Wednesday, February 26, 2020

EP163: All things FRASIER

In the second part of his discussion with David Lee, the co-creator of FRASIER, they get into the creation, casting, tone, and speculation over whether there will ever be a reboot of this iconic series.   If you’re a fan of FRASIER, this episode is not to be missed. 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Comments on comments

I wonder if it's normal or I'm just turning into a lovable curmudgeon.

But I've been doing this blog now for close to 15 years (way longer than I thought I would).    And because of trolls (which I take as a sign of success) I've been moderating the comments the last three or four.

I love the comments section.  Often you guys have way more interesting observations than me.  Over the years I've met any number of you and have become friends with many of you.   It's kind of like creating a little community, which is cool.

And please keep those Friday Questions coming.

But lately I find my patience is starting to wane.   I'll get a snarky comment or stupid complaint and in the past I generally just let them through.  Now?  Fuck it.   If I read a comment and think "Why is this person even reading my blog, he clearly has issues with it or me?" I now just delete their comment.  Do I have thin skin?  No.  I don't give a shit.  These comments don't hurt my feelings.  I just find them annoying and by posting them it encourages others to be equally annoying.  So I'm deleting more comments now than I have in the past.    And that's aside from any pro-Trump comment, which I delete instantly.

Hopefully the comment section can be fun and a lively exchange of ideas and humor.   But criticizing the content of a FREE blog, attacking other commenters, trying to be funny by being snarky when you're not remotely funny -- sorry, but those comments are no longer welcome and will no longer post.    Yes, this may offend some of you and some may leave the blog.  My best wishes to you wherever you may go.   I'd rather a smaller audience of people who really have something worthwhile to say. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Take a trip in the WAY-Way-Back Machine

Usually I don't do videos during the week but these knocked me out.  Thanks to digital wizardry someone was able to restore and enhance early movies, and by early I mean 1896.   It's amazing to see real people from two centuries ago.  There are some elderly women and I'm thinking, I'm looking at someone who was alive in 1820.

So step into the Way-Back Machine (The WAY-Way-Back Machine) and see the world the way it was a mere 124 years ago.

Monday, February 24, 2020


In light of my recent tribute last to Gene Reynolds and how much he meant to me, I received this FQ and thought now would be a good time to share it.

I have two great kids. My daughter Annie and her husband Jon are co-executive producers of THE UPSHAWS, the new Wanda Sykes multi-cam coming to Netflix soon, and I don’t know what my son, Matt does at Apple Computers in Cupertino, but he manages a team that’s making the next… something.

With that as background:

Brian asks:

FRIDAY QUESTION, but not for you: I'm always glad to hear from you about people or projects that you like and/or have influenced you. What people or projects have had the same effect on your daughter?

And here’s Annie’s answer:

I guess it shouldn't come as a shock that I have many of the same influences as my dad. He (and my mom) did raise me and all. The TV shows that probably influenced me the most are The Honeymooners, Cheers, Frasier, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Golden Girls. I have always loved and admired the work of Neil Simon, Carol Burnett, Larry Gelbart, Alan Ball, Christopher Guest, William Goldman, J.D. Salinger and John Kennedy Toole.

When we were starting out, Jon (my husband/partner) introduced me to Jane Espenson's blog; I read it every day and have gained so much from her expertise. Jon and I credit our careers to Dan Staley and Howard Gould. Not just because they gave us our first jobs, but for what they taught us while we were working for them. Lastly, my dad has always been my biggest influence. (Not just because this is his blog and I feel like I have to say nice things.) I never thought I had enough talent to be a professional writer, and my dad was the one who told me I was wrong. I'm really glad I listened to him.


Thanks Annie. That means a lot. Hey, I’m just glad my influence didn’t completely screw you up. Same for your brother.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Weekend Post

Our first agent wasn’t very good. When David Isaacs and I were starting out, writing spec scripts, living on Kraft macaroni, and trying to break in we managed to get an agent. She was a legitimate WGA signatory but she wasn’t top tier. She wasn’t third tier. But shows would accept her submissions, which was all we really needed.

She sent our spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW to the great David Lloyd, who was one of their producers. When she didn’t hear back in a few weeks she sent him a blistering following up.

Several days later he responded. It was a rejection letter. The opening sentence was:


He then went on for three paragraphs to rip her a new asshole for questioning his integrity and accusing him of shirking his responsibilities.

Almost as an afterthought, he finally got to our script in the fourth paragraph and basically said it was a complete amateurish piece of shit (although I don’t think he put it that nicely).

Years later we worked together on CHEERS and I mentioned the letter. David being David, he said, “Well, I’m sure it was a piece of shit.”

I’m also sure he was right.

You won’t be surprised to learn that once we got our first assignment (that this agent had nothing to do with), we moved on to more reputable representation.

In my career, I’ve been on the other side numerous times. I’ve been the one reading and judging. I always write nice rejection letters, even if the script sucks eggs. I feel that good, bad, or indifferent, the person (or team) went to the effort of writing a script and the least I could do is let them down easy.

Plus, who’s to say I’m always right? I’m not. Along the way, I’ve rejected a few great people who went on to long and successful careers.  When a writer friend of mine was story editor on ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE he rejected a script by the Coen Brothers. It happens to all of us.

So when you get rejected – and we all do – take heart. You never know who’s going to turn out to be an A-lister.

My favorite story of that was from Larry Gelbart. Larry was one of the most gifted and successful writers of the last half-century. Among his credits: creating the TV version of MASH, TOOTSIE, OH GOD!, FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, SLY FOX, CITY OF ANGELS, CAESAR’S HOUR – it goes on and on. But when he was 18 he had a screen test for an acting part in a George Cukor movie at MGM. He did his test, he wasn’t chosen, and that was that. Many years later when he was an accomplished writer he happened to bump into Cukor at a party. He told him the story and Cukor said to him, “Well why didn’t you tell me who you were going to be?”

Good luck and may you become who you hope to be.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Friday Questions

Time to warm the winter blues with some hot Friday Questions.  What's yours?

ScottyB is up first.

Have there been any sitcoms that lasted a single season that nobody watched that, in your estimation, showcased a certain or unusual *style* of humor that gave it a little something atmosphere-wise that made them little lost gems?

Well, besides a couple of mine…

THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES and FLYING BLIND, both from writer/creator Richard Rosenstock were exceptional shows that deserved more support from ABC and FOX respectively. Think Woody Allen but fresher and funnier. FLYING BLIND also introduced the world to Tea Leoni.

Steve Gordon, who wrote and directed ARTHUR, had a great one-season sitcom called GOODTIME HARRY starring Ted Bessell that NBC killed.  NBC also killed a novel exploration of marriage called UNITED STATES from Larry Gelbart.

In the ‘60s there was a series called MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT about a Thurberesque character played by William Windom. It featured animation in the Thurber style and was created by Danny Arnold who went on to create BARNEY MILLER.

And while we’re in the swinging ‘60s, there’s OCCASIONAL WIFE, a fun romantic comedy (narrated by Vin Scully).

THE ASSOCIATES created by the TAXI team and starring a young Martin Short was a standout in the late ‘70s as was ALL IS FORGIVEN by the CHEERS gang in the ‘80s.

Also in the '80s, SHAPING UP by Sam Simon & Ken Estin and introducing Jennifer Tilly. 

I don’t know whether HE & SHE lasted one season or two, but if it’s one then include that too.

I’m sure there are others and I’ll think of them a week after this posted.

Bob Paris asks:

Ken: I have a question about a potential occupational hazard. When you are at a social event where people know you are a comedy writer, do you feel the need to be "on" and funny?

No. I’m happy to say something funny if it comes to me, but there is nothing more insufferable than a comedy writer who is “on” and trying to be Mel Brooks.

If you met me at a party you would not necessarily know I’m a comedy writer. You might even invite me despite the fact that I’m a comedy writer.

From Charles Bryan:

When writing characters unlike yourself, do you find a bit of that character in yourself? We've all got habits (or addictions) we struggle with. And Becker's a bit of wish-fulfillment for those times we want to say something tough but can't. I imagine that Larry David gets to live out a lot of conversational fantasies on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

There are some characters I write that are more like me than others. The goal is to get into the head of the character and adopt their worldview and voice. So often I will have characters saying and doing things I never would say or do.

It’s also important that the characters don’t all sound the same (at least for me). So I’ll go out of my way to give them different attitudes from each other, different speech patterns, slightly different vocabulary.

That said, sure, from time to time my take on the world might seep through.

Larry David is playing a very exaggerated version of himself — heightened for comic purposes. He’s not “that guy” in real life. Thank God.

And finally, from Mark:

A question no one asked but many would love to know.

Who is the model on your book "Must Kill TV" ?

She is the one who "peeks" at us when we open Ken Levine Blog in one of the tabs and open other tabs too, constantly reminding us to go back to Ken Levine tab and look for new comments.

I wish I knew.

In this global digital age, the artist who created that cover for me was in Wellington, New Zealand.

Where he found her I don’t know, but I wanted the cover to have one of those old classic noir/pot boiler feels and those usually featured an attractive woman… even if the woman was nowhere to be found in the book.

I was very pleased with the final cover. Glad you liked it too. Now please buy the book.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

EP162: Meet FRASIER co-creator David Lee

David Lee was a showrunner on THE JEFFERSONS and CHEERS and co-creator of WINGS and FRASIER. He’s an Emmy winning writer/director/producer.  In part one of this two part discussion, he discusses breaking into the business, THE JEFFERSONS, CHEERS, and the rigors of creating their first series, WINGS.  Next week is all FRASIER. 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!


A movie about auto racing shouldn’t be slow.

FORD V FERRARI felt longer than the 24hour Le Mans Race.

How it won an Oscar for Editing I will never know.   I could take an hour out of that movie.  Give me the Oscar. 

No one can say the acting was the problem. Matt Damon as Carol Shelby and Christian Bale as driver Ken Miles lit up the screen, although I thought Tracy Letts as Ford the third or fourth or whatever stole every scene he was in.

It’s a very linear story with a lot of formula engine studio construction. Ford wants to beat Ferrari. He hires Shelby. Shelby hires Miles to be his driver. And of course the Ford “suits” don’t like Miles and are constantly getting Shelby to go with someone else. All Shelby has to do once is say “if Miles goes then I go” and everyone would back off. But then you wouldn’t have an hour of the same beats over and over and over.

There’s a lot of car talk, which if you know nothing about car engines was “wallla walla walla walla --- yesh, but walla walla walla walla.”

And what would an auto race movie be without numerous crashes? Or a young son that idolizes his dad, the driver? Or warnings that reckless drivers disregard?   Your favorite cliches are all in there. 

There is one thing in the movie that really made me laugh though, and I’m not spoiling it by revealing this. When the big Le Mans Race begins, Bale can’t get his side door to close. I don’t care how many millions went into the design and construction of the car – at the end of the day it’s still just a shitty Ford.

To me this movie would have been way more fun if it were 90 minutes and Elvis starred in it with Ann-Margaret.

Now for a real SPOILER ALERT so close your eyes if you don’t want to know the ending.

I'll even skip a few lines.

Okay, this movie was made in America. Who do you THINK wins the big Le Mans Race? It’s also based on a true story so you can just look it up.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

RIP Kellye Nakahara

MASH really was a family. Everyone on the set was treated equally. There was no hierarchy between the cast and the extras, and the crew for that matter. No diva treatment. No shunning day players or cable pullers. Many days we all had lunch at the Mess Tent. A table could contain Alan Alda, an extra, the showrunner, the make up person, a day player, and a Teamster driver.  In other words, not like any High School you ever attended. 

As a result, we all got to know the extras and whenever we could, we gave them lines (which meant considerably more income for them). Jeff Maxwell (Igor) and Kellye Nakahara (Nurse Kellye) were two who over their years of service emerged and were in so many scenes they almost were members of the cast – credits-wise. But to us they were always members of the cast – as was Roy Goldman, Nurse Sherry, Nurse Gwen, and a rotating group that included Judy Farrell, Bobbi Mitchell, and Enid Kent.

So when I heard the news that Kellye Nakahara passed away at the age of 72 yesterday, I was heartbroken. She wasn’t just a co-worker from long ago. She was such a lovely person, had such a wonderful spirit, and brightened everyone’s day. And she was a terrific actress. Every line we gave her she delivered with honesty and warmth. We even gave her jokes. To me Kellye Nakahara was as much a part of MASH as the names you see in big block yellow stencil letters in the opening credits.

Longtime fans of the show began to recognize her. And because MASH has been so successful in syndication, her episodes and memory will live on. She was a dear heart. I will miss her.  We lost a member of the family.  Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.