Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Bonus Friday Questions

Since it’s such a popular feature I thought I’d add a bonus day of Friday Questions. See? I DO read the comments.

Tore W. gets us started.

In an earlier post you listed all the people you enjoyed working with which -- amongst others -- included the entire main cast of Frasier except John Mahoney. I hope it was a slip of memory, but I'm starting to fear that he might not be as nice and kind as he is in my imagination. So the question is: How was it to work with John Mahoney?

Just an oversight I ASSURE you. John was fantastic to work with. He’s one of those actors who just seemed to elevate every line you gave him. And made it appear effortless. I spent a lot of time talking football with John. He is a huge football fan.

Happy to say that John was in a CHEERS episode we wrote, and from that appearance Casey, Lee, and Angell thought he’d be great to play Frasier’s father.

I also worked with John on BECKER and THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW. To say I’m a fan is putting it mildly.

Herschel queries:

I've written a 15 page short with three characters. When I write I find it difficult to hear three different voices in my head. Is that bad? Is there a method or way, as a writer, to write with a different voice as you write? I guess that's the genius of a great writer.

Write very detailed profiles of your characters. Where are they from? How do they dress? What are their attitudes about things? How old are they? Does one talk slowly? Or with an accent? Fill up pages with little traits and background info. 

Sometimes if you model characters after people you know you can hear those people in your head. 

A great way to distinguish your characters is to make them all very different from each other.

And the best advice is to just LISTEN to people. Sit in a food court and just eavesdrop on conversations. What slang expressions are they using? How halting is their speech? How articulate are they? Do they cut each other off? Do they leave out pronouns? Do they babble? Or practically whisper? Do they say “like” six times in every sentence?

You can even jot down certain expressions or traits you’ve observed.

The more you can delineate the characters in your head, the better.

Barefoot Billy Aloha asks:

So, I'm watching and laughing along with Cheers and one of the bar wars episodes you guys wrote (S11-EP19, Bar Wars VII, The Naked Prey)when I see a familiar face sitting at the bar.

What in the Wide Wide World of Sports was golfer John Daly doing as an extra?

You’re either very observant or spending too much time watching the extras. Yes, occasionally we would slip someone of note in the background. One of my favorite sports columnists of all-time, Allan Malamud (pictured: left), would pop up in the bar three or four times a year during the later seasons. Steve Bailey, a longtime LA sports announcer and one of my broadcast mentors also spent some time swilling beer at the bar.

We were also not above throwing relatives in there too. Rhea’s dad Phil became a regular and even a recurring character. My dad can be seen from time to time at the juke box hustling young women.

I, meanwhile, made only one appearance for one scene during the last Bar Wars episode. I was pretty great, if I do say so. At least as good as John Daly.

From ally:

Why is your name before David's on the title card? Did you flip a coin to decide?

Sssssssh. Don’t tell David.

Actually, my name came first originally because I called him and said I’m going to try writing a script, would he like to write it with me?

But once we started actually selling I made an offer some other teams employ – we could rotate the names from year to year. At that point David said leave it. Our credit flashes on and off so quickly and his relatives knew where to look so we just kept things status quo.

However, when David and I wrote ALMOST PERFECT scripts with Robin Schiff we did shuffle the names.

Douglas Trapasso has a question that is timely considering the technical snafu during game one of the World Series.

Have -you- ever worked play by play when there was a major technical flareup like in Game One? How did you ad lib through it?

One time calling a Mariner TV game in Detroit the monitor went out as did the audio channel allowing the director to talk into my ear. I didn’t know if I was still on the air or if I was but the picture wasn’t. I just said on the air that we’re having technical issues and began calling the game as if on radio in case the audience wasn’t receiving video. Turns out it was just my monitor, the audience was receiving the picture just fine. So some of the viewers were probably thinking, “why doesn’t this idiot shut up? He’s telling us all this stuff we can see.” It would not be the first time a viewer thought I should shut up.

Once, while announcing for the Orioles, we were in Cleveland for a night game. This was the old stadium, a cavernous grim drafty structure on the shore of Lake Erie. I was alone on the radio. My partner was doing television.

Five minutes after the game began the lights went out. It was still light enough to play but they decided to take a delay until the problem could be corrected.

Our format required that once a game began we would not send it back to stations during delays. So I had to ad lib.

Now usually with a rain delay there are satellite images and they can guestimate how long the delay will be. But with this, no one had any idea.

And since it was the very start of the game, I had nothing to recap. I could give the pitching match up and keys to the game, etc. but I had just done all of that.

I don’t recall much of what I said but I reprised all the pre-game nuggets, and I know I did a whole bit about how hard it was to get an electrician to make house calls after business hours. I said the PA announcer should ask if there was anyone in the house who could solder. I think I then created this electrician character who I said they found in a bar. Everyone was holding their breath that he wouldn’t have to climb up one of the light towers. Then I said he’d only take cash and a hat was passed around in the Indians’ dugout. Goofy stuff like that.

The delay lasted forty-five minutes. And this was the night after I had call a double-header by myself in Kansas City where both games went into extra innings.

And still, I loved every minute of it.

More Friday Questions coming on Friday. Leave yours in the comments section. Thanks.


Peter said...

Not so much a question but a recommendation. The UK got the new Bond movie SPECTRE last week. I think the States gets it this weekend. You're in for a treat. It's a fantastic movie and much much better than Skyfall, which I hated with a passion. Everything hits the right note - the action, the locations, the cars, the girls, the villain. Dave Bautista is a memorable henchman in the tradition of Jaws. And Monica Bellucci is THE hottest 51 year old in the world. I think it's great that for once they cast a Bond babe who's older than usual.

If you see it, Ken, hope you enjoy it and that you review it too.

Bill Avena said...

I sure noticed the extras when Gretchen Corbett showed up as Sam's blind date (while Diane got Andy Andy). TV did not know what to do with her.

Fred Vogel said...

Notes on a Scorecard was always a favorite of mine.

Katherine @ Grass Stains said...

If you were asked to come on board an existing program today specifically to introduce and write for a new character to help reinvigorate the show, who would you throw into the mix, and why? Pick any existing show. (For example, I'm thinking of the recent introduction of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the new PI on one of your favorites, The Good Wife. In my opinion, he's injecting some much-needed sexual tension with Julianna Margulies, while at the same time playing a valuable role in the Cases of the Week.)

Earl Boebert said...

Did Larry Gelbart ever tell you why it took so long for "The Wrong Box" to become available for home viewing? I think it's some of his best work ("I was standing in the water closet of the Bournemouth Express ..."), it's such a treat to watch Wilfrid Lawson steal scenes (from Sir Ralph Richardson, no less) and of course the Peter Sellers turn is a masterpiece. I recently got it on DVD and it remains one of the funniest movies ever made.

YEKIMI said...

Been to two Cleveland Indians games in my life. One was the old Municipal Stadium which I thought was one of the most scary, depressing places I had ever been in. It's where baseball careers went to die. My boss took me and I noticed as we're walking through the place water dripping from various spots and people giving a very wide berth to the puddles forming. Made a joke that people in Cleveland must be very afraid of getting wet. He said, "Nope, that's urine dripping from the ceiling and those are piss puddles they're avoiding". Thought he was joking, turns out he wasn't. Told him I would NEVER set foot in that dump again after the game and no matter how often he invited me I never went back. Second was the new place, Jacob's [now Progressive] Field. I'd go back there in a heartbeat if the parking wasn't an absolute nightmare. I think there are still people wandering around looking for their cars that they parked there on opening day...in 1994.

David P said...

Friday Question:

If you had a Hall of Fame ballot, who would you vote for?

Tom Quigley said...

Ken Levine said...

"And the best advice is to just LISTEN to people. Sit in a food court and just eavesdrop on conversations. What slang expressions are they using? How halting is their speech? How articulate are they? Do they cut each other off? Do they leave out pronouns? Do they babble? Or practically whisper? Do they say “like” six times in every sentence?"

Great advice. I was once in a writing group where one of the other participants was a man in his 60's (this was 20 years ago) and he was writing a script about some young teens at summer camp and asked the group "How do you write dialogue so it sounds like a teenage boy?" I suggested he go sit in a McDonald's that was located near a high school just about at dismissal time and listen to the conversations of the kids that came in and talked with each other. I guaranteed he'd pick up a lot of slang, hip conversation and ideas about what kids were talking about those days.

Roger Owen Green said...

There was a JEOPARDY! question about the book Ball Four. NO one got Jim Bouton. These young kids...

Michael said...

Ken, legend has it that during rain delays, Mel Allen could do one hour just on the infield fly rule. I really would have liked to have heard that. I used to love it when the Cubs had a rain delay because they would keep it at the stadium, and Harry Caray and Steve Stone would interview everybody in sight. This led to everything from Doug Harvey explaining how he knew the rain was about to end in St. Louis (birds would start circling center field) to Tim McCarver doing his Harry Caray impression, which was quite good.

Mighty Dyckerson said...
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Tore W. said...

Phew. Thanks!

Geo. said...

I know Seinfild was recorded in front of a live audience (always the best kind). But so much of the show seems to have been recorded outside and then creatively edited into massive portions of the program. What did the studio audience see at the taping, were they just mostly watching the monitors? Youth wants to know.
Geo. Stewart
Crazy College Radio

Geo. said...

I know Seinfild was recorded in front of a live audience (always the best kind). But so much of the show seems to have been recorded outside and then creatively edited into massive portions of the program. What did the studio audience see at the taping, were they just mostly watching the monitors? Youth wants to know.

Cat said...

Ken, are you watching Fargo at all? If so, thoughts? I think it is one of the best things on the air right now.

i could be a bob said...


I was lucky enough to attend the Seinfeld episode "The Fatigues." Any "walking down the street" stuff was performed to the audience with the actors just walking around the stage where the cameras would be. There was a scene in a restaurant, and that was shot at a different time, but the actors did the scene live for audience, sitting in a makeshift area in front of "Jerry's Apartment." A scene with Kramer talking to Frank Costanza about his time as a cook in Korea (with a flashback) had been pre-taped and edited, and that was shown to the audience on monitors. There was a scene with Jerry talking to George in his "Yankee office" and that office was underneath the audience bleachers, so we saw Jerry but George was on monitor.

Season 8, so they had way more set ups than space to shoot it all. You think about your knife, the only friend who hasn't betrayed you...

MikeK.Pa. said...

I second what Tom Quigley said. Pearls like those are invaluable and well worth the subscription price. It's why I did the two-year renewal. :)

I got BALL FOUR in junior high in hardback for a plane trip to the Midwest. I couldn't put it down. Terms like beaver shooting and snipe hunts were new to me. Left a big impression on me and opened my eyes to what happened behind the scenes in the locker room and hotel rooms. That is my until I got my hands on THE GODFATHER a few years later, and my world really opened up.

Anonymous said...

The best extemporizing by two baseball announcers ever, without a doubt, was by Jimmy Piersall and Harry Caray, when Harry was with the White Sox (pre Cubs, post Cards). Nothing was off limits. Nothing.

Andy Rose said...

Sports technical snafu story:
I used to be the studio producer/engineer for the Florida State football radio network. Basically, this means that I was pushing the buttons in the studio to combine the call from the pressbox with commercials, studio scoreboard updates, audience phone calls and other elements.

For home games, the pre-game show was done live from the parking lot outside the stadium. One year, they were hosting the Florida Gators for the annual big in-state rivalry. In the middle of the pre-game show, suddenly everything went dead from the site. No audio on the primary line or the backup line, it was all gone. The only thing working was the off-air closed-circuit phone I used to communicate with the on-site producer. I could hear a slight commotion in the background on that line, but couldn't get anyone to answer me.

I played the "panic cart" for a minute until the signal was restored. The on-site producer finally got back on the line and told me during the next commercial what had happened. It turns out all of the cables for their equipment happened to be colored either blue or orange. A drunk FSU tailgater stumbled by, said, "What the hell are you doing with all these Gator colors?" and ripped all the wires out.

Bob Johnson said...

Ken, your mention of Alan Malamud brought back memories of the greatest sports section roster ever assembled, in my humble opinion. In addition to Malamud, the Herald Examiner had Bud Furillo, Mel Durslag, Bob Hunter and, as I recall, a very young Doug Krikorian. It was like a Murderer's Row of sports writers, while all the mighty L.A. Times had was Jim Murray. Thanks for bringing back some good memories of some great L.A. sportswriters.

Mike Barer said...

No one asked my opinion, but if I had a baseball Hall Of Fame ballot, I would vote for Curt Flood.

Bob said...

Walter Cronkite told a story once about how he worked at a radio station in Oklahoma City and there was an Oklahoma football game he was "calling". This was in the olden days where they would get descriptions of the game in via wire (telegraph to you younger folks) and he would read them on the air, as if he were live at the game.

The wire goes dead. So for a while, he has to ad lib and make up plays, make it look as if the game were still live. He had the teams go up and down the field a couple times, through in a couple punts, etc.

The wire started working again, and in the interim, one team had scored. So he found a way to work that in. Then it was back to normal.

Diane D. said...

I have heard versions of that story about so many radio announcers from the olden days (including former President Reagan) that I have to wonder if there really were so many men (they were all men) who had the rare talent to ad lib so seamlessly, or if that story was just appropriated A LOT. I wouldn't blame them---it's a great story and who could prove them wrong? Anyway, I had never heard it about Walter Cronkite and it's fun to think of that elegant gentleman in the rough and tumble early days of radio, about which I would have known very little if not for Ken Levine's hilarious stories.

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