Friday, November 30, 2018

Friday Questions

So much for November. Let’s end the month with Friday Questions.

Joe starts us off.

I am a big fan of John Candy. You said you loved him and he loved your script and told you not to change a word. Did you ever think of writing a script specifically for him? John Hughes wrote great parts for Candy, but otherwise it seemed like he was saddled with a lot of mediocre scripts. I would have loved to see him in another Levine-Isaacs script.

We would have loved to. The closest was when David Isaacs and I tried to get the rights to option the book CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES. We wanted John to play the lead, Ignatius J.Reilly.

But it turned out seventeen other people wanted the rights and they were a lot higher up on the show business food chain than us. So it never happened.  

(Note that none of them have been able to crack the adaptation.  We probably saved ourselves a lot of serious aggravation.) 

Kevin Lauderdale asks:

Have we heard you on CHEERS as the announcer when the gang is watching sports on TV?

No. That was before I ventured into sportscasting. You will hear Jon Miller occasionally along with Larry McKay.

On the other hand, you will hear me on FRASIER, BECKER, MODERN FAMILY, MAJOR DAD, THE SIMPSONS, a bunch of other shows that probably will never be shown again. Also a couple of indie movies when people are watching ballgames.

Those one cent residuals really come in handy during holiday season.

PolyWogg queries:

I have a question along the lines of "The Show Must Go On!" and what you do if/when your deadline is looming and it's really "not there"?

You still have to tough it out. It might take a lot longer but you do the best you can.

Look, not every episode can be a classic. Some turn out better than others. You just have to resist the temptation to say, “that’s good enough, let’s move on.”

You go into each episode hoping it will be great, and sometimes you wind up putting lipstick on a pig. My feeling was always “even if it’s not a great episode at least there will be five or more solid laughs.”

The truth is you’re not just being paid for your talent. You’re being paid for your ability to create on demand. Plenty of times you’re not “feeling it.” You have a cold, you’re pissed at the notes, you had a fight with your spouse, rainy days & Mondays always get you down. But you still have to crank out the material at a consistently high level. In some ways that’s the hardest part of the job.

From Mitchell Hundred:

So when are you going to go on Alan Alda’s new podcast?

When he asks me. Actually, I’d rather he go on mine.

I’ve listened to Alan’s podcast and it’s terrific. He’s such an ingratiating guy.

And finally, VincentS wonders:

Since "I" comes before "K" how did you and David Isaacs decide on billing when you first partnered up?

Neither of us can alphabetize.

Actually, initially my name came first because I called David and asked if he wanted to write with me.

Some writing teams have an arrangement where every year they switch billing. I offered that to David and he said, “No, let’s leave it. My relatives know exactly where to look to see my name.”

But on ALMOST PERFECT, which we produced with Robin Schiff, when the three of us did a script together we rotated the names all over the place.

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

EP100: We Made It! EPISODE 100!

Ken looks back at the insanity of over 60 hours of podcast material
and reprieves his favorite three stories one from TV, one from radio, and one from baseball. Thanks to everyone for listening and subscribing. On to the next 100!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The Kominsky Method

Okay, first off if Alan Arkin doesn’t win an Emmy they should just shut down the Academy. He is absolutely spectacular. Michael Douglas is no slouch either but Arkin steals every scene he’s in. When Arkin gives a eulogy early in the series it’s an absolute masterclass in acting. So between Douglas and especially Arkin you know you’re in for terrific performances when you watch THE KOMINKSY METHOD, now available on Netflix.

Second, who am I to review Chuck Lorre? He’s way more rich and successful than I am, and we’re supposed to be peers damnit! So this is less of a “review” and more of my general impressions.

THE KOMINSKY METHOD is way more nuanced and layered than his multi-camera mega hits. That said, I hope you like prostate jokes. Still, Lorre is stretching here and if not everything works I appreciate the effort.

The show is sometimes funny and frequently thoughtful. Douglas and Arkin play two aging men trying to deal with mortality, the consequences of mistakes in their lives, and a world that has passed them by. And prostate issues. Lots of prostate issues. They’re often angry, occasionally disillusioned, and many times depressed.

But what’s missing for me is a real drive. Let me compare THE KOMINSKY METHOD with BARRY for a moment. I chose BARRY because both deal with acting classes as a primary arena. But Barry is a hit man trying desperately to get out and battling life-and-death forces that are pulling him back in. There is real absurdity in the dark problems he faces vs. the rigors of trying to book a commercial.

THE KOMINSKY METHOD is just two aging men existing (and kvetching). Yes, they want things they can’t have. But it’s not a series about them striving to get them; it’s a series of learning to accept and adjust. And that’s valid and real and at times very interesting, but I just didn’t find it particularly compelling. Maybe if it were hilarious or set in a world I’ve never seen I could excuse all that, but I just kept hoping it would draw me in more.

But I have to say, it’s so refreshing to see a show not about Millennials. And it’s funnier than GRACE AND FRANKIE.

There’s also a mini-ALMOST PERFECT reunion going on. Both Nancy Travis and Lisa Edelstein are in it. As you know I’m huge fans of both and they can do no wrong. I’m sorry, but I do find it a little creepy that they have Nancy dating 75 year-old Michael Douglas. Maybe when I’m 75 I’ll have  no problem with it.

But all the pluses and minuses are minor. The main reason to watch this show is Alan Arkin. He’s beyond terrific. You may or may not agree with my opinions of THE KOMINSKY METHOD but I guarantee you will say I’m right about that.  See ya at the Emmys, Alan.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A loving tribute to Ricky Jay

Ricky Jay passed away last weekend.  He was... too young.  I loved Ricky Jay but never knew him.  My good friend Tracy Newman did and graciously offered to write her own personal, very heartfelt loving tribute to this exceptional man.   Ricky had a huge impact on her life as you will see.   It's a wonderful profile, filled with links so you can experience his brilliance first hand.  Thank you, Tracy, for sharing your precious memories.  Ricky Jay really did live up to the name "Amazing."

by Tracy Newman

This past Saturday night, I was at Musso & Frank’s having dinner with a friend. For some reason, we were trying to figure out who the late actor Vic Morrow had been married to, so I Googled it. That’s when I found out that my old friend, magician Ricky Jay had passed away. I was stunned and overcome with sadness. As soon as I got home I sat down at my computer and stared at it for a while, then I went to YouTube and started looking at videos of Ricky, reading about him and writing about him, trying to deal with this loss.

I met Ricky in 1972 or so, through our mutual friend, bass player, Bobby Kimmel. Bobby was one of the Stone Poneys, Linda Ronstadt’s trio when she recorded her first hit, “Different Drum.” He worked at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, started the prestigious concert series there and booked the shows. I played there a few times back then. He was going to book Ricky and wanted me to see him perform, so he took me to the Magic Castle. Ricky was working in the close-up room. The way the schedule at the Castle works is they clear the room for a new audience about every 20 minutes, but I was so blown away, I managed to stay in my seat for the entire evening and watch all five 20 minute shows.

Then, I came back the next night and the next night, for several nights. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Even though I had hung out at the Improv in New York in the mid-60s where many great comics were honing their acts, and was a founding member of the LA improv group, The Groundlings and had seen many brilliant performers, I had never seen anyone like Ricky Jay. The wit, the relaxed manner, the charm, the confidence and the ability to amaze! The Amazing Ricky Jay is what we all called him. He was and still remains the best overall performer I've ever seen. When you see Ricky Jay live, you’re sitting on the edge of your seat through the whole show!

I completely fell for him. We started dating and eventually lived together for a year or so, during which time I picked up on how to manipulate a deck of cards. I don't mean in a casual way; I mean I really learned how to perfect fans, cuts, shuffles, sleights, etc. There were cards all over the house, under and over everything! I would try a one-handed shuffle and they would spring out of my hands. I’d pick them up and do it again, hundreds of times a day. Ricky was practicing new tricks and throwing cards at everything. Honestly, it was crazy, but so much fun and exciting. By the way, I never learned how to do any card tricks. I wasn’t interested in that. I just loved the flourishes and anyway, I was completely incapable of misdirecting an audience's attention. I was only able to briefly surprise people with card fans and the like, enough so that I began actually working and making money, doing female hands in card games on TV and in movies! Now and then, I did Sally Fields’ hands in “The Girl With Something Extra.”

In 1974, I did Dyan Cannon’s hands in a poker game on a Bob Hope Special at NBC in Burbank. It was a take off on the movie “Paper Moon.” At rehearsal, Johnny Carson heard there was a female card handler on the Bob Hope stage, so he actually came over to meet me, with his make-up bib on! I did flourishes for him and he loved it. I went home and wrote a sketch for Ricky and me to do on the Carson show. I took the sketch in a big envelope to the NBC stages on the day of the Bob Hope shoot, and headed for where they shot the Carson show, when a golf cart came barreling toward me with Carson in it! I jumped in front of it, and handed him the sketch and as he was swerving to avoid hitting me, and I yelled, ”Remember me? The girl with the cards?” He smiled and drove off -- with the envelope! (If I tried that today, I’d be shot!) Anyway, two weeks later, Hank Bradford, Johnny's head writer at the time, called me and said they had rewritten the sketch for Johnny and me to do together! I was both bummed and excited. Ricky was pissed at first, but then was pretty excited for me and helped me prepare. (Ricky had done the Carson show a few times already, so it wasn’t that big of a disappointment.) Here’s the sketch:

After Johnny and I performed the sketch, I was told to wait behind the curtain during the commercial break, and if Johnny wanted to talk to me, he would introduce me and I would walk out and join him. Johnny worked with cards, too, so it turned out he was pretty interested in what I was doing:

Here’s one of the many things I learned from Ricky: You can really perfect something if you’re willing to do the work. Duh, you say? Well, that may seem obvious to some, but I didn’t really know that. I knew you could get something to be really good with hard work, but I thought you were wasting your time trying to perfect it. I played guitar, and my playing was good, but it certainly wasn’t perfect. When I first learned how to do a card fan, I managed to make it look really good, but it wasn’t perfect. The distance between each card varied, but when Ricky did it, the distance between each card was exactly the same. So I began the long journey of making a perfect fan. It took months and months. I got to where I could stare at the cards and imagine they were thicker, like cardboard, so I could see what I was doing wrong. My card fans became almost always perfect, and eventually so did some of my shuffles and cuts. That’s when I started getting hired for paying gigs. And I wasn’t nervous because I had the goods. That’s what Ricky had. He always had the goods. Here he is on Doug Henning’s World of Magic:

And here is a cool video about false dealing that will thrill some of you. I just saw it for the first time today. The quality of it is not great, but it’s good enough:

There's a lot more I could say here, about the many shows at theaters and parties where Ricky’s friend, Spencer Troy and I watched him completely amaze all sorts of audiences hundreds of times. He usually didn’t allow children at his shows, if he could control it, but sometimes he couldn’t. I remember once he was working a party and he asked the guests to sit in a big circle - there were about 15 people there, including a child of about 8 years old in her nightgown, who watched for a bit, but then fell asleep in her chair. After a few tricks, Ricky asked the person sitting directly across the circle from the child to take a card, and went through the usual routine of putting the card back in the deck, then losing it, and not being able to find it, and getting irritated, like this was all real or something. He asked the party goers to look for the card on themselves, in their pockets and the like. Suddenly, one of the guests screamed and pointed to the card, which was draped in plain sight, on the stomach of the sleeping child! I kid you not.

Besides the fact that Ricky was perhaps the best sleight–of-hand artist in the world, and a scholar, historian, and collector of curiosities, he was a sweet, sweet person. I mean, he had his moments like we all do, but he was basically so good and kind, and became more so as the years went by. He was so lovable, so loved, and even though he was a master of deception, he was just so honest. A good guy with great long time friends. It will take a while to get used to a world without Ricky Jay in it.

I find that writing about Ricky, reading other posts on Facebook about him and looking at so many videos I hadn't yet seen... all of this has been a good way to work through my feelings. I love Facebook for this. The interaction is helpful to me. Also, since Saturday night, I'm working with a deck of cards again, trying to get back a little of the strength it took to do various flourishes. Here’s an old picture of me doing a pretty darn good fan:
I have only one picture of Ricky and me, and I love it so much. It shows the fun we had together. He was so funny and adventurous. He was a great friend and taught me to "go for it" all the time. Here is that picture, from the early 70s:
He truly loved entertaining and surprising people and engaging. He was definitely a genius. My deepest condolences to Ricky’s wife, Chrisann Verges. We will all miss the twinkle in Ricky's eyes.

(By the way, Vic Morrow’s first wife was actress/screenwriter Barbara Turner. Their child, Jennifer Jason Leigh.) Thanks for reading this.

Tracy Newman (Tracy’s CDs for kids!)

Monday, November 26, 2018

Why I do what I do and not just sleep more

My office in Rome
Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post.

mdv59 asks:

To what do you credit your work ethic? I'm about 10 years behind you and I'm already exhausted-- how the hell do you have the energy to continuously write plays, create blog posts, record podcasts and still pursue writing?

I’ve always been goal-oriented. And it drives me crazy if I don’t accomplish “things.” Maybe if I were more athletically inclined I’d be playing sports, but short of that I’m just compelled to be productive. Are there drugs for that?

I also work on projects I enjoy. Writing has become far more enjoyable when I can work at my own speed at home in my underwear, not having to satisfy network and studio executives.

The hardest part of writing full-length plays for me is coming up with an idea and story that I feel is worthy of an entire evening of theatre. If I get lucky I get one a year. But when I do and I’m actually writing the draft, unless I hit a big snag (which happens) I actually find the process somewhat stimulating – way more stimulating than watching NCIS reruns 24 hours a day.  I even like to write when I'm vacation.  Sitting in an outdoor cafe, people watching, and writing is a great way to pass the time.   (I know -- I'm nuts.) 

But the key is to not force it. I don’t have to come up with an idea for my next play by Tuesday. I find the best ideas come when I’m relaxed and just open to possibilities. A good idea will come. It might not be for a couple of months but it’ll materialize. All I have to do is keep my radar up.

And in the meantime, crafting blog posts and ten-minute plays are like stretching exercises for writers. They don’t require that much time and it relieves the pressure off of having to find that million-dollar full-length play idea.

Plus, I feel you always have to challenge yourself to continue to grow. So I try to take on projects that might not totally be in my comfort zone but hopefully I can conquer. An example is the one-day play festival at the Ruskin Theatre that I try to participate in several times a year. Having to write a ten-minute play on a given topic in three hours, knowing it will be performed that night is a daunting task but also exhilarating.

And as for the podcast, I’ve always loved broadcasting and this gives me a chance to be “on the air,” doing what I want without a program director telling me to shut up and stop trying to be funny. The fact that my podcast can be heard around the world is also pretty cool. This wasn’t the case when I was on the air in Syracuse and the station couldn’t be heard in the parking lot.

Bottom line: I just hate to be bored… even if that means accomplishing something.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Weekend Post

So last Wednesday I did a post sharing my love for the 1950’s sitcom classic, THE HONEYMOONERS. In the comment section I got the expected few who agreed and adored it and those that felt the show was meh. And that’s great. That’s what the comment section is for.  And the idiots who called me a libtard just got deleted.   

I also received a number of comments that took the show to task for lead character Ralph Kramden’s “threat of domestic violence.” He would constantly threaten to hit his wife, Alice, or “send her to the moon.” In light of today’s #MeToo era is Ralph’s behavior offensive? And although his threats were jokes, is it okay to find them funny today?

So let me offer my feelings on the subject… with the understanding that it’s just one man’s opinion. But it’s a man who happens to have a blog so here goes.

First off, as a lot of readers pointed out, for all his bluster, at no time did we ever believe Ralph would actually act on his threats. How do we know this? By watching Alice’s reaction to them. She never bats an eye. So it was crystal clear that she was never in the slightest danger. And whenever Alice got mad or felt Ralph had gone too far she could level him with one “Ralph, don’t you dare.” He immediately retreated, instantly becoming a contrite tub of jello. Alice was the boss of that relationship. And you have to put that into context because at the time all the other domestic sitcoms featured an authoritative husband (a la Ricky) and a ditz-brain wife (Lucy).

Ralph Kramden never laid a hand on Alice. Watch I LOVE LUCY – there are episodes where Ricky puts Lucy over his knee and spanks her. Yikes! Where’s the outcry against I LOVE LUCY?

My second point goes back to context. Expecting characters sixty years ago to have our current sensibilities is not fair to them. It’s just not. It is fair to say you personally are disturbed by watching such behavior, don’t find it funny, and would prefer watching something else.

But in light of this particular show, I feel I can watch it and laugh in all good conscience. I don’t feel it makes me less enlightened, I don’t feel it makes me a hypocrite, and I don’t feel there’s a part of me that should feel guilty.

Ralph Kramden is a sad character. He lives in a shit hole, has a go-nowhere job, and strives for that brass ring of the American Dream that you know he’ll never capture. He has get-rich quick schemes that all backfire. He’s physically unattractive. He’s not very smart.

He’s a frustrated man. But a key element of comedy is frustration. And as portrayed so brilliantly by Jackie Gleason, Ralph Kramden is extremely funny. What makes his “threats of domestic violence” so funny is how hollow they are. What makes his anger so funny is that how benign he ultimately is. No one shivers in their boots when Ralph erupts. They’re tantrums. John Cleese in FAWLTY TOWERS does the same thing. He and Gleason and a few others have turned the act of the meltdown into true hilarity.

So bottom line, I’m not justifying Ralph Kramden’s behavior. And today you could never in a million years sell this show. But seen for what it is and what it was I think there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be derived from watching THE HONEYMOONERS. Guilt free.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Black Friday Questions

Happy Black Friday. Here are some FQ’s besides where did I park my car?

Sanford is first at the table (so to speak):

I was looking up something about the famous Chuckles episode. I found this clip of Ed Asner talking about how the show was short and they needed another scene to fill the time. As he explained there was so much laughter that it filled all the time they needed. Has anything like this happened with any of the shows you worked on?

The pilot of BIG WAVE DAVE’S. At Dress Rehearsal we were right on time. But we ended up ten minutes long due to the laugh spread. A good episode will typically spread two to five minutes.

On the one hand this laugh spread was GREAT. You can imagine how much fun it was on the set that night. EVERYTHING worked.

The trouble came when we had to edit the show down to time. Ultimately we had to reshoot some of it because to make the cuts we wanted the actors would bounce around the stage due to the way it was blocked.

Still, I will take those problems ANY day.

Next is Joe who has a question about the movie we wrote, VOLUNTEERS:

You said you couldn't be there for shooting because of "The Jewel of the Nile." In hindsight, do you wish you had been there, and do you think it would have made the movie better -- especially the scene where it was supposed to be played frenetically but was shot a lot slower?

Like all writers, I firmly believe our movie would have been better if we had been on set. Director Nicholas Meyer was a very collaborative mensch so I’m sure our suggestions would have been seriously considered. We would not have won every disagreement, but that’s the process. In the case of a couple of scenes, all we would have asked was to have them shot both ways. Then test audiences could decide.

And ultimately, even not being there, we liked way more than we didn’t.

From Matt Barnett:

What do you think of the pacing of today's sitcoms? They go at such a fast tempo that it's almost anxiety inducing. I first noticed this with "Cougar Town." I recently watched an episode of "The Goldbergs" and it ripped by at neck break speed. "Modern Family" is the same way. For me, it's almost too fast to enjoy.

It’s a matter of personal taste but sometimes I find current shows go at such a breakneck pace that the jokes don’t land. Give the audience a chance to appreciate and laugh at a joke.

A related complaint is that some shows try to jam in jokes every second. As a result you get a lot of half-baked jokes, the characters stop sounding like real human beings, good stuff gets lost, and the experience is exhausting.

I would rather take two minutes to set up a really big laugh rather than ten jokes in two minutes and none of them really score. But that’s me (i.e. old guy).

Jonathan Littlemore asks:

I'm a listener from over in the UK and I would love if you could do a episode on the Podcast discussing the different types of Comedy writing. Here in the UK our Sitcoms tend to be written by one person and not in the Group room style used in the States.

Was there ever a time in America when scripts were just written be one person or have they always just been done by a group?

Check out Episode 92 of HOLLYWOOD & LEVINE, Episode 92, “the History of Sitcoms.” You can access it here. I discuss the evolution from even before TV to current practices and why things evolved.

And finally, from Edward:

How did you receive feedback regarding your shows/movies back in the 1970's and 80's?

News clipping services that compiled all reviews and articles about your show, and we received a lot more viewer mail back then. Some of the viewers even signed their letters.

Travel safely this weekend.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

EP99: Holiday Turkeys: What Were They Thinking?

In honor of Turkey Day, Ken spins one audio trainwreck after another. You’ll laugh till you cringe.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!


Stay warm on the East Coast.   I hear record lows for the Macy's Parade.   At least Matt Lauer gets to sleep in.  My heart really goes out to the Broadway performers who have to do those production numbers in front of Macy's.  "The good news is you're in a Broadway show.  The bad news is you're getting frostbite."

My Thanksgiving Tradition

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving already. 

We all have our own cherished Thanksgiving traditions. Enjoying Grandma’s famous stuffing recipe (which oddly tastes a lot like Stove Top Red Box), the game of touch football on the lawn (they still talk about the year Uncle Ed’s stitches came loose), weird cousin Marla’s holiday decorations (festive paper turkeys with hatchets), everyone bringing their favorite dish, renewing the argument over whether cousin Marla should be hospitalized, etc. My fondest tradition was watching THE HONEYMOONERS marathon on one of the local LA channels. The last few years it’s been discontinued but thanks to DVD’s, I now own all 39 classic episodes and can gleefully watch them again for the nine millionth time.  I assume Netflix or one of them also offers the show for streaming.

Produced in 1955 for one season only, THE HONEYMOONERS remains my favorite all-time sitcom. I don’t think there’s ever been a more inspired cast than Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, and Audrey Meadows. And Joyce Randolph was okay too.  Joyce, by the way, is still with us!

I wonder what people in their 20’s would think of the show. Would it seem too retro? Would the black-and-white cause a disconnect? Would the comedy still hold up? I’d like to think it would. I’d like to think any generation would marvel at Art Carney demonstrating a golf swing, or Jackie Gleason learning to mambo.  Happily, when I taught a course at USC a few years ago the class seemed amused.  (Of course the course was Physics so sure they were happy to screen a TV show.) 

If you’ve never seen THE HONEYMOONERS, or haven’t in a long time, I invite you to get the DVD collection or go on Netflix or Hulu and have your own Thanksgiving marathon. But JUST the classic 39 episodes. The collected sketches from Gleason’s variety show or the “lost episodes” don’t hold up. But those 39, for my money, are sitcom perfection. I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Some of my favorite episodes are:

The Golfer
Better Living Through TV (the one I showed to my Physics class)
Oh, my Aching Back
The $99,000 Answer
Young at Heart
Unconventional Behavior
Hello, Mom


UPDATE:  For my weekend post I will respond to this notion of whether I think THE HONEYMOONERS should now be considered offense due to our changing sensibilities.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

I agree with Steven Spielberg

And not just because I want him to direct one of my movies... or even say hello to me.

Got a missive from reader "Laura" who asked:

Ken, can you please give your opinion on what Steven Spielberg said regarding Netflix movies, that they don't deserve Oscars.


Here's the article.

The key point Steven makes is that Netflix movies are TV movies (or iPhone movies).  They're not theatrical films.  The Academy has some rule where a movie has to play in a theater for one week in Los Angeles and New York to be eligible for Oscars.  So what studios do is run them for one week the end of the year, often times in only one theater.  That way they're eligible for the next ceremony and the studios can then release the pictures wide a few months later.

But streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are doing the same thing.  Except they have no plans to release their films theatrically after the one week window for eligibility purposes.

And like Steven said (notice I call him by his first name as if we're close?), if they're great movies they should win Emmys.   But it's distorting the intent of the Motion Picture Academy.

The fate of the Oscars is up for grabs as new delivery systems pop up.   Same goes for the Emmys -- worse for the Emmys because there's some question as to whether streaming services should even be considered "television."   Personally, I feel if a show is meant to be seen on your television screen then it's a television show.  So what if it's from Netflix or Facebook or Apple? 

But that's a different experience than seeing a movie at a theater.  Forget that it's often better.  It's different.  And if idiots aren't texting next to you or talking or bringing their newborns it can be a thrilling experience depending on the film.   You just don't get the scope of the AVENGERS on your smart phone.  (Maybe ANT MAN works on the small screen but other superhero movies need a larger canvass).

Also, if you don't subscribe to Neflix you can't see their movies.  Films distributed in theaters presumably are available throughout the country (although certain art films are hard to find in Panama City).    The Oscars are crying about their hemorrhaging audience numbers.   It's bad enough most people don't see the nominated films, when most people CAN'T see the nominated films then ratings are going to sink to MURPHY BROWN levels.

Listen to Steven Spielberg.  Uphold the integrity of your awards.  Don't let films made for YouTube qualify for Academy Awards.    Don't even make eligible the Netflix documentary ON Steven Spielberg.

And Stevie, my brother, if you're reading this, sure I'd like to go out to lunch with you.  

Monday, November 19, 2018

THE FRONT RUNNER -- My review (of the reviews)

It’s very interesting to watch a new movie and then have a Q&A with the director and writers. They usually have a vision of what they wanted their film to be and you get to judge whether they succeeded (in your opinion) or not. Such was the case with seeing THE FRONT RUNNER at the WGA and then hearing from director/co-writer Jason Reitman and writers Jay Carson and Matt Bai.

The movie, in case you’re unfamiliar or it hasn’t hit your town yet, is about golden boy Senator Gary Hart and how his run for the presidency was derailed in a three-week period over an extra-marital affair in 1988. Yes, that seems almost quaint now, but back then when a president’s character meant something to all Americans, just the possibility of impropriety was enough to kill a political career. So for many the movie was wistful nostalgia. 

I enjoyed THE FRONT RUNNER. Hugh Jackman played Gary Hart. Hart was very charismatic and Jackman actually had to tone down his charisma to portray Hart. The rest of the cast was terrific. Vera Farmiga can do no wrong, J. K. Simmons was his usual excellent self (although at any moment I kept expecting him to launch into a State Farm commercial), Molly Ephraim was smart to quit her day job (LAST MAN STANDING), and Mamoudou Athie was a real standout.  (I wonder if Mamoudou Athie is just his stage name?)

The writing was crisp, visually the movie was very interesting. You really felt you in the middle of a presidential campaign. Every scene was packed with people talking over each other and eating stale sandwiches on the run.  I can't imagine this movie ever playing on CBS because so many people in it were not good looking enough. 

Was it a groundbreaking movie? Will it be an Oscar “front runner?” No. But Reitman’s vision of showing the events from numerous perspectives was very much realized (in my opinion). You saw the affects of the affair on his family and his staff, and you saw the way journalists chose to cover the story – at times heroically and other times sleazily. There were ethics issues, #MeToo issues, judgment issues.

Again, my problem was that in light of current events, what was then such a shocking story now feels like the 24-hour news cycle on a slow day. But the movie was written in the Obama era. So much of a film's success rides on luck and timing and not being released the same day as a STAR WARS chapter. Sometimes you catch the zeitgeist and other times it leaves you in its wake.

Anyway, I went home and out of curiosity went on Rotten Tomatoes to see the critical reaction. YIKES. Most hated it. You realize the filmmaker’s vision means nothing unless it jibes with theirs. And for most of these reviewers, they wanted a different movie. Some thought it should have focused more on Donna Rice (the affair-ee) and dealt primarily with the unfairness and double-standard women have to endure. Yes, that’s certainly valid, but…

That’s not the movie Reitman chose to make.

Others had my reaction but way more severe. There was no just viewing it as a timepiece. To some it was irrelevant and why bother even making the damn thing? Uh… because it was entertaining?

Some questioned Jackman’s portrayal of Hart – like they’re so intimately familiar with Hart’s public and personal persona.

The overall point was these critics went into the movie with certain expectations, and instead of viewing it for what it was they viewed it as what it should have been (in their opinion).

And this is where every artist comes to a crossroad. Do your vision or try to ascertain what vision would be most embraced? If you go with the former you could go down in flames. If you go with the latter you probably will go down in flames and you’ll get less sympathy from me than I had for Gary Hart.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Weekend Post

The Thanksgiving holiday is the peak travel weekend of the year (in America. The rest of the world could give a rat’s ass about Thanksgiving.) So as a public service, here again (an annual tradition) -- and with a few additions -- are some travel tips:

Leave for the airport NOW.

Bring no luggage. Wearing the same clothes for a week is a small price to pay. Plus, the airlines now charge you for check-in luggage AND blankets. Pretty soon pressurized air will also be extra.

Southwest has no reserved seating. Get in one of the latter groups boarding. You don’t want to be one of the first to sit then watch as fifty people glance at the empty seat next to you, then to you, and decide to sit somewhere else. Even in the last row.

If you have children under the age of five tell your relatives one has an earache and make everyone come to YOU.

Those people in the Stand-By line – those are the same people who think they can get rich selling Amway products, and the Tooth Fairy really exists. Don’t fly Stand-By unless you like sleeping in airport terminals for five days.

If you rent from Hertz plan on a two hour wait just to get your car. Unless you’re one of their “preferred” customers in which case allow only one hour.

When rental car companies recommend you use premium gasoline put in regular. It’s cheaper, it’ll run just fine, and it’s not your car.

Before you pull off the road to a Chuck E. Cheese for lunch, remember their namesake is a rat.

Air travelers: avoid O’Hare. Better to land in Dallas, even if your destination is Chicago.

If you’re dropping someone off at the airport don’t even think you’ll be able to stop. Have your travelers practice the tuck and roll from a moving car. The first couple of times they’ll bounce but by the fourth or fifth try they should have it down.

Watch the DVD of HOSTEL on your laptop. The bigger the screen, the better.

There’s more legroom in Exit rows. When the flight attendants ask if you are willing to help out in case of emergency just say yes. Like it’s going to make a big difference anyway if you crash.

If you’re flying on an airline that doesn’t have reserved seating never sit next to anyone who is already eating or reading Ann Coulter.

Before you fly to New York and have to negotiate JFK just remember – the parade is on TV. And it’s the same friggin' balloons as last year. The only difference is that the stars of NBC’s big new hit from last year, GREAT NEWS won’t be there (thank God).

Never pay to see an in-flight movie starring Debra Messing.

Put a big strip of duct tape on your luggage so you’ll recognize it easily. And it makes a nice fashion statement.

If you’re flying with small children see if there’s such a thing as “Flintstones Valium”.

In-flight alcoholic beverages are expensive. Better to drink heavily at the airport before boarding.

And finally, watch PLANES, TRAINS, & AUTOMOBILES again and think of it as a “best” case scenario.

Happy trails to you all.

Friday, November 16, 2018

RIP William Goldman

For me, if there’s a Mount Rushmore of screenwriters it’s Billy Wilder, Larry Gelbart, Neil Simon, and William Goldman. And now all four have passed. William Goldman died yesterday. He was 87.

Of the four, no one probably influenced me in more ways than William Goldman. He was the ultimate storyteller, both in terms of fiction and non-fiction. The way I break stories is a direct result of studying his approach. The flow of dialogue, creating vivid characters, getting laughs from attitudes and behavior not punchlines – I learned from the master.

And I’ll go further. William Goldman taught me how to write prose. None of my English professors ever did. There was a clarity to Goldman’s prose that I strive for. He had this gift of being able to present an emotional argument in such a way that his conclusions would always seem objectively reached. He would offer research, sometimes in favor of the opposition, then compare points-of-contention with reason and logic and reach a conclusion that was hard to argue. He was not afraid to concede points to ultimately state his case more persuasively. And he did this in a style that was conversational and really hit home.

Whenever, without exception, I try to lay out an argument in this blog William Goldman is in my head. Consciously.

He took delight in leading you in one direction then completely turning you around to another. It sounds maddening but it’s really fun. And more importantly, it holds your interest. He’s not just laying out facts, he’s taking you on a journey; he’s telling you a story. No better example of that was his screenplay for ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. How he managed to unravel all those facts and names and interactions into a spellbinding movie is simply beyond me.

Unfortunately, I never met him. I saw him at a screening once. That’s as close as I ever got. And I was too intimidated to actually go up and talk to him. Besides, he was eating popcorn so he was busy. We did try to see if he wanted to write an episode of CHEERS the first season and he graciously declined. As great and versatile a writer as he was he didn’t feel he could do justice to a CHEERS script. I bet he was wrong.

I was a fan of William Goldman probably five years before I knew it. One summer night in the mid ‘60s I went to the Holiday Theatre in Woodland Hills and saw this little movie called HARPER starring Paul Newman. It knocked me out (so much so that I remember the theatre I saw it in). The rumpled private eye Newman played was a revelation. There was humor, suspense, fascinating characters, and an ending unlike any I had ever seen in that genre. At the time I didn’t think to ask, “Who wrote this?” but I did a few years later when I saw this little western called BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. And it turned out both films were written by the same guy. That’s when I really began following his career.

And that took me to his novels and non-fiction work. One of my favorites was a little book called SOLDIER IN THE RAIN. It was later made into a movie starring Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen. The characters were so beautifully drawn and it was rich with humor. Then came MARATHON MAN (also later made into a movie) and I’ve yet to read a better, scarier thriller. I devoured his catalog until I came upon the real treasure – PRINCESS BRIDE. You’ve probably seen the movie, which he wrote and is wonderful, but pales in comparison to the book.

Here’s how inventive William Goldman was. In the book he sets up a personal anecdote and how he came upon this story. It’s a lovely framing device and gives the rollicking adventure some added dimension and context. Except for one thing: it’s all bullshit. That’s not really his family. The anecdote is pure fiction. William Goldman was the master of surprise. If you haven’t read PRINCESS BRIDE go to Amazon right now.

He also wrote books about a Broadway season, and of course his ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE. He’s candid, informative, funny, and no one ever summed up Hollywood better: No one knows anything.

All indications are that he was a good guy, very collaborative, and very down to earth. He never got wrapped up in Hollywood; never got wrapped up in himself. We always say we’ll remember someone, but in this case, for me at least it’s very true. William Goldman’s DNA is part of my writing. So he will always be with me. And I will always hope to do him proud.

Friday Questions

Friday Questions, anyone?

Michael is up first:

With regards to late-night rewrites, are there union rules in place that limit how many hours a day or week staff writers are allowed to work? If so, are they enforced?

No. There are no restrictions.   It’s not like actors who must have a twelve-hour turnaround. Writers can work around the clock. And often do.

But we know that going in and understand that’s part of the job. Personally, if I’m running a show, I am willing to put in the extra hours not to settle. And since scripts have to be fixed literally overnight because they’re in production the result is often long hours. I’ve finished rewrites at 6 in the morning and then had to be on the set at 9. Believe me, I would have done it differently if I could.

So to regulate number of hours would be unrealistic and counterproductive. Plus, there are way more important issues the WGA has to fight for on our behalf.

Andrew Beasley is next.

Something I've long wondered about... when characters talk over each other in an argument, as Frasier and Niles often would, will every single line be written or are they left to improvise? I assume the former, but would love to know. Thanks.

In the case of FRASIER, every line was written. An actor might improvise something in rehearsal and if it works it gets written into the script. But there was no ad libbing during filming. And partly because the cameras changed their shots based on line cues. So if they don’t hear the cue they don’t go to their next shot. Confusion ensues. You hate to see four cameras crashing into each other. 

From cd1515 :

Instead of doing all these reboots, how feasible would it be for networks to just re-air the original show? Seems cheaper anyway.

Advertisers aren’t going to pay big money for shows that are not first-run.

And most shows that are popular enough to be rebooted are currently rerunning elsewhere. So it would be no big deal to see reruns of the original WILL & GRACE. You can find them on cable, streaming services, and DVD’s. 

The lure of the reboots is seeing new episodes and finding out what happened to the beloved characters you watched during their first-run.

CBS however, does an interesting thing around the holidays. It reruns episodes of I LOVE LUCY and THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. But two things: they colorize them which makes them different, and the holiday season traditionally has low viewership so it’s a cheap way to fill the schedule when no one is watching. You’ll notice that the colorized DICK VAN DYKE SHOW is not on the fall schedule. At best, it’s a stunt.

And finally, from slgc:

How cathartic is the writing process for you? Do you exact karmic revenge on old foes or rewrite happy endings for yourself as part of your creative process?

It’s very cathartic. At times liberating and other times painful. But as a writer I get to work through issues that are meaningful to me in my art. And the desire to be as brutally honest as I can makes the process both more satisfying and occasionally excruciating.

As per your specific question: I never set out to attack anybody. Even in my memoirs, THE ME GENERATION… BY ME (available on Amazon… get yours now), when I showed someone in an unflattering light I changed his name. But yes, there are times I will give a personal story a happier ending than it really had. If I’m not going to make the big bucks at least I can have some wish fulfillment.

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

EP98: My 15 Seconds of Fame: Me on Camera

Ken talks about the various times he’s appeared on camera either
as an actor, sportscaster, host, or dancer (if you can believe it). You’ll hear some amusing tales and learn why he’s not on camera more often.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Don Draper would be proud

This is my favorite advertising story.

So much of advertising is perception. Positioning yourself in the minds of the consumers.  And the rest is competition. It's not enough to be good, you have to either be better than your competition or make the consumer believe your competitor is bad.   Today there are so many products (not to mention political ads that are currently flooding the airwaves) and so many slogans that it’s hard for any one message to really hit home, but in Don Draper’s day when there were only three networks and three or four primary magazines a good slogan would have a greater impact.

Back in the ‘50s all canned tuna was pink. Then “Chicken of the Sea” came along with white tuna. It wasn’t selling. They tried to promote it as tasting like chicken (hence the name). The public wasn’t buying it. White tuna looked weird.

Along came Mad Men to the rescue. And this ingenious slogan:

“Chicken of the Sea” – guaranteed never to turn pink.

Within about a year pink tuna was completely off the market.

Now THAT’S advertising.

Ironically, "Chicken of the Sea" now also sells pink salmon.  I wonder if their campaign should be "Guaranteed never to turn white."  

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is a movie that critics hate but audiences love. There are many things to pick apart in this film should you wish to, but if you loved the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen you won’t want your money back.

The sense I got was that Hollywood looked at Freddie’s life and said, “Too dark for a holiday release.” So they spruced up this very complicated figure and made him more Cineplex-friendly.

But the music is great.

Rami Malek (MR. ROBOT) did an admirable job capturing Freddie’s moves and swagger. He was fitted with ridiculous teeth. Supposedly Freddie had four extra teeth, which meant his mouth was larger and accounted for his additional range. If this were true then Wink Martindale is the greatest singer of the last hundred years.

Did I mention the music is swell?

Once Freddie cuts his hair and becomes the image we’re most familiar with then Rami looked like Rowan Atkinson with clown teeth. I will admit it took me out of some emotional scenes because all I could picture was Mr. Bean trying to eat an apple.

But then there were those songs.

Story-wise, it followed the Hollywood studio biopic formula. Parents don’t understand, falls in love with a local, gets discovered, career takes off, dumps the local flame, fame and fortune take its toll, uh oh, things start turning bad, relationships break apart, things get worse, but there’s a feel-good ending to send everyone home on a high note. Sometimes it works and is Ray Charles and other times it doesn’t and it’s James Brown, Johnny Cash, or (God help us) Bobby Darin. Things wrap up as they always do -- fences mended, family harmony restored, a spectacular farewell performance.

I will say this: Anytime they try to have the scene where the fictional rock star wows the crowd and whips them into an orgasmic frenzy it always feels bogus. Like Gwyneth Paltrow could raise the roof with her singing. But in the final Live-Aid scene you totally believe it (oh don’t say SPOILER ALERT, you know in the first minute of the film that that was gong to be the big denouement).

And that section alone is worth the price of admission.

Sure, they could have mounted a more nuanced, deeper study of this brilliant artist and how success and sex turned his life into a Shakespearean tragedy. But that’s shooting for Oscars. This movie aimed at pleasing audiences and making a shit-ton more money than any art house film could. Ending BOHAMIAN RHAPSODY with that recreation of the Live-Aid concert was a definite crowd pleaser.

So if you go into BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY with low expectations and you’re not a reviewer for the New York Times you should enjoy this movie. And for the next three days you’ll be listening to nothing but Queen. What music!

Monday, November 12, 2018


This is clearly my favorite project currently in development – KEVIN CAN F*** HIMSELF. Created by Valerie Armstrong and executive produced by Rashida Jones, this is a half-hour comedy pilot for AMC.

With a healthy dollop of meta, this sitcom was obviously inspired by the recent CBS series, KEVIN CAN WAIT starring Kevin James.

Some background. KEVIN CAN WAIT premiered two years ago and was an instant hit. It was the most successful new comedy of the season. It received a full-season order for the second season months before season one was even over. And CBS initially so wanted Kevin James that they agreed to build a soundstage for him in Long Island so he could do the show practically from home. To say he was the 800 pound gorilla was an understatement. Of course, you build the guy a studio what do you expect when he flexes his creative muscles?

From day one James ran the show. The original creator/show runner quit halfway through season one. James was notorious for rewriting every script.

One of his problems was the chemistry between him and his TV wife, Erinn Hayes. Admittedly, Hayes is not a gifted comedienne. She’s more of a dramatic actress. Anyway, the decision was made to drop her at the end of season one and replace her with Leah Remini. Remini and James were together on KING OF QUEENS. And Remini is much more facile when it comes to comedy. So there definitely were reasons for making the switch. It was a decision approved by CBS and the studio producing the show. Casting changes are not uncommon. We were forced by CBS to let Kevin Kilner go from ALMOST PERFECT (a stupid decision that ultimately killed the show – thanks, CBS).

But in this case, the real problem was how KEVIN CAN WAIT handled it. They decided to kill off the character. That’s pretty severe. They couldn’t say she had to care for her sick mother in California and keep the door open for guest appearances to keep her in the series? Erinn Hayes had fans and the general consensus was that killing her off was excessive and needlessly hostile.

And then in season two her death was completely swept under the rug. There were a few mentions in passing (mostly as jokes).  So it was handled in a very callous manner.  I don’t have to tell you who made those creative decisions. James dug in his heels and guided the show in season two, deaf to any network, studio, or staff concerns. The result: the ratings went down and CBS cancelled the show after season two.

It takes some doing to go from most successful new comedy to cancellation in one year. (Although Roseanne managed the same feat in the length of time it took to write and post one tweet.)

If you watch a lot of network family sitcoms you’ll see a convention that always strains credibility. There’s always a schlub unattractive dim husband and a hot wife (usually younger) who in real life wouldn’t piss on these dolts if their hair was on fire. Jami Gertz & Mark Addy, Courtney Thorne-Smith & Jim Belushi, Nancy Travis & Tim Allen, and certainly Erinn Hayes & Kevin James (just to name a few).

Actresses will tell you it’s the most thankless role ever. You’re the wet blanket, rarely do you get great jokes, and you have to somehow try to sell that you’re in love with these obnoxious idiots.

So that’s what KEVIN CAN F*** HIMSELF is about. In their words it “explores the secret life of a woman we all grew up watching: the sitcom wife. A beauty paired with a less attractive, dismissive, caveman-like husband who gets to be a jerk because she’s a nag and he’s ‘funny.' What happens when this supporting character is presented as a real person? And what if that person is pissed?”

Should be fun. I know an actress and writing staff who might enjoy working on this show.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Weekend Post

My heart goes out to anyone in the path of the many horrendous brushfires roaring through California. Wildfires have always been a threat in these areas but it seems this year things have gotten worse. So many homes; so many lives. People in canyons and in Malibu face these dangers every few years. But a lot of these fires are sweeping through suburbs.

Again, my hopes and prayers for everyone’s safety.

I don’t know what the coverage is like where you are, but here in Los Angeles, it is geared very much to the entertainment industry. And representative of just how myopic this town is.

Lots of headlines are about which celebrities had to evacuate – as if Kim Kardashian evacuating is any more important than anyone else. Alyssa Milano is safe we’re told. An industry website featured the headline proclaiming Caitlyn Jenner safe. Whew! Like in the midst of all this destruction and heartbreak I give one shit about Caitlyn Jenner.

The big news was the loss of the Paramount Ranch. Oh no. The sets for WESTWORLD were destroyed. Yes, that’s unfortunate, but it seems to me it pales compared to people losing their homes. Oh, and the hospital that burned down. The mansion used for THE BACHELOR and THE BACHELORETTE was damaged we’re told. And the industry report added that neither show was currently in production. Thank God! Seriously, when you look at the scope of these fires who gives a fuck about THE BACHELOR’S possible production setbacks?

Hollywood has never been one for perspective. The day President Reagan was shot it was the scheduled night of the Academy Awards. They were postponed as a result, and one of the trades had the large blazing headline: OSCARCAST POSTPONED. And then underneath, in much smaller letters: The President Shot.

My sincerest hope and prayer is that if you’re personally affected by these fires that YOU’RE safe, your animals are safe, and YOUR home is spared. The sets for WESTWORLD will be rebuilt. THE BACHELOR can rent a different mansion. I know it’s a hard thing to ask in this town, but seriously, let’s get real.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Friday Questions

It’s Friday Question Day. Remember, a new post tomorrow to carry you through the weekend.

Bryan Price starts us off:

Was watching and enjoying a first-season CHEERS you wrote - the episode Now Pitching, Sam Malone where Sam is "convinced" to make a commercial. Can you tell us about any complications from designing a fake commercial within a real TV show and any anecdotes in working with Luis Tiant.

Doing the fake commercial was easy. We based it on an actual campaign. It was pre-filmed (so not in front of the audience) and James Burrows directed it as if he were directing any commercial.

It took forever to film however, and the reason was Luis Tiant. Now I love Luis. He’s a totally sweet guy. But his English, especially his diction when speaking English, was somewhat, uh… lacking. He tried his best and was a pleasure to work with, but OY. God knows how many takes it took.

I think we still looped him after the filming. 

The Bumble Bee Pendant asks:

I'm always intrigued by how a writer of a show/screenplay/whatever can simply say, "I am going to write a totally new draft and not include anything from the old script."

How does someone's previous version not influence a new version?
How do you pretend that anything you thought worked in the previous iteration, not make it into the new one?

If a script requires a page-one rewrite I will either go back to the outline and not even work off the draft, or change the story significantly and write a new outline.

There may be a line or beat in the original draft worth keeping and I’m happy to. Less work for me. But I won’t shoehorn anything in from the original draft.

And usually the reason for a total rewrite is the original writer didn’t have a good sense of the characters. So none of their dialogue will be useful.

But look, I once threw out a whole act of a full-length script that I wrote. There were some wonderful jokes but the story didn’t work so I threw it all out and came up with something else (that proved to be way better).  Writing is rewriting. 

From ReticentRabbit:

Julia Louis-Dreyfus will accept the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor later this month. Keeping in mind that they typically only present the award to those who are living and never repeat winners (making this something of a Lifetime Achievement award), who would get your vote?

Can I vote for myself? Oh well. In that case, Mel Brooks.

And finally, from DyHrdMET:

I'm sure you've answered this already, but why did you want to get into directing TV sitcoms?

It’s not for the reason you would think. It’s not because I felt the need to protect my words.

After years of being on staff or consulting on shows I got to the point where I hated to go to the stage. I would dread run-throughs and hold my breath that the script worked and I wouldn’t be in the writing room until 3 a.m.

And one day I thought to myself, this is nuts. The whole reason for being a TV writer was to see my work done. I should be looking forward to going to the stage, not dreading it. So I thought, how could I recapture that desire to be on the stage? And the answer was directing.

That was where the fun was. You were playing with the actors and trying to make a show, and if it didn’t work and had to be rewritten you could still make dinner reservations. Directing was way more social, you got to play with cameras, and trust me the days just fly. There’s never enough time.

That was my initial motivation and I have to say it worked. I love directing. Don’t tell anybody but it’s waaaaay easier than writing.

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

EP97: Behind the Scenes: Another CHEERS commentary!

Ken provides a commentary track to an episode of CHEERS he co-wrote. “Any Friend of Diane’s,” Season 1, EP6. Lots of great inside stuff. You can either just listen or follow along as you watch the episode!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

THIS is the job I want

HBO has hired an “intimacy coordinator.” Her job is to supervise the filming of any sex scenes in HBO shows and ensure that the actors are comfortable doing what they’re asked to do. Imagine being paid to watch sex scenes. And I thought Phil Rosenthal gallivanting around the world dining in the world’s greatest restaurants was the best job ever. Give me this and a tuna sandwich off the craft service’s table and I’d be happy.

At first blush this “intimacy coordinator” position sounds like a fancy title for “Standards & Practices”, which itself is a fancy title for “censor.” But now with #MeToo I can certainly see the justification for it.

HBO has a couple of series with pretty graphic sex scenes. THE DEUCE and WESTWORLD. Apparently last year on WESTWORLD background actors had to sign a waiver agreeing to participate in “graphic sexual situations” including genital-to-genital touching. At least when TSA agents touch your genitals you then get to go on a plane trip.

I’ll be interested to see how producers react to this new policy. Yes, it’s intrusive and some corporate “suit” having to approve your scenes, but on my set I wouldn’t want any actor doing something they’d be uncomfortable with. Personally, I think it’s a lot to ask an actor to agree to nudity in the first place. Especially these days where any mouth breather can do a screen shot and your nude scene winds up on fifteen websites to live forever.

Many actors, especially when starting out, are afraid to object for fear of being replaced. I would hate to think that even inadvertently I was making an actor do something they found really distasteful. So having this “Intimacy Coordinator” gives all actors an advocate and they can speak up on the actor’s behalf.

I’m okay with that. I would hope that the “Intimacy Coordinator” would have nothing to do on my set, but if an issue should arise I would address it. And I imagine those conversations would be one for the book.

 “I don’t know if my character would give blowjobs to Amway salesmen.” “Do I really need to strip naked for this doctor’s appointment? I’m having my eyes checked.” “I’m okay with having sex with sheep… it’s just that I’m allergic.” (And in that case there should also be a “Livestock Coordinator.”)

This is just another shining example that HOLLYWOOD CARES… when they’re forced to.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018


It's been two years of lying, cheating, racism, destroying human rights, disrespecting women, condoning Nazis, separating toddlers from their families, mass shootings involving innocent people and children, lining pockets of the rich, obstructing justice, pissing on the Constitution, advocating violence, cutting your health care, raping the environment, jeopardizing your Social Security and Medicare, treason, and felony crimes -- today at least we have a chance to DO SOMETHING.

Please vote.  Please restore decency and kindness and ethics and justice and everything America really stands for.   Especially you Millennials.  As it is it will probably take 20 years to undo all of the damage done in the last two years.   The future is YOUR world.   You will be the ones suffering the most if all of this continues.  And trust me, you WILL suffer.  For your own sake, for the security of your family, vote these monsters out.

And if not, God help you... because I won't.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Misc. Takes

I haven’t done this in awhile, so what the hell?

Again, thanks to everyone who answered the call last week and gave me your feedback. I got a very interesting suggestion from reader Janet Ybarra about my now taking weekends off. First off, why the weekends? Traditionally there are fewer readers. Lots of people read blogs either at work or school. Fridays tend to be lighter on traffic so that’s why I set the weekly question feature on Friday (there’s actual method to this madness).

Janet suggested I reserve every Thursday for the posting of my podcast, move the Friday Questions to the weekend, and write a new post every Friday. The problem is I don’t want to mess with Friday Questions (that’s my Golden Arches… or at least Arch), but I will experiment with the weekly podcast announcement being Thursday and write something original for Saturday-Sunday. How’s that? Besides, I’m really proud of the podcast and wish more of you would listen. So thanks, Janet. We’ll see how new plan goes.

Reader Louis suggested a separate podcast where I put my DJ hat back on and play my favorite music.  That would be a blast except for two problems.  One is I don't have the right equipment to do what essentially would be a live show.  And the second, even bigger issue, is that if I play music I then have to pay rather hefty royalty fees.   But if you're ever in my car with me I still talk up to the vocals.  It's a marvelous useless skill. 

And speaking of the podcast, I’m just a few weeks away from my 100th episode.

If you visit the blog on a weekend and there’s no new post you could always check out the archives. I probably have come to 150 months worth of material available. From time to time I’ll still post Friday Questions from ten years ago, but there’s all kinds of good stuff in the archives and they’re only a click away.

People wonder why I haven’t monetized my blog yet. I could get some money but it would really junk up the page with ads. I’d rather occasionally use the blog to promote something I’m doing — like the podcast (hint hint) or my website to license my plays. The way to support this blog is to support my other endeavors. And I like to think it’s a win/win because you’ll be getting some form of entertainment back.

Even as a Dodger fan I was really bummed about hearing of Willie McCovey’s passing. He was a class act, even if he owned Don Drysdale. In a typical game against "Big D." McCovey would go 2-2.  He'd smack a double his first time up, get hit in the ribs by Drysdale his second, homer in his third, and get drilled on the arm in his fourth. 

More people seemed to hate my political rants even more than my baseball posts. To those people I say you might want to skip tomorrow. Look, I don’t love writing political posts. I’m hardly what you’d call a wonk. But there are times events are so appalling that I’m almost forced to comment. So on those occasions I hope you will excuse me or even perhaps consider my position. Ultimately I want peace and prosperity and dignity and equality for all — regardless of your political party.

Was up in San Francisco last week. Did not go to big “Battle of the Bay” Thursday Night NFL game that pitted the 1-6 Oakland Raiders against the 1-7 San Francisco 49’ers.

Went by my old studio apartment at 1915 Greenwich in the Marina district. I think I paid $200 a month for it in 1974. It’s probably costing $6000 a month now. But they have a new awning.

My baseball rant last week elicited a lot of response, some of it even positive. For the record, I know analytics are here to stay (at least for now) and yes the games are taking longer, which I’d be fine with if it meant there was more action as a result. But it’s the opposite. Longer games with larger gaps between balls-in-play is hurting the sport. It just is. And it’s one thing when it’s the World Series and each game, each pitch is important. There’s real suspense. But what about a game in early May? Do you really want to sit through a 3:45 San Diego Padres vs.Baltimore Orioles game that ends with a final score of 2-1? I love baseball but it needs to address some issues.

God, I hope the new BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY movie is good.

I have a play that will be produced in Brooklyn in January. Stand by for details. I can now say I made it to Broadway (adjacent).

Barbra Streisand was great on CARPOOL KARAOKE with James Corden last week. The only thing that was truly unbelievable was Barbara Streisand stopping to pick up a motorist in need. Yeah, like that could happen unless it was staged or Obama had a flat.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Friday Questions

First off, Happy Birthday to my son, Matt. Love you, kid.  You're a great son AND father. 

Second, thanks to everyone who checked in yesterday. I greatly appreciate your support and input.

And now, for today and the weekend, here are FRIDAY QUESTIONS.

James starts us off:

An FQ: you've told the story a few times of submitting a spec Mary Tyler Moore script and getting it shot down by David Lloyd. When you look back at it now, do you see where the faults are and what you would correct now that you're experienced writers, or were the MTM producers just wrong and passed on a perfectly good script?

They actually did a similar story later that season (coincidentally) and told it way better. It proved to be a good learning experience for us. But there were some good jokes in our spec and the characters did sound like the real characters so for what it was and where we were in our career, it was a pretty good spec. If David Isaacs and I wrote it today it would be leagues better and there probably wouldn’t be a word of that spec in the draft, but again, it served its purpose well.

And bottom line: That was the script that impressed THE JEFFERSONS enough to hire us, which started our career. So you can’t ask for much more.

From MikeKPa.:

Would you ever consider being a "consultant" to punch up jokes on a series like Ronny Graham did on MASH and Sam Simon did on numerous shows?

The big problem is those positions don’t exist anymore. I mean, why have money in the budget for writers who actually help a script when you can use that money for non-writing pod producers who basically do nothing?

That said, depending on the show and show runner, I’d be happy to do a night a week. Not full-time however. I can only eat off of Styrofoam once a week.

Johnny Walker asks:

I've seen this a million times in sitcoms: One characters says to another, "My god! You look terrible! White as a sheet! Are you OK?" CUT TO: Actor looking perfectly tan and healthy, groaning, "Yeah, I think it's that fish from last night" (or whatever).

Why don't they ever make up the actors to, you know, ACTUALLY LOOK ILL?

For multi-camera shows shot in front of an audience – the simple answer is it takes too much time to do the make-up.

But there are things you can do – muss up their hair, maybe light them harshly.

It’s not a problem that comes up often. I directed an episode of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND where he was in bed for most of the show but everyone thought he was being a hypochondriac when in fact he was really sick. So we couldn’t make him look too ill otherwise no one would accuse him of imagining he was sick.

And finally, from Jerry Krull:

To give the actual credit for the dialogue I have to reference the episode's writer "David Adler". David Adler in reality was the blacklisted writer Frank Tarloff, who had to write under different names after being blacklisted during the McCarthy hearings. Carl Reiner has spoken strongly about that time and how he would not cave in to the committee's baiting. Reiner remained good friends with Tarloff and you'll see David Adler as writer of several Dick Van Dyke episodes.

Ken - did you ever meet Tarloff or talk with other writers of that era who worked under other names?

I never met Frank Tarloff but I do know his son, Erik, who is also a terrific writer. We hired Erik to write a freelance MASH and it was one of the best episodes of the season.

I’ve stayed friends with Erik all these years. He now lives in Berkeley and in addition to scripts and plays he also is a well-respected novelist.

Frank Tarloff, by the way, won an Academy Award for the screenplay of FATHER GOOSE. Ironically, he ended his career where we began – writing for THE JEFFERSONS.

What’s your Friday Question? And again, if you’re wondering why there are no new posts this weekend, check out yesterday’s post.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Another announcement (which you may or not think is big)

This month marks my 13th anniversary doing this blog. More than 5600 posts. It's hard to believe.  At least 50 of them are really good.  And over 30,000,000 page views. What I want to do today is make an announcement.

When I started the blog I asked some experienced bloggers how you build an audience. One suggestion they had was post something new every day. Always give the reader a reason to return. So I decided to try that for a few weeks. Thirteen years later I’m still doing it.

But I'll be honest, it’s getting to be a grind. So starting this month I will only post during the weekdays. The Friday Questions will essentially be weekend questions.

Hopefully that will help refresh me. I enjoy writing, I like having this forum to spew my nonsense, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed meeting all of you and creating a little community here. But I want to devote more time to my podcast and writing plays.

So that’s my "big" announcement.

For today, I’d like to do something I do every year – ask YOU to write in. Who are you, where are you from, what demographic are you, how did you find out about the blog, how long have you been reading it, what do you like, and don’t you like (besides baseball posts)? I’m in the bay area today but will read every comment and get them posted as soon as I can.

Thanks much for your continued support. I look forward to hearing from YOU.