Friday, April 19, 2019

(Good) Friday Questions

Happy Easter and Passover and whatever else you’re celebrating. Here are this week’s FQ’s.

blinky is up first.

I just saw a post on Reddit that the medical adviser and Alan Alda co-wrote an episode of M*A*S*H. Tell me more!

Well, first off, it was after we had left the show. But yes, the episode called “Life Time” was written by Dr. Walter Dishell and Alan Alda. Dr. Dishell was our medical advisor (and a great guy).

It’s the episode all done in real time. The idea was really Gene Reynolds'. But it was one that required a lot of medical knowledge. Dr. Dishell asked if he could write it since he would be contributing so much, and Gene agreed as long as he wrote it with a real MASH writer (I think Alan qualified).

The episode is also noteworthy for the clock in the corner of the screen. That idea, apparently, was Dr. Dishell’s.

MASH was always experimenting and trying different ways to break the format. “Life Time” was one of the best.

From Jen from Jersey:

In terms of continuity, do writers forget details about the characters and events from earlier seasons. I notice this all the time when I binge watch. One recent example is that the first episode of Wings, Joe introduces Brian to Lowell but in later episodes we find out that they all went to high school together.

Sometimes you have different writers who weren’t on the show when the first factoid was aired. Other times writers forget, especially if it seemed like a small detail buried within an episode. There are times I’ve been on MASH and CHEERS trivia sites and there will be questions from episodes I wrote that I still don’t know the answer.

Some shows used to keep a detailed bible, but that’s pretty time consuming, and now you have the internet to post episode guides.

And seriously, this was much less of a problem before series were all available for binging or cable networks ran eight episodes a day. Now these continuity problems are glaring.

All I can say is that for a long running series writers do the best they can to maintain continuity. Unfortunately there are getting to be fewer and fewer long running series.

Sean queries:

While binging Game of Thrones recently, I noticed something new. The opening credits only feature the actors in that particular episode. I've been an avid TV nut for decades and have never noticed that before. Is that common? It seems to me that even if Jamie Farr or William Christopher didn't appear in a particular episode, they were still credited in the opening.

Have I missed out on something?

It depends on the actor’s contract. Some stipulate their credit must be in every episode whether they appear or not, and others only get a credit on the shows where they actually do appear.

Where the credit appears and how the credit appears also are up for negotiation. Along with size and screen placement.

And finally, from Madame Smock:

Aloha Ken,

I listened to the "How did I get talked into this ?" podcast Ep. 116.I thought the Rocky Mountain Writers Guild story could have been a story premise on Frasier. Do writers use their personal experiences to come up with a storyline?

ALL the time. Our most humiliating life experiences are all golden fodder for sitcom stories.

The best stories are the ones that are the most relatable and those come from real life. I think it was Carl Reiner, when he was running THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, who said to his writers: “Go home this weekend, have a fight with your wife, then come back and tell me about it.”

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

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

EP119: NBC’s Al Michaels Part 1


In the first of two parts, NBC sportscaster Al Michaels, who has called 10 Super Bowls, numerous World Series, and will be forever known for his “Miracle on Ice” call, joins Ken for an in depth discussion.  In Part 1 Al talks about his baseball career, covering an earthquake, working for the Dating Game, MNF, and moving from ABC to NBC.  You don’t have to love sports to love Al Michaels.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

What were they thinking, Part 2?

We've come a lonnnnnng way since 1962.  Smack dab in the middle of the MAD MEN era comes this actual commercial.  Where was #MeToo when that generation needed it? 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

What were they thinkin'?

You know how you watch something on YouTube and that leads you to another video and pretty soon you go down a rabbit hole and hours go by as you discover different nutty things? That was me last night.

And I came upon this. It’s so absurd I had to share it.

There was an afternoon show on ABC in the mid ‘60s called WHERE THE ACTION IS. Dick Clark hosted and basically it was a music show consisting of rock groups of the day lip syncing their songs at the beach. The idea was to capture that whole California Myth (which did exist if you had a car and could get to the beach). I recall seeing Paul Revere & the Raiders wearing their heavy felt Revolutionary War uniforms rocking out at the beach.

To my knowledge, WHERE THE ACTION IS was gone long before 1973. But then I found this music video, which is very reminiscent of WTAI. I don’t know the story behind it. But it’s Vicki Lawrence singing her only big hit, THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT IN GEORGIA at the beach. And it sounds like Dick Clark introducing her.

But here’s what’s so bizarre and made me laugh out loud. Hardly anybody at the beach is paying any attention to her. They’re all running around, throwing the football, tackling each other, kicking sand. She’s just standing in the middle of this scene for no reason whatsoever. And the content of the song is about a murder in the south and an innocent man being hung. So the few people who are in the background dancing to this look like complete idiots.

I love Vicki Lawrence and would someday like to ask her about this. But in the meantime, enjoy today's surreal music video.


Monday, April 15, 2019

The WGA-ATA dispute -- Where do we stand?

Too early to tell.

The WGA and agents (ATA) could not reach a deal by zero hour this past weekend so we all are obligated to fire our TV and movie writing agents.

Where does that leave everybody? 

Well, we’re now in the first stage – name calling, posturing, threatening, animosity. Lawsuits and counter-suits.

I think it will be interesting so see if writers can in fact get staffed using only managers, lawyers, a submission website, recommendations, etc. and skirt the agency process. If so, writers will have a lot more leverage.

If not, if it’s very chaotic and just a mad scramble, agencies will gain more leverage.

But for either of those scenarios to play out a few months must go by. Just sitting on the sidelines, that’s where I see things going at this moment.  (But I hope I'm wrong.)

Look, producers, networks, studios, agents, whoever – only make concessions when they have to. And unfortunately, that usually requires a work stoppage or mass exodus or some other major protest that hopefully will have enough of an impact to force compromise and concessions. Deals that could have been made amicably eventually do get done but at a big cost with lots of collateral damage. Welcome to Tinsel Town.

Here’s how I imagine it will end, and this is based on nothing more than my observations from the bleachers (so take them with a grain of salt). Package deals will remain, but writers will share in the profits – significantly enough that they’re willing to agree to a deal. What that percentage is, when that will be, what other compromises will be made – that I don’t have a clue.

Now I’m getting on my soapbox. None of this would be an issue if anti-trust laws were still upheld and conflict-of-interest practices were shut down. Agencies need other ways to supplement their income in this era of mass consolidation and will find them (opening sports divisions, representing products like Coca-Cola, etc.) and writers would still have enough on their hands fighting injustices that were shady but still legal.

There was a time in Hollywood when major players like Lew Wasserman of Universal controlled the town. There could be a writers’ strike for three months and when Wasserman decided enough was enough the strike was settled in two days.

There’s no Lew Wasserman.

So for now we just play it out. For the vast majority of you, this battle will have no impact whatsoever. This is not a work stoppage. Your shows will still be produced on schedule. No DEXTER reruns on CBS to fill some gaps. And considering how many other global and national crises we all face daily, it’s probably a relief to know there’s one you don’t have a stake in.

But for those of us in the industry, these WGA-ATA issues are important and will affect the way business is done for years to come. So however it falls, let’s get it right.

UPDATE:  I thought it was clear from the post but apparently not since a number of you keep asking whether I went along with the WGA and fired my agent?  And the answer is yes.  

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Weekend Post

I thought if might be fun for some of these weekend posts to recommend vintage movies I love that are probably available on streaming services so if you're home alone on Saturday night or looking to kill a couple of hours this might just fill the time nicely.  (But if you're in Minneapolis come see my play, OUR TIME and me tonight.  Here's where you go for tickets.)

Today's recommendation: BODY HEAT.

 I’m going to start talking film noir in a few minutes but let’s cut to the chase – I love BODY HEAT for the sex. That’s why I went to see it, that’s why I went back to see it, that’s why I’m recommending it. There’s noir and great breakout performances but all that is a bonus.  And you don't have to worry about getting caught surfing Pornhub. 

BODY HEAT, released in 1981, marked the directorial debut of Lawrence Kasdan, who also wrote the film. Today he’s known as Jake Kasdan’s dad but back then he was writing STAR WARS sequels and INDIANA JONES movies – enough Hollywood currency to warrant a directing nod.

The movie is very noir. I don’t actually know the definition of that word but it seems to be the genre that encompasses night, mood, lust, guilt, illicit passion, double-crosses, triple-crosses, seduction, and if really done right – a hopelessly confusing plot. BODY HEAT satisfies all of that plus a lot of nudity!

The film stars William Hurt as Ned Racine, a two-bit lawyer in a small Florida town who meets Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner), an unhappy rich married woman. There’s an instant smoldering connection. They’re both horny, wildly attracted to each other, and share the same penchant for talking like a Raymond Chandler novel.

It’s hot (100 degrees at night), they’re hot (one reviewer actually used the word “slender” to describe her back then), and the heat is never turned down.

In short order Ned and Matty are in her mansion getting it on as often and graphic as possible. You are so wrapped up in the steamy sweaty animal sex that you don’t ask the question, “Hey, if she’s so rich and lives in a mansion, how come she can’t afford air conditioning?”

Matty eventually talks Ned into killing her husband (that’s how good the sex was) and the plot takes off. If this sounds a little like DOUBLE INDEMNITY that’s because it’s almost a direct lift. But you never saw Fred MacMurray giving it to Barbra Stanwyck from behind.

Some notable other performances: Ted Danson as the tap dancing D.A. (this was well before CHEERS) is a riot and Mickey Rourke as an explosives expert (well before he went nuts) is riveting.

The ending gets very confusing and Byzantine so you might want to rewind and replay it a time or two. Just like guys will be rewinding and replaying the first part of the movie twenty times.

BODY HEAT – see it with someone you hope to get lucky with.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Friday Questions

Hello from Indianapolis where I am attending the opening of my play, GOING GOING GONE and conducting a Q&A afterwards. It’s at the Westfield Playhouse. Come join us. Tomorrow I’m in Minneapolis for OUR TIME and a Q&A. Stop by there if you’re anywhere in the Midwest.

In the meantime…

Janet Ybarra has a Friday Question.

Whether it's one of your contemporary stageplays, a teleplay you wrote with David or what-have-you: how do you come up with good, satisfying names for your characters so that everyone isn't a Jones or a Smith?

I’ve written posts on this before. I try to find names that might fit the ethnicity, personality, and age of the character. If I’m writing a period piece there weren’t too many Beyonces in the 1920’s.

I prefer not having two characters with names that start with the same letter (e.g. Janet & Jennifer). It’s easier writing in Final Draft when I only need one key stroke instead of two when typing the character name.

Many times I’ll use names of people I know. Friends and ex-girlfriends show up all the time in MASH and CHEERS.

I also consult my high school yearbook.  Lots of great names in there. 

On MASH we always needed patients and visiting military personnel so my partner David and I in season 7 just went down the Los Angeles Dodgers roster. You’ll find Cey, Garvey, Rhoden, Rau, Hooten, Russell, Lopes, etc.

To be honest, I try not to spend too much time on this because you could devote three days coming up with just the perfect name when all you’re really doing is procrastinating.

Brian Phillips asks:

What are your thoughts on physical humor in a script that you write/co-write?

I love physical comedy and even in shows with sophisticated humor like FRASIER I will try to fit in some physical comedy. The key is having the actors who can pull it off. FRASIER had that in spades.

But even in my plays, which rely on dialogue to get the lion’s share of laughs, I will find spots for physical comedy.

If there’s any form of comedy that is universal and guaranteed to stand the test of time, it’s physical comedy. Laurel & Hardy make me laugh hysterically to this day.

From MikeN:

Would you write episodes differently for Netflix because there are no commercials?

Not really. My act break might not come directly in the middle, but good dramatic structure is good dramatic structure.  I still want a strong act break even if its purpose isn’t to retain an audience through a commercial break.

What excites me more about writing a show for Netflix is not having to squeeze a half hour episode into 18 minutes. I can better tell stories when I have a little more time.

And finally, Frank Beans has a FQ in a similar vein.

Curious, Ken--are there any episodes that you have worked on from any show that you wish could have been longer, or even multi-part so that they could tell a story arc better and in more depth?

Yes, primarily on MASH because we would always weave at least two storylines into every episode (sometimes three). There were instances when we had to cut the show for time and lost good stuff.

I always loved when script assignments that started out as a single episode expanded into a two-parter. Easier to tell the story and twice the money (the latter being the BIG incentive).

But here’s the dirty little secret: Most two-parters you see are really part-and-a-halfs. There is generally padding to fill out the whole hour. I’ve written any number of two parters and could take fifteen minutes out of any of them.

But did I mention I get paid twice for two-parters? I can’t love ‘em enough.

What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. And hope to see you this weekend on the theatre circuit. Thanks.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

EP118: More Celebrity Dish w/ Arlen Peters


Entertainment reporter Arlen Peters is back with more tasty inside stories and profiles of celebrities, famous writers, and iconic movies.  You know you love this stuff!


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

I'm going to miss Ralph Lawler

Tonight is the final regular season broadcast of longtime LA Clippers announcer, Ralph Lawler. For 40 years he has called Clippers games. And during that time no team in the NBA has lost more of them. Other than maybe being the announcer for the Washington Generals (the team that loses every game to the Harlem Globetrotters), I can’t think of a tougher assignment.

And yet, every broadcast, every year (even the year they only won 13 games all season) is a gem. Not only does he know the game inside and out, his play calling is superb, his voice is rich, enthusiasm infectious, and he has a great dry sense of humor. Ralph is retiring at 80. He sounds as good as he did at 40. Maybe better.

I have always been a Clippers fan. I loved the Lakers when Chick Hearn was their voice and Magic was their star, but there’s the draw of the underdog, and tickets were so much cheaper for Clipper games. I was an original Clippers season ticket holder. So I’ve seen my share of horrific basketball myself. Benoit Benjamin?  Give me a break!

I only gave up my season seats when I started to learn how to do basketball play-by-play and the Clippers graciously gave me a press pass. Back then they played in the old LA Sports Arena (now demolished) and I would have entire sections to myself.

That’s when I met Ralph. Not only was he gracious and supportive, he was also a mentor. He would sit with me and listen to my tapes offering great critiques. Some teachers point out what you did wrong. He always pointed out what I could do better. He showed me tricks, things to look for, ways of approaching game situations, and how to use my voice to tell the story. Even though I never called games professionally, I owe him a great debt. He had his work cut out for him because I was never that good. 

Ralph Lawler also had the misfortune not only of bad teams but being in the shadow of some iconic broadcasters. Here in Los Angeles we had Vin Scully, Chick Hearn, Dick Enberg, Bob Miller, Tom Kelly, and for a few years when the Raiders were here, Bill King. So Ralph never received the appreciation he deserved. He was inducted this year into the NBA Hall of Fame, which was maybe the best decision the NBA has made in five years.

I only wish he got to call a Clippers championship. Who knows? He’s got one last shot. It’s ironic that in the future the Clippers will be better, but with the loss of Lawler, not as good.

Have a great retirement, Ralph. And thanks for 40 years of championship broadcasts.