Friday, February 03, 2017

Friday Questions

Your Friday Questions answered here.

Ted Kilvington is appropriately up first.

First time caller, long time listener. Based on all your podcasting experience, what tips do you have for a podcast n00bie?

My extensive podcasting experience (over a month now) would suggest this: Utilize the same principles as regular broadcasting. Think of the listener first. What would HE find interesting? What added value can you provide to HIS life? Choose topics he can relate to and/or will entertain him.

And then there’s YOU. Whatever your subject matter, there are probably dozens if not hundreds of other podcasts touching on the same territory. So the difference is YOU – your personality, your insight, your communication skills.

For my podcast, the only thing really unique I have to offer is ME – my take, my approach, my sense of humor. And I have to be true to that. The podcast will either be a success or not, but I’m not going to change my personality or style to chase listeners. I live by the words of the greatest existential philosopher of them all – Popeye the sailor man – who so brilliantly said, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.”

Good luck with your podcast. Hopefully, you and everybody reading this will subscribe to mine. Just click on the button right underneath the masthead. 

From Matt, Westwood CA about one of my favorite all-time writers.

I've always been a big fan of David Lloyd, one of the all-time great sitcom writers. When people talk about so much writing talent influenced by THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, I've always noticed the continuity of writing talent that spawned from MTM to TAXI to CHEERS and FRASIER. For writing and directing, the one common thread is David Lloyd and James Burrows are the only ones to write and direct episodes of all 4 series. Since you worked with and knew David Lloyd, I'd love to know your personal favorite of his scripts from each show. I know you attended the famous Chuckles episode filming, if that is your favorite MTM, please note second favorite as he wrote so many great mtm's.

There are so many it’s hard to choose. For THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW I would say an episode called “The Critic.” The acerbic reviews from the newly hired WJM movie critic were vintage David Lloyd.

For CHEERS it would be “Diane’s Perfect Date” from season one – the episode that introduced us to Andy Andy (although I was the one who named him).

“Jim Joins the Network” is my favorite David Lloyd TAXI episode. Reverend Jim becomes a TV network executive. It’s a wonderful satire on the industry.

Finally, for FRASIER I would pick “the Innkeeper.” Frasier and Niles buy a restaurant. Disaster after disaster hilariously occurs on opening night highlighted by a car crashing through the place. (Jim Burrows directed and the car stunt was done live before the studio audience.) 

I recommend you watch all of those episodes. Hey, I should watch them all again myself. 

ChipO asks:

According to your podcast, your name is Levine, rhymes with wine. I've know several Levines who pronounced their name to rhyme with bean.

Obviously both are correct. Any insight for us goyim?

You say tomato…

There is no rhyme nor reason for it. I like to tell people that west of the Mississippi it’s pronounced “Le-Vine” and east of the Mighty Mississip it’s “Le-Veen.” But that of course is nonsense. It’s just fun to see who believes me.

And finally, Harrison from Albany wonders:

The Cheers episodes that feature Harry the Hat are among my favorites, and "Pick a Con... Any Con" is my all-time favorite. Did all of the many cons originate with the writers, or did they solicit Harry Anderson for anything he thought would work well, given his extensive background in magic (and television). I'm thinking of the smaller cons he'd pull, not the ones that plots were built on.

I’ll be honest. Harry Anderson gave us a lot of those cons, including the one in “Pick a Con… Any Con.” Writers would occasionally dream up those things, and David Isaacs & I thought up most of the Bar Wars episodes and stings ourselves, but we learned a ton from Harry. My advice if you know him: Don’t exchange a twenty for change. You’ll somehow end up with five singles and be out a hundred dollars.

What is your Friday Question? I also answer these on my podcast so if you write a question, tune in to see if I’ve answered yours. Thanks.


Mark said...

Hey Ken, I love both the blog and your podcast. Perhaps you can answer this question on your podcast since this has never been asked . My question is how cone we have never heard stories about Mrs. Levine I.e how you met, your courtship, what she does for a living. It would be nice to hear some background or is there an unwritten rule when you started this blog saying no mention of the wife?

Charles H. Bryan said...

I just recently watched "The Innkeeper". It is indeed very funny, and Martin Crane's pure delight in the disaster was wonderful.

A Friday Question, possibly addressed before: Are you able to separate the artist from the personality? I ran into a little something recently as I was skimming through twitter. There was a particularly obnoxious political tweet and when I checked the name (verified, if that's a guarantee of identity) it was written by an actor from a favorite show. I was kind of surprised, so I checked the timeline and it was one nasty political dig after another. (It was NOT Betty White.) After that, I didn't feel so warm and fuzzy about that performer or the series in which the actor appeared. But is that an overreaction? And do producers/studios worry about the cast or staff's social media presence? Thanks, Ken!

VP81955 said...

"My advice if you know [Harry Anderson]: Don't exchange a twenty for change. You'll somehow end up with five singles and be out a hundred dollars."

A sign his "Night Court" residuals are running low.

Michael said...

Friday question: Do you know which CHEERS writer came up with the name Frasier Crane? Frasier is such an unusual name, wondering if he or she knew one in real life.

Unknown said...

Friday question: In looking for scripts online of shows I want to write a spec for, I've come across several people who have posted their own spec scripts online. What are your thoughts on this practice? Seems like a bad idea to me, or at least not one that would land you a job. But I could be wrong.

By Ken Levine said...


Mrs. L. prefers to keep a low profile.

John in NE Ohio said...

Reminds me of a FQ I had years ago that Ken answered.

Another unusual name was Honoria [Ha-NOOR-i-a] (or however it was spelled), Dr Winchester's sister that he talked about fairly often. I have never met anyone with that name, nor heard of anyone with that name, so I always had thought it to be made up. In one of the later seasons (maybe even the last few episodes) someone mispronounces the name to rhyme with gonorrhea. My dad always thought that this was a made up name with the joke in the back pocket from day one, waiting years for the payoff. I asked it as a FQ, and as I recall Ken said it was a former date that had that name. He's a better man than I, cause I would have just said "Yes, I am that clever and still have 97 hooks jokes that are just as funny I never used. Every name is picked for it's comedic possibility."

Steve Mc said...

Ken, I'm really enjoying the podcast. Your radio experience is very valuable here. A lot of people listen to the radio and think "I could do that" but don't realize that, when you open the mike, you have to know where you're going. The best DJ's (even Howard Stern with all the time he has to fill) do a LOT of prep to make it sound 'off the cuff'. Others walk in, open the mike, and have no idea where it's going...and it shows. I've worked in radio for over 25 years (not on air) and love to watch a good jock connect with the audience in a 1:1 conversation. (In my humble opinion, the audio montage of theme songs is overpowered by the added percussion. The volume on that bed should be lowered, it sounds now like the DJ had two pots up simultaneously.)

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Love the WLS story on the podcast!

Would the dj have been Alan Burns or maybe Jeff Davis? Well, they came earlier so probably not, but those were the only guys I knew in Chicago when I was there. I auditioned ten years before that for Jim Davis who ran the fm station WDAI, but he said I was too tall. :)

If you have an aircheck of that opening break, put it in the next podcast if you want.

Fun story!

Tom Straw said...

I once co-wrote an episode of Dave's World with Harry Anderson. When we finished, it was time to determine billing for the Written By, so we tossed a coin. He called heads, and got top billing. The next morning I marched straight to the set and said that it occurred to me that I did a coin toss with s close-up magician. He laughed and said, "I wondered how long it would take you to figure that out." -- I still have the two-headed quarter he gave me.

Tyler said...

"Pick a Con, Any Con" is one of my favorite episodes of Cheers, too, and it demonstrates a kind of patient sitcom storytelling that just isn't done today. There are long stretches of the episode without a single joke that wouldn't fly in today's shows.

It had wonderful acting, too. Harry Anderson was great, and Nicolas Colasanto was just brilliant in that episode. The facial expression he has late in the episode when the older con man is yelling at him breaks my heart every time, even though I know there's more going on than there first seems.

John E. Williams said...

HI Ken, Friday question:

On the many shows on which you worked, which actors in your opinion played their characters the most distant from their real personalities? For instance, I know you've told us Nicholas Colasanto was nothing even remotely like Coach, and I think we all know Kelsey Grammer in real life couldn't be less like Frasier Crane. I have always assumed Alan Alda is very much Hawkeye in a lot of ways, but for all I know I could be wrong.

DBenson said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Taxi's "Reverend Jim" lose the clerical title as a result of Jonestown? I recall that "The Great American Hero" had his surname changed after a guy with the same name shot Reagan. Any other cases of character names or other show details being changed because of real-world events?

ScarletNumber said...

Wow, Tom Straw has quite the resume. He wrote 4 episodes of Night Court.

Liggie said...

Here's a radio question. Local DJs/hosts will give commercials for a local business (usually a car dealership) and mention the great car and customer service they got from them. Do those commercials originate because the host bought the car on his own, liked it, and approached three dealer, or because the dealer offered to give a car to the station in exchange for sponsorships?

John Jackson Miller said...

Long ago Harry Anderson frequented the comic shop chain my wife worked for in Seattle. Cashiers were on notice to watch out for the occasional hijinks at the payment counter -- all in fun, I would presume. Or maybe someone saw too many Harry the Hat episodes!

Andy Rose said...

@Liggie: It's pretty rare for a personality to buy a product on their own and then push for a sponsorship. The sponsor usually approaches the talent. But if a host is going to make a personal endorsement like that, then he or she is getting use of the car personally, it's not just for the station. Usually car deals like that are structured as a paid-off lease, with the talent periodically switching off for a new vehicle. (Stations often do a "trade off" of commercial time in exchange for something from a sponsor... a station vehicle, custodial service... I've even seen it done for bottled water.)

A fair number of endorsements are structured as one-time only services for the talent that are paid off by doing the commercials for a year or two. Home improvements, eye surgery, bariatric surgery, etc.

VP81955 said...

To Andy Rose: KNX here in LA apparently is teeming with such commercials.

Cap'n Bob said...

Ken: Speaking of radio, did you hear that Herb Oscar Anderson died? He was the morning guy on WABC when I was a teen in the sixties, and probably beyond that. He was a strange duck for that station's format. No screaming or hysterics, just a calm, avuncular voice doing a Breakfast Club style show.

Andy Rose said...

@VP81955: There are some national ad groups that specialize in endorsement marketing. Some of their clients like to blanket the airwaves, which is why around Valentine's Day you'll hear everyone from Sean Hannity to Tom Joyner to Dan Patrick to your local morning DJ hawking Shari's Berries. These days, the big talk show hosts all seem to have at least one "live read" endorsement commercial every hour. With traditional national radio advertising drying up, it's the endorsements that are keeping shows afloat.

Mike said...

@Andy Rose: custodial service There's something lost in translation here. Sounds like plea bargaining: "Advertise our private-sector managed prison and we'll cut a year off your star DJ's sentence for statutory rape."

Mike said...

@mark bosselman: Debbie is a social worker. Ken & Debbie met when Ken was researching stories for The Jeffersons.

Unknown said...

Although the article is a few years old, I was interested to read about "pay for airplay" broadcasting. Some of the radio hosts like the idea, some really don't. Some, like John Craddock (Frank O. Pinion) have another arrangement. "Frank O. Pinion has a long-running popular and highly profitable general talk/entertainment show at KTRS (550 AM). He also has an unconventional arrangement with the station as he neither buys his air time nor draws a salary. Instead, he controls 3-4 minutes of the 15 minutes or so of advertising time per hour in his afternoon drive-time program and uses that revenue to pay his sidekicks and himself."

What's your take on this?

Mark S. said...

And of course QVC host Kathy Levine pronounces it "Le Vin" rhyming with "win"...

Mike said...

@ChipO: (Clearly not a real name.) It's pronounced "Lurve-in". Ken is a child of the sixties.

Homesick Canadian in Taiwan said...

I have a Friday Question about laugh-tracks.

Many of your posts are about the importance of getting authentic laughs from the studio audience. If a joke doesn't get laughs, it's cut or re-worked, etc.

However, I don't quite get how this works. It's well known from blooper reels that actors often flub lines and have to re-shoot. How does an audience give an uproarious response to a joke they're hearing for a second, third, or fourth time? My understanding is that this is what laugh-tracks are for. It's also been part of common knowledge in TV culture that producers just add a laugh-track when jokes don't get a response -- for situations like you've written about when an audience is comprised of a busload of Japanese tourists who don't understand English but want to see a taping of a hit American show. Or simply because a joke falls flat and the director thinks the home viewer will be amused if they hear the canned laughter.

When you write about the importance of getting authentic laughs and re-writing jokes, you make it seem as if the pre-recorded laugh-track is an urban legend -- you never seem to mention it, like it doesn't exist. So where is the boundary? When are laugh-tracks used, have your multi-cam shows used them, and when are they considered inappropriate?

C_Stangg said...

Ken Levine, I've got a question for you. What motivated you to develop such awesome games? I remember when I first played Bioshock, it questioned questioning my own questions upon life. I never thought that the logic placed before me (High School) was inheritly flawed or jaded. I realized my potential and that I'd have to become better than what I thought was a norm. Point being, with all of the deviations in life, I am now a senior in Manufacturing Engineering, the last place I thought I'd be, and to this day wonder how did you develop such a monumental piece of work? I never thought I'd pass a College Algebra class but here I am in Calculus 3. I thought I'd be sucked into the small town mindset that "you're never going to go far kid, just give up."

Dave Bittner said...

Ken, two items for you.

I wonder if you ever crossed paths during your radio career with Johnny Holliday, former DJ and current sports broadcaster for the University of Maryland? Here's a nice interview with him, looking back at the old days in radio.

Second a MASH question. When I was in middle school we had a substitute teacher who was a former Braniff Airlines pilot, but also claimed to the pilot on MASH, flying for five-oclock-Charlie. His name is Jody Keydash. Any recollection or stories, there?

Thanks! Great job on the blog, and the podcast is a fun new addition.

John Hoare said...

Hi Ken,

A Friday Question for you. I was reading a copy of the Frasier pilot script, and it has a whole section at the beginning which doesn't appear in the final version of the episode. It features loads of people listening to Frasier's show in a cab, the kitchen, the park, etc, and reacting.

Was this ever shot, do you know? It's marked as "TO BE SHOT AT A LATER DATE". My suspicion is that once the pilot came in long, as you've already described on your blog, this stuff never got in front of the cameras.


Captain Schmideo said...

"I have never met anyone with that name, nor heard of anyone with that name,"

Maybe not in real life, but you need to be more familiar with P.G. Wodehouse and his characters in "Wooster and Jeeves". One constant thorn in the side of Bertie Wooster was avoiding the trap of being married to the very aggressive Honoria Glossop.
If you can, look up the BBC series that starred Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. Comedy Gold!