Friday, October 11, 2013

Will the real Ken Levine please stand up

Taking a moment during pitching changes of the playoffs to answer some Friday Questions. What’s yours?

Hamid gets us started:

Do you ever get games developer Ken Levine's fan mail - or residuals - by mistake?

You mean the successful Ken Levine? I haven’t received any of his residuals. Don’t know if he’s received any of mine. When we finally meet he may owe me eleven cents.

I get occasional comments meant for Ken and on Twitter I get fans thanking me for inventing Bioshock.  (You're all welcome, by the way.)

When I did that rant on Kickstarter that went viral, he had to put out a statement saying he had nothing against Zach Braff and it was the other Ken Levine.

At one time, a gaming convention was trying to put together a panel where he and I would both share the stage. The timing didn’t work out but I’d still love to do that someday.

Hey, if I’m going to be confused with anyone, who better than a genius in his field?

Mark P. asks:

Ken, I've been enjoying the Frasier episodes being run on the Hallmark Channel. I noticed they cut the audio for naughty words like "ass". If you were running a sitcom on a network today and expected it to go to syndication, would you shoot separate "clean" scenes, or just leave it up to the syndicatee to edit it however they wished?

I would not make alternate versions. It’s expensive, time consuming, and the parameters of what is deemed acceptable seems to change with every passing episode of TWO AND A HALF MEN.

I’m not even sure movies shoot alternative versions anymore. They used to do that when their only television exposure was on commercial networks. But now, very few people watch films for the first time on broadcast networks.

Of course some series lend themselves to syndication better than others. Have you seen THE SOPRANOS in syndication? The only thing untouched is the establishing shots.

Interestingly, back when sound was first introduced in the ‘20s (note: before my time), studios would require the actors to make several versions of the same scene – in different languages. They would have to phonetically recite dialogue. You think someone would have invented “dubbing.”

Brian wonders:

How do actors cry? Can some just summon tears on demand? Is some kind of irritant placed in the eyes?

As a director, I’ve found that cattle prods are the most effective. Seriously, some actors just have that gift. Many will try to dredge up something very sad from their past and tap into that emotion.

Claire Danes is an amazing crier. The expressions on her face and the level of crying always signals so much more than just sadness. There can be confusion, betrayal, exhaustion, exasperation – generally four of five different emotions all played seamlessly at once. I have no idea how she does it.

Harder even then crying on cue is crying on cue when you’re also supposed trying to get a laugh. This is an amazing skill – to laugh convincingly and still deliver a comic performance. The three best I’ve ever worked with are Kirstie Alley, Mary Tyler Moore, and Nancy Travis.

There was a great early episode of THE DICK VAN DYKE where Laura dyes part of her hair blonde. When Rob came home and sees it, Laura breaks down crying while trying to explain why she did it. It was a bravura monologue, and series creator Carl Reiner said when he saw her do that he knew he had someone special.

Carol wants to know:

Do you, as a comedy writer, think there's room for variety show format in today's television landscape? I'm talking the old-fashioned, Carol Burnett type show. Because if anyone can pull off a variety show successfully, I think NPH could. I'd watch it, anyway.

I suppose you could label a show like SNL a version of a variety show. Comedy sketches interspersed with musical guests. But in general, audiences don’t want variety today. They want their specific niche.

It used to be there were programs like THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW that featured comics, singers, dance acts, acrobats, scenes from Broadway musicals, ventriloquists, and rock stars. To see the Beatles or Rolling Stones we kids would have to suffer through plate spinners, tap dancing dogs, and funnyman Charlie Callas. Who has the patience for that anymore? Especially when we can go to YouTube and program our own variety show.

I’m glad I didn’t get my start in the business as a variety show writer. Or writer of westerns.

And finally, Dana Gabbard with a question my post from last week on trolls.

What is the chief reason for removing comments: bad language, rudeness/disrespect, incoherent or out of context, robo-ads, or is there just a "it is my blog and I don't have to put up with that appearing on it" factor sometimes in play? Do you ever have a "really?" reaction to what folks post.

All of the above. I try to be lenient with allowing comments but as time goes by (eight years next month) my patience with trolls diminishes.

That said, I’m fairly lucky compared to some other sites. I have on occasion allowed the Huffington Post to reprint some of my blog posts. And the comments and trolls who patrol that website are positively staggering. How do some of these people even brush their teeth (those that have teeth)? The large majority of my commenters are thoughtful, funny, and best of all – respectful. But I’ll be cracking down more on those who aren’t.   You know me -- badass blogger. 


Jeffro said...

In case I forget next month (or am otherwise unable to):

CHEERS, Ken, on your upcoming Bloggerversary!

Mike Botula said...

Idon't see any thing wrong with troll control.In fact I wish more blogs would do it, starting the hard and fast rule that the commenter must provide his or her real name. It used to be that "letters to the editor" firmly required that.

I feel especially sorry for writers like Roger Simon of Politico, who attracts a deluge of wingnuts and crackpots everytime he publishes a column. About the only place where I offer comments, apart from your blog, is the NY Times on-line edition, which has a very careful comment policy.

Carol said...

Speaking as an amatur actress, I've had to cry on cue a couple of times. Once in King Lear when basically I, as Cordelia, just cried through the whole first act. I found just pretend sobbing at first started a reaction so real tears actually started.

When I was Andromache in Trojan Women, it was dead easy, as I was playing a woman who's son was being murdered. As a mum, that was an easy emotion to tap into. The hard part was stopping crying once I was off-stage.

That being said - it's easier on stage because there are no close-ups. :)

PS Thanks for answering my question!

Jim K said...

"suffer through plate spinners, tap dancing dogs, and funnyman Charlie Callas"

Suffer? I tuned in to see the plate spinners and Charlie Callas! (pfffffffft! Hummina hummina whoa!)

In fact I tuned in to Ed to see one of my favorites, Tessie O'Shea, and that upstart English band The Beatles practically took over the show. ;-)

I know I'm old, and the variety show is dead, but I miss it.

unkystan said...

Re: 'In the ‘20s studios would require the actors to make several versions of the same scene – in different languages. They would have to phonetically recite dialogue'. A handful of Laurel and Hardy shorts have the boys doing this in Spanish and German and it's delightful to hear their actual voices.

Judith said...

I wanted to nominate David Hyde Pierce as belonging among the greats of comic crying - there were several episodes in Frasier where he did that, but the one that stands out in memory is, "The Maris Counselor," where Niles bursts out, "No, I just want to die!"

benson said...

Laura Petrie: "Ohh-hiii-ohhhh!"

Daniel said...

I've seen many TV writers make comments about residual checks being only a few cents.

Is that true or are you exaggerating for comic effect?

And secondly, without getting into specific dollar figures, can a writer ever get significant residual checks (thousands of dollars (or more)) when a series first goes into syndication?

Is there a glide path formula so that the checks get smaller for each successive airing of an episode?

Curt Alliaume said...

Happy that you are keeping a sharp on on trolls among the commenters. Some blogs have gone to the point where they've eliminated comments entirely - people are welcome to write in, but they'll only be posted in the body of the blog itself, and only if they're making a good point.

In the pre-Internet days newspapers only printed a tiny fraction of the letters they received. There's no shame in eliminating comments that are incomprehensible, off point, or fueled with rage at someone.

JT Anthony said...

I usually enjoy your blog, but occasionally roll my eyes when you say things like, "You mean the successful Ken Levine?"
This is your blog, so do what you wish, it can be annoying.
Perhaps your doppelgänger is successful in his field, but at what point will you become satisfied with your track record of success? (Perhaps this is a Friday question??)
Humble is graceful. It doesn't put a burden on the reader, or come across as unnecessarily needy, or begging for a defense. Still a fan...

Douglas Trapasso said...

Cliff Claven had the best insight into trolls: "Sixty five percent of them live lives of quiet desparation."

Stu West said...
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Stu West said...

This is the perfect opportunity to post that best-ever clean version, Samuel Jackson in Snakes on a Plane:

DonBoy said...

Apparently the very tiny residual check is a real thing; see Mark Evanier, here:

Stu West said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stu West said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Peter Janes said...

Aren't some late-night talk shows essentially variety shows? If I wanted to see something like a plate-spinner, I'd definitely look to Letterman, Ferguson or (maybe) Fallon.

Eric J said...

REAL real names that get published aren't a good idea. I used to write Letters to the Editor where they required my real name and address. Instead of trolls, I got letters to my home, some pasted together with words cut from the newspaper. A few times nutcases rang my doorbell. With a global base like Ken's award winning site, no telling what would happen if posters were traceable.

Jon88 said...

Hallmark is, indeed, a remarkably prudish channel, but did anybody watch the "Tomorrow People" pilot on CW this week? One of the characters did not originally say "It's kind of like a paranormal dream" with a slight pause between paranormal and dream (and the "wet" wasn't even deleted all that cleanly).

Jim said...

Not thought of dubbing? The technology of the time didn't allow for any sort of re-recording. Alfred Hitchcock hurriedly remade Blackmail as a talkie when the equipment became available, reusing as much of the silent-shot footage as he could. Unfortunately his leading lady was German and spoke English with a very heavy accent, and the only solution available to him was to get another actress to speak the lines into a microphone just off camera while the German tried to move her lips in unison.

YEKIMI said...

Ernest Angley, a televangelist, owns a TV station in NE Ohio. If you want to see syndicated shows butchered up, watch them on his station. If it's even remotely offensive, it's bleeped or edited out. Years ago they even bleeped out the word "heck" because "It's just a derivative of the word "Hell"". Since he's now an affiliate of the CW network, he's not allowed to edit/bleep out any of their shows by contract.

RockGolf said...

The funniest thing I ever saw on Mad TV was "The Sopranos" as shown on a Christian TV network. Dialog was cut off after 2 & a half word of every sentence and most of the show was the Sopranos silently eating dinner.

vicernie said...

the most frequent guest act on the Ed Sullivan Show (67 appearances) was Wayne and Shuster, two legendary comics from Canada. you can catch many of their best sketches on YouTube.

Hamid said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken! It was a lighthearted question and you're a class act for answering, as always.

On the subject of edited versions of shows etc, I was shocked to find out not long ago that some people actually buy DVD/Blu-Ray players which have a feature that automatically silences swearing and skips sex scenes. I didn't even know such players exist! I'm guessing they're mostly bought by the types who think Earth is 7000 years old and dinosaur fossils are a hoax. Why even bother watching a movie or show that's got content you won't like in the first place? Especially given the fact that automatically skipping scenes with sex, swearing and violence will mean missing chunks of the plot. I imagine with Basic Instinct all they'd get is the end credits.

However, back in the day, movies that were screened in the UK in their "TV versions" did provide hilarity in the voices they got to dub the swearing. They never ever bothered to get someone who sounded even remotely like the actor in the scene. I remember the first time I saw Die Hard was its TV version where Bruce Willis' famous catchphrase was changed to "Yippee ki-yay, Kemo Sabe", voiced by a guy who sounded nothing like Willis. But if it wasn't for these awful TV versions, we wouldn't have had such gems as "we bury these funsters" in Lethal Weapon and "This man has no Twinkie" instead of "This man has no dick" in Ghostbusters.

Milton the Momzer said...

This may be an East Coast question, but this is driving me nuts. On the commercial for Buffalo Wild Wings, who is the actor that plays the Lombardi-like coach?

Hamid said...

By the way, Ken, any update on when Must Kill TV will be available?

By Ken Levine said...

MUST KILL TV comes out early next month.

DBenson said...

To follow up on unkystan, there are some films of Laurel and Hardy speaking Spanish and French on the Essential Laurel and Hardy DVD set (it actually IS essential).

Further interest: Most or all of the other actors are replaced by new casts fluent in those languages. There's a still of Stan and Ollie in the French "Pardon Me" with a pre-monster Boris Karloff. And because L&H were insanely big abroad, the foreign editions of their shorts were padded with additional scenes (sometimes variety acts) or spliced together into ersatz features.

Then there are cases where studios did foreign versions with COMPLETELY new casts, having a whole second company come in and use the sets after the English-speaking cast had left for the day. Universal did a Spanish "Dracula" without Bela Lugosi, compensating with more ambitious camerawork and sexier wardrobe for the female lead. Fox did "Eran Trace," a Charlie Chan mystery without Werner Oland, compensating with . . . something. Those are also on DVD.

Liggie said...

Variety shows: I've been watching half-hour versions of "The Flip Wilson Show" on the Aspire cable channel. Other than the occasional sketch running long, it was very funny and innovative. A variety show today, however, would be problematic if they had guest musicians; I can see "WKRP in Cincinnati"-like music rights issues screwing up syndication.

Comments: In newspapers, there's only so much space they have for letters, so only the best of the best correspondence got in there. On the Interwebz, comment sections can go on indefinitely, so any bozo who typed in something and successfully hit "enter" will be printed.

Alternate versions: I saw a few minutes of "Slap Shot" in syndication. I expected them to fuzz out Melinda Dillon's topless scene and dub the myriad cussing, but the actors doing the dubbing sounded nothing like the onscreen performers. The guy replacing Paul Newman's cussing sounded like Bowser from Sha Na Na.

I also watch subtitled European action-mystery shows on PBS' MHz Worldwide digital channel. They fuzz out not only nude scenes, but also nude artwork characters happen to pass by (if characters are in the Uffizi, David's groin would be fuzzed). On the other hand, verbal cussing in the original language is kept while the subtitles are tidied; Mafia members rarely say "Jerks!", I'm sure. It helps to know the original language; I understand French, and I know that the characters are not saying "Crap!"

Crying: Michael Caine, on a British talk show, said when his character needs to cry, he thinks of a tragic event in his past. In fact, when he said that, his eyes immediately turned red, and he told the host, "See, there you go!" I even remember reading that porn queen Marilyn Chambers was cast in a mainstream movie where her character had to cry. She asked a co-star what to do, who replied with the sad-event trick. Chambers then recalled a childhood pet who died tragically, and boom, instant waterworks. Wouldn't be surprised if she needed a while after the scene to compose herself.

Liggie said...

Now, my unrelated FQ. My last few times in the multiplexes, the films have been marred with occasional specks, vertical lines going down the screen for minutes, and other imperfections. This happened with both low-budget indies ("In a World ...") and big-budget features ("We're The Millers", "The Silver Lining Playbook"). I thought that with digital filming and projection equipment, or even improved film stock, this wouldn't be an issue in 2013. What would be causing this?

Hamid said...

Thanks, Ken. I look forward to reading it!

Mike said...

Elizabeth Montgomery once said that the hardest thing she ever had to do in an episode of "Bewitched" was to 'cry funny' in one episode, something she felt she did badly. She said she never had more respect for Lucille Ball.

cadavra said...

Liggie: It's not an issue with digital projection. You were watching film.

Gary said...

Ken, here's a Friday Question, out of left field:

I've always wondered about the posed publicity photos of actors when they're on-set and dressed in character. Are these photos shot before the actual scenes are filmed, or after? Are the photos taken every day, or only at designated times during the week? Are the photographers employed by the network, or the production company? How much time is allowed for the photos?

I've always thought that this must be a great nuisance to the actors, who are trying to stay in character. Any "still photo" stories to share?

D. McEwan said...

"You think someone would have invented 'dubbing.'”

Well, eventually someone did. The alternative foreign-language versions of American movies were only made from 1929 to about 1932. The Laurel & Hardy films cited above are interesting viewing, though the fact that the French langauge version of Pardon Us has Boris Karloff for the villain whereas the English language version used Walter Long in the role makes for very frustrated Karloff fans like myself, since the Karloff French-version is a missing movie. Maybe it will be found one day, like the 9 missing Doctor Who episodes that were just found in Nigeria. (100 more missing episdoes to go.)

When I was growing up, the Spanish-language Dracula was incomplete. The third reel was missing. Finally that reel was found in Cuba. It took the state Department getting involved to allow the footage out of Cuba and back into America so that we now have the full movie.

What's interesting about the movie is that the two Draculas allow us to see two movies, using the exact same script and same sets, but different casts and, more importantly, different directors. (They didn't have any cast-overlap, unlike the Laurel & Hardy films - it ain't a Laurel & Hardy film without Laurel & Hardy - because the Spanish-language version was shot at night and the Lugosi version was shot by day. The sets were in use 24 hours a day.) Watching the Lugosi and the Spanish-language Draculas back-to-back (Easily accomplished; they're on the same DVD) one can see that the Spanish-language version is a considerably better movie, a lot better. It ain't the acting. The Spanish Count Dracula, Carlos Villarias, is just bloody awful. He makes Bela Lugosi seem like a subtle actor. (Lugosi, like Laurel & Hardy in their foreign-language films, learned his Dracula lines phonetically off chalkboards. He didn't master English - to even the small extent that he did eventually learn it - until after Dracula, despite having been acting in America for almost a decade by then, and having played Dracula on Broadway. For Lugosi, Dracula was a foreign-language movie.) The Spanish-speaking Van Helsing was pretty bloody bad also.

And it wasn't "pacing," as the Spanish-language Dracula is fully half an hour longer than the English version, though it seems much shorter. The heroine, Lupita Tovar, explained it on the DVD (She's still alive): "We saw the rushes of the Lugosi film as it was shot. We decided to prove we could do it better." They did. Tod Browning was definitely off his feed when he directed Dracula, creating an amazingly slow and boring movie. (The first 15 minutes are great, the remaining hour seems like three hours.) George Melford, directing the Spanish-language film, directed rings around him.

D. McEwan said...

Regarding The Ed Sullivan Show and similar vareity shows: it's concept was "Something for everyone in the family." Problem was, at least in my family, that it, and shows like it, had something to annoy everyone. Believe me, you did not want to be watching The Hollywood Palace with my mother if, say, Nelson Eddy and, say, The
Supremes, were on the same show. Mother would watch for Nelson, her lifelong idol, who, of course, no one born after 1940 could stand the sight nor sound of, but when The Supremes came on, one couldn't enjoy them becuase there was Mother bitching from her chair: "I hate this! They're awful! You call that singing? What are they doing with their arms?" And just to show she wasn't era-specific in her loathings, she also bitched like crazy whenever Cab Calloway was on anything. I loved Cab Calloway. And she would bitch all through Jackie Gleason's shwos , which I loved. (She'd also go ballistic whenever dad and I would laugh at Abbott & Costello: "How grown men can laugh at that puerile idiocy is beyond me!" she'd rave as "Who's On First?" had us belly-laughing.) In my teen years, I decided to see how Mother liked it. I would bitch all through Nelson Eddy: "Good lord! You think that block of wood is sexy? You think that baritone squalling is music? Man, he lacks any trace of charisma! When does the torture stop?"

"Do you mind? I'm trying to enjoy Nelson Eddy!"

"That does take work. And I do mind. You wouldn't shut up during Cab Calloway, so I won't be shutting up during the act you want to see."

Variety shows bascially turned into war zones at our house, and I can't believe there weren't many others for whom the same "Something for everyone to hate" phenomena prevailed. They were safer to avoid altogether.

Rob said...

Eden Sher had a hilarious crying scene on the latest episode of "The Middle".

VP81955 said...

If a studio was lucky enough to have cast members who were multilingual in the early sound era, they could appear in multiple versions without a hitch. Maurice Chevalier and Claudette Colbert starred in both English and French versions of "The Big Pond" in 1930. (They teamed up the following year in "The Smiling Lieutenant," but I have no idea if a French-language version of that Ernst Lubitsch game was made or if it has survived.)

Dubbing from silent to sound -- or should I say, the refusal to do it -- doomed the career of late-silent star Louise Brooks. She had a role in "The Canary Murder Case," a Philo Vance film with William Powell that initially was filmed as a silent. She went to Europe for a film, and meanwhile, Paramount decided to redo the movie as a talkie; Brooks was called back to voice her character, but refused to return and her part was dubbed by another actress (Margaret Livingston, IIRC). Louise's career soon plummeted, and by early 1931, she was reduced to small parts in the Carole Lombard film "It Pays To Advertise" (Brooks is seen in one segment of the movie filmed separately from the others, and it's conceivable she and Carole never met).

Frank Grier said...

What is FOX thinking about ordering more Dads scripts?

What a train wreck!

Smitty said...

Question: is there any place on television today for a Twilight Zone-style anthology, which relies on weekly guest stars and tells a self-contained story?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for bioshock

Jim Linzer said...

My favorite example of a movie being bowdlerized for television: There was, fifteen or so years ago, a Christian channel that ran old public domain movies at noon (nothing is more Christian than filling your schedule with shows you are not paying for). I got into the habit of watching these during my lunch break. One day, the movie was the 1940 adaptation of the comic strip "Li'l Abner." The plot of this is driven by Abner's reluctance to admit his feelings for Daisy Mae; in the dialogue resulting from this, the phrase "making love" is repeatedly used, in the old-fashioned sense of "wooing" or "declaring one's affection." This station bleeped every example of this. The result was lines like "When are you gonna (bleep) her?" and "Daisy Mae, I want to (bleep) you!" I suspect that most of the people watching did NOT fill in those blanks with something so mild as "making love."

Jim Linzer said...

Smitty--Yes, there is a place on television for anthology shows with different stars every week. That place is Cinemax, which runs a steady stream of erotic anthologies. The format neatly solves the problem of how to have a regularly scheduled series without baring the same bodies week after week.

Jim said...

"Daisy Mae, I want to (bleep) you!"

The 1969 film Women in Love was most famous for a nude wrestling scene between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed. But in Japan that scene wasn't allowed to be shown, so instead they let them strip off then cut away to and held a shot of the door. While leaving the soundtrack complete with thumps, grunts and wheezes going in full.

William said...

Professional Wrestling is a borderline variety-show. There is always ladies sexing it up, comedy-skits, action (obviously), storyline and often musical acts, special guest appearances from other genres (The Muppets and Bob Barker) springs to mind. Very often, it will also have the disjointed feeling of a variety-show as most segments are self-contained stories with little or no influence on other segments.

I realize it is not a variety-show, but probably the closest thing to it on Prime Time TV.

D. McEwan said...

"Frank Grier said...
What is FOX thinking about ordering more Dads scripts?"

Really! Just what I was wondering. I notice they ordered six more scripts, but did not actually order them produced.

Poor Martin Mull, once one of my favorite comedians. Some years back I went to see a taping of an Ellen DeGeneris sitcom with Martin Mull and Cloris Leachman. Only time I've gotten to see him work live. That show was cancelled so fast that the episode I saw shot has never aired.

sam in portland maine said...

Please tell me you did not dis Charlie Callas. I loved Captain Weird growing up.


RCP said...

Douglas - your description of your mom bitching from her chair had me laughing out loud. I guess having two televisions in the house to keep the peace wasn't an option.

YEKIMI - I remember Ernest Angely -could that possibly be his real surname?

Anonymous said...

I think the problem with Kirstie was that she cried too much on Cheers. I've been watching the later episodes with her and her transformation into a blubbering idiot is painful to watch.

Karli said...

This weekend The Walking Dead premiered its fourth season with its third showrunner. Is this as uncommon as it seems? How does this big of a change affect the success and continuity of a show? Is it a more or less difficult adjustment on a drama vs. a comedy? Most of my favorite dramas seem to have one vision from day one. What should we expect to see from the newest version of The Walking Dead?