Saturday, June 29, 2019

Weekend Post

I’m always looking for cheesy reality shows to laugh at and bring to your attention. Recently, I heard about one that showed great promise so I eagerly sought it out.

It’s called LOVE ISLAND. It’s a British reality-competition show that’s in its 5th or 6th season. Hulu carries it. That’s where I saw it.

LOVE ISLAND is one of those singles-pairing-up shows with beautiful people in a beautiful setting. Ten people couple up but then new players are added and it’s musical chairs. The couples sleep together at night, but all five sleep in the same room. Couples can earn private room privileges and you know a lot of sex goes on. The winning couple gets lots of money or condoms. I’m sketchy on the details.

It’s not even on an island. It’s a big house.

There’s also occasional nudity, but in this day and age, so what? Nudity is not hard to find on the internet (I'm told).

I was advised that season two was good so started watching that. And again, the cheesier the better.

By the end of episode one I was done forever.

Why?

I sooooo hated every fucking one of those contestants. I have never seen such self-absorbed vacuous bitches and assholes in my life. One girl was crying because one of the muscle-bound lunkheads snubbed her in the slightest possible almost unperceivable way. I wanted to throw her down a well.

They spend all day in bikinis and shorts picking apart each other and drinking. The girls devote half the day to putting on make up.  I kept wondering, "Why am I watching this SHIT?" 

By the time the show was over I had the same rage Spike Lee would like me to have after watching BLACKKKANSMAN.

I guess this show runs an hour a night for five or six weeks each year – similar to our BIG BROTHER. And I know it’s a smash hit in the UK. But the only way you’ll ever get me to watch again is if storm troopers barge in and move them all to a labor camp. (Actually, that series I would watch every night.)

Friday, June 28, 2019

Friday Questions

Closing out June with Friday Questions. What might yours be?

From Keith:

Now that you're doing your plays do you try to write to deadline, or is it more of a "whenever it's done, it's done" kind of thing? Would you encourage young writers to set self-imposed deadlines?
 
After writing on deadlines for several centuries, it’s a great luxury to finish at my leisure.  Still, I tend to move at a pretty good clip, and I like to keep some momentum going so I generally finish in a timely manner.

And of course, if I have a play in rehearsal, then I’m re-writing every night and it’s just like being on staff of a TV show again (except there’s no staff – there’s just me).

For young writers however, I would encourage a self-imposed deadline, as long as it’s reasonable. Don’t create added pressure on yourself, but figure how long you think it will take to finish a certain project, allow yourself some added breathing room then set a deadline.

Remember, should you sell a movie or TV pilot and get into the business, deadlines are SOP. Might as well get used to them.

Unknown asks:

Why do the networks hate me? Anything I like gets canceled, and most don't make sense.

It’s because you don’t list a name and just go by “Unknown.” Networks hate that.

(Sorry. Just couldn’t resist.)

Jonny M. wonders:

Have you ever been on a show and just hated the direction the show runner was taking it? How do you deal with that?

I’ve been very lucky that I’ve never been in that exact situation. But I have consulted on shows like that and I have directed on shows like that.

And my philosophy is to just go with it. Tell me what you want, what joke, etc. and I’ll do my best to provide it. It’s not my ass when the show tanks.

And fighting with the showrunner does you no good. You’re not going to change his mind; you’re only going to make an enemy. And getting an ulcer over writing for 2 BROKE GIRLS is hardly worth it.

If the show is too intolerable then quit. Otherwise, just do the best you can and try not to work yourself into a daily lather. They’re paying you. You’re working on a TV show and not cleaning the grease traps at McDonalds. There are worse ways of making a living.

But keep your eyes open at all times for better opportunities.

And finally, from Toledo (a person, not the city):

What is your opinion of the trend of TV baseball announcers that spend an inordinate amount of time talking about subjects that have nothing to do with the game they are purporting broadcasting? I'm not talking about Vin Scully's interesting tidbits of information that he used to fill in between pitches, or Harry Carey's sometimes humorous tangential expositions about restaurants in a visiting city.

I'm thinking about whole innings that seem to be devoted to a detailed presentation on some baseball subject, such as the future of some pitcher who is not starting this game or some long term trade strategy. The entire discussion seems to be pre-planned since it is often supplemented with numerous prepared graphics and backup research. 

Meanwhile, the action on the field is generally ignored by the announcers, no matter how interesting it may be. 

The worst situations occur when there is a guest in the booth, or when one of the players or the manager is being interviewed remotely from the dugout. Obviously, I am not a fan of this as I want to focus on the game I am tuned in to watch.

Well, obviously it depends on exactly what topic they’re discussing, how relevant it is, how topical it is, and what the game situation is. If it’s a 9-0 blowout the announcers have to talk about something.

But my problem is very few of the current crop of announcers have any flair, any showmanship, anything personal to offer. They’re bland, interchangeable, terrified that someone is going to rip them on Twitter, and so their commentary is reduced to what I like to call “baseball for scouts.”

I’d say they should find ways to entertain the audience, but so few of these guys even have that ability.  They need to be storytellers with a sense of the dramatic and the majority of these deep-voiced young robots have no talent for that whatsoever.   So what you get are long discussions on pitcher-hitter match ups.  Zzzzzzz.

That’s why someone like Jason Benetti of the White Sox stands out. To me he’s the next Vin Scully. Calls a great game, understands analytics, has perspective, works great with his partner Steve Stone, and has a sense of humor. It is such a pleasure to listen to Jason call a game. He restores my faith that TV baseball announcers CAN be fun and interesting.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

EP129: Our Pilot That Failed at ABC and HBO


Okay, two versions of this pilot failed at two different networks, but Levine & Isaacs got to hang out with the president of the United States, back when that meant something. 

 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

ITV bans male-only comedy writer rooms

A number of readers have asked me to comment on this:

ITV, the biggest broadcast production and distribution company in the UK recently adopted a new policy where comedy writers rooms can no longer be male only. Ideally, they’re hoping for a 50/50 mix, but at least for now ITV shows must have some women on staff of every comedy show.

So how do I feel about this?

My daughter is a TV comedy writer. How do you think I feel?

Women are just as talented, just as funny as men – and in many cases, more so. Not hiring qualified women is only hurting the product.

And I’m proud to say this is not a new stand. Twice, David Isaacs and I have had shows that starred women. In both cases we hired women writers, women directors, women producers, women casting directors – and this was long before #MeToo and the current push for diversity.

We didn’t do it to further a cause. We did it simply because these were the very best people we could hire, and why not hire the best?

Women writers offer a different perspective. Our goal has always been to be as accurate as possible, and have the comedy come out of relatable situations. Our shows were so much richer, so much more universal, and so much funnier because we had women writers. To me this is a no-brainer.

In the case of ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis, we partnered with a woman, Robin Schiff, and truly could not have done it without her.

A more recent article opposes this policy.  They feel it's unfair to set quotas and claim shows like CHEERS did just fine with all-male writers.   Except, the first staff writer hired was Heide Perlman.  And throughout the years CHEERS hired many women writers including Cheri Steinkellner (who became a CHEERS showrunner), Tracy Newman, Kathy Ann Stumpe, Rebecca Parr Cioffi, Sue Herring, Kimberly Hill, Janet Leahy, Katherine Green, Lissa Levin, Susan Seeger, and Miriam Trogden.

To me the shame is that this has to be a “policy.” But if that’s what it takes, so be it. I’m sure some British male writers are going to grumble, but in a couple of years showrunners will be thanking ITV for taking this stand.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest

The New Yorker magazine has a weekly feature:  the cartoon caption contest.  They feature a cartoon and readers are invited to submit funny captions.   Three finalists are selected, people vote, and then the winner is announced.  I don't even think there's a prize other than bragging rights. 

An article in KQED Arts takes issue with the selections the magazine makes.  When a colleague was a finalist but didn't win there was a lot of bitterness believing his caption was better than the winner's.

Here's the article.

Welcome to the world of comedy rejection.

Comedy is soooo subjective.  5,000 people apparently enter every week. Can you really take it personally when yours isn't selected?  I mean, seriously

Obviously, you're going to think that your entry was better.  I've got news for you:  in 90% of cases, you're wrong. 

But that attitude is still a great motivator.  How many talented people became successful sitcom writers when they watched the crap on TV and said, "I could do better that this!"?

But 5,000 to 1 are staggering odds.   You may write the most brilliant caption ever and it gets lost, or the reader didn't get it, or didn't read it right, or was in a bad mood, or has a different sensibility, or seventeen other reasons.

I find this when entering ten-minute plays in festivals.  Plays that won major festivals get rejected by minor festivals.  It's all subjective.  I can't take it personally.  It's worth it to me to keep submitting, and along the way I do get some acceptances, so I continue.  And I file the rejections and forget about it.

In the case of the caption contest, a very prominent comedy writer and I used to submit.  We would run our captions by each other to make sure they were good enough.  I trust this person's opinion of comedy way more than some assistant editor's.  We would send them in.   And then nothing.   Neither of us were ever finalists.  Did I think mine were better than those selected?   Most of the time.  Sometimes I thought the one they picked was terrific.  And often I thought the one my comedy writer pal submitted was better than mine.

But like I said, we never broke through.  So what did we do?  Instead of getting mad, and challenging their selection process, we simply stopped submitting.  We happily went on about our lives.  In this case, it wasn't worth it to keep submitting. Better to focus my talents on something else. 

And that would be my advice to anyone frustrated over not winning.   There's no big cash prize.  There's no fellowship attached.  There's no job with the New Yorker or SNL.  There's no dinner with the queen.  There's no agent who is going to take you on.   Only continue if you're having fun with it, and the moment you're not then stop.

And then stop reading the caption contest.   Who needs the added aggravation?  

Monday, June 24, 2019

Why Romcoms are bombing

Interesting article in the Hollywood Reporter on the recent decline of Romantic Comedies and possible reasons why. Not since CRAZY RICH ASIANS has a studio comedy grossed over $100 million in the U.S. This year has been particularly disappointing. Several well-reviewed recent comedies have all bombed. THE LONG SHOT, BOOKSMART, and LATE NIGHT all went down in flames.

The article suggests perhaps Netflix is partly to blame since studios are making fewer romcoms they’re filling the void. The latest Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston made-for-Netflix romantic comedy supposedly has been seen by 30 million people (although I don’t believe that for a second. It’s just Netflix’s word.) .

Certainly Netflix is a factor. You don’t need IMAX to fully enjoy a romcom. And you sure don’t need to pay IMAX prices. To me, that’s another issue. Movie prices keep rising as costs to make giant tent pole super hero and action flicks continue to swell (what is the going rate for blowing up cities these days?). Theatergoers don’t want to pay those inflated prices for modest little urban trifles.

When a romcom is released these days, unless it’s something you really want to see or you hear amazing word-of-mouth, you’re more apt to say “I’ll wait till it’s on cable or Netflix.”

To me, the biggest factor for the genre decline is this: The romcoms the studios are churning out are not funny enough, or not charming enough, or not fresh enough. It’s as simple as that.

Let’s look at the three big summer disappointments so far. At this point I should say I haven’t seen any of them. Why? Because I’ve been scared off for one reason or another.

THE LONG SHOT. Word is this is just KNOCKED UP but with Charlize Theron instead of Kathryn Heigel. Seth Rogen even plays the same guy. Despite the reviews, no one I know has said anything other than “meh.”

BOOKSMART is supposedly just SUPERBAD with women. Playing the Jonah Hill part is Beanie Feldstein, who is Jonah Hill’s younger sister and looks like Jonah Hill. No one I know who has seen it has understood the critical acclaim. Maybe I’d find it utterly hilarious. But the lack of originality in premise and lack of enthusiasm from people I respect who have seen it made me say “I’ll wait until cable.”

And finally, LATE NIGHT. I’ll be very honest here. I don’t like Mindy Kaling. I don’t find her funny in any way. That’s me. That said, if all I heard was buzz that this was a laugh riot and the one movie to see this summer I would race to the theatre. I’d be thrilled to change my position on Mindy Kaling. Instead, I’m hearing, “not funny,” “on the nose,” and “formula.” Pass.

It seems to me there is this disconnect between the industry’s love of Mindy Kaling and the general public’s. No one watched her TV series. She certainly can’t open a movie by starring in it. If a major studio is only going to commit to two or three comedies a year, I can see them going after Kevin Hart – he opens movies, but Mindy Kaling?

Look, a certain X-factor is needed in becoming a comedy movie star. Lots of very funny talented people have been unable to break through in that regard. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Jon Hamm, and Bryan Cranston are just a few who light up the small screen but flicker on the wide one. And I can’t tell you why. I love each and every one of them.

But that’s another big factor. Because stars open movies. Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Will Smith, Bill Murray, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, even Melissa McCarthy used to open movies. A studio would get a romcom script and if they could interest one of these names in starring the movie got green lit. Who today would you go to? Kate McKinnon? So far the jury is still out. There’s a real shortage of comedy stars.

I think studios will still continue to make romcoms, although fewer of them. But in success they’re not just a home run; they’re a walk off. Because when they can shell out a modest $40 million and get back $300 million, that’s a much better investment than paying $200 million hoping to get $400 million. And a number of those $200 million dollar investments tank and that’s a huge hit. You know the super hero bubble is going to eventually burst, and when it does Hollywood is going to take a huge bath. Kevin Hart will start looking really good to them.

But for me, the bottom line is simple and the same with any genre. You want to revive it? Make better movies. It’s not like laughing has gone out of style. Present movies that are genuinely funny and audiences will come. But they’ve seen SUPERBAD. Give them something new that’s super GOOD.

UPDATE:  Let me address some readers who suggested I should see the movies and not just report what I've heard from others.  Thank you for the comments, by the way.   The point of this article is why people are not going to see these movies.  They're not critiques of the movies themselves.  And people are not going to see them because of meh word-of-mouth, or lack of interest in the subject matter, or ticket prices.  In this case the perception of the movie is more important than the movie itself.   You have to entice people to go see the movie first.  And theatergoers are clearly not interested -- despite the favorable reviews.  This post was an attempt to explain why that is. 

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Weekend Post

Last weekend I posted a scene from Steve Gordon's original screenplay of ARTHUR.  The draft was 147 pages so needless to say a number of scenes didn't make the final cut.  But his writing is just so good it is my pleasure to share it with you.  So here's another scene. 

Remember when Linda shows up at Arthur’s engagement party and they go out to the stables? In this version after the party they go to the Plaza Hotel and end up here:


INT. HUGE ORNATE PLAZA HOTEL SUITE – NIGHT

Linda and Arthur enter the room.

LINDA
(looking around) Look at this room! It’s not easy to feel cheap here.

Arthur sits on the bed.

ARTHUR
You want something to drink? Or eat?

LINDA
No.

She walks to the window and looks out.

LINDA
New York…

ARTHUR
You were expecting Pittsburgh?

LINDA
I feel like we’re a young couple from the Midwest on our first trip to New York.

ARTHUR
(lying back on the bed) Come here.

Linda goes to the bed and lies next to him. He puts his arm around her. They lie like that for a beat.

LINDA
What are we waiting for?

ARTHUR
The other girl will be here in a minute. You didn’t think this was just going to be you and me, did you? You’ll like her.

Linda laughs.

LINDA
Why do I feel so comfortable with you?

ARTHUR
Because we are that couple from the Midwest. And we’re very nice people.

He kisses her. Light at first. Then it quickly turns to passion.

ARTHUR
(breathing heavily) You’re a nice girl… but you don’t turn me on physically.

LINDA
You’re not going to marry that girl. And you know it.

Arthur kisses her again.

ARTHUR
Let’s not talk anymore. Okay?

Linda starts to unbutton Arthur’s shirt. She kisses his chest. They are both very excited.

LINDA
(while kissing his chest) I know you’re not going to marry her.

ARTHUR
She’s talking. Linda… let’s not talk.

He rolls over and kisses her again. After the kiss:

LINDA
Let’s talk for a second…

ARTHUR
I’m having sex here! Do you mind?

LINDA
Why would you marry a woman you don’t love?

ARTHUR
I have to. Can I help you with that zipper?

LINDA
What do you mean… you have to?

ARTHUR
Linda… there’s not a shower in the world cold enough to fix what’s going on here. Now… could we talk about this later?

LINDA
Just tell me what you mean… you have to?

ARTHUR
My family is forcing me to marry her.

LINDA
You asshole! Nobody gets married like that! That hasn’t happened since 1850!

ARTHUR
They’ll cut me off if I don’t! Without a cent!

LINDA
So? You’ll get a job like everybody else. How much money is it?

ARTHUR
250 million dollars.

LINDA
Try it with her for a few years. Maybe it’ll work out.

ARTHUR
Linda… you see this suite? I have to be in suites like this.

LINDA
Why?

ARTHUR
Because… that’s who I am. I’m Arthur Bach. I’ve got nothing but the money. I don’t know who I am without it.

LINDA
You’re not Winston Churchill… I’ll tell you that.

ARTHUR
(touching her face) It took me years… all my life… to find you. Just don’t compete with the money. The money is like my arm. It comes with me.

LINDA
We’re not that nice young couple from the Midwest, are we? I’ll get a cab.

Linda crosses to the door. Arthur sits on the bed. She stops.

LINDA
You can’t have everything, Arthur. If you get the potato you don’t get a vegetable.

ARTHUR
Would you turn down this money?

LINDA
Are you crazy? Of course not! I steal ties for Christ sakes! But when you look for a mistress… make it a mistress! She should speak French and give back rubs. Don’t come to me. I want to get married. What do I know about being a mistress? You’d get me an apartment and I’d want to know if it’s near a good school.

ARTHUR
Goodbye, Linda.

LINDA
Don’t pout. You’re lovely. I’ll remember you the rest of my life.

Linda exits. Arthur goes to the bar and pours a drink.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Friday Questions

June Friday Questions are busting out all over. What’s yours?

Mitchell Hundred leads off.

I've been thinking a lot lately about bottle episodes. Is there any significant difference between the way a writer approaches them and the way they might approach a more conventional script?

Very much so.

A bottle episode is one that is pretty much confined to an existing set. A show will have an annual budget and if they know there will be episodes with helicopters or big crowd scenes or explosions, to offset the cost they’ll plan a simple episode that all takes place in one set and can be produced under-budget.

Best bottle show I ever saw was the BREAKING BAD episode with just Walter and Jesse and a pesky fly in the meth lab.

But you have to consider them almost like one act plays. The dialogue becomes much more important. You can’t rely on action to give you your story turns. Bottle shows are much more character-based.

If I’m a showrunner I assign my bottle show to my best writer.

Scottmc is next.

I just read that movie theaters in August will show five colorized episodes of 'I Love Lucy's as part of a Lucille Ball birthday tribute. Initially, I couldn't see an audience that would pay current movie ticket prices for this. Then I saw that they are going to release them on DVD.(The theatrical showing is a promotion for the DVD.)

Do you think episodes of shows that you worked on could be shown effectively on a big screen? Can you think of any classic situation comedy that could have episodes shown?

I’ve seen episodes of CHEERS and FRASIER I’ve co-written on the big screen and the audience reaction was terrific. But they don’t take advantage of the scope that cinema provides.

Single-camera shows have a better shot, in my opinion. MASH certainly (which started out as a movie). Except for one episode.

“Point of View.”

That’s the episode David Isaacs and I wrote that was seen through the eyes of a patient. On a big screen when you’re seeing giant heads staring down at you it’s very disconcerting. On TV though, on normal sized screens it totally works.

But since MASH was shot on film, every week before we’d release an episode to CBS we would screen it one more time to make sure everything was okay, so I’m very used to seeing pristine 35mm cuts on large movie screens. And they were glorious.

slgc asks:

When you were working in radio, were there any songs about disc jockeys that were memorable or meaningful to you?

You bet.

“W.O.L.D.” by Harry Chapin. It tells of an aging disc jockey, sacrificing his marriage to bounce around the country playing the hits. It’s a great cautionary tale.

And finally, from Anthony:

Ken, I've always wondered why ESPN's production of Sunday Night Baseball is almost exclusively made of up National League matchups, or at least contains one NL team. With few exceptions such as Red Sox vs Yankees (obviously), a game featuring the reining AL pennant winner, or a recent World Series rematch, if you look at the pre-determined SNB schedule for the entire season, it's usually a NL matchup. Is there a business reason for it?

First off, I hadn’t noticed that. But I’m sure ESPN does research on which teams have a national following and programs accordingly. In the National League I’d say the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals, Braves, and maybe the Giants have large national following. But unless they’re winning like crazy you’re rarely going to see the Padres on SNB.

In the American League the Yankees and Red Sox both have national followings and maybe the Tigers and Angels, but who else? The Blue Jays?  (Yes, in Canada) The Rangers? The Mariners?

When I wrote my book about my year broadcasting for Baltimore a number of publishers said they would have snapped it up if it had been about the Cubs or Cardinals, but there was not enough national interest in the Orioles. Judging by book sales they were right. 

So to answer your question, that would be my guess. And please understand the examples I gave were not personal. Don’t write that you were hurt because I didn’t say the Pirates had a fan base. Every team has a fan base. Pittsburgh transplants are everywhere as are Cleveland transplants. But when you go to a Dodger-Diamondback game in Arizona and see that half the crowd is wearing Dodger blue you know THAT is a following.

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.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

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.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

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. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

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.