Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Why I won't be reviewing the Oscars

It started in the late ‘90s.  For fun I wrote a snarky review of the Oscars and sent it to the folks in my address book.  The response was positive so I kept it up.  In 2005 I started this blog so the first chance I got I posted my review publicly.   More positive feedback and eventually the endeavor took on a life of its own.  At one point newspapers in Toronto and London were running my reviews.  I was guesting on various radio shows around the country.   

To make sure no one could accuse me of stealing anyone else’s material, I always wrote the reviews right after the show and posted them immediately.  That generally meant pulling an all-nighter.  

The reviews certainly resulted in increased traffic.   I transferred them to my podcast its first few years to help build an audience there.   So now we’re talking over twenty years of Oscar reviews.  (The feature became so popular that for a long while I expanded to Emmys and Golden Globes.)  

I am officially now discontinuing my Oscar reviews.  

There are a lot of reasons for it.  A big one is that no one gives a shit about the Oscars anymore.  (More on that topic tomorrow.)  

But the major reason is the current woke culture.  God forbid I offend anybody.  What good is being snarky if you’re not allowed to criticize?  And it goes beyond possibly being insensitive.  Now you’re branded as a racist.

In the privacy of our homes, part of the attraction of watching the Oscars (and especially at Oscar parties) is taking shots at the horrible gowns and stupid tuxedos and ridiculous hairdos.  What makes them so funny is how those offenders thought they were looking so glamorous and elegant.  Bringing down people who take themselves too seriously is a comedy staple.   And you may not be proud of yourself for making fun of these entitled people, but you do. 

However, if I say one despairing thing about Viola Davis’ dress I’m loudly pegged a racist.  If Penelope Cruz mangles her turn announcing the nominees and I point it out, I’m a racist.   If I’m happy for a deserving winner who happens to be white I’m a racist.  

So who needs that?  Who needs to put a target on their chest?   It’s a shame because comedy suffers.  And as a society we need comedy.  Now more than ever.  But if those who provide it have to walk on eggshells, then what’s the point?  

And that’s where we are today.  So no snarky review on Monday.  And forced apology on Tuesday.  

Monday, April 19, 2021

Stars I claimed to have discovered even though I really didn't

Anyone who has been producing TV series for any length of time will have similar stories. They can look back at actors they worked with or hired that since became big names. Here are some of mine.

Shelley Long – played a nurse once in MASH when I was there. I don’t remember much except she looked very cute in army fatigues.

Rita Wilson – same thing. Also cute in army fatigues. Worked with her again when she starred in VOLUNTEERS. Amazingly, she remembered me. I looked awful in army fatigues.

Katey Segal – From one of Bette Midler’s Harlettes to a series regular on the MARY SHOW. We knew from day one that she’d become a star. And that’s without even hearing her sing.

Leah Remini – She played one of Carla’s many daughters on CHEERS. One of my favorite episodes (written by me and David) was “Loathe & Marriage” from the final season where Leah’s character gets married. I also directed her in FIRED UP. She was funny before she was even old enough to drive.

Tim Busfield – He’ll probably cringe but one of his first acting jobs was playing a patient on AfterMASH. Yes, it was, Tim, don't deny it.

James Cromwell – Okay, he wasn’t an unknown when I worked with him but he wasn’t on anyone’s A-List either. He was pretty much a character actor who bounced around. I knew him as Jamie then. We used him on an episode of MASH as a real goofball. Couldn’t quite tell from that role that he’d go on to be nominated for an Oscar. By the way, did you know he was in both BABE and THE BABE?

David Letterman – did a cameo on an OPEN ALL NIGHT we were involved with.

Maggie Lawson – You loved her on PSYCH and seven other shows. I’ve loved her since writing and directing IT’S ALL RELATIVE.

David Ogden Stiers – Before he became Charles Winchester on MASH he was talk-show host Robert W. Cleaver on a TONY RANDALL SHOW David and I wrote. That was the episode that got huge laughs during rehearsal but silence during the filming. Later we learned that the bussed in audience spoke no English.

Annette O’Toole – had a small role on a TONY RANDALL SHOW. Tony didn’t like her at first. By show night he was pleading with us to bring her back. The English speaking audience loved her too although I must say she was beautiful in any language.

Lisa Kudrow – Did an episode of CHEERS. Very funny even in a small role. I was not surprised. She went to Taft High in Woodland Hills.

Sanaa Lathan – Directed her in LATELINE. I must’ve given her great notes on that three-page scene because she went on to become a movie queen. I went on to write a blog.

Willie Garson – Directed him in the stellar ASK HARRIET. When that show got cancelled he was free to take another assignment – SEX IN THE CITY. He also was a regular on WHITE COLLAR a few years ago.

Julie Benz – Another ASK HARRIET alum I directed. Probably best know for getting killed and chopped up in DEXTER.  Or getting killed and chopped up in SAW V.

Robert Pastorelli – Later to be a stalwart of MURPHY BROWN, but his greatest role was for us on the MARY show. He played sandwich guy, Mr. Yummy.

Jenna Elfmann – first cast in an ALMOST PERFECT as a whack-job secretary. She had no experience at the time and we knew it was a risk but there was something just so damn special about her. She killed in front of the audience. If ever there was someone I knew was going to make it besides Katey Segal it was Jenna.

And before I slap myself on the back too much for being such a great judge of talent, here are a few of the people I didn’t cast who once came in to read:

Martin Short, Kathy Bates, William H. Macy, Jane Lynch, Tea Leoni, Don Johnson, and Andrea Martin (although that was the network’s fault; we wanted her. They wanted Toni Tennille. Don't ask.),

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Weekend Post

Now that more people are allowed to fly again, I want to share a personal story.  You're going to think I'm making this up, but I'm not.  Compare my flight on a commercial airliner to any you've ever been on. 

This is an excerpt from my memoir, THE ME GENERATION...BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60s) still available in all formats and still the perfect gift.  Order several TODAY!!!

It's 1969.  I've lived in the San Fernando Valley my entire life but always wanted to go back east, New York in particular.  So I saved my money and hit the road. 

The plan was this: Three weeks. First week in Gotham. Then meet-up with one of my radio freak buddies and drive with him to his home in Pittsburgh. Spend a day or so soaking in the wonders of the Steel City and then fly to D.C. See those sights and stop off in Louisville to visit my cousin on the way home. I had introduced him to the Sunset Strip a couple of years ago. He could return the favor and show me where they filmed some scenes from Goldfinger.

The airlines were all regulated back then; all required to charge the same fares. The carriers all cried that they couldn’t make money this way so in the ‘80s the government relented and dropped pricing regulations. Within months several long established airlines went bankrupt.

But in 1969 fares were standard. And all the airlines had a great deal for students. You could fly for half price. And you could get huge discounts on hotel rooms if you were a student. So for maybe a couple hundred bucks I booked all my flights and reserved a room in New York at the prestigious Statler Hilton across the street from Madison Square Garden for $9.50 a night.

My how traveling has changed. I checked in my suitcase (for free) and my family escorted me right to the gate. People dressed nice to fly on airplanes. You didn’t see one “SHIT HAPPENS” t-shirt.

I flew TWA. This was one of the major carriers, equivalent to United or American – now dead (yeah, deregulation was a GREAT idea). Once in the air they distributed free headsets so we could listen to seven channels of music. Moments later, carts were wheeled down the aisles and we were all served a hot breakfast – omelets or French toast. And the utensils were genuine metal! Then a big screen was lowered and they showed a free movie (Support Your Local Sheriff with James Garner). But that was nothing. Here’s the kicker: I’ve never seen this on any other flight I’ve ever taken – they set up a big brunch buffet. We all lined up down the aisle and helped ourselves to lox, bagels, cold cuts, and fruit and various salads.

And this was coach!

The guys in First Class must’ve been getting blowjobs.

Landed at JFK around 4:00 and taxied into the city, getting my first look at that Manhattan skyline. Wow! The Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies didn’t do it justice. I was Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy – a wide-eyed rube taking in the “big city” for the first time. This was a world unlike any I had ever witnessed. Just the sheer number of WIGS stores was staggering to me. How many New Yorkers need wigs?

Was deposited at my hotel, a grand old structure of stature and grace, and then shown to my elegant $9.50 a night room. It was the size of litter box. There was one single bed, a window that looked out at the back of the Gimbels’ Department Store neon flashing sign, and a TV that was so old it said “the Dumont Network” above channel 5. But I didn’t care. I was really in New York. I turned on my transistor radio and there was Dan Ingram on WABC trashing some sponsor’s frozen clam dip.

I just walked around that first night. Saw the Empire State Building, Macy’s, seventeen WIGS stores. I had dinner at Howard Johnson’s. I didn’t feel self-conscious that I was eating alone because everyone there was eating alone.

After dinner I wandered into Madison Square Garden. There was a Billy Graham Crusade that week. Billy Graham was a charismatic TV evangelist who rose to great prominence with lavish stage extravaganzas… I mean, religious services. But admission was free (donation cups were passed around like joints) so I checked it out. I didn’t find God but I did see where the Knicks and Rangers played.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Friday Questions

Since just about anybody can now get the vaccine, GET THE VACCINE!  Here are some Friday Questions while you wait fifteen minutes after getting the shot.

maxdebryn starts us off.

Ken, a few of the other movie/TV/pop culture sites that I read have floated the idea that they will become "pay" sites (ie: subscribers/readers would have to pay upwards of $10 per month in order to access the sites). What do you think about paying to read online content ?

That’s fine for them, but I don’t plan on charging people.  Part of why I do this blog is I feel I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my career, was blessed with amazing mentors, and this blog is a small way of paying it forward.  

Besides, I’d have to write way better to charge $10 for this drivel.  

Bob Paris asks:

Ken: In the past, if an actor got signed to a series they would be working on at least 22 episodes a season. Now an actor may sign for a series where as few as eight to ten episodes are shot for the year. Are these "exclusive" deals where the actor is precluded from taking other work? Makes you wonder if attaching yourself to a series that makes a very limited number of episodes per season makes economic sense.

You’re right.  Since there are fewer episodes produced, the deals tend to be more flexible these days.  Case in point:  Kelsey Grammer is attached to a sitcom project for ABC also starring Alec Baldwin.  At the same time it’s been announced there will be a reboot of FRASIER sometime in the future.   I have zero details on either of the deals other than to surmise he’s permitted to do both.  (I’m actually looking forward to both of them.)  

Ere I Saw Elba queries:

This is a Friday question that is somewhat related to your recent podcast on changes in the TV biz:

When did Standards and Practices become a common part of network television, and how much do they continue to affect the content of shows? Also, do the same network standards and FCC regulations apply to internet streaming?

Standards & Practices have been around since the dawn of television.  It’s just that the restrictions have changed.  But as far back as the ’50’s married couples couldn’t sleep in the same bed.  And when Lucy was pregnant they weren’t allowed to say that word on CBS.  

In the ‘70s ALL IN THE FAMILY got away with racial slurs they could never say today.  But back then they were very prudish about sex.  Now you have shows like 2 BROKE GIRLS that would have no jokes at all if they couldn’t say vagina.

Over-the-air TV stations are held to much higher standards because there are only so many channels and the license holders are obligated to broadcast  in “the public’s interest.”   Not so with cable and other platforms.  I believe their only obligation is to post warnings at the beginning of shows alerting the audience to violence, nudity, or vagina jokes.  

And finally, from Bob Gassel:

Have you ever seen a situation where a writer (or team) has pitched an idea that the showrunner liked, but then assigned it to someone else, thinking it was more suited to their style?

They’re not allowed to do that in the strict sense.  If a writer pitches a story and the show runner wants to do it, he’s obligated to  at least buy him out, if not let him write it.  

However, if a writing staff is sitting around a table just spitballing ideas and random notions, a show runner might say, writer X might be better at writing that one but the guy who pitched it will be given an assignment as well, maybe one he’s more suited for.

Then there are the Chuck Lorre rooms where everything is room written, and in that case credit is just assigned and rotated.  The show that you pitched won’t have your name on it, but another that you had little to do with will.

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

EP220: Meet actor/Broadway star, Chip Zien

Chip Zien has been in 13 Broadway shows, has over 65 TV and movie credits, and was the voice of Howard the Duck.  He starred in INTO THE WOODS and discusses working with Stephen Sondheim along with many great showbiz tales.  Chip is a great storyteller and has great funny stories to tell.

More podcasts at Wave!

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Welcome to Mayberry

To the surprise of no one (except maybe networks), vintage sitcoms are seeing a renaissance during the pandemic.   In the same way that oldies stations are flourishing on radio, TV audiences are flocking to comfort food comedy.  Call it nostalgia, call it an escape to a more innocent time — but whatever draws them to these chestnuts, one thing is clear — they’re funny.  

Is there a current sitcom on the air funnier than THE GOLDEN GIRLS?  And just know, I never worked on THE GOLDEN GIRLS.  Or FRIENDS.  Or THE OFFICE.  Or ROSEANNE. But those shows really delivered.  

And then there’s THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW from the early ‘60s.  Talk about a show that hits just the right tone of humor and warmth and Americana — it’s the folks in Mayberry.  Over the last year, its audience has grown by 29% to 58.3 billion viewing moments.   Pretty good for a sixty year old show I'd say. 

I have another theory as to why THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW has struck such a chord.  People are nice to each other.  There is a level of caring the characters share for one another.  I think subconsciously that’s what we’re really nostalgic for in these polarized hate-filled times.  Yes, it feels dated (the show is not even in color), but the sensibility is what we crave — now more than ever.  

So let’s look at the formula — humanity, kindness, and really funny.  Seems like a proven winning combination.  Why do they have to be vintage sitcoms?   Development season begins in a few months.  Are there lessons to be learned? 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

New meaning to the expression "dead air"

There’s a recent article that says that Rush Limbaugh’s syndicator is going to keep his voice on his radio show even though he passed away (happily not until learning that Biden is now president).  That may sound a little ghoulish to keep his voice on the air, but at least they’re acknowledging he’s dead.

Back when XM and Sirius were two competing satellite radio providers (i.e.. the good old days), XM had Wolfman Jack shows they were playing nightly.  You’d think they were live because they included phone calls.  And I don’t recall any disclaimer explaining that Wolfman Jack had long since shuttled his mortal coil.  

But the weirdest one I can remember started in the ‘60s.  

There was literally a ma and pap radio station called KCHJ 1010 in Delano, California.  Carl & Jean Johns owned the station.  Carl had done a ton of voice tracks for the morning show including weather reports, intros to songs, good morning wishes for Monday and Thursday and Easter, whatever.  

He died in a car accident in 1968 and  they kept playing his voice tracks in the morning.  His loyal audience never knew he was dead.  This went on until 1991 when Jean sold the station.   It’s a good thing they didn’t bill themselves as “the new music station.”  But how weird is that? 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Aaron Rodgers on JEOPARDY

What does it say when a complete amateur hosts JEOPARDY and is still way better than Dr. Oz?  

I like Aaron Rodgers.  He’s a truly great quarterback in the toughest league there is, and he seems like a very decent guy.  It’s very clear he’s taking this hosting job seriously and really giving it his all.  But I’m sorry, it’s like there was a contest and one lucky viewer got to host JEOPARDY.  

For the same reason you don’t just decide you want to play football and they let you be the QB of the Green Bay Packers, you can’t come in off the street and host a major franchise like JEOPARDY.   There’s a reason Aaron played football in high school and college before breaking into the NFL.   

If you want to host the world’s most popular national game show you need to get in some reps in local markets, hosting… anything.  Being on camera, learning how to read the teleprompter, developing a presence, feeling comfortable, being in total control (even when it’s just a facade for chaos).   And you need to get your on-the-job training in a less pressurized situation.  

That said, I admire his willingness to take on such a challenge.  Most former athletes get into broadcasting as analysts, and they may not be very polished but they’re experts in what they’re analyzing.  Rodgers is a smart guy, but he’s not being asked to read the defense.  

This is pretty much the reverse of PAPER LION.   PAPER LION was a book by journalist George Plimpton.  He worked out a deal with the Detroit Lions to go to training camp in 1966 and become a quarterback.  Eventually in a pre-season exhibition game he was allowed to QB for one set of downs.  I don’t have to tell you how well it worked out for him.  It’s actually a terrific book and later there was a movie version with Alan Alda playing Plimpton.   At least Rodgers won’t get a concussion hosting JEOPARDY (which wouldn’t be his first).

Next week someone else will run the game.   Eventually they’ll find the right person.  He or she will know how to move the chat section along, keep the pace up so clues aren’t left on the board, be supportive and helpful to the contestants, have a sense of humor, be able to pronounce obscure foreign words, put the home audience completely at ease, and be ready to handle any technical curveball that is hurled their way.  

Six or seven other candidates will get their shot in the next few months, plus I understand some “surprise” guest hosts are also being booked.  

But I will say this — the more you see other people trying to host JEOPARDY the more you realize how amazing Alex Trebek was.   Of course if he we were asked to quarterback the Green Bay Pakcers he’d be carried out on a stretcher his first play. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Wanna watch a Zoom reading of my new play?

UPDATE: Hello theatergoers with no theater to go to.  My new play, SMOKE GETS IN YOUR HOUSE had a Zoom reading on Sunday, April 11th.  For a limited time you can watch it on YouTube.  It starts about 4 minutes in.   There's also a tiny glitch about 15 minutes in where it freezes for five seconds.  Otherwise, it's good to go.  SMOKE GETS IN YOUR HOUSE is a comedy about two couples in LA having to evacuate during a brush fire.  

Weekend Post

Here's another bizarre casting story.   And it has nothing to do with a cat.

Mid ‘90s, doing ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis. In the show she’s supposed to be the showrunner of a fictional cop show. We wanted to do the scene where she has to fire her first person. And we thought it would be fun to give the fire-ee the worst possible reaction. So we created a character of an incompetent writers’ assistant. And when Nancy finally has to fire her she has a complete and utter meltdown. She screams, “NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and just goes ballistic – wailing and shrieking and pleading and crying. All the while, poor Nancy is having to react to this. (Believe it or not, there is a real art to being able to cry funny.  Three of the best: Mary Tyler Moore, Kirstie Alley, and of course, Lucy.)

So we set up a casting session.

We had our own little bungalow right in the center of the Paramount lot. On the appointed day, maybe ten girls came in to audition. Now you have to picture it:

Passerby on a lazy Tuesday morning and from this bungalow they hear girls screaming and crying at the top of their lungs. They hear, “Please don’t! I’ll do anything you ask! ANYTHING!” They wail uncontrollably.

Oh, and that’s another thing – we thought it would be amusing if they just kept on shrieking. It was the storm that never passed. So folks were treated to young women crying relentlessly.

Talk about the worst boss in history. It sounded like we were horsewhipping these ingénues.

One gallant individual actually entered the building to offer assistance. Once he saw six other girls in the foyer holding script sides he knew it was either a casting session or Joseph Stalin had set up shop with a production deal at the studio.

But someone must have notified Human Resources. Later that day we were paid a very stern visit by an H & R person. “That is NOT the way we do things here at Paramount!” she told us, and then was appalled when we reacted by laughing hysterically.

We explained the situation, she harrumphed and left. I always regret not having our secretary then scream bloody murder just as she stepped out of the bungalow.

By the way, the part went to Jenna Elfman, one of her first acting gigs. And she was hilarious. One of our very best hires...and fires.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Friday Questions

Friday Questions for your weekend pleasure.

Grumpy Gus starts us off:

Ken, how might actors/showrunners feel when a potentially big show is relegated to a network's streaming channel? I'm sure publicly they'll say all the right things ("And thanks to Paramount for making this all happen...") but I can't imagine they wouldn't rather be on a regular network. Will & Grace's reboot got that chance. So did Murphy Brown. Are they supposed to be flattered that they're the jewel offering of this new channel? Wouldn't they rather their show be exposed to a million more eyeballs?

Streaming is the future.  There’s also more freedom vis a vis content and language.  As long as the network doesn’t slice your budget, there are advantages to being on a streaming service.    

A good example is THE GOOD FIGHT on Paramount (formerly CBS All Access). It’s the spin-off of THE GOOD WIFE but with way more bite, way wilder subject matter, and top notch production values.    CBS decided to air some of it on the broadcast network and had to completely declaw it.  

I think it depends more of the show premise itself.  If you have a very mainstream idea, then yes, a broadcast network offers the advantage of potentially more viewers.  But if you want to do something a little edgy or off-beat, streaming should be your destination.  

Michael wonders.  

You have done so many podcasts that I don't recall - have you done any in which you interview a casting agent about their process and experiences?

I did a two-parter with casting director Sheila Guthrie back in July 2018. She was terrific.  You'll learn a lot. 

Here’s part one.    

Here’s part two.

From Marka:

I wonder how shows evaluate themselves after a season. Is it like football coaches going over film game by game at the end of the year and talking about what worked and what didn't? If so is it like we need less of the diner scenes and more in the bus station? Less of this character and more of that? We should stop asking this actor to do this because they're not very good at it? We need to change the apartment set because it isn't working?

If this happens, is it internal or at the instigation and direction of the studio?

Certainly we do it internally, both at the end of the season and constantly during the season.  As you suggested, we assess which shows worked, what our actors’ strengths and weaknesses are, what storylines worked, and what pitfalls to avoid in the future.   

And we tend to be very objective and critical.  

When studios and networks get involved it’s usually because the show is struggling.  Then everybody has an opinion.   It’s a pile-on.

Look, the truth is if you do 22 episodes a year, or even 13 — one will always be the worst.  You just have to hope it’s only one and not six.  

And finally, Daniel Kaufman:

How did Alan Alda become part of the creative team (writing and directing)?  Was he a welcome addition by the other writers or was he seen as an interloper?  I liked his work so I hope the former, but I could see it going either way. 

I can’t say enough good things about Alan Alda and his involvement with the process.  

His influence developed over time.  Even in the first few years when Larry Gelbart was in charge he was writing scripts.  He’s also a terrific director.  As the series evolved, Alan’s involvement grew.  

But I will say unequivocally, his participation was welcomed.  Alan was always a cheerleader.  He strove to make the show better.  He was extremely respectful, appreciative, and generous.  If someone pitched a joke in the writing room Alan was the one who laughed the loudest.

He contributed great ideas, terrific jokes, and always in the service of the integrity of the show.  It was never about “star turns.”   We always looked forward to having Alan in the room.  And often he’d take us out to dinner after a rewrite.  I love the guy!   

What’s your FQ? 

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

EP219: The State of Television — THIS Minute

Longtime NBC/Fox scheduler/guru Preston Beckman discusses the current television landscape — all the the changes and where things might be heading. TV is evolving quickly. If you want to break in, you need to know who’s out there, what they’re looking for, and where you fit in. Preston Beckman can help guide you.

More podcasts at WAVE!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Rebel without a laugh

Boy, here’s one I just don’t get.   How does Rebel Wilson have this big career and keep getting gig after gig?   I see she’s hosting some stupid dog show on NBC now.  And I see her on commercials.  

Other than being mildly amusing in PITCH PERFECT, I have never found her funny.  

I know she was a big deal in Australia, but somehow crossing the Pacific she lost something.

ABC gave her her own sitcom a few years back, SUPER FUN NIGHT.  She starred and controlled the writing.  It was truly terrible.   She was given the creative control that few actors ever enjoy.  Why???  Based on what?  

And look at the results.  

But that didn’t slow down her career for some reason.  She did a number of movies where she wasn't funny.  I thought, “Okay, maybe it’s just me.”  So I started asking friends, both in the business and not, whether they liked Rebel Wilson.  None of them did.  Not one.  Yes, it’s a small sample size, but none is none.  

Now she may be a lovely person.  I’ve never met her.  I have nothing personal against her. And it wouldn’t bother me except I know so many talented young actresses who are so much funnier, and they can’t get arrested while Rebel Wilson inexplicably keeps landing major gigs.  

So what am I missing here?  Help me. 

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Can Frasier afford his apartment?

There’s a fun article that a number of people have sent me by Gabriella Paiella of GQ called “How Did Frasier Afford His Apartment?”   By doing some research and crunching the numbers she determined that Frasier could not meet the mortgage payments of his condo.   Of her numbers she compiled, the only one that was way off was his salary as a talk show host of a Seattle radio station.  She claims he would have made $27,000 a year.  I was announcing for the Mariners in the ‘90s and can tell you it would have been considerably more.  Probably $100,000 and I suspect even more. 

Ms. Paiella then consulted longtime FRASIER writer/producer, Joe Keenan who reasoned that Frasier invested well.  That sounds legitimate.  No one ever brought this subject up the many times I was in the FRASIER writing room, but I totally buy it. 

You can read the article here.

My alternate answer though, would be: No one in sitcoms could afford their apartments.  

Unless a downsized apartment or house was necessary for the premise (e.g. ALL IN THE FAMILY, THE MIDDLE, or ROSEANNE), viewers gladly sacrificed reality.   Good luck doing THE HONEYMOONERS today. 

Sitcoms, for the most part, have to be inviting.  I contend that the big reason TAXI did not get the love and audience it should have was because it was set in a grimy garage.  People didn’t want to see that every week.   Even though MASH was set in a war zone, it was single-camera, brightly colored, and had scope. 

What could the FRIENDS apartment in Manhattan cost?   Monica would have to be making Courtney Cox money.  And whenever a character is supposed to be single and starting out they invariably live the coolest loft that city has to offer.   If apartments or lofts aren’t big, they’re super fun cozy with lots of levels.  There are landings, and alcoves, large picture windows, and all have high ceilings (which accommodate the stage lights). 

There’s another reason for this besides just the aesthetics.  Larger apartments are easier to shoot.  Since most of these shows are shot before a studio audience, cameras are rolling during the action.  If sets are too small you can’t get good shots of faces.   You’ll notice that apartment sets are wide, they’re never deep.  And if they are somewhat deep (a la FRASIER), it’s easy to roll cameras up into the set.  There are also “ports.”  These are panels in the side walls of sets that slide out so a camera can peek through.   So Frasier and Niles can be way up by the balcony and we could shoot them.  Just a side note:  I think the Frasier apartment is the single greatest multi-cam set ever.  It was created by Roy Christopher. 

The point is a lot of thinking goes into designing these home sets.  Last on the list is whether the character can afford it.  Which is good because none of them can.  

Monday, April 05, 2021

RIP Mark Elliott

Mark Elliott passed away this weekend.  He was 81  (He's shown here on the left with radio great, Charlie Van Dyke in the center.) You may not know the name but you sure as hell have heard the golden voice. He’s done thousands of trailers, God knows how many promos for CBS, Fox, and for many years was the exclusive voice of Disney. (He probably had to say “experience the magic” 7,000,000 times.) 

And Mark had a heart as big as his voice.  A few years ago for my podcast I did a reading of a pilot David Isaacs and I wrote.  Mark read the narration.  You can listen to it here. 

This story will tell you all you need to know about Mark Elliott.

In the mid ‘70s Mark was a disc jockey – a very successful one mind you – on top rated LA station, KHJ. But how many times can play “The Night Chicago Died” without wanting to kill yourself? Mark thought voice over work was the way out.

He started taking classes, knocking on doors. Nothing. No one was interested. And remember, this guy had pipes! If not the voice of God than the guy who fills in for Him on the weekends. At the time his girlfriend was a beautician and one of her customers was a dude who owned a company that made movie trailers. She told him about Mark and he said Mark could call him. It’s amazing how gracious people can be when someone is holding a sharp pair of scissors to their head.

Mark did phone the guy and predictably was told there was nothing for him. He already had announcers he used on a regular basis. But Mark asked if he could check back from time to time and the guy said sure.

Mark called him every single week. Finally, after a full year, the guy said he might have something for him but no promises. He had a director who had no clue what he wanted. He already went through three voice over guys who just threw up their hands and ran. If Mark wanted, he could work with this nut, but there was no guarantee his trailer would be used and if not, he wouldn’t get paid. This would all be work on spec. Hours and hours of it.  Mark said he’ll take it.

Now remember, Mark was a top disc jockey. I’m sure many other jocks in his position would be insulted. How dare they be asked to work for free? They’d be saying, “Do you know who I am, even though I don’t use my real name?” But Mark was willing to do the work.

For the next two weeks, when he got off the air, he drove to the studio and worked ten hours a day voicing a gazillion variations of this trailer. Finally, the director was happy and Mark’s trailer ran.

The movie was STAR WARS. The crazy director was George Lucas.

Almost immediately, Mark’s voice over career took off. A few weeks later he did the trailer for THE GOODBYE GIRL. More offers came pouring in. And the rest, as they say, was all profit. 

I'll miss his laugh, his friendship, and of course his voice.  In this case, silence is not golden. 

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Wanna break in as a TV writer?

Just a reminder that this Friday on Zoom I will be doing a special session on how writers can break into TV.  Whether you're just starting out or you're a playwright who has decided it's time to make money already, this session is for you.  Sign up!

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Weekend Post

This is a re-post from ten years ago.  I used to review bad reality shows, and this was one of my favorites.  PREGNANT IN HEELS.  I imagine you can find it on some streaming service.  Either way, it's a review worth reviewing.  Enjoy.


Rosie Pope

In my never ending quest to bring you the absolute worst, most appalling reality shows on television, I present PREGNANT IN HEELS on Bravo. Thanks to reader Matt for turning me on to this argument for why rich people are buffoons and shouldn’t be allowed to have matches much less children.

The show centers around Rosie Pope, a willowy opportunist who calls herself a “Maternity Concierge” to the “million dollar mamas” of New York’s Upper East Side. These rich sheep now have consultants for everything. I imagine these self-proclaimed experts are selected by which cable network their reality show is on.

Here’s Rosie Pope’s qualifications for guiding you through pregnancy and parenting: She’s a maternity clothes designer.

In last night’s premiere episode she handled two very difficult cases. Sarah & her probably gay husband, and power couple Samantha Ettus & Mitch. I’d say SPOILER ALERT but either you’re not going to watch this crap anyway or you are just to see if I’m really describing this accurately (I am).

Sarah and Jon live in a swank loft. She’s eight months along. Their problem is that they don’t want this baby to disrupt their lives in any way. Is there a social worker in the house??? Babies have been called little miracles and bundles of joy. Not before Sarah have I ever heard them referred to as life force sucking parasites. Seriously, Joan Crawford would flinch.

Sarah Dearest asks Rosie to design a nursery that doesn’t cramp their style, a nursery that “isn’t too…baby.” The kid’s due in three weeks. They’ve done virtually nothing to prepare.

And then there’s Samantha & Mitch. She’s a best-selling author and talk show guest, and he’s a big business success as evidenced by some Lucite award he once won. They’re having their third child. But they’re in serious crisis mode because they can’t seem to come up with the perfect “marquee” name for him. Samantha says, “We want our baby to have class surrounding their brand.”

For their first two children they compiled a list of names that major “thought leaders” had selected for their kids and debated over each one. That’s 12,000 names. 12,000 separate discussions. (Little wonder that Samantha has a blog called OBSESSED.) 

But that was very time consuming (life force sucking), so they’ve called upon Rosie Pope – the Lone Ranger of the Stupid Rich – to do the legwork for them for brand, I mean baby number three.

This is so much easier for Jews, by the way. Who’s a recent dead relative? That’s the name. Let’s eat.

Rosie takes Sarah and the lovely Mister shopping. Trying to teach Sarah how to fold up a baby stroller is like teaching a monkey how to be a Benihana chef. Rosie convinces her that she needs a baby toy in the crib and suggests this big pink stuffed teddy bear. Sarah is repulsed. The toy she selects: one wooden alphabet block. At least it wasn’t a wire hanger.

Rosie the Riveting assembles a “think tank” for Samantha & Mitch. Among the luminaries sitting around the conference table are Rosie’s fashion expert assistant L.T., (who looks and acts like Hollywood Montrose in MANNEQUIN but weirder... and with a hairstyle that can only be described as a mare's tail hanging down to his nose so his face really does look like a horses' ass). Sam & Mitch are horrified. Others on the panel include a linguistics expert, a baby name blogger, a poet, and some other woman – I have no idea what she does and it wasn’t worth hitting rewind.

Samantha spelled out some moniker guidelines. It must be easy to spell but not too popular. No decorative names, no names that start with J, E, or R, and no names that end with S. Also, no names that are only two letters. They tossed around names and settled on about ten.

Back at Sarah’s stylish flat, Rosie shows up with a therapist. She delicately confesses she has some “concerns” that perhaps Sarah’s baby might not be born into the most loving and nurturing of environments. I think her unstated real concern is that Sarah will sell the baby for a new iPad2.

Sarah, of course, is livid but after five minutes of whiz-bang therapy Sarah is completely turned around. Edited out was probably the part where the therapist hypnotized her with a shiny object.

Next we see that Rosie has arranged a Focus Group to whittle down the ten names. By now my jaw's on the floor.  Sam & Mitch are very excited and sit in the next room observing through the one-way mirror. Within minutes they’re calling the members of the Focus Group idiots. I would submit that the bigger idiots are the ones who commissioned them in the first place… and probably for a cost of about ten thousand dollars. That’s a lot of money to hear what strangers think of the name Tucker.

Rosie and L.T., her assistant (who RuPaul would say butch-up), go to Sarah’s apartment to set up the nursery. Sarah and her husband leave while the transformation is being done although I would have bet even money it would have been Sarah’s husband and L.T. who leave together.

Samantha & Mitch now have a dinner party of their snooty friends to narrow down the names even more. And who knew? They all have conflicting opinions. Poor Sam & Mitch. This being a parent thing is HARD!  By the way, Samantha also gives parenting advice on THE TODAY SHOW. 

Flash forward three weeks and both women are new mommies. Samantha & Mitch selected the name Bowen, which is the one name that everybody in every group hated. And Sarah & Jon are blissfully in love with their new baby – named Fox. Now they could have used a Focus Group.

PREGNANT IN HEELS. I look forward to the follow-up reality series – EASTSIDE RUNAWAYS.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Friday Questions


Sean kicks it off.

I know you’ve mentioned liking “I Love Lucy” even if you don’t love it as much as some. What is your opinion of Lucille Ball’s later TV shows?

Never liked them.  The gags and situations just seemed forced and formulaic.  It’s like the current version of the Beach Boys.  Mike Love and none of the original members singing the same songs.  75 year-old men should not be singing “Be True to Your School.”  And Lucy shouldn’t be carting out old routines she did better in I LOVE LUCY.  

And don’t get me started on LIFE WITH LUCY.  Imagine Willie Mays trying to play centerfield at 70.   ‘Nuff said.

Ben wonders:

How often do you meet with David to write nowadays? What kinds of projects do you do? Are you looking to keep up the same pace as when you were younger or just freelance as needed?

David is currently the Chairman of the Graduate TV Writing Department as a tenured professor at USC.  That’s a full-time job.   We’ve worked on a couple of pilots over the last couple of years.  But he’s busy with USC and I’ve been concentrating on playwriting.   So not that often.  We still see each other socially (or at least we did before the pandemic — and we still Zoom each other).  

Unknown asks:

Someone on Reddit posted the opening and closing to a foreign version of “Cheers” from c. 2011. When another country wants to produce an American product (or vice versa), how much input or consulting does the original crew offer?

Not much.  I believe they redid CHEERS in Spain a few years ago.  They used the original scripts from season one.  So I got a nice royalty.   But my understanding is that no one from the original show contributed any input.    And it was short lived. 

When Russia decided to reboot EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND they brought over co-creator/showrunner, Phil Rosenthal to consult the process.  This resulted is a terrific documentary called EXPORTING RAYMOND.  It deals with the culture clash between the US & Russia and is quite entertaining.   That show became a big hit. 

Most countries will just play the original American series and maybe have them dubbed.  But there have been examples of American shows being rebooted locally.  Germany has done this on several occasions.  I think they redid THE NANNY.  And from time to time countries will hire American comedy writers to either consult or write scripts.  

And finally, from Mark Solomon:

Ken, speaking of writers, I noticed that your daughter and son-in-law, whom I believe have been a writing team for some time, are now Co-Executive Producers of the new Kyra Sedgwick comedy “Call Your Mother.” After watching their episodes air, does your Writer/Producer instinct kick in to “offer notes” to Annie and Jonathan? Would it be something of a bucket list item to someday direct an episode of your daughter’s show?

I would give notes when they were writing specs trying to break in.  But they’ve been working writers for over eight years now and I don’t give any notes.  Most of the time I never see a script.  My first exposure is watching it on TV.   And no, I don't offer after-the-fact notes based on the episode that just aired. 

Besides, their job is to serve the show runner.  Not me.  

And to answer your other question, I have directed Annie Levine & Jonathan Emerson.   Twice.  It was back when they were on INSTANT MOM on Nick at Nite.   And I have to say it was an incredible thrill.