of calling people who don't agree with you "idiots?" Such name calling. How appalling! Good thing some of us and "a lot of other people" are above that.

Sarah Davis said...

I have to agree with Hal in that I do find it discouraging that internet comments forums tend to bring out the worst in many people. I suppose it's the anonymous nature of the whole thing. You can post remarks that make you come off like a total asshole, and you can do it feeling safe and secure that no one has any idea who you really are. Actually, Ken's blog is better than most. It doesn't happen that often here. I used to work with a man, very nice in person, who used to joke that his hobby was being an "internet asshole." He loved going to internet forums and saying and doing whatever he could to get people stirred up. He used to say that it was actually remarkably easy.

Regarding the whole Zooey Deschannel brouhaha here, all I can say is that it amazes me how humorless we have become, how quick to let our P.C. filter dictate to our sense of humor. How fast we are to let outrage completely obscure the point of a simple little joke. Sometimes I think we as a people all need to collectively lighten up

Hal said...

Gee "Hal," I wonder where you stand on this issue?

Where do I stand? I could care less about Zooey Deschannel. Where the photo is real or faked, her career is hardly suffering. I'm just amazed that a throwaway joke in the Friday Questions column could generate so much controversy, most of it of very little real substance.

My Gal Sal said...

And how about name calling?

Johnny Walker said...

If you expect someone to ignore something that offends them "because it's a joke", then you should equally be able to take their criticism without getting angry or offended yourself. Especially I'd you didn't write the piece in question!

I'm sure I speak for lots of readers who are too shy to face the onslaught of abuse that's been thrown around when I say: Yeah, I didn't like that joke either. It was crass at best and sexist at worst. Either way it irked me long before someone voiced it.

Is Ken a horrible human being? No, he's unfaultingly kind, patient and generous. But nobody called anything into question other than his judgement.

jbryant said...

Nell wrote: "For Ken to 'jokingly' say that he'd only listen to her ideas if she were scantily clad is dismissive and sexist."

Nell, you may find it distasteful or annoying to "split hairs" about the word "only" in that sentence, but splitting hairs is rather necessary in cases like this. That one little word completely alters Ken's apparent intent. Also, putting "jokingly" in quotes doesn't negate the fact that he was making a joke. Technically, it may even be a sexist joke, but I'd say a harmless one in context. Certainly not one that hurts all women, including Ken's daughter. If this were a female sitcom writer's blog and she made the same joke about one of the TRUE BLOOD hunks, I'm guessing no outcry from you, just like you didn't seem to object when D. McEwen adapted the joke to a gay context by swapping out Zooey for Hugh Jackman. There are sexist jokes that are truly vile, and then there are those that simply acknowledge that humans find other humans desirable. I think Ken's fell in the latter camp; you clearly don't. Somehow the republic will stand. But I really do think it calls for a lot of extrapolation to be as offended by this as you are.

Cathryn Louis said...

Umm... Zooey took the picture. And I would imagine she is proud of it. It's a great shot. Believe me, if I could take a shot like that, I would - and still expect to be taken seriously as a novelist, because that's what I do. She expects to be taken seriously as an actor /writer/producer, and she should. The shot is part of her portfolio. Nothing more, nothing less. It would be naive to think it doesn't have at least the same chance of opening doors as any other of the components.

Now to my question. I've already mentioned that I'm a novelist. I think of my story as a collection of scenes and I spend a lot of time on aspects that are considered as belonging more to script writing, such as dialogue and scene setting. Do you know any novelists who write that way? Are they successful? I ask because I'm at a crossroads of sorts. I like the way I write, but the pressure I'm getting from peers is to change it.

Jason Matthews said...

Friday Question:

Hey Ken,

From reading your blog, I get a sense that you still have some great comedic chops.

Just curious, if the right project arose, would you ever consider leaping out of retirement and returning to a writer's room as a consulting producer?

Cassandra Bryce said...

Hey Ken,

I was just curious to know your thoughts on "talent" and if you think such a thing exists.

Talent refers to this innate ability to do something. However, there are renowned writers like David Mamet who say, "There's no such thing as talent, you just have to work hard enough."

When you watch a show that's unfunny that's on-air, it makes you think that success in show business will depend on two things: 1) Hard work (writing a lot, passion for the material, a thick skin, persistence) and 2) Luck (networking, getting people to actually read your material, knowing somebody in the business). Would you agree or disagree?

I really appreciate and love your blog.

Cassandra Bryce

D. McEwan said...

I can't believe there's arguing and name-calling going on in this thread and it isn't me doing it! Nell, being a pain in Ken's comments is MY gig! Where's Mama DeGarmo when we need her?

"Storm said...
This whole pseudo-argument has set back actual feminism and made me ashamed to have a vagina. And I love my vagina."

Storm my darling, we all love your vagina. Jason Seigel's junk, not so much.

nell said...

That insulting/hilarious photo is still up. Meanwhile...

Ken Levine said...

The insulting photo is not coming down.

Tom Swofford said...

Yes, Ken, take the photo down. You missed the memo where Nell was designated to speak for all women, everywhere.