Thursday, February 19, 2015

Actors I've worked with who won't remember me

Michael Keaton is getting a lot of Oscar buzz (despite winning a Golden Globe) and I can proudly say that I’ve written for him. But not in a big movie. He did a guest spot on FRASIER that David Isaacs and I wrote. And it got me thinking about all the major names I’ve worked with, especially as a director – but not in the projects they’re really known for. It’s like I’m in the shadow of everyone’s career. But here’s a partial list. Ready for some name dropping?

I directed an NBC sitcom in the ‘90’s called LATELINE. Among the folks I pushed around were now-senator Al Franken, Miguel Ferrier (I can't keep up on what series he's currently on), Megyn Price (RULES OF ENGAGEMENT), Sanaa Latham, Caroline Aaron, Michael McKean, soap opera star Lisa LoCicero, Bob Elliott (from Bob & Ray), Robert Reich (of all people), and Allison Janey.

I’ve had to direct sports stars. Karl Malone (not funny), Terry Bradshaw (sort of funny), Mike Ditka (what do you think?).

This year’s Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris was directed by me… in STARK RAVING MAD. Also in that cast was Tony Shaloub. Can you imagine a better pairing?

Lots of shows come and go. I hope my directing didn’t directly contribute to their demise. But check out some of these barely remembered series with great casts. I directed three episode of Kristin Chenoweth’s sitcom KRISTIN. In addition to working with her, I had the pleasure of giving acting notes to Jon Tenney (you’ve seen him in everything Miguel Ferrier is not in), Ana Ortiz (kicked ass in UGLY BETTY), and playwright Christopher Durang (like he needed me to tell him what’s funny).

Joan Plowright is one of the finest actresses to ever grace a stage. And yet, she was directed by me. That was in ENCORE ENCORE where I also worked with the great Nathan Lane, and Glenne Headly (DICK TRACY). 

How many of you remember PEARL? It starred Rhea Perlman and I “megged” that show. In the cast were Malcolm McDowell (the guy starred in a Stanley Kubrick film), Carol Kane, and Lucy Liu (now starring in ELEMENTARY).

I never directed Leah Remini in KING OF QUEENS, but I did direct her in FIRED UP. On that show I also worked with Jonathan Banks (BREAKING BAD), Dixie Carter, Sharon Lawrence, and Mark Feuerstein. Actually, I did two shows with Mark. FIRED UP might be the most well known of the two.

But CONRAD BLOOM, which starred Mark, also featured a rather nifty cast of Linda Lavin (Broadway royalty), the late comic genius, Steve Landesberg (BARNEY MILLER), Julie Benz (murdered horribly in DEXTER), and Gilmore Girl Lauren Graham.

I also worked with Julie in ASK HARRIET. Yes, my directing resume is impressive. Willie Garson (WHITE COLLAR) also toiled in that cast. And Ed Asner guested in both of my episodes. I never got to direct him in THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, just ASK HARRIET.

On my own show, ALMOST PERFECT, in addition to the amazing cast led by Nancy Travis (I was the showrunner, they had to tolerate me), we had Lisa Edelstein (HOUSE) as a frequent and hilarious guest. I also directed her in JUST SHOOT ME. Again, these are not shows any of these people are particularly known for. Tom Verica (now in HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER) played a porn star in one episode and Katherine LaNasa (lots of hour series that didn’t last) was an occasional guest, as was Talia Balsam (Mrs. George Clooney before Amal), and comedian Steven Wright. My note to Steve was “more energy.” Actually, it was “any energy.” But damn was he funny when the cameras rolled.

BECKER provided me the chance to work with a lot of great people you didn’t know were on BECKER. Comedians Gilbert Godfried and Avery Schreiber. Among the cast members were Shawnee Smith (SAW I-XIIVI), and Jorge Garcia (found on LOST). I also got to work with Brenda Vaccaro (celebrated movie star and one-time spokesperson for Playtex Tampons), reality star and jailbird Richard Hatch, and Nicolette Sheridan (happily, I’m not involved in any of her lawsuits).

A terrific show that got no love was IT’S ALL RELATIVE. I directed a bunch of those. And what a cast. Harriet Harris, John Benjamin Hickey (at the moment in THE GOOD WIFE), Chris Sieber, and Maggie Lawson (PSYCH). I had the privilege of working with Victor Garber (who came in the day before we shot with a large difficult role and just crushed it – I love that guy).

And just as you may not remember some of these shows, I’m sure a large portion of the actors and actresses I listed above don’t remember me. Well, Al Franken does. I gave to his campaign.

32 comments:

Carol said...

'How many of you remember PEARL?'

Oh! Me! I really liked that show. It had a sort of 'Educating Rita' vibe that I quite enjoyed. Billy Connelly guest-starred once, playing Malcolm McDowell's brother.

I liked that show and was sorry it didn't last.

Oat Willie said...

With "Pearl" I remember only one gag, with MacDowell explaining why no one would be excused from a test except for medical emergencies. "And let me define 'medical emergency'.(points to model skeleton)"He's taking the test".

Johnny Walker said...

Don't forget Timothy Leary (although maybe you didn't actually work with him directly).

And... anyone know what "megged" means? I don't think I trust the Urban Dictionary definition.

Stephen Lee said...

"Megged" probably refers to "megaphone" -- as in the device used by early directors to communicate to their cast and crew.

CarolMR said...

I certainly remember "Pearl" and "Encore Encore." I loved both shows and was surprised when they were cancelled.

Kosmo13 said...

FIRED UP was one of my favorite sitcoms. Well-done, Ken.

I saw every episode of Pearl and enjoyed it a lot. A few years ago, I told Malcolm Macdowell how much I liked the show. He said Rhea Perlman was great to work with, but, you're right, Ken, he didn't mention you.

Bob Sharp said...

I'm not sure I'd call the late Steve Landesberg a "comic genius." I saw him in the late 70s as the opening act for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. This took place in Cedar Falls, Iowa, at the University of Northern Iowa football stadium, the UNI Dome. His act was basically a series of Catholic and Irish jokes. He apparently thought he was at Notre Dame.

Maybe it was just a bad night for him. What the heck, he only missed it by two states and one domed stadium, but the jokes would have bombed in South Bend, too.

Tudor Queen said...

Thanks for that little tour, and a reminder that the entertainment world is filled with these marvelous connections.

Ok, I asked for Alfred Molina stories when you mentioned working with him on "Bran and Alice", and now I want Victor Garber stories, too. Two great actors about whom you never hear anything negative - I always want to know more about both.

Oh, and Malcolm McDowell seems like a person who's as interesting as he is talented.

Dan Ball said...

Ken, don't forget that a couple of Tom & Rita's kids probably don't know that you're responsible for them being on this earth due to VOLUNTEERS.

Roger Owen Green said...

So how far is Ken from Kevin Bacon, and how many different ways can we get there?

Chris said...

Regarding Christopher Durang not needing you to tell him what's funny. Perhaps not as a writer, but as an actor, definitely. I had to sit though a couple of his vanity appearances and can only compare his acting to that of Quentin Tarantino, another writer (director) who should stay away from the front of a camera. Anything you had to say to him could only improve what he brought to the floor.

Greg Thompson said...

FIRED UP was the first show my partner and I wrote on, Ken, and I remember you directing. I'm thrilled Kozmo13 lists it among his favorite sitcoms!

Anonymous said...

"Nicolette Sheridan (happily, I’m not involved in any of her lawsuits)" ....You are now.

Cap'n Bob said...

Megyn Price--ummmm.

kent said...

Ken,

For my restaurant suggestions in Beijing & Hong Kong see my comment under your 2/17 post (Bon Voyage).

vicernie said...

I am of a generation that can just remember Bob and Ray. their skits like the....slow....talkers....of.....America are comic gems. of all the names you mentioned, I'm most curious about Bob Elliott.

Frederick Andersen said...

I fondly remember ENCORE, ENCORE... what a great cast!

scott said...

Of all the people you've known the only one I've met was Ed Asner. I hope they were all as nice as he was.

Mark said...

In PEARL, didn't you also get to push Billy Connolly around (when he played Malcom McDowall's brother or cousin or something?

404 said...

I loved STARK RAVING MAD. I was really upset when that went off the air, and even though those two guys have done well for themselves since then, I always wished we could have had a couple of seasons, at least, out of that show.

benson said...

@Roger Owen Green,

I guess I have way too much time today....

Ken Levine (I) has a Kevin Bacon number of infinity.

Ken Levine (I) cannot be linked to Kevin Bacon using only feature films. Do you want to include documentaries or TV shows?

About 12% of all actors cannot be linked to the rest of the movie universe, either because they have appeared only in video games or straight-to-video releases that the Oracle doesn't count, or because they have not appeared in any films with actors from the Hollywood mainstream.


Ken Levine (I) has a Bacon number of 2.

Ken Levine (I)
was in
"Cheers" (1982) {Bar Wars VII: The Naked Prey (#11.19)}
with
Robert Desiderio
was in
"Search for Tomorrow" (1951)
with
Kevin Bacon

chuckcd said...

I think Miguel Ferrer is in
CSI:Sheboygan...

Johnny Walker said...

Bah. Even though I have an IMDB listing, I'm too obscure for the Oracle of Bacon :(

Anthony said...

As a big Survivor fan, I'd love to hear what Richard Hatch was like on the set.

Kosmo13 said...

Ken answered his own question about his Kevin Bacon connection by mentioning Ed Asner in "Ask Harriet."

Ed Asner and Kevin Bacon were both in JFK.

I concur with scott about Mr. Asner. He is a very fan-friendly gentleman.

Sarah said...

I love Stark Raving Mad. Such a weird little show with a strong cast. I wish that the two female leads got more work - have not seen them in anything since.

Sinclair Knight said...

Ken, have you seen Odd Couple 2015? I have watched less than n5 minutes and find it a horrible impersonation.

Anonymous said...

http://arstechnica.com/business/2015/02/cable-tv-is-speeding-up-its-shows-slightly-to-show-you-more-ads/

Hi Ken,
Not sure if you have heard of the above story before, I sure hadn't, but cable companies are speeding up shows to fit in more commercials.
I am trying to imagine Charles from MASH sped up, he would lose a lot that great timing and deliberate restraint even with just a small change to the speed.
Dave

VP81955 said...

Since you mentioned Kristin Chenoweth, this story on Broadway's little giant, who's in a revival of "On The Twentieth Century" in a role her idol Madeline Kahn originated on Broadway (the same character the lady in my avatar played on screen), will run in Sunday's New York Times Arts & Leisure section -- but you can see it now at
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/theater/kristin-chenoweth-as-a-30s-star-back-on-broadway.html?_r=2

cd1515 said...

saw "directed by Ken Levine" on a Raymond rerun tonite, did you do a lot of those episodes?
have you talked about that show much here?

Loosehead said...

Wasn't Lisa Edelstein in an episode of Frasier, howling at the moon?

Ger Apeldoorn said...

So how come you only directed smart shows? Did you go after them or they after you?