Wednesday, January 20, 2021

We made it! THANK GOD!!!

This is the revival I've been waiting four years for.  The return of THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.  

It's so nice to hear a president who sounds like a president.  We all took it granted, didn't we?  

We can once again go to bed at night knowing a deranged madman doesn't have the nuclear codes.  

We can wake up in the morning secure that someone is finally in charge.  The pandemic, the economy, the military -- they're in good hands.  

Science and facts and justice and truth and fairness and the Constitution are again valued.  Stupidity is not celebrated.  Hate is not encouraged.  Violence is not condoned. 

Tumultuous times are indeed ahead as Joe Biden is left to repair the immeasurable damage his vile loathsome predecessor left, but at least he'll be trying.  

I wish him and Kamala Harris the very best.  Thank you for restoring order and hope and humanity.  And allowing me to sleep for the first time since November 2016.  

Trump apparently left the traditional letter to the incoming president.  "Please pardon me.  PLEASE PLEASE!"

Enjoy the world's greatest palindrome:   1 20 2021

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

RIP Don Sutton

So sorry to hear of the passing of Hall of Famer, Don Sutton.  He was 75.  As a Dodger fan growing up I was always a big fan.  Koufax and Drysdale got all the attention, but Don Sutton holds many Dodger pitching records and quietly finished his career with over 300 wins.  With the way the game is played today I don’t think you’ll see many 300 game winners from now on.  

I'm sure that's what most articles will focus on.  But that’s just part of his career.  Don got into broadcasting after he hung up his cleats and became one of the best, most accomplished play-by-play men in the game.  Lots of former players become announcers but most become analysts.  They sit back and offer observations and insights when they occur.  That’s not an easy job as is evidenced by how many are terrible at it.   But play-by-play is a much tougher assignment.  You control the broadcast and have the added responsibility of describing the action and keeping the patter going.  Especially on radio.  I can think of maybe a dozen who mastered that art, and along with Bob Uecker I think Don Sutton was the best.  

He had a distinctive style, very relaxed and sooooo easy to listen to.  For years he’s called Atlanta Braves games with partner, Jim Powell and for my money they were in the top five of team broadcasts.  They had a great chemistry, Powell is superb, and they were fun and informative to listen to no matter the score, no matter who was winning.  

I have the MLB app and listen to a lot of out-of-town broadcasts when I drive around LA (back when I was driving around).  If there’s a Braves game on I usually go right to it and more importantly, stay with it.  And trust me, I could care less about the Braves.  

Don’s greatest gift as a broadcaster was his ability to really communicate one-to-one with his listeners.  When you were driving in your car he was talking directly to you.  It’s a skill surprisingly few announcers of any sport have mastered.  Don had it in spades.  

Off the air he was just as easy going and approachable, only a little more candid.  He had a sly sense of humor, told great stories, and was always generous in sharing information with other broadcasters (like me).   I always thought he should have been the successor to Vin Scully of the Dodgers.  Or, for that matter, the voice of the Angels.  He played for them as well.  

He will be missed.  Thanks for the wins, friendship, and keeping me company all those hours on crowded freeways. 

This explodes like Gwyneth Paltrow's V-jay

WARNING:  Today's post is a tad raunchy and insensitive.  But I couldn't resist.  Sometimes a news story will come along that a comedy writer can not resist addressing.

Okay, this sounds like a joke but it’s a real thing.  Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP company sells a candle called “This Smells Like My Vagina.”  

And they say actors have huge egos and are too self-absorbed.  

I mean, the hubris of that — to put out such a product and think that enough people will want to buy it to make it profitable.  

"Thank you so much for starring in my play.  Here’s a little token of my appreciation.”

Oh, and by the way, they’re $75.  

Anyway, Gwy’s v-jay is in the news because a woman in North London bought one, lit it, and it exploded into a big fireball.  They were able to contain it, but Ms. Paltrow’s vagina almost burned down her house.   What a fun lawsuit that would’ve been.  

Here’s the story.  See?  I’m not making this up.

Despite the ridiculous price, I’m thinking of buying one just so I could call customer service and complain. 

I would say, “Excuse me, but this doesn’t smell like Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina.  Certainly not the way I remembered it.  Maybe I just got a bad one.  Could you send me a replacement?  No?  Then I want my money back.  I’m sure Ms. Paltrow would not like to see a bad review in Yelp… or Rotten Tomatoes.”   I’m considering it.  Of course, you’re welcome to do it yourself.  

As absurd as a product called “This Smells Like My Vagina” is, at least it’s Gwyneth Paltrow putting it out and not Ivanka.   

Monday, January 18, 2021

Ted Leitner

My subject for today’s post is someone 99% have probably never heard of.  But he means a lot to me so he's worth a shout-out.

Ted Leitner is leaving the San Diego Padres radio booth after 41 years.  Proud to say I was his partner for three of those years. 

Ted is a San Diego institution.  He did TV sports for many years, has also called the Chargers (who still belong in San Diego), and San Diego State football and basketball. 

In a word, Ted is unique.  He’s opinionated, an excellent play caller, master storyteller, warm, bombastic, insightful, sarcastic, and very funny.  His play-by-play is unlike anyone I’ve ever heard and that’s probably what I love best about him.   Especially now, when personality is discouraged and announcers tend to be very generic.   In today’s social media world, generic means “safe” which means fewer complaints on Twitter and Facebook and blogs. 

But it also means less fun, fewer surprises, and no reason to still listen if your favorite team is behind by 7 runs in the 4th inning. 

When the team was playing well, Ted called them “My Padres.”  When they played horseshit they were “Your Padres.” 

Off the air he was a terrific guy.  Let me share this story.

In 1993 I was calling games for the Seattle Mariners.  During the offseason I got a call from Jerry Coleman (then the Padres number one announcer) asking if I’d speak at his charity banquet.  He put together a group of speakers from among Major League Baseball announcers every year.  I was happy to oblige. 

On the panel was the great Harry Kalas of the Phillies, Ralph Kiner of the Mets, Jerry, me, and Ted.    It was a good crowd.  My speech killed.  Ted then had to follow me.  His speech did not get the laughs it deserved. 

The next day as I was packing to leave I heard Ted on the radio with the morning hosts talking about the previous evening’s event.  He said he had bombed (not totally true) and learned never to follow a comedy writer.  I thought, well, shit, Ted Leitner now hates me. 

Flashforward a couple of years.  Jerry Coleman gets the assignment to do the CBS Radio game of the week every Saturday so the Padres need someone to fill in every weekend.  The president of the Padres was Larry Lucchino who had been the president of the Baltimore Orioles when I broadcast for them.  He was having dinner with Ted discussing who might fill that position.  Larry recommended me. 

What a perfect job that would be.  I could continue my writing career in Los Angeles and every weekend join the team and call baseball.  Best of both worlds. 


Ted had to sign-off on it.  It would have been so easy for Ted to say, “Oh, THAT guy?  NO.”  Instead he said, “That’s a great idea!  Get him.”   Believe me, there are many many many others in the business who are insecure and would feel threatened.   Not Ted.    We always had fun together on the air, and I think we each made the other sound better.

Ted is still doing the Aztecs football and basketball, and he’ll be an ambassador for the Padres.  I hope he gets to enjoy the first summer in 41 years.  I wish him nothing but the best.  His successor, Jesse Agler, is a top flight young announcer and I wish him the best as well. 

But I’ll miss Ted on the air.  Now and forever they are “HIS Padres.”  

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Weekend Post

 Welcome to a little respite from the news.  We all could use a half hour escape with a little comedy. 

I'm always saying that the bar has been way lowered when it comes to today's multi-cam sitcoms.   Here's another episode of ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis, this one from 1996.  We were always looking to stretch ourselves, find interesting new ways of telling stories, and taking advantage of the many talents our cast had to offer.  This is an episode from season 2.  It was not a "special" episode.  It was more a typical episode.  Nothing would please me more than to see today's sitcoms try things like this.  See what you think. 

NOTE: If you're seeing this on a phone scroll down to "view web version" to access the video.  

Friday, January 15, 2021

Friday Questions

Halfway through the month, which means we’re much closer to the 20th.  Here are this week’s FRIDAY QUESTIONS.

YEKIMI starts us off.  

I've noticed recently [and this goes back for decades] but it seems that when the credits at the beginning of a TV show/movie roll the director is always listed last. Any reason for this or is it just something that has always been done and Hollywood just doesn't like breaking with tradition?

This is something that has been negotiated by the Directors Guild of America.  If credits come at the start of a movie or TV show, the director receives the last credit.  If the credits are at the end, the director gets the first credit.

Now that’s the rule in America.  Internationally, it might be different.

From kcross:

I remember that you would take improv classes a few years back. Have you tried any since the shutdown? How were they better (or worse)?

Yes.  I’m in Andy Goldberg’s workshop and we’ve been doing Zoom improv since last March.  Usually two-person scenes with everyone else off camera.   

I have to say it works better than I thought it would.   But I do miss being able to do physical comedy or just be active during a scene.    Still, as a placeholder, improv on Zoom has been a great creative outlet.  

Scotty Watson in New York also teaches improv on line and is terrific. 

ReticentRabbit queries:

When an actor directs himself or herself in an episode, how does that work?

First of all, when an actor of a series directs an episode it’s usually one where he’s light in it.   The hard part is obviously an actor having to judge himself and the others while performing.  Sometimes they’ll have someone to rely on off-camera who can provide some feedback.  Otherwise, it’s just their judgement.

The technical part is easier because the Director of Photography or Camera Coordinator can keep an eye on the camera to make sure it’s shooting what the director planned.  

Actors are generally good directors because they know how to talk to other actors.  They’ve also experienced multiple directors so they themselves know what they like and don’t like in a director.  

The only time it got weird was on this one show where supporting actors occasionally got to direct.   Normally a lovely person, this one actor became Jekyll & Hyde when he directed.   Snapping at people, even his fellow cast members.  Then the following week he was back to his usual lovable self.  I don’t know why the rest of the cast didn’t kill him.  

And finally, from DEJ:  

How long would it take you to write a half hour show if you were doing it on your own? You will probably answer, "how long is a piece of string"? but a ball park figure would be of great interest.

It has changed over the years.  It used to take me much longer when I was starting out.  But now, after more years than I care to reveal, I can write a half-hour script in probably four days — three if there was really a time crunch.    

But like I said, in the early days the same script would take me two weeks.  I’ve put in my 10,000 hours (probably times 5).  

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

EP207: All Things WINGS Part 1

Ken talks to Rob Leszczak, who wrote “The Complete Guide to the TV Sitcom WINGS.”  Between Rob’s research and Ken’s personal recollections of working on WINGS,  it’s a fascinating insider’s look at a sitcom that deserved way more respect than it received.  


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Stephen Sondheim -- TV sitcom writer

 In 1953 a new sitcom premiered called TOPPER.  It was based on the movie TOPPER (which was based on a book) about a stuffy buttoned-down banker haunted by two carefree ghosts.  Cary Grant and Constance Bennett played the ghostly couple.   On TV the hot couple was played by Anne Jeffreys & Robert Sterling, and Leo G. Carroll (Mr. Waverly from THE MAN FROM UNCLE) played Cosmo Topper.  

One of the writers was a 23 year-old kid named Stephen Sondheim.  

He showed a lot of promise.  Wrote eleven episodes.  And they're among the best. But he gave up comedy writing to go into song writing.  Pity.  He could have had a very successful career. 

But seriously, how does Stephen Sondheim wind up in Los Angeles writing for TOPPER?   His mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II introduced him to George Oppenheimer, a playwright and screenwriter.  Oppenheimer had been hired to write TOPPER and wanted someone to help him shoulder the load.  

Sondheim got the job although he had never written a professional script.  He moved out to LA and was paid $300 a week.  Once he had saved enough money to rent an apartment in New York he left.  

The rest of course is history.  But for one brief moment Sondheim was slumming as a sitcom writer.  He went on to become one of the greatest Broadway composers of all-time.  And me, I'm singing, "I'm still here."  

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Steven Wright on ALMOST PERFECT

Yesterday I posted some great lines from Steven Wright.  And you guys provided a few more.  We used him once on ALMOST PERFECT -- our mid 90's series starring Nancy Travis -- and he was hilarious.  Here, for the first time, is that episode.  Enjoy.