Thursday, February 28, 2019

The future -- mine & Oscars

After writing Oscar reviews for over 20 years, this year’s might have been my last. Nothing's written in stone and a lot will depend on how many people log on to the podcast.  But they’re getting harder to write and fewer people are interested in the Oscars.

I seriously think the Academy Awards are losing its relevance. And I say that with great sadness. For many many years the Academy Awards was a huge cultural event. The entire country had a stake in the movies that were nominated and the entire country watched. There were upsets, surprises, streakers, glamour, and in general the Oscarcast was a rollicking entertaining once-a-year event.

The industry supported it. The movies nominated were both artistic and economic triumphs. It was not unusual for the highest grossing film of the year to also win the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year. The songs that won Best Song often became hits on their own and in numerous cases became standards. Who won Best Song in 2018?

Hollywood royalty all showed up whether they were nominated or not. The host had gravitas and guided the evening with class and humor.

And the in-home sport was goofing on the fashion disasters and lusting after the ones who looked spectacular. There was, dare I say? – body shaming. Oscar parties were filled with catty remarks – from everybody. And nobody felt guilty for being a “bad person.”

Compare all of that to now.

Hollywood makes movies for 17-year old boys. That’s their target audience. The movies that today we consider classic would never get made. Instead, studios invest in super hero movies, sequels, cartoons, action-flicks, raunchy comedies – anything to draw the young theatregoer. Then, for two months a year they roll out adult prestige films hoping to win awards. Don’t kid yourself. If there were no more Oscars, these indie offshoots like Fox Searchlight would go away. Studios would make ONLY tent pole fare for Millennials.

So there is a real disconnect between the movies most people see and the movies that get nominated for awards. And there’s nothing the Academy can do about it. They have no say in what gets made. So all they can do is watch their relevance slip away.

And it becomes a vicious circle. Ratings drop because the bulk of movie goers don’t watch or care about the films that are nominated. And members of the Academy are not going to pander to them and start nominating ANT MAN 2 as Best Picture of the year. With lower ratings, the network that paid big bucks for the exclusive rights to air the Oscars gets nervous. And what do nervous networks do?

THEY MEDDLE.

And that’s what ABC has done. Add new categories, give out awards during commercial breaks, hire the creator of FAMILY GUY to host because kids love that show. And every time the Academy goes along and the move backfires (which most do) they lose more and more credibility.

Don’t kid yourself. ABC doesn’t give a shit about the state of the motion picture industry and preserving its excellence – they just care about ratings and making good on their investment. And if you think it’s just ABC you’re wrong. CBS, FOX, and NBC would do the same thing. Do you think Fox wants the two best teams in baseball to compete in the World Series? No. They want the Dodgers vs. the Yankees. Every year. Do you think NBC wants the best athletes in the world to shine in the Olympics? Of course not. They want American athletes to shine. Networks pay outrageous sums for the rights to these big events and understandably want their return. So look out if the event is underperforming. That’s what’s happening big time with the Oscars.

40 million people used to show up every year. This year everyone was publicly pleased because the rating went up from 26.5 million to 29 million. Woot woot! But behind closed doors they’re still saying, “We’re FUCKED and we’ve got to do something! NOW!”

So let’s look back at Sunday’s Oscarcast. Stripped down, no host, tennis players presenting awards, and a bland pleasant movie winning Best Picture. There are already articles in major publications saying it’s the worst Best Picture choice since CRASH. But it’s safe.

And safety now also counts, because in addition to network pressure, the Academy is getting major pressure from diversity and special interest groups – the winners have to be more inclusive. God forbid there’s not enough diverse winners – the Academy gets slammed. So decisions are made with that in mind.

The in-home experience is not as much fun because now if you rag on someone you’re accused of being racist, homophobic, body shaming, etc. Believe me, my reviews were better 20 years ago. It was understood I was being snarky and went for the best joke I could. And no one accused me of being insensitive. Now I self-censor. There are at least three jokes I considered putting in my review that I know are really funny. But I also know I’d get slammed and who needs the aggravation? That's a problem.  Readers even blasted me for saying something negative about poor Sam Elliott. 

SIDEBAR:  Sam Elliott.  When you are lucky enough to be nominated for an Academy Award for acting the correct response is gratitude.  It's not "Well, it's about time."   Let's get real.  Sam Elliott has played the same character in everything he's done.  He has the same smirk, delivers lines the same way, and has parlayed a nice career out of it.  And God bless him.  I like Sam Elliott in the right thing.  But to suggest that he hasn't been given the respect he deserves -- he ain't Daniel Day Lewis.  End of sidebar.

As movies continue to blur lines between theater experiences, streaming services, and television it’s becoming harder and harder to even determine just what a “movie” is. The Academy dodged a bullet this year by not naming ROMA Best Picture. It was made for Netflix and is available right now at your convenience if you’re a Netflix subscriber. Sorry AMC theatres. You know one day, probably soon, a Netflix movie will win Best Picture. And that same movie could win an Emmy. Those lines are blurred too.

So again, and it pains me to say it, the Oscars appear headed in the same direction as newspapers, broadcast television, terrestrial radio, and shopping malls. Eventually the deal with ABC will be up. And if there still IS an ABC as we know it, I doubt they’ll want to re-up.  Or if they do, they'll want full control of the broadcast.  Then what?


When I started reviewing the Oscars they were still a "thing."  I'm happy to continue as long as they still are.   Will they be?  Will they be fun again?  Can I have fun again writing it?  Will there be enough people interested in the Oscars to be interested in my review?   Let's see how many people listen and then I'll decide about next year.   Thanks for understanding.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Oscar review: the text

There are readers who are hearing impaired or just don’t want to be bothered listening to a podcast (even mine) so I am posting the text of my Oscar review – although it’s much better hearing me do it. The lines get delivered as intended. And I throw in asides and ad libs that aren’t in the original text. To listen, just click on the big gold arrow above.

But short of that, here is my snarky bitchy Oscar review (for those who still remember as far back as Sunday).

Here’s all you need to know: Without an emcee, without pizzas being delivered or selfies being taken, no accountants from Price-Waterhouse being introduced, no production numbers, no montage salutes to Jane Austin movies, and no Gene Hersholt award being given – the show still went 19 minutes over. Although without the one speech from the woman in the red dress that looked like a frosted flower on a cake after someone sat in it, the show might’ve finished ten minutes under. The cake woman spoke forever and her partner managed to get out, “I just want to thank the crew.”

A writer friend of mine, Richard Rosenstock, captured the night perfectly. He said: “This was like the Kirkland brand of Oscar shows — no distinction, no ambition, no charm, no distinctiveness, no celebration of what it actually is representing, but still technically qualifies as vodka.”

It’s hard to have a rooting interest when no one’s seen the movies, none of them were exceptional, and no one cares.

Also, let’s face it – there were hardly any real stars. Barbra Streisand, Samuel L. Jackson, and Julia Roberts. Okay, and maybe Brie Larson (but that might be because I’m in love with Brie Larson). They were all in the last hour. And I suppose Charlize Theron, now a brunette, adorned in a body-hugging, plain grey gown. She looked like Morticia Adams on her wedding day.

And the rest were B actors. Mike Myers & Dana Carvey? John Mullaney & Awkwafina? Krysten Ritter? What movie has she ever been in? Kiki Layne? Before BEALE STREET she did a guest appearance on CHICAGO MED.

Where was Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslow, Leo, Matt Damon, Gal Gadot, Nicholson, Eastwood, Redford, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg (well he never comes if he’s not nominated), Will Smith (he’ll come for ten years if you just nominate him once), Martin Scorsese, Sidney Poitier, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson, Margot Robbie, Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Robert DeNiro. The Best Song presenter was Constance Wu.

And then of course there are the stars and industry moguls who can’t be there because of sexual abuse charges – including the director from one of the Best Picture nominated films.

Here’s how scarce the star power was. When they cut to the audience the best they could do was Alex Rodriguez.

They couldn’t even fill the presenter ranks with actors. Serena Williams, Chef Jose Andres, Trevor Noah, the guitar player from Rage Against the Machine, Congressman John Lewis were up there. God love ‘em but Penelope Cruz wasn’t available? Sure, she mangled every name, but she was in movies.

Look, here’s the big problem: The Motion Picture Academy is now clearly ABC’s little bitch. And what happens when you let the network that thought putting Roseanne Barr on TV again was a good idea, dictate your product? Well, let’s see. First came the announcement of a new category – Best Popular Movie so ABC could attract young viewers by making FIFTY SHADES FREED an Oscar nominee, then the backlash killed that. Next came naming a host who was politically incorrect so that ended and no one wanted to fill that role (despite a six-figure income for one week), followed by the announcement that only the top two most popular songs would be performed. Lady Gaga put a stop to that folly. But wait, there’s more. They decided to present four categories during commercial breaks, which caused an industry revolt so the Academy backed off of that too. And every time ABC tells the Academy to bend over and grab their ankles it destroys their credibility that much more. And without credibility they’re nothing more than the MTV movie awards but with movies no one has ever seen.

This is the first year where the show should have begun with the “In Memoriam” segment. That said, Adam Lambert and what’s left of Queen got things off to a rousing start.

Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph did essentially an opening monologue, reminding us of how much better the Golden Globes were when Tina & Amy hosted that. I don’t know why Maya Rudolph was included. Guess it’s like when Mom says you can’t go to the movies unless you also take your little sister. Tina and Amy were funny. Maya made a wall joke.

The set looked like it was designed by Antoni Gaudi.

And then at one point there was a wide shot and you saw the string of white lights peeking out from under the top and it looked like the Oscars were being given away in the mouth of the whale from PINNOCHIO.

Best line of the night: “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!”

Since ABC also controls the Red Carpet show, poor Sam Rubin of KTLA and his emaciated co-host, Jessica Holmes were banished to four hours before the ceremony. So of course no stars were there yet. Will Smith would have been there if they had just nominated him. Sam & Jess wound up interviewing other Red Carpet hosts (like someone from the Disney Channel) and Wolfgang Puck. Always one to pose penetrating questions, Sam asked Wolfgang if stars got hungry?

The ceremony featured a gala montage of movies, most of them not nominated, and narrated in part by Fred Rogers, whose superb documentary was not nominated.

Nominees were apparently told at the luncheon that they had 90 seconds from the time their name was announced to get on stage and deliver their speech. I guess stars were “hungry” because no one listened.

Amy Adams is now 0-6 and Glenn Close is 0-7. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant has an Oscar.

GREEN BOOK? Best Picture of the year? Really? This was clearly the year of social relevance and I guess THE GREEN BOOK was the more feel-good version of BLACKKKLANSMAN.

The commercials were more entertaining. There was a trailer for CLIFFS OF FREEDOM with war scenes, Turks and Greeks are waving machetes and I thought, wow, Disney’s new live-version of ALLADIN is really gritty.

Spike Lee looked like a combination of a pimp and Mr. Conductor from SHINING TIME STATION. Just like his movie, his speech bludgeoned you with his message.

Compare his obscenity-censored heavy-handed rant with Mahershala Ali’s elegant speech that said the same thing only with class.

So Bette Midler refused to sing “Hello Dolly” on the Tony’s, even though she was on Broadway playing Dolly, but she did agree to sing on the Academy Awards. Not Divine, Miss M., not divine.

Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree were funny wearing the exaggerated wardrobe from THE FAVOURITE, complete with the bunny puppets – an inside joke for the six people who saw THE FAVOURITE. Not being able to open the envelope with the puppet made me laugh.

Actually the funniest person of the night was Best Actress winner, Olivia Colman. Her speech was delightful. Genuine and filled with hilarious asides. Let her host next year.

Regina King thanked writer James Baldwin. Thank you.

So Melissa McCarthy presented in a dress with a long goofy train, then costume design winner Ruth Carter came to the stage with a long train, and Jennifer Hudson, singing some awful screechy Diane Warren ambulance siren of a song, had a huge train. Since when did the Oscars become a Bridal Fair?

ROMA won the Best Foreign Film. How can it also be nominated for Best American Film?

A STAR IS BORN went from Oscar favorite to let’s give them something so Lady Gaga will show up.

I must say I loved Lady Gag’s speech. When she drops the Gaga facade and is just Stephanie, the insecure kid who the mean girls probably terrorized in high school, she is very heartfelt and really connects with young people. Her message was lovely.

At one point they showed Robert Iger, the COO of ABC in the audience. But the shot was very brief. You couldn’t see him manipulating the marionette strings.

Speaking of ABC, did you see that promo they ran for their new spy show centered around a tampon joke. Way to keep it classy.

I was glad Sam Elliott lost. “It’s about time” he said regarding his nomination. Yeah, finally the Academy is recognized what a national treasure and brilliant thespian you are. See you on THE RANCH, the Netflix multi-camera sitcom.

Rami Malek won Best Actor for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. Hey, it’s hard to lip sync Freddie Mercury with those prosthetic teeth.

Okay, when the make-up winner was thanking that endless list of names didn’t you secretly wish they HAD presented that award during a commercial break?

At least Jim Carrey didn’t present.

Most excited winner: the woman from the documentary, SKIN. She went bat shit. It’s like she won a car on THE PRICE IS RIGHT. I make fun but if I won that would totally be me.

I loved that the IN MEMORIAM segment just featured background music and not some AMERICAN IDOL contestant belting out Ava Maria. And I appreciated that they filled the screen with the people they were saluting. Wow. What a tough year this was. We lost some true giants.

But shame on the Academy for not including Stanley Donen. They can claim it was too late and the segment had already been produced but that’s bullshit. They could have included him if they wanted to. If he had died during the ceremony they could have included him. Use some of that technology you give out awards for. And what made it even worse is that the President of the Motion Picture Academy introduced the segment. (I thought I saw Bob Iger’s hands at the top of the screen moving the president’s limbs. In any event, shame on them. Again.

Kacey Musgraves wore this frilly pink gown with a big poofy collar that looked like one of those loofah balls you have in the shower.

Happy that SPIDERMAN won for Best Animated Film. Hey, I actually saw that one.

Gee, I wonder who would have won the Most Popular Film had they awarded it. How about this for a new category, “Best Film that was made to show in theatres and not on Netflix?”

At one time 40 million Americans used to watch the Academy Awards. When I was on MASH we’d put our worst show of the year on up against the Academy Awards to hide it. Now we’d put our best show. MASH normally got 30 million viewers a week. Last year’s Oscars managed only 26.5 million. MASH would beat the Academy Awards. And just wait for this year’s ratings. MASH on the Hallmark Channel might’ve beaten them.

TOMORROW: Why this might be my last Oscar review

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

RUSSIAN DOLL -- My review

I must admit, I went into RUSSIAN DOLL with some trepidation. This is the new eight-episode series on Netflix that is getting a lot of buzz. But the premise didn’t seem great to me – GROUNDHOG DAY except the lead character keeps dying and starting over at the same spot. I figured it was like seeing 17 rewrites of the same scene.

But I gave it a try (people I trust because they hate everything liked it, so what the hell?) and was very pleasantly surprised. By the end of episode two I was hooked.

For Natasha Lyonne this was the role and hairstyle of a lifetime. She plays a totally out-there, foul-mouthed, wise-cracking, party girl chain-smoking, hard drinking, drug taking, thrill seeker narcissist with a good heart and DNA laced with mental illness and dysfunction. In other words, as an actress she had something to play.

And she played the crap out of that character.

To flesh out the premise, Lyonne plays “Nadia” who is at her 36th birthday party hosted by her wacky BFF Greta Lee and surrounded by all her Bohemian friends. This takes place in whatever section of Manhattan has converted every room into a loft, even rooms on the ground floor. Each time she wanders off in a new variation that ultimately leads to the kinds of death Wile E. Coyote suffers – falls down stairs, falls into manholes, electrocuted, and my favorite – some giant anvil-like object falls on her head. But each time she returns to “Go” she takes with her the memory of what happened before. And each time elements charge slightly (e.g. there are fewer people at the party).

So slowly she tries to piece together what is happening to her and how to stop it.

At this point, maybe three episodes in, my overriding thought was: “You better RESOLVE this by the end of episode eight. This better not be a cliffhanger after I followed this Shaggy Dog story for four hours!”

Happy to say they do wrap it up. And beyond that I’ll say no more about the plot. But I will say that the storytelling is inventive, intricate, at times very funny, surprising, and you’ll be binging it I guarantee it. The look is rich and glossy. Other standout performances are from Elizabeth Ashley, Jeremy Bobb, and Charlie Barnett.  Also points for playing "Alone Again, Or" by Love to end the final episode.  One of my all-time favorite groups. 

My only warning is Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” will become an earworm that will stay in your head for days.

I recommend RUSSIAN DOLL, which could have also been called YOU ONLY LIVE 17 TIMES.

Monday, February 25, 2019

EP112: Ken’s Annual Bitchy Snarky Oscar Review


Once again, comedy writer Ken Levine watches the 2019 Academy Awards so you don’t have to, and files his opinionated, hopefully insightful, hopefully funny review. See if you agree with anything he says.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Coming soon

My Oscar review podcast will be dropping shortly.  Hang in there.  It's almost here. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Weekend Post

As you read this there is probably a rehearsal going on at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood for the Academy Awards. The show airs Sunday night on ABC and yes, I can see you yawning. For the third year in a row I will be reviewing them on my podcast. I will write and record it immediately after the telecast and it will drop Monday morning. Why do the review for the podcast instead of the blog? Simple. I’m trying to get MORE LISTENERS.

But this weekend is when the real production work takes place. The director fine tunes all the camera assignments. Dance numbers and song performances are rehearsed, and presenters try their luck reading the teleprompter. I should amend that to say the presenters who bother to show up read the teleprompter. Most do not.

Hopefully they’ll get all of the set malfunctions out of the way and no one will get trampled when the giant Lazy Susan stage spins the wrong way.

There will also be a dress rehearsal. Stand-ins will double for nominees. The director will run the show in its entirety. There are rehearsal envelopes, they are read, and the stand ins get up and give bullshit speeches. Sometimes these speeches are way more entertaining than the actual ones given by the winners.

They do this to get a sense of the timing. Ordinarily they have a host and one of his functions is to either move things along or fill if need be. But this year there is no host – one of the many things the Academy has bungled for this Oscarcast.

Rain is not expected so we won’t have the pleasure of seeing stars in their million dollar gowns and hoodies.

I wonder if they rehearse those Red Carpet shows. Does Jessica Holmes or Sam Rubin ask stand-ins whether they conferred with Freddie Mercury before playing him?

One year for the Emmy rehearsal the bogus envelope had David Isaacs and I winning. We lost during the actual ceremony. But they gave us the envelope. Gee thanks! So with that in mind, congratulations to all the rehearsal winners. What a moment.

See you on the podcast. By the way, the current podcast episode is filled with Oscar trivia like who never won – rehearsal or otherwise. Check it out.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Friday Questions

More exciting than the Oscars – Friday Questions.

Rock Golf is up first.

Kelsey Grammer was on The Late Late Show with James Corden and discussing a possible Frasier revival. He claimed to have been talking with "a group of writers" about getting this going.

So a two part question: Are you one of those writers? And do you think a Frasier revival would be a good thing?

I am not one of those writers. If I had an idea and called Kelsey I’m pretty sure I could be one of those writers.

Would a reboot be a good thing? It really depends on the premise and more importantly who is writing it? If the original FRASIER writers are involved then I might be optimistic. If a whole new group is coming in then I’d be very wary.

There’s a real legacy to FRASIER and those characters. I think you risk really tarnishing that legacy with a reboot that’s not as good or better than the original. I don’t think the recent revival of MURPHY BROWN did their legacy any favors.

From Bruce P:

I sometimes am amazed looking at old sitcoms / dramas that either had a short run or were on the decline in both quality and ratings. I realize the actors and crew are professionals and will do their jobs whether their shows are ranked #1 or #120. But is there a discernible difference in attitude on the set of a hit compared to the set of a soon-to-be cancelled show? I can understand disappointment on a low rated show set. But isn't there also tension on a hit show set as the writers, crew and actors feel like they have to continue to produce quality to maintain their high ratings.

No. Hit shows tend to have relaxed sets. There’s not that dread that “it isn’t working.”  There's something that's a rare commodity in show business: stability.   If anything, I’d say there’s too much confidence on some sets.

But if you’ve been in the business for any period of time you’ve undoubtedly worked on shows that were struggling, or just plain nightmares. As a result, to find yourself on a hit, most people involved – from the actors, writers, and crew – appreciate more what they have and don’t take it for granted.

BUT…

This is all predicated on not having a monster for the series star. The star sets the tone and a monster, fortified with a modicum of success, will become even more insufferable and obnoxious. And that will poison everything.

Oh, and to be fair, there are monster showrunners too.

Happily, those are more the exceptions than the rule. Hit shows don’t come along often. If you’re fortunate enough to be on one I hope you enjoy every single minute of it.

Brian Phillips wonders:

In your latest podcast (the one on ageism), you say that you are working solo. Do you find when you are writing that you hear your partner's voice in your head even if you aren't working with him?

Absolutely. All the time. I’ve always trusted David Isaacs’ judgment and valued his high standards. So consciously or unconsciously I’m always thinking “Is this good enough? If we were writing this together would it get in?” (In a sense he’s helping me write even though he’s not there.)

I think the proof of this mindset (for both of us) is that on those few occasions when we split a script up and each wrote one act separately and then put them together, I swear you could never tell which of us wrote which act.

And by the way, when I write a new full-length play, the first person I give my first draft to for notes is David.

And finally, from cd1515:

One thing I see in bad shows is characters constantly calling each other by their names.....like every sentence or two. It almost feels like the writers were padding the weak script with useless words. No one talks that way. Do writers have rules or theories on that?

There’s no written rules. I can only share how I address it. Generally I’ll avoid the characters calling each other by their names. You’re right, people don’t do that.

I have two exceptions: People do call each other by name if they’re particularly mad at them. “Mary, you and I are through!”

The other time I use that convention is in pilots. I sprinkle the names in there a few times to help the audience learn their names. By week three of a series I discontinue that.

What’s your Friday Question? Remember I will be reviewing the Oscars on my podcast. You can hear it Monday morning.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Podcast update

Apparently I was given the wrong information (i.e. alternate facts) on a couple of the actors who never won Oscars.  But the good news is you guys actually pay attention to this nonsense I transmit.  And it creates a sort of fun "Where's Waldo" game to this week's entry.  So you're invited to play along.  Find the mistakes.  You don't win anything but it will heighten your listening experience. 

Just scroll up to the big gold arrow and click.

And besides, what better way to prepare you for the Oscars than with a screw up? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

EP111: “And the Loser is…” Academy Award Trivia


Getting you ready for the Oscars, Ken has compiled lots of fun facts about the Academy Awards including people who never won. This interesting and fact packed episode contains many surprises! A must listen for all movie lovers!


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Comedy needs to be Cold

If you went to a taping of the DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW you noticed that the Ed Sullivan Theatre was freezing. David insisted the temperature be 60 degrees.  You could hang meat.

Why so cold?

Because cold audiences laugh. Hot audiences don’t.

Cold audiences are more alert. Warm audiences are sluggish. If you’ve got a comedy on stage and see people in the audience fanning themselves with their programs just know you are dead.

Audiences for CHEERS filmings were almost always great. The 200 people in the bleachers were thrilled to be there. They were already fans of the show, it was so exciting to see everyone in person, they were primed to laugh. If I’m being honest, there were jokes that got way better response than they deserved. But one night the air conditioning went out.

And the laughs stopped.

Even for CHEERS.

Same with the dress rehearsal for my play GOING GOING GONE at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood. We had an invited audience and those poor souls were melting. The actors couldn’t see, there was so much sweat in their eyes. Needless to say I got no laughs. I’m just happy no one had a heat stroke. Every night during the run I made sure that the theatre was COLD. And the laughs thankfully returned.

Great attention is always paid to the lighting, set design, and sound of a production but often times the theatre temperature is taken as a given. It’s worth noting before a performance. I mean, when Sam & Diane can’t get a laugh…

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

My suggestion to save theatre as we know it

Scene from my ten-minute play, THE FUGITIVE with Penny Peyser & Andy Goldberg
It’s probably half urban legend, but the concept of Top 40 radio supposedly began when radio station owner Todd Storz was in a restaurant/bar with some friends in the mid ‘50s. There was a juke box and as new customers arrived they all seemed to play the same three songs. At the end of the night the restaurant staff was cleaning up, putting chairs on the tables, etc. and they too selected those same three songs to listen to. Now it’s one thing for the customers. They come in, hear the song once then leave. But the staff must’ve heard those same songs twenty times and yet they STILL chose to select them.

A lightbulb went on over Storz’s head. People want to hear their favorite songs over and over. So his station began playing the big hits of the day over and over, and the ratings skyrocketed.

Sure, people wanted to hear new music too, but just sprinkled in. Most of all they wanted the hits.

This applies to other forms of entertainment as well. How many cable channels are playing multiple daily episodes of MASH, I LOVE LUCY, LAW & ORDER, NCIS, and THE BIG BANG THEORY? People want to hear (and see) the hits.

Unfortunately, for us playwrights it’s the same thing in the theatre. Why take a chance with a new play by me when you can just schedule THE ODD COUPLE by Neil Simon? It makes it hard to get a new play produced if you don’t have a Tony.

And lots of theatres who do accept new material want to make sure the play has never been produced. They want the “World Premier.” It’s a big deal to them. They can ask for subsidiary rights for taking the risk of mounting your untried material. And if the play goes on to be a big hit they have bragging rights that they were the first one to discover it.

Okay, I get that. I’m not happy about it, but I can see their point.

What I don’t get is when theatres want unproduced material only for ten-minute play festivals. I submit a lot of ten-minute plays to festivals (been very lucky in some and not so much in others) and it frustrates me how many of them only want unproduced plays. Why? What’s the advantage? You can crow about a ten-minute play that goes on to other competitions? There’s no subsidiary rights. And what the artistic director and his staff are left with is a blizzard of terrible plays to go along with the few good ones. Happy sifting. Part of the reasons so many of these plays are bad is because the writer never had a chance to see and fix it once it was on its feet.

And the audience doesn’t give a shit that they’re watching a “World Premier.” In fact, brand new work might make them leery. If you think it’s tough sitting in a movie theatre watching some stink burger, imagine how much harder it is when the performance is live and the actors can watch you.

Seems to me it would be better to mount plays that have proven to be successful. If I were running a ten-minute festival I would require two things: 1) They play must have already been produced, and 2) The play must’ve WON something (“Best Play,” “Audience Favorite,” etc.)

Instead of 600 submission for ten slots I’d have 150 (and let’s get real, those are the same 150 that are really in competition even if there are 600 submission). It’s just simple logic –

PLAY THE HITS.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Hey, Alexa!

You know how paranoid I am about Alexa. It scares me to have an open microphone in my home.  I'll walk the extra three steps to turn on the light or adjust the thermostat myself.

Of course “they” say Alexa is perfectly safe, there are firewalls galore, and your privacy is guaranteed. Alexa only responds to specific commands and knows the difference between casual conversation and a request.

And if you believe that there’s a certain real estate training university you should sign up for.

Meet Rocco the African grey parrot. He’s already somewhat infamous. He was kicked out of an animal sanctuary in the UK for swearing too much. (This, by the way, is true.) His previous owner must’ve been a writer for DEADWOOD (that is not true).

So now he’s home with his new owner, Marion Wischnewski. And when Marion is away Rocco engages in conversations with Alexa.

And orders things.

So far the parrot has ordered strawberries, watermelon, raisins, broccoli, ice cream, and (it gets better) a kite, kettle, and light bulbs. If only he’d order one of my books.

Every night Marion has to cancel all of these orders.

The point is, someone is listening. How do we know for sure it’s not just Alexa?

“Polly want a hacker.”

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Weekend Post

Writers.  Do you think ageism is a new thing?   Here's an article from 1927.  Thanks to reader Ron Rettig for sharing it. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday Questions

Did you survive Valentine’s Day? Here are some FQ’s as a reward.

First question is from T.K.D. Sandberg.  And comes all the way from Sweden.

I was wondering whether you could talk about how sitcoms and certain other shows have to retain the status quo, meaning how each episode (usually) must end with nothing essential being altered even if the episode might foreshadow some possible change in character or even a location change. Is real change usually saved for "end of season?" Do you have some good examples of reasons for this and reasons why it may or may not be a good idea to make a drastic change to a show in this manner?

Several reasons. Networks like to air shows out of order on occasion (they may feel one episode is stronger than another) and they can’t do that if the show is serialized. It would be like showing reels of a movie out of order.

Also, the real endgame for sitcoms is to have enough episodes to go into syndication. If you’re planning on 100 or 200 episodes you’d be wise not to be making drastic changes constantly. People tune into these shows frankly, because they’re comfort food. When they turn on an episode of FRIENDS they don’t want to spend ten minutes trying to figure out where in the course of the series this episode lies. So in general sitcom storytelling is baby steps at best.

And yes, it does make it hard.  How many times can you tell essentially the same story in a different way?  

From Jen from Jersey:

Why aren’t networks consistent as to when they air their shows? For instance, The Good Place had a “fall finale” so it wasn’t on air during the holiday season. Then in January they only aired two episodes. The show hasn’t been on in a few weeks. How is a struggling show supposed to build an audience when they show isn’t consistently shown? Fox also did this with Last Man on Earth.

That’s the problem with short order series. In the case of THE GOOD PLACE, it was agreed upon between the network and producers to make just 13 new episodes a season. It’s a lot easier to have continuity if you have 22 or 24 episodes a year.

So it’s a scheduling dance the networks must go through to try to maintain audience interest while only having a few episodes to dole out.  Do you play them all in order, take short breaks, take long breaks?  I don't envy network schedulers these days. 

Janet Ybarra wonders:

Have politics (I don't mean office politics, but politics politics) on the part of actors ever become a serious barrier on any projects you and David have worked on?

No. In fact one of my favorite actresses to work with is Patricia Heaton and I am 180 degrees from her politically.

I’ve worked with other actors whose politics I disagree with and so far it’s never been an issue.

But I should point out those are philosophical differences. If I came across an actor who was openly racist or homophobic or wore a MAGA hat I would steer very clear of him or her. Life’s too fucking short.

And finally, from Jim S:

The process of solving story problems has always interested me.

Have you ever sweated a story logjam trying to figure out a solution, only to have someone walk in and solve the problem by saying "why don't you do X?"

Oh yes. And it’s why you have partners, and script doctors (consultants) and colleagues.

For some reason it is infinitely easier to solve other writers’ story problems than your own. Probably because you’re not as close to the story as he is. You can see the overview. You’re also more relaxed. The writer has been wrestling with this thorny problem for hours or days or weeks. You come swooping in and see other possibilities.

And remember, story problems are going to happen. If you never have story problems it means you’re not working hard enough to tell stories in an original surprising unexpected way.

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

EP110: TV in the age of Ageism


Ken discusses the realities of the television industry and how he has faced and learned to cope with ageism. It’s a candid personal look into longevity in Hollywood. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Whatever happend to Romantic Comedies?

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and also my birthday.  I turn 39.   America celebrates my birthday by jacking up prices at all nice restaurants.

For those not celebrating their birthday, it's supposed to be a day of romance.  And it got me thinking, whatever happened to Romantic Comedies?

Time was Hollywood made tons of them -- and they were both romantic and FUNNY.

And now the few that we still have are by-the-numbers studio formula pictures.  It's shocking to me the praise for CRAZY RICH ASIANS as a Romantic Comedy.   The celebration of a culture -- great.  But as a Romcom, a typical predictable trifle that at best was a date night movie.

Compare that with FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE APARTMENT, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, ANNIE HALL, GROUNDHOG DAY, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, PHILADELPHIA STORY, THE LADY EVE, THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, MOONSTRUCK, CHASING AMY, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, PALM BEACH STORY, PAT & MIKE, BRINGING UP BABY, THE GOODBYE GIRL, ENCHANTED, HEAD OVER HEELS, KISSING JESSICA STEIN, DOC HOLLYWOOD, WHAT'S UP DOC, ROXANNE, L.A. STORY, ARTHUR, PLAY IT AGAIN SAM, FOREIGN AFFAIR, THE WEDDING SINGER, SAY ANYTHING, NIGHT SHIFT, ADAM'S RIB, HOLIDAY, ROMANCING THE STONE, SPLASH, LOVE ACTUALLY, TOOTSIE, HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, GOODBYE COLUMBUS, A NEW LEAF, THE GRADUATE, BROADCAST NEWS, and I'm sure you can come up with ten more.

Today we get these Nancy Meyers paint-by-the-numbers snooze-a-thons, or R-rated raunch-fests with unearned emotional moments tacked on.   It's sad but romantic comedies are becoming a lost art.  And there are so few of them that the bar has been so lowered that the producers of CRAZY RICH ASIANS actually thought they had an Oscar contender.

Instead of going out to some overpriced prix fix dinner, stay home with your certain someone special, watch one of those movies I listed, or the first season of CHEERS.   And you can use all that money you save on a present for me.

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

My Fair Laura

When I was in New York I saw the recent revival of MY FAIR LADY. It’s my all-time favorite musical. I just think the music is spectacular beyond belief. If a musical has one song that ultimately rises to the pantheon of American Standard it’s considered a triumph. MY FAIR LADY has like six.

And the truth is I had never seen a really first-rate production of it. Jane Powell at the Valley Music Theatre in Woodland Hills, California done on a stage the size of a manhole cover didn’t really cut it. But even then, if you can get people who can sing and an orchestra that’s a grade above middle school the magic is still there.

The current production at Lincoln Center is gorgeous with all the Broadway bells and whistles you now come to expect when tickets cost what you paid for your first house. Rotating stages, elaborate sets, terrific cast, a multitude of dancers, and in the case of MY FAIR LADY — street lamps.

But the highlight was seeing Laura Benanti star as Eliza. One of the true thrills of live theatre is seeing an extraordinary performance, one you remember, and that’s what this production offers with Laura Benanti. (If you’re unfamiliar with her, she’s a Broadway mainstay, has done a lot of television — was Supergirl’s mom for one — and appears frequently on COLBERT as Melania Trump.).

My only problem with the show was that they changed the ending. I’m not going to spoil it but will just say it’s more in line with current sensibilities. And although I agree with those sensibilities I don’t see the need to alter something that was of its time so it could be more PC today. And looking around at the audience, I was probably the youngest person there. I submit that 90% or more of the audience knew the story and knew the ending. No one had a problem with the original ending going in. And to accomplish this they had to adjust Henry Higgin’s character, making him a little less sympathetic. To me it was a case of don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.   Yes, this was the original ending in Shaw's play PYGMALION, but it's not Lerner & Lowe's vision and MY FAIR LADY is their take. 


Fortunately, no one leaves a theatre humming the ending. And as long as they didn’t mess with the songs (which they didn’t — no “I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Facebook”) I can heartily recommend you see MY FAIR LADY if you’re in New York. Who knew Melania Trump could sing so well?

Monday, February 11, 2019

Why I didn't watch the Grammys

People always ask why I don’t review the Grammys. Well, mainly because I don’t watch them. I know my “hip factor” is going to take a hit here, but the problem is I don’t know most of these acts.

At one time I was a rock n’ roll D.J. and I knew everybody. I followed the trends, who were the hot new bands, what were the latest underground movements, etc. Which group used which drug -- that sort of informed thing.  The Grammys were must-see. I was even rooting for people in various categories. I knew all the performers and loved hearing them do live versions of their hit songs. Whitney Houston – Wow. Aretha Franklin stepping in and doing opera – WOW.

But as I got older I found it harder and harder to stay current. I would really make the effort. I’d listen to the hot rock stations and try to familiarize myself with the new artists. I watched MTV when they actually played music.   Eventually it got to be too much work, and I had a realization. None of these songs resonated with me. And that’s because none of them were meant to. They were geared to a younger generation – which is how it should be. But at that point I got off the train.

Now I like what I like, regardless of era or style, and am just fine with that. And if there’s a contemporary singer that knocks me out – like the year of Adele – I watched. Otherwise, I have no idea who most of these artists are. Also, (my “hip factor” is about to take another huge ding), I don’t enjoy Hip Hop. Yes, some of it is very clever poetry, but give me Otis Redding and Darlene Love.

About fifteen years ago I was doing research for a project on the music industry and got to attend Dick Clark’s AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS. Afterwards I was invited to the post-show party. Most (not all but most) of these artists were incredibly full of themselves and arrogant. I remember thinking at the time, “Who the fuck are you? In another year you’ll be out of the business and completely forgotten.” Sure enough, that’s what happened to 90% of them. Even the winners.

Another thing I noticed about the Grammys – every year there seems to be an artist or group that is the Academy’s darling and they win nine Grammys. Two years later they’re often an afterthought.

So I didn’t watch last night. If there were memorable moments – if Miley Cyrus twerked with Ringo Starr I’ll see it on YouTube. But truthfully, I still can’t get the image of last week's horrific Super Bowl halftime show out of my mind and figure the Grammys could be three hours of this. Better to use the time writing about it rather than watching it.

Oh, and congratulations to all the winners, whoever you are.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Weekend Post: RIP Frank Robinson

So sorry to hear of baseball great, Frank Robinson’s passing this week. He was 83. There are lots of tributes to Frank on the net, praising his many on-field accomplishments and the barriers that he broke. I want to talk more about Frank Robinson as a person.

Frank was the manager of the Baltimore Orioles when I joined the team as one of their announcers. I had heard that Frank could be, uh… prickly. I had only met him once before. When I got the job I flew back to Baltimore for a press conference and had dinner with him and a few other Orioles officials. He was very pleasant, somewhat low-key. Hardly a volatile figure.

One of my responsibilities was hosting the manager segment of the daily pre-game show. I would huddle with the manager and lob questions for five minutes. It was early in spring training, maybe the third or fourth day. We were in Dunedin to play the Blue Jays. I wandered into his office about two hours before game time with my trusty tape recorder. The door was open, he was finishing up a conversation about hockey with some people I didn’t know. I sat patiently on the couch and waited until they finished their conversation and left and said to Frank, “Hi, wanna do the manager’s show?”

At that point he exploded. “You’re so pushy!” he yelled at me. “Joe Angel (my predecessor) was never that pushy! What’s so goddamn important that I’m keeping you from that we have to do this NOW?” I said, “Lunch.” He instantly dropped the anger and then said, “Oh, then let’s do this.” Clearly, he was just testing the rookie. I guess three years in the minor leagues taught me not to be intimidated by players and managers.

From that point on we got along great. A few weeks later, on Opening Day in Baltimore I arrived at the park way early to get the manager’s show. I knew it would be a media circus. And I was right. We did the interview, I brought it up to the booth, and got the bad news about an hour later that something had gone wrong with the recording. It was unusable. I had to go back down and re-do the manager’s show. Now understand that Frank didn’t love doing the manager’s show in the first place. I thought, “He’s going to kill me.” But nope, he couldn’t have been nicer and even pushed off some other interviews to do mine.

And those manager’s shows were always good because Frank was very candid. I could ask him any question and he’d answer honestly. And this was during a period where the club was terrible and fans were lobbying for his head. He would take the blame for mistakes and not sugar-coat the club’s performance. Most managers would just deflect and speak in a series of clich├ęs. Not Frank Robinson.

One reason Frank and I got along was our shared sense of humor. A side of Frank that most people didn’t know was that he could be very funny. He had a terrific dry wit. So just shooting the shit with him was very entertaining. (By the way, one night he and I went to dinner on the road, he paid for the meal with his credit card, and I said to him “You realize your signature on the slip is worth more than the cost of the meal?”)

Another thing you didn’t know (unless of course you read my book, IT’S GONE… NO, WAIT A MINUTE! – available on Amazon for like one cent), Frank was antsy on flights. So to kill time he would become essentially a flight attendant. He would go up and down the aisle and ask if you wanted anything to eat or drink. Just imagine, the great Frank Robinson, Hall of Famer, MVP in both leagues, was bringing me a Coke and sandwich.

A couple of months into the season Frank was fired as manager but hired to work in the front office. I’m not sure what his responsibilities were, but let’s just say he had a lot of time on his hands. My family was still back in LA (they moved out later in the summer) so I had nothing to do all day when the team was home. One day I decided to get to the park real early and noticed that Frank was in his office. I popped my head in to say hello and he invited me in. We talked baseball for about an hour before I had to go. He said “Stop by anytime,” and to make a long story short – for the next month or so I stopped by practically every day. I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned during those sessions or how fascinating it was to hear his war stories. And a day didn’t go by when I didn’t think to myself, “Holy shit! I’m sitting here talking to Frank Robinson.”

He was a brilliant, fearless, complex, passionate, kind, and funny. He was a gifted athlete. He was the ultimate competitor. And if I ever needed honey roasted peanuts on a flight I could always count on him.

RIP Frank Robinson, although I prefer to forever think of him as MVP Frank Robinson.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Friday Questions

Friday Questions anybody?

J Lee has the first one.

Since you've just gotten back from New York, anything that stuck out for you about the logistics of staging a play (or for that matter, a TV show) in New York, versus doing the same thing in Los Angeles?

There’s not much difference staging plays. Some union rules are different but the process is pretty much the same.

However, doing a multi-camera sitcom in front of a studio audience in New York is like reinventing the wheel. I’ve talked about this before in posts about my time directing the Al Franken sitcom LATELINE in Astoria-Queens.

Camera crews are not used to working multi-camera shows. The crew I had worked Mets baseball for WOR, Channel 9. They would whip the cameras around as if following a shortstop. That took adjusting.

As did construction crews striking sets during rehearsal. In LA all of that is done in the middle of the night before the next day’s rehearsal. Not so in Gotham. These were all lovely people, by the way – they just weren’t used to this format.

From J. Lee to Leen:

What I was wondering is if you have ever worked with Craig T Nelson. I loved him in Coach and re-watch it all the time on Antenna TV. He seems like such a nice guy and would be an awesome person to talk to. Thanks!

Nope. Never worked with him. He was also great as the voice of Mr. Incredible.

Interesting factoid you might not have known:  Early on in his career he did improv with the Groundlings in Los Angeles and formed a comedy team with now-director Barry Levinson.

Bob Gassel is next.

More of a Friday "comment" than question...would love to your thoughts: I fear we will soon arrive at the day when no quality shows have seasons longer than 10-13 episodes. So many great moments and supporting character explorations come when they need to do 22.

Networks need product and if they have a hit show they need as many episodes as they can get. So I suspect we’ll be seeing 22 episodes or more for some time now.

Yes, they’re harder to do, but you get paid a lot more money. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Also, the more episodes you amass the better the syndication deal you can make.  And syndication is really the Clampetts hitting oil

Finally, Dhruv has a question for me and my writing partner, David Isaacs:

Did you guys think of creating an animated series like The Simpsons?

No. For me the fun of television is serving it while it’s hot. Even the best run animated shows take months and months to produce the final product.

That said, I love animated shows. My daughter and her husband are working on one for Apple TV and it seems very exciting.

But I like dealing with actors and seeing my words come to life on a stage. And most of all, hearing a live audience respond. Laughter is a big reward for me. (Not as big as money but still very close.)

What’s your Friday Question? You can leave it in the comments section. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

EP109: The Art of Magic, w/ Bruce Kalver


Ken talks to master magician Bruce Kalver. Learn about the world of magic and how to get out of handcuffs. It’s a fascinating and fun look at the artists who amaze and delight us. No rabbits or doves were harmed during this interview.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Duking it with Earl

If you’re not reading Earl Pomerantz’s blog, you should. Earl is a terrific comedy writer who views the world with a fresh, often hilarious, perspective. He was a guest on my podcast last year and it’s an episode well worth checking out.

On January 29th I posted a rant about multi-camera sitcoms – how recent ones were not funny and worse, were pumped full of canned laughter. On February 1st Earl weighed in, contesting some of my points. This is his piece.

What you’re seeing here is very unique – two people who disagree on something but still manage to carry on a civilized discussion while never personally attacking the other person or those who have similar beliefs. In fact, this might be the only such debate you’ll find on the internet dated after 2015.

Earl maintains, if I’m paraphrasing him correctly, that the heightened laughter from studio audiences is more genuine because they are fans of the show and are thrilled to be there. And that is certainly valid. (Seriously, if you’re looking for mud slinging this isn’t the place.) I always maintained the latter years of CHEERS we didn’t have to earn the laughs because the studio audience was so crazy excited to be there they laughed at safety instructions.

Add to that a warm up guy who TELLS you to laugh and react. Ironically, both Earl and I did the warm-up for CHEERS during various seasons. So the heightened laughter might be real but it’s somewhat artificial.

And I can tell you, as a freelance director, I worked a lot of different shows – not all of them beloved hits. And whereas there is the novelty factor of attending a TV taping that wears off in a half hour. The freebie laughs stop. And that’s where the rubber meets the road. That’s when you have to really earn the laughs. And I contend that most of today’s multi-camera shows don’t. Instead they rely on the laugh machine. And news flash: they’re fooling NOBODY.

Earl claims that sex jokes almost always work with studio audiences but less so with home audiences. I totally agree. And there’s a real danger to try to please the studio audience first as opposed to the nebulous home audience. But that’s catering to 200 people at the expense of several million. I’m a firm believer in jokes that come out of characters and behavior and that might make it harder to coax laughs from the studio audience but to me it’s worth it. Shows like 2 BROKE GIRLS or TWO AND A HALF MEN would disagree.

Earl points out something else that’s very true. Just because a studio audience goes wild over an episode doesn’t mean it’s automatically good when all assembled. And by the same token, shows that might play a little flat to the audience turn out to be terrific shows at times.

You’d like to think you’re a genius when the audience is in convulsions but there have been times I’ve watched the first edit of one of these love fests and said, “What the hell are they laughing at? This is not very good.” And other times the performances are fabulous but maybe too subtle for folks in the bleachers but at home they really emerge. Now in those cases the showrunner has a dilemma. Clearly the episode is funnier than the audience reaction would lead you to believe. Do you boost the laughter with the machine? Personally I don’t. I’d rather the audience appreciate the show and maybe feel they’re smarter than the tepid audience.

Ultimately Earl says it’s less important what veteran sitcom writers think about today’s crop of sitcoms than what young audiences think. These shows, after all, are meant for them. I would agree with that too. But how do we measure? Ratings are down for these shows but is it because they’re bad or just that Millennials have way more choices and being on CBS is no more an incentive than being on epix!

The way to find out is for someone to do a really GOOD multi-camera sitcom and see if the numbers go up. I think Earl and I would agree that at least we’d be watching.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

FYRE in the hole


I can’t think of a sitcom or recent comedy movie that made me laugh as much and as hard as FYRE: THE GREATEST PARTY THAT NEVER HAPPENED. I saw it on Netflix. There's a competing one on Hulu.  It is more of an examination of the organizer and the scams he ran.  Well worth watching.  I just found the Netflix one more fun and dealt more with the actual event.  

Anyway, here’s the scoop:

A slick charismatic sleazeball named Billy McFarland decided to stage a Woodstock-like music festival/fantasy/wet dream for rich entitled Millennials. He was going to secure a private island in the Bahamas, put everyone up in luxury beach villas, fly them all there on private jets, provide top chefs to feed them, top shelf booze to lubricate them, and hear such super groups as, uh, Blink 182. All for only $12,000 a person. But hey, it was a way to kill a weekend.

Billy (short for Bilko I believe) and his in-groovy organizers put together a promotional video filled with super models and all the excess one one-per-center would want. These guys knew how to exploit social media and completely sold out within days.

Now all Billy and the gang had to do was deliver. And that’s when the fun began. Everything that could go wrong did. They were kicked off the island, had to scramble to find another one, the luxury villas were hurricane tents, the caterer quit, music acts pulled out, super models were nowhere to be found, and Billy was going through money like water, working around the clock to mount this boondoggle.

Speaking of water, they had shipped over truckloads of Perrier but they were held up in customs. So Billy asked one of the gay organizers if he could take one for the team and blow the customs guy to get their water. And he agreed to do it.

And all that is just the set up. The real comic payoff comes when the hipster partygoers arrived. The world’s greatest exclusive party became LORD OF THE FLIES. Also invited were “Influencers.” Is anyone more insufferable than an “Influencer?” Just too cool for school. To see them inconvenienced is worth the time to see this documentary. 

I suppose if I were a better person my heart would go out more to the festivalgoers who paid a fortune only to get royally fucked over. But these are the people who get into clubs while you wait in lines behind a rope. These are the Donald Trump Juniors of the world. As comedian Rob Fuches says while guesting on CONAN, “If you paid thousands of dollars to go on a trip to see Blink 182, that’s on you. That is Darwinism at its finest.”

Since every attendee had iPhones there is video of everything and like I said, it’s a Schadenfreude extravaganza. Check it out. You’ll probably see the 24 year-old asshole who cut you off last week with his Tesla.  And again, the Hulu documentary is also excellent.  It's more like young Donald Trump if he had been caught. 

Monday, February 04, 2019

Super Bowl XXILIICCXILICIXXIC review

The NFL has registered trademarks on SUPER BOWL and SUPER SUNDAY so no one is allowed to use those terms without permission. That’s why ads for TV’s boasted “you’ll be ready for THE BIG GAME.” Adhering to the law I shall resort to euphemisms.

This is a review of the 2019 BIG SLEEP.

In all the LICCXXILICCIXC years they’ve been playing THE BEER COMMERCIAL BOWL there’s never been one as boring. And that goes for the commercials and halftime show. It was like six hours of THE ENGLISH PATIENT.

The highlight was clearly Gladys Knight singing the National Anthem. They should have let her do the halftime show as well. And run the Rams’ offense. I’m only sorry though she didn’t come out in the Bee outfit she wears on THE MASKED SINGER.

Highlight number two: The Washington Post commercial heralding the value of journalism. I’m sure the person who needed to hear that message the most had his head buried in his fourth KFC bucket of extra crispy.

Highlight number three: There was no highlight number three.

CBS covered the game this year, which meant Jim Nantz & Tony Romo. Nance is always solid (although he made a few bobbles along the way) and I’m always impressed by how observant he is. More than Michaels or Buck he seems to see little things on the field. And Tony Romo is just a breath of fresh air. Even though I have no idea what he’s talking about half the time, his enthusiasm and uncanny ability to predict what is going to happen next makes him the MVP of the booth.

Is it just that the commercials were uninspired and derivative this year or after XXLLICCLXIII years of the TITANIC TILT it’s just not a “thing” anymore?

Sponsors spend millions on overblown excess commercials that are not funny for a second. Why not take $100,000 of that and hire comedy writers who know what they’re doing?

Stop with the robot ads! People hate them. You’ll notice that among all the many reboots these days no one is bringing back SMALL WONDER.

Notice all the NFL “We believe in Social Justice” and “Look how community minded our players are” spots there were? Heavy spinning to sweep under the rug all the player arrests. This year alone (and we’re only one month in): Trevor Bates for assault, De’Anthony Thomas for drugs, and P.J. Williams for a DUI. Among the charges NFL players were arrested for last year were domestic violence, eluding police, trespassing, insider trading, battery, public intoxication, injury to the elderly, vandalism, sexual assault, and a bomb threat. Yes, you want the NFL in your community.

Wow. Harrison Ford is doing Amazon commercials. To me that is a lot sadder than Han Solo getting killed.

I did like the Bud Light corn syrup spot. And their GAME OF THRONES crossover. But seeing that flying dragon really made me miss the Budweiser lizard. Am I alone in that? Hello? Dilly dilly?

This is the first year that the singing of “America” took longer than the first half highlights.

I’m sorry but that Planters Peanut car, with the ridges along the side – suggested uh… “another image.”

The halftime show was like if the Orange Bowl halftime had been planned by arsonists. Flames were shooting everywhere. For no reason whatsoever. And I know this is going to make me seem like 100 years old but Maroon 5 sucked. They’ve officially become Nickelback.

CBS took such flack when the wardrobe malfunction revealed Janet Jackson’s nipple for a tenth of a nano second, and yet Adam Levine was allowed to take off his shirt and preen around with all those hideous tattoos. Jews are forbidden from getting tattoos and one of the reasons is so they don’t look like entitled white boys trying to pass for street and hip.

And then there was Big Boi in his giant fur coat. He’ll be getting a call from PETA. And he can’t claim he needed it because it was cold. 37 booster rockets were taking off while he – it wasn’t singing – while he strung nonsense words together so fast that nobody could understand what he was spewing. If you slowed down the tape he might’ve been saying, “If you like this look, watch THE DEUCE on HBO.”

You know it’s a bad game when Jim Nantz, tongue-in-cheek, goes crazy when a 65 yard punt broke an EXCUSE TO DRINK IN THE AFTERNOON BOWL record… even though the ball bounced for 27 yards. Jim displayed a rare flash of humor when he then announced, “It’s going to get exciting now!” Alas, he was wrong.

I did think the Shoppers Assurance commercial was funny. All the levels of hell – middle seats on airplanes, “the talk” from your dad, etc. And now you could add to that: having to sit through a replay of this game.

The INSOMNIA CURE BOWL was so boring that Tony Romo had to continually remind viewers in the second half that the game was tied.

I know Rams fans are disappointed but cheer up, MAN WITH A PLAN returns Monday night to CBS!

Really? Someone spent millions of dollars to advertise better water bowls for your dog?

And Olay needed a horror-themed commercial to sell moisturizer? With Sarah Michelle Geller who has skin so perfect she could wash her face with Lava?

Even the winning touchdown was boring.

The only thing that could have made this game worse was if the MNF crew had called it.

And at least the Rams don’t have to go to the White House. So in a sense, they won.

When do pitchers and catchers report?

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Weekend Post (and Blog Tradition)

This is a yearly tradition.

For several years I had been talking about the "Lost" CHEERS scene. David and I wrote it for the 1983 Super Bowl Pre-game show to promote our fledgling series. They ran it just before game time and it was seen by 80,000,000 people. Nothing we've ever written before or since has been seen by that many eyeballs at one time. But the scene was never repeated. It never appeared on any DVD's. It just disappeared.

Until a few years ago.

Sportswriter supreme, Joe Resnick had taped every Super Bowl including that one. And since the scene aired so close to the game, it was on the tape.  Sadly, Joe passed away a few years ago.   You can read my tribute to him here.

Thanks to friend of the blog, Howard Hoffman, he was able to digitize it and post it on YouTube.  Here's the text of the scene.

So here it is. The Super Bowl is Sunday.

GO RAMS!!!

Friday, February 01, 2019

Friday Questions

Welcome to February. What better way to kick off a month than with Friday Questions?

Donald Benson gets us started.

Recalling an interview with Gene Wilder. When Mel Brooks came aboard "Young Frankenstein" as director, he not only co-wrote the script with Wilder but made him sit in on the editing. Brooks was emphatic that Wilder needed to learn this stuff, because sooner or later he'd want to direct to protect what he'd written.

Was your own interest in directing driven by some of that thinking?

I’ve talked about this before, protecting my work was certainly a factor but not the primary one.

I was just looking to have more fun and better enjoy the process. Being on the stage, playing with the actors and crew was more fun than sitting in writing rooms till 3 AM at that point in my career.

Not that directing doesn’t pose its own challenges, but I thoroughly enjoy it. And so far no actor has locked himself in his trailer.

Next challenge is directing a full-length play. I’ve directed one acts and studied terrific theatre directors. I’m probably ready. Anybody need a guy to stage ANGELS IN AMERICA for you?

DyHrdMET asks:

I'm watching the first season of CHEERS on Netflix (I feel like you once recommended it). How do you and the other writers write a uniquely funny character like Coach? It feels like only a certain type of joke would work on Coach, and those jokes wouldn't work on anyone else (such as "they called me 'Red' because I once read a book"). Was it difficult to continually come up good lines for him?

No, it was easy. In most cases you don’t write these characters “dumb,” it’s just that they take everything literally.

I loved writing the Coach. Nick was an absolute master at comic timing. There’s a true art to playing “dumb.” You'd swear he never saw the joke coming. 

Michael has a question about my first book.

I read this book years ago from the library and my wife bought it for me for Christmas. It's called "It's Gone ... No, Wait a Minute." I enjoyed it then and enjoyed it now. But I wondered: since you were still broadcasting when it came out, did you get any reaction, pro or con, from anyone, especially the people in it?

At the time I wrote it, during the ’91 Orioles season, I didn’t tell anyone I was preparing a book. I didn’t want anyone treating me differently (or stuffing me in a locker) as a result.

When the book came out I never caught any flack from the players, coaching staff, or fellow broadcasters. If anyone was pissed they never told me. And I’m still friends with many of the folks in the book including my partner Jon Miller. I don’t think anyone from Shamrock Airlines is my biggest fan though.

I did get a nice note from Johnny Unitas saying how much he enjoyed the book – and it was worth writing it just for that.

And finally, from Jen from Jersey:

What is your opinion about sitcoms and dramas that add topical references to the show? Any show that uses Trump jokes will seem dated in 20 years. The old and new Murphy Brown used topical political humor and it doesn’t stand the test of time.

Yes, you do topical humor at your own risk because it does date the show and reduces its value in syndication.

But it depends on the premise of the series. A show like MURPHY BROWN is set in the world of current events. They're almost obligated to deal with real life people and events. 

I had more of an issue with the topical jokes themselves. As you know I loathe Trump with every fiber of my being. But the Trump jokes on the new MURPHY BROWN were so blatant and relentless that they got old. Obviously he’s an easy target, but that made for easy jokes. And Trump became the only target for topical humor. I think even the most rabid Trump-haters said, “Okay! We get it!”

In my new play, which has a character who’s a journalist, there are a few references sprinkled in about the current state of the administration. A fellow playwright said, “What happens when he leaves office?” I said, “Nothing would please me more than to rewrite.”

What’s your Friday Question?