Friday, July 10, 2020

Friday Questions

July is jumping with Friday Questions.  What’s yours?

 

The first question comes from DwWashburn (which was a long-forgotten Monkees song): 

 

It seems like Wendie Malick pops up on every show. Always working. And what a voice. How was it working with her?

 

An absolute dream.  Wendie is fun, ultra professional, and super smart.  And a director’s dream because if she would nail a line in rehearsal, you could tell her and she’d lock it in. 

 

It also helped that she has extraordinary comic timing.   And never ages.  I don’t know how she pulls that off. 

 

I worked with her on several shows and she was nice enough to do a couple of play readings of mine.  One paired her and Jason Alexander.  You can imagine how great they were together. 

 

Mike Bloodworth asks:

 

Did you and David write practice scripts before you got into the business?

I'd like to know.

 

You bet.  Like all writers trying to break in we wrote spec scripts.  We were incredibly lucky.  We wrote a spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, RHODA, and two pilots before getting our big break.  Only four scripts (although we were outlining our fifth).

 

We gave ourselves two years.  The plan was to just keep writing as many specs as we could hoping that someone somewhere would recognize our talent.


JS queries:

 

I live in Baltimore - I'm used to the Orioles losing, what is the best movie to watch about a losing team (Hoosiers Excluded).

 

That's an easy one.  BAD NEWS BEARS.   Most of the others losing-sports-team movies are just pale imitations of BAD NEWS BEARS. 

 

And finally, from Bob Paris:

 

What is your opinion of openings of shows such as Andy Griffith or Dick Van Dyke where the announcer exclaims, "The Andy Griffith Show, starring Andy Griffith." Did they really think the audience would not know who the star of a self-titled show is?

 

On YouTube I recently watched a montage of opening titles from 1961 and I was surprised by how many of them had announcers introducing the show and starring cast.  

 

My guess (based on nothing) is that it was a holdover from radio.  When radio shows transferred to TV they kept the vocal introductions to provide some continuity. 

 

But of course they weren’t needed.  As late as 1969 some shows still had them. 

 

The one that used to drive me nuts was FATHER KNOWS BEST.   The announcer started by introducing the stars, so he began by saying “Here are Robert Young…” 

 

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

EP182: Meet TV Critic Alan Sepinwall


Alan Sepinwall is the Chief TV critic for Rolling Stones magazine and author of numerous books on television. With the industry changing so fast, it’s difficult to cover it all. But Alan does and explains how. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Do the math, broadcast networks

Reader Craig Gustafson posted a comment on Monday regarding my rant on the viability of smart sophisticatedcomedy.  I thought his comment was so incisive I’m reposting it since most people don’t read the comments.  But it’s a commentary that deserves to be read. 

 

Thanks, Craig for unknowingly becoming my guest blogger. 

 

I broke a huge rule and watched a colorized version of a black & white TV show. Why? Because the person who originally made the show supervised the colorization. And it wasn’t perfect, but it was well done.

 

So why am I now abandoning all commercial broadcasting?

 

Earlier the same day, I had the TV on. The Three Stooges. When I was a kid, there would be one commercial break in a 20 minute short. Now, there’s a break every two minutes. A *long* break.

 

After watching “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” I was mad enough to do the math. I had DVR’d the show, so I could be as anal as I pleased about it. Here’s how things went originally:

 

A sitcom ran 25-26 minutes. One commercial break after the credits, one in the middle and one before the tag. That’s it. A total five minutes (or less) of commercials. And your concentration on the story was only broken three times.

Show: 83%

Commercials: 17%

 

I timed the “Coast to Coast Big Mouth” episode. Every five minutes or so, there were over 3½ minutes of commercials.

Show: 67%

Commercials: 30%

Dick Van Dyke’s Intro: 3%

 

They cut 30% of the episode. It should have been called “Scenes from the Dick Van Dyke Show.”

 

1. How can anyone with an attention span enjoy this bullshit?

2. If I want to watch this show, why would I watch it with a boatload of commercials? There are so many other options these days.

 

The only benefit would be people becoming newly interested in the show and tracking down the DVDs. But consistently watching network TV and wasting 30% of my time? I'm out.

 

Get off my colorized lawn.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Final thoughts on fireworks

I don’t remember this ever happening before in Los Angeles.  On July 5th there was so much residual smoke from the previous day’s fireworks that the general air quality was hazardous. 

 

How insane is that? 

 

Oh, and home fireworks are illegal in LA County.   And yet, enough of them were set off to turn the entire city into an ashtray.

 

Where I live they were going off until 1:00 in the morning. 

 

I feel so bad for pets.   How many of these revelers scared the shit out of their beloved cats and dogs? 

 

I don’t get it for so many reasons.  First off, they’re dangerous.   They’re also not cheap.  As thrills go they’re pretty quick.  And finally, what the hell are you possibly celebrating?   This is the darkest, bleakest period I’ve experienced in my whole life.   So what is there to celebrate?  It’s like if Germany held a victory parade right after V-E Day. 

 

The point is, when home fireworks are banned it is for your own safety.   It is not a punitive action.   For the life of me I will never understand how self-preservation has become a political dividing line.   It’s not ideology, it’s common sense.   Taking precautions to save yourself and your loved ones should be the most bi-partisan issue there is.   If there’s still a United States in a hundred years, I think history will record this period as the time America lost its mind. 

 

Asking you to be safe and take care of yourself is not asking you to vote Democratic. 

 

But getting back to fireworks because I’m not going to change anyone’s mind with reason. 

 

I used to love going to city parks on the 4th of July and seeing the fireworks show with friends and family.   Once I became a baseball announcer fireworks meant it was hard to do the postgame show – although I must admit I had fun with it.  One time when I was with the Mariners we were on the road and they were shooting off fireworks.  I came on the air and said, “Live from Beirut, it’s the out-of-town scoreboard.   In the American League, Minnesota beat Detroit 3-2, Texas over Oakland 7-4, (BOOM!), oh no, they just got our embassy, and Boston edged Baltimore 2-1.” 

 

So I miss going to fireworks shows too.   And you have to physically go to fireworks shows.  Staying home this 4th of July (like I’ve stayed home every night for the last 17 weeks), I came across the Macy’s Fireworks show on NBC.  Is there anything more mind-numbing boring than watching fireworks on television?  The Yule Log is more entertaining.  


You gotta be in the venue that it happens. 

 

It’s now three days after the 4th.   Home fireworks have continued every night and I suspect tonight will be more of the same.  I don’t mean to be an old guy, but if someone wanted to fire a bottle rocket from my property I would tell him to get off my lawn. 

Monday, July 06, 2020

If you produce it, they will come

As a tribute to Carl Reiner, last Friday night CBS aired two colorized versions of classic episodes of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. 

 

How’d they do? 

 

They got Friday night’s biggest audience.  3.73 million viewers. 

 

Pretty good for a couple of 55 year-old episodes of television. 

 

I found this very heartening.  THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW still holds up. 


And it says something more:  There is an audience for smart sophisticated comedy that is grounded in reality and resonates because it explores universal truths. 

 

We still can relate to it today because the situations and emotions resonate.  Clearly, there are societal changes, the show was set in a different era, but human nature is still the same, our wants and foibles haven’t changed. 

 

There are so many shows on so many platforms – why can’t there be one or two that strives for this today? 

 

If you produce it, they will come. 

 

Saturday, July 04, 2020

4th of July Weekend Post


Why the hell do people buy home fireworks?

How many fingers and eyebrows do they have to lose? How many trailer parks have to burn down before they learn?

What parent in his right mind with children would set off something called a 12 inch “strike force missile”?

Or a “Mad Dog”
 “Bazooka Bear”
“Titanium Cracker”
“Dragon’s Wrath”
“Big Mama Jama"
“Brutal Force”
“Nuke Power”
“Pull String Grenade”
“Assorted Color Ammo Smoke”
“Caliber Blast”
“Car Bomb”
“Big Earthquake”
“Jumboshell Fountain”
“Pyrogyro”
“Cracker Jack in a Box”
“Deadly Fire”
“Battle of New Orleans”
“Pay Back”
“Mucho Grande – small” (isn’t that an oxymoron?)
“Air Raid”
Or of course the ever popular “So X*@! Good”?

Explain to me where these are “safe and SANE”.

And this year there's something even more dangerous:

NOT WEARING A MASK.

With the "Bazooka Bear" you could lose three fingers.  Not wearing a mask could cost you your life.

I'm staying home this Independence Day.   Next year hopefully I'll have way more to celebrate.

Happy 4th of July.  Don't do anything stupid.  Be safe. 

Friday, July 03, 2020

Friday Questions


Remember when this would be the start of a big July 4th weekend?  Here’s some FQ’s to distract you.

 

benson  gets us started.

 

Assuming there was a TV writers wing of a Television Hall of Fame and it was similar to baseball's, on you plaque, which "cap" would you be wearing? MASH, Cheers, Big Wave Dave's?

 

The big assumption is that I get inducted. 

 

but I would say MASH.  It’s the series that’s most revered, and there’s certainly a special place in my heart for it.  MASH is absolutely the show that launched our career.  I wear that hat proudly.  But can I wear a CHEERS scarf?

 

scottmc asks:

 

Antenna TV just aired the BECKER episode 'Drive, They Said', which David and you wrote. The description of the show indicated that 'Becker finds three men(Bill Cosby,Ray Romano and Kevin James) side by side in his waiting room". A couple of questions; were you on the set when it was taped, had you worked on Everybody Loves Raymond prior to this? The scene with Cosby, Romano and James was cut. At first, I just figured it was cut so the station could add commercials. But I read that the scene isn't included in the DVD. Any insight connected with this Becker is appreciated.(Were you responsible for the description of the poetry of baseball. Was the opponent always going to be McGuire and the Cardinals?)

 

Yes, on the last two questions. 

 

As for the Cosby/Romano/James teaser – this was a promotion that CBS ran one night.  All four Thursday night sitcoms at that time took place in New York, so they thought “wouldn’t it be fun to have crossover episodes for all four shows?”  Each show would do a teaser featuring all four stars in character.  Each show had to figure a reason for the four to get together.    And if I’m not mistaken, they filmed the one for Cosby on the West Coast.    His show was actually filmed in New York. 

 

I was on the BECKER set the day they shot that teaser.  This was before I directed Ray so I didn’t know him at the time. 

 

Here’s what I remember:  Ray Romano and Kevin James were lovely.  Bill Cosby was a giant asshole.  Fortunately, Cosby came with his showrunner, who was basically his wrangler. We'd still be there if it wasn't for him. 

 

But Cosby questioned everything, balked at everything, and made it a much less pleasant experience for all concerned.  It also took several hours to film instead of a few minutes.

 

To my knowledge, that teaser has never aired beyond that one night.  I don’t miss it.  I’m sure if I saw it again it would just bring up lousy memories. 

 

From Troy McClure:

 

Ken, I've never seen a Natalie Wood movie (I'm sorry). Which do you recommend I start with? Splendor in the Grass, West Side Story, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice?

 

I would say SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS.  Maybe LOVE WITH A PROPER STRANGER.   She’s delicious in THE GREAT RACE, but I don’t know how well the comedy holds up. 

 

In WEST SIDE STORY she plays a Puerto Rican, which is a stretch, and her songs are all sung by someone else.  Not her shining hour. 

 

And finally, from marka:

 

I'm here listening to your podcast where you're talking about rewriting jokes for your play "A or B" until six in the morning.

 

Are you mostly coming up with new jokes in a situation like that or rewriting the original jokes - different words, different beats, different dialects, different set ups, but essentially keeping the same joke?

 

Mostly new jokes.  In some cases I may toss out a run and substitute a new one. 

 

I’m less inclined to tinker with an existing joke that doesn’t work.  I’d rather shoot for something new.

 

What’s your Friday Question?

 

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

EP181: Part 2 with JEOPARDY champion, Jennifer Quail


More with Jennifer Quail who won $228,000 in eight days on JEOPARDY and will likely be in this year’s Tournament of Champions.  We get into the pressure, strategy, Alex Trebek’s condition, advice, and more juicy behind-the-scenes stories.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

"My" DICK VAN DYKE SHOW

In honor of my love for Carl Reiner, in July of 2015 I wrote a spec episode of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW for this blog.  Today I thought I would reprise it.   I assume you all know the characters.  If not, it's well worth your time checking out a few episodes of the "real" DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.  It's an American classic.  But for now, let's travel back to 1965 and...

"The Brady That Came To Dinner"

FADE IN:

INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY

ROB AND LAURA ENTER. ROB IS WEARING A NECK BRACE. LAURA HAS
A BIG BANDAGE ACROSS THE BRIDGE OF HER NOSE.

LAURA
Admit it, Rob. I look like a stork.

ROB
(COMFORTING) Aw honey, you do not.
(THEN) Storks are bent over more like -
-(HE CRANES FORWARD) Ow!

LAURA
You deserved that.

RITCHIE ENTERS FROM THE KITCHEN.

RITCHIE
Mommy and Daddy are home! (NOTICING
THEIR STATE) Eeeuw!

ROB
It’s okay, Ritch. We were just in a
little car accident.

LAURA
But we’re fine.

RITCHIE
Was it your fault?

LAURA
That’s really not important. What is
important is that everyone is okay.

RITCHIE
Was it your car or Daddy’s?

LAURA
Well, mine, but...

RITCHIE
Mommy caused an accident!

LAURA
Ritchie, why would you think that?

RITCHIE
Because when Daddy takes me to school
he always says the mommy drivers can’t
drive.

LAURA GLARES AT ROB.

ROB
(TO RITCHIE) And then Daddy says,
“except for your mommy.”

RITCHIE
When?

ROB
Laura, those women are Kamikaze
pilots.

MILLIE ENTERS FROM THE KITCHEN.

MILLIE
I gave Ritchie a snack and... Oh my
God! Were you in an accident?

LAURA
Yes.

MILLIE
Was it your fault?

LAURA
Why does everyone ask that?

MILLIE
What did you do?

LAURA
Nothing... someone cut me off.

MILLIE
So you were driving. I knew it.

LAURA
Hey, would everybody please give me a
break? I was just in the Emergency
Room. (THEN, TO RITCHIE) With a booboo.
That’s all it was. A tiny booboo.
Go play in your room, darling.

RITCHIE CROSSES OFF.

RITCHIE
“Women drivers are a menace.”

RITCHIE EXITS TO HIS ROOM. LAURA GLARES AT ROB.

ROB
The other daddies talk too.

MILLIE
Is the car a total wreck?

ROB
Well, it did take the brunt of it...
along with the light post... and the
police kiosk. But the good news is
they were right there to fill out the
report.

LAURA
Tell me the truth, Millie. Do I look
horrible?

MILLIE
What? No. You’re so pretty, Laura.
I’d still trade with you, even with
that big ugly bandage splattered on
your face.

LAURA
Oh God!

ROB
It’s not that bad, honey. A big hat,
a lot of make up... maybe sunglasses --
and no one will even notice.

LAURA
Swell.

MILLIE
Well, I can’t wait to go home and (OFF
LAURA’S LOOK) not tell anybody about
this.

LAURA
Please, Millie. This is embarrassing
and I don’t want the word to get out.

MILLIE
I can keep a secret.

ROB
That’s not entirely true. Last year
strangers in the market were asking
about my enlarged prostate.

MILLIE
Well, Laura never should have told me.
That’s a very private matter.

LAURA
The point is I would really appreciate
it if this time you would keep it to
yourself. Not that you wouldn’t, but
I know it’s hard for you... very
hard... “Breaking out of Alcatraz”
hard.

MILLIE
Don’t worry, Laura. I promise not to
say a word.

LAURA
Thank you.

MILLIE
But can I tell about Rob?

LAURA
No!

MILLIE
Okay. Fine. (GRUMBLING) I wish this
stupid accident never happened.

MILLIE EXITS.

ROB
You realize we should have just locked
her in the attic?

LAURA
Jerry’d come looking after about a
week.

ROB
I’m not so sure.

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. OFFICE - DAY

BUDDY AND SALLY ARE THERE. ROB, STILL WEARING NECK BRACE,
ENTERS STIFFLY.

SALLY
Rob, what happened?

BUDDY
(A LA FRANKENSTEIN) It’s alive! It’s
alive!

ROB
Laura and I were in an accident. But
we’re both fine.

SALLY
Was it your fault?

ROB
Jeez, I wish I had a nickel for every
time someone asked me that.

BUDDY
Make it a dime. You’re going to need
‘em. Your insurance rates are going
to shoot through the roof.

ROB
It was not our fault.

BUDDY
My rates will go up just because I
know you. Thanks, Rob.

SALLY
Most of my dates wear those... except
for the ones who don’t have necks.

A CONCERNED MEL ENTERS TOTING A NEWSPAPER.

MEL
We’ve got a problem. Have you seen
the morning papers?

BUDDY
No, we need a little more light. Bend
over.

MEL
See how well I ignore? (TO BUDDY)
Pissant. (SHOWING THE PAPER) Alan’s on
the front page... with two strippers.

ROB
You’ve got to be kidding.

MEL
I wish I were.

SALLY
You sure they’re not just network
executives... with tassels?

BUDDY
This is why I never had kids. The
thought of paying child support when I
left Pickles for either one of these
girls...

ROB
Let me see. (TURNS HIS HEAD, THEN) Ow!

MEL
(NOTICING THE COLLAR) What happened to
your neck, Rob?

ROB
It wasn’t my fault!

ALAN BRADY STICKS HIS HEAD IN THE DOOR.

ALAN
Mel? You in here?

MEL
Yes, Alan. Come on in.

ALAN ENTERS AND CLOSES THE DOOR.

ALAN
What are you hiding for? I’m the one
who should be hiding. There’s fifteen
reporters in my office.

MEL
Want me to say something on your
behalf?

ALAN
I don’t like it when you speak
normally. No. I’ve got to lay low.
(LOOKS AROUND) This looks familiar.

MEL
It’s the writers’ office, Alan.

ALAN
(SNAPPING) I can see it’s the writers
office. There’s Buddy and Sally and
Rob.

ROB TURNS HIS HEAD.

ROB
Ow!

ALAN
Nice suit, Rob. (TO MEL) I have eyes.

HE DOESN’T NOTICE THAT ROB IS WEARING A NECK BRACE.

BUDDY
What happened last night, Alan? And
why wasn’t I invited?

ALAN
It was a funeral that got out of hand.

ROB
Excuse me, what? (CRANING HIS NECK)
Ow!

ALAN
(STILL NOT NOTICING ROB’S COLLAR) A
guy from the old neighborhood. After
the service we went back to his place
for a condolence call, which turned
into more of a wake. Never let
Rosenberg-Feldman Mortuary plan your
funeral. Things got out of control
shortly after the mourners’ kaddish.

SALLY
Well, at least their pasties were
black.

ALAN
I swear, you can’t be famous these
days. One lap dance with two girls
and right away you’re on the cover of
every morning rag.

MEL
They won’t even let you grieve in
peace.

ALAN
Shut up, Mel.

SALLY
How is your wife taking it?

ALAN
The good news is she’s on a safari in
Africa so hasn’t heard about it yet.
The bad news is she’s improving her
shot.

BUDDY
Maybe you’ll get lucky and she’ll have
an affair with one of those sweaty
native guides.

ALAN
Not with the kind of luck I’m having.
So I’m going to need a place to hide
for a night. Somewhere no one would
think to look for me.

BUDDY
How about a barbershop?

MEL
Y’see, Alan, that’s the kind of
insolence I have to put up with every
day.

ALAN
Shut up, Mel. It was funny. (THEN)
Without imposing and forget for the
moment that I hold your careers in my
hand, would any of you mind a house
guest for the night?

THEY ALL LOOK AT EACH OTHER, HOPING SOMEONE WILL VOLUNTEER.

AFTER AN AWKWARD BEAT:

ALAN (CONT’D)
(TO MEL) Now you shut up?

MEL
You hate my kids.

ALAN
You can’t send them away for a couple
of nights? No, never mind. I hate
your house too.

SALLY
I live across the street of the Daily
News. Those nosy reporters look right
into my window.

MEL
Don’t you keep the shades down?

SALLY
Why?

ALAN
Thanks but no thanks.

BUDDY
You could stay with me but the place
spells like haggis. It knocks your
socks off.

ALAN
Your wife made haggis last night?

BUDDY
No. Six years ago.

ROB
Alan, I guess you could stay with us.
But I warn you, we have a kid.

ALAN
I love kids -- (RE MEL) just none that
look like him.

ROB
Well, then... okay. Welcome to the
Petrie Hilton.

DISSOLVE TO:

Hi, it's me again.  When I posted this five years ago some readers felt compelled to give me notes.  Please don't.  This isn't going to be filmed.  I'm not looking for notes.  Just enjoy (or not).  Thanks.



Tuesday, June 30, 2020

RIP Carl Reiner


Few people in my life have had a greater impact than Carl Reiner.   Not only am I a writer because of him; the style in which I write is because of him.   And he’s been on my mind a lot lately because the project I’ve been writing this entire pandemic is essentially an ode to Carl Reiner. 

 

He’s been an inspiration, a mentor, and the few times I would reach out to him for help he was always there. 

 

Most articles about him will list his many credits and praise his enormous talent.  The plaudits are all well deserved.  But talent like that is a gift.  Being a mensch is a choice.  Carl Reiner was a mensch.   

 

He was my role model for that as much as much as his accomplishments.

 

I’ve tried to emulate him in many ways. 

 

Carl was incredibly unselfish.   In YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS he was happy to let Sid Caesar take center stage.   With Mel Brooks on the classic 2000 YEAR OLD MAN albums, he was the straight man. 

 

And then there’s his ultimate gesture of setting ego aside – THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.   Originally Carl wrote it to star in himself.  He wrote the first 13 episodes on spec.  A pilot was even filmed.   It didn’t get on the air.  Producer Sheldon Leonard told him the project had tremendous potential except for one thing – Carl was wrong for the part.   How many actor/writers would be insulted and just junk the project? 

 

Not Carl Reiner. 

 

Not only did he agree to recast his part, but he even named the show after the actor who replaced him.   That’s humility.

 

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was a revelation to me.  It’s why I wanted to become a comedy writer.   And yes, it would be great fun to BE a star of a hit TV series and get all that recognition and adulation, but I knew that just wasn’t my gift.   I was more than happy wanting to become Carl Reiner not Dick Van Dyke. 

 

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was also groundbreaking.   TV sitcoms at the time it premiered in the early ‘60s were mainly broad and silly.  Reiner chose a different path.  His humor tapped into universal behavior and truths.  His comedy focused on characters and real life situations.   The jokes were smart, the stories clever and original.   And the show was genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.   That’s what I wanted to write.   I loved Mel Brooks and his films are hysterical, but I never saw myself writing that.   It was Carl that I studied. 

 

I also adopted his work ethic.  Carl Reiner was always working on some creative project.  Books, plays, directing, producing, acting.   Readers of this blog know I’m always pushing something (please check out my podcast or buy one of the books featured on the right).   Always having something to challenge me creatively has been my salvation through several rough periods of my life, and I can thank Carl for that.

 

He lived 98 years.  He produced an astonishing body of work, much of which will stand the test of time.  He was sharp right up to the end.  He made the world laugh for probably 96 of those years.   He was gracious, supportive, accessible, and brilliant.   He went through life celebrating the best of the human spirit and fighting injustice.  He was pictured on Twitter just a few days ago wearing a “Black Lives Matters” T-shirt. 

 

Time to get back to work on my homage project, although now that I think about it, everything I’ve ever written is an homage.

 

Bless you, Carl Reiner.  And thank you. 

Carl Reiner tribute upcoming

Carl Reiner passed away at 98.  Tribute to follow once I dry my eyes.

Week 16 of self-quarantining


Random thoughts from captivity: 

 

I’m really learning which meals I can eat all the time and which I can’t.

 

If you started a pandemic beard and it’s still growing you must look like David Letterman by now.  And your wife has divorced you.

 

CHEERS leaves Netflix tonight at midnight.   It’s still on Hulu and CBS All Access. 

 

Hulu also now has JUST SHOOT ME.  An episode I directed is one of my favorites, called “Sewer,” from Season 2, Episode 11.   Hilarious script by Andrew Gordon & Eileen Conn.   It was a real challenge. I had an orangutan, stunts, special effects – but thought it came out great. 

 

Have you pretty much binge-watched all the shows you want to binge-watch? 


I understand that Costco is now selling coffins.  Who buys coffins in bulk? 

 

Are people setting off fireworks every night because they’re just bored or they’re idiots?

 

And speaking of idiots -- American Airlines is selling every seat again.  Why would you ever get on a full flight at this moment in time?   Especially since half the moron passengers won’t wear masks.  Why not just go into a COVID-19 ICU ward and lick the floor? 

 

Who knew?  THE MASKED SINGER was a year ahead of its time.

 

Maybe the only progress I’ve seen:  It’s easier to get toilet paper. 

 

Can you imagine what it was like during the pandemic of 1918 when there was no Zoom? 


My hair hasn't been this long since college.  I'm going for the Jeff Bridges look now.  Call me "the Dude." 

 

I don’t care what they say -- I’ll be surprised if they play Major League Baseball this year.   Hope I’m wrong.  Same with the NFL. 

 

I’m learning what I don’t miss: Going to movie theatres for one. Watching the news for another.

 

Drive-In theatres are fun… unless you have to use the bathroom. 

 

Why is it impossible to get Hebrew National Salamis? 


I gave the new Perry Mason two weeks.  I'm done. 


Will Benihana ever re-open? 


Take down any statue but Rocky & Bullwinkle.

 

Are you more or less productive than you were at the start of this pandemic?

 

JUST SHOOT ME was an underrated show. 

 

Doesn’t last February seem like five years ago? 

 

Stay safe.  Wear masks.  Vote by mail. Believe science. 

 

 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Singing in the Rain

SINGING IN THE RAIN is considered the greatest movie musical of all-time. AFI lists it as the 5th greatest movie of all-time. The scene of Gene Kelly singing in the rain is iconic. Watching the film again recently, it remains delightful with a surprising number of original songs that have gone on to join the Great American Songbook.

Here’s what I didn’t know: It wasn’t a hit.

Not when it was released in 1952. The public’s reaction was meh. So was the critics’. It only got a couple of Oscar nominations and lost both of them. Was Gene Kelly nominated? Nope. Debbie Reynolds? Nope. Stanley Donen for directing? Nope. Art Direction? Cinematography? Best Song? Nada nada nada. The Best Picture that year: THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH.

When was the last time you watched that? Or these Best Picture nominees – IVANHOE, MOULIN ROUGE, THE QUIET MAN? The other nominee (that should have been SINGING IN THE RAIN’S main competition) was HIGH NOON.

Over time of course SINGING IN THE RAIN has been recognized for the classic it is.

But to me it’s fascinating how the exact same motion picture can elicit such different responses. Did theatergoers yawn during the “Singing In the Rain” scene in 1952? Did any of them say, “What’s wrong with you people? This is pretty dazzling?” THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is a terrible bloated unwatchable movie, by the way. It was also the boxoffice champ in 1952.  SINGING IN THE RAIN did a little better than break even. 

I just wonder what Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen and the rest of the cast and crew thought at the time? What could they have done differently?

Other movies that were originally flops:  THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, BARBARELLA (although I saw it three times when it came out), BLADE RUNNER, OFFICE SPACE, IRON GIANT (see this one if you haven't), and a little movie called IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. 

And now, turning to TV -- THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was essentially canceled after the first season. It was not on the CBS schedule. It was only when ad men Grant Tinker and Lee Rich went to Cincinnati and convinced Proctor & Gamble to sponsor it did they pull a Hail Mary. Almost 60 years later we are still marveling at how great THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was. You know what the big hit sitcom was the year THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW struggled in the ratings? THE REAL McCOYS. How often do you binge on that?

The song “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong was released originally in 1967. It topped out at 116 on the Billboard chart. In 1988 it received a Gold Record.

And then there’s the example I had a personal stake in: CHEERS. We were getting killed in the ratings that first year. David Isaacs, the Charles Brothers, and I would sit in the writers room and scratch our heads. This was our A material, folks. It’s not like we could stay an extra half hour a night and the show would be any better. Ten years earlier, Larry Gelbart & Gene Reynolds were in the same quandary over MASH, which was struggling its first season on CBS.

The point is that perception is as important as quality when it comes to recognizing art.

CHEERS was on the last place network when it premiered. Maybe SINGING IN THE RAIN played in lousy theaters. Maybe there were so many musicals at the time that it just felt like yet another one. I have no idea. I’m just speculating. There are quite a few painters and authors who passed away before their work received the recognition and praise it deserved.

I’ve seen SINGING IN THE RAIN many times. I’ve always loved it. But I always assumed it was smash from the time it was released. This time I looked up to see how many Oscars it snared only to learn it was largely ignored. So watching the movie again was a different experience. After every great number or scene I was that guy saying, “What’s wrong with you people?”

By the way, in AFI's Top 100 Movies of All-Time, only one of the Oscar nominees in 1952 made the list -- HIGH NOON at 27.   THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is nowhere to be found. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Weekend Post

There's a thing in improvisation called "space work."  Basically it's mime.  Some improvisers are great at it.  Others, like me, struggle.  Here's a hilarious video showing what would really happen when hapless improv people like me try to do space work.   This is a group out of Toronto.  I think I've been guilty of all of these except the lipstick.  Enjoy. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday Questions

Wrapping up June with Friday Questions.  What’s yours?

 

Cris43130 gets us started. 

 

Shows have producers and directors. When did the term "showrunner" come into being and why is it necessary? Wasn't that always a producer's responsibility?

 

To answer your last question first – yes.  It’s just a matter of semantics. There's always been that one guy or one team that, uh... ran the show. 

 

Showrunner is just a less-than-fancy way of saying person actually in charge.  It used to be the Executive Producer was essentially the showrunner, but as staffs swelled and non-writing producers attached themselves there would be multiple Executive Producers.  Showrunner distinguishes the real creative force.  Interestingly, it’s a credit that has never been on the screen.


Guess it's not impressive enough.  I would opt for Grand Poobah myself. 

 

Brian Phillips has a baseball question (it's supposed to start up again -- we'll see):

 

Have you ever commentated on a no-hitter?

 

Yes. Every time. I think the superstition is bullshit. 


I’ve called two no-hitters on the air and mentioned it both times.  Like Vin Scully, I told listeners to call their friends and tell them.   


If I was a listener I would want to know.  I'd hate to listen or watch a game for half an inning, turn it off, and find out later it was the eighth inning of a no-hitter. 

 

My mentioning it is not going to affect the outcome.  I should have such power.

 

From cd1515:

 

Actors love to talk about lines, jokes or scenes that they ad-libbed (only the ones that worked, of course).


How does that play with writers who spent hours/days opening up a vein at the keyboard, knowing that many actors apparently think they can just cruise in and wing something that will be better?

 

Oh we just LOVVVVE it.

 

Seriously, though, it does piss us off.  I mean, it’s bad enough people think the actors make up their lines anyway, without actors unfairly taking credit for them.


Or worse, actors thinking they can do better. 

 

I’ve had actors pitch a bad joke they’d like to use and I would always say, 200 strangers are going to be sitting up in those bleachers.  Do you really think 200 strangers are going to laugh at that joke?  Invariably they back off. 

 

Happily, I’ve worked almost exclusively with actors who had great respect for us and our contribution.  And so the respect is mutual. 

 

And finally, from Gary:

 

If you and your writing partner were just starting out and desperate to break into the business, would you accept a writing assignment from a show you thought was terrible? (I'm thinking of something like GILLIGAN'S ISLAND or MY MOTHER THE CAR.)


And if so, would you try to dumb your writing down to match the tone and audience of such a show, or would you try to "write up" and create a more clever and quality episode?

 

First off, if we were starting out, we would KILL to get an assignment on either of those two shows.  To get paid to write a network show – we would be beyond thrilled.   Trust me, we would not just hold out for THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. 

 

As for the actual writing, we would work hard to give them a script in the style and tone of their show.   To do anything else would be to get rewritten.  We would work our asses off to the give the showrunner the best possible version of HIS show in his style.