Monday, July 26, 2021

The Olympics Opening Ceremony, which I skipped

I think for the first time ever I didn’t watch the Olympics Opening Ceremony.  I love the pageantry of all the athletes from all the countries entering the stadium, generally followed by the world’s biggest and gaudiest Orange Bowl halftime show.  

Instead I watched a rerun of IN & OUT.

I’m usually transfixed by the Olympics, no matter the event.  Skateboarding, the way the Greeks did it way back when.  There are always great human interest stories, records are broken, and stars are born (for fifteen minutes).  As a sports fan it's porn.  In 1984 they were held in Los Angeles and I was really immersed.  (More on that in tomorrow’s post.)  

But this year I have zero interest.  None. This year it’s just a big money grab.  And many lives will be needlessly put into COVID jeopardy because organizers don’t want to cancel and give up all that broadcast rights money.  

Cities spend fortunes to construct spiffy new Olympic venues, generally bankrupting their budgets for a three-week event.  But the influx of tourism and the income that generates makes it worth the process.  Not to mention the pride of showing off your gleaming city to the world.  

But this year, because of COVID, spectators aren’t allowed.  The 40,000 seat venues will have 50 people watching.  

80% of Japan’s population is against holding the games there this year.  How do you ignore 80% of the population?  Oh, right. Money is involved. 

Not all athletes are vaccinated.  Not all nations can provide it.  Suspense should be whether these strapping your people win gold medals, not whether they avoid ventilators.  

Already, some of the top athletes have tested positive and can’t compete.   So in some cases you’re not even watching the best of the best. 

I find the whole event irresponsible.  People are getting sick so we can have a TV event to watch.  

And then I see people in America getting sick and dying simply because they won’t get vaccinated, even though the vaccine is free, safe, and available.  Yet certain athletes from certain countries who would do anything for the vaccine can’t get it and might have to pay a horrible price just to compete in these hollow games.  I don’t need to be reminded of it.  I don’t need to get angry all over again because of the sheer stupidity of some people.  

Ratings for the Opening Ceremony were way down from 2016 in Rio.  Hey, maybe I’m not alone in my feelings.  

I’ll watch again next time when hopefully it’ll be the Olympic Games and not the Hunger Games.  

IN & OUT was really funny, by the way.  (More on that this week too.) 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Weekend Post

Is there a language course waiters are required to take these days? Must they pass Waiter-speak before being hired? Who started this current trend where waiters are no longer allowed to converse like normal people? If it were one or two I’d say it was an affectation but they all talk like this now – as if there were a handbook. Maybe this is just an L.A. phenomenon, you tell me. And if you are one of these waiters, would you let me know your side of things? Perfect!

Whatever you ask for now is “perfect!” Salt, a cheeseburger with onions, a cheeseburger without onions. “I just stabbed my date to death and need another knife. “Perfect!”

There’s a formality that is now the standard.

A waitress will take my companion’s drink order then turn to me and say: “And for yourself?” I then must say: “Get myself a beer please.”

No longer can a waiter ask, “Ready to order?” Now it’s “Have we decided?” “Yes, I’ll have what you’re having.”

They use “we” a lot.

The variation is: “So what are we thinking?” “You need your teeth fixed before you go out on more auditions. I’ll have the halibut.”

The only time they don’t say “we” is when they’re reading the specials and then it seems like they own the restaurant and are the chef as well because they’ll say, “Tonight I’m featuring…” Sometimes they do this in a fake accent. You can just picture their headshots and resumes. Special skills: foreign accents, baton twirling, yodeling.

They’re forbidden to ask how you want something cooked. Instead: “What temperature would you like?” “Gee, I’m not sure. 423 degrees or 425?” “Perfect!”

When serving they are now required to say, “Please excuse my reach.” In some places, like Tilted Kilts, that's the only reason you do order food.

And this is a relatively new thing that has caught on quickly: “Are we enjoying the first few bites?” Who started that? And woe be the maverick waiter who asks: “Is everything okay?” Now it’s “Is everything outstanding?” Imagine asking that question with a straight face at the Olive Garden?

When they want to be specific waiters now inquire: “Is the veal to your liking?” It’s as if Boyd Crowder wrote the handbook.

After the meal there are two options. “Did we save some room for dessert?” or “Can we tempt you with something sweet?” Either way you want to trip them so they'll fall into a pie.

The bottom line: real people don’t talk like that! But it's great if you're a screenwriter.  As a writer I’m forever fascinated by dialogue. And in crafting a script, giving a character a certain turn of phrase can greatly help the actor define him. Good writers are great listeners. “Thanks and you have a lovely rest of the day.”

 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Friday Questions

It must be Friday.  You know what that means?

maxdebryn has a question that I receive often. 


What is the deal with all the producers listed in the credits on many tee-wee shows ? In olden days (when I was a lad), you'd see one or two producers listed, but now there are usually more than a dozen or more. Executive producer/ associate producer/co-executive producer ?? Do these producers actually do anything, or is it just a vanity thing ? A lot of actors are now listed as producers on their own shows, too. Do that get paid extra for that ?


Most of those “producers” are writers.  They move up in the hierarchy and in pay grade by going from co-producer to producer, supervising producer, co-executive producer, executive producer.  Sometimes there’s a consulting producer thrown in there somewhere.  As staffs grow, so grow the titles.

The exceptions:  When you see “produced by” that means it’s the line producer who handles everything on the set.  Associate producers usually deal with post-production.  

Actors do take them for more money and vanity, and in some cases, more creative control.  Most of the time they're "producers" in name only.

Derek asks:

On single-camera shows, there seems to be a lot of opportunity for the director to get creative with camera angles, long-shots, close ups, special effects, etc. Some shows (eg, Breaking Bad) do this a lot. But for multi-camera shows it appears there would be far less opportunity for the director to get creative in this way. Are there things that I haven't noticed that a multi-camera director can do to "show off" his or her talents? Do you sometimes watch a show and notice that the multi-cam director has done something novel that the average viewer might not appreciate? Thanks.

If the shot is too weird it might throw the audience off.  But I do appreciate when others directors find interesting shots, and I experiment a little myself.  Usually on the fly.

If I have a pick-up that I need from one camera, I’ll have all four running and I’ll go up to each cameraman and improvise.  I’ll say, “Can you get me a raking master?”  “Can you get me a shot of Kelsey with just the two big noses on either side of him?”  “Can you get me a shot looking through the fishbowl?”   

Most of the time those shots aren’t used, but every so often one sneaks through, and I imagine other directors going “How did he think of that shot?”  

From Mike Bloodworth:


Had you ever considered writing an APRIL FOOLS episode for any of the series for which you wrote? I don't mean an episode where the characters play tricks on each other. I mean an episode, using "Frasier" as an example, where the characters are in a completely different situation. Working in a restaurant maybe. Or an entirely different cast at the radio station, etc. I suppose it wouldn't make much sense of the episodes didn't air on April Fools Day.

No.  We’ve certainly done shows where characters play pranks on other characters but not on the audience.  

As you said, the show has to air on April Fool’s Day.  And any other time you air it it wouldn’t make sense.  Since studios make their money on reruns and syndication, they don’t want you to do an episode that can only be run once.

And finally, from Ron Havens:

Who was your favorite cast addition to any show you wrote for?

That’s an easy one.  David Ogden Stiers as Charles Winchester on MASH.  Great actor, great character, and it added even more depth to the series.

I always loved writing Charles.

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

EP234: Mike Nichols: A Director


More with author, Mark Harris who wrote the book MIKE NICHOLS: A LIFE. In this episode we delve into Nichols’ directing career — his approach, process, hits and misses, theatre and films, and how Jackie Kennedy helped get one of his movies released.

Get Honey for FREE at https://joinhoney.com/LEVINE

More podcasts at WAVE: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/artist/wave-podcast-network/1437831426


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The dumbest kidnappers EVER

On December 8, 1963 Frank Sinatra Jr. was kidnapped.  As you can imagine, this was quite the story. Reader Ron Havens asked an FQ about it.  

You lived in LA at the time. What do you remember about this incident? Was it as big a story?

Yes, it was a HUGE story.  It was the stuff of tabloids.  And it was a welcome distraction from the mourning the country was going through following the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22nd.  

In my memoir, THE ME GENERATION… BY ME — GROWING UP IN THE ‘60s (available on Amazon, hint hint), I write about the incident.  These were my thoughts:

The only story I was really following was the Frank Sinatra Jr. kidnapping case. Imagine someone trying to get back at the Corleone family by abducting Fredo. 

The three nimrods who pulled off this harebrain scheme were found guilty by a federal jury and sentenced to life plus 75 years, which is still getting off easier than if Frank had doled out justice his way. 

My interest was really sparked because the buffoons’ hideout was just a few blocks from my house. It’s the kind of national attention new tract housing developments could only dream about.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Friday Questions from the Way Back Machine

 

One of the most popular features of the blog is Friday Questions.  So once a month or so I've started reposting Friday Questions from ten or more years ago (since no one goes back in the archives that far and there's some good information hidden within those posts).  This was from Friday, July 29, 2011.  Were we all even alive back then?  Enjoy.   Oh... and a reminder, no anonymous or unknown comments will be posted. 

Brian gets us started.

Ken, you have mentioned several times that you got your first writing assignment on THE JEFFERSONS. What was the story line and how did you come up with it?

A new cleaners moves in across the street and George begins losing his confidence. The episode was called “Movin’ on Down”. I can’t remember exactly what led us to it. But I do recall we came up with the idea in a booth at Mario’s restaurant in Westwood late one Saturday night.   That very spot is now Table 17 at the California Pizza Kitchen. 

Tyler K. wonders:

Do TV writers have a harder time writing enough material to fill the required episode time, or cutting material down to do the same? Also, how short do you see TV episodes getting as time goes on? We've gone from 25-minute episodes of Cheers and Mash to 22-minute episodes of Frasier and Friends to some current shows being less than 20 minutes.

Surprisingly, it’s MUCH harder to write a 20 minute show than a 25 minute show. You’d think it would be easier because you had less to write. But it’s much tougher telling a good story in only 20 minutes. Everything has to be so truncated. And if you have a series where you do A and B stories, it makes things especially difficult. Imagine if FRIENDS were still around today. Or MASH.

Stories are more layered, more nuanced, more emotional when you have more time. Why more emotional? Because the emotion has to be earned. And that’s harder to do when characters have to make quick turns.

Michael writes in:

I recently saw a couple episodes of "The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show" on AntennaTv. 5 or 6 writers shared the writing credit for both shows I saw - I assume they were the show's entire writing staff. Are there union rules that would prevent that from happening today?

Yes. For a sitcom today only two writers or two teams of writers can share teleplay credit on an episode. So if this week’s show is written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs, we each get half. If the show is written by say Earl Pomerantz and Ken Levine & David Isaacs then Earl gets half and David and I split the other half.

You can ask the Guild for a waiver, however. That’s what we did on ALMOST PERFECT. Quite a few scripts were written by David and I and our co-creator, Robin Schiff. But it wasn’t fair that she should get half and we each got a quarter so we asked for a waiver. The Guild said okay as long as all three of us got the equivalent of half – meaning the studio essentially paid for a script and a half. Still with me?

Now things get really complicated when shows are room written like THE BIG BANG THEORY or TWO AND A HALF MEN. Because you can also assign story credit, which pays less than teleplay but at least is something. So if you’ll notice BIG BANG THEORY writing credits, there are usually five or six names. Some get shared story credit, others get shared teleplay credit.

It's a joke because the names on the screen have no relation whatsoever to who actually wrote what. Credits are just divvied up. To me that defeats the purpose of credits. 


From Bob Summers:

Why did the TV seasons of the 70s and into the 80s used to end in March, and why and when did that change to May? I think I have an answer, but I'd like an insider/expert opinion.

This changed when May sweeps were introduced. Most major agencies base their network advertising buys on sweep period ratings. So networks hold back original episodes and sprinkle in stunt programming to inflate their sweeps numbers as much as possible.  Was that what you were thinking, Bob?

And finally, LaprGuy has a question about announcing baseball:

How much does the highlight package (and, maybe moreso, the demo reel) come into play when you are announcing a game?

I don’t think about it at all. As for highlights, I’m just trying to capture the drama of the moment and be accurate. I have no catch phrases.

Re: demo reels, I don’t think about that either. I just try to stay in the moment. Over the course of a season I figure there will be one or two demo-worthy innings somewhere along the way. But my main focus is on the listener and the game at hand. I’m trying to do an informative, entertaining, and descriptive broadcast, not impress. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Debunking another MASH rumor

One nice thing about having a blog is being able to set the record straight when there are articles about the shows and people I’ve worked with that are not accurate. 

There’s a rumor going around that there was some tension between Alan Alda and Mike Farrell on MASH.  A recent article suggests this.   I’m here to tell you it’s not true.

They point to a specific episode, “Preventative Medicine,” from one of our years (season 7).  I’ve written about this before — how I discovered they already had done that story in year three and how mortified I was.

A recent article uses the debate Alan and Mike had over the ethics of whether a doctor would remove a perfectly good appendix to keep a company commander off the front lines where he was notorious for volunteering for combat and putting his men needlessly in harm's way.  It was a story we got from research.

At the table reading Mike objected that his character wouldn’t do it.   In the piece they claim that this caused a real (but temporary) rift in Alan & Mike’s relationship. 

It made it seem like they were really fighting.

Here’s the true story from someone who was right in the middle of it:

Mike did bring up his objections at the table reading, and Alan did disagree.  They debated the issue for about a half hour.  And it was truly a debate.  No one raised their voice, no one said anything personal, and the argument stayed on point.  It didn’t drift into other grievances.  

At the end of the discussion it was agreed that some of this debate would be good for the episode.  So we went back to the office to write it.  We knew it would be a long night.

But here’s the thing:  Alan joined us for the rewrite.   He didn’t have to, especially since he disagreed with Mike’s reasoning.  But not only did he help rewrite it, he was super positive and excited about incorporating this new argument.  It gave the script a shot of adrenaline.  

And ultimately we were extremely happy with the final product. 

It seems like every couple of months I have to debunk an Alan Alda rumor, and in this case I can assure you there was no friction between he and Mike Farrell.  My writing partner, David Isaacs, and I have fought way more (and louder) than those two happy fellas. 

Don’t believe everything you read, except when you’re reading me.  

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Weekend Post - RIP Chuck Blore

One of my radio idols has passed away.  Chuck Blore.  Quite simply he was a creative genius.  He was the architect of KFWB Color Radio in 1958 that took Los Angeles by storm.  There had been Top 40 stations in LA but nothing like KFWB.  Anyone who lived in Los Angeles from 1958-1964 can sing the KFWB Channel 98 jingle.   They were getting 50 share ratings.  Successful stations in LA today get 3 shares.

Chuck Blore was a showman and every moment you listened to KFWB was filled with excitement, personality, and fun.  Each disc jockey had a distinctive style.  Elliott Field (who God bless him, is still with us), Bill Ballance, B. Mitchell Reed, Gary Owens, Wink Martindale (also still here), Don McKinnon, Jim Hawthorne, Ted Quillan, Gene Weed, Joe Yokum — these were just a few of the larger-than-life DJ’s on KFWB.  

As a kid I was mesmerized by the station.  You never knew what was going to happen next and you didn’t want to miss a minute.  The promotions were wild, the jocks were hilarious, oh… and the music was good too.  

The meteoric success of the station was all built on ideas.  And they were Chuck Blore’s ideas.  

When Chuck left KFWB he started an ad agency designed to create novel campaigns meant to get your attention, sell the product, and of course — entertain.  You would go up to his offices and every square inch of wall space was covered with awards.  He must’ve won thousands of them.  

Ideas.

But he was also a true gentleman.  Very kind, very supportive, and one of those few people in your life who actually inspires you.   Chuck had this infectious energy — he made you feel good about whatever his latest idea was, and he made you feel good about yourself.   

I had the pleasure of knowing him the last thirty years of his life.  We’d go to lunch and he’d tell me amazing stories, all the while teaching me how to think creatively.  We’d email back and forth. At one time we considered doing a project together.  I cherish those emails.

There are very few times in your life when you know you’re in the presence of greatness.  I felt that way about Chuck Blore.  It was hard not to be in awe sitting across the table at Off Vine from Chuck.  And yet, he made you feel so comfortable and was so genuinely interested in what you what were doing, that you couldn’t believe he was talking to you.  

He lived a long life and brought joy to hundreds of thousands of people.  I am so blessed that I was one of them.  I hope to continue in his tradition.  He lived to be 92.  He should have lived to be 98.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Friday Questions

Mid-summer FQ’s coming attacha.

71dude is up first.

What are familiar, long-running shows that you've never seen (disinterest, don't like the star, never got around to it, etc.)?

Never seen an episode of NCIS.  (How can there be so many murders in the Navy?)  I tend not to watch franchise spin-off shows.  All the CHICAGO shows — CHICAGO FIRE, CHICAGO CROSSING GUARDS, etc.

Never watched WALKING DEAD.  I just don’t like zombie shows.  And with the exception of one episode (that confused the crap out of me), I never watched GAME OF THRONES.  Fantasy shows are not my thing.

Brian  asks:

Were there any sets that were logistically challenging? I'm not speaking about difficult actor, just sets.

You’ll notice in living room sets the couch is always in the middle facing out.  Especially in multi-camera shows shot in front of an audience.  There’s a reason for that.

I directed a show on Fox called ASK HARRIET early in my directing career (when I took anything I could get).  They wanted to be “different” so instead of the couch being horizontal it was vertical.  Only one problem:  You couldn’t shoot it.  

A couch that faces out allows cameramen to get on either side and shoot the actors talking.  But if the couch is vertical you can’t shoot the actor on the downstage side unless you brought a camera up into the set.  And of course the camera shooting the upstage actor would see the other camera.  

What an ill-conceived set.  Needless to say, I never had an actor sit on the couch.  It was just this useless piece of furniture that took up half the set.  

I’ve had other unwieldy sets where it was hard to get one angle or another, but nothing like that.  

From Kevin from VA, who has a question after reading my rant on Mike Myers.

Some of the blowback to your post today on your dislike of Mike Myers has me curious. Have negative comments by your readers ever caused you to regret or reevaluate a post of yours? Just how much do the comments "stay with you", the good and the bad? Are there any posts that in hindsight you now wish you'd never published due to your reader's comments?

Yes, there are times when readers will offer a perspective I hadn’t considered and I will thus alter my position.   Occasionally, I’ll either add on to the original post or change the original post.  

As for regrets, over the last sixteen years I think I have deleted one or two posts, but I can’t recall the specifics.   And those were cases where I felt I inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings.  I try not to do that.  

And finally, from John G:

Would you prefer the challenges of writing the early seasons of a show or the later seasons?

I’d much rather write a show in the early stage of its run.  There’s still a sense of discovery, not to mention you have more available stories.  When you get into the later years the characters can’t surprise you anymore.  You pretty much know how they’re going to react in any given situation.  

The one exception for me was CHEERS.  I co-wrote 40 episodes and never got tired of writing that show or those characters.  

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

EP233: Mike Nichols: A Life


Ken talks with Mark Harris, author of the best-seller, “Mike Nichols: A Life” — a fascinating look into this complex giant of the entertainment industry. This week: His early life, influences, and relationship with Elaine May, which spawned the hugely successful comedy team, Nichols & May.

More podcasts at WAVE: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/artist/wave-podcast-network/1437831426


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

73rd Emmy Nominations

Some of the Emmy nominations announced yesterday actually look interesting this year.  I think there will be a race between THE CROWN, THE MANDALORIAN, and BRIDGERTON.  

For comedy it’s TED LASSO all the way.  HACKS should get some wins, certainly for Jean Smart and hopefully Hannah Einbinder.  It seems stupid to me that actors on sketch shows like SNL are lumped in the same category as sitcom actors, but categories are such a joke these days that who cares?  

At the end of the day, the shows that have gotten the most buzz, like QUEEN’S GAMBIT, MARE OF EASTTOWN, and POSE will likely receive some Emmy love.  And when I say “buzz” I mean LA because I suspect there’s been little or no buzz about any of these shows anywhere else in America.

Also nominated but now on the wrong side of the zeitgeist are THIS IS US, THE HANDMAID’S TALE, KOMINSKY METHOD (plus there’s the Chuck Lorre factor - the Academy hates his enormous success), and BLACK-ISH (and there are waaaay more deserving shows than the later years of BLACK-ISH).  

As always, Colbert and Kimmell got nominated. Fallon did not.  The Academy got it right.

If your favorite drama isn’t recognized that’s probably because it’s from another country, you watched it on Netflix and were blown away, but it’s a three year old Danish series.  And yes, it is better than most of the series that did get nominated.

Best Comedy has now been reduced to which show made you laugh occasionally but was very pleasant over ten episodes.  We’ve come a long way since ALL IN THE FAMILY battled THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and MASH.  

And finally, with all award shows now, most people will not have heard of half of the shows that are nominated.  And a large portion of the population doesn’t subscribe to the platforms they’re on.  So expect national interest to be way lower than the NFL draft, or maybe even the MLB draft.  

I had to laugh when a Deadline Hollywood article on snubs listed THE MASKED SINGER.  Um, aren’t the Emmys supposed to celebrate excellence in television?  THE MASKED SINGER?  Really?    

Congratulations to all the nominees.  Best of luck.  Offhand, I don't know when the ceremony is on (I certainly won't be reviewing it)  or who's televising it.  All I know is it will be one of the major broadcast networks with very few nominations. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

For those not yet vaccinated

Hi there.  I want to speak to all my good friends in the Red States.  I have solved your pandemic problems!

Instead of getting free vaccination shots that protect you against all current COVID variants and allow you to rejoin the world and reclaim all the freedom you've lost over the last year-and-a-half, you could always wear this.  The good news is it's not one of those flimsy masks.  Those are so annoying.  And look how great it goes with a suit and tie!  You'd be rocking the next QAnon meeting with one of these beauties on your skull. 

The truth is you still get more protection from the vaccines but hey, these are soooo attractive.  They might be a tad warm if you're in the deep south, but I expect most customers for these handsome helmets will come from the south.  Eating might be a problem, you can't apparently hear anything, glasses might be unwieldy, and you might be a tad easier to identify in a police lineup, but you won't have that annoying 24 hours of discomfort that you might (no guarantees) get with one of those vaccines.  Aren't you the smart one?   

Oh, I wouldn't go swimming with one of these on either.  

The choice is yours. 

FOLLOW UP BASED ON SOME COMMENTS.

It has been well documented that states with high vaccination totals mirror blue states that voted for Biden.  States with low vaccination totals voted for Trump.  I'm not just making it up.  I agree that this shouldn't be about politics.  The virus is as bi-partisan as they come.  You would think intelligent caring people of all parties would take advantage of this remarkable opportunity.  But apparently not.

Some readers claim it's not politics, it's "misinformation."  When people believe obvious nonsense -- like the "Big Lie" or there was no insurrection, despite all the tangible evidence I have no empathy.  And when this "misinformation" threatens the very core of Democracy, the emotion I feel is anger.  And when over 99% of the people getting COVID now are not vaccinated, and deaths have plummeted since vaccination, my heart doesn't go out to them either.  Sorry.  

One reader says anti-vaxers don't affect me.  If they want to get sick and die it's their business.  Actually, it's not. Because there are people with compromised immune systems and children who can't get vaccinated and they're put at risk because of these "misinformed" people.   

And finally, I'm very sorry if you're offended by my posting a political viewpoint.  My point is not to convince you to become a Democrat, it's to get vaccinated and save your life, regain your way of life, and prevent others from getting sick. 

NOTE:  This is from one of the most insane (and beloved) episodes of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. 


Monday, July 12, 2021

The History of the Sitcom

Saw the first two episodes of CNN’S new docuseries, THE HISTORY OF THE SITCOM last night.  I was soooo looking forward to this.  After watching the first two all I can say is I hope it gets better.  

First off, let me acknowledge that there’s no way to do a comprehensive look at 70 years of sitcoms in eight hours (and considering all the commercials, I bet it’s more like six hours).  There will be many omissions.  Add to that, some shows will get more weight and screen time than they deserve.  That’s to be expected.  I’m sure if they had nine hours, BIG WAVE DAVE’S would have had a whole segment devoted to it.  

Another point that’s not the fault of the producers:  I found it sad seeing some of these sitcom stars from the past today.  Some did not age well.  And was I the only one saying, “bad plastic surgery,” “good plastic surgery?”

The series is broken down into general topics.  

Part One was families.  The first half walked you through the ‘50s up through more contemporary shows.  The second half could be entitled, “Look How Inclusive We Are.”  Inclusive except for Jews.  Not a single mention.  Not a frame of THE GOLDBERGS (either version) or RHODA.  

And if you want to devote a large segment of the show to African-American representation and their impact on society, how can you ignore AMOS & ANDY?  Feel free to say evolving society found it offensive and took it off the air.  But it was a very popular show in its day and featured an all African-American cast.  It's like doing a history of baseball and conveniently ignoring the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.

Part Two was about sex.  Maybe 30% on heterosexual sex, and 70% on LGBTQ sex.  Included in the heterosexual section was I DREAM OF JEANIE.  It was broken down in two categories — shows that weren’t allowed to address sex (I LOVE LUCY, THAT GIRL, etc.) and those where everybody has sex (SEX IN THE CITY, FLEABAG, GIRLS).   Gee, times have changed is the obvious conclusion.

But that section all felt like an afterthought.  The LGBTQ section took over most of the show. Yes, it was groundbreaking, and yes there are moments that helped change peoples’ opinions to become more accepting.   But there’s way more to seventy years of sex.

For starters, how about sexual tension?  How do you do an hour on sex and not even make reference to Sam & Diane in CHEERS?   Or MOONLIGHTING, or the early years of MASH?  Or TWO AND A HALF MEN?  Several classic sex farces were done to perfection on FRASIER.  And you can throw in CALIFORNICATION.  You can also go way to the ‘50s for LOVE THAT BOB and DOBIE GILLIS.   Like I said, straight sex was an afterthought.  

My point on both parts, -- they were less history lessons and more civics lessons.  

Other than Norman Lear, Steve Levitan, and Darren Starr, no writers were mentioned.  They spent a ton of time on FRESH OFF THE BOAT.  You would think it’s one of the five greatest sitcoms in history.  Who wrote it?  At one point some talking head said that black shows started finally being written by black writers.  Who?  Wouldn’t that be more informative than a fan coming up to Constance Wu (who tried desperately to get out of FRESH OFF THE BOAT) and telling her how meaningful her show was to her?   FAMILY TIES gets a nice long segment and not a word about its creator, Gary David Goldberg.  

Again, I hope the other chapters are better.  So far it's very much a documentary with an agenda.  What did you guys think?   Remember: Anonymous and Unknown comments won't be posted.  

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Weekend Post

 

Now that most smart people have vaccinated they can again travel.  I'm going to assume that's you.  Still don’t know where to go yet? Allow me to help while shamelessly pushing my book, WHERE THE HELL AM I? TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED (only $2.99 in all ebook formats and $6.99 paperback. Order yours here!!!)

WTHAI?TISH (as most people refer to it) is a ten year collection of my humorous travelogues. Here are a few excerpts to help you decide where to go this summer. The book was written several years ago, but many of these attractions like the Gateway Arch and Haleakala. 

DALLAS – (most people’s first choice for August travel) On every corner there’s either a steakhouse or a church. One place called “Holy Cow” could be either or both.

LAS VEGAS -- We hit the beach. Yes, Mandalay Bay has its own beach. Unfortunately, the ocean was turned off. No waves. But I took a long walk along the grid that serves as the shore and gazed out at the horizon to see the Lance Burton Magician billboard on Las Vegas Avenue.

MAUI – Did not see the sunrise at Haleakala. But did get a report from someone who did. A bus picks you up 2:30 in the morning. You drive an hour and a half to the top of this massive shield volcano. By top I mean 10,023 feet. You get out in your shorts, flip flops, and aloha shirt -- it’s pitch black, and 22 degrees (literally). When the sun comes up (two hours later) it will rise to 37. Finally the dawn. It’s breathtaking, awesome, and your teeth are chattering like castanets. You don’t want to even think about the possibility that there’s a YouTube video of this. You get on the bus and either go home or into shock.

For more fun you can bike down the outside of the volcano… like a rocket on a two-lane winding road that hugs a cliff that’s steeper than those in Road Runner cartoons. Bikers must also negotiate tour buses, vans, and tourists in unfamiliar rental cars. In 2007 there were three biker fatalities. Bike tours (when they’re not suspended) are $100 - $150 dollars. Bring a parachute.

But we did visit quaint Lahaina. Strolled past the charming Crazy-T-Shirt and souvenir soap stores. This bawdy whaling port has not changed in a hundred years.

For all the hoopla of Lahaina, we found quite a few other smaller, lesser-known little towns that were far more charming and KFC-free. Paia, for one. It’s advertised as a throwback “hippie” village. And I must say it took me right back to the ‘60s when hippies supported their drug habits by selling gelato.

Makawao is another quaint attraction. Up country, it’s a little cowboy town, specializing in glass blowing – just like Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid used to do. I kept looking for the jail and saloon but alas they’ve given way to art galleries and a market that makes fresh donuts. But get there early. They go fast. There’s usually a shoot-out in the town square for the last cruller.

PHOENIX -- This is a sprawling city of giant shopping malls broken up by sports complexes. Oh, and numerous aircraft bone yards. From rusted out WWII planes to 747s that haven’t flown since Braniff went under, they’re all here. Was hoping to swing by and pick up an L1011 fuselage but time got away.

To get anywhere in Phoenix – to work, a restaurant, the rental car outpost from the airport – you just get on the freeway and go 13.2 miles. Everything is 13.2 miles away. Except Circle K’s. There are two on every corner. How much beef jerky can this town chew?


DENVER -- Denver is the most sexually active city in America. Contraceptive sales are 189% higher within the city limits than the national average (sales of female contraceptives are a whopping 278% higher). Coincidentally, Denver also has the world’s largest brewery (Coors).

Things not to miss: The Butterfly Pavilion insect zoo, the “Mind Eraser” rollercoaster at Elitch Gardens, the giant cement slide at Bear Valley Park that looks like a vagina, the Buckhorn Exchange restaurant with 500 stuffed animals (it’s how I imagine Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s bedroom), the stone marker that claims to be the birthplace of the cheeseburger, and any CVS pharmacy for contraceptives.

ST. LOUIS -- St. Loo is famous of course for the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Although, locals insist it’s not the same now that the Busch family has sold it to Germans. They claim the beer tastes different. I couldn’t tell, but I did notice the Clydesdales goose-stepping in a recent parade.


PHILADELPHIA -- Meant to get out to the Mutter Museum, founded originally to educate doctors of the 19th Century and current HMO’s. Big attractions include conjoined twins and a catalog of foreign objects removed from bodies. Bring the kids!

This is the birthplace of two major revolutions – the American and shopping. It is in nearby Westchester that QVC is located, which is why I thought I saw Marie Osmond at baggage claim waiting at the carousel for 42,000 dolls to come down the chute.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Fisherman's Wharf is filled with colorful street performers: mimes and jugglers, etc. Most unique was the “Shrub Guy.” He hides behind a shrub in camouflage and when unsuspecting tourists stroll by he leaps out scaring the shit out of them. Meanwhile, other people observe nearby, laugh, and give him money. On a grander scale this is how Liza Minnelli now makes her living.


MILWAUKEE – (on the road with the Dodgers) stayed at the historic Pfister. The Pfister is pfirst class. It’s an old regal downtown hotel that just happens to be haunted. Some ballplayers are so freaked they stay elsewhere, or sleep holding a bat for protection. Carlos Gomez of the Twins was getting out of the shower and his iPod suddenly went haywire, so instead of calling AppleCare (or Ghostbusters?), he raced out to the lobby without his pants. I shared a room with the Ghost of Christmas Future. He told me that “UFC Undisputed” will sell out quick this season so shop early.

One thing I’ve discovered about Milwaukee – it’s in a time warp. The buildings, the cars, the people – it’s 1956. Friday night’s postgame concert featured newcomers Buddy Holly and the Crickets. In an attempt to blend in I wore an “Adlai Stevenson for President” button.

FLORIDA – (business trip with my writing partner, David) If a studio was paying for this trip we would have stayed in Naples. But since it was our own dime, Bonita Beach was our Gateway to the Gulf home. In the ‘20s there was this cult, the Koreshans, who believed that Bonita Beach was the center of the world. It was a celibate tribe so unfortunately it no longer exists. (Darwin works!) There’s just a state park in their honor. And if I’m not mistaken, the Hampton Inn we were staying at is at the center of Bonita Beach, and room 229, just to our left, is the absolute DEAD center of the world.

No wonder the Holiday Inn across the street is proud. Their marquee proclaims “Number one guest rated shower heads.”

Favorite store name (maybe ever): “Master Bait & Tackle Shop” on Bonita Beach Road. Yes, I purchased t-shirts.

Friday, July 09, 2021

Friday Questions

Some summer FQ’s for your beach reading pleasure.

Matt in Westwood, CA leads off:

You’ve mentioned on several occasions that during your time on MASH, it filmed on the soundstage next door to CHARLIE’S ANGELS. Given that is an iconic show as well, did you have any particularly memorable encounters with the actresses, JACLYN SMITH especially, or see filming of any memorable scenes that stand out?

I don’t remember the circumstances that led to this, but one day I found myself in Jaclyn Smith’s trailer talking to her for about a half hour.  I think she was considering developing a comedy.  It’s a little hazy.  But what I do recall vividly was that she was very sweet and was wearing a jumpsuit.  

I met Farrah once and Kate Jackson was kind of stand-offish.  No trailer invites from either of them.  

And over a couple of seasons I did see them shoot a few people.  On camera. 

Kathryn queries:  

Is it easier for a playwright to switch to television or a television writer to switch to live theater? Is the answer different for multicamera versus single cam? There was an article in our local paper about some playwrights making the switch.

The key to both writing for multi-camera sitcoms and the theatre is gaining experience writing for live audiences.  The rest is just format and structure differences.  Single-camera TV writers have a tougher adjustment because they're not used to writing for live audiences. 

I think a multi-cam TV comedy writer making the transition to live theatre has a leg up over playwrights going the other direction because he’s used to daily run-throughs and fixing scripts in a timely manner.  Sometimes playwrights have the luxury of a few days or months (after a reading) to determine what needs to be fixed and then execute the changes.  TV writers have been through the wars and can sometimes rewrite quicker and more efficiently.  

But at the end of the day, talent is talent.  If you’re good in one arena you’ll be good in another.  

tb asks:

We've all seen successful, long running shows make big mistakes in an attempt to "shake things up". Whether it's a new character that doesn't work, or a new locale, or baby or whatever. Some shows never recover. So my Friday question is, what would you say to the writers of a successful show that are thinking of "shaking things up"?

I’d say good for you.  I’d much rather see a show strive to stay fresh than just rest on their laurels.  

Hit shows can get stale. I applaud the writers willing to take a risk and shake things up.  

And for my money, no one is better at that than Robert & Michelle King, creators and show runners of THE GOOD WIFE and THE GOOD FIGHT.  Not every change works, but even in those cases, they make midcourse corrections.   The upside is those series are always surprising and the changes at times are inspired.  

From Carter:


Most people know that early “Wings” episodes featured a few “Cheers” crossover appearances, but those ceased after “Cheers” ended its run. Was there ever any talk of doing a crossover between “Wings” and “Frasier”?

Not to my knowledge.  

The purpose of crossover episodes is to get a spike in the ratings for the show hosting the other show’s characters.  WINGS really benefited by having CHEERS characters on their show.  

I’ll be frank.  Characters from WINGS would not have resulted in a big spike in FRASIER’S ratings.  

What's your Friday Question?

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

EP232: George Wendt Part Two


This week we discuss the changes that occurred during the run of CHEERS, the series finale and disastrous live cast appearance on THE TONIGHT SHOW, and life after CHEERS.

More podcasts at WAVE: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/artist/wave-podcast-network/1437831426


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

One and done

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

Bob Uecker Is A National Treasure asked it.  (And by the way Bob Uecker IS a National Treasure.)

When I see the IMDB page of someone like yourself who is a TV director and something else (writer) or someone who is an actor/TV director, there will be shows where they only directed one episode. Is that a sign that the person wasn't a good fit for that show? It seems like when producers/showrunners really like a director for a certain show, they will use them over and over again.

In some cases, absolutely.   Only one episode assignment could mean the director didn’t work out.  

But there could be many other reasons a director only "megs" one episode.  The director may have hated the experience and has no desire to return.  

If you’re directing a first year show they may wind up only making ten or thirteen episodes.  So you’re never given a chance to direct more.

It could also be just a numbers game.  Most shows (especially now) try to use one or two primary directors.  So there may only be one or two openings a year.

Other times a show will give a break to a first-time director, usually someone who had been part of the show (Assistant Director, Editor, Actor, Writer).  They get their shot and then are expected to leave the nest and find assignments elsewhere.  

A one-time director could also be a favor to the star.  I remember a case where a studio head’s wife pressured him into giving her a directing assignment.  Needless to say, it was one and done.

If it’s a veteran director they may only do one episode of a show because they’re in demand.   I enjoyed a few years of this.  My agent would just fill in the calendar.  A show would call asking my availability.  I might only be free for one of their open assignments.  

Here’s the bottom line if you try to assess a director’s ability through credits:  Check him out on imdb.  If he has four credits and they’re all single episodes then it’s a good bet he wasn’t asked back on a few of them.  But if he also has shows where he’s done multiples of at least three, that’s a good sign.  If he has some shows where he’s directed ten or twenty just assume the shows where he’s only done one is not because he didn’t work out.  

It’s also worth noting that imdb is not always accurate.   Between LATELINE, ALMOST PERFECT, ENCORE ENCORE, ASK HARRIET, and CONRAD BLOOM, they’ve shortchanged me ten episodes.  But at least I get the huge royalties all of those shows provide. 

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Early Shelley Long

Staying with the 4th of July theme, here's a fun rarity.  Before she was an actress in Hollywood, Shelley Long worked as a TV field reporter.  And a damn good one at that.  Here's an example.  Her 4th of July report on WMAQ, Chicago.  Is there anything this talented woman can't do?  Enjoy. 

Note: If you can't get the video, you're probably on a device.  Click on the "web version" and you should be fine. 

Monday, July 05, 2021

Marathon Man

 

On July 4, 1985 the Mets beat the Braves in Atlanta 16-13 in a 19 inning game.  Since it was fireworks night, the Braves fulfilled their obligation and shot them off -- at 5 AM.  One or two of the fans had gone home. But yesterday, while celebrating the 4th I thought back to that game, which led me to recall my longest game as an announcer. 


It was Friday, September 25, 1992. The Mariners at the Texas Rangers. Only sixteen innings, but first a little background:

This was the very end of the season. Both teams were already eliminated. So the game meant absolutely nothing.

The game was held in the old Arlington Stadium, a converted minor league park that was, to be charitable, a dump (now two stadiums ago).

It must’ve been 100 degrees at game time and by the end -- 95.  (Folks in the Northwest and Canada I'm sure can picture it.)

We were doing the game on TV that night as well as radio. That meant the rotation was that I did the first half of the game on television then switched with my partner, the great Dave Niehaus and did the rest of the game alone on the radio. Did I mention sixteen innings?

Because this was the end of the year rosters were expanded. I believe we set a major league record for the number of players used in one game. The Mariners used 29, the Rangers only used 25. The Mariners employed eleven different pitchers. Between the two clubs there were 481 pitches thrown (I think 12 strikes).

We left twelve men on base. Texas left a staggering twenty. M’s second baseman, Bret Boone went 0-7.

You can’t believe what a mess my scorebook was. Completely indecipherable. Navajo Code Breakers couldn’t figure out who batted for who when.

But the incident I remember most was this: Our bullpen was down the leftfield line. Late in the game, maybe the 13th or 14th while play was in I look out and all of our relief pitchers and bullpen catchers are running out onto the field. WTF?! Seems someone discovered a big rat in the bullpen. So while members of the grounds crew removed the rodent we had a ten minute "rat delay".

We won the game 4-3. Omar Vizquel drove in the winning run and then was thrown out in a wild rundown. It was that kind of game.

And then when the game ended – 5:08 after it started -- I had to do the postgame show. That was another half hour. One of the features was the game re-cap.  I think I said something like "A bunch of guys got into the game and made outs and didn't score, and we did that for like five hours, and then someone drove in a run.  I'll have the out-of-town scores next!"

But I will say this, yes it was exhausting but also exhilarating. You get your second wind after about four hours. And the game takes on a life of its own. The adrenaline kicks in and suddenly it’s great fun. 

I don't think Bret Boone would agree.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

4h of July Weekend Post

 Why the hell do people buy home fireworks?

How many fingers and eyebrows do they have to lose? It's hard to hold QAnon signs  if you don't have fingers.  But with people playing Russian Roulette with their lives by not getting vaccinated, being reckless and stupid is just celebrating your First Amendment rights. 

Personally, I don't really care if these Darwin candidates conflagrate themselves. But too many of them have kids.  What parent in his right mind with children would set off something called a 12 inch “strike force missile”?

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

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

Better to go to a city park, ballpark, or Steven Spielberg’s house. Enter a 5K race, cheer on a parade and pray that the grand marshal is someone more impressive than Sidney Powell.

Have a wonderful 4th of July weekend. It's okay to be an American again.  Display your flag proudly. Don't blow your fingers off.  GET VACCINATED. 

Friday, July 02, 2021

Friday Questions

If you’re vaccinated, have a fun-filled 4th of July weekend.  For the first time in five years I feel good about being an American again.  Ready for Friday Questions?

Rod starts us off with an editing question.

Who has final say over which take is used? The Showrunner? When you direct an episode of a sitcom, and there are a couple of takes to choose from, has the showrunner ever chosen one of yours that you thought wasn't as good as another? Or even added canned laughter when you thought there shouldn't be any? Do you, as director, get to see the final edit, with laughs, before it airs and offer an opinion? Or are you just a gun for hire, and after the filming, your job is over?

The show runner has the final say in all of these matters.  As a director, you receive a first cut from the editor, before the show runner receives it.  The editor makes your changes and then it’s out of your hands.  If the show runner wants to put something back in he can.  

Often times shows come in long and things have to be cut.   As a director who has also been a show runner, I anticipate some of the cuts and cover them in such a way that they’re easy to lift.   In other words, if everything is in say a master and you want to cut out three lines in the middle, you can’t because the picture will jump.  But if you have coverage and the section you want to lose is isolated, it’s easy to remove it seamlessly.  

But lots of TV directors don’t do that.  And as a show runner it would often drive me crazy that I’d want to make an obvious cut and we had to pull all kinds of tricks to get it because there wasn’t sufficient coverage.  It’s actually one of the reasons why I became a director.

From Cd1515:


Hi Ken, went by an old MASH the other day and the “written by” credits listed two names I’ve literally never seen before or since.

It doesn’t matter who they were, but I was curious: in the writing world, are there the equivalent of one-hit wonders, people who somehow got one thing on a show the size of MASH but never did anything ever again?


I think that happened more in the past because shows back then had small staffs and relied way more on freelance writers.

And yes, there are any number of freelance writers who somehow broke in (usually via an impressive spec script) and got an assignment or two, didn’t deliver, and went on to other careers.

It’s one thing to get a break; it’s another to deliver once you get that break.  

DyHrdMET queries:


How do writers write in noticeable facial reactions of characters into the script? Or don't they? For example, I'm watching the CHEERS pilot, and seeing Diane's reactions as she meets each character (especially her reaction to the joke "Is there an Ernie Pantusso here? That's you, Coach. Speaking." as she learns his name and we learn a bit about Coach). Where do those reactions get created?

Most of the time reactions are not written into the script.  That’s left to the actor.  As it should be.  

If there’s an ambiguity of how an actor should react to some piece of information, the writer might suggest something like “Diane is horrified,” but better to do that very sparingly.  

Something David and I did a lot in scripts based on what we saw on MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW scripts, is end a scene with (hopefully) a big joke and say “SAM REACTS AS WE:  DISSOLVE TO:”  He'll react however he reacts.

And finally, from James:

I know it's trivial but I'm curious. A few TV shows, namely All in the Family and Cheers, had a big voice-over that said this show "was filmed before a live studio audience." Most shows did not. Why did the Charles Brothers think it was important to put that announcement in, particularly at the beginning of the show? How many people in the audience know or care?

We did that simply because people were complaining that we were leaning too hard on the laugh machine, and we wanted the viewers to know that the laughs were legitimate.   There really was an audience laughing.

What’s your Friday Question?  Have fun but be safe this weekend.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

EP231: Meet George Wendt, a.k.a. “Norm!”


George Wendt discusses his early days at Second City, and what it was like to be on CHEERS. And we discuss the beer.

More podcasts at WAVE: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/artist/wave-podcast-network/1437831426


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Behind the Attractions

Next month Disney + premieres a docuseries called “Behind the Attraction.”  Each episode will take you behind-the-scenes of one of Disneyland/World’s signature attractions like the Jungle Ride, Haunted Mansion, Small World, and more.  

First of all, I can’t imagine sitting through a documentary on “It’s a Small Small World.”  Hearing that song for a half-hour would make my head explode.  But apart from that, I’m on the fence.

On the one hand, I’m very curious.  And a lot of really creative artistry went into the making of these attractions.  It will be nice to see them get their due. But on the other, do I really want to see how the sausage is made?  Might it destroy some of the illusion?  There really aren't ghosts in the Haunted Mansion?

I might watch a few episodes and skip a few others.  There’s on the Disneyland Hotel.  Who cares?  But I’d like to see how they pulled off “Star Tours.”

What all of this reminds me of is the TV show “Disneyland” that ran on ABC in the early days of the park in the ‘50s.  Uncle Walt would host and often took you behind-the-scenes as the park was being built and improved.  I don’t have to tell you what a great advertisement this was for every child in America.  We wanted to go to Disneyland SO BAD.  There was no greater goal.  

I was one of the lucky ones.  Since I lived in LA, my parents were able to take me.  (It was everything I had hoped for and MORE.)   My heart goes out to kids in Minnesota and New Hampshire who would watch every week and could only dream about actually going to the Magic Kingdom.   I contend this is the number one reason today why Baby Boomers are in therapy.   And are sooooo screwed up.

“Behind the Attractions” premieres July 16th and is narrated by Paget Brewster, best known for co-starring in a Levine-Isaacs pilot that didn’t get on the air (through no fault of hers).   If they’re smart they won’t lead off with “Small World.” 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A bad sign for major networks

Last week NBC cancelled a show called GOOD GIRLS.  What shocked me is that it was cancelled after four seasons.  Why am I shocked?  Because I had never even heard of this show.  How can a show be on the NBC television network for four years and I’ve never heard of it?

Says something about how much I watch NBC, doesn’t it?  

NBC also cancelled these shows I’ve never heard of:  CONNECTING, DEBRIS, and MANIFEST.  These might have been great shows.  I have no idea.  I don't even know what they're about. 

ABC cancelled UNITED WE FALL, whatever that was.  

FOX cancelled something called NEXT, THE MOODYS, and FILTHY RICH.  Never heard of any of ‘em.    They renewed THE GREAT NORTH for season 3.  What’s THE GREAT NORTH?  

And the CW doesn’t count.  No one knows what’s on that network besides superhero shows.  

Even twenty years ago it would have been unthinkable to not know what shows were on the major networks.  You maybe didn’t watch them, but you were aware of their existence.  There were enough promos on the shows you did watch that they were on your radar.   

To me this is yet another sign that broadcast networks are on borrowed time.   If a show is on NBC for four years you would think it would be some sort of a hit.  It doesn’t have to win Emmys — WEBSTER and FULL HOUSE never won Emmys — but it should at least be known.  Don’t you think?  Four years?  Yikes.  

At least people heard of AfterMASH.  Wait.  That might not be a good thing.

Monday, June 28, 2021

KEVIN CAN F*** HIMSELF: My review

After watching a few episodes on AMC...

First, let me give them props.  The bad sitcom scenes are dead on.  Unlike WANDAVISION where their recreations of old sitcoms was woeful, KEVIN CAN FUCK HIMSELF (it’s easier than typing *** all the time), has it down.  Everything is pitch perfect, from casting (Eric Peterson is fantastic as Kevin) to the dopey storylines, over-the-top unfunny supporting players, rhythms and specific jokes, sets and bright lighting, and the obtrusive laugh track.   Creator Valerie Armstrong either really knows the form or surrounded herself with people who do.  But the result is an A+ representation of fifteen of those man-child and wet blanket wife idiotic multi-cam sitcoms.  

Okay, that’s the good news.

The show then changes tone and gets very dark and dramatic whenever Annie Murphy’s character (Allison) steps out of the sitcom.  It’s an intriguing idea, and the show pivots back and forth between the two styles, but…

I'm sorry but I don’t get it.

The sitcom scenes are obviously stylized and heightened, but are they some sort of representation of real?  We’re supposed to have great empathy for her, but we’re not seeing her really abused, we’re seeing her imagined version of abuse.  Unless the sitcom is reality and the dark world is her imagination.  In that case, who cares because they’re all essentially cartoon characters?   

My big question:  Why the sitcom?  Other than a knockout-punch takedown of the genre, what is the value of being stuck in a bad sitcom vs. just a bad marriage?  Why not imagine Edward Albee’s masterful play and call it VIRGINIA CAN FUCK HERSELF?  

Another issue: One feature of these horrible family sitcoms is that the schlubby husband is married to an attractive woman way out of his league.  What about this oaf was so appealing that this woman, who could get anybody, chose to go with him?   Not looks, not charm, not money, not the way he treats her.  But since these sitcoms are so unrealistic anyway, the pairing is somewhat accepted.   However, if we’re saying this is a real life marriage, then why was she attracted to this crass jerk in the first place?   And why is she still in the marriage ten years later? 

Why can’t she just divorce him?  They conveniently have no kids.  As I understand it, the series steers in the direction of Allison wanting to murder Kevin.  That’s pretty drastic.  Just being the butt of sitcom jokes doesn’t seem enough justification to me.  No one is beating her like Tanya Harding. 

Now as the series unfolds all of these questions may be answered.  But is it worth sticking it out to see?   As great as the sitcom segments are, it’s one joke, and by episode two the device was starting to feel tiresome.  

Although the format is unique, the subject matter isn’t.  If you ever get a chance, see a movie called DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE.  It shows a woman trapped in a horrible marriage but you’re able to track every moment.  And by the end of the movie, the audience wants to kill the husband.  In the case of KEVIN CAN FUCK HIMSELF, at the worst, the audience just wants to see his show cancelled. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Weekend Post


In my review (trashing) of THE CELEBRITY DATING GAME, I mentioned that I was a two-time contestant.  I neglected to mention I was supposed to be a three-time contestant but was thrown off the show.  I've posted about it before, and shared the story on my podcast, but for most of you (that haven't read or heard it), I thought I'd tell the story again.  

Also, someone wanted to know if any tapes of my appearances exist?  Maybe.  A few years ago I learned there was a warehouse somewhere in New Jersey that had a bunch of old DATING GAME tapes.  But none were labeled.  It was completely haphazard.  Picture the final scene in INDIANA JONES AND THE LOST RAIDERS.  I inquired and was told it was impossible to find and there was no guarantee my shows were even among the saved tapes.  So unfortunately, no, I don't have a copy of any of my appearances.  

Now to the story...
 
It was in the late 60’s, I was in high school, and someone recommended I try out. I was a wise-ass even then. So I called the show, was given an appointment to audition. The first thing I said when I got there was that my father worked for ABC radio and if that was a conflict let me know now and save us all a lot of time and trouble. They assured me that was no problem. In fact, they said members of their own staff have had to go on in emergency cases.

So I went through the audition process. They put 40 of us in a room and asked us random DATING GAME-type questions.

A week later they called and invited me to be on the show. Everyone wonders if bachelors are given a preview of the questions or get to see the girl in advance. The answer is no. They filmed three episodes at a time so nine of us reported to an assigned room. We were briefed, then ushered to the stage for a rehearsal. They walked us through it, where we sat, what to do after the girl made her selection, etc. Then it was back to this waiting room until we were called for the show.

I didn’t give a shit about winning the date. I just wanted to score. And I was lucky. Got some good questions, had some funny answers, called one of the other bachelors a blimp, just wreaked as much comic havoc as I could. Big surprise, I wasn’t selected. As a result I missed getting to go on a little cruise boat around the Newport Beach harbor with the Turtles. (I’ve since become friends with Howard Kaylan and he can’t even remember that event).

Two days after the show aired I got invited to go on again for their alumni show. Again I was apparently funny. I just remember doing an Elvis impression and trashing the institution of marriage. This girl didn’t pick me either. Instead I went home with 50 pairs of Ray-Ban sunglasses or something useless like that. I think the date I missed was to the Lancaster Date Festival. I’ve since gotten over my disappointment.

After that show aired they invited me to be on the night-time version. Now that was big stuff. Winners got trips to Europe and Hawaii, not Orange County. Oh yeah, and you’d be on national primetime television… but it was really the prizes.

Unfortunately, there was an engineers’ strike at ABC at the time and management had to man the cameras. During the rehearsal, one of the cameramen recognized me and mentioned casually that my father worked for ABC radio. Chuck Barris went ballistic. I was immediately thrown off the show. I said, “But what about when your own staff has to sub…?” Their answer was, “Get out!” So that was that. I was bumped from the show, they grabbed a guy in the audience who was wearing a suit, and he went on in my place. The selected bachelor got a trip to Paris. I got a roast beef sandwich at Arby’s.

A few years later I was working as an intern at KMPC radio in Los Angeles. Jim Lange was hired as a disc jockey. He spotted me down the hall and amazingly, remembered me. Even rattled off my blimp quip. Two days later at the station I get a call from THE DATING GAME. All was forgiven. They’d love to have me on again. I said, “Is this the night-time version?” They said no, I’d have to go back to daytime. So I told them to stick it. And thus ended my storied DATING GAME career.

Do I have regrets? Yes. I wish I had some of those sunglasses today. I could get a FORTUNE for that crap on ebay.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Friday Questions

Start your weekend with Friday Questions.

DougG. gets us rolling.

Have you ever directed an episode of a tv show that you (or you and David Isaacs) also wrote? If not, was that just luck (good or bad?) or did you want someone other than you to direct your work? Or did the showrunners that you worked with not want writers directing their own episodes or episodes they co-wrote?

As you can see from the above screen shot, I have directed shows I’ve written (that one was from BECKER).  I’ve also directed shows I’ve written with David Isaacs along with shows I’ve written with David Isaacs & Robin Schiff.  

A bigger thrill was directing two shows that my daughter, Annie Levine wrote with her partner, Jonathan Emerson.  

I love directing my own stuff.  But I always have to tell the actors beforehand to think of me as your director so if something in the script bothers you you’re as welcome to tell me as if someone else had written it.  And as it happens, that was never a problem for them. 

Daniel asks:

My favorite TV series is Frasier. Do you think the series would have worked if it had been a single-camera show with no studio audience (and no laughter on the soundtrack) and maybe more cinematic lighting and camera placement? Same scripts, same interstitial title cards between scenes, same cast, same basic sets (except with the addition of the fourth wall). I guess my question is: How important was the studio audience and the three-camera style/aesthetic to the creative success of the series? Would it have played the same way without the audience's presence?

Interesting question I had never thought about.  

I think FRASIER would lose a lot not being done as a multi-camera show.  FRASIER was a weekly one-act play that could’ve played Broadway.  The stories, dialogue, tone all lean towards a theatrical production.  

FRASIER is enhanced by a studio audience.  I also think the actors feed off the energy of the audience, which elevates their performances.  

And bear in mind, the audience laughter you hear on FRASIER is real.   I don’t see any way the series could have been enhanced by not shooting it multi-camera.

From Philly Cinephile:

Any thoughts on the "We're going to Las Vegas!" episodes that so many sitcoms do? Are they mandated by the networks? I find that they tend to be among the weaker episodes of a series -- contrived and usually lacking the overall flavor of the series. I've often imagined them as a rite of passage for the writing staff of a show -- the dreaded "send them to Vegas" memo from the network.

Well, the simple answer is they run out of ideas.  

But Vegas does provide you with lots of new stories your series wouldn’t have otherwise.  Characters impulsively off to get married, characters having gambling problems, characters just going wild, etc.  

There’s so much gaudiness in Las Vegas, so many things to poke fun at, that it’s somewhat of an easy target.   How else are you going to work in Elvis impersonators?  

And finally, from Paul:


One of the things I have been doing to keep sane in this insane world is to watch all 11 seasons of Cheers.  I am now on Season 9 and last week saw episodes 8 and 9, the 200th anniversary episodes.  My first question is this:  how is that John McLaughlin ended up the host of the show?  It seems an…unlikely choice.  Second, was it difficult to get Shelley Long to return for this show?   Is there a story behind that?

At some point, long-running series are asked to do a clip show (highlights of their many seasons).  Let me tell you from personal experience, those are a giant pain in the ass. 

The trick is to find a novel way to do it.  CHEERS thought a panel discussion would be interesting.  I loved the idea because it meant the Charles Brothers and Jim Burrows would finally get some screen time.  

Not sure who came up with the idea of John McLaughlin, but he did lend a certain gravitas to the show.  And he certainly was not someone you’d expect.

As for Shelley’s return, there was no difficulty at all.  Remember, Shelley left the show on good terms.  They were happy to invite her and she was happy to accept.  

Shelley also did the final episode and two episodes of FRASIER — one (that David Issacs and I wrote) was just a ten second cameo and she still agreed to do it.   And may I say, thank you, Shelley.  That was a great joke thanks to you.

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

EP230: Sportscaster Jason Benetti, Part 2


More with ESPN/NBC/Chicago White Sox announcer, Jason Benetti. Topics this week include working with partners (like Bill Walton), social media criticism, and not letting Cerebral Palsy prevent you from achieving your dreams.

More podcasts at WAVE: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/artist/wave-podcast-network/1437831426


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The Celebrity Dating Game

 

WARNING: SNARK REVIEW AHEAD. 

Just when you thought broadcast television could not get any more insipid, along comes the CELEBRITY DATING GAME.   All of ABC’s “celebrity” game show remakes are abominable, but this one might just be the worst.  So congratulations to them.  It take a lot to be worse than a show starring Anthony Anderson's mother.

The original DATING GAME had its charm.  There were stupid questions and answers (I know.  I was a two-time contestant), but this was the 1960’s before single bars, matchmaking services, Tinder.  And the couples went on actual dates.  More about that later.

Jim Lange hosted the original with poise and gravitas.  This new version, for unfathomable reasons, is hosted by Zoey Deshanel and even more mystifying, co-hosted by Michael Bolton.   Imagine Alex Trebek being replaced on JEOPARDY by Paris Hilton.  Zoey’s not even adorkable anymore.  She's just.. out of place and with zero hosting skills. And Bolton has become Lurch of THE ADDAMS FAMILY. 

The celebrities are the ones looking for dates.  Huge celebrities like Hannah Brown.  The bachelors have to guess who she is.  Hint:  It’s not Taylor Swift.  One moron said Taylor Swift. I saw this on THE MASKED SINGER too where knothead judge, Jenny McCarthy thought one of the singers was Taylor Swift.  News flash:  TAYLOR SWIFT IS NOT GOING TO DO ONE OF THESE STUPID SHOWS.  A better guess is one of the extras on GLADIATOR. 

Some game shows age well.  Others don’t.  Since we’re now in the #MeToo era, the flirting and clumsy seduction that goes on feels really creepy.  It’s from a different era.   Who’s nostalgic for lounge lizards?


Most of the CELEBRITY DATING GAME is filler.  There are three rounds of idiotic questions, not just one.  The vapid co-hosts toss in inane comments.  The bachelors are all central casting frat boys or braindead models.  Michael Bolton sings a song.  Again, what the hell is he doing on this thing?  

Everybody dances around, trying to generate this horrible fake party atmosphere.  And after watching a half-hour of this drivel, a winner is selected, and the show ends.  Hey, what about the fucking DATE?   They don’t even have a planned date.  My guess is the "celebrities" said "I don't want to be obligated to go on a date with one of these idiots."

But if that's the case, just what the hell is the point?  What are we watching?  Why on every level does this nonsense even exist?

Let me end by giving this show a big DATING GAME kiss… off.