Monday, January 05, 2015

How I got to be a TCM host

Now that my TCM intros have begun airing, thought I’d share with you the process. A few quick points:

At least I didn’t look fat.

Yes, that’s my real hair color. I’ve never dyed my hair. No. Really.

Oops. They misspelled FRASIER, but that will be corrected for this Friday.

I think my best work Friday night was the outro to COME BLOW YOUR HORN, which aired at 2:00 AM in the East. Next week I hope to do my best work earlier.

So how did this come about? I had written a tribute piece to Neil Simon last May. He truly is one of my idols, and if you’re a young comedy writer you NEED to read and learn from his work. I guess some folks at TCM are fans of this blog because when they were looking for someone to host the film festival someone over there thought of me. Having been a screenwriter and playwright myself helped I’m sure, as did the fact that I called baseball games on TV and have been on camera (don’t tell anybody that it’s been quite a few years though). In any event, when they approached me I was thrilled and honored. This was probably early fall.
Do I actually know Neil Simon? Yes, and mostly no. I was at the 20th Century Fox commissary one day having lunch with Larry Gelbart and he walked in. He joined us for about ten minutes. But we really connected during those ten minutes. Or was it five? And then about ten/twelve years ago we both worked out at the same gym and I would see him every week. (I’ll pause while you do your jokes about writers going to a gym.) He was casting a play, I recommended one of the actors from ALMOST PERFECT, Matthew Letscher. He ended up going with Matt and was thrilled with the result (natch). So Neil was very grateful and we would chat from time to time.

I wonder if Neil watched any of the Friday Night Spotlight last Friday, saw me, and said, “Hey, that’s the schmuck from the gym!”  A guy can dream. 
TCM began assembling the films. They asked if I had any favorites I wanted included and I did. THE HEARTBREAK KID (original version -- the new version sucks). It wasn’t originally on their schedule but they procured it. Once the line-up was finalized they sent me DVD’s of all seventeen selected films. So I had my own Neil Simon festival in September.  (You should've stopped by.)  I reread his memoirs and tracked down facts about the various movies. I was also encouraged to offer personal reflections and anecdotes.

I then worked with a terrific TCM producer, Anne Wilson, and together we wrote the scripts for the intros and outros.

I tried to fill them with interesting facts, stories you might not have heard, a look into the creative process, an opinion or two, and you know me – some cheap laughs.

I was doing all of this while my play A OR B? was in rehearsals and previews at the Falcon Theatre so I was crafting the TCM wraparounds while rewriting the play each night. Oh, and writing the blog. It was a busy time. My Tetris scores suffered terribly.

The play’s run ended mid November and two days later I was on a plane to Atlanta to tape them.

TOMORROW: The actual taping.

27 comments:

Dan Ball said...

When I was in fourth grade, I got to host the kids' cartoons in the mornings and afternoons on the local FOX affiliate after I placed second in a costume contest at a scifi convention. My dad had made a kickass homemade Darth Vader costume for me. I probably would've placed first had it not been for that pesky Klingon family.

Originally, I was going to host Next Generation re-runs that aired at 11:30 at night, but they decided to put me on in the afternoons. That was probably best. The next few weeks at school, I was the big man on campus that way. ("Hey, are you that Darth Vader guy?" "Why, yes. Yes, I am.") It led to a repeat gig a year later too. Then, for fears of being typecast, I hung up the helmet. (Actually, I put it up for safe-keeping because it had been autographed by David Prowse!)

Ken, too bad they didn't make you dress like Neil Simon. At least you got the glasses. :)

unkystan said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for getting TCM to show "The Heartbreak Kid". I've been searching in vain for years to see it again. Why this classic is not on DVD (but the crappy Ben Stiller version is) is a mystery. And I can't wait for your insights on it. What a nice (late) Chanukah present!

Scooter Schechtman said...

I don't share in your satisfaction about the TCM spot. Saturday's "Underground" film was 1982's "Escape From New York", next week's will be Chuck Norris' 1982 "Forced Vengeance". It's the Spike Channel.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Feel for the employees at TCM who - along with sister Turner stations CNN, TNT and TBS - are undergoing significant staff cuts as part of Time Warner's belt-tightening. I'm sure the producer you worked with would be thrilled if you gave him/her a shout-out by name. Couldn't hurt if he/she needs to look for a job. Ted Turner still curses the day he agreed to sell Turner to TW.

Kirk said...

I have several Friday Questions, all interrelated.

Have you read Norman Lear's recent autobiography EVEN THIS I GET TO EXPERIENCE? If so, what did you think of it? Have you ever met Norman Lear? If so, what did you think of him?

Hamid said...

One of your idols took your recommendation of an actor AND was happy with the results! Talk about a home run! Well done!

Any chance of the intros and outros being made available on Youtube for those of us who aren't in the States or don't have TCM?

Hamid said...

Scooter, John Carpenter's Escape from New York IS a classic.

But I agree re. Chuck Norris.

Patty said...

Ken, I don't doubt about your hair color. My mother is in her 60s and without a gray hair in her head. Just as dark as it ever was. Completely natural. She does nothing to the color. Many people refuse to believe her, of course.

Casey C said...

Yay TCM! Thanks for sharing your Neil Simon knowledge!

James Van Hise said...

I'm glad that TCM isn't just recycling what they've already shown before. Lots of old films in their line up, especially during the day. Encore Westerns had been showing a terrible print of the Errol Flynn film San Antonio, and then a couple months ago TCM premiered a newly restored print with spectacular technicolor which made it look like a brand new movie.

Kate Coe said...

I want all the Ken, all the time. Between your radio show and this--we're getting closer to the 24 hour Ken cycle.

Toledo said...

It's interesting to me that TCM tapes their intros in Atlanta. I always assumed that Robert Osbourne was in "Hollywood" when he was introducing his movies.

normadesmond said...

this will sound wrong,
but "the heartbreak kid"
is such a good picture,
i sometimes forget that
simon wrote it.

William Kelliher said...

Ken, I am so glad you got to do this. Your knowledge of films and baseball is astounding and I love your sense of humor. I'll be seeing Rick Rizzs in a couple of weeks, should I say "hello" to him for you?

Ken Levine said...

William,

Absolutely say hi to Rick. GREAT guy and wonderful announcer. Give him my best.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Toledo: Some years back TCM built a studio blocks from Robert Osborne's NYC apartment - appropriately in the Osborne Building - due to his advancing years and some health issues. He's the crown jewel and face of the network and, in my opinion, irreplaceable.

chalmers said...

There's an anecdote from the recent Al Michaels autobiography that ties together a few of these subjects.

When he got his first MLB gig with the Cincinnati Reds, they had the new guy go around to the local affiliates' morning shows. The host of the NBC show was Phil Donahue, but his studio was in Dayton.

He connected best with the CBS affiliate's host who was great on-air, and sometimes brought along his baseball-crazed son.

The host was Nick Clooney, and decades later, he saw the grown-up son, George, across the room at some benefit dinner. Not surprisingly, Michaels' wife urged him to walk over and re-introduce himself, but Al felt it would be awkward.

Then, George walked over to their table and asked, "Why did you ever leave Cincinnati?!"

VP81955 said...

I get a bit of delight from seeing someone I've actually met intro -- and outro -- a film on TCM (though the time I spent with you at an "A Or B" performance in November was probably shorter than the time you talked with Neil Simon). Glad to hear the "Frasier" flub-up will be fixed this Friday.

Meanwhile, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the Rams will return to Los Angeles (OK, Inglewood, but at least it wouldn't be in Orange County)...although as someone who saw Washington teased by MLB year after year before it became obvious it was the only place to relocate the Montreal Expos, I'll believe it when I see it.

Mark Solomon said...

As great as the film is, I agree with your statement on the TCM broadcast that the TV series defines "The Odd Couple."
Do you have a favorite episode? I have a favorite subset of episodes...those in which Felix and Oscar end up in a courtroom setting, with Felix playing lawyer (I think there might have been five overall).

Looking forward to getting your thoughts.

Scooter Schechtman said...

I'm thinking of "When you ASSUME..."

Johnny Walker said...

Holy cow. To think this was all going on while you were working on A or B! You have some stamina and fortitude there, Ken. Wow. I get stressed out just meeting my girlfriend's parents.

The obvious question that leaps to mind is... Can anyone of the blog loyal see these intros and outros without TCM?

Congrats again.

Mark S. said...

Plus he had time to be interviewed for this article...

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/01/why-so-many-tv-writers-turn-to-theater-and-vice-versa/384133/

Doug said...

Ken,

I enjoyed your spots on TCM Friday. I would also like to applaud you for having the gumption to suggest that Tony Randall and Jack Klugman are the definitive Odd Couple. Personally, I think it's Demond Wilson and Ron Glass. I kid.... Considering that you just spooled the movie version, that was fairly brave. That said, Matthau and Lemmon are fabulous. Matthau especially, could say so much just by arching his eyebrow or furrowing his forehead. A lost art, sad to say.

scott said...

I haven't seen The Heartbreak Kid in 40 years. I remember Eddie Albert was hilarious in it. You can't find it on DVD.

Barry Traylor said...

About the color of your hair Ken, I was wondering about that until I remembered I had a friend that had black hair and it barely got any grey in it well into his 80's. I used to tease him about it asking him if he used shoe polish on it. And by the way I am enjoying your work on TCM.

Shay said...

I would also like to applaud you for having the gumption to suggest that Tony Randall and Jack Klugman are the definitive Odd Couple.

I'm sure that's only until we see Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon's interpretations of Oscar and Felix in the upcoming CBS reboot of The Odd Couple.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with being fat, Ken?