Monday, January 31, 2022

On to the Super Bowl

Just like the week before, the NFL championship games yesterday were epic.  And both of the teams I was rooting for won.  Thrilled for the Bengals because their radio announcer, Dan Hoard was my broadcast partner in Syracuse.  We’ve stayed close friends and now he gets to call a Super Bowl.  Oh, and the team is exciting with a star young quarterback in Joe Burrow.  For them to win it all would be a terrific Cinderella story.  Two years ago they were the worst team in the NFL. 

As for the Rams, as a kid growing up in LA they were always my team.  I suffered through some bad years and finally they got good with the Fearsome Foursome and Roman Gabriel leading the offense.  But every year for the playoffs they would go to Minnesota or Green Bay or Washington where it was frigid and get blown out.  One year they hosted a playoff game but it was during a monsoon and they lost to Minnesota anyway.  By the fourth quarter you couldn’t see any of the yard lines.  I still don’t know how Vin Scully called that game for CBS (but it was sure entertaining to watch).  

My point is: Rams fans were used to losing.  At the end of the day it would be the Packers, or Colts, or Giants who always seemed to ride to victory.  The Rams were in one Super Bowl and got blown out by the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Then they left for St. Louis and even though they won a Super Bowl there, they were no longer my Rams.  Now they’re back in Los Angeles and after losing another Super Bowl to New England (same old LA Rams) they’re returning to the big stage once again.

I also have a personal attachment to the Rams.  In 1969 and 1970 I was a sports intern at KMPC radio, which was the station that carried the Rams.  I got selected to work the Rams home games.  I would sit in the radio booth behind the great team of Dick Enberg and Dave Niehaus and provide scores and stats.   Dick would tell me which player he wanted for the postgame interview and in the 4th quarter I would go down to the field and stand alongside the Rams bench.  How cool is that? There were times I was hoping they'd let me play but they never did.

When the game was over I would flag the player coming off the field and escort him to our broadcast set up in the locker room.  There was a microphone and headphones.  I would call up that I had Roman Gabriel or Merlin Olson or whoever, they would put on the headphones and Dick would interview them from the booth.  Usually they held the mic.  I remember once with Merlin Olson that I held the mic and he put his hand around mine.  His hand was like a catcher’s mitt for a knuckleball pitcher.  It swallowed my hand.  

So I’m excited for Super Bowl XXLIVVXXIILXVI, or whatever it is.  My two favorite teams and my favorite announcers — Al Michaels (calling his final game for NBC) and Dan Hoard (on WLW and the Bengals radio network).  It’s also nice to be hosting the game.  That said, you couldn’t get me into that stadium for the Super Bowl if you paid me $5,000.  60,000 screaming maniacs, very few wearing masks).  It’s Super Bowl Spreader.  Yes, I say I’m a Rams fan… but not enough to get COVID .  I’ve suffered enough for them. 

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Weekend Post

There is a new documentary series on A&E called THE SECRETS OF PLAYBOY.  As you'd expect, it dishes the dirt on Hef.  Turns out he wasn't a lovable father figure after all.  Who knew?  He was manipulative and intimidating and coerced young women to bow to his every depraved wish.  It's somewhat fascinating but you need a shower when it's over.  They make reference in the documentary to a reality series he had eleven years ago called THE GIRL NEXT DOOR: BUNNY HOUSE on E!  And that reminded me that I had written a snarky review of it back in August of 2010.   So, as bonus material for those watching the documentary, I thought I would re-post it. 

But first, a couple of things:

Like I said, it's SNARKY.  That's the point.  It is designed to make you laugh by pointing out the absurdity of this show.  I don't want the woke police on me for body shaming or being judgemental, etc.  It was written eleven years ago.  No one from the future came back to give me the memo. 

Second, perhaps some of these women are not as dumb as I suggested, but that's exactly how they were presented.  That's what Hefner WANTED you to think.  Every exchange I highlight comes directly from the show itself.  But you know how documentaries work.  They film hundreds of hours and select 20 minutes.  That's enough footage to create any narrative you want.  And this is what THEY chose. 

 So here now is my review.  Enjoy.

You know me, always on the lookout for truly jaw dropping reality shows. Well, last night I came across a great one: THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR: BUNNY HOUSE on E!

You’re all invited to swing by the Playboy Mansion and meet the former Playmates who inhabit this on-site dormitory called The Bunny House. Inside you’ll find nine or ten of the dumbest female creatures ever to inhabit the earth and their far-more-intelligent little doggies. Never before has so much silicone and so little brains been assembled under one roof.

I assume this is all just part of the Mansion’s zoo, which also includes peacocks, rabbits and spider monkeys.

Here’s the level of conversation: A bunch of these airheads are in the pool. One asks the following deep philosophical question: “For a million dollars would you have a three-inch penis on your head and you can never conceal it?” The consensus: Yes. One girl said she’d just get a collection of hats thus clearly not understanding the meaning of “you can never conceal it”.

Question two: “Would you ever get a dude’s name tattooed on you?” Overwhelming majority: No! That’s obviously far more objectionable than a penis on your head.

In the searing episode last night a new girl was invited to the house for a bar-b-que. She was so nervous. I was nervous that the bunny who was grilling burgers would put her hand on the grill not comprehending the concept of “hot”.

The big moment was when Hef arrived. Picture the Crypt Keeper in a red bathrobe and sailor’s hat. He must’ve weighed less than any of the girl’s breasts. It was Popeye at 200.

Hef had a big decision to make – which two girls were going to share the master bedroom? One girl needed it because she required all the closet space for her wardrobe. They showed the closet. It’s the size of the Kennedy Center. How many thongs and short shorts must this girl have?

“How do you get invited to live in the Bunny House?” the newbie asked. Well, you have to be a Playmate (Drat! That leaves out Nancy Pelosi.). Unsaid was you must have bazooms the size of Macy’s Parade balloons and the IQ of a pencil box. The newest tenant said she wrote Hef a letter telling him she had no friends or family and nowhere really to go. How long did it take to get back to her? Six months.

Six months??? Then where the hell was she living in the meantime? My guess is Mr. Superfly’s Pimp House. Look for that show on Court TV.

For part two of this episode they all went to Vegas for the gala Playmate of the Year formal introduction. Hope (the winner) and her zany bunny friend Jade went the night before to get a good night’s sleep. Yeah, right. Jade was a baaad influence. She convinced Hope to go out, party, get shit faced, and then accompany her to a tattoo parlor to try to get her ex-boyfriend’s initials removed from her lip. His name was Brody Jenner so that’s right – she had B.J. tattooed to her lip. If I were her I would have kept it. Just as Sarah Palin (who would make a great den mother to this sorority) wrote crib notes on her hand, this way Jade could look in the mirror and always remember what her lips were for.

Poor Playmate of the Year, Hope. She had to write a speech for the big event. All she could come up with was a half page of incoherent scribbling on a crumpled sheet of legal paper. She must’ve been working on it for a month. Thankfully her best friend Jade came to her rescue, telling her to just speak from the heart then ripping up the speech and eating (yes eating) it.

The big show the next night was a huge hit you’ll be relieved to hear. Hef, now in clothes (looking like a well-dressed camp survivor) beamed as Hope vowed to make him proud. That means what? Do anything short of having John Edwards’ baby?

Miss Fresh Meat and her little yapping mutt were invited to move into the Bunny House and all was right with the world.

But wait!

We see Hef in bed (with his little pooch) and he’s still not sure just who should occupy the master bedroom. Uh oh! Hellzapoppin’ next week! Talk about a cliffhanger! Expect things to turn really ugly as these girls gouge each others eyes out for that extra closet space.

THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR: BUNNY HOUSE – just like a three-inch penis on your head; it’s useless but you just can’t take your eyes off of it.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Friday Questions

Last Friday Questions of the month.  Take advantage.

Charles H. Bryan gets us started.

Odd question that occurred to me: every Cheers main cast member recorded the "Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience" voiceover that began each episode. Was there any rhyme or reason for why a particular recording was used for a particular episode ("This ep is light on Cliff scenes, let's use John's voiceover")?

To my knowledge they just rotated them. To be honest, I don’t think much consideration went into which disclaimer track they used.  Whoever was in charge of post production probably made that call.

We started using them about halfway through the first season when people accused us of laying it on thick vis a vis the laugh machine when in fact the laughs were real from our studio audience.  

From WB Jax:

Were the "Frasier" producers particularly wary of too many former "Cheers" characters popping up for "reunions" with Frasier in Seattle (or Boston)?

Absolutely.   It was important that FRASIER stood on its own.   If a former CHEERS cast member showed up it was usually once a season and seen as an event.   

David Isaacs and I wrote four of the Lilith episodes along with the Sam Malone episode.  As I recall, most were shown during sweeps.  

Kendall Rivers queries:

How did you and the other MASH writers go about writing Father Mulcahy? I have to say he seemed very authentic and respectful to the cloth but still quirky and funny which is hard to balance with any religious figure on a television series\movie.

It was important to make him a real person.  Yes, he was a chaplain but he was one of the gang.  He played poker, he let out his aggression with a punching bag, he was not above enjoying a dirty joke.   He knew the shenanigans that were going on in the camp but was not judgmental.   That helped us a lot.   

And not enough can be said about the way Bill Christopher played him.  Whatever we gave him he delivered big time.  

And finally, from Mike Bloodworth:

What is the first script you wrote?. (Either practice or real) And do you still have it filed away somewhere?

It was both practice and real.  The first script was a pilot about two unlikely dorm roommates, which at the time was the sum total of our life experiences.  

We had no idea what we were doing.  We didn’t even know to outline.  And with the special effects we required it would have cost WEST SIDE STORY money to produce… in 1973.   

In short, the script was a mess.  But there were some funny things in it and we enjoyed both the process and working with each other.  From there we sought advice and learned how to go about breaking in for real.  

Somewhere I must have a copy of that pilot.   We originally wrote it longhand and might still have the original notebook.  If the Smithsonian asks I’ll try to find it.  So far, no calls.

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

EP259: Marc Summers, Part 2

Marc Summers is a TV personality, disc jockey, radio host, warm-up guy, comedian, game show host, magician, stand up comedian, talk show host, and producer.  He’s best known for hosting DOUBLE DARE for Nickelodeon and UNWRAPPED for the Food Network.  He’s had to deal with life-threatening adversity and this is the inspiring story of how he overcame it and turned it into a show.   More podcasts at WAVE:

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

When are the networks ever going to learn?

I’m sure they’re blaming the pandemic.  

It’s a convenient excuse for saving money.  But broadcast networks figure to greenlight  way fewer pilots this year.  At the height, each network is projected to make four dramas and four comedies, and most won’t even make that many (especially comedies).  A couple of networks claim they now make pilots year round.  Yes, but how many and how often?

And here’s the thing:  When you develop fewer pilots you wind up with a Fall schedule that crashes and burns.  

How do I know?  Because networks have experimented with this forever.  They’ll skip pilots and go right to series, they’ll just do ten-minute presentations, etc.  And they always go back to the pilot model the following development year.  Why?  Because every single one of those experiments have failed.  

Networks box themselves into a corner.  They have very little new product to choose from and when those shows tank they have nothing substantial in the pipeline to replace them with.   Does this take Einstein to figure out? 

So what do they think is going to be different this time?  The fact that they’re all doing it and not just one network?   With audiences leaving in droves anyway, is this perhaps not the time to go with a model that has historically failed?   It’s almost like the plot of THE PRODUCERS.

Add to that the network and studio (usually under the same ownership) interference and the chances of even making a great pilot under these circumstances is shockingly low.    “Do we need the ‘Springtime for Hitler’ production number?  We don’t think so.  Take it out.”  

As someone who grew up on network television and made his living in network television, it pains me to see how far it’s fallen and how little they’re doing to save themselves.   I’d love to see a breakout hit on one of the Big Four.  It would thrill me to have people make a point to watch a particular show on the night it airs.  Yes, you can watch it anytime, but if you really like it you’ll want to watch it as soon it’s available.     Streaming services can’t provide that.  Networks can… or at least they could. And sorry to say, at the rate they’re going they’re never going to see that again.   If they want to blame the pandemic, well... it's their fault for being metaphorical anti-vaxers. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022


Okay, first off, a whole bunch of disclaimers.

I watched the movie off a screener not on a gigantic theater screen.   The only way to get the full effect of the film is to see it at a theater.

Practically every review has been rapturous.  And not just from critics.  Friends of mine whose opinions I really trust think it’s a masterpiece.  

The fact that it was a box-office bomb speaks to lack of interest and the fact that the target audience didn’t want to risk COVID.  Hey, I’m not ready to go back to the Cineplex anytime soon.  Not that I would anyway to see such current fare as THE 355 and SING 2.  

End of disclaimers.

I certainly liked WEST SIDE STORY.  And it’s enthralling to watch Spielberg’s direction.  Every shot is meticulous.  Every shot is interesting.  Visually the movie is eye-popping.   On the big screen it must’ve been dazzling.  The man is a master behind the camera. 

And then there’s the score and those songs.  Iconic.  Thrilling.  Timeless. I think this is the only movie where I stayed for the entire end credit sequence because they played the overture and it was heaven to have that music just wash over me. 

In subject matter, WEST SIDE STORY was somewhat similar to IN THE HEIGHTS — the plight of immigrants in New York City.  They were also similar in that it was subject matter no one apparently wanted to see.  For my money, however, WEST SIDE STORY was better in every single way.  

So if you’re curious, or waiting till it streams, I certainly recommend it.  

It’s just that… well… I had some problems.

But in fairness, some of them were the same problems I had with the original 1961 movie.  Vicious street gangs dancing just seems weird.  Not so much on the stage because it’s so stylized.  But when they’re dancing on real (or CGI’d) streets, you start to question the reality and tone.  Then later, during the rumble, the action gets very real and visceral.  So who are these guys?  Broadway theatre kids or an ugly mob?   I don’t know how they could be both.

And then there’s a story turn — that goes all the way back to the original.  I’m going to say SPOILER ALERT if you’ve never seen any version of WEST SIDE STORY.  Skip this paragraph.  But it’s the same plot point that’s always been.   Tony kills Bernardo.  Maria hears about it and is understandably devastated. Especially when she hears that Tony was the killer.  Tony arrives and somehow, within three minutes, she’s back on board with the love affair.  WTF?  The guy kills her brother that same night, but y’know, the heart wants what the heart wants.   I was curious to see if Tony Kushner, the screenwriter of the new adaptation (and one of the finest writers on the planet), could somehow justify that, but he couldn’t — at least for me.  But I don’t think any screenwriter could.  It’s one of those plot points where characters do things they would never do because the writer needed them to for their narrative.   So from that point, in every production I see, the spell is broken.  And I know I’m supposed to be heartbroken at the end, but I just feel manipulated.  

By the way, the turf war of San Juan Hill (where it was set) — in actual fact was predominately a black neighborhood.   So much for reality.

My last problem may just be a personal thing.  You might disagree.  But I thought Ansel Elgort was weak as Tony.  His voice is somewhat thin so none of his songs really soared.  Rachel Zegler blew him away in every duet they had.   Nor does he have much presence.  We’re supposed to believe that this guy is dangerous and has a real temper?  He’s a sweetie.  And the year in prison sure didn’t seem to harden Tony at all.   He appeared more comfortable on Sesame Street than the Mean Streets.  So when you have a weak lead that takes away from the film.  Again, you might disagree.  

The rest of the cast was fine.  Rachel Zegler apparently beat out 29,999 other hopefuls (there was an open casting call.  You probably tried out)
.  She was very good but to emerge victorious over 30,000 contenders you’d expect Barbra Streisand, Maria Callas, and Meryl Streep all rolled into one.   She was a young Anne Hathaway.   And to be fair, it’s not a role with tremendous depth.  Especially when a character can forgive her lover for killing her brother in three minutes.  

Here’s my final thought: The original 1961 movie was a monster hit but had its faults (as much as you know I love Natalie Wood, she was woefully miscast as Maria).  Spielberg spent $100,000,000 to adapt it.  So the one question you have to ask is:  Did he make it better?   I don’t think he did.  For a hundred million, that’s not a good answer.  

Monday, January 24, 2022

Maybe the greatest weekend in NFL playoff history

This last weekend was maybe the best weekend of NFL football ever.  I can't think of four better games all coming in the space of two days.  

They had everything.  Amazing clutch plays, turnovers and unpredictable events that were completely shocking and unexpected.  Eight great teams, each with great quarterbacks.  And the pressure of do-or-die games.  That's entertainment, kids. 

All four games ended in a walk-off.  The first three ended in last second field goals.  The final game (Buffalo at Kansas City) was simply a football game for the ages.  The lead went back and forth like windshield wipers with each team trading touchdowns.  With 13 seconds left and Buffalo leading, Kansas City hit a miraculous field goal to tie, and then won it in overtime with a touchdown.  Final score 42-36 (reminiscent of old AFL games in the '60s).   I'm sure it was less exciting if you were a Buffalo fan, and overtime rules have to change so the team that loses the coin toss for OT still has a chance to win if the winning coin toss teams drives and scores a touchdown.  But still!  Wow!

And wait, there's more! 

It was subfreezing and snowing in Green Bay, which you know is my preferred scenario for football.  

I'm sure some may disagree, but it was wonderful to see Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady go down.  Especially Rodgers.  Fuck that anti-vaxxer.  The jokes after the loss were almost instantaneous.   He didn't have adequate protection.  He could have used a shot in the arm, etc.   My favorite, that someone posted on Facebook was that Rodgers and Green Bay could still go to the NFC Championship game if Mike Pence had any courage.  

The game I was most invested in was the Rams-Buccaneers, and it was a rollercoaster.  All Rams the first half, which was most enjoyable.  But the second half they were atrocious, allowing Brady to bring the Bucs back from 27-3 to tie the game with 45 seconds left.  The Rams got two big plays to bring them within field goal range and won it in regulation, but it was a nail biter.  I was a wrung out dish rag, and this was before the Kansas City-Buffalo game.  

I'm also a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals so to see them upset Tennessee in the south was delightful.  Bengal fans have been long-suffering for years.  Can they beat Kansas City?  Well, they did once already this year. 

And the Rams have lost six straight to their NFC opponents, the 49ers.  The first-half Rams will beat them.  The second-half Rams will get blown out.  They need to decide which Rams team will play.   

I also have to say that the network announcers were all up to the task.  Ian Eagle, Joe Buck, Al Michaels, and Jim Nantz were as good as the games.   My preference:  still Al Michaels.  He is so in control, and no one handles dramatic moments with more flair.   And more than the others, Al taps into the emotion of the audience.  He says things you were thinking.   I know his contract is up at NBC following the Super Bowl, but I'm sure he'll surface somewhere next season -- maybe with Amazon that will have Thursday night football.  He's as sharp as ever and deserves to be behind a microphone. 

And the other three were great too.  Joe Buck has that spare Ray Scott authoritative big game delivery, Ian Eagle calls a terrific game and has a sly sense of humor, and I've never heard a football announcer who was more observant than Jim Nantz.  He sees tiny things on the field that most analysts don't pick up.  How he does that from way up in the booth I will never know.  He's also doing the game with Tony Romo who is a bar none the best analyst in the game.  Genuine personality and uncanny in how he can predict what's going to happen.   But they're all excellent.  There's not a Brent Musberger in the bunch.

Looking forward to next weekend.  But I gotta tell you, this past weekend is a hard act to follow.  Maybe impossible.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Some cartoons are now available

For those who want to see some of my cartoons, I've posted them on Instagram.  Follow me -- HollywoodandLevine. 

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Weekend Post

I'm guesting next month on a podcast called Fire & Water.  Not sure when it will drop.  But it's a podcast devoted to MASH and delving into specific episodes.  They had gotten to our first, "Out of Sight/Out of Mind" and that's why they invited me.  But it brought back a lot of memories.  Many I have expressed already in this blog.  But I thought it might be fun to re-post a entry from 2012, all about that first episode and the speech that launched our career.  So travel back with me...

My writing partner and I were bouncing around trying to get freelance assignments early in our career. We were pitching and writing any show we could get. We got hired to write a back-up script for a pilot that didn’t go. We did two episodes of a series that was canceled in five weeks. But then we lucked out and got a MASH assignment. It was the episode where a gas heater blows up and Hawkeye is temporarily blind. I know: hilarity can't help but ensue!  As part o the episode, we wanted Hawkeye to convey what it was like for him to experience blindness. To better understand her predicament we consulted someone who worked with the blind. To simulate the experience she blindfolded us and had us try to walk up Beverly Glen Canyon with cars whizzing by.  I can't say how many times we were almost killed because I couldn't see the cars.  But judging by screeching brakes and horn blasts -- fifteen. 

The end result is we wrote Hawkeye a big speech. We didn’t know whether the producers even wanted a monologue. It wasn’t in the outline. But we felt (a) it was a good character moment, and (b) showed initiative on our part.

The only problem is: it took us FOREVER to write it. Literally three days. We just kept revising and revising, looking for better examples and imagery, trying to be heartfelt and touching without being maudlin and cliché’d, and if possible, work in a small laugh. At times it was too long. Other times it was too short. We just kept going around and around until we were finally happy. I remember saying to David, “How does Paddy Chayefsky bang these out like they were fortune cookies?” (I now say that about Aaron Sorkin.)

We turned in the script. Gene Reynolds, the showrunner, loved it – especially the speech. From then on he kept giving us assignments and that first script, as our new writing sample when our agent submitted us for things, was our golden ticket.

I do believe that speech was the turning point in our career. Please consider that when you’re writing your spec. Not saying you need to include a poignant monologue (especially if you’re writing a WHITNEY), but you do need to put in the effort, time, and diligence necessary to make your script just that much better than whatever else is out there. Wait. Let me amend that. Do everything necessary except blindfolding yourself and walking up Beverly Glenn. You’re not going to get a lot of job offers if you’re dead.  Even Chayesfksy's phone no longer rings. 

Here is that “speech”. It’s from the episode “Out of Sight/Out of Mind”, season five. Hawkeye has been rather manic and BJ tries to get him to settle down.

BJ: Listen. Why don’t you just settle down for five minutes? I know what you’re trying to do, and I know how you feel.

HAWKEYE: I don’t think so.

BJ: You don’t want to think about what might happen to you. So you keep running…

HAWKEYE: That’s not it. Look, when Dr. Overman walks in tomorrow and unwraps my pacage, I hope to God I’ll have my sight back. But in the meantime, something fascinating has happened to me.

BJ: How’s that, Hawk?

HAWKEYE: One part of the world closed down for me, but another part opened up. Sure, I’ve been seeing myself sitting on a corner with a tin cup selling thermometers. But, I’m going through something here I didn’t expect. This morning I spent two incredible hours listening to a rainstorm. I didn’t just hear it, I was part of it. I’ll bet you never realized that rain hitting the ground makes the same noise as steaks when they barbecue, or that thunder seems to echo forever. And you can’t believe how funny it is to hear someone slip and fall in the mud. Had to be Burns. Beej, it’s full of trapdoors, but I think there may almost be some advantage to this. I’ve never spent a more conscious day in my life.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Friday Questions

Getting you ready for another weekend of NFL playoffs (which I’m sure are a big whoop in the rest of the world), here are some Friday Questions.

Adam is up first.

When people have found out that you're a professional comedy writer, have they tended to do the feedback and criticism thing in real life? Telling you what would have made "Frasier" funnier, and sure everybody says this "MASH" episode is a classic but let me tell you what's wrong with it, and why couldn't you guys have made Carla a lesbian? Why the homophobia? And so on.

Sometimes when mingling with strangers I don’t tell them I’m a TV writer — for just the reasons you described.  I say I write tech manuals.  They drop the subject real quick. 

It is annoying when they offer suggestions on shows I’m on, but worse is they’ll give me suggestions or criticize shows I’m not associated with.  “Hey!  Why is BIG BANG THEORY lousy this year?”  “I don’t know.  I never worked on BIG BANG THEORY.”

But people generally are complimentary.  Or they’ll say, “I never watch MASH but my grandparents loved it.”  That gives me a real warm feeling.  

There have been occasions where people have given me spec scripts.  This even happened at a high school reunion.  

And when my father and I were making funeral arrangements for my grandmother the mortician pitched me a movie.  I should have said I was a tech writer that day.

msdemos asks:

In searching your name on IMDb Mr. Levine, I noticed that there are a number of "Ken Levine's" listed, each one differentiated with a consecutive Roman Numeral. Is there, or isn't there a rule that applies to individuals having the exact same name in the entertainment world......or no, is that something that some just do on their own in order to avoid confusion with others that may have the same name?

I hadn’t noticed that but I guess it’s to distinguish one Ken Levine from another.  What Roman Numeral am I?   Does my bio say I was emperor of Rome?  If not, who do we contact to add that to my listing?

Douglas Trapasso has a long question.

The vibe I get frequently through your blog is that "stuff" just simply had a higher inherent quality three or four decades ago it doesn't matter the category - music, movies, burgers, etc. Pre-Nixon crap at least -tried- harder to be decent compared to Y2K crap.

I'm in my late fifties now and falling into that same rabbit hole myself, maybe it's inevitable. Can -anything- brand new approach the first time you heard "Born to Run" or saw a production of "Hamlet" or the movie "Citizen Kane"?

Here's the question: Has this -always- been the feeling? Were your elders in the entertainment world when you came up equally dismissive of the generation behind them? And is that tension what ultimately fuels the best art/pop culture going forward?

I would say, to a certain extent, that it’s the same with every generation.  My parents hated my rock n’ roll, their parents probably hated their jitterbugging (and they were good jitterbuggers).  

I think every generation feels the best music ever is what was playing when they were in high school.  (And some generations would be wrong to think that.) 

As for movies and TV, will today’s fare stand the test of time the way some shows and films of the past have?   Will there be the equivalent of THE GODFATHER or BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI or CASABLANCA from this generation of filmmakers?  Only time will tell.

I don't know if there's a "tension" per se.  Each generation wants to make their own mark and that's the way it should be. 

If there is one difference between the current generation and those of the past (and I know this is a gross generalization), is that I get the sense this generation has little regard for what came before they were born.  Older generations — certainly mine (Pleistocene Era) — took great interest in the music, films, and TV of the past.  

There is so much amazing stuff out there.  But it might be in black-and-white, or it might not fit the PC standards of today so it’s dismissed.    

We boomers watched old movies.  We had to.  That’s all that was on TV.  But we loved them.  And we were introduced to worlds and artists we had never seen.  There’s a treasure trove of material just waiting to be discovered.  Treat yourself if you haven’t already.  

And finally, from DBenson:

Did Cheers ever consider bringing back Coach's daughter?

Not to my knowledge.  That episode with Coach’s daughter (played beautifully by Allyce Beasley) was a little gem.  And I think the feeling was we weren’t going to top it.  Plus, Allyce soon became a regular on MOONLIGHTING so I don’t think she would have even been available.  

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

EP258: Meet Marc Summers Part 1

Talk about carving out a career. Marc Summers is a TV personality, disc jockey, radio host, warm-up guy, comedian, game show host, magician, stand up comedian, talk show host, and producer. He’s best known for hosting DOUBLE DARE for Nickelodeon and UNWRAPPED for the Food Network. Come along on this fascinating journey.

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Are movies too long?

Here’s a Friday Question that became a whole post.

Michael Dorsey wondered:

Question: You mentioned in your review of "Licorice Pizza" that the film felt too long. I find that this is true about most movies released nowadays. Do you find this as well, and do you have any theories as to why?

I have been mocked on numerous occasions for harping on this subject, but YES, I think most movies are too long.   Especially comedies.  Comedies over two hours wear out their welcome.  People get tired of laughing (assuming it's good and they laugh at all).   A 90 minute comedy is perfect.  

When you think about sitcoms being a half-hour (and today they’re more like 19 minutes), 90 full uninterrupted minutes is plenty of time to tell a story and get in your laughs.  

Why are movies so long these days?  I think you can answer that by asking this question instead:  Why weren’t movies longer in the past?   

By “the past” I mean before streaming and cable and video rentals.  

Movies lived and died by how well they did in theaters (remember those?).  The longer the movie; the fewer the daily showings.   If your movie was under two hours you could squeeze in one more showing a night.  More people in the theater meant more concessions sold, which is really how theater chains make their money.  That $9 tub of popcorn you bought cost $.09 to make. 

So a lot of theaters and studios put pressure on filmmakers to keep their running times down.  In many instances, the studio retained final cut, and if the director didn’t deliver a film with a suitable running time the studio would hack away.  Lots of good movies were destroyed that way.  

Over time and with other ways studios could profit off their releases, that became less critical.  Plus, we went through a period where directors commanded more power and creative control.  Indulgence began to creep in.  

Today, the only movies having any real impact at the box-office are comic book superhero flicks.  They’re expensive “event” movies and since they charge ridiculous prices to see them, studios are allowing longer films so the audience is fooled into thinking they’re “getting more for their money.”  

And if a movie is streamed, who cares how long it is?  It’s not like you’re programming something behind it.  

Sometimes now on blu-ray they’ll feature “the director’s cut,” which is always way longer.  How many of those are actually better?  (Some yes, but I submit most no.) 

LICORICE PIZZA is waaaaaaay too long.  And as a reader pointed out, most of the scenes in the trailer aren’t even in the movie.  I bet the first cut was 3 1/2 hours or more.  So to Anderson, the movie was cut way down.  But did he need twenty minutes of people running?   I would rather have seen some of those omitted trailer scenes. 

There are some movies that do warrant a lengthy running time.  Usually they are big sagas with scope.  BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.  But not KNOCKED UP.  

And I’ll leave you with this truism in the theatre, usually spoken during out-of-town tryouts:  Take out twenty minutes and the show runs two years longer.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The theme from Applebee's... I mean CHEERS

Lots of you have asked my opinion on the CHEERS theme being used in an Applebee’s commercial.  I’d like it a lot more if I were making money off of it, I'll tell ya that.  I don’t think this is the first time the CHEERS theme was used.  Didn’t it appear in an Allstate commercial a number of years ago?  Or am I making that up?  (And if so, why would I make up something like that?)

And then there was some diet commercial with Kirstie Alley and some of the CHEERS gang.  That I know I saw. 

Yes, I think it sullies the brand.  Do I condone it?  God NO.

But I hear Beatles songs and Springsteen songs and Dylan songs used for commercials.  Lots of popular records now hawk products.  Lots of venerable sports stadiums now are named for corporate sponsors.  (Before you baseball fans say that’s sacrilegious remember Wrigley Field and Bush Stadium.)  

It’s the world we live in. I guess the question one must ask is if you’re a rights holder is do you want your show/song/stadium/franchise associated with that particular product.  When you think of CHEERS you (hopefully) think of a certain level of quality.  Is Applebee’s on that commensurate restaurant level?  I can hear you calling out the answer -- one that Applebee's would not appreciate. 

And I think that’s what riled up so many fans of CHEERS.  It’s not so much that the sacred theme is being used in a commercial, it’s that it’s for Applebee’s.  If Applebee’s used the theme from THE ROPERS I don’t think anyone would care.  But not CHEERS.  And some of those burgers look disgusting. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Outdoor football -- you gotta love it

I enjoyed this weekend’s NFL Playoff Games.  It’s nice that they actually mean something.  And it seems like every team but four make it to the playoffs and the head coaches of those teams are fired the day after the regular season.  The only job with less security was Trump's Chief-of-Staff. 

But I especially love these playoffs for a perverse reason, and you’re welcome to hate me for it.  I love them because I’m in Southern California.   Football games are always way more dramatic when they’re played in horrible weather conditions.  Snow bowls — the best.  Rain bowls — super fun.  Hail, fog, hurricane winds — that’s entertainment.  Subfreezing temperatures (like in Buffalo) — now you got a football game.  (Dick Enberg told me he was calling a Bengals-Chargers playoff game from Cincinnati and it was so cold someone poured him a hot cup of coffee and by the time they set it on the desk in front of him it froze solid.  Now THAT’S cold, friends and neighbors.)  

But the elements do add an element.  If you can’t see the yard markers that’s a game you’re not turning off.   They don’t want to hold Super Bowls in those outdoor winter venues because it would inconvenience the high rollers paying to see the game, and Lady Gaga would freeze in her trashy Tinkerbell outfit.   

Too bad because some of the more memorable games in NFL history were legendary because of the weather.  The famous ice bowl in Green Bay between the Packers and Cowboys.  Championship games between the Giants and Colts in arctic New York.  

And the enjoyment is heightened by watching in 70 degree weather.  At least for me.  

That said, I don’t know why anyone actually attends these playoff games in punishing weather.  The players are getting paid and they can go into the locker room at halftime.  You’re just sitting there.  I know some of you spartan readers will say “it’s an experience,” but so is waterboarding.  

Were I to be in Buffalo yesterday I would have been inside with a warm fire, food at the ready, my own bathroom, a better picture, the yellow stripe, and no chance to catch COVID at a super spreader.  The only downside is maybe catching an Applebee’s CHEERS commercial (more on that tomorrow).  The coffee you buy at the stadium can’t be any warmer than Dick Enberg’s.   Of all the major sports, football is really made for TV.  

There was a time in the NFL when home games wouldn’t be televised unless they were a sellout (which was rare).  Here in LA, the Rams played in the Coliseum that seated 100,000.  We NEVER saw a home game.  Ever. Not once.  The very first Super Bowl was held in LA.  Both CBS and NBC covered it.  Both were blacked out in Los Angeles.  The point is, in those days you had to attend the game if you wanted to watch it.  Not now.  When the Rams returned from St. Louis and played in the Coliseum while their new stadium was being built, it was downright eerie to finally see a Rams home game at the Coliseum.  Like sneaking into an X-rated movie when you were a kid.

Anyway, if you attended any of the games this past weekend I hope you didn’t get frostbite, COVID, trench foot, hypothermia, pneumonia, or toxic shock.  But if your team won I’m sure it was worth it.  I’m turning up the heat just writing this. 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Weekend Post


Great expression in Hollywood: Mentors get eaten by their young.

While there is certainly no shortage of that “All About Eve” type behavior, I must say that for myself, I would never be where I am today were it not for some exceptional mentors. It’s like I learned pitching from a staff of Sandy Koufaxes.  One reason I started this blog was to be able to give something back. I’m a big believer in “Pay it Forward”. So if any tips I share you find valuable you can thank these people.

Larry Gelbart, Jim Brooks, Allan Burns, the Charles Brothers, Gene Reynolds, Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Treva Silverman, and one name you’ve never heard – Bruce Anson. Don’t race to imdb to look him up. He’s not there. Even Googling him will yield no results. (There are others with that name but they’re not him.)

But Bruce Anson taught me more about the craft of writing than all my high school and college teachers combined.

I was a sports intern at KMPC radio in Los Angeles. Bruce was one of their newscasters. He was in his 60s, smoked and drank too much (which I think was a prerequisite for getting hired in that department back then). He had been a booth announcer in the early days of TV and prior to that, network radio. And now he was pulling part-time Sunday night shifts, writing and delivering news twice an hour in between public service programs the station was obligated to run. When he finished at midnight the station went off the air for maintenance. So not exactly prime time.

He’d show up in shorts, loud Hawaiian shirts, and flip flops. Other newsmen reported for work in suits and ties.

My job was to write the sports portion of the newscast. Essentially a rundown of the day’s scores. Northwestern beat Ohio State 23-10, Notre Dame edged Army 21-20, etc. The most creative thing I did was once write: LSU puffed Rice 34-14.

During baseball season all the scores would be final by 6:00. There was no Sunday night baseball. Not even in Texas. The shift was until midnight but most sports interns would write up three sportscasts that could be rotated and went home six hours early. I went to Bruce and asked if I could help write his newscasts. He said, sure, but it’s not as easy as I think.

He was right.

I’d take a story from the United Press International wire, rewrite it, and hand it to Bruce. I assumed he’d say, “Great job. Thank you.”


He said, “This sentence could be cut in half”, “There’s a better way of saying this”, “Use more descriptive words”, “This point should go ahead of that point”, “this phrase is a little confusing.” He’d then take a pen and start rewriting -- slashing words, replacing phrases, making it shorter, punchier, clearer, BETTER.

And so began a weekly pattern that lasted until football season. I would doggedly write story after story determined to just once please that son-of-a-bitch. Finally it happened. A house fire story. I don’t remember the details but I do remember I used the word “blaze”. It aired right before the vasectomy PSA. I was so proud.

Be ruthless. Always look to make it better. Have a little Bruce Anson sitting on your shoulder when you write. Ask him to put out the cigarette though.

I owe Bruce Anson a lot. I thank him for his time, his toughness, his talent. And if he were here today I'm sure he'd say "Isn't all the alliteration a little precious?"

Friday, January 14, 2022

Friday Questions

Friday Questions to launch you into the weekend.  What’s yours?

Kyle Burress starts us off.

Are you glad that you didn't have to deal with all of the social media and such that goes on in today's society during your involvement with Mash, Cheers, Jefferson's and Frasier, amongst others? Do you think that would have changed things dramatically in the way things were written or how the cast and crew were dealt with?

If there was social media in those days, here’s how I think it would play out.

THE JEFFERSONS.  The show would get buried because two Jewish guys wrote an episode.  

MASH.  Can you imagine the shitstorm when they killed Henry Blake?   The producers would have gotten death threats.

CHEERS.  I think social media would have helped us.  There would be more buzz, more word-of-mouth.  We wouldn’t be such an underground hit but ratings flop.   

FRASIER.  To some degree there was social media.  Not to today’s extent, but there were chat rooms and fan groups that discussed the episodes.  I would say, in general, that FRASIER was well received across the board. 

The shows might have been written a little differently based on the country’s sensibility, not necessarily pressure from social media.   How different?  I have no way to calculate that or even speculate.  

From jcs:

In your very entertaining podcast episodes 243 and 244 warmup luminary Bob Perlow voices his annoyance about some sitcom actors and producers being unwilling to invest just five minutes to talk to their audience before the taping. Perlow reasons that apart from showing a lack of appreciation, an opportunity to increase the show's fan base was wasted.

Did you experience similar situations in your career where you felt that not enough effort had been made to reach or to accommodate an audience?

I only did warm-up on one show (CHEERS) so Bob had way more experience with this than me.  

But I will say this:  Some actors are really concentrating on their performance — that’s their process — and they don’t want to disturb that by kibitzing with the audience.  As a director, I want my actors to be as comfortable and ready as possible and if chatting with the crowd would get in the way, then I’m all for the actor skipping it.

Might the audience embrace them and the show more had they interacted?  Probably.  It’s definitely to their benefit.  But the performance is the important thing.

blogward asks:

I was just reading about Glynis Johns, the beautiful Welsh actress who is now, at 98, the oldest Best Actress Oscar-winner alive (with Olivia De H gone). I never saw the episode of Cheers with her as Diane's mother, but I wonder if you had anything to share? T

That was the episode we first tried to get Lucy.  

Ms. Johns was fabulous.  The ultimate pro.  Knew her lines, was kind to everyone on the crew, not at all a diva.   I never got up the nerve to ask her to sing “Send in the Clowns.” Sondheim wrote it specifically for her.  

If you haven’t seen the episode, I very much recommend it.  It was from season one, was called “Someone Single, Someone Blue” and was written by the late David Angell.  

And finally, from Cedricstudio:

I recently got sick and had a froggy voice for almost two whole weeks. Which got me wondering, when an actor gets sick (loses their voice, for example) is it ever just written into the show? In season 11 episode of MASH ("Say No More") the B story is that Margaret's hero is visiting camp and she desperately wants to meet him, but she gets laryngitis and has to enlist Charles' help. I was re-watching it and noticed that she can't talk for practically the entire episode. I don't think I've ever seen the "character loses their voice" plot device used on a TV show before so it got me wondering: Was this something the writers came up with, or did Loretta Swit actually lose her voice forcing the writers to work it into the episode?

Actors getting sick used to be considered such a big crisis.  Now, in the middle of a pandemic, having laryngitis for three days doesn’t seem that big a deal.  

If we can work it in organically then we would.   But especially on a single-camera show like MASH that’s shot out of order, we might just re-arrange the schedule to give the actor a few days off to recover and film his scenes later.

A bigger problem is explaining away why a character suddenly has a broken arm or cast on their wrist that’s not coming off for two months.  Suddenly you have to dream up something to justify it.   Glad we never did a period drama.  Explaining a wrist cast in the Middle Ages might’ve taken some doing. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

EP257: Cartooning for fun and a little profit

Ken’s cartooning days from drawing Woody Woodpecker at 4 to trying to get in the New Yorker. If you’re a fan of cartoons, comics, comic books, or New Yorker cartoons this episode is for you.

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A major life lesson in Margaritaville

Only a few of you will recognize the name (Boomers who grew up in LA), but disc jockey Billy Pearl passed away last week (as if there haven't been enough deaths).  I am very saddened by this. We went to UCLA together and were roommates.  Our paths drifted apart as the years went by.  But one dinner I had with him made a huge impression and shaped my worldview, especially where my career was concerned.  

Billy Pearl was one of the best jocks in the Top 40 era.  I don’t think there’s a single person in radio at that time who would dispute that.  His rise in the industry was meteoric, but no one could begrudge him because of his enormous talent on the air.  By the time he was 24 he was doing nights on KHJ, Los Angeles.  KHJ was the very top of the mountain in Top 40 radio — a legendary powerhouse of a station.  The only other stations in its league were WABC, New York and WLS, Chicago.  

Needless to say, he was the envy of all the rest of us radio nerds.  But he was a good guy and we were all very happy for his success.  And he was fun to listen to. 

At the time I had quit radio and moved back to Los Angeles to try to launch my writing career.  This was early 1975.  I was toiling at the KIIS Broadcasting Workshop during the day and writing spec scripts with David Isaacs at night and on the weekends.  Pearl was making great money.  I was pulling down $650 a month.  But I didn’t care.  I was actually enjoying this time in my life.  

One night I had arranged to get dinner with Billy after his show.  I met him at KHJ while he was still on the air.  Like I said, KHJ was Valhalla, and to see my good friend sitting behind that mic, that was really something.  Imagine going to a movie theater and there’s your former roommate as one of the stars of THE AVENGERS.   

After his shift we went across the street to Lucy’s Adobe Cafe for Mexican food and top flight margaritas.  And throughout the entire meal, all he did was bitch about how terrible KHJ was.  The audio quality on the cartridges was muddy, the promos were horribly worded, the music rotation was bad — practically everything about the programming pissed him off.   I listened and just nodded, but inwardly what I was thinking was: “Are you fucking kidding?!  You’re on KHJ!!! We would all KILL to be on KHJ!  So what if a stupid promo is worded poorly?”  

Apparently he made his displeasure known inside the building to the point where he was let go after maybe one year.  And think about it, for a station to fire one of their absolute best and most popular performers, he must’ve driven them scooters.  

Now flash-forward two years and David and I are on staff of MASH (which I guess you could say was the KHJ of sitcoms).  Not that there weren’t frustrations on that job, but there was not a day that I didn’t drive onto that lot and go “Wow, I’m on MASH.  How incredibly lucky am I!”  I’d think back to that dinner and appreciate even more my good fortune.  And I carried it over to all the stops in my career.

Sometimes you gotta look at the big picture.  We’re all going through hard times now.  It might be worth a moment to step back and appreciate those things in your life that give you pleasure, give you meaning — be they career situations or relationships or both.  Who knew great lessons could be learned at Lucy’s Adobe Cafe?  It’s still open, by the way, if you’re looking for your own epiphany.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Comments on your comments

A key feature of this blog is the comments section.  Ideally, it can create a whole little community — a real exchange of ideas.  And it’s fun for me to get your thoughts on my daily topics.  Often times I will even solicit your opinions.  

But I’ve noticed that things are starting to change.  Perhaps it’s a reflection of the dark times, but there is a meanness that has crept into the comments section.  And I’m not talking about trolls.  These are normal readers who lately have been attacking each other, often times over really stupid shit (like correct usage of punctuation).  They use the C word (I’m sorry I accidentally let that one slip through), they’re hostile, and they take every opportunity to correct me or each other over nonsense.  

Now that I’ve sold a cartoon to THE NEW YORKER I’ve had several of you ask me to share some of my cartoons on this blog.  No thank you.  Why?  I learned my lesson years ago when I wrote a spec DICK VAN DYKE SHOW episode for fun for this blog.  At the time I specifically said I don’t want any critiques.  Part of the exercise was to see what an actual DICK VAN DYKE SHOW writer would say and I promised to print his reaction verbatim — good or bad (happily it was very good).  But I wasn’t looking for audience feedback.  It wasn’t a script I was going to submit anywhere.  Nor was I going to rewrite.  

And yet, I got a flood of reader feedback.  They didn’t like this, they didn’t like that.  I should have done this instead.  I should have done that.  This joke didn’t work for some.  That bit wasn’t funny.  You get the idea.  

So I know that even if I post cartoons and say I want no feedback I’m going to get fifty readers saying they don’t like the shading or the perspective or the anatomy is wrong or the joke would be better if I did a caption they suggested.  I have cartoon mentors whose expert opinions I value highly and send everything.   But to put my toons on this blog in this current atmosphere — I would be walking into a propeller.  

The comment section is supposed to be fun.  And civil.  If I say I liked a movie and you didn’t, that’s fine.  You’re free to dislike anything I like (okay, except maybe Natalie Wood).  But to point out that you don’t like a movie because of how someone reacted to rape charges — you’re going to be deleted.  And frankly, I don’t like deleting you ever and yet I’m doing it more and more.  Even when I agree with your opinion (it’s just the tone).

So it’s time to reboot.  Time to start playing nice together.  Above all, this is a humor blog.  You all know where I stand politically, but I’d say 90% of the time I keep politics out of it.  And if you disagree with me politically you’re welcome to leave and find a blog that shares your views.  God knows, they’re out there.  My feelings won’t be hurt.  But if you’re sticking around, just know I welcome your comments as long as (a) you leave a name and (b) you show the same respect to others as you would want them to show you.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?  It's a new year, a new beginning.  Let's start 2022 off right.

Thanks in advance for your cooperation.


Monday, January 10, 2022

From Betty White to Bob Saget

What is happening with all these celebrities deaths?  It started with Betty White and it seems every day there’s one or two more beloved figures who are taken from us.  Peter Bogdanovich, John Madden, Sidney Poitier, Dwayne Hickman, and now Bob Saget.  

Saget’s was the biggest shock.  65 and seemingly fine the night before where he performed for two hours.  I met him once very briefly but didn’t know him at all.  However, going by my Facebook news feed, everybody who ever worked with him loved him and was devastated.  (I am also the only person on Facebook it seems who does not have a picture with him.)   

My newsfeed is a good indicator of how a celebrity was really received.  Most of my friends are industry professionals so these are people who know and worked with him.  And their accounts were all glowing.  

Trust me, when that’s not the case and the celebrity was a dick, the reactions are usually “Gee, that’s sad” or “Hunh.”  No testimonials, no photos — “I guess I’m obligated to acknowledge this so I am.”  

But people listed above were all admired, both for their graciousness as well as talent.  

The only one I knew personally was Dwayne Hickman.  For Boomers that must’ve been a gut punch because it’s yet another part of our childhood no longer with us.  Dwayne Hickman was Dobie Gillis.  

In the ’80s, Dwayne had left acting and was a current program executive at CBS.  He was our CBS rep on AfterMASH, and I know writers grouse about “suits,” but Dwayne was a pleasure to deal with.  You really got the feeling he was on your side.  And you could kid him about being Dobie Gillis.  Sometimes I’d call him Dobie, or if he gave a note I’d say, “I’m gonna kill that boy! (the dad’s catchphrase on DOBIE GILLIS).  

White and Poitier were in their 90’s.  Their deaths were sad, but they lived rich long lives.  Bob Saget however — 65 is way too young.  And as of this writing, the cause is still a mystery.

Like I said, what’s happening?  We haven't completed two weeks yet of this year. 

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Weekend Post

A question I’m always asked is “how do you find a writing partner?”. I met mine in the army but I sure don’t recommend that method. The WGA has come up with a nifty idea. Speed Dating. Just like the social version with the same success rate of getting laid. Every so often the Guild sponsors evenings for writers looking for that perfect scribe mate. I’ve never been to one of course, but I imagine you hear some pretty wacky responses. As a public service, so you don’t make these gaffes, here are few of the responses I would NOT want to hear. (I'm sure you can think of some more yourself.)

Dennis Miller is funny now. He never used to be but he is now.

We can work at my place. I live in Bakersfield.

Hey, hey, don’t touch my Naomi Watts photos! They’re not bothering you.

I can work anywhere any time. In fact, if you’ve got a couch I could crash on, that would be sweet.

If I could go back and work on any classic sitcom from the past, it would have to be 2 BROKE GIRLS.

You would be…let’s see…my eighth partner.

I’m really good at editing. You pitch me ten ideas and I can tell you which is the good one.

It's nothing personal. I don't look anyone in the eye.

Do graphic comics count as books I’ve read?

Look, if you didn’t go to an Ivy school I don’t even know why we’re talking.

Everyone who’s read my script thought it wasn’t funny. That’s why I need a partner.

I do my best work between 2 and 4 A.M.

First things first -- who gets top billing?

Let’s work at my place. That way I can watch my twins. They just started walking!

You don’t remember? You slept with me at the Sundance retreat and never called me back, you shit!

I have a spec JOEY I could show you.

This rubber band? Whenever I start feeling this building smoldering rage my shrink says play with this rubber band. Does it bother you?

There’s a British version of THE OFFICE?

You have beautiful hair. Can I touch it?

Do you have a cigarette?

How long have I fucking been writing? Fuck knows. But I guess it was, fuck, I dunno, some fucking time around the end of last fucking year or some shit.

The only thing is… I don’t drive.

I took Robert McKee’s class twice. So I kind of see myself as an expert on story.

Would you take my hands and join me in a prayer?

Okay, well…if you’re here and I’m here it’s pretty clear our partnership isn’t working. 

Friday, January 07, 2022

Friday Questions

First FQ of the new year.  We’ve gone more days than last year already without an insurrection, so that’s good.  What’s your Friday Question?

marka is up first.

A director question. When you had an actor in their first role on a filmed show did you ever talk to them early in the week to give them advice, or clue them in to what was happening, or anything like that? Seems like the first time might be overwhelming, even if your only line was, "here's your soup, gentlemen.”

I assume you’re talking about guest actors who are hired specifically for that episode.  As a director I try to go out of my way to make them feel comfortable.  A big reason is that, for reasons I don’t fully understand, some casts are horrible to guest actors.  

I should pause here and say that MASH, CHEERS, BECKER, WINGS, and FRASIER could not have been nicer or more supportive.   But in my freelance directing days I would encounter certain regular casts who completely shunned any guest actor.  Maybe they were threatened or just had to flaunt their importance, but for whatever insecure reason they wouldn’t even talk to the guest actors.   

I have a lot of friends who are actors and I bet every one has a story or six that are just like this.  

And of course, the thing is, once their series is over, the regular cast is right back in the pool with the guest stars.  

Anyway, as a director, I believe actors do their best work when they’re comfortable.  So every actor in one of my shows gets my attention.  There's no hierarchy.

Keith R.A. DeCandido has a MASH question.

I was watching "Dear Sis," and I had the captions on, something I've started doing for pretty much everything the last couple of years, and the captions completely changed a line of dialogue for me.

When Winchester is waxing rhapsodic about the Christmases at the Winchester Family Estate in Beacon Hill, he mentions the servants standing the firelight -- I always thought he said they stood in "utter servility." But the captioning says, "utter civility," which, well, isn't as funny.

I don't suppose you recall what the line is from your position as executive script consultant way back in 1978? :)

I’m lucky I remember we did an episode called “Dear Sis.”  

No, I don’t remember.  That was a script that Alan wrote so we did less rewriting.  But whatever is the funniest interpretation — that’s the right one.

From Jay in NYC

On long running sitcoms which characters have developed the most over the run of the series. My choices are Radar in Mash, Penny in Big Bang and Rachel in Friends. Are there any others?

There are many others.  I would certainly put Hot Lips at the very top of that list.  The character, played beautifully by Loretta Swit, grew tremendously.  

Liz Lemon on 30 ROCK.  Daphne and Roz on FRASIER.  Norm and Cliff on CHEERS.  Robert on RAYMOND.  Certainly Bonnie on MOM.  I’m sure there are a hundred more.  Chime in, peeps!  

And finally, from Mike Bloodworth:

Once you started writing when did you realize that you could make a living at it?

When someone started paying me.  I know that sounds like a flip answer, but it’s actually true.  Once we sold our first script (a JEFFERSONS), were able to get into the WGA and secure a decent agent we were elevated to the ranks of working professionals.  We still had to parlay that into an actual career, but the fact that even one show recognized potential in us was a huge morale boosts.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

EP256: Humbling Experiences in Hollywood

The minute you think you’re hot stuff in Hollywood, something comes along to knock you back down to size. Ken shares some of his more humbling awkward experiences.

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Licorice Pizza - My review

Usually I either love or hate Paul Thomas Anderson movies.  BOOGIE NIGHTS is one of my all-time favorite films.  THE PHANTOM THREAD may be the worst movie I ever saw.  I was relieved and delighted to find that I liked LICORICE PIZZA.  It wasn’t great, but I wasn’t screaming at the screen, which is a major plus for me in a PTA flick.  

I must say going in I was primed to like it.  A coming-of-age film set in the San Fernando Valley in the ‘70s — all that was missing was me on the radio at K100 during that time (that would have made the movie great.).  But Anderson really got the details right.  Vin Scully, Tail o’ the Cock, KMET billboards, the gas crisis, waterbeds, vintage cars, and phones you still had to dial — they were all represented.  There’s a scene at the Teenage Fair that was freaky in its authenticity (having been to many Teenage Fairs).  Ironically though, we never see a Licorice Pizza record store (still not as great an omission as "Beaver Cleaver" spinning the hits on K100).  

The lead actors were wonderful.  Anderson cast two unknowns, which may not help the box-office but sure added to the picture.  Alana Haim was fantastic — and so refreshingly REAL.  Cooper Hoffman (Phillip Seymour’s son) pulled off his difficult part with elan.  His dad would be proud.  But stealing the movie was Bradley Cooper as producer/asshole Jon Peters and Sean Penn as an Evil Knivel-type.  

The film is part AMERICAN GRAFFITI, part BOOGIE NIGHTS (without the porn or nudity -- I know -- the two best parts), and part CHARIOTS OF FIRE.  If you took out the scenes of Alana and Cooper running you’d shave an hour off the running time.  And shaving would have helped.  It runs 2 hours and 13 minutes.  Considering the story is very anecdotal and meandering, that length seems a ted indulgent.  There’s not enough story or suspense or scope to warrant that long a film — and this from a guy who loved being back in that world. 

Anderson presents a rather unique relationship — a 25 year-old girl and a 15 year-old boy.  (Thank God Woody Allen didn’t get his hands on this material.)  So it had to be treated with great sensitivity, which it was.  I was relieved that the story didn’t go in the SUMMER OF ’42 direction where the older woman sleeps with the callow youth.   The angst and joy and confusion of adolescence and young adulthood are more the focus, explored in small telling moments.  They too felt refreshingly real.

Visually, Anderson films are always handsome.  And he must’ve gotten a deal on dolly tracks because Alana and Cooper each got in their 10,000 steps.  

There are some funny moments in LICORICE PIZZA — notably with Bradley Cooper and considering everything else is deadly serious, I guess you could qualify this movie as a comedy.   There’s also a great soundtrack of the 70’s and some ‘60s but I wouldn’t call it a musical.  I’m sure Anderson doesn’t want it labeled a musical since no one wants to go to musicals these days.   (If Spielberg had a few hits from the ‘50s in WEST SIDE STORY and had Tony & Maria run from Soho to Harlem maybe more people would’ve seen it.)  

Anyway, I think you’ll enjoy this movie even if you’re not from the valley.  I'm hoping for a sequel set in 1977.  I was on TenQ then and sounded even better. 

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

King Richard: My Review

Wait.  Wrong King Richard

I was leery about KING RICHARD going in.  It’s about the Williams sisters and yet the focus is on the dad.  And it stars Will Smith who wants an Oscar more than Wile E. Coyote wants the Road Runner, and every year he stars in another prestige movie holding the Acme rocket launcher.  And every year Leo DiCaprio gets the nomination.  Beep beep!  

This year, however, I think he’s going to get it.  In KING RICHARD he gives his best performance and carries this movie to victory.  Although 2 1/2 hours, it managed to hold my interest.  Unlike LICORICE PIZZA, I don’t think I could cut out a half hour that easily.  KING RICHARD is a very standard biopic telling a linear story, but it works.  And along the way there are some terrific scenes.  You don’t have to love tennis to enjoy this movie.   Yes, it has that Hollywood studio feel-good “dreams can come true” pouring out of every frame of celluloid, but you know that the story is real.  And feels authentic.  There’s no RICARDO trickery where events are made up to accommodate the narrative.  Venus doesn’t win Wimbledon at twelve.  

Kudos to director Reinaldo Marcus Green and screenwriter Zach Baylin along with everyone in the cast.  Among the many standouts: Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, and Jon Bernthal.  But everyone was terrific.  

This is the kind of movie you don’t need to see in a theatre.  It’s tennis matches not epic space battles.  Your living room will be just fine.  But I recommend it.  Will Smith turned me around.  The Road Runner is in trouble this year. 

Monday, January 03, 2022

The I LOVE LUCY movie I would like to see

I was having a discussion last night with my son-in-law, Jonathan about BEING THE RICARDOS.  (If you missed my review, you can find it here.)  He brought out a great point — the take on the Ricardos we’d like to see.  

One problem with the movie as is that many have pointed out is that there’s nothing in it that we don’t already know.  Beyond that, there is a lot of stuff just made up.   Not to spoil anything, but the ending is utterly absurd, did not happen, and never in a million years would happen.  But we knew Lucy was accused of being a Communist, that CBS balked at Desi starring in the show, and further balked at doing a storyline of Lucy’s pregnancy. And we know that she was cleared of charges, Desi got the job, and the pregnancy storyline stayed in.  We also know that Desi was a womanizer, and that would cause a rupture in their marriage.   So in a sense there was no suspense other than would Lucy save the day by having the Mertz’s fall off the piano bench.  

But like Jon said, Desi created the whole multi-camera form.  Let’s see that.  How did he come up with it?  And why?   Most sound stages couldn’t accommodate a large audience.  How did Desi solve that?  Let’s see bleachers being built.  Let’s see how they overcame CBS’ objection to Desi.  They performed a vaudeville act, parts of which found its way into the I LOVE LUCY pilot.  Recreate that.  

But of course this leads to one of my big problems.  You can’t recreate Lucy comedy bits because Nicole Kidman can’t move her face and isn’t funny.  If a movie could demonstrate how Lucy approached these scenes and what she did to perfect them, that’s a movie I’d want to watch.  And that you can’t do with Nicole Kidman.  She’s a great actress, but comedy (and now expressions) are not her gift.   You need to find a young… well, Lucy.  Or even a young Carol Burnett.   Forget star power.  Lucy is special.  You have to find someone who’s special. 

I’m also not sure Sorkin would be the one to direct that.  There were moments in the movie that suggested he had no idea how a sitcom is filmed.  The director (who is maybe the most inept director ever) blocks a scene around a table with the Mertz’s back to the cameras.  It takes Lucy and it takes several days for her to figure out they should be facing the camera.  Uh… everyone on the set, including the craft services guy, knows you don’t seat people with their backs to the camera on a multi-camera show.  How are you going to shoot them?  You can’t swing the camera around because then the background would be the audience.  Now Sorkin could argue that the general public doesn’t know that, but it’s so egregious and so unnecessary that it looks embarrassing.    It’s one thing if a director doesn’t know the procedure of a medical operation; he’s not a doctor.  But blocking a sitcom scene?  If you’re directing a movie about sitcoms, I’m sorry but that you gotta know.   

(Believe me, if that happened in real life, the actors would IMMEDIATELY say that’s wrong.  The camera’s only on our backs.)  Factual note:  I LOVE LUCY used very few outside directors. Marc Daniels and Bill Asher directed most of them.  And they both knew what they were doing in spades.

Which brings me to my next point.  Authenticity.  There’s enough real fascinating stuff that you don’t have to fabricate the ending, or the mistreatment of her writers, or Lucy getting fired from RKO (didn’t happen that way) or that silly subplot where Lucy was trying to get Desi a producer credit because he was a proud Cuban who felt diminished in her shadow.  He owned the fucking studio!   He hired everyone on the crew.  He didn’t need a credit.  It was his show.  He owned it.   If he wanted a credit he could have just given himself one — any credit he chose.   Executive God: Desi Arnaz.   

And if Lucy wasn’t comfortable with the director he’d be fired.  As a freelance director myself, do you think I could force George Segal or Nathan Lane or Joan Plowright to do something they didn’t want to do?   That I’d be able to draw a line in the sand over a “hands-covering-eyes-guess-who-this-is” thirty second throwaway bit?  

Bottom line:  I LOVE LUCY pioneered situation comedy into an art form, and they had to literally invent it.  The format, the lighting, the audience, the rehearsal schedule, camera blocking — they invented it.   And seventy years later we’re still making shows the exact same way.  Wouldn’t you like to see that?   We all sort of know that Lucy was a tough broad.  We know Desi drank and slept around.  They got divorced.   Jon is right.  To better appreciate the genius and impact of I LOVE LUCY on popular culture and the evolution of television, show us how they did it.  His business savvy, her artistic brilliance.   This film should be made by someone who says I LOVE COMEDY.  

NOTE: The next two days I will be reviewing KING RICHARD and LICORICE PIZZA.  How’s that for an exciting teaser?