Thursday, April 22, 2010

Actors should never eat

Hello from our nation’s capital. I guess they don’t answer questions here; they have “press briefings”. So here is your Friday “press briefing”. Hands please.

Yes, you sir. l.a.guy.

Do you still actively look for episodic work or did you make a conscious decision to focus your energies on other projects?

I’m having way too much fun hosting Dodger Talk on 790KABC and that’s a seven-to-eight month commitment (depending on whether the lads get into the playoffs). So no, I’m not actively pursuing staff work or assignments -- by choice I’m happy to say. But my partner David Isaacs and I have a few projects under the radar, including a pilot.

And I’m mounting an LA production of my play for this winter so who knows? As I like to say – I have a lot of irons in the freezer.

Who’s next? Jeff Badge in the back row there.

How many table reads are there on a sitcom, and how animated are they? Is there a lot of laughing? Is laughing/not laughing a political thing? (Any other general thoughts on table reads appreciated.)

There is usually one table read per episode although for pilots so much is riding on the table reading and so many important executives (“important” meaning the ability to fire people) that often times now there will be a pre-table table reading for just the producers. This seems insane but it’s not. It gives the producers a preview of what to expect and a chance to patch some holes going in. That said, I’m sure the day will come (probably next week) when pilots will have pre-pre-table readings before the real pre-table reading.

In theory they’re supposed to be just part of a five-to-seven day process, a way for everyone to hear the script for the first time and begin to shape the show. But now, Jesus. One show I worked on a few years ago was IT’S ALL RELATIVE for ABC. It was a co-production of two studios with a pod (non-writing) production company attached. After each table reading the producers got separate sets of notes from the pod producers, two studios, the network, and standards & practices. That’s about seventeen different people with seventeen different opinions, many contradicting each other. How can anybody do a good show under those conditions?

Hopefully there are a lot of laughs. The writers are analyzing what works and what doesn’t. The laughs are just one aspect of the show. Does the story work? Can we make a trim here? Does a character seem to drop out of the story? Are story turns confusing? Are big moments earned? Is this guest actor up to par? You get the idea.

I don’t expect actors to perform full-out at table readings but at least give a reasonable performance. Don’t half-ass it, don’t mumble.

And that brings me to my two pet peeves: actors that don’t read the script beforehand and worse, actors who EAT during table readings. It’s rude, it’s insulting to the people who worked very hard to make them look good, and it’s useless as a source of input.

You can’t believe how helpful it is to writers to actually “hear” the script performed. If you’re writing a spec, round up some actor friends, hide all food, and have a table reading. Or at least a pre-table reading.

As usual in these press briefings there’s only time for a few questions. But you are welcome to submit yours in the comment section. Thank you for your attention. Good day.


Cap'n Bob said...

Tables can read? I learn something new every day.

Flatsy McNasty said...

I grew up before the cable TV/Internet era. Some shows (Leave it to Beaver, Brady Bunch, Green Acres and yes, MASH) were in heavy rerun rotation. I've wondered how this contributed to the show's post-run popularity. Because the shows ran (sometimes a couple times a day) 5 days a week and there was little choice/other competition, did some show gain a second life by virtue of easy familiarity? Will this same saturation be possible when our channel options are now in the triple digits? (But we can now Netflix entire seasons and some shows get "Marathon" presentations.) Related question would be: Did you ever have a show grow on you in repeats? Maybe you didn't care for it during its first run, but changed your mind the more you saw of it down the road?

DwWashburn said...

Question -- Do you have any stories or rememberances about the great Ronny Graham?

Bob Summers said...

Just out of curiosity, since you are busy with baseball and radio, and you and David still collaborate on projects, what does David do in addition to writing?

gih said...

But they can not produce more shows anymore. :-)

Anonymous said...

Ken, you're such a class act that I'm not sure you'd even try to answer this, but here goes. Recently Kelsey Grammer came up in the news as a major sponsor of this "RightNetwork" conservative TV network that falsely claimed Comcast as a partner, which Comcast denied. I guess I always knew Mr. Grammer was a Republican in Hollywood, but to sponsor a right-wing network he's got to be ultra-conservative.

My question: considering that two of the lead actors on "Frasier" have since come out publicly as gay, and that numerous writers and producers of the show were, as well, was there ever any friction over that with the right-wing views of Mr. Grammer? I have a great deal of respect for him as an actor. I have trouble reconciling his reputation as such a strong conservative with his ability to work closely and peacefully with so many gay co-workers.

Is he a Wall Street, big defense kind of conservative instead of the social issues kind? These days it's hard to find a Republican who separates those things.

Tod Hunter said...

As you've probably heard, the porn industry is falling all over itself parodying mainstream TV shows, including "Cheers" (which came out last year) and "M*A*S*H" (which shoots next week). The videos themselves are of varying degrees of merit, but the good ones are practically letter-perfect emulations of the shoes, down to the sets, costumes and laugh tracks.

What's your reaction to this? Outrage at the defilement of your work? Pleasure that people are still interested in stuff you did decades ago? Indifference because you don't own the copyrights?

I'm wondering about the mainstream view of this phenomenon. At least your mainstream view of this phenomenon. Maybe "phenomenon" is giving it too much importance. Call it a trend.

Tod Hunter said...

"the good ones are practically letter-perfect emulations of the shoes"

That's a typo, I meant to say "shows."

Although now that I think of it, in porn, shoes can be of vital importance because the performers don't have to take them off....

A. Buck Shoe said...

My God! Now I understand my original attraction to “December Bride.” Spring Byington and Harry Morgan were almost always wearing shoes!

And who could ever forget that classic admonition from Lyle Talbot to Verna Felton, “Hey, my shoes are down there." Folks, it’s all about the footwear.

See. I just figured out why KL likes Friday Questions so much. The heavy lifting is already done. No concept development, no staring at the blank page. All he has to do is react. Come to think of it, that’s what he does for the rest of us the other 6 days. Hey, we all have our media.

And of course that wonderful “How I Met Your Mother” Friday question format – practically everything told in flashbacks. Like, “So it was the 20th anniversary of Wings. Say, wasn’t that the name of Barbara Walters’ jewelry segment on QVC?” (Hey I got a million of ‘em. Unfortunately 999,783 are like that. And none are any better than "Tables can read?" :))

Oh, and Anonymous, I wouldn’t have a Kow over Kelsey (lesson for you youngsters – see how the K makes everything funnier?). You know how John Hinkley did it to impress Jody Foster? Kelsey Grammer is obviously only doing it to impress Patty Heaton :) (See how it’s funnier when you say Patty Heaton. I learned that from this blog.) As far as the conservative/choreographer dichotomy, Lindsey Graham material only available in “Log Cabin: the director’s cut.”

Back to You Ken. My work is done here.

Hollywoodaholic said...

Here's a question ... What is 'script-archiving' related to a series comedy or drama? Who does it and what is the best method and what is the purpose? Thanks for any information.

Jim said...

In your many years of baseball, have you ever seen something like this dive over the catcher to score?

Hollywoodaholic said...

@Anonymous ...

Not to mention the fact that Kelsey is currently PLAYING the ultimate gay (or partner of the ultimate gay) part in the Broadway production of La Cage Aux Folles.

Brendan DuBois said...

Ken, a silly question if I may...

In one episode of "Almost Perfect," I recall the actor David Clennon removing his sunglasses to show that his eyeballs had rolled back into his head, making him look either dead or like a zombie.

Was that a special effect, or could David really do that?


benson said...


Why would being conservative preclude one from having a good relationship with gay co-workers?

True conservatives could care less about one's sexual orientation. True conservatives want government out or our lives, and the opportunity for all individuals, gay or straight to be all they can be.

Ian said...

Another great post, Ken. To tell the truth, I couldn't care less about Baseball or AM radio (although KRFC was my station of choice when I was a yungun') but I soak up everything you have to say about comedy writing.

Here's my question. Given the internet, cable, and the state of the entertainment industry, do you think that half-hour sitcoms are here to stay? I know there was a time when people were saying they were all but dead, but obviously that wasn't the case... not then, anyway.

What about three-camera shows with live audiences? Do shows like "30 Rock," "My Name is Earl" and "The Office" mean their days are numbered? I understand that "Big Bang Theory" and "Two and a Half Men" - both traditional shows - are doing okay in the ratings, but the networks don't seem to be bringing out new sit-coms like they used to. That thing with Jenna Elfman... oof. That thing with David Spade... double oof.

I guess what I *really* want to know is this: why is every other joke on "How I met Your Mother" about being horny or trying to get laid? I'm not a prude, but the constant parade of sex jokes gets tiresome. Even "Friends" (a show HIMYM seems to want to emulate) wasn't that big on the horn-dog jokes... it was always first about Joey getting a part on a soap opera, or Rachel needing a job... and then maybe in the B story someone would get their bean waxed.

So Kelsey Grammer is a gay Republican? Who knew?

Anonymous said...

Just came across a quote from Kelsey Grammer in of all places, the Wall Street Journal. Asked if La Cage has a political message, he responded: "I hope not. My take on homosexual, heterosexual, transgender relations, interracial relashionships, it's all up to you and how the person you love, and frankly I've never thought politics and marriage mixed in anyway. So I'm not a big propontent of big government being in charge of weddings." Doesn't sound like a right wing bigot to me.

Anonymous said...

if I can't promise them free food, how the hell am I supposed to get a bunch of actors to come read my pilot?!? you're killing me

Scott H said...

Sorry, I'm the anonymous who asked about Kelsey Grammer. Didn't realize I could use a name & not have to sign in somewhere.

Just to clarify, I didn't call Mr. Grammer a gay bigot at all, and I do know about his role in La Cage. My point was that it's hard, these days, to find conservatives who actually believe in those principles of government leaving people alone--it's become mostly a religious fundamentalist party. So I was asking whether Mr. Grammer actually was respectful of his co-workers in a way that few current well-known conservatives would be.

MatjazB said...

My question(s):

Are there any other major screenwriting competitions such as the "Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting"? Is it wise to engage in that sort of competitions, or is it better to stick to agents/managers and such? I also noticed that BBC is always accepting new (TV&film) screenplays. Are American televisions or studios also into that kind of "thing" (just accepting randomly sent screenplays to their doorway)?

Keep postin' and have a nice one,

The Balkan branch of the "We Love By Ken Levine Blog" society

Stephen said...

Cheri Eichen and Bill Steinkeller, two writers on Cheers, have written Sister Act the Musical (which is currently a huge hit at the London Palladium). Is it more common for comedy writers to succeed (or at very least get a show going) in the theatre than writers who are more experienced with dramas/single-camera shows? Obviously sitcoms already have a live audience in common with stage shows, but is there any other advantage to having a sitcom background?

danrydell said...

How often does an actor's politics play into whether or not they get a part?

mhass30 said...


I just finished reading your book which I thought was very funny. Back in ’91 you seemed to dread doing “Orioles Talk” during rain delays, now you host “Dodger Talk”. What changed your mind?

- Matt H

By Ken Levine said...

Matt H.,

The reason I dreaded Orioles Talk was because it was during rain delays and I had to do it from the booth. Most times we were not protected from the elements. So it's 40 degrees and rain is hitting me in the face and I'm on the air for the duration. And then when the rain delay is over and I've been on say for an hour or two, then I have the actual game to broadcast. It was exhausting.

But the actual assignment of talking to the fans -- I had zero problem with that.