Saturday, May 18, 2019

Weekend Post

Congratulations to everyone involved in THE BIG BANG THEORY, which ended its 12 year run this week with a nice send off.  That's quite an accomplishment, especially in this day and age where a series can be in year 6 and only have 36 episodes.

There were a number of articles about the show this week.  Some tributes and some analysis.   I, of course find the analysis amusing.  How much was the appeal due to geek-related references?  Was its throwback multi-camera style a help or hindrance?   Were the addition of two women characters responsible for its ultimate ratings climb?  

Here's why THE BIG BANG THEORY was popular:

It was FUNNY.

It had actual JOKES.

It was a comedy that strove to make you LAUGH.

It wasn't niche, it wasn't dark, it wasn't redefining television.

People tune in a comedy because they want to laugh.  THE BIG BANG THEORY delivered.  They weren't aiming at smiles, or wry nods of the head.  They sought to entertain.

Was it a perfect show?  No.  The stories were often paper-thin and not all jokes worked despite the audience's orgasmic reaction to each one.  But a lot of jokes DID work.  And the cast was terrific.  The sets were pleasant to look at.  The pace was brisk.    Personally, I thought the jokes were better and sharper earlier in the run, but they were also fresher. All long running series suffer from recycling material.

But Chuck Lorre assembled a funny cast and a room of very funny writers.

That formula seems like a no-brainer but no one else seems to be doing it.  Either the cast is attractive but not funny or the writing doesn't really pop.   And again, when I hear showrunners proudly claim they don't write jokes to me what they're saying is they CAN'T write jokes.

So congratulations to THE BIG BANG THEORY.  Scientists will tell you that sometimes the most obvious solutions are the ones right in front of us. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Friday Questions

Let’s dive into some Friday Questions, shall we?

Marcus starts us off:

Did Crystal Bernard actually play the cello on Wings? If so, did she learn it for the show or know how to beforehand?

No, she didn’t play the cello. But she was a terrific singer and I think had some hit songs on the country charts. She also starred on Broadway in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN at one time. Crystal is immensely talented but alas not a cellist.

B Smith wonders:

I was watching an episode of MASH last night (for the zillionth time) and as those two choppers came in during the opening titles, it occurred to me that there had never been an episode that actually featured two helicopters. Presumably the expense dictated just using one, but am I right?

We might have used some stock footage of two helicopters if there was a big triage, but we never landed two choppers on that chopper pad. Certainly the expense was a factor, but also if we had to land two helicopters we could use stock footage and cut to when they landed and establish through camera angles and different people on the choppers.

One other factor: When we went out to the ranch to film the exteriors we would get one day per episode. And we would shoot 8 ½ pages. Trust me, that’s an insane amount for one day. So the less complicated we could make things for everybody, the better. One helicopter more than sufficed on most occasions.

From Breadbaker:

I was watching Cheers, Season 1, Episode 7, Friends, Romans, Accountants, an episode written by you and David, of course. In the episode, the bar was filled with accountants as extras, nearly all of whom never said a word. At the end of the episode, when they're hoisting Norm for having told off the boss, the band is playing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow", but no one is singing, which honestly feels unnatural. Was this because if the extras opened their mouths they'd be paid more and that would blow the budget? I imagine in Season One of Cheers, it was difficult enough to get that many extras into an episode, as the show was hardly a hit.

Here’s why: That wasn’t supposed to be the ending. Norm’s toga was supposed to catch on the door as they hoisted him out and it would remain as he went up the stairs supposedly naked. But we couldn’t get the trick to work. So what you saw and heard was a patched together ending. We added the band playing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” in post production. There’s even a stock shot of Boston at night to kill a few seconds and button the scene.

Some things work, some things don’t.

That’s Baseball, Suzyn.

And finally, from Vincent Saia:

When (Robert Pirosh) and George Seaton were working on A DAY AT THE RACES they took the script out and performed it a theater in front of live audiences, as was A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (which Pirosh and Seaton wrote an early non-used draft for). Monty Python also did that with their sketches. Would you like to see that done for comedy movies and sitcoms?

Multi-camera sitcoms essentially do that, performing in front of a live studio audience.

Here’s the problem with movies: you want your movie to be visual, to take advantage of locations, and perhaps have scenes with large crowds. You can’t really recreate that in a theatre.

There often is a rehearsal period before a movie is shot, but that usually just involves the director and actors.

Monty Python primarily did sketches so it was easy to include them in their stage act. Unless your comedy is just a string of set pieces I don’t think a theatre audience would be of much help.

But what they do do in movies is test screenings – see what the audience thinks after they see the film. And often the film will be re-edited or even new scenes shot based on the audience feedback.

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

EP123: Open Letter to Ungrateful TV Actors


In light of Constance Wu’s public disdain of FRESH OFF THE BOAT’S pick-up, Ken puts into perspective what a gift it is to be on a hit series and the reality of network television casting. It’s an eye-opener. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

RIP Tim Conway

No one could make me laugh like Tim Conway.   I'm sure Harvey Korman felt the same.

Tim passed away yesterday at the age of 85.  He had been in ill health his last several years.   I first discovered Tim Conway on McHALE'S NAVY, a sitcom in the early '60s.   He was a standout in that show that contained lots of funny people including Joe Flynn, Carl Ballantine, Bob Hastings, and Gavin MacLoud. 

But Tim's real claim to fame was THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW, a variety series on CBS in the '70s.  He was part of the ensemble. 

As I mentioned, he could always break up fellow cast member, Harvey Korman.  Traditionally, there were two tapings of THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW for two different audiences.  Conway would stick to the script for the first.  But once he knew he had the as-written version in the can he would often stray from the script for the second taping, primarily to get Korman to break.   Case in point is the following sketch.  

This is my favorite sketch of all-time.  I pick it up in the middle when it really starts really getting good.  Conway is a new dentist.  His first patient is Harvey Korman.  If you're not laughing after this there's something seriously wrong with you. 

RIP Tim Conway.  You were brilliant and hilarious. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

"That's Baseball, Suzyn."

I love when everyday expressions slowly make their way into the lexicon. One that has crept in lately is an expression that originated in baseball. A number of expressions we now use started in our National Pastime.

Example: Some who is left-handed is called a “Southpaw.” That comes from baseball. The way baseball stadiums are configured to avoid the sun being in the batter’s eye, the batter faces east and a left-handed pitcher’s pitching arm is on his south side. Amaze your friends with that nugget.

The New York Yankees have a very unique radio broadcast team. Veteran John Sterling does all the play-by-play and his analyst is longtime Yankees reporter Suzyn Waldman. John is quite a character. He’s now in his 80’s and calls every pitch of every inning. His eyesight isn’t what it used to be, but his broadcasts are always colorful and opinionated. He drives a lot of people crazy but his ratings are still through the roof. And in this day and age of young generic cookie-cutter boring uninteresting announcers, he’s a throwback and breath of fresh air. I’m sure I’ll get lots of comments today, yay and nay.

But anytime something wacky happens on the field (which is almost every day) and it’s something you can’t easily explain (like why a guy who never hits home runs suddenly hits three in one game) he will always say…

THAT’S BASEBALL, SUZYN.

He’s said it enough now that it’s become somewhat of a trademark. I’ve seen people wearing T-shirts that say THAT’S BASEBALL, SUZYN. And now I’m starting to hear it outside the circle of baseball.

Now I’m hearing people use it to explain anything that doesn’t have a clear logical explanation. Fox benching one of its highest rated shows, LAST MAN STANDING – THAT’S BASEBALL SUZYN. Anyone in the world gives a shit about Kim Kardashian – THAT’S BASEBALL SUZYN.

Watch. I bet within a week you’ll have occasion to use it too.

Monday, May 13, 2019

It's pick-up and cancellation time

With a lot less intrigue and rumors and fanfare the networks have been ordering shows, cancelling shows, and renewing shows in advance of cobbling together their fall schedules for the Upfronts. There used to be much more suspense. A show’s fate wasn’t determined until the fall schedules were announced. Then the networks would address mid-season and back up pick-ups. “You didn’t get on in the fall but there’s still a chance.”

Now networks are picking up everything they think they might need at once and then deciding who goes where when.

The only thing not surprising about this year’s process is that it’s changing. Everything in network television is changing. First of all the stakes are lower. Getting a show on a broadcast network schedule was the be-all and end-all. Not anymore. Producers and studios have way more options, way more buyers, and in most cases would prefer to be on the newer platforms that have more of a future.

It’s also less of a horse race since each network has its own feeder studio and buys mostly shows they own.

And then of course this big change: The networks no longer make their decisions primarily on ratings. If they did, each network would cancel 99% of its schedule. Network numbers are shamefully small. How many broadcast network shows do you watch these days?

But there are other considerations now – protecting your investment by making more episodes, foreign sales, commitments, maintaining relationships, testing, demographics, costs of the shows, disappointing development, etc. Tired franchises remain on the schedule because even with dwindling numbers they’re better than the risk of new fare.

Don’t kid yourself. Decisions are made out of fear.

As for the same-old/same-old, the pick-ups were all standard fare. Comedies about dealing with diversity, family members forced to live or work together, etc. The hot producers like Chuck Lorre and Mike Schur got their new shows on. But then the hot producers like Chuck Lorre and Mike Schur know how to make and execute the best pilots. Their shows deserve to get on. New dramas follow the familiar cop/doctor/lawyer/family/spy/procedural/star-driven pattern. Only thing missing this year seems to be reboots. But one or two of those might still sneak in. Where’s Gilligan when we need him?

The fall schedules will be announced very soon. Congratulations to those involved who got picked-up. I should say a cautious congratulations because the next step in the process is the networks firing a bunch of series regulars and replacing them with recycled series actors whose pilots did not get on. I’m sure there will be one or two “Max Greenfields” who will pop up on new series within the month.

But as I like to say, if you’re a writer/showrunner and your pilot is either picked-up or not picked-up, you have the exact same reaction: “OH SHIT!”

Let the staffing season begin!

NOTE:  In my podcast that drops later in the week I devote my entire episode to the Constance Wu  ungrateful reaction to her show being picked up.  I needed more than a few paragraphs.  Please tune in.  Tune in every week but for that episode especially. 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Weekend Post

Mother's Day in Sunday.  Give her a call.  For me this holiday resonates a lot more now that my own mother has passed.  If your mom is still with us take the time to tell her you love her.  You may not always get that chance.  And a special shout-out to Grandmothers.  Believe me, it's a lot easier to chase around a 2 year-old when you're 30 instead of 65. 

But that leads me to this hopefully-not-controversial weekend's post. 
This is my favorite mother joke. Actually it's a mother-in-law joke and it comes from the very politically incorrect but screamingly funny AMOS & ANDY SHOW.

DISCLAIMER:  I don't want any outraged 2019 comments on how I'm promoting body shaming or I'm a racist, whatever.  It's a JOKE.  A joke that was written almost 70 years ago.  Enjoy it in context.  Admire its construction.  How bizarre that I feel I have to post a WARNING disclaimer over one stupid joke.  But I do.  If you're worried you might possibly be offended click out and I'll see you Monday. 

I believe this joke was written by Mosher & Connelly (who went on to create LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and THE MUNSTERS).

The Kingfish sets up a blind date for "Mama". Hoping the poor guy would like her and take her off of his hands he arranges for Mama to go to the beauty parlor. He's talking to the hair stylist, describing Mama. He says (and I'm paraphrasing), "Picture a grapefruit that's been out at sea. And it washes ashore, all covered with seaweed and crabs. Now it sits in the sun for a couple of weeks and gets all wrinkly and rotted and bugs are now flying around it. Can you picture that?" The hairstylist says "Uh huh." And the Kingfish says, "Good. If you can make her look that good I'd be satisfied!"

Friday, May 10, 2019

Friday Questions

And now for some Friday Questions:

zapatty gets us started.

Premature Friday question - what did "creative consultant" Ronny Graham do when he worked on M*A*S*H ? I recall him appearing on Carson back in the day, and found him wildly amusing, and silly.

It’s a fancy title for a writer. Usually a Creative Consultant works one night a week but Ronny was full-time. He was a delight in the room. Pitched great jokes. And he also wrote several terrific scripts (one in which he also appeared).

As you’ll hear if you listen to this week’s podcast episode, his good buddy Mel Brooks would come into the room and hang out with us from time to time. That alone was worth hiring Ronny.

He was a true character. He was in NEW FACES OF ’52, wrote with Mel Brooks, was a semi-regular on CHICO AND THE MAN, and for years was the very popular spokesman for the Mobil Oil TV campaign as “Mr. Dirt.” Additionally, he did a cabaret act.

From scottmc:

After watching the episode 'Frasier Gotta Have It’ I was curious about Lisa Edelstein's credits prior to that episode. (I remembered that she was in a Mad About You episode) I noticed that before appearing on that Frasier ,and years before 'House', she appeared on several episodes of 'Almost Perfect'. Were you involved in casting her in AP? Were you or David working on FRASIER when that episode came up? Did you like her work on The Kominsky Method?

First off, I LOVE Lisa Edelstein. She is insanely talented and nice.

We cast her in ALMOST PERFECT because David Isaacs and I had seen her a couple of years earlier when we were casting BIG WAVE DAVE’S. She wasn’t right for that part but we made note that she had a real special quality. The ALMOST PERFECT part originally was just a few lines, but she was so hilarious we brought her character back. Eventually she became a semi-regular.

She was such a good sport. On ALMOST PERFECT we had her pelted with pies while she sang karaoke. On another episode she had to be almost naked (I think our show would have gotten higher ratings if it were called ALMOST NAKED instead of ALMOST PERFECT), and any physical comedy she could do. She also had the gift of making an unlikable character likeable.

Trivia note: I also directed Lisa in an episode of JUST SHOOT ME.

I love her on THE KOMINSKY METHOD. She’s essentially playing the same character she played on ALMOST PERFECT but drunker.

Stephen Marks is next:

I've been binge-watching episodes of the old British sitcom "On The Buses" and on every episode the characters make fun of each other's physical appearance, such as baldness, big teeth, height, weight, small chest, etc. I was wondering if a writer has to ask an actor if it is okay to make fun of them before it's written into the script or does the writer just do it and hope the actors don't mind.

I always clear it with the actor first if I want to make a joke about his appearance. I’m very sensitive to that.

And as a comedy writer I like to think I can derive humor from someone without having to trash his appearance. I think we got lots of laughs from Norm on CHEERS without having to resort to fat jokes.

And no joke, no matter how hilarious, is worth it if the actor isn’t comfortable. To me it’s not a body-shaming issue, it’s a basic decency issue.

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

EP122: Take a Guided Tour of the 20th Century Fox Lot.


Ken is your guide for a VIP tour of the 20th Century Fox  lot where thousands of classic movies and TV shows have been filmed including MASH.   Enjoy some history, anecdotes, and Hollywood lore, and you won’t need comfortable shoes. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Top Tunes

Monday night I did a cool thing – I was a judge for a Top Tunes competition. (Officially I was a “celebrity” judge but who are we kidding?)

What are Top Tunes? Here’s an explanation.

It’s kind of like those story competitions where people have to tell stories based on topics they’re given, and one contestant is the winner and receives… well, nothing.  But Top Tunes is with singer-songwriters.

The venue was a small club in my old hometown of Woodland Hills. It’s tucked away in a big shopping center. Find the tanning salon and go left. Six singer-songwriters compete. They are paired at random so there are three teams. (Most people don’t realize that Rodgers & Hammerstein began their partnership in similar fashion. They both competed in a Top Tunes competition at the Apollo in 1946. The song title they pulled out of the hat was “Surrey with a Fringe on Top” and the rest is history. )

Each writing team goes out into the alley (what’s more creatively conducive than the Whole Foods loading dock?) and has 17 minutes to compose a song that they will then perform.

After they perform their song three judges comment (a la AMERICAN IDOL). I know shit about the technical aspects of music but that still puts me way ahead of Ellen DeGeneres. The judges are there to be amusing. The other two judges both sang. I did not. That would not have been amusing.

Personally I was hoping a producer from THE MASKED SINGER would be in the audience and want me to replace Jenny McCarthy (or anyone on that stupid panel), but alas the crowd was just a bunch of drunks.

We judges narrowed the field to two teams and then the pickled audience voted the winner. In this case it was Alan Roy Scott & Anthony Starble. Their song was FANTASTIC.  Not just good but professional good.  

The thing that impressed me most about the night was how extremely talented each and every one of the singer-songwriters were. They each got a chance to do one of their own compositions and there was not a “Unicorn Song” in the bunch. One of the true inequities of show business is how hard it is for insanely gifted musicians to break in and make a decent living. These were six people in a shopping mall in a valley suburb on a Monday night and with the right break I could see any one of them winning a slew of Grammys. What they do is equally as impressive as hitting a baseball 400 feet but no one is paying them $400 million. They get free drinks.

But I’m here to tell you – WOODLAND HILLS HAS TALENT.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Aaron Sorkin and other unfair snubs

It say something about The Tony Awards that the nominations were announced a week ago today and I’m just addressing them now. Other than a five block radius in Manhattan I can’t imagine there’s been any water cooler buzz about the Tony nominations. It’s not like I’m late to the party. I could have saved this post for early June.

The Tony Awards ceremony is always one of the best of the award shows because there’s actual entertainment in it. Production numbers from the musicals are way more fun to watch than Lady Gaga practically going down on Bradley Cooper during their Oscarcast number. Tony winners tend to be wittier than their film or TV counterparts as well. Some genuine laughs and fewer shout-outs to agents.

So you would think the Tony Awards would get decent numbers. It doesn’t. It gets dreadful numbers. And why? Simple. 99% of the country hasn’t seen one of the nominated shows nor even knows what they are.

The musical that got the highest number of nominations is HADESTOWN. Ever hear of it? If you think the Oscars has a problem…

So there’s no rooting interest. At least on the Oscars or Emmys if something wins you’re not familiar with you can go to your favorite Cineplex or ON DEMAND and catch it the next day. THE FERRYMAN is a great play I’m told. If it wins and you’re in Portland and you don’t happen to have a New York trip scheduled for late June the chances are real good you will never see it. So as a viewer why even take note of it?

It seems silly to really “analyze” the nominations since so few of you know who the nominees are and even fewer of you care. But I do want to highlight a few points.

If ever there was a lock, Elaine May will deservedly win Best Actress for THE WAVERLY GALLERY. She gave one of the most thrilling performances I’ve ever seen in the theatre.

I don’t understand the Tony love for the musical THE PROM. Falling for the hype I saw it and was dumbfounded by how trite and clich├ęd and on-the-nose obvious it was. Take the worst flaming gay jokes from WILL & GRACE and rejected songs from MEAN GIRLS then add unearned cringeworthy sentimentality and that’s THE PROM.

And finally, I’m surprised by the snubs for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and NETWORK. Both are excellent. And both are popular. Broadway is well aware of the recognition problem they face as evidenced by all the franchises, reboots, jukebox musicals, and known stars they can put up on marquees in a desperate attempt to attract general audiences. So either snub all of them for their gross commercialization or none. Why snub two of the very best written plays this season? The MOCKINGBIRD snub was clearly a dig at Aaron Sorkin. Sour grapes. Yes, he’s a personality who knows how to self-promote, but he also delivers the goods. And he attracts audiences. Isn’t that what you want?

Here’s the typical timeline for Best Play nominees: They’re all excellent, they’re all highly dramatic, they all close due to lack of interest.

So when you get a couple of plays that are highly dramatic and popular, those are the ones you snub? Seems very petty.

Look, there used to be dozens of straight plays mounted every Broadway season. Now there are very few. For the high cost of a ticket many theatergoers would rather see a musical. They opt for the spectacle and songs tossed in. As a playwright, I’m often asked if my ultimate goal is to get a play on Broadway. No. I write comedies instead of message plays about gender identification so that’s two strikes right there, and I know the only way I’ll get something on Broadway is if I attach one or two (or four) big stars. I don’t know Bryan Cranston well enough to pick up the phone. I’ve never been to a Dodger game with Jeff Daniels. But that’s fine. Give me regional and community theatres that will mount decent productions and audiences that laugh and have a good time and I am totally happy. But Broadway needs to keep straight plays as part of their season. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and NETWORK were big steps in the right direction. They both deserved to be celebrated not snubbed.

That said, congratulations to all the shows and artists who were nominated. The Tony Awards air on CBS on June 9. I’ll still be watching, except during THE PROM production number.

Monday, May 06, 2019

End Game of Thrones

I feel completely out of step with the world.

I have no desire to see AVENGERS ENDGAME – I don’t care how many billions it's taken in. I’ve reached my saturation point on super hero movies… and all-star super hero movies. They end in a big cliffhanger where it appears everyone dies, but you know they’ll all be back. I’m done. Okay, except for the next Wonder Woman. But after that I’m really done. (Unless there's another Wonder Woman.)

I’ve never been able to get into GAME OF THRONES. Just not a fantasy guy. Dragons and bloodshed are fine for Broadway musicals but not TV series. At least for me.

I can’t watch the news. It just infuriates me. Even commentators that I love. Sorry. Please let me know when we have a new president.

I don’t own a Fitbit. So I walk 6,542 steps today? And some of those were to get pie?

I didn’t watch the NFL Draft. I was not on pins and needles waiting to see who the Kansas City Chiefs picked first.

I don't watch AMERICAN IDOL (although nobody does anymore).  

So I’m out of step. And yet I seem to be existing okay. I don’t sense a real void in my life. The time I spend not doing these things is filled with other pursuits, other projects, other passions. I don’t feel deprived. The only downside is… is…. Hmmm. I can’t think of one.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Weekend Post

The new season of GAME OF THRONES is here and there's lots of buzz every week.  I never got into it.  But I tried.  Once.  Seven years ago.  I watched the first episode of that season and hoped I could glean from that what was going on to get up to speed.  Well, it was not to be.  

But to help me, I kept notes on the episode, figuring I might be able to go back and connect whatever dots still needed to be connected.  That was no help either.  But I decided to post my notes for those, like me, who were coming into this phenomenon cold.   So since we're in another GoT craze, I thought I'd repost them.  If you know the show these might make some sense.  And you'll see how the show appears to those of us who aren't into the show.   

In any event, I hope you'll find them amusing. 

The show starts with “Previously on GAME OF THRONES.” Good! This will help. There are quick cuts, tiny snatches of dialogue. “You will pay!” “Wait for me!” “I’m the king!” “No, I’m the king!” “Neither of you are king!” I don’t know. It went by too fast. There were also fifty-two main characters. I’d see someone and think, “Oh, shit, where do I know him from?” Then he’s gone. Replaced by some hot blond. I wonder – do we see her naked? At the end of this wrap up I know absolutely nothing.

Cut to opening titles. Eye-popping graphics and stirring theme as the camera sweeps us all around a map. From what I glean, there are different kingdoms here in the land of… wherever this is. Or I’m wrong and the show is about mead salesmen.

The show begins. There’s a jousting tournament. Cool! Very realistic. The loser dies. Lots of blood. We see the tourney is for the pleasure of a king. The king looks like he’s maybe 19. And he’s clearly a brat. He’s the music prodigy in your high school who was so insufferable you spilled hot chocolate on him at every opportunity. By his side was a young waif who I gathered was either the queen or his personal shopper. She didn’t appear happy. Like she was forced to go to the prom with Screech.

Peter Dinklage shows up. Yay! Him I know. And I know he won the Emmy last year. The show picks up immediately when he appears. I don’t know what his relationship to anybody is but his armor must be made of Teflon because he has no problem speaking his mind to everyone without getting an axe in his skull.

In the castle somewhere there is a board meeting held by a medieval MILF who is in some position of power. They’re discussing when the peasants can use drinking fountains or something and the meeting breaks up with Dinklage crashes the party. He and the MILF do not get along. He shows her some paper that says he is allowed to be insouciant and have all the best lines. She is not pleased.

Now (as best as I can remember) we’re moving briskly through the woods, POV style. We stop at a pond and see a reflection of a wolf in the water. So we must’ve been the wolf in that sequence.

A transition I forgot then people are at that creek and the wolf is gone. Did the wolf turn into one of them? Oh wait. That was ONCE UPON A TIME. I don’t know who these people are or why they are there. A red comet is spied in the sky. It means something.

We cut to a hot dusty desert where a tribe of bedraggled people are zombie-walking across the arid landscape. I look for Moses. He doesn’t seem to be there. The leader appears to be an attractive young woman with a small dragon on her shoulder. That threw me. My sense was the show was gritty and realistic. Now they’re saying there are mythical creatures?

A horse dies. Am I watching LUCK? This event prompts the girl to send tribe members off in different directions to look for something. I’m guessing oats.

The red comet transitions us to a snow-covered wilderness where more people are tromping around. We’ve gone from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA to DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. They come to a big house. We learn that the proprietor had all these daughters, married them, then had more daughters by them. So throw in CHINATOWN, BIG LOVE, and any episode of THE MAURY POVICH SHOW. He warns the men not to touch any of his wives/daughters. The scene ends there but you know next week six guys are going to be caught jumping the Chloe Sevigny-lookalike.

Meanwhile, where’s the sex? Where’s the nudity? Even the dead horse had a saddle on it.

Now we’re in another kingdom and meet (I assume) another king. Hard to tell. He’s wearing furs. Would it be so hard to give all the kings crowns? At least through the second season. He’s discussing matters with a woman who looks like a younger Jean Marsh. I have no idea what they’re talking about. They don't sleep together so she might not be his mother. 

From there we go to the woods (or it might be teen king’s castle – by this point I’m lost). Someone is being held in a cage. He engages in a conversation with his captor. I’m sensing the prisoner is a member of some royal family. Either that or he’s one of the old guy’s wives/daughters. He appears very jaunty for a prisoner, especially when the wolf from the pond scene shows up and is in the cage with him. Then the wolf disappears. At this point I’m waiting for the Smoke Monster to arrive.

The show now bounces from place to dizzy place. Finally, we see the brothel. Fifteen seconds of a girl having sex but being coached (so ech!) and then we see the brothel lobby and a few bare breasted girls. The erotic mood is broken somewhat however when men in armor enter and kill a baby.

I found the show’s dialogue to be somewhat inconsistent. Juxtaposed with “Ay, your liege, I will be gone by day’s first light” is “I want to fuck.”

And then the screen cuts to black and the hour is over. I’m baffled. I imagine if you are a fan of the series, every scene I described was ripe with delicious moments and exchanges. There were surprises. High tension. Amusement. (If you were aroused by the brothel scene though, you’re sick.) But to fully enjoy this series I suppose I better go back, watch the entire first season, and maybe read the five novels just to be sure.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Friday Questions

Here we are in May already. Time for more Friday Questions.

David Russell gets us off and running.

Do writers and actors ever acknowledge, even to themselves, that they're on a stinker of a show? I've watched shows that have inexplicably been green lit, they're universally panned, or they're dying a terrible, slow death after having been on too long. Do the writers and cast still really believe in the show or is there some recognition they're working on a lousy product, and what does that do to the morale on the production?

Writers acknowledge more than actors. Actors may know but since they have to go out there and perform every week and it’s their faces up there they tend to be more in denial.

Writers, especially staff writers, see things for what they are and bitch about them.

That said, writers will sometime prefer being on a bad show to a good one if the good one is run by a tyrant and the bad one is run by a lovely person who creates a pleasant work environment.

If actors get bad reviews and are publicly told they’re on a dog then they freak and general chaos is usually the result.

At least a bad movie is in the can, but when actors have to continue making bad TV shows then you have that long death march until the end.

An actor once told me that early in her career she was in some B-movie teen comedy, and they had the cast and crew screening. When the lights came back up all of the actors were literally crying.

At least they didn’t have return to the studio the next day to begin work on the sequel.

From scottmc:

Ken; were you a d.j.when 'Delilah' was a hit for Tom Jones? My daughter is 14 and I try to play for her songs from when I was her age. She likes the Turtles (especially the byplay between the lead singer and the heavy set guy) and the 4 Seasons (some of their songs show up on the soundtracks of some of the movies she watches.) When we heard 'Delilah' she couldn't believe it. I looked at my copy of 'The Me Generation...by Me' and it seems you started working in radio right around the time that song was released. Did you ever play the song, what was your reaction to it?

I played that song many times. I don’t understand what the big deal is. It’s a story song about a guy killing his girlfriend for cheating on him. The police come and I assume he winds up in the cell next to Cosby. 

There are any number of songs that had that similar theme of someone murdering someone else who they felt did them wrong. The delightful “Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” “Stagger Lee,”  “Murder Ink,” “Fulsom Prison Blues,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Hey Joe,” and of course “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I bet you can think of seven more.

RyderDA asks:

In old movies (not sure when, but certainly pre 1960), the credits showed up at the start of the movie and when it was over, the movie just ended. Later movies seemed to feature some intro credits, and some credits after as well. Somewhere in the late 60's or early '70's, all the credits started showing up at the end. They got longer and longer over time; now credits are so long, they seem to list everyone who worked in the production company's office plus everyone living in the cities where the movie is made just for good measure.

I think you have written in the past how the WGA worked on getting writers properly credited, but 1) who fought to get the 4th transportation driver listed, and 2) why the switch over time from credits all before, to before and after, to mostly after?

I believe the switch over time was to get the audience invested in the narrative quicker. Movies didn’t have to start slowly to accommodate credits, or if the film began with an action sequence, they didn’t have to interrupt the flow by doing an opening title sequence. Or the movie didn’t open with a four-minute opening title sequence.

For the most part, I miss opening titles. What would a James Bond movie be without them?

A lot of romantic comedies used to have clever and stylish animated opening titles. I quite enjoyed those.

As for credit placement, unions negotiate that. If the credits are at the beginning of a film the director gets the final credit. If the credits are at the end of the film the director gets the first credit (followed by producer and writer).

Regarding all the crew members, I suspect there are union stipulations for that too. Personally, I don’t mind that there are a million credits. Everyone who works on a film deserves recognition. I’ve talked about this before, many of the hardest working, most conscientious members of the crew are below-the-lines people who never get the kudos they deserve.

And finally, Jim S. wonders:

What was the best note you ever received from a suit, and from a fellow writer/producer?

Network: Tim Flack at CBS. We conceived the pilot of BIG WAVE DAVE’S as three guys having a mid-life crisis deciding to open a surf shop in Hawaii. Tim said one needed a wife to bring along. That turned the premise into more of Wendy & the Lost Boys.

We hired Jane Kaczmarek, she tested through the roof, and the show got on the air because of her. I’d say that was a pretty good note.

Writer note: Treva Silverman read the original draft of my play A OR B? and said, “the first act is wonderful. You have no second act.” I completely threw out my second act, wrote a new entirely different one, and the play went on to receive numerous well-received production. Thank you, Treva.

What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section and stay away from Delilah.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

EP121: Another CHEERS commentary track w/ Writer Ken Levine


Ken provides a commentary track for the CHEERS episode “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” from season 6, episode 17. Frasier and Lilith's wedding is nearing, and their best man and maid of honor, Sam and a very surprised Rebecca, are throwing them each a bachelor and  bachelorette party! You can watch along or just listen as Ken shares background info and nuggets on one of his favorite episodes.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

First Day of May -- Jonathan Coulton

I can't think of a better way of welcoming in the spring. You'll be forwarding this I can almost guarantee. Thanks to my daughter Annie for alerting me to this joyous song.

NOTE: Coulton also writes and performs those animated segments on THE GOOD FIGHT that are absolutely brilliant.