Wednesday, May 12, 2021

EP224: Meet Singer Extraordinaire Linda Eder


“Star Search” winner/Broadway star/recording artist/Carnegie Hall concert singer, Linda Eder has an amazing voice and career. She’s also a very fun guest.

Get Honey for FREE at JoinHoney.com/LEVINE

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Setting the record straight

A number of people have commented about the Jackie Cooper autobiography.  In that book he talks about directing early episodes of MASH and has very unkind things to say about Alan Alda, Larry Linville, and the cast in general.   Readers have asked my thoughts on the matter.

Okay, so let me set the record straight.  

NONE of the bad/diva behavior Cooper described in the book was ever evident in all the time I was on MASH.  The writers who followed me will say the same thing.   

The TV comedy writers’ grapevine is extensive and comprehensive.  Believe me, when an actor has a meltdown on just about any set, word gets around.  Quickly.   

Nowhere besides Cooper’s book did those rumors surface.  What I was told, during my tenure at MASH, was that Cooper did not get along with the cast.  Jackie Cooper and MASH showrunner Gene Reynolds were longtime friends (they were both child actors together at MGM along with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney).  And after those first few episodes, he was never asked back.  

What’s more telling than Cooper’s account was this:  Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart had nothing but effusive praise for Alan and the cast.   

And that was my experience as well.  As I’ve mentioned, Alan was always respectful, and on those occasions when he came up to the room to help us rewrite, he never lorded over us.  He was the quintessential team player.  

Finally, I say don’t just take my word for it.  If you ask any of the writers or actors or directors or crew, they’ll tell you the same thing.  Most people on the crew were there for the run of the series.  Believe me, if the star or cast was a nightmare they’d be looking to go somewhere else.

Jackie Cooper was a bitter guy.   If there were clashes with Alan, who’s to say it wasn’t Cooper who was the instigator?  Same with Linville.   I personally found Larry utterly professional and fun to deal with.  

And that’s the God honest truth. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

"You're not good enough for us. But give us money."

The problem with giving donations on line is that you’re immediately put on mailing lists and are then barraged by more donation requests.  And then there are those who donated to Trump who didn’t read the fine print and thus don’t realize that they’re being billed every month.  Sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars.  Oh well.  A fool and his money are soon parted.

I understand the need to request donations.  And we’re all hurting due to the pandemic.  (Or future legal fees and foreclosures — treason and swindling is costly.)  But how and when you ask for money is a delicate dance.

Here’s what NOT to do.

I enter plays in festivals and competitions all over the world.  I’ve enjoyed a lot of success but have also received my share of rejections.   When 400 people apply for 5 spots, if you don’t expect rejection you’re crazy. 

But occasionally I’ll get a standard rejection email that also asks me to donate to that theatre.  Now why ON EARTH would I donate to that theatre in that situation?      I at least can take comfort that their same great judgement to ask for money when shunning me probably went into evaluating scripts. 

I often do donate to theatres that select my plays.  Put me on that mailing list. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Top 100 Sitcoms of All-Time -- Really???

 

ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE ran a real fool’s errand by trying to name the Top 100 Sitcoms.  You can find it here.  It’s impossible to get right.   You’re not just comparing apples to oranges, in some cases you’re comparing apples to table lamps.  

What they didn’t seem to take into account was the impact certain shows had.  Beyond the writing and acting — some shows made a big imprint in popular culture while others were popular at the time but quickly disappeared.   Since we’re talking about 70+ years of shows, it seems you’d need someone in their 80’s who really had an overview select the list.  On the other hand, someone in their 80’s would have no appreciation for more recent shows.    

And what is considered a “sitcom?”  ROLLING STONE lists THE SIMPSONS as the number one sitcom of all-time?  THE SIMPSONS is one of the greatest television shows in the history of the medium, but do animated shows qualify as sitcoms?  Some could argue yes; others could argue no.  The fact that there’s an argument at all seems to suggest it’s not.  

With all that in mind, let me comment on the Top 10.  Throughout the 100 there are some rankings that are so absurd they’re not even worth discussing. But let’s center on the Top 10.   Setting aside taste, or bias, or anything else — the number one sitcom of all-time has to be I LOVE LUCY.  It’s not even close.  It was groundbreaking, created an art form, and has continued to run and get amazing ratings for close to 70 years.  Six generations from around the world adore that show.  And six more generations will discover and love it.    I say that and two of the shows above it (CHEERS and THE SIMPSONS) are shows I wrote.  They’re not Lucy.  

You can’t have an all-time Top 10 without including FRIENDS.  You just can’t.  That show is so globally beloved it belongs in the Top 3.  

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW also needs to be in the Top 10.  That show changed the direction of situation comedies, won a boatload of Emmys, and still is being seen and admired today.   The Golden Age of smart multi-camera comedy that sprung up in the 70’s and 80’s was because of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.  

I love both PARKS & REC and LARRY SANDERS but both are niche shows.  LARRY SANDERS is a favorite of a smart media-savvy portion of the audience, but in the grand scheme of TV it didn’t move any Seismic Meters.  It was for “those in the know.”   PARKS & REC never got much attention, was not a ratings juggernaut, got very little Emmy love — it was a terrific well-crafted sitcom, but not worthy of the all-time Top 10.  

And as much I love CHEERS, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW needs to rank above it.  MARY is where it all started.  From MARY came TAXI came CHEERS came FRASIER.  Alan Burns & Jim Brooks set a tone and created a style of excellence that led to those other wonderful series.  So points for being the first.  

MASH belongs in the Top 10.  Like LUCY and FRIENDS, it continues to do extraordinarily well in syndication and streaming.  ALL IN THE FAMILY turned this country on its ear.   SEINFELD was a sensation and inspired comedy — I don’t know how well it’s aging.  My sense is it’s fraying.  THE HONEYMOONERS is my personal all-time favorite, but would I put it in an overall Top 10?  I’m not sure.  

So those are my thoughts.  Would love to hear yours?

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!

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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.