Thursday, May 31, 2018

My feud with Roseanne -- a look back

Since a number of you referenced this, and at the time it actually made all the papers, I thought I would re-post my celebrated blog fight with Roseanne.  This was from May 2011.  Links are provided to previous articles.  Thanks to reader Kris for finding Roseanne's rebuttal.  Also read some of the comments her readers posted.   

To get you up to speed if you're not familiar with the story, she wrote (or someone ghost wrote) an article for NEW YORK magazine in which she claimed her life story was "stolen" from her, she was mistreated on the set because she's a woman, the show's creator didn't deserve credit -- in short she was a tragic victim.   Many readers asked me to comment, which I did.  You can link to my original article.  Roseanne then countered with a barrage of personal insults.  What follows is my response.  

This is what ABC was buying and they knew it going in.  But the potential upside was huge.   I suspect their hope was they could get in a couple of years before the inevitable implosion.   But unchecked craziness doesn't get better over time; it gets worse.  So let's go back to simpler days when I was called an "Asshat" and she was crazy but not harmful. 


Wow! Roseanne reads my blog! Cool! In her blog she posted a rebuttal to a piece I wrote last week about her article in New York magazine. Here’s what I wrote. And on Sunday she offered her rebuttal.  You can find that here.

It’s silly to even get into a debate. I’d say the madness and paranoia of her rant speaks for itself. My reaction to it was sadness. She’s battling enormous demons. For all of her gifts and talent, that’s a steep price to pay.

I hope someday she finds some happiness in her life.

One loose end.  In her blog post she wrote this:

I took responsiblity for bad behavior, but explained that the bad behavior was during a nervous breakdown brought on by having to work in a hostile work environment, and I am pretty sure that women who have worked for you in the past (if indeed there were ANY) worked in a hostile work environment. Let me know, women writers out there--how were you treated on Ken Levine's staff?

Two women writers who worked with me and for me responded -- Robin Schiff, who was the co-creator and co-showrunner of ALMOST PERFECT with David Isaacs and I, and Linda Teverbaugh who was a producer on that show.    Also, I received a note from Laurie Gelman.  Not to stir the pot but she was the first woman producer of ROSEANNE season one.  Her account of that first year is markedly different from Roseanne's.  You decide.    My thanks to Robin, Linda, and Laurie. 

And again, Roseanne, you asked.  Let me just conclude by saying if you're reading this in Hawaii, I wish you aloha, trade winds, and anything to bring you some peace.  


From Robin Schiff:
 
I am a women writer who has worked with Ken Levine on three different occasions. Although he begged me to say nice things about him, I have to be honest and talk about my true experience.

Several (okay, many) years ago, I brought Ken and his partner David Isaacs an idea for a TV series. At the time, I didn’t have the experience (or cachet) to make it happen on my own. Ken and David loved the idea, which was about a strong, successful, likable, complex, opinionated woman trying to juggle a happening career with a satisfying lovelife. Not only did Ken and David get behind the fictional version of the woman, they instantly embraced the “real version” (me) as an equal and true partner. They were also my mentors, making sure I learned every aspect of producing. What they taught me was life-changing, giving me the tools to go on and have a career as one of a handful of female show runners. There are many sexist guys in the business, but Ken Levine is not one of them. The most sexist thing he ever did was blather on about baseball with the other men in the room despite the fact that I was visibly bored. Hardly grounds for a lynching.

One final thought. I totally agree with Roseanne that there is rampant sexism in the industry. A couple of weeks ago, the WGAw released its executive summary finding that (in addition to dismal stats for ethnically diverse or older writers), women comprise only 28% of working writers. We still make less money than men. All you have to do is look at the writers onstage accepting Emmys for late night talk shows and sitcoms to see that women comedy writers are on the endangered list.

That being said, it undermines the validity of a very real issue for all women anytime a woman explains away what might simply be fallout from her own actions by charging it up to sexism. Maybe Matt Williams should have given Roseanne a co-created-by credit for Roseanne. I can’t comment on that. But to say that this was because she was a woman doesn’t hold water since Matt Williams also took a sole created by credit on Home Improvement – which was based on Tim Allen’s stand-up act. I empathize with how unfairly Roseanne feels she was treated. But sexist? I would love to know how many female executive producers Roseanne employed on her own show. Did she foster talented women writers and empower them to become showrunners like Ken Levine and David Isaacs did with me? Just wondering…

From Linda Teverbaugh:

I hate to say it, being a great admirer of "Roseanne," the series (much of it, anyway), but Roseanne, the person, is talking out of her own asshat. She's right about one thing: She did hire standup friends as writers on the series. Tom Arnold's buddies, too. I know this because I'm a female writer from a blue-collar family who got screwed out of a job as a result. Thank you, Sister Woman. It was, however, my great good fortune to work for Ken shortly thereafter. Ken doesn't share Roseanne's fixation on "getting credit," so he'd never bring this up. But too bad, Ken, I'm going to: While Roseanne was literally farting on table drafts, throwing out scripts left and right, and as a consequence, holding all the writers' lives hostage, Ken busted his ass to keep the "Almost Perfect" room running efficiently, which meant keeping peace with the stage, the studio, the network, and all the other havoc makers who make sitcom hours exhausting or impossible. As far as I know he did not do this by threatening anyone with scissors. Instead, he made it possible for this working mother to leave work when the Paramount day-care center closed for the day, take my toddler son home and give him dinner. It meant the world to me, and, of all the female sitcom writers I know with kids, I'm one of the rare ones who ever got support like that. Sorry Roseanne, but that's fucking feminism.

And by the way, if Roseanne wanted "created by" credit, she needed to sit down with Matt Williams and help break and write the story for the pilot. That's what Drew Carey did with Bruce Helford.


And finally, from Laurie Gelman:

It didn’t take long for me to get a taste of the staggering sexism and class bigotry that would make the first season of Roseanne god-awful.

This makes me laugh every time I read it. I don’t know how she defines sexism, but she is one of the biggest perpetrators I have ever met. I was the first female writer producer on Roseanne and she absolutely refused to acknowledge me -- on stage or in the room. No eye contact. Nothing. She’s one of these women ( and I’m sure lots of your female writer friends can relate to this type) who likes to be the only woman in the room and play up to all the men. I was actually astounded by this because I expected her to be just the opposite. Now if you were below the line and kissing her tuchas to keep your job, you may have gotten another one of her many personalities, but this is a woman who is definitely threatened by smart, funny women and has to alpha dog all competitors. By the way, if the first season was so god-awful, how did we make it to number 1?

It was at the premiere party when I learned that my stories and ideas—and the
ideas of my sister and my first husband, Bill—had been stolen.

Really???? People actually broke into their minds and took them???? I was on the show from the rewriting of the pilot in New York all the way through the first season. There was never any point where Matt Williams did not include Roseanne in the creative process and actually want her input. In fact, I have never worked with an EP more inclusive or fair ( or nicer) than Matt Williams. He bent over backwards to please her. We made it a point to bring her into the room and get her take on every idea before we laid out the stories. Obviously, we also accommodated her notes on all the drafts. Additionally, Matt permitted her husband Bill Pentland to sit in on all the rewrite tables, thus giving her additional insurance that the Roseanne take on things was being adequately addressed.


The pilot was screened, and I saw the opening credits for the first time, which included this: CREATED BY MATT WILLIAMS. I was devastated and felt so betrayed that I stood up and left the party.

Great. More food for us.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

EP74: Mark Evanier - Marvel and DC Comic Book Universe


On this week's show, Ken interviews the fascinating Mark Evanier in a 2 part series. In part one, Mark discusses the world of comic books and Jack Kirby who created many of your favorite Marvel & DC superheroes. It’s a Comic-Con convention for your ears. Also, we delve into Mark’s TV writing career, both live-action and animation. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

My thoughts on ROSEANNE being cancelled

I don’t mean to gloat but TOLDJA! It was so clear from the get-go that the ROSEANNE reboot would implode.  I said so on the Kevin Smith podcast last year. What I didn’t know was how immediate and spectacular the implosion would be. The woman is bat-shit crazy. These are not the first abhorrent racist comments she’s made. Just the latest and most blatant.

The most heartening aspect of this bizarre episode is the swift, courageous, and correct response by ABC – cancelling her show. And it’s hard to put into words how unprecedented this is. A broadcast network axes its most successful show – THE most successful show of the season? Wow. Again, I can’t applaud ABC enough.

All of the cable networks that had aired the original run of her sitcom have also pulled them. And her agency, ICM has dropped her. Kudos all around.

I would like to think that even fans of her show would say that she crossed a line, but considering the number of idiots out there, I suspect there will be backlash. They’ll make this a “free speech” issue. But seriously, how do you defend Roseanne and not then condone what she said? Still, the Trump supporters will be up in arms over this. They’ll boycott ABC (until the NBA Finals tomorrow). And next week when there’s another school shooting or a video is released of Trump having sex with the stars of THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER K.Y. this little tempest will all blow over.

Readers of this blog already know I am not a fan of Roseanne. And judging by her barrage of personal idiotic insults aimed directly at me, the feeling is mutual. So you’ll please allow me a moment to bask in this. She’s a hateful unstable woman and she’s getting exactly what she deserves.

But what about the enablers? What about the Carsey-Werner Company? For years they’ve built an empire on stars who were monsters and just threw money at the problems and went home while showrunners and writers were pummeled on a daily basis. ROSEANNE, COSBY, CYBILL, GRACE UNDER FIRE (starring another loose cannon, Bret Butler). Writers were sent into a wood chipper. Carsey & Werner just threw a lot of money at them and a lot of money at the ones who replaced them when they just couldn’t take it anymore. The stories are legendary. These monsters (stars) got away with everything. So now if the COSBY show is pulled forever and ROSEANNE is yanked from schedules, you’ll pardon me if I don’t shed a tear for the poor production company that will no longer see syndication blood money. We all got into this business to be writers, not wranglers.

So a toast to ABC and every other organization that took swift action. If you’re looking for something to watch tonight now that ROSEANNE is gone, might I recommend the movie A FACE IN THE CROWD?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Here's to the losers!

As I mentioned last week, I saw SUNSET BOULEVARD recently, Billy Wilder’s classic from 1950. You would think it won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It didn’t. Another worthy film, ALL ABOUT EVE did although I think the test-of-time might flip them.

But it got me thinking about other great movies, TV shows, and Broadway plays and musicals that did not win, and it’s a rather startling list.

Among the movies that lost for Best Picture: THE WIZARD OF OZ, CITIZEN KANE, STAGECOACH, MALTESE FALCON, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, HIGH NOON, TEN COMMANDMENTS, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, DR. STRANGELOVE, MARY POPPINS, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, THE VERDICT, GOODFELLAS, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GRADUATE, BONNIE & CLYDE, BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID, CHINATOWN, CLOCKWORK ORANGE, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, NETWORK, STAR WARS, RAGING BULL, E.T., TOOTSIE, FARGO, and AVATAR.

Not saying the movies that did win didn’t deserve to, but Jesus! And there are some examples of movies that won that will be soon forgotten (if they aren’t already). Not sure THE ARTIST will become a classic. Or CRASH. Or OUT OF AFRICA. Unless you have grey hair, do you even remember an Oscar winner named TOM JONES? You might, however remember CLEOPATRA from that same year (1965).

I think we can all agree that WICKED is one of the most popular musicals of all-time, right? It lost the Tony to AVENUE Q? Can you say that AVENUE Q. (although quite hilarious) will become a classic? Other Broadway musicals that failed to grab the gold: WEST SIDE STORY, GYPSY, OLIVER, FUNNY GIRL, SWEET CHARITY, HAIR, PIPPIN, CHICAGO, DREAMGIRLS, BEAUTIFUL, MISS SAIGON, and INTO THE WOODS.

Plays have a similar roster of classic losers. RAISIN IN THE SUN, NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, THOUSAND CLOWNS, THE ODD COUPLE, THE PRICE, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, and NOISES OFF to name a few (I wish I had written).

And in television, just concentrating on comedy (because this post is long enough), how about THE HONEYMOONERS? The classic 39 episodes of the HONEYMOONERS all aired in one season. And that year THE HONEYMOONERS was not even nominated. Unbelievable.

Next to I LOVE LUCY, MASH has become the most successful syndicated comedy of all-time. I’m sure it’s playing this moment on several channels wherever you are in the world (hopefully one of my episodes). In eleven seasons MASH won the Best Comedy Emmy once (season two). FRIENDS only won once (and the year before wasn’t even nominated). CHEERS only won four times in eleven years. And THE OFFICE, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and BIG BANG THEORY never won (in the case of the latter, the Academy just hates Chuck Lorre. He’s crying all the way to the bank.)

And don’t get me started on AMERICAN IDOL losers.

The point of course is that we ultimately determine the real winners, not academies. And I’m sure if Billy Wilder were here right now he would say, “Yeah, well, fuck that. SUNSET BOULEVARD was robbed.”

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day 2018

It always seems weird to say “Happy Memorial Day.” That’s like saying, “Have fun at the funeral.” The point of the day is to remember and give thanks to those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. Memorial Day is more than just the beginning of BBQ season.

And it’s particularly gut-wrenching this year when I see the sad state of our country. I won’t turn this into a political rant, but you know what I’m getting at. I’ll just say that those who died on our behalf deserve more.

I live near a veterans’ cemetery and every year American flags are placed on the tombstones. There are endless rows of them. It always brings home the reality.

I long for the day I can once again drive by that cemetery and not feel a certain amount of shame.

Have a reflective Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

What is one of my proudest moments in television?

The actual answer is "What is a Zamboni Machine?" but considering one of our episodes became a JEOPARDY question, the subject line could also qualify as a right answer. 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Determining credits

Credits seem to be a popular Friday Question topic. Here's one that became an entire post. 

Terry asks:

A show I saw the other day had a credit for "story by" and for "teleplay by" on one of its episodes. What prompts an unusual situation such as that?

If a writer does an outline and the actual script is assigned to another writer, the first writer gets story credit and the second receives teleplay.

When the show reruns and a residual payment is issued, the various credited writers split it, but the teleplay writer receives more.

Back when David Isaacs and I were the head writers of MASH we wrote every outline. It was easier for us to just break the story and write the outline ourselves than explain to the writer what our complicated format was. But we never took story credit. We believed that providing the outline was part of our responsibility as staff writers and the freelance guys shouldn’t get jobbed out of some money and residuals. MTM shows also adhered to that policy. Other shows, like BARNEY MILLER, did not. But I could have had my name of close to fifty more MASH episodes. Still, I don’t regret it. I think it was the right thing to do.

Now the teleplay and story credits on Chuck Lorre shows are essentially a joke. Every episode is room written by the entire staff. There is no outline and no writers’ draft. So credit is just assigned to people and rotated. The names you see on any single episode of one of these shows mean nothing. But the WGA limits the numbers of writers who can receive credit so in fairness to the staff, they take turns receiving credit.

And that’s fine until it comes time for awards. Ethically, you’re not allowed to submit a script with your name on it if you didn’t significantly write that script. I don’t think many Chuck Lorre show scripts do get submitted for that reason, even though their scripts are often way better than the shows that do get nominated.

Where things get real sticky is when different writers are assigned on pilots. The writer who ultimately gets teleplay credit may make more money, but the writer who gets story credit gets at least a shared "created by" credit, and that comes with a weekly royalty. So the arbitration fights are generally over story credit. I’ve been involved in arbitrations where there were as many as five writers. Deciding who is entitled to what can make your head explode. (By the way, the WGA provides a credit manual that clearly defines each credit category. But every script is different and murky.)

Credits provide the only recognition for writers. So it’s important that they be correct and represent each participant’s true contribution. It’s not just me who reads the writing credits on every show. There are at least six of us.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Friday Questions

Time for Friday Questions. The first one I can answer is less than one word.

It’s from gottacook:

Often on Frasier, Martin will call Frasier by only the first syllable of his name. How was that spelled in scripts?

Fras.

MW is next.

You mentioned one of the scenes you wrote was assigned to a different script, not by you. I understand that and the money issues, but what happens during Emmy season and someone else's name is on a script you were mostly responsible for but they were assigned the credit? Who gets that Emmy?

The writer whose name is on the script gets the statuette. Technically you’re not supposed to submit an episode you didn’t at least provide most of the writing, but it happens all the time. There have been several instances where the Emmy-winning writer didn’t have three of his words in the script. And yes, that reeeeeally pisses me off.

DyHrdMET asks:

Are there people or services who, for a fee, would read your script with a TV insider's eye, and send feedback? And are those places trustworthy, regulated, and/or any good? Would you advise aspiring TV writers to avoid going there because they're scams?

I can’t speak for all but most are scams. These are generally not experts. And some of them charge a ridiculous amount. Many lie about their credits and background. Buyer beware.

One exception: I can strongly recommend Blair Richwood. She is absolutely terrific. I’ve used her myself and was thrilled with the results. Check out Episode 70 of my podcast. She was my guest and made a very gracious offer to writers just like yourself looking for feedback.

And finally, from Edward:

I listened to an old "Writers Room" podcast that included several people including you and Bill Lawrence. One comment made by Bill Lawrence was that he was fired several times early in his career for writing the show he wanted instead of the show the producers wanted. Are there any first-hand stories of this problem during your tenure as writer or producer?

David Isaacs and I were never fired off of any shows we worked on. But when you write a screenplay and they get someone else to rewrite you you are essentially fired. It’s just that no one tells you. That has happened a couple of times.

And then there was the time we met with a director on a rewrite. We pitched our ideas, he professed to love them and said start writing. We drove home and by the time I got into my apartment my phone was ringing. It was our agent. We were fired. I have no idea why. The only thing I can conclude is that we took Laurel Canyon over the hill instead of Beverly Glen canyon.

What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. I do love the ones I can answer in one syllable but that’s not a prerequisite.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Acknowlegements

Don’t you wish, just once, you could read something like this in the back of a book?  

                                       ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

It is customary that authors submit “Acknowledgements” — clich├ęd balloon juice insisting they “couldn’t have done it without X” and the “undying support of Y,” and of course “the patience and good cheer of Z.” None of that is ever true. But what follows is.

To Chester Moog, thanks for reminding me that I know what I’m doing better than any pedestrian editor. The man who invented hot coffee sleeves performed a great service to humanity and deserves more than 400 paltry pages. Sorry sir, but this is not “drive by” reporting.

The New York Public Library was particularly unhelpful in providing research material. So was the Library of Congress, and the Los Angeles Chabad Bookmobile. No assistance was provided by Starbucks, Coffee Bean, or Mr. “Java Jacket’s” family, which is why none of them appear in this comprehensive and definitive book on the subject.

Normally an author would receive the cooperation from experts in their field, but in my case no such experts exist… apparently. So thanks are given to smart hub “Alexa” for finding some answers. And confirming accuracy by double-checking with Wikipedia.

My now-former agent, Abner Smoak, sold the book but was only able to get me a $20 advance. How is that possible? And in a further derelict of duty, he failed to negotiate the potential movie rights. On a sound stage in Hollywood at this very moment, Daniel Day-Lewis should be burning his hand saying, “There has to be a way to hold a disposable coffee cup!”

Eustasia Ig and Pixie Schlosserman profread the manuscript and disproved the notion that Millinials are lazy and do shoddy work.

To my 11th Grade English teacher, Mrs. Engle-Blatz-Guerrero who claimed I couldn’t write and should take shop class instead, thank you for your inspiration. It appears I most certainly can write, and now I also know how to change an oil filter.

Many times I thought of just abandoning this project but thanks to Percy “the hammer” Kroon I somehow crossed the finish line. His threats to foreclose on my house proved to be the light that guided me through the darkness.

To the writers in my support group (who aren’t real writers because they write fiction), I still find it curious that all thirty of you had emergencies and weren’t able to attend the nights I was reading passages from my manuscript. Meanwhile, I can’t count the nights I spent suffering through your mundane thrillers and feeble attempts at erotica.

My neighbor, Orren Dillahertz, loaned me $40,000 to allow me to finish this service to mankind, which is an extraordinary selfless gesture, but I’ve done nice things for him too.

Every writer needs close friends and trusted colleagues who will read your manuscript with objectivity and perspective. I had three such special individuals. Lucianda McClusker, Espironzo Ulmandorf, and Jim Smith. Ironically, they all had the same notes. Unfortunately they missed the point I was going for so I reluctantly had to discard them. But they forced me to defend my position and that was invaluable.

Without my family I can honestly say I would have finished this book a year sooner. My wife, Selma-Sue kept hiding my laptop so I wouldn’t continue. Oh ye of little faith. And my kids, Rusty and Selma-Sue Jr. were always getting sick or needing rides to places. Thanks to the Holiday Inn of City of Industry for putting me up for ten months so I could write unimpeded. And I apologize for any hardship I might have caused by not telling my family I was leaving or where I went.

No one showed patience or good cheer. No one really supported me (Okay, Orren Dillahertz, but he wants the $40,000 back, which will be a snap once book sales start rolling in). And I could have written this without any of them. May they all raise a cardboard cup of scalding hot coffee without a sleeve and say, “Ow! Son of a bitch! That’s HOT!”

Lester P. Gekler
Pacoima, California
May 24, 2018

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

EP73: TV sitcom Frasier - Exclusive directors commentary - Behind the scenes


Ken records an exclusive directors commentary for an episode of TV sitcom Frasier. Filled with inside stories and useful industry information, Ken takes you behind the scenes, walking you through the process of directing a hit comedy sitcom. Simply listen to the episode, or watch the episode live along with the podcast, to take full advantage of his witty expertise. “Roz and the Schnoz”,  season 5, episode 21.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

THE MIDDLE series finale

Last night was the final episode of THE MIDDLE. It was very bittersweet saying goodbye to the best sitcom on current TV that was never afforded the respect it deserved. And for the life of me I don’t know why. It was often as good or better than MODERN FAMILY but never received any Emmy love. Everyone’s making a big deal about ROSEANNE speaking for working American families – well hell, THE MIDDLE has been doing that for nine years.

Today it’s less about quality and more about the zeitgeist. What shows are hot? Or worse, perceived as hot even though they’re not? How many ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY articles have there been for THE MINDY PROJECT? Or shows on networks no one can get?

Meanwhile, THE MIDDLE offered consistently high quality entertainment and humor and was beloved by millions of people – just not the RIGHT millions for any recognition.

The truth is THE MIDDLE was more deserving of the Best Comedy Emmy than a number of winners over its nine year run. Eden Sher should have nine Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Emmys. NINE.

The finale was lovely, very much within the style of the show (I always love Heck family car trips), satisfying, and (SPOILER ALERT) I love they had used a cellphone Family Plan to be a metaphor for their family. “Minutes” are precious.

Congratulations to Eileen Heisler & DeAnn Heline, their terrific writing staff (pictured above with me), and cast and crew.

I suspect time will be very kind to THE MIDDLE. People will be watching and enjoying this series long after the more edgy and ironic shows fade from view. Maybe ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY will even do a reunion article. Nah, they’ll do four TRANSPARENT reunions instead.

Cheers to THE MIDDLE.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

It's the PICTURES that got small

There’s nothing like seeing a classic old movie on the big screen. And it’s getting harder and harder to do that.

There used to be revival houses – theatres that would show double-bills of old movies. I can’t tell you how many classic movies I discovered at the Fox Venice, the Nuart, or the Beverly Cinema. These were grungy LA theatres – Milk Duds wedged under every seat, a popcorn machine from World War II, and prints that were not always “pristine.”

Because there were always double-bills, I’d go because there was one movie I wanted to see – like THE MALTESE FALCON – and its companion would be something I’d never heard of – THE BIG SLEEP. More than half the time I was blown away by the movie I hadn’t come to see. But that was the fun of revival theatres… along with the occasional joint that got passed down the aisle. How else are you going to watch THE BLOB?

There are still some revival houses, but a very few. Museums have film festivals from time to time, and colleges sometimes screen ancient cinema (i.e. before Millennials were born so 1995).

Along came VCR’s and VHS’s and DVD’s. You could see THE BLOB anytime you wanted (I don’t know why you would, but still). And then cable television arrived. Channels like TCM serve up film freak heaven 24/7. And it’s great to have access to these old chestnuts. But there’s something truly missing not seeing them as they were intended – on the big screen with people texting.

TCM has a new project where every month they feature a classic movie that you can see in a theatre. Ben Mankiewicz introduces it just like he does on TV. This month the feature is the Billy Wilder classic, SUNSET BOULEVARD. I’ve seen this movie many times but haven’t seen it in a theatre in a gazillion years.

So I went this weekend.

And it was GLORIOUS. When you see it on TV you really lose the full impact of Gloria Swanson’s huge face on a massive screen staring down at all the “people out there in the dark.” Yes, 60-inch flatscreens are big, but 60-foot silver screens are considerably bigger.

The other advantage is that these classics (especially in black and white) tend to be idiot-teen repellent. So there is less talk and iPhones in operation. I saw the movie in West Los Angeles and it was heartening that a number of college kids were in attendance along with us senior-discount viewers.

If you haven’t seen the films of Billy Wilder or Preston Sturges, John Ford, Howard Hawks, John Huston, David Lean, Alfred Hitchcock, George Stevens, the Marx Brothers, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and a hundred others – you’re really missing out. Screwball comedies, westerns, noir, WB gangster films, Technicolor musicals – way better time-suck than binge-watching SUPERGIRL.

And if you can, watch them in a theatre. When Norma Desmond says: “I am big – it’s the pictures that got small” – they don’t have to be. The trick is finding them.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The 25th anniversary of the last CHEERS episode

It has been 25 years since CHEERS aired its final episode.  There have been a number of articles to pay tribute to that event and the show itself.  Thanks to both the Hollywood Reporter and Variety for including me in your pieces.   If you're a fan of CHEERS these are both fun reads.

Here's the Hollywood Reporter's story.

And here's Variety's story.

Now if you want a detailed account of just what it was like that final night, I devoted one of my podcast episodes to my first-person account of it.   You can find that here

I can never express just how lucky and grateful I am to be a part of CHEERS for 9 of its 11 years.  David Isaacs and I wrote 40 episodes and I am extremely proud of each and every one of them.  My thanks to Glen & Les Charles and Jimmy Burrows for including us in this extraordinary television show. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Come see my play tonight

I again am participating in the Ruskin Theatre Group's Cafe Play series.  Five playwrights met at 9:00 am this morning and our plays will be performed tonight at 7:30 and 9:00 at the Ruskin Theatre in Santa Monica.  Wanna come?   The other playwrights are terrific.  Here's where you go for info and tix.  Hopefully see you tonight.

The Royal Wedding

Alas, I did not watch the Royal Wedding.

I did not get up at 4:00 AM. Well, I did, but that was to use the bathroom.

Nothing against the happy couple – I wish them a fairy tale life together – it’s just that (and I know I’m in the minority) I don’t care.

I do like the fact that it serves as a welcomed distraction. With all the insanity, evil, and havoc in the world it’s nice to spend a couple of days focusing on wedding arrangements and where Oprah will be sitting.

And it’s a shared event and there are so few of these lately besides protesting the insanity, evil, and havoc in the world.

Like I said, I'm in the minority.  We Yankees do love weddings. When Tiny Tim married Miss Vicki on THE TONIGHT SHOW it drew 45 million people. (It was second highest rated event in the ‘60s next to the moon landing.) By comparison, the Prince William/Kate Middleton nuptials attracted just 23 million.

There’s also the “American” factor. An American is marrying into the British Royal Family. And here in America, all we really care about are things that are American. If Harry was marrying a Dutch girl I don’t think there would be as many tea/viewing parties as were organized here in the colonies.

I hope the royal couple live in England because if they live here Harry is always in danger of being deported as an immigrant “animal.”

But personally, I’m not interested in the ceremony and hoopla. I’ve seen a few royal weddings in the past and the importance placed on incidental insignificant items seems way out of proportion to me. I very much like Meghan Markle, but I’d rather watch her on SUITS.

The only issue for me not participating in a shared event – will I feel left out? Will there be conversations I can’t participate in? Will I be out of the zeitgeist? Will folks be “liking” things and retweeting things I have no opinion on? So far, so good.  And I can always catch up by watching Melania's next wedding. 

I know by tomorrow our President will name O.J. Simpson as Attorney General and we’ll be off to another typical news cycle week. The wedding will be but a distant memory.  I just hope they last longer than Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki.   Eight years and over.   I think it will take Meghan longer than that to open all the blenders. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Time we'll never get back

We hear all the time that we spend a third of our lives sleeping. What about other precious time?

How much time that we’ll never get back do we spend…

Idling at intersections?

Waiting in doctors’ waiting rooms?

Trying on clothes we don’t wear?

Going through TSA inspections?

Re-reading paragraphs of books we’ve already read?

Talking to phone solicitors?

Sitting through commercials before movies start?

Waiting on the line for tech support?

Waiting in line at Starbucks?

Sitting on tarmacs?

Watching the little spinning beach ball?

Waiting for rock concerts to begin?

Channel surfing?

Reading bad jokes people email us?

Sending bad jokes to others?

Wrapping presents?

Stuck in traffic?

Playing Angry Birds?

Watching bad movies because we paid to see them?

Standing at bus stops?

Scrolling through Facebook postings of your friends’ adorable pets?

Reading this blog?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday Questions

FQ’s for U.

The Bumble Bee Pendant leads off.

Multi-cameras have always been my preference for watching a show because it often feels like a play.

That being said...now as a playwright, is there anything you'd love to bring to a multi-camera show that you can only do in a play or vice versa?

I’d like to bring back sophisticated comedies like FRASIER or CHEERS. I’d like to do a multi-cam where a network is not pressuring me to do a joke every second. I’d like the freedom to create characters with dimension and flaws and let the comedy come out of their behavior and struggles.

I’d like to be able to do long scenes. Again, there seems to be this fear that if the audience isn’t whip-sawed through an episode it’s going to instantly bail. I’d want my show to breathe a little.

And I’m convinced you could get MORE laughs and better laughs if you took this approach.

RyderDA asks:

How do you handle it when someone compliments a character for a line from a particular episode from a particular show that you wrote or helped write? "Ted Danson's so funny - last night he said 'You can't HANDLE the truth' I wish I was as witty as Ted."

Lots of people think the actors make up their lines. But as we are learning, there are a LOT of ill-informed people in this country.

When that happens I don’t say, “Hey, I wrote that line.” I gently say, “You do know the actors don’t make up those lines? That writers do?”

But what really pisses me off is ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY that has that feature where they have a collage of actors with thought bubbles attributing pithy lines their characters said to THEM. Come on, EW, you should know better.

Dr Loser wonders:

Granted, you're going to want to write 90% of your scripts with David Isaacs, because you're simpatico.

What about the other 10%? Groucho Marx? John Cleese? Richard Pryor?
Is there somebody out there who you would really, really want to have written a joint script?

In a writing room you are collaborating with others so I guess I could say I’ve partnered with Larry Gelbart, Jim Brooks, the Charles Brothers among others.

But in terms of an actual partnership, I wrote a screenplay with Robin Schiff that we sold to MGM about 15 years ago. Otherwise, it’s either David or I write by myself.

As for a dream collaborator – I’d like to write a musical with Sondheim. I’d like to write anything with Sondheim.

And finally, DyHrdMET wants to know:

Have you ever seen a sitcom pilot which got picked up, but then the series was either cancelled after a few episodes and/or just lost its way that quickly, and you thought that it would have been better as a feature film instead of a TV show?

A couple I can think of offhand. There was a show on ABC about a group of idiots trying to rob a celebrity. How the hell can you keep that going for seven years? And then a CBS show called WORST WEEK about the mishaps leading to a wedding.

Both of those sound like movie premises. Good TV series need to have legs and room to grow. They need to be open ended.   Shows that depend on a narrow narrative often box themselves in. That’s the way I felt about PRISON BREAK. After the first season when they broke out they seemed to flail around looking for story lines. My heart went out to those writers.

What’s your FQ? You can leave it in the comments section. Thanks much.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Off with their heads!"

Now that the major broadcast networks have announced their fall schedules, it’s time for the public humiliation that is “recasting” shows that have been picked up. High profile actors are fired along with screaming headlines on industry trade sites.

Connie Nielsen was just replaced on the new CBS series about the FBI. Mira Sorvino’s comeback was short-lived as she was fired off her new series last week. A few years ago Jenna Fischer was booted off MAN WITH A PLAN.

There are many other examples, but I don’t want to share them because I’m sure it’s opening up old wounds.

And of course a year ago, Erinn Hayes not only was fired from KEVIN CAN WAIT but her character was killed off. You think Erinn Hayes is smiling these days?

Replacing cast members is not a new thing. Lisa Kudrow was the original Roz in FRASIER only to be replaced by Peri Gilpin. (I think Lisa managed to bounce back from that however.)

But here’s the difference: Until the last few years, these cast changes were not made public. They didn’t appear in bold headlines on Hollywood trade sites.

Is it really necessary to publicize these personnel switches? Is this news of such importance that it’s worth humiliating the actor? Isn’t it enough that he lost his job on a network TV series? There are not enough stories about Cannes or Adult Swim acquisitions?

I’m sorry. It just seems unnecessarily cruel to me and serves no real purpose. Believe me, in six months I’m not going to send an angry email to Deadline Hollywood saying, “Hey, I just watched that new FBI show and Connie Nielsen wasn’t on it. What the fuck?! Why didn’t I know about this?”

I guess consideration and compassion have also now been replaced.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

EP72: Meet Matt Mira - host of After Trek, and co-host of every podcast on the internet


Ken talks to podcast host, writer, and comedian, Matt Mira about a variety of subjects including his busy schedule writing for The Goldbergs in Los Angeles, then hosting After Trek for CBS All Access every weekend in New York. He's been on more podcasts than you could count. Matt hosts his own podcast, Sidekick, and co-hosts The Nerdist Podcast. He’s the ultimate nerd overachiever, podcasting genius, and great guest!


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Network hopping

BROOKLYN 99 is moving from Fox to NBC. LAST MAN STANDING is moving from ABC to Fox. Does that strategy generally work?

Yes and mostly no.

A few of the “yeses”: JAG moved from NBC to CBS and not only became a huge hit, but spawned all the NCIS hits. And BAYWATCH departed NBC to first-run syndication and became a worldwide hit. (Who knew that people in other countries would want to watch hot babes in tiny bikinis?) And going way back to the ‘50s, MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY starring Danny Thomas was on ABC for the first four years and CBS the last seven (changing its name to THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW) where its ratings soared. And LEAVE IT TO BEAVER started on CBS but enjoyed more success on ABC.

Also AMERICAN IDOL moving from Fox to ABC although the numbers it gets now are not even close to the numbers they got during their heyday. Bring back Sanjaya!

But most fail.

BACHELOR FATHER in the ‘60s was on all three networks and didn’t make a dent. And if you want to go way way back, TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET didn’t click on either CBS, NBC, ABC, or Dumont. TAXI moved from ABC to NBC and was gone a year later. THE NAKED TRUTH fared no better on NBC than ABC. Moving to ABC from NBC did not jump-start SCRUBS. And there are many more examples.

Back in the late ‘70s when MTM was considered the Camelot of TV studios, they had THE TONY RANDALL SHOW on ABC. After getting only a 30 share (boy, those were the days) it was actually on the bubble. ABC offered a second season but only 13 episodes. MTM President Grant Tinker took the show to CBS where they offered a full-season. So Grant took it. A year later CBS cancelled THE TONY RANDALL SHOW. Grant later said he made a mistake moving it from ABC. That was where its audience was, he should have had enough faith that they would ultimately get their back 9 and possibly pave the way for future seasons. Moving shows is a big risk.

Now obviously shows that were cancelled and get a reprieve from another network don’t give a shit about the risks. They’re now playing with house money. But the networks tend to take the loss.

So why do networks do it? In most cases it’s because they own the particular show and want to protect their investment. 20th Century Fox owns LAST MAN STANDING. NBC’s parent company owns BROOKLYN 99. If BROOKLYN 99 were owned by Sony there’s no way in hell it would pop up on NBC (despite all the fan love). So let’s be clear, even if BROOKLYN 99 doesn’t get great ratings, NBC is stockpiling more episodes for later syndication and to sell to SVOD networks. And who knows? Maybe it will catch on at its new home. For NBC it’s a win-win.

I’m also guessing NBC’s comedy development wasn’t all that hot. It’s not like a truly great pilot was passed over for a series the number four network didn't want anymore.  

So you might see more of this. It’s no longer about winning in network television. It’s about making money any way you can. Too bad Fox wasn’t around when TOM CORBETT was on the air. That show could’ve landed there too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What's going on at Fox?

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post.

Gretchen asks:

I wonder what your thoughts are on Fox changing their sitcom schedule. For several years they've been the "young and cool" network with niche single camera comedies like New Girl, Brooklyn 99, Last Man on Earth, etc. They never became massive hits but everything put together gave them a nice brand.

Now they're clearly going a whole new direction cancelling almost all of their single camera sitcoms and picking up multi-cam comedies that are targeted for an older audience ("The Cool Kids" which stars Martin Mull and David Alan Grier in a retirement home and of course, "Last Man Standing" returning). Do you think they're making the play to go broader because of the upcoming Disney merger?

Absolutely, and that’s very astute on your part. But I think there are several things in play.

When Michael Thorn took over as president of the network he clearly stated that he believed in multi-cams.

And just a quick time-out to remind everyone that multi-camera comedies are shot like a play in front of a live audience. Four cameras are recording the action simultaneously. Single-camera comedies like THE GOLDBERGS are shot like a movie with one camera and no audience. Okay, now that everyone is up to speed…

People forget that FOX has had very few live sitcom hits, and that two of its biggest were indeed multi-cams. MARRIED WITH CHILDREN and THAT ‘70s SHOW. So it’s not like this is groundbreaking. Thorn believes, as I do, that the problem is not the format but the execution. When there’s a comedy that people want to watch, (a la ROSEANNE or BIG BANG THEORY) they don’t give a shit how many cameras there are. It’s just that multi-cams are held accountable. They have to be funny because they have an actual audience. And part of the problem with most single-camera sitcoms is that they’re not funny. They’re quirky, they’re ironic, they’re mildly amusing – but they’re not funny. Many single-camera niche comedy showrunners claim they don’t aim to be really funny. I claim it’s because they can’t be really funny.

For years now Fox has had the reputation as the hip niche comedy provider. Single-camera shows like NEW GIRL and THE MINDY PROJECT. Here’s the reality: NEW GIRL did well out of the gate but started to slide. None of their other niche comedies really broke through. In some cases Fox renewed low rated sitcoms because they owned them and wanted to accumulate enough episodes for syndication. And now there are numerous cable and SVOD networks offering niche comedies so Fox doesn’t even have a corner on the market.

Now Fox wants to be competitive. They’re clearly going for a broader audience with shows like THE COOL KIDS (about a retirement home) and LAST MAN STANDING. Economics also play a part. Fox owns LAST MAN STANDING. Once ROSEANNE became a big hit and Fox sensed LAST MAN STANDING would appeal to the same audience they revived it. Fox will be adding to their LMS inventory but more importantly going after ratings they never could achieve with THE MINDY PROJECT (no matter how many ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY love letters were written about it).

I also think they’re trying to rope in some of their audience from Fox News. LAST MAN STANDING is certainly a great carrot for that.

Will this experiment work? Hard to tell. Fox has always had trouble launching live sitcoms. But is that network promotion or just bad network development? Had Fox introduced better sitcoms might they have found success? Who knows? Fox has the advantage of NFL football to bring in viewers who don’t ordinarily watch that network. Especially this year since they have Thursday Night Football. So at least people will see the promos for these new shows. Whether they’ll stick around for them is anybody’s guess.

But at the end of the day I applaud Fox for taking a chance with a new direction instead of just re-signing tired shows that have no future nor audience. And if this doesn’t work, I say bring back THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The dreaded laugh machine

Here’s a FQ that became an entire post. It’s a subject that keeps coming up so I thought I’d address it again.

David poses the question.

Slate started a podcast called Decorder and the first episode was about the history of the laugh track (both the laff box machine and sweetening live studio laughter). I know in the past you've talked about having to kill laughs because it made the show run long. Did you have any other say into how the laughs were "mixed."

On the shows where I was the showrunner I had total say. We would go to the final sound mix, Bobby Douglass would plug in his laugh machine, and we would sit with him frame by frame. We chose to be very sparing with the laugh machine. Whenever possible we would use the actual laugh from the show. Sometimes we would cheat if there were two takes. Just as we’d use the best performance of the two takes, we used the biggest laugh reaction.

Also, we don't write multi-camera shows that have a joke a second.  We'd rather have no laughs for most of a page building to a truly big laugh.  So we were perfectly content with lots of lines not supplemented by artificial laughter. 

But it’s a matter of taste. There are some producers who really lean on that machine, pumping in loud boisterous phony laughs every second. Believe me, they’re not fooling anybody. All they’re doing is turning off viewers.

I see the need for them on multi-cam shows because the audience’s reaction is part of the mix, but if I ran a single-camera show I would not use a laugh track. This was our constant (and pretty much only) fight with CBS on MASH. They insisted we employ a laugh track. I used to say, “Where are these people? Is there a set of bleachers in the Swamp?” The only concession they gave us was in the OR.

A couple of concluding nuggets.

Bobby Douglass’ dad Charles invented the laugh machine.

And did you know that Bobby often adds laughs to live events like award shows? But in those cases, they’re actually needed.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Happy Mothers' Day to your mothers and queens

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!!! Especially to the mom of my kids, Debby, and the mother of my granddaughter, Kim. 

When you think of great mom's, who springs to mind first?  Why, Queen Elizabeth of course! 

In 1991 I was a rookie play-by-play announcer for the Baltimore Orioles. I kept a daily journal that year and sold it as a book. "It's Gone!...No, wait a minute"(my classic home run call unfortunately) was published by Villard and released in ’93. It’s available on Amazon or on a remainder table near you.  Her Majesty attended an Orioles game.  Here is certainly the only Queen Elizabeth baseball story you'll ever read: 
WEDNESDAY, MAY 15, 1991, BALTIMORE
A typical day really, except that the queen of England and the president of the United States attended the game. They saw the A’s win 6-3, although Randy Milligan hit his first home run of the year and then his second.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Philip are visiting the United States and wanted to view something that represented the “epitome of America”. That meant either the Shopping Channel or baseball. So our little ol’ ballpark on Thirty-third Street got the nod. The weather was glorious, the traffic horrendous, and the crowd merely moderate (32,501) to see this historic occasion (The queen was not as big a draw as free wristbands.)
The entourage arrived at 6:30 via motorcade and were whisked into a private reception hosted by club owner Eli S. Jacobs (whom I have yet to meet, by the way). The VIP party, which also included Mrs. Bush, baseball commish Fay Vincent (who told me before the game that the role of the commissioner in affairs such as these is “to be seen and then leave”), Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Mrs. Secretary of Defense, the Governor of Maryland, the British Foreign Secretary, and a number of the queen’s personal valets, secretaries, and foot stools. They all dined on crab cakes and hot dogs. (What, no crumpets and nachos??).
Everyone lingered over dinner for fifteen minutes, and then the royal party moved on to the Orioles dugout to greet the players of both teams.
I did not get to meet the queen. Jon Miller and I were on the air describing the proceedings. At 7:20 a receiving line of players was rushed through (viewed by the crowd on DiamondVision), and to the horror of the Secret Service, the president escorted Queen Elizabeth (or “Sausage” as Prince Philip calls her) up the top step into the on-deck area in full view of the masses. Personally, I feel Harold Baines would be in greater danger than the queen, but the Secret Service men held their breath just the same. The crowd roared its approval.
From there the royal party repaired back to Mr. Jacobs’ sky box on the mezzanine level just to the left of the press box. They sat comfortably behind bulletproof glass as a high school chorus mangled “God Save the Queen” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” over a sound system wracked by feedback.
They stayed for two whole innings, and I sort of felt bad because they were two very boring innings. Five walks, little action. Really, Your Highness, baseball is not that dull! I wanted her to stay longer, but by 8:45 the motorcade had shuttled her away. I also was hoping to have her stop by our booth and possibly read the “Esskay Meats Out-of-Town Scoreboard,” but that was not to be. See if I vote for her in the next election!
All in all it was a very exciting night. In three previous years in the minors the most important dignitary I ever saw attend a game was the Phillie Phanatic.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday Questions

Friday Questions to get into the Mother’s Day weekend.

Brian Phillips is up first.

I enjoy physical humor.

For you and David Isaacs, are sight gags easier or harder to come up with than verbal ones? Also, do either of you have a better knack for coming up with them?

We both love sight gags. It has less to do with whether they’re easy to come up with and more to do with whether they fit the tone of the piece. If we have a scene that’s pretty slapstick we can come up with tons of sight gags. But if a show is primarily verbal, the sight gag has to fit the situation and the reality.

I love to put in sight gags even in sophisticated comedies (like FRASIER). It breaks up the comic rhythm and generates laughs from a different source. In all of my stage plays, which are very verbal and grounded in reality I always have a few sight gags.

Another BIG factor: Can the actor perform the gag? You could have the most hilarious sight gag ever, but if the actor isn’t skilled in physical comedy it’s going to die a horrible death.

I’ve been very lucky in my career to work with actors like David Hyde Pierce. You could throw anything at him and he would crush it.

Francis Dollarhyde wonders:

Given that Nick Tortelli was mentioned in passing in lots of episodes (of CHEERS) prior to his first actual appearance, there seemed to be sense of anticipation for when he'd finally show up at the bar (which didn’t happen until halfway through season 2). This sort of points towards a big guest star.

Was it ever on the cards that Danny DeVito would play the part of Nick, to reprise the DeVito/Rhea Perlman dynamic in TAXI (especially since Nick Tortelli's general scumminess was not so far removed from Louie De Palma's?) Or am I totally off base? (Not that I'm sorry Dan Hedaya got the part, which he nailed).

No, it was never considered. Partly for the reason you stated; we didn’t want to just do Louie & Zena again. And we wanted Nick to be his own unique brand of scum.

Dan Hedaya was a gift from God. He was so funny in that role.

From MW:

Potentially dumb question about your podcast, which I like quite a bit. Your radio background is evident and makes the listening much better than the standard hemming and hawing most of us would do. Anyway...as a segment ends you say you'll be right back with... or something like that. Why? There is no pause or commercial where you go away. I'm assuming you don't "record" it all in one take and it's to let you know to find the next section, but why do you keep it in when there's no break in it. Told you it was a potentially dumb question.

Not a dumb question at all. I do record things in segments. And I don’t always know ahead of time whether I have commercials that week or not. If there are I want the audience to stay through them to the next thing. So that’s why I do it.

Worse comes to worst you get a five second music bumper then on to the next thing.

Steve asks:

I have a story idea that seems ideal (and others I have polled agree) for a particular sitcom, but I'm not a writer, and already have another career.

I could go through the effort of writing an entire episode spec script, but I understand those are pretty much ignored now for new shows.

What's the best way to get that story idea in front of the show? Try to contact one of the existing writers for the show?

I’m sorry to be blunt, but Steve, if you just have an idea for an episode of an existing show your chances of selling it are slimsly and nonesky. If you write a script you stand a slight chance.

You’re right in that most shows won’t read unsolicited scripts, but if the script is good it might attract an agent and that agent could then submit it. Yes, it’s a long shot, but crazier things have happened and I have to be honest and say that’s really the only way I see this working for you.

And finally, from Mike Miller:

Why hasn't there been a great TV Show about a sports team? There has not been a great, long running show about a team. The only ones I can come up with is "The White Shadow" and "Friday Night Lights" and they were more about high school.

Several reasons. First off, they tend to be expensive. Getting crowds and doing elaborate game situations takes time and money. Especially on the big league level.

Also, if you want to do a professional sport like MLB or the NBA you need permission and must pay royalties to use club logos. And sometimes the leagues want creative say or even creative control.

David and I had that with a pilot idea we once had involving pro basketball.  The NBA wanted creative control.  That was the end of that idea. 

Another problem, internationally shows about American sports don’t sell well.  And we live in a global economy. 

There have been attempts, notably PITCH on Fox a couple of years ago. So far no one’s really cracked it.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Elvis documentary on HBO

When most people think of Elvis Presley today, they think of this cartoonish character – a walrus with dyed jet black hair stuffed into a laughable white sequined jumpsuit with bell-bottoms attempting karate moves on stage while slurring songs he doesn’t remember. They think of the guy who used to eat entire chocolate cakes and shoot television screens whenever Robert Goulet was on. Or maybe they think back to the younger, strikingly-handsome former teen idol who starred in dozens of idiotic forgettable movies where he sang such classics as “Do the Clam.”

To me that’s one of many tragedies of Elvis Presley; the biggest is that he died at 42.

But you forget that he was an absolute trailblazer, that he single-handedly changed popular culture, and that he was a phenomenon the likes of which we haven’t seen since. He really was the King of Rock n’ Roll.

Happily, there is a new two-part Elvis Presley documentary that is extraordinary and really profiles the genius and the impact of this once-in-a-lifetime artist. Yes, there have been dozens of documentaries on Elvis, not to mention biopics, biographies, tribute shows, and radio documentaries. But I’ve never seen one that dealt so much into his music, his influences, and how he put it all together to create something utterly new and magic.

What you learn in this documentary is that Elvis didn’t just fall into this success. You see a new side of him – smart, observant, driven, and tireless. The impression he always gave off was that of a polite “aw shucks” country boy. But you find that he was very aware of exactly what he was doing and how it would further his career. I was very impressed.

His life was not charmed. He suffered loss, made a Faustian deal with Colonel Tom Parker who became his Svengali. Elvis made gobs of money but ultimately it was at the expense of his art and soul. The price of fame became isolation, drugs, excess, a tarnished legacy, and eventually an early death.

This documentary takes you back to the purity of his early career with wonderful insightful commentary by performers like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty (himself a tragedy).

I’m sure that anyone watching this program, regardless of age, will no longer think of Elvis Aaron Presley as a joke. And everyone should watch it just for that reason.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

EP71: Aloha OY


Ken shares his recent Hawaiian adventure, filled with all the usual Levine comic mishaps, celebrity sightings, and restaurant recommendations. It’s like being there without the sunburn or shark attack.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Come see my play reading FREE

Hey Angelinos, I'm having a reading of my new full-length play, OUR TIME this Friday at 4:00 in Santa Monica.  It's a loosely-based autobiographical comedy about four young people breaking into the world of comedy in 1975 LA.   There are still some tickets left and they're FREE. 

Interested?  Email me at

HollywoodLevine@outlook.com

... for details.  First come, first served.   Lotsa laughs.   Come join us. 

The FRASIER/AVENGERS connection

Reader “Luke” pointed me to an article where the writers of THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR said the inspiration for the banter between Iron Man and Dr. Strange was the interplay between Frasier and his brother Niles on FRASIER. I found that very flattering until I read the article.

First off, let me say I heard the two writers, Stephen McFeely & Christopher Markus, speak at the WGA screening of AVENGERS. They both seem like very bright, cool individuals.

So I don’t know if my issue is with them or how what they said was reported in the article. Here’s the quote from the article:

“Frasier was influential in our decision to put Stark and Strange together,” said co-writer Stephen McFeely in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment. He revealed that their interplay with each other was based on Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) and his just-as-obnoxious brother, Dr. Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce).

My problem is this: I wouldn’t characterize either Frasier or Niles as “obnoxious.” Would you? A little arrogant perhaps and a tad full of themselves, but hardly “obnoxious.”

Also, Frasier and Niles were essentially allies. In AVENGERS, Iron Man and Dr. Strange are no fans of each other. They’re sparring partners, not bantering brothers. Yes, at times the Frasier boys have a tiff, but I would never classify them as “opponents.”

I guess what bothers me, and again I don’t know who exactly used the term “obnoxious,” but FRASIER tried really hard to give its characters dimension and give its relationships depth. So to see Frasier & Niles reduced to a one-word description --- that I don’t even believe is accurate – was a little disappointing.

Still, it’s nice that McFeely & Markus were fans of FRASIER. Too bad the show isn’t still going. We would have loved to have Thanos call in to Frasier’s radio show.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR -- my review

If you love the Marvel Comic universe then AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR will be action porn to you. Hundreds of your favorite Marvel superheroes team up in many combinations on many planets and worlds to give you a 2 ½ hour montage of every CGI comic book fight scene you’ve ever seen. Everyone gets thrown around like rag dolls, everyone gets flung twenty yards into a concrete building. At least five times.  Thank God no one gets hurt. 

If you’re locked in to all these characters and the Marvel legend I’m sure it’s great fun to see them all interact. It’s the ultimate All-Star game. I’ve only seen some of the previous movies so there were holes in my knowledge of the saga. Captain America now has a beard and wears black? Did I miss three sequels?

For all the special effects, explosions, epic battle scenes, and CGI animation for me the best part of the movie was the occasional funny quip. There were some great lines, and as opposed to the (competing) DC universe, Marvel doesn’t take itself so seriously. I love that.

And I appreciate that they attempted to build in emotional moments and tried to create reasons for vengeance besides just the standard “We have to stop the powerful supervillain who wants to control the galaxy,” but God it was overkill. And as a result, for me, some of these action and battle sequences were just mind-numbing. No one gets injured really so it’s just transformers pummeling each other. I've now seen it a thousand times in hundreds of movies. 

I can almost hear some of you now. “Levine’s old and just doesn’t like Marvel movies.” Not true. As readers of this blog will attest, I loved THE BLACK PANTHER, think it’s the best movie of the year so far. I really enjoyed the first couple of CAPTAIN AMERICA movies. Same with IRONMAN, ANT MAN, and they now have the best Spider-Man.  I even loved the AGENT CARTER TV series. But this installment felt unnecessarily long and prone to excess.

I know it’s getting terrific reviews, fans seem to love it, and it’s racking up boxoffice gold, but am I the only one who wasn’t completely enamored by this film? I know to say anything disparaging about THE AVENGERS is like spitting on the cross and admitting you’re 150 years old, but again I wonder, is it just me? I dunno. Maybe if they swapped out Mighty Mouse for Vision I would have liked the movie better.

Monday, May 07, 2018

The untitled diverse multi-cultural multi-camera family pilot

Every year there seems to be a trend in network comedy pilots. This year it’s strange blended families filled with as much diversity as the projects will allow.

Lots of single parents with complications. Lots of large families in various combinations. Lots of ethnic families. And then there are blended ethnic families.

There are unlikely pairings of single parents that “become” families. There are blended cultures trying to become families.

And of course there’s the family member who moved away but now must return to the family.

And most of them are “loosely based on the writer or star’s life.”

Many sound ridiculously complicated or with large casts. A few have narrators. That always scares me. When you have so many characters that you can’t let their behavior describe them, when you have to tell the audience who they are and what their place in the series is that always signals trouble to me.

A number of them are clearly just vehicles for their stars. The family premise is just an afterthought.

Nothing sounded particularly original.

Which is why, execution is so critical. For all I know four or five of these pilots are great. They’re smartly written, perfectly cast, with fresh looks at familiar situations. It could be a banner crop of pilots, or another year of 9JKL’s.

Upfronts are next week and we’ll know soon enough. At least it’s nice to see that multi-cams appear to be back in favor (until none of them are picked up).

The irony is I don’t think you could sell FRIENDS today. Six white kids who go through their twenties together – not a chance.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

It's just COMEDY, people

Okay, so I've been ranting about the same thing, but Bill Maher does it better and with funny graphics, and of course he's angrier than me. Worth watching.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Hawaii Five-18

Aloha!  Just got back from a few weeks on Maui.  Was gone before the volcano and earthquakes.  My heart goes out to everyone there.  Anyway, thought I would share some photos.  I'll do my traditional crazy travelogue on my podcast, which drops the middle of the week.  But in the meantime...

My adorable granddaughter, Becca.

Black sand beach

I forget.  This might be a sunset.

Good advice, wouldn't you say?

In case I want to swim to another island

Nightfall in the Blue Lagoon

More Becca, more eating

This is the kind of stuff I post on Instagram

We took a submarine ride.  Dive! Dive!

Not for the claustrophobic

135 feet below.  Notice Sponge Bob.

Much better name than Starbucks

Gotta go to a tacky luau

Not a lot of takers for the crap they sell

But someone paid $38,000 for THIS.