Saturday, March 06, 2021

Looking for something fun to do this weekend?

Especially at home?  Joely Fisher & Tim Daly are AMERICA'S SEXIEST COUPLE in the Zoom reading of my romantic comedy play.  It's getting rave reviews and is waaaaay more fun than watching dreary Oscar contenders.  Enjoy.

Weekend Post

 Villains are far more interesting than heroes. Just ask Heath Ledger (if you could). Without Lex Luthor Superman is just another boring jock on steroids.

There are villains you love to hate. And then there is Linda Fiorentino in THE LAST SEDUCTION. If I may coin a word, she is a VILF!

THE LAST SEDUCTION is a 1995 film noir treat, written by Steve Barancik and directed by John Dahl (who sadly has been relegated to television while Michael Bay continues to make features). It's probably available on some streaming service. Linda is the ultimate femme fatale, absconding her husband’s drug money (Bill Pullman as Ralph Bellamy) and disappearing into this small town where she turns Peter Berg into her boy toy for utter amusement. In true noir fashion she lures him into committing murder and the twists and turns come fast and furious.

And all the while you love her sultry voice, her chutzpah, smarts, and delicious wickedness. It’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY meets GOODBYE COLUMBUS.

Oh, and it’s one of the sexiest movies this side of first half of BODY HEAT before it dissolved into a jumbled mess.

THE LAST SEDUCTION and Linda should have been up for a gaggle of Academy Awards but due to a technicality (the movie played first on HBO) it wasn’t eligible. But it did win all kinds of Indie Spirit Awards, which everyone knows is far more prestigious.

THE LAST SEDUCTION. See it with someone you want to have sex with or kill.

Friday, March 05, 2021

Friday Questions

It’s Friday Question time.  What’s yours?

Michael starts us off.

When you direct an episode on a show you haven't worked on before, does the showrunner first give you a heads-up on any unusual on-set dynamics such as 2 co-stars who don't get along or an actor who is overly sensitive to feedback?

Yes, although if there’s bad behavior on the set it’s generally well known around town.  I’ve never personally encountered that in all the shows I’ve directed.  Of course I told my agent don’t put me up for ROSEANNE or CYBILL or GRACE UNDER FIRE because who needs the headaches?  

But I like to meet with the showrunner beforehand and find out when he likes runthroughs, what he expects of the cast and me, whether I have the freedom to toss in a joke, how hard the cast likes to rehearse, and maybe a heads-up on an actor who will ask a lot of questions.  By the way, I don’t mind if an actor asks a lot of questions.  That’s his process and that’s my job to answer them.  My goal is to get every actor to peak performance when the cameras are rolling.  

sueK2001 queries:

What are your thoughts on Disney Plus (or any streaming service) putting an "offensive content" label on The Muppets or any retro comedy?

I think it’s utterly ridiculous.

Children are going to be scarred emotionally by something on THE MUPPET SHOW, but Disney + is fine with kids being turned into donkeys in PINOCCHIO, or Bambi’s mother dying, or Dumbo’s mother being locked up, or the witch in SNOW WHITE scaring the shit out of everybody with the poison apple?  

Let the Snowflakes watch the Hallmark Channel.  

From 71dude:

You said you never worked on any family shows, but do writers generally ask the child actors or their parents before they hand them a potentially embarrassing or puberty-related storyline?

Absolutely!   The parents, the network, the studio, standards & practices, and the child.    There are all kinds of guidelines in place for the protection of minors.  

And finally, Mike Bloodworth has a MASH-related FQ.

Was having only Asian actors play Asian characters a conscious decision on the part of the creators/producers? Was it just coincidence? Had they ever considered using a big name, white guest star in Asian makeup?

It was a conscious decision.  We tried to be as accurate as possible.  And it was nice to give these Asian actors roles because there weren’t too many of them at the time.  

We never once considered putting a non-Asian actor in make up.  Even back then in the writers room we made fun of John Wayne as Genghis Khan in THE CONQUEROR. 

What was fun was meeting veteran actors like Keye Luke who had been in tons of movies and shows.  Imdb lists him in 226 different projects.  He had amazing stories. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

EP214: Meet SIMPSONS writer Mike Scully

Go inside The Simpsons writing room with Mike Scully and hear how the show has evolved over the last 175 years. Mike has also been with other shows including Everybody Loves Raymond and Parks & Rec.

More podcasts on WAVE!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Allen v. Farrow

Purely out of curiosity, I watched the first episode of the new HBO documentary, ALLEN V. FARROW, which is basically the Woody Allen sex abuse allegations.  Apparently I wasn't alone.  It got a huge rating for HBO upon its premier.  

I will not be watching another installment.  I'll be curious to see if the numbers remain high or if most people, like me, say "one and done."  

The documentary makes a very compelling case that Woody Allen acted inappropriately with his young daughter.  But I don't want to watch it.  The whole thing is just so creepy.  And weird.

God knows what quirks and fetishes he has.  Allen has been able to live a charmed life pretty much doing whatever he's wanted.  We know he married his stepdaughter and that Mia Farrow found nude photos of her in Allen's apartment.  But Mia is also supposed to be rather whacko.  

The documentary portrays her as this loving mother tending to the needs of all these adopted and birth children.  Other accounts by some of the kids say it was a nightmare.  

But as I was watching the first episode, filled with home movies and endless shots of Mia's Connecticut home, I thought to myself: Why do I care?  It's sad, he probably did it, maybe now more will come to light, but why I do need to devote hours and hours to see this?   I wanted to shower after the first episode.  For the photo for this post I didn't even want to show their faces. 

These celebrity expose documentaries seem to be the rage.   There was lots of buzz on the Michael Jackson bizarre sordid story.  But does anything change as a result?   Michael Jackson songs are still selling and still on the radio.  Woody Allen movies are still going to air on TCM.  Will this derail Allen's directing career?  The man is 85.  How many more movies is he going to make?   And for all the rumors, bad press, and scandals, Woody Allen has still managed to find backers and make his movies uninterrupted.   So unless he goes to prison, what's the point?  Other than ratings.  And appealing to our more lascivious nature.  

So for me, not only will I not watch any subsequent episodes, I'm mad at myself for even watching the first one.   Yuch! 

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

A follow-up to yesteday's post

Several readers brought up other improvised projects, notably "the Interview" episode of MASH and the series CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, and wondered my thoughts on them.  When have I ever been shy about offering opinions (even if I had no idea what I was talking about)? 

"The Interview" segment of MASH was from season 4 and many consider to be the best single episode of the series.  I can't disagree.  Breaking the format, we're watching a documentary with a TV journalist asking questions to members of the 4077 about the war and their perspectives.  Each actor was given the questions and recorded their improvised answers into a tape recorder.   Those recordings were transcribed.

But then Larry Gelbart rewrote them.  He added things, cut things, inserted some jokes, re-phrased some thoughts, etc.  At that point an actual script was printed.   The actors then performed the written text.  So improvisation was just an early part of the process.   That said, what remained of the improv was pure gold.

 CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM works off a detailed outline.  Scenes are improvised and refined during rehearsal.   Larry David also tries to surround himself with actors who are adept at improvisation.  

For my money the results have been mixed.  There are some absolutely HYSTERICAL episodes -- fall-on-the-floor funny.  I could watch them on a loop.  But there are a lot of other episodes that are very uneven, arguments and scenes that feel forced or scenes that wander and get repetitive.  

Improv can be a very useful tool.  I've been doing improv myself for many many years. And if you get a master of it, like Fred Willard in BEST IN SHOW you can produce something absolutely magical.  But I think relying on it can be a trap.  Actors are better at acting and writers are better at writing.  Why not take advantage of the best of both? 

Monday, March 01, 2021

The need for WRITERS

In the new movie, LET THEM ALL TALK, playing on HBO Max, Meryl Streep, who plays a novelist in the film, talks about the importance of just the right words and how it took her sometimes a week before she could find the perfect word.  

What’s ironic about that is that LET THEM ALL TALK is mostly improvisation.  the credited screenwriter had a beat sheet and director Steven Soderbergh let the actors provide the dialogue.

And the result: a boring movie with uninteresting dialogue and scenes that lasted for five minutes that should have lasted for two.  

Where is the respect for those “perfect words?

The movie stars Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest, and Candice Bergen.  Candice steals the movie, primarily because she was the only character that had a real drive.  Wiest was there to play Monopoly with Bergen.  

Most of the film takes place aboard  the QE2 as it crosses the Atlantic from New York to London.  Soderbergh filmed on the ship during the cruise (prior to the pandemic of course).   And he shot the film on the fly.  

I’ve read a number of interviews where the cast praised the process and how much fun it was.  Fun for them but not the audience.  

How would actors like it if we writers just took starring roles ourselves?  No training, no talent, but who cares?   If we wear the right costume and are lit properly that’s all that matters.  Anybody can act, as I’m sure many actors believe anyone can write.  

The difference is writers KNOW they can’t act at the level required to star in a motion picture.  Many actors think they could write better than writers. 

I went to see the reaction on Rotten Tomatoes and found yet another disconnect between critics and viewers.  On the critics’ scale there was 90% approval.  “Oh, it’s so brilliant.”   Among the public the Rotten Tomatoes scare was 50%.   Talk about a big discrepancy.

I think it was Hitchcock who said, “Movie are life if you took out the boring parts.”   There were lots of boring parts.  The movie takes almost two hours to tell several very minor stories.  

The title is  LET THEM ALL TALK   And that’s all they do.  The title should be LET WRITERS TELL THEM WHAT TO SAY.  
 They'd have a way better movie. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Weekend Post

After months of rumors, it was finally announced that FRASIER will indeed return.  Its new home will be Paramount +.  A lot of you have asked whether I'll be involved.  The honest answer is I have no idea.  The writers/showrunners will be Chris Harris and Joe Cristalli.  They both have good credits.  But I've never met either of them.  So I have no idea what their plans are, what the premise is, how many of the original cast members will be back (if any), how many episodes they'll be making, or whether they plan to reach out to former FRASIER writers or just staff it with new people.  

I do know that Kelsey & Alec Baldwin are committed to do a series for ABC next fall that FRASIER veteran, Chris Lloyd will oversee.  So the FRASIER reboot may not happen for awhile.   

All that said, whatever Harris & Cristalli do, I'm thrilled that FRASIER is returning and wish them along with everybody associated with it the very best of luck.  We need a smart sophisticated comedy.  There's a large audience for that that is currently not being served. My hope is it revitalizes the form and more follow.  Keep the flame burning.  

And you know Frasier Crane couldn't just fly off and live happily ever after.  Not in this current world.  I'm sure there will be no shortage of things to frustrate him.  And right there is a great start. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Friday Questions

Wrapping up February.  Are you staying safe?  Here are this week’s Friday Questions.

-30- is up first.

"You're not writing for you; you're writing for them."

That raises the question--Can you write comedy that you don't think is funny? Is it possible because you're trying to please the audience, your showrunner, get or keep your job? Can writers serve an audience by writing to a formula and turn out jokes to fit a template? Is "hold your nose and type" really possible, no matter how the bills are piling up?

When you start out you’ll take any job.  I would have written on any sitcom that would hire me.  And I’d do my best to give them the type of material they wanted.  Yes, I would not feel comfortable, but I’d still be way more comfortable than holding out and waiting tables and writing spec scripts for shows I admired.

At this point in my career, no.  I would have no interest writing a show I didn’t think was funny, no matter how popular it was.  

But I think it’s less about the quality of the humor and more about the sensibility and characters of the show.   I could not write not a show about today’s high school students.  I don’t really know them, I don’t know their voice, I don’t know what they’re thinking.  

What’s somewhat ironic is when my partner, David Isaacs and I were young we got approached to write a movie about comics during the Borscht Belt Era and turned it down because the characters were too old and we had no handle on them.    I wonder if that assignment is still out there. 

Anthony Strand asks:

Cheers season 9 has several cold openers that take place outside of Cheers on the street. Did the cast actually go to Boston to shoot those scenes? Were they all shot at once?

Yes.  They spent about a week there and filmed a bunch of scenes for multiple episodes.  I don’t think I was on that trip.  And if I were I skipped the shooting, probably to get lobster.  

Here are two from Anonymous.  Please leave your name.

Mr Levine, how much of your writing that was filmed/broadcast no longer survives?


None of the three series we created (MARY, BIG WAVE DAVE’S, and ALMOST PERFECT) are currently in syndication although ALMOST PERFECT was for about ten years and you can still see episodes of all three series on YouTube.  

How many of your appearances on radio or TV, including your work as sportscaster or DJ, survives ?

Very little.  I have a few airchecks of my DJ work, and a few of my baseball play-by-play games.  But considering I was doing it every day for years, only a very small percentage remains.  

From time to time I play portions of my radio work on my podcast.   

On the one hand, I wish I had more.  On the other — when would I listen to it  all?  

But I do have the Dodger game I broadcast with Vin Scully.  That baby is a keeper.  

And a Mariner game I did with Dave Niehaus is an exhibit in the Baseball Hall of Fame (because of him, not me).  And fortunately, I happened to be good that night.  

And finally, from Phil:

David Isaacs was listed as the sole writer for Frasier’s season 6 finale, “Shutout in Seattle”. How come you weren’t involved with those episodes?

He did WHAT?  

No, actually, I was off directing in New York during that period.   Those are two really good episodes.  Turns out he’s a pretty great writer without me.  

What’s your Friday Question?