Thursday, December 31, 2020

Podcast Picks

New podcast episodes begin next week.  In the meantime, here are a few from the archives that are pretty terrific and might hold you over.  Besides, what else is there to do on New Year's Eve?

I spoke with Dennis Palumbo, a successful screenwriter turned therapist.  He's got some great advice in these shitty... I mean "trying" times.

You can find it here.

Next for all you FRASIER fans, Bruce Miller who wrote the theme song discusses the process and shares a never before version.

You can find it here.

And finally, the art of improv comedy.

This is where you'll find it.

Have a SAFE and sane New Year's Eve.  The real celebration comes January 20th.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

One last pet peeve for 2020

I bring this up now because if you fall into this category you might want to make a New Year’s Resolution.

I come from the world of broadcasting.   In broadcasting punctuality is paramount.  You can’t be late for your shift.  That’s almost as bad a sin as dead air.   Shows begin at the top of the hour.  You never hear the local news promoted as “Details at elevenish.”   To me, being on time is not just a point of pride but a requirement of the job, like combing your hair and not showing up on crack.  

So in the business world it rankles me when workers make an appointment, either to come to the house, or just a meeting — and they’re considerably late (without a good excuse like a meteor fell on the freeway — and even then, did it block all four lanes?).  To me, it’s a signal that the worker doesn’t give a shit.  If he doesn’t care about showing up on time, how good can his actual work be?  

This extends to personal relationships as well.  Certain people are chronically tardy.  And in many cases they’re not even apologetic about it.  What that says to me is their time is way more important than mine.  I'm sorry, but that’s incredibly rude.  And I’ve dropped people from my life because they do that.

Sure, everyone gets hung up on occasion.  Shit happens.  But text the other person that you’re running late.  Show some consideration.  Don’t just sweep in a half hour late and say you’re famished.   I think keeping people waiting at restaurants (back when we could go to restaurants) has increased because the late arriver just assumes the other person can occupy themselves with their phone.  Still, my time is just as valuable as yours!  

You’re an intelligent person (okay, assuming you also believe in science and don’t give money to the Orange Toxic Sewage), you know that it takes you longer to get out of the house, load the truck, whatever — just back-time accordingly.  You’re meeting someone for dinner at 7:00.  It takes twenty minutes to the get to the restaurant, a half hour to shower and get ready, ten minutes to feed the dog.  That means if you start the process at 6:00 you’re on time.   It’s going to take the same hour if you start at 6:00 or 6:40 — just PLAN.  

I also see a lot of these people begin to get ready and then get distracted.  They begin another task in the middle thinking it’ll just take a minute.  If you’re that person allow 90 minutes to get ready for a 7:00 appointment.  

Time management is not drug addiction.  Seems to me it just requires effort.  And I say that because if the event or meeting or job is important to the chronically late person, he is always on time.  And you know that’s true.  

I’m not saying you have to be everywhere an hour early.  Just on time.  If you have to be somewhere at 7 and you’ve back-timed to 6, just set an alarm on your phone to remind you and you should be good to go.  

Trust me, your friends, lovers, co-workers, and customers will thank you (and not dump you or fire you).  So please, to whom it may concern: make this a New Year’s Resolution. And don’t start it on January 2nd. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Year end leftovers

This has been the year of baking, hasn’t it?  Probably more muffins, cookies, brownies, and banana bread were made this year than any other in recorded history (although who would record that history?). 

And as a society we’ve gotten way better at video games this year.   I'm still old school.  Tetris.  

Pictured above is the best movie of the season by far.  SOUL is Pixar's newest gem.  Wonderful and touching and dazzling.  It's on Disney +.  I can't recommend it enough.  

From one of the funniest writers I know, Arnie Kogan, comes this observation:  "Because of COVID the circus is allowing only three people in every clown car."  

I did a lot of writing this year.  It was weird writing for the theatre when there is no theatre and no timetable for when it might return.  

Lots of writers I know basically wrote nothing this year, and I totally understand that too.  Being in lockdown there is a real lack of stimuli.  It’s harder to generate ideas when you can’t get out and experience things and mingle with people.  I hope the stuff I wrote is any good.

I can’t imagine what the Oscars are going to look like next year.  Entertainment Weekly listed their Top 10 movies of the year.  Not only have I not seen any of them; I had never heard of 8 of them.   

Of the limited movies I have watched, SOUL is the best. 

If you haven’t seen my Christmas play, it’s here and I’m told very funny.  

The Grove shopping mall in Los Angeles was packed last week with Christmas shoppers. Worst pandemic in 100 years and LA is the current epicenter.  It’s not like I can blame the Red States for being stupid.  

Hey, BECKER is on the Pluto Channel.  Yes, there’s a Pluto Channel.  Happy searching.  

Advertisers, just so you know:  I will NEVER buy a product I see on a pop-up ad.  NEVER.  NEVER EVER.  Stop it!!!

ABC was the number one network in entertainment programming for the first time in 20 years.  I stress entertainment, because the networks that all had NFL football kicked ass.  

Oh, and ratings were down for all four networks from last year.  And if they went down during a pandemic when we’re all forced to stay home, that can’t bode well for them when we can return to life again. 

This would have been my grandmother’s 124th birthday.  Now that’s a woman who could bake!

Monday, December 28, 2020

Wonder Woman 1984: My review

As a point of reference, I very much liked the first Wonder Woman movie.  That said, WONDER WOMAN 1984 was a complete and utter mess.  As this endless stink burger unfolded, making no sense, and boring the shit out of me even with all the CGI and special effects — I just kept saying to myself: Gal Gadot is very hot.  I get to watch Gal Gadot for two and a half hours. 

That carried me for the first half hour.  The idiocy and excess of this bloated piece of shit overtook even Gal Gadot. 

So this is what studio movie making is these days?  Costumed superheroes facing end-of-the-world doomsday power-mad cliche villains through a series of cartoon action sequences that destroy national landmarks, entire cities, and a thousand cars.  Schmaltzy moments that are laughable. Scripts that are convoluted and make no sense.  Probably on purpose.  That way the writers don’t have to explain things.  The audience might think they were explained but they just missed it.   Like why is Wonder Woman in 1984 and not the ‘40s?  Is she immortal?  Does she never age?   Has she been here all along?  No.  That can’t be because when she appears as Wonder Woman at the beginning of the film (after the twenty minute completely superfluous Amazon prologue with a ponderous CGI action sequence and not even Gal Gadot), the media is baffled as to who this masturbatory vision with a golden lasso is. 

And why 1984?   Why not 1979?  Or 2074?   There was nothing specific to 1984 in the film.  My only guess is there’s a scene where someone uses a vintage ‘80s phone booth.  Maybe they got a deal on the prop and built the picture around that. 

Like most superhero movies, the writers solve story problems by merely tacking on more superpowers.  Wonder Woman and Chris Pine (who delivers every line the exact same way) want to take a super fighter jet to Cairo. (No one questions why Wonder Woman steals a plane?) But how do they do that undetected?   I take you to the story conference:

Hmmm?  How about this?  Wonder Woman can make the plane invisible!  Yeah! Awesome!  Wait, how does she do that?  Do you want to discuss this or go to lunch?  Invisible plane it is!  Do you think we’ll get an Oscar nomination? 

The movie was directed by Patty Jenkins.  She was heralded as such a genius for WONDER WOMAN.  Same director and she has story credit so don’t drop the dead body at the feet of the writers.  What happened to her genius? 

I caught it on HBO Max.  Thank God I didn’t waste money seeing it in a theater.   My guess is this review is not a shock to you.  It was released three days ago and you probably already heard the word-of-mouth.  Other than the 30 year old males who still live in their mother’s basement and have Gal Gadot action figures, which they do God knows with — I can’t imagine anyone loving this movie. 

It was just announced there's going to be yet another sequel.  But fear not, I have the solution that will save the franchise.   Do WONDER WOMAN 2019 and have her fling Donald Trump into the ionosphere where he can burn and disintegrate.  She’d save over 300,000 lives.  Hey, I’d even pay IMAX prices to see that.  

Saturday, December 26, 2020


In case you're still looking to savor the holiday spirit, here's my play, ON THE FARCE DAY OF CHRISTMAS, done with an All-Star Broadway/Hollywood cast for the New Works Virtual Festival as a benefit for the Actors Fund.  And by "All-Stars" I mean George Wendt, Kerry Butler, Max Crumm, Felicia Boswell, Lynne Stewart, and Anoop Desai.  It's a comedy that the Hallmark Channel would never make in a thousand years.  There's sex and drugs and a Yiddish word.  Enjoy.  (You can also scroll down to this week's weekend post.) 

Weekend Post

Pilot notes can be maddening. And we’ve all received them. Usually they’re of the “can we up the stakes?” or “can we make her nicer?” variety. Whatever they can do to make the show more formula. And if the exec just spent the weekend attending the Robert McKee seminar, look out. He’ll try to turn every show into CASABLANCA.

And this happens more than you think. Often times networks have agendas and the purpose of their notes is to steer you in the direction of those agendas.

Case in point: A project David and I once had at Fox. Now I should point out that this was several years ago and they’ve gone through eight or nine regimes and two or three ownership changes since then. So the policy back then is not necessarily the policy they follow today (although I suspect it is).

Our pilot was an upscale workplace comedy featuring three really bright young men. I mean, Aaron Sorkin bright. The network really liked the first draft and had minimal notes. One was, could we do a scene in a restaurant or bar? Just someplace away from their office. Fair enough. We asked if we could adjust one of the scenes we already had and just move it to a bar, and they were fine with that.

Then they said, “Oh, and we want a hot babe. We need a smokin’ hot babe”. We said, “No problem. We’ll need a waitress anyway”. And they said, “Oh, not just for this show. We need her to be a series regular.”

Now this threw us a little. I asked, “To do what?”

And this was their answer:

“We don’t care. We just want a hot babe in the show”.

We busted out laughing.  What else could we do???

Now they could have said, “We feel it would provide balance” or “it would be nice to have a woman’s perspective in this show” but we all knew that was bullshit. They just wanted tits! This was Fox. On a creative level this addition made no sense, but hey, I applaud their honesty.

Eventually they passed on the show, felt it was too sophisticated and more of an NBC series than Fox. On the other hand, there was one character they really loved. Guess which one.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Watch my Christmas play

I'm honored that my holiday play, ON THE FARCE DAY OF CHRISTMAS was selected by the New Works Virtual Festival for a Zoom reading.  It's a benefit for the Actors Fund (a very worthy cause) and stars an All-Star Broadway/Hollywood cast.   Kerry Butler, George Wendt, Felicia Boswell, Lynne Stewart, Max Crumm, and Anoop Desai.. The live stream begins at 4 pm EST/1 pm PST after which it's available to watch anytime.  What better way to celebrate Christmas than with laughter?  

What's also interesting is that below the performance they're scrolling the script.  So if you're a writer or aspiring writer it's a great way to see the text while watching the performance.   

You can always go to their Facebook Page to watch the play.  And here's the link that will activate at 4 pm EST/1 pm PST..  Enjoy.  And Merry Christmas everybody!


Thursday, December 24, 2020

For your podcast pleasure


Usually on Thursday I drop a new episode of my podcast and devote the blog post to it.  But the current episode will be up for the remainder of the year.  So I thought I'd take this space to recommend some previous episodes you might not have heard.  With over 200, I now have a lot to choose from.

This is one of my favorites.  It's a tour of 20th Century Fox.  That lot used to be a magic place.  Relive its rich history and stories.

You can find the episode here.

We lost him earlier this year, but Earl Pomerantz was a wonderful writer and a fascinating individual.  One of the nicest most talented people I ever knew.   Treat yourself to my interview with Earl Pomerantz.

You can find that episode here.

And finally, an early episode where I discuss how I write comedy.

Here's where you go for that.

There are a lot of fun episodes on many different subjects.  Feel free to go down the archive rabbit hole.  What else have you got to do in lockdown?  You can't go to grandma's house this year. 

Happy Christmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Friday Questions on Wednesday

Since Friday is Christmas I’m doing Friday Questions on Wednesday this week. I hope this doesn’t throw off your calendar for the next year.

Roger Owen Green is up first.

In 2020 fiction, do you address COVID, pretend it didn't happen, or what?

It depends on the show.  If it’s set in present day and you’ve established yourself for several years I’d say you were almost obligated to address it.  Some shows I’ve noticed have dealt with the economy going to shit and the struggles to stay afloat and keep their employees.  Others have had characters contract the virus.   But my heart goes out to those shows.

Unless it was absolutely necessary to set my show or movie or play in the pandemic I would avoid it like, well… the plague.   

People don’t want to watch shows that remind them of COVID.  NBC had that comedy about the pandemic and it died a quick and horrible death.    I think there are numerous projects about “odd couples” forced to live together in lockdown.  I’m super glad I don’t have one of them.  It might’ve seemed like a good idea in April.  Not now.  

I have several plays I’m working on that I began before the pandemic.  I’ve adjusted them all to be set either before or after 2020.

MellaBlue asks:

I was watching an old episode of Cheers the other night, and I was kind of struck by the rather prominent placing of a Budweiser bottle and a Coors bottle. I'd never really noticed "branding" before and I've watched every episode multiple times. So my question is.... was Cheers approached for product placement by liquor companies and did they accept? Or were these bottles just good props with no sort of deal struck with the companies?

Before we went into production, the Charles Brothers said to NBC that for the sake of authenticity we needed to mention specific brands of liquor.  Otherwise, the whole atmosphere of the bar would ring false.  They agreed to it so long as we didn’t overdo it.   

Along those lines, we occasionally got away with showing brand names on bottles.  But we did it sparingly.  And no one approached us for product placement, nor did we ever take money for product placement. 

I have to say, that the NBC Standards & Practices Department was very reasonable and we worked well with them throughout the run of the series.   They understood that we were an adult show, but we were never looking to shock anyone or ruffle feathers simply to attract attention.  

From “Ray’s Profile:”

On the cast list (for my Zoom reading of GUILTY PLEASURES) is Tony Pasquilini as "Etienne." Are credits like this (or, say, Jerry Mathers as The Beaver) negotiated or just added on a whim by the author?

Those are negotiated.  It’s another way to elevate an actor’s credit.  Only one or two people can receive top billing.  But “and by” is a way of separating the actor from other cast members.  

Credit and billing is a huge consideration.  Where in the credits does your client appear?  Is it a shared card?   Is it the same size font as the star's?   It’s often easier to negotiate the money than the credit.  

Chris Thomson wonders:

Did you have private viewing parties for the final episodes of iconic shows you were on?

Like Mash, Cheers and Frasier etc?

For CHEERS we all went back to Boston and watched it at “Cheers.”  That was very cool.  It was private inside, but outside on Boston Common a giant Jumbotron board was set up and thousands more watched from there.  

There was a private party for the MASH finale.  It was in a screening room. I was working on CHEERS that night and was unable to attend.  

But then MASH had a huge wrap party at a local restaurant and I got to hang out with former president Gerald Ford.  That was only slightly surrealistic.  

And finally, from another Chris — Chris G:

Was MASH exceptional in filming so quickly? Did the fact that the wardrobe was mostly uniforms and there were rarely new settings help keep production times that short?

I don’t think so.  We allotted three days to film a half-hour episode. At the time that seemed to be the rule.  And we generally had no problem delivering on that schedule.  And in my limited experience at the time, I knew of no alternative.  That’s just the way it was.  

Happy holidays.  Be safe.  That’s more important than Christmas celebrations. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Bee Gees documentary

I have to admit, when I saw there was a new documentary about the Bee Gees on HBO Max I yawned.   Not that I disliked the Bee Gees, but I never got what the excitement was all about.  Their songs were played to death during the disco era and Barry Gibb’s falsetto always sounded like a cat being strangled.  

But more and more people were raving about it so I decided to give it a whirl.  I’m so glad I did.  

THE BEE GEES: HOW DO YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART, directed by Frank Marshall, is one of the best rock documentaries I’ve ever seen.  I actually learned stuff.  I actually got a much better appreciation of their talent.  And I actually found myself engrossed in their story.  

There’s great archival footage and interviews with the Gibb brothers over the years so the story was mostly told in their own words.  (I’m only sorry it wasn’t a documentary for CNN because then they might’ve interviewed me.)

Rock group dynamics are always complex — you have different personalities and backgrounds and ultimate career goals.  But when you add to that family dynamics,  played against the many traps of success you test the very foundation of the family unit.  That's way more important than "should the group break up?"  In the case of the Bee Gees, happily, blood was thicker than platinum.  

Marshall chose to emphasize their career and not the steep price they paid for it.  That's the part of the story we all did know going in. To one degree or another they all fell prey to drug and alcohol addiction.  This was certainly mentioned but more in passing.   Of the four brothers (including Andy), only one is left.  Was all the money, fame, women, gold records and legacy worth it?   I thought the best moment of the film was when Barry Gibb answered that question.  

Well worth seeing, even if you still have no desire to ever hear “Stayin’ Alive” again. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

We all need a little joy

It's been a rough rough year and we could all use some joy and happiness.  These two videos are just what the doctor ordered.  I don't know who made them, but they are editing geniuses and I so appreciate their efforts.  Both are spectacular.  Set aside ten minutes and enjoy!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Last chance to see my play

The Zoom reading of my play, GUILTY PLEASURES: AN UNAPOLOGETIC COMEDY ends Sunday night.  It's a sex romp with laughs.  Did I mention it has sex in it?  

Just click here.

Thanks much.  Now back to this weekend's "weekend post." 

Weekend Post

I get a lot of requests for reprints of Levine/Isaacs scripts. So here is a portion of one of our SIMPSONS, “Dancin’ Homer”, dated 6/05/90. Notice that we had to be very detailed in our descriptions so the artists would have some sense of what we envisioned.



We open on a large stadium marquee that reads:


A bus driven by OTTO comes roaring by the screen as it enters the stadium parking lot and screeches to a stop. We hear a blaring police car go by.

Oooh, well, I think we lost ‘em. (LOOKING AROUND) Hey, and we’re at the ball park. All right! Two birds with one stone. Okay, everybody out!

There’s a loud CHEER from the bus.


It is crammed with excited NUCLEAR POWER PLANT EMPLOYEES AND THEIR FAMILIES, all with hats, pennants, thermoses, flasks, gloves, etc. THE SIMPSONS are jammed into two rows. Everyone starts to disembark.


As they cross with other fans to the front gate. BART has a mitt, LISA a transistor radio; MAGGIE wears a little baseball cap and uniform jumper. They pass souvenir stands and PROGRAM VENDORS. All the EMPLOYEES who work at the ball park are rundown and toothless.

You know, boy, some of the players you see tonight may make it to the big leagues, one day.

What? Aren’t we going to see any washed-up major leaguers?

Sure, we get a nice mix here.

I can’t think of a better place to spend a balmy summer’s night than the old ball yard. There’s just the green grass of the outfield, the crushed brick of the infield, and the white chalk lines that divide the man from the little boy.

(CHUCKLES) Lisa, honey, you’re forgetting the beer. It comes in seventy-two ounce tubs here.

I hope you’ll space out the tubs this year, Homer.

(DEFENSIVE) What are you getting at?

Well, last year you got a little rambunctious and mooned the poor umpire.

Marge, (HOLDING UP THE TICKET) this ticket doesn’t just give me a seat, it also gives me the right – no, the duty, to make a complete ass of myself.


MR. BURNS and SMITHERS, who holds 3x5 index “prompt” cards, are perched at the gate, greeting the employees and their families, including THE GAMMILLS from “No Disgrace Like Home”.

Ah, the Gammills. Good to see you.

You’re an inspiration to all of us in waste management, sir.

(CHUCKLES) Well, take your mind off contaminates for one night and have a hot dog. (LAUGHS)

Gammill and his brood kow tow and move on.

(TO SMITHERS) Put a little smile on his card, Smithers.

Already there, sir.

Burns spots the Simpsons as they approach. Smithers grabs a card and whispers in Burns’ ear.

The Simpsons, sir.

Ah, well, if it isn’t the Simps.

Uh… Simp-sons, sir.

(CONSULTING CARD) Hmm, oh , yes… Homer and Marge Simpson. Oh, and these must be Bart, Lisa, and “Expecting”.

(SOTTO) The card needs to be updated, sir.

Burns grumbles.

Oh, that’s okay. The baby’s name isn’t important. Let’s go, Marge.

Very well. (CHUCKLES) Take your mind off contaminates for one night and have a hot dog. (LAUGHS)

The Simpsons enter the park.


It’s a typical wooden bandbox minor league ball park, seating maybe five thousand. Ringing the outfield wall are the usual billboards filled with local advertisements: “Springfield Savings – Safe from 1890-1986, 1988-“; “His Royal Majesty Clothing for the Obese or Gangly Gentleman”; “Moe’s Tavern – Hit this sign and win a free well drink”.

The only concession to the modern era is the JumboVision board in left field, which dwarfs the rest of the stadium. The PLAYERS are on the field, leisurely taking batting and infield practice as the stadium organist plays “ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND”.

Oh, wow – there’s Flash Bailor! I gotta get his authograph! He used to be a star.


He is playing catch. He’s 45, arrogant, and terribly out of shape. He looks like a giant pear. Bart leans over the railing, holding out a ball and a pen.

Hey, Flash! Will ya sign my ball?


Bart rejoins the family.

(MUMBLING) Lousy, washed-up, broken-down… old tub of guts… who does he think he is anyway?

What’s the matter, boy?

He wouldn’t sign my ball.

Well, he’s a fine role model. Bart, give me that ball!

Bart flips her the ball and, with great resolve, she marches down the aisle to the field.

Hey, Flash, check out the mature quail heading this way.

Hey there, little lady. What can Flash do for ya?


Marge rejoins the family, holding the ball.

Here you go, Bart.

She hands the ball to Bart.

(READING) “Springfield Kozy Kort Motel, Room 26… How ‘bout it? – Flash.”

Wow! Flash Bailor came on to my wife! (IMPRESSED) You’ve still got the magic, Marge.



The plant employees are positioned way down the right field line in the bleachers. There’s a filled section of them… and just a mere sprinkling of other fans throughout the park. There are two empty seats next to the Simpsons. Lisa is holding up Maggie.

(TO LISA) What are you doing?

Trying to get Maggie on the JumboVision.


We see that HUNDREDS OF BABIES are being held up.

(POINTING) Hey, Dad, look!

Homer glances up.



Homer fills the screen. He stands up and waves with both hands.

Hey, everybody! How you doing? Look at me! I’m Homer Simpson! Heh… heh.

Bart leans into frame and raises two fingers behind Homer’s head. The JumboVision camera starts to pull in on Homer’s open fly.

(QUIETLY) Homer… Homer.. X.Y.Z.

Examine my zipper? Why? (HOMER LOOKS DOWN) Whoops!

Homer, still on the screen, turns away, zips up his fly and receives a nice OVATION from the crowd.

(HEAVILY ECHOED) Ladies and gentlemen, throwing out tonight’s first ball, the man whose name is synonymous with our nations’ safest and cleanest energy source, Mr. Montgomery Burns!

Burns and Smithers drive up to the mound in a golf cart that looks like a big baseball. Burns waves to the crowd. There is a slight SMATTERING OF APPLAUSE. As the golf cart brakes, divots of turf fly.

Ah, they love you, sir.

Heh, heh. As well they might. You know, Smithers, when I was a young buck, my patented fadeaway pitch was compared by many to the “trouble ball” of the great Satchel Paige. Spit on this for me, Smither.

Burns hands Smithers the ball.

One hocker coming up, sir.

Burns rocks into his wind-up.


Who are heckling Burns from their very safe distance.

Hey, Burns! Hey, “Rag Arm”!

You throw like my sister, man!

Yeah, you throw like me!

They LAUGH conspiratorially.


He wheels and deals. He loses his balance and the ball goes maybe six feet before trickling to a stop.

I think I could actually hear the air being torn, sir.

Oh, shut up.

Homer and Bart are roaring with LAUGHTER. They can barely contain themselves.

What a lame-o!

Ladies and Gentlemen:, to honor America, will you please rise for our National Anthem…

Homer quickly composes himself.

…sung tonight by Springfield’s rhythm n’ blues sensation, “Bleeding Bums” Murphy.

BLEEDING GUMS MURPHY steps up to the microphone at home plate. We see the scoreboard clock behind him reads 7:30. Bleeding Gums launches into a wildly improvisational version of the National Anthem.

(SINGS) “O-oo-hhhhhhhhh… Oh Saaaaayyyyyy can you…” -- I’m askin’ – “Can you s-e-e-e? … by the d-a-a-a-a-a-wn’s”



Bleeding Gums is still singing. The clock on the scoreboard now reads 7:46.

(SINGS) “…and the rocket’s red glareeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee …the bombs burstin’ … shoot it out… poppin’way up in the air… rrrrrrrrrrr.”

At this, there is mild SCATTERED APPLAUSE from the crowd.

(SINGS) “And.. the home.. of the-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e … brave-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e!”

We see the Simpsons amid the crowd. Exhausted the flop into their chairs.


DAN HOARD, wearing a loud multi-colored jacket, is at the mike.

Hi-de-hi, Springfield! Dan Hoard, mikeside. Tonight – our Isotopes take on the pesky Shelbyville Shelbyvillians. The ‘Topes are looking to snap that darn twenty-six game losing streak, longest in professional baseball. How ‘bout that? -- Our sleepy town is in the record book!

Trivia note: I played the voice of “Dan Hoard”. Dan Hoard was my broadcast partner in Syracuse when I was a minor league announcer. He's now the voice of the Cincinnati Bengals and the University of Cincinnati football and basketball.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Friday Questions

On the anniversary of the day I was fired from KSEA radio in 1974 when they pulled the plug on the format and let the entire staff go, thus ending our promotion “Christmas the way it was meant to be” — here are Friday Questions.

Frank Salerno gets it started.

MASH is credited with the first on screen usage of “the smallest violin in the world”.

I know it’s a silent film/melodrama reference.

Whose idea was it to use?

All mine. 

That was an expression often used in my family growing up.   

This is the world’s smallest violin and it’s playing just for you.”

I don’t remember the script or circumstance but I do recall it was Hot Lips who had the line.  

Dave H has another MASH question.

Ken, when did Mash start filming for a new season (July or August?) and what month did you wrap for the season? Sorry if this has been asked before. And I am saying sorry because I am Canadian. A TV report said it's a Canadian thing. ;)

We started filming right after the 4th of July and finished right before Christmas.  25 episodes.  Each episode received one day of rehearsal and three days of shooting.  After every three episodes there was a built-in “pick up” day to reshoot or get a scene not yet filmed.  There were hiatus weeks every seven or eight episodes, but those shrunk if we needed more “pick up” days.  

In contrast, today half-hour single camera shows require five to six days to shoot.  They’ll start in the summer and wrap in March… and do fewer than 25 episodes.

In the case of MASH, it sure helped to have a fantastic cast, crew, and stable of top notch directors. 

Someone who calls himself Dr. Rosen Rosen turns to a CHEERS question.  

I just have to know more about the "Sinatra" line spoken amazingly by Al Rosen. Do you have any additional information about that line, who wrote it, was it scripted, was it scripted that he said it twice, where the writer's trying to find the right line for Al since he was background up until this point. I love this joke, performance, and the way the cast reacted to it so much that I just had to ask.

I don’t know which writer came up with it.  It was definitely scripted exactly as it aired.  I believe season two.  Al Rosen, who was a regular extra, just had a great look and voice.  

His official character name became “Man Who Said Sinatra.”   David Isaacs and I first used him in a season three episode we wrote.

Al Rosen was a very interesting guy.  A former wrestler.  

And finally, from BG:

I know reboots are kinda passé now, but if you and David Isaacs were offered the chance to head a revival of a past sitcom you worked on, which would it be?

ALMOST PERFECT, the CBS show we did starring Nancy Travis.  Then BIG WAVE DAVE’S.  

It might be hard to reboot MARY since the star, Mary Tyler Moore, is no longer with us.  Or the co-star, James Farentino.   (But happily, John Astin is still going strong.  He’s 90, God bless him.)  

What’s your Friday Question.  May this be “Christmas the way it ought to be.”  

My Zoom play reading for GUILTY PLEASURES: AN UNAPOLOGETIC COMEDY continues through Sunday.  Sail away for some sex and laughs.  

Here's the link.  

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Free Zoom Reading of my Play! UPDATE

UPDATE: My full-length play, GUILTY PLEASURES: AN UNAPOLOGETIC COMEDY was scheduled to be produced last summer at the Cape May Stage in New Jersey.   It was canceled of course.  But now comes a Zoom reading from the Cape May Stage with a terrific cast.  It is available now and all technical issues have been resolved.  It's a very funny play.  Who couldn't use a laugh these days?  Or a reminder that we once could travel and do things? 

Here's where you go to watch it. 

The cast includes Stacey Harris, Buddy Haardt, Annie Abrams, Dane Oliver, and Tony Pasquilini as "Etienne." 


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

EP205: Holiday Extravaganza!

The history of your favorite Christmas songs forms part one of this super-size episode.  Part two is an interview with Jhani Kaye, who launched the “all-Christmas-music” format on KOST radio in Los Angeles, which now has become a mainstay in every radio market.  And a spectacular ratings success.  Find out how and why it works, and whether they’ll play the barking dogs singing “Jingle Bells.”  

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The Frankenstein of Santa Monica

There is no photo today.  My post is about the loathsome Stephen Miller and I can't bring myself to even look at his ghoulish alien-like face.   

This is one of those “parents’ worst nightmares” scenarios.  What if you were the parents of one of the kids that shot all those people in Columbine?  Or any other senseless school shooting?   Or was part of the Manson family?  How would it feel to know your son or daughter was responsible for the death of innocent people?  How do you live that down?  How do you face people?  How do you sleep?  How do you look anyone in the eye?  You can get all the therapy in the world but the blood is still indirectly on your hands.  You brought a certified monster into the world.  Maybe not your intent but that is the result. 

Or how would you like to be the parents of Stephen Miller, the despicable Nazi chief aide to our degenerate president?   White-supremacist Miller, most recently was on Fox News basically inciting violence with his baseless claims that Trump will still win re-election.  There was already pro-Trump violence last weekend in Washington DC where four people were stabbed and one was shot.

Fox News should be ashamed for even giving him airtime, but Fox News is to real news what urine is to fine wine. 

I ask these questions because I know Stephen Miller’s parents.  At one time, over 30 years ago, we were friends with them.  I was at Stephen Miller’s bris.  (If I only knew then, I would have paid the mohel to cut his dick off.)  

We had a falling out with the Millers in the late 80’s and haven’t spoken to them since.  I was flabbergasted to learn a few years ago that the Stephen Miller trying to destroy immigration was “that” Stephen Miller.  I mean, it is a rather common name.  There's a rock band by that name, for God sakes! Stephen’s father was an attorney who got involved in some questionable real estate dealings.  As a result they had to sell their larger home in Santa Monica for a more modest one and poor privileged Stephen had to go to public school at Santa Monica High, which had a very diverse population.  It was probably there where Miller developed his hateful worldview.  I assume he was beaten up a lot (or at least I hope he was).  But his warped take on the world, wrapped in hate, went against everything his Jewish upbringing stood for.   His father was very involved in Jewish affairs at one time.  How does he reconcile that? 

We know how his uncle reconciled it.  He went public denouncing Stephen, calling him an “immigration hypocrite” and a menace. 

As I said, I haven’t spoken to his parents in years.  I don’t know what I’d say to them.  But I wonder, why don’t THEY tell him to stop spreading malicious lies that are only meant to destroy our democracy?  Why don’t THEY implore him to not encourage violence?   For God sakes, his mother used to be a social worker. 

I don’t know.  Maybe they have (or at least his mother has).  Maybe they’ve been trying for years.  Or maybe they too now have consumed the Kool-Aid.  In any event, if you create a monster and don’t try to stop the monster, then you become a monster yourself. 

My heart wants to go out to them.  It really does. As a parent, I can’t imagine the pain and burden they must carry and will never live down.  But then I see that smarmy Stephen Miller get on national television with the express purpose of poisoning minds and tearing apart the very foundation of this nation and I say “Fuck them all.”  

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Not watching my own show

For a TV writer I contend the two most exciting events are watching your show being filmed and then watching it live on the air.  

Especially early in your career.  

Most writers I know had big viewing parties for their first episode.  David Isaacs and I did.  Of course, in our case, the script was heavily rewritten and not for the better. So it was awkward for the guests as they tried to politely laugh through lame material. We acknowledged that we had been rewritten, but as I said at the time, “I can’t invite a bunch of people just to see the two seconds our credit is on the screen.”

But as we moved our way up and had shows that did reflect our actual work and were proud of, we occasionally would still have viewing parties.  And in all cases, if a show of ours was scheduled I cleared the decks that night to be sure to watch it live (even with commercials).  

However, once you get on staff things change.  I saw very few of my CHEERS and FRASIER episodes live on the air.  For both shows’ schedules, Thursday night was rewrite night.  So we’d be working through.   Now you could say, why not take a break for a half hour to watch the show?  That was rarely, if ever, done.  No one wanted to stay an extra half hour at 1:00 in the morning to make up that time.  Besides, by then we all had VCR’s.  (Not to mention we’d all seen every episode multiple times in editing).   

So it was not unusual to be in the midst of a rewrite and have someone look at their watch and casually say, “Oh, we’re on right now,” and everyone nods and goes right back to the line they were addressing.  

But looking back, it seems strange to be so blasé when something we wrote was being seen by 30,000,000 people at one time.  No show today gets those kind of numbers. On the face of it, what an extraordinary experience for a writer.   And the irony is, once this pandemic is over, I’m happy to travel across the country to see a production of one of my plays for an audience of 99. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

MANK: My review

I liked MANK, now playing on Netflix.  

But unlike every critic, I didn’t love it.  

I did love a lot of things about it — shot all in black and white, the era, the making of CITIZEN KANE, the process of screenwriting, and there’s a real treat if you’re fans of KHJ radio….


It was too long, if you’re not a real student of Hollywood in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and if you’re under 50 years-old, you will not have any idea who most of these people are and what they’re talking about.  A lot of ideology flies around that deals with things that were topics of the time but don’t directly affect the movie.  

The main story centers around Herman Mankiewicz writing CITIZEN KANE -- Orson Welles' brilliant hatchet job of newspaper emperor, William Randolph Hearst.  The problem is that Mank was friends with Hearst and especially his mistress Marion Davies.  So there's a real conflict of interests.  And the making of the movie is sure to be fraught with controversy.   Does he walk away from the project?   That’s the big dilemma.   It didn’t need 2 hours and 10 minutes to resolve that.  

And now I’m going to really spit on the cross.  I don’t think Gary Oldman is right for the part.  Blasphemy you say (even if you haven’t seen the movie)!  Oldman is a great actor, morphs into any part he takes.  He was brilliant as Churchill, awesome as Commissioner Gordon.  I admire his work greatly.  But the key character trait of Mank was that he was wickedly funny.  His one-liners, his droll zingers, and pithy remarks supposedly put even the premier wits of the day to shame.   And I’m sorry, but Gary Oldman is not funny.  He delivers the lines (which on paper could have been funnier on the whole) with his usual precision, but I just didn’t buy that this guy had the twinkle, the razor-sharp comic mind that made him Hollywood's darling for five minutes, and the hit of any party.  

All the other aspects of Mank’s character — his brashness, intelligence, battle with alcohol, self-destructive tendencies all came through with clarity and finesse.   But research, make-up, accents, and prosthetics can’t make you funny (unless the prosthetics is a chicken suit).  

Now, this may just be me.  In fairness, critics have called MANK (directed by David Fincher) a beautiful textured film, a masterwork study of Old Hollywood, a glowing metaphor for I-don’t-know-what.  Oscars all around!  And I’m glad movies like this are still being made.  Major studios have long abandoned character studies for superheroes and animated sequels.  But if you see MANK, and I still recommend that you do, and you don’t absolutely love it, just know you’re not the only one. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Weekend Post

What’s the dumbest holiday gift you’ve ever received? Mine was a Fizz-nik. And understand, I really WANTED this thing. In my dumb kid-ness I thought this was the coolest invention EVER.

It was a plastic straw with a big bubble in the middle. This was actually two half spheres that twisted together with straws on either end. You put a scoop of ice cream in the bubble and twisted it shut. Then you jammed one end into a bottle of root beer. That was it. Voila! Instant root beer float!

You would take a swig and (in theory) the root beer would mix with the ice cream and by the time it reached your mouth you were in soda fountain heaven. And the best part – no muss nor fuss.

Except for one thing…

It never worked. To mix the two elements you had to hold the bottle at almost a 90 degree angle and crane your neck way back. Not exactly ideal.

And then there was this tiny flaw – there was no way to stop the rushing ice cream float as it hurtled its way to your mouth. What a mess. Within a week my mother had confiscated my beloved Fizz-Nik.

Let’s just say that as a result of the Fizz-nik I have more empathy for hookers.

Hope you get what YOU want this holiday season.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Friday Questions

Only 14 more days to buy me something expensive for Christmas.  Here are this week’s Friday Questions.

Brian starts us off.

Do you think modern cable shows go too far with their depictions of nudity and sexual content? It just seems that every show produced in recent memory tries to force in as much nudity and sex as possible, regardless of relevance to the plot. Is it merely a cheap ploy to entice viewers or do you feel it can add something to a program?

There’s no question that there's some gratuitous sex and nudity.  Early episodes of GAME OF THRONES seem to have all boring exposition scenes take place in a brothel where there was much to look at while the dry text was being delivered. 

My favorite exploitation cable scene was in one of those women-in-prison movies where all these hot coed inmates were naked in the shower… reading their mail.  

But as long as the viewer is given warnings at the top of the show they can decide for themselves whether the material is right for them.   To censure the artists of the content is wrong.   As long as the viewer is not blindsided I see nothing wrong with it.  There are a billion other viewing options.  Watch one of those if you're offended by the sex and nudity.    Remember:  There's always the Hallmark Channel.

From Tammy:

What is your favorite sitcom setting (family, workplace etc.) as a viewer? And which is your favorite as a writer? Thanks!

Workplace because if you do it well it can be both.  One could certainly argue that the gang at CHEERS is a “family.”  But workplace settings allow for more different types of people to come together.  And you avoid the annoying precocious children who don’t talk like any children in real life.  

Dave-El wonders:

Hi, Ken! Your comment about using a table in the mess tent for re-writes reminds me of a possible Friday question I have: What exactly was Igor serving up in the mess tent chow line? Those pots were usually filled with some form of goop that was supposed to be mashed potatoes or creamed corn or something like that. Was it actually anything edible?

Jeff Maxwell, who played Igor, often checks in to the blog so he might be able to answer directly, but from what I understood it was all very decent food prepared by the Fox commissary.   I never ate it.   One of the unwritten rules of production is you don’t eat “set food.”   It’s prepared for the scene, not you.   There is always a craft-services table nearby with plenty of snacks if you get hungry.  

And finally, from Kevin from VA:

Speaking of "inside" jokes, last year you posted a great story of your meeting with Al Hirschfeld and how he always snuck his daughter's name into his caricatures. I left a very slight "inside" joke in the comments section from that post that may have slipped by you and possibly even some of your loyal readers.

My question is when you've done inside jokes, have you enjoyed it more when others "got" the joke or more when they didn't? 

Working "Nina" into Hirschfeld's drawing did nothing to detract from it.  An inside joke is different because maybe you're going with an inside joke instead of a joke designed for a general audience.  

But if you're going to go that route, first and foremost you hope the “inside  people” you wrote the joke for get it.   And it’s always great when others get it because it gives them the feeling that they'e on the inside as well.

I would only add be very very sparing with inside jokes.   You want the inside jokes to just whiz by.  And you want to surround them with jokes meant for everybody.   There’s certainly a danger in inside jokes.  Once the viewer senses that he’s being excluded he’ll leave.  

I found this to be more the case in radio back “in the day” (and by that I mean, when radio actually existed).  Some disc jockeys would do inside jokes meant for other radio people in the industry.  There would be jokes about the format or station policy or the competition.   Very funny for their peers but not the general public.  

Robert W. Morgan, in the heyday of KHJ in Los Angeles was guilty of that in my opinion.  Morgan could be devastatingly funny, but over time he would sprinkle in a little inside zinger or two.  Eventually inside jokes became 90% of his act.   So radio people listen to tapes of him today and think he’s a genius.   Play the same tape for someone not in the business and they have no idea what all the shouting’s about.   Then have them listen to a tape of Dan Ingram on WABC in New York.  They'll be laughing today, 50 years later.   Beware of inside jokes.

What’s your Friday Question?  I could use a Tesla. 

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

EP204: The Hollywood & Levine Mini-Play Festival!

Short plays written for the theatre have had to adapt to Zoom. And now podcasts.  Ken presents two of his favorite ten minute comedies adapted for Zoom.  It’s theatre of the mind, or Starmaster, or wherever you listen to podcasts.  

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Congratulations to Al Michaels

It was just announced that Al Michaels will be inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame this year.   Well deserved.  Al was the voice of the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants before becoming the lead baseball voice of ABC for the many years when they carried baseball.  He's called numerous World Series and All-Star games.  As great as he is calling football, I always thought he's an even better baseball announcer.  

Al was a guest on my podcast last year.  It's a terrific two-part interview.  If you haven't heard it, I invite you to check out both parts.

Part One

Part Two

And again, congratulations to Al Michaels. 

My favorite show gift

It’s become a time-honored tradition.  TV shows give swag for the holidays.  Usually clothes items, although EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND gave out DVD players, raincoats, scooters, and more.   I still use the raincoat.  

Other gift items from various shows include baseball caps, sweaters, dart boards, bicycles, watches, record albums, jackets, sweatshirts, T-shirts, binders, coffee mugs, embossed glasses, and ties.  

Of all my gifts, the best was the satin jacket I received from CHEERS the first year.  It was very slick looking, but that’s not the reason I loved it.  

At the time, CHEERS was doing horribly in the ratings.  We aired a new episode on Thanksgiving night, 1982 and it finished dead last in the ratings.   We got our pick up for the back nine, but just barely.  And we were told that if things didn’t pick up we’d likely be canceled at the end of the season.   

Needless to say, it was disheartening because we all felt we were doing our best work.  It’s not like we could stay an extra half-hour and the ratings would go up.  

But on the weekends I started wearing that jacket.  And people would stop me to say how much they loved the show.  It was my first indication that people were watching (maybe not enough at that point) and we were connecting with them.  

Despite the ratings, we were on to something.   And could build from that. 

Two follow up points:  I’ve worn show garb from other shows over the years.  Never have I received the reaction I got from that CHEERS jacket.  The few fans we had were passionate about the show. 

And two, in looking online for a photo of that jacket I see that one is selling on eBay for $950.  Pretty good for a last place show.

I’d wear mine again but I’m still on lockdown. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

I no longer find Cliff Clavin funny

At one time I did.  At one time I loved writing for that character. (And John Ratzenberger played him to perfection.) 

Cliff was the fringe nut who had all these ridiculous conspiracy theories.  Everyone else in the bar knew he was full of shit and harmless so were amused by it.   With everyone spouting views it was fun to have a wacky one thrown into the mix. 

Plus, his conspiracy theories were so absurd no one in their right mind could take him seriously.

But today there are 70,000,000 Cliff Clavins and it’s no longer funny; it’s horrifying.   How can there be that many misinformed, gullible people in the United States?     A current documentary on NETFLIX helps explain why.

It’s called THE SOCIAL DILEMMA and it’s both riveting and chilling. 

The crux is that social media is insidiously gathering enormous amounts of information about you and your behavior and subtly manipulating you for the purpose of profit and persuasion.   Every time you log on to Facebook it charts your activity — what photos you look at and for how long, what you like and don’t like, what groups you’re in, what you share, what you post, etc.   And based on that you’re fed more material their complex algorithms think you want to see.  The first goal is retention — how can they better keep you logged on?  But the second is to persuade you — either what to buy, or what to believe. 

So if you’re Cliff Clavin and you like conspiracy posts, you’re gong to be fed more.  When you type something into a search engine, not everybody receives the same results in the same order.  For example, you might type in Climate Change.  Depending on your known beliefs the first things that might come up pertain to controlling it, or if you’re Cliffy, that it’s a hoax.    Now that’s disturbing. 

Social media globally is undermining democracies.  They’re the most vulnerable because they depend on citizen’s choice. 

The experts who spoke on this documentary were all current or former high echelon tech folks.  They looked straight out of SILICON VALLEY.   All super-intelligent, super-articulate, some weirder than others.   In crunching numbers they determined that misinformation travels six times faster than facts.   Cliff Clavin reaches more people than Frasier Crane, and what kind of fucked up world is that? 

What’s so maddening is that the internet is also a miracle and a God send.  Imagine getting through this pandemic if you didn’t have a way to still connect with your friends, and family.  If you couldn’t work from home.  If you were not privy to facts (should you be smart enough to choose reality).  I’m sitting at my computer banging out this rant in Los Angeles and you might be reading it in Rangoon.  Or listening to my podcast in Bhutan.   I’m awed by the app that lets me turn a flashlight on. 

But with all great innovations comes a dark side.  When Facebook created “Likes” the goal was just to add more positives in our life.  They had no idea young people would be basing their entire self worth on them, and that a lack of sufficient “Likes” was viewed as a crushing rejection.  When Russia interfered with our election in 2016, they didn’t hack into Facebook, they just used the tools that were available to them for nefarious purposes. 

I always love when people say big business should not be regulated.  Let them police themself.  They’ll be reputable, they’ll play fair.  Uh huh.  Tell that to Erin Brockovich.  Or Wells Fargo customers.   THIS is the result.  Today big business is cheerfully willing to sacrifice the country and the well-being of the planet for short-term profits.  

So who should watch over the content you’re provided?  Mark Zuckerberg?  Really?   Or perhaps a bipartisan government committee that’s only looking out for the public’s interest, not the shareholders…or the president?   We’re talking about protecting our children who are as addicted to social media as Richard Pryor was to crack.  Look how well THAT turned out.  We’re talking about preserving our democracy.  We’re talking about restoring facts and truth and reality to a lost confused delusional society.   We’re hoping to find Cliff Clavin once again a lovable nut and not a fucking asshole who’s a cancer and a threat to everything we believe in.   And the time to start is now… while we still can.  

Monday, December 07, 2020

Tips for speakers

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post.  It’s from Paul. 

Going out on a limb here for your disc jockey work. Combined with podcasting. Combined with writing where you might have a long monologue (less common I suppose in comedy, but still) you have tips/tricks for people "presenting" where there is no audience feedback to tell them how they're doing?

Yes, communicate to one person. Especially if you’re on Zoom.  The more you can make a direct connection the better. 

Along those lines, make direct eye contact.

Don’t read. Refer to notes if need be, but talking directly to people commands their attention. 

Know your audience.  Don’t talk over their heads or patronize them. 

Make your points as clear as you can. 

Diction is important.

A little humor never hurts, as long it's appropriate.  Self-deprecating humor in particular is effective.

Don’t talk too fast.  People sometimes have the tendency to talk quickly when they’re nervous.  Your points get lost and it makes the audience uncomfortable. 

Don’t talk in a monotone.  Audiences fall asleep when a speaker drones on.  Mix up your inflections, hit key words.  You’re not just making your point, you’re selling it.

Try to avoid crutches.  We all have them, but the fewer “you knows” and “uhhhhhs” the better. 

A well-timed pause can really hammer home a point.   Obama is a master at this. 

Have a glass of water handy.  Keep the pipes lubricated. 


Don’t rely on Powerpoint or other visuals.  They are certainly helpful tools, but when things go wrong with them (which they always do), if you’re spending half your talk trying to pull up the right slide it breaks your momentum.  You should be able to punt and sell your presentation even if the Powerpoint craps out. 

And finally, appear to be comfortable.  Now I know this is difficult, especially since you’re not comfortable; you’re a wreck.  But if you can at least give off the impression that you’re relaxed it will put the audience at ease.  And that can be the single most important factor.   It makes no difference what you say if your listeners aren’t receptive. 

So those are a few tips.  Best of luck.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Weekend Post

 This was my favorite cheesy Christmas special growing up.  I wrote about it in my memoir, THE ME GENERATION...BY ME (the PERFECT holiday gift available in Kindle, paperback, and audiobook formats.  Hint hint.) 

I still can’t fathom why anyone watched the ANDY WILLIAMS variety show on NBC if they didn’t own a color TV. It was so wholesome your teeth ached. Whatever “edge” the show had was provided by the Osmond Family. But it was in color and production numbers always featured grinning All-American yahoos in brightly colored sweaters holding brightly colored balloons. Not having a color TV and not being gay I never watched THE ANDY WILLIAMS SHOW… except…

During their Christmas special.

It was the one time of year Andy had his beautiful family on the show and this became a 60s American tradition. Mom and dad and the Williams kinder would sing Carols, exchange presents, and their message of love and holiday good cheer would absolutely entrance you. That’s not why I watched it, of course. I wanted to screw Andy’s wife.

Claudine Longet (Mrs. Williams) was a willowy brunette with exquisite doe eyes and luscious lips. Laura Petrie but French. She was also a successful recording artist but believe me, if she looked like Charles De Gaulle she couldn’t give away one record. But I found her incredibly sexy, even when she was singing Silent Night in front of a crucifix. She and Andy would divorce in the 70s and two years later she shot her boyfriend, Olympic skier Spider Sabich to death. I still wanted to screw her, but not as much.

So as enjoyable as those holiday shows were in the mid 60s, watching them now on PBS they take on a whole new level of absurdity. Two of their kids are named Noelle and Christian. How much more seriously can you take Christmas? And yet, twelve years later, there’s mom in a different winter wonderland with a loaded revolver. She was ultimately convicted on a lesser charge and married her defense attorney.

I’ll be on parole for Christmas.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Friday Questions

Here we are in December.  I’d say “already” but it’s been the longest year ever.  Let’s have some Friday Questions.

FFS gets us started.

Question from a non-writer. What the hell is a "beat"?

Any new element in the story.

Think of the story as the spine and beats as the vertebrae.  

Examples of beats:  

A couple starts an argument.

A father shows his son how to tie a knot.

Bob takes out the ring and proposes.  

Fred arrives with the Christmas tree.

In an outline you start with the beats.  First this happens, then that, then the next thing.  It gives you an overview of the story.  Are there too many things (beats) happening in this act?  Are there not enough? Is it repetitious?  Is there a step missing?

Once you’re satisfied that all the vertebrae are in the right place, and the story spine holds up then fill out each beat.  

The couple that starts an argument.  Over what?

Father showing son how to tie a knot?   Does the son not want his help?  Is this a bonding experience?  

Bob takes out the ring and proposes.
  Is he clumsy?  What is his proposal?  Was she expecting it or surprised?    Does she accept or reject his proposal?  I would say that’s a separate beat.  The story very much turns on whether she accepts or not.  

Hopefully you get the idea.   I write my beats on the computer then move them around.  A lot of writers use index cards.  One beat per card.  You can also use note cards in certain scripture programs.  

Ere I Saw Elba asks:

What would be your personal theme song, if you got to have one?

From an existing TV show?  “Mr. Lucky.”

From Lorimartian:

Have you ever talked about working with Nathan Lane? He is so talented, and I remember that series. Was it a good experience?

It was a wonderful experience!

I directed three episodes of his short-lived NBC sitcom, ENCORE ENCORE.  I found him to be a delight.  He’s very inventive and nimble.  

There are two sides to Nathan Lane— “on” when he’s performing, and “off” when he’s very quiet and introspective.  

If I had to tell one story about working with Nathan, it would be this:  Episode 13, our final episode in the series order.  Two days into rehearsal we get the word that ENCORE ENCORE has been canceled. (There would be no “encore” much less two.)   Everyone knew this episode would never air.

Nathan had a choice. He could just pull the plug and not bother or tough it out another three long days.   Nathan chose to complete the episode because he didn’t want the crew to lose out on a week’s pay.  

And not only that, he worked just as hard or harder those final futile three days.  The man is the consummate professional and a mensch.  I would work with him again in a second.

And finally, from Bill Slankard:

I recently read how The Big Bang Theory wrote around Kaley Cuoco's riding accident and it made me wonder what happens when the unexpected happens, and the writing staff has to come up with a fix immediately and some future episodes.  Does this happen a lot?  And what do you do? 

It happens all the time.  You just have to deal with it.  A cast member gets sick and you have to write him out of the episode… or several episodes.  Someone breaks their foot is on crutches.  You have to explain it away.  

During the course of a season I just expect curve balls like that.  You have to film a show after 9-11.  Your star is doing a movie and you have to shoot all his scenes separately for next week’s episode.  One of your stars goes into rehab.  The guest star you had planned cancels on you the night before you go into production.   The possibilities are endless.

Current TV writers have had to readjust their scripts to accommodate shooting during the pandemic.  They’ve had to remove crowd scenes, any scene with extras really.  Even four or five characters in a scene is now two scenes with two or three characters.  

Bottom line: you just gotta roll with it.  You can’t prepare.  Consider it another challenge and why they pay you the big bucks (or bigger bucks than you’d make at Starbucks).

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

EP203: Mistletoe Miscellaneous & Why I hate making holiday episodes

Ken riffs on the holiday season and gives an insider look on the making of Thanksgiving and Christmas-themed TV episodes.  The tropes and the traps revealed.  

Listen to other podcasts similar to this on iTunes!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

A TV writer with security? Is that even possible?

As you know, I’m a big JEOPARDY fan.  I’m way too dumb to be on it, but I like watching other smart people being rewarded for having intelligence.  So my readers tend to ask numerous JEOPARDY-related Friday Questions.  Here’s one that warranted its own post since I went right to the source to provide the answer.  

Cecil Newson asks:

Can a person make a living writing questions for Jeopardy? Is it a stressful job?

Billy Wisse is the Co-Head Writer of JEOPARDY.  I posed this question and he was gracious enough to respond.

Hi Ken. Yes, you can make a living writing questions for Jeopardy!. It can be a stressful job but you get to learn a lot, exercise your creativity and work with great people. And there is not a lot of turnover, so job insecurity is one stress we are generally free from. Or should that be “from which we are generally free”? As you see, the job does bring out one’s nitpicking side.
Hope this is helpful.
Billy Wisse
Co-Head Writer, Jeopardy!

Very helpful and greatly appreciated.   Thanks, and I’m ashamed to say I got the Final Jeopardy question wrong on Monday night and the category was “Movie Comedies.”   This is why I’ll never be on that show.