Wednesday, June 14, 2017

My 15 seconds of fame

Andy Warhol coined the phrase “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." And that was before the internet where idiots who swallow live gerbils get 80,000,000 hits on YouTube.

But it does seem like Mr. Warhol was prophetic. Everyone has become a reality star in his own show. You’re somewhere in the world reading this. Without the internet I’m Cliff Clavin writing rants that I’d have to mail, which would only get my name on the FBI-watch list. Instead, I’m a legitimate commentator. Or at least semi-legitimate. I don’t warn that space aliens are controlling Time-Warner. (Even though everyone knows that they are.)

Still, in this dizzying world of celebrity I would amend Mr. Warhol’s theory and say “writers get 15 seconds.” If there are actors around, they get the media attention. And that’s only fair. Their faces are up on the screen. If a writer has a big problem with that then take acting lessons and get in front of the camera.

But the perfect example of what I’m talking about is this: A number of years ago David Isaacs and I won the WGA Award for Best Episodic Comedy Script. Our presenter was actor Jimmy Smits. After we walked off stage there were a few journalists hovering. They completely blew by us to interview Jimmy Smits. Hey, we fucking WON. And it was a WGA event. But they were way more interested in what Jimmy Smits had to say… about anything.

Example number two: whenever there is a TV documentary about a TV show (like MASH or CHEERS) they will interview the writers extensively, and then use maybe 15 seconds of it. But the actors will get five minutes apiece. Again, I can only smile. That’s just the way it is.

That’s why I have been so surprised and delighted by the CNN decade documentary series. I was on THE SEVENTIES talking about MASH. I got my usual few seconds here and there. Then I was on THE EIGHTIES and shockingly, they went to me a lot. I’m even commenting on PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE. I was on-camera enough that some strangers have made fun of my tie.

And here’s the amazing thing: CNN plays those episodes over and over again. It seems like every other week I’ll get a flurry of emails from people who just saw me on CNN. Talk about getting the most from your 15 seconds.

Recently I was up in Silicon Valley for my granddaughter’s first birthday party. I went back to the hotel, turned on the TV and yikes – there I was.

I love that they rerun those TV-themed episodes – not so much for my exposure, but it means one less hour they show Trump.

I was interviewed again for THE NINETIES, which premier on July 9th on CNN. I have no idea how much they’ll use me (or even if they'll use me at all), but if I’m going to get my 15 seconds, at least it’s on a show I’m proud of and so far I haven’t said anything stupid.


Jeff Alexander said...

Mister Levine:
I regards to your WGA experience, I saw a similar situation happen at the Emmy Awards in 1993. At the time, I was an entertainment columnist for a small Florida newspaper and was lucky enough to snare press credentials for the event, giving me press-room access.
Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain, the stars of the yet-to-premiere "Lois & Clark: New Adventures of Superman," were teamed as presenters for one award. The passage of time has erased what award, but I believe it was a technical one -- the winner was brought backstage to be interviewed, with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher dutifully following behind.
Questions were asked of the winner, but when a reporter started to ask the presenters, the publicist accompanying the troupe quashed that instantly, saying we were only allowed to talk to winners. A storm of protest went up, with the two yet-to-be stars standing at the door looking somewhat sheepish. All then left, amid grumbling from many at the desks.
About 10-15 minutes later, the publicist returned, saying we were granted permission to ask any questions we liked of winners/presenters. However, Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher did not return.
No real point to this story, just a little anecdote that I thought was keeping with your posting. Excellent read, BTW!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Re the Jimmy Smits thing: that's probably not the journalists but their editors, who want a recognizable face they can run in a photograph. Sad but true.


Stephen Marks said...

"My 3.5 seconds of frame" "Ken Levine" appears for 3.5 seconds of screen time on numerous episodes of "MASH", "Cheers", "Frasier", "Big Dave's Wave" et al. 30 plus years of reruns of this equals 2.78 weeks of fame. Way, way more than Ken's self-deprecatng reported exposure. Trust me folks, I did the math. Ken is only referencing "face time", not "name time." Big mistake. And as far as being blown off for Jimmy Smits, well Smits was the first Latino elected president of the United States for 3 episodes of "The West Wing" so no shame there. And who did he beat, thats right, Alan Alda, who spoke the lines written by Levine (and Issacs) to assist Ken in getting that 2.78 weeks of fame.

This whole fame thing is subjective. Ken ignores the "name time" fame while most others would be happy with achieving only that. Andy Warhol's 15 minutes came down to a painting of Campbell's soup cans and choosing to go with a Pete Rose/Moe Howard hair style, so there is hope for the rest of us.

VP81955 said...

Since CNN is a TimeWarner property, expect five minutes on "Friends," five seconds on "Frasier." (Sigh.)

And speaking of 15 seconds, my blog turned 10 yesterday:

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

and yet Twitter won't give you a blue check mark! :)

Cat said...

Sorry, Ken, but CNN will not premiere The Nineties. They had aired two or so episodes of The History of Comedy, which I was really looking forward to, but then kept pre empting it for news on, well, you know who. I would bet a million dollars they will do the same thing to The Nineties.

John Hammes said...

May 22, 1992. The final Johnny Carson "Tonight Show" broadcast. He observed that at the start of his run - 1962 - the world population was over three billion. 1992, the world population was well over five billion. Carson observed that, while this was clearly a net increase of over two billion, the amazing statistic was that half of these two billion would soon have their own late night talk show.

Mr. Carson was also prophetic.

Melissa C. Banczak said...

I was expecting you'd say that he estimated how many of those people were conceived while their parents watched the tonight show.

VincentS said...

Congratulations and the new CNN gig, Ken. Unfortunately, it's true about writers being shafted. Not one single screenwriter (who wasn't also a director), for example, has ever been awarded and AFI LIFE ACHIEVEMENT award and I wonder how interesting those great movies that are celebrated would be with out scripts!

Andy Rose said...

@Cat: I think The Nineties is safe. Bourdain and United Shades of America recently restarted with no pre-emptions on the horizon, in part because they air on Sunday nights, the one day of the week anymore that is mostly news-free. That's also when The Nineties is scheduled (and the decades series, as Ken has noted, has already proven to be a very popular and durable franchise). History of Comedy was plauged by the fact that it was scheduled to air in the middle of the week. It's my understanding that the remaining episodes of that program are finally going to be aired on Friday nights starting some time in July.

Brian said...

You are pretty famous here. Can you give us some statistics about your blog and podcast? How many daily readers, how many subscribers, etc?

MikeN said...

I was surprised how much you showed up on The Eighties. I took it to mean they didn't have enough other people to interview.

Pat Reeder said...

I don't envy you the job of trying to come up with 15 seconds worth of things to say about stuff from the '90s that was worth remembering.

VP81955 said...


Robert Riskin, Oscar-winning screenwriter for "It Happened One Night," once was so incensed at Frank Capra getting all the attention for the films he wrote for him that he entered Capra's office at Columbia with 120 blank pages and told him, "Put the Capra touch on that!"

Incidentally, Riskin dated the lady in my avatar during the mid-'30s, and might have married her had he agreed to father children as part of the deal. For Lombard, it came in between Russ Columbo and Clark Gable; for Riskin, it was in between Glenda Farrell and Fay Wray. He eventually married Wray, who previously had been married to aviation author and screenwriter John Monk Saunders ("Wings," "The Eagle and the Hawk"), and Robert and Fay had children via both adoption and pregnancy. (Back in those days, writers valued actresses, and vice versa.)

MikeN said...

>120 blank pages and told him, "Put the Capra touch on that!"

That was the movie that got Meryl Streep her first Oscar.

Y. Knott said...

John Hammes --

The whole point of Ken's post is about writers, and how people ignore them in favour of celebrities.

You've completely proved his point. Carson wasn't prophetic. He was reading the prophecies of Andrew Nicholls and/or Darrell Vickers ... his head writers.

Unknown said...

Off the subject, but I have to share this. I work in a job where I encounter a lot of unusual names. The other day I ran across someone whose first name is Radar. Born in 1983. Think his parents were MASH fans?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Y. Knott: When I mentioned to a friend that I knew the mother of one of the writers of The Daily Show, he looked astonished and said, "I thought Jon Stewart wrote his own stuff".


John Hammes said...

Y. Knott,

Apologies all around. You are right. I stand corrected.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Ken you already know this, and normally I'd avoid such a shameless plug, but it's a case in which writers indeed are featured. I'm producing a Golden Girls event in which three celebrated TV writers -- Barry Fanaro, Robert Spina, and Stan Zimmerman -- will be appearing to honor The Golden Girls at the D23 Expo on July 14. Jim Colucci, who wrote the recent New York Times besteller Golden Girls Forever, says they have a lot of great stories. We're planning to serve cheesecake for all, but not from Wolfie's.