Friday, January 17, 2020

Friday Questions

Friday Questions are just a scroll-down away.

I’m honored that radio legend,Tom Leykis has the first one.

I have a question for discussion and I think there's no one better to ask.

Just as you enjoyed Parasite, I have recently seen some amazing TV comedies that all have one thing in common with Parasite: none of them were made in the United States.

Through the magic of streaming, I have been delighted at the quality of shows like Fleabag, Catastrophe, Motherland, Episodes (England) and Kim's Convenience (Canada). There are so many of them that I can't remember them all!

Do you enjoy any of these shows? Why can other countries make shows like this, but US studios apparently can't (or won't) anymore?

I'll hang up and listen.

I like most British comedies. FLEABAG and EPISODES are way better than the current U.S. fare (it pains me to say). And among my all-time favorite sitcoms are three from the U.K. – COUPLING, FAWLTY TOWERS, and BLACK ADDER.

So why are international comedies better than ours? The short answer is that foreign showrunners aren’t subjected to the insane level of network and studio interference. And testing.

And unlike here, where networks are just chasing Millennial writers hoping to get a Millennial audience (that has already abandoned them and is never coming back) foreign TV networks and platforms welcome age and experience. Who knew that writers over 40 were still funny and knew their craft?

My sense is international broadcasters are open to trying new things. American broadcasters operate solely out of fear.

Cedricstudio is up next.

Tonight I watched 'Arthur' (the 1981 original starring Dudley Moore). Writer Steve Gordon was nominated for an Oscar and deservedly so. However, the writing strikes me as a bit *too* perfect, at least by modern standards. What I mean is, characters constantly toss off sparkling banter that I find way too sharp and clever to be believable. Hobson the butler is especially witty, almost supernaturally so. Every time he opens his mouth out comes the perfect stinging quip (John Gielgud won an Oscar for the performance). Yes it makes me chuckle but it also takes me out of the movie. Nobody speaks like that in the real world and it strikes me as artificial. Do you think that's a fair criticism, or am I putting too much value on "authenticity"?

I think you are. The dialogue is stylized but so is Edward Albee’s, and Aaron Sorkin’s, and Neil Simon’s, and Paddy Chayefsky’s, Larry Gelbart’s, Quentin Tarantino’s, Woody Allen’s, and on and on.

It's a creative license to elevate the experience.  

The trouble comes when the writing is bad. Then the fact that it’s stylized exacerbates the badness.

Personally, I love ARTHUR and love that the dialogue crackles. And that seems to be a lost art in today’s romcoms. Studios are more concerned with mounting a movie that can score overseas and clever dialogue doesn’t always translate globally.

It’s another reason why I now write for the theatre and not the silver screen.

Cowboy Surfer asks:

Ken - I'm wrapping up my CHEERS binge on Netflix. I noticed former KLOS disc jockeys Mark & Brian sitting down the bar from Norm in S9 - E10 Veggie Boyd.

Any other stories of famous people as bar extras?

Well, the most famous of all was my father, Cliff, who appeared in a number of episodes.

We tried not to have any celebrities who would be recognizable so they wouldn’t distract from the story.

But some notables included a Hall-of-Fame sportswriter named Allan Mallamud. He joined the barflies several times. The man who hired me for my very first radio job as a sports intern at KMPC, Steve Bailey, bent elbows with the gang.

Warren Littlefield, then-NBC president appears once, and the final season all of the writers show up one time or another. I’m in the final Bar Wars episode.

And finally, from Chris Gumprich

Are there any actors who, if they came to you with a new project, you would agree to sight-unseen, just because you trust the actor implicitly? Conversely, are there any that you would turn down flat, even if you enjoy working with them as an actor?

Obviously I don't expect examples, and I don't mean someone like Roseanne who isn't likely to approach you with a new project, but someone like an actor from Cheers who asks you to work on the remake of The Tortellis.

There are actors I would consider doing a project with, but I’d have to be on board as to what that project is. Especially if I’m the one in the writing room until 2 AM fixing the scripts.

And yes, there are actors I would have nothing to do with regardless of their talent, star power, influence, popularity, etc. I won’t name names but you know who you are, Rosanne & Bret Butler & Cybil Shepherd & Teri Hatcher (among others).  

Come join me in San Pedro tomorrow night at the Little Fish Theatre for the Pick of the Vine Festival and Sunday night in Santa Monica at the Ruskin Theatre for their one-day play festival.  And if you're in San Juan Capistrano this weekend, I have a play in the Camino Real Show Off Festival.  Come see it and enjoy one of the prettiest towns in America.


Peter said...

Ken, here is a link to an old Friday question

Will you reconsider your answer to the 3rd question after what Vince Vaughn did this week?

Steve said...

Till date you never told us if you are an academy member. That's not a secret is it?

After you die, is it passed onto Anne?

Xmastime said...

Re: British comedies, they have a history of reveling in old people. There's a bunch of British sitcoms that revolve around old-age pensioners just having a ball; in America we have the Golden Girls and thats it, since we're obsessed with youth.


Only Fools and Horses
Gavin & Stacey
The Inbetweeners
The Vicar of Dibley
Peep Show
I'm Alan Partridge
Moone Boy
To the Manor Born

Also Schitt's Creek, the best current show, is Canadian.

Friday Answers said...

I won’t name names but you know who you are, Rosanne & Bret Butler & Cybil Shepherd & Teri Hatcher


From what I've read about the making of Tomorrow Never Dies, Pierce Brosnan would agree with you about Hatcher.

Stephen Marks said...

"Rosanne & Brett Butler & Cybill Shepard & Terri Hatcher." Look I get that Ken may have some personal reasons for not wanting to work with these women, which of course I'm not privy to, but if it's because they are perceived as "difficult to work with" allow me to put up a defense. Each of these women all tried to make their respective projects better. When it's your name on top, "Rosanne", "Cybill", I can't remember what Butler's show was called but she had top billing, you have every right to make decisions that will not be popular to those working with you. It's their careers and every bad episode could jeopardize those careers.

Now did they cross the line in their attempts to improve their shows, yea probably! "Bitch", "shrew", "C--t" were all used to describe these women. Well good for you ladies, sometimes the end justifies the being mean when it's your head on the platter if it fails. Hollywood is a business, just like, oh I don't know, Apple computers. Steve Jobs was the biggest asshole on the planet but has been elevated to sainthood and had 3 movies made about him. People weeping and leaving flowers at his home when he died, come on, the dude was a complete and total jackass who ruined lives, including his daughter's. Plus he stole a lot of his ideas from Xerox. "Great artists steal" he once said.

I don't think it's fair that we expect every woman in Hollywood or business to be Carol Burnett or to act like Ted Baxter's girlfriend did on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

So Rosanne, Cybill and Brett, I say kudos to you ladies, who cares what people think. Terri Hatcher? I don't know anything about her. She looks like a bitch though.

Lemuel said...

Bret Butler? I've been watching GRACE UNDER FIRE reruns and it's definitely in its declining years. Julie White has quit the show and I think they're on the third Quentin.

Cowboy Surfer said...

Thanks for answering my question about CHEERS extras. As a kid I always enjoyed Allan Malamud's Notes on a Scorecard.

Watched Bar Wars VII last night. Great bringing in Harry the Hat to finally take down Gary. Bar Wars VI just as epic when Norm, Cliff, Carla and Woody get dropped off in North Dakota.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Should EPISODES be considered british, though? Granted, most of the major characters are british, and some parts of it were definitely filmed there. But the writers themselves are David Crane (FRIENDS) and Jeffrey Klarik (DREAM ON), both very much americans.

Kosmo13 said...

I second the enthusiasm for 'Kim's Convenience.' It's one of the few current shows I watch.

Earl Boebert said...

It's not just sitcoms the Brits do better; their panel shows are second to none. QI, Would I Lie to You, 8 out of 10 Cats are funnier and more grown up than anything in the US since What's My Line.

Brian said...

How the hell does Adam Sandler get funding? His movies are the worst. He constantly gets nominated for Razzies. Very few movies are nice. But still with a pathetic list of stinkers, why does Hollywood keep funding him?

Your thought Ken....

YEKIMI said...

One of the best Britcoms was "Vicious" starring old timers Sir Ian McKellan, Sir Derek Jacobi & Frances de la Tour. In my opinion, the writing on it was absolutely hilarious and never failed to make me laugh. Too bad it was only on for a couple of years but I guess the creators got out all they had to say and didn't need to limp along and make subpar episodes.

Stephen Robinson said...

If I may add to Ken's thoughts on "authentic dialogue," I think the problem is when the characters all sound the same. Sorkin characters might all be brilliant but I could identify a Toby, Josh, or CJ line without a character name attached. They each had a rhythm, unique point of view, and frame of reference. The same goes for every character on CHEERS and FRASIER.

I saw a new play recently that i enjoyed but my one "note" would be that the writer included too many pop culture references. It's not just that they can date a work, but they sometimes make characters seem less unique. Not everyone watches reality TV or superhero movies. Your grandmother character probably shouldn't reference the "snap" from AVENGERS unless there's a specific character reason (she's a comic book geek, which would be a fun idea).

estiv said...

The dialogue is stylized but so is Edward Albee’s, and Aaron Sorkin’s, and Neil Simon’s, and Paddy Chayefsky’s, Larry Gelbart’s, Quentin Tarantino’s, Woody Allen’s, and on and on.

There was that guy from way back, Will Shake-something. Beautiful stuff, but who talks like that?

Alright, lame joke aside, obviously I agree. Not long ago I finally watched A Streetcar Named Desire all the way through and was blown away by Tennessee Williams's dialog. Most of the attention now is on Vivien Leigh's and Marlon Brando's performances, which are beautiful and awe-inspiring respectively. But there are moments when Williams's dialog just takes flight. It may say something about today's cinephiles that of all the things that people remember about the movie, the actual words are rarely mentioned.

mike schlesinger said...

Thank you for pointing out what others are refusing to acknowledge: All but one of the networks are committing slow suicide by chasing millennials. Even Nielsen recently admitted that Over-50 is now the prime demographic for broadcast.

The exception, of course, is CBS, the only network that realizes this and is making money hand over fist with such "geezer" shows as NCIS and BLUE BLOODS, neither of which would have lasted very long anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

You went through all that so eloquently and just kind of petered off with that last comment, lol.

Anonymous said...

Ken, having read your stuff for a lengthy period of time I am a fan and I certainly wouldn't call you sexist, but...why do only females come to mind whenever you speak of ones you'd never work with? And yes some like Roseanne it's obvious what the problem is with you two and Bret Butler was and I guess is still a mess but also her biggest problems were in the 90s... 20 some years ago... I get that Cybill definitely did somethings I don't agree with but assessments that she's evil seem harsh. I know you take stock in what your fellow writer friends have to say but keep in mind, whether you want to acknowledge this or not, writer friends that worked on a show with YOU, certainly exaggerated stories about a certain actress. And yes calling her a snob and priss do count.Telling stories about a time she "cried for no reason" counts. Saying she was full of herself counts. Saying she "hated" her leading man and called him a bad kisser counts. Because it all either makes her sound crazy or bitchy. I know you trust your writer friends from other shows but is it possible to take a step back and consider writers as being sensitive as well and take some things with a grain of salt?

Also, I recall a story about Thomas Hayden Church giving you grief over saying lines weird or something (?). He may have been joking but I feel like that was annoying for others.i can't imagine that story being told about an actress doing that and it going over so well.

I'm not saying this to make you defensive and I mean no direspect. I'm simply a young woman, interested in acting, who would like to undertand why some people have to be so villified over things, that in the scheme of life, aren't that severe. And why I hear jokes about difficult women pounded out so hard when men are less Harper on.

Anonymous said...

I meant *Harped* on

By Ken Levine said...

To Anonymous,

Please please please not turn this into a sexism issue. There are some actors who are difficult but light up the screen, there are some who can be annoying at times (Tommy Church), and then there are some who are MONSTERS. Man or woman -- makes no difference. I could also list my top ten favorite actors to work with and most would be women.

It is not, I repeat, a gender issue.

Xmastime said...

btw if there's any fans of "Episodes" you should know Tamsin Greig was also on two other great shows: "Black Books" and "Friday Night Dinner".

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

While Ken has mentioned 4 women that he'd rather not work with in the future, he has very often times mentioned those that he would (Nancy Travis anyone?).

The recent best British sitcom not mentioned: MIRANDA

Best American sitcoms based on British ones: All in the Family, Three's Company, The Office

Unknown said...

I understand never say never. What if people change? Of course, Roseanne hasn't changed, gotten worse. But Butler and Cybil haven't been in the entertainment vocabulary in a long, long time. They are close to broke.
IF they come to you with a british comedy stolen idea that is lightning in a bottle, and they have repented. They realized how bad they used to be, but are now reformed, good people. Would you reconsider? Or once bitten? Scars are still there, not going away. BUT it is gold they tell ya, and you agree.
I guess part of the question, do hollywood type people change? Change for the better. (Robert Downey was forced to change because of prison, and Lucy just got worse)

Anonymous said...

I typically don't see these things as gender issues. And I've heard you say more nice things about women actors then men for sure. I just happened to notice that when topics of "difficult" or "horrendous monsters" come up, women seem to stand out more and I really question that. BUT I'm fully aware the ones you listed are notorious for awful behavior.

FYI, I'm not one of those people calling you racist and sexist for talking about Costance Wu because well...she can be a jerk sometimes.

My criticism isn't towards you not liking Teri, Bret, Cybill, and she-who-pribably shouldn't-be named-here. I'm just noticing that those are go to names of who to avoid for a lot of people. And I just wondered why others, such as certain men, aren't mentioned by people as much.

Long story short I don't think you not liking certain people is sexist. That wasn't what I said at all and tried to make clear.

Anonymous said...

Nor does this warrant a blog post tomorrow about how people think someone mentioning women who are difficult is sexist because that's what I'm saying. I just question things because a lot of people outside the business never question and misinterpret things that people say and make rumors bigger. They aren't insiders but they think they know things and fuel rumors. I just like to get clarificatiins. But I get it, it's fine...

Craig Russell said...

"American broadcasters operate solely out of fear."

AND The All Mighty Dollar....

Anonymous said...

I wonder if we are just programmed to attack women? As if women don't have the same rights to be obnoxious or strong or monsters and fight for what they believe in when they are at the center and in charge? I hear alot about Mark Harmon and Tom Selleck being hard nosed and I remember hearing alot about Michael Landon back in the day fighting with the network but I don't remember them being vilified like Cybill (as an example). It was acceptable for those men to call the shots because...why? If you could rewrite your last paragraph, could you include any men in that list? I'm sure Roseanne was a nightmare but hasn't there been a man who came close to her horribleness? Janice B.

Bryan north of Seattle said...

My big problem with Juno was that it was a series of snarky speeches, not how people (even millenials) actually talk. I think there is a fine line between "witty banter" and being too cute.

Liggie said...

-- I recall hearing about then-Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill giving a cameo performance on "Cheers". That would be fun to seek out.

-- Ah, the Tom Leykis show! "The only talk show that's not hosted by a right-wing whacko or a convicted felon!" In Seattle the FM predecessor to KIRO news-talk, 100.7 "The Buzz", carried it.

Rob in Toronto said...

Cedricstudio - The last thing I want to hear in movies is "realistic dialogue" considering most cretins today can barely speak two sentences in a row without a completely unnecessary use of the word "like". It has become a catch-all substitute for what seems to be hundreds of other words that are too much trouble for them to drag out of their brains. And when some of them can't process the limited words in their vocabulary on a timely basis, they stall for time by just repeating " " until a real word pops into their consciousness.

Bob B. said...

In the discussion about dialogue being "stylized" for humor's sake -- I'm confused. Aren't you the one who is constantly railing against the last few years of MASH where characters would say things like "Curiosity kayoed the feline" because no one would speak like that? Why do you support it in Arthur?

Loosehead said...

Ken, would you work with Chevy Chase or Charlie Sheen?

By Ken Levine said...

Charlie Sheen yes, Chevy Chase NO.

Bob B:
ARTHUR had funny lines and jokes that came out of character. MASH in the later years had turns-of-phrases and substitute words that were supposed to pass for humor. They went for "clever" -- Steve Gordon went for "laughs."

Friday Answers said...

The BBC recently did a three part version of Dracula that pissed me off with its writing by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt. I don't mind villains having occasional funny lines or snarky comebacks. But this iteration of Dracula was a non-stop wisecracking machine. EVERY FUCKING LINE.

Then, in line with the current politically correct trend for changing character identities for no reason other than wanting to win the adulation of SJWs, Van Helsing was now a nun called Agatha Van Helsing. And how did she speak? One wisecrack after another. She too was a non-stop snark generator.

You'd think writers with the experience Gatiss and Moffatt have would know you have more impact when a particular character trait is used sparingly. Imagine if Taxi Driver had been 2 hours of "You talkin to me" style monologues. In Dracula, any potential impact from the dialogue was deadened with the incessant banter between Dracula and Agatha or Dracula and anyone else. It was incredibly annoying. You were no longer hearing characters, you were hearing the writers.

And, of course, this being the BBC, there was the obligatory scene in which Dracula was lectured about women's rights and a woman being able to run a foundation. This is another irritating flaw of some writers who think a theme has to be literally verbalized. The Silence of the Lambs has a strong female protagonist working in a male dominated world. At no point does Clarice stop to say something stupidly on the nose like "I'm sick of all these sexist cops and FBI guys who don't think I as a woman can do this job. Women can be just as good at being an FBI agent." The theme comes through in her behavior and her character arc. The total opposite of today's output, where writers feel they have to parade their politics through on the nose dialogue like an after school special.

I read a review of the recent Black Christmas remake which said one of the characters literally says she and her sorority sisters are "fighting the white male patriarchy." This is what happens when millennials have degrees in intersectional gender studies but no grasp of nuance or subtlety in screenwriting.

Eric Lyden said...

A favorite CHEERS cameo of mine was when WBZ Boston sports anchor Bob Lobel was a barfly in season one or two and even had a line ("Hey, Sammy, the TV's on the fritz.") I'm sure it was just a publicity stunt, but it was fun to see.

MikeN said...

Teri Hatcher???

She has managed to get FOUR iconic roles, five if you count Bond Girl, and millennials or younger might even say six.

PolyWogg said...

I'll have to disagree with you about the "other countries do it better" argument. I think what they do is simply "different" and when you see the ones that are popular enough to cross the board, you're seeing the ones that are decent enough in comparison with the full local suite. And quality "different" vs. generic everything always is going to look "better".

There are Canadians who think 98% of Canadian shows are crap, and the other 2% available is Rick Mercer or Amazing Race Canada. But there are people who swear by Corner Gas, Kim's Convenience, a few other Cdn comedies, and I can barely sit through an episode of just about any of them. I don't laugh once. The Big Bang Theory or Cheers or Mash and I'm at least smiling. Heck Happy Days had more appeal and still would.

For British, I used to love Dave Allen at Large, sitting on stage drinking whiskey and having a smoke, telling stories and playing clips. He was must-watch TV with my dad. Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister are particularly enjoyable, but I'm a govt wonk...there are times some of the humour is more ironic than outright farce now, but I digress. And I enjoyed Coupling enough to get the boxed set to watch it (remember those days?). But for any of those, there are also shows like Benny Hill, Mr. Bean, and AbFab. They remidn me of the show, "I'd buy that for a dollar" from the movie The Running Man. Farce if you're in the mood, I guess. But I'd take an episode of Roseanne over any of those three.

Different strokes, perhaps, but in the end, I think you're comparing the foreign wheat that rose to the top against the vast unprocessed chaff that makes it on local.

Or I'm just becoming curmudgeonly.

But for every Kim's Convenience that gets seen outside of Canada, there are backlogs of Canadian shows that are so bad, WE don't even air them in rerun, even when legislated to do so.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Remember The Trouble With Tracy? Burning the tapes would be too good for that misfire.

Kevin from VA said...

To Stephen Robinson

If you are the same "social kibitzer" who writes for Wonkette, you are very good.

Kosmo13 said...

I think this topic has gotten sufficient revenge against Brett Butler by spelling her name incorrectly. She must be feeling the karma by now.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but the 1968 claim that "When a man is strong and aggressive, he's admired and when a woman does the same she's a bitch" is a dirty lie today. But it still comes handy, doesn't it?

Today, a man who isn't powerful or influential, but just a regular, workaday guy who asserts himself to someone who wants to silence or otherwise degrade him is called a "bastard" or an "asshole." There are humiliations for and doors shut on both sexes. Don't kid yourself. You're not the center of the universe.

No one can call an offensive woman anything -- or even intimate something inadvertently -- without punishment, as many of you have today with Ken. You don't know him, but you judged and convicted him. I don't think one should even dare to use the phrase "offensive woman."

Second, I have seen people's lives ruined by as many horrifying, unscrupulous and psychotic men as I have by equally treacherous women. Rottenness knows no demographic. Most people DO know that. Don't go around perpetuating that "everyone" says things they really don't say.

As a man, I have been treated well be men and women and treated terribly by each gender too. Integrity knows no gender either.

For gosh sakes, get a grip. You don't know Ken. And you'll never know me.

Mike Doran said...

This works in all kinds of ways.
In the past, I've noted that Ken always speaks very well of Shelley Long, who has served as a hate figure for many snarkers on the 'net for years now.
That's one name to serve for many.
On the other hand, there are performers (male and female) who are always spoken of highly by their fellows as being great on the set and fun to be with.
For example, I've never read a negative word from co-workers about Joan Collins, notwithstanding the characters she plays (again, one name to serve for many).

All this is strictly a civilian's eye view; I know as much (or as little) as any of the rest of you.
It may be my advancing age that is dictating this, but there you are …
… and here I am …
… and here's the show …
(Acknowledgement to Lonesome George Gobel.)

slgc said...

Friday question - aside from baseball, which you obviously love, which sports do you follow on a regular basis?

Steve said...

Regarding British comedies, I highly recommend Back, a BBC comedy with David Mitchell and Robert Webb. You can find it on Amazon. Good stuff.

Xmastime said...

Enjoyed Back! Though I guess any chance to see Mitchell/Webb. Any idea when a Season 2 will be available in the US?!?!?!?!? :)