Tuesday, September 21, 2021

A question for young readers

Now today’s post might sound like a rant, but it’s actually not (or not entirely).  It’s a sincere question.  

If you’re a young person in your early 20’s and you’re funny and want to go into comedy somehow, what current direction would you like to go in?   

Would you like to write for sitcoms?  Late night shows?  Do stand up?  Do improv hoping to get on SNL? Podcasts? Feature writing?  Playwriting?   Essays on websites like The Onion?  Acting?  Radio?  Comic novels?  Comic strips? Animation? Cartoons for the New Yorker?  Directing? Producing? Talk show host?  Game show host?  Or something else?

Usually one enters a particular field because they’re inspired by the work being done in that field.  They want to be like Bob Newhart or Mel Brooks or Norman Lear.  

When I was starting out I was inspired by everything.  It was a matter of choosing.  TV sitcoms were enjoying a golden age.  You had MASH, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, ALL IN THE FAMILY, in features you had Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, radio was filled with master funnymen like Dan Ingram, Robert W. Morgan, Lohman & Barkley, Bob & Ray, Klavin & Finch, Dick Whittington, Larry Lujack, Dale Dorman, Gary Burbank, Gary Owens.  The Comedy Store was starting to take off.  Every night you’d see Richard Pryor or David Letterman or Robin Williams.  SNL premiered and was a revelation.  Neil Simon was writing hilarious plays.  The National Lampoon was writing brilliant satire.  

I don’t mean this to sound like “back in the good old days” but I’m curious, based on what is considered comedy today, what inspires you?   What makes you say, “Yes, I know it’s hard to break in but I HAVE TO write for sitcoms/late night/the theatre, etc.”  

Obviously some of today’s comedy doesn’t resonate with me — and that’s okay, it’s not meant to — but I seriously wonder, if I were 21 today, what area of comedy would I gravitate towards?  

So if you are in that situation, I sincerely would love to know what your objectives are and why?  And what inspires you?    Thanks.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Emmys afterthought

I didn’t watch the Emmy Awards last night. I had a play performed at a theatre.  Not that there was any suspense.  TED LASSO, THE CROWN, and THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT took home most of the gold.  Glad to see HACKS and Jean Smart getting her Emmy, although if ever there was a shoe-in (if that’s the way you spell it… I’ve never seen shoe-in spelled).  In any event, the awards were deserved.  Congratulations. 

But did I miss anything (assuming any of you watched)?  

I did come home and caught the In Memoriam segment and it was shocking how many people I knew.   Of course the actors got most of the attention, but we lost some magnificent writers.  Allan Burns, William Link, Charlie Hauck, William Blinn, Ann Beatts.  How lucky we were to have them, and me especially for being friends with Allan Burns and Charlie Hauck.   Roy Christopher, who was the set designer on FRASIER, BECKER, and quite a few Emmy ceremonies, was also included and that warmed my heart.  

My other takeaway was what an embarrassment for the major broadcast networks that they were almost entirely shut out of any category that had a cable or streaming competitor.  Netflix and HBO and Apple + dominated.  Major networks aren’t even competitive.  They don’t even get nominees.  

Why these networks continue to air the show makes no sense.  First off, the ratings are horrible, and why would CBS last night want to devote three hours to how great Netflix is?   At some point the networks are going to say fuck it - let Amazon Prime carry them.  

I’ll be writing this same article next year during the Oscars when Netflix wins everything there too. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Weekend Post

 

I talked about this yesterday -- NBC Week.  Today I thought I'd go into more depth.  

The networks are rolling out their new fall shows.

I think.

The premieres are scattered; some not even airing in their regular time slots. Or they premiere and are re-run later that same week. Or re-run on a sister cable network.

Some shows premiered in August. Others will debut after the World Series (which is now what, Christmas?).

And many shows now have two premieres. This is primarily a cable convention. A series is on for six weeks in the summer and then returns in January.

A few network series don’t even premiere on television. They get sneak previewed online. I once got a DVD of some new show in my ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY.

And the notion of the Fall Season itself is becoming antiquated. Shows are premiering all year long. What’s a TV nerd to do?

This is understandable, of course. With the current dizzying number of channels and series, anything conventional or unconventional a network can do to scare up an audience is good programming.

But what’s lost in all of this is the “event” status that the Fall Season used to have. Back in the Pleistocene Era when there were just three networks (there’s a real good book about life in the ‘60s written by… oh wait – that’s my book). Shows premiered only twice a year – the Fall and Mid-Season (January). New programming in the summer was either “Failure Theater” (airing the pilots they didn’t pick up) and variety shows hosted by guys hoping to snare a regular slot (some like Johnny Cash made it, others like John Gary didn’t).

There was great anticipation for the Fall Season. Promos ran all summer. And by promos I mean fifteen seconds, not the movie trailers we see today.

By September we were whipped into an utter frenzy. Only two weeks left before the world premiere of CAMP RUNAMUCK! How will I last that long?  After a summer of interminable reruns, suddenly there was NEW STUFF again! Oh, the joy!

Of the three networks, no one did premieres better than NBC. First off, you have to really use your imagination to picture NBC as a major influential network but it once was. And they billed their rollout as NBC WEEK. All of their shows – new or returning – premiered over one seven-day period in mid-September. You knew the date as well as your birthday.

They also offered a written program – like a yearbook – that you could send away for. Uber geek that I was (am) I used to send away for that sucker every year. There were big color pictures of all their new shows. Wow! PLEASE DON’T EAT THE DAISIES! I would pore through those pages with awe and wonder. 90 BRISTOL COURT – three sitcoms set in the same complex. What a concept!! (Forget that two were canceled by January.)
In a way, I think the anticipation made the shows seem better than they actually were. I call this the “Dark Knight Rises Syndrome.” But there were usually enough cool new shows that NBC WEEK was never a disappointment. It’s not like the Oscars.

Today I don’t even bother to watch premieres. Most are so dreadful anyway. Kristen Bell moves into a neighborhood of space aliens. No thanks. If a show is good and gets decent buzz I will catch up with ON DEMAND or find it online. But I miss the days when the Fall Season was important to me. On the other hand, spending an afternoon studying a glossy multi-page brochure for NBC WEEK is the true definition of “Get a Life.”

Friday, September 17, 2021

Friday Questions

Your mid-September Friday Questions.

Ted starts us off.


Hey Ken, I think you might have discussed this before, but what's it like directing child actors? Do you have to make sure they don't have that annoyingly "cutesy" acting style that used to be common on TV shows? And do you find that most comedy writers are good at writing for kids, or are they too often tempted to make them sound like wisecracking junior adults?

Obviously, it depends on the child.  But with kids it’s not only their performance but their ability to concentrate.

For the most part I’ve had good luck.  The key is being patient, especially if they’re really young (5-7). Plus, they rehearse less than the other actors.  A certain portion of the day is reserved for school so 70% of the rehearsal time is dealing with their stand-ins.  

My heart goes out to child actors.  They’re in a world of adults being asked to do things that are difficult for grown-ups, much less youngsters.  My job is to make them feel as comfortable possible. 

And every so often I’ll come upon a kid with impeccable  comic timing — they instinctively in their bones know just how to get every laugh.  I’ve been lucky enough to work with one or two of those.  

As for giving acting notes, I just want them to be real -- not be cutesy to get a laugh.  The more I can get them to just act naturally, the better will be my chances that they really deliver.

Final thought:  Kids aren’t easy to direct but by and large they’re way easier than professional athletes.  

Chris wonders:


Watching old sitcoms I notice that sometimes they'll use a humorous "smash cut," like switching suddenly to a new scene to contradict what a character just said, etc. The thing that surprises me is that the studio audience seems to laugh at these... But how on earth could they see the smash cut to laugh at it? Surely it takes too much time to change scenes in the actual studio to keep that laugh. Same question for camera pullout reveal jokes.

You must be talking about multi-camera sitcoms that are filmed in front of a live studio audience.  Often, to achieve that surprise, the first scene will be pre-filmed the day or two before.  The studio audience watches the scenes on monitors then the flip happens when they turn their attention to the stage and they see what happens after the cut.  

And some shows won’t go to those lengths.   They’ll just lean on the laugh box. 

Jeff asks:

Back in the day, network star(s) would often host these shows or appear in mini-skits to introduce new or returning programs. Were you or any of your colleagues ever involved in any of these (e.g. to write dialogue for an actor appearing in character as their sitcom alter ego)?

No.  To be honest, those big preview shows died out in the 70s or 80s.  Their heyday was before my time.  

Oh, for the days when fall premiers were a big deal.  For NBC Week (as they called it) you could send away over the summer to get a free handsomely mounted program saluting all the new shows.  I wish I still had my copies.  I’d send away every year.  

I think one of the networks did a preview show this year.  I rarely watch network television anymore so I couldn’t tell you which network did it.

And finally, from PolyWogg:

I was wondering about voice direction in TV scripts. For example, in Friends, Matt Perry's delivery of "Could it BE any more (blah)" only works with the right rhythm and direction in delivery. So my Q is if you have similar examples of phrases/lines that were delivered but only work through voice inflection, and how much it was in the script vs. the actor finding a way to say it?

I think it started out with Matt delivering a couple of lines in that rhythm and the producers recognizing its potential.  It’s a mixture of irony and a touch of sarcasm.  And you have to remember, when Matt started delivering lines that way it was a very fresh approach.  Now half the actors on sitcoms adopt that.

I never worked on FRIENDS so I’m hardly an authority, but I suspect when the writers saw how well he scored they started writing to that.  

We had a writer in the CHEERS room named Jerry Belson.  He was one of the funniest writers I’ve ever met.  (At one time he was Garry Marshall’s writing partner.)  He would work one day a week on CHEERS.  And he had a fantastic delivery.  He would pitch lines that had us on the floor.  We’d put them into the script and the next day at run-through most of them came back out because none of the actors could deliver the line as funny as Jerry.  

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

EP242: Flights from Hell


You’d think that flying charter with MLB teams would be dream travel — and often it is. But any seasoned traveler knows there are unforeseen circumstances at times. Ken relates three crazy charter flight stories from his days calling big league play-by-play. Lockdown will not seem so bad after listening to this episode.

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


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Goodbye Larry

WARNING: Political Rant.  Red States best move on to another blog. 

I must say I take a personal glee at the outcome of the Republican attempt to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom, not just because it’s another setback for the party that advocates stupidity, the end of democracy, and the death of its members (don't wear masks, don't take vaccines, COVID is a hoax)— no, I’m thrilled because I personally know the candidate who lost — Larry Elder.

We worked together at KABC radio and may I just say I am not a fan.  And that’s not even based on issues.  Women aren’t as smart as men, there should be no minimum wage, no mask or vaccination mandates.  Those alone would be enough to despise a person.  He was always one of those talkshow hosts that took the contrarian point of view to stir up controversy.  The ultimate opportunist (as this governor run illustrates). 

Aside from all that, I just found him a dyspeptic pompous pain-in-the-ass with an ego the size of Canada. Based on... nothing.  He was not well-liked by his staff.  And for good reason.  He had the production director create wonderful comedy bits for him, which he pressed as a CD, took all the credit for it (even though he contributed nothing) and called it “the Best of Larry Elder.”   And for the record, the man has zero sense of humor. 

I was persona non grata to him.  He wouldn’t speak to me.  He wouldn’t acknowledge my existence.  Why?  Because I was hosting Dodger Talk and during Spring Training we were contracted to do an hour Dodger Talk show from 6-7 pm, which cut into one of his hours.  For whatever passive-aggressive reason, he blamed me.  Needless to say the change-overs at 6 were a barrel of laughs.  He literally ignored me.  So what I started doing was talking to him.  “Hey, Larry, how are you?  What’s going on?  Seen the new Clint Eastwood movie?  What do you think of my shirt?  What’s your favorite pie?”   You’d think one time he’d acknowledge what was happening.  I’ve worked in radio for more years than I care to mention, have changed-over with hundreds of different performers and never had that experience.   How hard would it be to just say hi?  He didn’t have to go out to dinner with me.  But that’s Larry.  He’s the king of dick moves.

Like… saying he lost the election and crying voting fraud the night BEFORE the election on his website.   A man of real integrity and scruples.  And this was the best the Republican Party could offer?

It's going to be hard to cry foul when the vote total was such a landslide -- not that that will stop 'ol Lar.  Again - scruples. He was the projected loser less than an hour after the polls closed.  He was the reason Newsom won so big.  This was projected to be a tight race until media hog Elder joined the fray.

And what did he achieve for all his efforts?  Not the shady power grab he attempted.  Once a local non-entity he became a national embarrassment.  And THAT is the "Best of Larry Elder."  

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The buzz on Buzzy

This is the one week that Mike Richards will be hosting JEOPARDY.   It was supposed to be his first week as permanent and in a reversal of fortunes that saw him lose the gig and his Executive Producer job on both JEOPARDY and WHEEL OF FORTUNE and he is now out of the business.   If only Trump could have such a fall from grace.  (Actually, no -- I don't wish Mike Richards and his whole family go to prison for the rest of their lives.)  

But it puts the parent company, Sony, in a rather embarrassing situation.  Since JEOPARDY is a competition, you can't just eat five episodes. But every minute he's on camera it just reminds the audience of what a fiasco this has become and how ultimately they're responsible. 

And now we're back at square one.  Sony needs to name a permanent host -- sometime before the polar ice cap melts.  After this week Mayim Bialik, who did GREAT, will host for three weeks.  After that, I dunno.

But I found it interesting that when they re-ran the two-week TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS, hosted by Buzzy Cohen, that started a groundswell of support for Buzzy.  Newsweek even calls him a new frontrunner.  

Personally, I thought he did a great job.  As for former JEOPARDY champion, Ken Jennings, I imagine he's still on the short-list although his voice is a little weak and you hear the voice constantly since the host reads the clues aloud.   

I'd be happy if Buzzy got the gig.  I also feel that some of his stiffness and nerves would iron out once he had the job and could relax.  

I'd also be thrilled if Mayim got the full-time gig. Of all the guest hosts I thought she was the best.  Just don't let Dr. Oz come within five miles of the studio. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Emmys have become the Grammys


What do I mean by that? 

On several occasions someone bursts upon the music scene and wins sixteen Grammys and two years later is completely forgotten.  Norah Jones, anybody?   The Emmy competition for Best Comedy is now very similar.  Shows are now really “the flavor of the month.” 

Remember all the hype about GIRLS?  And then FLEABAG?   The zeitgeist has moved on.

Now partly this is because these series are not long lasting.  They make 20 episodes not 200. Also because they’re on cable or streaming platforms and don’t have the overall exposure that a broadcast network can provide. 

But I also think today’s sitcoms tends to be so of the moment that when the zeitgeist moves on they’re left by the side of the road.  That’s not a knock on them.  It’s the current trend.  But it may come with a price of standing the test of time.

For much of the 1970’s the nominees and winners were ALL IN THE FAMILY, MASH, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, SANFORD & SON, TAXI, and BARNEY MILLER.  All are beloved shows today. 

In the 1980’s the shows that battled each other year after year were CHEERS, GOLDEN GIRLS, THE COSBY SHOW, FAMILY TIES, and THE WONDER YEARS.  Pretty good for 40 years ago.

The 1990’s featured these shows that duked it out yearly: SEINFELD, CHEERS, MURPHY BROWN, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, HOME IMPROVEMENT, FRASIER, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, and FRIENDS.  MURPHY BROWN suffered from topical references but was still enough of a "thing" that CBS chose to reboot it. 

MODERN FAMILY dominated the ‘00s and teens but competition was LOUIE, MASTER OF NONE, GLOW, THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL, RUSSIAN DOLL (why that’s a comedy I don’t know) among others.  There were stand outs like VEEP, and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM but again, how many of them will mean anything in another ten years?  Or three?  Some don’t mean anything already.

Obviously, when making a sitcom you don’t spend a lot of time wondering what audiences will be watching in fifty years,   But it seems there are fewer of them now, and one factor in a great sitcom is its ability to leave a mark.   I guess what I’m saying is will somebody please create the next FRIENDS?  

Saturday, September 11, 2021

9-11 and David & Lynn Angel

This is my Weekend Post.  It's 9-11.  I re-post this every year on this date and always will. 

9/11 affected us all, profoundly and in many cases personally. Two of my dear friends were on flight 11. David and Lynn Angell. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought of them, missed them, and not felt grateful that they were in my life.

David and I worked together on CHEERS, WINGS, and FRASIER (the latter two he co-created). We used to call him the “dean”. In his quiet way he was the one we always looked to for final approval of a line or a story direction. He brought a warmth and humanity to his writing that hopefully rubbed off on the rest of us “schickmeisters”. And he could be funny – sneaky funny. During long rewrite sessions he tended to be quiet. Maybe two or three times a night he’d pitch a joke – but they were always the funniest jokes of the script.


For those of you hoping to become comedy writers yourselves, let David Angell be your inspiration. Before breaking in he worked in the U.S. Army, the Pentagon, an insurance firm, an engineering company, and then when he finally moved out to L.A. he did “virtually every temp job known to man” for five years. Sometimes even the greatest talents take awhile to be recognized.

I first met David the first season of CHEERS. He came in to pitch some stories. He had been recommended after writing a good NEWHART episode. This shy quiet man who looked more like a quantum physics professor than a comedy writer, slinked into the room, mumbled through his story pitches, and we all thought, “is this the right guy? He sure doesn’t seem funny.” Still, he was given an assignment (“Pick a con…any con”) and when the script came back everyone was just blown away. He was quickly given a second assignment (“Someone single, someone blue”) and that draft came back even better. I think the first order of business for the next season was to hire David Angell on staff.

After 9/11, David’s partners Peter Casey & David Lee called me and my partner into their office. There was a FRASIER script David Angell was about to write. (It was the one where Lilith’s brother arrived in a wheelchair and became an evangelist. Michael Keaton played the part.) Peter & David asked if we would write it and for me that was a greater honor than even winning an Emmy.

David’s wife, Lynn, was also an inspiration. She devoted her life to helping others – tirelessly working on creating a children’s library and a center that serves abused children.

My heart goes out to their families. To all of the families.

I still can’t wrap my mind around it.

So tragic, so senseless, and even twenty years later, so inconceivable.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Friday Questions

I haven’t had a Natalie Wood photo for awhile so thought I’d just sneak one in.  More FQ’s from vaccinated readers.

RyderDA is up first.

You mention how much is riding on the pilot of a series to you personally in order to keep watching for the long haul. Can you think of examples of weak pilots that turned into killer shows? How about strong pilots that became even better in Episode 2 and beyond?

The one that leaps to mind is PARKS AND RECREATION.  HAPPY DAYS is another show that really took off after its pilot.  

When characters break out, shows then take on a life of their own.  The Fonz, Alex Keaton, Urkel all were happy surprises and their shows benefited greatly.  

I’m sure you guys could name a bunch of weak pilots that became hit series.  Most shows need time to grow since it’s not uncommon.  

From Brian Phillisp:


You've mentioned favorite writers, actors and directors. Who were/are some of the favorite people you've worked with that are not one of the above?

I could list almost everyone on crews I’ve worked with.  These dedicated craftsmen are the absolute backbone of the industry and don’t get nearly the recognition they deserve.  I salute each and every one of them.  

I would like to single out writers assistants we have had, however.  David Isaacs and I wrote in a very unusual way. We dictated scripts to an assistant who took down shorthand.  That was quite a skill (probably an obsolete one today) and we had some great assistants.  So in no particular order: eternal thanks to Sue Herring, Lana Lewis, Nancy Kopang, Ruth Horne, Sherry Falk, Linda Silverthorn, Ginny Olah, Barry Zajac, Donna Wheeler, Katy Penland, and Roz Jacob.  

Mike Bloodworth wonders:


Do you have notebooks, old napkins and/or computer files with potential jokes, premises, situations, etc., that you saved because you felt that you could use them someday? Sort of the comedy version of hoarding.

Follow up. If yes, have you used any of that archived material in, for example, in any of your recent plays?


I keep a manila folder of ideas — either for plays, TV series, or movies.  Sometimes they’re rather detailed, other times they’re just a scrap of paper with one sentence.   Most of these notions will never see the light of day, but every so often I’ll come up with something and realize a notion I had stashed away would work well with this.  

But I never keep a joke file.  My jokes come from character and attitude and are customized to fit the situation.

Long ago there was a comedy writer who traveled with card catalogs.  The room would be looking for a joke on used car salesmen and he would rifle through his files to find “used car salesmen” jokes.  

One time he was hired to write on a variety show being taped in London.  His card files was in luggage that got lost.  For three days he was absolutely useless in the room until the luggage was recovered.   He's maybe the last writer I would ever hire.  

And finally, from Steve McLean:


Just as 'Cheers' was becoming a huge hit, Ted Danson took a role in the TV movie 'Something About Amelia' playing a father who has been sexually molesting his daughter. The movie did well in the ratings and Ted won a Golden Globe for his performance but do you remember if the producers or the network were initially worried about him taking such a controversial role and its potential impact on the show?


I believe he filmed that before CHEERS.  He also did a guest appearance on a show called TUCKER’S WITCH, which ran opposite CHEERS one night.  We gave him a lot of shit for that one.  

What’s your question?   And at the risk of pissing off people because I want you all to be safe and healthy — get vaccinated.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

EP241: Meet Character Actor, Paul Willson


Paul Willson has been on over 120 shows and movies, many as a recurring character, including CHEERS. He’s also been in OFFICE SPACE. It’s a unique journey through show business as told by one very funny actor.

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


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The greatest sign-off ever

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

Joseph Price filed it.

Ken, I remember you told a hilarious story on your podcast about a radio DJ who attempted to prevent his firing by playing a specific song... (trying not to spoil it for your blog audience). Is it possible for you to share it on this blog? I couldn't find the story again.  

Okay, some backstory:  Radio in the ‘60s and ‘70s was a great time.  All local stations, all local DJ’s. 

But it was also very unstable.  Top 40 radio was a constant revolving door.  New program directors, bad rating books, new owners, new format, new directions — they all contributed to maybe the most insecure job on the planet.   DJ’s were nomads.  My disc jockey career, for example:  I was a jock in Bakersfield, San Bernardino, Detroit, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles. 

I’d be hard-pressed to name a jock from that era who didn’t get fired at least three times.  It was four for me.  And that’s over a period of a few years.  I was a TV writer for 40 years and was never fired once (show cancellations don’t count — that’s not personal). 

When you’re fired in radio, rarely do you have any warning.  I think my final sign-off on several stations was “See you tomorrow night.” 

If we got advance warning it was usually because we saw the trade papers advertising for our jobs, or the PD was constantly on your case.  All of a sudden you could do nothing right. 

Now, getting to Joseph's request. I believe this happened in Kansas City in the late ‘60s.  The morning DJ got wind that he was about to be fired.  Then ten minutes before his shift ended the program director stuck his head in to say “Please come to my office when you’re done with your show.”  He didn’t need tea leaves to know he was about to be canned. 

So he had ten minutes to think of something.  

Some DJ’s in that situation bad mouth the station on the air.  That usually comes back to bite them when they try for other jobs.  This gentleman was far more shrewd.

Just before his sign-off he went on the air and said this (I’m paraphrasing): “I want to end my show today by playing a record.  The management does not want me to play this record.  In all likelihood I’m going to get fired for playing this record, and this is the last time you hear my voice.  But I feel so strongly about it, that I don’t care.  Even if I do lose my job, there are certain beliefs that are more important.  So here’s the record this station does not want you to hear.”

And he played the National Anthem.

The station phone lines blew up.  There was outrage in the community.  He was still fired of course, but not before causing the station a world of grief. 

God, I miss radio.  

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

The present downfall of comedy

WARNING: RANT AHEAD

I was watching an HBO documentary on one of my idols, Mel Brooks.  It was actually a compilation of BBC interviews done over the years.   In an earlier interview he was talking about THE PRODUCERS and “Springtime for Hitler” and how audacious that project was.   He was saying it was a great time for comedy because there were no limits placed on your imagination.  You could go as far as you wanted to go.  

And my response to that was, “Boy, not today.”

I can’t think of a worse time for comedy.  Everybody has to be so sensitive, no one can ever be offended ever again.  The slightest slight can label you a racist.  The most innocent physical description can brand you as body shaming or sexist or objectifying.   

I showed my 5 year-old granddaughter, ALADDIN on Disney + and it now comes with a long disclaimer warning of all the horrible callous racist things this cartoon contains.  We’re not talking BIRTH OF A NATION.  We’re not talking AMOS & ANDY.  This is ALADDIN with Robin Williams.  What once was whimsy is now “inappropriate.”   But I guess not inappropriate enough since Disney still has the stage version and is raking in money hand over fist. 

On my podcast, Joe Buck asked if I still do award show reviews?  The answer is no. How do you do a snarky review when you can’t make fun of anyone’s appearance?  When you can’t make fun of any of the addled celebrity presenters?   If one of the red carpet commentators happens to be BIPOC you can’t point out any moronic thing he might say.  Even if you just transcribe word for word his idiotic question or comment you’re still a racist.   So why review them anymore?  Who needs the pushback and outrage over… well, nothing?  

Not to mention how a slightly insensitive joke or Tweet from 25 years ago can now get you fired. 


I look at the wondrous body of work we have from Mel Brooks and how today he couldn’t make any of his movies.  None.  He fearlessly made fun of everything.  He had free license to take his imagination to the farthest limit.   What young Mel Brooks is self-censoring himself today?  Or not even bothering?  

It’s not a matter of sensitivity.  It’s a matter of lightening up.  The world would be a better place if we laughed more.  Especially now.  And it wouldn’t necessarily be at the expense of embracing other cultures.   As they say to the refs in the NBA:  “Just let the boys play.” 

Monday, September 06, 2021

I miss Jerry

It began locally in New York in 1966.  THE JERRY LEWIS LABOR DAY TELETHON.  They raised over a million that first year, which is phenomenal.   Eventually it went national and shifted to Las Vegas.  Jerry called upon his show business friends to perform and the telethon really became a “thing.”  Frank Sinatra got Dean Martin to go on one year and reunite with Jerry.  Norm Crosby seemed to appear every hour. 

It was the great annual cheese event — primarily because Jerry became so supercilious and maudlin.  The best part was his treacly introductions, his oozing faux sincerity. Every performer was an “incredible human being and true humanitarian.”  Every artist was “gifted,” “irreplaceable,” “a genius,” “a giant,” “a legend.”  Norm Crosby, a genius? 

Sadly, the telethon eventually ended (as did Jerry some years later).  And I really miss it.  For kitsch there was nothing like it.  Jerry singing “Rock a Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” towards the end of each show as if that were a big fucking deal.   And there was sidekick, Ed McMahon to chortle uproariously at everything Jerry did.  The amazing genius performers at 7 AM on Labor Day were usually dog acts from Circus Circus.   The big guns came later in the afternoon.  I don’t think Frank Sinatra was ever up before noon (unless he heard the woman’s husband coming home unexpectedly).

But the thing I miss most is THE JERRY LEWIS TELETHON was a shared national event.  And we have so few of those left.  

Labor Day is always bittersweet.  It marks the end of summer but the return of pumpkin-spiced Starbucks latte. 

Happy Labor Day.  Jerry, wherever you are, don’t go changin’.  Lunch sometime? Awesome.  I’ll have my people call your people, unless you don’t have people, in which I’d be happy to loan you some of mine.

Happy Labor Day, everybody.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Weekend Post

 I once related the story of my partner and I attending an awards ceremony looking like idiots in matching brown tuxedos and peach ruffled shirts. But that is not to suggest that I don't normally dress extremely well. In fact, I was in GQ.

No. Really.

Honest.

I’m serious.

Somehow GQ magazine got wind of my going off to Syracuse in 1988 to announce minor league baseball. They decided to do an article about me. My wife is still laughing. “You in GQ?”

I did the phone interview with Ron Powers who wrote the piece. Then I got a call from their photographer. They wanted to take pictures of me that Friday at a local baseball stadium. I said fine. The photographer then wanted to know what I’d be wearing. I said I didn’t know. This was only Monday and my mom usually doesn’t pick out my clothes until the night before. He asked my measurements and said he would bring something. Now I was a little pissed off. Just because I was a writer did he automatically assume I was a schlump? I can't believe he saw me on DON KIRSCHNER'S ROCK AWARDS. I told him I would bring my own wardrobe. Obviously his concern was not assuaged. He asked if I’d bring a selection.

I’m the same height and size as Ted Danson. The next day I went to the CHEERS wardrobe guy and asked if I could borrow some Sam Malone shirts and slacks.

Friday afternoon I hooked up with the photographer. I think I was wearing a torn t-shirt. There was already a lump in his throat. I opened my trunk and let him examine my selection. The accompanying picture is a well...an approximation. His eyes almost popped out. “Jesus, this is great stuff!” he said, astonished. “Any one of these would be perfect.” “Well YEAH,” I said as if it couldn't be more obvious. “It might surprise you to learn that most television writers are total fashion hounds. Much of the time in writers rooms is spent discussing men’s haberdashery.”

I accepted his apology and hoped that he had a new respect for how writers really felt about wardrobe.

He went off to set up his camera while I put one of the shirts on, glad that he didn’t see the “Property of Paramount Pictures” tag that was still on the sleeve.

The article came out August 1988. I see my shirt all the time in reruns.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Friday Questions

And we are now in September already.  Yikes.  Here are questions from vaccinated readers.  What’s yours?

Stephen Cudmore is up first.

MASH had a lot of anachronisms in it, like Radar doing an impression of John Wayne from McClintock. Were these goofs, or at some point did the writers decide they were okay with the show not being set in any particular decade?

I would say that 90% of the goofs, mostly anachronisms, were unintentional.  Here's one you may not know:  In our first episode, OUT OF SIGHT/OUT OF MIND in the tag if you look closely, you’ll see one of the nurses is reading the paperback of JAWS.  

But it was tough since the show lasted 11 years and the war lasted 2.  Trying to keep a timeline was impossible.  And later in the run they did an episode that all took place over one the course of one year and the completely obliterated any timeline and the existence of Trapper, Henry, and Frank. I wasn’t with the show then.  

B Smith asks:

Perhaps I haven't looked hard enough, but I've yet to see a film or TV show that acknowledges the COVID-19 pandemic (never gets mentioned, no-one wears a mask, no restrictions or anti-vaxxers). Given that it's probably not going to disappear miraculously, do you think films and TV set in the present day ought to?

There are shows that deal with it.  Two, off the top of my head, are THE GOOD FIGHT and BULL.  I’m sure my astute readers will have other examples.

It’s a tricky dance. You want to be true to the real world, but audiences don’t like seeing it.  And I think when the idiots finally get vaccinated and this goes away (years later than it should with much more hardship that could have been avoided), there will be no nostalgia for this period.  Viewers won’t want to be reminded of it.   So for a show to dwell on the current situation does so with the understanding that their shelf life might be limited.  

How I would handle it?  It truly would depend on the show and how necessary it was to deal with the pandemic.   Bring back MASH.

From MikeN:

Why are Cheers and Frasier on Paramount instead of Peacock?

Because the shows are Paramount shows and they’re owned by Viacom, which owns CBS and Paramount +.  Although those shows aired originally on NBC, they have no hold on them and so Peacock is out of luck.  

It’s one of the main reasons why networks wanted to own their own shows.   Peacock would love to have FRIENDS.  But they’re owned by Warner Brothers so HBO Max is their home.  

And finally, Darwin's Ghost has a question about the JEOPARDY host opening.


Serious question, Ken. Why don't you audition? You've got tons of presenting experience, you're funny, and you know the show inside out. And the only thing anyone could dig up from the past is Mannequin 2, and that wasn't your fault.

Call your agent to get on it Monday morning!


Thank you for your faith in me.  I think they’re looking for someone a little younger and someone who has an actual name that people know. 

But when Vanna White retires…

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

EP240: Name Dropping Theater


Ken drops names and tells stories about various celebrities he has encountered. Along with some tips for those who come to LA hoping to spot stars.

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Ed Asner & Misc-takes

In no order of importance except for the first item.

I loved Ed Asner and had the pleasure of working with him three times.  I directed him twice and he graciously did a play reading of mine (see above photo).  He was a total mensch, a pleasure to work with, and had a wicked sense of humor.  The last time I saw him was just before the pandemic at another memorial and in a room filled with comedy writers he was the funniest.  I didn’t write a full tribute because I really didn’t know him all that well.  Usually, I like to share some personal stories and provide a perspective you won't find elsewhere.  But in this case, I’d just be repeating what everyone else said.  Suffice it to say, he lived a good long life and spread joy and humanity wherever he went.  I don’t know about your Facebook news feed, but mine is filled with people who all had their pictures taken with Ed. I think in 91 years he met everybody in show business.  And they all loved him.

Get vaccinated.

My heart goes out to everyone affected by Hurricane Ida.  It’s times like this you put aside politics.

Get vaccinated.

Interesting how the Mets players are turning on the fans.  And Mets fans are pussycats compared to Red Sox and Phillies fans.  

Get vaccinated.

Big shocker that Mike Richards was fired as Executive Producer of JEOPARDY and WHEEL OF FORTUNE.  I’m now waiting for the axe to fall on some of the Sony executives who let this whole fiasco happen.  

Get vaccinated.

In a new poll the Dodgers are now the most hated team in baseball.  Take that Yankees! LA rules!

Get vaccinated.

Who bets on NFL pre-season games?  Good luck with that.  

Get vaccinated.

Elaine Welteroth exits THE TALK.  Who is Elaine Welteroth? 

Get vaccinated.

Hey, the network Fall Season is about to begin!!!!  Yawn.

Get vaccinated.  

When you and your friends discuss series you’re currently watching, how many of them are broadcast network shows?  I’m guessing none.

How many idiot “COVID-is-a-hoax/anti vaxer/anti mask” radio talk show hosts have to die of COVID before people wise up?  So far, four.  

Get… you know the rest.