Saturday, April 30, 2022

Weekend Post

My cable company offers a couple of nostalgia channels featuring old time series. I like to call it the “Doesn’t Hold Up Network” because a lot of these shows that I remember loving back in the day are now just awful. Who knew the years wouldn’t be kind to GIDGET?

The reason I find myself stopping at one of these channels (besides hoping to see Claudine Longet guest star as a murderer) is that as a kid growing up in LA, I recognize most of the locations that they used. So it’s kind of like stepping into a time machine, except the past is in black-and-white and I can fast forward through the assisted living commercials.

But a lot of local landmarks that have long since been turned into Jiffy Lubes and Casa de Cockroach apartments reappear in all their glory behind Honey West and Amos Burke.

ROUTE 66 is a great one for Way Back Machining. One week they were in the old Marineland and the next they stopped off at Jungle Land, home of many ferocious tranquilized animals. It’s a good thing the scenery is so nostalgic because the show itself was terrible. The dialogue tried to be Paddy Chayefsky and actor George Maharis tried to be, well… an actor. Long florid speeches filled with imagery and dripping with classical references describe a dog that chewed up a garden. What’s disconcerting is that at the time this show originally aired in the ‘60s I thought it was incredibly deep. Of course that's not why I watched it.  I was just hoping to see Claudine Longet with a gun.

What struck me most about these old hour shows is how cheesy the production values were. Today a streaming show looks as sumptuous and well lit as a feature. If they get 3,000,000 viewers a week they're lucky.   Back then, on network television drawing an audience of 30,000,000 those old shows looked like they were made for $22. Except for Jack Webb-produced shows like DRAGNET and ADAM-12. $22 was the budget for the entire season.

Sidebar: Harry Morgan told me this -- Ever notice on DRAGNET that Webb & Morgan wore the same suit every day? That’s because they went out one day and shot footage of them getting in and out of cars and going in and out of buildings, and to match those all year long they had to be in those suits. I told Harry, “Well, at least you don’t have the problem of having to wear the same thing every day here on MASH. Oh…wait a minute…”

I think the difference is that audiences today have much higher expectations. They can spot a cheapo production. With HD cameras they can make home movies that look way better than KOJAK. (By the way, I see a lot of San Fernando Valley locations in KOJAK – a show set in New York.)

That’s something else I'm always on the lookout for – LA locations masquerading as other parts of the world. I once saw the Burbank airport substituted for Miami. Can’t think of many mountain ranges behind the actual Miami airport. The Fugitive traveled all around the country but one out of three small towns all seemed to have the same Main Street. How dumb was Inspector Girard that he never figured that out? 

So even though a lot of these programs don’t stand the test of time I still have a great fondness for them. What a treat that the Los Angeles of my youth has been so captured on film. I feel bad that kids growing up in Los Angeles today won’t have that same luxury. With production costs what they are, it’s now the kids in Vancouver who will be able to look back and see their city as it is today.


Friday, April 29, 2022

Friday Questions

This would have been my mom’s 94th Birthday.  I miss her everyday.  Here are this week’s Friday Questions:

JS leads off.

Who was nice to work with? Gary B(Burghoff) admitted he was very depressed during MASH and wasn't the greatest person to deal with at the time. Someone I know worked behind the scenes for years on different shows. She said Nathan Fillion, Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler were the sweetest people om earth. Everyone wants to talk about who was awful, who was nice in your experience?

I know this sounds like a cop out but I can honestly say 90% of the actors I worked with were nice.  Yes, there were a few nightmares, but by and large, the thespians I worked with were respectful, professional, talented, and decent people.  

If I had to name some standouts that would include (although not complete): David Hyde Pierce, Alan Alda, Ted Danson, Nancy Travis, Tom Hanks, John Candy, Adam Arkin, Kelsey Grammer, Katey Sagal, George Wendt, Jamie Farr, Ray Romano, Patricia Heaton, — pretty much the entire cast of MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, WINGS, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, THE SIMPSONS, DHARMA & GREG, JUST SHOOT ME, BIG WAVE DAVE’S, ALMOST PERFECT.  

I’ve been very blessed. 

From Michael:

When you were working as a baseball announcer, did you get get a lot of feedback or critiques from the station and/or team in-season?

No.  But I did get an early critique my first month in Syracuse.  The team owner said I shouldn’t dwell on the fact that attendance was low (every game the temperature was in the 20s with howling wind), and other than that he was fine with my broadcast.  (I wasn't.  I sucked my first month.) 

I did however, send tapes and welcomed critiques from announcer friends I had and respected.  My thanks to some great mentors:  Bob Costas, Marty Glickman, Al Conin, Bill King, Dave Niehaus, Ted Leitner, Ralph Lawler, Greg Papa, Chuck Thompson, Ernie Harwell, Kevin Calabro, and Skip Caray.  

Kendall Rivers asks:

Something I've noticed with multi cameras the past ten or so years is besides the annoying clearly mechanical laugh tracks, the pacing, rhythm and overall tone of multi camera comedies have just been off. It seems as if today's writers only are going off what they perceive a sitcom to be without actually understanding the format if that makes sense. Do you think that's mostly because today's sitcom writers grew up watching tv (and clearly watching mostly the bad sitcoms) rather than talented people who ended up writing for tv but had other ambitions or occupations? I saw Sam Simon of Cheers\Taxi\The Simpsons say something to that affect.

I think it’s a combination of things.  Yes, today’s young writers are following formulas they’re used to seeing.   They see a multi-cam as a “sitcom.”  In both CHEERS and FRASIER, we saw the shows as weekly one act plays.  

The shows are faster paced now primarily because networks are so deathly afraid of tune-out that they insist on a joke every second.  That makes the show feel very artificial.  

In my day (when the dinosaurs roamed the earth) we would gladly go a page or page-and-a-half without jokes to set up one big punchline.  Networks frown on that today.  They want joke-joke-joke-joke-joke.  So when you load your show with jokes and they’re not funny what you’re left with is a mechanical not-very-interesting sitcom.  

And finally, from Spike de Beauvoir:

Ken, have you ever collected classic jokes in an archive or folder for study or future use? I've been reading Simon Louvish's bio of Mae West ("It Ain't No Sin") and he discovered over 2,000 pages of jokes in her own handwriting that she collected during her career (20,000+ jokes overall). She studied the joke forms and often used them as the basis for the quips and oneliners need she was famous for. Some of them went back to early days of vaudeville and there were even magazines for comics that compiled popular jokes.

No.  The jokes I do best are character jokes that come out of the situation and attitudes of the characters in the moment.   They’re very specific to the scene at hand.  A joke file would do me no good.  

There have been writers who carried around card catalogs of jokes, but every joke had already been used, and they were just generic jokes.  For both of those reasons I avoided that practice and those writers.  

What is your Friday Question.  Happy Birthday, Mom.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

'Cause you asked for it...

A reader wanted me to post the photo with me and Dick Van Dyke.  So here ya go.  From Stu Shostak's wedding.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

EP272: From Vaudeville to Netflix

Technology, taste, and trends continually change the forms of entertainment we enjoy. What does the future hold? Can the past offer any tips? Ken looks back at how show business has evolved over the last 120 years with the emergence and impact of movies, radio, television, and now the internet. Does it all lead to streaming? Or something else? Tune in. 

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STU'S SHOW -- the movie

Stu Shostak is a force of nature.  If they hooked him to a power grid he could light Time Square.  Stu is the subject of a new documentary that I highly recommend.  Full disclosure: I’m one of the talking heads.  But I’m not featured enough to sour you on this film.  

It’s called STU’S SHOW, based on the internet podcast (now weekly TV show) he conducts interviewing people from the Golden Age of Television and animation.  And when I say “Golden” I mean back to the ‘50s and ‘60s.  Stu is one of the great TV historians and has an extensive collection of film, tape, DVD’s, Laser discs,  VHS, 3/4” tape, Betamax, early television sandscripts.   The real Museum of Television is not in New York.  It’s up in his cabin.  

STU’S SHOW is part nostalgia, part romantic comedy, part Hollywood survival, part love letter to Lucy, and part cautionary tale.  There’s exclusive home movies, animation, rarely seen film clips, and maybe the most emotional and unusual wedding you’ll ever see.   And it’s only 90 minutes, not 4 hours like most documentaries these days.  (How much more is there to know about sea otters or Garry Shandling?)  

We follow Stu’s unique career path, from working for Lucille Ball to becoming one of the top warm up men in TV.   There are any number of documentaries about Lucy but through the unseen footage and anecdotes from Stu you get a real sense of who this remarkable complex woman was the last ten years of her life.  

The narrative takes a real turn when Stu’s girlfriend Jeanine has a sudden brain aneurysm.  At this point it becomes a Paddy Chayefsky tale of fighting an absurd system, and we see Stu in action.  As a patient advocate, no one has ever been better.  Watching him fight through the system to provide the care Jeanine needed was both inspiring and heartbreaking.  

I promised you a wedding, but I don’t want to reveal any more.  Suffice it to say it will warm your heart and especially if you’re a Boomer you will wish you were there.  I was and it was one of the most joyous and special weddings I’ve ever attended.  And I got my picture with Dick Van Dyke.  

STU’S SHOW runs on various platforms.  Seek it out.  You can pre-order it here.   

And here is the trailer:

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

WINNING TIME -- My review

I’ve waited until a number of episodes for have aired but Adam McKay’s WINNING TIME: THE RISE OF THE LAKERS DYNASTY is just fucking absurd.  It’s playing on HBO and HBO Max.

But I do thoroughly enjoy hate-watching this steaming mess.  Little surprise that Jerry West is threatening legal action and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has ripped the shit out of it in an article.  

It is just insane.  So historically inaccurate it might as well be the rise of the Clippers dynasty.  And as Kareem accurately points out, the characters are entirely one-dimensional cartoons.  Jerry West, as character assassinated by Jason Clarke, comes off as the Tasmanian Devil on Red Bull.  Say good morning to him and he launches into a profanity-filled shit fit.  Kareem is this sullen figure who tells kids to fuck off.  Forget that he actually has a children’s charity.  

Jerry Buss is Mr. Party Animal.  As played by John C. Reilly, he should be wearing a lamp shade on his head in every scene.  Sally Field plays Buss’ mother as part savvy business person and part seriously demented.  Not since SYBILL has she had to play more than one character at once, but SYBILL made sense.   The only actor who comes off well is Tracy Letts.  It’s like he’s in a different series.

The scripts are ludicrous.  Every rule you learn in Screenwriting 101 they break.  Listen as characters spew out endless exposition to people who already know the exposition.  Or characters breaking the fourth wall to blatantly tell you something they should artfully be showing.

And speaking of the fourth wall, this series is loaded with every cheesy Adam McKay bullshit gimmick.  Freeze frames to show graphics, film switching from 35mm to 16 mm to tape, to black & white, etc.  For absolutely no reason.  He’s done it in a couple of movies.  We get it.  Now it’s just incredibly annoying.  

The so-called “comedy,” as Kareem puts it, is all bad SNL skits.  

Apparently, it’s a hit for HBO.  Hey, I watch it.  I wonder how many watch it for the right reasons — and those are to laugh… at all the wrong things.  

(Notice I went through this entire review without one basketball metaphor.) 

Monday, April 25, 2022

The state of streaming

Netflix stock took a huge tumble last week as news of 200,000 subscribers defected.  It dropped a whopping 35%.   You knew at some point the bubble was bound to burst just as it did for the industry.  The only question was when?  The possible end of the pandemic with people longing to get outside and resume their lives is certainly a factor.  Damn those vaccines and masks!   

And there is way more competition now.  But they're not flying high either.

Other streaming services also suffered losses.  Paramount Global Shares, Warner Brothers Discovery and Disney all were down from 11% - 4%.  

But Netflix was really reeling.  Their solutions: crack down on password sharing and start adding ads.  First off, these are not quick fixes.  They will take time to roll out and implement.  Secondly, both make Netflix even less attractive to subscribers.  With so much competition, there’s only so much a consumer will spend.  Who wants to pay $100 a month for seven or eight streamers?  You’ll live without BARRY or TED LASSO or certainly WINNING TIME.  

Services like Netflix are in a bind because they only keep subscribers if they provide good new content.  Once you've binged-watched THE WEST WING you're not paying to possibly watch it again.  So they can’t cut back on the number of new series and specials.  To do so would cause more defections.  What I suspect they’ll do is be more selective in what they buy, but that’s a trap because you never really know what’s going to hit.  SQUID GAMES anyone?   My fear is they’ll become more like networks and start hedging their bets with established stars and safer choices.  This too is not without large risks.  

I’ll be curious to see how they weather this storm and whether other streamers face similar fates.  

And then there’s CNN+.  What an utter disaster that is.  150,000 subscribers in the first month?  Kasie Hunt left NBC for this?  With so many 24/7 news services, why would people want to pay for another one?  It is shutting down on Saturday after only a few weeks.  CNN+ is officially the QUIBI of streamers.  

Streamers are the future, but they’re not licenses to print money.  There will be bumps in the road and refinement as they lead the way.  Mistakes will be made that are COSTLY mistakes.  But the Wild West is ever thus. 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Weekend Post


We hear all the time that we spend a third of our lives sleeping. What about other precious time?

How much time that we’ll never get back do we spend…

Idling at intersections?

Waiting in doctors’ waiting rooms?

Trying on clothes we don’t wear?

Going through TSA inspections?

Re-reading paragraphs of books we’ve already read?

Talking to phone solicitors?

Sitting through commercials before movies start?

Waiting on the line for tech support?

Waiting in line at Starbucks?

Sitting on tarmacs?

Watching the little spinning beach ball?

Waiting for rock concerts to begin?

Channel surfing?

Reading bad jokes people email us?

Sending bad jokes to others?

Wrapping presents?

Stuck in traffic?

Playing Angry Birds?

Watching bad movies because we paid to see them?

Standing at bus stops?

Scrolling through Facebook postings of your friends’ adorable pets?

Reading this blog?

Friday, April 22, 2022

Friday Questions

Happy Friday Question Day.

Bronson Turnquist is in the lead off spot.

Your selected career is one with absolutely no financial security.  You could always be fired for any reason or no reason at all.  You mentioned the movie "The Big Picture" as a good example of Hollywood.  How important is financial discipline when you get that first well paying, steady job?

Crucial!  I didn’t quit my day job until we had gotten our second script assignment.  

I was very fortunate in my writing career.  I was on hit shows that provided a modicum of security plus was able to cultivate a feature career and co-create a few series of my own.  

And yet, I always feared the bus that takes you out of show business would pull up at my house any day and the driver would say, “Get in!”  

When you’re lucky enough to be making good money you can’t assume it’s going to last forever.  Lots of once highly successful writers got in big trouble believing that.  

Money management in an unstable career like television writing is imperative.   Not getting divorced six times and having eight kids is also a good plan.  

Joe asks:

Trapper left MASH off-camera because when Season 3 ended, the producers expected Wayne Rogers to be back. Was the same true of Larry Linville? His contract was up, and the character was not the same once Hot Lips got engaged. Were the power that be expecting him back, or was Frank Burns not deemed worthy of an on-camera exit?

We wanted to bring Larry back for the first episode of season six to arrange Frank Burns’ departure and were even willing to pay him a lot of money.   But Larry was going through a very bitter divorce and didn’t want his ex-wife to get half so he passed.   True story.

Dharma wonders:

What are your reasons for choosing not to answer certain Friday Questions that get asked? Lack of knowledge on the topic, taking offense at the question, a combination, or just plain ol’ lack of time and space?

All of the above but mostly lack of knowledge.  However, if I don’t know the answer but do know someone who does I will often reach out and see if they might provide the answer for me.   I've had some great guest bloggers like Aaron Sorkin.

Occasionally I’ll find a question a little personal, but rarely do I find one that’s offensive.  Those I just delete at the moderation stage.  

But I do try to answer as many as I can.  I apologize if yours slips between the cracks.  

And finally, from Kevin from VA:

A Friday Question that ties into your Friday question of your six favorite shows.

What are your six favorite episodes of all time, Comedy or Drama?

Okay, this is one of the hardest FQ's I've had to answer.  The minute this is posted I'm going to think of twenty more.  But here's my first stab at it: 

Honeymooners — $99,000 Answer
Breaking Bad — the killing Gus episode
Mary Tyler Moore Show — Chuckles Bites the Dust
Sopranos — Tony taking Meadow to look at a college
The Fugitive — finale
MASH - More I see You

What’s your Friday Question?  I’ll try my best to answer it. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

EP271: Baseball on the radio

Baseball is a sport made for radio. A good announcer can fill the down time with spellbinding stories and humor. Ken salutes the best — past and present and states the case for why radio still is the best way to follow baseball.

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I love Rhea Seehorn

I ended yesterday’s post about BETTER CALL SAUL by saying I hope they don’t kill Kim.  

For those not familiar with the show, Kim is played by actress Rhea Seehorn, and she is the breakout star of that series (with apologies to Nacho, and Gus, and Uncle Hector).  In short, she is a fabulous actress and amazing discovery.   Vince Gilligan and company do a spectacular job of casting truly special people.  Aaron Paul in BREAKING BAD and Rhea Seehorn in BETTER CALL SAUL.

Like most really great characters in the BREAKING BAD universe, she slowly evolves and her character changes.  It requires a subtlety and a level of skill few actors have.  And she has it in spades.  Also a mysterious side that's very intriguing.

As a result, I, along with just about every BETTER CALL SAUL fan fell in love with “Kim.” She had the best scene in this week’s episode and her confrontation with the scary drug king was the highlight of last season.  

One of the many great things about Gilligan’s shows is that he builds genuine gut-wrenching suspense.  He’s not above killing main characters.  And since Kim never appeared in BREAKING BAD there is concern she doesn’t survive this season.  Hopefully that’s not the case.  There are however, clues that suggest she is still among the living.  After all, we never saw Saul’s home life in BREAKING BAD.  She could have been there all along feeding the fish.  And in Saul’s new life with a new identity he’s in Omaha and Kim is from Nebraska.  Might she be part of his new life?  All of this is conjecture, and knowing the producers, the answer is something no one but them has thought of.

It’s so exciting to discover wonderful talent.  I felt that with Aaron Paul (who was in a pilot of ours), also Bruce Willis (guesting on MIAMI VICE long ago) Kurtwood Smith (appearing in ROBOCOP), Tatiana Maslany, Jenna Elfman, Jodie Comer, David Hyde Pierce, Tim Oliphant, Edie Falco,  Omar Sy, and now Rhea Seehorn.  

If you’re not a fan of BETTER CALL SAUL look for her in other things.  She’ll be easy to spot.  She’s the one who without even trying steals the scene.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Welcome back Saul

I’m so excited that BETTER CALL SAUL is back.  The final season premiered last night on AMC.  It’s probably the one show I try to watch the actual night it’s on (well, that and JEOPARDY).  

I don’t know how long it’s been since the last season, but it occurred to me as I sat down to enjoy the season premier that I don’t remember anything that happened last year.  There was a big cliffhanger, but for the life of me I couldn’t recall what it was (which tells me it's been waaaaay too long since the last season). 

And as the new episode unfolded, some memories of last season did begin to surface.  It was not a great season as I now recall.  There was a lot of filler.  A couple of compelling sequences but not like the earlier years of the series, and not nearly as consistently excellent as BREAKING BAD.  

So why was I excited?

Because I’ve become so attached to these characters that I care about them way more than I should.  And because at any time they’re capable of truly extraordinary storytelling.  Unlike LOST, they answer questions and tie up loose ends.  So you feel you’re in for a satisfying conclusion.  

And they have an amazing ability to surprise you.  You can’t outguess them.  

Ultimately, BREAKING BAD fans know the ending.  It’s where we meet Saul when he enters the BREAKING BAD world.  But will that be the ending?  I’m guessing not.  I’m guessing we’re in for some surprises.  Maybe big surprises.  And for that I’m all in, despite bumps in the road last season and a forgettable cliffhanger.  I’m ready to go on that ride wherever it takes me.

Just don’t kill Kim. 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Parody/Spoof movies

Here’s a Friday Question that became a Monday Post.

Chris Bernard asks:

Are you a fan of spoof/parody movies (Airplane!, Naked Gun), would you ever write one and like to see them come back?

I’m a HUGE fan of those movies.  Can’t get enough of them.  What I like best is their objective — to just make people LAUGH as much and as often as they can.  

Today that’s looked down upon in many circles.  It’s lowbrow. It’s silly.  It uses — God forbid — comic tropes.  

Yeah, well there’s a reason there were lines around the block to see AIRPLANE and NAKED GUN.  There’s a reason, even though very few episodes were made, POLICE SQUAD remains a major cult favorite.

As our writers’ assistant, Lana, used to say when we were writing a script and mulling over some deep moment:  “People want to LAUGH.”  

Kudos to Jerry & David Zucker and Jim Abrams for making AIRPLANE, NAKED GUN and really kickstarting the genre.  And to Mel Brooks whose BLAZING SADDLES pretty much invented the form.

David Isaacs and I worked on one such project.  Before it became a movie, David Zucker was trying to launch BASEKETBALL as a TV series.  We were part of the staff trying to shape the concept into some actual narrative.  Ultimately, nothing ever came of it, but it was fun conceptualizing and pitching jokes.  

Here are the pros and cons of parody/spoofs:

Pros: You can draw laughs from anywhere, any style.  Puns, wordplay, physical comedy, shock humor, absurdity — anything is fair game.  All the things you normally pitch in a room and wish you could do you CAN do.   And parodies give you a target right from the get-go. 

Cons: You’re only as good as your last laugh.  Stories are hard to construct because they mean nothing — just a coat rack to hang jokes.  So there’s no emotional investment.  The only thing keeping the souffle from collapsing is laughs.  So they better be damn good and lots and lots of them.

Ultimately, I prefer writing character-based comedy.   I’m more comfortable doing that and I think it’s what I do best.  

I wish there were more parody/spoofs. I’d be happy to do one, but honestly there are better writers than me if a producer is looking to hire.  You probably don’t know the names but Michael McManus & Pat Proft are currently the very best of that genre.   It’s a unique skill and I’m in awe of their talent.   I can’t speak for all people, but I WANT TO LAUGH. 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Weekend Post

I love when I can sometimes go to the source.  Reader Michael Rafferty submitted a Friday question.  Here's the question and the answer from the man himself, Gary Burghoff.  My EXTREME thanks to Gary for his time and very illuminating response. 

On MASH, first season, Gary Burghoff played Radar pretty much the same as he did in the movie version. But,over time, Radar was softened and became more gentle and naive. Was this a decision of Burghoff or was this a creative decision of Larry Gelbart et al.?

Here's Gary's answer:

In the original feature film MASH, I created Radar as a lone, darker and somewhat sardonic character; kind of a shadowy figure. I continued these qualities for a short time (review the Pilot) until I realized that the TV MASH characters were developing in a different direction from the film characters. It became a group of sophisticated, highly educated Doctors (and one head nurse) who would rather be anywhere else and who understood the nature of the "hell hole" they were stuck in.

With Gelbart's help, I began to mold Radar into more Innocent, naive character as contrast to the other characters, so that while the others might deplore the immorality and shame of war (from an intellectual and judgmental viewpoint), Radar could just REACT from a position of total innocence. This made RADAR super ACTIVE, free and very interesting on a primary "gut" level, which at times delivered the horror of war (as well as the dark humor we became known for) in an effective, universal way that anyone could understand.

Larry, in one interview, was quoted as saying that Radar was his favorite character to write for. I think he liked the fact that the character lacked guile and he could write from his own honest "child's-self" as apposed to having to create "clever" intellectual hyperbole.

ACTING IS RE-ACTING. LARRY gave Radar "permission" to REACT IN SPADES!! in a free, delightful and direct manner. Once these decisions were made, RADAR became PURE JOY to play!! God bless Larry Gelbart and his talented writers such as your most excellent SELF!

I hope this helps.

Love "Ya~ Gary

Love ya, too.  And P.S., Radar was one of my favorite characters to write as well.  It was a true honor to pen the "Goodbye Radar" episodes.  


Friday, April 15, 2022

Friday Questions

You might want to start thinking about doing your taxes.  In the meantime, here are this week’s FQ’s.

Michael starts us off.

I saw a BIG BANG THEORY blooper, where Jim Parsons stopped because he wasn't sure if he used correct word (pictures vs photos). Kaley Cuoco jokingly said "they can be called whatever you want". Parsons responded something liked "no, they worked hard on the words, I want to get them right". Do most actors you worked with have Parsons's attitude or Cuoco’s?

First off, bless you Jim Parsons.

It depends on the show and the relationship the actors have with the writers, but I’ve been extremely fortunate in my career in that all of the actors I encountered were super respectful of the material.  

Even if they had a disagreement, their objections were presented respectfully.  I sincerely believe the actors I worked with appreciated the writing.  Of course it helps that I was lucky enough to work on well-written shows.  

Other writers weren’t so fortunate.  Roseanne, Cosby, Kevin James, Cybill, Bret Butler — they were nightmares.  They thought nothing of just throwing whole scripts out, belittling the writers, just being generally reprehensible.   And none of them were worth it. 

Another Mike, Mike Bloodworth asks:

Who was your first TV crush?  We all know how you feel about Natalie Wood, but she's a movie star.
Mine was Angela Cartwright, "Penny" on "Lost in Space." To a kid in elementary school, she was hot.

Anne Jeffreys from TOPPER (photo above).  I think I was 5.  

I got to meet her 25 years later when she came in to read for one of our pilots.  She still looked great and was a very classy woman.  God bless her, she lived to 94. 

I had good taste at 5.

Bob K wonders:

I admire how you seemingly are able to almost ruthlessly edit your own material. When I was writing scripts, it was the most difficult thing I had to do. And in most cases, I just wasn’t able to do it properly. Were you always able to do this, or was it a skill learned over time?

Time and experience are big factors.  The more confident you are, the more willing you will be to cut or change things.  

When writers start out they often obsess over every line and that’s normal.  So it could take forever to write a script.  David Isaacs and I were sure guilty of this.  As time went on we learned to write at a faster pace and that helped enormously.  You’re less reluctant to throw out a whole page if it only took you a half hour to write that page not two days.  

Experience also teaches you to recognize traps and blind alleys so you have fewer issues that need addressing.

The more you do it, the more ruthless you will become, and isn’t that the goal of every comedy writer?  

And finally, from msdemos:

Do you think television (broadcast and/or cable) will eventually reach (and pass) the "tipping point" of having more minutes of commercials for every half-hour/hour vs. the total number of minutes of entertainment (in other words, more than 15 minutes of commercials for every half-hour of television, or more than 30 minutes of commercials for every hour of television)?

No.  I think the FCC would step in.  They are still public airwaves and must serve the public.  That tipping point would trigger license challenges.   

But I will say this, networks will go right up to that tipping point.  And if they could get away with showing 50 minutes of commercials an hour they would do it in a heartbeat.  

What’s your Friday Question?  Good luck with your taxes. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

EP270: Award ceremonies where no one hit me

In light of the Will Smith/Chris Rock fiasco, Ken recalls the numerous times he attended award ceremonies and the amusing things that happened on the way to his many losses and occasional wins. 

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RIP Gilbert Gottfried

So sorry to hear of the passing of Gilbert Gottfried.  I didn’t know him well but knew him a little.  What I loved most about him was that as a comedian he was fearless.  Good comics adopt a persona.  And most want (desperately) to be liked.  Gilbert created a character that was loud, abrasive, and shocking.  To adopt such a persona and win over an audience is a Herculean undertaking.  Very few can do it.  Very few try. But Gilbert pulled it off.  Why?  

He was genuinely funny.  Side-splitting at times.  

And suddenly the annoying voice and odd mannerisms all worked in his favor.   Go to a comedy club today.  Fifteen comics who all do essentially the same act or someone else’s act.  

Not Gilbert.  He was an original.

What most people don’t know is that that was just a character.  Offstage he tended to be quiet and mouse-like.  Just a very easygoing sweet guy.  I directed him on BECKER and my one note to him (that I had to give him several times) was “Be more ‘Gilbert’.”  

For the last few years Gilbert had one of the most successful podcasts on the net.  Along with his excellent cohost, Frank Santopadre, he discussed comedy with various big name entertainers.  He must’ve run out of them because a couple of years ago I was his guest.   You listen to that episode and see yet another side of Gilbert.  He was a great laugher.  Lots of comedians are so insecure they’re threatened by anyone else who says something funny.  Not Gilbert.  He liked to be entertained as much as being an entertainmer.   He was genuinely supportive and appreciative of other people’s talents.  

We need more fearless comics, especially today.   The more we take ourselves seriously the more we need someone like Gilbert Gottfried.  We all will miss him. He was only 67.  To answer the immortal comics’ question:  YES.  Too soon

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

"Kenny's Choice"

Here’s a Friday Question stemming from my recent Weekend Post that became an entire post.

It’s from Daniel:

You included Cheers in your dream lineup, but said you'd have to find a way to squeeze Frasier into it. I know this is nitpicking since you obviously love both shows, but do you consider Cheers to be the better of the two series? Even if only slightly? And, if so, why?

I loved them both when they originally aired, but I think Frasier has aged much better than Cheers. Not that there's anything wrong with Cheers (I still like it), but Frasier has a structural precision to most of its episodes that continues to be astounding. Every script is like an exquisitely made Swiss watch. (I feel okay saying this since you wrote for both series)

Well, first of all it’s a very hard "Sophie's" choice.  Besides the very unique “Point of View” episode of MASH that we wrote, if I had to choose one single episode as our very best I would choose “Room Service” from FRASIER.  If I had to choose the best episode I ever directed, it would be “Roz and the Schnoz” from FRASIER.  So my pride on being associated with that show is enormous.  

Where CHEERS has the edge for me is more personal and emotional.  I was with CHEERS from the pilot and stayed with the show for nine years.  I was with FRASIER on and off for six.

That first season of CHEERS was really a bonding experience.  Everyone involved was all around the same age and even though our ratings were terrible we all felt we were part of something special.  

David Isaacs and I had just come from three years of development hell and the chance to go back on a show of this quality was like someone throwing us a lifesaver.  

There were not a lot of great sitcoms at that point in time.  In fact, there was lots of speculation that sitcoms were dead and soon to become extinct.  Established sitcom writers were scrambling and writing one hour light drama specs.   Most of the sitcoms that were on the air then were not very good.  So to get on a show I really loved was a godsend.  

I remember one rewrite night sitting in the room with Glen & Les Charles, my partner, and the great David Lloyd and thinking, “Wow.  Just how lucky am I?”  

We loved working with the Charles Brothers and Jim Burrows and believe me, it was an absolute masterclass in showrunning.  

I also really enjoyed the setting.  As a huge sports fan, a sports bar was right up my alley.  I loved writing a romantic relationship and could certainly identify with the barflies.  

I loved all the characters.  We wrote 40 episodes of CHEERS and never got tired of it.  Trust me, that’s rare.  We could always find new ways for the characters to surprise us.  

And if I’m being honest, I always wanted to win an Emmy and CHEERS allowed me to achieve that.

So although CHEERS and FRASIER are both exceptional shows (and how lucky am I to have worked on both?), I would have to give the slight nod to CHEERS.   Also, I get more residuals from CHEERS. 

Monday, April 11, 2022

DWTS moves to Disney +

If you’re holding out on paying for a streaming service you’re soon to be left behind.  Broadcast network shows are starting to migrate to streaming services in clearly what is a sign of the future.  

The latest:  After 32 seasons, ABC announced last Friday that DANCING WITH THE STARS will move to Disney + next year.  It’s the first live reality show to go the streaming route, but more are a’ comin’.  (This would mean so much more to me if I ever watched DWTS). 

Amazon will have NFL Thursday Night Football starting this fall with the great Al Michaels calling the games.  (That I will watch.)

And two streaming services are featuring MLB games this season.  Friday Night Baseball on Apple + and Peacock will have Sunday morning games.  East coast Peacock games will start at 11:30.  Especially on the west coast it’s baseball for breakfast.  (I’m sure the players are going to love reporting to the ballpark at like 8 AM on Sunday after being out all night on Saturday.)   What’s also significant about this arrangement is that the chosen streaming games will be exclusive to those services.  In other words, if Apple + is televising a Red Sox game, NESN can not show it.  You want to see your beloved Red Sox?  Pony up the money for Apple +.  

And trust me, this is just the beginning.

It is not inconceivable to me that at some point the Super Bowl and World Series will be behind pay walls (and you’ll STILL have commercials).   I’d say the Oscars too, but nobody is going to pay to see that shit. 

Network shows are going to start moving to streaming services.  And eventually, broadcast networks will be showing series that have already streamed.  They’ll become the equivalent of the old neighborhood cineplex showing first run films a month after they’ve run everywhere else.  

It’s coming.  You heard it here first… or close to first. 

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Weekend Post

Here’s one of those questions that deserves an entire Weekend Post.

It’s from longtime reader Mary Stella:

I'd like to know what shows influenced you the most in television and how, and what's your dream three-hour night of television, including any shows from any decade, including now.

The first show that influenced me was CRUSADER RABBIT. I was probably four. But what I loved was that in addition to being funny (at least to a discerning four-year-old), the stories were inventive and episodic. Other cartoons made me laugh, but this one also hooked me into the narrative. I couldn’t wait for the next episode to see what happened and usually the plotting was ingenious (at least to a sophisticated four-year-old).  So CRUSADER RABBIT ignited my love of storytelling.

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN was also an early influence, but thank goodness I outgrew wearing those capes.

I always loved sitcoms. I was about nine when I first saw the “$99,000 Answer” episode of THE HONEYMOONERS. I didn’t see the payoff coming (I was less sophisticated at nine), and (SPOILER ALERT) when Ralph couldn’t identify the song Norton played as a ramp-up to every other song during their practice sessions I laughed for twenty minutes. It’s the biggest laugh I ever had in my life. And it was the first time I ever wondered, “How did they do that?” From then on I started watching sitcoms differently, paying more attention to the construction and appreciating the writing more. I can still watch those original 39 episodes on a continuous loop.

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was a revelation. It was the first (at least to me) sophisticated comedy. The level of humor was smart and grown up. Everything else was broad and situation based. Plus, Dick was a comedy writer. Not only did it seem like the world’s coolest job – you go to an office, write funny stuff and laugh all day with other funny people – but super hot girls like Laura Petrie were actually attracted to you. Yes, this was a fantasy more far fetched than BEWITCHED but fourteen-year-old bespectacled wise-ass nerds could dream.

In college I became enamored with Woody Allen and thought if I was ever going to become a writer I would concentrate on screenplays. Then I saw THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and knew television was for me. Still, to me, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW is the perfect sitcom.

The early ‘70s was a golden age of sitcoms. Shows like MASH and ALL IN THE FAMILY were both inspiring and intimidating. MASH, in particular. I’ve always loved language and the early Larry Gelbart years were extraordinary. It was so unique.  Every other show had set-ups and punch lines, this one just had a steady stream of witty remarks, turns-of-phrase, imagery, and absurdity. No one could do that like Gelbart. Trust me, I tried for four years.

Once I entered the field myself then it was more specific writers than shows that mentored and influenced me. Writers like Gelbart, James Brooks, Allan Burns, Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Gene Reynolds, Glen & Les Charles, Garry Marshall, Jerry Belson, Steve Gordon, and David Lloyd.

Okay, that answers the first part of your question. Now for my dream three-hour night of television. I’m going to cheat. I’m just going to concentrate on comedies. Dramas take up two slots. So here are my all-time favorite sitcoms. The odd thing is that with these nostalgia stations like MeTV, a day may easily come when this is the line-up.

10:00 MASH
10:30 CHEERS

I would find a way to squeeze FRASIER in there.

So now I throw the question back to you? What would be your dream three-hour night of TV, dear readers?

Friday, April 08, 2022

Friday Questions

Okay, are you ready for some REAL Friday Questions this week?

Dana King starts us off.

The Beloved Spouse and I are working our way through FRASIER and a question comes to mind: did John Mahoney ever have any discomfort from having to limp all the time? Did he have any artificial assistance, such as a stiff brace? Did he ever ask for Martin to get better so he didn't have to do it anymore? He looks genuinely uncomfortable sometimes.

To my knowledge he wasn’t uncomfortable, or if he was he never complained about it.  We also never had him walk too far.  John was just an exceptional actor.  I can’t tell you how much I miss him.  Watching the reruns now is a little bittersweet.  

I was at a FRASIER fundraiser recently with David Hyde Pierce and Peri Gilpin and it was the first thing we all talked about.  It was an honor to write for him and direct him.   

JS asks:

I've been watching mini-series lately - "The Dropout" and "Super-Pumped". Both are really good. My question, money aside, would you rather write for a mini-series or a tv show? If I were a writer, I would like a mini-series because there is a beginning and an end and it's up to me to tell the story inside those parameters. On a tv show, it is open-ended and it seems much harder but you can be more creative? Especially if it's not based on a true story.

You’re right.  Both have their advantages.  I guess it would depend on the project itself — does it want to be completed in six or eight episodes, or could it be open-ended?  

One thing about a series — if it is successful there’s more money and more security.  

But at this stage of my career, if I have a choice between doing a limited series with no interference or a regular series with a blizzard of notes, I’ll take the limited series even if it’s way less money.

From Doug Cox:

My question is about breaking stories. You've written several blog entries over the years. I particularly liked the 2014 one about how, on MASH, you resolved the heavy story last.

What I don't understand is how the heck you can learn to break stories without having to break stories as part of your job. I'm never going to be in a writer's room and watch as writers break stories, which must be the best way to learn. Are there other ways to learn?

Yes.  Watch episodes of shows that are well structured and make outlines of those episodes.  Eight to ten pages.  Study them. Scene by scene:  What happens?  Why? What are they trying to achieve in each scene?  How many scenes are there?  Does each scene move the story forward?  Even include a joke or two that helped move the scene along.  

Do that for eight or ten episodes and see if patterns emerge.  That’s how David Isaacs and I initially learned storytelling.  And now that shows are streamed it’s easier than ever to watch entire runs of the series.  It's a whole lot cheaper than graduate school. 

And finally, from Blinky:

Here’s a Friday question that’s been on my mind for a while. I’ve taken a few screenwriting classes. It seems to me that most of the big movies that come out nowadays would get a grade of C on their screen plays. Would you agree with that assessment? And what does that say about what’s necessary to make a successful movie? Seems the script is the least important thing.

There still are some wonderful screenplays, but today they tend to be smaller independent or made-for-streaming-service movies.  

Screenplays are not as important in blockbusters and comic book studio movies.  In fact, the less nuanced and less dependent on dialogue the better because studios are focused on the global market.   Action scenes play just as well in France and Japan.  Sparkling dialogue -- not so much. 

Special effects and CGI are way more important to studio films, which explains movies like WONDER WOMAN 1984.  

I will say, however, that the Batman franchise generally seems to pay more attention to the screenplay than other super heroes.  

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

EP269: Writing and directing for animals and athletes

Whether it’s a former NBA superstar or sheep, writing and directing for athletes and animals can be a challenge.  Comedy generally isn’t in their wheelhouse.  Ken shares amusing stories working with both.  

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Laugh-out-loud funny


It’s not often, but there are times I do laugh out loud in a room watching television.   And sometimes, with great comic construction, a solid laugh can lead to an even bigger laugh.  Oh… and sometimes that “comic construction” is not intentional.

Example:  Recently on JEOPARDY I laughed out loud (if only current sitcoms could make me laugh).  It was Final Jeopardy and the category was SINGERS.  The clue was something like (I’m paraphrasing) “This 95 year-old-singer recorded an album of new material in 2021.”  

The answer is obviously Tony Bennett.  

Only one of the three contestants got the right answer.  

One said Diana Ross.  Okay, that was audible guffaw number one.  For the record, Ms Ross is 77, but knowing how vain she is and what a diva she is, to think that anyone would assume she was 95 was, to me, absolutely hysterical.  

And then the topper:  The next contestant also wrote down Diana Ross.   I was on the floor.  TWO out of three people thought Diana Ross was 95.  

I would have given anything to see Ms Ross' reaction when she learned of this.  I know that’s mean, but I’m just being honest with ya.  And do understand I am a fan of her music.  Even saw her once in concert.  She’s a major talent.

But Diana Ross goes to extraordinary lengths to look glamorous and young.  And she has that huge mop of hair, all designed to bring attention to herself.   She's Motown's Norma Desmond.

I think if they would have said Cher my laugh would have been just as big.  Context.  If one had said Joni Mitchell — well, with all her health problems she’s aged considerably and it would be conceivable someone might (very incorrectly) think she’s 95.   So way more sad than funny.  

Same with Keith Richards -- although everyone has thought he was 95 since 1995.  

So for me — the right person, the right joke, and then the perfect topper.   Two great laughs in one night.  Oh.. I also got the answer right.  It had to be Tony Bennett.  Keith Richards didn’t record new material last year. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Upfronts and Downsizing

When I wrote my first play twenty years ago I made a real rookie mistake.  There were eight characters in it.  The vintage comedy plays I grew up with by playwrights like Kaufman & Hart all featured multiple characters, outlandish costumes, physical comedy, props galore, several themes, a romance, some satirical poking at society, and usually three or four stories intertwining to service all of the characters.   They generally built to a big final scene where most, if not all, of the characters were on stage at once, and in principal, the laughs would be flying fast and furious. 

So having never taken a playwriting course I used that as sort of my guide and wrote UPFRONTS AND PERSONAL.  (I should mention that I’ve had several readings and have done major rewriting on it since my first draft twenty years ago. I’m probably on draft fifteen.)

I was lucky enough to finally have it produced by the Gallery Players in Brooklyn in 2019 and they did a terrific job.  A current production is going on now through the 23rd at the Riverfront Playhouse in Aurora, Illinois -- equally as excellent.  Get your tickets here.  

I caught a couple of performances this past weekend and what a joy after two years of Zoom plays, to hear an actual audience laugh from start to finish.  Everyone did a great job and it really worked.  

But as I watched it I got a little wistful.  When I first wrote it I sent it to Garry Marshall who owned a theatre in Southern California.  He called back and said, “Very funny!”  I asked if we could develop it for his theatre and he said, “Too many people!”  “How many is good?” I asked.  “Two!!!” was his answer.   (My next play was a two-hander and his theatre did produce it.)  

The point is most theatres don’t want large cast plays anymore — especially if they have to pay the actors.  I certainly get that.  That’s the world today.  But it saddens me that these bigger plays that are real crowd-pleasers are going the way of the dinosaur.

I’m so glad I got at least one in although I’ve had five different plays and one musical produced since I wrote UPFRONTS AND PERSONAL.   I probably won’t be writing another like it, but I’m sure glad I was a rookie and didn’t know any better at the time.  

The photos are from the two productions.  Looks like a lot of fun, doesn’t it?

Monday, April 04, 2022

Who is Robert Evans?

When Francis Ford Coppola thanked Robert Evans during THE GODFATHER tribute on this year's infamous Oscarcast a lot of people (including a few of my readers) wondered who that is (or “was” at this point).

Robert Evans was one of the true characters of Hollywood.  Originally an actor, he became a big studio executive at Paramount (where he oversaw THE GODFATHER) and later a producer.  At one time he was married to Ali McGraw (a very beautiful actress if you’re not familiar with her either) but she dumped him for Steve McQueen (the actor, not the current director).

Evans led a larger-than-life lifestyle, had a big mansion, and partied with the best of 'em.  In his later years he had this tan that was, well… orange (a shade not found in nature).  He also wore large sunglasses most of the time.  He still had an office at Paramount when I worked there and I used to see him frequently on the lot.  I would alway said “hello” and he'd say “hello” back as if we knew each other.  I only spoke to him one time and that was to compliment him on his book.

His book.

THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE is his memoir.  His accomplishments are somewhat, er… embellished.  He did not invent electricity or was the first man on the moon.  That's an exaggeration but even if half the stories are true it’s a great window into Hollywood of a different (and arguably better) era.

One thing though — don’t read the book.

LISTEN to it.

Evans does the audiobook and it is HYSTERICAL.   The “tough guy” noir persona he exudes along with the florid content combine to make a laugh-out-loud, drive-off-the-road audio experience.  He also impersonates other people — I just can’t say enough about this juicy audiobook.

So that’s Robert Evans.  You’ll be glad I introduced you. 

Saturday, April 02, 2022

Weekend Post


You hear that at the top of every show. But most people don’t know that after six or seven episodes that almost changed. That disclaimer almost became:


As has been chronicled almost to death, CHEERS got off to a slow start (if you believe “dead last” is considered slow). And it was an expensive show to produce. All those lemons that Teddy cut each week alone! But one of the big ticket items was that the show was filmed rather than videotaped (like ALL IN THE FAMILY or the more highly regarded SILVER SPOONS). Tape is cheaper than film, it requires one operator per camera not three, is edited primarily during the show not after, easier to light, post production is less complicated, and the turnaround time is less.

Paramount and NBC were losing tons of money on CHEERS and it was on the brink of cancellation. So the studio felt if it could be produced cheaper NBC might have more incentive to pick CHEERS up for a back nine.

They went to Glen & Les Charles and Jimmy Burrows and asked if they’d consider flipping from film to tape. They agreed to at least make a test scene.

A first rate tape crew was enlisted to light the set. Video cameras were wheeled in, and Jimmy directed a scene. It featured everyone from the cast, and there was a lot of movement so we could view every angle of the set. It went through post-production, was color-corrected, and made broadcast-ready.

The Charles Brothers, Jimmy, my partner and I, and our line producer Tim Berry sat down and watched the test.


It was horrifying. All the warmth and depth of the set was completely obliterated. The rich colors became day-glo. And this dark, rich bar setting suddenly looked like a police station.

It was like those photos of Britney Spears without make up.

To Charles-Burrows-Charles’ credit the experiment ended right there. I don’t know if a copy of that test still exists. My guess is Glen Charles backed over the tape with his car in much the same way Tony Soprano had Phil Leotardo whacked in the SOPRANOS finale.

Ironically, if they had agreed to switch to the tape format I think it would have caused the show’s cancellation, not prevented it.

Ah, the little decisions producers have to make every day.


Friday, April 01, 2022

Friday Questions

Friday Questions… as we begin this new month.

Tina Delgado is up first.

How do you and David Isaacs write together?  What is your process?

We had a hot tub installed in our office.  We would get into the hot tub and dictate the script to a writing assistant who was also in the tub.  Sometimes we would get stuck on a line and to jump start our brains we would turn the heat up to 115 degrees.  We both found that when we were on the border of hallucination that’s when we did our best work.  

From Don Rivert:

Has an actor ever made a suggestion on one of your scripts that you realized was good and better than what you had?  

Well, you’re talking a 40 year career.  That’s a lot of scripts and a lot of actors.  But no.  Never.  What we wrote was gold.  Always. Why the TV Academy doesn’t have a night honoring AfterMASH I will never know.  

Sitar the Pirate queries:

What shows do you wish you had written on?


And finally, from 5515Melrose:

When you announce baseball, do you prefer TV or radio?

I greatly prefer radio because I don’t have to be accurate.  I can say pretty much anything.  And this is good because I can’t see past the pitcher’s mound.  So I call what I think might be happening, or, in some cases, what I hope might be happening.  On television they can see that the second baseman caught the ball that I just called a home run.  Radio all the way!  

What’s your Friday Question?   Note:  As you know, when I can't think of an appropriate photo I feature one of Natalie Wood.