Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Episode 22: Hanks for the Memories

Ken tackles a variety of subjects including getting Tom Hanks to star in his movie, dealing with agents, and the wacky fights he had with network standards & practices people. Lots of Hollywood stories and laughs. Plus, find out what the deal is with character actors.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!


Here’s a FQ that prompted an entire post.

Craig Russell asked:

Have you seen the new TV Land offering "Nobodies"? It’s produced by Melissa McCarthy and is about a trio of sitcom writers, trying to make it while having personal lives.  I wondered if you had seen it and had any insight.

I’ve just seen a few episodes and thought it was… okay. The actors are fine, there are amusing moments, but generally I find the show undercooked. And they go after easy targets.

When the jokes aren’t inside Hollywood jokes, most of the humor comes from the three leads either humiliating themselves or acting like jerks.

My biggest problem (and this is my pet peeve with a lot of series) is why do we care? This team of writers (and by the way, rarely if ever are there writing teams of three) has a job. Okay, it’s on a stupid kids’ animated series but it’s a steady job. They work in a cool office on a studio lot. There are a thousand unemployed writers who would kill for that job. Not to mention the viewing audience. How many miserable office drones or Roto-Rooter men would trade jobs in a second?

That’s one of the standard problems with doing shows about writers. People who have “real” jobs and do heavy lifting find it hard to feel sorry for highly paid TV writers who get annoying notes. Not that the problems we face aren’t legit and just as soul-sucking, but it ain’t digging ditches.

Again, in the pilot – the plot is that they have a spec screenplay they want to sell so they can make lots of money. We’re paid lip service that one of the writers is a single mom and another has a family with kids to support. But beyond that they’re never mentioned.

The big story complication is they lie in a meeting at Paramount and say that Melissa McCarthy will play the lead of their movie. Then they text Melissa and go to her husband and neither of those ploys work so they resort to plan B and try to get Jason Bateman who they pitch in a pick up basketball game.

So getting back to the “why do we care?” question: They are writers good enough that they can get a studio meeting. Maybe Paramount didn’t buy this one but so what? There are other places to go and there are thousands of screenwriters who can never get one meeting. The three writers obviously know Melissa McCarthy to where she’s trading texts with them. They’re friends with her husband. They have connections to where they have access to Jason Bateman.

Boy, for struggling writers they sure have it easy.

In general you want your characters to desperately NEED something. E.G. -- Selling a movie means he doesn’t lose his house. Then you make it as difficult as you possibly can for that character to achieve his goal. How does a roof repair guy who knows nobody in the industry somehow get to Melissa McCarthy? Do you see the difference?

So the show is okay, but I think it could be better and funnier. It’s obviously a lot of Groundlings people getting together, having some fun, knocking out some shows.   But I feel a little like I’m intruding on someone else’s party. No one is throwing me out, but no one is making me feel particularly welcome either. If I want to stand off to the side and laugh at their jokes I can stay. In a sense, I’m the nobody.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Does anybody watch TV anymore?

We sure live in a different TV world. For all the hype about the return of TWIN PEAKS on Showtime, only 500,000 people watched the premier that Sunday night. Showtime did say however that it resulted in the single biggest day of sign-ups so in that regard the series debut was a success. And we all know that different platforms have different criteria for success. Ratings mean way more to CBS than Showtime.

But still! Only 500,000 people? In the entire country – population: 324,118,787? And by the way, TWIN PEAKS’ numbers were up 178% from Showtime’s GUERRILLA mini-series. I mean, now we’re getting down to where you could put an entire national viewing audience in a fairgrounds. On the first year of CHEERS we bemoaned that no one in the world was watching us and we had 19,000,000 viewers.

This is all the result of niche programming and unlimited new options, but it still seems shocking to me. Those are the kinds of numbers local Top 40 stations used to get. Except radio’s overhead was a disc jockey and transmitter. Even the records were free. God knows what it cost to produce that two-hour TWIN PEAKS opener.

And for all that hype and ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY cover stories, etc. I’m sure more people watched some YouTube video of a cat slipping on ice. I bet the cat also whipped the major broadcast networks. Tabby probably had 19,000,000. And how much does it cost for an ice cube?

The great thing about having a show on television used to be that it had an impact. On MASH we would always have first night parties for our season premiers. Year six was the introduction of David Ogden Stiers as Charles Winchester. I was sitting with him on the couch and just before the show came on I said, “Your entire life is about to change in the next hour.” He scoffed. It’s just a TV show.

Three days later he came up to me on the set and said, “Ohmygod! You were right. I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t go ANYWHERE without being recognized. My life has completely changed.” (And happily, for the better.)  That was TV's reach.

You knew you were in the big leagues. The work you did was going to be seen on the big stage. And I’ll be honest, all too often we took it for granted. 19,000,000 viewers is hardly “nobody’s watching.”

500,000 viewers – and remember when TWIN PEAKS originally debuted on ABC it drew 34,000,000 – that IS nobody watching. Not for “television.” Watch out for that cat.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

It always seems weird to me that a festive occasion should be called “Memorial Day.” The purpose of the day is to pay tribute to the men and women of our armed forces who have given their lives for our freedom. There is a national cemetery near my home and every Memorial Day American flags are posted in front of all the tombstone. It’s a startling sight – endless rows of matching white gravestones with American flags. When my kids were teenagers they helped plant the flags.

Having served in the Armed Forces Reserves, I've always considered myself incredibly lucky that I didn't have to fight in a war.  Back in those days we were drafted.  And it's all the more reason to give thanks to our current military personnel.  Not only are they there putting themselves in harm's way in awful hellholes, but they volunteered.  And they have a Commander-in-Chief who is out of his mind.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of participating in the Veterans Retreat Weekend put on by the WGA.  Returning vets worked in small groups with professional writers who served as mentors.  It was amazing how talented these people were.  And the stories they had to tell -- wow.

Maybe a cool thing to do today is watch some war movies.   And they don't have to be horrifically gruesome (although SAVING PRIVATE RYAN should be on the top of your must-see list).  CASABLANCA is a war movie of sorts.  And there are comedies like MASH.  APOCALYPSE NOW really captures the absurdity of war (and has some amazing performances), and if you've never seen Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY you will be blown away.

Others worth seeing are FULL METAL JACKET, SGT. YORK, PATTON, THE HURT LOCKER, THE DIRTY DOZEN, THREE KINGS, DEER HUNTER, and a film with one of my favorite titles ever -- DUCK, YOU SUCKER.

All terrific, and I'm sure you have your own, but my all-time never-to-be-topped favorite war movie is BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI.   It's David Lean's three-hour masterpiece starring Alec Guinness and William Holden.  It's not just one of the greatest war films ever made, it's one of the greatest movies PERIOD ever made.   And it's in Cinemascope!

Have a wonderful day. I plan to too. But I will be thinking about those flags.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Gary Burghoff explains Radar

As we approach Memorial Day...

I love when I can sometimes go to the source.  Reader Michael Rafferty submitted a Friday question.  Here's the question and the answer from the man himself, Gary Burghoff.  My EXTREME thanks to Gary for his time and very illuminating response. 

On MASH, first season, Gary Burghoff played Radar pretty much the same as he did in the movie version. But,over time, Radar was softened and became more gentle and naive. Was this a decision of Burghoff or was this a creative decision of Larry Gelbart et al.?

Here's Gary's answer:

In the original feature film MASH, I created Radar as a lone, darker and somewhat sardonic character; kind of a shadowy figure. I continued these qualities for a short time (review the Pilot) until I realized that the TV MASH characters were developing in a different direction from the film characters. It became a group of sophisticated, highly educated Doctors (and one head nurse) who would rather be anywhere else and who understood the nature of the "hell hole" they were stuck in.

With Gelbart's help, I began to mold Radar into more Innocent, naive character as contrast to the other characters, so that while the others might deplore the immorality and shame of war (from an intellectual and judgmental viewpoint), Radar could just REACT from a position of total innocence. This made RADAR super ACTIVE, free and very interesting on a primary "gut" level, which at times delivered the horror of war (as well as the dark humor we became known for) in an effective, universal way that anyone could understand.

Larry, in one interview, was quoted as saying that Radar was his favorite character to write for. I think he liked the fact that the character lacked guile and he could write from his own honest "child's-self" as apposed to having to create "clever" intellectual hyperbole.

ACTING IS RE-ACTING. LARRY gave Radar "permission" to REACT IN SPADES!! in a free, delightful and direct manner. Once these decisions were made, RADAR became PURE JOY to play!! God bless Larry Gelbart and his talented writers such as your most excellent SELF!

I hope this helps.

Love "Ya~ Gary

Love ya, too.  And P.S., Radar was one of my favorite characters to write as well.  It was a true honor to pen the "Goodbye Radar" episodes.  

Saturday, May 27, 2017

A long lost Levine & Isaacs episode

This is one of my favorite episodes. It's from THE TONY RANDALL SHOW. David Isaacs and I wrote it in 1977. The premise stems from an article I saw in the paper. The scenario we present actually happened.

In case you're one of the two or three people in the entire world not familiar with THE TONY RANDALL SHOW, he played a judge in Philadelphia. The series was produced by MTM and created by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses, who were the driving force behind THE BOB NEWHART SHOW and later BUFFALO BILL.

The episode features Zane Lasky as Mario Lanza and David Ogden Stiers just before he got a gig on another show you might have heard of.

So here, from the Pleistocene Era is our TONY RANDALL SHOW. Thanks to friend-of-the-blog, Jamie Weinman for unearthing it.

Case- The People Speak by carpalton

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Questions

Friday Questions anybody?

MikeN leads off:

What's the shortest amount of time you've had to rewrite your material?

South Park writers say they had to rewrite their episode starting Tuesday 8PM for an episode that would air Wednesday. Major rewrite as the first version was centered around laughing at Hillary cheerleaders that Bill would now be first gentleman.

They have an unusual schedule on SOUTH PARK that allows them to really serve it while it’s hot. For sitcoms the editing and post production process takes several days at least and usually more like weeks. An editor normally needs a few days. Then he gets notes from the showrunner. Then he re-edits. Once the cut is approved the show has to be color-corrected, sound and music added, any effects, credits. You just can’t do all of that in a couple of hours.

But when we were on BIG WAVE DAVE’S we had very little lead-time. So we were filming a show on Tuesday and airing it the following Monday. Trust me, for a sitcom that’s blazing speed.

Barry wonders:

Ken, you mention in the podcast about presenting Pilot episodes as stage productions. I think this is a fascinating and exciting idea, and I wonder if you think the idea of a theatrical company producing old Pilots, old episodes of classic sitcoms, maybe even recreations of live radio dramas would work on an ongoing basis. 

Have you ever known a professional company doing this with success? Are TV scripts available for rental, and are the rights relatively easy to obtain? I think presenting the productions as if the audience were watching the taping of an episode - complete with warm-up guy, maybe even APPLAUSE signs, etc - would be hoot.

I don’t see why it wouldn’t work – if you select good pilots. Remember a lot of pilots didn’t get on the air because they just sucked.

I don't know any professional theatre companies doing this on a regular basis. 

The problem is not every pilot can easily adapt to the stage. There are set limitations and number-of-actor limitations at some small theatres. You have to be creative. When I directed our pilot, UNDER ANDREA for the stage I had to rely a lot of lighting to sell the different sets.

In case you’re interested, here is a video of that pilot.

You might get into rights issues. Some studios may be more willing to release their projects than others. Scripts are not available for rental however.

But when we did it at the Whitefire Theatre it was a big success. So it’s sure worth a try.

Another Mike -- Mike Moody queries:

Friday question: do you think the stark political divisions in the country (literally, each side has their own news at this point) makes it more difficult to produce a TV show designed to appeal to the country as a whole?

Yes, but appealing to the whole country is no longer a prerequisite in this day and age of niche programming. And you can get sizable numbers by taking a stand. Look at Colbert and SNL.

On the other side (of the aisle), there are those who feel LAST MAN STANDING was cancelled by ABC because of its clearly Republican sentiment.  I still believe it was money. 

But I worry that if you try to appeal to everybody you might end up appealing to nobody.  

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

C'mon, sitcom writers -- you can do better

This is pretty much a follow up to yesterday’s post. Two trends in comedy tropes I see emerging from watching the trailers of the upcoming new sitcoms. Irony and the quick flip. And my problem is that both are lazy and not particularly funny.

First – the quick flip. A character says something and the opposite immediately occurs. But most times it’s so obvious that he’s setting himself up for the quick flip. “I’m a great driver!” followed immediately by a CRASH. We’ve seen this trope so often that the audience is way ahead of you. So there’s zero surprise.

And instead of funny clever lines, characters now offer underplayed ironic comments that are supposed to serve as punch lines. But they’re not. They don’t get laughs. They get smiles at best. Shouldn’t comedy writers aspire for more?

Take the new ABC Zach Braff show, ALEX INC. He’s in a development lab. Someone shows him a gadget and says: “they’re developing a robot that rocks a baby to sleep.” Next thing – the gadget fires a doll across a room where it slams against the wall. Quick flip. Then Zach says: “Coming along, fellas.” Irony.

And here’s the thing – anyone can write irony. Anyone can write the twenty alternate versions of “going great,” “keep up the good work,” “you must be proud,” etc. But a skilled comedy writer should be able to come up with stuff not everyone can think of. That’s what you pay him for. A professional should look at “coming along, fellas” and say “Oh, hell. We can beat that.”

Yeah, it’s just one joke. But it’s in the TRAILER. Shouldn’t trailers trot out the best stuff? That’s their funniest stuff?

Later in the trailer Zach says, “This is the best day of my life.” Then he’s slammed against a car and handcuffed. Quick flip. Then he says, “Handcuffs? What am I going to do? Run away?” I’ll give you one guess as to what happens next.

LA to VEGAS from Fox is not much different. A flight attendant says: “Anyone who sits here gets free beers.” A pregnant woman stands up. Flight attendant says: “Not you.” That’s not even ironic.
Later the pilot says: “If I can’t have fun with the passengers why am I here? The flight attendant’s hilarious comeback: “To fly the plane. Go do that.” So laughs are supposed to come from characters stating the obvious with attitude. Again, comedy writers can’t beat those lines?  You think the writers of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT would settle for those lines? 

The trailer continues. The pilot is in the passenger cabin and says: “This baby’s a technological miracle.” What happens next? He punctuates that by tapping an overhead bin and an oxygen masks falls. The quick flip that fools nobody.

In ABC’s SPLITTING UP TOGETHER Jenna Fischer and Oliver Hudson star as a married couple that has split up. Oliver is living in the garage. Jennifer is in the backyard talking to her girlfriends. She says: “I need sex in my life and Martin just doesn’t.” So of course, quick flip, the next shot is a hot babe entering the yard and asking where Martin is. You could see that coming from outer space. So Jenna calmly points her in the right direction and after she leaves Jenna turns to her friends and says: “What the (bleep) was that?” Explain the laugh. What am I missing? Jenna saying fuck although it was bleeped out? Jenna acting like she didn’t know what was going on when she obviously did? Or merely that’s the funniest reaction the writers could think of? “What the fuck was that?” No one, other than the sharpest, wittiest, most inventive brilliant comedy writers could come up with something as fresh and original and hilarious as “what the fuck was that?”

One final example although there are way many more – and these are just three show. Jenna tells Oliver the doctor says their son needs to masturbate. (Ooooh, edgy) Oliver points to a picture and says: “Is that Ruth Bader Ginsburg?” Jenna: “Yeah.” Oliver’s big comeback: “I really don’t think she’d appreciate this.” Ironic and stating the obvious.

Now I know I may sound like one of those old disgruntled geezers. But comedy I wrote decades ago is still being shown and still getting laughs so at least I’m a geezer with some street cred. I’m just saying to today's sitcom writers set the bar higher. And not just for us viewers (although, please DO) but for yourselves. Because the comedy writers who are indispensable are the ones that can produce big laughs. When a hundred or two hundred other guys can pitch the same lines you’re pitching you are easily replaced. And there’s nothing funny about that… or ironic.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Episode 21: Crazy People I've Hired & Other Tomfoolery

Not everyone in Hollywood is crazy. Just the people who worked for Ken. Laughs are the theme this week as he introduces you to some of the nuttiest writers’ assistants in Tinsel Town. Then he’ll relive some classic radio pranks and you'll meet one of America’s funniest disc jockeys.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Get ready for more silly shows

Nowadays networks post trailers for their new shows. It’s a great idea. Way more people are going to see the trailers on line than promos on the networks. And as opposed to :30 seconds you get to see several minutes of preview material.

I remember when CHEERS premiered there were people who turned in the first week and were disappointed because from the title they thought the show was about cheerleaders. We could have used a trailer – or more promos on a network that anybody watched at the time.

Of course you can’t really accurately tell what a show is going to be based solely on a three-minute trailer. But you can get an idea.

Watching the trailers for the new sitcoms the general impression I get is that they’re very broad. Especially the Fox sitcoms. Lots of physical stunts and CGI, parodies of other genres (including a STAR TREK send up starring Seth MacFarlane. How many times are we going to have Seth MacFarlane shoved down our throats? Enough already!).

And the characters in these new shows are primarily idiots. Bungling buffoons and dorks who think they’re way cooler/smarter/better looking than they are. All played at a heightened reality. The dialog is all wisecracks and irony. Fifty variations of “Gee, THAT worked out well.”

(I suppose everyone got the memo to be "edgy."  Practically all of the CBS comedy trailers have testicle jokes -- multiple testicle jokes, and the Jenna Fischer ABC show has a bunch of them too.)  

What’s wrong with comedies about real people? Comedies that aren’t just live cartoons? The audience grows to care, you save a fortune in CGI, and your show isn’t just as good as your last joke. Do networks feel that Millennials can’t relate to real people and so in order to justify that form of comedy they have to reboot old shows? If so, they’re really selling Millennials short – to the point of insult.

Or is it that those shows are harder to write and networks don’t trust the current crop to pull it off? There too, I guarantee you there are wonderful funny writers with great insight and fresh voices that are relegated to writing pratfalls because those are the only jobs they can get.

TV dramas continue to get more complex and layered, and TV comedies get sillier and sillier.  

Note to networks:  The new development season begins soon. This year how about trying something really daring and out of the box – two or three shows (or even one) that are intelligent aimed at viewers who recognize and appreciate quality? And you might be surprised – those viewers will be your coveted Millennials.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My commencement speech to the Class of '17

May and June are the graduation times of year. I guess a hundred years ago those commencement speakers were inspiring and offered thoughts and insights that were new and fresh. But now, Jesus! Be your own person. Never give up. You have a responsibility to society. Success comes from within. Show courage. You can make a difference. Set aside time to smell the roses. Let faith be your guide. Blablablablabla.

I’ve never been asked to be a commencement speaker and that’s probably a good thing because here’s some of the advice I might give:

Live at home with your parents as long as you can. Otherwise you’ll have to find a job. Rents are high. And then there’s laundry, food, and the family big screen.

Know that the music you think is so cool now will be laughed at by future generations.

Same with clothes.

And don’t follow your current favorite group around the country for the next thirty years. That becomes sad year one.

If you are going to honor your dear departed kitty Fluffy with a tattoo make sure all your subsequent pets are also named Fluffy.

Eat bad foods. You’re at an age when you can get away with it. And eat them at midnight. There’s plenty of time in the future for watching your carbs, eating your vegetables, avoiding red meat, and laying off the Yodels and Ring Dings. Soon enough you won’t be able to eat a bite after 8:00 without spending the night in the porcelain canyon . Do you want fries with that? Damn right you do!

Don’t buy SUV’s.

Practice safe and frequent sex. Have many romances and then fall in love when you’re 30.

Go back and study the history of your chosen field. Things actually happened before 1990.

Don’t blame your parents for everything. Your peers screwed you up just as much.

Sleep. It’s better for you than Red Bull.

You can no longer take an "incomplete".

Prepare yourselves. There will come a day – in your lifetime – that they will stop making original episodes of THE SIMPSONS. I know you don't believe me but it's true.

There’s a special bond having shared the school experience together. Stay in touch with your classmates. Even the ones you’ve slept with.

Don’t invest money in video stores.

Read novels that aren’t graphic.

Join communities that aren't virtual.

Save your journal or private diary. In twenty years you’re going to get such laughs.

Dream big but always have contingency plans. And then have contingency plans for your contingency plans.

Keep your student ID card. Use it to get into movies cheaper.

Guys, don’t wear hats. You’ll have plenty of time for that later once you’ve lost your hair.

Don’t sweat it if you don’t know what you’re going to do with your life. There’s a good chance the job you'll eventually want hasn’t been invented yet.

Never take comedy traffic school.

Buy your alcoholic beverages by the glass or bottle, not the keg.

And finally -- Be careful when you say you want your generation to change the world. My generation said that and did – we made it worse.

Congratulations to the class of '17. Now get out there and don’t fuck up my Social Security.

Monday, May 22, 2017

My review of the new TWIN PEAKS

When TWIN PEAKS first premiered in 1990 it truly was mind-blowing. There had NEVER been a show like that. Utterly spellbinding. David Lynch was at the height of his popularity. BLUE VELVET brought new meaning to the phrase “ear to the ground” and Dennis Hopper was maybe the creepiest villain ever... until Dean Stockwell showed up in the same movie.

Right from the first night TWIN PEAKS was an absolute sensation – a breakout hit for ABC. The entire country was speculating over who killed Laura Palmer and can a log really talk? The series was filled with riddles, and imagery, and horrific images, and the same crummy furniture from BLUE VELVET apartments. (Were Ralph & Alice Kramden the set dressers?)  Coffee and cherry pie became our national dessert.

Sound played a big role as well with eerie music and winds that only seemed to howl when characters were indoors.  There must be horrible insulation in the Pacific Northwest.  Where other shows hire orchestras to provide the soundtrack, Lynch seemed to use a guy breathing heavily into an oxygen mask.

TWIN PEAKS began as a midseason series and was riveting... until they revealed who actually killed Laura Palmer – well, sort of. After that it was never the same.  Everything after that felt unfocused. I just pictured writers Lynch and Mark Frost constantly saying “Now what do we do?” In short order, the series lost its magic and eventually was cancelled.

A few years later there was a TWIN PEAKS prequel movie that dealt with the Laura Palmer storyline in much greater detail. And the movie did… meh. Since I was a fan of the show I saw the movie. But the more I got to know Laura Palmer the less I liked her and the less I cared that someone was about to bump her off.

Then a few years ago word came down that Lynch and Frost were reviving TWIN PEAKS for SHOWTIME. Was I excited? No. Not really. Was I curious? Sure. Would Lynch be able to catch lightening in a bottle twice? Certainly worth a look.

I must say I was a little surprised by the level of anticipation as the premier date drew near. I guess there were a lot more diehard TWIN PEAKS fans than I thought. So I was in front of my TV last night at 9:00.

What did I think?


I remember back in college living in the dorm.  I would get together with a bunch of friends, we would gather in one room, put tin foil over the window, sit in the dark, and the only illumination was from the Snoopy blacklight poster. We’d pass around joints, drink Red Mountain wine that came in gallon jugs, listen to Moby Grapes albums, soak up the far out psychedelic vibes, and really think we were cool. It was all so deep and meaningful. Today I look back and think, “What an idiot!”

THAT’S how I felt watching last night’s TWIN PEAK debut. All that imagery and those spooky moody sequences that I once found so mind-blowing in 1990 felt repetitive and silly in 2017. I know that may not be the popular reaction, but I’m sorry. What the fuck was I watching?

I never found it scary. I fully expect the reboot of ROSEANNE to be scarier.

And not only was it very derivative of itself, it was derivative of LOST and FARGO as well. SPOILER ALERT – That big glass box – didn’t the Others put Jack in one just like it? And those stark landscape shots of snowy terrain and scenes where folksy folks talked folksy was FARGO without the humor.

For me the initial attraction of the original TWIN PEAKS was that you had this seemingly normal town but under the surface was all this evil and strangeness. Now everything is so completely whack that any shred of normalcy seems greatly out of place.

I look forward to reading other reviews. I’ll be interested to see whether the general consensus is that the new TWIN PEAKS was the work of genius and anyone who couldn’t see that was just dense, or whether they’ll agree with me that just random weirdness isn’t deep, it’s a college film student’s thesis movie.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Multi-cams require multi-skills

Lots of TV-related posts these last few weeks since it's the Upfronts time of the year. Here's another one:

As discussed, there are not that many multi-camera shows on at the moment. And a lot of young sitcom writers have never worked on a multi-cam. So the question is, can those young writers adapt and write in the multi-camera format?

And the answer is: of course they can... IF -- and it’s a big “if” – IF they are really good writers and really funny. Yes, there may be some adjustments in style but so what? Talent is talent.

However, for a multi-cam to succeed you need experience at the top. You need someone who has been through the wars. And for young writers, you need these mentors. “Why?” you might ask. “If I have the talent and a fresh voice and all the Red Bull I could drink why couldn’t I just run a multi-camera show?” Maybe you can. But can you answer yes to all of these questions?

When you and your young staff are at a runthrough and something doesn’t work can you identify just what that something is?

And how to fix it?

Can you and your young staff rewrite an entire script overnight?

Can you come up with that big joke at 3:30 AM that gets you out of the act?

Do you know how to deal with temperamental actors (although this skill or masochistic tendency applies to any format)?

If you know your show is going to be long can you watch the quad split and know if you have the proper coverage to make the necessary lifts?

Can you budget your time between the writing, editing, casting, politics, and the hand-holding required to turn out 22 episodes in about 30 weeks?

And finally, can you turn out a product that you’re proud of? That doesn’t depend on canned laughter?

That’s a lot of stuff. Unless you’re a writer, did you even realize how many requirements went into that job? I’ll be honest, when David Isaacs and I joined the Charles Brothers to produce the first year of CHEERS, our background had been primarily single camera (MASH). Theirs was multi-cam (TAXI and various MTM shows). And they were solving problems we didn’t even recognize as problems. A couple of years before that we had a multi-cam pilot for NBC that didn’t get picked up. Once we saw what it really took to pull off showrunning a multi-cam we thought to ourselves, “We would have been buried if NBC had picked up that show. We were nowhere near being ready.” It was a humbling experience (one of many in our long career).

All young writers have growing pains and need to learn their craft. But I do think that young writers schooled in multi-cam have a steeper learning curve. And as a result are better equipped to take on anything. Those horrible late nights may be worth it after all. (Keep this post on file for when it’s 4:00 AM and you’re stringing Red Vines together to hang yourself.)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Join me on Instagram

Yes, I'm now on Instagram.   Please follow me at  Hollywoodandlevine.  I promise not to post any photos of food or cats.  Thanks. 

UPDATE:  Okay, you shamed me into it.  I just posted a "cat" photo.  

Now that the networks have set their Fall schedules... are a few things to look for:

ABC is really going to challenge NBC in February with AMERICAN IDOL, ROSEANNE, and THE BACHELOR. NBC will have the Winter Olympics. Usually any Olympics obliterates the competition, but the ratings three years ago from the Sochi games were meh at best. Of course, it doesn’t help that the USA wins maybe five medals total.

Tuesday night will have a flood of comedy. ABC, NBC, and Fox all have competing sitcoms.

WILL & GRACE will go up against THE BIG BANG THEORY when CBS no longer has Thursday Night Football. Good luck to WILL & GRACE.

On Thursday night, SCANDAL takes on THIS IS US. There’s enough real scandal in the White House. I expect THIS IS US to kick ass. And the Seth MacFarlane vanity Fox series goes against them both. That way Fox services the very few who think Seth MacFarlane is talented enough to warrant his own series (like he was talented enough to star in major motion pictures and talented enough to host the Academy Awards) and also satisfy the vast majority of viewers who don’t.

CBS has the most stable schedule. And stability has its advantages.

The CW is the all-Super Hero network. Unless your series star wears a cape you have no chance. How soon until they do a live version of Mighty Mouse? Fox and ABC only have half their schedules devoted to comic book characters.
AMERICA’S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS is still on the air. How is that even possible?

Is ABC giving up on Sunday night? I guess they feel they can’t compete against NBC Sunday Night Football. So they have TO TELL THE TRUTH and SHARK TANK. Their logo should be a white flag.

Friday night is now officially the dumping ground for hour-long series that have lost their luster. It’s hospice care for dramas.

YOUNG SHELDON will be the new hit comedy of the year. It’s also very funny.

Fox hopes that Lee Daniels becomes Shonda Rhimes as they’ve devoted all of Wednesday to his shows. By the way, I’m rooting for STAR.

Lots of military dramas on the schedule this year.  Green is the new Orange.

There are also a few religious-themed shows.   If you don't watch them this administration may just deport you.  

SURVIVOR is back. The only island they haven’t been to is Gilligan’s.

Throw in the intangibles like the World Series, two shows tanking and being cancelled right away, and it is still anybody’s guess how many episodes of ROSEANNE they’ll make before that thing implodes.

Next week I’ll talk about the types of sitcoms that were picked up and what to expect. Should be fun.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday Questions

Let’s dive into some Friday Questions.

The Bumble Bee Pendant has a question about the recent cancellation of LAST MAN STANDING:

Ken, so Tim Allen went on Twitter today (Tuesday) and said, "Stunned and blindsided by the network I called home for the last six years. "

We all know it's business, and its about money, but why would ABC burn a bridge, especially of an A List Star like Tim Allen? Why not be upfront, etc, and at least giving him some bullshit, rather than blindside him?

The Next time he or someone else has a product to share, ABC won't be their first choice.

Two truths: 1) Tim Allen is not an A-list star. Not anymore. Tina Fey is an A-list star. 2) Networks don’t care that they treat people poorly. Not anymore. Once they’re done with you they move on. I would not be surprised if some of the LAST MAN STANDING cast and writing staff found out about the cancellation on social media sites, not from phone calls from the network. You work on a show for six years and learn you’ve been dumped on Twitter.

And trust me, ABC is not alone. When a network wants to be in business with you you’re their best friend. They can’t do enough for you. HAMILTON tickets? You’ve got it. Room on the corporate jet? What time do you wanna leave?

Then they cancel your show and you have to walk home from New York.

Melissa Agar wonders:

I read today that Fox is bring New Girl back for an abbreviated season and that it will involve a time jump. Several shows in recent years have utilized this device -- Parks and Recreation, Jane the Virgin. I'm wondering what you think of the device. What challenges does it pose to a cast and staff?

I think it’s an interesting idea because it shakes up the show a little, and hopefully opens the door to new stories. It’s sure better than the reverse. On MASH we were stuck in this cosmic limbo where we couldn’t really do any time jumps. And trust me, by season seven it was very difficult to keep coming up with fresh stories that hadn’t been done.

Another advantage to the time jump:  If you want to make some cast changes they're easy to explain away. A line or two to cover the character’s exit and that’s it. You don’t have to do an episode showing his departure.

From suek2001:

I listened to your podcast through my ROKU device on my TV..through the TUNE IN great! I did have a random much did you have to pay to make your own theme song for the Podcast?

You mean my jingles? It helps to have a close friend who owns the largest and best jingle company in the world, Jam Creative Productions. We worked out a deal. A big thanks to Jon and Mary Lyn Wolfert.  The singers were amazing and here I am with them:
John E. Williams has a CHEERS FQ:

Was there ever an episode where Norm entered the bar and the writers forgot to add the "NORM" greeting?

There have been episodes where Norm entered with other people and on those occasions we didn’t do an official “Norm entrance.”  Usually they sang the theme from "the Magnificent Seven."

There may have also been a time or two when the bar was empty when he entered – so no, no “Norm entrance” on those.

Brad Apling wants to know:

It seems that bringing a TV show to the tube is complicated and getting more so in respect to, say, 30 years ago (which really isn't that long ago). So, it begs the question: Is there any encouragement for new writers to pursue the TV industry or is it a matter of numbers [some live, some die so might as well keep writing and trying]?

It is way easier to get a show picked up now than when I broke in. Back then there were three networks. If your pilot didn’t get on you were toast.

Now there are many networks, and streaming platforms, and premium cable channels. Shows can now be niche. So I would think for a writer this is a way more exciting time. Lot more buyers and opportunities. 

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The current trend in network comedies

Deadline Hollywood, the online industry website, posted an interesting article recently about single-camera vs. multi-camera sitcoms. You can find it here.

They accurately point out that this year networks pretty much bought reboots of popular retro multi-cams but practically all new comedies were single-camera.

So what does this mean, trendwise?

At this point I must pause for a disclaimer. I have no favoritism in this discussion. I’ve worked on both single-camera (MASH), and multi-camera (CHEERS, FRASIER) and love them both. Additionally, I have no plans to develop pilots for the networks in the near future so I don’t have a dog in this race.  All I ask is that a comedy be funny.  Use two cameras or shoot it on a surveillance camera.  I don't care.   End of disclaimer.

The article suggests that multi-cam shows are on the way out. Three current multi-camera series were cancelled – LAST MAN STANDING, 2 BROKE GIRLS, and DR. KEN. The first two for monetary reasons, the latter for humanitarian purposes. And NBC’s multi-camera offering, THE CARMICHAEL SHOW, airs in the summer, which is like a professional baseball player only getting to play in winter ball in Venezuela.

Nellie Andreeva, wrote the article, and I don’t disagree with anything she says. Multi-cameras are out of favor and young writers don’t want to write multi-camera (although many of these same young writers have never done it and maybe can’t write multi-cameras) so they don’t pitch projects of that genre.

But I think there’s more here to analyze. TV genres run their course and die. RIP Westerns and sayonara Variety shows. They faded for a good reason. People stopped watching them. So you would assume the same would be true for multi-camera comedies. But it’s not. Most of top rated sitcoms are multi-camera. THE BIG BANG THEORY, MOM, KEVIN CAN WAIT. What does CBS know that the other networks don’t? (CBS, by the way, did pick up a couple of new multi-cams.)

For all the single-camera shows on the air, how many of them are really big hits? I don’t mean time slot hits, or gaining .3 share of 18-34 women when Live + 7 Day totals are in – I mean a top ten major impact hit.  (MODERN FAMILY years ago but now it's just hanging on.)  And that’s not to say that there aren’t terrific single-camera shows (and conversely, truly terrible multi-camera shows). But when Westerns were dying, BONANZA wasn’t a top five show.

I always contend that viewers don’t select their comedies based on number of cameras. They don’t know the difference in most cases. They watch THE BIG BANG THEORY and FRIENDS and SEINFELD because they’re genuinely funny. When networks say they need to program a multi-camera show to compliment another multi-camera show I say why? Who gives a shit?

When Fox says it can’t launch a multi-camera show I say what comedy show that isn’t a cartoon CAN you launch? NEW GIRL? That was six years ago and despite its tepid numbers for years they still renewed it. Fox must really have been disappointed in their comedy development this year.

Certainly there is the nostalgia factor in rebooting shows like WILL & GRACE, ROSEANNE, ONE DAY AT A TIME, and FULLER HOUSE. But there is also the fact that they’re proven entities at a time when networks make all decisions based on fear. The fact that these reboots happen to be multi-camera, how many big hit single-camera shows have there been in the ‘80s and ‘90s? MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE maybe? Now it’s MALCOLM IN MIDDLE AGE.

And if these reboots work, what will it teach the networks --that multi-camera is still a viable form or they need to reboot SILVER SPOONS? What do you think?

There would be more multi-camera shows on the air today if networks put more of them on the air. Period. End of story. CBS gets that. You could argue that one of the new shows CBS bought is the YOUNG SHELDON spin-off of THE BIG BANG THEORY and even that’s single-camera. But it has to do more with storytelling. You want to see young Sheldon out and about in the world. You don’t want to see him stuck in his room. So of course it’s a single-camera show.  And I bet you it'll be damn funny

I think you stand a better chance of breaking through the clutter with a new multi-cam because you’re held accountable. The show has to get real laughs. And if you can pull it off (it’s not easy) you’ll stand out. And you know the TV business. If another FRIENDS comes along and is a sensation the next year there will be fifteen multi-camera shows on the air. 

But how can you find that next FRIENDS or FRASIER or SEINFELD if you don't develop multi-camera shows?

In fairness, though, I will say this:  When a single-camera show is bad it's usually just flat or boring.  When a multi-camera show is bad it's painful to watch.  And the forced canned laughter just makes it worse.   So it's riskier and risks are something networks are petrified of.  So it's not enough to develop multi-camera shows, you have to develop GOOD ones.  You have to hire writers who are skilled in the form.  Hey, it ain't Shakespeare.  They're out there. 

All that said, if I were developing for a network (and again, I am not) I would definitely pitch a single-camera show. Why? Networks are more receptive, I’d have a better chance of selling it, and here’s the main reason: There would be less interference. With multi-camera shows every day there is a runthrough; the notes are endless. On the night the show is shot there are notes every second on everything from camera angles to performances to set dressing. With a single-camera show at some point you go to Simi Valley and it’s 3 AM and you just film it. That’s for me.

But to just discard multi-cameras is like a basketball team just dismissing anyone who isn't tall.  And then there's Isaiah Thomas.  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Episode 20: Romy & Michele’s Podcast Reunion

“Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion” has become a comedy classic. Ken interviews Robin Schiff, creator of those characters and screenwriter of the movie. Robin is one of the most successful comedy writers in Hollywood. She discusses her career, the challenges of being a woman in the world of comedy, an exciting new chapter for Romy & Michele, and she has great advice for young screenwriters.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Podcasting my fate to the wind

It’s taken a few months but I’m really starting to get the hang of this podcast business. Like with my blog, when you present a variety of topics you need a little time to figure what works and what doesn’t. Eventually you get more comfortable and more into a groove.

It also helps to have some steady listeners. I don’t feel obligated to “introduce” myself every episode.

I’m still experimenting with subject matter, length, and the number of interviews. Thanks to your suggestion, between 30 and 40 minutes seems to be ideal. I don’t want to have interviews every week because then I spend most of my time being a booking agent. I’m also looking for some different more offbeat interview subjects. I think we’ve all heard enough stand up comedians on other podcasts.  Marc Maron is down to interviewing guys from open mic night.  In the future I also want to bring on some of my writer friends – names you may know but only via credits.

I continue to enjoy flying solo and not having a co-host. Especially now that Ryan Seacrest has been taken. I prefer talking directly to YOU. And all too often I hear podcasts where the first five minutes is the two hosts chatting about their weekends. I don’t care about MY weekend much less theirs.

I attended a seminar on podcasts recently. It was part of a larger international radio convention so naturally most attendees were forcing their voices down. I learned a few interesting facts. The largest segment of the population that listens to podcasts is Men 25-49. I might’ve guessed Women.

20% of all audio listening (radio, Spotify, satellite, podcasts, etc.) is done on smart phones. Podcast listening is up every year. Close to 30% of the radio audience listens to at least part of a podcast. What that says to me is that there are still 70% of listeners to go. So there’s still a large untapped audience. (Now I just have to figure a way of getting them.)

The most listened to genre is true crime. Duh! SERIAL kicked that into gear. Second most popular is storytelling/humor. Hey, that’s me! So I’m encouraged by that fun fact. It’s nice that what I present is not way down there with podcasts about lint.

One difference between podcasts and radio is that in podcasts everybody starts from the beginning. And most listen all the way through (another reason why a half hour is better than say two). In radio your audience is always coming in in the middle (and leaving the minute commercials come on). 

The bottom line for me is that I’m really having fun with it. It’s like radio except I can’t be fired and I don’t get any program directors telling me to just shut up and play the records (which is especially disconcerting when I’m doing a talk show).

I’ve got some cool things coming up, and as always I’m interested in your feedback – what you like and don’t. So if you haven’t listened to the podcast (or you did when I started but haven’t in awhile), I hope you’ll check it out. And subscribe. That and reviews are the best way to build an audience. (I don’t know who reads these reviews but I’m told they’re important so I plug them whether I know why or not.) Oh, and tell your friends. I’m hoping you each have 10,000 friends.

Thanks for listening. And if you haven’t listened, just click the gold arrow right under the masthead.  The current episode is all about the final episode of CHEERS.  And the new one coming tonight is my interview with Robin Schiff all about ROMY & MICHELE.

So far HOLLYWOOD & LEVINE is the most listened to podcast on my phone. I’m hoping to extend that to your phone.

UPDATE: People have asked how they can subscribe if they don’t have iTunes. Two of my readers graciously explained other ways you can subscribe so I thought I would share them. Thanks Jeffrey and Chris!

Jeffrey Graebner says:

You can subscribe from just about any Podcast application, actually. I use PocketCasts, which is one of the most popular options for Android and was able to easily find it with a search. I did just check and was a little surprised that it isn't available from Google Play. You might want to look into getting it added there.

There is also a direct RSS link that you can plug into pretty much any Podcast application to subscribe if it doesn't show up via a search. That link is found by clicking here. By the way, the RSS address is actually available from the banner at the top of your site. It is the little icon with two quarter circles above a dot.

I just checked and was a little surprised that it isn't available from Google Play. You should be able to add it by going to and clicking the "Add a Podcast" button. You will then need to enter the RSS address I gave above and provide them with some information so that they can verify that you are the owner of the Podcast.

Chris Ledesma then adds:

To "subscribe" to any podcast, you just need a podcast app from your app store. Search "podcast" and you'll find many to choose from. Of course, most iPhone users use iTunes, but you don't have to. Once in the app, search for "Hollywood and Levine", when it finds it there should be the option to subscribe. This means that you don't have to go looking for the podcast each week. As soon as Ken posts an episode, your podcast app will get it for you. You can even set the app to send you a notification on your device, but that's not required. Finally, if your app has trouble finding "Hollywood and Levine" then you can search using an RSS link. Poke around your app for "search by RSS" and put this link in the search bar: click here. Good luck and happy listening!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Why I love FARGO (well, one of the reasons)

Exposition is a bitch!

Like all screenwriters I consider it a necessary evil. You need to provide backstory; you need to define characters for the audience. But it’s generally uninteresting and often stops the action rather than forward it.

And yet it’s crucial. The audience needs that information. Too little exposition and the audience is confused. Too much exposition and the audience is logging onto Netflix.

What’s a writer to do?

I generally try to dole exposition out in dribs and drabs. And if I can couch it in jokes that’s the “little bit of sugar that makes the medicine go down.”

Characters’ behavior can be a big clue. Their look, voice, speech patterns, wardrobe, attitudes, and decisions all contribute to building a profile without someone having to say: “You’re a loser, schemer, with a limited education, poor self esteem, a modest income, shitty dresser, youth slipping away, and you have jealousy issues.”

Still it’s very hard to do that artfully.

Which brings me to last week’s episode of FARGO.

They did something that just blew me away. They presented an incredibly novel way to re-introduce all of their characters.

With FARGO alum Billy Bob Thornton doing the narration, he recited the introduction to the orchestra segment from Prokofiev’s PETER AND THE WOLF. Each character (or animal) was represented by a single instrument, and on the screen you saw the FARGO character who best represented that animal. So Nikki was the conniving cat, Ray the dumb duck, etc. In four minutes you absolutely knew who each character was without any of them saying so much as a word. Visually and stylistically it was eye (and ear) popping.

That, to me, is ingenious storytelling.

The episode itself was excellent too with the added treat that PETER AND THE WOLF provided the soundtrack throughout. There are I’m sure other parallels to PETER AND THE WOLF, both in the basic story and the fact that Russian characters play a part.

Great writers always look for different ways to tell stories, convey information, capture an audience’s imagination. This is truly a golden age of television drama. Shows like FARGO raise the bar. And inspire old seasoned vets like me, even after all these years. Talk about hitting the right note.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Pilot process -- where we stand at this moment

Your heart has to go out to actors. (And this from a writer.)

Getting a role on a pilot has worse odds than winning a lottery (unless you’re Amanda Peet or Judd Hirsch – then you get a pilot every year).

And if you do get on a pilot don’t pop the champagne just yet. Many actors are replaced during the week of production. A bad runthrough and you’re through.

The number of pilots the networks pick up every May are very few. There’s like a 70% chance of a pilot not going forward. And if you’re lucky enough to beat those terrible odds you’re still not out of the woods.

Because networks frequently re-cast and re-shoot pilots after they’ve been picked up. That’s what’s going on now.   Actors are being replaced. 

What makes it even more mortifying is that now with industry websites and social media, these firings are all public. It’s not enough to lose your job, now the whole world has to know about it. It’s a public pantsing.

Cristela Alonzo – just a few years ago starred in a show that bore her name. Now – fired off of THE GOSPEL OF KEVIN. Jenna Fischer, for God sakes, was dumped off of MAN WITH A PLAN for Liza Snyder (boy, there’s an upgrade). And now Jenna will be starring in a new pilot that just got picked up (I assume she’s still in it).

I point out these two examples because both actresses are known and can find other work (Jenna already has – assuming she’s still in it).

But there are other actors and actresses that are not as well known and are being replaced and I see no need to add to their public shame by naming them.

Look, sometimes the firings are justified. They may be lovely actors but just not right for that role. We’ve had to do it ourselves and it’s horrible. And I’ve often told the story of Lisa Kudrow being replaced by Peri Gilpin during the pilot week of FRASIER. Lisa promptly wound up on two shows – MAD ABOUT YOU and that thing about friends (I forget the title).

Make no mistake, showrunners get replaced too. And their curb kicking gets a blurb in Deadline Hollywood. But they’re writers so nobody cares. And the reason is usually creative differences (which is now code for: didn’t take all our notes and thank us for them). But when an actor is fired it’s personal. They didn’t like HIM or didn’t like HER. They weren’t funny enough or cute enough or had chemistry with Matt LeBlanc (like Liza Snyder does). Focus groups rejected them because they didn’t like their shoes (and trust me, that happens). It’s brutal!

So again, to all the actors who are getting replaced, hang in there. You could be the next Lisa Kudrow. Or Jenna Fischer (assuming she’s still in it).

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Mothers' Day story

How important are moms?   I might not have a career were it not for mine.

David Isaacs and I were writing spec scripts at night, trying to break in, going nowhere.  We had written a spec pilot that was an amateurish mess that would have cost more to produce than AVATAR.  We then wrote a spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and RHODA.  Our ersatz agent submitted both scripts and received two rejection letters (actually three -- the RHODA was submitted to two different producers on the show).   We were going nowhere fast.

And then one day my mom went to play a round of golf and got assigned to a foursome that included a gentleman named Gordon Mitchell.  She asked what he did, and when he said he was the Story Editor of a new show that just premiered called THE JEFFERSONS, she said, "Oh, my son is a great writer."  I'm sure he cringed, but he was a mensch and said he'd read something we'd written.

So I got in touch, sent him our spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.  He liked it, invited us in to pitch stories.   They bought one and that was the start of our career.

But we never would have had an in to THE JEFFERSONS had it not been for Mom. 

So thanks, Mom.  For everything.   I miss you everyday.  Thanks also to Debby, the mother of my children, Kim -- the mother of my granddaughter.  And to all YOU mothers -- we salute you on this most deserved (although commercially manufactured) holiday.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


As the networks get closer to announcing their Falls schedules, things are starting to come into focus. Pilots are being ordered, and bubble shows are either getting last minute reprieves or cancellations.

Most of the cancellations are expected. DR. KEN, IMAGINARY MARY (dear God), THE REAL O’NEALS, SON OF ZORN (dear God again), APB, MAKING HISTORY, PITCH, NO TOMORROW (they were asking for it with that title), POWERLESS, and a number of others. And if you’re not reading this until Monday that number has probably grown.

Two cancellations were somewhat surprising because they were both established hits and performing relatively well. LAST MAN STANDING and 2 BROKE GIRLS. I obviously don’t mourn the loss of the latter, but it tells you something about the business when successful series get cancelled while less successful series get picked up.

And it can all be explained in one word: ownership.

2 BROKE GIRLS is owned by Warner Brothers, LAST MAN STANDING is owned by 20th Century Fox. If they were owned by CBS and ABC respectively they would both be on the schedule.

And by the way, don’t cry for either of those shows. They’re both doing fantastic in syndication and both bringing in scads of cash for their studios.

But as the seasons pile up so do the costs to produce those series. Actor salaries rise, as do the above-the-line players (writers, directors, producers, and those managers and former executives who attach themselves to these projects and take a cut despite doing nothing).

Networks negotiate with studios on what their license fees will be (networks pay a license fee to the production company/studio in exchange for two airings of the show. If the show costs more to produce the studio pays the overage. Studios lose money on most shows. But a home run like THE BIG BANG THEORY can erase all of that and more.

So networks don’t want to pay big bucks to studios when they can’t participate in future profits. And big studios reach a point where production costs get so high that even in syndication it doesn’t seem worth it. Especially if a network now wants a cut. If studios already have a hundred episodes, how much more important is it to have a hundred and twenty?

So the negotiations get tough. The studios bank on the network’s need for the show and the network banks on the studio’s desire to have more episodes in syndication. It’s a game of chicken and sometimes it goes either way.

In the case of 2 BROKE GIRLS and LAST MAN STANDING the deals fell apart.

But if you’re fans of those two shows, just wait. If ROSEANNE and WILL & GRACE are any indication, they can just come back in two years as reboots and there will be a bidding war for them.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Questions

Once again, here are Friday Questions for your edification.  

Dave Z starts the edifying: 

When a new multi-cam studio audience show is shooting its 2nd, 3rd, 4th episodes (likely being shot before the Pilot has aired), is the audience shown the pilot or explained some of the relationships so jokes that rely on knowing a little about the characters or their backstories don't fall flat?

Yes. Usually the pilot or an abridged version of the pilot is shown well into the first year. We had a truncated cut of the CHEERS pilot we showed and my wife, who came every week to the filmings, pretty much had the pilot memorized by the time the show actually aired. I bet she can still recite some of the lines.

The one CHEERS bit that befuddled audiences before the show aired was the Norm entrance. Those died horrible deaths in the first few episodes. It was only when the audience understood that this was a regular running bit did they embrace it.  By the last season they were laughing just when he entered the bar. 

forg/jecoup asks:

Designated Survivor has been pulling solid ratings but I do wonder if the elections somehow affected its ratings

Based on the "pilot buzz" from Deadline and Variety, ABC is on the fence with the political comedy pilot with Felicity Huffman and Courtney B Vance, this was the first pilot ordered this season and was assumed to be a near lock for a pick up.

Do you think the political climate will affect how networks pick up shows this

Sure. Does the public still have the appetite for political shows? And if yes, can the viewers embrace one more? Between SCANDAL, VEEP, DESIGNATED SURVIVOR, MADAME SECRETARY, HOUSE OF CARDS, and I’m probably forgetting three others – there are a lot of political shows already on the air.

Many factors determine whether a show gets picked up. How are the current political shows doing? Are they on the rise or wane? BRAINDEAD was a political show that bombed. Even though it was on a different network (and politics was not what killed it – ants from outer space did), still networks take that into consideration.

A few years ago we pitched a political-themed pilot to USA and they passed because they said political shows didn’t work on their network. They had aired a series called POLITICAL ANIMALS and it failed, so of course their takeaway was that all political shows fail on their network. No one thought to say, “Yeah, but POLITICAL ANIMALS was a shitty show.”

Meanwhile, politics are sure helping late night talk and sketch shows. Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and the SNL crew are maybe the only people in the entire country benefiting from our idiot president.

And while we’re sort of on the subject of politics, Andrew wants to know:

Over the years I've heard several people compliment Rush Limbaugh for breathing new life into AM radio, despite disagreeing with his politics. I've never seen you post on Limbaugh, or political talk radio in general. What's your assessment of Limbaugh's influence? Do you find anything commendable about him, or do you think he has done too much harm to deserve any accolades?

I met Rush years ago when he was first starting out doing his national radio show. My writing partner and I were developing a pilot and had a Rush-type character so we wanted to meet him. I got in touch and when he next came out to California we took him to lunch.

I have to say he was a lovely guy. Funny, self deprecating – he really seemed to have the whole thing in perspective. Plus, he and I had a lot in common – our background in Top 40 radio (he was a great jock on KQV Pittsburgh as Jeff Christie) and he worked at one time for the Kansas City Royals so we had a baseball connection.

We stayed in touch for a number of years. Now he seems to believe all the press clippings and has turned into a distorted caricature of himself. So I have no idea whether he’s this “new” person or the same guy I used to know.

When he began his show he was very entertaining. A lot of it was a put-on. In time it has morphed into something completely different. I haven’t listened in years. I have no idea what he sounds like now. I do know that his ratings have plummeted.  His act and influence may have run its course.

And finally, from john not mccain:

I was reading in Rob Lowe's first book about his experience being in the cast of a show called "A New Kind of Family." He said that after the studio audience had been there after a couple of hours it was kind of hard to get them to keep laughing. So somebody would throw candy at them and it perked them right up again. Did any of your live audience shows ever need perking up like that?

They all did. And yes, warm up people hand out candy and snacks. My podcast from last week was all about the art of warm up. Do you see right under the masthead of this blog is my current podcast? Just scroll down until you find the one about warm-up men. It's Episode 18.   Click on it.  It’ll tell you all you ever need to know on the subject, along with some crazy anecdotes.

What’s your Friday Question?