Thursday, January 24, 2008

Stupid notes

Thanks to everyone who was on board for my teleseminar on Thursday night. I hope my answers were as good as your questions. One person wanted to know the worst network note I ever got. It’s hard to say because I’ve had quite a few to choose from. But these few just spring to mind.

On a pilot we once got this note about an actress: She’s too fat. Another actress note we received was: Her breasts are too big. It’s distracting.

Yeah, like we could just go back to the writers room and fix those things.

I was directing one of those TGIF shows that ABC used to run on Friday nights. In this episode the kid was caught stealing. The note: "Gee, do we like him when he steals?"

Another time I was directing the Al Franken sitcom LATELINE in New York. It was set in a big newsroom. For our network runthrough we set up a satellite hookup to LA. I had one camera and the poor operator had all he could do to just capture what was going on. The network note: "Aren’t we going to have any close ups?"

When I was doing ALMOST PERFECT the network wanted us to do stunt casting – bring in a celebrity for a guest appearance. Since Nancy Travis’ character wrote for a cop show we thought it would be cool to get Angie Dickenson (the original Policewoman). Our network liaison, who was maybe 25, was not excited. Her response: "Can’t you get somebody anybody’s ever heard of?"

On the ill-fated AFTERMASH the studio was pushing hard for stunt casting, wanting us to get Loretta Swit for a guest appearance. We told them we had spoken to her and she wasn’t interested. Their reaction: “So what? It doesn’t have to be Loretta. We just need somebody to play Hot Lips. “ I said, “Fine, I’ll place a call to Diana Ross right away.”

An actor once gave us a name note. There was a character in that week’s episode named Lana Lewis. During runthrough he said, “Isn’t that kind of stupid name? Can’t you guys come up with anything better?” I then introduced him to our assistant who was standing right next to him. Lana Lewis. In fairness, the actor is a good guy, and I think he’s still apologizing to her.

And finally, we wrote a pilot for CBS about a large family. We had a scene where they’re in one of those obnoxious Shakeys good time pizza parlors. The family gets into a big argument. At the height of their yelling the happy waiter comes over and starts playing his banjo. He is pelted with salads. That's the joke. That's the end of the scene. The studio note: “Did they eat the pizza?”


“Well they ordered this pizza and they don’t have a lot of money so would they leave without eating it?”

After my initial shock wore off I said, “They got it to go.”

“Okay, great. Thank you. Then we’re happy.”

I’m sure there are more stupid notes but I’m thinking about that actress whose breasts are too big and I’m getting distracted.


MrCarlson said...

Well, thanks for answering my question (even if it was conditioned to the pasteis de Belém). By the way, you guys ARE food whores, but, If you really like them, I know people who know people who can get a carton to you. Nice to hear your thoughts on the various subjects.

karigee said...

Thanks for the teaching, as always, Ken. You always make it sound possible, dammit.

Anonymous said...

Thank you also from here for the seminar. My clock was off and I made the mistake of connecting to the conference a half hr. early at 6:30. With unlimited LD, I figured what the hell and just left it on speaker.

Every 5 minutes we'd get the recording, something to the effect of, "We apologized but your organizer has not yet arrived, we will leave you on hold and notify you when he does." It had the feel of one of those Christmas Eve local TV Santa-tracking deals.

At the end of the conference I stayed on for about a minute, hoping to hear the announcement "Ladies and gentlemen, Ken Levine has left the building."

Thanks again.

R.A. Porter said...

Thanks for another great seminar, Ken. But I'm still confused by that network note..."breasts are too big"???

I feel like one of those androids on Star Trek about to fry out from trying to compute that statement.

Anonymous said...

Nice of you to share the notes sent you...of course, nothing can top the collection Leonard Stern provided in his book A MARTIAN WOULDN'T SAY THAT!--such as this one a CBS V.P. sent to Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart

"Please clear your calendar for lunch on Friday.
I need to explain how you guys keep screwing up M*A*S*H"

Not to mention

"Please do not sensationalize the dead gopher"

"Once you put a man in a dress, you can't reveal his

"Can we make the rabbi less Jewish?"

"Please don't make the tomato too sad"

"Be sure not to show the proctologist in action"

"The celery may be construed as phallic.
Use broccoli"

"We remind you once again, you can not trivialize
death on Sunday nights"

"The trading of the girl for the horse is

"When the nurses take a shower, do not have
them nude"

Tallulah Morehead said...

Many years ago I hostessed a TV game show called BLOTTO. After our last network run-through, one network Veep sent my producer this note:

"Can you sober the old bag up by air time?"

What a terrible way to speak of our guest panalist: Eleanor Roosevelt. If I hadn't been too drunk, I'd have punched him in the nose!

Anonymous said...

Nice of you to share the notes sent you...of course, nothing can top the collection Leonard Stern provided in his book A MARTIAN WOULDN'T SAY THAT!

All the plays I want to read that the County of Los Angeles library system doesn't have and yet they have this.

I put it on hold anyway. I've got to read these.

Anonymous said...

Then I guess you are also old enough to remember when Eleanor Roosevelt did that bizarre TV commercial for Good Luck Margarine in 1959. For those who are not -- so help me God -- here is the complete transcript of that commercial as replayed a couple of years ago on the PBS TV series, “The American Experience”:

Eleanor Roosevelt synch
"Years ago most people never dreamed of eating margarine but times have changed. Nowadays you can get a margarine like the new Good Luck margarine which really tastes delicious. That's what I have spread on my toast. Good Luck! I have thoroughly enjoyed it!”

Yes you are right, when I first saw it nearly 50 years ago, I couldn’t believe my eyes or ears either. To me it felt like the Pope’s two thumbs up for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” many many years later. Young as I was, I still wouldn’t have been more shocked if Mother Theresa were to be featured in a GAP hoodie commercial.

For a long time I wracked my brain trying to speculate why the good woman would stoop so low. My ultimate rationalization was that Midwestern family farms must have been going through hard times and she felt she could help them if she could only get more of us to buy more margarine (in my mind, the ethanol of its day). Especially since some brilliant marketer had only fairly recently decided it would be a good idea to enhance the spread with a faux-butter yellow rather than leaving it the color of Crisco.

Later, in her autobiography she said she agreed to do the commercial(s) when the sponsor agreed to allow her to include one “thought of value” she wanted to get across with each spot. In this case it was: “I wonder if you realize that more than two thirds of the people in the world are underfed.”

(In case the following passage from her bio doesn’t open for you, apparently she was also advised that if a conservative ‘organization” like the Good folks at Good Luck were willing to accept Ms. Roosevelt as a spokesperson, it could really “break the ice” for her.,M1

Cybele said...

Thanks so much for sharing your time with us 200 heavy breathers! Looking forward to the next Sitcom Room.

Michael Brownlee said...

Well done sir. I think you and your man servant, O'Day, could be on to something here.

CM said...

The pizza note is funny. But I have to admit, whenever I see a character walk into a room holding a sandwich, put it down on a table, talk to somebody and leave, I always think, "What about the sandwich?? Isn't he going to eat that?"

Anonymous said...

"The trading of the girl for the horse is unacceptable". Ha! They just don't know funny do they?

Dana King said...

Several years ago I saw the mystery writer Robert B. Parker at a book signing. he told a story about pitching the screenplay for a western he had written about Wyatt Earp.

The studio exec was a young woman who listened and took notes thorughout the presentation. When they were done, she looked up ad asked with a straight face, "That all sounds great, but who's this Wyatt Earp guy?"

Anonymous said...

Mr. Short...or can I just call you Buck? That is an interesting speculation of yours about why Eleanor Roosevelt would be the commercial spokesperson for margarine (go to www., click on "The Gallery of Regrettable Food" and you'll find a magazine ad featuring her). But if you think about it, by helping the corn growing farmers, where does that leave the dairy farmers when people buy less butter?

Tallulah Morehead said...

Anything that kept the face of Eleanor Roosevelt before the public made people feel better about themselves, because no matter how they looked, they probably looked better than her.

Re eating the pizza: It used to drive me crazy watching DYNASTY, how, in pretty much every scene she was in, Joan Collins poured herself a drink, usually a martini, and lifted it, set it down, lifted it, carried it around the room, gestured with it, sometimes allowed it suspensefully near her lips only to stop before it got there in order to deliver a line, but never, ever drank it! The only times those glasses got emptied was when she - rather often - hurled the contents into someone's face.

Having a martini but not drinking it! What disgracefully dishonest acting! The epitome of Hollywood sham! Not only have I NEVER held a drink on camera without drinking it, but for realism's sake, I have always insisted on using REAL alcohol, because I understand the meaning of the word "Committment," both voluntary and involuntary.


Question Mark said...

Thus marked the first time in network history that an exec ever complained about an actress' chest size.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the talk, Ken, it was great!
I hope your flu gets better.

Anonymous said...

You reminded me -i'm actually to lazy to look up who wrote it, but I really loved the ep of Almost Perfect where (Nancy) is directing and Mike is playing an extra.
I'm guessing AP is not on DVD.

What ever possessed CBS to take a romantic comedy and fire the male lead? Oh right - it was Les Moonves. Forget I asked.(you had Marie Osmond on once too, didn't you?)

I did so love AP. (I loved Duet. I think there aren't a lot of romantic comedies). I also think I loved it cause it was was partly set behind the scenes of a TV show (and at the time I was writing a fanfic about an actor working on a sitcom. I needed the background. but even if I hadn't, I love behind the scenes of TV shows. Except Lateline - I expected more. More what? More parody I guess. I just remember feeling disappointed. But Almost Perfect, I loved.)

My favorite line from AP that I can still remember (the tapes are jumbled up with Mad About You) was one word
(oksy, it may have been in a sentence)

Sorry to have missed your thingie. Truly.

ajm said...

Spy Magazine once ran an item about a 1990s screenplay set in the 1950s in which the main character's manual typewriter was a major element -- apparently the screenwriter got back a note from the studio saying, "Why doesn't the guy just use a word processor?"

TCinLA said...

Gotta give credit where credit is due: those script notes are much more stupid than anything I ever got. Where these people come from is beyond me. I think they're the ones in fillum school with no talent. The smarter ones become agents, the dumber ones become studio executives.

They certainly prove what one (then) Living Legend once told me: "The movies ain't rocket science, bub."

Tim Dunleavy said...

Thanks to Dana King for the story about Robert B. Parker and the Wyatt Earp screenplay. You have good taste. It reminds me of a story that I heard Parker tell, also at a book signing:
When the two-hour pilot movie for SPENSER: FOR HIRE was made, Parker and producer John Wilder took it to ABC headquarters in LA to show it to the executives. The movie was complete except for the music track; the sound effects track had been added, but not the music. Anyway, after they showed the movie, the executives showered Wilder and Parker with notes - make this character more sympathetic, make this character more interesting, etc. Wilder wrote down all of the suggestions and agreed to make all the changes.
After the screening was over, Parker and Wilder went outside, and Parker told Wilder, "How could you agree to all those changes? The actors and the crew have already gone home from Boston - we can't get them back to make all the changes you just agreed to."
Wilder said, "Don't worry - we'll add the music track, and it'll improve the show so much that they'll think that all the changes they asked for were made."
And that's exactly what happened.

Karen said...

The stupidest note I ever got, hands down: "The suicide scene is too dark."