Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year

It can't come fast enough. 

May you have a happy, healthy, prosperous new year.  And may we be better off in a year than we are today.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Now I know what it's like to have a song written about me

I always thought girls named "Laura" were lucky.  There's a gorgeous song named after "Laura."   Same with Roseanna, Wendy, Nancy, Georgia, Mandy, Brandy, Carol, and even Sharona.  For guys, Johnny and Bill, and Tom seemed to have cornered the market.  No one ever sang a love song to "Ken."

Until now.

And what a hard-driving classic it is.  This is from an early '60s Barbie album.   I'm kinda hoping Katy Perry will do a cover.  But until then, I'll have to be content with being the object of affection of a girl who hallucinates and has no genitals.   What a fitting tribute.

Friday, December 29, 2017

RIP Sue Grafton

This has really been a SHITTY year.  Now comes word that mystery writer, Sue Grafton has died.  She was 77.  I never met her but loved her Kinsey Millhone alphabet mysteries.  I just finished her last book, "Y is for Yesterday" a few weeks ago and was looking forward to Z.  

Her stories were always ingenious and well-plotted.  Rarely could you out-guess her and once the mystery was solved you always realized that the clues were right there for you all along; you just weren't as clever as Kinsey.   Over the course of the series you also became fond of the other characters in Kinsey's world. 

One thing I really admired about Ms. Grafton was that she refused to option any of her books to movies or television, and she refused to let any other writer ghostwrite her series.   And her family will continue to honor her wishes.  So don't expect to see Margot Robbie as Kinsey Millhone anytime soon. 

Prior to writing her mystery series, Sue Grafton wrote screenplays for TV and movies.  And did you know she also wrote an episode of RHODA? 

I really will miss Sue Grafton.  Especially when I go on vacation. 

Friday Questions

Last FQ’s of the year. What’s yours?

John H gets us started.

I also have a Friday question regarding Cheers. There haven't been any books written regarding the behind the scenes drama. I know much of what has been said about the challenges with Shelley Long had more to do with her dedication to her character, but I'm sure there are plenty of stories. The antics with Ted and Woody, Kelsey's wild lifestyle, etc. Have you ever considered writing a tell all Cheers book?

We used to joke in the writers room about one of the assistants writing such a book.

But here’s the God’s honest truth from someone who was there. There’s not much to tell. No behind-the-scenes scandals or blow-ups. No feuds. No juicy secrets. A couple of pranks and that was it. Even the Shelley stories are wildly exaggerated.  We had a happy set, there was great mutual respect between the writers and actors.

There may have been some debates over lines or scenes or no big scenes. No actor ever threw down a script. No actor ever refused to come out of his or her trailer. No actor counted lines. No actor was habitually late.

We knew at the time we had a sweet deal with this show and appreciated it.

So honestly, it would be a very short and boring book.

From 71dude:

How late in the season can a network order additional episodes of a series?

Five minutes before the series season wraps. On MASH they always upped our order to 24 from 22, but then at the last minute added one more. In season 7 we begged them to let us know earlier. They insisted they would only need 24 that year. The last week of production they ordered a 25th show. My partner and I had to write it over the weekend and it went into production that Monday. (“Night at Rosie’s”)

Last minute additional episodes generally require lots of overtime, extra editors, etc. The network almost always picks up that tab.

I will say this: it’s much easier slapping together an episode last minute in the digital world. Film required processing, negative cutting, etc. It’s quite possible now to wrap production on a Wednesday and have the show air the following Monday. I don’t recommend it though.

Dan Reese wonders:

Does a show’s creative team ever come to regret establishing an every-episode convention or joke that becomes a pain to have to write into every episode? I’m thinking of the Cheers cold opens, the titles to scenes on Frasier... or Bob’s Burgers writers constantly having to come up with new names of stores next door, exterminators and burgers-of-the-day.

We hated those independent teasers on CHEERS. Today there is less of that because the running time of shows have shrunk to accommodate more commercials. If we were making CHEERS today we would need those extra two minutes to tell stories.

And finally, Patrick asks:

Why is it whenever people are eating dinner on multi camera comedies its always pasta and salad? Is it because its easy to fake eat, doesn’t involve more than a fork and doesn’t matter if its hot or cold?

Easy to pick at, easy to refill, no knives or cutting necessary, easier to match takes.

On the other hand, there’s no concerted effort to use these foods. And as a writer/producer I’ve never thought about it. If I need characters to eat turkey or burritos I write that in and no one ever comes up to me and says “turkey requires cutting.”

One time when I was directing LATELINE we had a character eat a three-pound lobster. So the production had an extra one. When it wasn’t needed they gave it to me. I had a clambake for the crew up in my office. I don’t think they would have stuck around for leftover salad.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Rose Marie RIP

Just got word that Rose Marie passed away at the age of 94.  She was in show business for 93 of those years.  I had the pleasure of getting lunch with her about five years ago.  She was truly a kick.  Funny, smart, and with a million stories.  For many she'll always be Sally Rogers, a role model for women getting into comedy and writing.    How eerie that both Rose Marie and Mary Tyler Moore died the same year. 

Just last weekend CBS ran two colorized episodes of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and they were a huge rating hit.   Rose Marie's work will be seen and appreciated hopefully another 94 years.  

Joe Buck is great -- I don't care what anybody says

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post.

Ken, maybe you can offer some insight...why do people dislike Joe Buck? I'm not really a "fan" (the only thing I really know about him is that he calls the World Series every year), but he knows his baseball and his voice doesn't bother me during a broadcast. Supposedly he's too "New York-centric" or whatever, and since I'm a Red Sox fan I'm not supposed to like that? What is the beef with this guy?

Joe Buck is both a terrific guy and an excellent sportscaster. I wish I had his voice (although I’m sure he wishes he had my hair). I’ve known Joe since we were both announcing minor league baseball in 1989. Proud to call him a friend.

He wrote an autobiography called LUCKY BASTARD that I’ve read and enthusiastically recommend. In it he addresses the criticism and is very candid in accepting the complaints. Some fans found him dispassionate and he agrees with them and has since adjusted his delivery.

Some feel he’s smug. In truth he’s anything but. Joe has a great sense of humor and is very self-deprecating. He’s friendly with everyone he comes in contact with. He’s great with the crew. I can think of a hundred guys in sports broadcasting that are way more smug.

Some feel he only got the job due to nepotism (his father was legendary sportscaster Jack Buck), but that doesn’t fly. Nepotism might get you in the door, but you don’t hold onto a network’s number one play-by-play position for twenty years if you don’t have the talent and goods (and voice -- that bastard).

Do you have any idea the pressure that goes with the job? Just blow one big call and it follows you for life. And you’re on the air live… with a director talking constantly in your ear, a stage manager handing you a promo to read, substitutions all over the field, a ten minute delay while a pitcher takes all the time he wants to warm up since he came in following an injury, and a partner who may cheerfully throw you under the bus if he doesn’t like you. That’s air traffic controller pressure.

In his book he brings out a good point that social media today effectively stifles any creativity. This is one of my pet peeves as well. Show any personality, say something facetiously and you get crushed. The result is sportscasters now pull back and play it safe. And networks now hire young generic boring robots. This is the week there are dozens of bowl games. 90% of the announcers will be completely interchangeable.

A few years ago I was broadcasting some games for the Mariners following the passing of their great announcer, Dave Niehaus (who had personality to burn). We were in Detroit. I was on the radio. My partner Rick Rizzs and I were talking about Dave and I said on the air that the Tigers were honoring him as well that year, which was really touching since he never broadcast in Detroit. But I told the listeners if they ever go to Comerica Park or see a Tigers’ home game on TV they’ll notice a big old English “D” on the front of their uniforms. That’s for Dave.

Well, the internet blew up. “What an idiot that Levine is. The “D” is for Detroit.” “How could they let a guy that stupid on the air?”

Yeah, I’m the idiot.

Over the last few years Joe has felt more comfortable and has allowed more of his personality to seep into his broadcasts. He was terrific before. Now he’s even better.

One final point: People accuse him of bias against their teams. All national announcers face that. If he’s calling a Yankees-Red Sox game he’ll get an equal number of complaints that he’s rooting for the Yankees and the Red Sox. You can’t win. Here’s the truth: National announcers don’t really give a shit whether your beloved team wins or loses. Yes, they may root for a team to win a particular game so it can extend the World Series, or root for a team to get back into a game so the ending is more dramatic, but they don’t hate New York, they don’t hate Dallas, they don’t hate L.A.

If I were president of major network’s sports division I would hire Joe Buck in a second and tell him, let it loose. Don’t worry about Twitter. Don’t worry about anything. Just be the best you. And only say nice things about the Dodgers.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

EP52: Drop the damn New Year’s Ball already!

Ken goes stream-of-consciousness this week, riffing on the end of the year, the industry, parades, bowl games, Disneyland, prime rib, Oscar season, and one of the great Elizabeth Montgomery stories EVER.   Start or end your year off right with this episode.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!


This movie has gotten rave reviews. Even Oscar buzz. I suspect my review will be quite different from the others out there. I say that as a disclaimer. You may well feel differently.

First of all, I was really looking forward to this movie. I’m a huge fan of Martin McDonagh. He’s kind of the thinking man’s Quentin Tarantino.  He's assembled  a great cast headed by Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. The premise seemed intriguing and the trailer looked really cool.

The story (don’t worry, no SPOILER ALERT necessary) is about a mother (McDormand) in a small Missouri town putting up three billboards to get the local police department to solve the case of her murdered and raped daughter.

The performances are great – especially McDormand and Harrelson’s. And the dialogue is chock-full of McDonagh’s dark twisted humor and surprises. The supporting cast is terrific as well. It was a little weird to hear Abbie Cornish’s Australian accent in Missouri but okay.

All good except for one thing – and again I state that this is a personal bias based on the times we live in – I am not in the mood to watch ignorant redneck knuckleheads. Not in the current state of this country. I listen to these people and idiotic things they say and do and partly blame them for the mess we’re now in. So other than Frances McDormand’s character and Woody’s – I didn’t give a shit about any of them. Some were worse than others. Some were victims of senseless violence. But for the most part they were backward yahoos who weren’t sure of the difference between polo and polio (that’s in the film). And all I could think was they voted for Trump. So what do I care if they beat the shit out of each other?

That said, I’m so glad JUSTIFIED came and went when it did. I absolutely adored that show at the time. If it were on now I’d probably have the same reaction I had to THREE BILLBOARDS. Boyd & Dewey aren’t so hilarious when they vote Republican.

You may not have that reaction. And if so, you’ll probably enjoy THREE BILLBOARDS. I would have – two years ago.


Yes, I'm angry.  It breaks my heart that I'm angry at certain fellow citizens.  By wanting to provide them health care, and fair taxes, and a government that looks out for them instead of the rich I feel I care more about their well-being than they do.  I look forward to the day when we can all be united again, and my taxes go towards giving these people a better life and not padding the bank accounts of the 1%.  And if you believe that we are currently going in the right direction, then respectfully, this is not the blog for you.  So save your angry comments (that will be deleted) and just somewhere where you feel more comfortable.   No SPOILER ALERT necessary.  I'm furious that there are those who don't see through this con man.  


I have no problem with opposing political views.  Having a genuine belief on how better to run the country that is different from mine is not the issue.  Politicians who hide behind party lines to line the pockets of billionaires and disregard the wishes of the people are the ones I detest.   When 80% of the country says they want net neutrality and it's repealed anyway, when the president of the United States tells his billionaire friends they just got a lot richer after the tax bill passed, that's what royally pisses me off.   But that's different from being a conservative or even a Republican.  

I rarely dabble in politics in this blog because I do like to keep it light and keep readers of all parties.  I would hope people who have opposing views will stick around and find other posts of value here.  But I always try to be honest with you on this site.  And sometimes that means expressing my anger.  Nothing's going to change if we don't speak up.  So for one day in twelve-plus years I'm speaking up.  

Final thought:  If you thought today's post was controversial, just WAIT until you see what I write tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The world's greatest Trout

I don’t get Jeff Glor. Not yet anyway. He’s the new CBS Evening News anchor – sitting in the Walter Cronkite chair. That used to be the single most prestigious and respected position in broadcast news. Earlier this month Glor was in Los Angeles because of the brush fires. He went out to a fire location and the local CBS-TV affiliate news anchors interviewed him out in the field.

I was shocked. He couldn’t articulate two sentences without stumbling, repeating himself, saying “you know,” rambling, changing subjects, and conveying nothing. It was the first time I had ever seen him when he wasn’t reading off a teleprompter, and to say he was unimpressive was an understatement.

Compare that with Robert Trout.

Who’s Robert Trout you’re probably saying? He was a CBS newsman, first on the radio in the 30’s and 40’s and television for several decades after. When Franklin Roosevelt was president he would have periodic “fireside chats” (one-on-one radio interviews) with Robert Trout.

One day Trout was sent out to New York harbor to report live on the return of President Roosevelt who was arriving via cruise ship from Europe. The ship was scheduled to dock at noon.

So at 11:55 they threw it to Robert Trout who went live coast-to-coast just holding a microphone poised to describe the president’s return. The ship was in sight; it was only a few moments before the president would be back on native soil.

Trout did his brief introduction and noticed that about 100 yards offshore the ship stopped. Trout didn’t know why but just kept talking. He described the reason for the trip, what the president hoped to achieve. He described the ship and the dock and the other well-wishers who were in attendance. He talked about cruise lines, talked about politics, recapped Roosevelt’s agenda, put it in world-wide perspective.

Finally, after about 45 minutes the ship was on the move and docked several minutes later. A relieved Robert Trout made his way to the gangplank to get a quick interview with the president. Roosevelt emerged, Trout caught up to him and asked what the delay was?

Roosevelt said, “Oh that was my doing. I told the ship to stop. I had a radio and was listening to you and wanted to see how long you could just ad lib. Very impressive.”

In those days a reporter had to be able to put two sentences together – or thirty. I sincerely doubt that Jeff Glor could do something like that. But Cronkite could. And Dan Rather. And Peter Jennings. And John Chancellor. And Chet Huntley. And David Brinkley. And certainly Edward R. Murrow. Al Michaels, a sportscaster, switched immediately and effortlessly into the role of news anchor when the San Francisco earthquake hit just before a World Series game.

Looking good, being young, and being able to read smoothly off a teleprompter is a poor substitute for real journalism. And now more than ever, we need all the true journalists we can find.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Listing my blessings

Yes, there are actors who are monsters.  But I've found that most are lovely people, passionate abut their work.  A number of readers have asked me say which actor was a pleasure to work with and I can't come up with just one.  Instead I've compiled only a partial list.  As we head into Christmas Eve and Santa determines who's naughty and who's nice, here's an incomplete list of the actors I thought were more than nice.  

Ted Danson
Tom Hanks
Rita Wilson
John Candy
Michael Douglas
Nancy Travis
Alan Alda
Mike Ferrell
Harvey Firestein
Emma Thompson
Harry Connick Jr.
Harry Morgan
Shelley Long
Rhea Perlman
Nick Collasanto
Woody Harrelson
George Wendt
John Ratzenberger
Kirstie Alley
Kelsey Grammer
Steven Webber
Tony Shahloub
Andrew Rannells
Tim Daly
Julie Benz
Crystal Bernard
Amy Yasbech
Adam Arkin
Jane Kaczmarek
Malcolm McDowell
Kurtwood Smith
Kevin Kilner
Patrick Breen
Ed Asner
Jennifer Tilly
Wendie Malick
George Segal
David Hyde Pierce
Jon Tenney
Peri Gilpen
Laura Linney
Aaron Eckhart
John Mahoney
Jane Leeves
Patricia Heaton
Ray Romano
Doris Roberts
Peter Boyle
Brad Garrett
Troy Metcalf
Tracey Ullman
Julie Kavner
Dan Castellaneta
Neil Patrick Harris
Yeardly Smith
Nancy Cartwright
Hank Azaria
Harry Shearer
Laura San Giacomo
Chip Zien
James Farentino
David Clennon
Matthew Letscher
John Astin
Katey Sagal
Tony Randall
William Christopher
Jaime Farr
Jane Seymour
Jules Willcox
Lisa Kudrow
Roz Chao
David Ogden Steirs
Alan Arbus
Loretta Swit
Gary Burghoff
Allison Janney
Paget Brewster
Marcia Wallace
Bob Newhart
John Cleese
Ana Ortiz
Lisa Edelstein
David Spade
David Schram
David Morse
Enrico Colantoni
Former senator Al Franken
Megyn Price
Miquel Ferrer (who I really miss)
Kristen Chenowith
Robert Forthworth
Sanaa Latham
James Tolkin
Kat Denning
Jenna Elfman
Hattie Winston
Terry Ferrell
Alex Desert
Shawnee Smith
Bess Armstrong
Thomas Gibson (yes, he was great with me)
Willie Garsons
William Ragsdale
Sean O’Bryan
Mark Feuerstein
Bess Meyer
Nathan Lane
Joan Plowright
Joel Murray
Paul Dooley
Jack Coleman
Brenda Vaccarro
Tea Leoni
Gilbert Gottfried
Mimi Kennedy
Alan Rachins
Susan Sullivan
Bob Elliott
Steve Landesburg
Victoria Jackson
Jon Lovitz
Rita Rudner
Ever Carradine
Avery Schreiber
Ryan Mitchell
Maggie Lawson
Harriet Harris
Lenny Clarke
…and Moose (Eddie on FRASIER)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

20 Questions about TV sitcom writing

It's been a few years since I recorded these, but I put together 20 short videos answering sitcom writing questions.  So I thought it was time to remind the world they're out there and still available.  And free.

Just go here to watch them.

My 20 videos on "how to clean fish" have been taken down.  But the sitcom ones are still up.

Hope you don't mind.  I posted a picture of Natalie Wood instead of one of me.

Rookie mistakes

Everyone has to start somewhere. For me and my writing partner, David Isaacs our first paid writing assignment was for an episode of THE JEFFERSONS. Prior to that we had been writing spec scripts, schlepping down to the Writers Guild to register them for protection, and then we peddled them to anyone who would read them.

Our spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (which had already been rejected by THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and RHODA) found its way into the hands of Gordon Mitchell, one of the story editors of THE JEFFERSONS. He liked it well enough to invite us to come in and pitch story ideas for the show. One hit the mark and we got the assignment.

Now came the hard part. Not the writing – but covering the fact that we were both utterly clueless of the process.

Step one was breaking the story. We met with Gordon and his partner, Lloyd Turner and worked out the beats of the story. Gordon then asked how long we needed to write the outline?

The outline? You have to write an outline?

I didn’t say that, but that’s what I was thinking. David and I wrote outlines for ourselves but they were usually handwritten scribbles on a couple pieces of notebook paper. I didn’t think that’s what he meant.

So we were on the spot. We didn’t want to say a week and have them say, “A week? It should take you two days.” Or we say two days and they say, “What? You’re just going to dash it off? It should take a month.”

We asked to see a copy of one of their outlines because we said, “every show has its own preference.” Even this was a stretch. They do vary, but we didn’t know that. There could have been one standard outline format used by every television show since Shakespeare’s day – how did we know?

They provided an outline. It was about seven/eight pages. We glanced at it and figured about three or four days. “Perfect,” they said. Whew. We navigated that minefield.

Once our outline was submitted and approved we were turned loose to write the script. Only hitch was that they needed it in two weeks. Normally that would not be a problem. But David and I were in the Army Reserves and those happened to be the two weeks we were ordered to report for active duty. Fortunately, we were in the same unit (we met in the Army Reserves) and were able to write the script at night at Fort Ord. Of course, that was a little strange. Picture one of those large barracks like in FULL METAL JACKET that houses fifty or sixty soldiers. It’s the evening. Guys are blaring the radio, smoking pot, drinking beer, playing cards or nerf basketball, and we’re sitting on a bunk saying things like, “Weezy, get over here!”
Script completed. Duty to country served. Monday morning upon our return I call Gordon to tell him we were bringing in the draft. “Great,” he said, “When can I have it?” I said, “Well, it’s 9:30. The Guild doesn’t open until 10. We’ve got to go over there and register the script, so I guess about 11:00.” He stopped me. “Schmuck!” he said. “You don’t have to register the script. I bought the script. You’re protecting yourself against me.” Oops. Didn’t know that. “Oh,” I said, “Then we can be there in twenty minutes.” “There you go!” he replied.

We hand-delivered the script and they were still laughing when we arrived.

Down through the years David and I have given a number of young writers their first assignment. And learning from our experience, we spell everything out. For you aspiring scribes, hopefully you too will get that first elusive script assignment. And hopefully you’ll get showrunners who will walk you through the process. But if not, don’t be proud. If there’s something you don’t know – ask. You may save yourself a lot of laughter that won’t be yours.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Friday Questions

Better late than never, here are this week’s FQ’s.

Grant Woolsey gets us into the season:

Hi Ken- Friday Question here. What's your take on the mini-controversy over airing a 21-minute FROZEN short (originally meant for TV) in front of Pixar's COCO last month? It seemed to be done to shore up interest for a project in which Disney lacked faith (particularly after early criticism that COCO was too similar to THE BOOK OF LIFE), but people were quite upset at the "short" film's length (adding about a half an hour to a movie that already had a bunch of previews), the obvious "cash-grab" (Buy the dolls with new dresses! Buy the Olaf plush! Buy the new album!), and tacking on a love letter to Nordic countries to a movie celebrating an entirely different culture.

The people of Mexico were quite pissed and got the short pulled, and Disney's doing the same everywhere else after negative reviews. I found the short cute, sweet and funny, but I agree that the length is pushing it, especially for a glorified commercial (though you'll be happy to hear Idina Menzel does not power-belting). How would you react if someone shoved the "Current Hot Thing" in front of a production of YOURS?

That does seem a little long for a short, but if it was real good what’s the difference?

I have to say that when I go to see a new Disney animated film or new Pixar film and the short comes on my kneejerk reaction is “Oh shit. I’ve got to sit through this?” Sometimes I’m pleased with the result, but often I could do without them. The messages I get are (1) the movie is short and we have to fill the time, or (2) we want to win an Oscar.

But remember, I’m hardly the target audience.

Mike Bloodworth asks:

When a show stays on way too long who (whom?) is responsible? Is it ratings based? i.e. network execs thinking, "As long as its making money..." Is it the creators/writers? Are they too close to the project to see things objectively and think they can "FIX" it? Is it the cast, crew, unions, etc.? In other words, is it purely mercenary or are there other reasons?

Well for sure the network wants to keep the show on the air as long as possible. Hit shows are way too hard to come by.  And ironically, once a show becomes a smash hit, their ratings are often highest the years their quality is the lowest. 

Producers try to get as many episodes under their belt for syndication possibilities later. In general, no one wants to kill the golden goose.

Many times the original showrunners step back after several years so the quality can suffer (although in some cases the new writers are better than the showrunners and the quality improves).

Also, you just run out of stories over time.

It’s been my experience that shows generally end when the star or cast decides enough is enough.

Many long-running series tend to go out on fumes. But FRASIER and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND are, in my mind, two exceptions. Their final seasons were as good as their best years, which is truly remarkable.

The Bumble Bee Pendant queries:

Recently on the Big Bang Theory there was a storyline involving Bitcoins. The main characters said they had some wanted to sell them now that the price of Bitcoin had reached $5,000 each.
The same day the episode aired, Bitcoin had been in the news because it had passed the $10,000 mark. Now, Bitcoin hit another milestone and it's trading at $15,000.

Is it a mistake for a script to put in a specific dollar amount for a real item as things change? Whether it's Bitcoin or saying they had shares of General Electric or that gas is $2.55 a gallon, would you avoid specifically defining an amount that could change rapidly?

No, because the audience understands that the show that’s airing is not necessarily taking place this very day.

If you’re paying attention to that detail then you probably are not invested in the story itself. And that is a bigger problem to producers than specific dollar amounts.

And finally, from cd1515:

Could some of the doctor/nurse banter during MASH be considered sexual harassment today?

Would you have to be more careful writing stuff like that now?

I suppose it would, but remember, this show is set in the 1950’s. There was a very different sensibility back then. So it’s not fair to judge the doctors’ behavior based on today’s standards.

If I were writing it today I might back off a little but not much.  We tried to stay true to the era.  

Happy holidays. Check out my Christmas-themed podcast. Click on the big gold arrow under my masthead.   Ho ho ho and all.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

RIP Dick Enberg

This one really hurts. Dick Enberg has passed away at 82. Not only was he one of the greatest sportscasters in history, he was also a wonderful man. I’m sure over the next few days you’ll be seeing and hearing highlights. He called Super Bowls, World Series, Wimbledon tennis, NCAA basketball championships – pretty much every major sport. He was the sports voice of NBC for many years (later with CBS and ESPN). He is almost synonymous with the NFL. But lucky listeners in Los Angeles also knew him for years as the radio voice of the Rams, the TV voice of UCLA basketball (in the Johnny Wooden era), and the radio/TV voice of the California Angels.

I first met Dick in 1969. I was a lowly sports intern at KMPC radio in Los Angeles and Dick was calling the Angels and Rams on that station. He treated everyone equally and with respect, even a wide-eyed punk kid like me. One year I got to intern for the home Rams games. I would stand in the back of the booth and watch a weekly masterful performance. Spotters and statisticians would hand him scraps of paper and he would seamlessly weave them into his broadcast, all the while describing the action and conveying the drama of the situation. Here was this exciting football game going on on the field and I couldn’t take my eyes away from the man calling it rather than watching it myself from the 50-yard line.

Before the game Dick was always gracious with his time, showing me how he prepared for a game and what to look for during a game.

I hadn’t seen him in quite a few years and when we reconnected in 2009 at Dodger Stadium when I was hosting Dodger Talk and he was in his first year doing television for the San Diego Padres he remembered my name. How amazing is that after almost 40 years? When I would see him at Petco Park he routinely would arrive at the ballpark around 1:00 for a 7:00 game just to do his preparation. And trust me when I say that many of those Padres games meant nothing. They were so bad they were often mathematically eliminated by the All-Star break. But he took pride in everything he did and had a passion for everything he did, and it really showed.

And man was he good. A few years ago at Dodger Stadium during a Dodgers-Padres game there was a weird triple play. On you could watch all of the broadcasts. To be honest, Vin Scully blew the call. Whoever the ESPN announcer was that day also kicked it. Dick Enberg not only got it right, but called it effortlessly. This man was a PRO.

He once had to call a Superbowl when there was an audio problem and he was hearing an echo in his headphones. Imagine being on an open mic speaking to 80 million people and that maddening distraction was going on for three hours. When you listen to the broadcast itself you would never know there was a problem. His call, his concentration, his analysis was right on the money. Again, a pro’s PRO.

One of his other gifts was making his broadcast partner feel comfortable and thus getting the best performance possible out of him. Merlin Olsen, Billy Packer, Don Drysdale, Al McGuire, Mark Grant, and many others – all benefited greatly by having Dick Enberg by their side.

A few years ago he did NFL Thursday night games on national radio. It was a treat to hear him back on the radio, and at 77 or 78 he hadn't lost a step. You could picture the game better than if you were watching it. And I could picture him in the booth, gesturing to the engineer to bring the crowd noise up and down, reading scraps of paper, and taking the listener on a spellbinding ride. My oh my, I will miss him.

NOTE: Friday Questions will appear later Friday. But I wanted to share my thoughts on Dick Enberg.

Zaxby's Heart Raycom Nova Home Loans Bad Boy Mowers Blog Post

It’s bowl season. There are so many now that your college team has to be 0-10 to not get into one of them. And now with corporate sponsorship glomming onto them the names for these bowl games have become ridiculous. What follows are the ACTUAL names of these college bowl games. I’m not making these up. And where’s the Week Wacker Bowl? What happened to that one?

AutoNation Cure Bowl

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl

Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl

DXL Frisco Bowl

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Dollar General Bowl

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl

Quick Lane Bowl

Walk-On’s Independence Bowl

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Foster Farms Bowl

Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman

Camping World Bowl

Valero Alamo Bowl

Belk Bowl

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

Taxslayer Bowl

Playstation Fiesta Bowl

Outback Bowl

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

Citrus Bowl presented by Overton’s

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Capital One Orange Bowl

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

EP51: Holidays in Hollywood

Ken fills your podcast stocking with tales of getting fired on Christmas, show gifts for Christmas, classic Christmas movies and TV specials, a Christmas felon, and Christmas in Las Vegas.  Ho ho ho.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Christmas stores

When I was in New York for Thanksgiving we made arrangements to have lunch with a couple that are friends of my wife and I. It was a Sunday. We were set to meet them at noon. We arrived early at 11:45 and the restaurant didn’t open until 12:00. Since it was cold and I’m a princess I did not want to wait for fifteen lonnnnnng minutes in the cold so I ducked into the first store I could find.

A Christmas store.

I rarely, if ever, frequent Christmas stores. We don’t have a tree so don’t need all the ornaments. But I enjoyed wandering about the store looking at all the intricate decorations and ornaments. Some people take Christmas VERY seriously.

The store was not too crowded. Maybe five other people browsing.

At the back of the shop the storekeeper manned the cash register. I asked if this was a pop up store and was surprised to learn it wasn’t. They were open year round.

“How much do you sell in April?” I asked.

“Not much,” was her answer. She said they got some retail business in the summer, but yes, not a look of foot traffic for ten months out of twelve a year.

I give them credit. It can’t be easy manning a seasonal store out of season. You’ve got essentially six weeks to make your entire income for the year.

I’m sure it’s the same with Halloween stores (although in the right neighborhood they usually have business all year selling gimp costumes). God forbid the poor schmuck who has a Labor Day store.

Seasonal stores reminds me of when I was in between radio jobs and was out of work (i.e most of the time). Every few weeks before handing me my check I would have to meet with a government official who wanted to know what I was doing to become gainfully employed. They needed proof that I wasn’t just lounging around taking Uncle Sam’s money. So I listed my job as a TV parade host. In LA that pretty much meant the Rose Parade and Hollywood Lane Parade (although I think they’ve stopped televising that one, which is a shame if true). So if this was July, good luck getting me a parade hosting gig.

I hope the Christmas Store (actually any Christmas store) does gangbusters this month. And as long at they’re heated in the winter and air conditioned in the summer they should get some downtime customers ducking the elements.

And the Rose Parade is coming up. I’m still available.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

LADY BIRD -- my review

As we approach the end of the year I'll be catching up on movies and posting more reviews.  I don't always agree with the critics but I give my honest opinion (popular or otherwise).   You've been warned.  I'm not a Pulitzer Prize winning film critic.  I'm a schmuck with a blog. 

LADY BIRD is a lovely little movie but does not live up to the hype. The critics are falling all over themselves proclaiming writer/director Greta Gerwig’s genius and brilliance, and it would lead you to believe you’re about to see a masterpiece.

It’s merely a very sweet, well-observed, adolescent coming-of-age movie. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t go in expecting your life to change.

Performances are outstanding. Laurie Metcalf is Meryl Streep without the Oscars. And Saoirse Ronan is this year’s Ellen Page soon-to-be Jennifer Lawrence. Everyone in this film is real and layered and much credit goes to Gerwig but also Allison Jones, who is a superb casting director. The minute any project is greenlit usually the first call is to see if Allison Jones is available.

SPOILER ALERT for the paragraph ahead:

Critics are saying it’s so original when in fact, most standard coming-of-age high school tropes are included. Angst-ridden teenage girl who clashes with her mother and finds her brother annoying but ultimately appreciates everyone in the family. Check. Has social outcast best friend who she abandons for the popular girl. Check. Falls in love with and gives herself to the wrong boy for her. Check.  Is in the school show (for comic relief). There are prom scenes, party scenes where kids get drunk, status issues, some authority figure on her side, applying for college, and deciding whether to go away for college or stay home.

The movie is set in 2002 in Sacramento and Greta Gerwig hails from Sacramento. So I’m guessing a lot of this movie is autobiographical.

Every generation seems to have their version of this movie, from JUNO to THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN. LADY BIRD is one of the better ones. Go in expecting only that and you should be in for an enjoyable 93 minutes. And again, there’s nothing wrong with “enjoyable” unless you think you’re seeing the one motion picture that can stop Global Warming and bring peace to the Middle East.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The value of stars

A few years ago the Yankees were in LA to play the Dodgers. At the time the Yankees had a patchwork team but were surprisingly good. They were winning way more than anyone expected. I was talking before one of the Dodger games with Michael Kay, the Yankees’ excellent TV announcer, and congratulating him on the season so far. He said the ratings were way down. I was surprised. He had a winning team. “But we don’t have stars,” he said. You’d think winning would be enough but it’s not. Fans wanted to see guys hit epic home runs or strike out the side. Fans were used to stars like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera.

Last week the Yankees just traded for Giancarlo Stanton. He’s the current National League MVP and hits 50 home runs a year that are still in flight. It’s costing them $265,000,000. But he’s a star. He’ll now share the outfield with Aaron Judge who also hits tape measure home runs. Expect the ratings to go through the roof even if they finish last (which they most certainly won’t).  Oh, and their attendance might go up but it's those TV ratings where the real money is. 

It’s a lesson Hollywood learned long ago. Stars open movies. You pay Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts (in their heyday) stupid money because if they’re in a movie people will come the opening weekend. And even if the movie is a piece of shit, the studio will have made money that first weekend.

Television knows this too. Wanna get a show on the air? Cast Matthew Perry, or Matt LeBlanc, or Kevin James, or Tom Selleck, or Scott Bakula, or Ted Danson, or Kristen Bell, or Leah Remini, or Christine Baranski (but stop short of Charlie Sheen).  You get the idea.

But Hollywood is nervous. There is chaos in the universe. The star system is suddenly not working in movies. Partly because there don’t appear to be any real larger-than-life stars. Some very good young actors but no Clint Eastwood in his prime or (God help us) Faye Dunaway.

Instead, moviegoers are gravitating towards franchises. Superheroes. Dinosaurs. Jedis. The trouble there is these movies are REALLY expensive. You pay a movie star $14,000,000 and the movie bombs you shake it off. You pay $240,000,000 for BATMAN v ZOOLANDER and it bombs you have to sell off your backlot.

Directors are suffering from this franchise frenzy as well. At one time they ruled motion pictures with utter autonomy and power. Now Marvel replaces them like they were summer interns. (Okay, to me that's the one silver lining to this dark cloud.) 

Will Giancarlo Stanton hit 50 home runs? Will the Yankees win the World Series? All they know is their ratings are going to be sky high. Yeah, $265mi is a big price. But the Yankees are hedging their bets. They’re not only getting a star, they’re getting a franchise (Superman).

Sunday, December 17, 2017

RIP Keely Smith

Keely Smith has passed away. She was 89. Wonderful singer with great comic timing. No wonder I loved her.

She really came to fame in the 1950's when she sang for Louis Prima's band.  They primarily were a Vegas lounge act.  He was frenetic and zany and she was absolutely deadpan.  The numbers they sang together were almost novelty songs.  She finally left that nonsense and established herself as a highly-respected solo singer.  

She had a distinctive quirk.  Instead of singing "I" it always came out "Awww."  Don't ask me why but it worked. 

I saw her perform on several occasions.  The latest was maybe fifteen years ago at the House of Blues in LA.  Got the chance to meet and talk to her after the show.  I'm rarely star struck but this was KEELY SMITH.   She was very funny in person.  The lady could deliver a heart wrenching song and punchline.  

She certainly was of a different era but the beauty of her voice and phrasing is timeless.  RIP Keely Smith.  "I wish you love." 

Here's a small sample of her work. 

A great New Yorker cartoon

From this week's edition.

From Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell

Saturday, December 16, 2017

How to recognize a bad sitcom

Charlie Hauck is a terrific comedy writer (FRASIER, MAUDE, etc.) and a hilarious author. His comic novel about a writing team launching a sitcom starring the diva from hell is both hilarious and all-too-real. The book is called ARTISTIC DIFFERENCES and well worth reading.

On one page he explains how you can tell a bad sitcom. Simple rules, worth repeating here.

1. Any show in which any character at any time during the life of the series says the words “Ta da!” is a bad sitcom.

2. Any show in which one character says to another, “What are friends for?” is a bad sitcom.

3. Any show in which a character says “Bingo!” in the sense of “Eureka!” is a bad sitcom.

4. Any show in which an actor or actress under the age of seven says cute things in close-up is a bad sitcom.

5. Any show in which an actor or actress over the age of seventy-five says vulgar things in close-up is a bad sitcom.

6. Any show that resorts to the use of Dr. Zarkov dialogue (named for the villain in the FLASH GORGON series, where one character tells another character something they both already know, for the benefit of the audience) is a bad sitcom.

7. Any show in which a character, in the closing minutes, says, “I guess we’ve all learned a lesson,” and then goes on to explain what that lesson is, is a bad sitcom.

And if I may add a few of my own:

8. Any show where the studio audience says “Awwwwww” and the producers leave it in is a bad sitcom.

9. Any show that makes a Kim Kardashian joke is a bad sitcom.

10. Any show where a character says "I just threw up in my mouth" is a bad sitcom.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday Questions

Ten more shopping days, but take a break and check out this week’s Friday Questions.

jcs starts us off:

I'm wondering what happens to the staff of a show that gets put on hold/gets cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances like TWO AND A HALF MEN or HOUSE OF CARDS. What happens when a camera operator, director or writer suddenly finds out there will be no taping tomorrow? Do showrunners retain staff (or part of their staff) until things are up and running again? Is there some kind of severance package? Can you find a new job after all the other showrunners have already completed their hiring process?

Generally, people are screwed. Unions protect their workers as much as they can, but studios (and insurance companies) won’t pay crew members unless they have to.

Writers generally are paid by the episode. So if there’s a forced hiatus they too are somewhat screwed. If the network decides to cut back the number of episodes for any reason then the writer loses out on those discarded episodes.

The contract to get is a guaranteed 13 episodes (or whatever the network order is) whether they’re made, cancelled, or whatever. But those are hard to get. Almost impossible these days.

VP81955 queries:

When an established series prepares its story arc for the upcoming season, do writers already have possible candidates lined up as guest characters for individual episodes, or is casting done as production begins? Any difference in how sitcoms and dramas approach this?


Sometimes a specific actor is in mind and the producers will try to sign him if he’s available. And occasionally juggle production schedules to accommodate his schedule (IF he’s worth it).

Other times they’ll just create the characters and cast them along the way.

The only difference between comedy and drama in this instance is that dramas probably lay out their season arcs in greater detail than comedies. So they may give their casting agents more lead time to fill specific guest star roles.

From Bill Jones:

Have any of the shows you've worked on ever broken the "fourth wall"? Would you have ever even considered that in MASH or CHEERS, or would that have been considered completely bizarre and totally out of the question? And, what's your take on shows breaking the fourth wall--always gimmicky and unnecessary, or sometimes worth the wink and nudge?

The only show I ever worked on that broke the fourth wall was an ‘80s sitcom called THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES. The main character (Martin) would speak to the audience.

Otherwise, no. I generally don’t prefer the convention. Breaking the fourth wall or having narration often leads to sloppy storytelling. Characters can just tell you exposition or how they’re feeling instead of dramatically showing it.

Never on MASH or CHEERS did we consider breaking the fourth wall.   MASH got around narration from time to time by having characters write letters to home and voicing them.  

However, if done well, breaking the fourth wall can work. I like the narration in THE MIDDLE, and I know I’m going way way way back – but the best use of it for my money was George Burns in THE BURNS & ALLEN SHOW from the early ‘50’s. Not only would George break the fourth wall and talk to the audience, he watched the show on television, which was downright surreal. None of the other characters knew they were on television (and of course there were no cameras) but George knew. He’d watch a scene going on in the neighbor’s house then call the neighbor to fuck with his head. Hard to believe that the most innovative fourth wall device in TV history was done almost 70 years ago.

And finally this from an Anonymous reader (please leave your name):

How do actors feel about being asked to do a table read? Do they view it as a chance for increased recognition of their talents (and perhaps a chance to land a part) or is it one of those duties forced upon you that you really can't turn down without seeming difficult?

They all recognize it’s part of the process, whether it’s a TV show, a film, musical or stage play.

If it’s a network table read for a pilot the actors better be on their game. Plenty of actors have been fired after tepid table reads.

Once a show is in production most actors walk through table readings. Many of them are reading the script cold (even though they received copies the night before or even a week before). A few actors give show-night performances but most recognize that the script might change significantly so there’s no need to really turn it on.

Bob Newhart used to eat bagels during table readings and invariably take bites just before his lines. I think it was his way of saying he wasn’t keen on table readings.

But they’re very helpful, and for us writers it gives us a chance to hear what works and more importantly, whether the story works.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Netflix controversy

With all the real problems of the world there is now the controversy over Netflix tweeting a facetious comment about 53 of its viewers who watched the same Christmas movie eighteen days in a row. Here’s the tweet that has some people up in arms:
Some say it’s creepy. Some are outraged that Netflix monitors their customers that closely. They feel it’s an invasion of privacy.

Here’s the thing:


This is a surprise to anyone? Do you not think Hulu does the same? Or Amazon? Or CBS All Access?

Of course they do. Unlike watching a program over the air, when you watch a streaming show you are linked directly to a server. And since you’ve provided profile data about yourself going in, they can monitor your viewing habits. You had to know that when signing up. The only thing they can’t determine is who besides the subscriber is watching. Is he alone or with six family members and how old are they? Netflix can tell if you turn off a show midway through but they can’t surmise if your family members walk out ten minutes in.

But it’s time we get real. Privacy? For the most part we’ve voluntarily surrendered our privacy. When you use discount cards at supermarkets they’re charting your buying habits. Spotify charts your music preferences. If you’ve been to porn sites there are now guys in the San Fernando Valley with greasy hair who still wear ‘70s leather jackets who know you prefer Asian women with purple hair who constantly need their pools cleaned. I was writing a script that required some wedding dress info so I went to one of those bridal store sites. I’m still getting Facebook ads for wedding dresses (and still haven’t found anything I like).

For fifty years TV producers and advertisers have been bitching that the rating services were horribly inaccurate. You can’t now bitch that they’re too accurate.

And how could anybody watch A CHRISTMAS PRINCE eighteen days in a row?

UPDATE:   Guys, guys!  The last line is a JOKE.  Yes, kids watch the same movie every day.  I must have seen Winnie the Pooh a thousand times.  But it's a joke.  A JOKE. 

You all have made some excellent points about privacy and use of the data.  One comment in particular, by reader Jerry Krull, is worth sharing with all.  Thanks, Jerry.  And now I've got to get that book.

Ken, I just finished reading "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhrigg. He tells the story of a guy who works at Target stores in the statistical data department. The group that sells products for pregnant mothers came to this guy and asked if he could use the collected data to predict which women were pregnant based on their buying habits - even if they did not register for a baby shower.

The guy pored through all the data of the women who in the past did register for having a baby and looked backwards at their (and their husband's) buying habits prior to the due date they gave on their registry. They found definitive items like an uptick in unscented lotion purchases. He was even able to figure what they bought based on how close they were to their due dates.

They used the data to send marketing materials to their customers (each time you use a credit card, customer loyalty, gift card at Target it is added to your personal customer record - for all time) who were showing the same buying habits as past pregnant customers.

An angry man came into a Target store complaining to the manager while clutching a Target ad mailed to his teenage daughter. "Why are you sending her an ad for all baby items. It's like you want her to get pregnant!" The manager said he would look into it and call back. When the manager called back a couple of days later to explain and apologize, the father apologized back. His wife and daughter had not told him the daughter was pregnant. Turns out Target did...

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

EP50: Behind The Scenes Cheers Episode Commentary

On this week's Hollywood & Levine podcast, Ken Levine provides us with a commentary track for an episode of the popular hit TV show Cheers that he co-wrote. “Truce or Consequences,” Season 1, EP8. This look behind the scenes explains tons of great inside information that you won't have heard anywhere else. A must listen for any Cheers fans. To increase your viewing pleasure, you can watch the episode of Cheers online on Netflix along with Ken, or simply listen to the Podcast as usual. 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Abe Lincoln: guest blogger

I asked Ken if I might say a few words today. I’m a big fan of his blog (except for the baseball posts). Starting to listen to his podcast but still having trouble figuring out how to subscribe.

The main reason I’m here is to say thank you to the people of Alabama. Well… the non-idiot percentage. It’s gratifying to know a pedophile still can’t win an election. Even with the backing of the president of the United States. Yeah, and John Wilkes Booth thought I was a bad president.

As you know, the south and I did not exactly exchange Christmas cards. The fact that the pedophile (who also happens to have a reprehensible agenda) was even a viable candidate made me want to apologize to America for trying to keep the south in the nation. But happy to say you good folks in Alabama rose to the occasion (the non-idiot ones).

And now Roy Moore can concentrate on all the sexual misconduct and criminal charges against him and spend more time conferring with his “Jew attorney.”

I still have a bone to pick with Dixie though. Children in your schools are being misled. I’m known for being a United States President not a Vampire Slayer.

Oh, and if I may go off on a tangent – Daniel Day Lewis sounded nothing like me. He’s considered the world’s greatest actor why? The look would be wrong but the actor who sounds most like me is Gilbert Gottfried.

This past year has been very hard on me. My wife was crazy as a friggin' loon but she was Einstein compared to the dodo bunch that’s running through the White House now. Where’s Nurse Ratchett when we need her?

There needs to be a certain dignity for the way the president of the United States conducts himself. Respect only comes when it is earned. I have said many times – and I understand this saying was supposed to go on the five-dollar bill along with my picture – “you gotta be a mensch.” The world looks to you to set an example. It breaks my heart that instead of the “Beacon of Freedom,” America is now viewed globally as “Bozo’s Big Top.”

There are those who will say I shouldn’t get political. But I am a politician. What am I gonna talk about? Should we root for the main character on GLOW? These are troubling times. The very core of democracy is being tested. The freedoms (like speech) we enjoy and our ancestors died for are in jeopardy. Letting the very rich govern you is like giving the girl you love to… well, to Roy Moore.

I suppose Ken will get a flurry of angry moronic comments and as moderator he will just delete them with one click. It takes a troll fifteen minutes to compose a mindless rant and submit it and Ken one second to delete it. And you’d think that knowing that would mean the cretins wouldn’t bother, but they’re not cretins for nothing.

That’s all I have to say for now. Here’s to a brighter future where pedophiles go to prison not Congress. And you know what happens to pedophiles in prison. Even if he had two Jew attorneys they couldn’t help him in there.

Happy holidays and if you’re shopping for Christmas, Lincoln Logs are still a big favorite among the kinder. Just sayin’.

God bless you, and God bless what’s left of America.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Hey, the Golden Globes were announced. Here's my take:

Who gives a shit?

As usual, they’re ridiculous. Christopher Plummer was nominated for a movie that is still being edited. (He replaced Kevin Spacey in ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD.)

The Hollywood Foreign Press completely ignored THE BIG SICK, which dealt with foreign cultures trying to exist in the United States. Oh, and it was one of the best comedies of the year. But I, TONYA was nominated for best comedy. I hear it’s an excellent movie but hardly a comedy. On the other hand, a few years ago THE MARTIAN won for best comedy.

Movie stars got most of the nominations, whether the categories were movies or TV. Nicole Kidman and Robert DeNiro of course. (Is there anything worse than a Nicole Kidman acceptance speech? Or longer?)

As is becoming a tradition, most of the movies are titles you’ve never heard of. Some haven’t been released in your town yet. Or they’re still being edited.

No nominations for VEEP? Do the characters talk too fast?

I won’t be reviewing the show itself. I stopped that years ago. It’s so stupid and so insignificant that it’s not even worth making fun of anymore. No one in Hollywood respects the Hollywood Foreign Press. But they’re happy to eat their food, drink their liquor, appear on national television, accept their awards, and use the event to promote their product for the award shows that do mean something.

Hopefully there’s an NFL Playoff game the night THE GOLDEN GLOBES air. Or at least a new episode of BOB’S BURGERS.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Only in LA

I love LA but have to admit, some bizarre shit goes on out here.   No wonder people in the rest of the country shake their heads.  Maybe it's the combination of money, sunshine, and Laker Girls but there is a disproportionate amount of lunacy in "Tinsel Town."    We're the home of life coaches and chakra parlors and Life Springs. 

And now comes something new.   And I'm almost embarrassed to write this.

Concierge firemen.

Things are still touch-and-go in certain areas in Southern California with regards to the recent horrific brush fires.  The winds have died down and containment is more within the fire department's grasp, but there are still flare-ups.  (Where's the Justice League when we need 'em?) 

We've all seen footage of heroic homeowners who have ignored evacuation orders and stayed behind to vigilantly protect their homes.  They're on their roofs with hoses.  They're single-handedly slaying  fire breathing dragons, risking their very lives in the process.

Well, now there's a better way it seems.

Concierge firemen.

Last week many residents of the chic LA neighborhood of Bel Air were forced to evacuate.   It was a boon for luxury hotels in the area.  But as everyone held their collective breath some of these wealthy residents breathed a little easier.   Why?  Because they had concierge firemen, freelancers hired to guard and battle blazes that might affect their homes specifically.   I suppose in a town where there are dog psychiatrists, why not?

Still, it seems a little weird and uh... entitled to me.   But my big fear is someone in Congress is going to hear of this and say, "instead of the government providing this service why don't we encourage people to hire their own firemen and we'll give them vouchers?"    You laugh but today -- nothing would surprise me. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

For those who hate theatre

We all talk about how great the theatre is. I'm writing for the theatre. I love it. But in the interest of fairness, I present the opposing view. From British comedienne Sara Pascoe:

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Jobs I wish I had

Starting a new feature I’ll do from time to time. “Jobs I Wish I Had.” We all have them. We grow out of most of them, but not all. Secretly, don’t you still wish you could be a ballerina or Navy Seal?

And then there are the jobs you’d love to have but no longer exist. Big band crooner, flapper, Czar of Russia.
There's such a thing as the BUZZR network.  They show old black-and-white episodes of I’VE GOT A SECRET and WHAT’S MY LINE?  These were old musty game shows from the ‘50s and ‘60s. By today’s standard they are positively archaic. A panel of four personalities must guess the contestants’ job or secret.  That's it.  There was zero production value and if a contestant stumped the panel they won the whopping sum of $50. The shows were aired live (for the east coast anyway). Today they're great fun to watch.

WHAT’S MY LINE? was originally on CBS at (I believe) 10:30 p.m. The panelists all wore tuxedos and formal gowns. The host, John Daly was the most erudite emcee in the history of television. If there are 500,000 words in the English language, he knew and used 469,000 of them – each week. Everyone was very formal. Ms. Francis. Mr. Cerf. Ms. Kilgallen.

When little kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up they’ll often say fireman, or actress, or cowboy, or fashion model. I wanted to be a panelist. And you know what? I still do. Too bad those gigs have gone the way of the 8-Track tape.

Think about it. Sunday night. You go out and have a nice dinner in Manhattan. Roll into CBS at 10:00. Don your tuxedo and get made up. There’s nothing to prepare. You’re not supposed to know what will be on the show. You do the show live at 10:30. You play this parlor game and (in my case) say a few witty lines and get a couple of laughs. At 11:00 you’re done. No pick ups. No alternate takes.   By 11:15 you’re in a bar. For this you are handsomely paid, you’re famous, and these shows lasted upwards of fifteen years. You have job security.

You parlay this into appearing on other panels. Ka-ching!! You trade on your fame and write books (or have others ghost write them for you), speak at events for absurd fees, score lucrative commercial endorsements (“Hi, this is Ken Levine for Studerbaker!”), and be invited to all the A-list society parties. Judy Garland could pass out in my lap. 

I was always amused when one of these panelists missed a show because he was on vacation. Vacation from WHAT? A half-hour a week?

There are very few panelist opportunities today.  Bill Maher’s HBO show, a few others. But slim pickings for sure. What few celebrity game shows there are require you must be a has-been from some ‘70s sitcom. Rarely does the casting call go out for never-beens. So I’m at a distinct disadvantage there.

But that’s one of the jobs I wish I had had. What about you? What’s Your Fantasy Line?

Friday, December 08, 2017

Friday Questions

Friday Question time has rolled around again. What’s yours?

Here’s a long FQ from Jeff :)

Hi Ken, not sure if you've heard of the Masked Scheduler or not. He is apparently a former Hollywood executive and he has been posting his 12 Commandments of TV. I have a beef with one of them and wanted to hear your thoughts.

He argues that a show should be simple enough that it is easily digested in a 30 second promo. He used some examples of recent shows such as The Leftovers, Legion, etc. as shows that were discussed heavily on social media but didn't necessarily have great ratings. The takeaway seemingly being that simpler shows that are easily understood are better.

I use Game of Thrones as a counter example. Game of Thrones is a deep, political, complicated show. It would be very difficult to explain Game of Thrones in a 30 second spot. And yet it's ratings continually go up and part of it is because people talk about it constantly. Meanwhile I've seen promos for SWAT, and I understand fully what the show is about yet have not only never watched it, I've never heard of anyone who has. And even if you did watch it, what are you going to discuss about it? "Did you see how they caught that killer on SWAT last night? I didn't think they were going to catch him but then they did. So that's nice". Wouldn't you rather have a deep shows that takes actual thought to comprehend than being spoon fed the same old drivel?

Someone on the internet described GAME OF THRONES as:

Noble families across the realm of Westeros compete for control of the Iron Throne.

Even complicated shows can be distilled down to loglines.

There is so much product out there on so many platforms that to get your show noticed I think it’s a big advantage to be able to convey the premise and hook in thirty seconds. And then you can make your show as complicated as you want.

A mob boss is torn between his killer instincts and his conscience.

That’s THE SOPRANOS. Hardly a simple show.

I do believe that whatever your genre, you need to be able to articulate your show in just a few sentences.

Mike Bloodworth asks:

What is the easiest way to access your archives? As I've said before I've only been reading your blog for a short time. There must be a gold mine of information I've missed.

Look on the right column. You’ll find a section called “Blog Archive” along with years and months. Just click on a year and it will show you months. Click on a month and it will show you the posts from that month. Click on the post. Or click on the month itself and all the posts from that month will come up. A few are actually good. 

David A. Mackey wonders:

What do you think it was about Nancy Travis that made working with her so special? I always hear a lot of great things about her and the work that she is done.

She’s a lovely person, super talented, and a real cheerleader on the stage. A total pro, always prepared, very unselfish as an actress. And when she has a problem with a script she presents it in an intelligent respectful way.

She’s a good sport and will try things. There’s something so warm about her. You want to be married to her or have her as your girlfriend or best friend.

And the camera just loves her.

Had the pleasure to work with her on two series.  I would work with her again in a second.  

Finally, from Stuart Best:

You said you left MASH because all the good ideas had been used up and wrung out. But the show continued for four more years. Did you think the writers after you added fresh ideas, or did they continue to bludgeon the same horse? I respect that you probably don't want to say anything negative about other writers, but I wonder how you think it was a mistake to keep going all those extra years.

I think they did the best they could with what they had to work with, which was not a lot. We pretty much picked over all those bones.

There were some stories where I thought they were really reaching, but others where I said, “Damn, why didn’t WE come up with that?”

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Coping with the Skirball Fire

First off, thanks to everyone for showing concern. I love you guys.  Now to the post...
Yesterday was sure fun.

Awakened to a call stating there was a fire of close enough proximity that it might be good to pack up in case we had to evacuate.  Holy shit!  That’ll send you scurrying to the TV.

The blaze was the Skirball Fire that began just after 5:00 AM across the 405 Freeway from the Skirball Museum in the Sepulveda Pass that is the main artery between West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

Due to the fire the 405 was closed completely.... during morning rush hour traffic.  I imagine commuters from yesterday still haven't arrived.  

The path of the fire was headed towards Bel Air, a very chic hillside community. I live farther east and south near UCLA. The local elementary school two blocks from my home remained in session so that was a good sign.

The big X-factor was the wind. We’re in the throes of Santa Ana winds that at times are fierce. Adding to that we’ve had very little rain this year. And this is just one major fire. There are five scorching the Southern California region. Homes have been lost and fires have jumped freeways. But the greatest concern was that Rupert Murdoch’s mansion and vineyard was in jeopardy due to the Skirball skirmish. Those MUST be saved. 

We were generally confident that we were safe but heeded the warning and gathered some precious items like documents, photographs, and my daughter’s Pez collection. Have you ever had to evacuate your home? Or even had to give some thought as to what items you might take in that emergency situation and what you could live without?

There was a ballplayer on the Dodgers in the ‘80s named Pedro Guerrero. During an earthquake he strained his back lifting his big screen TV into his car. That was the one irreplaceable item he owned? (Of course this was the same ballplayer tried for selling cocaine and the defense was that he was too stupid to know what was going on… and he won.)

So we basically hung around the house, watching TV updates, and staying indoors. Ash from the fire turned the entire city into the bottom of an ashtray. And the sky had this weird FAHRENHEIT 451 glow. You could smell it. You could also taste it. 500 miles of a mesquite BBQ that needed cleaning.

In the past I anchored fire coverage for KABC radio. My goal was to be accurate, reassuring, and when I had guests on the line (like a spokesman for the fire department, evacuation centers, etc.) I simply asked the questions that I as a listener would want to know. I then took down any pertinent information and relayed it back to the audience during my frequent “here’s what we know” recaps.

Since this fire occurred in the morning hours, most local TV stations had their morning news anchors handle the coverage. That’s when you learn the men from the boys. A few were excellent but others were just dunderheads. Their idea of coverage is to just tell you everything you’re seeing on the screen. “There’s a helicopter. And now it’s circling. And there’s some people standing on their lawns looking at the smoke. Can we see the smoke? Yes, there it is. That fire looks pretty bad.” Great analysis. Of course stations generally put their B or even C-teams on the early morning newscasts. Same with the field reporters. They should wrap up their reports by saying: “Just graduated from Chapman College, this is Suzy Creamcheese, Channel 2 News." 

One station meteorologist said don't breathe in the ashes because that could cause "premature death." Forget that hike I was going to take.   

If you log onto an industry trade paper online version you’ll see such fire coverage headlines as “SWAT forced to postpone production for second day. Or: "among the evacuees is Chelsea Handler.” Oh yeah, and people are losing their homes.

Facebook and Twitter came in handy for me.  I was able to update my concerned friends all at once.

At 11:00 PM I watched the local Channel 2 KCBS News.  The winds were really kicking up.  And I'm writing this four hours before posting and at this moment the Skirball Fire is not any worse.  (Some of the others are unfortunately.  My prayers to all involved.)  But as I watched the local news I thought things have really changed.

When I was a kid there was the big Bel Air Fire in 1961.  I vividly remember reporter Clete Roberts (the same Clete Roberts who was in the famous MASH "Interview" episode) giving a live comprehensive report while HIS house was burning in the background.  Last night the KCBS field reporters were mostly attractive young women.  And one was even named Crystal Cruz.   Really?  How do you have any journalistic credibility with a name like Crystal Cruz?  I wonder if her sisters, Princess and Carnival are working at competing stations. 

The wind and dry conditions are expected to last until the weekend so who knows how long these fires will last and to what extent will be the damage? My eternal gratitude to the first responders and emergency crews. My heart goes out to anyone who lost his or her house in this tragedy.

Now I fully expect to see our beloved President arrive on the scene and toss Wet Naps to displaced homeowners.