Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Has it really been ten years?

I've been answering Friday Questions for over twelve years.  That's probably close to 3,000 questions.   And since very few people actually go back and read the archives I occasionally will repost a Friday Questions segment.  I bet it's new to you.  This is from February 26, 2009.

Randall has some questions about end credits:

1. In recent years a lot of television stations have shrunk the end credits in order to show promos for their upcoming shows. Did the stations have to be union approval for this?

2. Some credits go by so fast I don't know how anybody can read them. Conversely, sometimes on talk shows the end credits will stop for a few seconds, apparently to highlight the name of a staff member or company that has provided a product. Are there any rules / restrictions that regulate how fast or slow credits can crawl?

3. Are stations that show movies or stripped television shows required by contract to show the credits in their entirety?

No, there are no restrictions, which is why networks and stations get away with it. Trust me, if there were union rules this deplorable practice would cease immediately. The trouble is, with there being so many more pressing issues for unions to deal with during contract negotiations this indignity gets lost in the shuffle. Not too many members are going to strike over this.

But it is a huge insult to the thousands of people who work tirelessly to make television shows as good as they are. And it’s bad enough these people have to share a card with thirty others and are up there for maybe a fraction of a second, but they’re expected to go that extra mile and really take pride in what they do while the networks can’t give them so much as a full screen. I say a network executive's name on his parking space should be as large as the smallest credit on his network. That would change things instantly.

From Zach Haldeman:

What is the typical relationship between writers and actors? Naturally the show runner gets to know the actors, but is Star #2 gonna be friends with Staff Writer #5, or even know Staff Writer #5?

Depends on the cast, depends on the staff. But usually the staff writers and the supporting cast tend to gravitate towards each other. Sometimes the cast members are a little intimidated by the show runner or the star of the show is a huge time and energy suck so these supporting players will cozy up to the lower tier writers to get their suggestions and concerns heard.

The ideal situation is when everyone in the cast and on the writing staff feel comfortable talking with each other. And that usually stems from show runners who are receptive to actors’ input and actors who view writers as colleagues not waiters.

And finally: D. McEwan has a M*A*S*H question.

In the movie, The Swamp had 4 residents, who were the primary characters: Hawkeye, Trapper, Frank Burns, and Duke Forrest, played by Tom Skerritt. Duke was as important a character as Hawkeye & Trapper John.

So why was Duke conspicuous by his utter absence from the TV series? I've been curious about this for over 30 years.

Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds felt the need to pare down the number of characters since they only had a half hour to work with. Duke was odd man out. In the original TV pilot there was also a Spearchucker but he too faded into the mist.

Another casualty of war was the lovely Marcia Strassman. She was a regular the first season as Nurse Cutler. She of course went on to play Kotter’s wife, Julie and had to look amused anytime Gabe Kaplan spoke.

Strassman is best known however for her hit record, “the Flower Children” in the late 60s.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Interesting Facts (if they're true)

Since nobody actually fact-checks anymore or when they do people ignore the facts, I thought I would post this.

There’s a diner in West LA called “Café 50’s.” It’s a very cool retro eatery plastered with posters and memorabilia from the last time we hated Russia. They also hand out a monthly newsletter that has fun trivia and reprints old ads from the era. (Buy a GIANT TALKING CLOWN for only $1 that’s a whopping 42” tall!)

One feature they have is “Interesting & Useless Facts!”

And they are, except who knows if they’re accurate? But, for fun purposes, I thought I’d share some of them with you. You are welcome to take them at face value or do the fact-checking yourself. The parentheticals are me.

Men get hiccups more often than women. (does this have anything to do with drinking?)

Men can read smaller print than women; women can hear better.

Chances that an American lives within 50 miles where he/she grew up: 1 in 2. (numbers probably vary in Hawaii)

State with the highest percentage of people who walk to work: Alaska. (Makes sense, the weather is always great.)

Percentage of American men who say they would marry the same woman if they had to do it all over again: 80. (My wife guessed 30.)

Chances that a burglary in the US will be solved: 1 in 7.(And it's probably the same idiot multiple times.) 

Only first lady to carry a loaded revolver: Eleanor Roosevelt. (Melania is not allowed because she’s on suicide watch.)

They have square watermelons in Japan. They stack better. (Okay, this one is true, so maybe the others are as well – I wonder if Eleanor was a good shot.)

Iceland consumes more Coca-Cola per capita than any other nation. (There are rednecks in Iceland?)

The phone book in Iceland is alphabetic… by first name.

In the Caribbean there are oysters that can climb trees. (usually right before Happy Hour)

And there you have ‘em. Feel free to impress your friends at parties, unless these nuggets are all bullshit, in which case – what are you quoting a stupid blog for in the first place?

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Weekend Post

Is there a more interesting or weird actor than Christopher Walken? He's also an amazing dancer. Someone from the Huffington Post put this together. It's a phenomenal music video of Walken dancing. Great editing by whoever did this.  More cowbells not needed.  Enjoy. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Friday Questions

Who’s up for some Friday Questions?

Frank Beans is.

When does a spinoff cease to be a spinoff? That is, when and how do networks, producers, audiences see the series as an original show in itself?

Classic examples like LAVERNE & SHIRLEY and FRASIER come to mind, just to name some of the most popular ones. How do they establish an identity outside of the show where their characters were created?

You establish your identity by not relying on guest star appearances from the original series. You create new interesting characters and a venue that can stand on its own. You also spin-off a character (or characters) that can carry a series. Lots of supporting characters can’t make that jump.

Oh, and you hire really good writers.

Bryan Thomas asks:

How do you keep coming up with fresh ideas for your blog? I tried twice a week and burned out but here you are 13 years, 5600 posts. Curious how far ahead you plan posts, if you do, and how you generate ideas.

I’ll be very honest. It’s hard and getting harder. I’ve cut back from seven new posts a week to five, and that has helped. Also having features like Friday Questions has been a big plus. But there are days when I wonder what the hell I can write about?

I do try to stay somewhat ahead with posts that aren’t time sensitive, but it depends. Usually, a flurry of ideas will come so I try to write a few posts at one time and bank them. Other times I’ll react to something current, write it, and post it the next day. But like I said, it’s getting more difficult.

I’m also devoting more time to my podcast.

Mike Bloodworth asks:

Have you ever considered turning one of your existing plays into a musical? Have you ever considered writing a musical in general?

I co-wrote a musical in 2006 that got produced at the Goodspeed Theatre in Connecticut. It was a very different experience. Honestly, I didn’t love it.

It is so hard to make any little change without effecting the choreography, score, lighting, etc. There's a domino effect that is maddening. 

There are also Equity rules that at times handcuff the process. You can’t really get in there and make the kind of necessary changes you would like to make.

Musicals also take YEARS to get on the stage. I truly love musicals and the good ones are thrilling, and if the right composer came to me with the right idea I might consider collaborating on another one, but for now, I’ll leave it to the Broadway pros.

And finally, from slgc:

When you were making Volunteers, did you have any idea of what kind of star potential Tom Hanks had? Was there anything during his time on set that gave you an inkling that he was a truly talented actor?

We wanted Tom Hanks when we first wrote it in 1980 and he was on BOSOM BUDDIES.  At the time, no one would greenlight a movie starring Tom Hanks.

But flash forward to 1984:  VOLUNTEERS might not have been made at all if Tom Hanks didn’t agree to do it. Remember, by then he had his breakthrough movie with SPLASH. So he was already the flavor-of-the-month. But what we didn’t know at the time was just how exceptionally good he was.

We and world would soon learn.

What's your Friday Question?  Leave it in the comments section.  Thanks and have a great summer weekend.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Bonus Post

I wanted to tie up some loose ends.

But first, do check out my new podcast episode featuring director and (dare I say?) legend, Jim Burrows. He's directed over 1000 episodes, co-created CHEERS, and did the pilots for such shows as CHEERS, FRASIER, FRIENDS, WINGS, WILL & GRACE, DHARMA & GREG, THE BIG BANG THEORY, and over 40 more.  He's won 10 Emmys.  He IS a legend.   Knowing Jimmy for more years than either one of us wants to admit, I ask questions he’s not usually asked. We really get into the process of directing, his style and approach, dealing with Shelley Long on CHEERS, and other revealing topics. Just click on the big gold arrow above.

A number of you have pointed out that from Yesterday’s post (or yesterday’s post), high school and college kids are not in point of fact Millennials. They are Generation Z or Generation ZA or Generation Aught, or whatever. And Millennials have a wide breadth of knowledge and would know who the Beatles were. Maybe. I hope so. But my point was that it’s understandable if they don’t.

More surprising was the recent Teen Tournament on JEOPARDY where three extremely bright teenagers didn’t know that Tom Holland was the current Spider Man. (And for my money, he’s the BEST.)

The All-Star Game ratings were the lowest ever. And it was a good close game. Part of the problem I realized was that after the first four innings when the marquee players come out, the game is ultimately decided by All-Stars most people have never heard of. Not saying that those players don’t deserve to be there, they do, but many play for teams that get little national exposure so they shine in obscurity. And for the casual fan it means watching a meaningless game played by anonymous players.

Yesterday was the worst day of the year for sports fans. There was NOTHING. No baseball, none of the other major sports (pro and college) are in season. I wound up watching a replay of an old Dodger game from 1988. God, I miss Vin Scully. He made a 30 year old game way more interesting than Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

And finally, I have two short plays in the Brisk One Act Festival in Hollywood. I’m very proud of both. The first opens tonight and runs for four days. The second one is next week. I'll be pimping that one later.   If you’re in LA, swing by. I’ll be there every night so please say hi. Here’s where you go for info and tickets. Thanks.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

EP131: Meet Director Jim Burrows Part 1


On this week's Hollywood & Levine, Ken interviews 10-time Emmy winner, Jim Burrows, who has directed over 1000 episodes of sitcoms including the pilots of CHEERS, FRIENDS, FRASIER, and WILL & GRACE. They discuss his career, and focus primarily on his process.  It’s a master class on TV directing. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

YESTERDAY -- my review

YESTERDAY imagines a world where only one person knew of the existence of the Beatles and took ownership of their songs as if he had written them. I wonder how many Millennials watching this movie DON’T know the existence of the Beatles.

These are all new songs to them. In the movie, Himesh Patel as failed street musician Jack Malik, becomes a megastar and the Lennon-McCartney songbook is universally recognized by the new audience as genius. They are, of course, but what about to virgin ears? Would kids today be blown away hearing “Yesterday” or “In My Life” or “The Long and Winding Road” for the first time? I’d say there’s a good chance. But what about “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “I Saw Her Standing There?” Did these early Beatles songs strike a chord because they were part of the Beatlemania phenomenon? Their later, more mature work stands a better chance.

And it’s not a hypothetical question per se because I’m sure millions of young adults and teenagers have never heard these songs. So compared to songwriters of their age, speaking directly to them, I wonder whether Beatles songs – even the greatest ones – would be so well received.

Then my follow-up question: Is this subject matter Millennials even WANT to see? Not that the movie can’t be a success regardless. There are enough older adults who do know and revere the Beatles and are just thrilled no one is in a cape to produce robust boxoffice receipts. But I’m curious.

For those, like me, who wanted to see it, it was a fun ride. The music alone is enough to carry you through. And the all-star combination of director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis assures that you’re in very good hands. Besides the tunes, there are some hearty laughs, they do have fun with the crazy premise, and the cast is very winning. Patel is great, love-interest Lily James is suitably adorable, and Ed Sheeran is very believable playing himself. Kate McKinnon also steals some scenes as his new bloodless manager. But I have one concern about Kate McKinnon. I LOVE her on SNL, think she’s a brilliant comedienne, one of the top ten all-time performers on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, but I’ve never seen her play “real.” She’s always playing a sketch character – masterfully, but a sketch nonetheless. Such is the case here. She’s funny, but she’s a cartoon. I would love to see her drop all voices and exaggerations and just play a genuine person. I believe she can do it; I just haven’t seen it yet.

High concept romcoms like this used to be a summer staple. Now they’re few and far between. I think I’m just as nostalgic for that as the Beatles music. But I found YESTERDAY immensely enjoyable, charming, funny, and even touching in places. What’s it like to live in a world without the Beatles. Either go see this movie or ask any 8th grader.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Why network television is like Major League Baseball

With the All-Star game happening tonight, I thought this would be an appropriate post. 

I know this sounds like a Fairy Tale, but there was a time when a broadcast network would pick up a show and a showrunner would run it. He would make all the creative decisions. He would decide on casting. He would choose the stories, and he would hire writers to write them and directors to stage them.

During filming, he was the one who determined whether they needed a re-take. He was the one who approved the wardrobe. He alone determined that a new line was necessary, or that a close-up was required.

He would have a vision for the series, which he would carry out. If he was right the series became a hit. If he was wrong the network cancelled him, which was fair.

In Major League Baseball a team would hire a manager. He would hire his staff. He would have a certain approach to how he thought he could build a winning team. He would work with the front office to bring in the kind of players that fit his approach.

During the game he would make all the on-field decisions. He would substitute players, he would determine when a starting pitcher needed to come out and just which pitcher would relieve him. When to bunt, and when to hit-and-run, and when to walk batters intentionally was his call alone.

How he chose to motivate his team was his call as well. Was he fiery? Fatherly? Scholarly?

And if his team continued to lose he got fired. And that was fair. Another manager with another approach would take his place.

But that was “Once Upon a Time.”

Today networks own their shows. They hire showrunners to carry out their vision, whether they have a vision or not. They tell the showrunner who he can cast, which writers and directors he can hire. They approve the stories. Based on research, they call the shots.

During filming, they must be satisfied before moving on to a new scene. They dictate camera angles. They request new lines. For the most part, the showrunner is an order taker. And when the reviews are bad, the showrunner is expected to take the blame.

In baseball, the front office now firmly controls the on-field direction. Armed with analytics, they cobble together a roster that looks best on paper. They hire a young manager who will slavishly follow their approach.

During the game, the front office texts the manager telling him when to remove his starting pitcher. They often make out the line-up for him. They make strategic decisions and expect the manager to carry them out. And when those decisions blow up, the manager is expected to take the heat.

The parallel is obvious. And so are the results. Broadcast networks continue to lose audiences. The few hits they have are piloted by old school showrunners who have earned the right of autonomy – Chuck Lorre, Dick Wolf, Shonda Rhimes. And even they are fleeing for other platforms.When they're gone they will be replaced by young showrunners who will fall in line. 

In baseball you have Bruce Bochy, Joe Maddon, and Terry Francona – three managers with World Series rings. And then a parade of younger managers who “relate well to the players” and embrace the front office game plan. In other words, they get those in-game texts and carry out the orders, whether they agree with them or not. Bochy is retiring after this year.  Which 30 year-old with no big league managerial experience will replace him? 

The result: Every team is working off the exact same numbers, following the same direction, and games now are all 3:30, there are a million strike outs, a ton of home runs, and nothing else. Fifteen minutes can go by between batted balls in play. Six or seven relievers come into the game for each team on a regular basis. What once was a delicious chess game is now a computer program.  Let's see what the ratings are tomorrow for the All-Star Game.  I'm not predicting a home run. 

For network television and baseball to get better, to attract more fans, I think the solution is simple.

JUST LET ‘EM PLAY.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Breaking News: A police pursuit

So I turned on the TV at about 11:00 PM recently to watch some shows I had recorded. And a local station, KTTV,  had a live police pursuit. A car was cruising down the freeway followed by California Highway Patrol squad cars. He was heading up north on the 5. He could take that well up into Northern California (assuming he didn’t run out of gas).

The freeway was very light at that hour. A few big rigs in the slower lanes but primarily empty. The renegade vehicle was going at a cruising speed of 60 or 70. He was doing nothing erratic; not switching lanes. The CHP’s were not tailgating, they were giving him room.

So picture it – the KTTV sky-cam helicopter following a car at night driving along a wide-open freeway at a safe and consistent speed followed by other cars with flashing lights. Passing through such communities as Santa Clarita and Newhall.

I watched for a half an hour.

There was nothing exciting. This was no FRENCH CONNECTION wild car chase, no celebrity in a Bronco – just cars tooling along at night. The news anchors provided commentary talking to a police expert, but there was nothing riveting there. Basically, the game plan was to give the guy space, not do anything to endanger anyone, and wait him out.

Still, I found myself strangely engrossed. 7,000 channels, numerous streaming services with 20,000 shows to choose from – and I’m opting for an SUV joy riding through Valencia.

But I dunno, there was something almost Zen about it. Maybe the late hour contributed – it was the end of a long day and I was looking to just chill, but I was way more entertained than when I watched GAME NIGHT IN AMERICA.

Eventually I got tired and just went to bed. I wasn’t engrossed enough to care how it turned out. But I can’t remember when I enjoyed anything on KTTV more over the last few years.

In New York City one local station traditionally just shows a fireplace with a roaring fire on Christmas Day. And it gets ratings. I used to think that was crazy. Now I wish Netflix would carry it.

But let’s get real – stations carry these police pursuits because people watch them. Call it the “Lullaby of Broadcasting.” How many of my fellow Angelinos got a good night sleep because of this nimrod? Is a function now of television to numb us? We tried that with AfterMASH but it didn’t catch on. Maybe if we would have had Colonel Potter drive a 1953 DeSoto through Missouri every week we might’ve been a hit.

Oh, one final note on this police pursuit. It began on the campus of Long Beach State when campus police noticed the car was driving at night with its headlights off. I heard that and thought, “All the better. I’m getting a snack.”

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Weekend Post

The All-Star Game is this Tuesday night in Cleveland. The All-Star Game is always a big deal for me, and it used to be for America, but now I don’t know.

The reason I like the baseball All-Star Game over the other sports is that it’s the only one that’s really competitive. In the NBA and NHL no one is really playing defense. NBA final scores are 154-148. The NFL Pro Bowl is after the season (so really who gives a shit?) and no one is going to play hard. It borders on Darwin Report to get injured in the Pro Bowl.

But in baseball you have the best pitchers trying to get out the best hitters while some of the slickest fielders are in the field. And by and large, the players play hard. (Sometimes too hard like when Pete Rose barreled into catcher Ray Fosse effectively derailing Fosse's career.)

World Series managers from the season before are the NL and AL skippers – so Dave Roberts and Alex Cora. I don’t envy them. I’m sure they’d like to get every player into the game, but you need reserves in case the game goes into extra innings. Teams have been burned before. Plus, it’s a delicate issue how they use pitchers. If I’m the manager of the Houston Astros I don’t want Justin Verlander pitching three innings.

One thing that seems to happen every year is several All-Star players claim injuries at the last moment (like this weekend) and other players take their place.

But it seems to me the interest in the game depends mostly on how many recognizable stars are in the game. And we’re starting to enter an era of remarkable new young talented players. They’re not household names yet (unless they play for the Yankees) but they’re spectacular athletes. Cody Bellinger, Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Gio Urshela (who IS a Yankee but not a household name), and Charlie Blackman are just a few of the outstanding position players.

Not surprisingly, the Home Run Derby the day before the All-Star Game is starting to get more interest than the game itself. There used to be a TV show called HOME RUN DERBY in the ‘50s. Why hasn’t someone brought that back? Wouldn’t more people watch that than Steph Curry’s miniature golf show?

One All-Star that should be participating in the game on Tuesday is Cleveland’s fabulous announcer, Tom Hamilton. If I were commissioner he’d be calling the national radio broadcast.

Like I said, I’ll be glued to my TV Tuesday night (imagine – watching an event on TV – LIVE). Let’s see if America joins me. For several years they instituted that idiotic policy that the winning league got home field advantage in the World Series. So now “the game counts.” What a joke that was. Like the Seattle Mariner All-Stars are really going to bust their humps so the Boston Red Sox get home field advantage in the World Series. Thankfully, that policy was dropped.  Other than Pete Rose, no one bets on the All-Star Game. 

Watch because these are some of the greatest athletes in their sport, and if you don’t know who they are it’s a great way to be introduced to them.

“Play Ball!”

Friday, July 05, 2019

Friday Questions

It may be a holiday weekend, but Friday Questions get answered just the same.

Colby starts us off:

If you had to sit down now and write an original episode of any of the shows you've worked on, (your actors are frozen in time, so no nursing home requirements for the characters) which do you think would be the easiest to write fresh content for?

CHEERS.

Don’t know why, but I never got tired of writing that show. Even after 40 episodes. I love those characters, love that setting, and could happily keep writing them for years.

FRASIER would be a close second.

But not MASH. So much of that show was based on research, and by the end those bones were picked clean. Because we were locked into a time and place and characters couldn’t grow, I think the show went on about two or three years too long.

Earl B asks:

Have you ever, in your writing, thought "This is a good, clever joke, but at this point in the script I need a belly laugh"?

All the time.

Especially if we’re looking for a joke to end a scene.

When I write a joke I always try to imagine a studio audience’s reaction. Will they really laugh at this or will they smile? Not every line in a script needs to be a belly laugh, but there are places where they are required.

Example: If you take a whole page to set up one joke, it better be a great joke.

In general, I try to shy away from “clever.” Word-plays or puns work better in prose.

But I’m always looking to “beat” jokes – in other words, replace them with better jokes. It's become an obsession.  I do it sometimes with jokes that have already aired.  I need therapy. 

From PolyWogg:

I have a question about off-set escapades. Does scandal / noise / etc. from the stars affect the writing or is that someone else's problem and you stick to the writing?

Offstage distractions make it harder for all concerned. The audience will start blending the actor’s behavior with his character’s, which often distorts the character.

As a writer you do your best to maintain the direction and integrity of the show, but it’s tough when an actor’s behavior starts turning viewers against them and your show.

I would not want to be writing FRESH OFF THE BOAT right now given Constance Wu’s disdain for the show that launched her career.

Giving some actors Twitter accounts is like giving a monkey a gun.

And finally, from Jim S:

What is the protocol for using personal stories. I imagine it's OK for a writer to think, "I remember a time when I forgot my mother's birthday and there was Hell to pay. Let's make that a story."

But what if Mom objects? And say you remember an embarassing story where a friend or even family member did something that they might not like on national TV? How do finesse that? Or are the lines one doesn't cross?

That’s always an issue, and the writer has to take it on a case-by-case basis.

One way is to ask the person's permission.  

Putting a spin on the story to hide someone’s identity is always helpful. Instead of your father who got drunk and drove his car through the living room, it’s a neighbor, or one of your regular characters. The world doesn’t have to know.

To me the tipping point is if you know it’s going to really hurt someone’s feelings. Then I would say don’t do it.

But here’s the interesting thing – let’s say you shield a family member by preserving their anonymity. But the behavior is clearly theirs. Often times the person in question will say, “I know someone just like that.” They won’t recognize that it’s them.  

And I will say this, I have had arguments with my wife where she’s said in the middle of it – “This better not turn up in a script!”    They never did.  I'm not an idiot. 

The best and safest way to go are to do humiliating stories about yourself.

What’s your Friday Question? Hopefully, you still have ten fingers to type because you didn’t lose three of them in a home fireworks accident.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

EP130: Writing Musicals for Broadway… and the U.S Army


Ken discusses what he learned writing the book for a musical  and also shares an insane story of writing a musical for the United States Army. Hint:It was less successful than “Hamilton.”


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

4th of July Memories

Tomorrow is the 4th of July.  Since it's a day to celebrate Americana and (in my case) a chance to sell some books for your summer reading, here are two brief excerpts from THE ME GENERATION… BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE ‘60s), my humorous/nostalgic/Pulitzer Prize ignored memoir of growing up during the California myth. You can get the Kindle version here. The paperback here. And the audio version (voiced by yours truly) here. It’s the perfect way to support this blog and relive happier times.

July 4, 1964

Fortunately, we were back home from Hemet in time for Independence Day. They still had 4th of July parades in Woodland Hills. Not exactly lavish affairs -- a few Jaycee Booster Clubs, school marching bands (playing nothing but “Stars & Stripes Forever” and “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”), anyone who owned a horse, ice cream trucks, local dignitaries (“Hey, there’s Mr. Neider from Neider’s Auto Body!”), some elementary school classes, local politicians (“We have a councilman?”), and majorettes from as far away as Reseda. The twirling batons proved to be more dangerous to crowds than today’s maple bats.


But for me the REAL reason to stake out my spot on Ventura Blvd at Shoup Avenue was that the grand marshal was always Buster Keaton. Buster was probably 150 by then but still, there he was. Mostly forgotten today but Buster Keaton was a comic genius in the era of silent films and early talkies. His flair for physical comedy was so inspired that even today I don’t think there’s a single comic who can remotely touch him. If I couldn’t still see George Washington in person at least there was Buster Keaton.

I miss those parades. If you still have one where you live, go. Wave a flag. Cheer. Just duck when the baton twirlers go by.

July 4, 1967

We got a dog that summer. A poodle-terrier. My mother named her.

Babette.

That name would not have been my choice. I don’t remember why we got a dog. We never had a pet before. But I was thrilled. And Babs turned out to be a fabulous dog and companion. If someone in the house were sick, she’d sit all day at the end of his bed. I worried that our family, unaccustomed to caring for pets might not take the best care of her – and my early fears were justified.

Our house was only two blocks from the Woodland Hills Park. On the 4th of July, they would shoot off fireworks. We always invited a few people over for a barbeque and fireworks show, comfortably viewed from our backyard. A neighbor was lying on a chaise lounge. He set his martini down on the ground. Babette approached and lapped up the entire contents in mere seconds. Ten minutes later she staggered out onto the lawn and passed out for twenty-four hours. We have a dog for one month and get her completely shit-faced. Nice.

Have a safe and sane 4th of July.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

ROCKETMAN -- My review

I was so excited to see ROCKETMAN. I’m a huge Elton John fan. And even though I vowed not to see any movies this summer where the star wears a cape, I made an exception for this film.

Ugh!

ROCKETMAN is five hours of self-loathing mixed with production numbers. It’s as if Eugene O’Neil wrote a jukebox musical.

And again, I love Elton John.

There’s not a moment of this movie you haven’t seen in seventeen other rock star biopics. Unhappy childhood, identity issues, stardom, unable to handle it, unloved, drugs, breakdowns, redemption.

Twenty minutes in you’re screaming: “ WE GET IT!!!”

Every point is hammered home seven times, just in case you missed it the first six. Oliver Stone might even think they were laying it on too thick.

Did I mention Elton John is one of my favorites?

Taron Egerton does a terrific job portraying Elton. The wardrobe budget on his glasses alone had to be more than the cost of GODZILLA. The person who comes off the best is Bernie Taupin, well played by Jamie Bell. The film is sort of a love letter to Bernie Taupin. 

But then the clichés are all there. Withholding father, mother who lays on mind trips, the meteoric rise, dumping the original people who believed in him, the ruthless manager, wallowing in excess, fame and fortune at the expense of his soul, tantrums, ambulances. Even the montage of LA that includes the Hollywood sign and driving by palm trees.

And for all the tedious repetitive scenes telling us things we already know going in, the one thing the film doesn’t bother to explain is how a shy kid doesn’t just become a performer but becomes this wild flamboyant showman. Where did that impulse come from? We see all of the costumes; we don’t see what about his personality would guide him in that over-the-top direction. Was it his savvy, knowing how to really entertain an audience, or was it just an alter ego that he would use to release all of his inner frustrations? That might’ve been interesting to learn rather than twenty scenes showing him drinking and snorting coke. 

If you like Elton John my suggestion would be to watch one of his concerts on line and have Spotify make you a playlist.

I now live in fear that next year we get the biopic of Tiny Tim.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Misc.- Takes

In no order of importance…

I’m guessing the current WGA battle with the ATA (talent agencies) will ultimately be resolved in the courts. It won’t get to the Supreme Court because, as of this year, it no longer exists.

FIVE GUYS over IN N’ OUT. And since you can get free peanuts at FIVE GUYS, why bother ordering fries?

Next week my podcast guest will be director, Jim Burrows (pictured above with me). It’s a two-part interview, and he was GREAT. We talk about the process of directing, the popularity of FRIENDS, tales of directing that pilot, stories about CHEERS and WILL & GRACE, and directing the recent live reboot of ALL IN THE FAMILY/JEFFERSONS. So stay tuned. It’s coming soon.

Jim Burrows directed 44 episodes that David Isaacs and I wrote.  Including one that we acted in.  Only the great Jim Burrows could get a good performance out of me.  (This was for a show called THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES and not only did I have to deliver a joke, I had to deliver it while walking.   And yes, I got my laugh.  Thank you, Jimmy.

I forgot to ask whether he’s still getting residuals for THE TONY RANDALL SHOW we did together in 1976. I’m not.

My favorite internet oldies station, Richbroradio.com was off the air a couple of days while Rich Brother Robbin was moving.  But it's back up and you can hear it here.  If you like oldies from the '50s-'70s this is the site for you.  Bookmark it. Not just the same 100 songs.  Rich has a deep playlist -- songs you might have forgotten but go "oh wow!" when you hear them.  And what better time to cruise around digging feel-good music than the summertime? 

Kevin Durant remains a highly sought-after free agent even though he can’t play next year due to injuries.  Imagine the money he'd get if he could play. 

Proud to say I had a play in the Stonewall Festival in Buffalo this last month. Thanks to Donna Hoke for putting together such a great line-up of plays celebrating LGBTQ.

The New York Mets are the New Coke of baseball.  The Mets are bringing back 1962 more than Richbroradio.com is.

Network shows go back into production very soon. A single-camera sitcom will film from July to April to produce 22 episodes. On MASH we shot 25 episodes from the 4th of July to just before Christmas. And that included all the complicated exterior scenes done at the Malibu Ranch.

Could Neil Simon get a comedy play on Broadway today?

Durant and Kawhi Leonard could wind up on the same team. Possibilities include the Knicks and Clippers. Both teams know that Durant is out for the year, right? That may seem like a silly question but these are the Knicks and Clippers.

The Yankees and Red Sox first inning in London on Saturday – between them they scored 12 runs. Final score:  Yankees 17, Boston 13.   What a joke.

The Yankees won the second game 12-8.  That one was a real pitching duel.  

My favorite character on HBO’s BARRY: Anthony Carrigan as NoHoHank. Hilarious and completely original.

How come the Kansas City Royals weren't invited to play in London? 

What was wrong with the format of the old TO TELL THE TRUTH? Y’know, back when it was GOOD.

I have two ten-minute plays this month at the Brisk Festival in LA.  Here's the info.  If you come to one, say hi.  

Saw a recent episode of JEOPARDY where the contestants were all in their 30’s or early 40’s. They had to identify a certain actor – Robert Redford. None of them even rang in. Seriously? Robert Redford? You JEOPARDY contestants know the names of Nairobi mountaintops and the all the names of President Chester A. Arthur’s cabinet, but you’ve never once seen BUTCH CASSIDY or ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN or THE STING?

At this point I was going to mention that Jim Burrows’ father was Abe Burrows, but if folks don’t know who Robert Redford is, what are the chances they’ll be familiar with Abe Burrows? He was a Broadway legend who, among other things, wrote GUYS & DOLLS. (Gee, I wonder how many people have heard of GUYS & DOLLS?)

I want to go to Star Wars Land in Disneyland but I’ll wait for the initial crowds to die down. So I’ll see it in 2030.

The Red Sox flew to London on a luxurious private jet.  For the trip home they probably flew commercial -- steerage with a stop in Johannesburg.  

The second Democratic Debate was seen by over18 million people. Some are saying that’s a paltry amount, but those same people thought 18 million viewers for THE BIG BANG THEORY was a big number.

CNN premieres its new documentary series on movies this month. I was one of the people interviewed. Let’s see if I make the cut. I didn’t tell them I co-wrote MANNEQUIN 2.

They did use me on the ‘70s, ‘80s,’90s, and ‘00s during the television segments. And thankfully, they replay those on CNN often. I was on again last night.  I’m thrilled, not for the exposure. But when you’re seeing me on CNN it’s an hour you’re not seeing Trump.

The 4th of July holiday weekend begins Thursday except in Hollywood where it began last Thursday.

You have my permission to start yours now.