Wednesday, June 19, 2019

EP128: Ken’s Commencement Speech and Welcoming in Summer


If Ken were to ever speak at a college graduation, this would be his speech.  And then he reflects on summers past.


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Comedians in cars getting coffee

Okay, I may be the only person on the planet who thinks this but I don’t like COMEDIANS IN CARS GETTING COFFEE. I know I’m spitting on the comedy cross and numerous friends swear by it, but I’m unimpressed.

In a half-hour show with A-list comedians I learn little or nothing. Instead, I’m treated to a five-minute introduction to the vintage car Jerry is driving that week (who cares?), the obligatory call from the car to the comedian, stock shots or Jerry and his guest walking, and once they get to the coffee shop, seventeen close up shots of coffee being poured.

The interview itself is always clipped, Jerry can’t help but try to top his comedian guest, and there’s a general condescension that only Jerry and his guests really know “funny.” It’s like the cool kids in high school graciously letting us sit at the next table and eavesdrop.

When not trying to top his guests Jerry is generally doubled-over in laughter – at stuff that is just not that funny.

Here’s what I learned from the half-hour John Mullaney episode – he writes his ideas in a notebook. Wow! How revealing!

From Kate McKinnon – she liked school as a kid. Otherwise it was pretty much Kate doing schtick.

When I interview someone I try to get them to really reveal information we didn’t know. If it’s a comedian I want to know his process, how his mind works, how he’s evolved, what’s his worldview, background, goals, amusing anecdotes, etc. But this show is a slickly produced hodgepodge with background music, beauty shots of cars and percolators, and Jerry being the smug host.

The message is clear: YOU’LL never be this funny, YOU’LL never have a career like this, YOU’LL never drive a car like this. Well, you know what? I’ll grab a ride elsewhere.

Now I expect to take a lot of heat for this because like I said, most people love this show. But I’d rather see a comedian in an Uber talking his process for a half-hour and he can grab coffee later.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Best game show host. "Who is Alex Trebek?"

I’ve always been a fan.

He’s done a great job hosting JEOPARDY. And it’s not easy. You need laser-focus, the ability to pronounce foreign names and other tongue-twisters correctly, to keep the game moving, and successfully engage with the contestants, many who are nervous and ill-at-ease.

When we did the CHEERS episode where Cliff went on JEOPARDY we also discovered that Alex was very funny. So much so that we wrote him into another scene and he appears at the bar.

A couple of months ago I went to watch them tape JEOPARDY. They do five shows in one day – three in the morning, and two after lunch. That’s a lot of clues to announce, money totals to keep track of, and be accurate in allowing and disallowing answers. The time between shows is like twenty minutes – just enough time for Alex and the winner to change clothes and maybe down a Red Bull.

It would be understandable if Alex had a little less energy on the fifth show of the day (or even fell asleep), but that’s never the case. He is up and present every episode regardless of when it was taped.

And what you don’t see at home is that during commercial breaks he steps out and answers audience questions, again displaying his great dry wit.

So under normal circumstances he does a remarkable job.

As I’m sure you know, he revealed to the world that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Let’s be real – that’s a bad one. According to reports, his treatment is going well and he is in remission, but that treatment has been brutal.

Apparently, there are times between shows when he’s in his dressing room in tremendous pain. Producers have offered to cancel the rest of the day’s taping, but he always says no. And somehow he rallies to go before the cameras and do his usual outstanding job. I watch the show every day. I’ve been watching for a long time. I would never know he’s in pain if I hadn’t heard the story.

That, to me, is the ultimate professional.

My admiration is through the roof. And I’m sure, like you, I offer my best wishes and prayers.

If the answer is “courageous” the correct response is “Who is Alex Trebek?”

Monday, June 17, 2019

Bring back sparkling dialogue

I received a lot of good buzz from this weekend's post where I featured a scene that wasn't shot in the original movie of ARTHUR by Steve Gordon.

What everyone reacted to was the sparkling dialogue.

And I don't think it's an age thing.  As many younger readers responded as older.

The sad thing is you don't hear dialogue like that in movies today.  Or TV.  Or even a lot of plays.  Theatrical comedies have to be dark black comedies as is the current trend.

And I say why?

Now, I must admit I'm not an objective bystander here.  I've always loved smart, character-driven funny banter.  Steve Gordon is one of my idols.  Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, and Herb Gardner are a few others.    So that's the kind of dialogue I try to write.

Happily, that style was in vogue during my TV writing career.  MASH, CHEERS, and certainly FRASIER appreciated and celebrated the value of witty dialogue.   Every play I write I strive to reach the level of ARTHUR.  And it's very rewarding when lines get big laughs from the audience.

And understand, I'm not talking about "jokes."   I'm talking about dialogue that is in character, moves the story along, is generally attitude-based, and is funny in context.

I suspect witty dialogue is not so prevalent because it's very difficult to do.   Easier to do a gross-out scene, sophomoric sex jokes, dripping irony, or moments that are mildly-amusing at best.   And of course, those who can't do it or are intimidated by it claim it's a style that's "old school" and passe today.

But ask an audience.  Or, more accurately, listen to them.  Listen to them laugh at well-crafted funny lines.   Watch ARTHUR again (only the original.  The sequel and remake -- neither by Steve Gordon -- suck!).  Forget that it's a timepiece and in today's sensibility you couldn't do a number of the things they did in that film.  You're going to laugh your ass off.  For 90 minutes you're going to be bombarded with one hilarious line after another.

It's a style that I feel should come back, and I'm out there every day doing what I can to revive it.  This one's for you, Steve.

UPDATE:  from Jon Emerson.  This is a Twitter video from Nicole Silverberg on 90% of movie jokes now.  Couldn't like agree, y'know, more. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Weekend Post

One of my favorite comedies of all time is Steve Gordon’s ARTHUR.  I love the screenplay.  Steve tragically passed away waaaaay too young.  Parts of the film don't hold up today because you can't have a roaring drunk just driving around Manhattan.  But viewed as a timepiece it still holds up to be hilariously funny.  No one could write dialogue better than Steve Gordon.   

Believe it or not his first draft was 147 pages. (Do NOT try this at home, kids.) Steve was kind enough to give it to me.   At 147 pages there obviously were scenes that never saw the flickering light of the projector. But here’s one of those missing scenes. Don’t you wish you could write this well? I do.

When Arthur (Dudley Moore) goes to Linda’s (Liza Minelli) apartment after proposing to Susan:

INT. LINDA’S BEDROOM – NIGHT

It is a small room. Linda sits at the edge of the bed. Arthur paces.

ARTHUR
Nice. Really a nice place.

LINDA
I’m thrilled. A lush likes my furniture. Talk.

Arthur reaches for a yearbook that is on the table.

ARTHUR
Is this your yearbook?

Linda jumps off the bed and rips the yearbook out of Arthur’s hand.

LINDA
God damn it! I have to get up and go to work tomorrow! Now stop fooling around. What do you want? You want to see a funny picture?

ARTHUR
Yeah.

Linda flips through the book. They are close.

LINDA
This is me in the school play – I played Juliet. Martin Feinberg played Romeo. Look at the hair. God! Martin Feinberg became a lawyer.

ARTHUR
What did you become?

LINDA
I’m a waitress. I’m studying to be an actress.

She flips through the book.

ARTHUR
You want to be an actress?

LINDA
No, schmuck… I’m studying to be an actress because I want to be a carpenter. (in the book) Look at this! Me playing vollyball! This guy went to prison.

ARTHUR
Sure… he probably got a lawyer who wanted to play Romeo. Did you go with anyone?

LINDA
Not really. My mother was sick then. I came home from school and spent as much time with her as I… anyway… it wasn’t a good time. This girl here…Mona… used to get laid 20 times a week.

ARTHUR
She looks tired there.

LINDA
Where did you go to school?

ARTHUR
I went to eight prep schools. I was thrown out of all of them. I was real unhappy as a kid.

LINDA
With all your money?

ARTHUR
Yeah. I had a big house. But nobody wanted me in it.

Linda puts her hand on Arthur’s face.

LINDA
You’re a lovely man.

ARTHUR
Lovely?

LINDA
Don’t worry about it. It’s the best thing I’ve ever said to anyone. Why haven’t you called me?

ARTHUR
Uh… that’s why I came here tonight. I think about you all the time. I am so fond of you…

LINDA
If you’re breaking up with me… I think it’s only fair to tell you that we’ve never had a date.

ARTHUR
(smiling) I am breaking up with you. We were so good we didn’t need dates.

LINDA
Why don’t we see each other and then break up?

ARTHUR
Listen… there’s stuff. Let’s not get into it. I can’t see you. Remember that ring?

LINDA
I had a feeling about that ring… you don’t clean that… you guard it.

ARTHUR
I gave it to somebody tonight.

LINDA
My ring? So what are you doing here?

ARTHUR
I had to see you to tell you I can’t see you.

LINDA
Neither of us is crying. Everything’s okay. You are the strangest person in North America.

ARTHUR
Yeah. Well… goodbye. It would probably be a mistake for you to come to that party Wednesday.

He starts toward the door.

LINDA
Yeah.

He turns.

ARTHUR
It’s the best way. There’s a lot involved.

LINDA
Right.

Arthur kisses her on the lips.

ARTHUR
(after the kiss) Goodbye. I guess this is it.

He continues to hold her.

LINDA
You’re holding me and kissing me. In my bedroom. With what you drank… you may be clearing up my sinuses.

Arthur kisses her again.

ARTHUR
Let’s just say goodbye. This is silly.

He kisses her again. This time it grows into a passionate kiss.

LINDA
(after the kiss) How long ago did you get engaged?

ARTHUR
About four hours ago. Jesus… this is wonderful.

LINDA
Make sure you come by your honeymoon night. Let’s stop. I enjoy you… but there are certain rules.

ARTHUR
Right… Goodbye.

He exits.

In the actual movie this scene was rewirtten and is much shorter. He goes to her apartment to give her $100,000 guilt money which she doesn't take. (Great shot of her dad outside the door, practically dissolving into tears.)

By the way, in the first draft Linda is not Italian. She's Jewish. Davidorf is her original last name.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday Questions

It's Flag Day. What better way to celebrate than with Friday Questions?

Patrick Wahl leads off.

Lots of questions about producer credits. There are Executive Producers and Producers. Does either one rate higher than the other in the producer pecking order?

The highest position is Executive Producer. There may be multiple Executive Producers but generally only one or one team is considered the “show runner.” Ironically, there’s no credit for that.

After that the general order from highest importance to lowest is:

Co-Executive Producer
Supervising Producer
Consulting Producer
Producer
Co-Producer

Below that are staff level jobs, now often relegated to end credits.

But make no mistake, those roles are being filled either by writers or non-writing pod producers.

You’ll also see a “Produced by” credit. That’s for the line producer – the person really in charge of mounting the production. He/she hires the crew, oversees budgets, post production, and basically is the one producer who actually produces things.

From David (not my partner):

What do you think the odds are that there'll be another writer's strike in the next year or two?

There’s always that possibility, but let’s be real. Management dictates that. If they lay out proposals that are untenable like cutting back on health insurance or not sharing in streaming income then the WGA has no choice. If management wants to avoid a work stoppage and make a deal then a deal is struck.

Meanwhile, let’s see how this battle with major talent agencies plays out.

And finally, from Jeri:

I wonder about the people that get series announced at upfronts as a midseason premiere and then every year some of those don't see the light of day. Have you ever worked on a pilot or show that was a mid season replacement that didn't end up airing?

David Isaacs and I were supposed to write an episode for an NBC series called SNIP starring David Brenner. 13 episodes had been ordered and I believe it was even on the NBC fall schedule. But they cancelled it. Not sure if some episodes were filmed. I suspect they were and the network so hated them they just shelved the whole thing.

But there are examples of six to thirteen episodes of a show in the can that were so apparently un-releasable that the network was willing to just eat the money.

There have also been shows that got cancelled after one airing, even though more episodes were already shot. Two that spring to mind are PUBLIC MORALS and EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT.

In terms of getting paid, it depends on the deals the actors and writers made with the studio. Were they to be paid for all episodes ordered (even if the show is then cancelled) or only for the episodes that were produced? If the latter, they got screwed.

Happy Flag Day. On this date many years ago I enlisted in the Army Reserves.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

EP127: Meet Kara Mayer Robinson: celebrity journalist


Kara Mayer Robinson has written for the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter, and has her own podcast, “Really Famous.” She and Ken discuss the world of celebrity interviews with a little gossip and goofy banter along the way.


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Take the Pan Am Experience yourself

Yesterday, I shared the Pan Am Experience.  Today I thought I'd show you some photos.
Daughter Annie & Jon hanging out in the lounge.

The First Class Lounge -- you got drunk before you flied.

The Upstairs Lounge, accessible via spiral staircase.  Even Don Draper never got up here.

First Class cabin where we were.  The decor and everything was authentic to a T.

Clipper Class -- the first Business Class section ever.  Peasants.

Actual menus, actual snacks.  They were still tasty after almost 50 years.

The fashion show.  I love the derbies.

Two actual former Pan Am stewardesses who joined us for the flight.

Carved right at your seat.  Good luck seeing that today on any carrier.

Dinner is served.  They didn't know about cholesterol back then either.

Fashion show part two

Who remembers Braniff?

Love those outfits!

Pan Am merch on display.

What?  My daughter is smoking? 
If you're interested in the Pan Am Experience you can find out more here.  Tell him I sent you and maybe they'll send me little wings. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Pan Am Experience

One of the things that is gone forever is the golden age of air travel. Flying used to be part of the fun and anticipation of a trip. Now it’s a fucking ordeal. People would dress up to fly. Even if you flew coach you were treated royally.

My first coast-to-coast flight was on TWA in 1969. I was served a hot breakfast and for lunch they set up a huge buffet and we all lined up and filled our plates. It wasn’t a flight; it was a Long Island bar mitzvah reception.

Airline carriers back then all had to charge the same fares so the way to attract passengers was to offer better service. The very best at is was Pan Am. And Pan Am First Class was second to none. For dinner they carved Chateaubriand at your seat.

Hey, just the fact that you had actual metal silverware – you’ll never see that again ever.

They called it the Pan Am Experience and now it’s been faithfully and lovingly recreated down to a T in Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley.

Anthony Toth is the creator of this experience. A lifelong collector of aviation memorabilia (Pan Am in particular), he somehow put this together.

An actual 747 that had been rusting for ten years in the desert was rescued. The first class section, business class section (Clipper Class) and upstairs lounge were restored to its Pan Am greatness down to the most minute detail. The seats, the fabric, d├ęcor, even scent through the ventilators is the exact same as the plane that flew the world in 1970.

It is now housed on a soundstage (nice name for a warehouse) in an industrial area of the Valley. In nearby stages are airplane interiors and airport interiors. TSA is not going to let you actually film at LAX anymore. Needless to say these stages are rented out constantly.

But every Saturday night they hold the Pam Am Experience. It’s a journey back into the early ‘70s. Unlike THE DEUCE, this is something you’d want to relive from that period.

So longing for the days when Carroll O’Conner played Archie Bunker and not Woody Harrelson, I took my wife, daughter and son-in-law on a trip in the Wayback Machine.

Tomorrow I will share a bunch of photos.

You arrive at 6:00, all dressed up. There were some guys with afro’s. I wore a jacket and paisley tie. You check in at an actual Pan Am ticket booth. There’s a rotary phone on the desk. I’m reminded of that YouTube video where two Millennial idiots couldn’t figure out how to dial a rotary phone. I weep. There’s also a TWA and Northwest Orient counter for people who bought counterfeit tickets (because they go nowhere).

Then we entered a replica First Class Lounge complete with open bar, Pan Am displays, and posters from the era.

At 6:30 you are invited to board. The stewardesses (and yes, they were called stewardesses, not flight attendants or empowered service providers) were all in authentic wardrobe. You were ushered to your seat. We sat in the First Class cabin. There was enough leg room to stage one of my plays. More drinks (in Pam Am glasses… that were made of glass, believe it or not) and oversized packets of snacks.

In the Clipper Section there was a full-bar you could belly up to at any time. Up the spiral staircase there was a lounge section – very exclusive.

The crew showed reverence to the experience, but there were enough funny quips to let you know this was a fun recreation, not some creepy fever dream.

We were offered vintage magazines, complete with all the cigarette ads and even a few for this new thing called FM stereo. Considering the world today, reading TIME magazine my nostalgia extended to Nixon.

Speaking of cigarettes, the one concession to now was that there was no smoking allowed. But back then everyone smoked of course. So they had these fake cigarettes. You would blow through them and bogus smoke would disperse. At first it was fun to be Don Draper. After two minutes I felt like an idiot and stopped.

The piped in music was a blend of pop hits from the '60s and '70s.  Lots of Beatles and Burt Bacharach. Can't go wrong with that.   Also a few Pan Am jingles.   These were the days you'd hear an airlines commercial and not yell "Fuck you!" to the speaker.

As unbelievable as it might sound, fifty years ago people actually LIKED certain airlines.  No, I'm serious.  Really.  Truly. 

Dinner service began. Fresh warm rolls, more drinks (I had to watch myself. It’s not like there are many great motels in Pacoima.), appetizers that included shrimp cocktails or fresh mozzarella salad, and then the main course.

Not only did they carve Chateaubriand right at your seat, they gave you a decent portion. An airline “steak” today (pre packaged and swimming in God knows what sauce) is generally the size of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Other entrees were chicken and pasta. Since gluten wasn’t invented in 1970 there was nothing that was gluten free.

A fruit and cheese cart followed, and then a cart with lovely cakes. After dinner drinks were offered as well as coffee.

For entertainment, there were fashion shows – first of all the Pan Am stewardess uniforms and then uniforms from other airlines. They were fun, but I was powering down the beef.

Final touches like a Duty-Free cart came around and we all took a Pan Am trivia game, which no one knew any of the answers.

No one tried to hijack the sound stage to Cuba.  Only ten people tried that joke. 

To be fair, it’s crazy expensive, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Or so I thought. There were repeat passengers. One was going on his fourth journey. The steaks at Maestro’s are good and way cheaper than this. And you can buy candy cigarettes. That said, if somebody invites me I’d be happy to go again. I could use the additional miles.

It’s gourmet nostalgia porn and just a reminder that yeah, we have iPhones and Waze, but some things were better back then.

Come back tomorrow for photos.  And for more info on the Pan Am Experience you can just go here.  Tell them Ken Levine sent you.   Maybe they'll send me a Pan Am swizzle stick. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

What Constitutes a Comedy?

How funny does a project have to be to be considered a “comedy?”

It depends on the expectations and whether they are met.

If a half-hour dramedy contains a few smiles it’s fulfilled its comic responsibilities. Same laughs in a sitcom and it’s just flat and dull.

I love when producers say, “Well, we’re a comedy but we’re not really going for laughs.” Oh no? Then what the fuck are you going for? Whenever I hear producers say, “I don’t write jokes” what he’s really saying is “I can’t write jokes.”

Real comedy writing is hard.  

Romantic comedy features of the 50’s and 60’s were amusing at best. Maybe a laugh or two in a Doris Day movie but sure not BLAZING SADDLES. And yet those Doris Day films were considered acceptable comedies at the time.

Similarly, 60’s sitcoms. THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW really stood out to me because it was funny. I look back at shows I watched then like THE PATTY DUKE SHOW or THE DONNA REED SHOW and think, “Why was I watching this drivel?”

70’s sitcoms came along like ALL IN THE FAMILY, MASH, and THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and suddenly I was actually laughing. Mel Brooks and Woody Allen churned out movies that also had that effect. Neil Simon was the toast of Broadway for figuring out that comedy plays needed to be funny.

When I write a TV show or screenplay or play I want the audience to audibly laugh. A lot. All the way through.

Since writing plays I’ve discovered this: If you get a quiet audience, even if they’re really enjoying the play, afterwards they will say it was “very entertaining,” “really fun,” “very enjoyable.” Same play/same performance but a hot crowd that laughed out loud all night -- “Hysterical!” “Brilliant!” “Amazing!”

I’m sure there are playwrights that say “When I write a comedy if I get five or six good laughs I’m happy.” Not me. I’m miserable. There’s the audience expectation (how many laughs will they require?) and then mine (why aren’t they laughing every minute?).

The yardstick is laughter. And if you’re writing a comedy and that isn’t your goal, you may write a spectacular script – just label it something else.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Weekend Post

The Tony Awards are Sunday night!!!

Hello?  Are you still there?

God bless CBS for continuing to air them despite the fact that no one watches.

Which is a shame because in many ways the Tonys are way more entertaining and fun than the Oscars and Emmys.   Full production numbers from Broadway hits and witty acceptance speeches -- so what if you've never heard of 90% of the shows or nominees?

But of course, that's the problem.  99% of the  country has not seen a single one of these shows.  So it's hard to have a rooting interest.   It's like crashing the awards ceremony for the Aetna Insurance Salespeople of the Year.

This year however, there is an interesting dynamic -- the usual traditional Broadway fare vs. more experimental off-Broadway-ish material.    Example:  Revival of a Musical -- the glossy KISS ME KATE vs the totally re-imagined OKLAHOMA.   Not that there's going to be fist fights at the water cooler on Monday after the winner is announced.

But as long as Elaine May wins for Best Actress I'll be happy.

If you ever do get to New York, treat yourself to a Broadway show.  At its best it's thrilling, it's magic.  And at its worst it's still cheaper than a Knicks game.

I'll be watching Sunday night.  The real suspense truthfully will come after.  For years the Tonys have aired on CBS because Les Moonves was a big believer in them.  Now he's gone.  Who knows what the new regime will decide?

But at least for now, let's enjoy them while we can. 

Friday, June 07, 2019

Friday Questions

I know everyone is excited about the Tonys this weekend, but let’s start the festivities with Friday Questions.

Poochie is up first.

Say they were to recreate this experiment with Cheers (a suggestion tossed by Alan Sepinwall), which episode would you pick and who you cast? It almost assuredly has to be a Sam/Diane centered season one episode doesn't it?

Even if they were going to pick two episodes that David Isaacs and I wrote and pay us in full for the episodes again, I would still strongly lobby to not do a recreation in any form.

Because here’s my question: Regardless of who you cast, would it be any better than the original? And if not, then why do it?

Billy Wilder had a great line about sequels. He said, why remake good movies? Why not remake bad movies, fix them, and make them good movies?

That’s how I feel about CHEERS. Watch the originals. They’re pretty damn good.

There was a stage play in Chicago in 2016 that tried to recreate several episodes.  It did not go on to Broadway. 

Craig Gustafson asks:

Ken - what do you think about the British practice (and I don't know if it is still used) of combining the forms - live action, three-camera shoot until they go outside, then it's one-camera. I first saw it on "Monty Python's Flying Circus," and it was very disconcerting until I got used to it. "Fawlty Towers" stayed indoors for the most part, but Basil occasionally ventured out into the mono-cinematographic world.

After the first one-camera series of "The Black Adder," they decided that being seen on horses wasn't *that* important and the succeeding series were all three-camera, live audience.

I think it’s weird. Different styles can take you out of the story. Monty Python was just quick sketches so it didn’t really matter, but it’s hard for me watching British sitcoms switch back and forth from tape to (what looks like crappy 16mm) film.

Again, how does that mixture of styles improve the show?

From Mary Warwick :

Who is cashing in on the ratings juggernaut that is James Holzhauer? Affiliate stations? The show itself? I don't understand how ad rates are set for syndicated shows. Second question, would you ever want to be on Jeopardy? I wouldn't.

The show itself and the syndicator. But a high tide floats all boats. Local stations make money on the increased advertising sales.

Quite often affiliate stations are required to air programs within a certain time frame. I suspect for JEOPARDY and WHEEL OF FORTUNE, stations must air them between 5-8 PM.  So that helps ratings.  You're not averaging in stations that air it at 12:30 in the morning. 

I would love to be a contestant on JEOPARDY except I would completely embarrass myself since I don’t know shit about geography, poets of the 17th Century, religion, and 16-letter words that also turn into medical conditions by just switching two letters.

And finally, from Frank:

In season two of Bosch, there's a character referred to as "Big Wave Dave." It's not exactly a tribute, as he's a Very Bad Fellow. Was this an intentional nod by someone on the show, or just a coincidence?

None of the vaulted BIG WAVE DAVE’S writers are on that show so I would say it’s a wonderful tribute to us accidentally.

There are a couple of surf shops and I think a restaurant named Big Wave Dave’s. All I know is no one sued us.

But thanks to BOSCH for keeping the memory of our classic six-episode series alive.

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

EP126: “Movin’ on Up” – selling our first script


What’s it like to break in and sell your first script?  Ken tells his experience when “the Jeffersons” hired him and partner David Isaacs. It was quite a learning experience as you will hear. 


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Echo in the Canyon

This is one of those art films that probably won’t play in your city. But it’ll be on Neflix or HBO soon enough.

It’s a documentary that’s a loving look-back at the music scene in Laurel Canyon in the late ‘60s. I of course, am a sucker for those times.

Jakob Dylan handles the interviews and part of the film is organizing a concert where current stars do cover versions of these iconic hits. Hey, if that’s what it takes to get young people interested in classic
60s music I’m all for it. Plus, a lot of these contemporary artists were great.

From about 1964 until the early ‘70s, the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles was a music mecca. The Byrds, the Doors, Brian Wilson, Buffalo Springfield, the Mamas & the Papas, the Association, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, Graham Nash, Carole King, Eric Clapton, Micky Dolenz (I saved the best for last) are just a few of the groundbreaking artists who huddled in the canyon only a few miles away from the Sunset Strip, where they all played.

Make no mistake; the documentary sugarcoats the whole scene. Yes, it was creatively exciting, and everyone was working on everyone else’s songs. And Mama Cass would cook for you.

But left out was rampant drug use, alcohol abuse, and any other self-destructive behavior young people suddenly with money could get into. There were lots of O.D.’s, lots of future rehabs, and drastically accelerated expiration dates. The good times did not come without a price.

I never learned how to play an instrument so I never crashed that scene. I was also paranoid about drugs. But there’s no denying that it was a magic era and the music produced has stood the test of time. ECHO IN THE CANYON is worth seeing. Even I learned a few things I didn’t know. Wow, Michelle Phillips really slept around.

And I miss Humble Harve even more.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

RIP Humble Harve

So sorry to announce the passing of one of the icons of radio, Humble Harve Miller.  Most remember him from the golden era of KHJ, but I knew him when he worked at KBLA in Burbank.  He was so exciting, so popular, that even on a station with a terrible signal he still made noise.  Noise enough to attract the attention of the number one station in the country.   For decades he entertained on numerous radio stations, also narrating the syndicated 48-hour History of Rock & Roll and filling in on American Top 40

Knowing him personally for over 50 years, he was a kind gentle soul, passionate about his music who lived to "spread love" on the radio... with that deep rich, warm voice of his.  

He hosted a high school dance for me in 1966.  He and I would take long lunches at Jerry's and Brent's deli and he would regale me with wonderful stories of being on WIBG, Philadelphia (at only 19 years-old), his work ethic was second to none.  He saw his show on KHJ to be like "The Tonight Show" and he had to be prepared and present and make each and every break as excellent as he could.  Harve was never on auto-pilot.  At KBLA for quite some time he was on the air seven nights a week. 

He was creative until the end.  His latest project was a 24-streaming oldies station with visuals.   It's called Cruising Oldies Diner and you can find it here

RIP to your brother, Humble Harve.  We'll try to spread love in your absence. 

Tweets from history

This is now a familiar pattern.  Someone does something impressive and is quickly the public's darling.  Then he continues his impressive feat and the public turns on him.  Suddenly there's a backlash.  We're seeing it now with deposed JEOPARDY champ, James Holzhauer.  

A month ago:  "He's great!"  "He's amazing!"  "I LOVE this guy!"

Now: "He's smug!" "He smiles funny!" "He's rude to Alex!"  "I HATE this guy!

For many, the game show should be now called JEALOUSY.  

Personally, I think what he's done is extraordinary. His breadth of knowledge is breathtaking.  

But we live in an age of haters -- haters who now have a global voice.  They can anonymously take shots at anyone they want through social media.    James, if you're reading this, stay off of Twitter.  Same for you Joe Buck.  

But it got me to thinkin’. What if Twitter existed during the time of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? I imagine this is the kind of stuff we'd see.

@lunkhead – I’m at Gettysburg Address w/ 67 others.

@dissgrntled – Shit! Linken is tall!

@shorty – I hate tall people!

@bobballoobobballoo – At least we can see him.

@shorty – Who WANTS to see him?

@mauron -- You are fucking hilarious dude! RT @shorty – Who WANTS to see him?

@loserboy4 – Is that a beard or a beaver on his chin?

@zippy – Abe’s making a pubic appearance.

@lunkhead – HA! RT@zippy – Abe’s making a pubic appearance.

@lunkhead – Talk louder pussy chin! I can’t HEAR YOU!!!

@shorty – Who WANTS to hear you?

@zippy – 4score + 7years. What the fuck is that?

@bobballooobobballoo – Math???? In a MF’ing speech?

@loserboy4 – I want to punch him in the face.

@dropoutat9 – LINCON YOU SUCK!

@dissgrntled – Why does he hate the south? Fuck you, Abe!

@zippy – How much is 4score +7years?

@mauron – 150

@bobballoobobballoo – 16.

@lunkhead – His voice makes me sick.

@zippy – Choke on your beard, dickwad!

@loserboy4 – What does konsecrate mean? He uses all this $10 words.

@dyspeptic – I want to punch him in the face.

@dropoutat9 – Can we get a president who doesn’t hate the north?

@lunkhead – Or can shave.

@zippy – HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA RT @lunkhead – Or can shave.

@bobballooobobballoo – Where’s his wife? I hear she’s hot.

@dissgrntled – She’s a whore.

@mauron – This guy is so LAME. He just said the ground is hollow. Really? Then how come we’re not all falling in?

@loserboy4 – That’s weird. I thought the same thing you did. Great minds…

@lunkhead – With that beard he looks like Ape Lincoln.

@shorty – The missing Link-n.

@dyspeptic – LMAO! You dudes should entertain the troops.

@bobballooobobballoo – Hi, I’m Ape Lincoln and I’ve come here today to say blahblahblahblahblahblahblah.

@zippy – Yeah. Nobody cares dude!!

@dissgrntled – By the people, 4 the people, of the people – WTF? did you run out of words for people? You suck! No, you really suck!

@loserboy4 – I want to punch him in the face.

@mauron – That’s it? That’s the whole speech? That was like 5 minutes.

@shorty – What a gyp.

@dyspeptic – Yeah. We want more!

@lunkhead – I hate you!!!!!!!!

@dropoutat9 – You’re a tool!!

@loserboy4 – And a douche!!!

@dissgrntled – And an A-hole!!

@dyspeptic – LOL Just got that. RT @zippy – Abe’s making a pubic appearance.

Monday, June 03, 2019

RIP WPLJ WRQX

Two more longtime major market radio stations bit the dust on Friday. WPLJ in New York and WRQX (Mix107) in Washington, DC. In both cases, the bankrupt company that mismanaged all their assets and had to unload these valuable properties just to stay afloat another twenty minutes sold to companies who decided to chuck the formats and replace them with a satellite feed.

There was a time when you couldn’t do that.

Radio licenses are held in the public’s trust. The FCC is supposed to ensure that license holders live up to their responsibility to serve their local community. Station owners have lost their licenses in the past because they did not adequately serve their public.

But that was when we had a government that was looking out for the people, not trying to swindle them. That is when we had anti-trust laws. That is when there were laws limiting the number of commercials. And number of stations any one group could own.

Both WPLJ and Mix107 had local talent and decent ratings. They organized local charities, provided emergency information during blizzards and other calamities. Now a satellite signal from Sacramento or wherever will fill those airwaves. Tell me exactly how this is a better use of a frequency for serving the community?

Of course it’s not.

And who’s the big loser (besides all the people who lost their jobs in a shrinking industry)? YOU are.  YOU ALWAYS ARE. 

And here’s the worst part – no one (neither ownership nor the FCC) gives a shit.

Ownership groups like to tout statistics that people still listen to terrestrial radio over anything else. Those numbers are bullshit. Ask a Millennial the last time he turned on a radio.  Go into a Best Buys and see if you can purchase an AM receiver. 

Goodbye to WPLJ and WRQX.

And very very soon --  radio.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Weekend Post

I was hoping to find a YouTube video of this I could embed but none seems to exist.  So you'll have to settle for the text.  This is the speech that launched Levine & Isaacs' career.

It was our first MASH assignment.  "Out of Sight/Out of Mind," season 5.   A gas heater blows up in Hawkeye's face and he is temporarily blind.  We worked out the story with show runner Gene Reynolds and went off to write it.   There were a number of funny scenes built in -- Hawkeye in the OR room, Hawkeye in a fist fight with Frank, etc.  

But as we were writing it we realized there was no moment where Hawkeye drops the bravado and really tells us what he's going through and he feels about it.   So we decided to write a speech.  We figured if Gene didn't like it he could just cut it.  We weren't deviating from the outline, just adding to it.  

Well, it must've taken us three days and fifty drafts.  We kept changing it, writing thoughts on napkins and scraps of paper, moving things around, adding and subtracting until we finally wrestled it to the ground.  

Gene loved it.  Kept giving us script assignments and the next year we were invited to join the staff.   

The point is, always be looking to do something more, something better.  I think Gene was as impressed with our initiative as he was the speech itself.   We were starting out.  We wanted to really distinguish ourselves from every other writer or team starting out.  So we took a chance.  Those don't always work out, but more often than not they do.  

The speech that Alan Alda delivers on the episode is word for word our first draft.   That's what I'm most proud of.   People have said it's very memorable; a few have even quoted lines of it back to me.  It's flattering but I think the real reason is that Alan delivered it so brilliantly.

Anyway, here it is. 

***********




B.J.
Listen, Hawk, why don’t you just settle down for five minutes? I know what you’re trying to do, and I know how you really feel.

HAWKEYE
No you don’t.

B.J.
You don’t want to have time to think about what might happen to you.

HAWKEYE
That’s not it. Sure, when Overman walks in tomorrow and unwraps my package, I hope to God I’ll have my sight back. But in the meantime, this crazy accident has taken on another meaning.

B.J.
How?

HAWKEYE
One part of the world closed down for me, but another part opened up. Sure, I’ve been seeing myself sitting on a corner with a tin cup selling thermometers. But things are happening that take me away from that. This morning I spent two incredible hours listening to a rainstorm. I didn’t just hear it, I was part of it. I’ll bet you never realized that the sound of rain hitting the ground makes the same noise as steaks when they barbeque, or that thunder seems to echo forever. And you can’t believe how funny it is to hear someone slip and fall in the mud. Had to be Burns. Beej, it’s full of trapdoors, but I think I’m using this thing to my advantage. I’ve never spent a more conscious day in my life.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Friday Questions

Let’s close out May and begin the summer with Friday Questions.

First up is Kevin with…

A question about writing credits and pay. I know that when the credits read "Levine & Isaacs" (with an ampersand) that means you two split the money. But if it's "Levine & Isaacs and Smith" (A-N-D) that means you two as a team wrote some and Smith wrote some. Do you then split the money three ways? Do they pay more? Does the team get its full union scale AND Smith get the same? I.E. does it cost the company twice as much for that script?

No more than two writers (a team with an & constitutes one writer) may share credit on a script without a waiver from the WGA. And each writer is entitled to half.

So let’s say William Shakespeare writes the first act and since no one can trust him to write the whole script, David Isaacs and I write the second act.

If the credit reads:

Written by William Shakespeare and Ken Levine & David Isaacs

Then Willie gets 50% and David and I each get 25%.

But if the credit reads:

Written by William Shakespeare & Ken Levine & David Isaacs

Then the WGA would have to approve it and all three of us would get 50%. In other words the studio would have to pay one-and-a-half times the normal script fee. That’s what we did all the time on ALMOST PERFECT when Robin Schiff, David, and I wrote drafts.

You can also break down the writing credit by having “Story by” credit and “Teleplay by” credit. There are formulas with each of those and you’ll notice on Chuck Lorre shows the writing credits are always an alphabet soup of names. That’s because no one really writes the script. It’s room written, but since every writer can’t be credited they just rotate the credit among the staff.

Y. Knott asks:

Conan O'Brien and his staff are being sued for joke theft. A Twitter user claims he wrote and posted daily topical jokes that O'Brien's staff would use the same night. (Google the recent Vanity Fair article for details.)

What do you think -- is it possible? Or is it case of parallel joke development? Accusations of joke theft are common, but does it actually happen?

Conan himself eloquently answers this. Here’s the link.

I agree with him. It happens ALL the time. I’ve seen situations in the writing room where two writers on either side of the room will pitch out essentially the same joke at the same time.

When I do my award show reviews I release them as soon as I can so I won’t be accused of stealing other peoples’ material. But there are only so many ways to describe atrocious-looking gowns.

From Chris:

I have been reading back through old post as I am still fairly new to the blog.

Something that comes up from time to time. "Scoring". Eg You have said Lilith was meant to be a small guest role, but you lucked out. "She scored really well" and you made her a regular

Who is doing the scoring? Is it a questionnaire the studio audience get? Or ring around poll?

Assuming it is the former, what sort of questions are in it and there must be other people doing it too (execs?), or is it literally the actors potential regular gig hanging on the mood of whoever happens to be in the audience on the filming day of that one off guest appearance?

No, Chris, it just means that the actors get big laughs.  And sometimes that will prompt the producers to bring them back.  Or if a supporting character really scores the producers may give him a more prominent role like with the Fonz. 

We don’t do questionnaires, but the network does test the show from time to time, and their results are either something we already knew or way off base. Studio audiences are a better indicator than twenty tourists plucked from the MGM Grand Casino nickel slots area.

And finally, from Kirk:

Here's a somewhat self-indulgent Friday Question. The fact that I, who's nobody, can leave a comment and someone who's name I've seen in TV credits for years will actually read that comment, is to me nothing short of amazing (which is why I went overboard when I first started reading this blog and left a comment every time out, even when I had nothing to say.) But I wonder, how does that feel from the other side? I know you can tell very little about us from reading our comments, but, that said, is there anything about us or what we regularly have to say that you find amazing, or at least mildly surprising?

I often find the comments way more amusing and interesting than my posts.

From time to time I ask readers to tell me where they’re from, what they like, etc. I should probably do that again soon.

But I enjoy the comments. Sometimes I’ll get a person who comments frequently and then they disappear and I wonder, “Hey, where is she? Did I piss her off? Is she just done with this blog?” But I know that readers come and go. Still I wonder. Am I just the blog version of Puff the Magic Dragon?

Have a great summer, kids. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

EP125: Filling in for Wolfman Jack and other radio adventures


Ken tells crazy stories of his disc jockey days -- filling in for the Wolfman, befriending the Hells Angels, and almost getting deported from Canada.   Oh, those fun days of radio.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Weather Idiot

I watch JEOPARDY every night and here in Los Angeles it's on Channel 7, the ABC affiliate.  Right before the show they go to weather guy Dallas Raines for a preview of the weather.  And I just want to punch this fucking guy in the face.  He has a shit-eating grin and takes great delight in delivering bad news.   For Mother's Day: (big smile) "Hey it's gonna rain on Mom. Details at 11."

FUCK YOU!

Hasn't local news moved on from these happy-talk assholes?  When I was going to Minneapolis last month I checked in with one of their local weather guys and was very impressed.  This was a real meteorologist, who clearly understood weather patterns and was able to articulate them in a clear concise way.  Compare that to the yokel on Channel 7.

Now granted we don't get much weather here in LA and a number of stations have gotten by with hot young ingenues who don't know there's another meaning for snow besides cocaine, but come on.  A shred of credibility maybe?  A tiny thread?

Here's what I'm talking about.  Tell me you wouldn't hold him while I punched him. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Was Lucy almost on CHEERS?

When Rhea Perlman was interviewed by Andy Cohen a listener asked about a rumor that Lucille Ball was in the running to play Diane Chambers’ mother. Rhea didn’t know anything about it.

I was there.

I do.

And the story is sort of true.

This was towards the end of season one.

We had heard from someone that Lucy was a fan of the show. We were preparing an episode featuring Diane’s mom. David Angell wrote the script. So some calls were made and the Charles Brothers and Jim Burrows were invited to lunch at Lucy’s house in Beverly Hills.

Once they arrived they learned that Lucy had only “heard” it was a good show. She had never actually seen it. Nor did she have any interest in guesting on a (then low rated) sitcom. So they had an awkward lunch and that was that.

Glynis Johns (who God bless her is 95) got the part and was wonderful.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day

It always seems weird to wish someone a Happy Memorial Day.

Looking back, I'm proud of my military service.

And especially proud to have been a part of MASH for four years.   One thing we always did on that show was pay tribute to the brave men and women who served -- most of them not voluntarily.   They sacrificed for the good of the country -- many making the ultimate sacrifice.

As time marches on, the Korean conflict is becoming more and more just a blip, a brief footnote in history.   I honestly think that without MASH it would today be largely forgotten.  So to m, that's the show's greatest legacy -- to keep alive the memory of that conflict and honor those who served. 

And to all the people who served in Desert Storm and Vietnam and all the other wars/police actions/whatever -- let's not forget a single one, ever. 

I salute you one and all. 

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Weekend Post

The live reboot of ALL IN THE FAMILY and THE JEFFERSONS got great ratings for ABC on Wednesday (although fewer people than watched JEOPARDY that night).  So the network is replaying it on Saturday night.   Depending on when you read this you might want to set your DVR or go to ON DEMAND or (and I know this is a bit radical) turn on the TV. 

But readers have asked what I thought and I must say I was surprised by my reaction. 

Nostalgia.

Seeing that JEFFERSONS set unleashed a flood of memories. 

THE JEFFERSONS was the first show my partner David Isaacs and I ever sold.   So I will always have a warm spot in my heart for that show... although I rarely watched it after our episode aired. 

Gordon Mitchell, the story editor of THE JEFFERSONS had read and liked our spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.  He sent us a letter inviting us to call him and set up a meeting to pitch stories. I was thrilled just getting stationery that said THE JEFFERSONS.  This was June 1975.  The show had premiered earlier that year as a mid-season replacement and was a hit from day one (being sandwiched between ALL IN THE FAMILY and THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW didn't hurt either). 

At the time, they were doing the show out of CBS Television City so it was amazing to actually go to CBS for our pitch meeting.   I can still picture the wallpaper with the CBS eye logo.  This was the BIG TIME.   I'll probably do a podcast on this, describing in greater detail the process.  It's etched indelibly in my mind.  You never forget your first time. 

The night our episode was taped (also at Television City) I got to see those sets for the first time.  I must say of all the Norman Lear shows, THE JEFFERSONS had the coolest sets.   And here were the actual actors flitting about doing our script (or at least the few lines of our script that remained). 

Two years before I had been fired as a jock from San Bernardino and couldn't get another radio job to save myself.  Imagine being turned down for all-nights in Fresno.  And now I was writing on a top ten CBS Norman Lear TV show. 

So my reaction to the reboot was nostalgia, gratitude, and warmth.  And Wanda Sykes crushed it. 

We also pitched ALL IN THE FAMILY but they never bought one of our ideas so I was less nostalgic about that segment.

What did you guys think? 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Friday Questions

Let’s dip into the Friday Question mailbag.

Robert Brauer starts us off:

We all remember Kevin McHale's two guest appearances on Cheers. Was there ever any attempt to get Larry Bird on the show? I'm envisioning a Cheers universe where French Lick is located right next to Hanover, and Larry and Woody could trade insider jokes about growing up Hoosier.

Yes. As a matter of fact Larry Bird had agreed to be on the show. So David Isaacs and I wrote the episode. It was called “Hot Rocks” from 1989 and in it Rebecca thinks he stole her diamond earrings.

Even before reading the script he then bowed out. I’ve never been a fan since that day. We got the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, William J. Crowe to play it instead. David and I did a rewrite to make the necessary changes and it proved to be a fun episode.

And by the way, Kevin McHale was a terrific comic actor. So good that we brought him back for a second episode.

Keith R.A. DeCandido is next.

You said, "When we went out to the ranch to film the exteriors we would get one day per episode," which prompted a question....

Intellectually, I knew that M*A*S*H wasn't filmed entirely on the ranch, even though it often felt like the entire show was filmed on location. So I'm curious. Obviously, the mess tent and the Swamp scenes were filmed on the ranch, because you could clearly see the rest of the compound from those two locations. Were any other "interior" sets on the ranch, or were the rest -- CO's office, clerk's office, pre-op, post-op, OR, tent interiors that weren't the Swamp, kitchen, etc. -- all interiors?

Ah, the magic of television. ALL interior scenes were shot on the sound stage, including the mess tent and Swamp. They recreated the camp on Stage 9 so you could see people walking in the background and familiar landmarks. But no interiors were shot on the ranch. The interior sets did not even exist beyond what you’d see in doorways.

From Steve Lanzi:

When you've worked in writers' rooms on various sitcoms, did you and the others ever enjoy music in there? Have a radio on in the background, maybe?

No. Never. Can’t think of a show that did.

However, when we were doing ALMOST PERFECT at Paramount our writers room was right across from the studio mill where they were constructing the sets. So it’s bad enough there were buzz saws and drills going constantly, but they used to listen to KRTH on a big boombox. KRTH was the oldies station and played maybe 20 records over and over again. So those blared all day long. We must’ve heard Pretty Woman 10,000 times.

You learn to ignore the distractions. Or you go off and kill somebody.

And finally, from Coram_Loci:

Do you personally know an actor who lost his self-identity and started to think he was the character he played (perhaps a character you created)?

It has not happened to me personally but I hear tell that a number of action heroes want so much to actually BE those characters that they sort of assume the persona.

And then there’s the story of McLean Stevenson, back when he played Dr. Henry Blake on MASH. He was driving home from Vegas one time and there was a car off to the side of the road. He pulled over to see if he could help and someone need medical attention. So he provided the first aid. Imagine looking up and there is Dr. Henry Blake from MASH.

And what’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

EP124: In defense of Multi-Camera Shows


Multi-camera shows shot in front of a studio audience are much maligned, unfairly so.  99% of our classic sitcoms are multi-camera.  Ken explains what it takes to do a good one and why many fall short.  If you’re a fan of TV comedy this is the episode for you.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Hey, what's playing at the sex-oplex?

A movie complex in Switzerland just unveiled its new theatre -- all double beds.

Here's the article.

Couples will be able to snuggle together.  And to prevent them from falling asleep there are special headphones.  Yeah, like sleep is the problem.

I'm sure your first thought when you read this was mine.  And everybody's.

You're going to have a theatre full of couples having sex.  Even if they show THE SOUND OF MUSIC. 

Now the theatre insists this won't happen.  Apparently they tested this concept elsewhere and no babies are on the way.    Yeah, and Drive-In theatres never had the same problem. 

Who are they kidding?  The concession stand will sell more Plan B's than popcorn.

Especially in this day and age when couples cheerfully take videos of themselves engaging in sexual activities and uploading them to the internet, what are they gonna care that the couple two feet away can see them boinking their brains out?   That other couple is probably just taking a smoke break.   

"Hey, quit that yodeling you two!"

And this generation is used to multi-tasking. 

I would love to see my movie VOLUNTEERS under such circumstances.  For once I wouldn't take it personally if people weren't laughing.

The theatre says they will change the sheets between every showing.  Every week they better change the springs too.

Not since people eat sushi off of naked girls has there been such an inspiring idea.

Watching a first-run film in bed in public -- it's the perfect date movie. Third date actually. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The upcoming live ALL IN THE FAMILY/JEFFERSONS episodes

Here’s a Friday Question that became a whole post:

Ben asked:

Ken, what do you think of Jimmy Kimmel producing a live airing of All in the Family and Jeffersons episodes (with Norman Lear's blessing) on May 22? Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei as Archie and Edith, Jamie Foxx and Wanda Sykes as George and Louise.

Well, first of all it’s a ratings stunt, pure and simple. Which is fine if it’s good.

I’m also not sure why it has to be live but that certainly adds a level of suspense and intrigue to the project. Will it come off without a hitch? If there’s a screw up, what will it be? I’m not a NASCAR fan but is that one of its big attractions? Possible crashes? To me the only read advantage of going live is that ALL IN THE FAMILY could be topical up to the moment.

But what’s interesting is this: ALL IN THE FAMILY was a show very much set in its time. Archie Bunker was a bigot and short-sighted, but underneath that was a frightened man who was set in his ways and terrified that the world was changing around him and he couldn’t reconcile it. Will they be doing a vintage script and make ALL IN THE FAMILY a period piece? If not, then I assume Archie just becomes a big Trump supporter and if so I have zero empathy for him. I won’t find him remotely funny. Frankly, I haven’t read enough about the details to know how they plan to tackle this.

To me the one thing they have going for them is that James Burrows is directing it. He’s the best multi-cam director in history, he’s done live shows before (WILL & GRACE), and if anybody can pull this off with flair and intelligence it’s Jimmy. So I’ll be watching (unless Archie dons a MAGA hat).

As for the new casts, remember a huge portion of the audience will be seeing these classic series for the first time. To those of us familiar with these iconic series it seems impossible to think of anyone other than Carroll O’Connor and Sherman Hemsley in the title roles, but who knows? Woody & Jamie are great.  So is Wanda Sykes.  I have my reservations about Marisa Tomei as Edith but willing to give it a shot. 

Currently, I have a one act play in the EST One Act Festival at the Atwater Theatre. It plays this weekend and then closes so come see it. The play is a two-hander. The two actors are sensational and great together. Well, one of the actors has a commitment to do a project back east and has had to leave the play. We knew this going in. So another actor is stepping in and it’s fascinating. He’s very different from the first but equally terrific and it gives the play a little different spin. He brings different qualities to the same script. There’s still great chemistry but it’s a different chemistry.

So a new Archie or a new George Jefferson might be fun. I’m sure there will be many who just can’t get over seeing new actors play these roles, but I’m willing to give ‘em a try.  Also, for me, Woody Harrelson can do no wrong. 

As a result, I go into this endeavor with curiosity. There are lots of questions – how good will the scripts be? If they use vintage scripts will THE JEFFERSONS use the one David Isaacs and I wrote?  Will the new actors pull it off? Will I have to turn it off if Archie defends Kavanaugh? Will it fly on its own or will all the gimmicks like airing live be necessary? What will the ratings be? The irony is it airs on a night I’m in an improv workshop so I won’t be watching it live. But I wish everyone involved good luck and offer that you couldn’t be in better hands than with Jimmy Burrows.

Monday, May 20, 2019

It all ended with a medium size bang

Network television ratings continue to plummet. A glaring example was the audience for the final BIG BANG THEORY. They drew 18 million viewers and for that CBS was turning cartwheels. I’m sorry. That’s a low number. You could argue there are way more options today, yada yada, but this is a show that has been on the air for twelve years. And is seen in syndication on numerous stations and is available for streaming. Over twelve years it should have accumulated enough fans that for its grand finale it received eye-popping numbers.

But then that speaks to network numbers in general. When only ten million viewers are watching a week then eighteen is a big jump. But ten million is really not a lot – not compared to what shows used to get. So sure if a series got 30 million viewers a week you could expect a whopping finale number. Still, twelve years. That’s a long time for people to discover and fall in love with a show.

What I’d be interested in knowing is whether the same number of viewers knew of and at one time watched both THE BIG BANG THEORY and for argument’s sake, FRIENDS. If so, shouldn’t THE BIG BANG THEORY still get FRIENDS-type finale numbers?

THE BIG BANG THEORY could also be a victim of series finale-itis. So many series have wrapped up that it’s less of a big deal today. Series finales used to be “events.” Today not so much. Hell, the Academy Awards are meh and World Series games are getting half of what they used to draw (or less). So it’s possible THE BIG BANG THEORY does have as many fans as FRIENDS it just that the BBT fans weren’t all that excited to see the finale.

All that said, I thought THE BIG BANG THEORY finale was well done. Nice touches like the elevator finally worked.

Anyway, to compare THE BIG BANG THEORY’S 18 million viewers, here are the Top 10 scripted shows – and yes, I realize some of these are from a bygone era of just three networks, but just on sheer strength of numbers, other finales made way more of an impact.

First of course was MASH. 106 million viewers. The entire country stopped to watch that show back in 1983.

Number two is CHEERS. We drew 80.4 million in 1993 and that too was like a national holiday. Not included in those numbers was the huge crowd in the Boston Common that watched on Jumbovision screens.

Number three was THE FUGITIVE finale from 1967. For years that was the highest rated show of all-time – scripted, non-scripted, whatever. It drew 78 million. And the big story there is that ABC didn’t want a conclusion to the series but its producer, QUINN MARTIN felt it was so important he was willing to pay for it himself.

Next is the SEINFELD finale in 1998. For most fans, myself included, it really fizzled. But it was seen by 76.3 million.

And speaking of FRIENDS, they finished fifth. 52.5 million watched in 2004. That’s almost three times TBB’s ratings.

Number six surprised me – MAGNUN PI.I in 1988. 50.7 million folks checked in.

THE COSBY SHOW was number seven. 44.4 million, which is probably how much money he’s spent on legal fees over the last four or five years.

That’s followed by ALL IN THE FAMILY – 40.2 million in 1979 although Archie Bunker went on to a spin-off series.

FAMILY TIES was ninth in 1989. That’s another one that surprised me. 36.3 million were on hand for that.

And finally, HOME IMPROVEMENT captured 34.4 million in 1999.

Shows that didn’t make the Top Ten include FRASIER (#11), DALLAS (#12) and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND (#15). And I’m sure they all drew way more than 18 million.

Bottom line, when long-running beloved shows don’t draw mega numbers that’s a sure sign that broadcast networks are on their way out. Their argument has always been they’re the easiest platform to access and all they need to get big numbers is a show people really want to watch. You’d think they’d want to see THE BIG BANG THEORY.

UPDATE:  The GAME OF THRONES finale, which is on HBO that only a percentage of the audience can get drew 19.3 million last night.  Just sayin'.