Friday, August 03, 2012

Friday Questions

Here are some Friday Questions.  Do you have one?  Please leave it in the comments section. Thanks.

Kev starts us off:

What do you think of Gotham Writer's Workshops and other workshops like that? Worth that money?

It depends on who’s teaching them and how much they charge. Check the instructor’s credits. Remembering that just because a guy has six Emmys doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a good teacher, but if an instructor’s last credit was PETTICOAT JUNCTION or his best credit is ASK HARRIET you might want to see who else is on the faculty. And if the workshop wants hundreds of dollars, that’s a red flag too.

But if the price is reasonable and the instructor appears to know what he’s doing, then sure, go for it. If nothing else, you'll get more practice, meet other young writers who are trying to break in, you might get a partner out of it, or at least a support group. Although I would worry about taking a sitcom course from the Gotham City Workshop.  You look to your left and there is a student in white clown make up. 

Cody asks:

Have you ever missed a deadline because you just couldn't get the episode to gel no matter what you tried?

I'm getting cold chills just thinking about it.  Yes, it has happened. But only after all night rewrite sessions still produce nothing. There are several options:

Send a partial script down to the stage with instructions that the rest will follow, and you keep working on it.

Shut down the show for a day. Studios hate this of course, but usually we make the day up by shooting the next show on a four-day schedule instead of five.

A third option is to just scrap the script, and insert next week’s script, assuming it’s in decent shape, and there is not a big swing set that needs to be constructed.

One of the reasons why we always produced our multi-camera shows on a Wednesday-Tuesday schedule instead of Monday-Friday is that if the script was really in trouble we had two weekend fail-safe days to fix it. Also, if we had to push shooting the show back from Tuesday to Wednesday we still had the crew. The camera crews generally work two shows – one that films on Tuesday night and the other that films on Friday night. They need two days for each show – one for camera blocking and the other for the actual filming. If you have to push back a Friday shoot night you’re screwed because the crew works Monday on their other show. The only day of the week that the crews don’t normally work is Wednesday.

The truth is throughout the course of a season there will always be at least one script that is just snake-bitten. Hopefully, it is only one or two. And part of your job as a showrunner is to manage these crises. If it becomes a habit, if scripts are routinely arriving late to the stage, or you have to shut down repeatedly chances are you’ll be replaced.

But most of the time you are able to cobble together something that’s at least acceptable. It may not be your best show of the season but no stunt involving a shark is required.

Sean in NoCal wonders:

In your career as a baseball broadcaster, have you ever gotten fairly close to a player only to see him traded? I know as a fan, having a favorite player trades mid-season just kinda sucks.

That happens frequently. Usually it’s bittersweet because you know the player is going off to a better situation, but of course, you’ll miss him.

After I did a year in Baltimore I latched on with Seattle. Later that next year I was calling a Mariners-Orioles game from Camden Yards. It was late in the season and by then I’d become good friends with most of the Mariners.

Suddenly a bench-clearing brawl erupted, and this was a hairy one. I’m describing it all on the radio and thinking, “Ohmygod, I’m friends with all of these people. They’re slugging each other and honestly, I don’t know who to root for.” That was bizarre.

One thing I should point out – when I say “friends” that’s not “close friends.” You don’t want to get too close because then it’s hard to be objective on the air. I’ve actually become better friends with a number of players once they retired.

Christodoulos has a question related to my book (which is crying to be read by you):

Which movies of the era would go well with it? Which movies do you feel capture the experience of everyday life in the 60's?

THE GRADUATE, EASY RIDER, HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI. And there’s an obscure movie that you never see anymore and I have no idea if it is even available to rent, but it’s called A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS, starring Brad Davis, Karen Allen, and some unknown actress named Shelley Long. But of all those ‘60s college unrest movies, this was the best. At least I thought so when I last saw it – in 1980. Who knows? Today I might cringe. It might not hold up like HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI.


Craig Edwards said...

Small Circle of Friends is currently available on Netflix Streaming.

Joe in DC said...

Hey Ken! I am finally getting around to catching up on "LateLine." Thirteen years or so later, the show still holds up very well -- and it's nice to see your name in the credits (sometimes as director!), along with Earl Pomerantz and Chris Downey (presumably, the same one who's now working on "Leverage," although IMDB is no help in clearing that up for me).

My Friday Question to you (since Earlo doesn't have such a feature ... yet!) is this: Any idea what the deal was with Ajay Naidu's hair? (Nitpicky? You betcha.) He had hair both in the pilot and in the first "regular" episode, but by Ep. 3 he's shaved it off with no explanation.

I wish we could have another show like that these days. I really enjoyed the cameos by real people who clearly didn't take themselves so seriously. (Alan Simpson should have gotten that year's Emmy for Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.)

And now, on to more serious questions!

Wally Bunker Hill said...

Although it's certainly no "Wild Bikini," a little flick called "1969" featuring very, very young Robert Downey, Jr., Keifer Sutherland, Wynona Ryder, along with veterans like Bruce Dern and several others whose names escape me and I'm too lazy to look them up.

Another little known flick about the generation is "Summertree," one of Michael Douglas' early works.

Lastly, there was a TV series called "American Dreams" (I think) that was set in the 60s and did a good job of covering some of the issues, plus it has Brittany Snow, Gail O'Grady & Rachel Boston - and several others who are nice to look at.

Christodoulos said...

That was surprising, I wouldn't have picked Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson for the role of Joe Q. Public. I'll keep it in mind, next time I watch EASY RIDER.

Unfortunately, SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS is not available in my corner of the world.

Pat Reeder said...

Let us not forget "The Trip," a Roger Corman classic about Peter Fonda taking LSD. It was written by Jack Nicholson, who co-wrote the Monkees' movie "Head," also apparently while on LSD.

Ben Kubelsky said...

I have to say "The Wonder Years" is probably a far better depiction of the whole era than any of these movies

Adrienne Parks said...

Don't forget, in no particular order: "Goodbye, Columbus," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Wild Angels" (with Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd), John Houseman's "The Paper Chase," Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot," and anything with Frankie Avalon and Annette.

Max Clarke said...


What's the biggest "logic error" you've inserted into a show that wasn't caught by the viewers?

Here's what I mean. One of the best farce episodes of Cheers was "Dinner At Eightish." It just keeps building the laughs and the shouting and the slamming of the bathroom door.

Near the end, a former girlfriend of Sam's comes out from the kitchen. Her name is Jill and she gave Sam great massages.

Jill was preparing the side dishes for the dinner, and that's the problem. According to the logic of the script, she's there the entire time, apparently. She doesn't make a sound? She doesn't go to the bathroom? Nobody knows she's there, which is why Diane asks about her when we see her. When everybody is shouting, she doesn't at least open the door to check? She's invisible.

Jill is important, of course, since she sets up the next dispute. Diane can't go anywhere in Boston without seeing one of Sam's former girlfriends.

Can't tell you how many times I've watched that episode, and only now do I realize she's like the "dog that didn't bark."

Mike Schryver said...

"You don’t want to get too close because then it’s hard to be objective on the air."

Ken, this is why I enjoy listening to you as an announcer (aside from you being clever, funny and all.)
So many announcers openly root, and it sounds so unprofessional. Soneone on the home team beats out a bunt, and the announcer acts like he won the lottery.

I'm looking forward to the games you'll be calling soon.

Tim Ahen said...

How about "The Strawberry Statement"?

Matt said...

A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS is available on Netflix for either renting or streaming.

Interesting: the film is scored by Jim Steinman, who wrote a TON of pop music for Meat Loaf and others. The theme to 1980's A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS is an instrumental, almost "St. Elmos Fire"esque, version of a song released three years later in 1983 by Air Supply: "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All."

It's interesting that this song started life as an Ivy League movie score.

benson said...

There was a movie in the early 80's about growing up in the turbulent 60's, Four Friends.

wv: 19 pintose: playing Russian roulette with a very dangerous car that might blow up.

By Ken Levine said...


Your friend is wrong. That line IS my invention and I've even tabbed it "Levine's Law."

Happy to say that line from Frasier is mine too. My partner and I wrote that episode.

I'll be back on the air with the M's in the few weeks. If you enjoy my work please let them know.



D. McEwan said...

"It might not hold up like HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI."

Well, of course How to Suff a Wild Bikini holds up; It
has Buster Keaton in it.

Michael said...

Ken, your lesson in being close to the players comes from none other than The Vin. He said that in all his years, he allowed himself to become really close only to one player, and even double-dated with him: Ralph Branca. Look what happened to him! Vin told the story that he was standing behind Red Barber and Connie Desmond in the booth as Red called the Thomson homer and he said to himself, "Poor Ralph," and that he was glad he wasn't on the air because he doesn't think he could have handled it.

FYI, Jon Miller once said he used to commute to Rangers games with Jim Sundberg, a catcher, and realized that he did talk about him differently--he might know about a particular problem affecting his play--and so he decided never to let that happen again.

Fenway said...

Small Circle of Friends is available on Netflix

Harvard pretty much banned Hollywood from the campus after they saw the final cut.

Nathan said...

I'm pretty sure I've seen "A Small Circle of Friends", but the only memory I have of the movie is that I was going to college in Boston when they shot it. I remember a day of seeing a steadicam operator facing backwards off the seat of a motorcycle to get a shot leading someone on a bicycle. I don't think he was strapped on...just sort of hanging there by his ass muscles while the motorcycle weaved through traffic on Beacon Street.

Powerhouse Salter said...

1978's BIG WEDNESDAY with young Gary Busey, Jan-Michael Vincent, and William Katt as surfing buddies in 1960s California is an epic and pretentious drama at times but very worth seeing for its depiction of guys going all out to fail their physical and mental exams when drafted for military service during the Vietnam War era.

Kendall said...

Was reuniting Frasier and Lilith ever a possibility at some point? (on Frasier's show)

Based on Lilith's chronological appearances ("I'm Okay, You're Defective") does that mean that they DO get back together?

Kingsley said...

Hi Ken, I flicked you a tweet but thought I'd post here too...I'm Kingsley, a 2nd year student at the NZ Broadcasting School - writing and directing a multi-cam sitcom for my final project. I was wondering if I could interview you about your experiences? Let me know, kingsleyhockley at gmail dot com :)

My Friday question is:

What's the most important piece of advice you'd give to the director of a brand-new sitcom?

Liggie said...

I remember listening to that M's-O's donnybrook, you and Chip Caray were having trouble keeping on top of everything. It was started by a Mike Mussina plunking, right?

Friday Question: how long did it take you to get used to calling games while having the producer barking into your earpiece? I have to wear a headset for my job, and I always have trouble concentrating when I'm talking to a customer face-to-face while an unrelated conversation is going on in the radio system.

JasonA1 said...

How did writing for Eddie work on Frasier? In the earlier shows, it feels as if Eddie comes into scenes almost as an excuse to use his training, which results in a trite pet-related gag that feels out of place on a show like Frasier. Were writers encouraged to include him, did it happen naturally and the "trick" came second, or was it some combination thereof?