Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Best game show host. "Who is Alex Trebek?"

I’ve always been a fan.

He’s done a great job hosting JEOPARDY. And it’s not easy. You need laser-focus, the ability to pronounce foreign names and other tongue-twisters correctly, to keep the game moving, and successfully engage with the contestants, many who are nervous and ill-at-ease.

When we did the CHEERS episode where Cliff went on JEOPARDY we also discovered that Alex was very funny. So much so that we wrote him into another scene and he appears at the bar.

A couple of months ago I went to watch them tape JEOPARDY. They do five shows in one day – three in the morning, and two after lunch. That’s a lot of clues to announce, money totals to keep track of, and be accurate in allowing and disallowing answers. The time between shows is like twenty minutes – just enough time for Alex and the winner to change clothes and maybe down a Red Bull.

It would be understandable if Alex had a little less energy on the fifth show of the day (or even fell asleep), but that’s never the case. He is up and present every episode regardless of when it was taped.

And what you don’t see at home is that during commercial breaks he steps out and answers audience questions, again displaying his great dry wit.

So under normal circumstances he does a remarkable job.

As I’m sure you know, he revealed to the world that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Let’s be real – that’s a bad one. According to reports, his treatment is going well and he is in remission, but that treatment has been brutal.

Apparently, there are times between shows when he’s in his dressing room in tremendous pain. Producers have offered to cancel the rest of the day’s taping, but he always says no. And somehow he rallies to go before the cameras and do his usual outstanding job. I watch the show every day. I’ve been watching for a long time. I would never know he’s in pain if I hadn’t heard the story.

That, to me, is the ultimate professional.

My admiration is through the roof. And I’m sure, like you, I offer my best wishes and prayers.

If the answer is “courageous” the correct response is “Who is Alex Trebek?”

Monday, June 17, 2019

Bring back sparkling dialogue

I received a lot of good buzz from this weekend's post where I featured a scene that wasn't shot in the original movie of ARTHUR by Steve Gordon.

What everyone reacted to was the sparkling dialogue.

And I don't think it's an age thing.  As many younger readers responded as older.

The sad thing is you don't hear dialogue like that in movies today.  Or TV.  Or even a lot of plays.  Theatrical comedies have to be dark black comedies as is the current trend.

And I say why?

Now, I must admit I'm not an objective bystander here.  I've always loved smart, character-driven funny banter.  Steve Gordon is one of my idols.  Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, and Herb Gardner are a few others.    So that's the kind of dialogue I try to write.

Happily, that style was in vogue during my TV writing career.  MASH, CHEERS, and certainly FRASIER appreciated and celebrated the value of witty dialogue.   Every play I write I strive to reach the level of ARTHUR.  And it's very rewarding when lines get big laughs from the audience.

And understand, I'm not talking about "jokes."   I'm talking about dialogue that is in character, moves the story along, is generally attitude-based, and is funny in context.

I suspect witty dialogue is not so prevalent because it's very difficult to do.   Easier to do a gross-out scene, sophomoric sex jokes, dripping irony, or moments that are mildly-amusing at best.   And of course, those who can't do it or are intimidated by it claim it's a style that's "old school" and passe today.

But ask an audience.  Or, more accurately, listen to them.  Listen to them laugh at well-crafted funny lines.   Watch ARTHUR again (only the original.  The sequel and remake -- neither by Steve Gordon -- suck!).  Forget that it's a timepiece and in today's sensibility you couldn't do a number of the things they did in that film.  You're going to laugh your ass off.  For 90 minutes you're going to be bombarded with one hilarious line after another.

It's a style that I feel should come back, and I'm out there every day doing what I can to revive it.  This one's for you, Steve.

UPDATE:  from Jon Emerson.  This is a Twitter video from Nicole Silverberg on 90% of movie jokes now.  Couldn't like agree, y'know, more. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Weekend Post

One of my favorite comedies of all time is Steve Gordon’s ARTHUR.  I love the screenplay.  Steve tragically passed away waaaaay too young.  Parts of the film don't hold up today because you can't have a roaring drunk just driving around Manhattan.  But viewed as a timepiece it still holds up to be hilariously funny.  No one could write dialogue better than Steve Gordon.   

Believe it or not his first draft was 147 pages. (Do NOT try this at home, kids.) Steve was kind enough to give it to me.   At 147 pages there obviously were scenes that never saw the flickering light of the projector. But here’s one of those missing scenes. Don’t you wish you could write this well? I do.

When Arthur (Dudley Moore) goes to Linda’s (Liza Minelli) apartment after proposing to Susan:

INT. LINDA’S BEDROOM – NIGHT

It is a small room. Linda sits at the edge of the bed. Arthur paces.

ARTHUR
Nice. Really a nice place.

LINDA
I’m thrilled. A lush likes my furniture. Talk.

Arthur reaches for a yearbook that is on the table.

ARTHUR
Is this your yearbook?

Linda jumps off the bed and rips the yearbook out of Arthur’s hand.

LINDA
God damn it! I have to get up and go to work tomorrow! Now stop fooling around. What do you want? You want to see a funny picture?

ARTHUR
Yeah.

Linda flips through the book. They are close.

LINDA
This is me in the school play – I played Juliet. Martin Feinberg played Romeo. Look at the hair. God! Martin Feinberg became a lawyer.

ARTHUR
What did you become?

LINDA
I’m a waitress. I’m studying to be an actress.

She flips through the book.

ARTHUR
You want to be an actress?

LINDA
No, schmuck… I’m studying to be an actress because I want to be a carpenter. (in the book) Look at this! Me playing vollyball! This guy went to prison.

ARTHUR
Sure… he probably got a lawyer who wanted to play Romeo. Did you go with anyone?

LINDA
Not really. My mother was sick then. I came home from school and spent as much time with her as I… anyway… it wasn’t a good time. This girl here…Mona… used to get laid 20 times a week.

ARTHUR
She looks tired there.

LINDA
Where did you go to school?

ARTHUR
I went to eight prep schools. I was thrown out of all of them. I was real unhappy as a kid.

LINDA
With all your money?

ARTHUR
Yeah. I had a big house. But nobody wanted me in it.

Linda puts her hand on Arthur’s face.

LINDA
You’re a lovely man.

ARTHUR
Lovely?

LINDA
Don’t worry about it. It’s the best thing I’ve ever said to anyone. Why haven’t you called me?

ARTHUR
Uh… that’s why I came here tonight. I think about you all the time. I am so fond of you…

LINDA
If you’re breaking up with me… I think it’s only fair to tell you that we’ve never had a date.

ARTHUR
(smiling) I am breaking up with you. We were so good we didn’t need dates.

LINDA
Why don’t we see each other and then break up?

ARTHUR
Listen… there’s stuff. Let’s not get into it. I can’t see you. Remember that ring?

LINDA
I had a feeling about that ring… you don’t clean that… you guard it.

ARTHUR
I gave it to somebody tonight.

LINDA
My ring? So what are you doing here?

ARTHUR
I had to see you to tell you I can’t see you.

LINDA
Neither of us is crying. Everything’s okay. You are the strangest person in North America.

ARTHUR
Yeah. Well… goodbye. It would probably be a mistake for you to come to that party Wednesday.

He starts toward the door.

LINDA
Yeah.

He turns.

ARTHUR
It’s the best way. There’s a lot involved.

LINDA
Right.

Arthur kisses her on the lips.

ARTHUR
(after the kiss) Goodbye. I guess this is it.

He continues to hold her.

LINDA
You’re holding me and kissing me. In my bedroom. With what you drank… you may be clearing up my sinuses.

Arthur kisses her again.

ARTHUR
Let’s just say goodbye. This is silly.

He kisses her again. This time it grows into a passionate kiss.

LINDA
(after the kiss) How long ago did you get engaged?

ARTHUR
About four hours ago. Jesus… this is wonderful.

LINDA
Make sure you come by your honeymoon night. Let’s stop. I enjoy you… but there are certain rules.

ARTHUR
Right… Goodbye.

He exits.

In the actual movie this scene was rewirtten and is much shorter. He goes to her apartment to give her $100,000 guilt money which she doesn't take. (Great shot of her dad outside the door, practically dissolving into tears.)

By the way, in the first draft Linda is not Italian. She's Jewish. Davidorf is her original last name.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday Questions

It's Flag Day. What better way to celebrate than with Friday Questions?

Patrick Wahl leads off.

Lots of questions about producer credits. There are Executive Producers and Producers. Does either one rate higher than the other in the producer pecking order?

The highest position is Executive Producer. There may be multiple Executive Producers but generally only one or one team is considered the “show runner.” Ironically, there’s no credit for that.

After that the general order from highest importance to lowest is:

Co-Executive Producer
Supervising Producer
Consulting Producer
Producer
Co-Producer

Below that are staff level jobs, now often relegated to end credits.

But make no mistake, those roles are being filled either by writers or non-writing pod producers.

You’ll also see a “Produced by” credit. That’s for the line producer – the person really in charge of mounting the production. He/she hires the crew, oversees budgets, post production, and basically is the one producer who actually produces things.

From David (not my partner):

What do you think the odds are that there'll be another writer's strike in the next year or two?

There’s always that possibility, but let’s be real. Management dictates that. If they lay out proposals that are untenable like cutting back on health insurance or not sharing in streaming income then the WGA has no choice. If management wants to avoid a work stoppage and make a deal then a deal is struck.

Meanwhile, let’s see how this battle with major talent agencies plays out.

And finally, from Jeri:

I wonder about the people that get series announced at upfronts as a midseason premiere and then every year some of those don't see the light of day. Have you ever worked on a pilot or show that was a mid season replacement that didn't end up airing?

David Isaacs and I were supposed to write an episode for an NBC series called SNIP starring David Brenner. 13 episodes had been ordered and I believe it was even on the NBC fall schedule. But they cancelled it. Not sure if some episodes were filmed. I suspect they were and the network so hated them they just shelved the whole thing.

But there are examples of six to thirteen episodes of a show in the can that were so apparently un-releasable that the network was willing to just eat the money.

There have also been shows that got cancelled after one airing, even though more episodes were already shot. Two that spring to mind are PUBLIC MORALS and EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT.

In terms of getting paid, it depends on the deals the actors and writers made with the studio. Were they to be paid for all episodes ordered (even if the show is then cancelled) or only for the episodes that were produced? If the latter, they got screwed.

Happy Flag Day. On this date many years ago I enlisted in the Army Reserves.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

EP127: Meet Kara Mayer Robinson: celebrity journalist


Kara Mayer Robinson has written for the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter, and has her own podcast, “Really Famous.” She and Ken discuss the world of celebrity interviews with a little gossip and goofy banter along the way.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Take the Pan Am Experience yourself

Yesterday, I shared the Pan Am Experience.  Today I thought I'd show you some photos.
Daughter Annie & Jon hanging out in the lounge.

The First Class Lounge -- you got drunk before you flied.

The Upstairs Lounge, accessible via spiral staircase.  Even Don Draper never got up here.

First Class cabin where we were.  The decor and everything was authentic to a T.

Clipper Class -- the first Business Class section ever.  Peasants.

Actual menus, actual snacks.  They were still tasty after almost 50 years.

The fashion show.  I love the derbies.

Two actual former Pan Am stewardesses who joined us for the flight.

Carved right at your seat.  Good luck seeing that today on any carrier.

Dinner is served.  They didn't know about cholesterol back then either.

Fashion show part two

Who remembers Braniff?

Love those outfits!

Pan Am merch on display.

What?  My daughter is smoking? 
If you're interested in the Pan Am Experience you can find out more here.  Tell him I sent you and maybe they'll send me little wings. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Pan Am Experience

One of the things that is gone forever is the golden age of air travel. Flying used to be part of the fun and anticipation of a trip. Now it’s a fucking ordeal. People would dress up to fly. Even if you flew coach you were treated royally.

My first coast-to-coast flight was on TWA in 1969. I was served a hot breakfast and for lunch they set up a huge buffet and we all lined up and filled our plates. It wasn’t a flight; it was a Long Island bar mitzvah reception.

Airline carriers back then all had to charge the same fares so the way to attract passengers was to offer better service. The very best at is was Pan Am. And Pan Am First Class was second to none. For dinner they carved Chateaubriand at your seat.

Hey, just the fact that you had actual metal silverware – you’ll never see that again ever.

They called it the Pan Am Experience and now it’s been faithfully and lovingly recreated down to a T in Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley.

Anthony Toth is the creator of this experience. A lifelong collector of aviation memorabilia (Pan Am in particular), he somehow put this together.

An actual 747 that had been rusting for ten years in the desert was rescued. The first class section, business class section (Clipper Class) and upstairs lounge were restored to its Pan Am greatness down to the most minute detail. The seats, the fabric, d├ęcor, even scent through the ventilators is the exact same as the plane that flew the world in 1970.

It is now housed on a soundstage (nice name for a warehouse) in an industrial area of the Valley. In nearby stages are airplane interiors and airport interiors. TSA is not going to let you actually film at LAX anymore. Needless to say these stages are rented out constantly.

But every Saturday night they hold the Pam Am Experience. It’s a journey back into the early ‘70s. Unlike THE DEUCE, this is something you’d want to relive from that period.

So longing for the days when Carroll O’Conner played Archie Bunker and not Woody Harrelson, I took my wife, daughter and son-in-law on a trip in the Wayback Machine.

Tomorrow I will share a bunch of photos.

You arrive at 6:00, all dressed up. There were some guys with afro’s. I wore a jacket and paisley tie. You check in at an actual Pan Am ticket booth. There’s a rotary phone on the desk. I’m reminded of that YouTube video where two Millennial idiots couldn’t figure out how to dial a rotary phone. I weep. There’s also a TWA and Northwest Orient counter for people who bought counterfeit tickets (because they go nowhere).

Then we entered a replica First Class Lounge complete with open bar, Pan Am displays, and posters from the era.

At 6:30 you are invited to board. The stewardesses (and yes, they were called stewardesses, not flight attendants or empowered service providers) were all in authentic wardrobe. You were ushered to your seat. We sat in the First Class cabin. There was enough leg room to stage one of my plays. More drinks (in Pam Am glasses… that were made of glass, believe it or not) and oversized packets of snacks.

In the Clipper Section there was a full-bar you could belly up to at any time. Up the spiral staircase there was a lounge section – very exclusive.

The crew showed reverence to the experience, but there were enough funny quips to let you know this was a fun recreation, not some creepy fever dream.

We were offered vintage magazines, complete with all the cigarette ads and even a few for this new thing called FM stereo. Considering the world today, reading TIME magazine my nostalgia extended to Nixon.

Speaking of cigarettes, the one concession to now was that there was no smoking allowed. But back then everyone smoked of course. So they had these fake cigarettes. You would blow through them and bogus smoke would disperse. At first it was fun to be Don Draper. After two minutes I felt like an idiot and stopped.

The piped in music was a blend of pop hits from the '60s and '70s.  Lots of Beatles and Burt Bacharach. Can't go wrong with that.   Also a few Pan Am jingles.   These were the days you'd hear an airlines commercial and not yell "Fuck you!" to the speaker.

As unbelievable as it might sound, fifty years ago people actually LIKED certain airlines.  No, I'm serious.  Really.  Truly. 

Dinner service began. Fresh warm rolls, more drinks (I had to watch myself. It’s not like there are many great motels in Pacoima.), appetizers that included shrimp cocktails or fresh mozzarella salad, and then the main course.

Not only did they carve Chateaubriand right at your seat, they gave you a decent portion. An airline “steak” today (pre packaged and swimming in God knows what sauce) is generally the size of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Other entrees were chicken and pasta. Since gluten wasn’t invented in 1970 there was nothing that was gluten free.

A fruit and cheese cart followed, and then a cart with lovely cakes. After dinner drinks were offered as well as coffee.

For entertainment, there were fashion shows – first of all the Pan Am stewardess uniforms and then uniforms from other airlines. They were fun, but I was powering down the beef.

Final touches like a Duty-Free cart came around and we all took a Pan Am trivia game, which no one knew any of the answers.

No one tried to hijack the sound stage to Cuba.  Only ten people tried that joke. 

To be fair, it’s crazy expensive, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Or so I thought. There were repeat passengers. One was going on his fourth journey. The steaks at Maestro’s are good and way cheaper than this. And you can buy candy cigarettes. That said, if somebody invites me I’d be happy to go again. I could use the additional miles.

It’s gourmet nostalgia porn and just a reminder that yeah, we have iPhones and Waze, but some things were better back then.

Come back tomorrow for photos.  And for more info on the Pan Am Experience you can just go here.  Tell them Ken Levine sent you.   Maybe they'll send me a Pan Am swizzle stick. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

What Constitutes a Comedy?

How funny does a project have to be to be considered a “comedy?”

It depends on the expectations and whether they are met.

If a half-hour dramedy contains a few smiles it’s fulfilled its comic responsibilities. Same laughs in a sitcom and it’s just flat and dull.

I love when producers say, “Well, we’re a comedy but we’re not really going for laughs.” Oh no? Then what the fuck are you going for? Whenever I hear producers say, “I don’t write jokes” what he’s really saying is “I can’t write jokes.”

Real comedy writing is hard.  

Romantic comedy features of the 50’s and 60’s were amusing at best. Maybe a laugh or two in a Doris Day movie but sure not BLAZING SADDLES. And yet those Doris Day films were considered acceptable comedies at the time.

Similarly, 60’s sitcoms. THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW really stood out to me because it was funny. I look back at shows I watched then like THE PATTY DUKE SHOW or THE DONNA REED SHOW and think, “Why was I watching this drivel?”

70’s sitcoms came along like ALL IN THE FAMILY, MASH, and THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and suddenly I was actually laughing. Mel Brooks and Woody Allen churned out movies that also had that effect. Neil Simon was the toast of Broadway for figuring out that comedy plays needed to be funny.

When I write a TV show or screenplay or play I want the audience to audibly laugh. A lot. All the way through.

Since writing plays I’ve discovered this: If you get a quiet audience, even if they’re really enjoying the play, afterwards they will say it was “very entertaining,” “really fun,” “very enjoyable.” Same play/same performance but a hot crowd that laughed out loud all night -- “Hysterical!” “Brilliant!” “Amazing!”

I’m sure there are playwrights that say “When I write a comedy if I get five or six good laughs I’m happy.” Not me. I’m miserable. There’s the audience expectation (how many laughs will they require?) and then mine (why aren’t they laughing every minute?).

The yardstick is laughter. And if you’re writing a comedy and that isn’t your goal, you may write a spectacular script – just label it something else.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Weekend Post

The Tony Awards are Sunday night!!!

Hello?  Are you still there?

God bless CBS for continuing to air them despite the fact that no one watches.

Which is a shame because in many ways the Tonys are way more entertaining and fun than the Oscars and Emmys.   Full production numbers from Broadway hits and witty acceptance speeches -- so what if you've never heard of 90% of the shows or nominees?

But of course, that's the problem.  99% of the  country has not seen a single one of these shows.  So it's hard to have a rooting interest.   It's like crashing the awards ceremony for the Aetna Insurance Salespeople of the Year.

This year however, there is an interesting dynamic -- the usual traditional Broadway fare vs. more experimental off-Broadway-ish material.    Example:  Revival of a Musical -- the glossy KISS ME KATE vs the totally re-imagined OKLAHOMA.   Not that there's going to be fist fights at the water cooler on Monday after the winner is announced.

But as long as Elaine May wins for Best Actress I'll be happy.

If you ever do get to New York, treat yourself to a Broadway show.  At its best it's thrilling, it's magic.  And at its worst it's still cheaper than a Knicks game.

I'll be watching Sunday night.  The real suspense truthfully will come after.  For years the Tonys have aired on CBS because Les Moonves was a big believer in them.  Now he's gone.  Who knows what the new regime will decide?

But at least for now, let's enjoy them while we can. 

Friday, June 07, 2019

Friday Questions

I know everyone is excited about the Tonys this weekend, but let’s start the festivities with Friday Questions.

Poochie is up first.

Say they were to recreate this experiment with Cheers (a suggestion tossed by Alan Sepinwall), which episode would you pick and who you cast? It almost assuredly has to be a Sam/Diane centered season one episode doesn't it?

Even if they were going to pick two episodes that David Isaacs and I wrote and pay us in full for the episodes again, I would still strongly lobby to not do a recreation in any form.

Because here’s my question: Regardless of who you cast, would it be any better than the original? And if not, then why do it?

Billy Wilder had a great line about sequels. He said, why remake good movies? Why not remake bad movies, fix them, and make them good movies?

That’s how I feel about CHEERS. Watch the originals. They’re pretty damn good.

There was a stage play in Chicago in 2016 that tried to recreate several episodes.  It did not go on to Broadway. 

Craig Gustafson asks:

Ken - what do you think about the British practice (and I don't know if it is still used) of combining the forms - live action, three-camera shoot until they go outside, then it's one-camera. I first saw it on "Monty Python's Flying Circus," and it was very disconcerting until I got used to it. "Fawlty Towers" stayed indoors for the most part, but Basil occasionally ventured out into the mono-cinematographic world.

After the first one-camera series of "The Black Adder," they decided that being seen on horses wasn't *that* important and the succeeding series were all three-camera, live audience.

I think it’s weird. Different styles can take you out of the story. Monty Python was just quick sketches so it didn’t really matter, but it’s hard for me watching British sitcoms switch back and forth from tape to (what looks like crappy 16mm) film.

Again, how does that mixture of styles improve the show?

From Mary Warwick :

Who is cashing in on the ratings juggernaut that is James Holzhauer? Affiliate stations? The show itself? I don't understand how ad rates are set for syndicated shows. Second question, would you ever want to be on Jeopardy? I wouldn't.

The show itself and the syndicator. But a high tide floats all boats. Local stations make money on the increased advertising sales.

Quite often affiliate stations are required to air programs within a certain time frame. I suspect for JEOPARDY and WHEEL OF FORTUNE, stations must air them between 5-8 PM.  So that helps ratings.  You're not averaging in stations that air it at 12:30 in the morning. 

I would love to be a contestant on JEOPARDY except I would completely embarrass myself since I don’t know shit about geography, poets of the 17th Century, religion, and 16-letter words that also turn into medical conditions by just switching two letters.

And finally, from Frank:

In season two of Bosch, there's a character referred to as "Big Wave Dave." It's not exactly a tribute, as he's a Very Bad Fellow. Was this an intentional nod by someone on the show, or just a coincidence?

None of the vaulted BIG WAVE DAVE’S writers are on that show so I would say it’s a wonderful tribute to us accidentally.

There are a couple of surf shops and I think a restaurant named Big Wave Dave’s. All I know is no one sued us.

But thanks to BOSCH for keeping the memory of our classic six-episode series alive.

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

EP126: “Movin’ on Up” – selling our first script


What’s it like to break in and sell your first script?  Ken tells his experience when “the Jeffersons” hired him and partner David Isaacs. It was quite a learning experience as you will hear. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Echo in the Canyon

This is one of those art films that probably won’t play in your city. But it’ll be on Neflix or HBO soon enough.

It’s a documentary that’s a loving look-back at the music scene in Laurel Canyon in the late ‘60s. I of course, am a sucker for those times.

Jakob Dylan handles the interviews and part of the film is organizing a concert where current stars do cover versions of these iconic hits. Hey, if that’s what it takes to get young people interested in classic
60s music I’m all for it. Plus, a lot of these contemporary artists were great.

From about 1964 until the early ‘70s, the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles was a music mecca. The Byrds, the Doors, Brian Wilson, Buffalo Springfield, the Mamas & the Papas, the Association, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, Graham Nash, Carole King, Eric Clapton, Micky Dolenz (I saved the best for last) are just a few of the groundbreaking artists who huddled in the canyon only a few miles away from the Sunset Strip, where they all played.

Make no mistake; the documentary sugarcoats the whole scene. Yes, it was creatively exciting, and everyone was working on everyone else’s songs. And Mama Cass would cook for you.

But left out was rampant drug use, alcohol abuse, and any other self-destructive behavior young people suddenly with money could get into. There were lots of O.D.’s, lots of future rehabs, and drastically accelerated expiration dates. The good times did not come without a price.

I never learned how to play an instrument so I never crashed that scene. I was also paranoid about drugs. But there’s no denying that it was a magic era and the music produced has stood the test of time. ECHO IN THE CANYON is worth seeing. Even I learned a few things I didn’t know. Wow, Michelle Phillips really slept around.

And I miss Humble Harve even more.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

RIP Humble Harve

So sorry to announce the passing of one of the icons of radio, Humble Harve Miller.  Most remember him from the golden era of KHJ, but I knew him when he worked at KBLA in Burbank.  He was so exciting, so popular, that even on a station with a terrible signal he still made noise.  Noise enough to attract the attention of the number one station in the country.   For decades he entertained on numerous radio stations, also narrating the syndicated 48-hour History of Rock & Roll and filling in on American Top 40

Knowing him personally for over 50 years, he was a kind gentle soul, passionate about his music who lived to "spread love" on the radio... with that deep rich, warm voice of his.  

He hosted a high school dance for me in 1966.  He and I would take long lunches at Jerry's and Brent's deli and he would regale me with wonderful stories of being on WIBG, Philadelphia (at only 19 years-old), his work ethic was second to none.  He saw his show on KHJ to be like "The Tonight Show" and he had to be prepared and present and make each and every break as excellent as he could.  Harve was never on auto-pilot.  At KBLA for quite some time he was on the air seven nights a week. 

He was creative until the end.  His latest project was a 24-streaming oldies station with visuals.   It's called Cruising Oldies Diner and you can find it here

RIP to your brother, Humble Harve.  We'll try to spread love in your absence. 

Tweets from history

This is now a familiar pattern.  Someone does something impressive and is quickly the public's darling.  Then he continues his impressive feat and the public turns on him.  Suddenly there's a backlash.  We're seeing it now with deposed JEOPARDY champ, James Holzhauer.  

A month ago:  "He's great!"  "He's amazing!"  "I LOVE this guy!"

Now: "He's smug!" "He smiles funny!" "He's rude to Alex!"  "I HATE this guy!

For many, the game show should be now called JEALOUSY.  

Personally, I think what he's done is extraordinary. His breadth of knowledge is breathtaking.  

But we live in an age of haters -- haters who now have a global voice.  They can anonymously take shots at anyone they want through social media.    James, if you're reading this, stay off of Twitter.  Same for you Joe Buck.  

But it got me to thinkin’. What if Twitter existed during the time of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? I imagine this is the kind of stuff we'd see.

@lunkhead – I’m at Gettysburg Address w/ 67 others.

@dissgrntled – Shit! Linken is tall!

@shorty – I hate tall people!

@bobballoobobballoo – At least we can see him.

@shorty – Who WANTS to see him?

@mauron -- You are fucking hilarious dude! RT @shorty – Who WANTS to see him?

@loserboy4 – Is that a beard or a beaver on his chin?

@zippy – Abe’s making a pubic appearance.

@lunkhead – HA! RT@zippy – Abe’s making a pubic appearance.

@lunkhead – Talk louder pussy chin! I can’t HEAR YOU!!!

@shorty – Who WANTS to hear you?

@zippy – 4score + 7years. What the fuck is that?

@bobballooobobballoo – Math???? In a MF’ing speech?

@loserboy4 – I want to punch him in the face.

@dropoutat9 – LINCON YOU SUCK!

@dissgrntled – Why does he hate the south? Fuck you, Abe!

@zippy – How much is 4score +7years?

@mauron – 150

@bobballoobobballoo – 16.

@lunkhead – His voice makes me sick.

@zippy – Choke on your beard, dickwad!

@loserboy4 – What does konsecrate mean? He uses all this $10 words.

@dyspeptic – I want to punch him in the face.

@dropoutat9 – Can we get a president who doesn’t hate the north?

@lunkhead – Or can shave.

@zippy – HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA RT @lunkhead – Or can shave.

@bobballooobobballoo – Where’s his wife? I hear she’s hot.

@dissgrntled – She’s a whore.

@mauron – This guy is so LAME. He just said the ground is hollow. Really? Then how come we’re not all falling in?

@loserboy4 – That’s weird. I thought the same thing you did. Great minds…

@lunkhead – With that beard he looks like Ape Lincoln.

@shorty – The missing Link-n.

@dyspeptic – LMAO! You dudes should entertain the troops.

@bobballooobobballoo – Hi, I’m Ape Lincoln and I’ve come here today to say blahblahblahblahblahblahblah.

@zippy – Yeah. Nobody cares dude!!

@dissgrntled – By the people, 4 the people, of the people – WTF? did you run out of words for people? You suck! No, you really suck!

@loserboy4 – I want to punch him in the face.

@mauron – That’s it? That’s the whole speech? That was like 5 minutes.

@shorty – What a gyp.

@dyspeptic – Yeah. We want more!

@lunkhead – I hate you!!!!!!!!

@dropoutat9 – You’re a tool!!

@loserboy4 – And a douche!!!

@dissgrntled – And an A-hole!!

@dyspeptic – LOL Just got that. RT @zippy – Abe’s making a pubic appearance.

Monday, June 03, 2019

RIP WPLJ WRQX

Two more longtime major market radio stations bit the dust on Friday. WPLJ in New York and WRQX (Mix107) in Washington, DC. In both cases, the bankrupt company that mismanaged all their assets and had to unload these valuable properties just to stay afloat another twenty minutes sold to companies who decided to chuck the formats and replace them with a satellite feed.

There was a time when you couldn’t do that.

Radio licenses are held in the public’s trust. The FCC is supposed to ensure that license holders live up to their responsibility to serve their local community. Station owners have lost their licenses in the past because they did not adequately serve their public.

But that was when we had a government that was looking out for the people, not trying to swindle them. That is when we had anti-trust laws. That is when there were laws limiting the number of commercials. And number of stations any one group could own.

Both WPLJ and Mix107 had local talent and decent ratings. They organized local charities, provided emergency information during blizzards and other calamities. Now a satellite signal from Sacramento or wherever will fill those airwaves. Tell me exactly how this is a better use of a frequency for serving the community?

Of course it’s not.

And who’s the big loser (besides all the people who lost their jobs in a shrinking industry)? YOU are.  YOU ALWAYS ARE. 

And here’s the worst part – no one (neither ownership nor the FCC) gives a shit.

Ownership groups like to tout statistics that people still listen to terrestrial radio over anything else. Those numbers are bullshit. Ask a Millennial the last time he turned on a radio.  Go into a Best Buys and see if you can purchase an AM receiver. 

Goodbye to WPLJ and WRQX.

And very very soon --  radio.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Weekend Post

I was hoping to find a YouTube video of this I could embed but none seems to exist.  So you'll have to settle for the text.  This is the speech that launched Levine & Isaacs' career.

It was our first MASH assignment.  "Out of Sight/Out of Mind," season 5.   A gas heater blows up in Hawkeye's face and he is temporarily blind.  We worked out the story with show runner Gene Reynolds and went off to write it.   There were a number of funny scenes built in -- Hawkeye in the OR room, Hawkeye in a fist fight with Frank, etc.  

But as we were writing it we realized there was no moment where Hawkeye drops the bravado and really tells us what he's going through and he feels about it.   So we decided to write a speech.  We figured if Gene didn't like it he could just cut it.  We weren't deviating from the outline, just adding to it.  

Well, it must've taken us three days and fifty drafts.  We kept changing it, writing thoughts on napkins and scraps of paper, moving things around, adding and subtracting until we finally wrestled it to the ground.  

Gene loved it.  Kept giving us script assignments and the next year we were invited to join the staff.   

The point is, always be looking to do something more, something better.  I think Gene was as impressed with our initiative as he was the speech itself.   We were starting out.  We wanted to really distinguish ourselves from every other writer or team starting out.  So we took a chance.  Those don't always work out, but more often than not they do.  

The speech that Alan Alda delivers on the episode is word for word our first draft.   That's what I'm most proud of.   People have said it's very memorable; a few have even quoted lines of it back to me.  It's flattering but I think the real reason is that Alan delivered it so brilliantly.

Anyway, here it is. 

***********




B.J.
Listen, Hawk, why don’t you just settle down for five minutes? I know what you’re trying to do, and I know how you really feel.

HAWKEYE
No you don’t.

B.J.
You don’t want to have time to think about what might happen to you.

HAWKEYE
That’s not it. Sure, when Overman walks in tomorrow and unwraps my package, I hope to God I’ll have my sight back. But in the meantime, this crazy accident has taken on another meaning.

B.J.
How?

HAWKEYE
One part of the world closed down for me, but another part opened up. Sure, I’ve been seeing myself sitting on a corner with a tin cup selling thermometers. But things are happening that take me away from that. This morning I spent two incredible hours listening to a rainstorm. I didn’t just hear it, I was part of it. I’ll bet you never realized that the sound of rain hitting the ground makes the same noise as steaks when they barbeque, or that thunder seems to echo forever. And you can’t believe how funny it is to hear someone slip and fall in the mud. Had to be Burns. Beej, it’s full of trapdoors, but I think I’m using this thing to my advantage. I’ve never spent a more conscious day in my life.