Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorial Day

 Above is a photo of real MASH doctors.

Several times studios and networks have come to my writing partner, David and me asking us to create another MASH. Well, that can’t be done. MASH is unique. It’s a comedy. It’s a drama. It’s a life and death situation. And the entire premise is built around insanity. The insanity of war, the insanity of doctors treating patients who never should be there in the first place. Comedy that comes from pain, from futility.

When you watch MASH, as well as hopefully being entertained, please appreciate the sacrifice these young soldiers and all American soldiers have made for their country.

Our thanks and prayers go to them and their families on this Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Weekend Post

I miss the SKY MALL.  This used to be in airline magazines.  Products they couldn't sell on SHARK TANK at goofy prices.  At one time I compiled some of my favorite SKY MALL items.  Don't you wish you could still buy these items from the '00's?   

Vuzix iWear – Glasses that are supposed to simulate the big screen experience. $249. More if you want the iMax experience.

Gravity Defyer Shoes. Somewhat self-explanatory. $200. Or, for $4 you could tape Slinkys to your current footwear.

HairMax LaserComb – it’s a comb, it’s a laser. It’s the miracle answer to hair loss. Only $449! Perfect for that cue ball who spends thousands on a toupee that looks like a toilet seat.

X5 Hair Laser – See LaserComb but substitute metal ice pack. $299.

A Portable Alarm Clock for your iPhone. Uh, doesn’t the iPhone already have an alarm clock? $99.95.

Computer Speakers for your iPhone. Not to be confused with any speakers that are the same size and use the same plugs. $149.99.

Retractable Banner Pens – Okay, this you could really need. A thousand for only $950.

Hand Therapy Bars -- $59.

Water trappers -- $169. And they’re fade resistant!

Exclusive Microfibres Trellis Mat to protect high-traffic areas. Here’s the good news: it’s low profile so it will never obstruct your door. $149.

Ingeniously engineered EZ Bed that features an extra-plush mattress, a highly supportive frame, and new dual comfort zones. $299. Who buys a bed from a catalog? "I dunno, it sure seemed firmer in the picture."

Wolfgang Puck-designed toaster – otherwise known as a “toaster”. $99.50.

Cinema style Popcorn Maker – Who doesn’t crave seven tubs of popcorn while watching the National Geographic Channel? $199.

Electric Vortex Solo Heater – Nothing heats a room better than Vortex power. $169.

All-in-one Recycling System – patent pending. Perfect for the person who has compacted and non-compacted items. The ideal Christmas gift! $299.

Personal Breathalyzer -- $199. Because expensive gadgets know when to say when.

Feature-laden solar emergency radio – Ideal for those sunny day emergencies. $80.

A Bill Sorter – for only 199 of them.

The Custom Keeper -- 25 cubic feet of storage -- A far better name than laundry hamper. $199. Pretty much everything is $199.

The world’s largest write-on map mural – Only $149. The house with cathedral ceilings at $2,000,000 is not included. But what a mural!

Voice activated R2-D2 – “makes any home feel like it has been transported to a galaxy far far away”. The ad goes on to say it features “distinctive happy and sad sounds faithfully mimicking the real thing… right down to his occasional bad mood." If you buy this (at only $169.95) you are too nerdy to live.

The Electric Tint Changing Ski Goggles – No changing goggles while hurtling down the diamond course. $249.95.

The Upside-Down Tomato Garden – $79.95.

The Hand Crank Two Way Radio – Think of all the money you’ll save on two dollar batteries! Only $99.95.

The only Digital Camera Swim Mask – And it’s waterproof! $99.95.

The Sleep Regulating Sun Lamp – It produces no harmful UV radiation so that’s a plus. $249.95

Adjustable Sheepskin Slippers – You wake up in the morning, it’s 20 degrees in the house, you want your feet to be comfy as you putter around the kitchen. $49.95.

The Motion Sickness Relief Wrist Band – It keeps time and reduces nausea! $139.95.

The Finger Drum Mousepad -- $39.95.

The Mind Spa – This comes with a Catwoman type mask and a control unit that combines soothing sounds and calming lights. $349. From SuckerBornEveryMinute Industries.

The Carbon Fiber Heated Vest --$149.95

The Continuously Freshening Feline Drinking Fountain – What cat would be caught dead drinking out of a bowl these days? $69.95. For an extra ten dollars they should throw in a cat.

The Million Germ Eliminating Travel Toothbrush Sanitizer – It uses “proven germicidal UV technology ". And it sanitizes a toothbrush in only seven minutes! $29.95.

The Foldaway Lateral Stepper – $99.95. Or you could just step from side to side yourself for free.

And finally…

The Children’s ATM Bank – No more breaking into piggy banks, kids! Get a debit card and go to town! $39.95.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Friday Questions

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

Matt gets us started.

How long do you think the networks will continue to air award shows in their current state? Could you see them moving it to on-line productions or simply slimmed-down, 1 hour quick recaps of all the awards? Or do you think it will always be this big production, regardless of how few people are actually watching?

The big problem is that the Academies are caught between a rock and a hard place.  Networks are paying big bucks for these shows and would like them slimmed down and jazzed up.  But the unions, rightfully so, won’t allow clips or participation if their members do not receive their awards and are allowed to speak on the actual ceremony.  

As more people are moving to streaming, I think networks will pay much less for the rights to air these ceremonies, and may not air them over all of their platforms.  

Like everything else, if a show doesn’t bring in a big audience, networks aren’t going to pay big money for it.  The NFL delivers.  Award shows no longer do.  

From Stan Garelik:

Thanks to your podcast I have been binging on Wings (so underrated) and loving it. My question is about the addition of Tony Shalhoub. He and his character Antonio gave the show a major shot in the arm   How did it come about to add him?

The producers had seen him as a waiter on an episode of CHEERS where he just killed.   What often happens is you’ll bring on a character for an episode or two and it’s clear they really click and offer the series a shot of adrenaline.  They then evolve into series regulars.   

Other examples I can think of are Bebe Neuwirth on CHEERS, Jamie Farr on MASH, and Christopher Lloyd on TAXI.  

In the case of Tony Shalhoub, he’s great in everything he’s in no matter what character he plays.  

Another Matt, Matt in Westwood, CA asks:

I believe you’ve mentioned having attended RHODA on more than one occasion. Can you share some details on that experience as well and perhaps how it compared to attending MARY TYLER MOORE?

They were both very similar, but with different warm up guys.  David Lloyd did the warm-up on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and was very high-energy.  Lorenzo Music, who played Carlton the Doorman, did the warm-up on RHODA and had a very gentle style.  Both men were extremely funny and quick-witted.  Each show also had a band to play during those ten minute stretches where the cast would change wardrobe.  

In both shows, the actors were well rehearsed and there were very few flubs.  If the filming began at 7:00, the audience was out before 9:00.  They were well-oiled machines.

The thing I remember the most about RHODA was that Vivian Vance guested in one of the episodes.  I was in awe getting to watch Vivian Vance perform.  And of course she hit every line right out of the park.  

I only attended one MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW filming.  As luck would have it,, it was the “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode.  So if you can only go to one

And finally, from James:

As a showrunner, how did you determine which episodes of your show (say Almost Perfect) would be submitted for Emmy awards in each category? Is there a limit? Did you have to try and include multiple directors' and writers' episodes so that more people got a shot at a nomination and a win?

I don’t know how many they’re allowed to submit now, but we were allowed to submit one for “best show.”  Quite simply, we put up what we thought was our best, funniest show.   

Writers, directors, and actors choose their own submissions.   I believe actors can let the show submit for them, but that’s a bad idea.  There have been cases where a show forgot to submit or submitted the wrong episode.  

Now that shows are more serialized I wonder if the submission policy for “best show” has changed.   The thing is, it’s one thing to ask a judge to sit through nominated five half hours; it’s another to ask them to sit through fifty half-hours.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

EP226: Meet Comedy Writer Mike Reiss

Mike Reiss has written for THE SIMPSONS for 30 years. Also numerous other shows including THE TONIGHT SHOW and THE GARRY SHANDLING SHOW. What was Garry like? What was Johnny like? These stories and more including Mike discovering Conan O’Brien. Part one of two.

Try EveryPlate for just $1.99 per meal plus an additional 20% off your next 2 boxes by going to & entering code: hollywood199

More podcasts at WAVE!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Getting to write for Johnny Carson

Yesterday, I did a post about crossover shows.  Another FQ  centered on one example, and example I was a part of.    It's from kccross.

When Hope and Crosby filmed the Road Pictures, they supposedly had their radio writers beef up the script to the point where Hope said to the writer "If you come across a line that you wrote, shout 'Bingo!'".

Could this have happened in modern TV with modern protection for writers? For instance, Johnny Carson guest starred on Cheers. If he didn't think the script was funny enough and gave it to his people to completely re-write, would the show runner have to accept it?

Okay, I can easily answer this one because along with David Isaacs, I wrote the episode of CHEERS where Johnny Carson appeared.  

First off, we made it clear going in that no TONIGHT SHOW writers would be involved.  In actuality, it worked the other way.  In our episode, Johnny had to deliver a monologue, and David and I wrote that, not the TONIGHT SHOW writers.  

And as for his part...

The day we shot the episode I arrived early and knocked on Johnny's dressing room door. (David wasn't there that day).  I introduced myself and said I was happy to rewrite any of his lines and tailor it to his satisfaction.  Shockingly, he said it was great, and he was happy to do it just as written.

And sure enough, he did stick to the script word for word.  

Happy to say that our monologue got laughs, although I wonder what the actual TONIGHT SHOW writers thought.  

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Crossover shows

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post.  Actually, this is part one, because another FQ touched on a similar area and I will address that tomorrow.

It's from Kyle Burress.  

When actors or actresses guest star on a show and portray the same character they appear as on another show are there any hoops they have to go through or need permission from the network or show runners? A couple instances I'm thinking of are when Frasier showed up on Wings and when Carla, Norm and Cliff appeared on St. Elsewhere.

Well, first off, networks encourage crossover episodes.  They’re usually a ratings boost.  And fans love 'em.

Obviously, the actors have to agree to it and their compensation.  Often it is the network that will shell out the extra money for the crossover actors.  Again, it’s the network that stands the most to gain.

So let’s assume the actors are in.  Yes, the show runners have to agree, but in most cases it’s to their benefit.  

If the crossover shows are from the same studio or are similar in style and tone it makes things much easier.  You mentioned Frasier on WINGS.  The producers of WINGS had produced CHEERS and the writers of the episode were me and David Isaacs, and we had written for both shows.  So that was an easy transition.  Same for when Sam Malone visited FRASIER.  We wrote that episode.  

There have been a number of shows in the Greg Berlanti superhero universe that have crossed over.  THE FLASH and SUPERGIRL spring to mind.

What becomes weird is when shows cross genres.  The strangest example is the one you pointed out — ST. ELSEWHERE characters coming into Cheers.  The ST. ELSEWHERE writers tried to write in the CHEERS style and it was cringeworthy.  Not that I could write a ST. ELSEWHERE scene that wouldn’t totally suck.   

Usually, whatever show hosts the crossover handles the writing.  Although sometimes both shows participate.  I wish that had been the case on ST. ELSEWHERE. 

But on ALMOST PERFECT, CBS wanted a crossover scene between our show and CYBILL. It was to be shown on CYBILL and shot on their set.  Their show runner, Howard Gould and I kept rewriting the scene back and forth.  I actually very much enjoyed that.  Howard is a terrific writer and it was fun to collaborate with him for a scene. 

I remember once on BECKER, CBS arranged a crossover of all four of their Monday night shows.  They were all comedies and all set in New York.  EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, KING OF QUEENS, and COSBY were the other three.  The scene was set in Becker’s waiting room.   Here’s what I recall: Ted Danson, Ray Romano, and Kevin James were lovely.  Bill Cosby was an absolute nightmare.  His show runner had to accompany him and basically serve as his wrangler.  Thank God he was there.  All this for a three minute scene.  

Crossover shows are fun.  Wouldn’t you like to see a crossover show of THE CONNERS and GAME OF THRONES? 

Monday, May 24, 2021

State of the Blog

As the blog goes forward here are some thoughts on the state of same.  

For several years now I’ve moderated the comments… for the obvious reasons.  Those that get through I mostly love.  You guys often make more insightful observations than I do.  I also value that this is a little community.  I bring up topics and enjoy the different perspectives you all bring to them.  They’re thoughtful, funny, and a joy to read.  I never want to discontinue the comments feature.

But I would like to institute a new policy.  For years and years I’ve asked readers not to post anonymously, and still some of do.  Lately its increased.   I think the least a person can do when making a public comment is to own it — attach a name.  So from here on I will no longer publish anonymous moments.  Won’t even read ‘em.  So don’t post as anonymous but leave your name at the end of your comment.  I’ll never see it.   If you’re uncomfortable not being anonymous I respect that.  Then my comment section is just not for you.  

Also, it goes without saying, any pro-Trump, Big Lie, MAGA, Tucker Carlson/Sean Hannity/other Fox News idiots comments will be instantly deleted.  Save yourself the time.  It takes you several minutes to compose and submit your misinformation and it takes me literally one second to delete it.   Now you may say I’m being intolerant, and I should air all points-of-view.  No.  Sorry.  It’s not a matter of opinion.  It’s that this blog respects the laws of nature, science, and the real world.    

A further reminder, no attacking each other.  This should be a fun sharing of ideas.  Play nice, kids.  

And finally, I wrote this because I found this great photo of Natalie Wood.  

Thank you for your patronage, understanding, and most of all -- comments.

- Management (me)

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Weekend Post

Lots of people have heard of the Tommy John Surgery. Done primarily on baseball pitchers, it’s a procedure where they take a tendon from your knee or hip and use it to replace a ligament in your elbow that’s shot.

Today it’s very common, and like I said well known. But how many people know who Tommy John is? My guess is most think he’s the surgeon who invented the procedure. Wrong. He was a major league pitcher who was the very first to undergo this operation. At the time, it was very experimental and risky. It’s not something you can try first with hamsters. And even if you could, how would you even know if the surgery was a success since hamsters can’t grip a baseball? The real inventor of the surgery was Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974.

Still, Tommy John will forever be linked to the surgery, long after his playing career is forgotten (which, to many is already).

But it brings to mind the question (at least to me) of how many other public figures will be remembered for something other than what they did to originally achieve notoriety?

Prime example: the late Arnold Palmer. Once the Tiger Woods of golf (minus twenty mistresses and a better driver), his name is now identified, almost exclusively, with that refreshing drink that is half ice tea/half lemonade. I would imagine there is more than one reader who is saying, “Arnold Palmer was a golfer too?”

Quick aside:  When Arnold Palmer ordered one of those drinks did he say, "I'll have a me?" 

Shirley Temple was a major Hollywood child star in the ‘30s. She even won a little Oscar. But most folks only the know the name because of the Shirley Temple cocktail – a non-alcoholic drink of ginger ale and a little grenadine.

A variation is a Roy Rogers cocktail. It’s made with cola and grenadine. Roy Rogers was a cowboy movie and TV star.   You didn't mess with Roy.  How scared would horse thieves and bank robbers be if Roy sidled up the bar and ordered cola and grenadine?  "And don't forget that maraschino cherry, podner."   

George Foreman was a heavyweight boxing champ. You might only know him as the grill you bought off the TV.

Mae West was a bawdy movie actress in the ‘20s-‘40s (a Tallulah Morehead wannabe). Now her legacy is a personal flotation device. Sidenote: My favorite Mae West quote -- I'm the lady who works at Paramount all day... and Fox all night.

John Hancock was a great American patriot and statesman.  But to most he owns an insurance company.  And for that matter, Abe Lincoln is remembered as a U.S. President not a vampire killer.

This extends to comic book characters too. Andy Gump was this loveable Sunday funnies schmoe who wound up being the name for portable outdoor toilets. What a tribute!

I’m sure there are others. Can you think of them?

Friday, May 21, 2021

Friday Questions

Some Friday Questions to kick off your weekend.

Xmastime goes first.

Ken are you a big fan of Neil Simon? When I was a kid I practically memorized "The Star-Spangled Girl; 30 years later when I finally watched the film it was quite a disappointment. Have you had an experience where on paper your script was cracking, but somehow didn't really work onscreen after it was filmed?

In fairness to Neil Simon, the movie was completely rewritten.  Very little of Simon’s play is in the movie, which yes, is terrible. Plus, if I'm not mistaken, wasn't it a TV movie?  So the production values are cheesy too.

As for me, yes, there have been times I’ve seen shows I’ve written fall flat due to lousy directing and acting.  Or, maybe the script just wasn’t that crackling to begin with.  Nah, it was the director.

From Gladys Peters:

How come network TV dramas always get at least a one-hour time slot instead of 30 minutes?

Gladys, this was not always the case.  In the ‘50s and ‘60s there were a number of half-hour dramas.  Usually police shows.  PETER GUNN was a personal favorite.   I believe the original DRAGNET was a half-hour as well.  

There were also a lot of half-hour westerns.   GUNSMOKE started out as a half-hour.  My favorite western, BAT MASTERSON was only thirty minutes.  

I'm sure you guys can come up with other examples.

Eventually it just evolved that dramas were an hour and sitcoms were a half-hour.   Personally, I don't think you need an hour to tell a lot of these dramatic stories.  There's a lot of padding.  

UPDATED not to include WB shows that I thought were half-hours but several readers kindly reminded me they weren't.  Hey, I was 2 when I was watching them.  :)

DougG. wonders:

When you and David (Isaacs) wrote the "Adventures in Paradise" episode of FRASIER, was it always planned to be two episodes or did that just happen as part of the writing process?

More often than not, two-parters start out as one-parters with just too much story.  But in the case of “Adventures in Paradise” we knew when originally plotting it that it was going to be a two-parter.  

We had such a great cliff-hanger -- when Frasier steps out onto the balcony of this very remote resort only to find Lilith on the next balcony.  You don’t get much better than that.   

Then we constructed the two parts to fit that.  Part one was the courtship with Jobeth Williams and part two the aftermath of Lilith and the news that she was remarrying.  Each was a pretty full story. 

David and I have done a number of two-parters from various shows.  I think “Adventures in Paradise” is my favorite — especially part two.

And finally, from Bob Paris:

Ken: Imagine that you are a rookie on the Dodgers ten years ago. You get your first major league hit and for a souvenir you can have only one of these two options: 1) the game ball, or 2) a copy of the broadcast where Vin Scully calls your at-bat. Which would you choose?

That’s an easy one.  The Vin Scully call.  Anyone can get their first game ball, but having Vin Scully call it — that’s special.   It’s like having a Hirschfeld caricature of yourself.

I hope you’re vaxed by now.  And if not, what the hell are you waiting for?  It’s either freedom or Darwinism.  Choose freedom.  What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

EP225: The process of writing

Every writer has a different process. Ken discusses his and many others. How fast to write, when to write, partnership etiquette, how to solve script problems — it’s all here and more. Even if you’re not a writer and have no desire to be one, you will enjoy this study of the creative process.

Get Honey for FREE at

More podcasts at WAVE!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Marvelous Marv Albert

I sort of knew it was coming but I’m bummed out that Marv Albert is retiring at the end of this basketball season.  He’s almost 80 so it’s understandable, but the NBA won’t be the same without Marv. 

For those unfamiliar, Marv has been the voice of the New York Knicks, New York Rangers, Monday Night Football on the radio, local TV sports in New York, and national NBA play-by-play guy for any network that broadcast the NBA.  He has announced countless NBA Finals.  

How good is Marv?  If there’s a Mt. Rushmore of sportscasters, he’s on it.

I know I’ll get no argument from New York sports fans.  His calls on the radio have thrilled Gotham listeners for decades.  But I’m a huge fan, and I grew up in Los Angeles.  You don’t have to be from Vienna to appreciate Mozart.  

Marv has (and I love being able to still refer to the present tense) a tremendous presence on the air.  He commands your attention.  Blessed with the perfect voice for play-by-play, he rises to dramatic moments, has a keen knowledge of any sport he calls, is immaculately prepared, and (my favorite part) has a sense of humor.  He works well with partners, and has a style all his own (now much copied).  

As a young man, when I would visit New York, I so looked forward to being able to hear Marv Albert on the radio.  I don’t know how he coordinated both the Rangers and Knicks, but he was always on with one game or another.   I wasn’t well versed on the players (especially the Rangers — I know shit about hockey), yet his pulsating narrative always enthralled me.   I was thrilled when he became recognized nationally.  I was able to hear him wherever I was.  

I wish him well in retirement and thank him for providing me such pleasure my entire life.   Is Marv Albert one of the greatest sportscasters ever?


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Intermissions or no intermissions? (the debate of our time)

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times by theatre critic Charles McNulty proposed that it was time to eliminate intermissions in theatre productions.  He feels it’s an outdated practice and in the post-COVID era theatergoers are going to be reluctant to huddle in crowded lobbies during intermission.  I see his points.

He addresses the issue of bladders.  Lots of people would rather not sit for two hours without going to the bathroom (especially since theatergoers tend to be on the AARP side).   Yes, people could leave their seats in the middle, but he acknowledged that theatres (especially Broadway theatres) tend to be packed.  Movie theatres offer more room.  Legit theatres aren’t going to reconfigure or take out seats so that’s a continuing problem.  Many of them are the size of shoe boxes anyway.

I personally don’t understand why theatres don’t welcome intermissions.  They make more money.  Concessions and T-Shirt sales would suffer without that mid-play break. You gotta move that merchandise. There's nothing sadder than a show closing with 7,000 unsold hoodies. I’ve had plays with no intermissions and several theatres have asked me if they could insert one.  

There’s the other psychological issue that tickets tend to be expensive (especially on Broadway).  I’ve gone to plays that lasted 75 minutes and I’m out of the theatre by 9:00.  That’s not a whole evening’s entertainment.  That’s a quick meal at the sushi bar.  

I have plays that have intermissions; I have plays that don’t.  One of my plays, which you can watch here, with Joely Fisher & Tim Daly, takes place in real time.  So there can’t be an intermission. 

But given my druthers, I prefer an intermission, and here’s why:

I write comedies.

Comedies play better with an intermission.  Audiences get tired and laughs start to die that otherwise wouldn’t if the audience has a break.  

With some dramas it’s the opposite.  They don’t want the audience to have a reprieve.  To fully get the experience they’re establishing they want the audience immersed until the end.   And I get that too.  

But for comedies, give me an intermission.  And it doesn’t hurt that wine is served during the break.  And I get a percentage of the hoodie sales. 

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Upshaws

THE UPSHAWS is a funny show.  And full disclosure: I say that not just because my daughter and her husband are writers on the show.  It premiered last week on Netflix and is already their number one show (so maybe I’m not alone).   The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly loved it.  And the Wall Street Journal hated it.  So that’s three solid endorsements.  

These days, if you’re going to show a diverse ethnic group, the safe way to go is to make everyone likable and noble.  And that’s great except it’s death for comedy.  THE UPSHAWS is not afraid to present characters with flaws.  And it’s not afraid to have to have characters clash.  This isn’t the COSBY SHOW.

Although THE UPSHAWS is mounted like a retro multi-cam, it somehow seems fresh.  The blended family situation is messy, and I think that’s one of its strengths.  This isn’t GOOD TIMES.  (Full disclosure number two: I never liked GOOD TIMES.  It was preachy, characters spouting statistics, and Jimmie Walker’s catch phrases turned the series into a cartoon.)  

Another big plus is THE UPSHAWS cast funny people.  This is the key to all sitcoms.  Hire funny people.  Wanda Sykes kills it.  Mike Epps is very funny (and kudos for allowing his character to be funny at the expense of being “nice.”).  Kim Fields, as always, gets every laugh you give her, and the side characters click too.  

The show is loaded with jokes (Imagine!  A comedy that wants you to laugh.) and having been in the audience for one of the episodes, I can tell you the laughs are real.  There are some very sharp lines.  

At the same time, it deals with weighty issues as the series unfolds and contains dramatic moments that are earned. 

It’s not groundbreaking, but I found it funny with heart.  And okay, yes, the ones written by Annie Levine & Jonathan Emerson were my favorites. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Weekend Post

I've talked about how Larry Gelbart was the Mozart of comedy writers.  Remember in AMADEUS that Mozart used to write his music with no corrections or cross-outs?  Larry used to write MASH scripts in longhand on legal pads.  I once mentioned that I loved a particular episode he wrote called "The More I See You" and the next day he gave me a Xerox copy of his first draft.  I noticed that there were hardly any changes.  I said, "Wait.  So you do your first draft longhand, then do a second longhand to clean it up?" He said, "No, just one draft."   

When I write in longhand I have 24 hours to get it typed up.  Between all the cross-outs, lines in the margin, arrows, and sloppy penmanship, after 24 hours Navajo Code Readers couldn't decipher my scripts.  

But check out an example of Larry's first draft of "The More I See You."  He was remarkable in so many ways.  

Friday, May 14, 2021

Friday Questions

Halfway through May.  Ready for some Friday Questions?

Dave is up first.

I've been watching a lot of Becker recently. So funny, superb writing and I like all the characters.

Last night, I saw the episode in which Kelsey Grammer guest-starred ('Because I Have Friends I Haven't Used Yet'), which aired just two days before a Frasier episode ('Daphne Does Dinner'). How could Grammer do both in the same week?

I'm guessing he maybe had to miss the read-throughs and rehearsals for Becker or they had to tape it on a different night. Or maybe his packed schedule explains why he was limited somewhat to three scenes.

Each of those shows worked on the following schedule:  Three weeks on then one week off.   And each show had a different schedule.  Kelsey guested on BECKER during a week’s hiatus from FRASIER. 

Once episodes are completed the network is able to shuffle the deck — move one episode up a week, move one back, etc.  So it’s not unusual that both episodes featuring Kelsey were shown a couple of days apart. 

From Glenn:

Ken, have you ever had an actor forced on you who turned out to be great?

No.  Never. 

However, we had one actor forced upon us that was so terrible we quit the show once the pilot was filmed.  The show didn’t get picked up, nor should it have been.  And we didn't care.  We were never going to walk onto a sound stage with that guy again. 

Chris Thomson wonders:

At what point, and what are the signs/vibes that you realize a show is basically needing to finish?

A number of signs. 

You ran out of stories three years ago but kept going anyway.

Ratings are falling.

The star is tired of doing the show and his contract is up.

With rising costs for the actors, and above-the-line people, the show is getting too expensive to produce.  Especially if you already have enough episodes for a large payday in syndication or streaming, why bother making more when it’s costing you more? 

And finally, from Poochie:

So I've been watching a series of Youtube vids where a real lawyer breaks down courts scenes on TV. As you can imagine the majority of these shows and movies get it wrong. Just totally and not remotely how it operates in the real world wrong.

My question is could these productions staff lawyers for the pure purpose of writing/dialoguing ONLY the court scenes? Is that allowed by the WGA? Would the lawyer/writers need to be credited? Residuals? Is this something remotely possible? How would it work? And why don't more productions at least try to get this remotely accurate?

Shows are allowed to hire “technical consultants.”  They’re allowed to tweak dialogue.   On MASH we had Dr. Walt Dishell.  We would write operating scenes and say things like “Nurse, hand me that frabbazabber!”  And Dr. Dishell would put in the correct term (although I think frabbazabber is the correct term).  

Technical consultants do receive a credit. 

We had a medical consultant, a military consultant, and a nurse on the set to make sure everything looked right. 

Other shows have lawyers and law enforcement consultants. 

The gray issue comes when the producers want to do something that is a little iffy.  There’s creative license, but just how far do you bend?   That’s a case by case judgement call. 

As for Dr. Dishell, there was one episode of MASH (“Life Time”) where he was so involved in the writing that he was awarded shared writing credit with Alan Alda. 

What’s your Friday Question?  

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

EP224: Meet Singer Extraordinaire Linda Eder

“Star Search” winner/Broadway star/recording artist/Carnegie Hall concert singer, Linda Eder has an amazing voice and career. She’s also a very fun guest.

Get Honey for FREE at

More podcasts at WAVE!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Setting the record straight

A number of people have commented about the Jackie Cooper autobiography.  In that book he talks about directing early episodes of MASH and has very unkind things to say about Alan Alda, Larry Linville, and the cast in general.   Readers have asked my thoughts on the matter.

Okay, so let me set the record straight.  

NONE of the bad/diva behavior Cooper described in the book was ever evident in all the time I was on MASH.  The writers who followed me will say the same thing.   

The TV comedy writers’ grapevine is extensive and comprehensive.  Believe me, when an actor has a meltdown on just about any set, word gets around.  Quickly.   

Nowhere besides Cooper’s book did those rumors surface.  What I was told, during my tenure at MASH, was that Cooper did not get along with the cast.  Jackie Cooper and MASH showrunner Gene Reynolds were longtime friends (they were both child actors together at MGM along with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney).  And after those first few episodes, he was never asked back.  

What’s more telling than Cooper’s account was this:  Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart had nothing but effusive praise for Alan and the cast.   

And that was my experience as well.  As I’ve mentioned, Alan was always respectful, and on those occasions when he came up to the room to help us rewrite, he never lorded over us.  He was the quintessential team player.  

Finally, I say don’t just take my word for it.  If you ask any of the writers or actors or directors or crew, they’ll tell you the same thing.  Most people on the crew were there for the run of the series.  Believe me, if the star or cast was a nightmare they’d be looking to go somewhere else.

Jackie Cooper was a bitter guy.   If there were clashes with Alan, who’s to say it wasn’t Cooper who was the instigator?  Same with Linville.   I personally found Larry utterly professional and fun to deal with.  

And that’s the God honest truth. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

"You're not good enough for us. But give us money."

The problem with giving donations on line is that you’re immediately put on mailing lists and are then barraged by more donation requests.  And then there are those who donated to Trump who didn’t read the fine print and thus don’t realize that they’re being billed every month.  Sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars.  Oh well.  A fool and his money are soon parted.

I understand the need to request donations.  And we’re all hurting due to the pandemic.  (Or future legal fees and foreclosures — treason and swindling is costly.)  But how and when you ask for money is a delicate dance.

Here’s what NOT to do.

I enter plays in festivals and competitions all over the world.  I’ve enjoyed a lot of success but have also received my share of rejections.   When 400 people apply for 5 spots, if you don’t expect rejection you’re crazy. 

But occasionally I’ll get a standard rejection email that also asks me to donate to that theatre.  Now why ON EARTH would I donate to that theatre in that situation?      I at least can take comfort that their same great judgement to ask for money when shunning me probably went into evaluating scripts. 

I often do donate to theatres that select my plays.  Put me on that mailing list. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Top 100 Sitcoms of All-Time -- Really???


ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE ran a real fool’s errand by trying to name the Top 100 Sitcoms.  You can find it here.  It’s impossible to get right.   You’re not just comparing apples to oranges, in some cases you’re comparing apples to table lamps.  

What they didn’t seem to take into account was the impact certain shows had.  Beyond the writing and acting — some shows made a big imprint in popular culture while others were popular at the time but quickly disappeared.   Since we’re talking about 70+ years of shows, it seems you’d need someone in their 80’s who really had an overview select the list.  On the other hand, someone in their 80’s would have no appreciation for more recent shows.    

And what is considered a “sitcom?”  ROLLING STONE lists THE SIMPSONS as the number one sitcom of all-time?  THE SIMPSONS is one of the greatest television shows in the history of the medium, but do animated shows qualify as sitcoms?  Some could argue yes; others could argue no.  The fact that there’s an argument at all seems to suggest it’s not.  

With all that in mind, let me comment on the Top 10.  Throughout the 100 there are some rankings that are so absurd they’re not even worth discussing. But let’s center on the Top 10.   Setting aside taste, or bias, or anything else — the number one sitcom of all-time has to be I LOVE LUCY.  It’s not even close.  It was groundbreaking, created an art form, and has continued to run and get amazing ratings for close to 70 years.  Six generations from around the world adore that show.  And six more generations will discover and love it.    I say that and two of the shows above it (CHEERS and THE SIMPSONS) are shows I wrote.  They’re not Lucy.  

You can’t have an all-time Top 10 without including FRIENDS.  You just can’t.  That show is so globally beloved it belongs in the Top 3.  

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW also needs to be in the Top 10.  That show changed the direction of situation comedies, won a boatload of Emmys, and still is being seen and admired today.   The Golden Age of smart multi-camera comedy that sprung up in the 70’s and 80’s was because of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.  

I love both PARKS & REC and LARRY SANDERS but both are niche shows.  LARRY SANDERS is a favorite of a smart media-savvy portion of the audience, but in the grand scheme of TV it didn’t move any Seismic Meters.  It was for “those in the know.”   PARKS & REC never got much attention, was not a ratings juggernaut, got very little Emmy love — it was a terrific well-crafted sitcom, but not worthy of the all-time Top 10.  

And as much I love CHEERS, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW needs to rank above it.  MARY is where it all started.  From MARY came TAXI came CHEERS came FRASIER.  Alan Burns & Jim Brooks set a tone and created a style of excellence that led to those other wonderful series.  So points for being the first.  

MASH belongs in the Top 10.  Like LUCY and FRIENDS, it continues to do extraordinarily well in syndication and streaming.  ALL IN THE FAMILY turned this country on its ear.   SEINFELD was a sensation and inspired comedy — I don’t know how well it’s aging.  My sense is it’s fraying.  THE HONEYMOONERS is my personal all-time favorite, but would I put it in an overall Top 10?  I’m not sure.  

So those are my thoughts.  Would love to hear yours?

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Weekend Post

 Hey there Lucy Lovers,

I discovered this cool film on YouTube.  It's a behind-the-scenes look at a filming of I LOVE LUCY.  It's a little staged, but you get to see things you never do.  And Desi Arnaz comes out and does the warm-up and introductions himself.   I hope those filmings were quick because seeing their bleachers for the first time, there are no chair backs.  That's got to be pretty uncomfortable after a few hours.  

 But wait!  There's more.

I posted this once before.  Someone in the audience (I'm sure illegally) took color home movies of the filming of an episode of I LOVE LUCY.  Ever wonder what the apartment set looked like in color?  Check this out.  You'll see that Lucy really was a redhead.

More on I LOVE LUCY on Monday when I discuss ROLLING STONE'S list of the Top 100 Sitcoms of All-time.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Friday Questions

Who’s up for some Friday Questions?

Pat Weldon wonders:

You've talked about sitcom writer's rooms many times.  Do procedurals have writer's rooms also?  What kind of atmosphere are they?  I can't imagine them being as much fun as a sitcom room.  Or maybe just a different kind of fun?

Hard to say since I’ve never been on staff of a procedural, but from I understand the room gets together to plot the season and break stories.  Not sure how many laughs there are on LAW & ORDER SVU, but you never know.  Scripts are assigned to individual writers who then go off and complete drafts.

I think the rewriting process depends on the show.  Sometimes the staff rewrites, other times the show runner rewrites.  

Or I’m totally wrong.  

cd1515 asks:

Friday question: loved the podcast about bad reviews, interesting how everyone’s first reaction to a bad review is to say is bullshit but of course if it’s a good review they believe it 100%.
Have you seen or heard of anyone getting a great review and saying “Gee that’s a little overboard, it wasn’t THAT good”?

We’ve had a couple overly effusive reviews like that, and although it’s lovely and fun to send to relatives, we know better than to think we’re comic geniuses.  There are one or two times we fell short.  

From Michael:

How much control do networks have over plot lines once a show has been renewed for a new season? For example, if showrunner decides wants to do long arc where married couple gets separated, can the network stop him/her, short of cancelling the show?

It all depends on the clout of the showrunner.  Unless you’re Chuck Lorre/Shonda Rhimes/Dick Wolf the network is going to have final say on stories and arcs.  Even successful shows like HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, well into their run had to submit outlines to CBS.  

Whether streaming services are more lenient, that I don’t know.  

But networks these days generally own the studios as well, so they have all the leverage.  And use it.

And finally, from Jahn Ghalt:

A Friday Question of speculative interest:

In "The Comedy Litmus Test" (10FEB) you wrote:

Recently, I’ve been asked to assess short plays for several theatre festivals.

Do you ever read something that strikes you as potentially brilliant - but "needs work"?

And if so, would this ever inspire you to collaborate with the writer?

No.  I might contact the writer and offer suggestions if they’re open to them, but I’m not looking for partners.  

When David Isaacs and I had a production company at Paramount there were a couple of times when we mentored young writers through pilots under our banner.  But not for any theatre projects.

What’s your Friday Question?   Have you gotten vaccinated yet?  Get that second shot. 

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

EP223: Things that YOU hate that others love

After Ken’s list of things he hates that others love, listeners weighed in with their selections.  Audience participation podcasting!

More podcasts at WAVE!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

How to make an "Art" film

It seems at the movies we either have comic book summer tent pole flicks or “Art” films.  If you ever plan to write an art film (they’re way cheaper and you can get stars), here are some elements that appear to be in every “Art Films.”  

Cranky middle aged protagonist.   

Someone usually looks after him – wife, daughter, young neighbor.

Befriends a young person.

Lives in bleak surroundings.

Begrudgingly takes in a pet.

Is tortured by the past.

Fights with authority figures who want to take his house, tear down his art, fire him, commit him, take away his driver’s license.

Never any food in his kitchen.

There’s always a fire.

Flashbacks to horrific events.   Usually a child dies.  Usually he feels it’s his fault.

Has some skill with his hands.  Can build houses or do sculptures.

Has health problem, usually bad heart.

Is in the hospital ¾’s of the way through the movie.  Recovers but reoccurrence kills him at the end, one minute after he finally finds peace.  

Anytime anything good happens to him there is a tragedy one minute later.  

We watch him do boring mundane shit for half the movie.

He has comic quirks.  

At least three scenes at a cemetery. 

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Misc. Takes

And now for some random thoughts:

I’m starting with a Natalie Wood photo since I haven’t posted one in a long time, and I particularly like this one.

Way more people watched the NFL Draft than the Oscars.  What does that tell ya? 

Bill Gates' wife filed for divorce.  I wonder if she had a chip implanted in his head and found out something. 

There’s a great article in THE NEW YORKER magazine profiling SIMPSONS’ writer, John Swartzwelder.  He rarely gives interviews so this is a treat.  I don’t know him that well, met him a few times when David Isaacs and I were writing for THE SIMPSONS, but he’s a good guy and one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet.   Check out the article.

Now that baseball stadiums can only be 20% filled, I hear it’s a GREAT time to go to a ballgame.  No crowds, easy in and out parking, no long lines at the concession stands.  Swear at a player and he might actually hear you.

If only the games themselves were better.  Again this year a ridiculous amount of strike outs and home runs.  

When ESPN does a stat cast game, tune in.  Jason Benetti (the next Vin Scully) calls a great game.  And you’re not bludgeoned with stats.  Just enough to enhance the game.  From time to time they slip in a stat cast game on ESPN2 when ESPN has the regular Sunday Night Baseball Game.  Watch the stat cast version.  Oh, and it means no A-Rod.  

Netflix recommendation:  BORGEN.   A political show out of Denmark that is wonderful.  

Goofy recommendation:  (I believe it’s on the YouTube Channel) THE TASKMASTER.   It’s a combination reality competition/comedy show out of the UK.  And it’s so refreshing to hear biting, funny, sarcastic lines without regard to being PC.  

Get both shots.  NOW.   

New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo (he is still governor, right?) said Broadway could reopen May 19th, although it’s more likely they’ll reopen in September.  However, Nevada brothels are reopening now.

And while you’re waiting, two of my Zoom play readings are still available.  I’m very proud of both of them.

AMERICA’S SEXIEST COUPLE —a romantic comedy starring Joely Fisher & Tim Daly.  Here’s where you can watch it.  

And OUR TIME about four young people trying to break into comedy in LA in 1975 starring Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jonah Platt, Laura Schein, and Noah Weisberg.   You can find it here.

Is Liz Cheney the only Republican who hasn’t lost their mind?

Thanks to all my podcast listeners!  I love you guys!  My episode this week centers on things I hate that the rest of the world loves, and I asked if you had any?  I received enough responses that my next episode is your responses.  It’s nice to know there are people out there.  

There will be another LAW & ORDER spin-off.  Between L&O, NCIS, and Chicago-whatever, they must account for 70% of primetime network programming.  Oh, and a CSI sequel is also on tap.  HBO should do that.  SOPRANOS: KANSAS.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Pilot season craziness

It’s pilot season.   This is the time pilots for the fall season are shot.  Invariably a few implode, or there is frantic re-casting and rewriting.  As someone who has made numerous pilots and gotten series orders for most of them, I don’t understand this.  


The show was miscast.  Often that means being forced to take an actor the network or studio wanted but you didn’t.

The premise and/or writing was bad and never should have been picked up in the first place.  

The pilot notes sucked the life out of it.  

But otherwise, consider these factors:

You’ve had months to write this episode, not just a few days.

You’ve had weeks and sometimes months to find the people who have demonstrated they’ve made THIS material work better than any other actor.  Normally you tailor the material to the actor.  In a pilot’s case, it’s the opposite.  You find actors who can maximize the script.   You'll never hear an actor say, "My character wouldn't say this" when auditioning.  He'll bend himself into a pretzel to make work what's on the page.

There are always changes during the week of production.  When things get on their feet they sometimes don’t work or need to be adjusted.   Once you have solid actors in place you can start to write more to their voice and behavior.  Frequently, first production drafts are too long and overwritten and you see what needs to be pruned.  

But the basic script and structure should work.  

The production process always begins with a table-read.  The cast reads the script aloud, and it’s your first real indication of what you’ve got.   Those used to be intimate affairs done in a conference room around a big table.  Maybe twenty people besides the actors were in attendance — staff and a network and studio rep.  

Today, as many as 150 attend these things.  Every executive west of La Brea.  And they’re now held in huge halls with the actors sitting on a dais instead of around a table relating to each other.  It’s utterly insane.

And since the TV industry operates out of fear, to hedge their bets that the table reading will go relatively well, most studios insist on a pre-table read with only a slightly smaller number of attendees.  

I never feared table readings.  I never feared moments that didn’t work in table reading.  So what?  We’d fix them.  But our table readings always went well.  We stacked the deck with the best possible cast.  We knew what we had going in.

We did do one trick that helped, however.  Actors have to be approved by the studio and network.  So depending, these execs can hear the same scene six or eight times.  By the time they get to the table reading it’s no longer funny to them.  So we always wrote separate audition scenes that highlighted the strengths of the actors.  That way, the network was hearing the pilot for the first time at the table reading and all the jokes were fresh.  

Good luck to everyone making a pilot.  Some will come out great.  Hopefully yours.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Weekend Post

It's May Day (Weekend).  And what better way to celebrate than with John Coulton's delightful song, "First of May."  (Note:  not for the Disney Channel)   Enjoy!