Sunday, September 30, 2018

Maybe my favorite bad review

I've posted this before, years ago, but it's one of my all-time favorites.  Do you remember a comedian named Gallagher?   His basic act was smashing watermelons.  When he performed in Cerritos, California in 1999 the LA Times reviewed it.   The review was so hilarious and scathing I had to keep it.  And share it.   If you can imagine the thinking that could have produced such a staggeringly ill-conceived racist show, you laugh twice as hard.

And so, as a public service to anyone even thinking of attending an upcoming Gallagher show if he's still touring, here is this LA Times review.


Comedy: Promoted for Latinos, Gallagher's pseudo-Spanish show is a litany of degrading stereotypes and insults.By ALISA VALDES-RODRIGUEZ, Times Staff Writer

Hmm. How to put this delicately? We'll simplify: Mime-like, stringy-haired man in black hat smashes food with mallet on stage for living. Man, who no espeakey no Spanish, hears Spanish, thinks Spanish good, Spanish muy muy dinero. Man spends one month learning important Spanish words such as cerveza, caca and culo (butt). Man invents Spanish words, such as "sperm-o" and "embarazamante." Man decides this is enough Spanish to put on show for Latinos. Man smashes pinatas, wears giant sombrero and shakes keg-sized maracas. Man mocks Jews and gays and women and constipated old people. Man thinks he is muy funny comedian-o.

Man hopes all Spanish-speakers agree.
But wait. There's more. Mucho more.

Man rents hall in Cerritos. Man advertises "Gallagher en espanol: La Fiesta Grande" on Spanish radio. Man hopes thousands will come. Two hundred come, many with children and babies and old (possibly constipated) people. Man babbles for three hours Thursday night in "language" neither English nor Spanish. Language heretofore known as Gallagher-bonics. Next day, executive director of Cerritos Center for Performing Arts issues statement stressing that "Gallagher show was a rental event and not produced or presented by the Cerritos Center."

Man hires dance troupe to open show. Man performing for mostly Mexican American audience. Dance troupe, called Salsa Kids, performs Puerto Rican dance style. Male dancers wear guayaveras, the four-pocket shirts worn by old Cuban men in Miami. Mexican American audience appears unimpressed. Stone faces say: Ugh, bad medicine. "Is this like ballroom?" a woman in the audience asks. "My sister, she's taking that ballroom dancing."

Show goes on.

First nine rows of audience are in white plastic chairs. People in white plastic chairs equipped with clear plastic bag to wear over clothes because later mayonnaise and refried beans will spew over them. Signs warn: Cuidado, Piso Resbaloso. Wet floor. Man shoots water on audience from giant penguin after salsa dancers leave stage.

Other man named Vic Dunlop, a comedian hired to help because he supposedly speaks Espanol, takes stage. Dunlop wears Mexican blanket, sombrero and glasses with eyes painted on them. Makes jokes about black people and blind people in bad Spanish. Says show is sponsored by Culo Cola, the soda with the taste of an expletive. In audience, Debra Garcia, 50, is bored and thinks the show immature and plans to leave early.

Man appears with penguin and yells, "Como? Este hombre no esta en mi show. Vamanos."

Second assistant "comedian" who actually does speak Spanish comes on stage. Her name is Dyana Ortelli and she is Mexican American and makes a living mocking Jennifer Lopez's bottom, stereotyping Chicanos, and wearing bad wig and no pants. Ortelli helps man throw chocolate at crowd. Man says: "Quien no tengo chocolate?" Translation: Who I don't have chocolate? No one sure what he is saying.

Man introduces Chupacabras. Chupacabras is goat-sucking monster seen in Puerto Rico three years ago. Man in ape suit pretends to be goat-sucking monster. Man forces child onto stage with monster. Man asks: "Quien tiene mas pelo de Chupacabra?" Translation: Who has more hair of Chupacabras? Child makes disgusted face, jumps off stage. Ortelli looks sad. Man babbles about goat-sucker: "Es muy fuerze, es muy fuerza." Translation: Is very strength. No one laughs. Man frustrated. Tries to say "espectaculo," which means "show," but says "specta-culo," which sort of means butt-gazer.

Man calls for rock band. Fulano de Tal, from Miami, plays well. Man wears giant parachute dress and dances. Man spray-paints a lie on the back wall: Yo No Soy Gringo. Man says in Spanish that he is a cowboy. Man says he is newborn Mexican and caresses his naked hairy belly.

Man tells joke about bear and rabbit pooping.

Man gathers audience volunteers for Mexican hat dance. Says "Tengo un muchacha" over and over. No one laughs. Man says "Culo, culito" until people laugh. Man says "moco" for extra humor. Man is tired of trying. Man says in English "I need a beer." Man curses under breath off mike, but audience hears anyway.

Man begins dumping buckets of food onto plates. Man stops trying to speak Spanish. Man gives up and speaks English. Man says: "We were expecting a big crowd tonight and we're going to do a show for a big crowd anyway" because the crowd is small and shrinking. Man is booed again. Man yells: "It's the Fourth of July weekend, you don't got no place to go so just shut up." Man hits Pop Tarts with tennis racquet. Man says "Un muchacho quiero comer," which means "I want to eat a boy" and the boys look scared.

Many people who paid between $21.50 and $26.50 per ticket walk out as man flashes white underpants and yells culo, culo, culo and cerveza. Man angry Latinos have no sense of humor. Man throws egg and marshmallows at old woman and baby as they waddle out of theater. Man calls old woman vulgar name in English. Man spits beer on children. Some in audience too polite to leave. Others impolite enough to boo. One courageous enough to hurl a lunchbox-sized chunk of watermelon at man's head.

Man smashes food with 16-pound mallet. Man says, inexplicably, "Todo el mouthwash el hits me en el crotch-o." Man sings "La Cucaracha."

Man smashes more food. Show over. Man bows. Man slips on floor.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

What does studio coverage look like?

There is always a lot of discussion in the comments section about the value of readers and coverage.  A number of you have asked "What does a coverage report actually look like?"  In 1981 David Isaacs and I wrote a screenplay called STAR SPANGLED ADVENTURE, here is the actual coverage.

What exactly is studio coverage?    They're synopses of scripts prepared for studio executives and agents by hired readers.  Primarily they're meant to judge the value of a screenplay, both for its commercial potential and quality.   Rival studios also prepare coverage to keep track of the competition and get a heads up on possible new hot writers.    Coverage is Hollywood's Cliff Notes.

Hope you can read it  (you might need a magnifying glass or telescope).   Writers generally never see this.  A friend of a friend of a friend uncovered it.  Gee, I feel like Edward Snowden.  Squint and enjoy.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Friday Questions

'Fess up -- when you think of "Friday" now you think of Friday Questions, right? 

Unknown starts us off. Again, PLEASE, leave your name.

For young aspiring writers how does it look to submit materials that may not be rated "PG". Are they judged differently in a story's "marketability", in festivals or, when looking for representation? I am assuming all networks have different needs, Broadcast, Cable, Premium & Streaming.

Should we write our pilots clean and mature them later or is it easier to remove language/nudity/violence from the script if a cleaner network/studio wanted to pick it up?

I'm playing around with a sitcom idea and want to know if this is something to consider before I start working.

Thank you in advance!

I wouldn’t worry about language or content these days with pilots. Agents and studios and producers are much more lenient.  They're more concerned with finding "fresh voices." 

If your pilot is expressly for a broadcast network, yes, keep it clean. Or if you write a spec for a current broadcast network show like MOM, or YOUNG SHELDON – adhere to network standards & practices.

But since young writers are encouraged to be more edgy and out-there with their spec pilots, feel free to drop a few F-bombs, show a breast, or blow someone’s head off.

Best of luck to you. 

Matt wonders:

Why do script slug-lines today indicate “day 1”, “day 2” and so forth? I don’t see them in older scripts (MTM, Bob Newhart, MASH) When (and why) did this become a thing?

I don’t know when it started but the production team finds it very helpful. Wardrobe departments in particular. They can see at a glance when wardrobe changes will be necessary.

Before those slug lines were added, I can’t tell you how many times when I was directing, a wardrobe person would ask, “Is this the same day? Is this the next night?” etc.

Brian Phillips asks:

If you and David Isaacs got a writing assignment and it HAD to be a drama, which show would you submit a script to?

I can’t speak for David, but I can tell you mine. BETTER CALL SAUL and THE GOOD FIGHT would be my top two choices of shows currently on the air.

Are they still making GUNSMOKE? I wouldn’t mind writing one of those.

And finally, from Dave:

Apart from Natalie (Wood), was there any other celebrity who you wanted to meet?

I always wanted to meet Cary Grant. I used to see him at Dodger Stadium but never actually met him. Otherwise, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Phil Silvers, Elizabeth Montgomery, Nat Hiken (writer of the PHIL SILVERS SHOW), Grace Kelly, Karen Carpenter, Walt Disney, Bill Cullen, Noel Coward, Preston Sturges, Monet, Elvis, and Frank Sinatra. Yes, those are all now dearly departed (and you probably haven't heard of most of them) but you asked in the past tense.

There’s still a chance I could meet Angie Dickinson.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Here's what's wrong with baseball

As you know, I love baseball. But the game has become too damn slow. In 1958 when the Dodgers first moved to Los Angeles all night games started at 8:00 (allowing commuters to get to the stadium) and were over around 10:30. Today the games start at 7:00 are end close to 11:00. Same game, same number of innings and outs – but almost a 90 minute difference. That’s insane!

Let’s look at some of the reasons.

Today the game is all about strikeouts and home runs. You don’t believe me? Teams today put on infield shifts. In some cases they’ll put all four infielders on one side of the diamond. Let’s say it’s a lefthanded hitter. All four infielders will be on the right side expecting the batter to pull the ball to that side of the field. But that means that the left side of the field is wide open. Just hit the ball ANYWHERE on the left side and you have a single. And yet players STILL just swing away hoping to hit that home run.

And the price for that power is often strikeouts. Cleveland has four pitchers with over 200 strikeouts. If a team used to have one that was a big deal. And these Indian pitchers don’t work more than six or seven innings a game.

“So what’s wrong with that?” you say. It’s boring. Seven fielders are just standing around.

In a Texas Rangers game earlier this year there was one stretch of 22 minutes where the ball was not put in play. 22 minutes of taking pitches, fouling pitches, walks, strikeouts, and a commercial break. Not one ball was hit into fair territory where a fielder could respond. Imagine a football game with a 22-minute huddle between snaps. No wonder young people don’t give a shit.

And there’s very little base stealing. Teams don’t want to risk the outs. So there goes another exciting element of the game, not to mention the intangibles like how speedy runners disrupt pitchers. It used to be a team would pitchout two to four times a game. What that means is the pitcher intentionally throws a ball wide so the catcher is in perfect position to throw down to second base. If you’re a runner trying to steal and you go on a pitchout chances are you’re a dead duck. Teams today have less than ten pitchouts for the entire SEASON. No one’s running.

Pitching changes take forever. And today managers go to their bullpens in the fifth inning even if their starter is pitching well. Every pitching change is close to four minutes. The Dodgers earlier this season used five pitchers in one inning… to get out the lowly New York Mets. We’re not talking game seven of the World Series. Nor are we talking “murderers row” at the plate. And it wasn’t even the ninth inning. So do the math. That half inning was probably forty minutes.

And in September things get worse because teams can expand their rosters. So now each manager has fourteen pitchers in the bullpen. Pack a sleeping bag (even for a day game).

Players now have “Walk-up” music. Each player selects a song to be played over the PA system when it’s his turn to bat. So the players leisurely walk to home plate as their 30 second tribute blares. Players are not allowed to step out of the batter’s box during an at-bat. But they do. The result: They receive a warning letter from Major League Baseball. If they do it again they’re fined – something like $250. If you’re making $10,000,000 a year what do you care if you’re fined $250? It’s a joke. If a batter steps out of the batter’s box the umpire should charge him a strike. There’s a clock on pitchers in the minors. It should extend to the majors. If you take too long to throw a pitch you’re charged with a ball. Believe me, those are better incentives than nickel and dime fines.

Some things rule changes can fix but others they can’t. Only swinging for the fences, not trying to steal bases – that’s up to the players. At one time you’d say that was up to the managers. Managers could order their players to take the free single if given to you or be aggressive on the basepaths. But the current trend is to hire young managers, even ones with zero managerial experience, because they relate better to the players. In other words, they’re more like pals. A manager who orders such things as hit for singles would be unpopular. Can’t have that. Can’t have a manager who isn’t liked by his players. So forget that. Home runs mean money during salary negotiations. Strikouts mean money come contract time or free agent time. Those things aren’t apt to change.

But the result is baseball is mortgaging its future. When I can’t sit through a whole game there’s really something wrong. And add to that the need for really good storytellers and entertainers as announcers since there’s way more time to fill and instead teams are hiring generic boring clones who just spout analytics off their computers.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

EP91: Meet writer Nell Scovell

Nell Scovell who wrote “Just the Funny Parts” about what life is really like for a woman comedy writer and co-wrote “Lean In” discusses her illustrious TV career, working with David Letterman and Garry Shandling, and much more.  Even stuff not in the book!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The pimp to the stars

Have you heard of this guy – Scotty Bowers? He has a book out called FULL SERVICE and there’s a documentary about him making the rounds on the art house circuit. He is 95 and still telling tales.

Scotty Bowers was a WWII combat veteran who drifted into LA after the war, and as a young man in his 20’s got a job pumping gas at a Richfield station in Hollywood. One day actor Walter Pidgeon pulls into the station, takes a liking to him and invites him back to his place for a dip in his pool. You can figure out the rest.

From there Bowers serviced many celebs and notables – both men and women. And became the pimp to the stars – running all of this out of the gas station. He enlisted his Marine buddies and young women who needed money. Now I know why they call them the “ Fabulous Fifties.”

A friend of his needed a place to store his mobile home and Scotty arranged for it be in the back of the station. For eight hours a night the shock absorbers on that thing were severely tested.

The book is outrageous and he names names. Ever wondered why the great Cole Porter would ask for fourteen guys at a time? What bizarre shit the Duke & Duchess were into? How Vivian Leigh was in bed? What it would be like to be in a threesome with Lana Turner and Ava Gardner (at Sinatra’s house no less)? The real relationship between Spencer Tracy and Kate Hepburn? If you’re to believe this book, Scotty Bowers slept with EVERYBODY, Oscar-winning actresses and Noel Coward. Tennessee Williams wrote a biography about him (that Scotty asked him not to publish). Oh yeah, and he once did J. Edgar Hoover.

And this is just scratching the surface. Is all of this true? I doubt it. But if even HALF of it is true – WOW! Lots of dish and also a real look into the gay world of homophobic Hollywood back then; a heartbreaking world to be sure.

The documentary, called SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD, is disappointing. Most of the movie is just following him around today. Sorry but not interesting. I want to hear more about Cary Grant. I want to see selfies of Scotty in the sack with Lana and Ava.

I of course only read the book because of my historical fascination with mid-century Los Angeles. But it is pretty insane.

Scotty Bowers is the ultimate name and pants dropper.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

5 great writing tips

I’m often asked for writing tips. Recently saw a Facebook post by a writer I greatly admire, Tom Straw. You may remember I once had him on my podcast (You can hear it here). Tom’s TV credits range from NIGHT COURT to NURSE JACKIE and Craig Ferguson’s late night show. As an author he wrote all of the CASTLE books and has his own thriller, BUZZ KILLER.

In his Facebook post he humbly offers five great tips. I thought they were great and Tom graciously permitted me to share them with you. They’re well worth reading, copying, and pasting. I did. Thanks, Tom.

1. Trust your instincts. This is something I discovered once under huge deadline pressure, and something of which I have to constantly remind myself. If it feels right, follow it. You can always revise.

2. Always revise.

3. Create the space to create—and guard it. Whether it’s a place, a time of day, word count, silence, music, the use of a candle, whatever it is, find the routine that works for you and let nothing interfere. Nothing. Love the Picasso maxim: “Inspiration comes but it has to find you working."

4. Notice what you are noticing. Recognize the living organism of your page and be observant about what it is telling you. Pay attention when the whisper comes.

5. You’ll never go wrong putting yourself in the shoes of the readers. Honor them. Then, when you have finished every draft, join them.

Monday, September 24, 2018


For the last month or so I’ve heard all this positive buzz about a new Netflix comedy special called NANETTE delivered by Australian comedian, Hannah Gadsby. When I hear hype like that I always have two reactions: “ Uh oh, it won’t be nearly as good as they say,” and “Please please please be as good as they say.”

In this case, it started out the former then soared into the latter. By the end I was giving it a standing ovation alone in a room.

Gadsby is quite popular in Australia although I must confess this is the first I’ve heard of her. Her opening jokes and style were fine. Her delivery seemed a little tentative but the material was quite good. Still, twenty minutes in I’m thinking, “What’s so special about this?”

And then the show takes a turn. Gadsby steers us into darker territory, more personal, more reflective, more explosive. By the last half hour I was absolutely riveted. Insights and truths and pain burst forth like a tsunami. I don’t want to tell you anything specific about the material. I want you to experience it for yourself.

Within the hour set she transforms. Her delivery, her tone, her body language – it’s a butterfly emerging from the cocoon.  She's brilliant, she's hilarious, she's fearless. 

One note of caution: the subject matter gets rough at times. I don’t mean vulgar or smutty – but she does go after certain groups and ideologies (and famous artists) with guns a'blazin'.  

The special was indeed SPECIAL.  But it does pose the question:  What's next for Hannah Gadsby?   This was not the kind of stand-up concert that lends itself to sequels.   I'll be curious to see where her career... and life goes from here. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Girls, don't let this happen to you

Oh, the humanity!  The heartbreak!  Imagine if she had slept with a roadie.  Or worse -- a writer.

Let this be a cautionary tale.  Never sleep with a celebrity until you've determined he's important enough.   Now this poor girl has to go through life with the shame of knowing she only slept with a bass player.    Let the years of therapy begin. 

My favorite related concerns a certain character from the '60s and '70s.  He was in a series of commercials for a gasoline company.   At the same time he was acting in dinner theater.  One night he goes to bed with one of the ushers.  They're in the throes of passion and she yells out, "I'm fucking Mr. Dirt!" 

You gotta love show business! 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

If I wrote the Superman legend


A rocket hurtles out of the sky and lands with a crash, a plume of smoke trailing behind it.

A 1998 Kia comes down the road. Inside are Yetta and Morris, a middle-aged Jewish couple.

YETTA: Morris, stop the car!


YETTA: What do you mean why? Didn’t you just see that?

MORRIS: Let’s not get involved.

YETTA: Stop the car or so help me I’m taping over BAYWATCH.

MORRIS: Alright. Alright. I’ll stop the car. Leave it to you to want to examine every little object that falls out of the sky.

YETTA:  You know that's a terrible show, right?

MORRIS: Look, I stopped the car, okay?!

YETTA:  Let's have a look.

She gets out of the car.

MORRIS: What?  We're getting out of the car?  Aren’t we trespassing?

YETTA: Oh shut up.

He follows her across the field.

MORRIS: Who knows? Someone may come and think we did this.

They arrive at the scene.

YETTA: It’s some sort of rocket.

MORRIS: Great. You happy now? It’s a rocket. Let’s go.

YETTA: Aren’t you even curious as to how it got here?

MORRIS: No. It’s a rocket. Who shoots rockets? Kids. Skinheads.  For all we know there’s a Hitler Youth group in Smallville and it's der Fuehrer Air Power Day.

YETTA: That’s ridiculous.

MORRIS: You haven't been to the Dairy Queen lately.

YETTA: (examining closer) Wait a minute. Morris, I think there’s a baby inside.

MORRIS: Okay. Now we’re leaving for sure.

YETTA: I swear I'm erasing all eight episodes of BAYWATCH. 

MORRIS:  Well then just kill me!

YETTA: Who do think would do such a thing?

MORRIS: I told you, the skinheads.  There's probably a new chapter -- Hitler Toddlers.

YETTA: Well, we’ve got to get the poor thing out.

MORRIS: I’ll call the Auto Club.

YETTA: We can’t wait forty-five minutes. Give me a hand. We’ve got to get it out ourselves.

MORRIS: What? Us? Are you crazy? That thing is hot. What if I order a pizza? They’ll be here in thirty minutes or less. Let the pizza boy open the rocket.  I'll  tip him.

YETTA: I should have married Saul Gazin.

MORRIS: Oh, again with the "Saul Gazin". Mr. Perfect. He’d get the baby out. He probably has oven mitts right there in his glove compartment just for an emergency like this.

YETTA: My mother and the entire congregation was right about you.

She takes off her sweater, wraps it around her hand for protection and begins pulling at the latch. Out of guilt he wraps his jacket around his hand and joins in.

MORRIS: Move away. I’ll do this.

YETTA:  Thank you. You're such a prince.

He yanks and pulls and strains.

MORRIS: If my back goes out, good luck getting the Nazis to pay for my medical bills.

YETTA: Maybe if you exercised more than once every fifteen years.

MORRIS: Do YOU want to do this?

YETTA: No. Fine. Keep going.

MORRIS: Stop nagging. I’ve never broken into a rocket before.

YETTA: Sorry… but you really do have no muscle tone.

Finally, the latch opens.

MORRIS: There!

YETTA: Oh thank God!

She sweeps the baby up into her arms.

YETTA: He is so cute.

MORRIS: He? Then that rules out China.

YETTA: Why would anyone do this to a precious little baby?

MORRIS: You’re looking for answers? In this crazy world? Why can't they solve the Middle East?  How could a thing like the Exxon Valdez oil spill happen?  How is George Bush running for president? I think the real question here is what are we going to do with him? Does Protective Services have a UFO division?

YETTA: Morris, why don’t we keep him?

MORRIS: What?!

YETTA: We always wanted a baby.

MORRIS: Yetta, that’s insane. We also want a time share in Hawaii. 

YETTA: We talked about adopting. Y’know, after learning that your sperm count was low.

MORRIS: You gotta bring that up, don’tcha? I bet Saul Gazin could repopulate the world!

YETTA: I’m just saying.

MORRIS: Look, you can pull the cable out of the wall.   I’m not keeping this child.

YETTA: Don’t you see what this is? It’s a sign from God, Morris. It’s like when Bithiah found baby Moses floating on the Nile and raised him. Change boat to guided missile and it’s the same thing. Morris, this child – I just get the sense he’s… special in some way. And there’s a reason we found him. These things are not by accident. If that had landed five minutes earlier maybe Martha and Jonathan Kent would have found him and fifteen years from now he’d be selling dope.

MORRIS: (softening) Well… I always did want a son to take over the Woolworth store. But what if his real parents do come after him? What if we see a milk carton and there is the baby or a picture of the rocket?

YETTA: Then we’ll call Protective Services.

MORRIS: This is so nuts.

YETTA: Morris, I won’t ask you for another thing for months.  Not even a new garbage disposal that if you have a nose you know we need desperately. 

He considers, then finally:

MORRIS: Alright. We’ll take him.

YETTA: Seriously?

MORRIS: Yes, because my life isn't stressful enough.

YETTA: Oh, darling. I’m so happy.

MORRIS: What do we name him?  And if the answer is "Saul" then the deal's off.

YETTA: How about Zvee? After my grandfather.

MORRIS: A perfect name for a kid growing up in Kansas.   Zvee Sugarman.

YETTA: I love you.

MORRIS: Yeah yeah. Let’s go eat.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Friday Questions

Friday Questions anybody?

Michael leads off.

I enjoyed the new Vanity Fair article on Frasier and was glad to see you were interviewed. The article mentioned the "Three Valentines" episode from season 6 in which Niles starts a fire in Frasier's apartment. I re-watched it immediately and was astounded by David Hyde Pierce's performance. My question is this - Given the live fire was that scene filmed in front of a live audience and in real time? If so would fire staff have been located actually in the apartment but out of frame?

That was pre-shot without an audience. And filmed in pieces... with half the fire department of LA on the stage.  It’s still my favorite sequence in FRASIER. Step aside Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Lucy – make room for David Hyde Pierce.

Howard Matthews asks:

Ken, for those of us blessed/cursed with living on another continent, are any of your play scripts available online? I'd love to read some of your plays.

Stay tuned. I am in the process of putting together a website dedicated to licensing and selling my plays. It’s coming very soon. My goal is to get my work out there for more people to see (and hopefully enjoy).

From Frank Beans:

One thing I've been wondering: Do you ever reuse your rejected pilots/scripts later on down the road, with a different network or even the same one? Is this a common thing to do?

It’s not common but it does happen, and for David and me it’s happened three times. We had a family pilot at CBS. They ultimately passed and ABC picked it up. We had a political pilot for ABC that they felt was too controversial (at the time) and HBO had us redevelop it and make it even more controversial.

And finally, we had a pilot at FOX that they passed on saying it was more of an NBC show. A few years later one of the executives in that meeting went to NBC and sure enough she bought it for the peacock.

None of those projects ultimately got on the air, but we got paid twice for the same script so you won’t hear me complaining.

And finally, Andrew has a question about the great writer, Larry Gelbart.

When he wrote Oh God!, did he have George Burns and John Denver in mind? Or did the casting come later? It was certainly a perfect match between the script and the actors.

No. And this is going to sound crazy but Larry’s original conception was Woody Allen playing the John Denver part and Mel Brooks playing God.

Yes, Burns and Denver were great, but wouldn’t you have LOVED to see the Allen-Brooks version?

What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Another one of my little quirks...

For many reasons I could never become a doctor and one (although probably not the first) is that it drives me crazy to keep people waiting. Most doctors I go to have two or three little examining rooms and they flit from one to the other. Just knowing there are two other people sitting in rooms waiting while I explain for the ninth time to some idiot patient why chewing tobacco is not good for them would keep me in a constant state of anxiety. And that’s not even worrying about all the patients in the waiting room.

There is a very famous (and excellent) restaurant in LA called the Apple Pan. Great burgers, and believe it or not, pies. It’s also one of the few remaining unique dining experiences in Los Angeles. They don’t have seventeen locations. They have one. Now that Cassell’s is essentially gone (a new version has opened but pales in comparison to its old self), the Apple Pan may have the best burger in town. (I know this will spark a lot of comments arguing over this fact. I welcome this debate.) I’d eat there a lot. But…

You walk in and there’s this big horseshoe counter. Everyone sits at the counter. And it’s very popular so it’s always crowded. As a result, there are always people standing behind you, hovering, waiting to take your seat. I find this incredibly unnerving. So when I go to the Apple Pan, unless it’s a real off-time, I find myself wolfing down my food as fast as I can.  (New Yorkers having lunch in Manhattan know of what I speak.)   And yet, I look around and there are others at the counter who have finished their lunch and their drink and are just sitting there reading a book completely oblivious to the six angry people breathing down their necks. Hope they never need the Heimlich Maneuver.

Other examples: being in a public bathroom while someone is jiggling the door. I’m sure there are folks who sit on the john, check their email, and maybe even bring a magazine. I want to kill those folks.

In a car. I’m about to get out of a parking space. There is a car waiting for the space. There are seven cars stopped behind him. I don’t leisurely get in the car, touch up my make up, take a few sips from my Starbucks, scroll through my playlists until I find one I want to listen to, readjust the side mirrors, program my GPS, turn on the engine, put on the brake lights and then for no reason whatsoever just pause for another three minutes. If another car is waiting I get in and GO.

There are many other examples (feel free to add yours) but you get the idea. The point is this drives me batty, probably battier than it should.

Is it just me?

And sorry if I offend, but I wish it were EVERYBODY.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

EP90: To Rome with Like and Barcelona with Love

Ken provides a comedic guided tour of his recent European misadventures.  It’s “Lifestyles of the ‘not-rich-enough’ and ‘known by a few’.” 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

RIP Thad Mumford

It is with great sadness I must report the passing of Thad Mumford. He was 67. Thad was a wonderful writer, probably best known for his work on MASH. He was part of the regime that followed me yet we became friends. He and his partner Dan Wilcox wrote a number of terrific episodes the final three years of that show.

Thad was one of the first African-American comedy writers to break into primetime. He was smart, very funny, and great to have in a writers room. It’s true that most comedy writers don’t laugh at pitched jokes. You could come up with the funniest line of the century and most comedy writers would nod and say: “Yeah, that could work. Let’s go with that.”

Not Thad.

He laughed, loudly and from the heart. In a highly competitive business he was encouraging and supportive.

He was also a diehard Yankee fan.

When Thad was a teenager he was the Yankees batboy. That began a lifelong love affair with the pinstripes. In 1992 when I was broadcasting for the Seattle Mariners we went into New York midseason and happened to be there for Old Timers Day. Now Old Timers Day in the original Yankee Stadium 25 years ago meant Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio and Whitey Ford with Mel Allen emceeing. Among the Yankee greats who put on the uniform one more time that day was Thad Mumford.

I invited him up to the booth during the game and put him on the air with me for a couple of innings telling hilarious Yankee stories. Thad was a great guest because he was so funny and so quick.

Thad Mumford was a real character. Dressed preppy. Ate more deli than most Jewish people. Studied black history. Hung out with Loretta Swit and Bobby Richardson. Wrote jokes for Joan Rivers and thoughtful pieces for the New York Times.

I will miss his wit, his friendship, his Yogi Berra stories, but most of all his laugh. And I give thanks for all the many many laughs he provided. Thanks to reruns he’ll still be providing them. Meanwhile, he’s probably up somewhere giving Mickey Mantle shit for bunting once in 1964. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Last night's Emmy Awards

Boy, I’m glad I’m not reviewing the Emmys this year. Because if you say anything even remotely critical or snarky about anybody or any show or any horribly embarrassing comedy bit these days you’ll be branded a racist. So I’ll just say Glenn Weis proposing to his girlfriend was a great moment and why we tune in for these live events. Betty White is a national treasure. Beau Weaver did a great job as the announcer. I was happy that they managed to include Thad Mumford in the In Memoriam section (my tribute to Thad posts tomorrow). And I cheered when my next door neighbor won an Emmy. Other than that – ugh! (Am I allowed to say ugh? Am I offending anyone if I say ugh?)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Tonight's Emmy Awards

I won’t be reviewing the Emmys tonight.

Several reasons.

I was going to do it for my podcast but technical issues prevent me from posting it early tomorrow morning. And the whole point is writing and getting it out there as fast as possible so references are still fresh in people’s minds and if any of my jokes happen to be similar to jokes in other reviews you’ll know that's merely coincidental. 

But that requires basically staying up all night writing (and then recording).

And I’ll be honest, after almost twenty years I’m just getting tired of doing that. And it’s less about the effort required and more about my diminishing interest in the award shows themselves.

Especially the Emmys.

There are now so many shows that blur the lines between categories that some of the nominations are absurd. There are a couple of series in the "Best Comedy" category that aren’t really comedies at all. Meanwhile, actual quality sitcoms that strive to make you laugh are not even nominated. So what’s the point?

As for the acting nominations, they’re based solely on who is on a hot show not who gave the most outstanding performance. And I understand that, especially since there are now so many series on so many platforms that it’s impossible for voters to see everything, but there are nominees who have no business being there while other extraordinary performers are shut out. I hate when I’m rooting for people to NOT win and that’s what this has become in certain instances. I much prefer to be excited and happy for deserving winners.

Here too it’s the blurring of lines. How are sketch performers who do a multitude of characters from SNL and sitcom actors who play the same character week after week in the same category? Why are certain actors just Academy darlings and get nominated every year no matter what they’re in? And yes, I’m looking at you Jeff Daniels.

What’s the difference between “Reality Competition” and “Structured Reality Program?” LIP SYNC BATTLE is nominated for “Structured.” But it has the word BATTLE right in the title? It’s not a competition? There’s only so much money the SHARK TANK sharks are going to invest. Aren’t the people trying to get that money essentially in competition with each other? Why is SHARK TANK is the “Structured” category.

Some of the nominees for “Best Short Form” are essentially promo pieces for current network shows. Is that in the spirit of the award? For “Outstanding Short Form Variety” these are three of the nominees: BETWEEN THE SCENES – THE DAILY SHOW, CREATING SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, and THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON – COVER ROOM. They’re trailers, people. They’re click bait. They’re not Emmy worthy.

Anyway, you get the idea. The last few years have been a slog to review the Emmys and it’s not like I’m getting paid. Tomorrow I may or may not do a brief overview depending on whether I have anything more to say and whether I don’t just turn off the show and watch MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL instead.

All that said, good luck tonight to the nominees… that are deserving.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

What's it like writing for animals?

A lot easier than directing them. On FRASIER the key to writing for Eddie was not asking too much of him. Moose (Eddie’s real name) had an extraordinary trainer in Mathilde de Cagny. As long as the stunt was quick and doable, Mathilde could get Moose to do it (always through treats and loving care). If there was some question while we were writing we would just ask Mathilde. More often than not she’d say Moose could do it. The dog was a gamer! With actors we had to ask their managers.

Other writers were more of a problem. One day in the writers room I pitched some bit with Eddie and a sock and one of the writers (who constantly drove everyone nuts) asked, “What is Eddie thinking now?” What is he fucking THINKING??! How do someone like that without being brought up on charges?

Moose passed away at 15, which is like 108 dog years. I'm only sorry he never got to be on INSIDE THE ACTOR'S STUDIO with James Lipton.

Directing animals is another story.

I directed an episode of JUST SHOOT ME called “Sewer”. The B-story had Nina (Wendie Malick) bringing in an orangutan. I forget why but I’m sure it was for a good reason. He was a little harder to train and was in a good part of the show.

On filming night I said to the actors, if he does anything unexpected just go with it and stay in character. We can always re-shoot the scene. Likewise, I told the four camera operators, if you’re on the orangutan and he does something wacky stay on him. Don’t go to your next shot.

Sure enough with cameras rolling and the audience in place, Wendie steps out of the elevator hand in hand with her furry friend, approaches David Spade’s counter, and has a brief exchange with him. The orangutan, who comes up to Wendie’s knees, lifts her dress a few inches, and peers right up between her legs. God love her, Wendie stayed completely in character and reacted with utter nonchalance. The audience went completely nuts. It was a five minute laugh.

After the show had been filmed and the audience released I went back to do some pick-ups. The orangutan’s trainer tapped me on the shoulder and gently told me it was past his bedtime. I said it would only be about another fifteen minutes. He repeated: “Uh, it’s past his bedtime.” I then asked what happens if he stays up after his bedtime?

“He bites everybody he sees.”

“Okay everybody, that’s a wrap!”

I’ve heard stories of actors who were reluctant to work with animals for fear of being upstaged, but I’ve never personally encountered one. However, I think there was a cat who once refused to work with Dustin Hoffman.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

My favorite Neil Simon movie

TCM in tribute to Neil Simon played a number of his movies last night.  A few years ago I hosted a month-long Neil Simon film festival on TCM.  Although they didn't use my intros and outros last night, TCM says a Backlot website that is replaying some Simon movies with my wraparounds.  You can find the site here.  

But my favorite Neil Simon movie was THE HEARTBREAK KID.   In case they don't show it, or they do but you missed it, here is the transcription of my INTRO and OUTRO to that film.  


Hi, I’m Ken Levine – a TV writer, playwright and a blogger – quick plug: Ken Levine dot blogspot dot com – and I’m back for the final night of hosting TCM’s “Friday Night Spotlight” on Neil Simon. And right now we have my all-time favorite of his films. It’s “The Heartbreak Kid,” from 1972 starring Charles Grodin, Cybil Shepherd, also Eddie Albert and Jeannie Berlin.

This is a very atypical Neil Simon film – quite dark – with a screenplay based on a short story by Bruce J. Friedman. There aren’t a ton of Simon jokes and wisecracks here. It’s very satirical, very dry, very Jewish and the humor comes mostly from hypocrisy.

Grodin plays a total cad – a guy who only gets married because his girlfriend – Jeannie Berlin – won’t sleep with him until they’re legal. But of course, their first night together is horrible – at least, according to him.

They drive to Miami for his honeymoon anyway, and while there he proceeds to fall in love with a wasp-y beauty, played by Cybil Shepherd.

And he spends the entire honeymoon figuring out how he can be with her instead of his newylwed bride and convince Cybil’s father Eddie Albert that he’s worthy of his daughter’s hand. There’s clearly a level of Anti-Semitism in the Eddie Albert character, and Grodin is hardly a sympathetic character on any level, but you’ve got to give him credit for salesmanship, perseverance and moxie.

You’ll find yourself laughing at his sheer audacity.

And Eddie Albert steals absolutely every scene he’s in.

Jeannie Berlin is also fantastic as the jilted wife – and both Jeannie and Eddie Albert were nominated for Academy Awards for their supporting performances. The film is directed by Elaine May, who – as you may know – in the late 50’s and early 60’s was one-half of a comedy team with another one of Neil Simon’s long-time collaborators, Mike Nichols. Elaine may is also Jeannie Berlin’s mother.

Here’s the film, with Neil Simon himself in a cameo as one of the wedding guests. From 1972 – “The Heartbreak Kid.”


I love that movie. It’s sick and twisted – but the absurdity is played so straight, so dry, so earnest. I think a lot of the credit goes to director Elaine May for establishing the tone.

There’s also that scene with the egg salad – i mean, will you ever eat an egg salad sandwich again? Or not use sunblock?

In 2007, there was a remake of “The Heartbreak Kid” done by the Farelly Brothers starring Ben Stiller, but it was not faithful to the original story by Bruce J. Friedman and it was, I have to say, awful. For the record, Neil Simon was not associated with it.

Up next is another great Neil Simon movie – with a screenplay based on one of Simon’s own Broadway productions. On stage, it starred Peter Falk and Lee Grant – on film, it’s Jack Lemmon and Ann Bancroft. (The Prisoner of Second Avenue)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Friday Questions

Let’s get to your Friday Questions, shall we?

Buttermilk Sky leads off.

In the ODD COUPLE series, though not in the play or movie, Felix is a huge opera fan -- as was Tony Randall in real life. It seems clear that the star's personality shaped the character. As a writer, are you happy to blend fiction with reality this way, or would you either refuse or reluctantly agree just to keep the peace?

If I can work an actor’s actual personality into the character he’s playing I’m thrilled. It gives the character more dimension and will make the character more organic to play.

But that’s just window dressing in a sense because the real work is in the casting. Get the right actor for the part. In the case of THE ODD COUPLE, Tony Randall was absolutely the dead-on choice. Whether the Felix character liked opera was immaterial. The fact that Tony did and the writers were able to use that was a lovely bonus. If they had cast Chuck Norris in the role, his love of opera would mean shit.

From David Kruh:

During a show's credits viewers see "producer" and "executive producer" and other titles but you and many others who worked series constantly talk about being a "showrunner" and how critical that person is to a show. So why isn't "Showrunner" a credit that we would see at the end of an episode?uring a show's credits viewers see "producer" and "executive producer" and other titles but you and many others who worked series constantly talk about being a "showrunner" and how critical that person is to a show. So why isn't "Showrunner" a credit that we would see at the end of an episode?

Simple. “Executive Producer” sounds much more impressive than “Showrunner.” It’s the same reason there are CEO’s and not “Guys in charge.”

But Showrunners are compensated in other ways – like money, shared ownership, and vanity cards.

slgc asks:

Do you get writing ideas in the middle of the night, or when you're drifting off to sleep? If so, what attempts do you make to record them so you can remember them in the morning?

I do get ideas at night and have a pad and pen at the ready to write them down. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but when I’m in a relaxed state ideas and solutions to script problems come to me.

That’s why, when I’m writing a script at night and get stuck on something I just walk away, do something else or maybe go to bed and let my subconscious mind work it out. More often than not by the morning I have the fix.

I also get a lot of ideas in the shower and that’s tougher because I don’t bring a pad or tape recorder into the shower with me. So I have to sometimes struggle to memorize whatever solution I’ve arrived at. Or take very quick showers.

dandy_lio wonders:

Ken - will you do transcripts of your podcast? I'd really love to read them. I am deaf and can't listen to them.

I will look into that. Yes, that would be nice service to provide. Thanks.

And finally, friend-of-the-blog, Janet Ybarra queries:

It's often been said on MASH, Korea was actually an allegory for Vietnam. Since you and David we're on staff toward the later years, did the producers and writers just leave it as that--subtext--or as the seasons went long--like the Vietnam War--was there any more overt approach to writing as if it was Vietnam in everything but name?

Always always always subtext. We just allowed the audience to make that connection on their own. Our focus on the writing was the Korean conflict and our stories came exclusively from that. We never did interviews with Vietnam vets and just adjusted their stories to fit Korea.

I won’t lie and say the connection to the Vietnam War wasn’t a key component to our success, but MASH lasted way past the end of the Vietnam War and its popularity never waned. In fact, it increased.

What’s your FQ? And if you’re in LA, come see my one act play this weekend at the Hollywood Short + Sweet Festival.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Wanna see one of my plays? Or a bunch?

The Hollywood Short + Sweet Festival opens tonight.  These are programs of ten-minute plays submitted by playwrights from all over the world.  I am incredibly fortunate to have three of my plays selected for the festival.   Last year I had one -- THE FUGITIVE (and you can hear all about that on last week's podcast).

This week is AVOCADO TOAST, which I also directed.  Next week is 15 SECONDS and THANKS DUDE.  I also know some of the other playwrights and their plays are terrific.  They get into festivals all the time because they're that good.

For tickets you can go here. 

The shows are Thursday through Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 6. .  I'll be there for every performance this week (since I also directed) and most of the performances next week.   Come say hi to the cowering playwright in the back corner.

Thanks to all the actors, directors, crew and festival people for your talent and hard work on my behalf.

And if you're in Pittsburgh, I have a half-hour play, WHEN ROMCOMS GO BAD playing this weekend at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival.  Thanks to all of those folks.  You can get info and tickets here. 

I probably have six MASH episodes rerunning this week but I'm way more excited about the plays.  Hope you can get to one of them.  Or three.  Four actually.    Thanks.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

EP89: Surviving the red carpet: Award war stories

Throughout his career in Hollywood, Ken has received multiple nominations and won many awards, but also missed out on some too! On today's episode, Ken shares his personal stories of winning and losing various awards like Emmys. 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Larry Gelbart

Lost in all the horrors of 9-11 is that I lost another dear friend who died on that date.  Larry Gelbart in 2009.   Were it not for 9-11 I might have saluted him every year on that date.  But since almost ten years have gone by, I thought I'd share once again my thoughts on Larry Gelbart.  Usually when I write tributes I do them quickly and post them quickly.  For Larry it took two days just to compose myself.   Hopefully you'll see why he was such a special man and such a blessing to my life. 
In addition to everything else, he wrote beautiful eulogies. With his flair for words and wit and warmth he constructed eloquent touching tributes. I used to kid him that he had to live forever because no one else could write them as well. And now I find myself in the agonizing position of trying to write his. First off, let me say, it won’t be as good.

So rather than tell you what you probably already know – that he was the Mozart of comedy writing and recipient of every honor but the Heisman Trophy – I’ll try to share some things you might not know; some personal stories.

In many ways the hardest part of writing scripts is turning them in. Because then you have to wait. And wait. And wait. It’s a stomach churning exercise filled with angst and insecurity and flashbacks of high school. After a day you’re an utter basket case. After a week you’re confessing to crimes you didn’t even commit.

When you turned in a script to Larry at 5:30 he called you at home to say he loved it… at 6:30. The first Rolaid hadn’t even dissolved in your stomach yet. Trust me, this is unheard of. But that was Larry. Empathetic, considerate, a mensch. He was the kindest man in an industry that seriously frowns on that sort of thing. Fortunately, he had the talent to overcome it.

And despite his enormous success, he was just as human as the rest of us mere boulevard farcitiers. He arranged for house seats for my wife and I to see the original production of SLY FOX. Jacqueline Kennedy was sitting next to me. When I called the next day to thank him and tell him who was sitting on my left, he got very nervous. “Did she like it? Did she laugh? Which jokes?” He was thrilled to learn she did laugh, and I’d like to think thrilled that my wife and I laughed too but probably more Jackie. After all, she paid for her seat.

I mentioned one day in a rewrite that my favorite MASH episode was “the More I See You” with Blythe Danner guesting as Hawkeye’s former flame. A few days later I received a gift. In those days Larry used to write his scripts longhand on legal pads. He gave me a Xeroxed copy of his original first draft. And the Mozart comparison continues. There were no cross-outs. Every line was perfectly constructed. Emotion and humor flowed from speech to speech with absolute ease. How does one do that? It’s impossible! That draft (now bound) remains one of my most cherished possessions.

And by the way, he could write an entire MASH script in one night. He was incredibly fast. Stanley Donan was going to direct a movie called BLAME IT ON RIO. He was not happy with the draft his writer had ,turned in and asked Larry if as a favor, he’d read it and offer his suggestions. Larry said sure (Larry always said sure). The script was delivered to him Friday at 5:30. No, he didn’t call back with his reaction at 6:30. He waited until Monday morning. But he said he had so many problems with it that instead of just scribbling down some notes he took the liberty of REWRITING the whole screenplay himself. Unbelievable. Even Mozart didn’t compose an opera over the weekend. Larry said use what you like. Donan used every word.

A similar story: For rewrites we would dictate to our assistant, Ruth, who was lightening quick. There was a big Radar speech. Larry started pitching and was just on fire. We were in stitches. Ruth broke in, telling him to slow down. Even she couldn’t write that fast. Larry said, “Just get half” and kept going. The half she didn’t get was better than anything else on television.

Larry always sent thank you notes. Larry always dropped you a line wishing you well on your upcoming project. Larry always returned phone calls. Larry always emailed you right back. Larry even left comments on my blog. I half expect a thank you note for this essay.

His legacy will last forever. His work was timeless, universal, steeped in humanity, and brilliant. MASH will always air eight times a night, TOOTSIE and OH GOD! will forever be on your screens (be they 64” plasmas or 2” iPods), FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, and CITY OF ANGELS will be revived as long as there are stages.

Like any screenwriter, Larry had drawers and drawers of unproduced or unsold or unfinished projects. In June he just had a reading of a pilot he conceived. Last year he mounted a play in Chicago he was shepherding to Broadway. At the time of his death he was adapting one of his films into a musical and one of his musicals into a film. So yes, he left behind an amazing body of work but still we “just got half”.

Many people who knew him felt that Hawkeye Pierce was an idealized version of Larry. I’d like to think one of his other character creations was a more accurate representation of just who he was. God.

Enjoy the work of Larry Gelbart. You will laugh until you hurt. And for those of us who were blessed to have known him, we will hurt until we laugh.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

9-11 and David & Lynn Angell

I re-post this every year on this date and always will. 

9/11 affected us all, profoundly and in many cases personally. Two of my dear friends were on flight 11. David and Lynn Angell. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought of them, missed them, and not felt grateful that they were in my life.

David and I worked together on CHEERS, WINGS, and FRASIER (the latter two he co-created). We used to call him the “dean”. In his quiet way he was the one we always looked to for final approval of a line or a story direction. He brought a warmth and humanity to his writing that hopefully rubbed off on the rest of us “schickmeisters”. And he could be funny – sneaky funny. During long rewrite sessions he tended to be quiet. Maybe two or three times a night he’d pitch a joke – but they were always the funniest jokes of the script.

For those of you hoping to become comedy writers yourselves, let David Angell be your inspiration. Before breaking in he worked in the U.S. Army, the Pentagon, an insurance firm, an engineering company, and then when he finally moved out to L.A. he did “virtually every temp job known to man” for five years. Sometimes even the greatest talents take awhile to be recognized.

I first met David the first season of CHEERS. He came in to pitch some stories. He had been recommended after writing a good NEWHART episode. This shy quiet man who looked more like a quantum physics professor than a comedy writer, slinked into the room, mumbled through his story pitches, and we all thought, “is this the right guy? He sure doesn’t seem funny.” Still, he was given an assignment (“Pick a con…any con”) and when the script came back everyone was just blown away. He was quickly given a second assignment (“Someone single, someone blue”) and that draft came back even better. I think the first order of business for the next season was to hire David Angell on staff.

After 9/11, David’s partners Peter Casey & David Lee called me and my partner into their office. There was a FRASIER script David Angell was about to write. (It was the one where Lilith’s brother arrived in a wheelchair and became an evangelist. Michael Keaton played the part.) Peter & David asked if we would write it and for me that was a greater honor than even winning an Emmy.

David’s wife, Lynn, was also an inspiration. She devoted her life to helping others – tirelessly working on creating a children’s library and a center that serves abused children.

My heart goes out to their families. To all of the families.

I still can’t wrap my mind around it.

So tragic, so senseless, and even seventeen years later, so inconceivable.

Monday, September 10, 2018

No Emmy for Megan

Alas, Megan Amram did not win an Emmy Saturday night. Remember she made a short-form web series called AN EMMY FOR MEGAN with the sole purpose of actually winning an Emmy. In fairness, it was a goof. But I said in my original article, if she had won it would have made the TV Academy look foolish.

She got pretty far however – nominated twice (one for best series and one for best actress). But that wasn’t surprising. She’s an established TV writer with lots of friends and contacts in the Academy so I’m sure they all voted for her initially. That’s fine.


How many web series that were better and done by people who poured their hearts and souls into them were shut out as a result of not “knowing people?” Ha ha, the “stunt” series got in. But at the expense of more deserving series by people whose lives could really change with the recognition of an Emmy nomination (not to mention a win). Suddenly the gag is less amusing.

When it came time for the final voting I think voters felt the stunt ran its course. 

Emmys are supposed to celebrate excellence in television. They’re supposed to be HARD to win. You win one by contributing something truly of value and high quality, not by “beating the system.”

For these awards to mean anything their integrity must be protected. Otherwise, they’re a joke. I don’t even list in my bio that I won a People’s Choice Award. Who gives a shit? They’re nothing more than a fabricated TV event. But the TV and Motion Picture Academy are getting dangerously close to losing their stature. Thankfully, the Motion Picture Academy came to their senses (following the huge backlash) and dropped their stupid Best Popular Movie category.

All that said, I hope Megan Amram does win an Emmy someday – for work she deserves. Believe me, it will mean so much more.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Infuriating rejections

Getting rejected is part of the game in Hollywood. For most of the time it IS the game. No one is immune. NBC once passed on Tom Cruise to star in a pilot. I consulted on a pilot that rejected Annette Bening. ABC demanded a series be recast to replace Tim Robbins. Chuck Lorre has unsold pilots. So does Woody Allen.   Jennifer Hudson got booted off AMERICAN IDOL. You get the idea.

My writing partner, David Isaacs, and I have had our share of rejections over the years. But every so often we'll get one that really gets our attention because of the explanation. Here are a few.   If you've been in the business for more than twenty minutes you probably have six examples of your own. 

We did a pilot once for NBC. We turned it in and they said, “This is exactly what we’re looking for.” We were feeling great.  A few days later they passed. Their explanation: “This was exactly what we were looking for… last week.”

I once wrote a spec screenplay. A studio executive rejected it, but said, “The writing was so good it almost fooled me into liking this movie.” Gee, thanks.

A pilot we developed for Fox was rejected as being “too NBC.” At the time NBC was the gold standard for comedies and Fox was a mess.  So I guess that was a compliment... maybe?

Early in our career ABC came to us to develop a family pilot. We did. They rejected it. Why? Because they had also developed one with Erma Bombeck but she had a commitment. So ABC said to us, “If it’s any consolation, yours was much better.” No. Not really.

Very early in our career we had a two-pilot deal at NBC. They had to produce at least one of the two scripts. They chose to greenlight the first. The pilot process was a struggle, filled with “creative differences.” The show didn’t get on the air (losing out to PINK LADY AND JEFF), but we still had another script commitment. So we worked with them, developed a new project, turned it in, and the VP of Comedy Development called us to say, “Wow. Guys. I’m really impressed. You guys really put a lot of effort into this even though you had to know there was no way we were going to make it.” Again, thanks.  Were we pros or schmucks?

When Les Moonves pulled the plug on ALMOST PERFECT he told me “it was the best show he ever cancelled.” Yes, on one hand that’s gratifying, but on the other – seriously??? (I’m still waiting for the reverse – someone to say, “This is the worst thing I ever bought.”)

No matter how you get rejected, the key is to shake it off and move forward. I’m not saying it doesn’t sting, or was fair, but you have to rise above it. You don’t have to sell everything. Just enough. And if you do sell enough and become hot enough, then suddenly everybody will want to buy all the stuff they had rejected.   Even the stuff that wasn't "the best."

Saturday, September 08, 2018

How TV stars become movie stars

It's not easy to make the jump.  Many flame out.  Jason Bateman is crossing over.  Jennifer Aniston did it a few years ago and is still making movies. 

But it got me thinking about other TV vets who crossed the great divide and made it big in features. The one that jumps to mind immediately is James Cromwell. Terrific actor. Can play anything. But for years he just knocked around as a goofy character actor on TV. He was “Jamey” Cromwell then. We used him a couple of times on MASH and he was terrific. But I remember once when casting a pilot his name came up and my partner and I said, “he’s good but Jesus, haven’t we seen him like a million times? Isn’t there anyone else more fresh?”. Today we’d be lucky if he’d read one of our scripts.

Anyway, there are many other examples from George Clooney to Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Steve Carell, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Goldie Hawn, Thomas Hayden Church, Woody Harrelson, and I'm sure you can list ten others. Also, of course, the just departed Burt Reynolds.  But for every one who makes it, there are also a hundred David Caruso's and Matt LeBlanc's who don't. Why?

I don’t know. The X-Factor. Movie stars have a presence, a danger, a glow. There is something riveting about them. They can surprise you. They can command the big screen.

And they’re incredibly lucky. They happened to be in a hit. Again, going back to Jamey Cromwell. He gets a call from his agent:

Agent: Listen, I think I got something for you.

Jamey: (excited) A guest spot on WEBSTER?

Agent: Better.

Jamey: Wow! What?

Agent: A movie.

Jamey: Really! Fantastic!

Agent: Yeah, it’s a great story. There’s this pig that wants to be a sheepdog and he goes to live with this…

Jamey: Wait, wait. Back up a minute. A pig?

Agent: Cutest one you’ve ever seen.

Jamey: Brother. And what do I play?

Agent: The farmer.

Jamey: Who does what?

Agent: Who enters the pig in a sheepdog contest.

Jamey: Do I have a lot of lines?

Agent: Yes, but not as many as the pig.

Jamey: See if you can get me a callback on that WEBSTER.

Agent: No, no, you’re not hearing me. This could be a huge mainstream movie. And of the humans, you have the most to do.

Jamey (wavering): Well… it would be good to be in a big summer blockbuster.

Agent: Great. They film in Australia.

Jamey: Huh? How mainstream can this be if we film it in Australia?

Agent: I dunno. They got a deal on the pigs.

Jamey: Don’t Levine & Isaacs have a pilot? I mean, if I’m going to stoop

Agent: Sorry. Nothing this season. I think the industry is starting to wise up about those two hacks. And I’m afraid WEBSTER isn’t going to happen. I’ve been holding this from you but Alex Karras doesn’t think you’re a good actor.

Jamey: Alex Karras? I’m not good enough for Alex Karras? Okay. Fine. I’ll do the fucking pig movie.

Agent: That’s great! Fantastic! Except…

Jamey: Except what? I lose the audience’s sympathy by eating my co-star?

Agent: No, it’s just that… you don’t have it yet. They’re going to want a screen test

Jamey: A screen test?! Why? They know what I’ve done. Just watch any episode of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. I must’ve played eighteen farmers.

Agent: Yeah, but they… they kinda want to see if there’s any chemistry between you and the uh… your little pink co-star… who by the way, would get billing under you. I negotiated that. It wasn’t easy but I got it. (Off Jamey’s silence) Look, you’re right. I’ll find something else. Let me check the cop shows. See which ones you weren’t killed in and I’ll call them again.

Jamey: (resigned) No, no. What the hell? Set up a meeting with the pig.

Cromwell was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in BABE and went on to terrific roles in many top movies including L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.  If Matthew Perry's new series (THE ODD COUPLE) doesn't catch on I think he'll be on the phone to agent saying, "Scare me up a pig."