Saturday, October 31, 2020

Weekend Post

This is a weird Halloween because of the pandemic.  Usually I go up north to take my granddaughter trick-or-treating, but I can't this year.  And she's not going out.  

I'm hoping that since it is Halloween, even the idiots who believe COVID-19 is a hoax will wear a mask.  At least for one night.  

But certainly, Trick-or-Treating will be curtailed nationwide (or at least in communities that believe in science).  And it'll be hard to bob for apples with a mask on.  

I've always liked Halloween.  Not to where I decorate the house and walk around drenched in fake blood all day, but I do enjoy it.  It's the start of the extended holiday season.   Although this year that will be a very different holiday experience.  No big family gatherings for Thanksgivings (which might be a blessing for some families and save a lot of ugly arguments), no holiday parties. and with our nation so divided it's anyone's guess as to whether we'll have goodwill for all.   Christmas shopping will be primarily done on line.  Shopping malls will really suffer.  Those poor old drunk Department Store Santa Clauses will be out of luck.  

No Macy's Parade this year.  No Rose Parade. No snow storm stranding thousands of a travelers in O'Hare for two nights.   No half million people jammed into Times Square.  Thank God at least we'll still have Ryan Seacrest.  

Homes will still be decorated I assume.  Chinese restaurants deliver so Jews will be covered.  Hollywood takes a big hit this holiday season.  December and the summer are their big cash cow seasons.  Gone is the Christmas tradition of studios raising ticket prices.  

We'll all adjust and get through it.  Those of us lucky enough not to have contracted the virus.

But in the back of my mind, I can't help thinking so much of this could have been avoided had we had a real leader who addressed the problem instead of lying about it for his own self-interest.  

Vote for Joe Biden, if for nothing else than to act upon this pandemic and really give us something to be thankful for next Thanksgiving. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Friday Questions

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

DBenson starts us off:

How accurate was "Frasier" in presenting a radio station? In retrospect, it seems a little odd that they'd have so much original and seemingly unsyndicated programming (Did they play music at all?). Recalling a WKRP episode where Venus was recruited by a station that just needed a local voice to plug into nationally programmed playlists, that being the expanding reality back then.

Radio was mostly local in those days, which is why radio was soooooo much better in those days.

As for the technical aspects of the radio station, FRASIER was not very accurate but they were way better than WKRP in that department.  FRASIER at least was modeled after a real radio station — KABC in Los Angeles.  

Engineers are not also producers in large market stations like Seattle.  Normally there is a producer in a separate booth who screens the calls.  The engineer plays the commercials and controls the volumes. 

The host has a computer screen that tells him who the callers are, where they’re from, and a thumbnail of what they want to talk about.  It was that way back in the '90s.

Rarely does the engineer go on the air as often as Roz did.  If she did she would have to be AFTRA and the station would have to pay her as an announcer. That wouldn't happen.  

The host can’t just break whenever he wants.  He has a log that tells him when commercial breaks or other format elements need to be introduced (like traffic and news).

All that said, no one other than radio people might be bothered by these minor inconsistencies.  Creative license is certainly justified.

Now WKRP was ridiculous.  No headphones, the way they played the music — bore little relation to any real radio station.  But like you, I enjoyed the show.  So what if it wasn’t accurate? 

Do You Do any Wings? asks:

Do former (or current) radio broadcasters make better podcasts?

On the whole I’d say they present themselves better.  Content is king in podcasts, but broadcasters have more polish.  Speaking for myself, when there are episode where I just talk for a half hour it sure comes in handy that I’ve had many years of hosting talk radio shows and doing baseball play-by-play.  I’m comfortable just turning on a live mic and talking. 

Subliminally, I suspect audiences feel more comfortable knowing they’re in good hands. 

But harping on a point, if the subject matter isn’t interesting, the most polished broadcaster in the world can’t make it worth listening to.

Curt Alliaume wonders:

What did you do during the early years when you were breaking into the industry and looking for writing work? How did you search and how much time did you dedicate daily to finding jobs?

Originally, I was still a disc jockey.  I was working in San Diego and would drive up to LA every weekend to write with David Isaacs. 

When that job ended I moved back to Los Angeles and looked for a day job.  I would have taken anything that didn’t require nights or weekends.  I landed a job at the KIIS Broadcasting Workshop, a broadcast school.  The money was crappy, but it allowed me to keep my head above water and write with David several nights a week and every weekend.  I would have worked at Sears selling car batteries if that was the only job available.  Writing was my main job. 

David had a daytime job at ABC in the (now obsolete) film shipping department. 

And finally, from Kendall Rivers:

As you may already know there were two streaming reunions of Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond two shows which you were involved which I thought was funny and was wondering what you thought about them if you've seen them.

Well, since they’re usually fundraisers for Democrats, I LOVE them. 

But seriously, they’re fun, and it’s great to see these casts together again.  It’s also a nice way to thank the fans of these shows. 

I wonder how much money a BIG WAVE DAVE’S reunion would bring in? 

And on that note, VOTE.  Thanks much.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

EP198: Meet Director Katy Garretson

Katy Garretson is a DGA award nominated sitcom director.  She discusses the craft and unique challenges a woman faces in television directing.  She also shares a story about a “lost” episode of FRASIER.  It’s a story I didn’t even know.  You can find her podcast at Mojo Girl Madness.

Listen to other podcasts similar to this on iTunes!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Comments on comments

 As sort of a follow-up to yesterday, for the most part I try not to make this blog political.  Lately, of course, that hasn’t been the case.  The stakes are just too high, and quite frankly, it’s hard to ignore (try as we might).  

But that has had a ripple effect in the comments section.  Normally, I love comments.  You guys often have great insights.  And posting comments makes this blog feel more like a little community.  All that is good.

For the last couple of years I’ve had to moderate comments.  Several reasons for that.  First of course, is trolls.  Still not sure why they bother.  It takes them several minutes to compose and send and me literally one second to delete.  My solace is they must care what I say otherwise why would they keep coming back?  And they do.  So when I see a troll comment my only thought is, “wow, I must be popular.”  

But I have some other rules.  I don’t allow readers to attack each other.  I’m not going to call out anyone by name, but there are a couple of people who lately do it continuously.  I would hope that by rejecting their comments they would stop, but they don’t.  I would think that when I do post their comments that aren’t incendiary that would send a message as well.  It hasn’t so far.  

Bottom line:  Play nice kids.

I also delete a lot of political comments.  Now this may seem unfair since I occasionally post political essays.  But you’ll notice when it’s clearly a political post I disable comments for that day.   Here’s why, and remember — it’s MY blog.  For this I've been accused of "politically bullying" or being insecure -- okay, but on this one topic I'll take the hit.  We're not debating issues or different beliefs in how to improve the country and our lives.  We're talking good vs. evil. 

The comments section can turn ugly real fast.  That’s not the purpose of the feature.  And yes, I’ve deleted comments supporting Trump.  I’m under no obligation to be fair and balanced.  But I’ve also deleted anti-Trump comments, even though they support my position because I don’t want to start an ugly thread.  

If you want your voice heard when it comes to politics — VOTE.  

And other than politics and attacking each other I look forward to hear what you’ve got to say. 

Final thoughts on the World Series

Not to belabor my point from Monday, but analytics may have cost the Tampa Bay Rays the World Championship.  I'm thrilled that the Dodgers won, but as a baseball fan I couldn't believe that Rays' manager Kevin Cash pulled Blake Snell after giving up a scratch base hit in the 6th inning.  He was the best pitcher on the planet on this particular night.  He had completely dominated the Dodger hitters (and that's saying something with that bunch).  

But the manager had a game plan, and all these relievers, and instead of just saying "The hell with the numbers, this guy is pitching a masterpiece, I'm going to ride him as long as I can," he pulled him for a reliever who quickly gave up two runs.  And the ballgame.  And the series.

Now I'm sure he has seventeen reasons to justify that move -- from pitch count to facing the line-up a third time, to statistics that say his bullpen matches up better, but that's all bullshit.   It's the World Series.  An elimination game if they lose.  And the best pitcher in baseball on the mound with a 1 run lead in the 6th inning.   

Look, managers are second guessed all the time.  They make moves -- sometimes they work and sometimes they backfire.  As Yankees announcer, John Sterling would say, "That's baseball, Suzyn."  My issue is that the decision was so calculated based on numbers, not the big picture.  

Take nothing away from the Dodgers.  They deserved to win the World Series.  You gave them an opportunity, they took advantage.  They were a clutch hitting team and their bullpen rose to the occasion.  They came back in the NLCS to beat the Braves after being down three games to one.  They rebounded from that crushing loss to the Rays Saturday night.   They have enormous talent and (no analytic stat for this:) heart.  But they sure got a gift.  

The celebration was somewhat marred by the announcement that Dodger third baseman, Justin Turner, tested positive for COVID.  Hope he's okay and hope he didn't spread it to too many others.  Not a lot of social distancing and masks on that field.  But it brings up a hypothetical question.  Let's say the Rays had won that game.  Both teams would be tied with three wins apiece.  Tonight would be the winner-take-all Game Seven.  But wouldn't the Dodgers have to quarantine?  That's what happened during the season when players contracted the virus.  Games were cancelled.  So would the World Series end in a tie?  Or would they come back and play one more game two weeks later (assuming no other players get it)?  The commissioner, Rob Manfred (who was roundly booed every time he spoke) caught a huge break.  

Ultimately, congratulations to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  As Vin Scully taught us fans many years ago, "it never comes easy with the Dodgers."  On the other hand, it makes it that much sweeter when they do succeed. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Election sensory overload

 Is it just me?

I am sooooooooo fucking exhausted by this election already, and it’s still a week away.   What crazy stupid thing is Trump going to say or do today?  Who will he insult?  What crisis will he cause out of nothing?  What blatant lie will he tell that sets back the progress of fighting this pandemic?   What utter insanity and chaos will he create?  

And what new “bombshell” will the media undercover?  What new revelation?  What new poll?  The endless analysis.  The mounting death toll.  The dire warnings (that half the idiots in this country ignore).  The map projections.  The constant pleas for campaign donations.  The barrage of TV ads.  Social media overload.  

And just to make it clear, I don’t agree with Trump that people are tired of hearing about the Coronavirus.  We’re tired of hearing how safety guidelines are ignored.  We’re tired of no leadership.  We’re tired of the upheaval and loss of jobs  this pandemic has caused.   Check that — the upheaval and loss of jobs that Trump has caused.  

And we’re tired of ignorance.  If all the non-mask wearers caught the virus and left the rest of us alone I’d be fine.  I’d say, they all should all attend a 2020 version of Woodstock.  But their negligence and carelessness spreads the virus to people who otherwise wouldn’t get it.  They put health care workers at risk.  They kill their family members.  So I’m tired of those stories.  And I know there are way more of those stories in the future.  Many that could have been prevented.  

So thank God for the World Series.  And the cooking channel.  And home improvement channel.  Even the golf channel.   I know I’m exhausted when I find myself watching GOLDEN GIRLS instead of Rachel Maddow.  

And we’re still a week away.  God help us. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Why I don't love analytics

One of the wackiest endings of any World Series game occurred Saturday night when the Tampa Bay Rays scored the tying and winning run on a base hit by a walk on player and two blunders by normally solid fielders.   I'm a Dodger fan but I guess more of a baseball fan because I loved it.   

The unpredictability of it was jaw dropping.  And in such a big moment.  As Rays' radio announcer, Andy Freed said on the air (and I'm paraphrasing): "We should save 'unbelievable' for moments like these."  

But here's my point.  The big hit was delivered by a walk on player only up there because there was no one else left on the bench.  The Dodger pitcher was their all-time leader in saves.  So what would the analytics tell you?   For all the numbers and all the analysis, the game of baseball defies expectations.  

How many times in the World Series have we seen unlikely heroes?  For every Mickey Mantles and Willie Mays, there is also a Scott Podsednik, Jim Leyritz, Pat Borders, Luis Sojo, Kurt Bevacqua, Carlos Ruiz, Tony Womack, Brian Doyle, Steve Pearce, Christian Colon, David Freese, David Eckstein, Francisco Rodriguez, Mickey Hatcher, Rick Dempsey, Gene Tenace, Donn Clendenon, Don Larson, and now Brett Phillips (who hadn't batted in 17 days).    And I bet I'm leaving out four or five other World Series heroes. 

It's a form of collusion now since all teams use the same analytics.  A free agent may have hit 25 home runs last year but if his OPS is under a certain number no one wants him.  Forget that he was a model player, a mentor to young players, and a pillar of the community.  His OPS was too low.  Or a pitcher's WIP was too high.  

And yet, it's the intangibles.  Nerves under pressure, anticipation, preparation, and just dumb luck.  Analytics can predict many things, but until they can predict dumb luck they should just be used as a tool and not the yardstick by which all decisions are made.  

The argument is made that young people are into analytics and Major League Baseball is slavishly trying to lure that coveted demographic.  But consider this:  what should be a World Series game ending for the ages was seen after midnight on the east and in the key 18-34 demographics it was beaten by SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.  So MLB is not exactly captivating Millennials.   

How many of you, even baseball fans, are hearing about this Saturday night finish for the first time?  

Last night the Dodgers came back to win.  Clayton Kershaw, the team's ace and future Hall-of-Famer, started a little shaky.  Worked out of a huge jam and then settled down.  In the 6th inning he retired the first two batters on two pitches.  And was lifted for a rookie pitcher who had struggled but has great potential.  What the fuck?   The kid got some outs (thankfully for the manager and organization), but what does it say about the faith they have in Clayton Kershaw?   I can't imagine the Dodgers taking Sandy Koufax out in the 6th inning after getting two outs on two pitches and leading by two runs.  You can say "OK Boomer" but I contend the game was more fun and exciting.  And some people must've liked it because World Series games were seen by 40 million people instead of three or four. 

And on an unrelated note, Happy Birthday to my writing partner, David Isaacs.  Happy 39th. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Weekend Post

We had a couple of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER Friday Questions this week.  So I thought I'd keep the topic alive.  Barbara Billingsley played June Cleaver on that classic 50s sitcom. As a kid I marveled at how she cooked and cleaned and always wore a party dress and pearls.  My mom never did.  But for years it was an honor to be mistaken for Barbara's TV son.

I guess that requires an explanation, huh?

Okay, that means a look back at my checkered radio career...

After being fired from KMEN San Bernardino in late ‘73 I sat out of work for six months. Apparently no one wanted a wise-ass disc jockey with a light voice. I couldn’t even land a gig doing all-nights in Fresno. Ironically, when I did get an offer it was to do evenings at WDRQ, Detroit. So I wasn’t good enough for market #100 but I was fine for market #4.

More on my actual adventures in Detroit in future posts but today I want to concentrate on my name. No rock station would let me use my actual name (Levine sounded too… uh, “Red Sea Pedestrian”). And in general disc jockeys had very generic names. Johnny Mitchell. Steve Clark. Bob Shannon. Take any two simple first names and slam them together.

Needless to say, to audiences these disc jockeys were interchangeable. In some cases stations changed personnel but just kept the name. So Bill Bailey could be the afternoon man but over the course of three years that could be four different guys.

In Bakersfield and San Bernardino I was Ken Stevens. When I got the job in Detroit I decided to make a change. I took the moniker Beaver Cleaver.


I wanted something distinctive. I wanted something memorable. The first time the listener heard, “Hi, this is Beaver Cleaver” I wanted him to say "What the fuck?!"   Any major program director will tell you -- if you can get the audience to say "What the fuck?!" you've won. 

It was a name everybody knew from the TV show. I figured a lot of people would wonder if I was Jerry Mathers (who played the Beav). This might even prompt some discussion in various Detroit high schools. How often did you discuss disc jockeys in your high school?

I also liked that the name was easy to say. As opposed to Illya Kuryakin, my second choice (although it would have been fun to hear jingle singers trying to sing Illya Kuryakin).

I’d like to take credit for being the first disc jockey to do something like this, but the truth is I wasn’t. Art Ferguson debuted on KHJ in 1967 as Charlie Tuna. At the time Charlie the Tuna was the cartoon mascot of the Starkist Tuna ad campaign. Whether it was Art’s idea or a program director I thought it was genius.

One other side benefit to “Beaver Cleaver” was that I could use it for double entendres. Remember this was for a teenage audience. I came on the first night and said, “This is the grand opening of the Beaver.” Yes, it was juvenile but my goal was to make noise. I'm sure I got some more "What the fucks?!" with that one. 

Anyway, it worked. People did take notice and remember. A few years ago I was having lunch with Tom Hanks. He was saying he grew up in the Bay Area and I mentioned I was a disc jockey in San Francisco at that time. “Who were you?” he asked. When I told him his eyes lit up and immediately he said, “Beaver Cleaver! KYA! Boss of the Bay!” I don’t think he would have remembered the name I used in Bakersfield.  (I bet you can't either and you just read it fifteen seconds ago.)  

So I used that handle at WDRQ and future stops as a DJ. Later that year I was hired by K100 in Los Angeles. (A year before I couldn’t get arrested in Fresno.) The station was owned by Bill Drake & Gene Chenault, the architects of the KHJ Boss Radio format that was the rage of the 60s. I was brought in to do evenings, following the Real Don Steele. It was a dream job except I hated the program director. When I say he was clueless, here’s how clueless:

The day I was slated to debut the station had all of the other jocks hyping my arrival. The PD stopped in the booth and midday guy, Eric Chase jokingly asked if I was going to have Wally and Lumpy join me my first night. The PD said, “What are you talking about?” Eric said, “Wally and Lumpy – the Beav's brother and his dufus friend.” The PD was completely confused. Eric said, “Y’know, from the TV show. From LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.” The PD’s eyes widened in horror. “There’s a TV show?!”

How the fuck could this moron not have heard of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER?

So he calls me into his office panicked. There were already promos on the air. What if we got sued? I tried to calm him down. “If we get sued,” I said, “it’s the best thing that could ever happen to us.” Now he was really perplexed. I reasoned that in the highly unlikely event we were sued this would become a big story. The local TV stations would probably cover it. K100 would get more free publicity than it could ever imagine. I would stop using Beaver Cleaver and the station could invite listeners to come up with my new name. Fortunately, owner Bill Drake thought that was brilliant and I was allowed to keep calling myself Mrs. Cleaver’s Beaver.

For the record, I was never sued. And continued to use the name until 1980. By the way, Frank Bank, who played “Lumpy”, is now Jerry Mathers’s investment adviser.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Friday Questions

 Now that we’ve survived another debate, here are some Friday Questions.

Bob Paris starts us off:

There are a few examples where an actor appears on two series at the same time. In the case of Richard Deacon, he was on the Dick Van Dyke Show and Leave It To Beaver when their production overlapped for three seasons. Why would a producer cast an actor already working on a show and open themselves up to scheduling issues where the actor may be unavailable due to being needed on the other show?

Certain actors are just in demand.  I suppose Carl Reiner figured Richard Deacon was the perfect man for the role.  And his part on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER was sporadic at best.  Maybe they would use him three times a year.  So he probably wasn’t under contract.   

My guess is he signed as a recurring regular on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and Carl graciously worked around his schedule so Deacon could continue to appear a few times a season on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.  

I may be wrong, but when Lisa Kudrow was first on FRIENDS, wasn’t she also on MAD ABOUT YOU?  

Today, if an actor is already on a show you can hire him in “second position.”  That means if he’s not needed for the show he’s on, he can do the other thing.  But if there’s a conflict, the original show is in “first position.”  

JS has another LEAVE IT TO BEAVER related question.  What are the odds?

How do you choose a director of photography - if that is even what the title is? My kid likes "Leave it to Beaver". We've been watching it on Peacock. The black and white photography is very good, especially for the time.

It’s the show runner’s call, but usually he leaves it up to the line producer.  Line producers assemble the crew.  However, if the show runner has used a certain DP before or has been notably impressed by his work on other things he may make that call.  

This gives me a moment to send props to DP’s of multi-camera shows.  On single-camera shows (shot like a movie) you can light for each angle and film the scene multiple times from multiple angles.  On multi-camera shows, they’re little plays shot in front of a studio audience.  So the set has to be lit only once and accommodate for actors moving all about.  It’s tricky, but the good ones make the sets look rich while showing off the actors in the most flattering light.   And they never get credit.  

From purplepenquin:

Who picks the "clips" for a clip-show? Do the writers write a story & then search through old episodes for scenes that would fit in with it, or are they told to use specific clips & then the writers have to find a way to tie 'em all together?

The show runner and writers generally select the clips, which, trust me, is a GIANT pain-in-the-ass.  We did it for the MASH clip show and had to spend many long nights watching and selecting, and paring down clips — all coming after our regular ten hour work days.  

As for the format, that’s up to the individual show, and it’s a chicken vs egg thing.  Some shows come up with a framework for the premise — someone gets out an old scrapbook, or it’s a going away party — and other times the clips are selected first and then they decide how they’re going to frame them.  

Here’s what I love about clip shows, though — residuals.  We get royalties on every clip used from shows we wrote.  Having written 40 CHEERS episodes, we made a bundle on that clip show.  We did okay with MASH too.  

Clip shows will become a thing of the past as fewer series will go a hundred episodes.  Streaming services are quite content with 30 total.   That makes for a very short clip show.  

And finally, from Terry:

On the M*A*S*H forum over on reddit, there was some discussion going on as to the color of Hawkeye's robe (hey, we're all bored and spending a lot more time at home these days - give us a break!) In one episode when he is making out his will, he leaves it to Charles because "Purple is the color of royalty." That thing looked anything but purple to me on screen. It always seemed to be more of a dark maroon or at most burgundy. Was that because of lighting, the film used, or what? Thanks, Ken!

You can adjust the color and tint on your TV so no two sets may look exactly alike.  Also, the network transmission.    Back in the day when CBS fired aired MASH, there was a very slight red tint to the transmission.  The show never looked as good as the 35 mm film that was sent to them.  The DVD’s look better.  

But to answer your question, in person the robe was more of a burgundy color.  

What’s your Friday Question?  And please VOTE. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

EP197: Writer Rob Long Part Two

Two CHEERS writers discuss the actual process and share insights and stories… including firing a Tony-winning actor.  It’s a great insiders’ look at how sitcoms really get written.  

Other podcasts on WAVE!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The Trial of the Chicago 7: My review

 Best movie I’ve seen so far this pandemic (or best TV movie or streaming movie — who knows anymore?) is THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin.   Sorkin is always at his best when he’s dealing with a real issue, complexities, a trial, and smart characters.   And this project is right in his wheelhouse.

As Sorkin tells it, this project began 13 years ago.  He was summoned to Steven Spielberg’s house one Saturday morning.  Spielberg said he wanted to do a movie about the Chicago 7 and wondered if Sorkin wanted to write it.  Aaron said yes immediately.  He then went home, called his father, and asked who the Chicago 7 were?   Sorkin was 7 himself at the time of the riots and trial.  

That led to a long winding road through development hell.  And throw in a WGA strike for good measure.  (Any project that has a long development history has a WGA strike somewhere in its background.)    And it’s not like Sorkin didn’t have other things to write/produce/direct in the intervening years.  

But with the Trump administration and the re-emergence of protests and protesters being vilified, the subject matter suddenly took on a greater relevance.  Originally schedule for theatrical release by Paramount, once the pandemic hit, Netflix stepped in, and thankfully released the movie BEFORE the election.  

Sorkin assembled an amazing cast led by Eddie Redmayne, Sasha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, and Frank Langella.  (NOTE: On my upcoming podcast episode that drops later tonight, Rob Long and I discuss having to fire Frank Langella from a pilot. That said, he’s AMAZING in this.)

The story itself is riveting and all too similar to what’s going on now.   That’s why I recommend you see it, and do so before November 3rd.  

The actors apparently all worked for scale, but I’m sure a big incentive was getting to speak Sorkin dialogue.  It’s just lyrical and accomplishes so much on so many levels.  The trial itself lasted over 6 months.  There are 21,000 pages of transcriptions.  Numerous books exist on the subject.  To winnow all of that down to two hours, make it clear, make it entertaining, create multi-dimensional characters, establish relationships and subplots, and consistently crackle  — that’s an extraordinary achievement.   And Sorkin pulls it off.    I must admit, I go to many plays and play readings and think to myself, “this would be so much better if Aaron Sorkin wrote it.”   He really has a gift with dialogue and for me, it’s a pleasure to hear.   Give me that over a CGI superhero slugfest any day.  

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 streams on Netflix.  Oh... and Sorkin did a great job of directing too. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Fake Crowd Noise

The World Series starts tonight. Congrats to the Dodgers and Rays (one of the great classic rivalries in sports). 

People ask me what I think about the fake crowd noise in sporting events now that spectators are not allowed in stadiums or arenas.  

As a viewer I find the crowd noise WEIRD.  Especially in baseball and football where you see the empty grandstands in almost every shot.   Where are all these people?  It’s the same argument I always made (in vain) to CBS about the laugh track on MASH.  Are there bleachers on the chopper pad?  

Basketball and hockey are easier to accept because the action focuses on the court or ice and you can forget that they’re playing to the camera only.  

But as an announcer, I would so welcome the fake crowd noise if I were calling a game, especially just calling it over the TV.  Without a crowd it just sounds dead.

I was broadcasting a Mariners game from Cleveland a few years ago on the radio.  It was a make-up game the end of the season.  So it wasn’t on the schedule, it started at 4:00 pm, both teams had already been eliminated, and huge thunderstorms were expected to drench the area.  Needless to say, nobody came to the game.  If there were 2,000 people I’d be surprised.   In one of my innings the Mariners scored ten runs.  There were triples and stolen bases and capped off with a grand slam home run.  

After the game we were flying to Texas.  I asked the engineer if he would email me an mp3 of that inning.  I thought it would be a fun keepsake.  You don’t usually get to call ten run innings.  

When I got to my room in Texas it was waiting for me in my inbox.  I listened to it and was horrified.  It sounded like I recorded it in my living room watching the TV with the sound down.  There was NO crowd noise at all.  None.  I’d say crickets but not even that.   What should have been an exciting inning was C-Span.  And the fact that I sounded so excited (after all, fun things were happening) make me appear like an idiot.

So the crowd noise psychologically helps the announcer get into it.  It’s like a singer who would much prefer a band behind him.   On TV it’s still weird to watch, but on radio you can really suspend belief.  

What they need though is the sound of people doing the wave. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Kirstie Alley's latest idiotic tweet

This pains me because I worked with Kirstie Alley for years on CHEERS and she was always delightful.  A little "out there" but still, easy and fun to work with.  

Since then she's become a Scientologist, gained and lost and gained and lost lots of weight.   Frankly, she's become a little loony.  But I've still been fond of her, and it was nice to see her at the CHEERS 30 year reunion several years ago.  

But then she tweeted that she was all for Donald Trump, listing the reasons MAGA idiots usually list.  

I no longer am fond of Kirstie Alley.  

Granted there are people more tolerant than I, but I can't remain friends with anyone who supports Donald Trump.  To support Trump condones the hatred, racism, greed, dishonesty, and stupidity that he stands for.  Alas, I've broken off some long-time relationships over this.  You can be a Republican, you can be a Libertarian, but if you support Trump that crosses a line for me.  

And that goes for the Beach Boys as well, one of my (former) favorite groups.  They performed at a Trump fundraiser yesterday in Newport Beach, California.  Brian Wilson, to his credit, is NOT associated with this version of the Beach Boys (Mike Love & co.) and quickly denounced it.   And let's face it, Brian Wilson IS the Beach Boys.  What's touring now is the fifth generation cover band.  

But getting back to Kirstie.  I love what Judd Apatow tweeted in response.  As a result #ShelleyLong was trending last night.  And look, readers of this blog know I've always preferred Diane to Rebecca.  Kirstie gave the show new life, but Shelley MADE the show.  

And I would work with Shelley Long again in a second.  I'll never work with Kirstie Alley again.  There you have it, Kirstie.  There you have it.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Weekend Post

Orson Welles was a larger-than-life figure.  Brilliant director, actor, producer, filmmaker, personality.   He directed and starred in CITIZEN KANE among other movies.   He was a genius and often times impossible.   He also drank, smoked endless cigars, and ate multiple Pink's chili dogs night after night after night.  Not coincidentally, he probably weighed 350 pounds at one time.  

He also could be very witty and charming.  Here is a 1985 appearance on THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW, a syndicated talk show.   He tells great stories, performs a magic trick, talks about his 70th birthday.  But there's more to the story.

Six hours after taping this show he was dead.  

Here is the final appearance ever of Orson Welles.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Friday Questions

Halfway through October already.  Here are some FQ’s to get you through the weekend.

George starts off with a question about late night rewrites.

Since I assume everyone is fairly tired and burnt out by that stage, do you ever find that the practice is counter-productive?

Yes, and it’s a balancing act.  The bottom line is the actors return to the stage the next morning and need a script.  To push a day would be hugely expensive and not a real option.  

But you’re right.  Writers are not at their best after writing for eight or nine straight hours under pressure while sleep deprived and gorging on Red Vines.  

When David Isaacs and I were show runners, we would usually send everyone home around 1:00 AM and we had to assemble earlier the next day.  The cast would get whatever we had written and new pages throughout the course of the day.  It was a little harder on the cast, but scenes that might’ve taken us two hours to write at 2 AM we polished off in a half hour at 10 AM the next morning.  

We also tried to manage our time as best we could.  If we knew we had a tough new scene to write as part of our work that night we would do it first.  That way we got the hard stuff out of the way and then just tweaked whatever else needed tweaking.  We wouldn’t bog down on one joke at 8 at night and finally get to the tough stuff at 3 AM.  

Late night rewrites are part of the job.  But there are ways of utilizing your staff and time for maximum productivity.  

Paul D. wonders:

Although "The Dick Van Dyke Show" had done it well, when 'M*A*S*H' was made, flashbacks were jokey things used by jokey sitcoms i.e. how Richie and Fonzie first met.

However, since dramas  like "China Beach" and "Lost" started to use the device (along with flash-forwards) so well, do you think you could have successfully used these had it already common at the time? I am thinking in terms of stories/scenes set before the war, not as a way to bring Colonel Blake back.

We never wanted to leave Korea.  That was a creative choice. The members of the 4077th were trapped there, and we wanted to convey that feeling.  There were home movies and letters, but we never went to the mainland.  

There was an episode called “The Party” where relatives of the 4077th put together a stateside reunion and there was some discussion of seeing it.  But ultimately we felt that would be wrong.  We wanted to preserve that feeling of isolation that everyone in the unit felt.  

Now LOST, on the other hand, deliberately wanted to get you off that island.  And flashbacks were a great way to learn about each character and provide some variety.  But remember, LOST was an hour.  A sameness might settle in if you’re in one place for an entire hour.  

I still contend, some of the best storytelling in television was done on LOST.  

From Kyle Burress:

Having been featured much more in the last couple seasons was there a possibility that Paul Willson would have been bumped up to a regular cast member had Cheers continued?

I was pushing for it.  Paul Willson (you see his picture above), was extremely funny.  My guess is things would have stayed status quo unless Paul had an offer to go to another series and then the producers would have had to make a decision.  

I felt bad because just as we were really starting to showcase him more, the series ended.  

But I was and am a huge fan of Paul Willson.  

And finally, from Patrick:

Does an Emmy award even matter anymore now that the general public doesn't watch or care? It seems particularly self congratulatory now that the audience for these award shows has fallen away. Back when an Emmy award could save a show from cancellation it seemed to really matter who won what - now with so many shows on so many platforms - do these awards even matter anymore? (Besides to those who won?)

Well, considering the money that networks and studios shell out for Emmy campaigns I’d say yeah, they do still matter.  

Of course, I like to think they matter since I have one.  

But to the general public?  Just check the ratings for Emmy awards.  Every year they sink to new lows.   So no, I don’t think the general public gives a crap.  Especially now when there are shows and stars they’ve never even heard of.  

But my Emmy is important.  

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

EP196: Meet writer Rob Long Part One

Rob Long broke into TV writing by getting on staff of CHEERS when he was 24.  He and Ken have a freewheeling discussion of television comedy, advice on breaking in, theories, the business, the craziness, the fun. 

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West Wing is back

 I used to love shows and movies set in the White House.  WEST WING was my favorite show. Movies like THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT, DAVE, FROST/NIXON, 7 DAYS IN MAY, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, etc. were always high up on my list.

But then when Trump got into office I couldn't watch anything that featured an Oval Office.  Even though VEEP consistently made me laugh, I could no longer watch it.  HOUSE OF CARDS had been a binge fave.  I bailed even before Kevin Spacey was dumped.  I was never a huge fan of SCANDAL but caught it occasionally.  Same with DESIGNATED SURVIVOR and MADAME SECRETARY.    And forget about revisiting 24.  

WEST WING in particular was hard to watch again.  The stark contrast of how smart, caring, noble, and earnest everyone in that fictional White House was compared to the evil moronic lying shitheads who occupy it now just made viewing impossible.  

But HBO has gotten the cast and Aaron Sorkin back together for a special reunion to Benefit When We All Vote.  It premiers tomorrow on HBO Max and I imagine other places as well.  There will be special appearances by Michelle Obama and others.   This I will watch.  Partly for nostalgia and partly for hope -- that we might go back to that again.  That we might try to uphold the Constitution, Democracy, caring for the American people, justice, security, sanity, healing, equality, kindness, and calm.   At one time WEST WING was a model; now it's a fairy tale.  Let's make the fairy tale come true. VOTE.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

My Thanksgiving Day

Friday marks the anniversary of when I had to report to Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  I won't tell you how many years ago, but it was more than ten. 

Fort Leonard Wood is up in the Ozarks -- DELIVERANCE country. And in the late fall and early winter it gets COLD.   Its nickname was "Little Korea."  

I got into an Armed Forces Radio Reserve Unit once I saw that my draft lottery number was 4 and I'd be drafted and shipped off to Vietnam before they had finished calling out numbers.  The Reserves were a six year commitment.  16 hours of meeting or training a month, two weeks of summer camp, and Basic Training & Advanced Individual Training (roughly a 20 week stretch).  And you could be called up to active duty anytime.  Does that happen?  Ask the Reservists about Korea and Desert Storm.  

The first week I was in there was some flare-up in Jordan and Reservists were called up. The very first week.  So I was petrified for the entire six years.  

Basic Training was an absolute nightmare for me.  Tall, skinny, bespectacled, uncoordinated, not handy, college educated, Jewish -- 7 strikes and you're out.  Even though my name is pronounced Le-Vine (rhyming with wine) the Drill Sgt. couldn't pronounce it and instead I was "Veen, you fuckin' dud." Actually, that was my nickname.  His real name for me was "Veen, you fuckin' dud, I'm gonna run ya every fuckin' where you go."  

I got through it and graduated.  (There were actually some parents who drove down to watch the graduation ceremony.  Mine correctly considered it a joke and stayed home.)  

But I made a vow.  

As the years go by you tend to forget all the miserable moments and indignities, and when someone asks you how it was you say "Oh, it wasn't that bad."   The vow I made to myself as I was leaving Fort Leonard Wood was that no matter what I forgot, always remember: It WAS that bad.

However, I have to say this.  I owe the army a lot.  That draft number was the best thing that could have happened to me.  Without the army I never would have met my writing partner, David Isaacs.  He had just transferred into the unit from Miami.  We never could have written MASH with any authority.  And MASH was our big break. It absolutely launched our career.  

But Basic Training was STILL that bad.  On October 16th (ironically, also a Friday) is when I had to report.  So since I got my honorable discharge I've always designated October 16th as my Thanksgiving Day.  I stop and think that no matter where I am or what's going on in my life, it's better than having to begin Basic Training.  

Even THIS year is better.  

Happy Thanksgiving Day. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Reporting from captivity...

 I notice more people wearing masks lately.   But then, I’m in a Blue State.

Remember when those motorized Bird scooters were our biggest health hazard?

After seven months of binging, many of my friends are suggesting foreign series — Swedish murder mysteries, Israeli love stories, Australian soaps, etc.  They all seem to be on sub channels of other services.  Acorn TV and the like.  I didn't know these channels existed. 

I’m still not ready to go to restaurants.  

Highlights of last week — I got my flu shot. And I VOTED.  

I’m just as happy there’s no presidential debate this week, aren’t you?   JEOPARDY won't be pre-empted.  

My prediction:  Ken Jennings will ultimately replace Alex Trebek as host.  And by the way, GREAT choice. 

I hate the cheating Houston Astros.  I know that might piss off some readers in Texas but many Texans have already left me for hating the ALL-TIME national cheater.  

Great guest coming up later this week on my podcast.  Hint:  He's a writer. 

Congrats to the Lakers.  Driving around LA, I haven’t seen one Laker flag.  In the past, when sports were more than just a TV show,  if the Lakers were in the Finals every car had a Laker flag flying. 

Not much excitement over the Dodgers in the NLDS either.  But winning the World Series this year is like winning a Golden Globe instead of an Oscar.  It’s just not the same.  

Usually when a major sport crowns a champion the president of the United States calls.  To my knowledge he didn't, although how would we know?  No one on the Lakers would ever take his call. 

Zoom technology is going to be so much better during the next pandemic.  

THE RIGHT STUFF on Disney+ is pretty good.  

Why do rednecks refer to COVID as The COVID?   "Yep, he's got the COVID alright."

Can I pitch a TV ad for Joe Biden?  For 28 seconds you just show CALM. New England in the fall with colorful leaves floating down, waves lazily lapping a Hawaiian beach shore, birds chirping.  No announcer, no talking points, just… CALM.  And the last two seconds show the Biden-Harris logo.  I can’t think of a more effective and inviting ad.  

UPDATE: An unknown blog reader made an example:  Thanks much.

Once this pandemic is over and we can safely travel again, I bet there will be far fewer business trips.   Zoom is here to stay.  

Has it even occurred to you that the new Fall TV season is normally underway by now.

Stay safe.  Wear a mask.  Save lives, maybe even yours.  Vote to get our country back. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Weekend Post

I made a comment recently that it was hard to write Norm entrances on CHEERS.  A reader then asked why?  I was going to answer but then found this article by Samantha Highfill of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY.  

She had interviewed me and my writing partner, David Isaacs for another piece on EW but the subject came up in both of our interviews.  I suppose our answers were worthy enough of a whole article.   So that's what I'm posting this weekend.  

You can find it here. 

It's me talking but someone else writing. 

One clarification:  A detail was missing from my description of the HONEYMOONERS episode.  Ralph Kramden studied all week with buddy Ed Norton playing the piano.  But to warm up, Ed would play "Swanee River" before every song. Needless to say, it drove Ralph nuts.  And the big joke was that the first song he had to identify was "Swanee River" and that was the only song in the world he didn't know.  

The rest of it is all true. 

Friday, October 09, 2020

Friday Questions

First off, thanks to everyone who checked in on Wednesday and all the nice things you guys said.  I really appreciate it.  Now…surviving another week of insanity, here are Friday questions:

Vincent Saia, a podcast listener, gets us started:

If you and David Isaacs were to run a show and were allowed a staff of six writers - living or dead - who would those writers be?

An all-time dream team?  Okay.  But it’s hard to hold it down to just six.  I would gladly take even one.  

Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, Jim Brooks, Nat Hiken, Tina Fey, and Neil Simon.

For fun – let’s say I had to choose six writing teams, living or dead.

Glen Charles & Les Charles, Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses, Bill Persky & Sam Denoff, Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson, Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel, and Annie Levine & Jonathan Emerson.

Steve McLean wonders:
Since the streaming model is based on acquiring new subscribers, it seems like there's little incentive to continue a hit show for many seasons. Platforms are chasing new customers with the 'hot' new show. Do you think we've moved past the days 8, 9, 10 seasons for a successful series?

Basically yes.  

Only broadcast networks will want to continue that model because their success revolves around ratings, and those are delivered by stacking their schedules with hit shows.   

But who knows if there will even be broadcast networks as we know them in nine or ten years?

Kendall Rivers is up next.

You've mentioned Cheers as one of the best pilots ever made. What are your other 4 in your top 5?


(Don’t hate me for including THE COSBY SHOW.  Separating the scumbag from the series, it’s a sensational television pilot.  You’ll have to seek it out though since you’re sure not going to see THE COSBY SHOW on TV anytime soon.)

And finally, from Bob Uecker Is A National Treasure (which he is, by the way):

You wrote the post about how some dramatic stars were terrible comedic actors. Obviously part of that is timing -- when to wait a beat on a line, not stepping on another actor's laugh, etc. But is some of it that the dramatic actor is trying too hard to be funny? I've noticed that most great comedic actors (take David Hyde Pierce or Ted Danson) are playing the character seriously with very real motivations/flaws and the character becomes funny based on the situation. But the minute an actor tries to be funny, it absolutely flops. For most of the actors listed, do you think they could have been funny if they had some real coaching?

Actors press when they don’t have confidence — either in themselves or the material.  So you can’t always blame the actor.  The funniest actor in the world is going to be brought down by a bad script.  And if you have a dramatic actor who’s not adept at comedy, the results are even worse.

Comedy is a lot like music.  The good ones just feel the rhythm.  It’s in their bones.  Intuitively they know how to pause, when to pause, how big a reaction should be, how arch to deliver a line, etc.  

Yes, these are techniques that can be taught to some degree, but if it’s not in your soul it will come off mechanical.  

The ability to play comedy is a gift.  And the ones who have it make it look so easy — and it is anything but.

What’s your Friday Question?  And if you didn't check in last Wednesday, feel free to say hi today.

Stay safe.   Wear a mask.  Follow science.  VOTE. 

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

EP195: The Voice of God and Eyewitness News

Charlie Van Dyke has one of the most recognizable voices in America although you might not know the name.  From big-time DJ at KHJ, WLS, KFRC, CKLW, WRKO, KRTH, KLIF, and more he transitioned into voice over, and I guarantee he’s the voice of one of your local TV stations and radio stations.  It’s a fascinating journey.  Meet “Oh, THAT guy,” Charlie Van Dyke. 

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Who's out there?

I try to do this at least once a year (as I fast approach 15 years writing this blog).  I ask you to write in and tell me about yourself.  Where you're from?  How you found the blog?  Your age?  How long you've been reading (or listening)?  And any thoughts on what you like or don't like.

Just leave it in the comments section.  I especially want to hear from the "lurkers."  I know there are a lot of people out there who follow the blog but never comment.  And that's cool, but today I'd love to hear from you.

And finally, let me take this opportunity to thank you for reading this blog.  It's getting harder to keep coming up with stuff after almost 15 years but it's gratifying to know you're out there still reading it.

So who are you?

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Sleepless Frasier in Seattle

There’s an article that pointed out the similarities between FRASIER and the hit movie, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE.  Both came out around the same time, both are set in Seattle, both feature lead characters who are talk show hosts, and David Hyde Pierce is in both. 


So did anyone steal from anyone else?


SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE was in development for several years before FRASIER was conceived, but here is a true case of coincidence.   Believe me, the creators of FRASIER were not stuck and said, “What is Nora Ephron up to?” 


But it does highlight that ideas do originate coincidentally.   You’ll notice that no lawsuits were ever filed by anyone.   And that’s because there was no one to blame. (although that rarely does stop Hollywood from litigation) 


And it explains why I, and most writers in the industry with a reputation and track record won’t read unsolicited material. We need to protect ourselves.   If I’ve been working on a spec screenplay set in the dangerous world of contact lens grinding, I won’t want to read your pilot because chances are 90% you’ll have contact lens grinding as the centerpiece of your project.   And my screenplay becomes a huge summer tent pole blockbuster (how could it miss?) starring the Rock and Gal Gadot and yours doesn’t sell and you sue me for stealing your idea.   Obviously, I’m being facetious (write your contact lens grinder movie with no fear I will be coming after you), but you get the point. 


I went through a period where I was writing spec screenplays.  At the time, specs were in demand and a sale was worth well over six-figures and sometimes seven (although never for me).  I sold a few; a few I didn’t. 


But the scariest day of the year was the third Sunday in January.  That was when the LA TIMES “Calendar” section laid out thumbnails of all the movies that were slated to come out that year.    Close to 300 films. 


I would read each synopsis with my heart in my throat just praying that the movie I’d been writing for the last four months wasn’t coming out in June starring Clint Eastwood.   It was like walking through a minefield. 


At least FRASIER and SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE  were for different venues and featured different tones and styles.   Remember when there were three Amy Fisher TV movies developed at the same time?  Or two SNOW WHITE features?   Or two WYATT EARP movies?   I’d say “great minds think alike,” but it’s hard when I use Amy Fisher movies as an example.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Isn't it Ironic, don't you think?

When Alanis Morissette had her big hit record “Ironic,” there was some discussion over whether her use of the word was correct in the context of the song. 


Here is the actual definition of ironic:  happening in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this.


A perfect usage of the word could be President Trump contracting the coronavirus after downplaying it for his own political gain and causing over 200,000 American deaths.   A case could also be made for another word that would apply:  Schadenfreude.  


No need to wear masks.  No need to social distance.  No need to listen to scientists.  No need to protect children or anyone if it can get the economy moving.   Pack supporters into an indoor arena with no protection.

And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?   


So here we are in yet ANOTHER preventable extreme National Emergency caused by this irresponsible embarrassment of a leader.   His utter disregard for anyone and anything other than himself has plunged us into chaos, crisis.  Or should I say FURTHER chaos and crisis? 


He and his White House have lied so often and wantonly that many people don’t even think he does have the coronavirus.  They think it’s yet another desperate political ploy for sympathy votes.   Were this to be true, considering the National Security Risks his illness is presenting, that is definitely grounds for treason. 


For the record, I do think he’s battling the virus.  But even then, he’s squandered the opportunity of national sympathy by lying about when he caught it and how serious his condition is – at a time when we need transparency the most.   I’m supposed to feel sorry for this guy?  Reports are he knew that he and members of his staff possibly were  infected BEFORE going to rallies and fundraisers in Minnesota and New Jersey, thus KNOWINGLY putting many innocent people at risk.  One indoor fundraiser cost attendees $200,000 to mingle, shake hands, take pictures, and potentially get sick and die.  What a nice way to support your supporters.  


People have been convicted of manslaughter for that.   So just add those charges to treason, felony tax evasion, money laundering, perjury, and sexual abuse. 


And I’m supposed to send out my thoughts and prayers to him?


Fuck no.  


Wear the damn mask!


You want to know fake news?  It’s when commenters on every network but Fox begin every Trump story with their best wishes for his full and speedy recovery.    It’s lip service at best and by Saturday they weren’t even trying to sell it.  Their best wishes were delivered in the same tone as “Any replay or accounts of this game without express written permission of Major League Baseball is strictly prohibitive.” 


This is a time when we need to rally all Americans.  That’s what true leaders do.  And they do that by telling the TRUTH.  That’s how Roosevelt convinced the country to go to war, that’s how Kennedy kept us on alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis, that’s how Bush brought us together after 9-11. 


So let’s analyze this sad excuse for a president.  First he lied about when he got the virus, then he put people at risk, then he lied about the severity of his illness (bad vitals, needed oxygen, heart palpitations, required immediate experimental drugs, 103 fever), taken to the hospital (very reluctantly although on his Saturday video he said he chose to go and that he could have stayed in quarantine at the White House but a leader gets out there), lied about his mental state (he claimed he was in good spirits, insiders said he was spooked and got progressively panicked), and even his own chief-of-state disputed the official rosy bullshit medical report to the press. 


It’s staggering to me how at every single opportunity to do the right thing that ultimately would benefit HIM, Trumpster Fire chooses to do the opposite. 


That said, I do have great sympathy for the over 7,000,000 people battling coronavirus – most of them needlessly (an increasing number of them -- his supporters).   My heart aches for the friends and families of the 200,000 people who have needlessly died.   And for the selfish moron whose duplicity and incompetence put them there, let him fight the deadly virus himself.


And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?    

A little too ironic, and yeah I really do think.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Weekend Post


I love when I can sometimes go to the source.  Reader Michael Rafferty submitted a Friday question.  Here's the question and the answer from the man himself, Gary Burghoff.  My EXTREME thanks to Gary for his time and very illuminating response. 

On MASH, first season, Gary Burghoff played Radar pretty much the same as he did in the movie version. But,over time, Radar was softened and became more gentle and naive. Was this a decision of Burghoff or was this a creative decision of Larry Gelbart et al.?

Here's Gary's answer:

In the original feature film MASH, I created Radar as a lone, darker and somewhat sardonic character; kind of a shadowy figure. I continued these qualities for a short time (review the Pilot) until I realized that the TV MASH characters were developing in a different direction from the film characters. It became a group of sophisticated, highly educated Doctors (and one head nurse) who would rather be anywhere else and who understood the nature of the "hell hole" they were stuck in.

With Gelbart's help, I began to mold Radar into more Innocent, naive character as contrast to the other characters, so that while the others might deplore the immorality and shame of war (from an intellectual and judgmental viewpoint), Radar could just REACT from a position of total innocence. This made RADAR super ACTIVE, free and very interesting on a primary "gut" level, which at times delivered the horror of war (as well as the dark humor we became known for) in an effective, universal way that anyone could understand.

Larry, in one interview, was quoted as saying that Radar was his favorite character to write for. I think he liked the fact that the character lacked guile and he could write from his own honest "child's-self" as apposed to having to create "clever" intellectual hyperbole.

ACTING IS RE-ACTING. LARRY gave Radar "permission" to REACT IN SPADES!! in a free, delightful and direct manner. Once these decisions were made, RADAR became PURE JOY to play!! God bless Larry Gelbart and his talented writers such as your most excellent SELF!

I hope this helps.

Love "Ya~ Gary

Love ya, too.  And P.S., Radar was one of my favorite characters to write as well.  It was a true honor to pen the "Goodbye Radar" episodes.  

Friday, October 02, 2020

Friday Questions

Wow.   Into October already.  Where has the quarantine time gone?


Phil starts us off:


The MTM show spun off no less than three shows, all reasonably successful (Lou Grant, Rhoda, Phyllis). Do you think this reflects the good genes those characters inherited from the The MTM Show? Or were those shows so different from MTM that they were, in effect, whole new creations?


They were mostly worthy of spin-offs but remember, back then spin-offs were the rage – the way reboots were a few seasons ago.   Between the Norman Lear shows, MTM shows, and Garry Marshall/Paramount shows there must’ve been twenty spin-offs or more. 


So all you needed was a popular supporting character on a hit show and you were off to the races.


As for the MTM spin-offs, this is just my opinion but none of them were nearly as good as THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.   RHODA married too quickly in its first season and became a series of course corrections the rest of the run.  PHYLLIS was snake-bitten.  One of the stars was murdered coming out of a restaurant in Venice.  The funniest character on the show died (although she was probably in her 90’s), and the second (and final) season they changed the whole premise.   LOU GRANT became a drama.   That was an excellent show but Lou Grant wasn’t Lou Grant. 


And speaking of spin-offs, Kyle Burress wonders:


How soon was it after knowing Cheers was coming to an end that a spinoff (Frasier) was in development? Were there other characters considered and how did it ultimately come down to Frasier?


Kelsey Grammer had a series commitment for 13 episodes upon completion of CHEERS. But at the time the deal was signed it was not specified that he would play FRASIER.  Another premise was originally developed for him before he agreed to play Frasier Crane.  


For the real inside story, check out my podcast episode with series co-creator David Lee.  You can find it here. 


NBC also wanted to spin-off Norm & Cliff but that never materialized. And there was THE TORTELLIS, spinning off Carla's ex-husband Nick.  That was short-lived.  


From Brian Phillips:


I just finished watching a movie that put all of the credits, save the titles, at the end as opposed to the beginning. I understand that from an artistic standpoint, you can set up your universe faster, etc., but from a practical standpoint, if I wrote a movie, I'd rather it be out front first, with the bulk of the titles at the end.


What is your preference?


The beginning because when they appear at the end, other the first few credits (director, producer, writer, star) everyone in the audience bails. 


If the credits are in the beginning, people actually see them.  


And finally, from Michael:


I know you were a producer on CHEERS the first season and then left to work on other shows. When you returned to CHEERS in later seasons as a writer, were you and David full-time staff writers involved with the show every week or was it on a free-lance basis?


We were on staff but not exclusive to the show.  We consulted a day a week so were involved with all scripts.  We also wrote numerous episodes.  And we had an office and assistant.  But we were able to pursue other projects like developing pilots, consulting on other shows (notably WINGS for me), and writing movies. 


It was the best of both worlds.  Another reason why I so love CHEERS.


What’s your Friday Question? Stay safe. Save our country.