Saturday, September 22, 2018

If I wrote the Superman legend

EXT. CORNFIELD – SMALLVILLE, KANSAS -- DAY (2000)

A rocket hurtles out of the sky and lands with a crash, a plume of smoke trailing behind it.

A 1998 Kia comes down the road. Inside are Yetta and Morris, a middle-aged Jewish couple.

YETTA: Morris, stop the car!

MORRIS: Why?

YETTA: What do you mean why? Didn’t you just see that?

MORRIS: Let’s not get involved.

YETTA: Stop the car or so help me I’m taping over BAYWATCH.

MORRIS: Alright. Alright. I’ll stop the car. Leave it to you to want to examine every little object that falls out of the sky.

YETTA:  You know that's a terrible show, right?

MORRIS: Look, I stopped the car, okay?!

YETTA:  Let's have a look.

She gets out of the car.

MORRIS: What?  We're getting out of the car?  Aren’t we trespassing?

YETTA: Oh shut up.

He follows her across the field.

MORRIS: Who knows? Someone may come and think we did this.

They arrive at the scene.

YETTA: It’s some sort of rocket.

MORRIS: Great. You happy now? It’s a rocket. Let’s go.

YETTA: Aren’t you even curious as to how it got here?


MORRIS: No. It’s a rocket. Who shoots rockets? Kids. Skinheads.  For all we know there’s a Hitler Youth group in Smallville and it's der Fuehrer Air Power Day.

YETTA: That’s ridiculous.

MORRIS: You haven't been to the Dairy Queen lately.

YETTA: (examining closer) Wait a minute. Morris, I think there’s a baby inside.

MORRIS: Okay. Now we’re leaving for sure.

YETTA: I swear I'm erasing all eight episodes of BAYWATCH. 

MORRIS:  Well then just kill me!

YETTA: Who do think would do such a thing?

MORRIS: I told you, the skinheads.  There's probably a new chapter -- Hitler Toddlers.

YETTA: Well, we’ve got to get the poor thing out.

MORRIS: I’ll call the Auto Club.

YETTA: We can’t wait forty-five minutes. Give me a hand. We’ve got to get it out ourselves.

MORRIS: What? Us? Are you crazy? That thing is hot. What if I order a pizza? They’ll be here in thirty minutes or less. Let the pizza boy open the rocket.  I'll  tip him.

YETTA: I should have married Saul Gazin.

MORRIS: Oh, again with the "Saul Gazin". Mr. Perfect. He’d get the baby out. He probably has oven mitts right there in his glove compartment just for an emergency like this.

YETTA: My mother and the entire congregation was right about you.

She takes off her sweater, wraps it around her hand for protection and begins pulling at the latch. Out of guilt he wraps his jacket around his hand and joins in.

MORRIS: Move away. I’ll do this.

YETTA:  Thank you. You're such a prince.

He yanks and pulls and strains.

MORRIS: If my back goes out, good luck getting the Nazis to pay for my medical bills.

YETTA: Maybe if you exercised more than once every fifteen years.

MORRIS: Do YOU want to do this?

YETTA: No. Fine. Keep going.

MORRIS: Stop nagging. I’ve never broken into a rocket before.

YETTA: Sorry… but you really do have no muscle tone.

Finally, the latch opens.

MORRIS: There!

YETTA: Oh thank God!


She sweeps the baby up into her arms.

YETTA: He is so cute.

MORRIS: He? Then that rules out China.

YETTA: Why would anyone do this to a precious little baby?

MORRIS: You’re looking for answers? In this crazy world? Why can't they solve the Middle East?  How could a thing like the Exxon Valdez oil spill happen?  How is George Bush running for president? I think the real question here is what are we going to do with him? Does Protective Services have a UFO division?

YETTA: Morris, why don’t we keep him?

MORRIS: What?!

YETTA: We always wanted a baby.

MORRIS: Yetta, that’s insane. We also want a time share in Hawaii. 

YETTA: We talked about adopting. Y’know, after learning that your sperm count was low.

MORRIS: You gotta bring that up, don’tcha? I bet Saul Gazin could repopulate the world!

YETTA: I’m just saying.

MORRIS: Look, you can pull the cable out of the wall.   I’m not keeping this child.

YETTA: Don’t you see what this is? It’s a sign from God, Morris. It’s like when Bithiah found baby Moses floating on the Nile and raised him. Change boat to guided missile and it’s the same thing. Morris, this child – I just get the sense he’s… special in some way. And there’s a reason we found him. These things are not by accident. If that had landed five minutes earlier maybe Martha and Jonathan Kent would have found him and fifteen years from now he’d be selling dope.

MORRIS: (softening) Well… I always did want a son to take over the Woolworth store. But what if his real parents do come after him? What if we see a milk carton and there is the baby or a picture of the rocket?

YETTA: Then we’ll call Protective Services.

MORRIS: This is so nuts.

YETTA: Morris, I won’t ask you for another thing for months.  Not even a new garbage disposal that if you have a nose you know we need desperately. 

He considers, then finally:

MORRIS: Alright. We’ll take him.

YETTA: Seriously?

MORRIS: Yes, because my life isn't stressful enough.

YETTA: Oh, darling. I’m so happy.

MORRIS: What do we name him?  And if the answer is "Saul" then the deal's off.

YETTA: How about Zvee? After my grandfather.

MORRIS: A perfect name for a kid growing up in Kansas.   Zvee Sugarman.

YETTA: I love you.

MORRIS: Yeah yeah. Let’s go eat.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Friday Questions

Friday Questions anybody?

Michael leads off.

I enjoyed the new Vanity Fair article on Frasier and was glad to see you were interviewed. The article mentioned the "Three Valentines" episode from season 6 in which Niles starts a fire in Frasier's apartment. I re-watched it immediately and was astounded by David Hyde Pierce's performance. My question is this - Given the live fire was that scene filmed in front of a live audience and in real time? If so would fire staff have been located actually in the apartment but out of frame?

That was pre-shot without an audience. And filmed in pieces... with half the fire department of LA on the stage.  It’s still my favorite sequence in FRASIER. Step aside Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Lucy – make room for David Hyde Pierce.

Howard Matthews asks:

Ken, for those of us blessed/cursed with living on another continent, are any of your play scripts available online? I'd love to read some of your plays.

Stay tuned. I am in the process of putting together a website dedicated to licensing and selling my plays. It’s coming very soon. My goal is to get my work out there for more people to see (and hopefully enjoy).

From Frank Beans:

One thing I've been wondering: Do you ever reuse your rejected pilots/scripts later on down the road, with a different network or even the same one? Is this a common thing to do?

It’s not common but it does happen, and for David and me it’s happened three times. We had a family pilot at CBS. They ultimately passed and ABC picked it up. We had a political pilot for ABC that they felt was too controversial (at the time) and HBO had us redevelop it and make it even more controversial.

And finally, we had a pilot at FOX that they passed on saying it was more of an NBC show. A few years later one of the executives in that meeting went to NBC and sure enough she bought it for the peacock.

None of those projects ultimately got on the air, but we got paid twice for the same script so you won’t hear me complaining.

And finally, Andrew has a question about the great writer, Larry Gelbart.

When he wrote Oh God!, did he have George Burns and John Denver in mind? Or did the casting come later? It was certainly a perfect match between the script and the actors.

No. And this is going to sound crazy but Larry’s original conception was Woody Allen playing the John Denver part and Mel Brooks playing God.

Yes, Burns and Denver were great, but wouldn’t you have LOVED to see the Allen-Brooks version?

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

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Another one of my little quirks...

For many reasons I could never become a doctor and one (although probably not the first) is that it drives me crazy to keep people waiting. Most doctors I go to have two or three little examining rooms and they flit from one to the other. Just knowing there are two other people sitting in rooms waiting while I explain for the ninth time to some idiot patient why chewing tobacco is not good for them would keep me in a constant state of anxiety. And that’s not even worrying about all the patients in the waiting room.

There is a very famous (and excellent) restaurant in LA called the Apple Pan. Great burgers, and believe it or not, pies. It’s also one of the few remaining unique dining experiences in Los Angeles. They don’t have seventeen locations. They have one. Now that Cassell’s is essentially gone (a new version has opened but pales in comparison to its old self), the Apple Pan may have the best burger in town. (I know this will spark a lot of comments arguing over this fact. I welcome this debate.) I’d eat there a lot. But…

You walk in and there’s this big horseshoe counter. Everyone sits at the counter. And it’s very popular so it’s always crowded. As a result, there are always people standing behind you, hovering, waiting to take your seat. I find this incredibly unnerving. So when I go to the Apple Pan, unless it’s a real off-time, I find myself wolfing down my food as fast as I can.  (New Yorkers having lunch in Manhattan know of what I speak.)   And yet, I look around and there are others at the counter who have finished their lunch and their drink and are just sitting there reading a book completely oblivious to the six angry people breathing down their necks. Hope they never need the Heimlich Maneuver.

Other examples: being in a public bathroom while someone is jiggling the door. I’m sure there are folks who sit on the john, check their email, and maybe even bring a magazine. I want to kill those folks.

In a car. I’m about to get out of a parking space. There is a car waiting for the space. There are seven cars stopped behind him. I don’t leisurely get in the car, touch up my make up, take a few sips from my Starbucks, scroll through my playlists until I find one I want to listen to, readjust the side mirrors, program my GPS, turn on the engine, put on the brake lights and then for no reason whatsoever just pause for another three minutes. If another car is waiting I get in and GO.

There are many other examples (feel free to add yours) but you get the idea. The point is this drives me batty, probably battier than it should.

Is it just me?

And sorry if I offend, but I wish it were EVERYBODY.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

EP90: To Rome with Like and Barcelona with Love


Ken provides a comedic guided tour of his recent European misadventures.  It’s “Lifestyles of the ‘not-rich-enough’ and ‘known by a few’.” 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

RIP Thad Mumford

It is with great sadness I must report the passing of Thad Mumford. He was 67. Thad was a wonderful writer, probably best known for his work on MASH. He was part of the regime that followed me yet we became friends. He and his partner Dan Wilcox wrote a number of terrific episodes the final three years of that show.

Thad was one of the first African-American comedy writers to break into primetime. He was smart, very funny, and great to have in a writers room. It’s true that most comedy writers don’t laugh at pitched jokes. You could come up with the funniest line of the century and most comedy writers would nod and say: “Yeah, that could work. Let’s go with that.”

Not Thad.

He laughed, loudly and from the heart. In a highly competitive business he was encouraging and supportive.

He was also a diehard Yankee fan.

When Thad was a teenager he was the Yankees batboy. That began a lifelong love affair with the pinstripes. In 1992 when I was broadcasting for the Seattle Mariners we went into New York midseason and happened to be there for Old Timers Day. Now Old Timers Day in the original Yankee Stadium 25 years ago meant Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio and Whitey Ford with Mel Allen emceeing. Among the Yankee greats who put on the uniform one more time that day was Thad Mumford.

I invited him up to the booth during the game and put him on the air with me for a couple of innings telling hilarious Yankee stories. Thad was a great guest because he was so funny and so quick.

Thad Mumford was a real character. Dressed preppy. Ate more deli than most Jewish people. Studied black history. Hung out with Loretta Swit and Bobby Richardson. Wrote jokes for Joan Rivers and thoughtful pieces for the New York Times.

I will miss his wit, his friendship, his Yogi Berra stories, but most of all his laugh. And I give thanks for all the many many laughs he provided. Thanks to reruns he’ll still be providing them. Meanwhile, he’s probably up somewhere giving Mickey Mantle shit for bunting once in 1964. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Last night's Emmy Awards

Boy, I’m glad I’m not reviewing the Emmys this year. Because if you say anything even remotely critical or snarky about anybody or any show or any horribly embarrassing comedy bit these days you’ll be branded a racist. So I’ll just say Glenn Weis proposing to his girlfriend was a great moment and why we tune in for these live events. Betty White is a national treasure. Beau Weaver did a great job as the announcer. I was happy that they managed to include Thad Mumford in the In Memoriam section (my tribute to Thad posts tomorrow). And I cheered when my next door neighbor won an Emmy. Other than that – ugh! (Am I allowed to say ugh? Am I offending anyone if I say ugh?)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Tonight's Emmy Awards

I won’t be reviewing the Emmys tonight.

Several reasons.

I was going to do it for my podcast but technical issues prevent me from posting it early tomorrow morning. And the whole point is writing and getting it out there as fast as possible so references are still fresh in people’s minds and if any of my jokes happen to be similar to jokes in other reviews you’ll know that's merely coincidental. 

But that requires basically staying up all night writing (and then recording).

And I’ll be honest, after almost twenty years I’m just getting tired of doing that. And it’s less about the effort required and more about my diminishing interest in the award shows themselves.

Especially the Emmys.

There are now so many shows that blur the lines between categories that some of the nominations are absurd. There are a couple of series in the "Best Comedy" category that aren’t really comedies at all. Meanwhile, actual quality sitcoms that strive to make you laugh are not even nominated. So what’s the point?

As for the acting nominations, they’re based solely on who is on a hot show not who gave the most outstanding performance. And I understand that, especially since there are now so many series on so many platforms that it’s impossible for voters to see everything, but there are nominees who have no business being there while other extraordinary performers are shut out. I hate when I’m rooting for people to NOT win and that’s what this has become in certain instances. I much prefer to be excited and happy for deserving winners.

Here too it’s the blurring of lines. How are sketch performers who do a multitude of characters from SNL and sitcom actors who play the same character week after week in the same category? Why are certain actors just Academy darlings and get nominated every year no matter what they’re in? And yes, I’m looking at you Jeff Daniels.

What’s the difference between “Reality Competition” and “Structured Reality Program?” LIP SYNC BATTLE is nominated for “Structured.” But it has the word BATTLE right in the title? It’s not a competition? There’s only so much money the SHARK TANK sharks are going to invest. Aren’t the people trying to get that money essentially in competition with each other? Why is SHARK TANK is the “Structured” category.

Some of the nominees for “Best Short Form” are essentially promo pieces for current network shows. Is that in the spirit of the award? For “Outstanding Short Form Variety” these are three of the nominees: BETWEEN THE SCENES – THE DAILY SHOW, CREATING SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, and THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON – COVER ROOM. They’re trailers, people. They’re click bait. They’re not Emmy worthy.

Anyway, you get the idea. The last few years have been a slog to review the Emmys and it’s not like I’m getting paid. Tomorrow I may or may not do a brief overview depending on whether I have anything more to say and whether I don’t just turn off the show and watch MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL instead.

All that said, good luck tonight to the nominees… that are deserving.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

What's it like writing for animals?

A lot easier than directing them. On FRASIER the key to writing for Eddie was not asking too much of him. Moose (Eddie’s real name) had an extraordinary trainer in Mathilde de Cagny. As long as the stunt was quick and doable, Mathilde could get Moose to do it (always through treats and loving care). If there was some question while we were writing we would just ask Mathilde. More often than not she’d say Moose could do it. The dog was a gamer! With actors we had to ask their managers.

Other writers were more of a problem. One day in the writers room I pitched some bit with Eddie and a sock and one of the writers (who constantly drove everyone nuts) asked, “What is Eddie thinking now?” What is he fucking THINKING??! How do someone like that without being brought up on charges?

Moose passed away at 15, which is like 108 dog years. I'm only sorry he never got to be on INSIDE THE ACTOR'S STUDIO with James Lipton.

Directing animals is another story.

I directed an episode of JUST SHOOT ME called “Sewer”. The B-story had Nina (Wendie Malick) bringing in an orangutan. I forget why but I’m sure it was for a good reason. He was a little harder to train and was in a good part of the show.

On filming night I said to the actors, if he does anything unexpected just go with it and stay in character. We can always re-shoot the scene. Likewise, I told the four camera operators, if you’re on the orangutan and he does something wacky stay on him. Don’t go to your next shot.

Sure enough with cameras rolling and the audience in place, Wendie steps out of the elevator hand in hand with her furry friend, approaches David Spade’s counter, and has a brief exchange with him. The orangutan, who comes up to Wendie’s knees, lifts her dress a few inches, and peers right up between her legs. God love her, Wendie stayed completely in character and reacted with utter nonchalance. The audience went completely nuts. It was a five minute laugh.

After the show had been filmed and the audience released I went back to do some pick-ups. The orangutan’s trainer tapped me on the shoulder and gently told me it was past his bedtime. I said it would only be about another fifteen minutes. He repeated: “Uh, it’s past his bedtime.” I then asked what happens if he stays up after his bedtime?

“He bites everybody he sees.”

“Okay everybody, that’s a wrap!”

I’ve heard stories of actors who were reluctant to work with animals for fear of being upstaged, but I’ve never personally encountered one. However, I think there was a cat who once refused to work with Dustin Hoffman.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

My favorite Neil Simon movie

TCM in tribute to Neil Simon played a number of his movies last night.  A few years ago I hosted a month-long Neil Simon film festival on TCM.  Although they didn't use my intros and outros last night, TCM says a Backlot website that is replaying some Simon movies with my wraparounds.  You can find the site here.  

But my favorite Neil Simon movie was THE HEARTBREAK KID.   In case they don't show it, or they do but you missed it, here is the transcription of my INTRO and OUTRO to that film.  

INTRO:

Hi, I’m Ken Levine – a TV writer, playwright and a blogger – quick plug: Ken Levine dot blogspot dot com – and I’m back for the final night of hosting TCM’s “Friday Night Spotlight” on Neil Simon. And right now we have my all-time favorite of his films. It’s “The Heartbreak Kid,” from 1972 starring Charles Grodin, Cybil Shepherd, also Eddie Albert and Jeannie Berlin.

This is a very atypical Neil Simon film – quite dark – with a screenplay based on a short story by Bruce J. Friedman. There aren’t a ton of Simon jokes and wisecracks here. It’s very satirical, very dry, very Jewish and the humor comes mostly from hypocrisy.

Grodin plays a total cad – a guy who only gets married because his girlfriend – Jeannie Berlin – won’t sleep with him until they’re legal. But of course, their first night together is horrible – at least, according to him.

They drive to Miami for his honeymoon anyway, and while there he proceeds to fall in love with a wasp-y beauty, played by Cybil Shepherd.


And he spends the entire honeymoon figuring out how he can be with her instead of his newylwed bride and convince Cybil’s father Eddie Albert that he’s worthy of his daughter’s hand. There’s clearly a level of Anti-Semitism in the Eddie Albert character, and Grodin is hardly a sympathetic character on any level, but you’ve got to give him credit for salesmanship, perseverance and moxie.

You’ll find yourself laughing at his sheer audacity.

And Eddie Albert steals absolutely every scene he’s in.

Jeannie Berlin is also fantastic as the jilted wife – and both Jeannie and Eddie Albert were nominated for Academy Awards for their supporting performances. The film is directed by Elaine May, who – as you may know – in the late 50’s and early 60’s was one-half of a comedy team with another one of Neil Simon’s long-time collaborators, Mike Nichols. Elaine may is also Jeannie Berlin’s mother.

Here’s the film, with Neil Simon himself in a cameo as one of the wedding guests. From 1972 – “The Heartbreak Kid.”

OUTRO:

I love that movie. It’s sick and twisted – but the absurdity is played so straight, so dry, so earnest. I think a lot of the credit goes to director Elaine May for establishing the tone.

There’s also that scene with the egg salad – i mean, will you ever eat an egg salad sandwich again? Or not use sunblock?

In 2007, there was a remake of “The Heartbreak Kid” done by the Farelly Brothers starring Ben Stiller, but it was not faithful to the original story by Bruce J. Friedman and it was, I have to say, awful. For the record, Neil Simon was not associated with it.

Up next is another great Neil Simon movie – with a screenplay based on one of Simon’s own Broadway productions. On stage, it starred Peter Falk and Lee Grant – on film, it’s Jack Lemmon and Ann Bancroft. (The Prisoner of Second Avenue)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Friday Questions

Let’s get to your Friday Questions, shall we?

Buttermilk Sky leads off.

In the ODD COUPLE series, though not in the play or movie, Felix is a huge opera fan -- as was Tony Randall in real life. It seems clear that the star's personality shaped the character. As a writer, are you happy to blend fiction with reality this way, or would you either refuse or reluctantly agree just to keep the peace?

If I can work an actor’s actual personality into the character he’s playing I’m thrilled. It gives the character more dimension and will make the character more organic to play.

But that’s just window dressing in a sense because the real work is in the casting. Get the right actor for the part. In the case of THE ODD COUPLE, Tony Randall was absolutely the dead-on choice. Whether the Felix character liked opera was immaterial. The fact that Tony did and the writers were able to use that was a lovely bonus. If they had cast Chuck Norris in the role, his love of opera would mean shit.

From David Kruh:

During a show's credits viewers see "producer" and "executive producer" and other titles but you and many others who worked series constantly talk about being a "showrunner" and how critical that person is to a show. So why isn't "Showrunner" a credit that we would see at the end of an episode?uring a show's credits viewers see "producer" and "executive producer" and other titles but you and many others who worked series constantly talk about being a "showrunner" and how critical that person is to a show. So why isn't "Showrunner" a credit that we would see at the end of an episode?

Simple. “Executive Producer” sounds much more impressive than “Showrunner.” It’s the same reason there are CEO’s and not “Guys in charge.”

But Showrunners are compensated in other ways – like money, shared ownership, and vanity cards.

slgc asks:

Do you get writing ideas in the middle of the night, or when you're drifting off to sleep? If so, what attempts do you make to record them so you can remember them in the morning?

I do get ideas at night and have a pad and pen at the ready to write them down. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but when I’m in a relaxed state ideas and solutions to script problems come to me.

That’s why, when I’m writing a script at night and get stuck on something I just walk away, do something else or maybe go to bed and let my subconscious mind work it out. More often than not by the morning I have the fix.

I also get a lot of ideas in the shower and that’s tougher because I don’t bring a pad or tape recorder into the shower with me. So I have to sometimes struggle to memorize whatever solution I’ve arrived at. Or take very quick showers.

dandy_lio wonders:

Ken - will you do transcripts of your podcast? I'd really love to read them. I am deaf and can't listen to them.

I will look into that. Yes, that would be nice service to provide. Thanks.

And finally, friend-of-the-blog, Janet Ybarra queries:

It's often been said on MASH, Korea was actually an allegory for Vietnam. Since you and David we're on staff toward the later years, did the producers and writers just leave it as that--subtext--or as the seasons went long--like the Vietnam War--was there any more overt approach to writing as if it was Vietnam in everything but name?

Always always always subtext. We just allowed the audience to make that connection on their own. Our focus on the writing was the Korean conflict and our stories came exclusively from that. We never did interviews with Vietnam vets and just adjusted their stories to fit Korea.

I won’t lie and say the connection to the Vietnam War wasn’t a key component to our success, but MASH lasted way past the end of the Vietnam War and its popularity never waned. In fact, it increased.

What’s your FQ? And if you’re in LA, come see my one act play this weekend at the Hollywood Short + Sweet Festival.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Wanna see one of my plays? Or a bunch?

The Hollywood Short + Sweet Festival opens tonight.  These are programs of ten-minute plays submitted by playwrights from all over the world.  I am incredibly fortunate to have three of my plays selected for the festival.   Last year I had one -- THE FUGITIVE (and you can hear all about that on last week's podcast).

This week is AVOCADO TOAST, which I also directed.  Next week is 15 SECONDS and THANKS DUDE.  I also know some of the other playwrights and their plays are terrific.  They get into festivals all the time because they're that good.

For tickets you can go here. 

The shows are Thursday through Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 6. .  I'll be there for every performance this week (since I also directed) and most of the performances next week.   Come say hi to the cowering playwright in the back corner.

Thanks to all the actors, directors, crew and festival people for your talent and hard work on my behalf.

And if you're in Pittsburgh, I have a half-hour play, WHEN ROMCOMS GO BAD playing this weekend at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival.  Thanks to all of those folks.  You can get info and tickets here. 

I probably have six MASH episodes rerunning this week but I'm way more excited about the plays.  Hope you can get to one of them.  Or three.  Four actually.    Thanks.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

EP89: Surviving the red carpet: Award war stories


Throughout his career in Hollywood, Ken has received multiple nominations and won many awards, but also missed out on some too! On today's episode, Ken shares his personal stories of winning and losing various awards like Emmys. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Larry Gelbart

Lost in all the horrors of 9-11 is that I lost another dear friend who died on that date.  Larry Gelbart in 2009.   Were it not for 9-11 I might have saluted him every year on that date.  But since almost ten years have gone by, I thought I'd share once again my thoughts on Larry Gelbart.  Usually when I write tributes I do them quickly and post them quickly.  For Larry it took two days just to compose myself.   Hopefully you'll see why he was such a special man and such a blessing to my life. 
In addition to everything else, he wrote beautiful eulogies. With his flair for words and wit and warmth he constructed eloquent touching tributes. I used to kid him that he had to live forever because no one else could write them as well. And now I find myself in the agonizing position of trying to write his. First off, let me say, it won’t be as good.

So rather than tell you what you probably already know – that he was the Mozart of comedy writing and recipient of every honor but the Heisman Trophy – I’ll try to share some things you might not know; some personal stories.

In many ways the hardest part of writing scripts is turning them in. Because then you have to wait. And wait. And wait. It’s a stomach churning exercise filled with angst and insecurity and flashbacks of high school. After a day you’re an utter basket case. After a week you’re confessing to crimes you didn’t even commit.

When you turned in a script to Larry at 5:30 he called you at home to say he loved it… at 6:30. The first Rolaid hadn’t even dissolved in your stomach yet. Trust me, this is unheard of. But that was Larry. Empathetic, considerate, a mensch. He was the kindest man in an industry that seriously frowns on that sort of thing. Fortunately, he had the talent to overcome it.

And despite his enormous success, he was just as human as the rest of us mere boulevard farcitiers. He arranged for house seats for my wife and I to see the original production of SLY FOX. Jacqueline Kennedy was sitting next to me. When I called the next day to thank him and tell him who was sitting on my left, he got very nervous. “Did she like it? Did she laugh? Which jokes?” He was thrilled to learn she did laugh, and I’d like to think thrilled that my wife and I laughed too but probably more Jackie. After all, she paid for her seat.

I mentioned one day in a rewrite that my favorite MASH episode was “the More I See You” with Blythe Danner guesting as Hawkeye’s former flame. A few days later I received a gift. In those days Larry used to write his scripts longhand on legal pads. He gave me a Xeroxed copy of his original first draft. And the Mozart comparison continues. There were no cross-outs. Every line was perfectly constructed. Emotion and humor flowed from speech to speech with absolute ease. How does one do that? It’s impossible! That draft (now bound) remains one of my most cherished possessions.

And by the way, he could write an entire MASH script in one night. He was incredibly fast. Stanley Donan was going to direct a movie called BLAME IT ON RIO. He was not happy with the draft his writer had ,turned in and asked Larry if as a favor, he’d read it and offer his suggestions. Larry said sure (Larry always said sure). The script was delivered to him Friday at 5:30. No, he didn’t call back with his reaction at 6:30. He waited until Monday morning. But he said he had so many problems with it that instead of just scribbling down some notes he took the liberty of REWRITING the whole screenplay himself. Unbelievable. Even Mozart didn’t compose an opera over the weekend. Larry said use what you like. Donan used every word.

A similar story: For rewrites we would dictate to our assistant, Ruth, who was lightening quick. There was a big Radar speech. Larry started pitching and was just on fire. We were in stitches. Ruth broke in, telling him to slow down. Even she couldn’t write that fast. Larry said, “Just get half” and kept going. The half she didn’t get was better than anything else on television.

Larry always sent thank you notes. Larry always dropped you a line wishing you well on your upcoming project. Larry always returned phone calls. Larry always emailed you right back. Larry even left comments on my blog. I half expect a thank you note for this essay.

His legacy will last forever. His work was timeless, universal, steeped in humanity, and brilliant. MASH will always air eight times a night, TOOTSIE and OH GOD! will forever be on your screens (be they 64” plasmas or 2” iPods), FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, and CITY OF ANGELS will be revived as long as there are stages.

Like any screenwriter, Larry had drawers and drawers of unproduced or unsold or unfinished projects. In June he just had a reading of a pilot he conceived. Last year he mounted a play in Chicago he was shepherding to Broadway. At the time of his death he was adapting one of his films into a musical and one of his musicals into a film. So yes, he left behind an amazing body of work but still we “just got half”.

Many people who knew him felt that Hawkeye Pierce was an idealized version of Larry. I’d like to think one of his other character creations was a more accurate representation of just who he was. God.

Enjoy the work of Larry Gelbart. You will laugh until you hurt. And for those of us who were blessed to have known him, we will hurt until we laugh.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

9-11 and David & Lynn Angell

I re-post this every year on this date and always will. 

9/11 affected us all, profoundly and in many cases personally. Two of my dear friends were on flight 11. David and Lynn Angell. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought of them, missed them, and not felt grateful that they were in my life.

David and I worked together on CHEERS, WINGS, and FRASIER (the latter two he co-created). We used to call him the “dean”. In his quiet way he was the one we always looked to for final approval of a line or a story direction. He brought a warmth and humanity to his writing that hopefully rubbed off on the rest of us “schickmeisters”. And he could be funny – sneaky funny. During long rewrite sessions he tended to be quiet. Maybe two or three times a night he’d pitch a joke – but they were always the funniest jokes of the script.


For those of you hoping to become comedy writers yourselves, let David Angell be your inspiration. Before breaking in he worked in the U.S. Army, the Pentagon, an insurance firm, an engineering company, and then when he finally moved out to L.A. he did “virtually every temp job known to man” for five years. Sometimes even the greatest talents take awhile to be recognized.

I first met David the first season of CHEERS. He came in to pitch some stories. He had been recommended after writing a good NEWHART episode. This shy quiet man who looked more like a quantum physics professor than a comedy writer, slinked into the room, mumbled through his story pitches, and we all thought, “is this the right guy? He sure doesn’t seem funny.” Still, he was given an assignment (“Pick a con…any con”) and when the script came back everyone was just blown away. He was quickly given a second assignment (“Someone single, someone blue”) and that draft came back even better. I think the first order of business for the next season was to hire David Angell on staff.

After 9/11, David’s partners Peter Casey & David Lee called me and my partner into their office. There was a FRASIER script David Angell was about to write. (It was the one where Lilith’s brother arrived in a wheelchair and became an evangelist. Michael Keaton played the part.) Peter & David asked if we would write it and for me that was a greater honor than even winning an Emmy.

David’s wife, Lynn, was also an inspiration. She devoted her life to helping others – tirelessly working on creating a children’s library and a center that serves abused children.

My heart goes out to their families. To all of the families.

I still can’t wrap my mind around it.

So tragic, so senseless, and even seventeen years later, so inconceivable.

Monday, September 10, 2018

No Emmy for Megan

Alas, Megan Amram did not win an Emmy Saturday night. Remember she made a short-form web series called AN EMMY FOR MEGAN with the sole purpose of actually winning an Emmy. In fairness, it was a goof. But I said in my original article, if she had won it would have made the TV Academy look foolish.

She got pretty far however – nominated twice (one for best series and one for best actress). But that wasn’t surprising. She’s an established TV writer with lots of friends and contacts in the Academy so I’m sure they all voted for her initially. That’s fine.

Except.

How many web series that were better and done by people who poured their hearts and souls into them were shut out as a result of not “knowing people?” Ha ha, the “stunt” series got in. But at the expense of more deserving series by people whose lives could really change with the recognition of an Emmy nomination (not to mention a win). Suddenly the gag is less amusing.

When it came time for the final voting I think voters felt the stunt ran its course. 

Emmys are supposed to celebrate excellence in television. They’re supposed to be HARD to win. You win one by contributing something truly of value and high quality, not by “beating the system.”

For these awards to mean anything their integrity must be protected. Otherwise, they’re a joke. I don’t even list in my bio that I won a People’s Choice Award. Who gives a shit? They’re nothing more than a fabricated TV event. But the TV and Motion Picture Academy are getting dangerously close to losing their stature. Thankfully, the Motion Picture Academy came to their senses (following the huge backlash) and dropped their stupid Best Popular Movie category.

All that said, I hope Megan Amram does win an Emmy someday – for work she deserves. Believe me, it will mean so much more.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Infuriating rejections

Getting rejected is part of the game in Hollywood. For most of the time it IS the game. No one is immune. NBC once passed on Tom Cruise to star in a pilot. I consulted on a pilot that rejected Annette Bening. ABC demanded a series be recast to replace Tim Robbins. Chuck Lorre has unsold pilots. So does Woody Allen.   Jennifer Hudson got booted off AMERICAN IDOL. You get the idea.

My writing partner, David Isaacs, and I have had our share of rejections over the years. But every so often we'll get one that really gets our attention because of the explanation. Here are a few.   If you've been in the business for more than twenty minutes you probably have six examples of your own. 

We did a pilot once for NBC. We turned it in and they said, “This is exactly what we’re looking for.” We were feeling great.  A few days later they passed. Their explanation: “This was exactly what we were looking for… last week.”

I once wrote a spec screenplay. A studio executive rejected it, but said, “The writing was so good it almost fooled me into liking this movie.” Gee, thanks.

A pilot we developed for Fox was rejected as being “too NBC.” At the time NBC was the gold standard for comedies and Fox was a mess.  So I guess that was a compliment... maybe?

Early in our career ABC came to us to develop a family pilot. We did. They rejected it. Why? Because they had also developed one with Erma Bombeck but she had a commitment. So ABC said to us, “If it’s any consolation, yours was much better.” No. Not really.

Very early in our career we had a two-pilot deal at NBC. They had to produce at least one of the two scripts. They chose to greenlight the first. The pilot process was a struggle, filled with “creative differences.” The show didn’t get on the air (losing out to PINK LADY AND JEFF), but we still had another script commitment. So we worked with them, developed a new project, turned it in, and the VP of Comedy Development called us to say, “Wow. Guys. I’m really impressed. You guys really put a lot of effort into this even though you had to know there was no way we were going to make it.” Again, thanks.  Were we pros or schmucks?

When Les Moonves pulled the plug on ALMOST PERFECT he told me “it was the best show he ever cancelled.” Yes, on one hand that’s gratifying, but on the other – seriously??? (I’m still waiting for the reverse – someone to say, “This is the worst thing I ever bought.”)

No matter how you get rejected, the key is to shake it off and move forward. I’m not saying it doesn’t sting, or was fair, but you have to rise above it. You don’t have to sell everything. Just enough. And if you do sell enough and become hot enough, then suddenly everybody will want to buy all the stuff they had rejected.   Even the stuff that wasn't "the best."

Saturday, September 08, 2018

How TV stars become movie stars

It's not easy to make the jump.  Many flame out.  Jason Bateman is crossing over.  Jennifer Aniston did it a few years ago and is still making movies. 

But it got me thinking about other TV vets who crossed the great divide and made it big in features. The one that jumps to mind immediately is James Cromwell. Terrific actor. Can play anything. But for years he just knocked around as a goofy character actor on TV. He was “Jamey” Cromwell then. We used him a couple of times on MASH and he was terrific. But I remember once when casting a pilot his name came up and my partner and I said, “he’s good but Jesus, haven’t we seen him like a million times? Isn’t there anyone else more fresh?”. Today we’d be lucky if he’d read one of our scripts.

Anyway, there are many other examples from George Clooney to Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Steve Carell, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Goldie Hawn, Thomas Hayden Church, Woody Harrelson, and I'm sure you can list ten others. Also, of course, the just departed Burt Reynolds.  But for every one who makes it, there are also a hundred David Caruso's and Matt LeBlanc's who don't. Why?

I don’t know. The X-Factor. Movie stars have a presence, a danger, a glow. There is something riveting about them. They can surprise you. They can command the big screen.

And they’re incredibly lucky. They happened to be in a hit. Again, going back to Jamey Cromwell. He gets a call from his agent:


Agent: Listen, I think I got something for you.

Jamey: (excited) A guest spot on WEBSTER?

Agent: Better.

Jamey: Wow! What?

Agent: A movie.

Jamey: Really! Fantastic!

Agent: Yeah, it’s a great story. There’s this pig that wants to be a sheepdog and he goes to live with this…

Jamey: Wait, wait. Back up a minute. A pig?

Agent: Cutest one you’ve ever seen.

Jamey: Brother. And what do I play?

Agent: The farmer.

Jamey: Who does what?

Agent: Who enters the pig in a sheepdog contest.

Jamey: Do I have a lot of lines?

Agent: Yes, but not as many as the pig.

Jamey: See if you can get me a callback on that WEBSTER.

Agent: No, no, you’re not hearing me. This could be a huge mainstream movie. And of the humans, you have the most to do.

Jamey (wavering): Well… it would be good to be in a big summer blockbuster.

Agent: Great. They film in Australia.

Jamey: Huh? How mainstream can this be if we film it in Australia?

Agent: I dunno. They got a deal on the pigs.

Jamey: Don’t Levine & Isaacs have a pilot? I mean, if I’m going to stoop

Agent: Sorry. Nothing this season. I think the industry is starting to wise up about those two hacks. And I’m afraid WEBSTER isn’t going to happen. I’ve been holding this from you but Alex Karras doesn’t think you’re a good actor.

Jamey: Alex Karras? I’m not good enough for Alex Karras? Okay. Fine. I’ll do the fucking pig movie.

Agent: That’s great! Fantastic! Except…

Jamey: Except what? I lose the audience’s sympathy by eating my co-star?

Agent: No, it’s just that… you don’t have it yet. They’re going to want a screen test

Jamey: A screen test?! Why? They know what I’ve done. Just watch any episode of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. I must’ve played eighteen farmers.

Agent: Yeah, but they… they kinda want to see if there’s any chemistry between you and the uh… your little pink co-star… who by the way, would get billing under you. I negotiated that. It wasn’t easy but I got it. (Off Jamey’s silence) Look, you’re right. I’ll find something else. Let me check the cop shows. See which ones you weren’t killed in and I’ll call them again.

Jamey: (resigned) No, no. What the hell? Set up a meeting with the pig.

Cromwell was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in BABE and went on to terrific roles in many top movies including L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.  If Matthew Perry's new series (THE ODD COUPLE) doesn't catch on I think he'll be on the phone to agent saying, "Scare me up a pig." 

Friday, September 07, 2018

Friday Questions

Me speaking to TV critics
Time for Friday Questions.

Jake bats lead off this week.

Is it true that some of the critics and journalists try to give you a copy of the script they have written. They try that stunt with everyone from writers, producers, actors or just about anyone related to Hollywood. In return they will write favorable reviews. Directors, writers hate it; but still you can't do anything about it. Anyone tried it with you Ken?

It’s never happened to me and no one I’ve ever worked with has reported it happening to them. The TV critics I know are passionate about their jobs and pride themselves on their integrity.

I’m sure it happens but not with reputable critics.

I’ll take it one step further. I don’t have a show, there would be no conflict of interests, and yet no TV critic I know has asked me to read anything they’ve written.

From Nora:

Ken a related question on experienced writers/script doctors helping during a shooting of a movie or a TV pilot or some other time when needed the most.

Do they take help because there is some problem with the script or just that the studios/stars/directors want re-assurance from an experienced writer?

Occasionally the latter. David Isaacs and I were hired to help out on a pilot only so we could be seen by the network at run-throughs. The studio then sent us home. Easiest money we ever made.

But basically you hire punch-up guys if you have a multi-camera show and are expected to rewrite and fix an entire script in one night. Having an extra writer, who comes into the show with virgin eyes, can be very helpful. Especially if he has positive energy and can pitch lots of usable jokes.

I’ve mentioned them before but for my money the best of the best were/are Bob Ellison, David Lloyd, Sam Simon, Richie Rosenstock, and Jerry Belson.

Sharon Chapman enjoyed films I recommended, which led her to this question:

What makes you like certain films? I ask because your taste seems so in sync with mine, so I'm curious to know what specifically appeals to you in a film.

If it's good.

No, seriously, I don’t know. I suspect that I’m probably a hard audience because I’m tough on story (and tougher on my own work). But you see the kinds of things I write and those are the kinds of things I like to see.

Nothing pleases me more than to just get swept away by a movie. You know the feeling. You stop thinking about the filmmaking, you stop thinking about the dinner party you’re planning and just lose yourself in the film – regardless of the genre.

That’s what I hope for. Short of that, an entire movie where I don’t have to check my watch.

And finally, from Michael:

On ALMOST PERFECT, did you have any plans for how Kim and Mike's relationship would evolve in Season 2 before CBS forced you to write Kevin Kilner out of the show?

Yes. We had an entire season arc, which we pitched to CBS before getting shot down completely.

I sincerely believe if the network had let us do what we planned and gave us just the minimum amount of support that the series would have caught on. It was clearly going in that direction. (So says every producer whose show was cancelled).

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Am I just being paranoid?

Is it just me?

Am I the only one worried that Alexa, and Echo, and all the other smart home devices have an open microphone?   Who else besides Alexa is listening?

Considering all the people trying to delete their Facebook accounts (and good luck with that, by the way), are you at all concerned that Alexa might not be the only one hearing you request your vibrator be turned on?

Who else is monitoring?  I dunno.  Hopefully nobody.  But I assume if there's an open microphone then someone can find a way to hack into it.  

I don't want to be singing "Sweet Caroline" and five nerds somewhere in cubicles are singing "So good!  So good!  So good!"

I don't want to bitch about my laundry detergent and suddenly get text messages from Tide.

Another concern:  Alexa gets a lot of directions wrong.  How good is that microphone?   Will I be getting texts from Tide when I bitch about Trump?

I may just be paranoid, but at least for now, if I want to turn off a light I'll walk over and turn it off myself.  Plus, I get credit for steps on my way to 10,000 a day. Wait a minute.  Who is my Fitbit talking to?  


Wednesday, September 05, 2018

EP88: Less is More in Comedy


Ken shares a one-act play he wrote and directed and shows you how much it improved after trimming it down. It’s a lesson in rewriting. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

the legacy of Neil Simon

Back from two weeks in Europe. During my trip I saw that Neil Simon had passed away but I was on the run and unable to really address it at the time. Now I’m home and now I have some thoughts.

First of all, it’s no secret that I was a huge admirer of Neil Simon. I wrote an appreciation of him several years ago for this blog. You can find it here. That led to TCM inviting me to host their Neil Simon Film Festival, which I take as a real honor.

I was struck last week by all the social media tributes by comedy writers. Like me, they all point to Neil Simon as their primary inspiration. Wait, let me amend that – all comedy writers of a certain age. I don’t know if many young comedy writers hold him in the same esteem. But they should.

Because no one wrote funnier dialogue, all in service of characters and attitudes, and all designed to move the story forward. So much of his stuff still holds up today because the themes are universal and the comedy comes out of reality.

As proof that the world considers comedy less valuable than drama, even Neil Simon never got the respect he deserved. Yes, he won Tonys, and Pulitzers, and scores of other awards, but even in a lot of tribute articles I read he’s lauded primarily for his plays being so “popular.” Yeah, Mozart’s compositions had a following.

It’s sad, but I bet Neil Simon will garner more respect that he’s dead.

Multi-camera comedies receive lots of criticism for being formulaic and “jokey.” And most of the criticism is valid. But done well multi-camera sitcoms are an art form. They’re one act plays, performed in front of an audience. And if “jokes” are constructed well, they can generate actual audible laughter. More than that, many can hold up – for fifty years or more. The absolute master of creating these kinds of jokes was Neil Simon.

When a beloved singer passes on, people rediscover their music in the days and weeks that follow. Been binging on Aretha lately? May I suggest for all writers, especially younger ones and aspiring ones, to read some of the plays of Neil Simon. Yes, there are dated references but Gershwin tunes have dated references too. Still the brilliance will shine through, I promise you.

Back in the ‘70s when THE ODD COUPLE TV series was popular, there was an LA production at the (now defunct) Shubert Theatre of the original play with the TV cast in the roles. So Tony Randall was Felix and Jack Klugman was Oscar, etc. It brought down the house. And as I was watching it I thought to myself, “Wow, this is the best episode of THE ODD COUPLE ever!”

Neil Simon will be greatly missed. May his work continue to serve as an inspiration to all comedy writers of every age.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

This used to mean more

Having a show on network television

Being on television

Radio

Having a hit song

Being an NFL team in Los Angeles

The Rose Bowl

The Polo Lounge

Airline travel

Library card

The Universal Tour

Movie premiers

Owning your own business

Being a folk singer

People Magazine

Malls

The All-Star Game

Date for the prom

Taxi cab medallion

Atlantic City

News bureaus

The World Series

Reservation at Spago’s

A first edition

An Emmy

Tickets for a Broadway show

Color TV

Autographs

Job on Wall Street

Playing Vegas

Being president of the United States

Monday, September 03, 2018

Some random thoughts about this Labor Day

For the last few years on Labor Day I would bemoan not seeing Jerry Lewis host the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. It just wasn’t the same without him. Now of course Jerry has gone to that big toteboard in the sky, and I’m not sure there even is a telethon anymore. And if it is, it’s shrunk in size to almost nothing. And Vikki Carr no longer guests.

I always find Labor Day depressing. It always represents the end of summer, although now with Global Warming it’ll probably still be 118 in November.

Some things never leave you – like the dread you have that school is just around the corner. It’s been x%id#7ow years since I’ve been in school but that visceral terror always returns on this holiday.

Labor Day is now the official beginning of the Christmas season. Expect to hear Nat King Cole any minute now.

My only solace is sports. College and pro football begin. The Chargers are still in LA, right? The baseball pennant races are coming to a close and the playoffs are just around the corner. The NHL and NBA resume as well. I don’t think you’ll see Donald Trump at a Lakers game, which is all the more reason to GO to a Lakers game.

But what’s really sad is this: I used the look forward to September because that’s when the new TV season began. NBC Week, when they’d premier their new fall schedule, was a major event. I’d send away every year for the free booklet. I couldn’t wait for the debut of THE MAN FROM UNCLE.

And now, honestly, I couldn’t give a shit. Do you? I’ve seen the trailers. A lot more of more of the same. And since there are so many shows on so many networks and platforms premiering practically every week, it’s no big deal to see something “new.”

Plus, even the “new” is now old with all the reboots. So if networks are going go down that road, how about rebooting the MDA Telethon? Live from Vegas for 24 hours. Jerry Lewis resurrected his career with that telethon. Mike Myers? Dana Carvey? Jim Carrey? Eddie Murphy? Roseanne? What are you doing next Labor Day?

Note:  I will not have internet access most of today so your comments will appear but not until tonight.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Creative license in technology

One of my favorite bullshit TV conventions is when the cop/detective/investigator/president/terrorist/curious bystander asks the technician to enhance the screen. Somehow they can zoom in and get crystal clear images.  Zowie!  They can see mirror reflections, read fortune cookies sticking out of pockets, identify hair follicles. If only this technology actually existed.  Here is a fun montage Duncan Robson made of all these moments.  Hopefully, it will enhance your enjoyment of procedurals... and mirrors.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE meets TOP CAT

This is another crazy story that happened along the way in our career. This was on a pilot rewrite.

In 1976 there was a somewhat popular movie called MOTHER, JUGS, & SPEED about ambulance drivers starring Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch (as Jugs of course), and Harvey Keitel.

Two years later ABC commissioned a TV pilot of the movie. They changed Jugs to Juggs so it would sound (or at least read) less sexual… although unless you’re from the hills of Kentucky there is no other meaning for “jugs.” Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote the screenplay, was hired to write the pilot.

For whatever reason, ABC greenlit the project but wasn’t happy with the script. David Isaacs and I were recruited to do a rewrite. We were on MASH at the time, this was a project about funny medicos, produced for the same studio (20th) -- so we got the call. Whether seventeen other writers had gotten the call before us and turned it down, we’ll never know.

We accepted the assignment and met with the executive producers. Here’s where it got a little weird. The two executive producers were Bruce Geller (who created MISSION IMPOSIBLE) and Joseph Barbera (one half of Hanna-Barbera, the animation mill that turned out Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, the Flintstones, Jetsons, etc.). Kind of an odd pairing. Apparently the idea for the original movie was Barbera’s so that’s how he got involved. Bruce Geller’s involvement? I have no idea.

They met with us and told us what they wanted. The realism of MASH. It shouldn’t feel sitcommy. The humor had to come out of attitudes and real situations. We were to think of this as a drama with comedic touches. Okay. That was fine with us.

Then Joe Barbera pitched a possible beat.  And I swear to you this is true.  The ambulance is at the top of a hill. The back door flies open and a guy on a gurney rolls out and barrels down the hill. He hits a fire hydrant, which flips the gurney, sending the patient airborne where he lands in an open garbage can. Joe even made a “boing!” sound as he described the patient landing in the trash can. We sat there totally gobsmacked. This was “real?” Maybe in Quick Draw McGraw’s world.

Everyone was pleased with our rewrite (despite not doing the gurney gag), and the show was filmed. No actors from the movie participated. Ray Vitte, Joanne Nail, and Joe Penny got the lead roles. I never saw it. The show was not picked up. But that figures because in our entire career we’ve never gotten a show picked up by ABC – we’re talking 30 years, 50 regimes, and three owners.) It aired that year in August on Failure Theater, but I was either busy or just didn’t care. We were uncredited (which was fine).

The real kick for me was being in a story session with Joe Barbera. Yeah, his gag was absurd. But as a kid I loved Hanna-Barbera cartoons (I still do). I would drive by their complex on West Cahuenga Boulevard in the valley and wish that I could work there. Or even get a tour. And now I was in a room with the man himself. And he was pitching me Top Cat. Dreams sometimes do come true.