Wednesday, March 31, 2021

EP218: The MGM Studio Tour

A personal tour of one of Hollywood’s most iconic studio lots. This episode is filled with stories, history, movie stars — everything but the lion.

More podcasts at WAVE!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

And the answer is...

If you didn’t see yesterday’s post, go back before you read today’s.

NO ONE got the correct answer. 

One day about twenty years ago at about 5:30 in the afternoon I went to Bob’s Big on Van Nuys Blvd. and there at the counter, eating a Big Boy all by himself was Muhammad Ali.  I was going to take a table but chose to sit at the counter a seat away.  We exchanged smiles.  I was still too much in awe to speak to the champ.

A musical I was involved with was being workshopped in New York.  Stephen Sondheim came to watch it.  He sat right next to my daughter, Annie.

When we filmed the “Heeeere’s Cliffy” episode of CHEERS at THE TONIGHT SHOW, we did it immediately following an actual TONIGHT SHOW taping.  During the show I sat in the green room and had a lovely 20 minute conversation with Elizabeth Taylor.   She was great fun, by the way.  

O.J. Simpson had finished a game of tennis at the Beverly Hills Hotel and stumbled upon an outdoor wedding.  So he stood in the back and watched the wedding.  It was mine.  No gift from him though.  

In doing research for an ABC pilot, I was able to join the White House Press Corps for several days and was in the Rose Garden with President Jimmy Carter.  Years later when I was broadcasting for the San Diego Padres I met him at Fulton County Stadium before a Braves game.   He would sit way down by the Braves’ dugout on the aisle and kids would come down to get his autograph.  He was approachable and lovely.  

I was picking up my daughter from a Bar Mitzvah reception at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills and bumped into Robert Duvall.  Him I talked to.  

In 1980 I had an office at MGM and snuck onto the soundstage where Billy Wilder was directing his last film, BUDDY BUDDY.  I got to meet him and spend 15 minutes with him while they were setting up a shot.  Talk about an unbelievable thrill.

Before she became a huge star, Taylor Swift sang before a game at Dodger Stadium.  I then met her in the Press Lounge during lunch.  She could not have been nicer.  I was super impressed with her talent and drive.  She worked very hard to get where she is.  

I met Prince Charles on the set of MASH and asked him what advice he would have for young people thinking of going into his profession?   His people were aghast but he found it funny.  Oprah is welcome to interview me.

So that leaves out… Julia Roberts.  Never met her.  But I’d like to. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Since game shows are so popular these days...

Here's something I saw on Facebook that might be a fun audience participation post.  


Muhammad Ali

Stephen Sondheim

Julia Roberts

Elizabeth Taylor

O.J. Simpson

Jimmy Carter

Robert Duvall

Billy Wilder

Taylor Swift

Prince Charles

My answer tomorrow.  Thanks for playing.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Lounge Lizard of Oz

Dr. Oz is just terrible guest-hosting JEOPARDY.  The smarm factor is off the charts.  He's like a high energy Top 40 1960’s disc jockey shouting at you between records.  Except there are no records.  He reads each clue like he’s doing a live spot for a drag strip.  “FUNNY CARS!!!”  

On the one hand you have to give these guest hosts a few days to settle into the job.  On the other hand, if you get a bad one (like Oz) you’re stuck with him for two weeks.   And you figure with so many guest hosts you’re going to get a few duds (although in the case of Dr. Oz, how could you not see it coming?).  

But it brings back memories of writing on shows where an actor is not up to the material (isn’t that a nice way of saying he/she sucked?).   You spend an inordinate amount of time trying to hide him, trying to give him lines he won’t kill or scenes he won’t ruin.  It’s such a dance.  And exhausting. 

More times than not these are actors the network forced upon you.  Forget that he’s an enemy of comedy, he “has a good look.”   And if the show is ultimately on the bubble, do you think you’ll get picked up because you have this network darling?  No. Never.  The bad actor drags down the show, it gets canceled, and who gets blamed?  

You got it on the first guess.  

Casting is the most important decision a producer or show runner will ever have to make.  Everything else can be fixed.  So getting the right people is crucial.  

I look forward to a new JEOPARDY guest-host, whoever it is. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Weekend Post


I was doing ALMOST PERFECT, the CBS mid 90’s sitcom that starred Nancy Travis. In the show, Nancy’s character had a cat, “Charlie”. We used him in about five episodes. Then I get a call from the cat’s owner/trainer/agent. He tells me that Charlie has been offered the lead in the remake of THAT DARN CAT but I was not to fret. Charlie really liked working on the show and with us. So he’ll stay with our show if we would up his fee and guarantee him all episodes produced. Naturally I was touched by Charlie’s loyalty.

I said as much as we too loved working with Charlie and greatly admired his many talents, I would hate to stand in the way of his feature career so I passed on his offer.

Unbelievably, we somehow managed to find another gray cat that could sit in a chair.

But here’s the thing…

A year later ALMOST PERFECT gets cancelled. I’m driving home, feeling really bummed out and I gaze up at a billboard touting a certain movie. My entire cast is out of work and there’s Charlie, the fucking cat, starring in a major motion picture, staring down on me, his Cheshire-like face plastered on a HUGE billboard on the Sunset Strip.

I lost track of Charlie after that. To my knowledge he didn’t catch on in films. That business can be so cruel. He probably returned to television and if there’s any justice he’s doing ARSENIC & OLD LACE in dinner theatre somewhere in Iowa tonight.

The moral: Use a litter box because you never know who you’re going to meet on the way down.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Friday Questions

Considering the madness of January, March Madness wasn’t that mad at all.  Let’s close out the month with Friday Questions.

Bob Paris starts us off.  

This is a question and follow-up to your "perfect episode" entry. After listing two Frasier episodes, the next day I thought about how perfect the "Palestinian Chicken" episode of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM was. The two Frasier episodes were for a broadcast network and the 'Curb was for HBO which has different standards & practices. In your opinion, is it unfair to compare episodes where one may have had network constraints versus another where "anything goes?”

Not really.  Having the freedom to use profanity or more graphic situations does not necessarily give you an advantage.  

Yes, the styles are different, but an elegant comedy might well be funnier and more ingenious than one with the freedom to be more coarse.    

As good as CURB is sometimes, it still can’t compare with “the Contest” episode of SEINFELD, which was subject to standards and practices.  

And I’d put FRASIER up against any cable comedy.

If you want to talk about an unfair comparison, it’s the number of episodes a network series has to churn out vs. cable or streaming.  Larry David can leisurely make 13 episodes of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM over a couple of years.  FRASIER had to turn out 24 episodes a season.  That’s an unfair advantage for CURB.  

From WB Jax:

Friday Question (really to both you and your partner David): Had either "The Flintstones" or "The Jetsons" (both of which I've always considered well-written series) still been going in Prime Time when you were, say, co-producing "Cheers" (that is, if either or both enjoyed a similar longevity to "The Simpsons") would you have been interested in writing for one or the other/both, coming up with rock/stone puns (e.g., Stoneway piano, Rock Vegas, etc.) for the former, imagining future technology for the latter?

I can’t answer for David obviously, but for myself — no.  Writing THE SIMPSONS was a lark, but I like writing for real people who have real problems and real emotions.  I also hate puns in sitcoms.

There are some animated series that are fairly sophisticated, but THE JETSONS and FLINTSTONES aren’t two of them.  That said, I do like THE JETSONS and maybe the first season of THE FLINTSTONES.

Michael asks:

If you were taking over as a show runner at start of season, how much would you try to resolve existing story lines before starting your own?

I believe I’d have an obligation to the fans of the show to resolve the existing story line.  I might do it in an episode or two and move on, but I certainly would deal with it (and not just explain it away in a couple of offhanded lines).  

John Wells took over from Aaron Sorkin on THE WEST WING and tells the story of the transition between season 4 and 5.  Sorkin ended season 4 on a cliffhanger.  Wells, who was still friends with Sorkin (Wells claims there was no animosity), called Sorkin to ask what he had planned to do to resolve the cliffhanger, and Sorkin said he had no idea.  It’s something he would’ve figured out later.  So it was left in Wells’ lap.   That’s the trouble with cliffhangers sometimes.  Know how to get your hero out of them before the cameras roll. 

And finally, from Brian:

Have you gotten a Covid vaccination shot? If so, how did you feel afterwards? I've heard the second one can be rough, but worse for younger people. Please encourage those who haven't had the shot to hang in there and not start going out. Its tough when all your friends are posting pictures from breweries, but stay home until you have the shot(s).

I have gotten my two shots.  I had a low-grade fever after the second shot that lasted no more than a day.  But it was so worth it.  

I urge anyone eligible to get your shots.  Even Trump recommended getting your shots.  So hopefully the mindless sheep who blindly follow him will now get vaccinated.  But seriously, it’s the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, and the safe thing to do.  And in the meantime, wear masks. 

I always found it curious that people who were happy to wear white hoods over their faces don’t want to wear masks.  

What's your FQ? 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

EP217: The Worst Podcast EVER

A spoof on bad podcasts. Annoying elements, no editing, discussions about nothing that go nowhere — they’re all here in this simulated brutal but highly recognizable “podcast.” Cringe and enjoy.

More podcasts on WAVE!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

RIP George Segal

Very sorry to learn that George Segal passed away yesterday.  He was 87.  God love him, he worked until the very end.  He was the grandpa on THE GOLDBERGS.

The obit in Deadline Hollywood (the online industry trade website), said that Segal was probably best known for his role in JUST SHOOT ME.   What???  Farther down in the article it mentions he starred in a bunch of movies.  

Here’s a news flash:  He was a movie STAR.  

He was the big romantic comedy lead for several years in the '70s and was also riveting in dramas.  He was in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF and received an Oscar nomination for his performance.  He starred in a long list of movies including TOUCH OF CLASS, NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY, WHERE’S PAPA? (a hilarious film), BLUME IN LOVE, THE HOT ROCK, OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT, and a ton more.  

I am honored to say I directed him on JUST SHOOT ME.  He was fun to be around and I endeared myself by asking about some of his less famous films.  To me he was a movie star.  But the great thing about George, and I’m sure the folks at THE GOLDBERGS would agree, he didn’t act like a movie star.  He wasn’t a diva.  Nor did he feel it was a comedown doing a sitcom.  He was the ultimate pro and very much a team player.  Like I said, I was honored.

I would like to think George Segal is not best known for JUST SHOOT ME or THE GOLDBERGS.  He was a major force in motion pictures.  

And it got me to thinking, for all the mystique about Marilyn Monroe.  Had she not died so young, would she best be known as the wacky grandma on MY NAME IS EARL?   Would James Dean's legacy be playing an addled judge on BULL?  

George Segal was a movie star.  Mike Nicols directed him. So did Sidney Lumet, Carl Reiner, Stanley Kramer, Herbert Ross, Paul Mazursky, Melvin Frank.  The fact that I directed him on a sitcom should be a footnote, not what he’s best known for.  

RIP George.  I hope they like banjo music where you are now. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Actors who became Directors

This is an audience participation post.  You’ll see how.

A recent discussion led to this:

Often times actors on long-running television shows will go behind the camera and direct an episode or nine.   Some are very good at it.  In my personal experience, Alan Alda is a terrific director.  But then the question arose, how many of these actors were able to branch out and direct shows they weren’t attached to?   The number goes way down.  That’s where you come in.  Feel free to weigh in with names of actors who direct other people's shows.

Alan went on to direct movies, but they were movies that he wrote.  

Some actors leave acting to become directors full-time; others go back and forth.  Either counts.  

A few that I can think of offhand:

Adam Arkin has directed a variety of different shows.  He has 47 different directing credentials on imdb, many are multiple episodes (13 GET SHORTY’S, and 10 JUSTIFIED’S among them).   

Tony Goldwyn has 21 imdb director credits.   Yes, he “megged” 9 episodes of SCANDAL, but he also has called “action” on JUSTIFIED, DEXTER, GREY’S ANATOMY, LAW & ORDER, and directed the feature A WALK ON THE MOON (which is a cool movie with Diane Lane — sort of a cross between DIRTY DANCING and WOODSTOCK).  

Nick Colasanto, before becoming Coach on CHEERS did tons of TV directing from BONANZA to HAWAII 5-0 (the original and good one), to COLUMBO.  

And one can not assemble this list without a big shout-out to Ida Lupino (pictured above).  42 different shows in addition to a long acting career.  And if she wasn’t the only woman director in TV at the time she was one of maybe two.   She really deserves Jackie Robinson status.   Oh, and she also had polio.   Her directing skills were in drama and comedy — helming episodes of THE FUGITIVE, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, THE UNTOUCHABLES, but also BEWITCHED, GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, and THE DONNA REED SHOW.  

Ken Olin from THIRTYSOMETHING directs most of the episodes of THIS IS US.    He has credits on 24 different shows including THE WEST WING.  

Kelsey Grammer has directed several pilots that I know of (and worked on).  

Edward James Olmos from MIAMI VICE directed BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and a few other things.  

Dennis Dugan, who’s acted in many shows including MOONLIGHTING and MASH, has directed  NYPD BLUE, ALLY MCBEAL, and several features.  

Oh yeah, and there’s that Ronny Howard guy.   And Penny Marshall.  And Clint Eastwood.

Okay, so who am I missing? 

Monday, March 22, 2021

JEOPARDY guest hosts so far

The fourth JEOPARDY guest host debuts tonight.  I think there's like fifteen more.  Everyone but Ozzy Osbourne, and there's still a chance for him.  

This is a matter of casting.  It's not just who can read the clues without stumbling; there are a lot of elements to it.  This host will be replacing a beloved icon in Alex Trebek.  The JEOPARDY franchise is huge and a wrong choice could "jeopardize" that.    The new permanent host probably won't be announced until the early summer.  Still time for Ozzy to apply. 

 So here are my thought so far (not that they matter one iota):

Katie Couric -- A solid pro with great warmth.  Part of the job is making the contestants feel comfortable.  Katie was great at that.  There's also a comfort level for the viewer.  They can sense if a host is struggling and JEOPARDY is a particularly difficult show to do.  Lots of moving parts, reading clues, controlling the pace, reacting to unusual occurrences.  The viewer is in good hands with Katie.   However, I never felt like she really wanted the job full-time.  It was a bucket list thing.  And she did raise money for cancer research.  I doubt if Katie will be the new permanent host.

Mike Richards -- He's the Executive Producer of JEOPARDY.  When I heard he was going to host for two weeks I thought this was a vanity call.  But I was very pleasantly surprised.  He's obviously hosted game shows before.  He was incredibly polished, really kept the pace moving, and came off extremely likeable.  My only concern was that he might've been too polished.  He was the central casting "game show host" option.  But very impressive.

Ken Jennings -- Considered he had no prior hosting experience I thought he did an incredible job.  He was warm, good with the contestants, has a sly sense of humor, and can pronounce all those foreign words.  The only drawback is that he does not have a commanding voice and that's important because you hear his voice a lot.  However, I'd be willing to overlook that for his strengths. And the one big strength he has over all the other candidates is his association with the show.  As the GOAT and 74 time champ Ken Jennings is part of the JEOPARDY family.  Every other guest host is an outsider.  To me that's an almost insurmountable obstacle the others have to face.  

So it's early yet.  Ozzy would have to learn what JEOPARDY is.  But for my money, still the one to beat is Ken Jennings.  What do you all think?  

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Weekend Post

Here's a photo I found on that interweb thing the kids all talk about.  It's a 1987 photo celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Paramount Pictures.  See how many stars you can pick out.  I think I found Ted Danson, Rhea Perlman, Shelley Long, Danny DeVito, Jimmy Stewart, Gene Hackman, Burt Lancaster, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred McMurray, DeForest Kelley, Cindy Williams, Penny Marshall, Bob Hope, Charlton Heston, Bruce Dern, that idiot Scott Baio, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Don Ameche, Kevin Costner, Walter Matthau, Robin Williams, Charles Bronson, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Penelope Ann Miller, William Shatner,  Henry Winkler, Robert DeNiro, Robert Evans, Harry Dean Stanton, Olivia deHavilland, John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Tim Hutton, Lou Gosset Jr., Mark Harmon, Faye Dunaway, Gregory Peck, Matthew Broderick.  Who am I missing?   

Only sorry I wasn't there for that.  

Friday, March 19, 2021

Friday Questions

How about some Friday Questions?   What’s yours?

Vincent gets us started.

I just attended a  Zoom webinar where a literary agent said flat-out that he would not work with a writer who was doing anything else but focusing on screenwriting, like writing a novel, acting, or even doing a podcast on the side. Since you have a podcast I assume not every agent feels this way, but would you say this guy's attitude was the exception of the rule vis-a-vis Hollywood literary agents.

I would say yes, that’s the exception.  Agents today tend to like clients who have large social media followings or podcasts.  It helps them stand out and potentially easier to sell.  

The agent might think the writer’s podcast could be adapted for a series as an example.  

On the other hand, I could definitely see the argument that an agent would want writer clients who are devoted strictly to writing.  

But here’s the bottom line: when an agent is considering a new client his only real focus is how that person fits HIS agenda, not the writer’s.   How hard will the writer be to sell?  Does the writer fit the agency’s need for a certain genre?  Is the writer diverse?   How old is he?  Is his style in the zeitgeist?

Bob Sassone asks:

Something that bugs me about sitcoms is the fake car/driving scenes. I don't mind at all how cheesy they look, but why do they usually take out the rearview mirror? Is it just for how the shot looks? And why do so many characters still LOOK in the rearview mirror to talk to someone in the back seat when there's no mirror????

I assume you’re talking about multi-camera sitcoms where the car scenes are filmed on stage in front of an audience.

You’re right that the rearview mirror blocks camera angles.   It’s a creative license thing that most people don’t notice.  

I’m always more worried about the cheesy backgrounds.  For night scenes though someone (I believe on TAXI) created this effect with just lights that looks pretty cool.  

Boomska316 wonders:

Why are finales(season or series) so hard to get right? Is it different expectations between the viewers and the creators?

There are much greater expectations to a series finale.  So let’s concentrate on that.  

To some degree yes.  Especially if the show has set up lots of questions to be answered.  (a la LOST)  The questions better all be answered and to the audience’s satisfaction.  The more time the audience has been waiting, the higher the expectations.  

But the big reason series finales often fall short is because they're too long, sometimes waaaaay too long.  This is a network decision.  The networks want to take advantage of the larger audience they will draw to sell more advertising at higher rates.   The result is often bloated finales telling stories not worth two hours.   

When I think of my favorite sitcom finales (THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, NEWHART) they’re all half hours.  

And finally, from YEKIMI:

Do you tend to get stuff done faster when writing with David or when writing alone?

Without question, faster when the two of us are working.  But that has developed over time.  We now have a rhythm and shorthand and experience so we go at a much faster clip than we did when we were starting out.

Originally, it would take us two weeks to write a half hour script.  Now it takes three or four days, and in some cases if we’re in a crunch — two.

Also, as partner we write head to head.  So we’re both in the room pitching at the same time.  

We also dictate the script to an assistant so that takes less time.  We can just pitch out a whole run in two minutes and then go back and clean it up, sharpen some jokes, make some trims, etc.  

And when the two of us are writing we don’t take breaks every five minutes to check email or see if there’s any breaking news on MSNBC. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

EP216: Perfect Shows (in my opinion)

Ken answers a listener’s question and lists all the TV shows and pilots he thinks are as close to “perfect” as possible. 

Get Honey for FREE at JoinHoneycom/LEVINE

More podcasts at WAVE!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Billy Wilder: guest blogger

I'd like to thank Billy for coming back from the Great Beyond to offer the best screenwriting tips anyone could learn, which makes sense since he's one of the best if not THE best screenwriters ever.   Thanks, Billy, I owe you one.


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

A few words about Stage Directions... with the emphasis on "few"

My all-time favorite Hollywood writer/director, Billy Wilder, was once asked if a good director should also be a good writer?  His answer:  “No.  A good director should be a good READER.”  

In other words, follow the script.  

It’s our job as writers to convey our vision as best we can.  And very often that means detailed stage directions.  

But there’s a trap in that.  If the stage direction is too long and detailed no one is going to read it.  That’s just a fact.  Whether it be film or for the stage, when a director sees a page that’s a solid block of stage direction he skips it.  

So the writer has to be incredibly concise and convey the most with the least.  And trust me, that’s hard.  Just know that there’s always more you can cut out without sacrificing your intent.  

I learned that quite a few years ago.  A screenplay of mine was going to get a public reading in New York.  The producer said he had a guy who would go through my script and make suggested trims of the stage direction.  I said I didn’t want anybody changing my screenplay.  He said these would just be suggestions sent to me privately and I could take or leave whatever I wanted.  At that point I said fine.  I was proud of the fact that I wrote sparing stage directions.  Just wait’ll this guy sees he has nothing to cut.

A week later my script arrives.  I was gobsmacked.  It looked like one of those classified reports where 80% of it was redacted.  There were cross-outs everywhere.  At first I was furious.  Who the fuck does this guy think he is?

Then I started going through them one by one, and sure enough I’d say, “Well, yeah, I don’t need that” and “That is a little redundant,” and “that is a faster way of saying that.”  Eventually I used 90% of his suggestions.   And again, I always prided myself on lean stage directions.

Now, whenever I write something I always think of that guy.  What would he do to this paragraph?   As a result, I’m way tougher on my stage directions.   It’s a good lesson to learn.  

Another stage direction tip:  Slip in a little joke or two from time to time.  Reward the reader and give him a reason to pay attention to your instructions.   

Stage directions are vital — they’re your assembly manual.  Make sure they’re easy to read and follow. 

TOMORROW:  Billy Wilder is my guest blogger.

Monday, March 15, 2021

AMAZING drone video

 I usually don't post two videos in a row, but this you gotta see.   My guess is you'll watch it multiple times. 

This is a video done with a drone.  It's all in one shot, no CGI, no special effects.  The sound however was done in post. 

It was shot in a bowling alley in Minneapolis with a racing drone by drone-operator Jay Christensen and director Anthony Jaska.   They needed ten or twelve takes to get it just right, but their perseverance paid off.   As I was watching I wondered how they were going to end it.  They found the perfect way.  Enjoy.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Weekend Post

Pepe LePew should move to Copenhagen.  

This is going to sound like a joke, but it’s real.   There is an animated kids show in Denmark named JOHN DILLERMAND.  The premise is that John has a huge penis.  And I mean, HUGE.  It can perform rescue missions and steal ice cream.   Google this if you don’t believe me.   Or better yet..

Here’s an article about it.  

And here’s the opening: 

But wait.  It gets better.  The show is aimed at children aged 4 to 8.  No, I’m SERIOUS!

Too bad it’s not in the US so Fox News could focus on that instead of the American Rescue Plan that will bring desperately needed relief to millions of Americans.  

How has the show been received in Denmark?  Well, the Woke folks are going bat shit.  Especially in this #MeToo era, opponents believe it sets back equality, sends the wrong message, etc.   On the other hand, proponents say it’s funny, it’s silly, and children do find genitals funny.  

I’d give anything to be able to pitch it to the Hallmark Channel.   

Proponents argue the show is not about sex.  I would imagine most kids 4 to 8 don’t know about sex.  But Danish TV certainly pushes boundaries.  Apparently there’s another children’s show where the lead swears, smokes a pipe, and doesn’t bathe.  

Pepe’s looking pretty good right about now, isn’t he?  

I’m writing to Disney +.  I’ve got to see this show. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

Friday Questions

Let’s continue our March into Friday Questions.

Mark Bosselman starts us off.

Have you ever been starstruck upon meeting a celebrity either by the aura or beauty?

Natalie Wood.  She came into the MGM commissary when I had an office on the lot.  Unfortunately, she was not dressed like the above photo. 

For sheer luminous, radiant beauty — Candice Bergen when she spoke at UCLA in 1968, Suzanne Pleshette on the MTM lot in 1975, and Jacqueline Bisset at MGM in 1980.  

Then, for sheer aura, seeing John Wayne (in costume yet) at Warner Brothers and Sean Connery at the Paramount commissary.  

In baseball, seeing Joe DiMaggio.  

In theatre, meeting Stephen Sondheim.  And Al Hirschfeld.

In life, John Wooden. 

But my all-time is Vin Scully.  There was not a time I was in his presence (and I worked with him and the Dodgers for five years) that I wasn’t in complete awe.  

From Larry:

Carla was often pregnant in “Cheers”, and I know during season 3 it was because Perlman herself was pregnant (as was Shelley Long, though hers was concealed). Were any of Carla’s other pregnancies incorporated to accommodate Perlman’s real-life condition, or were some of them purely for story purposes and she wore padding?

The first season she was actually pregnant.  We saved money on padding.  

Explaining it was tricky though because she had separated from her husband.  So we had to create a “father.”  

Tammy asks:

I've been a Joss Whedon fan for 20 years, so naturally I was very disappointed to learn this week that he'd been creating toxic work environments, both on set and in the writers' room (according to Jose Molina, he would brag about making writers cry). My questions: first, how common are these bully showrunners?

I wouldn’t say it was common, but there have always been a few tyrant show runners, just as there are tyrants in charge of any operation.  

And second, is there really less tolerance for this behavior nowdays, or is it just for the cases that go public? Thanks!

If a tyrant is getting good ratings or bringing in big money, Hollywood tends to look the other way.  Sadly, I would submit that bad behavior is tolerated more in the entertainment industry.   But yes, now there is much less tolerance and awful people who have gotten away with despicable behavior in the past are now getting their comeuppance.  And I can’t say I’m at all upset about it.  

And finally, from Powers:

If you could have written for any of the notable movie comedy teams, who would you have enjoyed writing for?

There are not that many to choose from.

I would have to go waaaaaay back.  First and foremost, Laurel & Hardy (although Stan Laurel wrote all of their material himself).  To this day they make me laugh.  Their physical comedy, reactions, and overall timing is just pitch-perfect.

I would have enjoyed writing a “Road Picture” for Bob Hope & Bing Crosby.  There was a lot of fun banter and great zingers between those two.  

I’d be less enthusiastic about Abbott & Costello.  I loved Lou Costello but thought Bud Abbott was always so mean to Lou Costello I never warmed to him.  

More recently, I’d like to write for Jay & Silent Bob… although no one writes Kevin Smith stuff better than Kevin Smith.  

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

EP215: Mike Scully’s sitcom writer journey continues

Comedy veteran Mike Scully discusses the change that saved Parks & Rec, working on Everybody Loves Raymond, and the animation process used to make the show he co-created with his wife, Julie — Duncanville. Amy Poehler fans, in particular, will love this episode.

Find out how Upstart can lower your monthly payments today! 

More podcasts at WAVE! 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Final thoughts on WANDAVISION

Okay, I stuck with WANDAVISION until the very end.  All nine episodes.  As some of you know I reviewed it after the first few episodes.  Again, I know I’m not the target audience.  But it seemed to me they took a story that could have been a 90 minute movie and stretched it out to 4 1/2 hours (9 half hour episodes).  To me it was just a confusing mess.  When Kathryn Hahn turned into a witch I should have bailed.  Or when storytelling simply became Wanda shooting red energy bolts into the witch’s purple energy bolts.  

At what point do “epic” air battles between superheroes become boring, even to Marvel Universe fans?   How much suspense can there really be when characters can solve problems with magic?   Or the writers make up bizarre technical gibberish to explain away absurd phenomena?   

I won’t spoil the end except to say the whole series felt like one big shaggy dog story.  

For those who haven’t been following WANDAVISION on Disney +, a Marvel character imagines she’s living sitcoms, and through the course of the series they move from the 50’s-00’s.  And the show reflects the style and dialogue of each era.  So the first two episodes are in black and white.  And there are theme opening titles that reflect each era (which frankly are the best part of the whole series).  The first three episodes are pretty much just these recreated sitcoms.  

We finally learn that it’s all in Wanda’s mind.  And then let the convoluted plot with tanks and force fields and flashbacks to Salem witch trials begin.  Here’s a storytelling tip:  When setting up a fight, let the audience know what they’re fighting for.  But I imagine the thinking was: as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the cool CGI effects, who gives a shit?  

Mike Reiss is a longtime writer/producer of THE SIMPSONS.  To me, his recent tweet summed up WANDAVISION perfectly. 

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Hanging out with Queen Elizabeth


In light of Meghan & Harry's interview that is stirring up a hornet's nest in Buckingham Palace, I thought I would share my personal brush with the Queen of England. 

In 1991 I was a rookie play-by-play announcer for the Baltimore Orioles. I kept a daily journal that year and sold it as a book. "It's Gone!...No, wait a minute"(my classic home run call unfortunately) was published by Villard and released in ’93. It’s available on Amazon or on a remainder table near you. Thirty years ago this is what happened:


A typical day really, except that the queen of England and the president of the United States attended the game. They saw the A’s win 6-3, although Randy Milligan hit his first home run of the year and then his second.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Philip are visiting the United States and wanted to view something that represented the “epitome of America”. That meant either the Shopping Channel or baseball. So our little ol’ ballpark on Thirty-third Street got the nod. The weather was glorious, the traffic horrendous, and the crowd merely moderate (32,501) to see this historic occasion (The queen was not as big a draw as free wristbands.)

The entourage arrived at 6:30 via motorcade and were whisked into a private reception hosted by club owner Eli S. Jacobs (whom I have yet to meet, by the way). The VIP party, which also included Mr. Bush, baseball commish Fay Vincent (who told me before the game that the role of the commissioner in affairs such as these is “to be seen and then leave”), Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Mrs. Secretary of Defense, the Governor of Maryland, the British Foreign Secretary, and a number of the queen’s personal valets, secretaries, and foot stools. They all dined on crab cakes and hot dogs. (What, no crumpets and nachos??).

Everyone lingered over dinner for fifteen minutes, and then the royal party moved on to the Orioles dugout to greet the players of both teams.

I did not get to meet the queen. Jon Miller and I were on the air describing the proceedings. At 7:20 a receiving line of players was rushed through (viewed by the crowd on DiamondVision), and to the horror of the Secret Service, the president escorted Queen Elizabeth (or “Sausage” as Prince Philip calls her) up the top step into the on-deck area in full view of the masses. Personally, I feel Harold Baines would be in greater danger than the queen, but the Secret Service men held their breath just the same. The crowd roared its approval.

From there the royal party repaired back to Mr. Jacobs’ sky box on the mezzanine level just to the left of the press box. They sat comfortably behind bulletproof glass as a high school chorus mangled “God Save the Queen” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” over a sound system wracked by feedback.

They stayed for two whole innings, and I sort of felt bad because they were two very boring innings. Five walks, little action. Really, Your Highness, baseball is not that dull! I wanted her to stay longer, but by 8:45 the motorcade had shuttled her away. I also was hoping to have her stop by our booth and possibly read the “Esskay Meats Out-of-Town Scoreboard,” but that was not to be. See if I vote for her in the next election!

All in all it was a very exciting night. In three previous years in the minors the most important dignitary I ever saw attend a game was the Phillie Phanatic.

Monday, March 08, 2021

The Meghan & Harry Interview

It’s always hard for TV writers to write about how hard it is being a TV writer.  Long grueling hours, endless notes, enormous pressure, pushback from actors, etc.  The reason it’s hard is because most people would see this and go “boo hoo.”   They see that TV writers are well compensated, are in a glamorous business, and most people would trade places with them in a second.  So it’s hard to generate any real sympathy for the plight of a TV writer who drives a BMW and lives in Bel Air.  

I was reminded of that last night while watching the Oprah interview with Prince Harry and princess/SUITS’ star, Meghan Markle.   They both seemed lovely enough, and their life in a fishbowl, trapped in an oppressive lifestyle with tabloids ripping you on a daily basis sounds like hell.  Clearly, it’s taken a heavy toll, especially on Meghan.   And now they’ve given up the royal life to live as simple folks on a giant estate in Montecito, California, one of the most exclusive conclaves in the country.   When Oprah Winfrey is your neighbor you’re not living in row houses.  

So of the millions who watched last night (and I sheepishly admit to being one of them), how many were saying, “I’ll trade ya and when can I be trapped in that castle?”  

I suspect a large number.  

But I also imagine an even larger portion of the audience did care.  There’s something so intriguing about royalty, and privilege, and palace dish.   They’re the real-life Ewings and Carirngtons.   It’s a living soap opera.  Fairy tale weddings and family in-fighting, tragedy, scandals, old world protocol, ceremony, and mini-series.

I’m not sure why I watched.  I mean, I liked her on SUITS, but after weathering four years of Trump trauma on a daily basis, whether Meaghan actually once made Kate cry is of zero importance to me.  Theirs was not a story I followed closely, being more concerned that that deranged psychopath didn’t destroy our country.  

Perhaps what drew me was knowing this was one of the few remaining shared experiences we as a country would have.   This was an event.  As such, people felt compelled to watch it live.  And I bet there’s a lot of talk today about it.  If the CDC would let us gather around the water cooler this is what the topic of discussion would be.   So I wanted to be a part of that.   The reality is — for me and you — Harry and Meghan’s lives do not effect me one iota.   They can be in California or England, have two kids or six kids, feed chickens or go over to Oprah’s for a BBQ.  I don’t give a shit.

And yet I watched.  And I’m offering opinions.   But hey, it was just nice to take a break from Mitch McConnell, COVID variants, QAnon, anti-vaxers, moron governors in Texas and Mississippi and hear about squabbles over flower girl dresses.   And as always, Oprah was a master interviewer.  I devoted a lot of my focus to the questions she asked, how she framed them, how she followed up, how she made Meg & Har feel comfortable enough to be truly candid, and how impeccably prepared she was.   No one does it better.  

And if after watching (because I bet you did), your heart can go out to the royal couple for the ordeal “the firm” put them through, we TV writers really do put in insane hours often doing soul-crushing work.  And the BMW is in the shop half the time.  Show us some love. 

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Looking for something fun to do this weekend?

Especially at home?  Joely Fisher & Tim Daly are AMERICA'S SEXIEST COUPLE in the Zoom reading of my romantic comedy play.  It's getting rave reviews and is waaaaay more fun than watching dreary Oscar contenders.  Enjoy.

Weekend Post

 Villains are far more interesting than heroes. Just ask Heath Ledger (if you could). Without Lex Luthor Superman is just another boring jock on steroids.

There are villains you love to hate. And then there is Linda Fiorentino in THE LAST SEDUCTION. If I may coin a word, she is a VILF!

THE LAST SEDUCTION is a 1995 film noir treat, written by Steve Barancik and directed by John Dahl (who sadly has been relegated to television while Michael Bay continues to make features). It's probably available on some streaming service. Linda is the ultimate femme fatale, absconding her husband’s drug money (Bill Pullman as Ralph Bellamy) and disappearing into this small town where she turns Peter Berg into her boy toy for utter amusement. In true noir fashion she lures him into committing murder and the twists and turns come fast and furious.

And all the while you love her sultry voice, her chutzpah, smarts, and delicious wickedness. It’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY meets GOODBYE COLUMBUS.

Oh, and it’s one of the sexiest movies this side of first half of BODY HEAT before it dissolved into a jumbled mess.

THE LAST SEDUCTION and Linda should have been up for a gaggle of Academy Awards but due to a technicality (the movie played first on HBO) it wasn’t eligible. But it did win all kinds of Indie Spirit Awards, which everyone knows is far more prestigious.

THE LAST SEDUCTION. See it with someone you want to have sex with or kill.

Friday, March 05, 2021

Friday Questions

It’s Friday Question time.  What’s yours?

Michael starts us off.

When you direct an episode on a show you haven't worked on before, does the showrunner first give you a heads-up on any unusual on-set dynamics such as 2 co-stars who don't get along or an actor who is overly sensitive to feedback?

Yes, although if there’s bad behavior on the set it’s generally well known around town.  I’ve never personally encountered that in all the shows I’ve directed.  Of course I told my agent don’t put me up for ROSEANNE or CYBILL or GRACE UNDER FIRE because who needs the headaches?  

But I like to meet with the showrunner beforehand and find out when he likes runthroughs, what he expects of the cast and me, whether I have the freedom to toss in a joke, how hard the cast likes to rehearse, and maybe a heads-up on an actor who will ask a lot of questions.  By the way, I don’t mind if an actor asks a lot of questions.  That’s his process and that’s my job to answer them.  My goal is to get every actor to peak performance when the cameras are rolling.  

sueK2001 queries:

What are your thoughts on Disney Plus (or any streaming service) putting an "offensive content" label on The Muppets or any retro comedy?

I think it’s utterly ridiculous.

Children are going to be scarred emotionally by something on THE MUPPET SHOW, but Disney + is fine with kids being turned into donkeys in PINOCCHIO, or Bambi’s mother dying, or Dumbo’s mother being locked up, or the witch in SNOW WHITE scaring the shit out of everybody with the poison apple?  

Let the Snowflakes watch the Hallmark Channel.  

From 71dude:

You said you never worked on any family shows, but do writers generally ask the child actors or their parents before they hand them a potentially embarrassing or puberty-related storyline?

Absolutely!   The parents, the network, the studio, standards & practices, and the child.    There are all kinds of guidelines in place for the protection of minors.  

And finally, Mike Bloodworth has a MASH-related FQ.

Was having only Asian actors play Asian characters a conscious decision on the part of the creators/producers? Was it just coincidence? Had they ever considered using a big name, white guest star in Asian makeup?

It was a conscious decision.  We tried to be as accurate as possible.  And it was nice to give these Asian actors roles because there weren’t too many of them at the time.  

We never once considered putting a non-Asian actor in make up.  Even back then in the writers room we made fun of John Wayne as Genghis Khan in THE CONQUEROR. 

What was fun was meeting veteran actors like Keye Luke who had been in tons of movies and shows.  Imdb lists him in 226 different projects.  He had amazing stories. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

EP214: Meet SIMPSONS writer Mike Scully

Go inside The Simpsons writing room with Mike Scully and hear how the show has evolved over the last 175 years. Mike has also been with other shows including Everybody Loves Raymond and Parks & Rec.

More podcasts on WAVE!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Allen v. Farrow

Purely out of curiosity, I watched the first episode of the new HBO documentary, ALLEN V. FARROW, which is basically the Woody Allen sex abuse allegations.  Apparently I wasn't alone.  It got a huge rating for HBO upon its premier.  

I will not be watching another installment.  I'll be curious to see if the numbers remain high or if most people, like me, say "one and done."  

The documentary makes a very compelling case that Woody Allen acted inappropriately with his young daughter.  But I don't want to watch it.  The whole thing is just so creepy.  And weird.

God knows what quirks and fetishes he has.  Allen has been able to live a charmed life pretty much doing whatever he's wanted.  We know he married his stepdaughter and that Mia Farrow found nude photos of her in Allen's apartment.  But Mia is also supposed to be rather whacko.  

The documentary portrays her as this loving mother tending to the needs of all these adopted and birth children.  Other accounts by some of the kids say it was a nightmare.  

But as I was watching the first episode, filled with home movies and endless shots of Mia's Connecticut home, I thought to myself: Why do I care?  It's sad, he probably did it, maybe now more will come to light, but why I do need to devote hours and hours to see this?   I wanted to shower after the first episode.  For the photo for this post I didn't even want to show their faces. 

These celebrity expose documentaries seem to be the rage.   There was lots of buzz on the Michael Jackson bizarre sordid story.  But does anything change as a result?   Michael Jackson songs are still selling and still on the radio.  Woody Allen movies are still going to air on TCM.  Will this derail Allen's directing career?  The man is 85.  How many more movies is he going to make?   And for all the rumors, bad press, and scandals, Woody Allen has still managed to find backers and make his movies uninterrupted.   So unless he goes to prison, what's the point?  Other than ratings.  And appealing to our more lascivious nature.  

So for me, not only will I not watch any subsequent episodes, I'm mad at myself for even watching the first one.   Yuch! 

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

A follow-up to yesteday's post

Several readers brought up other improvised projects, notably "the Interview" episode of MASH and the series CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, and wondered my thoughts on them.  When have I ever been shy about offering opinions (even if I had no idea what I was talking about)? 

"The Interview" segment of MASH was from season 4 and many consider to be the best single episode of the series.  I can't disagree.  Breaking the format, we're watching a documentary with a TV journalist asking questions to members of the 4077 about the war and their perspectives.  Each actor was given the questions and recorded their improvised answers into a tape recorder.   Those recordings were transcribed.

But then Larry Gelbart rewrote them.  He added things, cut things, inserted some jokes, re-phrased some thoughts, etc.  At that point an actual script was printed.   The actors then performed the written text.  So improvisation was just an early part of the process.   That said, what remained of the improv was pure gold.

 CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM works off a detailed outline.  Scenes are improvised and refined during rehearsal.   Larry David also tries to surround himself with actors who are adept at improvisation.  

For my money the results have been mixed.  There are some absolutely HYSTERICAL episodes -- fall-on-the-floor funny.  I could watch them on a loop.  But there are a lot of other episodes that are very uneven, arguments and scenes that feel forced or scenes that wander and get repetitive.  

Improv can be a very useful tool.  I've been doing improv myself for many many years. And if you get a master of it, like Fred Willard in BEST IN SHOW you can produce something absolutely magical.  But I think relying on it can be a trap.  Actors are better at acting and writers are better at writing.  Why not take advantage of the best of both? 

Monday, March 01, 2021

The need for WRITERS

In the new movie, LET THEM ALL TALK, playing on HBO Max, Meryl Streep, who plays a novelist in the film, talks about the importance of just the right words and how it took her sometimes a week before she could find the perfect word.  

What’s ironic about that is that LET THEM ALL TALK is mostly improvisation.  the credited screenwriter had a beat sheet and director Steven Soderbergh let the actors provide the dialogue.

And the result: a boring movie with uninteresting dialogue and scenes that lasted for five minutes that should have lasted for two.  

Where is the respect for those “perfect words?

The movie stars Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest, and Candice Bergen.  Candice steals the movie, primarily because she was the only character that had a real drive.  Wiest was there to play Monopoly with Bergen.  

Most of the film takes place aboard  the QE2 as it crosses the Atlantic from New York to London.  Soderbergh filmed on the ship during the cruise (prior to the pandemic of course).   And he shot the film on the fly.  

I’ve read a number of interviews where the cast praised the process and how much fun it was.  Fun for them but not the audience.  

How would actors like it if we writers just took starring roles ourselves?  No training, no talent, but who cares?   If we wear the right costume and are lit properly that’s all that matters.  Anybody can act, as I’m sure many actors believe anyone can write.  

The difference is writers KNOW they can’t act at the level required to star in a motion picture.  Many actors think they could write better than writers. 

I went to see the reaction on Rotten Tomatoes and found yet another disconnect between critics and viewers.  On the critics’ scale there was 90% approval.  “Oh, it’s so brilliant.”   Among the public the Rotten Tomatoes scare was 50%.   Talk about a big discrepancy.

I think it was Hitchcock who said, “Movie are life if you took out the boring parts.”   There were lots of boring parts.  The movie takes almost two hours to tell several very minor stories.  

The title is  LET THEM ALL TALK   And that’s all they do.  The title should be LET WRITERS TELL THEM WHAT TO SAY.  
 They'd have a way better movie.