Friday, April 29, 2011

Does working in radio help you in TV?

Hello from Boston where I never stand down from my Friday Question Watch.  Also, tonight the M's begin a three game series against the Red Sox.  Air time on 710 ESPN Seattle and MLB.COM is 7 PM EDT.  Yes, I'm plugging my broadcasts but have you noticed I haven't bugged you about buying my book?  Although you should.

Here are this week's questions.  What's yours?

Starting us off with an a & b question is WillieB:

When you moved into TV writing full-time, did your DJ background help or hinder you -- or ever even come up in conversation?

Trying to be funny on the radio every three minutes helped sharpen my comedic skills, which certainly aided me in my scriptwriting career. Beyond that, no. Fortunately, I didn’t listen to those program directors early in my career who kept saying, “Shut up! You’re not funny! Just play the fucking hits!”

Ever have a studio guy/producer/director/actor say: "I used to listen to you all the time?"

Once we signed Tom Hanks to star in VOLUNTEERS, my partner David Isaacs and I went out to lunch with him. He mentioned that he grew up in the East Bay of San Francisco in the mid ‘70s. I told him I used to be a disc jockey in SF in 1974 and at the time went by the name Beaver Cleaver. His eyes lit up. “Beaver Cleaver! KYA -- Boss of the Bay!” He used to listen every night. He was a big fan. Even remembered which station I was on.  Needless to say, that made my day. And he was pretty good in the movie too.

cl asks:

Have you any The Doors/Jim Morrison related anecdotes? Have you met them?

I never met them but did see them in concert fairly early on. It was at the Birmingham High School football stadium in Encino, California. The Doors and the Jefferson Airplane.

Gracie Slick and the Airplane were amazing. The Doors, if I’m being honest, were disappointing. And I was (and still am) a huge Doors fan. But Jim was on auto-pilot (and probably on a lot of other things as well).

Plus, the girl I went with that night would not shut the fuck up. Chattering all night about God knows what – getting mono in the 4th grade. I dunno. I desperately tried to tune her out. And for good measure, she was chiding the people around us for lighting up joints. So I was real popular.

My other memory of that night. After the concert we were going to meet up with another couple who were also there but in a different section. I suggested we just meet after the show at the Chevron gas station across the street. Well, I guess I wasn’t the only one with that idea. We get to the Chevron station and there are already 2,000 people there. It took us a half hour to find our other couple, although it would not have surprised me if they were just avoiding us because of my chatterbox date. 

I wish I had known Jim Morrison that night. Maybe he could have slipped my date something to shut her up.

From Kris Mandt of Des Moines, IA – a lovely place to raise your children:

When That 70’s Show struck their set for the last time certain bits and pieces of that set went to the long term cast members. Did they do the same thing for the cast of Cheers, Frasier, Wings, etc?

I imagine so. I wasn’t at MASH at the end but know one of the producers could start a museum with all the set souvenirs he  uh, "collected". I personally don’t have anything from those sets.I'm probably an idiot.   But I do have scripts and residuals.

I remember walking down to Stage 25 at Paramount the day they were striking the CHEERS set for the last time. Watching them dismantle this bar that had been such a huge part of my life for a quarter of my life was so devastating I had to just walk out.

When BIG WAVE DAVE’S was cancelled I did take a surfboard and the big BIG WAVE DAVE’S sign, which now proudly hangs in my house.

50 is the new 35 has a question. It’s really long so I’m paraphrasing:

With all the internet fan forums and comment boards there are now, if you had a show on today would you be monitoring them? And would you make creative decisions based on this cyber input?

I would absolutely monitor them. I’d be combing through Twitter, Facebook, websites, newsgroups, searching out any reaction I could find. I would have to take into account that the folks who write about my show are very passionate about it, either for or against, and that the general viewer is not as thrilled or outraged.

But I would consider this feedback very seriously. Often a showrunner can get too close to his product, and hearing from the audience can be a great reality check, even if it smarts sometimes.

Here’s what I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t go on these forums and respond to the comments. That would lead me down the rabbit hole where I would never be found again. But read everything? You bet.


gottacook said...

I think my daughter a few weeks ago was as emotional as you must have been at the end of Cheers, but after a much briefer run: a high school production of Guys and Dolls (five performances over two weekends, with two different sets of actors in the four lead roles, and weeks of intensive rehearsals beforehand). She was on stage crew and had to help strike the set herself. At least she got to bring home a 20"-diameter valve wheel created for the "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" scene.

Kris mandt said...

Thanks for the answer.

Cody said...

Is there any way you could go back to writing for The Simpson? You know those guys; I'm sure Sam would be glad to get a script from you. I know it's been...uh...20 years since your last show with them but, well, they really need better writers at the moment. The show has become thoroughly unfunny. Scully, Mirkin and the rest seem to have checked out. Swartzwelder won't come out of his house anymore and Maxtone-Graham hasn't written a decent episode since 2006. For God's sake please. I know you can do it. I don't want to keep banging the TV with my fist saying, "Stupid TV. Be more funny!"

RCP said...

Thanks for another informative and enjoyable post. Had a good laugh over your motormouth date at the Doors/J. Airplane concert. Chiding people for lighting up joints at a rock concert! What a drip.

John said...

Speaking of Cheers, does 710 ESPN Radio have any plans for you do to any remote/taped stuff from the Bull and Finch Pub while you're in Boston this weekend to kind of tie together the Mariners' Announcer/Sports Bar/TV Sitcom Writer/Sam Malone Red Sox connection synergy thing?

DonBoy said...

On a podcast I was listening to recently, I heard a claim that if you direct a sitcom pilot that goes to series, you get a payment for every episode. Is this true, and if so, how do I sign up for it?

Nathan said...

During the 70's, my mother decided she had to come with my brothers and I to a Dylan concert. (Her faves were Sinatra and Dylan; go figure.) Anyway, she was mortified by everybody around us and asked, "Do they always smoke pot so openly?" We couldn't stop laughing because we had prepared so well -- we brought a huge supply of brownies!

Diane said...

I read this blog entry about one female sitcom writer's experience, and was wondering have you seen a change in the way female writers are treated since you broke into the business.

Brian said...

Would you consider a doing a project with Colin Hanks, Tom's son? How about Volunteers 2?

50 is the new 35 said...

Thanks very much for responding to my questio, Ken (even if you did edit me, LOL!)! Technology and the Internet really have created a "new world order" for most industries; it sounds as though the TV and film industries are no exception. It's very interesting to consider the degree to which the Internet may potentially affect our media content.

unkystan said...

I've got a question about syndication (sorry if you've answered this before). Last night's "The Office" was expanded to 50 minutes and "Parks & Rec." to 40. What happens to these episodes later on? Are they expanded even more to fill 2 half hours with deleted scenes or butchered down to 30 minutes? I've seen many a MASH episode where the edits are jarring and ruins the flow. Who decides what's cut (it's obviously not the creative team although they should be consulted). Sorry to ramble.

A Helpful Citizen said...


Although he still receives a contractually guaranteed credit, it is my understanding that Sam Simon left the show in 1993. Don't cry for him, though: According to the terms of his settlement, he still makes more than $10 million a year from THE SIMPSONS...

Chris G said...

Why, back in my day, Maxtone-Graham hadn't written a decent script since 1999!

olucy said...

Hi Ken --

I notice you don't link to Alan Sepinwall on your "link wall" anymore--hope you guys didn't break up.

Thought of you while reading yesterday's interview with Phil Rosenthal who made a movie/docu on trying to export/translate Everybody Loves Raymond to Russia.

It's here:

My favorite part is his wariness at having to take out kidnapping insurance before going there and then--some time into the process--thinking that kidnapping looked pretty good.

Check it out for a chuckle.

VP81955 said...

Interesting story about the Doors. If you are going to be on the crew when the M's play at Washington in June, talk to Phil Wood of MASN; he saw the Doors in concert in an Alexandria, Va., roller rink in 1967 and has told some stories about the experience.

Good luck this weekend against the New England Evil Empire.

wv: "elorolo" -- a distant cousin of that venerable Los Angeles Mexican restaurant, though I'm not sure what cuisine it specializes in.

cshel said...

Ken -

What a coincidence that you brought up that Doors concert at Birmingham High. Someone was just telling me about that two days ago, and I thought it sounded so cool. With Jefferson Airplane, and some other cool people they told me that I can't remember right now.

Ref said...

See if you can get some time on air with Orsillo and Remy. "I wrote for Cheers" might be a workable angle.

That Neil Guy said...

Ken, I thought you'd appreciate this.

I came across a song today called "Natalie Wood." It's by a band I've never heard of before called Julian Daze and the Photon Karma, and it's really great.

It's a pretty loving tribute to her and, knowing that you, too, appreciate Natalie Wood's, er, talents, I thought you might enjoy this.

John said...

You mentioned in a previous post that there's no chance for a Cheers reunion series. What about a non-fiction documentary such as a two-hour special akin to the Cheers 200th anniversary special?

Cap'n Bob said...

Ken, I have a couple of questions sitting in older posts if you need some.

Wow, four in a row for the M's. Ken's Karma strikes again. Thanks.

A Helpful Citizen said...

"Why, back in my day, Maxtone-Graham hadn't written a decent script since 1999!"

That's interesting, because back in *my* day, Ian Maxtone-Graham had NEVER written a decent script, and the beginning of the show's decline can be traced to his arrival. It started to get a bit spotty circa seasons six and seven, and by nine it was a complete and utter waste of time. Mike Scully gets kicked in the bean bag a lot for steering the plane into a mountain upon his arrival, but at least he wrote the occasional good script before becoming the show runner. Maxtone-Graham is/was/always will be utterly useless.

Mark said...

Somewhere a woman has bragged to her kids she went to a Door's concert with you. Today, she's mortified with embarrassment.

That Tom Hanks guy ... did his career go anywhere after Volunteers?

cl said...

Hey, Ken, thanks for answering my question re The Doors. Too bad about the clueless girl, though at least you got an amusing blog post out of it!

DyHrdMET said...

Are you stopping by Cheers (either the Bull & Finch Pub or the other one at Faneuil Hall ) while you're in Boston?

SeattleDan said...

I was at that Doors concert at Birmingham, too. (Technically, btw, Birmingham is in Van Nuys though most of the student body, including myself, lived in Encino). It was quite a line-up as I recall. Besides the Doors and the Airplane, there was also the first incarnation of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Merry-Go-Round and a couple of other middling famous bands of the time that my aged brain isn't recalling. Good times!

jbryant said...

Brian: Forget Colin Hanks -- VOLUNTEERS 2 needs to star Tom's other son, Chet Haze. The plot could involve Chet bringing white boy hip-hop to villagers in Southeast Asia.

Isabel said...

Love your blog, especially the stuff regarding Frasier/Cheers. Thanks so much for all the extra info! I was wondering if you could somehow find the answer to this question: how come the credits of the S7 finale of Frasier simply show Frasier's darkened apartment? This subject has come up on Imdb a few times in the past few years, and so far the definitive answer has eluded us I think. I love the credits, they so neatly tie up loose ends usually, and for this one all bets are off. Especially since the timeline doesn't fit: you can see the frog-thingy on display, rather than the Lalique it should have been. Flub? (rare for Frasier, but possible nonetheless).

I realize you weren't one of the writers for this episode, but I've seen in other posts that David Lee (I think) visits your blog, and he was. This must have been one of the last episodes they wrote together, all three of the original creators I mean :(

Thanks in advance!

Dave Mackey said...

Ken, I heard that the actor/director Jackie Cooper has died, famous for his role in the Our Gang Comedies in the late 20's/early 30's, and as Perry White in "Superman" movies. Jackie directed about a dozen or so episodes of "M*A*S*H"; did you have the opportunity to work with him?

Rebecca said...

John Rogers answers questions from viewers about TNT's Leverage, over on his blog, and it is fabulous to have that kind of feedback from a showrunner/writer.

Admittedly, it does often take him a while to get back to us, the comments are usually over 300 after a show. But it is well worth waiting for. I seriously believe that this practice played a significant part in the success of the show over the years. I mean, the show is wonderful, but viewers turn into rabid fans when they feel that invested in a series. They bring others in for watching parties and impress them with behind the scenes knowledge.

I don't know of any other show doing this...but, then, it's the only show on tv that I watch. And I only started watching because I was already a reader of his blog. Still, it's a hugely enjoyable synergistic experience.

By Ken Levine said...


John's blog is great. Whether you're a fan of LEVERAGE or not, check it out. Always thoughtful, always fascinating.