Sunday, October 21, 2018

Hollywood Tours

Tourism is always big in Los Angeles. Local residents on the Westside are used to seeing kids stand out on Sunset Blvd. selling maps to the stars’ homes. Hollywood locals take it for granted that a thousand nimrods in Bermuda shorts will be milling about Grauman’s Chinese Theater and getting selfies with Spiderman or a guy dressed like Marilyn Monroe. And double-decked tour buses clogging up left hand lanes is a city staple.

But this year, for some reason, I am seeing way more tour buses. It’s almost one-to-one Hollywood Tour vans and parking enforcement vehicles. Why there are so many more tour buses these days I do not know. Especially since…

There is nothing to see.

Not really.

One tour takes you by the homes of the stars. But stars don’t live in Beverly Hills anymore. They used to. You could drive by Jack Benny’s house, and Lucille Ball’s, and Ronald Colman’s but the chances of actually seeing them have breakfast or watering the lawn is rather slim since they’re dead. And how many of you even know who Ronald Colman was? You’re driving by lawyers’ homes and guys who own furniture warehouses.

Stars live secluded in canyons and beach colonies and Upper Manhattan. Their compounds are gated. And would you even know the difference? If a tour guide took you to Bel Air, pointed to a gate, and said this is where Tom Cruise lives, how would you know it’s not really where the owner of Starlight Tours lives? Or a military academy?

As for stars’ hangouts – you don’t need a tour bus. Just go to Maestro’s or Spago’s or any super expensive chic eatery. The classic Hollywood haunts like Chasen’s, Perino’s, the Brown Derby, Scandia, Le Dome, Morton’s – they’re long gone. Sure, you can still go to Pink’s Hot Dogs as Orson Welles frequently did, but you’ll suffer the same fate as him. Musso & Frank’s is still open, and it’s worth seeing, but the only movie stars you’ll see there now are celebrating their 105th birthdays. Over the years I’ve seen dozens of big stars in LA restaurants, but they’ve all closed. Perhaps I should start a tour: “Where Robert Duvall, LaToya Jackson, and Dustin Hoffman used to eat.”

Will you see stars shopping in Beverly Hills? Maybe. You’ll more likely see their personal assistants.

These tours also show you “locations” from movies and TV shows. The truth is after a hundred years of movie making, every street and location has been used at least once. So the Coffee Bean you’re in right now was once a hamburger stand used in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. The street you just crossed was seen in an Allstate commercial back in 1967. The actual house used on BLESS THIS HOUSE might be right around the corner. Just assume it is.

LA is a great vacation destination.  Lots of fun things to see and do.   Disneyland, Dodger Stadium (good luck getting tickets now that the Dodgers are in the World Series), the Venice Beach walk, Universal, the Grove, Farmer's Market, LACMA, Costco. If you want to see television shows you can write to the networks.  TV tickets are free.  And there are kiosks in tourist locations like the Grove that offer these tickets.  You can see Ellen.   

But the bottom line is this: You want to see big movie stars? You want to see A-list celebrities? Go to a Lakers game... especially now that they have LeBron.  All the front-runners will be there.  The only problem is you'll have to mortgage your house for a seat close enough to see any of them. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Speeding up sitcoms

Back in the old days of Top 40 radio, some stations would adjust the turntables to play 45's at 47 or 48 RPM's.  The point here was to make the records seem brighter and faster.   And in comparison -- duller and slower on the competition.

Eventually this got out of hand.  The other station started playing their records at 48.  To keep up, the first station began playing them at 49, and all of sudden songs were going out of key, singers were sounding like the chipmunks, and the audience began to notice -- and dislike.

And now television is doing the same thing -- very slightly speeding up the playback of syndicated sitcoms -- not to make them brighter or funnier or enhance them in any way.   They're doing it to squeeze in more commercials.  TBS and TNT are two culprits.  By compressing the show they can add two whole minutes of spots to shows like SEINFELD.

Here's an article from SLATE along with a sample. 

Personally, I think this is insidious, and it will prove to be yet another nail in the coffin of broadcast networks.   When you can stream SEINFELD, when you can buy SEINFELD, when you can see SEINFELD on local channels, and you know the show is distorted on TBS, why would you watch? 

These networks are insulting you, and being patently dishonest.  Subliminal advertising is not allowed.  Why should this be okay?   Are there disclaimers warning viewers that the shows are compressed?    When radio was exposed for speeding up records it just sent listeners fleeing to FM and contributed to the downfall of the Top 40 format.

Networks like TBS are mortgaging their future and the future of broadcast television.  Is the mistrust of your brand and eventual audience exodus worth the revenue of those two extra minutes?    My guess is the people in charge would say yes.  They're not going to be in those jobs in five years so what do they give a shit?

So what if they speed up their demise -- by four minutes an hour? 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Friday Questions

Who’s up for some Friday Questions?

Andrew Morton starts us off:

I've been re-watching a lot of CHEERS on Netflix, and noticed at a certain point that the character of Paul was featured almost as a regular. Was there a reason he was brought in so frequently? He's always fun, but for a show that had so many main characters to service, it had me wondering if there was a behind-the-scenes reason for his prominence.

Paul Willson is one of the funniest people on the planet. I was first introduced to him when he was part of the improv group, OFF THE WALL.

I don’t think there was any conscious effort to make Paul a regular but he always scored so we all just kept giving him more lines and even subplots.

I think part of it was to keep the show fresh. How many Cliff know-it-all and Norm beer-drinking jokes can you do? Paul gave us another option. And like I said, he always delivered.

David Isaacs and I even wrote an episode where a hot woman preferred Paul to Sam. It’s one of my favorite episodes.

From Donald:

Would you consider writing a spec "Bob Newhart Show" script as you did for "The Dick Van Dyke Show?"

No. THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was a one-time exercise. Part of the attraction was that I was too young to write a DICK VAN DYKE SHOW when it was originally broadcast. Not so with THE BOB NEWHART SHOW.

When David Isaacs and I were trying to break in we wrote specs for THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, RHODA, two pilots, and we were in the process of outlining a HAPPY DAYS script. After HAPPY DAYS our next spec would have been THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. So in a sense I'm thrilled I never did write a BOB NEWHART SHOW because it meant we had broken in and were working writers. 

But you get the idea we were sort of driven?

Janet Ybarra asks:

I would be very interested in your thoughts on why--given the poor performance of so many reboots--why producers and networks remain so fixated on them as a trend?

Well, let’s see if networks continue to have an appetite for them. They might not.

What reboots give the networks is familiarity. With all of the new shows being introduced on all the various platforms, at least people KNOW the reboots. And since a couple have been successful that’s enough for all networks to grasp at that brass ring.

But clearly they’re stunts and a short-fix. If a reboot opens well, even if it then starts to slide – the hosting network is happy. I don’t think they’re looking for a possible nine-year run. They want decent ratings for thirteen weeks and a built-in audience.

And finally, from B. Alton:

Was wondering if writers agonize over the funniest numbers (such as a reference to a certain year in a line of dialogue), that is, a number that sounds funnier than another. An example that comes to mind being in Bob Newhart’s old standup routine where the Codfish’s captain announces to his crew (via intercom) that their submarine holds the record for sunken Japanese tonnage, established in 1954. Would 1953 or 1956 have sounded less funny?

Life’s too fucking short. Yes, there are writers who might spend an hour deciding on a number, but I would submit they’re insecure comedy writers. If I’m depending on a laugh based on whether I choose 1954 or 1953 I’m not delivering the goods.

For me it has more to do with rhythm. If I have to make up a date I’ll generally use a low number because it’s quicker and easier to say. “He hasn’t gotten laid since June third” has a better flow than “He hasn’t gotten laid since June twenty-seventh.” But is 3 a funnier number than 27? That’s for scholars to decide.

What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Hollywood Way Back Machine stops in 1969

One of the cool (but annoying) things about living in LA is that they film movies here. Annoying in the sense that it can block traffic, take away parking spaces, and just generally be a nuisance. And if you’re inconvenienced so they can film GOTTI 2, fuck them.

But many times the shooting is fun. A few years ago I got to just hang with George Clooney as they were setting up a shot down the block. The GO DADDY girl was filming a few houses over one day. (She wouldn’t let me get near her.) I was in Westwood one night and Usher asked for a light.

What’s really fun is when locations are dressed to look like period pieces. And such is the case currently in Los Angeles as Quentin Tarantino is filming a movie set in 1969 Hollywood. For the past couple of months his crew has been going around to various spots recreating the LA I knew and loved from the late ‘60s. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to stepping into the Way Back Machine. Unless someone builds BOOMERLAND, an amusement park for hippies with attractions like SUNSET STRIP LAND and FREE CLINIC LAND, Quentin’s movie locations are the best I'll ever be able to do.

Earlier this week he filmed in the Westwood Village (near UCLA). This was particularly cool for me because I went to UCLA in 1969 and the village was my stomping ground. So talk about a blast from the past. A lot of the replica storefronts looked pretty close. At one point I said to myself, “Gee, Campbell’s Men’s Store” was not on this street” and then I thought, “Idiot! Who the fuck is going to know? Just be glad you’re seeing Campbell’s Men’s Store again.”

What struck me, walking around Sunday night when they were setting up, was the incredible attention to detail. There are actual promo photos from the Dean Martin movie that is supposedly playing at the Bruin Theatre. No one’s going to see them. In the theatre lobby there are concession prices. I’m sure someone looked them up for accuracy. If a viewer is squinting to see how much popcorn was back then he’s sure not interested in following the story. At the beauty salon there are photos of different hairstyles. I can’t imagine a world where you’ll be able to see and register that. But it’s there.

I’m sure Quentin Tarantino is not examining every single storefront and saying “The LA Free Press was to the left of the LA Herald-Examiner.” But someone did.

And it again brings home the fact that Hollywood is filled with superb craftsmen who take enormous pride in their work. Their attention to detail often goes unappreciated. Their names scroll down in the end credits as the audience is making its mass exodus. But they’re every bit as important in Hollywood as any other filmmaker.

So thanks to them and Quentin Tarantino for a lovely nostalgic trip back to my youth. I hope the movie is good.

Here are a few photos I took Sunday night and Monday.











Wednesday, October 17, 2018

EP94: Becoming a Voice Over Artist w/guest Neil Ross


In part 2 of Ken’s chat with legendary Voice Over Artist and Voice Actor, Neil Ross he discusses how to break into the world of Voice Overs, what it takes to learn your craft, the odds of success, cartoon voices, and what it’s like to be the announcer for the Academy Awards. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Bring back comedy

A few weeks ago when I launched KenLevinePlays.com I offered scripts of my plays for free on the first day. Since then I have received many nice compliments for which I am enormously grateful. All of my plays, full-length and ten-minute one acts are available to buy. But my main focus is trying to get theatres to perform them. You can license my plays for very reasonable rates.

I would hope I’m providing a service (or a couple of them).

Many theatres don’t want to do new full-length comedies. (Many theatres don’t want to do new plays period.) Comedies lack the prestige and importance that more serious fare offer. Which is fine except audiences like to laugh and be entertained. When theatres put together their subscription seasons they usually have one or two comedies but they’re often established hits by established playwrights like Neil Simon and Chris Durang. Nothing wrong with that – they’re two of my favorites and I would encourage anyone to go see their work if it’s in a theatre near you – but there should be room for new work that might resonate more with today’s theatregoer. BAREFOOT IN THE PARK is a masterpiece in my opinion, but it is a little dated. The first ten minutes is a guy installing a telephone.

Since playwrights don’t get a lot of encouragement to write comedies they either don’t or they head to Hollywood to write for TV or movies. You make a lot more money writing sitcoms than for regional theatre.

I, on the other hand, have enjoyed great success in television and now really enjoy the experience of seeing my work performed live. So I don’t care that there’s not a huge market for comedy or that plays that today pass for comedies are really dark. I write what I want and the satisfaction I get is hearing an audience laugh and have a great time. So hopefully some regional and community theatres will be willing to take a chance on one of my comedies. So far they’ve been extremely well received everywhere they’ve played. A lot of those theatres were so delighted they're doing more of my plays next year. 

And then there are the ten-minute plays. Quite a few theatres are doing ten-minute festivals. They’re less risky. If an audience member doesn’t like one play it’s over in ten minutes and they might like the next. I enter quite a few and am extremely lucky to get into some. Usually they receive around 400 submissions for six slots. So the odds of getting into even one are pretty slim. I’ve gotten into thirty this year. Although, truth be told, of the 400, probably 300 were terrible. And I understand why theatres put themselves through that because it’s a way to acquire material. But man, that has to be brutal slogging through all those awful clueless ten-minute plays.

My hope is through the website I can cut through some of that for theatres. If you’re looking for comedies, how many playwrights bring a background of FRASIER, CHEERS, and MASH to the party? You could present an evening, or even part of a program with quality comedies without having to read 400 scripts.

So those are my goals. Please stop by the site and look around. You can read samples of all my plays and licensing is easy. And if EVER there was a time when we needed comedy it is NOW.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Thanksgiving Day

You didn't know it but today is Thanksgiving... or at least for me.

It was on this date many years ago (before the internet even) that I entered the military.  I was in serious danger of getting drafted so I signed up to be in the Army Reserves, which is a six year commitment including six months of active duty. 

On October 16th I was ordered to report to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri to begin Basic Training.  For an uncoordinated geeky kid who didn't want to touch a rifle much less fire it and clean it and hated the cold, this was the ultimate nightmare.  I barely graduated Basic Training.  

And I made a vow at the time.  I said, "As the years go by and memories fade most people tend to forget the bad stuff and remember the good.  You look back and say, "Aw, it wasn't that bad." Well, no matter how much or little I retain, always remember this:  It WAS that bad." 

So on October 16th, every year I stop and give thanks that wherever I am and whatever I'm doing, whether I'm stuck in traffic or wrestling with a tough script, or in a dentist's chair -- it's still way better than what I was doing in 1970. 

And here's the other thing:  The reason I was in such danger of being drafted (and thus sent to Vietnam) was because in the Draft Lottery my number was 4 (out of 366).  At the time I thought I was the unluckiest son of a bitch on the planet.  But you know what?  It was a BLESSING.

Why?

If I hadn't been in the army I never would have met my writing partner, David Isaacs.  He was ultimately assigned to my reserve unit and we met in Army summer camp.  I never could have written MASH if I hadn't had a military background and really understood the culture and its thinking.  And MASH was our big turning point.  I probably would have had a much less successful career without MASH (or more likely -- no career at all). 

So today is Thanksgiving Day.  Thanks that I was in the Army.  And thanks that I'm not in the Army.

I imagine we all have our own individual Thanksgiving Days.  I'm still trying to organize a parade for mine.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Going to the theatre with Jackie O.

Since a number of people who read my post yesterday asked about my brush with Jacqueline Onassis, I thought I would reprise a post I wrote on this a few years ago.

Yes, I went to the theatre with Jackie O.

Okay, pick yourself off the floor.

We didn’t go together in the sense of “arrive” together, but we did sit together.

You’re still not buying it, but it’s true.

Backstory: Larry Gelbart had a play on Broadway called SLY FOX. (Needless to say it was hilarious.) My wife and I were in New York and Larry arranged for us to have his house seats.

We sit down, third row center, settle in and I glance to my left. Holy shit! It’s Jackie.  In the seat right next to me. 

During intermission I decide to get up and go to the lobby. As I pass by her I rub up against her knees (which were bony by the way).  Okay, that was a dorky thing to do, but that was my brush with greatness.

The next day I called Larry and thanked him for the tickets. I mentioned that Jackie O. sat right next to me. He got very excited. “Did she laugh? What did she laugh at?” I said, “Yes, and hey, you never asked whether my wife and I liked the show.” He apologized, asked us, then wondered if I could remember any specific lines Jackie laughed at.

I’d like to say that’s my favorite Jackie/theater story, but it’s not. Supposedly she was at a theater and bumped into Stephen Sondheim. She asked what he was working on. He had to really hedge. How do you tell Jackie Kennedy you’re working on a musical called ASSASSINS?

Sunday, October 14, 2018

My life from A to Z

One of those dumb personal quizzes circulating the net. I'm admitting things here even my shrink doesn't know. Of course, he doesn't care.

• A-Available/Single? Not according to my wife
• B-Best Friend? My partner. I'd be a lot poorer emotionally and financially without him.
• C-Cake or Pie? I'll have to go with Elvis and say cake.
• D-Drink Of Choice? Makers & ginger ale but only after 7 a.m.
• E-Essential Item You Use Everyday? My Pocket Fisherman.
• F-Favorite Color? Green. They asked me this for the Dewar's ad, too.
• G-Gummy Bears Or Worms? Whichever one is not banned from commercial flights.
• H-Hometown? Los Angeles
• I-Indulgence? Irene Jacob movies even though I can't understand them.• J-January Or February? February. Pitchers and catchers report.
• K-Kids & Their Names? Matt, Annie, and maybe some in Bakersfield.
• L-Life Is Incomplete Without? Laughter.
• M-Marriage Date? July 8. Same date that crime boss Soapy Smith was shot to death in 1898.
• N-Number Of Siblings? 1
• O-Oranges Or Apples? Apple, if we're talking pies or computers. Orange if we're talking women's prisons.
• P-Phobias/Fears? Mimes.
• Q-Favorite Quote? Enough is as good as a feast to an idiot.
• R-Reason to Smile? Linda Eder singing
• S-Season? Bob Gaudio
• T-Tag Three or Four People? I don't know four people.
• U-Unknown Fact About Me? I touched Jackie Kennedy's knee.
• V-Vegetable you don't like? Fucking Republicans
• W-Worst Habit? Sweating the small stuff
• X-X-rays You've Had? Teeth, chest, and what kind of stupid question is that?
• Y-Your Favorite Food? Lobster...but must not still be alive.
• Z-Zodiac Sign? Aquarius man.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A Scary Time for Boys

Discovered this video by Lynzy Lab. She took the (many) words right out of my mouth. Great video worth seeing.  It's a song called A SCARY TIME FOR BOYS

Friday, October 12, 2018

Friday Questions

Thanks as always for your Friday Questions. Here are this week’s batch:

Dhruv leads off:

In early 80s Hollywood changed forever after UA sank due to 'Heaven's Gate'. Due to the prevailing situation, were all the studios overtly cautious on script buying and approving the projects?

Were any of your scripts, including 'STAR SPANGLED ADVENTURE', affected due to 'Heaven's Gate' debacle?

Studios were more cautious about big budget movies and especially more cautious about directors. Usually it was the director who would go wildly over-budget. Studios really started clamping down. HEAVEN’S GATE was not only a financial disaster but it was a huge embarrassment to the studio. Studios don’t like to be embarrassed.

As for our work, since we wrote comedies there was less concern. I don’t recall ever getting a studio note telling us to scale back a scene because it might be too costly.  David and I were never hired for our "scope."

Phil also has a question regarding that STAR SPANGLED ADVENTURE screenplay we once wrote for Columbia

Do you get back your script's rights after some time. It's 25 years now. Will it revert back to you, since it's not made?

There is this strange window that after a certain number of years – I believe it’s seven – you can ask for the rights back. But that window closes after a few years. It’s pretty bizarre. We never tried to get STAR SPANGLED ADVENTURE back, but we did once try to get another screenplay we had done for Columbia back and the window had long since closed.

Mel Agar wonders:

I was watching first season episodes of Cheers, and I was struck by the depth of the writing staff in terms of talent and previous experience. That got me wondering ... how does a first season writers' room get assembled?

Well, first it depends on budget. In the case of CHEERS, it was a different era. The original staff was very small – The Charles Brothers and me and David Isaacs.

Ironically, we had never worked with the Charles Brothers before coming aboard CHEERS. Usually you try to surround yourself with writers you know and have worked with. The Charles Brothers came from TAXI and since that show was still on they weren’t able to use any of the TAXI writers they were familiar with. In a sense they took a real chance with us. Considering we stayed with the show for nine years I think it worked out.

And finally, from Keith:

I'm curious--what did you think of Newhart (the later show set in the Vermont inn)? The best ending for any series ever.

I liked the new NEWHART and thought they surrounded Bob with some very funny characters. Larry, Daryl, and Daryl always made me laugh. I loved Tom Poston and Julia Duffy. I wish Bob himself would have done more. In most episodes he just stood behind the front desk in the lobby.

But overall there was a nutty level of writing and I enjoyed the show thoroughly.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

"Starr. To Taylor. Touchdown."

Voice of the Baltimore Colts -- Chuck Thompson
The NFL is well underway. There are even articles NOT about the protests in the papers. But I must say, watching games now I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic for days gone by when I watched as a kid.

The NFL’s first commissioner, Pete Rozelle, was a brilliant guy. One of the things he instituted was a national TV deal. Every team received the same amount from the TV rights. So unlike baseball, there is parity. Small market teams like Green Bay get just as much money as the New York Giants. Granted there are less than 20 games a season as opposed to baseball where every team plays 162, but Rozelle smartly realized that there needed to be consistency in how the game was presented.

So here’s how it worked in the late ‘50s and ‘60s – if you had an NFL team in your market you saw all of their road games. The weeks they were home you saw a different game. If you didn’t have a team in your market you got a variety of games. CBS broadcast the games.

But unlike today, CBS had no assigned announcers. Each team had their own play-by-play man. So if the Rams, for example, played a road game in Cleveland the Rams announcer Bob Kelley called the game. If Cleveland played the Rams in Los Angeles then Browns’ announcer Ken Coleman called the game.

There were several advantages to this arrangement. First off, your announcer knew way more about your team than a network guy who just flew in for the game. Secondly, and most important, each team’s announcer back then was distinctive and gave his team a real character.

I used to love listening to these men who all had very different voices and styles. Compare that to today. Especially if you get the B or C team the games are called by generic interchangeable announcers who offer nothing but rudimentary play-by-play.

Bob Kelley had a great whiskey voice and a real sense of urgency to his broadcasts. Chuck Thompson of the Colts brought an elegance to his call (and always wore his signature hat). Ray Scott of the Packers was the voice of God just punctuating plays with two or three word sentences. “Starr. To Taylor. Touchdown.” Jack Brickhouse of “da Bears” had a friendly fatherly quality, Ken Coleman of Cleveland and Van Patrick of Detroit had signature voices, and then there was Chris Schienkel of the Giants who I never liked. We rarely got 49er games so I don’t remember who called them but I’m sure he was on the same level as these other gentlemen.

Were they homers?  Some were.  But so what?   So were all the fans in the stands.  

The three number one network NFL guys, Al Michaels, Jim Nantz, and Joe Buck all are exceptional announcers. But I bet even they would agree with me. Today the games are in glorious HD color with drone cameras and amazing angles and telestraters and whiz-bang graphics – but there’s something missing – personality, localization, familiarity, team identification. Sorry but I’d trade the first down stripe for Chuck Thompson.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

EP93: The Man who Killed Jim Morrison


Well, he didn’t really, but Ken talks to Neil Ross, a voice over artist who has announced the Academy Awards, and in his prior life was a disc jockey filled with crazy and colorful stories… including one with Jim Morrison of the Doors.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Keep an open mind

Casting is always hard. Especially in a comedy. And when you cast a network sitcom pilot the actors who read for you all have a certain level of proficiency. They’re all in SAG, most have been in series or at least have guested on series so they generally know their way around a joke. They know where the punchlines are and what words to hit to sell the joke.

But when I’m casting I look for something more. A very intangible quality. There are people who on some gut level are just FUNNY. They hear the rhythm, they feel the timing, you get the sense it’s effortless. They find laughs that aren’t there. A look, a gesture, even a tiny one, a raised eyebrow – almost without trying they make something funnier. David Hyde Pierce is a prime example.

I was watching a few minutes of THE COOL KIDS last week (don’t ask me why), and I realized that Vicki Lawrence has it. I had never given her much thought actually. She was Carol Burnett-light on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW, played that broad character in MAMA’S FAMILY, and spent much of her career appearing on disposable shows like YES DEAR and THE LOVE BOAT. (She also had a hit record in 1973 that I played the crap out of when I was a disc jockey – “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.”)

But seeing her on THE COOL KIDS it struck me that this woman was way more special than I had ever given her credit for. And like I said, it’s an intangible quality. I can’t totally explain it, but I know it when I see it.

And to me the lesson here is to always keep an open mind. If I were assembling a pilot two years ago and my casting director suggested Vicki Lawrence I would not have been excited. And I would have missed out. People can surprise you. Be open to it.

Signed,

A new Vicki Lawrence fan

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Reboots are doing even worse than expected

Yesterday I talked about the TV season so far.  And I mentioned that reboots were not faring well.  Crunching second week numbers they're doing even worse.

WILL & GRACE's season premier drew only 3 million people.   And that's with David Schwimmer as a guest and lots of promotion.   W&G is toast.

MURPHY BROWN opened with a whimper and went down 9% from that.  Every other comedy that night on CBS kept their audience.   Not good.  Based on readers' comments you guys weren't that impressed either. 

MAGNUM P.I. seems to be exciting no one.

And then there's LAST MAN STANDING.  It kicked ass its first week on Fox.  It got better numbers than it did on ABC.  But don't pop the champagne just yet.  In week two it lost 27% of its audience.  And the trend among reboots is that they go steadily down.  They never build.   Now LAST MAN STANDING, in fairness, even with the loss still is doing better on Fox than sitcoms have done in years.   But let's see how this ultimately plays out.  Fox spent a lot of money for live wrestling to program on Friday nights.  That starts sometime next year.  I'm sure Fox execs are shaking their heads saying, "NOW we get a hit on Friday night?"   One other thing about LAST MAN STANDING -- it's kind of stretching it calling it a reboot.  It was off the air one season.

THE CONNORS has yet to debut.   The expected numbers are half of what ROSEANNE got (which is still pretty decent).  But two things to consider: 1) The curiosity regarding Roseanne's departure should inflate the premier numbers, and 2) Even with Roseanne the ratings were going steadily down.

Look, in a world where we can see all episodes of the original series anytime we want, reboots are not only competing with everything else on TV but themselves as well.  Plus the actors were younger and the writing was at its best in the originals.   60 year-old actors still acting like they did when they were 30 is creaky and creepy.  And writing styles have changed so the reboots sometime feel dated even though they're trying to sound contemporary.

So how long will this reboot trend last?   Let's see how long these shows last and how many more are put into development.  If I was a betting man I'd say the chances of that BIG WAVE DAVE'S reboot are now pretty slim. 

Monday, October 08, 2018

The new TV season so far

Now that the broadcast networks have premiered their glittering Fall schedules it’s becoming more and more evident that they’re old horses taking the long walk to the glue factory.

Not since THIS IS US, which is already a few years ago, has there been a legitimate breakout “hit.” ROSEANNE was a sensation for the first few weeks but those numbers were going steadily down after the initial sampling.

The reboots aren’t really working. MAGNUM P.I. has been disappointing and no one came to see MURPHY BROWN.

All of the new sitcoms look like tired versions of all the old sitcoms, just more diverse. Dramas are faring a little better.

And yet, if you have a show in development or on the air at one of these networks it’s as if they ruled the world. The notes and interference at every level continues to be excessive. And it really begs the question: why GO to the networks with your project? At one time the answer was millions more people would see it. But now that’s not true. And if the Netlix of the world offer more creative freedom, why run to NBC?

Oh, and another thing – the networks are completely in flux. CBS is in turmoil now that Les Moonves is gone, the head of NBC just quit, the Fox network may not exist once 20th goes over to Disney, and ABC will likely change once they have 20th’s inventory.

The point is you’d think the networks would try to make themselves MORE inviting to A-list talent instead of pushing them away. It’s like a restaurant that’s struggling decides to make the service worse.

It’s not a coincidence that the most interesting shows, the most talked about shows, the most awarded shows are not on network television. And every year network numbers continue to drop even more. Their last note might be “lock the door on your way out.”

Sunday, October 07, 2018

I'm too pissed to write

Other than "Fuck you, Susan Collins!" "Fuck you Republicans!" and "Fuck you MAGA idiots who support this deranged president and the greedy bastards who are all laughing at how stupid and gullible you are as they rob you of your freedom, homes, health care, jobs, and livelihoods."

November is only weeks away.   Register.  Get others to register. 

VOTE

All women

VOTE


All Millennials (you'll be the ones suffering the rest of your lives)

VOTE


All former immigrants

VOTE


All people who want gun control

VOTE


All non-privileged white men

VOTE


All people with a brain

VOTE


All environmentalists

VOTE


All people who have come to realize you've been conned by these motherfuckers

VOTE


All people who hate Nazis

VOTE


All people

VOTE

Friday, October 05, 2018

Friday Questions

Thanks for taking advantage of the free play offer.  I hope you'll visit KenLevinePlays.com often and more importantly, try to get your local theatre to produce one.  If you haven't visited the website, or you just wanna hang out there swing on by.   Just go here.  Thanks much.
And now we “Fall” into Friday Questions…

Bob Paris starts us off.

What is your opinion of out-of-period hair styles on TV shows? It seems that in a movie, the actor may get a crew cut if appearing in a 50's period piece but on a TV show such as M*A*S*H, the hair styles were more contemporary to the time the series was filmed. Loretta Swit's hair was occasionally shagged/layered which was not done until decades after the setting of the series.

Bob, I’m here to tell you it’s a fight you will not win. When the choice is authenticity vs. looking more flattering lots of actors will opt for the latter every time. You go to an actor’s trailer and try to tell them to look less hot. That’s the same assignment as giving a cat a bath.

Two questions from WB3:

If you could take DVDs of three half hours of some classic sitcom (excluding eps written by you and your partner David) on a desert island for an extended period what would you (and the community here) take along?

The CHEERS pilot
The “Private Speakup” episode of THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW
The “Chef of the Future” episode of THE HONEYMOONERS.

But that's a tough question because there are some episodes of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, SEINFELD, BOB NEWHART SHOW, FRASIER, MASH, DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, and GIDGET that just missed the cut.

Also, what is the single funniest line/exchange you recall from a sitcom?

In THE HONEYMOONERS “$99,000 Answer” episode, when Ralph is on a game show and knows every song in the world except the one Norton used to intro every other song I laughed for ten minutes. I was probably 10 at the time and never saw the joke coming. I think that’s the biggest laugh I've ever had in my life.

slgc asks:

There have been a lot of superlative commercial documentaries this year (RBG, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, Three Identical Strangers and Love, Gilda immediately come to mind). To what do you attribute this apparent trend?

I think if you look back there have been exceptional documentaries every year. The excellent ones that you pointed out also have commercial appeal and are getting a lot of crossover attention, but if you dig a little I’ll bet you find undiscovered gems from just about any year. But don’t ask me to pick three for when I'm stuck on a deserted island.

What’s your FQ?

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Introducing my new website!

As a playwright, one of my main objectives is to see my plays produced. I have full-length, half-hour, and ten-minute plays. All comedies, some award winners. So in an attempt to make my plays available to more theatres around the world I’m introducing a new website: KenLevinePlays. You can go to it here.

UPDATE:  There was a technical difficulty but it's been fixed.  Everything is working.  Because of the snafu I am extending the offer an additional three hours.  Enjoy and thanks. 

You’ll be able to sample all of my plays and find just the right one for your audience. Theatres are always looking for good comedies. How about going to the writer of MASH, CHEERS, and FRASIER? Now you can license any of my plays for a very reasonable fee.

Whether it’s a full-length romantic comedy, a half-hour spoof on classic movie romcoms, or a ten-minute fun interactive piece there’s pretty much something for everybody. At the moment, 29 plays are available. All have minimal production requirements (no helicopters landing on stage required).  

You can also buy any of the plays. A number of my readers have asked how they could read them since they’re not published. Well now you can.

Plus, as a one-time introductory offer, for the next 24 hours you may download one play for FREE. Yes, I said for FREE.

To receive your free play, simply add it to your shopping cart. Then enter the coupon code BLOG when you checkout. The play will be available for immediate download on the website.

One to a customer so go browsing. Offer ends at 9 a.m. EDT tomorrow.

And if you have a local theatre in your area and would like to see or perform some of my work, let ‘em know. KenLevinePlays.com. Again, the goal is to get as many productions of as many of my plays as possible. That goes for Broadway too. Happy to see one of my plays replace HAMILTON.

There’s the added benefit that I’ll promote your production on my blog and social media and as of today I have more than ten followers.

Anyway, check it out. Download a free play. And help me spread comedy – 99 seats at a time.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

EP92: The History of Sitcoms


Ken discusses how sitcoms are made and how the process has changed over the last eighty years. The history and evolution of sitcoms all in one podcast.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

I love THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (and Bob Newhart)

It never got Emmy recognition. In the Golden Age of TV Comedy in the ‘70s, it was always considered second tier behind ALL IN THE FAMILY, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, and MASH. And I could never see why. I loved THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. And still do.

Dave Davis & Lorenzo Music created the show, but the real creative voice belonged to showrunners Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses. THE BOB NEWHART SHOW was centered on a married couple played by Bob Newhart and the radiant Suzanne Pleshette. Somewhat unique for TV sitcom marriages, they had no children nor did they want them. There’s a story that heading into the final season the Charles Brothers took over as showrunners and told their star they planned on having Emily (his wife) get pregnant. Newhart nodded and said, “Great. Who’s going to play Bob?”
The series balanced his home life with his work – as a psychologist. His patients were a collection of hilariously neurotic eccentrics. Who will ever forget Mr. Carlin?

The show was produced by MTM Enterprise, the same comedy factory that produced THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. Mary’s show was always the crown gem of the company, and the Newhart producers did something very smart – instead of trying to emulate THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW style they veered off in their own direction.

THE BOB NEWHART SHOW quite simply, was nuttier. There was a goofy whimsy, a higher degree of absurdity to Bob’s show. And it fit perfectly with Bob’s personality. NO ONE has better comic timing than Bob Newhart, and the show allowed him ample opportunity to react in his signature deadpan delivery to all the utter craziness around him.

As great as THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was, for my money THE BOB NEWHART SHOW was funnier. And for that reason it holds up better for me. It’s less polished than it’s “big sister” and those wide lapels are ridiculous (what were we thinking fashionwise in the ‘70s? Jesus!), but it still makes me laugh out loud.

The stories were also more subversive than MTM’s. If THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW’S classic episode dealt with the death of a co-worker (written by David Lloyd), the most memorable episode of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW was when he, his co-worker, and neighbor got together for Thanksgiving, get hammered, and Bob ordered Chinese food (written by Bruce Kane). Moo Goo Gai Pan.  If you remember that episode it's because you laughed your ass off. 

I never got to write for THE BOB NEWHART SHOW but always wanted to. I still watch it on MeTV. You can keep the Emmys. Give me the laughs.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT COMING THURSDAY!

Not only a big announcement, but a FREE OFFER.  Check back Thursday. 

Reassigning jokes

Every showrunner has his own set of rules, way of working, etc. When David Isaacs and I were running shows we had our own unwritten guidelines of do’s and don’ts. And one of them was not to give jokes from one actor to another.

There are many showrunners who disagree. And other showrunners who do agree but are forced to do it anyway.

During the rewriting process, especially for a multi-camera show, scripts change frequently. Jokes are added, jokes are cut, scenes are routinely changed or replaced. Sometimes you might think that upon hearing it, a certain joke would work better if one of the other characters said it. So the next day the joke is reassigned.

I think that’s a bad idea.

For several reasons.

First off, your characters in theory should be unique enough that only the character who originally said the joke COULD say the joke. If all the characters have the same attitude and are interchangeable that’s a much bigger problem.

But say a particular line could be said by another character. All that does is generate insecurity among the cast, and worse – competition among the cast. When Actor A loses a joke to Actor B what do you think Actor A is going to think about Actor B? You are asking for aggravation you do not need.

Now, like I said, some showrunners are aware of the pitfalls but are powerless to stop it. Why? Because the star of their show is an 800 pound gorilla and is running the show. And if they have big egos, and if they’re threatened by anyone else in the cast doing well they’ll often insist that they get every funny line. So lines at the initial table reading that go laughs for other actors suddenly turn up going to the star. Cybill Shepherd was a prime offender. There are others.

What they don’t understand is this: A high tide lifts all boats. If everyone in the ensemble gets laughs it only makes the star look better and the show more popular. Dick Van Dyke understood this. So did Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Ted Danson, Kelsey Grammer, Jerry Seinfeld, and Ray Romano to name a few. I won’t call out the other offenders but they’re not hard to ferret out – star of the show, often with their name in the title, manages to get the series cancelled within a couple of years. It’s almost a given. My heart goes out to those showrunners. I’d be fired in eleven minutes.

Here’s what you have to remember: When you’re in the writing room it’s easy to focus on the characters and move the chess pieces around as you wish. But you forget that real people play these characters. And they have real feelings. You need to take that into account. Taking away lines from actors and giving them to other actors is destructive and not worth the value of the laugh. But again, that’s my philosophy, my procedure. There are showrunners who WANT tension and insecurity on the set. They feel the actors give heightened performances as a result. I personally don’t. I want everyone on the stage to be happy, which is hard enough because there is so much you can’t control. Why makes things worse with something you CAN control?

Anyway, that’s my rant. Please don’t assign it to someone else.

Monday, October 01, 2018

The sad (but typical) saga of STAR SPANGLED ADVENTURE

Several readers asked about STAR SPANGLED ADVENTURE. I featured studio coverage on Saturday. They wanted to know why it didn’t get made after such glowing coverage.

The short answer: it’s HOLLYWOOD.

Randal Kleiser directed a big hit movie called THE BLUE LAGOON. Columbia pictures wanted a sequel. Randal wasn’t immediately interested. So the studio made him a development deal. They gave him money to develop possible scripts to direct. The studio was hoping that eventually LAGOON 2 would come from this mix.

David Isaacs and I were making the rounds pitching movie projects. This was like 1981. We met with Randal who responded to our comedy pitch – a coming-of-age story about kids in a rundown amusement park. David grew up in Florida and knew the state was full of them. It would be a class war between the Brett Kavanaugh kids who were the wholesome “Up With People” singing group and the outcast kids who had to dress in character costumes.

We wrote the screenplay. He loved it. The studio, headed by Frank Price, passed. Why? They had no intention of greenlighting a Randal Kleiser comedy. Price wanted BLUE FUCKING LAGOON 2.

So that’s why it was never made.

Why didn’t another studio make it? Because Columbia never put it in turnaround. So we couldn’t take it elsewhere. They just ate the cost and buried it.

HOLLYWOOD.

Interestingly, a few years ago I bumped into a Columbia executive who was there at the time. I hadn’t seen her in 30 years. When she heard my name the first thing she said was STAR SPANGLED ADVENTURE. She had remembered that script. Everyone loved it except the one man who could make it.

HOLLYWOOD.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Maybe my favorite bad review

I've posted this before, years ago, but it's one of my all-time favorites.  Do you remember a comedian named Gallagher?   His basic act was smashing watermelons.  When he performed in Cerritos, California in 1999 the LA Times reviewed it.   The review was so hilarious and scathing I had to keep it.  And share it.   If you can imagine the thinking that could have produced such a staggeringly ill-conceived racist show, you laugh twice as hard.

And so, as a public service to anyone even thinking of attending an upcoming Gallagher show if he's still touring, here is this LA Times review.


CROSSED-UP CROSSOVER

Comedy: Promoted for Latinos, Gallagher's pseudo-Spanish show is a litany of degrading stereotypes and insults.By ALISA VALDES-RODRIGUEZ, Times Staff Writer


Hmm. How to put this delicately? We'll simplify: Mime-like, stringy-haired man in black hat smashes food with mallet on stage for living. Man, who no espeakey no Spanish, hears Spanish, thinks Spanish good, Spanish muy muy dinero. Man spends one month learning important Spanish words such as cerveza, caca and culo (butt). Man invents Spanish words, such as "sperm-o" and "embarazamante." Man decides this is enough Spanish to put on show for Latinos. Man smashes pinatas, wears giant sombrero and shakes keg-sized maracas. Man mocks Jews and gays and women and constipated old people. Man thinks he is muy funny comedian-o.

Man hopes all Spanish-speakers agree.
But wait. There's more. Mucho more.

Man rents hall in Cerritos. Man advertises "Gallagher en espanol: La Fiesta Grande" on Spanish radio. Man hopes thousands will come. Two hundred come, many with children and babies and old (possibly constipated) people. Man babbles for three hours Thursday night in "language" neither English nor Spanish. Language heretofore known as Gallagher-bonics. Next day, executive director of Cerritos Center for Performing Arts issues statement stressing that "Gallagher show was a rental event and not produced or presented by the Cerritos Center."

Man hires dance troupe to open show. Man performing for mostly Mexican American audience. Dance troupe, called Salsa Kids, performs Puerto Rican dance style. Male dancers wear guayaveras, the four-pocket shirts worn by old Cuban men in Miami. Mexican American audience appears unimpressed. Stone faces say: Ugh, bad medicine. "Is this like ballroom?" a woman in the audience asks. "My sister, she's taking that ballroom dancing."

Show goes on.

First nine rows of audience are in white plastic chairs. People in white plastic chairs equipped with clear plastic bag to wear over clothes because later mayonnaise and refried beans will spew over them. Signs warn: Cuidado, Piso Resbaloso. Wet floor. Man shoots water on audience from giant penguin after salsa dancers leave stage.

Other man named Vic Dunlop, a comedian hired to help because he supposedly speaks Espanol, takes stage. Dunlop wears Mexican blanket, sombrero and glasses with eyes painted on them. Makes jokes about black people and blind people in bad Spanish. Says show is sponsored by Culo Cola, the soda with the taste of an expletive. In audience, Debra Garcia, 50, is bored and thinks the show immature and plans to leave early.

Man appears with penguin and yells, "Como? Este hombre no esta en mi show. Vamanos."

Second assistant "comedian" who actually does speak Spanish comes on stage. Her name is Dyana Ortelli and she is Mexican American and makes a living mocking Jennifer Lopez's bottom, stereotyping Chicanos, and wearing bad wig and no pants. Ortelli helps man throw chocolate at crowd. Man says: "Quien no tengo chocolate?" Translation: Who I don't have chocolate? No one sure what he is saying.

Man introduces Chupacabras. Chupacabras is goat-sucking monster seen in Puerto Rico three years ago. Man in ape suit pretends to be goat-sucking monster. Man forces child onto stage with monster. Man asks: "Quien tiene mas pelo de Chupacabra?" Translation: Who has more hair of Chupacabras? Child makes disgusted face, jumps off stage. Ortelli looks sad. Man babbles about goat-sucker: "Es muy fuerze, es muy fuerza." Translation: Is very strength. No one laughs. Man frustrated. Tries to say "espectaculo," which means "show," but says "specta-culo," which sort of means butt-gazer.

Man calls for rock band. Fulano de Tal, from Miami, plays well. Man wears giant parachute dress and dances. Man spray-paints a lie on the back wall: Yo No Soy Gringo. Man says in Spanish that he is a cowboy. Man says he is newborn Mexican and caresses his naked hairy belly.

Man tells joke about bear and rabbit pooping.

Man gathers audience volunteers for Mexican hat dance. Says "Tengo un muchacha" over and over. No one laughs. Man says "Culo, culito" until people laugh. Man says "moco" for extra humor. Man is tired of trying. Man says in English "I need a beer." Man curses under breath off mike, but audience hears anyway.

Man begins dumping buckets of food onto plates. Man stops trying to speak Spanish. Man gives up and speaks English. Man says: "We were expecting a big crowd tonight and we're going to do a show for a big crowd anyway" because the crowd is small and shrinking. Man is booed again. Man yells: "It's the Fourth of July weekend, you don't got no place to go so just shut up." Man hits Pop Tarts with tennis racquet. Man says "Un muchacho quiero comer," which means "I want to eat a boy" and the boys look scared.

Many people who paid between $21.50 and $26.50 per ticket walk out as man flashes white underpants and yells culo, culo, culo and cerveza. Man angry Latinos have no sense of humor. Man throws egg and marshmallows at old woman and baby as they waddle out of theater. Man calls old woman vulgar name in English. Man spits beer on children. Some in audience too polite to leave. Others impolite enough to boo. One courageous enough to hurl a lunchbox-sized chunk of watermelon at man's head.

Man smashes food with 16-pound mallet. Man says, inexplicably, "Todo el mouthwash el hits me en el crotch-o." Man sings "La Cucaracha."

Man smashes more food. Show over. Man bows. Man slips on floor.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

What does studio coverage look like?

There is always a lot of discussion in the comments section about the value of readers and coverage.  A number of you have asked "What does a coverage report actually look like?"  In 1981 David Isaacs and I wrote a screenplay called STAR SPANGLED ADVENTURE, here is the actual coverage.

What exactly is studio coverage?    They're synopses of scripts prepared for studio executives and agents by hired readers.  Primarily they're meant to judge the value of a screenplay, both for its commercial potential and quality.   Rival studios also prepare coverage to keep track of the competition and get a heads up on possible new hot writers.    Coverage is Hollywood's Cliff Notes.

Hope you can read it  (you might need a magnifying glass or telescope).   Writers generally never see this.  A friend of a friend of a friend uncovered it.  Gee, I feel like Edward Snowden.  Squint and enjoy.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Friday Questions

'Fess up -- when you think of "Friday" now you think of Friday Questions, right? 

Unknown starts us off. Again, PLEASE, leave your name.

For young aspiring writers how does it look to submit materials that may not be rated "PG". Are they judged differently in a story's "marketability", in festivals or, when looking for representation? I am assuming all networks have different needs, Broadcast, Cable, Premium & Streaming.

Should we write our pilots clean and mature them later or is it easier to remove language/nudity/violence from the script if a cleaner network/studio wanted to pick it up?

I'm playing around with a sitcom idea and want to know if this is something to consider before I start working.

Thank you in advance!

I wouldn’t worry about language or content these days with pilots. Agents and studios and producers are much more lenient.  They're more concerned with finding "fresh voices." 

If your pilot is expressly for a broadcast network, yes, keep it clean. Or if you write a spec for a current broadcast network show like MOM, or YOUNG SHELDON – adhere to network standards & practices.

But since young writers are encouraged to be more edgy and out-there with their spec pilots, feel free to drop a few F-bombs, show a breast, or blow someone’s head off.

Best of luck to you. 

Matt wonders:

Why do script slug-lines today indicate “day 1”, “day 2” and so forth? I don’t see them in older scripts (MTM, Bob Newhart, MASH) When (and why) did this become a thing?

I don’t know when it started but the production team finds it very helpful. Wardrobe departments in particular. They can see at a glance when wardrobe changes will be necessary.

Before those slug lines were added, I can’t tell you how many times when I was directing, a wardrobe person would ask, “Is this the same day? Is this the next night?” etc.

Brian Phillips asks:

If you and David Isaacs got a writing assignment and it HAD to be a drama, which show would you submit a script to?

I can’t speak for David, but I can tell you mine. BETTER CALL SAUL and THE GOOD FIGHT would be my top two choices of shows currently on the air.

Are they still making GUNSMOKE? I wouldn’t mind writing one of those.

And finally, from Dave:

Apart from Natalie (Wood), was there any other celebrity who you wanted to meet?

I always wanted to meet Cary Grant. I used to see him at Dodger Stadium but never actually met him. Otherwise, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Phil Silvers, Elizabeth Montgomery, Nat Hiken (writer of the PHIL SILVERS SHOW), Grace Kelly, Karen Carpenter, Walt Disney, Bill Cullen, Noel Coward, Preston Sturges, Monet, Elvis, and Frank Sinatra. Yes, those are all now dearly departed (and you probably haven't heard of most of them) but you asked in the past tense.

There’s still a chance I could meet Angie Dickinson.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Here's what's wrong with baseball

As you know, I love baseball. But the game has become too damn slow. In 1958 when the Dodgers first moved to Los Angeles all night games started at 8:00 (allowing commuters to get to the stadium) and were over around 10:30. Today the games start at 7:00 are end close to 11:00. Same game, same number of innings and outs – but almost a 90 minute difference. That’s insane!

Let’s look at some of the reasons.

Today the game is all about strikeouts and home runs. You don’t believe me? Teams today put on infield shifts. In some cases they’ll put all four infielders on one side of the diamond. Let’s say it’s a lefthanded hitter. All four infielders will be on the right side expecting the batter to pull the ball to that side of the field. But that means that the left side of the field is wide open. Just hit the ball ANYWHERE on the left side and you have a single. And yet players STILL just swing away hoping to hit that home run.

And the price for that power is often strikeouts. Cleveland has four pitchers with over 200 strikeouts. If a team used to have one that was a big deal. And these Indian pitchers don’t work more than six or seven innings a game.

“So what’s wrong with that?” you say. It’s boring. Seven fielders are just standing around.

In a Texas Rangers game earlier this year there was one stretch of 22 minutes where the ball was not put in play. 22 minutes of taking pitches, fouling pitches, walks, strikeouts, and a commercial break. Not one ball was hit into fair territory where a fielder could respond. Imagine a football game with a 22-minute huddle between snaps. No wonder young people don’t give a shit.

And there’s very little base stealing. Teams don’t want to risk the outs. So there goes another exciting element of the game, not to mention the intangibles like how speedy runners disrupt pitchers. It used to be a team would pitchout two to four times a game. What that means is the pitcher intentionally throws a ball wide so the catcher is in perfect position to throw down to second base. If you’re a runner trying to steal and you go on a pitchout chances are you’re a dead duck. Teams today have less than ten pitchouts for the entire SEASON. No one’s running.

Pitching changes take forever. And today managers go to their bullpens in the fifth inning even if their starter is pitching well. Every pitching change is close to four minutes. The Dodgers earlier this season used five pitchers in one inning… to get out the lowly New York Mets. We’re not talking game seven of the World Series. Nor are we talking “murderers row” at the plate. And it wasn’t even the ninth inning. So do the math. That half inning was probably forty minutes.

And in September things get worse because teams can expand their rosters. So now each manager has fourteen pitchers in the bullpen. Pack a sleeping bag (even for a day game).

Players now have “Walk-up” music. Each player selects a song to be played over the PA system when it’s his turn to bat. So the players leisurely walk to home plate as their 30 second tribute blares. Players are not allowed to step out of the batter’s box during an at-bat. But they do. The result: They receive a warning letter from Major League Baseball. If they do it again they’re fined – something like $250. If you’re making $10,000,000 a year what do you care if you’re fined $250? It’s a joke. If a batter steps out of the batter’s box the umpire should charge him a strike. There’s a clock on pitchers in the minors. It should extend to the majors. If you take too long to throw a pitch you’re charged with a ball. Believe me, those are better incentives than nickel and dime fines.

Some things rule changes can fix but others they can’t. Only swinging for the fences, not trying to steal bases – that’s up to the players. At one time you’d say that was up to the managers. Managers could order their players to take the free single if given to you or be aggressive on the basepaths. But the current trend is to hire young managers, even ones with zero managerial experience, because they relate better to the players. In other words, they’re more like pals. A manager who orders such things as hit for singles would be unpopular. Can’t have that. Can’t have a manager who isn’t liked by his players. So forget that. Home runs mean money during salary negotiations. Strikouts mean money come contract time or free agent time. Those things aren’t apt to change.

But the result is baseball is mortgaging its future. When I can’t sit through a whole game there’s really something wrong. And add to that the need for really good storytellers and entertainers as announcers since there’s way more time to fill and instead teams are hiring generic boring clones who just spout analytics off their computers.

STRIKE THREE.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

EP91: Meet writer Nell Scovell


Nell Scovell who wrote “Just the Funny Parts” about what life is really like for a woman comedy writer and co-wrote “Lean In” discusses her illustrious TV career, working with David Letterman and Garry Shandling, and much more.  Even stuff not in the book!


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The pimp to the stars

Have you heard of this guy – Scotty Bowers? He has a book out called FULL SERVICE and there’s a documentary about him making the rounds on the art house circuit. He is 95 and still telling tales.

Scotty Bowers was a WWII combat veteran who drifted into LA after the war, and as a young man in his 20’s got a job pumping gas at a Richfield station in Hollywood. One day actor Walter Pidgeon pulls into the station, takes a liking to him and invites him back to his place for a dip in his pool. You can figure out the rest.

From there Bowers serviced many celebs and notables – both men and women. And became the pimp to the stars – running all of this out of the gas station. He enlisted his Marine buddies and young women who needed money. Now I know why they call them the “ Fabulous Fifties.”

A friend of his needed a place to store his mobile home and Scotty arranged for it be in the back of the station. For eight hours a night the shock absorbers on that thing were severely tested.

The book is outrageous and he names names. Ever wondered why the great Cole Porter would ask for fourteen guys at a time? What bizarre shit the Duke & Duchess were into? How Vivian Leigh was in bed? What it would be like to be in a threesome with Lana Turner and Ava Gardner (at Sinatra’s house no less)? The real relationship between Spencer Tracy and Kate Hepburn? If you’re to believe this book, Scotty Bowers slept with EVERYBODY, Oscar-winning actresses and Noel Coward. Tennessee Williams wrote a biography about him (that Scotty asked him not to publish). Oh yeah, and he once did J. Edgar Hoover.

And this is just scratching the surface. Is all of this true? I doubt it. But if even HALF of it is true – WOW! Lots of dish and also a real look into the gay world of homophobic Hollywood back then; a heartbreaking world to be sure.

The documentary, called SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD, is disappointing. Most of the movie is just following him around today. Sorry but not interesting. I want to hear more about Cary Grant. I want to see selfies of Scotty in the sack with Lana and Ava.

I of course only read the book because of my historical fascination with mid-century Los Angeles. But it is pretty insane.

Scotty Bowers is the ultimate name and pants dropper.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

5 great writing tips

I’m often asked for writing tips. Recently saw a Facebook post by a writer I greatly admire, Tom Straw. You may remember I once had him on my podcast (You can hear it here). Tom’s TV credits range from NIGHT COURT to NURSE JACKIE and Craig Ferguson’s late night show. As an author he wrote all of the CASTLE books and has his own thriller, BUZZ KILLER.

In his Facebook post he humbly offers five great tips. I thought they were great and Tom graciously permitted me to share them with you. They’re well worth reading, copying, and pasting. I did. Thanks, Tom.

1. Trust your instincts. This is something I discovered once under huge deadline pressure, and something of which I have to constantly remind myself. If it feels right, follow it. You can always revise.

2. Always revise.

3. Create the space to create—and guard it. Whether it’s a place, a time of day, word count, silence, music, the use of a candle, whatever it is, find the routine that works for you and let nothing interfere. Nothing. Love the Picasso maxim: “Inspiration comes but it has to find you working."

4. Notice what you are noticing. Recognize the living organism of your page and be observant about what it is telling you. Pay attention when the whisper comes.

5. You’ll never go wrong putting yourself in the shoes of the readers. Honor them. Then, when you have finished every draft, join them.

Monday, September 24, 2018

NANETTE

For the last month or so I’ve heard all this positive buzz about a new Netflix comedy special called NANETTE delivered by Australian comedian, Hannah Gadsby. When I hear hype like that I always have two reactions: “ Uh oh, it won’t be nearly as good as they say,” and “Please please please be as good as they say.”

In this case, it started out the former then soared into the latter. By the end I was giving it a standing ovation alone in a room.

Gadsby is quite popular in Australia although I must confess this is the first I’ve heard of her. Her opening jokes and style were fine. Her delivery seemed a little tentative but the material was quite good. Still, twenty minutes in I’m thinking, “What’s so special about this?”

And then the show takes a turn. Gadsby steers us into darker territory, more personal, more reflective, more explosive. By the last half hour I was absolutely riveted. Insights and truths and pain burst forth like a tsunami. I don’t want to tell you anything specific about the material. I want you to experience it for yourself.

Within the hour set she transforms. Her delivery, her tone, her body language – it’s a butterfly emerging from the cocoon.  She's brilliant, she's hilarious, she's fearless. 

One note of caution: the subject matter gets rough at times. I don’t mean vulgar or smutty – but she does go after certain groups and ideologies (and famous artists) with guns a'blazin'.  

The special was indeed SPECIAL.  But it does pose the question:  What's next for Hannah Gadsby?   This was not the kind of stand-up concert that lends itself to sequels.   I'll be curious to see where her career... and life goes from here. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Girls, don't let this happen to you

Oh, the humanity!  The heartbreak!  Imagine if she had slept with a roadie.  Or worse -- a writer.

Let this be a cautionary tale.  Never sleep with a celebrity until you've determined he's important enough.   Now this poor girl has to go through life with the shame of knowing she only slept with a bass player.    Let the years of therapy begin. 

My favorite related concerns a certain character from the '60s and '70s.  He was in a series of commercials for a gasoline company.   At the same time he was acting in dinner theater.  One night he goes to bed with one of the ushers.  They're in the throes of passion and she yells out, "I'm fucking Mr. Dirt!" 

You gotta love show business!