Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Thanksgiving Plans

 It’s downright surreal listening to the two distinct realities that various news outlets are spouting.  With Thanksgiving just days away and COVID cases skyrocketing in America at an alarming rate, you would think everyone in the country would be scared shitless and heeding the CDC’s warnings to not travel and not have large gatherings on Thursday.

But instead you have Fox News mocking the CDC’s warnings.  Meanwhile, over at MSNBC you have Rachel Maddow relaying the horrific story of her partner’s battle with COVID and telling viewers to re-calibrate their risk acceptance because “you do NOT want to get this thing.”  

Two diametric opposites.  It’s mind-boggling to me.  

The states that are getting hit hardest are the states that believe the threat the least.  Utterly mystifying. This isn’t a debate over whether zombies are real.  Actual footage (even on Fox) of hospitals being overrun are dominating news coverage.  CNN keeps a running total of cases and deaths on the screen at all times.   By now, practically everybody knows someone who has it or has had it.   Soon we all know someone who died of it.

So you’d think, at the very least, people would take this pandemic seriously.  And news outlets would not politicize it for the sake of appeasing a deranged madman.  Folks would err on the side of caution.   We’re just talking common sense.   Wearing a mask does not qualify you for Mensa. 

But you know how this will play out.  Millions will ignore the warnings, get horribly sick, and some will die.  Needlessly.  To have one stupid meal.  

It won’t be many of my friends.  They take this seriously.  They social distance.  They wear masks.  They don’t travel through crowded airports and sit on packed airplanes that keep their ventilation systems turned off until they’re taxiing.  They live without Aunt Carol’s jello mold (which isn't very good anyway).  

So two realities.  One where people stay healthy, and the other where people get gravely sick and die by their own choosing.  

What are YOUR Thanksgiving plans? 

Monday, November 23, 2020

RIP Charlie Hauck

 

So sorry to hear of the passing of comedy writer, Charlie Hauck.  He was 79.  One of the funniest people I knew.  

Here’s how I first met Charlie.  My partner, David Isaacs and I pitched him story ideas when he was the story editor of MAUDE.  He rejected us fifty times.  

In fairness, it was the show runners above him.  We’d bring in ten ideas.  He’d like two, send ‘em upstairs, they’d get rejected, and Charlie would ask us to come in with ten more.  I really liked him.  And if you can like someone who rejected you fifty times he has to be a pretty decent guy.  

We worked together on FRASIER and ENCORE ENCORE (the Nathan Lane sitcom).  Some comedy writers are loud and brash and desperately want to be Mel Brooks.  Charlie was soft-spoken, erudite, laid back, and funny, insightful, and deliciously sarcastic lines would come out of his mouth effortlessly.  If I had to pick one colleague who deserved a seat at the Algonquin Round Table it would be Charlie Hauck.  


And don’t take my word for it.  Charlie wrote a comic novel called ARTISTIC DIFFERENCES that is the best satire on the TV industry ever.  And I say that having also written a satire on the TV industry.  If you only have time to read one, read Charlie’s.  

Worth sharing: On one page of his book he explains how you can tell a bad sitcom.   Simple rules, worth repeating here.

Any show in which any character at any time during the life of the series says the words “Ta da!” is a bad sitcom.


Any show in which one character says to another, “What are friends for?” is a bad sitcom.


Any show in which a character says “Bingo!” in the sense of “Eureka!” is a bad sitcom.


Any show in which an actor or actress under the age of seven says cute things in close-up is a bad sitcom.


Any show in which an actor or actress over the age of seventy-five says vulgar things in close-up is a bad sitcom.


Any show that resorts to the use of Dr. Zarkov dialogue (named for the villain in the FLASH GORGON series, where one character tells another character something they both already know, for the benefit of the audience) is a bad sitcom.


Any show in which a character, in the closing minutes, says, “I guess we’ve all learned a lesson,” and then goes on to explain what that lesson is, is a bad sitcom.  


He’s also helped launch careers, including Michael Keaton’s.  

I will miss him always, but particularly this time of year.  Charlie used to send Christmas cards with his yearly “update.”  They were always spectacularly funny.  The two things I will miss about Christmas are the Andy Williams/Claudine Longet TV specials and Charlie’s annual card.  

If anyone’s reading this from the Great Beyond, do yourself a favor, invite Charlie Hauck to your next dinner party.  You can contact him at the Algonquin Round Table. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Weekend Post

When my partner and I started out we would lock ourselves in a room whenever we wrote. We couldn’t have any distractions. Most of the time that meant working in one of our apartments so it was easy to do… except for the neighbor across the courtyard who kept playing the Jethro Tull WAR CHILD album over and over. But we eventually killed him so that problem was solved.

When we finally went on staff of a show and got our first office we would always keep the door closed. Just the idea of people going by or our secretary answering a phone was too distracting. How could we be funny if we saw two people walking down the hall?

Then we got a job on MASH.   By then we had worked on staff of a show and were somewhat used to being in a writers room... with other writers.  It's a different form of writing, everybody pitching at once.  You learn to fit in.  

But it was still a writers room.  And a writers assistant sat in the outer office keeping anyone from disturbing us.  Genius at work -- that sort of thing.

The first day of filming every episode was a rehearsal day. The cast would move from set to set on Stage 9 at 20th Century Fox and rehearse their scenes. Once they were satisfied, David and I were summoned to come watch the scene and then go off and do any rewriting that was necessary. But since it made no sense to keep schlepping back and forth between our office and the stage every half hour, we just did our rewrites right there on the stage. We commandeered a table in the mess tent and that’s where we worked – with actors, crew people, extras, God-knows-who walking by. And in some cases just sitting down and joining us. We’re trying to fix a scene and some extra plops himself down at the table and begins eating a burrito. We eventually killed his character.

Again, it’s a skill that most writers have to learn.  A lot of writers prefer working in public, like Starbucks.  There was a lot more of that before the pandemic.  So for them, I'm sure the Mess Tent would not present a problem.  

What you realize when you're lucky enough to enter the business is that a big reason TV writers are paid more than police dogs is that they're not only talented, but they can create on demand.  We couldn't afford the luxury of isolating ourselves because we felt more comfortable that way.   You work when you're sick, you work when you're tired, you work when you're aggravated, and you work on a soundstage.

On multi-camera shows in front of an audience, writers will huddle to fix jokes that didn't work.  So there's a hundred member crew and two-hundred member audience staring at you.   Oh, for the halcyon days when it was only the Mess Tent. 

 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Friday Questions

 

It’s the Friday between Friday the 13th and Black Friday.  Here are some FQ’s.

Marka starts us off:


When stars come into the commissary do they have to wait in line? If not, how do they cut the line? And, what level of star is able to get away with that.

A lot of studios have two sides to their commissary.  One is more cafeteria style and one is more a sit down restaurant where they take reservations.  Stars generally have reservations.  That said, usually at 1 PM (everyone makes reservations for 1 PM) there can be a brief line while the parties are seated and the stars generally stand in line.  

Star treatment is more in evidence at regular restaurants.  Many stars do require special treatment, but not all. 

I was in an Italian restaurant in Brentwood a few years ago.  There were no reservations.  The line was about seven deep.  Harrison Ford came in and asked how long the wait would be.  The maitre ‘d said, “Oh no, we will take you in right away,” and Ford, to his credit, said, “No.  I’m happy to wait.”  And he did.  

You gotta love Indiana Jones.

Bradley wonders:


I fell into a YouTube rabbit hole, watching random episodes from one season sitcoms. Among them was an episode of "Pearl" that you directed. It's certainly not a beloved series, but I remember enjoying it at the time. It was a good episode that still made me laugh. Does any one memory from the set while you were there come to mind?

Yes.  I was talking to a writer friend the night before I was supposed to start directing.  I told him I was a little intimidated.  Malcolm McDowell was in the cast.  I’d be directing Malcolm McDowell.  I said to my friend, “This guy starred in CLOCKWORK ORANGE.”  And he said, "Yeah, but he also starred in CALIGULA.”   

Suddenly, the intimidation was gone.  And by the way, Malcolm was perfectly charming and a pleasure to direct.  

My other memory is talking to one of the supporting cast members who had very little to do.  Lucy Liu.   Whatever happened to her?  

From Sparks:

When a show gets rerun or put into syndication, who gets residual payments? I assume it depends to some degree on one's agent, but generally, who? Stars, director, writers?

Not just stars — all actors with a speaking role.  Residuals are negotiated with the unions.  Agents are not involved.  In fact, agents do not receive commission on residuals.

However, “created by” and “developed by” credits are negotiated within the guidelines of the WGA credits manual.  

And pilot directors sometimes command a royalty on all future episodes.  That’s negotiated by an agent.  

And finally, from Jim S.:


Are there any genres you'd like to tackle. For example, Alexa Junge wrote for both Friends and The West Wing. Two very different styles of shows.

So, say, someone you knew said "we're bringing back Columbo and looking for writers with all different kinds of experience, would you care to take a crack?"

Would you? Are there genres you would wish to avoid?


I’d be happy to write a COLUMBO.  Among current fare I’d love to write an episode of THE GOOD FIGHT, BARRY, or BETTER CALL SAUL.  

Having written MASH for so many years, I have no interest in writing a medical show.   I also hate horror shows, disaster shows, zombie shows, and I'm the wrong guy to write something like THIS IS US. 

Shows I would have liked to have written on in their day — THE SOPRANOS, JUSTIFIED, SUITS, THE SHIELD, THE ROCKFORD FILES, LOST, BREAKING BAD, 24, PERRY MASON (the original), HILL STREET BLUES, MIAMI VICE, SPORTS NIGHT, LOU GRANT, DEXTER, THE PRACTICE, LA LAW, and THE FUGITIVE.   And THE WEST WING now that democracy has been restored.  

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, November 19, 2020

EP201: Author! Author!


Ken takes you through the world of publishing and self-publishing as he discusses the four books he’s written and his adventures in trying to sell them.   You can publish your own books and make money! Ken shows you how. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Is this carton of eggs okay?

In 2003 or 2004 (the years blend together), David Isaacs and I did a half-hour multi-cam pilot for Fox.  One day during rehearsal I got a call from the stage that a network person was snooping around.  This seemed odd.  The network run-through wasn’t until much later in the day.  So I decided to go down to the stage and investigate.

I arrived and found this mild-mannered young man poking around on the set.  I introduced myself and asked what he was doing?  He said he was there to “approve” the set.  Approve the SET?!  

I wanted to be diplomatic so I nodded and asked him to follow me to the kitchen set.  I then opened the refrigerator.  I said, sometimes a character may open the refrigerator door and for a split second you might see what’s inside it so you need to approve that too.  I was hoping that the absurdity of that would send a message to him, but it didn’t.  He actually looked around inside and said it was fine.

At that point I told him we were not changing anything on the set.  They also wanted photo choices of wardrobe and I said that wasn’t happening either.  I was the show runner; I approve the set and wardrobe.  And the make-up, and stage food, and any props. 

He shuffled off and that was the last I heard of it.  Whether it meant I had earned a network demerit of some kind I do not know.  Nor care.  We had the network run-through later in the day and the network president loved the script.  She had no notes on the furniture. 

The point is, the level of interference has just gotten more and more intrusive.  And remember, that was 16/17 years ago.   From what I understand, it’s only gotten worse.  My heart goes out to writer/creators today trying to protect their vision. 

Postscript:  Our pilot did not get on the air.  The problem:  the star, who the network forced us to take.  Meanwhile, the refrigerator tested great. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Like a Jokes

There’s an expression we have in the writers room — Like a Joke.  

A “Like a joke” has the rhythms of a joke but is not funny.  It’s just a straight sentence delivered as a joke line.  “I’m so hungry I could eat a meal.”  

It’s the equivalent of playing an air guitar.  

Remember a few years ago there was a Robin Williams series, THE CRAZY ONES?  It was near the end of his life.  In his prime, Robin would just fire off hilarious jokes like a machine gun.  His ad libs were amazing.  I knew there was something wrong when in this show he delivered a steady stream of “Like a jokes.”

For some reason I hear “Like a jokes” on quite a few “dramadies.”  Maybe they think that by delivering a line in a comic rhythm it will pass for comedy.  But when I hear them I think either they’re not trying, or (more likely) they aren’t really funny.  Real comedy writers are always trying to beat jokes.  Is there something funnier?  Is there a sharper way of phrasing this?  

Now some may argue that they’re not going for a hard laugh.  They’re going for irony.  Okay, you can convince yourself of that.  But you can’t fool the audience.  If something is not funny, if something is on the nose, or tepid it will fall flat no matter how dazzling the rhythm is.  

Just something to keep in mind when you’re writing a comedy script.  When someone orders an In & Out Burger he knows if you’re trying to slip him tofu. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Queen's Gambit: My review

I always find it interesting that networks are reluctant to buy period pieces and yet they’re very popular with audiences.   From MAD MEN to more current period (sounds like an oxymoron) fare like THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL, FARGO, THE GOLDBERGS, THE CROWN, and TV’s newest darling, THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT, which is set in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  

One advantage to these trips to yesteryear is they provide a great escape.  And boy, do we need that now.  After being stuck in our homes for nine months, just the thought of being transported is inviting.  And in THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT there’s also a lot of travel.  Remember when you could get on a plane and fly to Las Vegas or Paris (or the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas)?   And when you flew in the ‘60s the blankets were free.  

I quite enjoyed THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT.  Anya Taylor-Joy was riveting as damaged orphan chess genius, Beth Harmon.  Bill Camp, the new Gene Hackman also shined (as he always does).   And the production values and costumes were fabulous.  Great attention to detail.  

Yes, the movie was sort of HOOSIERS with chess but knowledge of chess isn’t necessary for enjoying this seven-hour mini-series on Netflix.  What I appreciated most is that it celebrates intelligence.  You remember intelligence?  People who believed in science, people who accepted reality and didn’t just make up their own alternate universe to suit their needs.   Chess requires complexity and complexity requires smart people.  If you’re losing you can’t pretend your pawn can go diagonally four squares every move and there’s no such thing as checkmate.  That’s how stupid people play the game.  But to play it right, you have to outsmart your opponent, which is tough because your opponent is also smart.  You can’t say “that move doesn’t count” because it wasn’t to your liking.  And you can’t just tear gas him.  

There’s also sportsmanship, and concession speeches.  See why so many people want to get in the Wayback Machine?  

Some are calling this the greatest show they’ve ever seen.  I won’t go that far.  I thought they could cut an hour.  It bogged down in places.  And I had one issue with the storytelling.  But I don’t want to spoil anything so in a few weeks I’ll circle back to this when more of you have seen it.  

For now I recommend THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT.  It’s a series for people who long for that mystical magical place called the real world. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Weekend Post

 

Writing alone is a lonely enterprise and having that social interaction can make the process a lot more fun and (if you have the right group) expedient (unless you're writing over Zoom).

But what if you have to write alone? How do you develop the discipline to face the tyranny of the blank screen?

This is a task made even more difficult these days because we have the internet and worse, Angry Birds at our fingertips.

There’s no right answer; just various methods and tricks others have used. You have to find the one that’s right for you. But here are a few options:

Pick a specific time of day and force yourself to sit down and work at that time. Could be early morning or the middle of the day while the kids are at school. I’m a night person. I will tend to write late at night when the house is quiet and there’s nothing on TV but infomercials and GOLDEN GIRLS reruns. Many like to get up early, get their writing out of the way and be done for the day.

Pick a specific amount of time. An hour, several hours. Writer/goddess, Jane Espenson goes on half-hour or hour “writing sprints” where she clears the deck and works non-stop during those periods. 

Some people need goals. They have to write a certain number of pages or scenes before they step away. If they finish that script by Tuesday they'll treat themselves to a Thai massage at that new parlor next to the bail bonds place.

Finding comfortable conditions is key for some writers. Are you a “must be isolated with no noise whatsoever” kind of a person? Or are you a “must be in public where there’s activity and energy all around” kind of guy?   That might be harder these days due to the pandemic.  Proust used to write in bed.  If Shakespeare were still alive I'm sure he'd be a Starbucks man except there was a plague in his day too. 

Does music provide some inspiration? A noted poet friend of mine has Jackie Wilson records blaring while she writes poetry. They all end up reading like “Lonely Teardrops” but still.

One method I don’t recommend but writers have been using it for centuries is getting completely shit-faced before writing.  Get your supplies at Staples, not BevMo. 

Another method that works for some (but not for me) is waiting until the last minute and then just blasting forward. They need that self-imposed pressure and prelude to their next heart attack.

Look, writing is hard. If it wasn’t then Kim Kardashian would be doing it (especially if she could do it in bed). But if you find the right way to work (for you), it can make the process far more manageable. Personally, I’m not the best person to ask. I checked my email twice while writing this post.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Friday (the 13th) Questions

It’s Friday the 13th but so far a very lucky month.  Here are Friday (the 13th) Questions:

Blinky starts us off.

We were looking for a new comedy to watch and saw UNICORN with Justified's Walton Goggins. The pilot was laugh out loud funny but after that, the later episodes collapsed into a made for Hallmark channel, Family Values, Treacle infested blob of cliched mediocrity. It was as though they had A-list creatives for the pilot and then handed it off to a Liberty University creative writing 101 class. How can a show end up being so different from the pilot? (Plus I saw it was renewed for a another season.WTF?)

The writers have months to write the pilot then must slam the rest of the season together in short order.  The show runner is bombarded with network and studio notes, he might be forced to put writers on his staff not of his own choosing, change the tone of the series based on testing, and the show runner might not be adept at guiding a series.

As for THE UNICORN, I can’t speak to that.  I don’t know any of the particulars, don’t know anyone associated with that show.   Are the writers not delivering?  Are the actors constantly complaining?  Are the notes suffocating?  Is the production schedule too short?  Is the show runner not organized?  Are they getting mixed signals from the network, studio, and testing?  I have no idea.

Then there’s the other thing to consider:  Maybe it’s just you and the subsequent episodes are connecting with an audience.  I don’t watch the show myself so I can’t personally weigh in one way or the other.  But if it got picked up, they must be doing something right.  

Mike Bloodworth asks.

Have You and David (Isaacs) ever inserted an "inside" joke into a script that no one else would get, but that makes you laugh every time you hear it?

Only all the time.  We’d work in names of girlfriends, pets, friends, former teachers, former colleagues, relatives, grudges, you name it.  

Moral: Be nice to writers. 

From Mark:

When it comes to radio broadcasters flying solo -- no records, no partners, no guests – just one person alone talking into a mic late into the night, who would be in your hall of fame? Arthur Godfrey? Henry Morgan? Jean Shepherd? Possibly Phil Hendrie though he’s kind of in a genre to himself.

Who am I missing?


All that you mentioned, although Godfrey was a well-known asshole in the industry.  

Names I would add (and it’s a very incomplete list) would include Doug McIntyre, Vin Scully, Paul Harvey, Ray Briem, Garner Ted Armstrong, and Ronn Owen.

And finally, from Troy McClure:

One of my favorite character actors is Stephen Root. He can do comedy and drama, and he was terrific in the Frasier episode Detour. Have you ever worked with him?

Not really, but he’s always been one of my favorite actors too.  

He just morphs into whatever role he plays and whatever genre.   He’s TV’s answer to John Lithgow or Gene Hackman.
 

I’m currently loving him in BARRY and PERRY MASON.  He plays judges a lot — notably in JUSTIFIED and THE GOOD WIFE.  And I first noticed him in OFFICE SPACE and NEWSRADIO.   I knew I was a big fan when he made me laugh more than Phil Hartman.  

Someday I’d love to work with him.  Hey, Stephen, you free? 

Don’t walk under any ladders today.  What’s your FQ?  

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

EP200: Episode 200!


Ken celebrates his 200th podcast with a super-sized episode featuring highlights, surprises, rarities, giveaways, laughs, and more.  Join in the fun!


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Veteran's Day

For Veteran's Day, ME-TV is airing the last MASH episode along with interviews we did six years ago.  It'll be on from 7-10 PM on the West Coast.  Check your local listings.  I can't tell you what channel ME-TV is on because it's different for each carrier.  

For so many reasons I'm proud of my association with MASH but especially because the show reminds people of the Korean War and the courageous men and women who fought there or made the ultimate sacrifice.  I think without MASH the Korean War would now just be a tiny footnote in history, if even that.  I'm honored that I could help keep that flame alive.  

How much of me you'll actually see  on the show-- I suspect very little.  Five seconds here and eight seconds there.  Don't blink.  But to my surprise, I am on the promo.  I say something profound like "a lot of people watched this show."  

Most of the talking heads will be the actors.  And that makes sense of course.  When they're on the screen the audience isn't going "Who's that dork?"   In my case, they're already saying it because I'm on the promo.

Some final thoughts:  As a member of the US Army Reserves I take pride in my military service but recognize it was nothing compared to going overseas and fighting in a war.  To military personnel past and present, I salute you and this country owes you a great debt of gratitude.  And for the first time in four years, I celebrate you and not apologize for what our country had become.  You deserve way more respect and just know that starting January 20th you'll get it.  

Happy Veterans Day. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Misc-Takes

In no order of importance, here are some random thoughts:  

I wish I knew who, but someone from North of the Border compared Canada to the USA.  He said, “Living in Canada is like having an apartment over a meth lab.”  

I never watch movies set in arctic conditions.  I so hate cold weather that even watching others brave brutal sub-zero conditions is uncomfortable for me.  Are there genres you can’t watch for the same reason?   Meanwhile, it was warmer yesterday in Minneapolis than Los Angeles. 

I really miss restaurants.  But not enough.

Months ago there was absolute hysteria over COVID and now people won’t even wear masks.  

So now Trump's Chief of Staff and the advisor overseeing his campaign legal challenges have both contracted the coronavirus.  If Alanis Morissette is reading, that is ironic.

I have a lot of leftover Halloween candy this year.  No, it won’t go to waste.  

Thanksgiving won’t be the same this year without 20,000 college students stranded at O’Hare for two days.  

A lawsuit without provable facts showing a statutory or constitutional violation is just a tweet with a filing fee.” —Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.  

And to that end comes this commentary from Keith Olbermann.  I couldn't have said it any better or more curmudgeonly myself. 

If they keep moving movie release dates back, pretty soon they’re all going to become period pieces.  

When do you think Melania's going to file for divorce?  January 20 or 21st? 

Gee, the NBC pandemic sitcom didn’t fly.  Who the hell wants pandemic entertainment?  Earlier this year networks feverishly snapped up a bunch of pitches for pandemic projects.  I can imagine a meeting taking place now.  “Well, we miscalculated with pandemic pilots.  Let’s turn our attention to something the public really wants to see.  How about “losing health insurance” sitcoms?  Buy seven of ‘em.”  

It’s idiotic for MLB to give Cy Young Awards to pitchers who started like ten games.  

By the way, the World Series is not settled.  Tampa Bay is demanding a recount on Game 7.

I’m not usually star struck but one day in the Paramount commissary Sean Connery walked in.  My jaw hit the ground.   My favorite Sean Connery quote:  "I was the first actor to play James Bond.  I was also the last actor to play James Bond."

Another day in the commissary I was lunching with young writers and Tony Curtis came in.  None of them knew who he was.  And this was twenty years ago.  (Note:  Google him.  He was a big movie star.)

Why do actors get tattoos?  Won’t that limit the parts they can play?  Imagine in GONE WITH THE WIND having to explain why Scarlett O’Hara has a python on her arm. 

Monday, November 09, 2020

The two big winners last week: Joe Biden and Steve Kornacki

Now that I can breathe again for the first time in four years, some reflections on the past week.   Warning:  This is kind of a long one.  

First off, I only have myself to blame.  Everyone said don’t freak out on Tuesday night. There was going to be a Red Mirage.  Since Trump implored his base to only vote in person on election day, since those would be counted first, he would take big leads in battleground states.  Once the mail-in ballots were counted things would shift.  (And they did.  He was hoisted on his own petard.)   Intellectually, I understood that.  But watching the early results Tuesday night was like watching HOSTEL after being told it was a teen comedy.  Despite all the assurances from MSNBC (and James Carville who was Foster Brooks with better whiskey), I got 2016 PTSD flashbacks.  

That was my first mistake.  Number two was watching election coverage Tuesday night for eight straight hours. That was like being traumatized by HOSTEL then sticking around for HOSTEL 2.  And not turning off the TV just in case there was a “Making of HOSTEL” aftershow.  

I’ll never make that mistake again.  

I started the night watching CNN.  It was like being in a video game but louder and more frenetic.  Blaring fanfares, in-your-face graphics, Wolf Blitzer, and John King at the Magic Wall.  Prior to Tuesday night I was a big fan of John King and the Magic Wall.  But when they would go to him prior to election night, it was for two minutes.   John would cram ten minutes of information into those two, but then it would be done.  He was a jello shot.  

Tuesday night, however, it was wall-to-wall Magic Wall.  A relentless data dump.  I felt like I was someone just learning rudimentary English listening to Gus Johnson call a basketball game on the radio.  It was exhausting.  Not that he didn’t know his stuff, but counties were zooming in and out, and graphics and numbers and comparisons to Hilary Clinton’s performance in 2016, and who’s over-performing and under-performing, and the top of my head felt like a Jiffy Pop bag ready to explode.  Slow down!  Or take a breath.  

But what really pissed me off was when he’d show Virginia as red and say it should go blue, votes from Goober County aren’t in, but who knows?  They might not.  Virginia could surprise people and flip red.  That’s what makes this night fun.

NO!  There is no FUN this night.  This isn’t March Madness where Weber State beats Duke and you go, “Huh.  Didn’t see that coming.”  This is literally the fate of Democracy and the United States of America.  Get your FUN elsewhere.  

That would be interrupted by blaring fanfare and percussion, a giant graphic filling the screen with an ELECTION UPDATE.  Then they show a graphic of Trump and Biden.  At the top of the screen it says “Nevada.”   Under Trump’s photo it has his percentage at 93% and Biden’s is at 6%.  I’m thinking, Jesus, we’re fucked.  Then underneath the percentages are the actual votes.  Trump: 82, Biden 9.  WTF?!   

And all of this hysteria was just in the first hour.  

By the way, did you know that CNN’s Dana Bash was once married to John King for four years?  They had a child together.  I just assume when they had sex that John was still wearing that black suit.  

I decided to see what the broadcast networks were up to.  CBS was in love with swirling cameras on jibs floating all over the set.  Like someone tied a camera to a moth.  I could only do five minutes.  

Maybe it’s because I’m from a different age, but when it came to network news there was CBS and NBC.  ABC was the station that had THE FLINTSTONES and BRADY BUNCH.   I’ve never taken ABC News seriously.  If you want to eat healthy you don’t go to Shakey’s.  So I skipped ABC entirely.  

I didn’t watch Fox News for the same reason I don’t join Scientology or leave snacks in the backyard for visiting extra terrestrials.  

If I was going to watch NBC I figured I might as well watch MSNBC.   They were less frenetic than CNN and I felt like I was with my peeps.  Interesting that Rachel Maddow anchored the coverage and once-golden-boy, Brian Williams was relegated to the projection desk.  “NBC projects Oklahoma goes to Donald Trump.  Now back to Rachel for the next forty minutes.”

Rachel conveyed sanity and perspective.  Again, my fault for ignoring all the times she and her co-anchors implored me to relax and be patient.  

The highlight of the MSNBC coverage was Steve Kornacki at their Magic Board.  I love his enthusiasm.  Kornacki is the nerd in High School who got a girlfriend.  As knowledgeable as King but less polished and refreshingly goofy.   He maybe got four hours sleep in total last week.  I suspect he’s going to emerge from this coverage as the star.  

Late into the night, Biden gave a “just wait and relax” speech, and then Trump gave a truly horrifying insane victory speech from the White House to a crowd of maskless, brainless toadies who gave him a standing ovation as he spewed one shameful lie after another, standing at a podium with 200 American Flags behind him (probably stolen from local public schools).  

To both MSNBC’s credit (and CNN’s), their hosts and analyst ripped the shit out him, said he had reached a new low, which is now the reaction every time he speaks.  I thought it was interesting when he tried the same thing the next day in the briefing room, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, and ABC cut away from his speech about two minutes in when they could see it was just a blizzard of reprehensible lies.  Think about that:  All three networks cutting away from the president of the United States.  

So I went to sleep suicidal that first night.  I woke up at 4:30 and checked the website to see that Biden had pulled ahead in Wisconsin & Michigan.  Ohmygod!  James Carville (the happy drunk relative at every family function) was right.  

For the next few days I avoided TV coverage.  I’d check websites every few hours.  And day by day things started looking better.  He took Michigan and Wisconsin.  When Biden turned the corner in Pennsylvania I actually was able to keep food down.   Like everybody, waiting was frustrating.  But I took comfort in knowing that meticulous vote counting would make it harder for Trump to challenge, and the wait must’ve been extra torture on Trump.   Reports were that everybody close to him was afraid to tell him the reality of the situation.  I might’ve done it this way:  “It looks like you’ll no longer be president with all the privileges that come with that, and instead you’ll lose your empire and spend the rest of your life in prison.  But the good news is a new SHARK TANK airs tonight on ABC.”  

The announcement Saturday morning was GLORIOUS.  And with Biden winning by quite a margin and record popular vote, the Genie is out of the bottle.  All the celebrations over the weekend, victory speeches Saturday night (which reminded me of how real presidents act), congratulations from world leaders — the country and world has spoken.  Trump’s baseless legal challenges will go nowhere, as all of his legal challenges the last two weeks have.    It’s over.  Finally.  We can turn our attention to healing, justice, decency, stability, empathy, and stopping this pandemic.

As someone said on Facebook:  One plague down and one to go. 

Sunday, November 08, 2020

RIP Alex Trebek

So sorry to hear of the passing of Alex Trebek.  He was 80.  For the millions of us who watch JEOPARDY every day, he was a part of our family.  I never actually met him in person but did attend numerous tapings of the show and got to see how he interacted with crew, contestants, and audience members.  Just the fact that during commercials, instead of stepping away or taking a break himself, he always went out to the audience and answered questions says something about who he was.  

Staff members of the show (many who have worked there for over 30 years) adored him, and that tells you something else.  

Over the last few years there were times when taping five shows a day was an ordeal.  He would do this a day after chemo sometimes when his body was wracked with pain and exhaustion.  And yet, he never let any of that show on the air.  He was the ultimate professional, the ultimate trouper.  

I'm sure the show will go on.  And I'm sure their successor has already been chosen and has done practice shows in anticipation.  I suspect it will be Ken Jennings, who would be a great choice.  But whoever they get, they have tough shoes to fill.  However, Alex always put the game over his own ego so the task will be that much easier.  

He worked up until the very end.  He warmed our hearts with his humility, intelligence, empathy, and humor.  He made a very difficult job seem easy.   And today -- this very moment -- more than ever, I think we appreciate how much those qualities are valued.  

"The greatest game show host in history."   Who is Alex Trebek?

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Biden wins!

And so does Democracy.  And the planet.   Thank you. 



Weekend Post

 After all the craziness of this past week, I thought you might want a brief escape. 

My 10 minute play was performed by the 15min Theatre Festival Incheon, Korea this summer, and they did a dance interpretation of it. The result was amazing.  Get these kids on DANCING WITH THE STARS or KOREA'S GOT TALENT.   

The premise: When two strangers make eye contact for 15 seconds one of two things will happen -- they'll either wind up in a fight or in bed. 

The choreography and rehearsal that went into this was awesome.   I feel guilty that I wrote the actual play in three hours (it was part of a one-day play festival the Ruskin Theatre in Santa Monica used to hold every month before the pandemic).

It's about eight minutes that will really lift your spirits.  Enjoy. 

NOTE: If you're looking on your phone you might have to go to the webpage view option.   Some have said there's no video.  There is video on computers and iPads.   It plays.  I've tested it.

Playwright _ Ken Levine

Translation _ Ju Hoon, Shin

Adaptation / Director _ Jeonghyun Henry, Yang 

Choreography _ Duck Young, Kim

Dramaturg _ Ji Soo, Jung

Assistant Director _ A-Hyun, Jo


Dancer _ Tae Kwan, Jeon and Moon Ju, Kim

Voice Actor _ Woo Sang, Lim and Ji sook, Kim


Production _ Theatre Company Cheongnyeondan


Host _ The 15min Theatre Festival X INCHEON

 


 

 

Friday, November 06, 2020

Friday Questions

Ready for some Friday Questions?

Dusty starts us off.

I'm watching How I Met Your Mother and there's a clear point where Alyson Hannigan is pregnant. Every scene she's sitting behind a table or holding a prop in front of her belly. They also did a bit where she was so offended by a joke that she refuses to hang out with the gang and isn't on for a few episodes. What are your favorite ways you've seen or used to cover an actress being pregnant and then going on maternity leave?

When Shelley Long was pregnant on season 3 of CHEERS, very early on (before she was showing) we had her go on a European trip with Frasier.  We would film one scene from the trip each week after the audience had left.  I think this went on for four or five weeks.  We then banked those episodes. 

Once Shelley started showing a little we did all the tricks — hiding her with trays, etc.

My favorite was the episode where she somehow got trapped underneath the floor and we just saw her head.  

When we couldn’t hide the baby bump anymore she toddled off to Europe. 

Chakkuri queries:


I noticed that the song “Isn’t It Romantic” occasionally was played, sung and hummed in “Cheers”, “Frasier” and “Wings.” Was this a favorite tune of the producers?

No.  They were free.  Paramount owned the rights to those songs so any Paramount show could use them without paying a license fee.  You also heard “Moonlight in Vermont” a lot.

From MellaBlue:

I've been watching old episodes of WKRP -- a show I've always loved but always forget how much until I watch it. Anyway, I've noticed that a lot of writers and crew people show up throughout the show as various bit characters. My question is do those writers/crew members need to be unionized? Do they get paid scale? Or is this just a handy way to save some money on a show that was constantly under the threat of being canceled?

You can act in an episode once under the Taft-Hartley Law without having to join SAG.  More than that you do have to join the union. 


However, from what I understand, if a writer is “producer” level or higher, the show has to pay a substantial penalty fee if the writer is in an episode.  This is to dissuade producers from just hiring themselves and making a little extra cash.

This rule was not in play when I was a show runner.  I never put myself into a show though because I didn’t want to take a job away from a real actor. 

Finally, from Chuck:

Should the National League keep the Designated Hitter, or get rid of it?

They should get rid of it, but they won’t.  Having the pitcher bat adds a whole level of strategy that makes the game more fun.

The National League resisted for years but had to cave this past ridiculous season.  And now the genie is out of the bottle.

Why won’t it be back?  The Players Union.  The Designated Hitter allows for each team to have one more high salaried ballplayer on their books.  Older players who can still hit but no longer field can still command big bucks as a DH.

Baseball keeps changing the rules and it’s never to improve the quality of the game.  It’s to generate more money. 

What’s your Friday Question?  

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

EP199: Meet Director Katy Garretson Part Two


Katy Garretson is a DGA award nominated sitcom director.  This week we talk about actors testing directors, difficult shows, and delve into her podcast, Mojo Girl Madness.  Some great stories and Hollywood dish.  

 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The day after

Like everyone else, I'm just waiting. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

SAVE THE COUNTRY

At least it's finally here.  For those of us who waited four years for this, I can't impress enough upon you the importance of voting.  I would like to think that ultimately democracy, compassion, empathy, intelligence, science, justice, and just plain decency will win out.  

If you haven't already, please vote... for BIDEN/HARRIS.

SAVE THE COUNTRY (by Laura Nyro)



Monday, November 02, 2020

Happy Birthday Matt

Happy Birthday to my "World Champion" son, Matt.  Now adding loving husband and father to his resume.  I'm so proud of the outstanding young man you've become, and I'll try not to call you so often for tech support.  I said I'd try.

Love you always, my son.

Dad

On another note to you dear readers:  VOTE.