Saturday, July 30, 2022

Burt Metcalfe

Fans of MASH will recognize the name Burt Metcalfe.  Starting as Associate Producer when the series began he graduated to showrunner by season 6 and was the only producer to stay with the series for the entire eleven years.  

Burt also directed 31 episodes of MASH and had a few writing credits as well.

Oh.. and he was the best boss I ever worked for.  More like a father figure, role model, and mentor.  

Burt Metcalfe passed away on Wednesday.  He was 87.  

For anyone that knew him, this is a crushing loss.  

It was Burt who hired me and David Isaacs to join the staff of MASH for season six, thus giving us the break of our career.  When the head writer left in middle of the season, Burt saw enough potential in us to elevate us to that position.  We were still in our 20’s.  That’s the kind of support and confidence he provided.  We succeeded in the role to a large degree because Burt was there to back us up.  

Although he tended to stay in the background, MASH remained a consistently  great show because of Burt Metcalfe.  The humanity and sensibility of MASH — those were reflections of Burt himself.  That’s who he was.  And the fact that 128,000,000 people watched the finale is a tribute to how well he guided the show for all eleven years.  

When I am asked why we did AfterMASH, a big reason was the chance to work with Burt again.  You just don’t meet wonderful quality people like that very often — especially in this industry.  I would have happily signed aboard for After-AfterMASH if Burt were running it.  

Burt will be greatly missed.  I treasure those lunches I had with him and Gene Reynolds at Musso & Frank’s. If there is one thing I can take comfort in, it’s that I know his name and the extraordinary work he did will be seen and appreciated for 50 maybe 100 more years.  

Thank you, Burt.  Thank you for everything.

Goodbye, farewell, and amen. 

Friday, July 29, 2022

Friday Questions

Last FQ’s of the month.  Come and get ‘em.

Spike de Beauvoir gets the ball rolling:

What are three of your favorite classic Looney Tunes cartoons?

The one with Michigan J. Frog, Duck Dodgers, and the one where Bugs goes into the nightclub and mingles with all the WB movie stars.  

I also loved the Road Runner and Foghorn Leghorn.  

In general, I lean more to the Chuck Jones era.  

Andrew asks:

Have you ever had to write in the bitter cold with a frozen hand, like in Dr. Zhivago? What's that like?

The climate in Hollywood tends not to be subzero.  And most of the time when I write it’s indoors.  

I did go through army basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri in the Ozarks in the bitter winter, but out on those rifle ranges and obstacle courses we never had creative writing courses.

However, when I broadcast for Syracuse in the International League the temperature for night games never got up to 30 the entire month of April.  I did have to buy special gloves that allowed me to hold a pencil.    I wanted to set the booth on fire for warmth but my partner wouldn’t let me.  

Kyle Burress wonders:

Can you name some examples, if any, of guest stars you liked so much that maybe only appeared once in a series you worked on that you wished had come back to reprise their role?

On CHEERS we wanted John Cleese to come back and he agreed to but at the last minute backed out.  We had some great guest stars on CHEERS.  Emma Thompson, Alex Trebek, John Mahoney, Glynis Johns.  One guest star we did bring back was Kevin McHale of the Boston Celtics.  He was a natural.  

On WINGS: Debbie Reynolds, Tyne Daly.  

On MASH:  George Wendt, Shelley Long, Rita Wilson — I hope they found work after our show.  

On FRASIER:  Tea Leoni, JoBeth Williams.

On BECKER: LaVar Burton.  

And I’m sure I’m leaving out a whole bunch more.  

Finally, from Craig Gustafson :​

Have you ever underestimated an actor and then found a performance that upgraded your opinion?

Yes.  The one that immediately springs to mind is Tim Daly on WINGS.  I thought he was a good-looking charming guy, but I had no idea how funny he was and what great comic timing he had.  

Same with David Clennon on ALMOST PERFECT.  I knew he was a good dramatic actor, but when he came in to read he said his very first line and we knew “that’s the guy.”  

I directed a show called FIRED UP that featured Jonathan Banks.  He was okay but nothing special.  Then I see him on BREAKING BAD and I’m gobsmacked at how amazing he is.

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

EP285: Family Sitcoms

The family sitcom has been a staple of television from I LOVE LUCY to MODERN FAMILY. Ken traces the evolution of this venerable genre and sprinkles in a few personal anecdotes.  

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Ten years ago today

A new monthly tradition -- re-posting Friday Question from 10 years ago.  I've answered close to 4,000 FQ's but most are buried deep in the archives.  Since one or two are still worthy, I felt some were worth revisiting.  I think I've picked up a few new readers in ten years (to balance out the ones I've lost).  This was from July, 2012. 

Stephen starts us off:

What do you do with live studio audiences for new shows? I don't mean the pilot, but those first 4 or 5 (or more if it's debuting at midseason) episodes before the show premieres. How do you get them up to speed so that they understand the character humor? For example, was the live studio audience for episode 3 of Cheers made aware prior to taping of the circumstances that put Diane in the bar two episodes earlier?

A timely question since new shows are beginning to go into production right now. Usually, you’ll assemble a ten minute version of the pilot and screen it for the audience during the warm-up. And if there are key story elements the audience needs to know the warm-up guy will brief them.

But yes, certain jokes are not going to work because the audience doesn’t know the references. Yet, on the air, they might, and ultimately you're making the show for the television audience, not studio audience. 

A case in point was the Norm entrances. They bombed continuously until the series started to air. But we kept telling George Wendt not to worry about it. The audience didn’t know it was a running bit. Flash-forward to season eleven:  the minute George enters and says, "Afternoon, everybody" the place goes absolutely bonkers. 

A bigger problem is filling the bleachers with people who would watch this show anyway. Often groups have to be herded in. Imagine a busload of 90-year-old codgers filling the seats at WHITNEY. Or a group of high schoolers in the audience of HOT IN CLEVELAND.

Eventually, fans of a show will write in for tickets so by the end of the first season you can stack the house with ringers.

Mike has a question about the CHEERS spin-off, THE TORTELLIS.

Having never seen an episode, I was wondering: why do you think the show failed? Nick was one of my favorite recurring characters on Cheers. He lifted every episode he guested in. Do you think, though, he was best seen in small doses, and a whole show built around him was too much? Just what do you think happened here?

I may have told this story before, but David and I wrote an episode of THE TORTELLIS. We met with the Charles Brothers one afternoon to break a story. We spent all day trying to come up with an episode. Nothing seemed interesting. Finally, we decided to table the discussion until the next day. I asked Glen Charles, “What number episode is this?” He said, “Four.” And I said, “Four? We can’t come up with episode four? You are in shit shape with this show.”

And in truth they were. There was no real theme or premise. It was just a collection of characters living in Las Vegas. Add to that Nick & Loretta were fairly two-dimensional (funny as hell but two-dimensional) so it was hard to build a show around them. Compare that to spinning-off a far more fleshed-out and real character like Frasier Crane.

I remember there was a married couple who were writers on THE TORTELLIS. One day they got into an argument over a script they were writing for the show and it escalated to the point where they got divorced. They may have even come to blows. Over THE TORTELLIS. That’s when you know you’ve got a show in trouble.

From Artie:

I've been writing professionally in another creative medium for a couple years now, and thinking about trying my hand at writing for TV. One of the skills I've developed is the ability to fix or improve already existing work of other writers.

I hear about people in Hollywood who primarily work as "script doctors," and it seems like that tends to be part of a career as a more generative writer. My question is: Is that the kind of role that someone can legitimately use as an entry point?

Not to be blunt, but no. You don’t get script doctor jobs (“creative consultants”) until you’re a proven writer in your chosen genre. And unfortunately, those jobs are almost non-existent in today’s economy even for seasoned writers. Gone are the days a scribe could command a handsome fee for coming in one or two nights a week. Sigh.

But if editing is your gift I would suggest you explore entering the executive ranks. Networks and studios are filled with people who will graciously give script notes, whether they know shit or not. If you are truly good at fixing existing scripts you would be a real asset.

Johnny Walker asks:

How long do you spend a day (or week, if you don't work on it every day) on your blog? It's amazing to me that you keep coming up with fresh content!

Thanks.  It probably averages to an hour or so a day. Sometimes I’ll be inspired and bang out a couple posts at one sitting. Other times one post will take me all afternoon and then I'll still throw it away because it sucks. The hard part is coming up with topics. Once I latch onto a good topic I can write fairly quickly.  Sometimes. Occasionally.  Once last spring. 

And finally, from Susannahfromhungray:

Do you know if the character of Frasier's agent, Bebe Glazer, was named after Bebe Neuwirth?

I do know and the answer is no.

Monday, July 25, 2022

The Weakest Game Show

Sitting in my AirBnB in Cape May last week, just chilling, channel surfing, I came upon THE WEAKEST LINK on NBC.  I had not watched that program since there was an English version hosted by Anne Robinson.  She was a rather refreshing and unique host at the time.  Acerbic, took shots at the contestants, very short hair.  To mimic that in the US version they got Jane Lynch.  But it’s so clear that so much of her put-downs and snark are scripted.  Anne's felt spontaneous. 

However, the thing that really struck me about this current version of the show was how fucking dumb the contestants were.  I don’t love THE CHASE (the host annoys the crap out of me) but the questions are tough.  For THE WEAKEST LINK some of the questions were just laughably easy and the contestants were so stupid they got them wrong.  


“Which brand of service has as their theme song ‘Wild Blue Yonder?’” The contestant said “the Navy.”  Wouldn’t wild blue yonder perhaps suggest the sky and thus maybe the Air Force?    One girl, probably in her early 30’s didn’t know Rodeo Drive was in Beverly Hills.  She had never heard of Rodeo Drive.  They tape the show in Los Angeles, by the way.  

Finally it came down to the last two.  Each had to answer a series of five questions.  The one who got the most right won.  Going into the last round, collectively they had answered 8 of the 9 questions wrong.  These were the brains who eliminated everyone else.   I was calling out the answers left and right — and trust me, I’d get crushed on JEOPARDY or THE CHASE.

Obviously these contestants are screened beforehand.  The fact that they knowingly put dim bulbs on the show begs the question, why?

Do they not want to give away much money?  Or do they think the audience is so stupid this level of intellect is about their speed?  All I can say is that as far as game shows go — this one is the Weakest Link.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Weekend Post

I watched the movie of THE ODD COUPLE recently starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. A lot of it still holds up, but when I first saw it as a kid I was hysterical. I couldn’t imagine any better casting than Matthau & Lemmon.

Seeing it again, after many many years, one thing struck me – I now greatly prefer Jack Klugman and Tony Randall as Oscar and Felix. Sure, part of it is familiarity, but Randall really WAS Felix Unger. Jack Lemmon was a gifted comic actor who played the part very well. And Klugman’s Oscar was the equal to Matthau’s, plus he played better off of Randall as Felix. To me. You may prefer Matthau & Lemmon. Or you may have seen the original Broadway production with Matthau and Art Carney and to you that’s the real Odd Couple.

Or even Morris Fishbine and Larry Crellman, who played them in a local community theatre in your town and to you those are the guys.

Probably the only thing that everyone can agree on is that when there was a revival on Broadway a few years ago and Nathan Lane played Oscar that was absurd.

But for most of us, it’s who you grew up with. Same with James Bonds. It used to be that there was no contest. Sean Connery was James Bond. But to younger generations Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, and most recently, Daniel Craig is THE real 007.  If you went through the '60s completely drugged out you might think David Niven was the ultimate  James Bond.  But you would be wrong (you'd probably be dead). 

Same with Superman. To baby boomers there’s only one: George Reeves, even though he had a gut and thinning hairline. For most of you however, I imagine Christopher Reeve is the one and only Man of Steel. If your favorite is Brandon Routh seek help.

When my partner and I took our first meeting at MASH, producer Gene Reynolds loaded us down with research and invited us to come back with stories. (We sold one and that was the beginning of our four-year association with MASH). But amongst the reading material was the novel of MASH. The 1969 movie starring Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould was very faithful to the book. So reading it was very strange. I kept trying to picture Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers in the roles performing the scenes, but in my head was the movie. And the character of Hawkeye is quite different in the Sutherland vs. Alda version. It was very schitzo.  Ultimately, I preferred Alan's Hawkeye, but I have to be honest -- it took about a season of the TV show to change my allegiance. 

So now, as a friendly blog survey, let me ask you, dear reader and pop culture maven..

Who is your favorite Felix & Oscar?

James Bond?


Batman? (Michael Keaton? Really?)

Lois Lane?

Sherlock Holmes?

Dr. Who?

Darrin Stephens?



Thanks in advance for playing the game. I look forward to your feedback.


Friday, July 22, 2022

Friday Questions

Those lazy hazy days of summer continue… along with Friday Questions.

Chris Bernard is first up.

Hi Ken, when you write can you sit down and start writing or do you have to get into a certain focus and sustain that focus?

If there’s one thing you learn in television it’s to create on demand.  Yes, I can just sit down and start cranking it out (doesn't mean it's any good).  For most of my career I’ve had to.  I couldn’t afford the luxury of waiting for my Muse to call or getting myself situated in my cozy cabin overlooking Mt. Everest drinking Swiss Miss.  

It’s a work skill you learn and ultimately does you good.  Especially if you want to write for TV. 

From VHS Village (Formerly The Beta Barn):

Sometimes when I'm watching what turns out to be a mediocre comedy, I will think of a funnier punchline than some of the ones in the movie. Do you ever do this? When you watch a comedy and there's a good setup but a crappy payoff, do you find yourself coming up with a better punchline in your head?

Sometimes, sure.  Often though, it’s more fun to guess what their actual punchline will be.  Sad to say I’ve become really good at that.  

I also find that in these mediocre sitcoms there are places for jokes that they just let go by.  Either they’re lazy or just don’t recognize where there is more fun to be had.   

As with writing on demand, this too comes with experience. 

Jay Moriarty (a top flight comedy writer in his own right) asks:

Re likability and its role in relation to sitcom characters, I'd be curious to hear what you, Ken, and readers think about Married With Children, a series which ran for eleven seasons and birthed a fourth network.

I found it funny at times but it was too broad for me.  I like my sitcoms to be more grounded and this was essentially a live-action cartoon.  I never cared about their problems. 

I appreciated what it accomplished for the fledgling Fox network, and I also understand that not every comedy need be Noel Coward, but MARRIED WITH CHILDREN was not for me.  

And finally, from DyHrdMET:

Do you normally keep copies of your own scripts for your collection/archives? I imagine it's easier in the computer age, but did you do that in the typewriter age?

Yes.  I have several file cabinets and have pretty much drafts of everything David Isaacs and I have written.  

When we started out David wrote the script in longhand on a binder and then I typed it.  I still have most of those binders.

The problem is they’re not perfectly catalogued so to find a specific one might be a problem.   I know I have our first pilot but I can’t remember where.

When we were working with Mary Tyler Moore I gave her a copy of our spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and asked her to sign it “this is the worst MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW script I’ve ever seen.”  Somewhere I have that too.

What’s your lazy hazy summer Friday Question? 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

EP284: A TV Legend NO ONE has ever heard of

What if I told you there was a woman who in the early days of television wrote 11,000 scripts, and starred in her own TV network hit sitcom for six years and no one has ever heard of her? Meet Peg Lynch. This is a remarkable true story you will not believe.

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The worst All-Star game ever

Thank you MLB and Fox for utterly destroying the Major League Baseball All-Star game.  

At one time the Mid Summer Classic was far and away the best All-Star game of any major sport.  Why?  There was real competition.   You had the best hitters facing the best pitchers.  In other sports it’s somewhat of a joke because either there’s no defense (NBA final scores are always 148-142) or it’s after the regular season (NFL) so it’s a complete afterthought.  

In baseball you also had the novelty that other than the World Series, there was no interleague play.  If you wanted to see Whitey Ford face Willie Mays you had to watch the All-Star game.   As a fan, there was a real sense of pride watching players from your team.  

Today there’s none of that.  

One of the great things about attending an All-Star game was for the first and only time you would get to see the other teams in your league wearing their home uniforms.  That was very cool.  

For reasons that only involve making money, MLB has done away with teams wearing their own uniforms.  Now it’s glitzy white uniforms with unreadable gold letters and piping for the home team, and black for the visitors.   Sorry Seattle fans — next year you don’t get to see pinstripes.  

It used to be fun to look out on the field and see all the different caps and colors.  But MLB feels it can sell more merchandise this way.  Really?  Who’s going to buy one of these crappy All-Star jerseys?   Now you look out on the field and don’t know who anybody is. Players are identified by their uniforms the same way superheroes are.  It matters.

You also don’t know when there are changes, but that gets into the broadcast, which I’ll discuss in a moment.  

When the All-Star game in Milwaukee had to be declared a tie by Commissioner Bud Selig (because there were no pitchers left), there was a big uproar.  So MLB took steps to fortify that the game “meant something.”   World Series home field advantage hung in the balance (as if this was a big incentive to Mariner, Pirate, and Padres players).  Or the audience.  That proved to be hollow and was disbanded.  

So now MLB (probably at the insistence of Fox) has gone the other way.  Players are now allowed to talk to the announcers during the game.  What that means is the game is now just a picnic softball game.  If the players clearly don’t care what happens, why should viewers?   Now Fox will argue that this allows fans to actually go “into” the game, but it doesn’t.  When there’s something at stake, when these players are really concentrating, there’s a level of intensity.  That is obliterated.  So any modicum of suspense has been sacrificed for a gimmick.

And the Fox broadcast was all gimmicks. Cameras in helmets, cameras on the ground.  The novelty of that wears off in ten seconds.  

For a young player, making the All-Star squad is a BIG deal (maybe the highlight of his career or life), especially if you’re from a city that rarely gets national attention.  In the past, each player was highlighted.  This year, a few players were highlighted if they happened to come up to bat at convenient times.  But if the announcers were talking to players in the dugout while the action was going on and it was their one at-bat — too bad.  Their name might get mentioned after they made out.  Instead, we’re hearing cliches and nonsense from players we don’t really give a shit about.

And that was nothing compared to a segment where David Ortiz went into the AL dugout (DURING an inning) supposedly “interviewing” players.  Instead, it was “Hey man, what’s up?”  “How are you, bro?”  “My man, you having fun?”  Utter drivel, and again, this was during the action.   It was the nadir of any All-Star segment.   

Oh wait, maybe it wasn't.  Maybe cutting away from the action to let some guy plug his podcast for five minutes was.  Unconscionable. 

Since Joe Buck has departed for ESPN, Fox has anointed Joe Davis as their number one baseball play-by-play guy.  Davis is the TV voice of the Dodgers.  He’s very affable but generic.  He has a comfortable relaxed style, which suits the pace of baseball but works against the big moments.  And All-Star games and World Series games live on big moments.  

I will say this:  my heart went out to him at one point.  He muffed a play — calling it a catch when it really dropped in for a hit.  As a former MLB announcer I can tell you — we all make mistakes (God knows I have).  That it happened to Joe on a national telecast was unfortunate.  I’m sure the Twitter haters are ripping him for it.  They have no idea what it takes to do that job.   To his credit, Joe moved on and did not let it affect the rest of the broadcast.  

The telecast itself was very shoddy.  Most of these players are unknown to the general public.  Joe and John Smoltz kept referring to them by their last names.   This isn’t a regular season game.  You’re introducing these unknowns to a national audience.  Identify them by first and last name and identify them again and again and again.  

Hardly any attention was paid to the defensive alignments, and when it was there was a tiny graphic and Joe rushed through the last names.  “Stanton, Rodriguez, Torres.”    This is not Joe’s fault, it’s the director/producer.  They should have singled out each player, announced his name and what team he plays for (especially since they’re not wearing their uniforms).  All-Star games features a dizzying amount of changes.  Each new player deserves to be on camera and introduced.  Half the time Joe would say “pop up to (whoever) who is now in the game.”    

All of these gimmicks and disregard for the players shows an incredible lack of respect for the game.  This is the Major League Baseball All-Star game.  It is not "Battle of the Network Stars."  The attraction is seeing the very best players in the game compete at the highest level.  But Fox or MLB for that matter, has no faith in the product.  For numerous stretches the game itself was merely an imposition.  Why watch the game when you can see Big Papi prattle on about nothing in a dugout with players you don’t know and who all look the same anyway due to the uniforms?  

Now you might say, well I’m just ‘old school’ and this is the new game.  Okay, well consider this — the Dodgers lead the Majors in attendance practically every year.  Most attendance records were set by the Dodgers.  It was a lovely clear day with temperatures in the high 70’s.  The All-Star game hasn’t been at Dodger Stadium in 42 years. Did you notice how many empty seats there were?   The “new school” ain’t working.  Bring back the real ALL-STAR GAME.  Or "get off my infield grass."

UPDATE: Last night's  All-Star Game averaged a 4.2 rating and 7.51 million viewers on FOX, down 7% in ratings and 10% in viewership from last year (4.5, 8.32M) and the lowest rated and least watched All-Star game ever.  It used to get 50 shares and 20 million viewers.  As baseball fans know -- numbers don't lie.

Monday, July 18, 2022

The final words...

Here’s a follow-up to this weekend’s post.  It’s a story Jason Robert Brown tells.  Now a very accomplished Broadway composer himself, when he was 23 he met Stephen Sondheim, was invited to his new show and then dinner.  The show wasn’t great and by his awkward silence, Brown conveyed that.  Obviously, the rest of the meal was stilted and frosty.  Brown knew he had made a gaffe.  He called the next day to apologize.  Brown says this is what Sondheim said (paraphrasing):

Nobody cares what you think. Once a creation has been put into the world, you have only one responsibility to its creator: be supportive. Support is not about showing how clever you are, how observant of some flaw, how incisive in your criticism. There are other people whose job it is to guide the creation, to make it work, to make it live; either they did their job or they didn’t. But that is not your problem.

If you come to my show and you see me afterwards, say only this: “I loved it.” It doesn’t matter if that’s what you really felt. What I need at that moment is to know that you care enough about me and the work I do to tell me that you loved it, not “in spite of its flaws”, not “even though everyone else seems to have a problem with it,” but simply, plainly, “I loved it.” If you can’t say that, don’t come backstage, don’t find me in the lobby, don’t lean over the pit to see me. Just go home, and either write me a nice email or don’t. Say all the catty, bitchy things you want to your friend, your neighbor, the Internet.

Maybe next week, maybe next year, maybe someday down the line, I’ll be ready to hear what you have to say, but that moment, that face-to-face moment after I have unveiled some part of my soul, however small, to you; that is the most vulnerable moment in any artist’s life. If I beg you, plead with you to tell me what you really thought, what you actually, honestly, totally believed, then you must tell me, “I loved it.” That moment must be respected.

Thanks to everyone who saw my play at the Cape May Stage and said they loved it.  AMERICA'S SEXIEST COUPLE is playing for four more weeks.  If you're in the neighborhood swing by.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Shameless Plug

Come see my play at the Cape May Stage.  Cape May is beautiful this time of year.  I'll be there this weekend.  Come for the laughs, stay for the schmooze. 

Weekend Post


Now with YouTube, everybody makes videos. HD cameras are so inexpensive that full-length films can be produced on a shoestring budget. Recording an album no longer requires a million bucks. You can do all the engineering and processing on your iMac Mini.

But what the new technology still can’t do is provide feedback.

You still have to show it to your friends and get their reactions. But rarely, if ever, are you going to get an honest appraisal. They’re not going to insult you. They’re going to be very diplomatic. You have to learn to read between the lines.

Here’s what people say when they really hate something.

“That was really fun.”

If you hear “fun” you’re doomed.

It used to be “Well, you did it!” or “How did you do it?” or “That was something else!” but those are so old school. “That was really fun” is both a veiled compliment and right up to date.

My favorite left-handed compliment came the night of the big industry screening for VOLUNTEERS, the Tom Hanks/John Candy movie that David Isaacs and I wrote. We’re standing in the lobby receiving guests. It’s me, David, and to my right – Walter Parkes, one of the producers.

People are coming up congratulating us until one woman took our Walter's hands in hers, looked him straight into the eye with a pained expression, and said, “Oh Walter, we love you anyway.”


I laughed so hard I almost fell over.

We live in a time of superlatives. Awesome now means okay, perfect means acceptable, and epic means it will be remembered for four hours.  So "fun" has been elevated to where it now means sucks. 

Oh, for those days when people were honest and told you “I never knew you had it in ya.”  So beware of false flattery. 

I know what you're thinking.  You want to go to the comments section and respond to this post by saying "that was fun."  I'm ahead of you.   You'll have to be more creative.  

Note: For those new to the blog -- whenever I can't find an appropriate photo to go along with the subject matter I post a picture of Natalie Wood. 

Friday, July 15, 2022

Friday Questions

Thanks to everyone at the Cape May Stage for a great opening night of my play, AMERICA’S SEXIEST COUPLE.  Now through mid-August.  I’ll be there all weekend.  Come by and say hi.  

Here are this week’s Friday Questions.

Ed leads off:

You’ve shared your thoughts on many female TV stars from the 50s (Lucy, Eve Arden, Audrey Meadows, et al). But what’s your opinion of Vivian Vance, commonly cited as one of the greatest second bananas and “reactors” in all of showbiz?

Quite simply, Vivian Vance was a goddess.  Not only a great straight person for Lucy but so funny in her own right.  And so adept at physical comedy.  People forget that Ethel was part of that candy factory scene.  

I’ve mentioned this before but I got the rare opportunity to see Vivian perform in person.  She was a guest on an episode of RHODA and I happened to be in the audience that night.  
It was like watching a masterclass in comedy.   Knew every line and hit every joke out of the park.   I can’t say enough wonderful things about Vivian Vance.  

VHS Village (Formerly The Beta Barn) asks:

Can you do a future blog post about movies you couldn't get through? I once tried to watch 1941 but I gave up after ten minutes.

That was pretty bad, I grant you.  

I suppose I should restrict this to movies in a theater I couldn’t get through.  It’s so easy when watching at home.   I’m sometimes gone in ten or fifteen minutes.  

But in the theater — pretty much any Nancy Meyers movie.  CALIGULA was not the sex romp I was led to believe it was.  And I lasted maybe 45 minutes in SWEPT AWAY.  

From Jeff:

Not that you would have first-hand experience, but when the cast of a mediocre sitcom does their table read, do they actually acknowledge the jokes are lame or do they just barrel through it for the paycheck?

It depends on many factors.  Who’s the most powerful person in the room?  If it’s the show runner like Chuck Lorre the cast will generally just power through and collect their paycheck.  (Also, if the show is a hit they may just go along to continue riding the gravy train.)

If the star has the most power then you can bet Cosby or Roseanne will complain or even throw scripts out.  And some stars are never happy no matter what script you put in front of them.  

And finally, from Justin:

Ken, you often speak of your favorite Classic Hollywood stars (and first crushes). Could you list your top-5 actors and top-5 actresses of the era?

Cary Grant
Humphrey Bogart
Gene Hackman
Robert Duvall
Marlon Brando

Natalie Wood
Barbara Stanwyck
Rosalind Russell
Lauren Bacall
Eva Marie Saint

What’s your Friday Question? 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

EP283: A Crazy Pilot Story a.k.a “Only in Hollywood"

Pilot development is always nuts. From concept to completion so much can go wrong. It’s a wonder when one good one escapes and gets on the air. This is one of Levine & Isaacs’ craziest pilot assignments. Enjoy the insanity.

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Another Opening/Another Show

Tonight is the preview performance of my romantic comedy play, AMERICA’S SEXIEST COUPLE at the Cape May Stage on the Joisy Shore.  Opening night is tomorrow.   It runs for a month.  Details and tickets here.

I’m very excited and a little nervous.  Why am I nervous?  After all, I’ve been doing this a rather long time.  Here’s why:

I’ve got a spectacular cast.  Tony-winner, Karen Ziemba, veteran actor, Bill Tatum, and future star, Remy Germinario — I won the casting lottery.  The director, Roy Steinberg has enhanced and elevated the material to heights I had not imagined.   The tech crew is dedicated and outstanding.  One of them drove nine hours from Ohio to participate. (Do people want to get out of Ohio that badly?)  The set is beautiful and thanks to light cues you can see it!  And the theatre itself is lovely.  Comfortable, great sight-lines and acoustics, and the air conditioner works.  

All of this is to say if it doesn’t work or get laughs it’s all on me.  I have no one to blame.  

I’m struck by the contrast between this and writing for sitcoms.  For a sitcom, the length is 22 minutes (or shorter today in some cases).  I’m surrounded by a team of super talented writers to solve any problems or add that killer joke.  If the show is a hit I have a studio audience that already knows and loves these characters.  Plus, I have post production where I can fix things in editing and add features like music and effects to cover any sins.  

For this play there’s no writing staff, no post production.  Every word in this ninety minute piece is mine.  So you can understand why it’s a little nerve-wracking.  

But it’s also why I love it.  There’s a real sense of pride and authorship.  And the challenge.  I’m always looking to stretch myself as a writer.  And if it works there’s no greater feeling in the world (other than winning awards for it).  

Everything is in place and it should work.  I’m super proud of this play.  I flew 3,000 miles and had to negotiate the Philadelphia airport to see it.  My supreme thanks to everyone involved (the cast, crew, and lady at Hertz who finally found a car that had Car Play that worked).  

I can’t wait for tonight.  And hey, if things don’t work out — there’s a big liquor store really close to the theatre.  

I’ll be at performances all this week.  Cape May is beautiful.  Come join us. 

Monday, July 11, 2022


Here's a FQ that became an entire post.  It's from...

George Tramountanas.

I notice when you talk about your favorite sitcoms, you don't mention Seinfeld much. Maybe you've discussed this before and I've somehow forgotten, but how would you classify this type of sitcom? I mean, it definitely had its funny bits, but the characters weren't people you could care about (at least, I never did). Plus, they never seemed to grow as characters, which I suppose was the big joke of their last episode. On Cheers, you somehow made a character like Norm someone that didn't change at his core, but we did care about him. How would you explain the difference?

Disclaimer:  This is just one person's opinion.

I admired SEINFELD and at times found it laugh-out-loud funny, which very few sitcoms even come close to achieving.  

But I also found it inconsistent.   Some episodes felt forced with a lot of scenes just treading water.  

The characters didn’t grow as you said, which was very much by design.  But the problem there is that after awhile they cease to surprise you.   Once you know how they’ll react in any given situation they stop being interesting (in my opinion).

They were also basically unlikable.  But I’ll be honest, I liked that about the show.  It was refreshing that characters were created to be funny and that often means exploiting flaws.   Characters who are all sweet and sensible are murder for comedy writers.  So kudos on that front.

But this choice comes at a price.  It’s hard to care for someone you don’t particularly like. You feel less bad about their misfortunes. In some cases you're even happy.  Ideally, the viewer is invested in the series and what happens to its characters. They want them to succeed not say "Screw you, ya had it coming." Without that in a sitcom you’re pretty much only as good as your next joke.  SEINFELD was able to get away with that to a large extent because many of the jokes were truly great (and it's incredibly hard to write great jokes, especially week after week). 

To sum up, I liked SEINFELD very much.  Watched it religiously during its first run.  It was truly a delightful change from other sitcoms.  And I applaud any situation comedy that strives primarily to make the audience laugh as loud and much as possible.  But it’s not one of my all-time favorite beloved sitcoms. I ultimately need to care.  I don't get any joy out of "Screw you, ya had it coming."

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, July 09, 2022

Weekend Post

 Our first agent wasn’t very good. When David Isaacs and I were starting out, writing spec scripts, living on Kraft macaroni, and trying to break in we managed to get an agent. She was a legitimate WGA signatory but she wasn’t top tier. She wasn’t third tier. But shows would accept her submissions, which was all we really needed.

She sent our spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW to the great David Lloyd, who was one of their producers. When she didn’t hear back in a few weeks she sent him a blistering following up.

Several days later he responded. It was a rejection letter. The opening sentence was:


He then went on for three paragraphs to rip her a new asshole for questioning his integrity and accusing him of shirking his responsibilities.

Almost as an afterthought, he finally got to our script in the fourth paragraph and basically said it was a complete amateurish piece of shit (although I don’t think he put it that nicely).

Years later we worked together on CHEERS and I mentioned the letter. David being David, he said, “Well, I’m sure it was a piece of shit.”

I’m also sure he was right.

You won’t be surprised to learn that once we got our first assignment (that this agent had nothing to do with), we moved on to more reputable representation.

In my career, I’ve been on the other side numerous times. I’ve been the one reading and judging. I always write nice rejection letters, even if the script sucks eggs. I feel that good, bad, or indifferent, the person (or team) went to the effort of writing a script and the least I could do is let them down easy.

Plus, who’s to say I’m always right? I’m not. Along the way, I’ve rejected a few great people who went on to long and successful careers.  When a writer friend of mine was story editor on ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE he rejected a script by the Coen Brothers. It happens to all of us.

So when you get rejected – and we all do – take heart. You never know who’s going to turn out to be an A-lister.

My favorite story of that was from Larry Gelbart. Larry was one of the most gifted and successful writers of the last half-century. Among his credits: creating the TV version of MASH, TOOTSIE, OH GOD!, FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, SLY FOX, CITY OF ANGELS, CAESAR’S HOUR – it goes on and on. But when he was 18 he had a screen test for an acting part in a George Cukor movie at MGM. He did his test, he wasn’t chosen, and that was that. Many years later when he was an accomplished writer he happened to bump into Cukor at a party. He told him the story and Cukor said to him, “Well why didn’t you tell me who you were?”

Good luck and may you become who you hope to be.

Friday, July 08, 2022

Friday Questions

Hello from Cape May, NJ, where my play, AMERICA’S SEXIEST COUPLE open next Wednesday.  Come join us.  Here are your FQ’s for the week:

Philly Cinephile starts us off.

In your opinion, which sitcoms improved the most during their runs, and which declined the most during their runs?

Let me start by saying most sitcoms improve over time as they discover what works and find their groove.   That said…

Probably PARKS AND REC was the most improved.  THE ODD COUPLE improved considerably when it went from single-camera to multi-camera.  NEWHART got better as it went along. So did THE OFFICE, MOM,  and FAMILY TIES.   I'm sure there are 40 others I can't just think of at the moment.

SEINFELD is an interesting case because it both improved and then (when Larry David left) got worse.  (More about SEINFELD next Monday.)  

BIG BANG THEORY got progressively worse.  Early episodes were hilarious.  You could always count on four or five solid laughs.  The stories were never great.  But by the end the jokes were forced and the lazy storytelling drove me nuts.  In almost every later episode you could remove two or three scenes and nothing would change. 

Here’s a pretty accurate tell:  If a sitcom totally changes its sets, cast, or premise it’s a good bet it’s not long for this world.  B POSITIVE is just the latest example. 

Milton the Momzer asks:

Every TV drama, almost, ends every season with its version of Who Shot JR. Why do most TV dramas, especially renewed shows, have to end on a cliffhanger? Do they think fans won't return in the fall? Is it against the writers code to end a season with a satisfying episode?

It’s a time-honored tradition to end on a cliffhanger to entice audiences to return.  They would do these in Saturday morning serials in movie theaters as far back as a hundred years ago.  

The thing is:  the audience has to really care.  Especially now that practically every show does a cliffhanger.   Writers of these shows naturally are really invested in them.  And it’s hard to think that audiences don’t share the same zeal for your show and characters as you do.  But in 90% of cases they don’t.  

Serialized shows are now the trend, but some shows, mostly on broadcast networks, are self-contained.  And there’s something satisfying about that.  

I say there’s room for both, but cliffhangers lose their punch when a show’s been on hiatus for so long you don’t even remember what the cliffhanger is.  

Mike Bloodworth queries:

Considering your drawing ability, have you ever considered combining your playwriting and illustrations in to sort of a "graphic novel " or comic book format? I'd read that.

Thanks.  I used to draw comic books when I was 13 (that no one read) and had a comic strip briefly in a local Woodland Hills newspaper when I was in High School.  But I’m not really a graphic novel fan, and the type of rendering is a very different style from mine.  So I’ll stick to single-panel cartoons and stage plays.  

And finally, from Bronson:

Hi Ken. Many people don't like to hear the sound of their own voice. Was that a problem for you as you developed your "on air voice?”

Good, bad, or indifferent, I don’t believe in developing an “on air” voice.  I wish I had a voice like James Earl Jones, but I believe a listener cares more about someone sounding genuine and is also more interested in the content rather than the voice itself.   Still, I wouldn’t mind having Morgan Freeman’s voice.  

What’s your Friday Question?

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

EP282: Double JEOPARDY

More with Suzanne Stone who spent 38 years working at JEOPARDY. This week we center on the contestant process, audience reaction to the various hosts, and miscellaneous categories. It’s the episode to hear if you want to get on the show and win $1.2 million (and who couldn’t use a spare $1.2 million?)

Get Honey for FREE at

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The problem with giving everyone a voice

Network pilots are subjected to research, part of which is Focus Groups.  It is here you learn that some nimrod doesn’t like your lead character because she wore red shoes.  Or she took too long folding a towel.  Recast at once! Now, with the internet and social media, everybody is a Focus Group participant.  And the results are, as expected, fucking stupid.  

Take, for example, one of the Facebook JEOPARDY fan groups.  These are some of the actual comments on why Mayim Bialik is not fit to be the host and must be removed immediately.  And I’ve spared you all the outrage over her egregious selection of wardrobe and eyeglasses. 

When she goes into commercial breaks, she holds the podium and moves her shoulders back and forth.

She pauses too many seconds to let everyone know if the answer is correct or not.

She is an actor and brings too much of that to the stage.

I wish she would stop the Shatner-like pause before she says, "That's right.”

Well, just make it easy to understand. She’s annoying and has a face for radio.

I almost lost it tonight watching jeopardy......she is so rude and HARSH with her...NO....response. so over her!!!

When she is finishing up with one contestant chat, saying that's great, etc. , she is already looking at the card for the next contestant. She is just not a natural.

So it’s not that has bad diction, reads the clues wrong, is ill-prepared, isn’t engaged with the contestants, is not in complete control of the stage — she moves her shoulders when going into a break.   It’s absurd.

And what’s even more absurd is that networks, studios, and producers make decisions partly based on this type of worthless input.   The solution of course is NOT to listen, not to take this nonsense seriously.   These people are only railing because they now have a platform.  Before it was just their scarecrows.  Let Mayim do her thing.  

NOTE:  This is a travel day for me so comments won't be posted until late into the day or evening.

Monday, July 04, 2022

4th of July memories

Since the 4th of July is a day to celebrate Americana and (in my case) a chance to sell some books for your summer reading, here are two brief excerpts from THE ME GENERATION… BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE ‘60s), my humorous/nostalgic/Pulitzer Prize ignored memoir of growing up during the California myth. You can get the Kindle version here. The paperback here. And the audio version (voiced by yours truly) here. It’s the perfect way to support this blog and relive happier times when corrupt politicians and the Supreme Court wasn't trying to destroy Democracy and Human Rights. 

July 4, 1964

Fortunately, we were back home from Hemet in time for Independence Day. They still had 4th of July parades in Woodland Hills. Not exactly lavish affairs -- a few Jaycee Booster Clubs, school marching bands (playing nothing but “Stars & Stripes Forever” and “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”), anyone who owned a horse, ice cream trucks, local dignitaries (“Hey, there’s Mr. Neider from Neider’s Auto Body!”), some elementary school classes, local politicians (“We have a councilman?”), and majorettes from as far away as Reseda. The twirling batons proved to be more dangerous to crowds than today’s maple bats.

But for me the REAL reason to stake out my spot on Ventura Blvd at Shoup Avenue was that the grand marshal was always Buster Keaton. Buster was probably 150 by then but still, there he was. Mostly forgotten today but Buster Keaton was a comic genius in the era of silent films and early talkies. His flair for physical comedy was so inspired that even today I don’t think there’s a single comic who can remotely touch him. If I couldn’t still see George Washington in person at least there was Buster Keaton.

I miss those parades. If you still have one where you live, go. Wave a flag. Cheer. Just duck when the baton twirlers go by.

July 4, 1967

We got a dog that summer. A poodle-terrier. My mother named her.


That name would not have been my choice. I don’t remember why we got a dog. We never had a pet before. But I was thrilled. And Babs turned out to be a fabulous dog and companion. If someone in the house were sick, she’d sit all day at the end of his bed. I worried that our family, unaccustomed to caring for pets might not take the best care of her – and my early fears were justified.

Our house was only two blocks from the Woodland Hills Park. On the 4th of July, they would shoot off fireworks. We always invited a few people over for a barbeque and fireworks show, comfortably viewed from our backyard. A neighbor was lying on a chaise lounge. He set his martini down on the ground. Babette approached and lapped up the entire contents in mere seconds. Ten minutes later she staggered out onto the lawn and passed out for twenty-four hours. We have a dog for one month and get her completely shit-faced. Nice.

Have a safe and sane 4th of July.


Saturday, July 02, 2022

Weekend Post

And you are under no obligation to say VOLUNTEERS. 

For me, some would be:

What is  THE GODFATHER Part 2?
What is NETWORK?
What is GUNGA DIN?
What is BANANAS?
What is ARTHUR?
What is DR. NO?
What is GIDGET?
What is STAR WARS?
What is CHARADE?
What is HUD?
What is HARPER?
What is DINER?
What is TOPPER?
What is THE STING?
What is BODY HEAT?

So what are some of yours? 

Friday, July 01, 2022

Friday Questions

Happy July 4th Weekend.  They’re going to need a new name for “Independence Day” now that they’ve taken away our independence.   Anyway, here are a few FQ to launch you in the holiday.

Kendall Rivers starts us off:

FQ: Always loved the Bar Wars episodes of Cheers. How did this initially come about?

NBC ordered one additional episode at the end of the 6th season.  They needed the script over the weekend.  So the Charles Brothers asked if we’d tackle it.

We met with them on Friday and worked out this Bar Wars story.  At the time we never thought of it as the start of a “series.”  

The plan was for us to turn in the script on Monday morning, the staff would polish it, and it would go into production that Wednesday.

Meanwhile, there were negotiations for a new WGA contract with producers.  They seemed to be going smoothly.   On Sunday evening we got a call from our agent saying negotiations had broken down and the Guild was going out on strike at midnight.   So we called Les and said have a messenger pick up the script NOW so we’d get it in under the wire.  And that’s what happened.

Indeed, the WGA did go out on strike that night.  Studios were allowed to produce scripts they had already received prior to the strike, BUT…

They could not rewrite them.  So our two-day dashed-off script was filmed word for word.  Needless to say, shooting night was terrifying.  I thought this was the night we’d be discovered as frauds.  Thankfully, the audience loved it and it came out well.  That said, it could have used a little polishing.  At the very least it would have been nice to have three days to write the script instead of two.  

From Theo:

Do you think critics (professional and armchair) have a tendency to be too hyperbolic these days? I wouldn’t mind seeing more objectivity and measuredness myself.

Yes.  I think they like to see their name and quotes in blurbs  for ads.  Makes them seem important, as if their opinion really matters.

However, there are still some great critics.  My favorite is Anthony Lane in the New Yorker.  Great perspective and very funny when he wants to be.

Jeff M. asks:

I entirely agree with you that THE HONEYMOONERS is an all-time classic, but its circumstances were utterly miserable (As a suburban kid I simply didn't believe people lived in apartments that dismal) and Ralph is definitely not a happy guy - at least, not happy with his lot in life. Anyway, what do you think keeps it out of the realm of the "sad-com" (ugh, that term)? Was it just that the jokes came fast and furious? Ralph and Alice's genuine affection?

THE HONEYMOONERS began as a recurring sketch on THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW.   It was very funny and caught on. CBS approached Jackie (who starred in it) about doing a half-hour series based on that sketch.  

They had several things going for it.  One was very good, very funny writing.  And the other was a spectacular cast.  Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, and Audrey Meadows were comedy gold — one of the best casts in any sitcom for the last 70 years.  And Joyce Randolph was fine.  

It was not a show about the hardships of lower middle class America — it was very much a comedy about striving for the American Dream.  And went for genuine laughs. 

And finally, from Adventures in Radio:

I found your blog post from some years back about the time you were a DJ when you got a call from the SLA, who had abducted Patty Hearst. Amazing story. So my Friday question is have you crossed paths with Hearst in the years since and if you did, did you tell her about that night?

Nope.  Never met her.  If I do I will definitely bring up that story.  It’s certainly a good ice breaker.  “Hey, your kidnappers got in touch with me when I was on the air.  Did they always listen to KYA?”

What’s your Friday Question?  Be safe this weekend.