Wednesday, September 30, 2020

EP194: The First Night of CHEERS

September 30th marked the 38th anniversary of the debut of CHEERS.  Join Ken for the first night party and more inside scuttlebutt on the show that is now iconic but finished last in the ratings the night it premiered. 

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The reprehensible presidential debate

After last night’s utter Shit Show (as “Fake News” journalist, Dana Bash so succinctly put it), if you are still for Trump, please stop reading my blog.  Please do not listen to my podcast.  Please do not follow me on social media.   Unfriend me.  Unsubscribe. Block me. I don’t care.  Please just GO AWAY.    Of course I’m disabling comments, libtard that I am.


And before I get into the debate, let me say this to Trump supporters --  I care more about your welfare and safety than you do.  I don’t want you to lose your health insurance.  I don’t want you to contract COVID-19 and needlessly die.  I don’t want your house to be swept away in a flood.  I don’t want to see you out of work for two years because of how mishandled this pandemic was.    A vote for Trump is shooting YOURSELF in the foot. 


As for the Trumpster fire that charaded as a debate: What a vile display of bullying, malicious claims, lies, and hate from the despicable president of the United States.   God bless “Sleepy” Joe for remaining composed, presidential, empathetic, sane, and not taking the bait.   Trump’s strategy of steamrolling the debate just highlighted for all to see how incompetent he is to lead and how utterly clueless he is on any matter or policy.   He’s a fucking monster.  


And as for the “moderator,” his father Mike is rolling over in his grave. 


Trump not denouncing the white supremacists is all you need to know. 


I hope the next two debates are canceled.  I won’t be watching.  I imagine most of the country won’t either.    There’s nothing to learn from them. 


This was exhausting.   Excedrin Headache 1-1000.  


COVID is real.  Global Warming is real.  Science is real.  Facts are not opinions.  There are NO good white supremacists.  Tax fraud is a felony. 


Vote for Biden.  Let’s get this fucking guy OUT already.  


I guess I should try to say one humorous thing.  It won't be easy under the circumstances.  Okay.  Trump will be the first former president to have his presidential library in San Quentin. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Just 'cause you're a movie star doesn't necessarily mean you're funny

Among the ways I’ve been idling away the hours during this half-year-so-far lockdown is by watching old movies on TCM. I’ve caught a lot of films I had never seen. Some turn out to be forgotten gems, but a lot of them are the AfterMASH’s of their day. No wonder I’ve never seen them.

Case in point: THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS. Humphrey Bogart is so unbelievably terrible in this idiotic noir faux-Hitchcock movie you wonder how it didn’t kill his career. And I love Bogie.

The other thing I noticed is that since actors were under contract to studios they all made a ton of movies in all genres.

Including comedies.

From Gary Cooper to Norma Shearer, every Hollywood star tried their hand at making people laugh.

And most of them, I’m sorry to say, were not funny.

I watched PRIVATE LIVES, based on the sparkling play by Noel Coward. Film adaptations are rarely as good as the stage plays – especially when they have to “open them up” and make them more cinematic – but this one really suffered from the acting. Robert Montgomery – not funny. Norma Shearer – painfully not funny.

And I’m sure (were he still with us) Robert Montgomery would be the first to say comedy wasn’t his gift. Humphrey Bogart attempts comedy in WE’RE NO ANGELS. Not great but he’s Chaplin compared to his performance in THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS.

That’s why it’s such a pleasure to see a few of these Hollywood stars who really have a flair for comedy. Barbara Stanwyck for one. TCM had a Barbara Stanwyck film festival and in addition to her classics like DOUBLE INDEMNITY they featured some comedies. THE LADY EVE is one of my all-time favorite comedies. But BALL OF FIRE (written by Billy Wilder) is also a treat.

The movie stars that can do comedy make it seem effortless. The ones who can’t are working so hard to be funny, but it’s like being in a dark closet with your hand out groping for the light switch.

Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell, Carole Lombard, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Kathryn Hepburn, Spencer Tracy – they all have the gift. And it is a gift.

Ever see the comedy, THE BEDTIME STORY, starring Marlon Brando? Not every actor has been given the gift.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Weekend Post

 Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, NY recently did a Zoom reading of one of my ten-minute plays (updated to become a Zoom play), and it came out pretty well.  So I thought I'd share.  Enjoy. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

Friday Questions

 Hi kids.  Time for more Friday Questions.


Kendall Rivers starts us off:


With this current reboot trend I HATE but for some crazy reason is still going on, would you be down with a MTM reboot or even a live stage revival like Norman Lear did? Or would you be completely opposed to it due to the chance they would screw it up and make it shrill, mean, preachy and frankly much less funny like most sitcoms now?


I’m completely opposed to it because – why bother doing it?  You’re not going to improve on the original cast.  The dated wardrobe and flimsy sets are going to really stick out.  The actors are going to be doing impressions of the real cast. 


So other than for a ratings stunt and a money grab, what’s the upside?  It’s the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW not the MARISSA TOMEI FILLING IN SHOW. 


Cedricstudio asks: 


Neil Simon Is constantly praised as a great playwright. I’ve never seen any of his work performed on stage but I’ve seen two movies based on his work. The Odd Couple (starring Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau) was enjoyable enough but did not blow me away. Last night I watched Murder By Death and was disappointed. The premise was promising (it’s a murder mystery spoof where five of the world’s most famous detectives—caricatures of Sam Spade, Hercules Poirot, Miss Marple, etc.—are locked in a castle and challenged to solve a murder. Then it is their host who winds up dead.) With an all-star cast and a Neil Simon script my hopes were high but I found it corny and ridiculous with most jokes falling flat. I’m not a writer so this might be sacrilege but I would take one of your MASH episodes over either of these films any day. Can you help me understand why Simon is so revered? What am I missing?


Okay, you know I love Neil Simon, but I agree about MURDER BY DEATH.  


But for his hugely successful plays: 


What you’re missing is context.  What you’re missing is being in a live theatre, hearing the dialogue crackle and the audience laughing at almost every line.  You can’t capture that in a filmed version.  You just can’t.


BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, although dated, is a joy to see on stage done right – even today.   But the movie version with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda is just a slog.  And Redford starred in it on Broadway. He was funny on stage.  In the film he's a mannequin. 


Once this fucking pandemic is over, find a decent theatre doing THE ODD COUPLE or some other highly regarded Neil Simon play, allow for the passing of time, and just let yourself go.  I bet you’ll laugh your ass off. 


From Chuck:


I'm curious what your opinion is concerning Baseball Players/Managers being "microphoned" during a game. As I'm writing this I'm watching my team, the Cubs taking on the Cardinals on ESPN. (Not as bad as watching a FOX broadcast.) During game play, the announcers spoke to David Ross, Manager of the Cubs. They then spoke to the Manager of the Cardinals, Mike Shildt. He actually cut the conversation short saying he needed "to manage." (I say, Good for him!)


After that, ESPN had Cardinals Short Stop, Paul DeJong on microphone. They gabbed back and forth during game play. Cubs batter David Bote then hit a ball that went straight to the gabbing Paul DeJong. He got the ball and threw to first, but Bote was safe. (Good for the Cubs!) In my view, DeJong messed up this play because he wasn't paying as close attention to the game as he should have been. ESPN should not have been bothering him - or any other player/manager - during game play!


So, your opinion? And if you happen to agree with me, how do we put a stop to this thoroughly irritating ESPN (and FOX) practice? I say, LET THEM PLAY THE GAME!


This is another case of the tail wagging the dog.  MLB has allowed TV networks to dictate how they want to cover it.  Mic’ing players is for the benefit of the TV broadcast at the expense of the game.   But do you think Fox and ESPN give a shit?  Of course not. 


And especially now, where MLB is JUST a TV game (with no fans allowed in the stands), the networks call the shots.  All these additional playoffs, and match-up announcement shows – none of that improves the actual game and if anything, erodes its integrity. 


But MLB is taking the money.  And really, isn’t that all that matters? 


And finally, from WB Jax:


At what point of episode scripting are titles usually conceived? For you and David did such titles as "Death Takes A Holiday On Ice" come easily to you and were there times when either a story editor or fellow writer suggested an alternative (perhaps better, perhaps not) title for one of your scripts?


Just before you turn in the outline (although sometimes the title changes).  Once you submit the outline for payment, then it goes into the system and they need a title for records.  


But I will say this, titles don’t mean much.  You rarely see them on the screen.  It’s not like a movie or a play where a good title can help grab an audience.  So I advise writers not to spend two days coming up with the perfect episode title. 


I always liked the way FRIENDS handled titles.  Episodes were “The one where…  and they just described what the general story was about.  Probably saved the writers days.


What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

EP193: The Man who Saved Batman Part Two

Ken talks with Michael Uslan, the originator and executive producer of the Batman movie franchise.  This week we discuss the various Batman reboots, Christopher Nolan’s vision, the upcoming reboot, and why I hate what Zach Snyder has done to Superman. 

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Quarantine musings

Things to think about while in lockdown (for week 28)


I love this scam.  Underage teenagers are putting on gray wigs, wearing masks, and liquor stores are selling them booze.


Note to Postmate drivers:  If you’re making a delivery for me but stop off somewhere else first for fifteen minutes, so my food gets cold, that gets reflected in your tip. 


I miss restaurants, but not enough to eat in one. 


Seriously.  How hard is it to wear a mask?


CHEERS premiered 38 years ago this month. Stay tuned for a podcast episode all about that. 


Who besides me has had a screwed up sleep pattern since March?   Although, to be fair, I haven’t slept well since 2016. 


Not to take anything away from SCHITT’S CREEK, but if there weren’t the pandemic and people didn’t have all this time on their hands to sample it and watch the whole series, do you think it still would have won all those Emmys?  


I'm sure one reason people watch SCHITT'S CREEK is so they don't have to watch the news.  


When you get takeout food, and you’re eating it out of Styrofoam and it’s already starting to congeal, that’s two meals a day every day for ten months if you’re in a writers room.    Oh boy!  Italian again. 


If a UPS truck passes by the house and doesn’t stop I take it personally now. 


The San Diego Padres finally put together a fantastic year and none of their long-suffering fans can watch them in person. 


Are you still hoarding toilet paper? 


The new rage is Zoom readings of classic sitcoms like GOLDEN GIRLS and FRIENDS with diverse casts.  If Denzel Washington is reading this – BIG WAVE DAVE’S is available.


And to think – so much of this could have been avoided.  SHOULD have been avoided. VOTE!


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Happy Anniversary to THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW


As reader Matt in Westwood pointed out, CBS missed a bet this past Saturday night.  50 years ago, to that day, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW premiered.    It’s not like CBS has such a powerhouse Saturday night line up that they couldn’t put together some kind of salute.  Especially when their colorized episodes of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW top the ratings the nights they’re aired. 


THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, created by Jim Brooks & Allan Burns was, for its time, a perfect sitcom.   Great characters, situations, and writing.  There was a smartness and depth of emotion to the scripts that, to this day, stands as the absolute gold standard in sitcom comedy writing. 


Oh, and it was very very very FUNNY. 


Fabulous jokes that all came out of character and attitudes.   Some of the greatest TV writers of all-time wrote for THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW including Treva Silverman, Ed. Weinberger & Stan Daniels, Bob Ellison, Earl Pomerantz, Glen & Les Charles, and David Lloyd.   Talk about the ’27 Yankees. 


You could say, “Yeah, well, 50 years ago is a long time,” but that’s when MASH was launched and that’s still revered (thank goodness for me).  And ALL IN THE FAMILY was in its heyday during that period.  ABC (not even the network that originally aired it) saluted ALL THE FAMILY with two primetime recreations. 


Happy anniversary to THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW on turning 50.  What’s weird is that that show had a huge impact on me and I got to work with her when she turned 50. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Last Night's Emmy Awards

 Here’s the best part of last night’s Emmy Award show:  An actual comedy that strives to make people laugh swept the comedy category.  Not a “dramedy” that has a few smiles or a quirky message show, but a real honest-to-goodness COMEDY.   So congratulations to SCHITT’S CREEK and all the Levys. 


Not only was it an unprecedented sweep, I hope it sent a clear message that comedies are supposed to be FUNNY. 


I’m told WATCHMEN and SUCCESSION are terrific shows.  Like most Americans, I’ll have to start watching them now. 


As for the show itself, sorry, I couldn’t get through it.  I give them credit for attempting a very ambitious feat, and Jimmy Kimmel did his usual solid job of moving it along.   But the bits were mostly painful.   And the In Memoriam section omitted my good friend Earl Pomerantz and David Schramm from WINGS.   And as blog reader Bradley pointed out, they also forgot to honor Billy Goldenberg, Orson Bean, Lynn Cohen, Paula Kelly, Jerry Herman, Terrence McNally, Saul Turtletaub, and I’m sure two or three more.  Disgraceful.  But they had 5 minutes to devote to that stupid bit at a race track featuring the cars delivering Emmys. 


I turned it off after the In Memoriam.  I so didn’t give a shit the rest of the way. 


I thought to myself, if you’re not in the TV industry, why would you be watching this?  And my guess is, not many people were.  Ratings have been horrible when you could see all the actors and dresses.     


UPDATE:  Last night's ratings were the lowest of all-time.  Only 6.1 million people watched, down 12% from last year's previous all-time low.  In key demographics it was down 25% from last year.  Of course, when not a single network show wins an Emmy that could be an added problem. 


I appreciated all the winners telling everyone to vote, but I’m sure they were preaching to the choir.  However, for those of us who share their views of compassion and justice, their sentiments were greatly appreciated.   Even the Canadian winners implored us all to do the right thing. (Another reason why I'm glad they won.) 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Weekend Post

As if 9/11 wasn't already the bleakest day in modern history, eleven years ago on that date Larry Gelbart passed away.  He was 81.   He was a dear friend, mentor, and inspiration.   At the time I wrote a tribute for the blog.  It took me a couple of days.  I was totally devastated.  Anyway, I thought I'd share with you again my thoughts on Larry. 

In addition to everything else, he wrote beautiful eulogies. With his flair for words and wit and warmth he constructed eloquent touching tributes. I used to kid him that he had to live forever because no one else could write them as well. And now I find myself in the agonizing position of trying to write his. First off, let me say, it won’t be as good.

So rather than tell you what you probably already know – that he was the Mozart of comedy writing and recipient of every honor but the Heisman Trophy – I’ll try to share some things you might not know; some personal stories.

In many ways the hardest part of writing scripts is turning them in. Because then you have to wait. And wait. And wait. It’s a stomach churning exercise filled with angst and insecurity and flashbacks of high school. After a day you’re an utter basket case. After a week you’re confessing to crimes you didn’t even commit.

When you turned in a script to Larry at 5:30 he called you at home to say he loved it… at 6:30. The first Rolaid hadn’t even dissolved in your stomach yet. Trust me, this is unheard of. But that was Larry. Empathetic, considerate, a mensch. He was the kindest man in an industry that seriously frowns on that sort of thing. Fortunately, he had the talent to overcome it.

And despite his enormous success, he was just as human as the rest of us mere boulevardrd farcitiers. He arranged for house seats for my wife and I to see the original production of SLY FOX. Jacqueline Kennedy was sitting next to me. When I called the next day to thank him and tell him who was sitting on my left, he got very nervous. “Did she like it? Did she laugh? Which jokes?” He was thrilled to learn she did laugh, and I’d like to think thrilled that my wife and I laughed too but probably more Jackie. After all, she paid for her seat.

I mentioned one day in a rewrite that my favorite MASH episode was “the More I See You” with Blythe Danner guesting as Hawkeye’s former flame. A few days later I received a gift. In those days Larry used to write his scripts longhand on legal pads. He gave me a Xeroxed copy of his original first draft. And the Mozart comparison continues. There were no cross-outs. Every line was perfectly constructed. Emotion and humor flowed from speech to speech with absolute ease. How does one do that? It’s impossible! That draft (now bound) remains one of my most cherished possessions.

And by the way, he could write an entire MASH script in one night. He was incredibly fast. Stanley Donan was going to direct a movie called BLAME IT ON RIO. He was not happy with the draft his writer had ,turned in and asked Larry if as a favor, he’d read it and offer his suggestions. Larry said sure (Larry always said sure). The script was delivered to him Friday at 5:30. No, he didn’t call back with his reaction at 6:30. He waited until Monday morning. But he said he had so many problems with it that instead of just scribbling down some notes he took the liberty of REWRITING the whole screenplay himself. Unbelievable. Even Mozart didn’t compose an opera over the weekend. Larry said use what you like. Donan used every word.

A similar story: For rewrites we would dictate to our assistant, Ruth, who was lightening quick. There was a big Radar speech. Larry started pitching and was just on fire. We were in stitches. Ruth broke in, telling him to slow down. Even she couldn’t write that fast. Larry said, “Just get half” and kept going. The half she didn’t get was better than anything else on television.

Larry always sent thank you notes. Larry always dropped you a line wishing you well on your upcoming project. Larry always returned phone calls. Larry always emailed you right back. Larry even left comments on my blog. I half expect a thank you note for this essay.

His legacy will last forever. His work was timeless, universal, steeped in humanity, and brilliant. MASH will always air eight times a night, TOOTSIE and OH GOD! will forever be on your screens (be they 64” plasmas or 2” iPods), FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, and CITY OF ANGELS will be revived as long as there are stages.

Like any screenwriter, Larry had drawers and drawers of unproduced or unsold or unfinished projects. In June he just had a reading of a pilot he conceived. Last year he mounted a play in Chicago he was shepherding to Broadway. At the time of his death he was adapting one of his films into a musical and one of his musicals into a film. So yes, he left behind an amazing body of work but still we “just got half”.

Many people who knew him felt that Hawkeye Pierce was an idealized version of Larry. I’d like to think one of his other character creations was a more accurate representation of just who he was. God.

Enjoy the work of Larry Gelbart. You will laugh until you hurt. And for those of us who were blessed to have known him, we will hurt until we laugh.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Friday Questions

Kicking off the weekend and Jewish New Year with Friday Questions.

June Bug starts us off:

Most sitcom heavy-hitters these days have become famous before joining the series - think Samberg, Janney, Farris, Deschanel. Are we losing out on undiscovered comic talents bc of Hollywood's reliance on bankable names? Do you think this shift is permanent, or is it just another tide-turning?

Networks have always preferred known stars to front their series. Now more than ever. You’re more apt to sell a pilot if you already have a coveted star attached.

So how do unknown actors get discovered? Generally, by being a supporting character who breaks out. Henry Winkler, Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Jason Alexander, Michael Richards. The casts of THE OFFICE and PARKS AND REC emerged but had Steve Carell and Amy Poehler as the stars.

The bottom line is this: Networks don’t want to take a chance… on anything.

From Mr. Ace:

What are your thoughts on shows that used animated openings like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, and could an animated opening work today?

Sure. Why not? Today, more than ever, animation is hot.

If you had a live-action pilot with an animated opening, the thing that might prevent the sale is the live-action show.

And of course, the big problem is convincing the network to let you do any kind of opening title sequence.

Kendall Rivers asks:

I love a good Heck family car trips which made me think that The Hecks have got to be the most believable tv family I've seen in years with genuine chemistry. They actually feel like an actual family which most other family shows of this era lack. The Johnson's on Blackish are just too mean and spiteful to each other, The Juangs from Fresh are too...distant? And the families from modern family are just messes. I feel like if their shows did the car trip episodes or scenes The Middle did I'd be bored to tears or change the channel. What about you? Do The Hecks measure up to your favorite tv families?

As I mentioned in my Wednesday post, I love THE MIDDLE. I often found it funnier than MODERN FAMILY. And it was perfectly cast. Those kids were all amazing. And Eden Sher is a comedy goddess.

It used to bother me that there would be a 30 second promo that would be 25 seconds of MODERN FAMILY tagged with “And a new episode of THE MIDDLE.”

And finally, from Rhonda Aghamalian,

Of all the actors you've worked with/had the opportunity to observe over the course of your career, which are the least like their best known roles/characters and which are the most like them?

In our movie, VOLUNTEERS, Tom Hanks played a preppy asshole, and Tom could not be farther from that in real life.

Same with David Schramm who played sleazy Roy on WINGS. David was a sweetheart.

And I would add Ted Danson as BECKER. He’s anything but a bitter curmudgeon.

On the other hand, Harry Morgan as Colonel Potter on MASH was very much like his character, as was Mike Farrell as B.J.

Happy New Year! I’m ready for a new year. Aren’t you?

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

EP192: The Man who Saved Batman Part One

Ken talks with Michael Uslan, the originator and executive producer of the Batman movie franchise. We’ll talk the origin of Batman, his revered place in popular culture, the co-creator who didn’t get credit for 70 years, the TV show, and first Tim Burton Batman movie.   It’s comic-con for the ears!  

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Soooooo LA

Okay, I just couldn't resist.  Thanks to Mike McManus for sending me this photo.

Guest blogger who's funnier than me

Of all the rants on coping with COVID, this is the funniest I’ve found. Eileen Heisler is a TV writer who, among other accomplishments was the co-creator and a showrunner of THE MIDDLE (a show that deserved as much Emmy love as MODERN FAMILY). This is an article she wrote for WryTimes that she graciously allowed me to re-post. Thanks, Eileen.


I’m so fucking pissed at Adele.

Adele showing up blonde and skinny and looking like Katy Perry is just about the last straw of 2020 for me.

Seriously, Adele, fuck you.

And while I’m at it, screw off Instagram people who are finding this to be the most rewarding time of their lives.

The sourdough bread people.

The organizing their kitchen in the colors of the rainbow people—I tried it. Made it through a shelf of cookbooks (I don’t cook.) and my real work clothes in the closet (I don’t wear real clothes anymore.).

The look on the bright side people

The started a charity people

The singing with full choir and orchestra on Zoom people

The “I don’t miss that two-hour commute” people

The “getting masked coffee to-go in town is just like going to Italy” people

Fuck off all of you.

Are we labeling our years now? I hear it’s Rebel Wilson’s “year of health.” Well, guess what? It’s my “year of decline.” It’s my year of not producing, of not keeping it up, of not not-eating the things I shouldn’t. I have not used this time wisely, I have not gotten washboard abs, I haven’t kicked carbs to the curb for good. I have not self-improved. I have not found this to be the most rewarding time of my life. I haven’t bullet journaled my way to happiness, or set a year goal, made yogurt in the insta pot, finally read Jane Austen, learned a new language or baked my way through the Huckleberry cookbook…. I haven’t.

In a life that has been driven for years by the calendar, my March through September was ripped out and thrown on the floor.

What have I done?

I have not gotten Corona.

I have supported my kids through this unprecedented wrench thrown in all of their works.

I have missed my son who I haven’t seen in seven months.

I have hugged my mom’s foot during a masked outdoor visit and convinced myself that’ll do for now.

I got my mammogram.

I colored my own hair and then went back to the professionals as soon as I was allowed. Yes, boobs and hair, I learned clearly those are the non-negotiables.

I ordered cherry pie from Michigan ‘cause I couldn’t go in person.

I froze the pie in separate slices so I wouldn’t eat it all at once.

I ate it all at once.

I zoomed with friends.

I zoomed with family.

I zoomed with work people.

I zoomed reunions of television shows I didn’t even watch when they were on in the first place.

I started Breaking Bad from the beginning again and binged it on my phone for three days straight until I was convinced I heard mariachi music out my office window.

I watched I’ll be Gone in the Dark

And Filthy Rich.

And the thing about the amusement park that kills people.

I had sex.

I had a dead squirrel removed from my lawn by the department of sanitation.

I swept.

I swept, and I vacuumed, and I swept again.

And I waited.

Waited for a sign it was okay to stand down my guard.

Waited for an election that better bring change.

Waited for anything—anything at all—to return to normal.

For there to be something precedented, something recognizable, something to grasp on to— Something that remained as it was.

Which brings me back to blonde skinny Adele.

I’m waiting.

I’m waiting for her to gain back that weight. So the image of Adele is once again as expected. So in this insane period where nothing feels normal, I can see brunette, regular-person-sized Adele and feel safe.

I’m sorry I said fuck you, Adele. I’m happy for you. I really am.

But I’m really not.

Improve yourself later when Biden is president. When I can go to a play and meet my son’s girlfriend and hug my mom and see my friends outside of tiny little boxes on screens. Go ahead and rock your blonde skinny self then, and I’ll support you, I promise I will. Until then, I just found a piece of pie in the back of the freezer.

…Want a bite?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Princess Bride Reunion

Did you see THE PRINCESS BRIDE reunion on line Sunday? It was a fundraiser for Democrats in Wisconsin. I hope they took in $30,000,000. Most of the original cast did essentially a Zoom reading.

It was great fun to see them again. Most were terrific. Billy Crystal was funny again. Robin Wright still looked Buttercuppy after 37 years. Mandy Patinkin ate up all the scenery even though he was in a little box. (He acted like a caged animal.)

You appreciate William Goldman’s brilliant script even more just hearing the words. There was also a Q&A after that was fun.

I’ve had a few Zoom readings of my plays over the last couple of months (face it, that IS theatre this year) and have always been very happy with the performances but annoyed at the technical glitches.

What I found heartening about THE PRINCESS BRIDE reunion was that they had just as many or more technical glitches than my modest readings. And theirs was very high profile. But there were sound problems. Actors popping on when they weren’t supposed to. I’m sure if the actors rehearsed it for a week and it was pre-recorded and edited together it would have been more polished, but only to a certain degree. Depending on the lighting, background, bandwidth, etc. the actors’ boxes would still vary in quality. Sound levels would still be low or echoey, or distorted in places. Robin Wright held her earbud microphone, Mandy attempted to upstage anyone he was on stage with – and the point is, I still enjoyed it.

So perhaps the people watching my Zoom readings also forgave the hiccups and enjoyed them just the same. I’ll never know for sure because I couldn’t hear any laughter (a big problem when trying to judge the success of a comedy), but I was sitting at the breakfast table watching a laptop and laughing out loud at Billy Crystal and Carol Kane so maybe laughs do come through despite the lack of an audience.

I hope so because like I said, for now this is the only theatre there is.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Friday Questions on Monday

Making up for no Friday Questions on Friday, here they are on Monday.

McTom starts us off:

A college professor of mine (who was a first-year associate prof way back then, and is now a frequently-quoted expert on pop culture in the news) talked about character naming, and used the examples of Sam Malone "M-Alone because he's a lone wolf type", Diane Chambers "her emotions are chambered", and Norm because - "norm". Reading too much into it, or are characters sometimes actually subtly named for personality traits?

Happy to say in the case of CHEERS that NONE of that is true. No subtext, symbolism, or hidden meanings were involved in the naming of those characters. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

I’m always amused at how “experts” can read meaning into things that don’t exist. Of course, if dealing with contemporary work they could always ASK the creator. 

jcs asks:

Have you ever considered becoming more political in your work (TV or theatre) and going more in the direction of THE THICK OF IT or VEEP?

David Isaacs and I have done a number of political projects. A pilot about the White House press corps that we did for ABC and later for HBO, and a pilot about a mayor we sold to FX. At the time, both stalled because of fear of political shows.

How do you write something funny and satirical today that even comes close to the insanity of the current political scene?

But as you saw last week, I do write political plays, and I’ve written numerous articles for the Huffington Post.

From cd1515

Do those network promos for comedies really do any good?

If there are three funny lines in the promo I usually think “those might be the only three funny lines in the show and now I’ve already seen them so why would I watch?”

But if the three lines they show in the promo AREN’T funny then I think “wow if that’s the best stuff they have, why would I watch?”

When you were on network shows, what did you want a promo to accomplish and how much say did you have about what went in them?

Network promos used to be way more important when people watched the networks.

At one time they were crucial and producers fought tooth and nail to get as many promos as possible in the best slots as possible.

As for the content, that’s always been a big struggle because producers don’t select the clips – the promo department does. And either they give away big reveals or choose the wrong jokes or jokes that make no sense out of context. They were uncanny at that.

I just want viewers to (a) remember the show, and (b) be intrigued enough to watch it.  

Bob Gassel has this week’s (or is it last week’s) final question:

The only real continuing storyline MASH ever did was Margaret's engagement and marriage, why didn't they do more and would you have liked to?

We were locked into a time and place, which really tied our hands. The show lasted over four times as long as the actual war. On other shows characters can move, get in and out of relationships, have kids, change their circumstances, etc. We couldn’t do any of that. So it made it very hard to do long term story arcs when no one was allowed to evolve.

On the other hand, the advantage we had was all the research and all the interviews with people who served in Korea during that time. Most of our stories came from real-life events, and many were very unique to our series.

And we felt the trade-off was worth it. We told stories no other show could tell.

Friday Questions return to Friday this Friday. What’s yours?

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Weekend Post

One of the biggest laughs we ever got on CHEERS was taken out when the show aired. Not that big laughs are so easy to get that it’s no big whoop to just toss one, but in this case we felt it ruined the show. Here’s the backstory.

First season. The episode was called “The Coach’s Daughter” (written by Ken Estin and directed by James Burrows). From the title you can probably get the gist of what the show was about. The Coach’s somewhat plain daughter introduces her fiancé to her dad and the gang at Cheers and he’s a real boorish lout. (He sold flame retarded reversible suits and yet he wasn’t reputable.)

Sidenote: The actor who played him was Phillip Charles MacKenzie. For the first two days we had someone else and he just didn’t work out. The trouble was finding someone really funny but still likeable enough that you didn’t storm the stage. Funny/obnoxious is not easy to pull off. And it had to be someone who could step in and be up to speed almost immediately. My partner and I had used Phillip in a pilot we created. He was great. I felt worse for him than us that NBC passed on it for PINK LADY AND JEFF. So he was our suggestion and he made us look good. In later years Phillip became a director and we used him often on ALMOST PERFECT. End of sidenote, and no I’m not going to say who the actor was that got fired.

Late in the episode there’s a lovely scene where the Coach has a heart-to-heart with his daughter, Lisa in Sam’s office. It’s clear to everyone (but the Coach of course) that she’s marrying this clown, Roy out of insecurity not love. Lisa tells her dad that Roy thinks she’s beautiful. The Coach says, “You are beautiful. You look just like your mother.” It was meant to touch Lisa’s heart.

We were holding our breaths hoping it didn’t get a big gooey “Awwwwwwww!” Instead it got this thunderous laugh. Applause even. Everyone on the stage was stunned. We shot the scene again, thinking this time they’ll see it differently. Nope. Huge laugh the SECOND time.

Still, when we assembled the show we all felt it hurt the scene and ultimately the story. Kudos to the Charles Brothers for being willing to lift the episode’s biggest laugh to preserve the emotional core of the show.

Sometimes jokes can also sacrifice the integrity of your characters -- make them too stupid, too insensitive, etc. When that even becomes a borderline call my vote is to dump the joke. Same with jokes of questionable taste. Take the high road.

As hard as it is to write big jokes, it's always much harder to discard them. But the rewards are greater and you'll like yourself in the morning.

Friday, September 11, 2020

9-11 and David and Lynn Angell

You'll have to wait for Monday for this week's Friday Questions.  It's 9-11.  I re-post this every year on this date and always will. 

9/11 affected us all, profoundly and in many cases personally. Two of my dear friends were on flight 11. David and Lynn Angell. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought of them, missed them, and not felt grateful that they were in my life.

David and I worked together on CHEERS, WINGS, and FRASIER (the latter two he co-created). We used to call him the “dean”. In his quiet way he was the one we always looked to for final approval of a line or a story direction. He brought a warmth and humanity to his writing that hopefully rubbed off on the rest of us “schickmeisters”. And he could be funny – sneaky funny. During long rewrite sessions he tended to be quiet. Maybe two or three times a night he’d pitch a joke – but they were always the funniest jokes of the script.

For those of you hoping to become comedy writers yourselves, let David Angell be your inspiration. Before breaking in he worked in the U.S. Army, the Pentagon, an insurance firm, an engineering company, and then when he finally moved out to L.A. he did “virtually every temp job known to man” for five years. Sometimes even the greatest talents take awhile to be recognized.

I first met David the first season of CHEERS. He came in to pitch some stories. He had been recommended after writing a good NEWHART episode. This shy quiet man who looked more like a quantum physics professor than a comedy writer, slinked into the room, mumbled through his story pitches, and we all thought, “is this the right guy? He sure doesn’t seem funny.” Still, he was given an assignment (“Pick a con…any con”) and when the script came back everyone was just blown away. He was quickly given a second assignment (“Someone single, someone blue”) and that draft came back even better. I think the first order of business for the next season was to hire David Angell on staff.

After 9/11, David’s partners Peter Casey & David Lee called me and my partner into their office. There was a FRASIER script David Angell was about to write. (It was the one where Lilith’s brother arrived in a wheelchair and became an evangelist. Michael Keaton played the part.) Peter & David asked if we would write it and for me that was a greater honor than even winning an Emmy.

David’s wife, Lynn, was also an inspiration. She devoted her life to helping others – tirelessly working on creating a children’s library and a center that serves abused children.

My heart goes out to their families. To all of the families.

I still can’t wrap my mind around it.

So tragic, so senseless, and even nineteen years later, so inconceivable.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

EP191: CHEERS trivia you might not know

On this week's Hollywood & Levine, Ken takes you behind-the-scenes with insider stories about the hit sitcom Cheers. If you thought you knew a lot about Cheers, think again! This is a must listen for sitcom fans.
Listen to other podcasts similar to this on iTunes!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

My 10-minute White House play

Here's a ten-minute play that I might as well share since hopefully it will become obsolete. It was slated to be performed in Sydney in the Short + Sweet Festival this past Maarch, but of course, that was canceled. It's a political comedy so of course I'm shutting off comments for the day. Enjoy.


MUSIC: "Billy Don't Be a Hero" by Bo
Donaldson & the Heywoods. ESTABLISH
then FADE.

A Secret Service Agent, INGRAM, in dark
suit with earpiece and mic guards a
door. He presses a button on the
earpiece and speaks.

Twenty-two hundred hours and Mogul is secure in the Lincoln
Bedroom. Over.

Another Secret Service Agent, LUNDY, in
similar attire approaches.

Agent Ingram? (extending his hand) Ronald Lundy.

(shaking hands) Agent Lundy, good to meet you.

Thanks. I don't mind saying, I'm a little excited. This is
my first shift.

I know what you mean. I've been in the Secret Service for
seven years now and I still feel it's a privilege every day I
walk into the White House. You think of the extraordinary men
and women who strolled these hallowed halls and well... in a
very miniscule way I'm brushing with history.

Oh, it's more than miniscule. At some point either one of us
might shape the very course of it.

What do you mean?

Sacrificing our lives to save the president.

You would take a bullet to save his life?

Absolutely. Wouldn't you?

That blithering idiot? Not a chance.


People on the Darwin List don't die that stupidly.

But... but that's the job.

Yeah, well, then they fire me. I'll get another job.

Still. Won't you be wracked with guilt the rest of your

God no.

You could sleep at night knowing the president died on your

Not just me. I think most of America would get the best
night's rest they've had in years.

We took a sworn oath.

Yes, and at the time I was prepared to honor it. But that
was when the last guy held that office. You realize who's
behind that door now, right?

Ours is not to judge. The people elected him and our job is
to carry out protection.

Again, you know who's in there? And it's not a bullet that's
going to kill him. It's that nightly bucket of KFC fried
chicken -- Extra Crispy no less. Alexander Hamilton had his
Aaron Burr, this guy's got Colonel Sanders.

Well, I must say in all candor I'm very disappointed with
what I'm hearing.

Welcome to Washington.

Still, I made a promise to my country and myself. Plus, I'm
proud to say I was the honor graduate of my training class.

We all passed the same tests. What makes you special?

I cry when hearing "Billy Don't Be A Hero."

That is the ultimate test.

I'm told I'm only the third one... in the last forty years.
But Billy was right to volunteer. The platoon needed extra
men, and if Billy didn't go for help who would and
(sniffling) sorry, I'm getting choked up again.

That's okay.

I promised myself I wouldn't do that.

No worries.

And his ungrateful fiancee just throws away the telegram --
that bitch!

Take a deep breath.

Am I allowed to say bitch in the White House?

Members of the First Family have been called much worse. By
the president himself.

Thanks. I think I'm okay now.

Anyway, you know the drill. Every half hour you call the
command center, and every hour you call Taco Bell.


And don't screw up the order. That's really why the Defense
Secretary was fired.

You're very bitter.

I'm protecting a man who only eats with his hands! And that
includes soup!

Would you at least take a punch for him?

A punch? Who's going to punch him? A terrorist cell hires
Rocky Balboa?

I hear that Nancy Pelosi can be tough.

I'd yell "Stop it!" How about that?

You wouldn't even get in the middle to separate them?

Are you kidding? There's not going to be an altercation. He
hears her voice in the hallway and dives under his desk. He
doesn't fit, but he tries it.

What would you take to save the life of the president?

Verbal abuse.

Verbal abuse?

I'd let people yell at me.

How is that putting yourself in jeopardy?

My feelings get hurt easily.

That's just nonsense.

Oh yeah? Anyone who likes "Billy Don't Be a Hero" is a

(offended) Hey, it's a great song.

For mindless sheep who just blindly follow orders.

It was a number one record in 1974. Number ONE!


Oh, and what do you like? Hip hop. "Oh, look at me. I'm so
cool. I like hip hop."

Fortunately, I don't like hip hop because you would be on the
ground right now if I did.

Boy, you are sensitive.

I told you. But so are you.

People have been making fun of that song my whole life.

It's a stupid song.

Okay, let's take a breath. We're two men with guns. Let's
not argue.

Mine's not loaded.


People could get hurt with those things.

Wait a minute. You mean you wouldn't even try to catch the
assailant who did try to harm the president?

Again, I'd yell "Stop it!"

Would you at least yell it LOUD?

I think so.

You think so?

I don't know. I'm not good in pressure situations.

I... I just can't fathom this.

The assailant has a gun, remember?

Yes, but so do you.

I don't always carry it.

Ohmygod! The president of the United States is being
protected by a Crossing Guard.

You shoot the assailant.

I will.

Do you remember how "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" ends? He dies.

For his country.

He dies. As in, there goes his only life. No falling in
love, no family, no Christmas, no Apple TV. Just death.

But when he was alive he was proud. He walked with honor. He
could look at himself everyday in the mirror. Even if he did
bad things as a child. Even if he was a bed wetter.


I don't want to talk about it.

Look, you do what you want to do. Just make sure you don't
put the rest of us in harm's way.

The rest of you? What do you mean? Other members of the
president's detail feels the way you do?

All of them.

I refuse to believe that.

The key is getting high. Then staying high.

The president is not safe at all.

Neither is anybody as long as he has that job.

Well, I'm sorry. I can't in all good conscience not inform
him that he is receiving no protection from those entrusted
to secure his security.

(shrugs) Fine. Go tell him.

I will.

Have fun.

You're not concerned?


You should be.

Oh no. I don't get to go to Mar-a-Lago every weekend.

Well, you'll be sorry.

(singing) Billy, don't be a hero, don't be a fool with your

Screw you.

Lundy ENTERS the room, closing the door
behind him. Ingram presses the button
his earpiece to speak.

Be aware that agent Lundy has entered the Lincoln Bedroom to
converse with Mogul. I expect the exchange to last no longer
than thirty seconds and end the way all conversations with
Mogul do. Over.

Lundy ENTERS, furious.

That son of a bitch! That lowlife barbarian!

I trust it went well.

The second I walked in he just started screaming.


And then he threw a chicken bone at me! No one throws
chicken bones at me!

That's the man you're taking a bullet for.

What? Not me. No way. Someone points an AK-47 at him let
him defend himself with a chicken bone. What an ingrate!

Ingram pulls out a joint from his
breast pocket and hands it to Lundy.

Welcome to the Secret Service, Agent Lundy.

Thank you, Agent Ingram.

See you tomorrow night.

(lighting up) Guess so.

Ingram EXITS. Lundy takes a toke then
presses the button on his earpierce.

Agent Lundy reporting in. Twenty-two hundred hours and
fifteen minutes. Mogul is secure in the Lincoln Bedroom.

He takes another big drag.

It is a stupid song.

MUSIC UP: "Billy Don't Be a Hero" by
Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. Let it