Saturday, May 08, 2021

Weekend Post

 Hey there Lucy Lovers,

I discovered this cool film on YouTube.  It's a behind-the-scenes look at a filming of I LOVE LUCY.  It's a little staged, but you get to see things you never do.  And Desi Arnaz comes out and does the warm-up and introductions himself.   I hope those filmings were quick because seeing their bleachers for the first time, there are no chair backs.  That's got to be pretty uncomfortable after a few hours.  

 But wait!  There's more.

I posted this once before.  Someone in the audience (I'm sure illegally) took color home movies of the filming of an episode of I LOVE LUCY.  Ever wonder what the apartment set looked like in color?  Check this out.  You'll see that Lucy really was a redhead.

More on I LOVE LUCY on Monday when I discuss ROLLING STONE'S list of the Top 100 Sitcoms of All-time.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Friday Questions

Who’s up for some Friday Questions?

Pat Weldon wonders:

You've talked about sitcom writer's rooms many times.  Do procedurals have writer's rooms also?  What kind of atmosphere are they?  I can't imagine them being as much fun as a sitcom room.  Or maybe just a different kind of fun?

Hard to say since I’ve never been on staff of a procedural, but from I understand the room gets together to plot the season and break stories.  Not sure how many laughs there are on LAW & ORDER SVU, but you never know.  Scripts are assigned to individual writers who then go off and complete drafts.

I think the rewriting process depends on the show.  Sometimes the staff rewrites, other times the show runner rewrites.  

Or I’m totally wrong.  

cd1515 asks:

Friday question: loved the podcast about bad reviews, interesting how everyone’s first reaction to a bad review is to say is bullshit but of course if it’s a good review they believe it 100%.
Have you seen or heard of anyone getting a great review and saying “Gee that’s a little overboard, it wasn’t THAT good”?

We’ve had a couple overly effusive reviews like that, and although it’s lovely and fun to send to relatives, we know better than to think we’re comic geniuses.  There are one or two times we fell short.  

From Michael:

How much control do networks have over plot lines once a show has been renewed for a new season? For example, if showrunner decides wants to do long arc where married couple gets separated, can the network stop him/her, short of cancelling the show?

It all depends on the clout of the showrunner.  Unless you’re Chuck Lorre/Shonda Rhimes/Dick Wolf the network is going to have final say on stories and arcs.  Even successful shows like HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, well into their run had to submit outlines to CBS.  

Whether streaming services are more lenient, that I don’t know.  

But networks these days generally own the studios as well, so they have all the leverage.  And use it.

And finally, from Jahn Ghalt:

A Friday Question of speculative interest:

In "The Comedy Litmus Test" (10FEB) you wrote:

Recently, I’ve been asked to assess short plays for several theatre festivals.

Do you ever read something that strikes you as potentially brilliant - but "needs work"?

And if so, would this ever inspire you to collaborate with the writer?

No.  I might contact the writer and offer suggestions if they’re open to them, but I’m not looking for partners.  

When David Isaacs and I had a production company at Paramount there were a couple of times when we mentored young writers through pilots under our banner.  But not for any theatre projects.

What’s your Friday Question?   Have you gotten vaccinated yet?  Get that second shot. 

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

EP223: Things that YOU hate that others love

After Ken’s list of things he hates that others love, listeners weighed in with their selections.  Audience participation podcasting!

More podcasts at WAVE!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

How to make an "Art" film

It seems at the movies we either have comic book summer tent pole flicks or “Art” films.  If you ever plan to write an art film (they’re way cheaper and you can get stars), here are some elements that appear to be in every “Art Films.”  

Cranky middle aged protagonist.   

Someone usually looks after him – wife, daughter, young neighbor.

Befriends a young person.

Lives in bleak surroundings.

Begrudgingly takes in a pet.

Is tortured by the past.

Fights with authority figures who want to take his house, tear down his art, fire him, commit him, take away his driver’s license.

Never any food in his kitchen.

There’s always a fire.

Flashbacks to horrific events.   Usually a child dies.  Usually he feels it’s his fault.

Has some skill with his hands.  Can build houses or do sculptures.

Has health problem, usually bad heart.

Is in the hospital ¾’s of the way through the movie.  Recovers but reoccurrence kills him at the end, one minute after he finally finds peace.  

Anytime anything good happens to him there is a tragedy one minute later.  

We watch him do boring mundane shit for half the movie.

He has comic quirks.  

At least three scenes at a cemetery. 

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Misc. Takes

And now for some random thoughts:

I’m starting with a Natalie Wood photo since I haven’t posted one in a long time, and I particularly like this one.

Way more people watched the NFL Draft than the Oscars.  What does that tell ya? 

Bill Gates' wife filed for divorce.  I wonder if she had a chip implanted in his head and found out something. 

There’s a great article in THE NEW YORKER magazine profiling SIMPSONS’ writer, John Swartzwelder.  He rarely gives interviews so this is a treat.  I don’t know him that well, met him a few times when David Isaacs and I were writing for THE SIMPSONS, but he’s a good guy and one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet.   Check out the article.

Now that baseball stadiums can only be 20% filled, I hear it’s a GREAT time to go to a ballgame.  No crowds, easy in and out parking, no long lines at the concession stands.  Swear at a player and he might actually hear you.

If only the games themselves were better.  Again this year a ridiculous amount of strike outs and home runs.  

When ESPN does a stat cast game, tune in.  Jason Benetti (the next Vin Scully) calls a great game.  And you’re not bludgeoned with stats.  Just enough to enhance the game.  From time to time they slip in a stat cast game on ESPN2 when ESPN has the regular Sunday Night Baseball Game.  Watch the stat cast version.  Oh, and it means no A-Rod.  

Netflix recommendation:  BORGEN.   A political show out of Denmark that is wonderful.  

Goofy recommendation:  (I believe it’s on the YouTube Channel) THE TASKMASTER.   It’s a combination reality competition/comedy show out of the UK.  And it’s so refreshing to hear biting, funny, sarcastic lines without regard to being PC.  

Get both shots.  NOW.   

New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo (he is still governor, right?) said Broadway could reopen May 19th, although it’s more likely they’ll reopen in September.  However, Nevada brothels are reopening now.

And while you’re waiting, two of my Zoom play readings are still available.  I’m very proud of both of them.

AMERICA’S SEXIEST COUPLE —a romantic comedy starring Joely Fisher & Tim Daly.  Here’s where you can watch it.  

And OUR TIME about four young people trying to break into comedy in LA in 1975 starring Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jonah Platt, Laura Schein, and Noah Weisberg.   You can find it here.

Is Liz Cheney the only Republican who hasn’t lost their mind?

Thanks to all my podcast listeners!  I love you guys!  My episode this week centers on things I hate that the rest of the world loves, and I asked if you had any?  I received enough responses that my next episode is your responses.  It’s nice to know there are people out there.  

There will be another LAW & ORDER spin-off.  Between L&O, NCIS, and Chicago-whatever, they must account for 70% of primetime network programming.  Oh, and a CSI sequel is also on tap.  HBO should do that.  SOPRANOS: KANSAS.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Pilot season craziness

It’s pilot season.   This is the time pilots for the fall season are shot.  Invariably a few implode, or there is frantic re-casting and rewriting.  As someone who has made numerous pilots and gotten series orders for most of them, I don’t understand this.  


The show was miscast.  Often that means being forced to take an actor the network or studio wanted but you didn’t.

The premise and/or writing was bad and never should have been picked up in the first place.  

The pilot notes sucked the life out of it.  

But otherwise, consider these factors:

You’ve had months to write this episode, not just a few days.

You’ve had weeks and sometimes months to find the people who have demonstrated they’ve made THIS material work better than any other actor.  Normally you tailor the material to the actor.  In a pilot’s case, it’s the opposite.  You find actors who can maximize the script.   You'll never hear an actor say, "My character wouldn't say this" when auditioning.  He'll bend himself into a pretzel to make work what's on the page.

There are always changes during the week of production.  When things get on their feet they sometimes don’t work or need to be adjusted.   Once you have solid actors in place you can start to write more to their voice and behavior.  Frequently, first production drafts are too long and overwritten and you see what needs to be pruned.  

But the basic script and structure should work.  

The production process always begins with a table-read.  The cast reads the script aloud, and it’s your first real indication of what you’ve got.   Those used to be intimate affairs done in a conference room around a big table.  Maybe twenty people besides the actors were in attendance — staff and a network and studio rep.  

Today, as many as 150 attend these things.  Every executive west of La Brea.  And they’re now held in huge halls with the actors sitting on a dais instead of around a table relating to each other.  It’s utterly insane.

And since the TV industry operates out of fear, to hedge their bets that the table reading will go relatively well, most studios insist on a pre-table read with only a slightly smaller number of attendees.  

I never feared table readings.  I never feared moments that didn’t work in table reading.  So what?  We’d fix them.  But our table readings always went well.  We stacked the deck with the best possible cast.  We knew what we had going in.

We did do one trick that helped, however.  Actors have to be approved by the studio and network.  So depending, these execs can hear the same scene six or eight times.  By the time they get to the table reading it’s no longer funny to them.  So we always wrote separate audition scenes that highlighted the strengths of the actors.  That way, the network was hearing the pilot for the first time at the table reading and all the jokes were fresh.  

Good luck to everyone making a pilot.  Some will come out great.  Hopefully yours.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Weekend Post

It's May Day (Weekend).  And what better way to celebrate than with John Coulton's delightful song, "First of May."  (Note:  not for the Disney Channel)   Enjoy!

Friday, April 30, 2021

Friday Questions


Closing out April with Friday Questions.  What’s yours?

Alan Gollom leads off.

It seems to me that generally comedic actors adapt to drama better than dramatic actors adapt to comedy? What is your opinion?

I think good comedic actors tend to transition to drama easier because underneath the comedy they’re playing real people with real dramatic problems.

You need a certain ear to play comedy.   You have to feel the rhythms and timing.  And I don’t believe that can be taught.  Some dramatic actors have it; others don’t.  

Ed Asner played heavies his entire career until landing THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.  Leslie Nielsen, Alec Baldwin, Gene Hackman, Brad Pitt, Nick Colasanto, Robert Duvall, Kurtwood Smith, George Clooney, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Hugh Laurie, Cate Blanchett, Diane Keaton, Bryan Cranston, Meryl Streep, William H. Macy, Allison Janney, Candice Bergen — are just some of the actors who adapted well to comedy.  And there are many others.  

From Liggie:

Question for an entertainment industry veteran. Of all the movies about Hollywood ("The Player", "Day for Night", "Singin' in the Rain", etc.), which is the most accurate at depicting the day-to-day moviemaking business? Also, which of those do you enjoy watching the most?

None of the above.  My favorite Hollywood movie is THE BIG PICTURE from 1989.  It’s a small movie that came and went starring Kevin Bacon, Martin Short, Michael McKean, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Teri Hatcher, and more.  Biting satire that’s both hilarious and somewhat chilling.  

James asks:

Was it a conscious decision never to mention Sam's ex-wife on Cheers? She's mentioned (and fleetingly seen) in the pilot but never afterward. It seems like an ex-wife could have made for some interesting complications in Sam's life, especially in later episodes when the writers are struggling for ideas.

His ex-wife is mentioned in only the second episode of the series and basically as a punchline.  We got Donna McKechnie to play her.  

As the year unfolded the general consensus was an ex-wife only got in the way so it was swept under the rug.  I’m not sure she was ever mentioned again.  

In other words, if we had it to do over again Sam would be a lifelong bachelor.   

Remember, Sam almost remarried in an episode of FRASIER that David and I wrote.  He was engaged to Tea Leoni.  

And finally, from Saul:

Do you think it’s fair to say that audiences are becoming harder to please? Negative reviews from critics and viewers are becoming less objective and more vitriolic, and everything out there seems to generate some sort of controversy. Perhaps one could view this as tastes becoming more discerning, but shows or films people previously simply wouldn’t like are now generating outright hatred and anger towards the creators. What is your take on this?

We do live in angry times.  And that spills over into reviews. Not to mention the hate trolls (who would call Mother Teresa a whore).  

But I think the problem is the audience has gotten jaded.  Very little seems fresh to them.  Viewers are way more savvy now in how the sausage is made.   

So it takes more to surprise and delight them.   They can spot certain jokes coming a mile away.   

That’s not to say you can’t thrill and delight them; it’s just harder to do.