Monday, February 28, 2022

"Life Without Dick" and other LIFETIME movies


I was going through my archives and found this post from 2012.  It listed all the titles of LIFETIME movies.  It was pretty shocking.  Several recurring themes appear.  I don't watch LIFETIME movies, so I ask those of you dear readers who do -- is this still the kind of stuff and the themes they're presenting?  Have they moved on, and if so to what?  Check out these movies.   These are actual titles; I’m not making any of them up.

Life Without Dick

A Woman Hunted

Bastard Out of Carolina

Co-ed Call Girl

Cyber Seduction: His Secret Life

Dead at 17

Death of a Cheerleader (which just might be the remake of Dead at 17)

Honeymoon With Mom

Human Trafficking

I Do (but I Don’t)

I Me Wed

I’m With Lucy

Little Girls in Pretty Boxes

Miracle on the 17th Green

My Stepson, My Lover

Nora Roberts Old

Robin Cook’s Terminal

Secret Lives of Second Wives

Single White Female 2: The Psycho (as opposed to the well adjusted girl in Single White Female 1)

The Trophy Wife’s Secret

To Be Fat Like Me

Too Young to Be a Dad

7 Things to Do Before 30

Ambulance Girl (this might be a superhero movie, not sure)

Confessions of a Go-Go Girl

Hostile Makeover

Jack & Jill vs. The World

Love ‘Em, Love 'Em Not Weekend

Mafia Doctor

Mom, Dad, and Her

More Sex & the Single Mom

Mother, May I Sleep With Danger

Our Son, the Matchmaker

Sex & Mrs. X

The Hunt for the Unicorn Killer

The Wives he Forgot

Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her

What if God Were the Sun?

Why I Wore Lipstick to my Mastectomy

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Weekend Post

 My thanks to the Film Freaks Forever podcast with Mark Legan & Phoef Sutton for turning me on to this gem.  Here's an MGM movie from 1967 that I had never heard of -- THE FASTEST GUITAR ALIVE.  It stars Roy Orbison.  Now for those unfamiliar, Roy Orbison was a huge singing star in the '60s.  Hits like OH PRETTY WOMAN, CRYIN', IN DREAMS, ONLY THE LONELY, RUNNING SCARED, BLUE BAYOU to name just a few.  He had a truly amazing spectacular voice.  

But he was not an actor.  Not even a great showman when he performed.  Usually he wore sunglasses.  I'm a little disappointed he didn't wear shades in this old time Western.   

Anyway, the premise is that he had a guitar that was also a rifle.  Anytime he played an A chord someone died.  

Here is the trailer.  It makes those cheesy Elvis movies look like CITIZEN KANE.  I see it's on Amazon Prime.  I gotta see the whole thing.

Shockingly, there were no sequels.  

WARNING: Politically incorrect... actually incorrect on all levels other than cheese.  Enjoy.  

Friday, February 25, 2022

Friday Questions

Who’s ready for some Friday Questions?

msdemos leads off:

In all your experience, have you ever been personally involved in any memorably "shocking" episodes like that one.....or, if not, were you ever a part of any of the "VERY Special Episodes" that seemed to be a fad for a while (for instance, Michael J. Fox's (mostly) one man show Family Ties episode from 1987 entitled, "A, My Name Is Alex", that ran a full hour) ??

I would certainly say the POV episode of MASH qualifies. On CHEERS we killed off Eddie LeBec.  On FRASIER we had the first return visit of Lilith and Sam Malone.  

And on THE TORTELLIS we wrote the classic episode where… um... uh... I can’t recall what it was about at the moment but I know it was memorable.  

From Gary Crant (and yes I saw what you did there):

It's never ceased to amaze me the number of intricate and varied sets that FRASIER used. Of course, most of the show took place in his condo or at the cafe or radio station, but it seems like almost every episode had a novel set location. Not really a question, just an observation.

Ok, it actually is a question. How in the hell did they pull that off? Both in terms of work and budget.

Each episode was budgeted for one additional (i.e. “swing”) set.   And there was room on the stage to accommodate that.  

Occasionally there would be episodes that didn’t require a swing set.  The money allotted to those episodes could be used later.  

So from time to time when you saw elaborate sets or weddings with large numbers of extras, that episode was offset by a “bottle” show where no outside sets were used.   

The apartment, the radio station, and Cafe Nervosa were permanent sets.  Actually, there were two Cafe Nervosas — one smaller to accommodate a large swing set if one was needed.  

Brian asks:

Any stories about the actor William Hickey (pictured above) who played Carolton Blanchard on Wings? He was the recurring annoying old man that drove the gang crazy. And as if he wasn't enough torture, Gilbert Godfried appears as his nephew and he was even more annoying. Hilarious! I'm working my way through all the episodes on Hulu and enjoying them immensely.

The two things I remember is that Bill Hickey was truly hilarious, and I thought he was going to die at any moment.  He was always so frail and his skin was whiter than paper, but God bless him, he delivered — hitting every line out of the park.  

Those were fun episodes.  I may go back and re-watch them… after I find a copy of THE TORTELLIS.  What was our story about?  

And finally, from  Philly Cinephile:

I've noticed that people often expect those who work together in a movie or on a TV series to become lifelong friends, to the point that they often express outrage if an actor says that they're not in touch with their former costars. I find this odd because I tend to think that TV and film work is probably like any other job -- you have a good working relationship with someone, or you don't, and sometimes the working relationship develops into an outside friendship. Do you think this could be a result of people projecting the on-screen relationships onto the actors themselves, and do you find that people expect you to be in touch with everyone you've ever worked with?

People work together very intensely on TV or movie projects; often long hours in remote locations.  There are a lot of accelerated relationships.  You see that a lot in the theatre.  There will be “showmances” as they’re called, and when the show closes they go their separate ways.  

As for TV series, I liken it to high school.  Everyone is close while experiencing it, and then when you graduate everyone goes their separate ways.  You stay friends with some and others drift out of your life. 

I remain friends with most actors I’ve worked with on series but see them only on occasion.  I’m probably more in touch with writers I’ve worked with on series.  But that’s only natural.  When there was a CHEERS reunion a few years ago, actors sat at tables with each other and writers sat together at other tables.  

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

EP263: Meet Lisa Edelstein Part One

Lisa Edelstein has led a fascinating life. She’s a terrific actress. You’ve seen her in HOUSE, THE KOMINSKY METHOD, GIRLFRIENDS’ GUIDE TO DIVORCE, and 85 other titles.  She’s also been an MTV host, playwright, and renowned party girl on the 1980’s New York club scene.  In part one we talk about her many careers and finish with an Oliver Stone casting story that should make you hate Oliver Stone, if you don’t already. Lisa is a fantastic guest.   More podcasts at WAVE:

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Oh no! Another rant

WARNING:  YES, THIS IS A RANT.   I try to keep these to a minimum.  Tomorrow I go back to fun stuff, but every once in a while something will set me off.  There won’t be any ugly debates in the comments section.  I’ll delete anything hostile from either side.  So for those who don’t come to this blog for rants, have a great day.  See ya tomorrow.  End of warning.

I think it’s time we all just step back, relax, and take a chill pill.  

Our Democracy is in peril, our Supreme Court is trashing our liberties, and a former President of the United States staged a bloody insurrection and is still walking the streets instead of rightfully being on Death Row for High Treason.  A deadly virus is needlessly killing hundreds of thousands of ignorant people, and climate change is wreaking havoc worldwide.

So what are people incensed over?  What are they grabbing their torches and pitchforks for?  What injustice is so heinous that social media is all aflame?  

Mayim Bialik referred to the first round of JEOPARDY as “Single Jeopardy” instead of just “Jeopardy.”  

Hello?  What? That was an actual thing?"

Yes.  You can read about it here.  Mayim Bialik called the Jeopardy round something slightly different.

And this caused an uproar.

Are you fucking kidding me?  Seriously?  THAT’S your big concern?  

I love JEOPARDY as you know, but it’s just a stupid game show.  The Titanic is sinking and passengers are livid that there are no mints on the bed.  

If you want to get mad at something, how about idiocy?   Idiocy in numbers is what’s causing people to believe the Big Lie, die unnecessarily, support the biggest traitor this country has ever known, and preventing scared spineless elected officials from upholding the sacred Constitution they were sworn to uphold and protect.  

So social media may rail against me, but I think the current round we find ourselves in should be called “Serious JEOPARDY.” 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Setting the sets straight

An Anonymous reader asked this question based on my weekend post about stage directions.  (Please leave a name)

As someone who has never written a script, "Interior: Hotel Room - Day" left me wondering why this isn't too sparse? I can think of a thousand different hotel rooms - from "Hot l Baltimore" to the suite in "Pretty Woman." Each would impact on a scene. Just wondering. Ir would the room type simply be self-evident by the dialogue?

Unless the set has to be super specific for some reason (to set the exact time or items become key to the plot) it’s generally best to leave the directions more general.  


Theatres have their own requirements.  They may be limited by space.   Some stages have some funky angles.  They may be very wide or very deep.  Actors may have to enter from the audience.  The audience might be on two sides, or three sides like a horseshoe.  Or it's theater-in-the-round.   The theatre might be outdoors or in a cafe.  

Budget is another concern.  If you insist upon an elaborate 13th Century palace correct to the tiniest detail, lots of theatres will pass on your play no matter how great it is.    

Trust me, a major consideration in a theatre doing your play is how expensive or demanding it is.   They’re much more receptive to say a living room set they can just repaint and redress than having to build Versailles.  

Can you do the whole play on one set?  Or two?   Some playwrights write very fluid scripts with lots of quick scenes, but the sets are just suggested by a piece of furniture or a light cue.  COME FROM AWAY ingeniously just uses chairs to act as their many sets.  Look for way more community and regional theatre productions of COME FROM AWAY than LES MISERABLE.  

And finally, theatres like to be creative.  They like to devise their own set designs.  As long as it doesn’t detract from the narrative of the play I say go for it.  I enjoy seeing multiple productions of my plays with different sets.  And some I’ve seen have really been eye-popping.  They add a whole new layer to the play.  

As a playwright, your objective is to get as many theatres wanting to produce your play as possible.  You sure don’t want to be blown out of contention on page one by insisting your set be an exact replica of King Tut’s bathhouse. 

Monday, February 21, 2022

The popularity of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and MASH

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post.  It’s from terrific writer…

Houston Mitchell.

Why do you think classic shows like Andy Griffith and MASH play endlessly in syndication and had strong DVD sales and classic shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show And The Bob Newhart Show struggle to find an audience?

First off, they’re timeless.  THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW is set in small town America where the wardrobe is somewhat generic.   

MASH is a period piece set in the army so the wardrobe is standard military.  (We had a costume director who would get so uptight whenever we asked for something specific and we would think to ourselves: “you have the easiest job in Hollywood. Everyone wears the same thing every episode.”)

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and THE BOB NEWHART SHOW look dated.  You’re not hearing the jokes.  You’re saying, “Look at how wide that tie is,” and “Check out those bell bottoms.”   

They were smart sophisticated shows of their time and if you’re a student of television you’ll find that the content, for the most part, still holds up beautifully.  Unlike MURPHY BROWN which relied on political references of the day, both MARY TYLER MOORE and BOB NEWHART were about relationships with sharp writing and jokes that are still funny today.

I believe the appeal of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW is nostalgia for a time in America that unfortunately is lost.  It was a much kinder, gentler America.  We cared for each other.  We valued decency — all of us.  

MASH also celebrates humanity.  And each episode is so packed with jokes and stories and texture that you can watch the same episode repeatedly and still find new things each time.  

MASH was also unique.  It was built on an existential dilemma.  Doctors were trying to save lives in an environment where the goal was to kill as many people as possible.   You don’t get that with THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (but maybe RHODA).  

I also feel MASH’S themes resonate.  Anti-war, inclusion, tolerance, and maybe service to the country.   No one wanted to be in Korea but they served.  Protecting the United States and Democracy was important.  Here too is nostalgia.   We long for a time when Democracy was cherished.  

What’s sad is this:  Frank Burns was a buffoon, and the big complaint was that no one would be that clueless.  And now we find this country is filled with millions of Frank Burns.  Worse than Frank Burns. Even Frank Burns would take the vaccine.  Where are the Sherman Potters to put Frank Burns in his place?  

Anyway, those are my thoughts. What are yours as to why those two shows remain so popular decade after decade?   And please, keep watching.  Those $.02 residuals are a great buffer against inflation.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Weekend Post

I've talked about this before, but it's always good to provider a refresher.

The topic this weekend is stage directions - those pesky descriptions in scripts between the dialogue.

A number of years ago there was an organization in New York that held weekly screenplay readings. Writers submitted their drafts and if yours was selected they provided a venue, an audio tape of your reading, publicity, and help with the casting. I entered a screenplay and it was selected.

One of the services they provided was a guy who would go through your screenplay and thin out stage directions. Now I was a little offended at that. I prided myself on being very spare with my stage directions. I didn’t want some skeesix trimming my direction. They said that his cuts were only suggestions and I could use any or all or none of them.

In that case, I said “fine.” I thought, “Good luck to this guy finding trims. There’s not an excess word.”

A week later a script arrived and I was floored. With a black sharpie he hacked and slashed and must’ve cut at least half of my stage direction. I was now pissed. Who the fuck does this clown think he is?

Then I started going through his suggested cuts. Yeah, that’s a good trim… right, I don’t really need that… uh huh, that is somewhat redundant… etc. When I got to the end of the script I realized I had kept 90% of his changes.

It was a humbling but very important lesson. Now when I write screenplays I try to be super economical when writing stage directions. And then I go back and take what I call my Edward Scissorhands pass and cut out a lot more.

For that New York screenplay reading I got the great Dan Ingram (longtime DJ on WABC and voice of a trillion national commercials) to read the stage directions. And for me it was the best part of the reading. There were times I wasn’t even paying that much attention to the dialog. I kept thinking, “Oh wow! Dan Ingram is reading my words!” Great words like “he enters” and “Interior: Hotel Room – Day” but still!

You may be saying, “Yeah, making all those cuts are fine when someone has to read everything aloud, but what about when someone is just reading the script? Wouldn’t more detail and description help convey your visuals? No, and here’s why: People hate to read stage direction. Especially a lot of it. So the less you have the better your chances that the reader will read it at all. You want to be descriptive? Write a novel.

Just think of the Academy Awards and what it’s like when they stop to read the Price-Waterhouse vote tabulation disclaimer. Now imagine them doing that after every presenter. That’s a screenplay with too much stage direction. 

Less is MORE.  


Friday, February 18, 2022

Friday Questions

Oh no!  What are we going to do?  No football this weekend.  Here are some Friday Questions to distract you.

Jim Susky kicks off (for those of you having football withdrawal):  

What are some extreme examples of typecasting?

Certainly one would have to be George Reeves.  He played Superman in the 1950’s TV series.   He was supposed to be in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY.  When the studio head screened the movie in a room of employees, all the women reacted when seeing him on the screen.  A few called out “Superman.”  The studio president then insisted he be cut out of the movie.   Reeves never got a good part after Superman. 

I think Flo from Progressive Insurance is going to find it hard to get parts, although in her case, the money she’s made from Progressive should set her up for life.  

From Dave:

I'd like to know how Kelsey Grammar had time to guest on Becker when he was making Frasier at the time.

Multi-camera shows generally work on a schedule of three weeks on and one week off.  And of course these shows are scattered.  So BECKER arranged to do the script with Kelsey the week FRASIER was on their hiatus.  

Brian Phillips asks:

Have you ever had or seen difficulties assembling a writing staff?

Unless you load the staff with writers you’ve known and trust, it’s always a crapshoot.  

You read hundreds of specs hoping to find one or two that are good.  You interview writers hoping they’ll get along in the room with the other writers.   You can be fooled by both. 

Any time you work with people you don’t know you have no idea whether they’ll fit in, whether they’ll pick up on your system, whether they’ll contribute in the room.  

It’s more than just talent.  There has to be room chemistry.  And that’s hard to determine strictly from reading scripts and/or interviews.  

Also, I’m looking for the best writers and I don’t care their ethnicity or gender.  So that makes it a little easier because I’m not focusing on one specific trait; I’m open to anybody. 

And finally, from JS:

What dramatic moment sticks with you. Mine - Friday Night Lights -Tami tried to talk Coach into buying an upgraded house. He had to say he'd love to buy it for her, but it was a stretch financially and he could never sleep at night worrying about that mortgage. He wanted to give it to her so bad, it was just sad.

The killing of Henry Blake.   The killing of Lady Sybil.

The ending of the SOPRANOS affected me, but in a bad way.  I still loathe that ending. 

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

EP262: Your VIP Tour of the MGM studio lot

One of the iconic studios in Hollywood even though it’s in Culver City. Learn the history and some personal stories.  It’s a behind-the-scenes tour filled with movie stars, legendary directors, and insane parties that are now long gone.  Hop on the “audio tram.” 

More podcasts at WAVE:

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

We've Only Just Begun ... to appreciate the Carpenters

If you wanted to be considered uncool in the '80s, '90s, and '00s confess that you were a Carpenters fan.  They were white bread, they were vanilla, elevator music, pop crap, etc.   Fortunately, I have always been uncool so there was no lowering of my stature whenever I announced that I love Karen Carpenter's voice and didn't care who knew it?   She was an extraordinary singer. 

It only took about 40 years but people who are just discovering them are coming over to my side.  Karen is starting to get the recognition she deserves and should have had all along.  Recently, I discovered this YouTube video of today's generation hearing her for the first time.  I love their reactions.  You will too.  

Karen Carpenter rocks!  

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

My worst Birthday EVER

Again, thanks for all the birthday wishes yesterday. 
This is an absolute true story.

I was just about to turn 55 (which is traumatic enough). It was 11:15 at night. I was watching this documentary series on HBO about the Porn industry. Hey, it just happened to be on.

They were asking various porn stars a series of questions. One of the questions was “What WON’T you do?”

One by one they listed all manner of depraved acts. No double-penetration. No triple-penetration. No groups more than ten. No animals. No S & M. No vegetables. They were rattling off kinky and disgusting acts I didn’t even know were possible. The most humiliating, degrading sexual requests you could ever imagine.

Finally, they get to one girl who says, “Hey, whatever. They’re paying me. I’ll do just about anything…” and then she added, “As long as it’s not with a guy who’s like 55.”

That was it. My life was over. Torture was fine. Goats were fine. But sex with a 55 year old, that’s where you draw the line.

I spent that birthday in a fetal position under my desk familiarizing myself with what benefits I was entitled to under Medicare.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Birthday/Valentine's Monday after Super Bowl Sunday

Thanks to everyone here and on Facebook for all the birthday greetings today.  People who fired me from radio jobs, people I haven’t seen since high school, girls who wouldn’t go out with me, people I’ve never actually met, and I’m sure people who confuse me with the Ken Levine who invented BioShock — all have sent lovely notes.  Even though I’m not writing everyone back individually just know that I deeply appreciate it.   

I’m not doing one of those fundraiser deals.  I don’t want to charge people for wishing me a Happy Birthday.  That said, please give to the charity of your choice.

I must admit I’ve never been a huge fan of my birthday.  Sharing it with a holiday where restaurants gouge couples because they can puts a crimp in the celebration.  Plus, it’s a holiday that people feel obligated to celebrate, not from the heart.  Other than florists, does anyone really look forward to Valentine’s Day?  

I’m sure one year in the future I’ll be sharing my birthday with Valentine’s Day and the Super Bowl, which is fine — especially if it’s a game as good yesterday’s.   Congratulations to the Rams who won a nail-biter.  They were my team growing up and it’s the first time in my lifetime they won the Super Bowl (the St. Louis Rams don’t count).  What a post-season.  They beat Brady, beat the '49ers, and won the Super Bowl.  

I just hope the 70,000 in attendance don’t all come down with COVID.  I saw zero masks.  Ushers were supposed to enforce that. But when the Bengals receiver committed a face mask violation on his Rams defender, even that wasn’t called (resulting in a Cincinnati touchdown) so I guess no one cared.   

In any event, somewhere in the great beyond, my dear friend Ron Jacobs is smiling today.  Only sorry he wasn’t here to see what would have been the greatest moment of his life.  

And it puts my birthday in perspective.  Yes, it sucks getting older, but what a gift to still just be here.  

Finally, I confess that I don’t check Facebook every day to see whose birthday it is.  So if I don’t wish you a Happy Birthday just know I’m thinking it. Thanks again, Happy Valentine’s Day, and if the restaurant you go to tonight has a special Prix Fixe menu, the Red Lobster still has the “Ultimate Endless Shrimp Monday.”

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Weekend Post

This is an annual post.  "The Lost CHEERS" scene.  Season one of CHEERS and my partner David Isaacs and I were asked to write a scene to be aired during the pre-game of the 1983 Super Bowl (carried that year on NBC).  We wrote it, they filmed it, and it aired right before the game.  80,000,000 people saw it.  Nothing I've ever written has been seen by that many people at one time.   (And now 131,000 more have seen it on YouTube.)

The scene was never re-run and never showed up in any DVD package.  I did not have a copy and I thought it was lost forever.  But the late sportswriter, Joe Resnick, had recorded every Super Bowl.  I asked if I could see that one.  Sure enough the scene was aired close enough to kick-off that it was included in his tape.  I managed to digitize it, and every Super Bowl weekend I feature it.  

So enjoy.  Good luck to the Rams AND Bengals. 

Friday, February 11, 2022

Friday Questions

Heading into my birthday weekend… I mean Super Bowl weekend, here are some FQ’s.

Byron starts us off:

On Frasier, Glen and Les Charles received credit at the end of every episode for creating the character of Dr. Crane, as he debuted on their show. However, what if a character not developed by the original creators were to receive a spinoff? I know you and David created Eddie LeBec, and I know he was killed off, but hypothetically speaking…had Eddie received his own show, would you and David have received the creator credit, or would it have gone to the Charles Bros. since he originated on their show? Or would all four of you perhaps have received credit?

I don’t know the exact rules, but I believe if a writer receives character credit on someone he created who went on another series he would be entitled to some credit and royalty.  A few readers posted examples.  So had Eddie lived and gone on to a sequel I'd be very rich today.  Just what the credit would be and whether we would have to share it, I do not know. 

But that wasn’t always so.  Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum wrote an episode of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW that introduced a character named Gomer Pyle. They never got a cent or credit on the long running Gomer Pyle series.

C. Warren Dale asks:

This is about opening sequences. Some shows had more-or-less the same opening sequence for their whole run. CHEERS is an example, although I heard it was shortened as the show went on. Growing up watching CHEERS on syndication, it seems like I only ever saw the shortened version, but when I watched CHEERS on Netflix, it seems like they used the long version for the entire run of the series.

When shows go into syndication they’re cut down so more commercials can be inserted.  Using a shorter opening credits sequence means another 15 seconds or so of content can remain in the show.  

If I’m not mistaken, we used the shorter version occasionally on first-run episodes when we desperately needed every second of content we could get.   I don’t know about today, but back then you couldn’t call the network and say “We need an extra 22 seconds please.”   You could come in a minute or 30 seconds short but not long.   And sometimes having that extra minute to cut out would improve a show considerably.

Chris Bernard queries:

Ken, do people in show business think it's ridiculous the adulation actors receive? Do they find it strange people don't separate the actor from the character?

Fame is bizarre. People are adored because they’re on television.  I had a taste of that when I was doing TV games for the Mariners.  I would always be amazed when someone stopped me at a restaurant and wanted my autograph.  

But the reality is show and movies and theatre productions succeed largely because they contain actors the audience wants to see.  So in a sense they are somewhat special.  

The trouble comes when they think they’re more special than they are.  

However, I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with a lot of big actors and most have a healthy perspective.  

As for people confusing them with their characters, yes, that’s a problem.  

I was at a Dodger Spring Training game a few years ago sitting with Kurtwood Smith.  At the time he was a bad guy on 24.  We went up to get some food and some clown standing in line with us yelled at him, “Hey, lay off of Jack Bauer, asshole!”  Kurtwood shook his head and said he gets that a lot.  (To which I said, “Well lay off Bauer.”)  

Shelley Long told me she attended some church event and checked in.  They gave her the name tag “Diane.”   

I bet it happens a lot.

Chris Dellecese has a two-parter to wrap up this week.

As a viewer, which TV or movie death hit you the hardest?

Lady Sybil on DOWNTON ABBEY.  I stopped watching the show after that.  I thought her death was so unnecessary.  

And as a writer, were you ever directly involved in a decision to kill off a character?

Earlier in this post we were talking about Eddie LeBec.  David Isaacs and I killed him off.  So let that be a lesson to the rest of you actors.

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

EP261: Inside the David Letterman Show

Steve Young, who wrote for Dave for 25 years, leads us through what life was like on the Letterman Show.  Great behind-the-scenes look at a TV icon. Steve also offers terrific tips for young writers trying to break into late night comedy.

More podcasts at WAVE:

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

When it comes to credits -- size does matter

There’s a lot of talk about credits but very little about credit size.  

This occurred to me watching a first-run movie at home last night.  The credits were tiny.  You couldn’t read them unless you were a sniper or had X-Ray vision.  Now I understand that if the movie is meant to be seen on the big screen.  In that case, large credits look huge.  I remember one Sylvester Stallone movie where his credit literally filled the entire screen.  I saw it at a WGA screening and the entire audience laughed.  Talk about shameless ego.  

But nowadays, if your hero doesn’t wear a cape then chances are your movie is going to be seen in living rooms.  And people don’t have 400 foot screens.  So why not make the credits a little bigger?  

Watching the new season of DEXTER, the credits were quite large.  You could actually read names.  And I thought, why not?  It's a TV show. 

The problem with most TV series now is because of no opening titles and ever-expanding writing staffs, the credits run underneath the programming.  So you don’t want them so large as to distract from the action.  In that case I say, at least use legible fonts.  Tiny credits in a weird font — the viewer has no chance of reading it.  (That said, there were a couple of shows I worked on where I wished the credits were smaller.)

Color is also important.  Yellow credits read better than white and most colors.  There’s usually not that much yellow in set dressing and wardrobe because it doesn’t favor skin tones.  So yellow credits tend to stand out.

On MASH the credits were done in a stencil font but were quite large.  All of the actors’ credits were in the opening titles and we had a very small staff so only four or five credits during the body of the show.  

I’m a person who pays attention to credits.  Always have.  TV, movies, contributing cartoonists in magazines, support staff in podcasts, etc.  I used to assume I was the only one but lots of people it seems take notice.   Other than my relatives, who’s going to give a shit about my writing credit?  But apparently, folks do.  Some folks.  Okay, one or two.  But still.  That’s more than just me.

And don’t get me started with the network practice of squeezing end credits.  To me that’s criminal and I don’t know how the unions allow that. What it shows of course, is that networks could care less who actually makes their shows, dedicated craftsmen who work long hours.  God forbid a network should devote 20 precious seconds to give them the recognition they more than deserve.

Bottom line:  Credits should be bigger… except for Sylvester Stallone.  

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

A Television Idiocy Story

A recent Friday Questions reminded me an amusing incident.  It was the question about FRASIER’S policy on bringing back characters from CHEERS.  They did it very sparingly because they wanted the show to live on its own.  

Way back in 1983 when David Isaacs and I were doing the iconic AfterMASH with Larry Gelbart we too wanted to build an ensemble that was not dependent on former MASH cast members.  

And that was fine except we started plunging in the ratings.  All of a sudden the network and studio wanted ALL MASH characters brought back… and HURRY!  

Well Alan Alda and Mike Ferrell were not remotely interested.  Neither was David Ogden Stiers.  We did manage to get Gary Burghoff to do an episode (which turned out to be one of our better episodes).  

But we were sitting in a meeting with 20th Century Fox executives.  (The show was produced by 20th Century Fox.)  One suit suggested we get Hot Lips back (like we hadn’t thought of that).  We said we had approached Loretta Swit and she wasn’t interested.  And then this honest-to-God exchange:

SUIT: Well, why does it have to be Loretta Swit?

ME: Excuse me?

SUIT:  Just get another actress and say it’s Hot Lips.

ME:  Are you serious?

SUIT:  Yeah, why not?   

ME: Uh… Loretta Swit IS Hot Lips.

SUIT:  Shows substitute actors all the time.  

ME:  But then it wouldn’t be a big event if we use another actress.

SUIT: Sure it would.  Hot Lips is back.  That’s all you gotta say.

ME:  So we could get Diana Ross and say she’s Hot Lips?

SUIT:  Say… that’s kinda interesting.

This is the kind of idiocy we have to deal with, and ya know what?  It’s way worse now.  Oh.. for the record — we did not approach Diana Ross.  Or any of the Supremes. 

Monday, February 07, 2022

Sleaze TV

I mentioned recently I had checked out the first couple of episodes of the Playboy documentary on A&E and about an hour-and-a-half of the Cosby public pantsing (as it were) on Showtime.  There’s also a new documentary series on Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee on one of the streamers that delves into the famous sex tape they made that “somehow” went public.  

These are not just two-hour documentaries, they’re four to eight hour series.  

The big question is:  Do they need to be that long and extensive?

I gave up on Playboy and Cosby because it was very clear that I wasn’t going to learn anything new.  Cos and Hef were sleaze bags of epic proportions and all I needed was one or two examples and not seventeen.  Cosby promoted education and consoled a grieving mother who had just lost a young child by drugging and having his way with her.  I need more examples than that?  

Hef had cameras in every room in the Mansion and used the footage to blackmail the girls into sexual servitude. He also promoted diversity on his TV show.  Are we supposed to give him some latitude because of that?  Fuck no!  The man was a predator who ruined lives.  I need to see eight hours of that?  

The Tommy and Pamela docuseries I’m not even going to begin.  The only thing I would want to see is the tape itself and that’s the only thing they won’t show.  

Likewise the Woody Allen expose a few years ago.  I needed a shower just watching the trailer.  

The granddaddy of them all was the Michael Jackson takedown.  But there was so much bonkers weirdness there it kept my attention.  Especially living walking distance to his Westwood condo where mondo bizarre shit was happening as I was getting in my 10,000 steps.  

But did it do any good?  There's a Michael Jackson musical opening on Broadway ignoring everything but the moonwalk.  So... no. 

Look, they make these shows because they get ratings.  But I wonder how many people really get off on them and stay till the end and how many, like me, reach a point early on where they say, “Why the hell am I watching this dreck?”  I guess we’ll know in the next round of sleaze exposes.   Will Harvey Weinstein’s and Matt Lauer’s be three hour docuseries or fifteen?   Stay tuned. 

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Weekend Post

My favorite part of directing multi-camera shows (shot before a live studio audience, or at least semi-conscious) is the early rehearsal process. You work under controlled conditions – a closed sound stage, all your sets are right there, you’re just getting the script on its feet and you really get to play with the actors. They’re still holding scripts, it’s a very loose creative atmosphere. And since the stage is closed, the actors feel free to experiment, knowing that no one other than select crew members will be watching. They don’t have to wear make up, they don’t have to hit marks, they don’t have to actually do the fire stunt until show night.

And then there was LATELINE.

LATELINE was an NBC sitcom in the late ‘90s that starred now-former-Senator Al Franken. It was set in a late night news show, a la NIGHTLINE. The show was filmed in New York. I directed a bunch of episodes. One in particular had the craziest first rehearsal day ever.

Some background: Multi-camera shows are usually produced on a five-day schedule. Three days to rehearse, one to assign camera positions, and one to shoot. They’re either on a Monday through Friday schedule, or Wednesday to Tuesday. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, which I have discussed elsewhere in this blog but don’t want to bother looking up right now. For LATELINE, we began rehearsing on Wednesday and shot the show the following Tuesday night. This meant that we’d finish a show one night and be right back at it with a new script the next day.

In LA, when a show wraps on Tuesday night, crews come in in the middle of the night, strike the swing sets and set up the new swing sets for the next episode. We arrive on stage Wednesday morning and voila!  It’s all done. Elves do it while we sleep for all I know.

In NY the crew comes in to strike the old sets and slide in the new on Wednesday afternoon. I said to the line producer, “Is this a union thing? You can’t have crews in the middle of the night? And the producer said pointedly, “Oh you can get crews. You just don’t want ‘em.” I took his word for it.

So I would have a table reading on Wednesday (where the cast would all just read the script aloud around a table), then I sent them home for the day. We began rehearsing on Thursday.

However, this one week, we had the chance to get Allison Janney to be a guest star. This was before WEST WING or MOM (or winning her Oscar), by the way. But she was so funny in the audition that we knew we had a prize. The only hitch was she had a previous commitment for that Thursday that she couldn’t break. Our choices were to cast someone else or work around her schedule. It was a no-brainer.

So I planned on just rehearsing on Wednesday and ignoring the construction crew.  Yeah... right.

One other thing I should note: we filmed at the Kaufman-Astoria studios in Queens – a large building that took up a city block. But it was just surrounded by local businesses. Greek restaurants, Laundromats, furniture stores, etc.

And it was late November.

So we begin rehearsing at about 1:00. A half-hour later the crew arrives. They begin dismantling the sets. Saws and drills and hammers and banging. You couldn’t hear yourself think.

Then it was time to replace the sets. Now they open the huge stage door. All stages have them. But in Hollywood the stages open out to the lot. Here it opened to the street. So pedestrians would stroll by, be curious, and just wander onto the stage. We suddenly had an audience of twenty strangers.

And once the big door was open, there was nothing to shield us from the Nor’easter that blew through.  The temperature plunged to 30 degrees to go along with the stiff wind. We all had to rehearse in parkas. (Crew guys still wore T-shirts. I don’t understand that.)

And in addition to the hammers and buzzsaws, we now had honking horns, sirens, boom boxes, guys yelling, "Ay, I'm walkin' heah!", and the other enchanting sounds of the city.

Needless to say, we did not get a lot done. That night I went out and got a few stiff drinks. I think Al looked up the qualifications for how you become a U.S. Senator.

Final thought: Of all the LATELINE episodes I directed, that one came out the best.   I think the DVD is available.  Run right out and get it. 

Friday, February 04, 2022

Friday Questions

On to February.  Here are more Friday Questions.  What’s yours?

Jim, Cheers Fan  is up first with a FRASIER question.

Was the whole "Daphne's a psychic" thing just a set up for the first Lilith appearance where Daphne has an unexplained headache when Lilith comes to the apartment, and walks away from meeting Lillth and says under her breath, "I shook that woman's hand and lost all feeling in my right arm!”

No, that was established in the pilot.  What we all realized however, was that it was a limited character trait and soon after this it was phased out. 

However, I will say it worked well in our Lilith episode.  And while we’re on that subject:

From Dave:

Further to you and David writing four of the Lillith episodes, did you both enjoy writing for her character? She seems a fantastic actor and the stories I saw with her in them seemed even better than normal (which is a high standard) especially the Room Service one.

Thanks, Dave.  We LOVED writing for Bebe.  Lilith was a great character and Bebe was pitch perfect.  What does it say about me and David Isaacs that we identify with Lilith Sternin Crane?  

And for you trivia buffs:  We wrote for Lilith in three series.  CHEERS, FRASIER, and the episode she guested on WINGS.  

Kyle Burress wonders:

I just finished watching CNN's The Movies on HBO Max in which you are shown a number of times talking about different films of the different eras. I've also seen you on their decades series. I'm curious about how that comes about. Do they contact you and ask you speak about specific movies, or is generalized and you just end up talking about whatever they happen to ask? Are you there at the same time as other people doing the same, or is it strictly one on one?

I was first contacted by CNN for the ‘70s because of my association with MASH.  I guess they were happy with my answers because I was invited back for the ‘80s to talk about CHEERS.  After about 45 minutes of CHEERS questions the producer called out to the interview: “Ask him something else.”

So he started asking me about other shows and to my surprise, used a lot of those responses.  

Again, I think they appreciated that I answered in short sound bytes so I was invited back for the ‘90s, ‘00s, and Movies.  

For the TV ones I felt I belonged.  But I’d watch a Movie episode and they’d interview Spielberg and Scorsese and then me, and I’m thinking “What the hell am I doing there?”  

Each interview was one-on-one and scheduled so there was someone before me and someone after.  In my case that meant Mike Farrell, Bob Newhart, Michael Mann, and Steven Bochco among others.  

And finally, Jahn Ghalt queries:

What are the particular reasons you got a screener for WEST SIDE STORY?

More generally who gets screeners these days?

I received it because I’m a DGA member and Spielberg is looking to win another DGA Award.  

Motion Picture Academy members get all the screeners.  WGA members and SAG members also receive them most of the time.  

There’s a warning that if I pirate the disc I will be fined $250,000 and sentenced to five years in prison.  Right.  And insurrectionists get one month in jail. 

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

EP260: Bathtubs Over Broadway

Under the radar of Broadway from the ‘50s-‘80s were extravagant Industrial Musicals.  Major corporations would hold sales conventions highlighted by these razzle-dazzle salutes to cars, cat food, and bathroom fixtures.  BATHTUBS OVER BROADWAY is a hilarious and touching documentary about this fascinating world (available on Netflix).  David Letterman writer, Steve Young is your guide and also Ken’s guest this week.  

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Misc. Takes

Haven't done this in awhile.  In no order of importance...

So Whoopi Goldberg was suspended for two weeks from THE VIEW.  Why wasn’t she fired?  UPDATE:  You guys have pointed out some great reasons why she shouldn't be fired.  You convinced me. Thanks.

Forget Super Bowl tickets.  You’ll have to mortgage your house just to pay for parking.  Hey, it’s on TV.

I never knew Howard Hesseman but everyone who did loved him.  In the early ‘70s I used to watch him perform in an amazing improv group called The Committee.  They performed at the old Tiffany Theatre (now defunct) on the Sunset Strip.  Other cast members included Gary Goodrow, Valerie Curtain, Paul Willson, Peter Bonerz, Richard Stahl, Carl Gottlieb and a few others.  I used to take dates there and get a drink at Dino’s (Dean Martin’s club -- now defunct... as are my relationships with all those dates).

The Bengals should wear a patch to commemorate Hesseman.  After all, he was Dr. Johnny Fever on WKRP in Cincinnati.  

Does anybody even remember there’s a baseball lockout?   A couple of years ago during the start of the pandemic the players and owners couldn’t come to an agreement on how to structure the season.  And they were on the same side.  Good luck with this labor stalemate.  We might see MLB baseball again in 2034.  

Note to my podcast listeners: There's been a technical issue this past week getting it placed on Spotify, Google, iHeart, etc. They're working on it and hope to have it resolved this week.  You can always listen by clicking on the big gold arrow above. 

I've been watching the Bill Cosby documentary on SHOWTIME. He’s a loathsome hideous monster, and what a horrible world we live in that there are at least five people I hate more.  Oh wait, I forgot Joe Rogan.

THE TENDER BAR is a sweet little movie.  And thankfully never gets too sweet.  Kudos to director George Clooney and actor Ben Affleck.  Both still have careers after playing Batman.  

I’m glad that Mayim Bialik is back hosting JEOPARDY.  And my favorite segment is when she interviews the contestants.  They’re supposed to share the single most interesting thing about themselves.  A recent example: “I fell off a bike in two States.”  

Oh wait — the Winter Olympics are this year, right?  

Just knowing that Rachel Maddow is taking a hiatus — I miss her already.  

How typical Hollywood is this?  Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen signs with CAA.  Maybe they can get her to host THAT’S MY JAM.  

Big excitement today.  Will we have six more months of winter (it used to be six weeks but now with climate change)?  And the Washington football team is going to announce its new name.  Oh boy.  A breathless nation has waited too long.  I pushed for the Washington Irvings.  I think I’ve got a shot.  

And finally, I continue to post cartoons on my Instagram page.  Follow me at Hollywood and Levine. 

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

That's My Jam

I tend to not watch broadcast network shows anymore.  I can’t remember the last one I really liked.  I’m not into franchises or Smackdown Wrestling.  But with the football games these last two weekends I’ve seen lots of network promos for shows I’ve never heard of.  So I thought I would check in on the networks and re familiarize myself.

So last week I watched three multi-cams on two different networks.  The laugh box sure loved them.  I don’t know why.  A number of really good actors were pushing hard — desperately hard — to wring laughs out of this tepid material.  Let’s just say, if I were a showrunner on any of these three shows and these were run-throughs, I’d go back to the writers room, tell the staff to put up a big pot of coffee because we’re going to be here all night.  I’d throw out the script and just write a new one from scratch.  I can’t believe how far this genre has sunk.  Multi-camera comedies when done well is an art form.  Strive higher.  Please. 

Then last night on NBC I suffered through something called THAT’S MY JAM hosted by laughing boy, Jimmy Fallon.  I guess it’s a compilation of schtick from his TONIGHT SHOW, but it’s karaoke snippets sung by two teams of meh celebrities.  And it’s supposed to be a competition of some sort, Jimmy Hyena kept throwing out 50,000 points as if that meant anything.  I have no idea who won or what they won or what it all meant. The celebs last night were Kate & Oliver Hudson and Brent Morin & Jordana Brewster -- A-list celebrities all. 

They had to do uproarious things like sing lyrics to one song over the music of another.  Okay, first off, Jordana Brewster can’t sing.  Why did she subject herself to this?  Unless she thinks she really can sing, in which case it’s very sad.  Kate Hudson and Brent Morin at least could really sing.  So for a few brief moments the show was professional.  Of course, for a show on NBC primetime, 3 professional minutes out of 30 is not a good average.  

In the big finale, the two teams are put in separate booths and if they screw up a song they get sprayed with water.  Oh that’s hilarious.  So hilarious we were treated to a slo-mo instant replay.  I thought Fallon was going to have a stroke he was laughing so hard.  Is there anything in the world funnier that Jordana Brewster holding up her hands and turning away from a blast of water spray?   Jimmy didn’t think so.  What a tool.  

What this says is NBC is desperate.  They’re now at a point where they’ll put any stupid thing on the air as long as it’s cheap to produce.   And they’re not alone.

Between this show and the three sitcoms I watched three of the four networks.  If all they’re offering is this and six longtime franchises (oh boy, CSI is back) then I’m gone until next football season.