Wednesday, August 05, 2020

EP186: Another Free Association Podcast

Ken riffs from topic to topic; everything from the Emmys to the Catskills, Cub Scouts, National Anthem, comedy exercises, American Bandstand, bowling, British sitcoms, summer camp, snark, and Sinatra.   Fun personal stories and harebrained opinions. 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The AVN Awards

The AVN Awards were disappointing this year.  The AVN Awards are the porn industry’s version of the Oscars (although Golden Globes might be closer).   If you’ve seen BOOGIE NIGHTS there’s a sequence at the AVN Awards. 

Porn stars all dress up, attempt to look glamorous and classy, win awards for such categories as “Best Anal Sex Scene” and “Best Director – Comedy.” 

I’m sure they’ve been handed out thirty/forty years in one form or another, but it’s only been a few years ago that Showtime started airing them (taped delayed -- by five months).  . 

The first year I saw it I laughed my ass off.  How could you not when a trashy blonde with tears in her eyes thanked “Jesus and all the guys that fucked me in the ass?”   How much would you pay to hear Nicole Kidman say that at the Academy Awards? 

What made it additionally funny was that none of it was intended to be.  This wasn’t a sketch.  No one was winking at the camera.  The sincerity was both poignant and okay – I’m going to hell – hilarious. 

Showtime is still airing the show every year so obviously people (men I suspect) are watching.   What I don’t know is whether, like me, they’re watching for the laughs, or cheap thrills, or worse – they’ve got bets down on these categories. 

But I find it a guilty pleasure.  At least I used to.

Watching the 2020 awards (recorded before all the lockdowns), it just felt sad.  The speeches were the same so they felt like the same joke over and over.  The novelty was completely gone.  And what remained was the sadness.  You know these are people who mostly come from broken homes and heartbreaking childhoods.  You also know the career span of a porn star is just a few years.  And then what? 

I don’t even know how the industry survives today.  There are all these free Pornhub websites where you can see clips of anything you want for free.  You used to pay to see Stormy Daniels.  I was surprised that they’re still making “movies.” 

And as I watched these people try desperately to hold onto the luster of better days I thought to myself – this is now ALL award shows in 2020.   Even Sam Rubin & Mindy Burbano don’t seem that funny anymore. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

The Last Dance

Why bury the lead? THE LAST DANCE is the best sports documentary I’ve ever seen. It’s available on Netflix, produced by ESPN. Glad to see it's nominated for a number of Emmys

Due to the Trumpvirus and lack of live events, ESPN moved up its premier to April. I just got around to it, frankly because ten hours seemed a little daunting.

It’s essentially a profile on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990’s. I like Mike but ten hours? Then I thought: sitting through one baseball game with no crowds or excitement feels like ten hours, why not give THE LAST DANCE a try?

So glad I did. I binge-watched the whole thing in two days and was sorry when it ended.

I have not read a single review. I know some people had issues with it. I don’t know what those are, nor do I care. I found it compelling throughout and it seemed to portray Michael (I just call him “Michael” because I’m cool) in a balanced light. His greatness is constantly on display, but so is his dark side (and sometimes dick side).

Hey, he’s a complex guy dealing with extraordinary circumstances. With greatness comes expectations and unbelievable pressure. Fame can be a curse. And having an amazing gift doesn’t shield you from heartache. How much of his glory and riches would he gladly trade not to have his father murdered?

The filmmakers chose a great topic filled with colorful characters, weird twists, and real life suspense. Plus, they were given amazing access to behind-the-scenes revealing moments. The documentary gives us plenty of time to really see who Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman (a fucking loon who happened to possess athletic skills), Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr and numerous other personalities (both teammates and opponents).

They managed to get just about everybody to be a talking head. Two former presidents (Obama & Clinton) and two former Gods (Magic & Bird). I’m only sorry it wasn’t made for CNN because then they probably would have used me.

Finally, (and maybe this is a secondary lead I am burying), you don’t have to love the NBA or basketball to enjoy this documentary. It’s a sweeping novel and the basketball sequences are filled with suspense and artistry. And it's not made up.  It's all true!  As otherworldly as you think Michael Jordan is, when you watch the span of his entire career it just takes your breath away.

And you get to see some behind-the-scenes moments of SPACE JAM.

THE LAST DANCE – check it out. Yes, it’s ten hours, but where you going for the next six months?

Monday, August 03, 2020

Hollywood Insanity

Here in LA we had an earthquake last Thursday morning at 4:30 am,  centered in the San Fernando Valley. It was quite short but packed a real jolt. I was probably 20 miles from the epicenter and felt it.  But there was no damage.  Okay, this info you probably know.

But here’s what I find so interesting: is the industry website. It’s the current version of a trade magazine, as it were. And as such is very Hollywood-centric. This was their headline the morning of the quake:

Los Angeles Earthquake: Magnitude 4.2 Jolt & Several Aftershocks Rattle San Fernando Valley; Celebrity Residents React

Celebrity residents react?


Who gives a shit?

When you first heard or read about it, was your initial reaction: “What is Tyra Banks, Zach Braff, Lil Nas, and Lilly Singh going through?”

This town is nuts. During a wildfire last year there was extensive coverage of LeBron James evacuating.

I would submit there is a certain lack of perspective here in Tinsel Town.

But my favorite example was this: When President Reagan was shot it happened to be the morning of the Academy Awards. I believe VARIETY (although it might have been THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER) blared this headline:


And then in much smaller letters:


You’ll be relieved and happy to know Tyra Banks is fine, but the earthquake did wake her up.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Weekend Post

For a writer it never gets easier.


You’ve turned in your script to the producer/network/studio/agent/manager/professor/best friend.

And now you wait for the response.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

You’d think in time it gets easier. It never does.

You generally calculate in some reasonable reading time period. They’ll read it over the weekend. But you still think, if they were really interested they’d read it tonight. Why aren’t they reading it tonight?

The longer you receive no answer the more you think they hated your script. He just can’t bring himself to tell me how much it SUCKED! You start doubting the script, yourself, your religion, everything. You begin going through the script, re-examining every line. Jokes that just last week you thought were bulletproof now seem really lame.

Then you reach the point where you wonder, should you remind them? And if so, how? This depends on the relationship.

I would say this, try to find out what the reader’s behavior pattern is beforehand. It might save you a lot of time and anxiety. There are some producers who just don’t give you feedback. On a show we once worked on, we turned in our first draft and heard nothing. Weeks went by. The producers put our script into mimeo for the beginning of production and still said nothing. I was walking to the parking lot that night with one of the producers, and neurotic insecure writer that I am, I asked him what he thought of our script? He looked at me like I was crazy. His answer was “Well, we kept most of it, didn’t we?” From that day on I never expected feedback from any script we turned into him (which is good because we never received any). But we knew he was pleased so that was good enough.

I’ve known writers who thought they were getting fired at the end of the year only to get promoted. They had no idea where they stood. For some producers, that's their style.

On the other hand, there was Larry Gelbart. Here’s one of the many reasons I loved that man: You’d turn in a draft to Larry at the end of the day. Two hours later he would call you at home to tell you how much he liked the script. He understood the butterflies all writers experience waiting and went out of his way to be sensitive to that. When David Isaacs and I were running our own shows years later we adopted that same practice. If a writer turned in a draft we made the time to read it and respond right away. It’s how we liked being treated; it’s how we felt we should treat others.

All I could say is hang in there. And don’t build a “Jack story”.

What’s a “Jack story”? Well, it’s often attributed to comedian Danny Thomas and I’m paraphrasing but it goes something like this:

A guy’s driving down a country road late at night and gets a flat tire. He opens his trunk to discover he has a spare but not a jack. Up ahead he sees a light. There’s a house about a half-mile up the road. He decides to hike there and see if he can borrow a jack. He figures the owner of the house will gladly let him use it for a few minutes. Why wouldn’t he?

But as the guy trudges on he wonders -- maybe the homeowner won’t be so neighborly. After all, he is a stranger. Maybe he’ll be suspicious. Maybe he’s the kind who doesn’t like anyone touching his tools. He lives way out here in the middle of nowhere – he’s probably anti-social, probably a real asshole. The more the guy considers these options the angrier he gets until finally he reaches the house, rings the bell, the owner answers, and the guy says, “Screw you! I don’t need your fucking jack!” turns on his heel and marches off.

Your script is just as good if it’s read the first night or second week. So relax and have faith in yourself. Now, if I could just learn to believe that myself.