Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Imagine a convention in the Hotel California...

It’s TV critic season here in LA. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, every summer TV critics from around the country converge on Los Angeles to hear panels from all the new shows, network executives, etc.

My heart goes out to them.

Picture a convention with sessions every hour, seven days a week, and it lasts for a month. "You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave."

Having been a showrunner who numerous times was a member of one of these panels I totally understood why the gaggle of critics could not have looked less enthusiastic to see us. We were probably show 67 of 85. I’d look out at the audience and half these people were on their computers clearly reading email or watching MLB online.

In the online trade sites they do an article for each of these sessions. And they’re the same thing. These producers are touting their new shows, explaining why theirs is different and special, praising their brilliant casts. Flash forward to October and most of them will get roundly and justifiably panned by these same critics. Come next March and 90% of them will be gone.

Hey, I don’t blame the producers. When I was up there I touted my show, and how we were elevating sitcoms to an art form. That’s the game. Producers wax poetic, critics order hiking equipment from Amazon.

Each network and cable network and streaming platform has its few days carved out. And those usually end with parties for the critics sponsored by these networks. I think without the alcohol these poor reviewers could not make it through the month.

I certainly see the reason for conference. It allows TV critics access to all the stars and producers they’ll be covering. They can establish relationships, ask questions that might be relevant to their specific location or audience, and meet executives who otherwise go out of their way to avoid them. And since there are so many shows and networks the conference just continues to grow. Originally there were three networks, they each had their two or three days, and the whole shindig was over in a week and a half. Next year the new Apple Network will be joining the party (whatever exactly that will be) and probably six more. Going to the TCA Convention will be like shipping out to Afghanistan for a year.

It ain't worth the free drinks and all the shrimp you can eat.  

Tomorrow: how one of our panels became the hit of that year’s convention.


Steven said...

The Mick was a solid show. However since it was on Fox and a live action sitcom to boot, I knew it wasn't going to last long They had to cancel it to make way for the prospect of guaranteed ratings from Tim Allen's mediocre show.

Jake said...

Is it true that some of the critics and journalists try to give you a copy of the script they have written. They try that stunt with everyone from writers, producers, actors or just about anyone related to Hollywood. In return they will write favorable reviews. Directors, writers hate it; but still you can't do anything about it. Anyone tried it with you Ken?

Janet Ybarra said...

If you're a good journalist, though, that kind of meeting can be gold...if you are smart enough to ask the questions the others aren't asking and writing the stories the rest aren't writing. But that's what keeps things interesting....

Nathan said...

Hi Ken,

Here's a question I wanted to ask ever since you once told about writing spec scripts for movies. I always wondered why you didn't make the movie yourself? I was going thru articles where they quote $400,000 as the budget for independent movies - which would be within your means. You even have the directing experience. Did you try? If so, then would love to hear your experience or any other problems that an independent aspiring movie makers like me would encounter.

Thanks :)

Jim S said...


Congratulations. You have indirectly made it into "Better Call Saul."

Spoilers for Better Call Saul

On the Aug. 6 episode we see Bob Odenkirk as "Gene" call a cab to get a ride from the hospital.

The cab driver has an Albuquerque Isotopes air freshener hanging from his rear view mirror and seems to recognize "Gene" who had commercials on the air as Saul Goodman.

So your Simpsons joke has made into the big leagues.

Well done sir.

VP81955 said...

It works both ways, too. So many critics today have become what I call "TV snobs" (David Bianculli and his ilk), waxing orgasmically over their faves (e.g., Bianculli and "Twin Peaks") and putting down genres popular with mass audiences such as multi-cam sitcoms. Yes, quite a few of these series deserve derision -- that can be said for other genres as well -- but the good ones rarely get the attention they deserve because they're not made for the hipster element so much current media wants to attract.

Unknown said...

Another recollection of 'Jewel of the Nile' from KTurner in today's NYMagazine:

Were you surprised or hurt at the way Michael leaned on you to do that movie?

That was a bad blowup. I had signed a contract to do a sequel [to Romancing the Stone] but the script for it [The Jewel of the Nile] was terrible. What had happened was that Romancing was so successful that Diane [Thomas], who wrote the original script, evidently asked Michael for what he felt was a ridiculous sum to work on the sequel. So instead, he went with these two guys and what they came up with was terrible, formulaic, sentimental. Anyway, I said no. Then I found out I was being sued for $25 million [for breach out contract]. My position was that, yes, I signed up for a sequel but I didn’t sign up to compromise the quality of my work. Eventually Michael and I talked.

How’d that go?

He said, “What would it take for you to do this film?” I wanted Diane back, or at least to give input. And Michael did go to her for some alterations. But ultimately I read the script on a plane to Morocco, where the film was shooting, and I was furious. It didn’t have what Michael said it’d have. When I got to the hotel in Fez, Michael and I sat down on the floor with three versions of the script. We were trading pages to get a script that was acceptable to both of us. It was, “I’ll do this if you’ll do that.” It was frustrating. But I do have to say, when I got sick Danny and Michael called and said, “If you need anything kid…” So they’re true friends.

[Don't know if the '2 guys' were you and Isaacs or Rosenthal & Konner, but interesting anyway.]

By Ken Levine said...


The two guys were Konner & Rosenthal. Maybe I'll do a post on the whole JEWEL OF THE NILE timeline.

Brian said...

"So your Simpsons joke has made into the big leagues."

Wasn't being a writer for MASH, Cheers, Everybody loves Raymond itself mean being in a big league?

Franko said...

Hey, just a heads up that the Isotopes were on tv in a Better Call Saul scene last night.

Peter said...


Ken wrote a very moving post about his involvement in Jewel of the Nile and working with the late Diane Thomas.


Steve said...

I just read your version of the "Jewel of the Nile". If you are going to blog about it tomorrow, may I request you to add what Michael presented you for your weekend work? Or was it just free work?

Writers get a car for a weekend work!!! Is that normal in Hollywood? And I am guessing you did the work for free because you were not a big name.

Now imagine only if you had gone to the shooting. Your script would have been intact, the movie would have done well, and you would be have become a big name who could command a car for your weekend work.

By Ken Levine said...

Where did you find our version of JEWEL OF THE NILE?

Joel Keller said...

Oh, god, if the TCAs lasted a month no one would go anymore. I think back in the day they were 3-4 weeks, but I think even the summer one is now 2.5 weeks, tops, even with all the different content providers presenting. Still a long time to be away from home. A lot of critics who don't live in LA fly in for a week at most.

Steve said...

'Your version' I meant the blog where you explained the re-write. Your side of the story.

From the link that Peter gave.

Peter said...

I too would like to know where Steve found your and David's Jewel script.

When I just googled "Jewel of the Nile Levine Isaacs", I found this...


Phil said...

Here is an interview with Kathleen Turner where she says "When I got to the hotel in Fez, Michael and I sat down on the floor with three versions of the script. We were trading pages to get a script that was acceptable to both of us. It was, “I’ll do this if you’ll do that.” It was frustrating."

Three versions? So they did use your script Ken?

Ref: http://www.vulture.com/2018/08/kathleen-turner-in-conversation.html

Ben K. said...

Hi Ken, looking forward to your take on this Vanity Fair article about the trend toward "mini" writers' rooms -- in which small groups of writers are hired, generally with lower pay and even less job security.

Mike Bloodworth said...

No one watches ME online. I keep all my cameras covered.

E.Yarber said...

I found a site that claims you can download the JEWEL OF THE NILE screenplay from there, but it looks like you'll get a computer virus if you try (which I didn't).

VP81955 said...

"Last Man Standing" isn't great, but generally amusing. If you don't like Allen because of his politics, fine, but his Mike Baxter character is a bit over-the-top in his conservative views. And there's Nancy Travis, who's funny in job about everything. I have faith the Fox version of the series won't be mired in right-wing polemics. Give it a try.

Peter said...

The virus is the Konner and Rosenthal script.

Ba-dum tsss!

Andy Rose said...

The TCA can be pretty cost-effective for the print folks who plan ahead. Aaron Barnhart, the former TV writer for the Kansas City Star, said that he always went to the conference with several ideas for future columns already in mind, and would sprinkle questions related to those topics into his interviews. This gave him the grist for months' worth of stories. The TCA also levels the playing field a bit for non-coastal media journalists. Good luck trying to get most actors, showrunners, and network execs to take a call from a reporter from Kansas City at any other time.

MikeKPa. said...

I wonder how many newspapers, other than the big dailies, even have a TV critic anymore. They probably picked up whoever the AP TV critic is.

Mark said...

This is a question for anyone out there with relevant experience. Does this sound right?


"There are important caveats here. Netflix’s content costs are high in part because it now buys out all the rights (e.g. home video, syndication, EST) for its Originals on a global basis, while traditional networks (e.g. FX or ABC) will typically buy only select content rights and on a single market basis. Furthermore, buying out all rights means that the talent involved in a hit series (e.g. cast, writers, producers) don’t have access to any of the economic upside from participating in a hit series. As such, Netflix must also pay extra (and upfront) to compensate the talent responsible for their Originals for this lost income opportunity (albeit on a risk-adjusted basis). As a result, Netflix’s costs for a given volume of original content is substantially higher than that of linear and/or domestic networks with the same output. That said, this same dynamic means that while most of its traditional networks hedge their content investments, Netflix quadruples down."

Janet Ybarra said...

The Washington Post's current current critic is okay, but he can't beat Tom Shales.