Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Sitcoms are the Rodney Dangefield of network television

I had talked about how NBC is holding NIGHT COURT back for whatever excuse they gave, and now I see that CBS has cut the order for Pete Holmes upcoming sitcom from 12 to 10.  The show hasn’t even aired yet.

CBS insists it’s a scheduling issue not creative, but really?  Two more episodes?  What if the show is a hit?  What do they have in the pipeline so sure-fire they can’t squeeze in two more episodes of a sitcom trying to build an audience?   They don't even have a premier date or timeslot for the Pete Holmes show yet.

They also changed the title and recast some parts.  Interestingly, they knew at the outset they were going to recast some parts.  They made a “presentation,” not a pilot — a cheaper version of a pilot — with a couple of parts just slugged in when the actors they wanted weren’t available.   I bet there wasn’t a “presentation” for THE EQUALIZER.  But comedies?  Why spend the money when they’re probably not going to pick them up anyway?  

The article I read in Deadline Hollywood also said “Episode orders across the linear broadcast networks are becoming more flexible, accelerated by the pandemic.”

Right.  Speaking of excuses.   

Episode orders are more flexible because broadcast networks are operating out of fear.  

Meanwhile, this “flexibility” places an added burden on the show runner and writing staff.  How do you plan a season arc if two or three or six episodes are lopped off your order?   How do you plan budgets amortized over the number of shows you expect to produce when that number changes?   

I bet THE EQUALIZER wasn’t asked to cut episodes last year.  And that was REALLY the year of the pandemic.  

Just another sign that if you want comedy, just like you want quality drama — streamers are the answer. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

My 16th Anniversary

It’s this blog’s 16th anniversary.   (Actually, it was last Friday I believe, but nothing can stand in the way of FQ’s.)

I started the blog to draw some attention to myself so I could get an editor to publish my travel book.  One said, “Very funny and if you were Dave Barry I’d buy this in a minute.  But no one knows who the hell you are.”  

I explored getting a PR person but that idea was quickly abandoned when I saw what they charged.  

Publicity from a blog was free — except the work involved in writing and maintaining it.   

Doing a blog and having no readers is a fool’s errand so I was very interested in ways to grow my readership.  I contacted several successful bloggers and sought advice.  One said write something new every day.  If people know there’s always new material they’ll keep coming back.  So I did that.   Another suggested a weekly feature that people could count on.  Thus Friday Questions was born.  

It also helped that at the time blogs were the rage.  I was in the Zeitgeist for a minute and a half.

I had no idea when I started this that I’d still be doing it 16 years later.  Practically everyone else who was blogging when I started have long since closed theirs down.  

How long will I keep going?  I don’t know.  I’ve had my podcast for five years now and that’s still in the Zeitgeist (for the moment).  I’m a little disappointed that more of my readers don’t listen to the podcast.  But I get it.  There’s only so much of “me” I can expect anyone to take.   That said, if I’m going to drop one it’ll be the blog.  I very much enjoy doing the podcast and that audience is growing (from other sources).  

I also vowed not to junk up the blog with ads.  Even though I never really monetized this venture, it wasn’t worth the few hundred dollars to fill the page with cheesy ads.   So this blog was truly a labor of love.  

We’ll see how it goes from here.  For my ten year anniversary I had a big party.  For sixteen I ate leftover turkey.  What keeps me going is you and knowing you’re still out there.  Over 40,000,000 hit so far.  I’ve made some lifelong friends because of the blog and it’s nice to know there are people I’ve never met who, for some inexplicable reason, care to hear what I have to say.  So thank you.  Onwards and sidewards.

Oh, and did starting a blog work?  I ended by self-publishing that travel book.


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Weekend Post on Stephen Sondheim

Like everybody, I was devastated to learn yesterday of Stephen Sondheim's death.  He was 91 and active until the end but still!  I've read numerous testimonials that list his many accomplishments in the theatre -- all the awards he's won, etc.  But they all leave out one credit.  This is a re-post from just this January.  Usually I don't re-post anything that recent, but in light of yesterday's passing I thought it would be my way to salute him in a way you won't find elsewhere.  

I should also mention that I had the pleasure of meeting him once.  Just like in TIK...TIK...BOOM!, he attended a workshop of a musical I was involved with in 2004 and 2005.  It was a Sunday afternoon in the black box theatre of a New York performance school, on the fifth or sixth floor of a building in lower Manhattan.  I just met him.  My daughter, Annie, was lucky enough to sit next to him for the performance.  Talk about a memory.  

Anyway, here's that post.  Hopefully it introduces you to a different side of the man and an even greater appreciation of his talent... if that's even possible.   RIP Stephen Sondheim.  The WORLD loves you. 

 In 1953 a new sitcom premiered called TOPPER.  It was based on the movie TOPPER (which was based on a book) about a stuffy buttoned-down banker haunted by two carefree ghosts.  Cary Grant and Constance Bennett played the ghostly couple.   On TV the hot couple was played by Anne Jeffreys & Robert Sterling, and Leo G. Carroll (Mr. Waverly from THE MAN FROM UNCLE) played Cosmo Topper.  

One of the writers was a 23 year-old kid named Stephen Sondheim.  

He showed a lot of promise.  Wrote eleven episodes.  And they're among the best. But he gave up comedy writing to go into song writing.  Pity.  He could have had a very successful career. 

But seriously, how does Stephen Sondheim wind up in Los Angeles writing for TOPPER?   His mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II introduced him to George Oppenheimer, a playwright and screenwriter.  Oppenheimer had been hired to write TOPPER and wanted someone to help him shoulder the load.  

Sondheim got the job although he had never written a professional script.  He moved out to LA and was paid $300 a week.  Once he had saved enough money to rent an apartment in New York he left.  

The rest of course is history.  But for one brief moment Sondheim was slumming as a sitcom writer.  He went on to become one of the greatest Broadway composers of all-time.  And me, I'm singing, "I'm still here."  


Friday, November 26, 2021

Black Friday Questions

Take a break from Black Friday to peruse some leftover FQ’s.

jcs starts us off:

Traditional multi-cam sitcoms play an important role on Netflix. Otherwise the streaming service would not pay the huge licencing fees associated with shows like SEINFELD or FRIENDS. How come Netflix hasn't tried too hard to come up with their own multi-cam sitcoms? They certainly would have the budget to greenlight handful of shows each year.

Uh… Netflix does have multi-camera shows.  The one my daughter and her husband work on — THE UPSHAWS — got picked up for a second season.  In the past they’ve had the FULL HOUSE reboot, some horrible Nascar show with Kevin James, and a series called THE RANCH.  And there may be more.  

Check out THE UPSHAWS if you haven’t.  It’s actually very funny.

From Ere I Saw Elba:

I listened to a recent podcast with showrunner Dave Hackel, and you got into a conversation about casting. Specifically, Ted Danson was pointed out as someone that no one, including himself, thought was right at first for BECKER. The question is, how often do you think unlikely casting choices go right? And is there ever a case where someone is just perfect from the start?

There are times when someone is perfect from the start and believe me, you know it instantly.  Unfortunately, those are rare occasions.  In most cases you have to ponder, maybe make adjustments, call the actor back, etc. before deciding.  And even then you hold your breath.

Casting against type has always intrigued me.  Actors tend to have more range than they’re given credit for.  They get pigeonholed in one genre, which is not fair to them.

We used David Morse and Kurtwood Smith in a comedy.  Both were terrific.  Both were not easy sells.   

I remember the network casting session with Morse.  He did great, but CBS president, Jeff Sagansky had reservations.  Morse was known for drama.  Tim Flack, the VP of Comedy Development at the time (God bless him), stood up and said, “I don’t know what the problem is.  We all laughed, didn’t we?”   David Morse was approved.

Obviously, you don’t want to go so against type that you have David Spade play LeBron James, but taking a chance on an actor playing a role you’ve never seen them in often pays off.

My favorite example:  Margo Martindale as a villain on JUSTIFIED, season two.  One of the great villains EVER.  

Jessica Miller asks:

I just saw the "bathtub" episode of MASH, which is credited to you & David plus Johnny Bonaduce. Was he related to the kid from the Partridge Family?

Yes.  Danny’s brother I believe.

And finally, from DyHrdMET:

Could you and your writing partner write sketch comedy week in and week out (forget about being consistently funny), given your skills and talents? Or is it not necessarily the same skill set as writing a short play, a movie, or regular 22 minute sitcoms?

We have written sketches.  We contributed sketches for THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW.   It’s a different genre but with the same rules — beginning, middle, and end.  We loved writing sketches.  Like eating bite-sized Snickers instead of one big candy bar.

What’s your Friday Question?   Buy me something nice today.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

EP252: The Annual Turkey Show

A yearly tradition — some of the worst, funniest, most cringeworthy songs (“turkeys”) you’ll ever hear.

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

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Some dumb turkey facts

“Turkey Lurkey Time” from PROMISES PROMISES is the worst song Bacharach & David ever wrote.  And they wrote THE BLOB.

Turkeys have been around for 10,000,000 years.  But Brontosaurus used to be the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Turkey feathers were used to stabilize arrows.   It worked better once they were plucked.

Benjamin Franklin wanted a turkey to be the national symbol of America, not the bald eagle.   This is why Ben Franklin needed glasses.

Thanksgiving Day really began in 1863.  If you think it takes the government forever to pass legislation now

Turkeys can’t fly.  WKRP in Cincinnati learned that the hard (and hilarious) way.

Californians are the biggest turkey eaters in America.  They eat three pounds more than the average consumer.  This is all due to one Cracker Barrel in Bakersfield.

90% of American homes eat turkey on Thanksgiving.  The others don’t because they’re afraid the result will be a chip implanted in their heads.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

TICK TICK..BOOM! My review

When Mike Nichols was finishing up his splashy anti-war movie, CATCH-22, the movie version of MASH came out.  Nichols saw it and essentially said, “Shit! That movie did everything I tried to do but way better.”   Steven Spielberg’s glittery remake of WEST SIDE STORY comes out this season.  I wonder if he saw TICK TICK… BOOM and said the same thing.

TICK TICK… BOOM is quite simply the best movie of the year — I don’t care how many Princess Diana rehashes come out.  Unlike a lot of critics, I’m not going to bore you with seven paragraphs of “major triumph!” “towering achievement!” “best film Lin Manual-Miranda has ever directed!” (it’s his first).  

Just know it’s all of those things and more.  The story, the storytelling, the visuals, the music, and even a cameo by Chita Rivera (that must piss off Spielberg too) —  TICK TICK… BOOM delivers on every front.   (Note:  there are tons of cameos of Broadway notables.)  

Lin Manual-Miranda appear to be brilliant in everything he attempts.  For this project he was clearly influenced (heavily) by Bob Fosse’s ALL THAT JAZZ.  The same quick cutting, constant motion, visually exciting presentation.  And all for a purpose — to really put you into that world and lose yourself in the emotional depth of the journey.  

To me the big surprise was Andrew Garfield.  Spiderman can really sing! And dance!  Ryan Gosling can’t carry his pitch pipe.  If Rami Malek won an Oscar for playing Freddie Mercury, Andrew Garfield deserves two for playing Jonathan Larson.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s about Jonathan Larson, who wrote RENT but tragically died of an aortic dissection at 35 the night before it was to open off-Broadway.  Prior to that, Larson had spent eight years working on a sci-fi musical that went nowhere, and a one-man show about that experience and his struggles that he performed himself called TICK TICK…BOOM.   The movie opens up the one-man show by dramatizing events, showing flashbacks, and creating imaginative glorious production numbers.  

The movie was written by Steven Levenson.  TICK TICK… BOOM is the best film musical in years.  Ironically, Levenson also wrote maybe the worst film musical in decades — DEAR EVAN HANSEN.  From the cellar to the penthouse in one year.  (Says something about the director’s vision, doesn’t it?)

You might think TICK TICK…BOOM is just for Broadway and theatre nerds.  You would be wrong.  I loved this movie and I didn’t like RENT.  It’s for everyone.    If you read this blog you’re probably interested in the creative process whether you’re in entertainment or not.  Well, this movie deals with the creative process in spades.  

It’s playing in select theaters and Netflix.  Don’t watch it on your phone.

On to WEST SIDE STORY.  I plan on watching with an open mind even though there’s no Natalie Wood in this version.  Will it be another TICK TICK…BOOM or IN THE HEIGHTS?   In the meantime, I think I’ll watch ALL THAT JAZZ again. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

The brilliance of Susan Harris

You rarely see much mention of writer Susan Harris these days. But in the ‘70s and ‘80s she was Chuck Lorre, Greg Daniels, Chris Lloyd and Steve Levitan all rolled into one. And maybe add Tina Fey. These are the sitcoms she created: SOAP, BENSON, IT TAKES TWO, THE GOLDEN GIRLS, EMPTY NEST, NURSES, GOOD & EVIL, THE GOLDEN PALACE, and THE SECRET LIVES OF MEN.

Many were huge hits. Some were groundbreaking. SOAP introduced the first gay character as a regular cast member (played by Billy Crystal). And GOLDEN GIRLS was a show about women in their 60’s or older. Can you imagine someone pitching that to a major broadcast network now? Today an older woman is considered 35.

But when GOLDEN GIRLS premiered in 1985 on NBC it was an immediate breakout hit. Twice GOLDEN GIRLS won the Emmy for Best Comedy and even more remarkable – all of its stars (Bea Arthur, Betty White, Estelle Getty, and Rue McClanahan) won individual Emmys.

And today the show continues to enjoy a tremendous following in syndication. I don’t think you can turn on the TV at night without finding GOLDEN GIRLS on at least one channel. And I don't know one young person who doesn't love THE GOLDEN GIRLS. 

The show holds up nicely, remains extremely funny, and the creative voice was Susan Harris’. When idiots say that women don’t write big jokes, Susan Harris wrote BIG JOKES. Lots of them. Along with heart and depth. Prior to creating series of her own she wrote the classic abortion episode of MAUDE.

She’s won Emmys and numerous other awards, and in 2011 was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame (something even Babe Ruth can’t get into). 

I never worked with her, but we were at the same agency (does that count?).  I always wanted to though, she's one of my comedy writing idols. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Weekend Post

This is a traditional post.  My annual tips for flying during Thanksgiving week.  Fly (and read) at your own risk.

Leave for the airport NOW. Don't wait until the last week .

Bring no luggage. Wearing the same clothes for a week is a small price to pay. Plus, the airlines now charge you for check-in luggage AND blankets. Pretty soon pressurized air will also be extra.

Southwest has no reserved seating. Get in one of the latter groups boarding. You don’t want to be one of the first to sit then watch as fifty people glance at the empty seat next to you, then to you, and decide to sit somewhere else. Even in the last row.

If you have children under the age of five tell your relatives one has an earache and make everyone come to YOU.

Don't be an asshole.  Wear your mask.  And don’t slug a flight attendant who tells you to put it on. 

Those people in the Stand-By line – those are the same people who think they can get rich selling Amway products, and the Tooth Fairy really exists. Don’t fly Stand-By unless you like sleeping in airport terminals for five days.

If you rent from Hertz plan on a two hour wait just to get your car. Unless you’re one of their “preferred” customers in which case allow only one hour.

When rental car companies recommend you use premium gasoline put in regular. It’s cheaper, it’ll run just fine, and it’s not your car.

Before you pull off the road to a Chuck E. Cheese for lunch, remember their namesake is a rat.

Air travelers: avoid O’Hare. Better to land in Dallas, even if your destination is Chicago.

If you’re dropping someone off at the airport don’t even think you’ll be able to stop. Have your travelers practice the tuck and roll from a moving car. The first couple of times they’ll bounce but by the fourth or fifth try they should have it down.

There’s more legroom in Exit rows. When the flight attendants ask if you are willing to help out in case of emergency just say yes. Like it’s going to make a big difference anyway if you crash.

If you’re flying on an airline that doesn’t have reserved seating never sit next to anyone who is already eating or reading Ann Coulter.

Before you fly to New York and have to negotiate JFK just remember – the parade is on TV. And it’s the same friggin' balloons as last year. The only difference is that the stars of NBC’s big new hit from last year, THE CAPE, won’t be there (thank God).

Put a big strip of duct tape on your luggage so you’ll recognize it easily. And it makes a nice fashion statement.

If you’re flying with small children see if there’s such a thing as “Flintstones Valium”.

In-flight alcoholic beverages are expensive. Better to drink heavily at the airport before boarding.

And finally, watch PLANES, TRAINS, & AUTOMOBILES again and think of it as a “best” case scenario.

Happy trails to you all.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Friday Questions

Last FQ’s before Thanksgiving.  What’s yours?

Michael starts us off.

I know you hated a lot of the music you played as a disc jockey, but could you have survived if you had to play 2 months straight of Christmas music like some stations do today?

Yes, it might drive me a little crazy, mostly because it’s the same songs.  I see that Sirius/XM has 19 channels dedicated to playing Christmas music.  There aren't 19 Christmas songs

When I was a DJ I would always work extra shifts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day since the holiday meant more to the other jocks than me.  So I’d be playing Christmas music for eight hours at a time.  But it was tolerable because…

As a teenager I worked in record stores.  Usually during the Christmas break I worked a 12 hour shift. So I was bombarded with Christmas music 12 hours a day for ten straight days.  There was no escaping Johnny Mathis.  

So I imagine I could tolerate playing Christmas music on the radio today as long as it was no more than a four-hour shift.  And I was allowed to drink... and not egg nog. 

cd1515 has MAD ABOUT YOU FQ:

I also noticed watching that show that in year four or five when Helen Hunt became a producer suddenly there were a lot more references in the scripts to how “beautiful” her character was.

Ken, do you think that was a coincidence or is that something a Star Who’s Now Also A Producer would do?

Well, first of all I never worked on MAD ABOUT YOU nor know any of the staff.  So I have no idea whether Helen Hunt used her producer credit to achieve the goal you suggested.  

But I will say this, an actor doesn’t need a producer credit to force the producers into showing them in a more favorable light.  Make a big enough stink and be worth it on the screen and an actor gets his way.  

From Irv:

What is your opinion on showing text conversations? I get that this is how we communicate now, but the type on the screen is usually so small that I almost always have to stop, rewind and move closer to read them (and then also have to read aloud to my wife). I don't find this any different than your pet peeve about inaudible dialogue. Thanks.

I hate it.  I can’t read them on the screen and unlike you, I’m not willing to go back and see it again, or get a bigger big screen or an eye operation to read texts on TV.  

It’s annoying and if done too often can turn off a viewer.  

And finally, from Brian:

I see this a lot and it drives me nuts. A story will hit the web--[Actor X] joins cast of [Awesome Forthcoming Project.]

But, the thing is, I know for a fact that [Awesome Forthcoming Project] has been wrapped for months. And there have been no major reshoots to incorporate a new actor/character. So why say someone has "joined" a cast that late into the process when it's obvious they've been with the project the whole time?

Blame this one of the PR machine.  Outlets and trade sites print what they’re sent.  I think in some cases, these stories are floated out there just to get a little extra publicity.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

EP251: Broadcast Blunders

When you’re on the air live, mistakes happen. Ken shares some of his and others — some very embarrassing and amusing. Included is how Ken personally pissed off a President of the United States (and it’s not the President he wants to piss off).

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

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The downside of the SNL upside

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on SNL: The changing world is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, as I pointed out yesterday, the internet has been a boon for SNL.   However, it has not been so kind to cast members post-SNL.  What do I mean by that?

The trajectory was always get on SNL, become a stand-out, leave and become a movie star.  Or, at the very least, become a long-running sitcom or late night star.   Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, Mike Myers, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Chris Farley, David Spade, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Myers, Billy Crystal, Kristin Wiig, Amy Poehler — just to name a bunch.  

But today there are very few comedy movies being made.  There are no major comedy movie stars — not like Eddie Murphy or Jim Carrey or (back when we wrote for him) Tom Hanks.  Especially now, post COVID, studios are making blockbuster comic book movies to lure people back into movie theaters.  Comedies and Romcoms are being made by streamers.  And they don’t have the same impact.  A studio is not going to make $100 million on the opening weekend of a Kate McKinnon movie.  So Kate McKinnon has not become a "star." Tina and Amy have tried that route.  Didn't happen.  Not since BRIDESMAIDS or THE HANGOVER can I think of a blockbuster break-out comedy.  In decades past there was always a GHOSTBUSTERS or SOMETHING ABOUT MARY that would be a box-office sensation.  

Studio “comedies” have become animated pictures.  Those are the new franchises.  And SNL alum may voice them, but it’s not the same.  

Similarly, good luck launching a mainstream big hit sitcom these days.  Everything is niche.  And even there, animation is king for the moment.  Maya Rudolph provides a voice.  

So leaving SNL for untold riches isn’t the endgame anymore.  Not to mention the increased competition among cast members.  The Not-Ready-For-Primetime-Players were seven or eight, not twenty-four.  Now cast members can’t even get on every week.   It’s harder to become Chevy Chase.  

The internet giveth and the internet taketh away.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The ninth or tenth resurgence of SNL

Well, first off, let’s acknowledge it’s phenomenal that any television entertainment series could be on the air for over 46 years.  But Saturday Night Live is not only chugging along, it’s growing in popularity and even  cracked through the zeitgeist — something that is usually reserved for the new and fresh.  

I contend there are a couple of reasons for this.  The first is, there are some very funny moments and talented people both in front and behind the camera.  The cast has grown so large that I couldn’t tell you all of them.  But certainly a stand-out for me is James Austin Johnson (pictured above).  His impersonations are spectacular.  He even looks like Biden. 

Side note:  Is it just me or is Kate McKinnon’s act getting tiresome?  I used to love Kate McKinnon and now I don’t.  

Another plus is that the show is topical at a time when politics is so front-and-center (mostly due to that fat orange fuck).  Being live really helps in that regard.  

But for me, the big reason SNL has had such a resurgence is the internet.  It’s the perfect click bait.  Opening monologues, opening bits, Weekend Update, selected sketches — they each fit nicely into four or five minute videos to be retrieved on demand.  And various websites like Deadline Hollywood post these videos on Saturday night as if they were actual news stories.   In its earlier heydays it never got such coverage.

I keep up with SNL but I can’t remember the last time I actually tuned in at 11:30 Saturday night and watched it “on television.”  I wonder how many SNL fans do the same — scour the internet to pick and choose the bits that might interest them.  NBC has a bigger hit now because people don’t have to watch NBC.  And so goes the future of SNL and network television. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

NIGHT COURT is in recess... for a year

Remember when NBC used to be the home of great comedy?  Comedy made them a lot of money and brought them a boatload of viewers — two things the network could really use today.

This fall not one comedy was on the NBC schedule. None  No room with nine LAW & ORDER series all getting slots. 

What they have been developing comedy-wise also seems derivative.  Their big jewel is a reboot of NIGHT COURT, a very funny series from the ‘80s. The new version stars John Larroquette (from the original) and Melissa Rauch. Why even attempt to bring original ideas to broadcast networks?  ABC reboots ROSEANNE and THE WONDER YEARS.  NBC took a shot with WILL & GRACE.  CBS brought back MURPHY BROWN and now has either spin offs of Chuck Lorre shows or reboots of UK comedies.  Fox doesn’t even pretend to be in the live comedy business. 

They’ll never find the next FRIENDS or CHEERS or SEINFELD that way. 

And even then, networks seem to have little faith in these recycled ideas they’re mounting.  NBC announced Friday that NIGHT COURT would be held for the 2022-2023 season.  And they weren’t even specific that it would premier in the fall.  They believe in it so much they’re saving it for at least a year, maybe more. 

Let’s look at the timeline, shall we?  This version of NIGHT COURT was developed last December, it got a pilot order in May (thus too late for the fall schedule), and was picked up to series in September.   In all likelihood, from idea to airing thirteen episodes (if indeed the order was for 13, it could have been 6), could be well over two years. 

Susan Rovner, Chairman, Entertainment Content, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming (nice title) said “We love NIGHT COURT and believe in it.” 

That may be true, but…

Here’s the reality in show business:  When they truly do believe in something they can’t get it on fast enough.  Movies would sometimes be held for peak periods like summer or Christmas, but television doesn’t sit on a show for a year if they really thought it had potential.   In fact, they do hour episodes, or super-sized episodes, or rush the series to air.  If one expression symbolizes network television it’s “serve it while it’s hot.” 

So NBC doesn’t really don’t believe in NIGHT COURT and will bury it later.  Or, their comedy development is woeful and they don’t have anything to go with it and might not for a year, or they just don’t really believe in comedy at all.    Considering there’s no comedy on their schedule now, which of the three would you suppose is the closest to the truth? 

Please put NIGHT COURT on the air while the people who saw the original are still alive. 

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Weekend Post


I screened DR. STRANGELOVE when I taught a comedy class at USC.  It’s maybe the greatest black comedy ever. If you haven’t seen it, treat yourself. If you have seen it, treat yourself again.

The movie also serves as a great lesson in comedy.  

Things are funnier if you play them straight.

What do I mean by that?

Nobody in this film knew they were in a comedy. The subject matter was somewhat dramatic – the possible destruction of the entire planet, and yet you laughed at how absurd they acted. But they didn’t know they were acting absurd. They were dead serious in everything they said and did. When Peter Sellers as the president of the United States breaks up a tussle between a Russian ambassador and American general and says, “You can't fight in here.  This is the War Room!” there’s no trace of irony in his delivery. Were there, the joke wouldn’t have been funny.

Too often feature comedies and sitcoms these days are very self-conscious. Characters are trying to be funny or are aware they’re being funny. Lines are delivered with irony; with a wink to the audience that they know they’re spoofing pop culture or the form or themselves. “Yeah, I know I’m in a stupid sitcom and you know I’m in a stupid sitcom, but let’s just goof on it and share the laugh together.”

My personal preference is for comedy that’s underplayed rather than overplayed. I’m smart enough. You don’t have to put someone in a chicken suit for me to know I’m watching a comedy. Actors don’t have to be loud or frantic or mocking an entertainment genre for me to laugh.

Ground your comedy in reality. Create interesting characters. Give them strong attitudes. Not just make them glib or hip. Put them in real crisis situations and see how they react. The point is for you the audience to find their behavior funny, not them.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Friday Questions

Sick of Christmas music yet?  Here are this week’s FQ’s.

Ere I Saw Elba starts us off.

How did they set up the stage for HOLLYWOOD SQUARES? I know you weren't on that show, though I share your dream of being a panelist on it. More generally, are game show sets just different compared to sitcoms?

See the above photo, which gives you a view of the set from behind.  

Game shows are lit very differently from sitcoms.  They’re all extremely bright.  And they’re lit for tape, not film, although now everyone records in HD.  

It also seems like today’s game shows are all frenetic light shows with lasers and sound effects.  And some of the sets have become giant.  Gone are the days of witty intelligent panelist just sitting at a dais.  Now they’re STAR WARS video games.  

PolyWogg asks:

Here's a Friday question about retooling shows. When I watched B-Positive last season, one of the few comedies I can stand even though it's not great, I kept wondering what they would do for S02 if renewed? The whole premise of S01 is that an acquaintance from high school donates a kidney to him. End of S01, surgery's done, all is good. But what happens after that? She was living with him, sure, but that could get creepy quick as he inevitably falls for her now in S02. So what's the hook? They've retooled the show, she's running a retirement home with an opp for fantastic guest stars each season, and he's a therapist who comes into consult. It's Cheers in a nursing home! J/K. What retooling of shows for, say, S02 do you think have worked well and others that completely sank?

PARKS & REC springs to mind as one that worked.  Not that they changed the setting or premise, but their mid-course corrections turned it into one of the best sitcoms of its era.  Good going, Mike Schur.  

HAPPY DAYS and THE ODD COUPLE both switched from single-camera to multi-camera and that proved to be wildly beneficial for both.  Kudos, Garry Marshall.

Most shows don’t work when you retool.  If you have to change the premise it’s like making a U-turn in a battleship.  A number of shows tried and failed.  Two MTM spin-offs fall into that category.  Both RHODA and PHYLLIS groped around after their first seasons.

We made a bunch of cast changes on AfterMASH for the second year, along with new spiffy opening titles. We were re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

I think my favorite example is SANFORD ARMS.  Both stars left the show.  As some wag said, “NBC just renewed the set.”  

As for B-POSITIVE, you’re right, once he had his surgery and things were fine there goes your premise.  They had to re-develop it for season two.   There was a time networks wouldn’t pick up shows that only had a finite number of episodes.  But all bets are off today as networks scramble to find anything that will attract viewers right this minute.  They'll worry about season two if there's a season two.

I’ve talked about this before because it’s a very common problem on streamers and cable.  Great first seasons that have natural endings, and then what?  Usually, the “then what” is TV’s version of feeling around in a dark closet.

Houston Mitchell (one of my favorite writers) wonders:

I recently watched an episode of Matlock, where Andy Griffith and Don Knotts recreated a Judo scene from The Andy Griffith Show. There's a video on Youtube that shows them side-by-side and it's an exact recreation, which seems fine since they both involved Griffith and Knotts. I have seen other shows do an almost exact recreation of a scent from classic sitcoms of the past, and when asked about it the creators pass it off as a tribute, which may be true. My long-winded question: Does the original writer of the scene get any money for that if they are still alive?

I wish, but no.  I think if you look at a lot of so-called “classic” bits on sitcoms they were derived from something else.  The great candy conveyor belt scene in I LOVE LUCY — a direct lift from Charlie Chaplin’s MODERN TIMES.  

If anyone deserves the money it’s Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton.  

And finally, from Mike Bloodworth:

Do you think it's just the tiniest bit elitist that so many actors, directors and producers are now making shows for streaming services instead of the networks? Or am I just a dinosaur who doesn't realize that broadcast TV is dead?

I hate to say it but I think the latter.  Streaming is the future.  One just has to look at this year’s Emmycast to see that the exciting, innovative, original shows of today are on streaming platforms.  Networks are filling their schedules with franchises.  How many NCIS’s and LAW & ORDERS do we need?  

Like I said, the future is in streaming.

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

EP250: For Those Who Love Lucy

Ken does a deep dive into the history and making of the most successful sitcom in history, I LOVE LUCY. Bet you’ll learn things you didn’t know.

Note: I accidentally mis-identify two names.  See if you can spot them.  

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

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

No Time to Die -- my review

It’s hard to review this film without spoiling important elements and I don’t want to do that.  So very simply — there are some good sequences and the movie is too long.  The tone is consistent with the Daniel Craig Bond series.  And the action scenes come off like video games.  There. That’s my review.  Oh, and Daniel, it wouldn’t kill you to smile maybe once in almost three hours.  

Over the last few Bond films they’ve made a point to further his personal storyline along.  And that adds depth to the character.  As a writer, I’m normally all for that.


Am I the only one who doesn’t want to see things change and him change?   One of the reasons my favorite Bond movies remain the Sean Connerys is that James Bond is just who he is.  He’s suave, he’s witty, he knows thirty languages, he can pilot planes, he’s an expert skiier/skindiver/driver.   And he takes on a super villain with secret lairs, a private army all in matching jumpsuits (how did he recruit them and how did no one see these secret lairs being built?), a Herculean henchman, and a plot to take over the world.   One guy against all that, and he still destroys the villain and his empire and has time to get laid at least twice a movie.  That's enough.  And it didn't take 2 hours and 43 minutes. 

Yeah, it’s a formula but I like the formula.  As Hitchcock says, “the best movies have the best villains.”  Just give 007 a worthy fun opponent and blast the James Bond theme.  Why delve into his personal life when a new Bond arrives every generation or so?  

Here’s what the producers need to understand: Anyone can create an action hero and start a franchise.  They can use the same CGI effects and generate eye popping (but fake) action sequences.  They can film around the world.  They can introduce their own super villain with his own world domination plot.  

But it’s not James Bond.  The one thing the Bond franchise has to do is protect James Bond.  Change him too much and it’s no longer James Bond.  It’s just an action hero.  And there’s nothing special about a new action hero.  You’ve squandered sixty years of nurturing a franchise.  

You might claim, “Well, the Sean Connery James Bond was from a different era.  We need to modernize him.”  


Is it anachronistic for someone to be suave, look good in a tux, be attractive to women (James Bond is hardly Pepe LePew — I doubt he’d be in trouble with #MeToo), be British, and have enough stored knowledge to beat Ken Jennings at JEOPARDY?  

Anyway, that’s my fear for the future of James Bond based on what I saw in NO TIME TO DIE.  So I walked out of it depressed.  That’s never happened before.  A few times I’ve walked out mad at how stupid certain installments were (I’m looking at you MOONRAKER) but never depressed.  Usually I’m exhilarated.  It was a fun ride and at the end I was reassured that "James Bond would be back"for another.  NO TIME TO DIE was many things — many good things — but it sure wasn’t a fun ride.  And did I mention it’s too friggin’ long?  

What did y'all think?  (Note: I won't post any comments that spoil plot points.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Dr. Pimple Popper

Did that title get your attention? 

As proof that people will watch anything, there’s the DR. PIMPLE POPPER show on TLC.  Dr. Sandra Lee is a dermatologist and has this show where she graphically pops pimples, and other skin procedures that most people would find disgusting.  Not for the squeamish to be sure.  

Now you may wonder how a show like this gets on the air.  I do.  I can’t imagine her pitching it to TLC.  “And then we drain the puss and…” “STOP!  Say no more! SOLD!”  

My guess is she’s had videos on YouTube that went viral and TLC came after her.  I could be wrong, but that makes sense.

So how does the show do ratings-wise?  Very well.  Are we that starved for entertainment?  How would you like to be a competing show that loses to her in the ratings when she does her lancing blisters episode?  

I'm sorry, but I find this hilarious.  And as disgusting as some of the scenes are, I'd still rather watch Dr. Pimple Popper than Dr. Oz.  

Someone has the theory that whatever sick, weird fetish you may have there’s a porno site for it — or 100 porno sites for it.  Eyebrows?  Sure.  Left thumbs obsession? (way sexier than right thumbs) Gotcha covered.  Watching bunions removed?  Tune into TLC.  

I look at Paddy Chayefsky’s NETWORK, which at the time of its release in the late ‘70s was considered satiric and bordered on the absurd.  Now we’ve gone so far past that it feels somewhat quaint.  Dr. Pimple Popper has replaced Howard Beale.  Except I'm not mad as hell.  I'm amused. 

Monday, November 08, 2021

SouthWORST Airlines


At one time Southwest Airlines used to be good.  They used to be reliable.  Okay… sort of reliable. Reliable enough. I’ve flown Southwest quite a bit because I go up to San Jose to see my son and his family. I also fly out of Burbank rather than LAX.  Longer drive to get there but a much less crazy airport.   Burbank Airport (formerly Bob Hope Airport — how soon they forget) is reminiscent of the airport in WINGS.  No jetways. You still walk onto the tarmac and up ladders to get to the planes.  Think: the last scene in CASABLANCA.

I’d like to think it’s the pandemic, but whatever.  Southwest has become a fucking nightmare. Cutting corners and losing loyal customers.  And seemingly not giving a shit. 

A few weekends ago they cancelled 2,000 flights, blaming it on air traffic control and weather issues.  Uh… no other carrier had to cancel flights.  That four-day meltdown cost them $75 million.  And how many irate customers? 

They were also in the news recently for one of their pilots saying some anti-Biden remark to the passengers.   And just last night a Southwest flight attendant falsely accused a bi-racial mother of human trafficking when it was in fact her daughter.  Oops.  That'll be a fun lawsuit. 

Now that people are starting to fly again, wouldn’t the best policy be to make them feel welcome and make them feel glad they chose your airline?  

I see no evidence of this with Southwest.  None.  Nor do I see any effort made to be on time.  And here's the thing:  If you can't depend on an airline they're worthless to you.  We'll live if we don't get peanuts, but if we miss connections, if we can't get where we're going -- we fucking HATE YOU.  No, not annoyed by you -- HATE. 

Halloween weekend I flew up to San Jose on Southwest from Burbank.  A 45 minute flight leaving at 10 AM.  It was two hours late.  Coming home the next night it was an hour late taking off, and then when we got to Burbank we sat on the tarmac for close to an hour until there was a gate.   There was a gate available but since our plane was staying the night and another plane was arriving and taking off again, we had to wait.  This is the same route they fly every day.  They haven’t worked this out yet?  Plus, when we got to the gate I noticed four or five empty gates.  We couldn’t deplane via one of those?  Even if they then moved the plane to the eventual gate later?  Better to inconvenience 150 people after taking off an hour late for a 45 minute flight.   Like I said, they don't give a shit. 

And at least our flights weren’t cancelled.  They were up to old tricks and a number of flights were cancelled from Burbank that Saturday morning.  Stranded passengers had to leave the boarding area, try to get stand-by, then go through TSA security again.   We’re not talking Thanksgiving weekend.  This was a Saturday morning at sleepy Burbank Airport.  

I’m also looking at prices and seeing you can go round-trip from LA to Chicago on decent airlines cheaper than what I paid to fly to San Jose.  Spirit Airlines is the world’s worst but at least they’re cheap.  

A few years ago I had to fly from Indianapolis to Minneapolis (my all “apolis” trip).  Thank God I flew Delta.  We boarded the plane and they discovered there was some mechanical problem.  But instead of just cancelling the flight they pulled some strings and got another plane out of the hanger and we were on our way only an hour late.  Do you think Southwest would do that?  Not a chance.  

I bet there’s not a single person reading this post who doesn’t have at least three airline nightmare stories.  (Feel free to share)  I know there’s a practice where the airlines purposely try to make you uncomfortable so you’ll pay be better seats, blankets, etc.  But it just seems it’s getting worse.  Southwest says “We know you have a choice, thanks for flying with us.”  They’re right.  From now on I’m flying Alaska.  Waiting on the tarmac for an hour at 10:30 on Sunday night to get to a gate while other gates were wide open was the tipping point.  Not that they give a shit, I'm sure. 

Saturday, November 06, 2021

Weekend Post


Do you always get sick just before a big exam? Or big performance? Or big game? Your problem might not be physical.  Take comfort.  You could just be a neurotic mess.  Your ailments could be psychosomatic.

It has happened to me.

Going back to my erstwhile radio career as a screaming top 40 disc jockey in the ‘70s, I would always get sick just as a new rating period was about to begin. Back then I was toiling in medium and small markets and ratings were only taken a few times a year. People would fill out diaries and send them in. Results arrived a few months later and since there were so few rating periods, each one packed a wallop. One bad ratings “book” and you were generally gone. Stations changed formats, people were fired, and it’s not like you were Whitney Cummings – there was no NBC to give you eighth and ninth chances.

So the pressure was on.

And I got a horrendous cold every time a ratings period started. Not that I sound great anyway, but with a cold I was Elmer Fudd. It’s hard to scream over Osmond records when you’re underwater. What came out of the radio was me at my worst.

This must’ve happened on four or five occasions.

And then one time when I was spinning the hits on KMEN, San Bernardino (and ALL of the magnificent Inland Empire), I got my usual cold and decided out of desperation to just have some fun with it. I copped to the fact that I was sick, sneezed, and blew my nose right on the air. I asked listeners to call in with cold remedies. It turned into a very funny show. One listener brought me chicken soup. Another arrived with blankets. And the best was I now had a way of dealing with my psychosomatic condition. I no longer worried about getting sick. In fact, I looked forward to it. I now had one of my better sure-fire bits. So bring it on!

I never caught another cold before a ratings period.

Better health can be yours… by fooling yourself.

(One final note: Notice I didn’t end this story by saying… “and I never got fired again!”?)

Friday, November 05, 2021

Friday Questions

Well, it’s November.  Christmas commercials and music have officially begun.  Here are some pre-holiday Friday Questions.

Guffman is up first.  He need not wait.

As a collector of memorabilia and autographs, I’m sure you’ve had opportunities to get a souvenir or two from shows along the way. Anything you’re particularly proud of latching onto for reasons that aren't necessarily monetary? Anything you've had an opportunity to pick up and sorry you didn’t? Anything you’ve had personally signed that means the most to you?

Like an idiot, I never took anything off the stages of either MASH or CHEERS.  I always thought having production scripts with my name on them was a unique souvenir.  I’ve got autographed scripts and an autographed CHEERS sweatshirt.  

A prized possession is a copy of one of Larry Gelbart’s hand-written first drafts from MASH, signed to me personally.   That’s way more important than a bedpan from post op.

When BIG WAVE DAVE’S ended (prematurely in my humble opinion) we had all these props from a surf shop.  I took home a bunch of surfboards and have the big “Big Wave Dave’s” sign up in our house.   No one else has that.  Of course no one else knows what that is.

ReticentRabbit queries:

Ken, you've held at least three of my dream jobs (screenwriter, DJ, baseball announcer). What jobs do you wish you'd worked but never did?

I would love to be a panelist on a game show.  The idea of sitting back and tossing out one-liners while getting paid for it and being on TV seems like the ideal job.  There’s no preparation, no pressure. Perfect for a lazy bum like me!  

I very much enjoyed hosting that TCM film festival a few years back.  I wouldn’t mind doing that again.

I’d also like to be a Benihana chef but only if I could do it without knives.  

Caleb Martin asks:

What's the largest creative similarity you've discovered between one of your shows and another sitcom, intentional or otherwise? Have you seen a scene or storyline you wrote more-or-less happen on another show, or vice versa?

Not a sitcom, but HOUSE pretty much stole our P.O.V. episode of MASH.  

I’ve seen a number of sitcoms use Sam & Diane storylines, but I can’t remember specifics.  

Many years ago I was in a UCLA library and bumped into a writer friend.  He wrote freelance episodes of dramas (back in the days when you could make a living as a freelancer).   He was there to go through old editions of TV GUIDE to come up with stories to pitch.  He’d take a story from say PETER GUNN and pitch it for a current private eye show.   He said it was a common practice, but it's sure nothing I would ever do.

Compare that to CHEERS where someone would pitch a story and if any one of us had seen something even remotely similar on another show we immediately tossed it.  

And finally, from Brian Phillips:

Have you done any or were you ever asked to do any work for the BBC or any other entertainment concern outside of the USA?

Yes.  There’s a production company in the UK called Hat Trick.  I assume they’re still going.  At the time, they had a lot of shows on the air.  This was quite a few years ago.  They invited David Isaacs and me to come to London for a year and create a series.  We were told we’d have enormous freedom.  

I must say the offer was very intriguing.  We ultimately didn’t do it because our kids were little and we didn’t want to completely disrupt their lives by moving to a different country, much less school.  Also we would be taking a very sizable pay cut at a time when American TV still paid writers well.  

But it would have been a fun adventure.  I’d do it now if it weren’t for COVID.  

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

EP249: Writer/Producer Clyde Phillips

The man has done it all — from game shows, to movies, dramas, and comedies. Discover the fascinating career of writer, Clyde Phillips along with some great advice on how to break into the business.

Get 20% off your first order at https://dadgrass.com/HOLLYWOOD

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

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Absurd but TRUE

Sometimes there's no need to write comedy, no need to write satire because real life is way more absurd than anything you could dream up.  Now the below is going to sound like a sketch -- like a spoof on all the woke cancel culture stories you currently read about.  This might be a piece in THE ONION, right?  

No.  It's REAL. This is from BleacherReport.com and I am posting this verbatim.  The entire article is here.

At what point do we say STOP THIS BULLSHIT ALREADY!?  

Here's the piece.  Again, this is not a comic essay.  It's legit.

PETA is asking Major League Baseball to change the name of the bullpen, a term used since the 1800s to describe the area where pitchers warm up, to "arm barn."

The nonprofit organization argued in a news release Thursday the longtime baseball term isn't "animal-friendly," per TMZ Sports.

"Strike out the word 'bullpen,' which references the holding area where terrified bulls are kept before slaughter, in favor of a more modern, animal-friendly term," PETA wrote.

Tracy Reiman, the organization's executive vice president, added: "Words matter, and baseball 'bullpens' devalue talented players and mock the misery of sensitive animals."

While it's possible baseball's use of the term bullpen derived from actual bull pens, there are various theories about how the word became associated with pitchers, typically relievers.

Comments anybody???

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Happy Birthday Matt Levine

A great son, husband, and father himself. 

I have many great Matt stories over the year, but this one pretty much tells you who he is.

He was in kindergarten I believe (maybe the 1st grade), and his school was having a fundraising auction.  Tickets were a dollar. 

I brought him down to the set of CHEERS to hawk his tickets.   Those people had money. 

He goes up to Kirstie Alley and says, “Hi, would you like to buy a raffle ticket for the Warner Ave School fair?  Tickets are a dollar and the prize is a brand new television set.” 

Kirstie says, “sure” and hands him a twenty.  He’s a little flustered.  He tells her he hasn’t sold enough to have $19 change.  She says, that’s okay.  Keep the twenty.  To which Matt says, “Yeah, but you might not win.” 

Is this a good kid or what?

Happy Birthday, Matt.  I love you and sorry about your Red Sox this year.   

Monday, November 01, 2021

Shorter is better

A baseball game should not take 4 hours unless it goes into the 16th inning.  But this playoff season has seen mostly 4 hour games.  That’s insane!   The NL Wild Card game between the Dodgers and Cardinals took almost 4 1/2 hours and the score was tied 1-1 until Chris Taylor hit a walk-off home run.  That’s beyond insane.

Game One of the World Series took well over 4 hours and the Braves were leading 5-0 by the third inning.  For the next THREE HOURS nothing really happened.  Last night's game took 4 hours.

You could blame the added commercials.  That’s a factor but not the major one.  It adds about 18 minutes to a game.  But then there are all the pitching changes, even with the new rules where pitchers must face three batters.  Managers still manage to throw ten pitchers out there a game.  In the case of the World Series, Dusty Baker can add 18 minutes himself just by walking out to the mound.  And batters now take five minutes between every pitch to adjust their batting gloves. 

Another problem is all the in-game challenges.  On the one hand, it’s good to get the calls right.  Too much is at stake.  But on the other, baseball has assigned some of the worst umpires to officiate these games.  Angel Hernandez, Laz Diaz, Tom Hallion —these guys should never be permitted to step on the field during a playoff game.  They blow calls that result in challenges where most of the time their calls are overturned (because they’re terrible).  Behind the plate they're a disaster. 

Major League Baseball has a big problem.  When the audience is bored by your crown jewel, when you turn off fans who only watch the playoffs, when people on the east coast can’t see the end of the game if they can’t stay up till 1 am, when kids and the future generation of fans can’t stay up past the second inning  - you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  

I’m a huge baseball fan.  I used to hang on every pitch during the playoffs.  I would cancel appointments to be in front of the TV.   Now I’m surfing the net, writing blog posts, and turning it off because JEOPARDY is on.  So if MLB can’t even keep ME… 

The new warning for Cialis should be "If you have an erection that lasts the length of a baseball game, go to the emergency room."