Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The stages of watching a new show

These are the stages I go through to watch a limited series on cable or a streaming channel.  Is this just me or do you follow this basic pattern too?  

First off, there are so many shows on so many platforms I just wait for people to recommend a new show.  And of course it has to be on a platform that I can get.  

Reading subtitles off of TV is too annoying.  If it’s a foreign show I need it to be dubbed.  This can be problematic, especially if the show is Danish and everyone speaks in a Welsh accent.  That said, if the show is good I stick it out.  

I sit down and watch the first episode.  I realize it’s a first episode and they’re setting things up so I give it a certain amount of space.  Better episodes are likely coming.  But if I’m bored out of my mind, or find I just don’t like the subject matter, or hate all the characters then it’s one and done.  

When the pilot is over I ask myself whether I want to see episode two? In a few rare cases I fall in love with the series right from the get-go and I am all in.  But for most I’ll be saying, “Well, it’s kinda interesting,” “It’s sort of funny,” “I like the cast,” or “There’s gratuitous nudity” and decide to watch episode two.

Same question for episode three.  Am I getting sucked in?  Is it getting better?  Is it starting to make sense?  Has this comedy made me laugh once?

But generally after episode three comes the BIG decision.  Because here is where I either get off the train and stick it out till the end.  

And if I’m still in, there’s one more question: It’s 11:30 PM.  I’ve got to get up early the next morning.  An episode ends. Do I watch one more?   If the answer is yes, then THAT’S a series I love.   Most series  I can cheerfully watch an episode a night, but when I’m totally engrossed I have to burn through it.  Those are the shows I tell others about so they can go through the same line of questions. 

CHEERS to the jokes we didn't use

I saw a CHEERS episode recently (no, it wasn’t one we wrote) and noticed a certain joke was missing.  Not worth telling you the joke; you’d have to know the context.  But it was probably cut in syndication so they could squeeze in more reverse mortgage ads.  

But it got me to thinking.  There were so many jokes over the course of a season of CHEERS that never made it to air.  Not because they were bad (well some of them were), but because the story shifted or time constraints or we just thought of better ones.  

Let’s take a typical episode.  The writer works with the staff to lay out the story.  Along the way the staff pitches possible jokes. These are transcribed and the writer may use them when writing his outline.  He uses a few, meaning a bunch are washed ashore.  He writes alternate and new jokes.

He meets with the staff again to get notes on the outline.  More jokes are offered.  Sometimes the decision is made to change whole chunks of the story.  So all the jokes in the discarded chunks now don’t apply.  

The writer composes the first draft, adding a lot of new jokes along the way.  He gets notes, more jokes are cut, new story elements are introduced and other jokes are left by the side of the road.  

Once the writer turns in his second draft it goes to the staff for the rewrite.  Scripts can change from 10-100%.  Jokes and sometimes whole storylines are thrown out.  

Once the script goes into production, there are table readings or run-throughs every day and those require rewrites.  More jokes crash and burn.  

The show is filmed and generally is too long.  Editing eliminates even more jokes, sometimes really good jokes, but you never want to sacrifice story for jokes.  

And then there’s editing for syndication.

Now imagine this happening 25 times a season.  That’s a shit-ton of jokes that never make it to air.  But we always considered that was part of the job.  To be on staff you had to be prolific.  It’s not like a comic strip where you’re required to come up with seven jokes a week.  If you were on a staff of CHEERS (and this goes for most sitcoms I’m sure), you needed to churn out seven jokes every twenty minutes.  It can be a grind, but boy, you laugh a lot.  The jokes just keep coming.  If you've got to spend twelve hours a day in a room, there are worse ones I can think of.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Happy Birthday, Annie!

Today is my lovely daughter, Annie's birthday.   She and her husband, Jonathan, are comedy writers, currently Co-Executive Producers of THE UPSHAWS on Netflix.  I thought to celebrate her birthday I would re-post an essay she and Jon wrote for this blog in 2013 about another birthday and the charming gift she received.  I think she entered the right field.  Happy Birthday, Annie.  I love you.

Everyone likes to think their coworkers respect them…

Mine bought me a Groupon to a pole dancing class for my birthday. (Based on the average age of my coworkers, I chose to take this as a sign of admiration for my functional hips.)

I didn't plan to actually use the thing until my dad demanded I do a blog post about it. Most parents tend to discourage their children entering the world of erotic dancing. Mine bought me kneepads and offered to drive.

I'm lucky to have found the place at all. There was no sign out front, no mention on any directory, absolutely no distinguishing marks of any kind. Areola 51.

I finally discovered the way in and was rewarded for my perseverance with a dimly lit studio whose windows were blacked out by feather boas. It was like stumbling into RuPaul's doomsday bunker.

The class was called Pole Diva (Level 1) and the teacher was a pocket-sized Latina woman who kept criticizing everybody's "sexy pushups."

For the uninitiated, "sexy pushups" are when you caress your body before Shamu sliding along the hardwood and pulling yourself back up. Making sure to rub your hips again for good measure. Based on how my classmates looked doing them, I think "sexy pushup" is meant to be one of those ironic terms like "FOX comedy."

Not that everyone was bad at it. The woman in front of me was clearly the star pupil, and by the end of class even I was throwing her a few singles.

The humiliation of the "sexy pushup" (thoughtfully enhanced by the floor to ceiling mirrors we performed in front of) finally came to an end. It was time to strap on our kneepads (thanks again, Dad!) and pick our pole.

They offered us bottles of alcohol to disinfect the poles before use. I requested penicillin.

We learned a few different spins over the course of the hour. They all had fun names like "the sunburst" and "the firefly." Each one a new way to wind up with my ass on the floor and legs spread wide. The actual spinning was fun, though, until my teacher scolded me for yelling, "Wheeee!"

A large part of pole dancing seems to be walking around the pole, doing a sort of Igor foot drag. I pictured Martha Graham spinning in her grave every time this was referred to as choreography.

By the end of class, I was so black and blue my dancer name would have been Hematoma. (In actuality, I would choose something a little more exotic if I ever entered the profession. Right now the top candidate is Treif Magnifique.)

The staff knew most of us were only in it for the one class. Still, they kept pressuring us to come back. On our way out, they made sure we knew that they were available for parties. I'm still not clear if they were talking about the studio or the instructors.

I'm sure if I kept at it, I could graduate to Pole Vixen (Level 2). I would love to see that ceremony. No gowns or mortarboards; just the tassels.

That said, I think it's safe to say pole dancing is not going to be added to my list of hobbies. I'd much rather bake the cake than jump out of it.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Weekend Post

I've told this story before.  But it's one of my favorites.  

It wasn’t a long meeting. But it was memorable.

Winter 1973. I’m an engineer at KABC and KLOS radio in Los Angeles. Essentially I worked as a board op for KLOS. That meant I played the records and commercials. Union rules prohibited the disc jockeys from doing anything other than turning on and off their microphoness. Oh, and they could talk. They got that concession.

It was a cool job. KLOS played what today we call “classic rock.” Album cuts and Layla. I loved the music and the jocks were all terrific dudes. I’m still friends with Jim Ladd, Marc Driscoll, and Dion Jackson from that talented staff.

Occasionally I would have to go across the hall and handle KABC talk shows. That was fun too. Talk radio in those days welcomed different points of view, not just one. Imagine such a concept – a balance of ideas. I know. It was crazy.

I’m working one Saturday night on KLOS. I’m on my break. It’s about 9:45. The 10:00 KABC talk show host was Elliott Mintz. There was a long hallway at KABC/KLOS that led to the side entrance. I step out of our studio and happen to glance down the hallway. Holy shit! There’s John Lennon and Yoko Ono buzzing to be let in. They were Elliott’s scheduled guests. ( Elliott is still Yoko’s publicist, by the way.)

I duck my head into the KABC control room and say I’ll get them. Then I barrel down the hall and usher them in. I introduce myself and shake hands with them both. Yoko’s handshake is firmer than John’s.

He’s wearing a blue jean shirt and khakis. She’s wearing a huge black fur that must weigh sixty pounds.

I’ve got about twenty seconds alone with John & Yoko as I lead them down this long hall. What do you say to them?

At the time there was a very popular album by the National Lampoon that featured a very funny send-up of John called “Magical Misery Tour.” In that song he’s forever yelling, “I’m a fuckin’ genius!”

I don’t know what possessed me but I say to John, “So… what’s it like being a fuckin’ genius?” Without breaking stride he gives me a big grin and says, “Pretty nice, actually!”

That was it. We arrive at the studio and Elliott takes it from there. I couldn’t even hang back to watch the interview. I was due back at KLOS at 10:00.

But it brings up an interesting question. If you get to meet someone you idolize and you have time to ask him just one thing, what would it be? I’m sure had I known in advance that I would be meeting John I would have prepared something a little less – how should I say it? – obnoxious, but I just had the sense he would take the question in the spirit it was asked and in fact he did.

I didn’t have time to ask Yoko a question. Which is probably good. I don’t think she would have seen the whimsy in “What dead animal is that?”

So there’s my twenty second brush with greatness… and his wife.

Here's Magical Misery Tour.



Friday, August 27, 2021

Friday Questions

If you’re vaccinated I’d love to answer your Friday Question.  Here are this week’s:

Brandon in Virginia starts us off.

In watching a lot of MeTV over the years, I noticed Paramount and MTM used supporting cast members or character actors on other shows a lot. Off the top of my head, Tom Hanks did Taxi, Happy Days, and Family Ties a few months after Bosom Buddies's cancellation. Another is Christopher Lloyd as an artist on Cheers.

Were actors simply kept in a "database" for different shows, or did producers keep actors like Tom in mind, since they were probably on the same soundstage at Paramount?

Not so much a database as the writers from all those various shows knowing each other.  We all had a pipeline and would pass along names of actors who worked out well for us.  

We also admired each other’s shows so watched them ourselves.  And we’d make note of a guest actor who really impressed us.

In the case of Christopher Lloyd doing CHEERS, the Charles Brothers and Jimmy all worked on TAXI and knew him.  So, in that case, they just picked up the phone.  

From Call Me Mike:

After recently watching a "very special episode" of WKRP in Cincinnati, "In Concert," which addressed the Who concert disaster of 1979 and the dangers of festival seating, I realized Cheers never really did an issue episode such as that. Were you ever asked to write one? Did the network ever push for it?

CHEERS was not an issue-oriented show.  I guess you could say “Boys in the Bar” was an issue episode, but we made no big deal of it.  

We were more interested in relationships.  Besides, there was Normal Lear to do all the issue shows.  It’s not like we needed to fill a void.  

To their credit, NBC never pressed us.  In fact, they totally left us alone in regards to stories.  And in those days, stories did not have to be approved by the network.

Those “very special episodes” always sounded incredibly pretentious to me.  And most of the time it was the networks who branded these episodes as “special,” not the show runner.  

Kyle Burress asks:

During the course of your career what actor/actress that you worked with surprised you the most by their performance? Who far exceeded your expectations? On a similar note, who do you think grew and developed the most over the course of time that you worked with them?  

We knew Nancy Travis was good but were blown away by how spectacular she was.  

The actress who developed the most would be Kirstie Alley, but part of that was our fault.  As originally conceived, “Rebecca Howe” was a martinet.  It was only when we discovered she was funny when she was a mental wreck that her character really took off. And she just got better and better.  

And finally, from Puck:

What is the most egregious unprofessional behavior you've seen from an actor, both a regular and guest star? How did you as a writer/showrunner/director deal with those kinds of situations?

Hard to top this one.  On CHEERS a guest actor freaked out after the dress rehearsal, got in his car, drove off the lot, and never came back for the filming.   I don’t have to tell you that was the last TV acting gig he ever got.  Remember that pipeline?

We recast the role and filmed those scenes the following week. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

EP239: Beware of Agents!

Ken has had some “unpleasant" encounters with Hollywood agents. Not many, but enough to fill an entertaining episode of dish.

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Misc - Takes

In no order of importance…

Since Pfizer has been fully approved by the FDA you now need to be vaccinated to read this blog.  

Hey, it’s football season again.  Quick!  Name the team that lost this year’s Super Bowl.  

THE HISTORY OF THE SITCOM is mercifully over.  Preston Beckman, who was a network executive for over 25 years, including many moons at NBC where he did the scheduling during the Must-See TV era, wrote a dead-on review of THE HISTORY OF THE SITCOM in his blog.  Check it out.   Hint: He hated it even more than I did... and I didn't think that was possible. 

As if things aren’t scary enough in the world comes this headline from the CNN website:  McDonalds runs out of milkshakes in the UK.  

Just give the damn JEOPARDY hosting job to Mayim and be done with it.  

Joe Buck got one of the highest ratings of guest hosts.  I’d like to think it’s due to my podcast.  (Okay, I’m the only one thinking that.)

Preston Beckman was also on my podcast, if you’re interested.  

THE HISTORY OF THE SITCOM considered EIGHT IS ENOUGH as a situation comedy.  If so, then PETTICOAT JUNCTION was a gripping drama.

It’s a seller’s market if you got a late model car to unload.  

I’m still waiting for the movie to come out that would get me back into a movie theatre.  

Remember when “Pennant Races” were the thing to watch once you got to the Dog Days of Summer?  Now they’re meh because the team that just falls short gets into the playoffs anyway.  So the real drama comes in the Wild Card races.  And this year’s American League Wild Card chase is the fun thing to follow.  Interesting stat: The Mariners have a run differential of -60 and yet are only 3 games back.  

It used to be just billboards for TV shows vying for Emmys.  “For Your Consideration” billboards dotted the LA landscape.  And now, in addition, there are actual commercials on local stations pleading for your votes.  

Now I know why Andrew Cuomo was so reluctant to give up his office as NY governor — The TV Academy has rescinded his International Emmy.  

Waited an hour for my food at Baltaire in Brentwood, California Tuesday night.  Meanwhile, one of the women from FBOY ISLAND was at the next table and got free champagne.  Her food came right away and she didn’t eat a bite of it.  Why didn’t they screw up her order instead?  

Every time I do these “Misc-Take” posts, they’re a tribute to the great Allan Mallamud of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and later the Times.  

Since Dexter is coming back and was set in Florida, could he stop by the governor’s office?

The comments from yesterday’s post make it very clear — folks are quite content to miss shows, even if they’re good, if it means paying for too many services.  Streaming services are beginning to remind me of radio in the past.  If you were on a station with a strong signal (ie Netflix) people paid attention.  If you were on a station with a weaker signal (ie Paramount +) you were talking to yourself no matter how good the product.  

What I don’t understand is why Paramount + doesn’t show ALMOST PERFECT.  They own it and it’s 34 episodes.  And it's not like they've got a super great library anyway.

The hurricane couldn’t wait until Barry Manilow finished his song?  

Get vaccinated! 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

THE GOOD FIGHT deserves better

For some reason, some shows never get the recognition (i.e. Emmy love) that they deserve.  One such show is THE GOOD FIGHT on Paramount +.  One reason may be that it’s on Paramount +.  If it were on Netflix or HBO Max there would be more subscribers to watch it.  Unless you're one of those people who've signed up for five or six platforms I imagine you don't subscribe to Paramount + (or Peacock).

Not to take anything away from other very excellent dramas, and because of all the platforms there is a plethora of them, but THE GOOD FIGHT seems left out of the conversation when Emmy noms are handed out.   

It’s just not in the Zeitgest, which is a little odd because I can’t think of a recent drama that references the current politics and news events as much as THE GOOD FIGHT does.  From the election to insurrection, cancel culture, inclusion, pandemic — they’re all addressed but in a human way that illustrates just how these events affect us personally.  

Episode 4 of the new season is a whole take down on how overly sensitive we are to jokes.  Among the many jokes presented, as a throwaway, was Selena Gomez and her kidney transplant.  And wouldn't you know, Selena Gomez was outraged and Twitter blew up.  See tomorrow's post when I touch more on this topic.

As for this season, I will say I miss Delroy Lindo and Cush Jumbo who left this season, but new addition Mandy Patinkin is a hoot, and Sarah Steele “steals” the show.  

The storylines are always compelling, they take big swings at the plate, and the dashes of humor are generally laugh-out-loud funny.  There are creative touches including animation and songs. They somehow manage to combine stark realism with utter absurdity.   For my money it’s the best written drama on whatever is considered television these days.  

THE GOOD FIGHT has everything but buzz.  And I guess you need that more than anything else.  Too bad they didn't set the show in Hawaii. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

"Do not try this at home."

Needless to say I received lots of comments on my weekend post about Mike Richards.  The cancel culture will actually be the recurring theme in these next few posts.  

Yes, the things Richards said in those podcast episodes were offensive.  But I have a theory I’ve yet to see mentioned anywhere else.  

People say stupid things when they try to be funny and they’re inherently not funny.  And that includes racist remarks and sexist remarks.  

They hear Howard Stern pull it off, or Don Rickles, or Richard Pryor and they think they can too.   But they can’t.  

And let’s be honest, sexist, racist jokes are easy.  Instead of displaying real wit they go after easy targets.  

We all know these people.  They’re the insufferable ones we run from at parties, usually after a few drinks (post 9:00 PM).  Women must get this a lot; nimrods trying to impress them with their dazzling sense of humor.  Inappropriate lines just spew out.  

But at least they’re not broadcasting.

When you go on a podcast you are not only broadcasting, you’re broadcasting to the entire world.  And unlike radio where you say something once and it’s gone in the ether, podcast content remains, sometimes forever.   

Same is true for posting on Facebook or Twitter or any social media site.  You may think just three of your friends are seeing your Tweet but that’s always the case.  It’s a form of broadcasting.  

Especially now, that we’re all so hyper sensitive, we all have to be careful and exhibit good judgement, and that could be a problem for unfunny people who think they’re funny because their judgement is already cloudy.   Leave the comedy to the pros.  

Reminder: No comments by anonymous or unknown readers will be posted. Leave a name.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Weekend Post

So the Mike Richards era of hosting JEOPARDY is over.  That lasted… one day of taping.  My question is who vets these guys?  If websites are able to turn up this info, why can’t Sony put a few drones on the case to check out someone’s background before you give him the keys to your Rolls Royce and say, “Sure, go off-roading”?    It’s just nuts.

So the show goes a whole year with guest hosts, some painful like Dr. Oz, getting the audience all stirred up.  And it ends like this. 

All along it was a Faustian contract because all the attention you get from the on-air audition process comes back to bite you when you ultimately make a decision and 50% or 70% of your fans are pissed because they wanted someone else.   Like I said last week, had they just installed a new host after Alex died there would have been an adjustment period and eventually the new guy would just be “the guy.”  

TV networks used to air all their failed pilots in the summer.  They had paid for them and this allowed them to recoup something while filling summer space.   We in the industry used to call it “Failure Theatre.”  One of the reasons networks discontinued the practice was people were complaining that the failed pilots were better than the shows they picked up.  Networks learned not to air their dirty laundry.

So now we get more guest hosts.  Here are my suggestions, Sony:  OJ Simpson, Bill Cosby, Andrew Cuomo, and R Kelly. 

Good luck Sony, when Pat Sajak leaves WHEEL OF FORTUNE.  Maybe Harvey Weinstein could be let out for a work program? 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Friday Questions

Working our way through August FQ’s.  You have to be vaccinated to submit one. 

UPDATE:  I will discuss the Mike Richards one-day fall from grace for my weekend post. Stay tuned. 

Chris Dahl gets us started.

I was reading a blog other than your own (hard to believe, but I do read other blogs) and in the comments section of this different blog a conversation evolved around the timing of episode releases.  Netflix is famous for dropping entire seasons at once to allow for bingeing and initially people seem to have enjoyed this. It was almost a selling point for the streaming services.

But it seems a trend is starting, at least on Disney+, to now drop new series episodes weekly just like in the good old network TV days.  The argument is that it retains the best of both worlds, allowing excitement/buzz to build over a period of time promoting the series while also allowing newcomers to catch up and join the fun.  Thoughts or comments?

I can see advantages to both.  It’s very appealing to have viewers return every week instead of one time only for an extended period of time.  Once someone is on your site they’re more apt to see what else they offer and stay longer.  But there is an additional burden placed on these shows.  Are they compelling enough that viewers are willing to wait a week to watch a new episode?   Especially when so many show are dropped in batches.  

The advantage of dropping a whole series at once is that it’s something only streamers can do.  Broadcast and cable networks can’t compete with that.  And viewing habits have changed.  With so much product out there it’s nice to find a show you like and immerse yourself in it for two or three nights then move onto something different when it concludes.  

What I find interesting about binge-watching is this:  According to viewer research, people will re-binge shows they like — occasionally multiple times.  I guess it’s like hearing your favorite song over and over except the song is ten hours long.

From Rory W:

When you were a baseball announcer, did you get approached to do local radio or TV ads?

I was listening to the radio broadcast of my hometown Cleveland baseball team when Jim "Rosie" Rosenhaus did an ad for Rose Pest Control and was wondering how sponsors approach announcers?

Do you just get a random call from someone saying, "Hey, do you want to do an ad for Neverwet Basement Waterproofing in Syracuse, NY?"

I did a couple of ads when I was with the Orioles in Baltimore.   I was the voice of some Lexus dealer (for which I was given a new Lexus to drive during the season), and my partner,  Jon Miller and I went to Washington DC to record spots for Food Giant or some market in the region.  The car dealer just called me.  He probably did that a lot — free spokesman for a loaner car (and for me, free car for an hour’s recording), and Jon got the call for the market.

I never had an agent.  In the case of the Lexus dealer, the agent’s commission would be what, the trunk?

Steve McLean has a two-part question.

I recently heard an interview with actor/director Peter Bonerz who said, "I always made the argument for the laugh track...sitting at home you become part of a larger audience." (Interesting since he is probably best known for his role on 'The Bob Newhart Show' which did not have one.)

THE BOB NEWHART SHOW did use a laugh-track to supplement the live studio audience.

That’s the network's rationale for the laugh-track.  When you go to a theatre the laughter is a shared experience and can be contagious.  But just sitting at home alone things might not seem as funny.   That’s the theory, but I think it’s bullshit.  Hearing real audience laughter is one thing.  Hearing fake laughter is insulting.  As a viewer I resent being “told” when something is funny.  Let me decide on my own.  

And the second point I'm interested in your thoughts on, Peter said that when directing later sitcoms, "The audiences come in so hot, they have been warmed up to such a degree, that they overlaugh the show. They literally laugh at anything.”

He’s absolutely right.  Audiences of hit sitcoms come in so primed to laugh because they love these characters and are so excited to be there.  

On CHEERS we really had to fight against that.  We knew that certain laughs the last couple of seasons were not earned.  We made a conscious decision to ignore that and keep our standards high because we knew the show was going into syndication, and that after a few years new viewers would join and hold the show to its highest quality.   

A hit show can be a trap the last few “beloved” years.  And it’s easy to let down knowing you’re still going to get huge laughs.   We took enormous pride in our work, and I believe it’s one of the reasons CHEERS still holds up so well today.

What’s your Friday Question?  Again, you must be vaxxed. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

EP238: Attending movie screenings

Industry people in Hollywood don’t go to movies, they go to private screenings. This week Ken’s describes his screening adventures. Lots of inside info and laughs along the way.

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Leave BEWITCHED alone

I made the mistake of watching THE HISTORY OF THE SITCOM Sunday night on CNN.  I’m like Charlie Brown with the football.  Every chapter pisses me off.  It’s not a history of an art form; it’s a condemnation of television for not being more inclusive.  It's taking TV to task for things it didn't do 50 years ago.  No matter what the topic they find a way to sledge hammer home that agenda.  Oliver Stone is more subtle.  

This week’s topic was “the outsider” in sitcoms.  And metaphorically space aliens were immigrants, and the Munsters were “that family” no one wanted to move to their neighborhood.   

At one point they turned their scorn towards BEWITCHED.  Darrin insisted that Samantha not use her magic.  The strong message that the producers were sending here, of course, is that men stifle women and prevent them from realizing their full potential.  Sneaky, those producers.  

Of course, at the time there were enough domestic sitcoms where the husband clearly didn’t want his wife to work and blatantly said so.  No metaphor was needed.  From I LOVE LUCY to THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and every DONNA REED SHOW in between, you had that scenario play out.  (OZZIE & HARRIET took things one step farther — neither Ozzie nor Harriet worked.)  

But how about this as an alternate reason why Darrin wanted Sam to not use her magic?  Without that element there is no show.  

If Sam can use her magic at will, where’s the conflict?  Any problem can be solved with a wiggle of the nose.  Darrin has a good reason for keeping her identity a secret.  It’s the same reason all superheroes have.  If word got out she was a witch who could perform magic there would be a line two miles long to her front door of people asking for help.  Any semblance of a normal life would be obliterated.  

Some women say they wish she used her powers more.  I wished Superman flew more and there was less Clark Kent.  But that's the necessary dynamic of the show. 

Oh, and someone having to hold back behavior that is very tempting is a recipe for comedy.  Remember comedy?  

They give Sam a mother who hates Darrin for this, which also is a springboard for conflict and comedy.  There have been many husband vs. mother-in-law shows, but this has the twist that the mother-in-law can turn him into a toad.  

BEWITCHED began as a spin on a romantic comedy.  It became silly and cartoonish, but we’re talking the original conception (back when the producers were “plotting their social injustice storyline”).   But if you go back to the pilot, Samanta herself withheld the information that she was a witch until Darrin had fallen in love with her.  Why?  Well, this is another point THE HISTORY OF THE SITCOM overlooked (because it goes against their theory): Samantha wanted Darrin to love her for who she was, not because she was a witch with magic powers.  So there was a part of Sam that was on board with not turning their Chevy into a Rolls Royce.  

Another point:  At the end of the day when did Samantha not do what she wanted to do?   And when did Darrin really put his foot down?  

The premise gave Elizabeth Montgomery a lot to play.  She had to harness her magic, find other solutions to problems (like real people do), and she was caught in the middle between her husband and her mother.  Keeping her identity secret was also a challenge.  Sam had to contend with Mrs. Kravitz, the nosy neighbor.  These dynamics all created laughs.  

Oh, and one other point that went by so quick I missed it, but THE HISTORY OF THE SITCOM equated Endora’s wardrobe to the drag culture.  But that’s what you get when the so-called experts are TV critics or authors of fan books.  The real experts — William Asher, Sol Saks, Danny Arnold, Elizabeth Montgomery — are sadly no longer with us.  I bet they’d give you a very different explanation for how BEWITCHED came to be and what it set out to achieve.  

But what do you expect from a history of sitcoms that claims that WHO'S THE BOSS? was a groundbreaking show? 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Bonnie Franklin

A recent Friday question prompted this post -- one I’m delighted to share.

kitano0 asked:

I thought Bonnie Franklin was so cute during One Day at a Time. Ken, can you tell us more about her?

We used Bonnie on two episodes of ALMOST PERFECT, playing the mother of Kim’s (Nancy Travis) boyfriend (Kevin Kilner).  

She was an absolute delight.  I was also lucky enough to direct those episodes (okay, full disclosure, I assigned them to myself).  

But Bonnie was the consummate professional with a fun positive attitude.  Her character disliked Nancy’s character at the beginning and eventually comes to appreciate her.  So she had a real arc to play.   There’s a long scene where the two are stuck together in an elevator and with cameras rolling before a studio audience they both nailed it in one take.  

She was also a good sport because the actor hired to play her husband broke his contract and took a pilot after filming the first half of our two-parter.  Yes, he was an asshole and so were his agents.  (That’s a whole ‘other story.)   So to film his later scenes we had to shoot out of order on different days and Bonnie accommodated us (which was not in her contract).  

A few years later I put together a reading of a screenplay I had written.  I got Bonnie to graciously play one of the parts.  She was absolutely hilarious and it was a very different character than you’ve ever seen her play.  

Her character had the world's foulest mouth, and hearing those words come out of Bonnie Franklin was a riot.  One of my writer friends who attended said the highlight was seeing Bonnie Franklin swear.  

She left us too soon.  I loved Bonnie Franklin.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Mike & Mayim: the new hosts of JEOPARDY

So Mike Richards got the syndicated JEOPARDY hosting gig.  Mayim Bialik will host specials and primetime editions.  

After the yearlong derby, here were my favorites:

Mayim, David Faber (I didn’t even know who he was before), Joe Buck (made the game and the show really fun… and he’s my podcast guest this week.  Check it out), Robin Roberts, Anderson Cooper, Ken Jennings, Buzzy Cohen, and Mike Richards.  

I don’t know what the excitement was about for Aaron Rogers (exceeding low expectations is not the same as “good”), and LeVar Burton (not living up to high expectations despite the hype) .  

Bringing up the rear were Dr. Oz and Bill Whittaker.   

The rest were all just sort of in the middle.  Various shades of meh. 

It should be duly noted that although Mike Richards is the Executive Producer of JEOPARDY, this was not his call.  This was the head honchos of Sony.  So it’s not like he just chose himself.   In fact, it was his job to train the other hosts and ensure they did the best job they could.  Almost to a person they have praise for Richards in how supportive he was.  He could have sabotaged them, but he didn’t.  And in this town...

Mike Richards also did an excellent job during his two-week stint.

One of the requirements was that JEOPARDY be the person’s primary gig.  That let out any of the candidates who already had sweet TV gigs.  Was Anderson Cooper or Dr. Gupta going to leave CNN?  Was Robin Roberts going to leave ABC or Savannah Guthrie NBC?   Even Mayim Bialik.  Hosting part-time allows her to continue her acting career.  For the syndicated show she would have to give up acting — tough to do when she’s currently starring in a sitcom that just got picked up for a second season.  

And finally, this:  Whenever I was show runner and we had a part for an athlete or a comedian, our philosophy was always “hire the actor.”  Yes, he may not be as authentic an athlete or comedian but he knows the ropes.  He knows how to commit to a character, how to deliver the jokes, how to hit marks and satisfy other technical requirements.  We never went wrong “hiring the actor.”   I think this is what Sony did.  Mike Richards knows how to host game shows.  He doesn’t need tutoring.  Yes, he may be a somewhat safe choice, but here’s the thing:  Whoever they picked there would be people outraged because he/she wasn’t their favorite or they hated him/her.   That’s the problem with on-air auditions.  You see the options.   If Mike Richards had been named permanent host immediately following Alex Trebek’s death it would take the audience a little time to warm to him and then he would just be accepted as the new host.  Very few people would stop watching JEOPARDY.  The year-long derby created unreasonable expectations.  But at the end of the day, this is the guy who got the job, you can grumble for a few months, and eventually you’re just watching JEOPARDY and this happens to be the guy reading the clues.  

I wish Mike Richards the best.  He deserved it as much as anybody and I think he’ll do a great job.  Would anyone do it better?  What difference does it make? They don’t have the job and Mike does.  

And Mayim Bialik will shine as well.  For her I couldn't be happier. She'll have no problem pronouncing those Yiddish clues. 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Weekend Post

Got invited to a poker game last weekend. A friend plays in a regular game and needed an extra body. Poker is an ingenious game. It involves both skill and luck. If only I had either.

I hadn’t played poker in probably fifteen years so I pretty much had forgotten everything other than I always lose.

Still, I enjoyed myself.  The players were usually a group of comedy writers or improv chums so there were always more laughs than chips (especially in front of me). I likened it to a rewrite night where you didn’t have to address network notes.

This time the only person I knew going in was my friend. But it was a low stakes game so I figured what the hell? The guys all turned out to be fun, and they all came from other branches of the industry so I got to hear all-new horror stories. Nothing breaks the ice like getting fucked over in Hollywood.

I was worried that these dudes would hate me. Since I didn’t know what I was doing I would surely test their patience. And if I won they’d really despise me. Fortunately, they were tolerant, and fortunately they took all my money. So my fears were for naught.

I needed one of those little cheat sheets that told you that a royal flush beats a pair of threes. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to watch an episode of THE WORLD SERIES OF POKER and one of the finalists has the same cheat sheet next to his chips?

Remembering what beats what is hard enough for someone who needs a cheat sheet to retrieve his messages from voicemail, but we rotated dealing and the dealer got to select the game. Holy shit!

Seven card night baseball with the next card after a queen is a wild card

Hi-lo – 5 ½ or 21

Three chip buy-in pass your garbage

Seven card elevator (not to be confused with seven card crisscross)

Seven card Texas hold ‘em, 3’s are wild and 4's entitled you to buy another card if you wanted

On and on. They know you’re not a savvy player when it’s your turn and they say, “What are we playin’?” and you begin your answer with “What’s the one where…?” As the deal was going around the table I was getting progressively more anxious. What to do when it came to me?

Finally, I was up. I decided to just fake it. “Okay, five card double-draw hi-lo Taj Mahal, pig fives are wild, threes are sevens, sevens are tens, face cards are a half, and Jews get six cards instead of five.” Everyone laughed, but one guy who asked what Taj Mahal was.

The night moved along but required a lot of concentration. More than I could muster after a couple of hours. Again, it was like a rewrite night where you just zone out. “What page are we on again?” “Who’s asking who to stop doing what when?” “Has the food arrived yet?”

The food was another reason poker night is like rewrite night. Delivered pizza that you eat off of paper plates while standing . All we needed were Red Vines for me to feel really nostalgic.

You’d think as the night went along I’d get better. But actually, I got worse. I knew I was in trouble when I won a pot with nothing in my hand. Everyone complimented me on how well I bluffed. But I wasn’t bluffing. I actually thought I had a winning hand.

They should also have a cheat sheet for poker slang. Clubs were puppy paws. Pocket aces were American Airlines. Full houses are full boats. If you have a nine and a five that’s a Dolly Parton. But why do they call kings “cowboys?” When I think of cowboys I rarely imagine Richard Burton.

But it never fails.  The minute any six guys sit down to play poker they all start talking like they're in GUYS AND DOLLS.    The Pope and his cardinals get together and the Pope is dealing saying, "No help. crabs, Kojak, bitch in the bleachers.  Pony up gents."

All in all, it was a fun night, I made some new friends, now am aware of more industry shitheads, and I think after all this time I finally figured out how to win at poker. Have Jennifer Tilly play for me while I drive around for four hours picking up the pizza. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Friday Questions

Mid August and here we go with some Friday Questions.  What’s yours?

B Alton leads off.

Just how are parents, especially of series leads, cast? What does the casting director "work with" in determining the look (and attitudes) of the parents so that they are believable (as parents) to the viewing audience? Thanks.

Usually it’s stunt casting. Hiring actors to play the parents of show leads gives you a chance to hire  “names”  that might bring in a higher rating.  So producers try to get Carol Burnett or someone of that ilk.  On ALMOST PERFECT we used Bonnie Franklin (ONE DAY AT A TIME) in that role.  

On CHEERS we got Glynis Johns to play Diane’s mom.  (She’s now 97, God bless her.)   And Shelley Long played a mom in MODERN FAMILY. 

Danny Thomas got a whole new family in THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW back in the early '60s. 

I directed shows where Brenda Vaccaro, Linda Lavin, and Dixie Carter played mom’s.  

But for my money, the best of all-time was Nancy Walker as Rhoda’s mom on RHODA.  

Brian Phillips asks:

Did you and David Isaacs ever write a Room 222 spec script?

No.  It was before our time, first of all.  And secondly, that wasn’t the kind of show we wanted to write.  We were more about hard comedy, preferably multi-camera at the time.  

We wrote a spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, a spec RHODA, and two pilot specs before we broke in.  And when we did break in, we were in the middle of plotting our next spec — HAPPY DAYS.

YEKIMI wonders:

I noticed this mostly on All In The Family but seems like a lot of early 70s shows seem to have done this....a close of of say, Archie or Edith's and the rest of the actor's faces, I mean to the point were you could count Archie's nose hairs, where the face filled the whole damn screen. I found it disconcerting at best. Any reason why they would have done it this way or was it a "Norman Lear" thing?

It’s a stylistic choice I hate.  It’s almost as if an extreme close up invades your personal space.

Trust me, the actors feel uncomfortable having the camera push in so close.  God forbid they have a pimple.  

I also believe extreme close ups kill comedy.  

When I direct or run a show my close ups featured full faces and and went down past the shoulders.  That’s pretty much the standard.

And finally, from John G:

The show Mom went through a pretty drastic evolution from season one to where the show ended. In fact, only one member of the original cast finished the run. Can you think of other successful shows that changed to such a degree?

BEWITCHED got by with a new Darren (although not as good).  Charles on MASH, Woody and Rebecca on CHEERS.    THE GOOD WIFE made some wholesale changes towards the end.  It was risky but the new cast pulled it off.   I’m sure there are many other examples.  You might even perchance have one yourself.  

How many DR. WHO’s have there been?  

And finally, when a whole new cast is hired around one lead character you can pretty much call that a Spin-off.  

Stay cool out there wherever you may be.  And get VACCINATED!

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

EP237: Joe Buck Part 2

This week Ken & lead Fox play-by-play man, Joe Buck discuss calling NFL football, the Super Bowl, World Series, and dealing with Social Media, which is not for the faint of heart. It’s a fun, informative, and candid conversation. You don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy Joe Buck.

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

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Comedy is subjective

How subjective?  Here's an example: 

In the early ‘70s I was a Top 40 DJ.  I was Beaver Cleaver (I wanted a name that was memorable and amusing).  My whole act was entertaining and filling my show with comic content.  One liners, crazy voices, outrageous stunts, goofing with callers on the air, making fun of the records, etc. 

All too often my program directors would say “SHUT UP! Just play the damn music.  Stop trying to be funny.  YOU’RE NOT FUNNY!”  (For the record, I thought I was funny… at least sometimes.)  

Eventually I got out of radio and became a TV comedy writer.  Very wise move on my part, wouldn't you say?

Now flash-forward to 1977.  I’m the co-head writer of MASH (along with David Isaacs) and for fun, I’m on the air on TEN-Q, Los Angeles every Saturday night spinning the hits.  

Because I was now a respected TV comedy writer, I was getting huge love from the radio industry.  It helped certainly to be on a happening station in the number two market in the country, but I was finally getting my due.   Radio folk couldn’t stop talking about how fresh and original and funny I was.  

That was very nice to hear.  But here’s the thing:

I was doing the exact same crap I did when program directors told me I sucked.  And now they were taking credit for “discovering” me.

It’s all perception, and like I’ve always said, the only way I ever got respect in radio was to get out it.   Comedy is subjective.

TANGENT: This reminds me of a story Larry Gelbart told.  When he was still a teenager he did a screen-test for director, George Cukor.  He wasn’t very good and didn’t get the role.  At a party years later Larry told him that story and Cukor's response was: “Well, why didn’t you tell me who you were going to become? 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Mr. Special Effects

 This is one of my favorite all-time posts so I cart it out every five or six years.  It's certainly one of my funniest -- and I didn't even write it.  

I've talked about the need for showrunners to hold down the budget. What I didn’t mention was how difficult that can sometimes be. Hollywood is notorious for huge mark ups. Studios charging their own shows outrageous rent for their stages and facilities, etc. And if God forbid you need a special effect look out. In writing rooms whenever we propose even the smallest stunt we turn to my partner, David Isaacs, who has created a great character – Mr. Special Effects. He will then describe what is required to pull the stunt off and how much it will cost.

Here is an example, in the form of a memo. And believe me when I say this is TYPICAL.

Report from TV Special Effects Department:

RE: Frasier

Situation: In a dream sequence, Frasier is on the air and his board explodes.

Proposal---If I'm to understand correctly from our conversation you all want the entire radio board to explode in Frasier's (Mr. Gramner's) face. filling the studio room with smoke. It's quite a coincidence since my dad created the same effect for Mr. Al Ruddy for an episode of 'The Monkee's. (For your reference it's the one where the Monkees try to outfox a Russian agent played by Mr. Lloyd Bochner). The good news is that with all the advancements in explosive delivery it's a much easier effect. (The real reason you never saw Mr. Mike Nesmith at any Monkees reunion is that he had four fingers of his left hand blown off. It's certainly not true that he was sick of being a part of a third rate Beatles knockoff. That and feeling responsible for Yakima Canutt losing a testicle on "How the West was Won" haunted my father till he fell to his death rigging Mr. Demetrious 'George' Savalas for a jump off the Brooklyn Bridge in 'Kojak.)

Anyway, the effect is fairly simple, but of course we want it foolproof and safe. (within reason) First of all we will rig a series of explosive charges across the board. That will control the blast as oppossed to one big blast which is harder to control. I will set off the charges in sequence from a specially designed phaser. That should supply our explosion and still create the effect. We also set a charge inside the board so that in the case of a fire breaking out from the initial explosion (small possibility) I'll blow that charge which in turn would smother the flames. That, of course, would also preclude a second take.

Now I'm to understand that Mr. Gramner would like to do the stunt himself (concurrent with an 'Entertainment Tonight' segment profiling sitcom actors who do their own stunts.) That's fine but we will take the precaution of covering his body in an inch to an inch and a half of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly under a flame retardant herringbone suit. (It's uncomfortable but the guy works, what, twelve hours a week?) That will protect him vis a vis a mistake in explosion deployment. (Just to warn you in spite of caution it can happen---Sometimes to a serendipitous result. My dad worked for Mr. George Roy Hill on 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KId." Liitle known fact, the boxcar being blown to smithereens was not in the script. It was what we call in the S.E. business a happy accident. Thankfully the only injury was a prosthetic arm that was mangaled up pretty good. It belonged to my dad's assistant 'Spider' who had lost his real arm and half a foot working with my dad on 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'. Long story)

So we will protect Mr. Gramner. Safety for the cameramen and crew are at your discretion. Should be a do it every day, piece of cake effect. Still it's S.O.P. for me to ask you one question that's in the order of a final safeguard. Was there originally an actor you really felt could have played Frasier in the event that Mr. Gramner was unavailable or... "a handful"? Have to ask. It many times makes a tougher call but I will remind you of 'happy accidents'.

I'm going to ball park a cost for you then come up with a final tally later. I know you have budget concerns but it's a heck of a stunt. Figuring explosives , equipment rented from the studio electrical dept., special costuming from the studio costume dept., crew, overtime, dummy board and console from studio props, studio fire chief standing by, and I figure you'll want to throw in pizza for a hard working S.E. bunch, I think I can bring the whole thing off for you, on the cheap, for about 110 thousand dollars. Again that's if we're not figuring on another take.

Loved the script by the way.

Mr. S.E.

Monday, August 09, 2021

Product placement

Here’s a FQ that became a DP (daily post).

DBenson asks:

Did you ever get asked/pressured to do a star informercial episode?

Not that specifically, but we have had our brushes with product placement, a similar animal.  

Back in the ’00’s there was a company that tried to marry writers with sponsors.  The trade off was the sponsor would pay for the show in exchange for say a scene in every episode that took place in their store.  The shows would then be offered to networks for free.  The sponsors would pay for them instead of the network, which was a great incentive.  

We were approached to create a series with this arrangement.  We passed.  They said, “All you need is to do one scene in (for example) Home Deport.”  The trouble is — what if during the week we decided the Home Depot scene didn’t work or wasn’t needed?  We’d still be obligated to do some scene in Home Deport that lasted a certain amount of time.  

That’s just bad story telling.  And we didn’t want that obligation.  It felt like a deal with the devil.

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones to pass on that opportunity.  The company never really caught hold and within a couple of years faded away.  

Our only other brush with product placement was the scene where Rita Wilson drinks a Coke in VOLUNTEERS.  But as I’ve written about several times, that scene came out of research and was written several years before Coca-Cola owned the studio that made the movie.  But boy, did we take shit.  

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Weekend Post

 Who doesn't love a little visual humor?

They do charge if you want a rollaway bed for them, however.
This is for real,
If Pole Dancing becomes an Olympic Sport I see her getting the Gold.
From my friend, Russ Woody -- an actual sign in a bathroom in Russia.
Hey, it's hard to find crap that's really fresh.
Ana from 50 SHADES OF GREY -- her car.

An authentic newspaper ad.  Back when the whole family drank beer... even the kids.
Okay.  I just couldn't resist.
And finally, here's a photo I took myself.  On Ventura Blvd. in Studio City they have plaques on the sidewalk like they do in Hollywood.  But in Studio City they salute those great movies and TV shows that were filled there.  Including this one:

Friday, August 06, 2021

Friday Questions

It’s Friday already.  So let’s dive into some FQ’s, shall we?

Vincent Saia gets us going.

I know this is a highly controversial issue, but I think your views on this are important. How would you feel about a black James Bond? Or a bi-sexual James  T. Kirk (I'm sure you know William Shatner has already voiced his opinion)? Personally, I agree with Stan Lee - Once the race, gender, and/or sexual orientation of a character is established it should not be changed.

I don't think I'm being bigoted or narrow-minded. I think I'm respecting the conception of the author(s). Of course, if the author says it's okay as Sam Shepard did when he gave his (belatted) blessings to a female version of TRUE WEST, that's a different matter. I'm sure  you remember THE NEW ODD COUPLE. lol

I guess my big question is why is the character’s ethnicity or gender changed?  If it’s just to add diversity then it seems patronizing.  But if you plan on going in a different direction with the character then the change may be a huge plus.  

James Bond has always been portrayed as a proper English gentleman.  Were there African-American secret agents with Bond’s background?  If so then great.  If not, it’s just a distortion of the character.   Create a new character.  Start a new franchise that hopefully can go for fifty years.  

I never saw the all-female version of THE ODD COUPLE.  Quite honestly, it felt like a stunt and a money grab.

I would however, pay to see a Caucasian version of SHAFT.

Ben asks:

Do you update your blog yourself? What about the podcast? Did you set it up originally or have someone else consult? Just wondering how those old jock tech skills translate to the Internet.

Everything associated with the blog I do myself.  As for the podcast, I have a host company, WAVE, that drops it weekly on its various platforms.  But I do all the production and any necessary editing.  Each week I upload a fully completed episode.  

Brandon in Virginia wonders:

About a week or two ago, I was telling someone about a series of memos Robert Reed wrote to Sherwood Schwartz criticizing "The Brady Bunch"'s writing, and how silly the show was getting. While Reed wasn't necessarily wrong - one memo talked about a hair tonic turning Greg's hair orange in 1970-something - if you had a star constantly doing this, do you give in or tell them where to stick their memos?

Footnote: I believe the plan was to kill off the Mike Brady character, but ABC canceled the show.

It depends on the actor — whether he’s worth it, and just how far apart creatively you are with him.  Also, how respectful he expresses his dissatisfaction.  

On the one hand, Robert Reed was probably right and the show often did flirt with implausibility.  On the other, it was a Sherwood Schwartz production — the guy who did GILLIGAN’S ISLAND.  So Reed had to know going in what he was in for.  It’s not like he was promised FRASIER and it turned into SILVER SPOONS.  

That said, if I were the showrunner Carol Brady would have been a widow after season one.  

And finally, from Bill Kelliher:

Ken, what are your thoughts on the Frasier reboot now that it's official? Will you be working on the new show?

I have not been asked to participate and know none of the particulars.  I don’t know the premise, don’t know the writers, the cast, or whether any of the original cast members will be involved.  

I wish them the very best.  They have some gargantuan shoes to fill.  But I think the world needs a FRASIER-esque quality sitcom again.  

What’s your Friday Question?  Get vaccinated!!!!

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

EP236: Meet Joe Buck Part 1

Joe Buck is the voice of sports for Fox. He’s won 7 Emmys calling numerous Super Bowls, World Series, the U.S. Open, and All-Star Games. He’s also an upcoming guest host on JEOPARDY. This week we discuss hosting JEOPARDY, his Hall-of-Fame father, sportscaster Jack Buck, breaking into the business, and calling baseball.

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

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

How BECKER came to be

Here's a Friday Question that warrants an entire post because the creator of BECKER, Dave Hackel was nice enough to answer this BECKER question. 

Michael had the question:


Do you know if BECKER was first pitched to NBC before ending up on CBS? I would have assumed NBC would have been interested in Ted Danson's first new show after CHEERS. 


The quick answer is “no.”  

The show was only pitched to CBS.

The more detailed answer is this:  It’s difficult to remember the order of the chess moves, but at the time, now twenty-three years ago, the character of Becker was considered pretty edgy, so Paramount suggested that we try to attract an actor first.  

Also, it was known in the community that CBS had a deal with Ted but had not yet come up with a show for him. 

Paramount sent it to Ted’s representatives, they sent it to him, he read it and wanted to meet with me. Then if you remember, I put together a reading of the pilot. Ted wanted to see how it felt to be John Becker and he wanted me to see if I thought he was a good fit for the part.  Our deal was that if either of us didn’t feel it worked, we could walk away — no harm, no foul.  

We were both pleased with the way the reading went so Paramount took our “package” to CBS.  It was the perfect confluence of actor, script and timing.  Remove any one of those three elements…mainly Ted, of course…and the script would likely still be in my desk drawer.

Hi, it’s me again.

I remember that reading.  I was initially skeptical.  But Ted won me over by page 3.  He combined that one magic element — the ability to be edgy while still being lovable.  I’m still trying to achieve that.

Thanks again to Dave Hackel.  

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

When Broadway was BROADWAY

Here's a list of what was playing on Broadway one week in 1948.  Thanks to reader Douglas McEwan for sharing it.  As he said, and I couldn't agree more, I'd go see any one of those shows.  

WHITE LOTUS - my review

As many of you know, I love Hawaii.  Try to get there every year.   I did a show set in Hawaii and got to write off trips (although that’s not why I did the show… entirely).  I’ll watch just about any TV show or movie set in Hawaii.  I have a very low bar.  Show palm trees, the ocean, maybe a waterfall and I’m all in.  You want to throw in a tacky Don Ho song?  Doesn’t ruin it.  A Tab Hunter beach party movie?  Sure.  I even sat through the first two seasons of the awful HAWAII FIVE-O reboot.  

So when I heard there was this new limited series coming to HBO Max about a resort hotel in Hawaii set at the Four Seasons in Maui (one of my favorite haunts) I was excited.  I didn’t need Aaron Sorkin dialogue, Vince Gilligan storytelling, just a few glimpses of the pool area.  Like I said, I’m easy.

So with great anticipation I set aside last Saturday night to watch a few episodes of this new series, entitled WHITE LOTUS.  I turned it off after a half hour.   I turned it off during a scene at the pool.  

That’s how much I hated it.  

And in fact, I hate it even more.  I can’t remember the last time I hated a TV show as much.  Every character is just despicable.  This is the most cynical mean-spirited show on whatever constitutes for “television” these days.  The hotel management has utter contempt for every guest.  Every guest is so entitled and so obnoxious that Mother Teresa would give them the finger.  In particular, two teenage girls are so snotty, judgemental, and insufferable you just want to punch them in the face.  Imagine Romy & Michele as see-you-next-Tuesdays.   

Only one character is likable and we're led to believe in the first five minutes that she dies over the course of a week.  

Astoundingly, this show is billed as a “comedy.”  It’s a satire-comedy.  Such hilarity as a local Hawaiian woman so afraid of losing her job that she’s afraid to say she’s about to have a baby any minute.  Big yucks as her water breaks in the lobby and she’s still too petrified to say she’s about to give birth.  Meanwhile, things are not great with newlyweds when the husband (a hideous Matt Gaetz-type) is dissatisfied with this amazing suite they have because it’s not “the honeymoon suite.”  By the way, his parents are paying for the trip.  He further endears himself by demanding his bride give him a blowjob.  Are you laughing yet?  

The two teen c***s are staying with Connie Britton who plays a Sheryl Sandberg stereotype.  One c**t is the daughter and the other is her friend.  They also have a little brother who they make sleep in the kitchen.  And the dad is worried he has testicular cancer and we’re treated to close ups of his swollen genitals.  

The show was created, written, and directed by Mike White.

Is this where comedy is today?  We’re supposed to be amused by how hateful everyone is?   The hotel manager is the destitute man’s John Cleese, passive-aggressively screwing the guests who we can only assume overpaid for this screwing.  

And then there’s Jennifer Coolidge, who I normally like, playing a pathetic needy woman who keeps her mother’s remains in a plastic bag.  Somehow I’m missing the satire.  

What happens to these people?  How does the young newlywed bride die? I don’t give a shit.  Unless sharks eat the teenage c***s, there’s a tsunami, and the Hawaiian government seizes the property, I have no intention of watching another minute of it.  WHITE LOTUS is not the right title.  It should be called Mike WHITE LOATHE-US. 

Aloha forever. 

Monday, August 02, 2021

Should LeVar Burton be the new host of JEOPARDY?

Well now, here we are, almost at the finish line of JEOPARDY guest hosts.  This week it’s David Faber and next week, to round it out, Joe Buck.  By the way, Joe will be my podcast guest this week, dropping 9 pm PDT on Wednesday.  He really walks us through the process.  He’s a great guest so I hope you’ll tune in.  

LeVar Burton just finished his audition week.  Of all the candidates he’s the only one who really campaigned for the job.  He pretty much did everything but skywriting.  He also has a large legion of fans who remember him fondly from READING RAINBOW.  Personally, I like him very much.  I had the chance to direct him once on BECKER.  Great guy and a very talented actor.  Going in I would have been very pleased to see him get the JEOPARDY gig.

But after watching his week-long audition, he’s not the guy.  Sorry.  But he’s just not.  

He was too hyper, screwed up way more than the others, and basically just doesn’t have a feel for the rhythm of the game.  

Alex always maintained that the contestants were the star, but LeVar managed to place all the emphasis on himself.  He was very overbearing and had very little connection to the contestants.  On his first show one of the contestants was completely overwhelmed.  He set a record for the worst one-day showing.  The only acknowledgement from LeVar was “You won’t be joining us for Final Jeopardy.”   I recall a few years ago a woman contestant also struggled and Alex went out of his way to console her throughout and cushion the blow of being humiliated on national television.  He said something like, “this just wasn’t your day” implying on another day with other categories she might’ve done much better.   LeVar just cast the contestant aside.  

Now, I’m sure in part that’s because he didn’t realize this contestant was digging a deeper and deeper hole for himself.  And without question, there are a lot of moving parts the host must negotiate at one time, but constantly taking the temperature of the room, making each contestant feel comfortable is a big part of the gig.  He was overly excited when someone got an answer right, often screaming “YES!” as if they had won a million dollars instead of $400, and a curt “no” if someone answered incorrectly.  

Could he get better over time?  I’m sure.  But there were other guest hosts who just felt it in their bones.  They were comfortable, engaging with the contestants, quick-witted, at ease with the teleprompter, and in confident control of the game.  With LeVar you would have to land the plane by radar.  He would need months of notes and adjustments.  A half-dozen other candidates could just step right in.  It’s like some musicians just feel the groove.  You can teach anyone to play an instrument but some just have that innate groove.  

There’s another part of the job that’s hidden.  How do you deal with unexpected circumstances?   Things are going to come up.  A contestant had a mild stroke once during a game.  The board and clues don’t match on occasion, a contestant freezes up, the board malfunctions, whatever.  You need a PRO when this happens.  Alex was amazing at this.  It stemmed from his natural talent and decades of experience as a broadcaster.   LeVar Burton would be a deer in the headlights.  Aaron Rogers wouldn’t have a clue.  Dr. Oz — well, he was so terrible at everything it’s not worth mentioning.  

The fan verdict on LeVar falls right along the line of who watched READING RAINBOW and who didn’t.  Those that did have great affection for him.  Those that didn’t are very underwhelmed by his performance.   Some newspapers and websites are taking polls and LeVar shows up high, but remember, he’s campaigning.  His fans are actively participating.  There’s no worldwide Buzzy Cohen fan club.  And even then, LeVar is not blowing away the competition.  

Sorry, but he’s not the guy.  

My picks?  I loved Mayim Bialik.  She brought a fun infectious attitude, and has a great feel for the game.  Her diction was also terrific.  I was surprised by how good Robin Roberts was.  I shouldn’t be.  She’s a seasoned pro and her years at Sportscenter really prepared her for spitting out those clues.  But she was warm and excelled way beyond my expectations.  

Ken Jennings is also a favorite.  He certainly has a connection to the game.  My only concern with Ken is his voice is a little weak.  Buzzy Cohen also did a great job, in my opinion, although he was a little hyper and would need some adjustments.  

And my other pick is Mike Richards.  I doubt they’ll go in that direction, but as the executive producer he handled the game and contestants beautifully.  You know you’re in good hands.

I noted previously how smooth and polished Anderson Cooper was.  But he's a CNN guy so enough people probably hate him to cause producers to shy away... which is a shame.

Let’s see how David Faber and Joe Buck do.  But a decision needs to be made soon, and I have a feeling the producers are close to making one.  

And now I’ll throw it open to you.  Who would you like to see get the job permanently?  Ground rules: you must leave a name and you must honor other readers’ choices.  No name calling.  No attacking.  Even if they think Dr. Oz should get the job.   The comment section is open.  And I’ll be looking up to see if there’s skywriting.