Monday, June 29, 2015

Come see a Levine & Isaacs pilot

The Whitefire Theatre in fabulous Sherman Oaks (the heart of the San Fernando Valley theater and auto repair district) is staging a night of three TV pilots that never made it to air. One is a pilot my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote called UNDER ANDREA. We’ve turned it into a one act play and I’m directing it. It’s very funny as are the other two (by Russ Woody and Rick Dresser). 

The program is called DEAD PILOTS SOCIETY and will run for four Monday nights beginning TONIGHT. (The others are July 6, July 13, and July 20. )

 You can get tickets here.
Now a little background. And it’s a typical Hollywood story. UNDER ANDREA is about a Devil Wear’s Prada head of a magazine empire like Conde Nast. She gets three new assistants – the best and the brightest – and informs them the first day she’ll fire one after the weekend. She then gives them impossible tasks to complete over the weekend. This was before THE APPRENTICE and I think before the movie of DEVIL WEARS PRADA. What seemed fun to us was Millennials who were ambitious and whip smart, not slackers or bar flies that only existed to hook up.
The only note we got from Fox after we turned in our first draft was “put a hot babe in it.” We said “to do what?” They replied, “We don’t care. We’re Fox. We want a hot babe.” So we did. Ultimately, Gail Berman, who was president of Fox then passed, saying it felt too sophisticated and too much like an NBC comedy. (Those apparently were bad things.)

One of the executives at Fox at the time moved over to NBC a few years later. Kevin Reilly was in charge. He said he wanted to go back to the “Must See TV” era of great urban sophisticated NBC comedies. The executive remembered ours and suddenly we were in play again at NBC.

We did a quick polish, they were all excited. We were on the fast track. And then….

MY NAME IS EARL premiered, got good numbers and Reilly decided to change his game plan. No urban sophisticated comedies. Now they wanted rural goofy comedies. Within 24 hours UNDER ANDREA was dead.

But it’s a script we always loved. A good friend, Russ Woody (MURPHY BROWN, BECKER, I forget what else but he has a bunch of Emmys) told us about this program the Whitefire Theatre was mounting – three unsold TV sitcom pilots – and invited us to submit one.

Like most writers we had several to choose from. Of those, we felt UNDER ANDREA would translate to the stage easier than the others. We took a day and adapted it into a one act. Happily, it was accepted.

We put together a terrific cast and I volunteered to direct it. I’ve directed many multi-camera sitcoms, but this was my first venture into theater directing. When I had my play, A OR B? at the Falcon Theatre last year I wisely let Andrew Barnicle, a seasoned veteran, direct, and I learned a ton. Helming a half hour theater piece is a good way to get my feet wet. It’s play directing with training wheels.

The process has been fun and challenging. I’m not used to working with small spaces, limited props, and finding creative ways to convey time and place. On the other hand, I don’t have cameras to deal with. I’m really enjoying the intimacy. Of course, that’s the beauty of Equity Waiver (that Equity is trying very hard to destroy, despite 2/3rds of its local membership demanding that things stay the same.)

Last week we had our  “tech” rehearsal, which means setting all the light and sound cues, nailing down the costume changes and props, figuring out the scene transitions, etc. All the details you put off till later?  Later is now.  It’s somewhat laborious and very exacting. I just kept thinking, “What must tech rehearsal on PIPPIN be like?”

As I said, this has been a learning process for me. For example: I’m used to saying “Action!” to begin a scene. They don’t do that in the theater I found out. They say: “Anytime you’re ready” or “Curtain up” or just wait for the actors to begin. Fuck it. I still say “Action!” In TV if I need a prop I call for the prop master. Here I go and buy it.

What’s made the experience so pleasant and fun is that the Whitefire provides great support. My eternal gratitude to Bryan Rasmussen, Jake O’Flaherty, David Svengalis, and the entire theater company.

Tonight is opening night and I’m very excited. If anything, watching the pilot come to life, both David Isaacs and I had the same reaction – Fuck NBC and Fox for not making this. It’s a helluva lot better than most of the crap they did make.

See for yourself. And if you come, I’ll be around. Stop by and say hello.


Dan said...

Friday Question: We've seen single-camera comedies do live episodes (30 Rock) or multi-camera shows (Scrubs), but has a multi-camera show every tried the single-camera format? If not, do you think it would work?

Oat Willie said...

"Under Andrea" is a good title for a work produced in the San Fernando Valley.

- said...

Does one ever need a reason to have a hot babe in a TV show or movie?

Dana Law said...


Not in the area. Please video them and I'll pay you ten bucks to watch them.

Dana Law
San Diego

Mike said...

Pilots that haven't flown.

404 said...

Dammit, Ken. Once again you do something I'd love to see, but distance makes impossible.

Anonymous said...

As long as you still have the hot babe.

VP81955 said...

Ordered my ticket, Ken. See you there tonight.

Anonymous said...

This is a great idea for piloting new shows.

No one wants to buy a pilot due to expense (or whatever the reason is).
Do pilots in a Theater venue setup iPad cameras for fixed angles (TV feel).
Get the Theater audience to be the "studio audience". Bam, you have something that can be seen by an executive that didn't cost that much.

It makes sense that TV has to change how they develop shows. Why not go with a more rapid prototyping philosophy rather than the pitch and buy?

Angry Gamer

kent said...

See you tonight!

Gerry said...

This sounds like a terrific exercise for all involved, Ken. Good luck with it!

Anonymous said...

Dead Pilot's Society. haha what a great name/concept.

Igor said...

So this isn't a black comedy about Malaysian Airlines?

Bg Porter said...

Friday question: reading this Verge piece about translating Seinfeld into German made me think that you must have stories about problems on shows that you've worked on...

Anonymous said...

Is there any chance for passed-over pilots such as this to be resurrected/resubmitted by some set of circumstances, or are they just dead forever, despite the fact that passing on them might have been a big mistake, and different current management might take a different view?

Matt said...

So did you include the "babe" in this version or is the pilot as originally constructed?

MikeK.Pa. said...

"Reilly decided to change his game plan. No urban sophisticated comedies. Now they wanted rural goofy comedies."
Somewhere Fred Silverman is spinning in his grave (oh wait, he's still with us).
Good luck with the play and directing. Maybe some young development exec will be in the audience. Sorry I'm on the wrong coast and can't see it.

Anonymous said...

O Captain, my captain, over.

Yes, it is.

Diane D. said...

These stories absolutely kill me. A goofy rural comedy vs a sophisticated urban comedy (ignorance, bigotry and boredom vs a world of possibilities). The most you can hope for from a rural comedy is a little charm, and usually you won't even get that. I've never found another Andy Griffith show.

It just seems inconceivable that anyone would pass on such a killer premise for a sitcom. I wish I didn't live a continent away. I would love to come see it.

Pat Reeder said...

To Diane D:

I grew up well out in the sticks in Texas and am now a professional writer and published author with an honors college degree, living in Dallas. Perhaps the fact that my rural Texan parents had an entire wall of the living room filled with history books and big band, jazz and classical albums contributed to that. But thanks for stereotyping everyone from rural areas as ignorant, bigoted and boring. I shore am mighty pleased to have yer example o' sophity-cated urban tolerance to set me straight! Hee-yuck! Hee-yuck!

And BTW, "Green Acres" was a work of surrealistic genius.

Pat Reeder said...

PS - Did it ever occur to you that if TV sitcoms depict all people from rural areas as ignorant, bigoted and boring, perhaps it's because they're all written by people who live in Los Angeles?

DrBOP said...

Dead Space Pilots Society.....say no more, say no more.

But THINK of the swag!

Diane D. said...

To Pat Reeder
I grew up in a small town in the deep south and for various reasons have spent a considerable amount of my adult life in such areas so I know whereof I speak. I congratulate you for the good fortune of having apparently had educated parents who gave you a much richer life than most southern rural people had. But it's hard to believe you didn't hear and experience a lot of the same things I did.

However, you needn't have gotten so offended. The way rural (especially southern) people are depicted is usually much worse than the truth and THAT'S what I was referring to. Imagine another DUKES OF HAZARD or something similar instead of the comedy Ken Levine was proposing.

You remind me of my Texas cousins with your mean-spirited sarcasm. However, I usually enjoy your comments and didn't need your curriculum vitae to know you were an educated man.

BTW, I bought one of your wife's CDs and have enjoyed it very much.

VP81955 said...

Had a great time at the Whitefire last night and encourage all of you to take it on one of the following three Mondays. Ken's pilot adapted pretty well to the stage as three "best and brighest" -- a Harvard man, a Wellesley gal and a black guy who graduated from Michigan State (but in three years, so we know he's no mere State U. peon!) -- battle it out for two slots in Andrea's magazine empire. Nice to see Jules Wilcox again (she was in "A Or B?") as Andrea, and David Svengalis (yes, that's his real name!), Suzanne Mayes and Sterling Sulieman as the trio of respective candidates above. (BTW, the MSU character's name is "Ernie Honeywell" -- Ken, is that a semi-tribute to Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell?) Plenty of fun, right down to the music lead-ins (Elvis Costello's "Welcome to the Working Week").

The other two pilots also had things going for them. "Over My Head," about a beleaguered suicide-prevention call operator, was well done, with TV veteran Peter Gardner quite effective in the lead role. And for those of you who have asked the question, "Whatever happened to Teresa Ganzel?", well, she plays his girlfriend of sorts here; she must now be in her 50s (though you'd never know it from looking at her!), and her comic timing remains impeccable. (Moreover, she wears a clown suit in one scene.)

Finally, there was "Effed Up," from longtime writer Russ Woody, and from the title (and the language, too) you can sense it's sort of in the neighborhood of that William Shatner about "bleep" his dad says. Here, an ostenibly normal claims adjuster (though this opens and closes with ersatz S&M scenes) puts up with his even weirder family -- a brother who lives in a trailer as an ersatz rock star (he's in a Pink Floyd tribute band), a sister whose facade is a born-again when she's actually a lush, and a mother and father with secrets to hide. Tony Nunes is the lead.

All three are worth taking in. Hooray for live theatre! (And great meeting you, Ken.)

Diane D. said...

It was very kind of you to provide a brief review of Dead Pilots Society. I'm sure there were many people as curious as I to hear about it. Wish I could come to one of the performances. As you said, "Hooray for live theatre!"

VP81955 said...

I've since learned Teresa Ganzel is 58(!) and does a lot of voiceover work, including many supporting characters at Pixar and elsewhere.

Dixon Steele said...

Pat Reeder,

Good Lord, Pat, you'd be a lot of fun in a writer's room...

Mike Barer said...

My guess is that once and awhile, syndicates pick up the rejected pilots and they become successful.