Saturday, August 31, 2019

Weekend Post

Okay, I’m back!  Everybody (well, not “everybody” – five of you) have wondered what my “big project” is. It’s a new play I'm writing and I was on a research trip that took me to Denmark, Estonia, Russia, and Sweden.

Ever since I was on MASH I learned the value of research – especially to nice places I can write off.

If you tune into my podcast later this week I’ve got a humorous take on my Scandinavian adventures and I’ll introduce you to a couple of interesting people I met along the way.

So thanks for your patience in the lag time between writing and then seeing your comments posted. There was a nine hour time difference and the Baltic Sea is not an internet hot spot.

I love to travel – well, let me amend that – I love to BE there, I HATE to travel. But then, who doesn’t these days? If they could beam me to Copenhagen I’d go back this weekend.

But I’m not a very adventurous traveler. I’ve been to China and now Russia and am constantly paranoid behind the Iron Curtain. Men and women in starched uniforms with stars on their epaulets scare the crap out of me. There’s always that fear that something will be amiss with my passport or visa or their intel has told them I did MANNEQUIN 2 and I wind up in Siberia. All of sudden, being seen a whole bunch of times on CNN was not a good thing.

I think I make it worse because I try to appear casual and insouciant. So I probably come off looking like an idiot.  And one thing I’ve noticed about both Russian and Chinese border patrols – they never smile. So I know not to joke with them. I’m not going to make Stalin laugh. Any authority figure who checks my passport could be the one to say, “Come with me please” and I’m never found again. Hey, MANNEQUIN 2 was a group effort.

But I managed to stay out of any gulags and had a fun and productive trip. More details when my new podcast episode drops mid-week. (And by the way, this week’s episode with Jamie Farr is pretty cool. Check it out.)

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few photos. Many more will appear this week and next on my Instagram page. Follow me at Hollywood and Levine.

Happy Labor Day Weekend.

Why I love Copenhagen

The Little Mermaid statue -- big whoop

Everybody rides bikes in Copenhagen

This is how you drink vodka.  That's lard on the piece of bread. 

I guess in Stockholm a father is not allowed to hold a child's hand

Friday, August 30, 2019

Friday Questions

Closing out the summer with Friday Questions. But first...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my gorgeous, talented, amazing daughter, Annie.

Jeff Alexander has the first FQ:

Has there ever been a series (don't need to name names) where a script -- either from freelancers or staff contributors -- got as far as a complete "table read" where everyone admitted that it just wouldn't work? If that has happened, what's the recourse? Is there a "backup" script or is that one sent back to be reworked in a great hurry? I ask because that apparently happened on The Dick Van Dyke Show once -- script name was Art Vs. Baloney by a freelancer whose name is now forgotten. The script was apparently trashed and I honestly don't know what they did to replace it.

Yes, it does happen. And most shows even have budgeted one or two scripts that they’ll eat and never produce.

Hopefully, when that happens you have next week’s script in decent shape so you can polish it up and have it ready the next day. But occasionally you have to shut down for a day or two, and that gets costly.

But let me say this -- it’s one thing if a script bombs at the table. It’s another if a script does well at the table but the asshole star just doesn’t want to do it. He didn’t get enough jokes or didn’t come off looking heroic enough, whatever. That’s bullshit. Beware of working for “stars.” Or should I say “certain” stars?

From Ed:

When you create a series, you obviously come up with the initial characters and premise, but eventually other writers will start contributing their own ideas and stories. What's it like as a show creator to see others take your characters and story in directions that may not have occurred to you? I'd imagine it could be exciting to see your creation take on a life of its own beyond what you'd initially conceived.

I think it’s great. It means the show has legs and can grow in unexpected directions. The hard part is initially getting your staff to write the show in your style. But once they do they begin to add their own contributions and point of view and the show really flourishes.

It’s also nice in that case, that the show’s creator acknowledges his staff’s contribution. Vince Gilligan is a champ at that. He openly credits other writers for some of the best moments and scenes of BREAKING BAD.

Other showrunners are not that gracious.

Keith R.A. DeCandido asks:

I've been on a kick where I've been watching the Sidney Freedman episodes of M*A*S*H. He was such a great character, and Allan Arbus did superb work with him, from his first appearance asking Blake what he's supposed to do with Klinger ("ask him if his seams are straight???") to the finale where he helps Hawkeye with his psychotic break.

I notice that you only wrote one of his appearances, "The Billfold Syndrome," but since you were a story editor, you might know the answer to this more general question: how much research went into Freedman's appearances? I know that Army psychiatrists weren't really as much of a thing in the Korean War as they were Vietnam and after, but were Freedman's cases ever based on actual psychiatric cases in Korea or Vietnam (or World War II or another conflict)?

As writers of the show we rewrote most scripts so wrote a fair amount of Sidney Freedman in our day, uncredited.

If the story required it, we did consult a psychiatrist to make sure we were handling those situations responsibly.

“The Billfold Syndrome” was a real thing and sprung out of the research. When David and I wrote the episode we first spent an evening with a noted psychiatrist who walked us through the entire hypnosis process. I’m very proud of how authentic that episode turned out and that other mental health professionals, upon seeing it on the air, gave it a thumbs up.

And finally, from Sam Stebbins:

Do you think Sunnyside (an upcoming NBC sitcom) is a good example of why sitcoms shouldn’t be given trailers? People in the comments are judging the show based on clips that are most likely only from the pilot. It looks like a potentially funny show with a good premise.

Networks are leading with their chins when they put out these trailers. They leave themselves open for trolls and bad buzz. I’m sure they also lose viewers who might’ve sampled the pilot but after seeing the trailer decided not to bother.

And most of the trailers are horrible, especially the comedies. I can’t think of a single comedy trailer for a new show that I thought was remotely funny or inviting.

That said, I guess the networks feel the value of them outweigh the possible pitfalls. For their sake, I hope they’re right.

What’s your Friday Question, and again, HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANNIE!!!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

EP138: Meet Corporal Klinger – Jamie Farr

Jamie Farr talks about his long career, his experiences on MASH, and a harrowing story that took place in Korea. Other than a near-death experience, lots of fun tales.  

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The new old people

Came upon this and just had to share.  I've always maintained that the funniest comedy comes out of truth.  Here' a terrific example.  The comedian is Lachlan Patterson and this is from the Halifax Comedy Fest.  Whatever your age,

I'll bet you laugh.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Don't be afraid of Virginia Woolf

Following up on my post from a few weeks ago about comedy being dissed by the theatre, one of the commenters, Doug McEwan made a great point about attending comedy plays in England and by act two they all turned into “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” It reminded me of a personal story.

Back in the early 2000’s I wrote my first play. It was a comedy of course. And at the time, the great Tony-winning theatre director, Jerry Zaks was out in Los Angeles transitioning into multi-camera sitcom directing. I was teaching him camera blocking (which is like a ballplayer learning how to hit from Bob Uecker).

Anyway, I asked if he would graciously read my play. How great to get feedback from a real theatre professional!

He read it, and we met for breakfast to discuss it. He said he loved the first act – the characters, situation, it was very funny. He was really having a good time with the play and then somewhere in the second act (to use the exact same reference) he said, “It turned into Virginia Woolf. What happened?”

I explained that I was worried that since this was a stage play it would appear I was writing a sitcom unless I included some heavy dramatic passages. In this case I had a couple really throw off the gloves and tear into each other.

Jerry said I should lift out that part completely. It wasn’t necessary. My comedy was about real characters facing problems that were serious to them and that’s all that mattered. Stop trying to be Edward Albee.

It was a relief to rewrite that section more in line with the rest of the piece and I have not fallen into that trap since. That was maybe the best playwrighting advice I ever received. Thank you, Jerry Zaks.

Dramatic scenes need to be organic; they need to be earned. And if a comedy doesn’t warrant that, then don’t shoehorn them in.

But the theatre’s message that comedy can’t be taken seriously even gets into the heads of comedy playwrights. Or at least those starting out. So stand your ground I say! Even though it’s a crazy, almost reckless position, dare to make your comedies funny.

Monday, August 26, 2019

"Now what do we do?"

Here’s what I sort of noticed – when a TV series or limited TV series starts with a high concept premise and becomes successful, the series generally seems to wander in subsequent years.

To some degree that was LOST, although they did manage some pretty inventive future storylines (which they weren’t able to successfully resolve). But for me it was really apparent on the 2004 Fox series, PRISON BREAK. The first season was great. They broke out of prison. Season two all the convicts were just running around. In later seasons they constructed other prisons for them to escape from, but the shark had long since been jumped.

Series that are imported and Americanized often have this problem because usually the original series has a finite number of episodes and an ending. But here we have to keep the show going. A good example might be HOMELAND. Their first season was GREAT. But once the “Brody” issue was resolved then came “Now what do we do?

IN TREATMENT is another example. Season one followed the lead of the original Israeli series. In season two they were on their own and it looked it.

DEAD TO ME was renewed recently for a second season.  Everything was resolved and in fact the Judy character should go to prison.  Let's see how they wiggle out of that.  

Was MAD MEN ever as good as its first season? And even though the series remained excellent, I’d still put season one of THE SOPRANOS above all the others.

DEXTER had the serial killer of the season and other than the first and whatever season John Lithgow was on, the show never recaptured the magic.

At this point, I should say there are exceptions. For me the best one is BREAKING BAD. That series just got better and more compelling.

But for every BREAKING BAD there were five ORPHAN BLACK’s. I sooooo loved the first season of that series and by the end didn’t give a shit about anything. “Now let’s try this… now let’s try that… now let’s try something else.” The seams were definitely showing.

I can come up with other examples and I’m sure you will come up with even more.

But the latest example is KILLING EVE. The first season Sandra Oh is trying to stop a fascinating lady assassin/psychopath. They eventually confront each other, big shocking twist at the end, and it’s on to season two. And although there were some wonderful scenes and moments in the second season, here the producers had to concoct reasons to put them together; the storyline went from implausible to slightly insane. And ended with the now-obligatory shocking ending. I can almost bet the writers are sitting around right now saying, “Now what?”

It’s the Faustian contract you sign when you do high concept series. They’re not meant to be dragged-out for five seasons. So often season two becomes a whole different show. The TV version of “a sequel.” Which is fine except it’s rarely as good as the original show. You can’t beat Tony Soprano’s mother putting a hit out on him, or Dexter learning the “Ice Truck Killer” is really his brother.

I just hope that if there’s a season five of KILLING EVE, Sandra & the assassin are not running a dress shop together in Soho.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Weekend Post

If you think America's Got Talent, just wait'll you see what SWEDEN'S GOT TALENT is serving up.  He's actually from Australia but it's a universal talent that can be appreciated anywhere fine art is revered.  Enjoy.   

Friday, August 23, 2019

Friday Questions

One of my favorite features I’m told, here are more Friday Questions.

Bryan Thomas starts us off:

How did Bebe Neuwirth get discovered for Lilith? She was obviously a real find and became one of my favorite characters and actresses. She is immensely talented with immense range and great instincts, but before Cheers I had never heard of her.

Bebe had a big career in Broadway as an actress/dancer prior to CHEERS. She won a Tony in 1984. That year she was in LA and to my knowledge just auditioned for the role of Lilith. But it was only supposed to be a one-shot in a teaser. Which was fine with her; she planned to return to Broadway.

But the character worked and the Charles Brothers brought her back a few times and it became clear the Frasier-Lilith relationship was lightening in a bottle.

Jasper asks:

I used to read books on screenwriting and they always made a point of saying to never include anything that isn't absolutely necessary, which in theory makes sense. But what I find from years of watching TV and movies is that following that rule also tends to give away the story, because you hear a seemingly unnecessary detail and you say, okay, well, now I know what's going to happen, because they wouldn't have included that detail unless it was to set up this plot point.

I'm interested in your thoughts on following this rule on necessary information only while preventing it from giving away the course of the story.

That rule discounts the value of “red herrings.” Those are basically facts and plot points meant to throw the reader off the scent, especially in mysteries. If the clues only lead to one suspect there’s no suspense. So red herrings serve a purpose.

But otherwise, adding plot points that have no bearing on the story only clutter it up. I do see the rationale that if it’s not something necessary it shouldn’t be included.

From ScottyB:

I have a scriptwriting/partnership question. To make a long question short, how is someone out in total rural cowtown with half-done scripts that have hit a brick wall (because working by yourself in a vacuum runs its course sooner or later) find someone of like mind? (And really, that’s my problem here.) A middle of nowhere place where there’s no community college/night creative class courses to hook into, etc etc etc day a good 50+ miles away from the closest Craigslist outlet, at best.

Nowadays there are script programs that allow two people to work on the same script from different locations. And with Skype and Facetime you could also communicate with your partner.

So it’s possible to carry on a long-distance partnership.

Now, the issue becomes FINDING that partner. Here I’m just speculating but I imagine there are Facebook groups on writing and other social media sites where wannabe writers congregate. Go on several of those and announce you’re looking for a partner. Who knows? You might get lucky.

But make sure your new partner knows that if someone wants to buy one of your scripts that you’ll move to LA or New York or wherever the show is being made. Even if you have to fly in for a meeting, you need to make the commitment.

And finally, from Michael:

I have seen articles that THE OFFICE is by far the most viewed program on streaming services, but I rarely see it's reruns on broadcast or mainstream cable channels these days - seems like it is relegated to hard-to-find channels like COZI TV. Do you think that this is deliberate to get people to watch it on Netflix or do you think it's repeats failed to draw decent ratings when they were shown on broadcast or mainstream cable channels? Are only 'cord-cutters' interested in watching it?

I think when people can binge-watch with no commercials, why watch a series in syndication all hacked up with 10 minute commercial breaks for drugs with side effects that can kill you?

AS A REMINDER:  For the next week I am working on a big project and will not have as much internet access as I normally do.  So it will take longer to moderate comments.  Hang in there and continue to ask your Friday Questions.  I will get to them eventually.   Thanks much.  Ken

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

EP137: Jobs I Didn’t Get

For all the jobs that writers, even successful writers, get – there is always a long list of jobs they didn’t get.  This week Ken shares his.  Hopefully this will inspire you to keep pushing. 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

10 1/2 years ago today

I did this last month and it got good response.  Since very few read the archives (and I'm occasionally lazy), here's a Friday Question post from March of 2009.   Let me deep dive so you don't have to. 

First up, Joe:

What's it like when a guest star comes in and wants to "help" in the episode he or she will be acting. I'm specifically thinking of John Cleese on Cheers.

That episode was brilliantly written by Peter Casey & David Lee. They just perfectly captured his voice and during the week of production Cleese might have offered some minor suggestions and tweaks but what you see is what Peter & David wrote.

When David Isaacs and I wrote the CHEERS episode with Johnny Carson I went to Mr. Carson before the filming and offered to change anything he didn’t feel was right and he said, “Nope. This is great.” And he did it word for word. I love that man.

Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill guested on CHEERS season one. The original scene had him at a urinal next to Norm. He didn’t think that was appropriate (congressmen actually were worthy of respect back then) so we adjusted the scene.

I do seem to recall directing Mike Ditka once and he suggested a couple of joke fixes. I then gave him some coaching tips.

John wonders:

Ken, with the more permissive (and HBO-inspired) rules the networks have adopted for their show content in the past 10-15 years, are there any episodes you and David did from the 70s and 80s that you look back at now and think it could have been done better if some of the gags allowed today would have been permitted by Standards and Practices back then (or would looser rules resulted in the network folks forcing more shows to gratuitously sexual innuendo-up their dialogue and plot lines because they thought it would add a rating point or two)?

It really depends on the episode and subject matter. Yes, there are a lot of shows we wrote that more license would have been appreciated. But there is also something to be said for being able to be funny and sophisticated without having to resort to profanity. Sometimes that added license leads to easy but cheap laughs. It takes a little skill and elegance to come up with a genuine funny response instead of just having the character say “What the fuck?!” Both will get a laugh. Especially if Johnny Carson says it.

Rogers Motley of Richmond Virginia asks:

With all of the hubbub surrounding the changing of the guard at the NBC late night talk shows, what do you think makes a good late night television talk show host?

Most talk show hosts can be funny and spontaneous (to some degree) but the big question is can they connect with the audience? Is there a likeability? Can viewers really relate to this person? It’s a real X factor that doesn’t depend on age or even nationality.

The humor can be biting, gentle, sly, topical, whatever – but the key element is this: The audience has to get the feeling that it’s the host and them against the world, not the host against them. I personally find Letterman much funnier than Leno but at times I feel he crosses that line and the jibes are at the audience’s expense. Leno never does that. And for my money, that’s why he beats Letterman even though David has the far superior show.

And then there’s Tyra Banks. What the fuck?!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Editing shows for syndication

When shows are edited for syndication I never know who exactly does the editing. All I know is that they usually do a piss-poor job.

MASH in particular. That’s because we had two and sometimes three storylines all dovetailing. Each episode was intricately plotted. Editors will often just lift entire scenes. As a result one or two stories suddenly stop making sense. I suppose it’s a lot easier to just lift a 2:30 scene than going through the whole show and painstakingly edit lines that won’t be missed.

And after these shows are edited I don’t believe there’s anyone overseeing the process and screening the episodes to make sure they still make sense.

In a first season CHEERS David Isaacs and I wrote, Carla made a joke about her children being adopted. An adoption agency was horribly offended, contacted the president of NBC and the joke was removed for the first rerun. It was in the teaser so an easy lift.

However, when the show went into syndication the offending joke was back and has remained ever since. And no further complaints were ever filed (at least that I’m aware of). Something else was taken out instead.

And now of course, there’s another insidious process – digitally speeding up the show. Some are done deftly and others make the cast sound like Minnie Mouse.

You would think that independent stations who paid fortunes for these syndicated packages would insist that the episodes at least could be comprehended. But I guess not. The studios make their money, the stations get their ratings, and the only losers are (as always) the viewers.

That said, years ago KTLA, Channel 5 in Los Angeles aired the movie David and I wrote, VOLUNTEERS. They (or someone) edited it to squeeze  in more commercials. And I can honestly say it’s the first time I ever thought they didn’t take out enough. It was better with the edits and could have been better still with a few more judicious trims.

MASH is on a number of cable networks. One (I don’t remember which) plays the full versions of the episodes and just runs long. I thought that was ingenious. Who says a show has to end exactly at the top of the hour? Especially now when most people record the shows for later playback. As I recall, they were aired in the middle of the night. To me that was smart programming. If you know a network is going to air the unedited version, wouldn’t you make the effort to record it? More people probably watch those episodes, even though they might air at 3 AM, than if they were on at 7 PM but hacked to shit.

Also, when these shows are on a variety of platforms, why watch a cut-up version of an episode when you can go to Netflix or Hulu or get the DVD and watch it in its original form?

MASH used to be only in syndication on local stations. Those stations had exclusivity. You were stuck with the chopped versions. But now there are so many other options for watching. So if your network is airing it – or CHEERS or GOLDEN GIRLS or REBA if that’s what they have in their library – why not take that extra time to show the show right? Believe me, people watching at 3 in the morning have no idea what time it is. Some aren’t sure of the day. So the next episode starts at 3:06 – who cares?

I know this post seems long. I’ll make trims for any reprints.

Monday, August 19, 2019

You never know who you'll find

Remember phone books?

I think they still exist to a certain degree, but there was a time (pre-Google) where to find someone’s phone number you had to go to this real thick book that weighed a ton and look them up. I know – how quaint.

You could have an unlisted number, but most people didn’t bother. And there was no robo-calling in the pre-Google era. Celebrities had unlisted numbers but not all. Stan Laurel was in the phone book.

In 1973 I was on vacation in New York. As some of you know, I also dabble in cartooning. My idol was Al Hirschfeld, who did caricatures for the NY Times for like 70 years. (He’s the one who wrote his daughter’s name, Nina, into every drawing.)

On a whim, I looked in the phone book one afternoon and found an Albert Hirschfeld. I decided to call. A gentleman answered. I introduced myself and asked if he was the Al Hirschfeld who did the caricatures. He said yes. I told him I was an amateur cartoonist and would love to meet him. To my astonishment, he said “Sure, come on over.” He had to give me directions, which subway to take, where to get off, etc.

An hour later I was knocking on his door. He welcomed me into his brownstone, ushered me upstairs to his studio (where he made the magic), and I spent the afternoon watching him work and discussing drawing (how to draw hands, how to draw hair, shadowing, etc.)


Hirschfeld died in 2003 at age 99. His last day was spent drawing. He had dinner, went up to bed, and just slipped away. Talk about the way to go!

Just before I left he took out a piece of paper and did this for me:

What an incredible day.  I miss phone books.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Weekend Post

Before we had #MeToo, before we had PC, we had these ACTUAL ads.    Noted without comment except to say, JESUS EFFIN' CHRIST!!?"

Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday Questions

Heading into the “Dog Days of Summer” with some Friday Questions. You ready?

Vincent Saia is.

D.C. Fontana said that when she was teaching screenwriting at AFI she knew the students who had been working on the same script for years were probably not going to become professional writers and Tom Wolf said, "It only takes six to eight weeks to write anything. The rest of the time you're just dancing around the project." Do you also feel the ability to write quickly and on demand necessarily separates the professional writer from the amateur?

I agree with William Goldman.  Writers should go at their own speed but write as much and as quickly as they can. The danger of going too slow is you tend to obsess and try to make every word perfect, which results in stilted scripts. But if you go too fast you miss things.

The distinction between professional and amateur has more to do with the ability to be creative on demand.

From John Schrank:

I really like the two posts on wording and the importance of setup! In Dick Cavett's first book, after some very interesting sections about writing for other comedians, he tells about some of the material he wrote for his own act. He says the right wording is almost always the way it comes to you first. Tweaking it sometimes weakens it. 

Have you found that to be true? His major example was his joke about wedding that was done on the cheap. "I don't know much about caviar, but I do know you're not supposed to get pictures of ballplayers with it." Then he wondered if "cards" was better than "pictures"... or if there needed to be some reference to trading cards in the line before to set it up. He finally decided it was good the way it was.

I disagree with him. Often times the first thought is the most obvious. When David Isaacs and I are writing we often bat around lines back and forth until truly, we can’t remember who came up with it.

However a caveat (to Cavett): In the writers room if someone pitches a joke and everyone laughs it goes in exactly as pitched. Even if it had a funky construction, if it got a laugh it goes in untouched.

To fool with those lines is when you start to over-analyze and kill the joke.

But there is value to tweaking. We’re not Mozart.

Joseph Scarbrough asks:

You've written before about "Good-bye, Radar" originally being written as a single episode to close Season 7, but it was the network that insisted it a two-parter for sweeps, and that when you and David Isaacs re-wrote it as such, you added the subplot about the generator to pad it out with filler for the extra time. So, does that mean everything else about your original script for the episode was still the same? Radar meeting Patty Haven? The circumstance of Uncle Ed passing away? The sudden arrival of wounded canceling Radar's farewell party?

Yes, the whole Radar storyline was in place the end of season 7.

We may have added a couple of new steps to go along with the generator story (which was there for padding), but after Henry’s death we wanted a character to leave and have a happy ending. Giving Radar a possible love interest seemed interesting and showed a side of him we’ve never seen.

The overall theme was his maturity and we felt he now was ready to have a real relationship.  Leaving his teddy bear behind was also our idea.  It seemed the perfect symbol for his having grown up. 

And finally, from JS:

Why when shows get desperate they bring in a baby? It never works. It is the sign of death.

Yep and amen. An argument can be made that a baby opens up a whole new vein of stories, but especially for a romantic comedy, it forces you to put the romance on the back burner while your couple is managing an infant. And those stories are just not as fun and interesting in my opinion.

However, if it’s a supporting character, like say Frasier then the baby really doesn’t alter the series. Frasier’s bar habits didn’t change (although they should have).

A REMINDERFor the next two weeks I am working on a big project and will not have as much internet access as I normally do.  So it will take longer to moderate comments.  Hang in there and continue to comment and ask Friday Questions.  I will get to them eventually.   Thanks much.  Ken

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

EP136: Howard Michael Gould Part 2

Ken and Howard discuss their writing process and how it applies to teleplays, features, stage plays, and novels.  And probably whatever task you’re undertaking.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Shocking revelation! The internet got it wrong!

I’ve touched on this before, but a recent on-line article has prompted me to revisit it in more detail.

It concerns a 7th season episode of MASH when David Isaacs and I were the head writers called “Preventative Medicine.” This is one of my least favorite episodes, but it’s not for the reason you may think.

The premise was that to prevent a reckless field commander from sending his unit to battle Hawkeye and B.J. performed an unnecessary operation and removed his healthy appendix. That kept him in post op for several days and seemingly prevented some of his men from dying in combat.  Like most stories on MASH, this one came from our research. This incident actually happened.

In our original script, Hawkeye and B.J. were both on board for this operation. At the table reading, Mike Farrell had an issue with it and didn’t think B.J. would cross that moral line.

Now the article seemed to suggest that this disagreement caused some friction between Alan and Mike. It said that Mike “refused” to do the episode as written. And he “fought the production team.” They go on to call this a “tiny rift” between Alan & Mike and eventually “they reconciled.”

This is how things get blown out of proportion and nonsense is spread on the internet.

So here’s the real story:

Yes, after the table reading Mike balked at having B.J. go along with this operation. But there was no tension whatsoever. He and Alan debated the point for a couple of minutes and right there we all decided that this debate would be great for the script.

Here’s how contentious it got: We thanked Mike.

Far from being angry or even annoyed, Alan was energized. After rehearsing the scenes from the other story in the episode, Alan came up to the room and we all did the rewrite together.

Alan found the rewrite to be such a positive experience that he wrote about it at the time in an article for TV Guide. In the piece, he mentioned that after the rewrite we all went out to dinner at a local Italian restaurant called Anna’s (which sadly is no longer there). The owners of Anna’s were so thrilled that I was treated like a VIP for the next 20 years there.

The episode clearly benefited from Mike’s objection and I’m proud of the result.

So why is it one of my least favorites?

At the time, MASH had not yet gone into syndication. Episodes from the first six seasons were never aired after their year ended. CBS during season seven began airing one episode a week Friday nights at 11:30. We had just completed shooting “Preventive Medicine.” David happened to watch the late night rerun that Friday and called me in a panic. “They already DID that episode!” he exclaimed.

Sure enough, there was an early episode called “White Gold” that had the exact same storyline, although in that case Hawkeye and Trapper were on the same side. Obviously, they got it from the same research.

I was mortified to think we’d repeat a story on our watch. That’s why that episode always bothers me. Many fans think ours is better than the first. I don’t care. (I also don’t agree. Nothing we ever wrote was as good as what Larry Gelbart wrote.) But what amazes me to this day is that numerous people on the staff and crew were at MASH during the production of “White Gold.” NOBODY, not ONE PERSON said “Hey, didn’t we already do this story?”

I would think that had someone said THAT at the reading, vs. Mike’s objection we might have just thrown out the whole script and written something else entirely.

After that we told the cast and crew, “If there is ever ANYTHING in a script that you think looks familiar and you might have done in the past, tell us IMMEDIATELY. We will check it out and if indeed you had done it before we will remove it and do something else, even if it means throwing out an entire episode.”

But back to the original point, there was no animosity, no rift, no clash with the production team, no disgruntled rewrite, and it was certainly not an incident worthy of a whole article. But I get it. Click bait. I’m sure more people would rather read an article where Alan Alda & Mike Farrell were at each other’s throats than one where a genuine collaboration led to a better product.

Gee, I wonder if there’s other misinformation on the internet as well.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Tips on attending TV Tapings

LA is a big tourist destination, and one of the cool things to do is see the taping of a national television show. You can’t do much of that in Cincinnati. Another plus – TV tapings are free. There must be some law because I can’t imagine Hollywood studios leaving even a dime on the table.

There are online services that offer tickets. If you’re in LA, there are stands in the Grove and Hollywood that offer them as well. You can also contact the show you want and find out how to procure tickets. Or contact the network.

But here’s some helpful things you should know:

If you attend a multi-camera sitcom taping expect to be there at least three hours. They do multiple takes of each scene. Sometimes writers huddle for ten minutes and change jokes. There are also set and costume changes.

Some sitcoms have long waiting lists. Others have to pay services to bus in audiences. Those people are paid to sit through crappy shows.  It's hard-earned money. 

If you go to reality competition shows like AMERICAN IDOL or DANCING WITH THE STARS, wait until they’re far enough into the season that they do live shows. In those cases you’re in and out in a couple of hours.

If a reality competition show is just being taped for later airing, you could be there for seven hours. I’m not kidding. And trust me, the novelty wears off real fast.

Oh, whenever they say you HAVE TO STAY, that’s bullshit. You’re not held captive. If you get tired and want to leave, leave. Unless they’re paying you, you have no obligation to stay.

Late night talk shows like Kimmell or Corden are good because they’re almost live. So you’re generally in and out in two hours. Note: Talk show hosts usually like their studios to be freezing. They feel the audiences are more responsive. Bring a sweater (or parka). Demand for tickets for those shows is very high. Plan ahead and order early.

One problem with some of these shows is that you stand in long lines for quite awhile before they let you in. That depends on the individual show.

Daytime talk shows (like ELLEN) are similar to late night. Once cameras roll it’s almost as if it were live. They tend to go straight through. (Although I understand Stephen Colbert often does pick ups and repeats things that didn’t go perfectly -- but that's in New York.)

Game shows are fun because they tape two or more episodes at a time. Shows like JEOPARDY will tape a week’s worth of episodes in one day (three in the morning, two after lunch). So you get a lot of bang for your buck.  Your ticket will be for either the morning or afternoon (not both).  And they generally go straight through, although they may do some quick pick-ups if the host screwed something up. Alex Trebek has been known to muff a clue or two in 35 years. For some game shows you need to write in months in advance. For others you can get tickets in the morning and be in the studio that afternoon.

THE PRICE IS RIGHT is one where there is super-demand, obviously because contestants are chosen from the audience. Should you get tickets, start lining up at 6 in the morning. There is a motel across the street of CBS called the Farmer’s Daughter and I understand it’s filled with with PRICE IS RIGHT ticket holders so they can just get up and get in line.

This is Hollywood so privilege is everything. Expect there to be VIP lists and roped off areas in the audience for VIP’s. But there are generally monitors and every seat is a pretty good one.

All of these shows have warm up people and some offer prizes. You may win something. And if they know the taping will take awhile they often offer free candy and snacks and water.

Finally, some shows have an age requirement.  Make sure that's not a problem.  

So those are some tips on attending TV tapings. It’s a fun thing to do and there’s one additional perk – depending on the show YOU MIGHT GET ON TELEVISION. And the price is right (both upper and lower case).

Monday, August 12, 2019


NOTE: The movie’s been out for several weeks. I won’t spoil the ending but will discuss elements within the film. If you haven’t seen it and want to know nothing other than there are great samples of KHJ radio, then see you tomorrow.

Okay, you’re still here? Then let’s move on.

One thing you can say about ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD: People are talking about it. And no two people seem to agree.

Some buy the story completely. Others say it’s about a guy whose only problem is that he’s not as big a star as he was but he’s still working and in demand so boo hoo.

Many applaud Tarantino for creating a rich buddy relationship. Many others note that women hardly ever talk and when they do they don’t have anything interesting to say.

Some critics said Margot Robbie was luminous in the scenes where she was watching her movie. Others say she could have phoned it in. And others still contend that whole sequence was unnecessary.

Plotwise, some moviegoers were annoyed that Tarantino didn’t follow a typical three act structure. Others loved his alternative storytelling.

People I know LOVED the ending. Others felt it was derivative. (In any event, it helps to know the Charles Manson/Sharon Tate/Jay Sebring story beforehand. Seems that Tarantino just assumed everybody knew it, but that is not the case.)

Some felt his movie was style over substance. Others (like me) considered that a big draw. All the KHJ stuff was like porn to me. Is Quentin Tarantino cool or too cool?

One writer friend said all the vintage TV shows characters were watching during the film were more interesting than the scenes themselves and he would have preferred watching the vintage shows.

Tarantino’s trademark violence is another polarizing element. A certain percentage of viewers think it’s over-the-top while fans find it visceral and highly entertaining.

And then there is the length. I’m in the camp that thought the movie was too long. You didn’t need almost three hours to tell that story. Or if you did, you could have thrown in more KHJ. But those in sync with Tarantino loved every frame and probably can’t wait for the DVD to see the additional scenes that were left on the editor’s floor.

No matter where you fall on any of these debates, you have to love the fact that people ARE talking about it. What other movie this year has sparked this much discussion? Most movies today – you sit numbly in your seat and are bludgeoned with special effects. You walk out going “that was cool” or “that sucked” and put it out of your mind completely. With this film, people are thinking about it afterwards. They’re generating real opinions, yay or nay. So for me, that makes ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD the hit of the summer season.

NOTE:  For the next two weeks I am working on a big project and will not have as much internet access as I normally do.  So it will take longer to moderate comments.  Hang in there and continue to comment.  I will get to them eventually.   Thanks much.  Ken

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Weekend Post: Come see my plays

Hey LA peeps!   I've got two short plays in the finals of the Brisk Festival in Hollywood Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 6 at the Broadwater Theatre on Santa Monica Blvd. just west of Vine.   It's a strong program of the 10 best plays of the 54 produced.  I'm lucky enough to have both of mine in the finals.  Anyway, it's a fun night and I could use your votes.   Here's where you go for tickets.  I'll be there both nights so say hi.   Who says there isn't great theatre in Los Angeles?   Well, until you find it swing by for a night of laughs and fun. 

Friday, August 09, 2019

Friday Questions

Friday Questions coming at ya.

Bryan Thomas starts us off:

When a new character is introduced to an existing series and becomes a regular, are the writers of the episode in question credited as creators of that character and given residuals or can a producer or someone else create it, assign them to write it, and take credit and any pay?

Usually it’s the writer of the episode. David Isaacs and I got creator royalties on the Eddie LeBec character of CHEERS. We wrote the episode that introduced him. And then he was a hit and eventually married Carla. We thought we were in the money.

But then when the actor playing him, Jay Thomas, said something very unflattering about Rhea Perlman on the air and she heard it; that was it for Eddie LeBec. We wrote the episode that killed him. RIP our money.

Colin Stratton wonders:

Have you ever thought: "Wait a minute! This asshole is getting a $100,000 for acting out lines that I wrote! Why I aren't they paying me a $100,000? Motherfuckers!"

Nope. Not ever. I marvel at great actors and know I could never do what they do. I’m just thrilled they’re making my script work.

Also, the commitment and amount of rejection an actor faces would kill me. I don’t have the temperament for it. Nor do I have a burning desire to get in front of an audience. So I’m fine with the actor making $100,000 reading my lines as long as I don’t have to be the one to pay him.

From Tammy:

I once wrote a fan letter to a screenwriter (I cringe thinking about it now). I didn't necessarily need him to reply (though he kindly did), I mostly just wanted him to know how much his film had meant to me. I think in this kind of interaction, the fan's need to give praise is greater than the artist's need to receive it, as the latter has heard it all a 1000 times already. As an established writer yourself, what's your take on it, if you don't mind sharing? Thanks!

I’m thrilled when my work moves someone or really entertained them. And I’m delighted when they tell me so. Never feel shy about reaching out. That’s why I have an email address I give out on my podcast.

I love to hear from people. When shows I wrote go out on television I never know how of if they affected people, so by all means, I wanna hear from you. And I’m very flattered that someone would take the time and make the effort to get in touch.

When I give out the email address at the end of the podcast I always say that I will write you back.

And finally, from Janet:

You've mentioned that you are finding it harder to write the blog.

Is that due to lack of ideas, lack of research to develop those ideas, something else?

After almost 14 years of daily posts, it’s hard to keep finding new things to talk about. And fewer people are now reading blogs. They’re less of a “thing.” I love doing it but I don’t want to be the last blogger on the net.

That’s why I’m devoting a lot of time and effort to my podcast. At least there I can elaborate more and add things I’ve never shared before. Also I can interview people and bring you different perspectives besides just mine.

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

EP135: Meet Writer/Director/Playwright/Novelist Howard Michael Gould

Not what you’d call an under-achiever -- Howard Michael Gould has been a TV writer, a screenwriter, showrunner, TV and film director, copywriter, playwright, and novelist. A varied background with great stories about running Cybil Shepherd’s sitcom of horror and an amazing association with Mike Nichols. 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Jeff Lasky answers your JEOPARDY questions

Everyone LOVED Jeff Lasky’s account of being on JEOPARDY! And why not? It was AWESOME. He received lots of well-deserved kudos. And thank you readers for sending along your thanks to Jeff. This was great for me. Two of my better posts and I didn’t have to do anything.

Jeff read your comments and noted that a few of you had questions, so he graciously volunteered to answer them. How is this guy NOT an all-time champion???

Here’s his reply:

Thanks for all the nice comments on my guest blog. I'd trade all of them to have not finished in third, but oh well. A few answers for folks who brought up good questions. By the way, since it's the big topic of discussion -- it's not just hotel but also airfare that the contestants pay. So it's very possible that the third place prize won't cover your travel expenses. Since I drove up, I only had to pay for hotel and gas.

Hope you all enjoy part two! I don't like it as much- it's the one where I lose.

For Ed from SFV: For the Tuesday taping, people from out of town can be alternates because they've already planned to stay overnight and be in Los Angeles through the second tape day. However, the Wednesday alternates are always "local", which they consider to be Southern California. Unfortunately for me, that includes San Diego, which is a two-hour drive, so I put up the money for the hotel twice, once when I was an alternate and didn't get on and once when they brought me back.

Jax- it's generally about two months between tape and air, but not always. When I appeared on the show, we shot at the end of March and it aired in mid-July, so more than three months.

Wallis Lane- they do not require a hotel stay. I just decided it was easier and I wanted to get as much sleep/rest/stress avoidance as possible. If you choose to drive yourself to the Sony lot, they require you to be there by 7:30.

Tom Galloway- There are a few changes to the audition process. They don't reveal who passed the written test at the audition anymore. Everyone there participates in the full audition process. We were told that 80,000 people took the online test that I passed and that they were auditioning 2,000 of them for 400 spots on the show.

Andy Rose- correct, the producers do give the law firm some suggestions on contestant match-ups to avoid having three people from the same part of the country in one game, etc. They also let the lawyer know which players are back as alternates and that they would prefer those players be on as early as possible in the day.

MikeN- Correct, Sam had opened up a huge, unbeatable lead on second, who in turn had more than twice what I had. One of the things I did in preparing to be on the show was to study betting strategy. It's generally not complicated- almost everyone follows the same basic philosophy. If the game is competitive, the leader should always bet to beat second place by one dollar. The second place player has the most options, depending on how much they trail by. The second place player should assume the leader will bet correctly, so the only way they can win is if the leader gets the question wrong. In addition, you should be able to figure out exactly what the leader will bet (if she has 20,000 and 2nd has 15,000, second should know the leader will bet 10,001). Second place needs to bet enough to clear the third place person and beat the leader if the leader gets the answer wrong. Make sense?

Another point on betting- you're seeing the entire strategy of Jeopardy! change on the daily doubles. The strategy that has taken over is to bet big. James Holzhauer took it to an extreme, but it's not new. Austin Rodgers put up big scores with big gambles. Sam Cavanaugh did that to great effect in my game, essentially locking up the game early in Double Jeopardy. I saw it in person pre-Holzhauer. I was an alternate during 4-game champion John Presloid's run (aired in January). He did the same exact thing in his fourth win, using a true daily double to lock up the game early. Such aggressive betting is essentially a force multiplier to the "returning champion advantage". The champ has already been through that pressure cooker, so they're now trying to be really aggressive early while the new players are still trying to get their footing in the game and on the buzzer.

Thanks again to Jeff Lasky, guest blogger supreme.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

What it's like to be on JEOPARDY! Round 2

This is the second part of guest blogger, Jeff Lasky's account of being a contestant on JEOPARDY!  The first part was yesterday.  Jeff did a great job (both on the show and in the piece).  I appreciate how candid and descriptive he is.  And I will get him that dollar.  I just don't want to spend extra sending it through the mail.  So I'm waiting for someone to drive down to San Diego so it won't cost me anything more than one dollar.  Within the five years I'm sure I'll find someone.  

In the meantime, a huge thank you to Jeff Lasky.

At least I wouldn’t have to deal with nerves mounting throughout the day. That’s because I ended up in the first game, the Monday episode. Had I not been previously been an alternate and seen how the day would go, I probably would have preferred watching one or two shows first. But because I had already sat in the audience for a full day, I was fine with being picked for the first game. I was loose and relaxed. I also had some confidence because I did well during the rehearsal, including getting some feel for the timing on the buzzer. Plus, as a TV news reporter, I’m used to being on a set with lights and cameras. I figured if I got lucky with the categories, I might even have a small advantage because of that. We were each taken back to makeup again for a final touch-up, then brought up to the stage. I had just enough time to see where my family and friends were sitting before the countdown began.

I never heard iconic Jeopardy! announcer Johnny Gilbert say my name until my episode aired (we shot at the end of March, it finally ran in mid-July). That’s because Johnny is 95 years old and doesn’t come in to the studio until after the lunch break. He does the last two shows live, but records his part for the first three. So the Clue Crew’s Sarah Whitcomb Foss is the one I hear saying those words “This is Jeopardy!”. I took a few beats to just enjoy it, soak it all in. I did that from the moment the theme song started playing until the moment Alex Trebek walked out on stage to greet us. But from that point on, it goes by in a flash. Alex reads off the categories. You don’t have enough time to really process them, although I noted there was a TV category- could be good for me. Also Rhyme Time- a gimmick category that I always enjoyed.

The three-time defending champion, Sam, got the first question, but I got on the episode’s first roll when I answered a question in the horses category. I shifted to TV and reeled off three more in a row. Sadly, this was my high-water mark. To the left of the game board and above the studio cameras, our scores are listed. Ten questions in (a third of the way through the opening round) I had the lead, but never held it again after that. I screwed up the only Rhyme Time question I tried and was in third place with $800 total by the time we went to the first break. The leader had $3,600.

During each commercial, Maggie comes to the stage. She explained what I did wrong on the Rhyme Time question, which I knew I’d messed up immediately. Aside from that, she makes sure anyone who wants water gets some and gives little reminders about what was to come. I can’t speak for any other game, but I never chatted with the two other contestants during the game itself. Once the break is over, Alex comes over for the interview segment. I figured I had a pretty good story- trying to make Mel Brooks laugh at a book signing. Being a TV veteran, I even cheated with a look straight at the camera at one point to talk directly to my comedy hero (I knew he was a devoted Jeopardy! watcher).

The Jeopardy round continued and I did okay, picking up a few more questions, including the $1,000 one in the TV round, which turned out to be my best category (I got four of the five and was beat out on the buzzer on the other one). I pushed myself back into second by the end of the round with $2,800. But Sam had gotten the Daily Double and bet big, opening up a large lead. I’d have to get really lucky with the Double Jeopardy categories and Daily Doubles to have a chance.

I didn’t. I only liked one category when Alex read them off- something about the Supreme Court. I’d end up getting three of those questions and only one other the entire rest of the round. In fact, even though I’d remembered a lot about the experience when I finally watched the episode four months later, I was stunned at how quiet I was during that Double Jeopardy round. I wish I could say I couldn’t get the buzzer timing right, but the sad truth was that I just didn’t know enough. I took a dumb gamble on the very last question and got it wrong, so Final Jeopardy was meaningless. Sam had locked up the win and the other contestant, Christina, had locked up second. The category was Women Authors- not great, but not bad for me. I had $5,200 and decided to bet $5,199. I figured if I got it right, I’d end up in double-digits and it would look good. If I got it wrong, I’d end up with $1, which was funnier than $0 (that’s already turned out to be true- it let me make that joke in the first paragraph about Ken being cheap). Alas, I had no idea when the clue came on the board. The best I could do was guess a female author from the right period, but I knew it was wrong. Thus, I ended up with the buck-, although third place actually gets $1,000, while second gets $2,000 and the winner gets whatever their score was.

People had told me for years that I should go on Jeopardy! My stock answer was always that I didn’t think I was well-rounded enough. I turned out to be exactly right. I think my performance was pretty good- I wasn’t nervous and felt fine on the buzzer. If I got a good category draw, I would have had a shot. But I didn’t, and so I lost. I was very disappointed when I came off the stage. That will probably be the only chance in my life to make that kind of money in one day, unless Ken casts me to play myself next time he writes a Jeopardy! episode of a sitcom (he probably won’t after that joke about him being cheap, now I’m kicking myself for writing it). But even more than the money, I would have loved to have belonged to that exclusive club of Jeopardy! champion. It just didn’t turn out that way.

Still, the experience was amazing. My friends and family had a great time living it vicariously through me. I love talking about the show and answering all the behind-the-scenes questions. It’s a story I’ll tell the rest of my life. Plus, as time passes and memories of what happened fade away, I figure maybe I can start telling people I won. Who’s going to take the time to look it up?

Thanks again to Jeff Lasky. 

UPDATE:  Jeff was kind enough to answer some of your reader questions and that will appear tomorrow.  

Monday, August 05, 2019

What it's like to be on JEOPARDY! Round 1

It's so cool to have a friend actually be a contestant on JEOPARDY!  A few weeks ago a San Diego buddy, Jeff Lasky was on the show.  I asked if he'd graciously agree to be a guest blogger and recount his experience.  Jeff said yes and did such a great job that I don't want to edit a word.  So I'm presenting this as a two-parter; part 1 today and part 2 tomorrow.   I'm an avid JEOPARDY! watcher and I've attended the taping of JEOPARDY! episodes and there were still a lot of things in Jeff's piece that I didn't know.  So a big thank you to Jeff Lasky.  certainly an all-time JEOPARDY champion on this blog.  And Jeff, your dollar is the mail. 

I feel really honored that Ken asked me to write a guest blog about my experience as a contestant on Jeopardy! When I think of the incredible list of guest bloggers Ken has had over the years, I really feel like I don’t belong. Which, some could say, also applied to my appearance on Jeopardy! Although at least the $1 I finished with on the show is more than what Ken is paying me to do this.

Being on Jeopardy! is an intense experience. The show itself goes by in a blur, but the shooting day is a long one. They do five episodes in a day, the Monday through Friday show all in just a few hours. They do this two days a week during only two weeks each month. Usually the episodes shoot about two months before they air. So when Alex is wishing you a Merry Christmas, it isn’t even Halloween yet (not that that’s stopped Costco from putting out their holiday decorations for sale). The day begins when a shuttle bus arrives at the hotel to pick you up at 7 AM. By the way, contestants pay for the hotel. The only one who gets expenses paid is the defending champion. The producers call this the Ken Jennings rule. You don’t get your prize money until 120 days after the show and he was going broke flying himself from Utah to Los Angeles every few weeks during his unprecedented run. That’s why Sony started ponying up for the champ’s travel expenses.

Once you arrive at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, you’re ushered into the green room. All 16-17 contestants (15 who will appear on the show that day and one or two alternates in case someone gets sick or doesn’t show) sit at tables or on sofas to fill out paperwork. One of the contestant coordinators goes to each person to make sure they know how your name is pronounced. She also goes over your interview with Alex. The coordinators put three stories on a card and Alex chooses which to ask about.

Legendary Jeopardy! producer Maggie Speak then does orientation, which lasts an hour. She walks you through the process, explains how everything works, and answers whatever questions you might have. She also spills some great behind the scenes stories- it’s a pretty amazing performance, which I got to hear twice because I had previously been an alternate. Each contestant also goes through makeup. During this whole time, some contestants are mingling a bit, others are silent. Everyone is probably checking out the competition, although they were all nice- seemingly no gamesmanship.

At this point everyone is paraded out to the set. We’ve all seen it a million times on television, but there’s still something magical about seeing it in person. What struck me was how big the board looks when it’s in front of you, which it needs to be because the clues have to be big enough to read. Before we get a chance to play, pictures need to be taken and each player does a little video called the “hometown howdy”, which will be sent to you to post on social media. Everyone then gathers around the podiums while the floor manager explains the set-up. That includes how to write your name, how to put in your bid and answer for Final Jeopardy (there’s a piece of paper and a marker just in case the screen fails during the show), and the elevator. What? Yes, each podium has a little elevator behind it that can lift up shorter people so that everyone looks the same height. But the most important part of the set-up you’re shown is the buzzer. They actually never refer to it as the buzzer because, duh, it doesn’t buzz. They call it the signaling device. I still call it the buzzer. It’s a little thicker than I had imagined, about the length of a pen. As soon as Alex reads the question, a production assistant flips a switch. A light which runs around the entire game board flicks on, although the camera shot is framed in a way so that you can’t see it at home. Once the light appears, you can buzz in. However, if you hit it too early, you get locked out for a quarter of a second. It doesn’t seem like much, but everyone is so smart, that will almost always allow one of the other players to get in. Of course, wait too long, and they’ll beat you anyway. So the key is timing, trying to figure out that sweet spot between when Alex stops talking and when you see the light go on. The producers tell you to keep buzzing until someone is called on. After all, maybe all three buzzed too early and got locked out, so you want to be the first one in after the quarter-second is up.

Once all the explanations are over, there’s a rehearsal. We’re called up to the stage three at a time to play just like they do on the show. Jimmy McGuire from the Clue Crew hosts. Once the producers think you’ve gotten a feel for the buzzer, they pull you out and put another player in. By the end of the rehearsal, the studio audience is arriving. We’re all rushed back to the green room with the strict admonishment that we’re not to have any contact, verbal or visual, with our guests in the crowd. This is near impossible, so no one yelled at me for smiling at my wife. Once back in the green room, the producers reveal who will play in the first game against the returning champion. No one, aside from the champ, knows when they’re going to play until it’s announced before each game. Another interesting note- the producers don’t pick. There is a third-party law firm hired to keep everything on the up and up. This all stems from the quiz show scandals of the 1950’s. I guess this prevents any of us from becoming the next Charles Van Doren, although I’ll admit I’m more likely to be compared to Herb Stempel. The lawyer chooses which set of categories and questions go with which show and which contestants will play each game. Security is so tight; contestants are not allowed to leave sight of the coordinators. You need to be escorted to the restroom and you’re kept far away from anyone else involved in the game. This means the only moments you spend with Alex Trebek are the ones on stage during the show.

To be continued tomorrow.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Weekend Post

On Monday I filed my review of ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, the new Quentin Tarantino movies set in 1969 Los Angeles.  One of their locations was Westwood, near my house so I went out and took these cool photos.  I ended up seeing the movie in that same Bruin Theatre.  So I guess you could call this "ONCE UPON A TIME IN WESTWOOD."

It's amazing how much detail goes into every set and every scene although you never really see it on the screen.  These people are truly artists.  It was a pleasure to see their work close up.

And once you've seen all the photos I have a surprise.  

For me a big attraction of the movie was its salute to Boss Radio, KHJ.  That station was the soundtrack of my life and it was thrilling to hear it again.  For you fellow Boss listeners and fans, here's a tribute to KHJ: