Wednesday, September 20, 2017

My 2017 Emmy Review

Okay, here’s my bitchy snarky Emmy review. Enjoy.

It’s hard to believe that one off-stage voice could completely decimate an entire awards show but that’s what happened Sunday night when Jermaine Fowler took to the mic. This was like giving a squirrel a grenade. Note to the Academy: There are some things a PROFESSIONAL voiceover announcer should have – a decent voice, DICTION, a sense of decorum, and the ability to read. Things not needed: ad libbing, especially when you’re not remotely funny, showing favoritism, and screaming. Fowler was quite simply an embarrassment. He was the drunk uncle who copped a feel of the bride at her wedding.

I think most annoying was the favoritism, shrieking every black presenter’s name as if introducing a prizefighter.

How would it sound if I said, “Please welcome Cecily Tyson, Robert DeNiro, and NORMAN LEARRRRRR!

Next year please go back to Randy Thomas. And CBS, if you want to give one of your few diverse stars more exposure, let him host the friggin’ Orange Bowl halftime show.

This was that rare award show where the acceptance speeches were generally more entertaining than the host and comedy bits. Ironically, in a show that was very meta and self-aware, most of the speeches were really sincere, emotional, and heartfelt. Ann Dowd made ME choke up.

There have been worse Emmycasts. Notably 2005 when Donald Trump was a musical guest (a role he’s more qualified for than the one he’s in now).

And speaking of our beloved President, or, as the gals from 9-5 called him, “a sexist, egotist, lying hypocritical bigot,” (of course by then all the red states had tuned out and were watching football, or if that wasn’t bloody enough, the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War) Trump of course was the main target of Stephen Colbert’s opening monologue.

That’s pretty much become Stephen Colbert’s entire act. And Stephen, if you want to reach the general public, don’t do three Les Moonves jokes. Anyway, I thought he did a decent job of hosting but nowhere near as relaxed and funny as Jimmy Kimmel on last year’s Emmys (and this year’s Oscars). Well, Stephen did a decent job when Jermaine Fowler let him host. “Please welcome Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, and ANIKA NANI ROOOOOSSSSSEEEEE!!!!!!!”

The big surprise of Sean Spicer appearing in the opening monologue was met with blank stares and horror from the audience. Even Melissa McCarthy was not amused. I don’t care if he’s a good sport. I hate the son of a bitch. Who will they get next year? “Please welcome O.J. SIMMMMMPPPSSSSONNNNNN!”

Okay, more on the show in a minute. But first I must back up to the local KTLA Channel 5 “Live from the Red Carpet” show hosted by footstool to the stars, Sam Rubin and someone who doesn’t eat named Jessica Holmes. They’re always good for a few really idiotic moments.

Sam was asking Carrie Coon about getting ready for the evening. “Did you start at 7 this morning?” he said. Smoooooth.

Jessica followed by saying to Carrie: “People say you’re a very good crier. Is that a learned skill? Or are you naturally good at it?”

Sam to Matt Walsh: “You have a book coming out.” Matt to Sam: “No, I don’t.” Great preparation. Sam asked to see Matt’s acceptance speech if he won. He took a folded piece of paper out of his jacket and Sam was absolutely gobsmacked. “Ohmygod! It’s HAND written!!!”

Later Sam was interviewing Jane Fonda and gushed over how hilarious Lily Tomlin was. Has he ever MET a star before???

But my favorite exchange was when Sam said to Kathryn Hahn, “A BAD MOM’S CHRISTMAS is not nominated for an Emmy.” Kathryn then said, “It’s not a television show” and Jessica saved the moment by saying “But it could be.”

We miss you, Joan Rivers!

And now to the show.

I know it was subtle, but I think the theme this year was DIVERSITY.

Clearly the big winners were THE HANDMAID’S TALE, BIG LITTLE LIES, VEEP, SNL, and John Oliver. How many times has Bill Maher lost now? 30? 40? The Washington Generals, the team that plays the Harlem Globetrotters has more wins than Bill Maher. Of those shows, the ones I’ve seen are very deserving. Same with all the winners in all the categories. Voters got it right. Keep those screeners coming.

Next year of course, GAME OF THRONES will win all the drama awards.

That is if there IS a show. With all the reboots of series coming back, next year they could very easily just rerun the Emmy Award ceremony of 1995.

How big a deal are the Emmys? Even in Hollywood? In the Sunday Los Angeles Times CALENDAR section, there were no stories about the Emmys but there was a big one on the Toronto Film Festival.

Why was Oprah in the front row? Why does Oprah get a standing ovation? Margaret Atwood -- yes. Carol Burnett, Norman Lear, Cecily Tyson, even Lena Waithe -- sure. But Oprah?

Among the people thanked by winners: Winston Churchill and Webster.

Congratulations to John Lithgow. Yes, he’s a great actor, but more importantly, he was a terrific coach of my son’s little league team.

Oh yes, television embraces diversity. Carol Burnett received a standing ovation. However, when she made a sitcom pilot for ABC this spring that was hilariously funny and smart ABC didn’t pick it up.

And did you notice that when the president of the TV Academy was giving his speech on how excellent television is, CBS chose to run an ad for YOUNG SHELDON under him?

When they introduce presenters now they need to tell you what shows they’re on.

A lot of movie stars didn’t win (Robert DeNiro, Anthony Hopkins), which is shocking. Why do movie stars do television? Because otherwise they have to wait all the way till January to start winning awards.

Nicole Kidman won however. From now on they should start her “play off” music the minute her name is announced.

Women who looked gorgeous: Jessica Biel (she sure cleans up nice), Tatiana Maslany (in simple black), Sophia Vergara (in white Jessica Rabbit gown), Edie Falco (elegant in simple bright red), Kate McKinnon (I loved her tearful speech), and many others who didn’t get on camera so they don’t count.

This year they didn’t even bother to announce the Creative Arts winners. But we sure needed that lame bit where Stephen Colbert was interviewing RuPaul as “Emmy.” Or the screen time that Jermaine Fowler received so we could watch him mangle promos. Y’know, Jermaine, you should really sign up for “Hooked on Phonics.”

Kate McKinnon got played off just as she thanked Hillary Clinton. Was Sean Spicer cuing the music?

And how come they cut Sterling K. Brown’s speech short but let Nicole Kidman babble on forever?

In light of recent events, security was very tough. Anna Chlumsky’s dress had to go through the metal detector eight times. For actors it was the first time they didn’t get to go through TSA pre-check. Just the thought of Nicole Kidman standing in a long line tickled me.

And when Nicole complains that there are so few good roles for women, that’s partly because she takes them all.

I was applauding Alec Baldwin’s win until he said, “What we do is important.” This is the medium that gives us DATING NAKED.

But for all the hyperbole no one came close to Diane English the year she declared that MURPHY BROWN was the greatest sitcom of all time.

Tessa Thompson looked like she was wearing the NBC Peacock.

Writers always give the best speeches. Lena Waithe, who is the first African-American woman to win a Best Comedy Writing Emmy was eloquent and funny and did it in a third of time it took Nicole Kidman to thank her management team. (Lena co-wrote the episode with Aziz Ansari.) Donald Glover was witty and classy. And Dave Mandell of VEEP had the funniest speech of the night. It was actually funnier than the opening monologue. And leave it to a Jewish writer to begin his speech with “I’m out of a job.”

At 93 Norman Lear is amazing. He looked younger than the women from 9-5.

What was that blazer/mini skirt Reese Witherspoon was wearing? She looked like the first hooker to graduate from Wharton.

How does BLACK MIRROR win for Best TV Movie when it was Season 3, Episode 4 of a TV drama? (Thanks to my son-in-law for pointing that out.)

RuPaul’s checkerboard suit was the perfect look … if you’re a jester.

Can ANYONE remember last year's Best TV Movie winner? And that includes the winners themselves.

Sarah Paulson even looked beautiful wrapped in tin foil (thus bringing new meaning to Reynolds Wrap).

Hooray for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who’s won six straight times for her role in VEEP. She’s FUNNY.

I’m sure the producers of GRACE AND FRANKIE are breathing a sigh of relief. Both Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin were up for Best Actress in a Comedy. If either one had won while the other lost you could hang meat in that sound stage for the next year.

Christopher Jackson’s rendition of “As” was a lovely complement to the “In Memoriam” segment. And Mary Tyler Moore turning out the lights was the perfect poignant ending. However, this was the first time I ever cheered when I saw a name in the “In Memoriam” feature. Roger Ailes. Yeah, I know. I’m a horrible person but “see ya.”

Debra Messing looked fabulous, but why wear that Glad bag? Just cause it matched the color of your hair?

The WESTWORLD parody was very funny… if you watch and know WESTWORLD… which is like 10% of the audience.

Dolly Parton should host next year’s Emmys.

Proof that comedy is still considered a second-class citizen: the Best Comedy award was not presented at the end of the night as it usually is. This year it was given out before half a dozen drama awards.

A dolphin could jump through Heidi Klum’s hoop earrings.

John Oliver mentioned “seat fillers.” The people in the first ten rows you don’t recognize are called “seat fillers”. When the seat fillers have to go to the bathroom they’re replaced by the “nominated writers”.

Kathryn Hahn wore a sheer gown with big black dots. She looked like a game of Othello.

Elisabeth Moss got bleeped. From what I understand she thanked her mom for teaching her that “you can be kind and a fucking badass.”

Stop trying to do funny bits while introducing the accountants. They never work. You’d think after the Oscars the accountants wouldn’t want to be introduced.

Riz Ahmed was riveting in THE NIGHT OF. He beat out Robert DeNiro and deservedly so. In his speech he gave a shout-out to the South Asian Youth Action and the Innocence Project, and as he was walking off Jermaine Fowler chimed in “And a shout-out to Oprah.” I think I would have preferred Sean Spicer as the offstage announcer.

Jessica Lange is starting to look like a female impersonator.

When presenter Seth McFarlane came out with that patented smug expression I thought, “uh oh, what now? Another delightful song about tits?” It had to be something. I was right. He read the nominees in different cartoon voices. Yeah, if I’m a nominee and this is my only moment in the spotlight I want my name announced by the FAMILY GUY dog.

It’s hard to believe that one building, even one as cavernous as the Microsoft Theatre could hold the egos of both Seth McFarlane and Oprah.

Scary moment when Cecily Tyson froze while presenting. But God bless her, she recovered, and Anika Nani Rose was masterful covering for Ms. Tyson. She handled the moment with grace and ease. That, ladies and gentlemen (and Jermaine Fowler) is a PRO.

Vanessa Bayer wore the tablecloth from our Passover seder. .

When I saw Titus Burgess in his gold blazer, I expected him to take ticket stubs and show people to their seats.

Shannon Purser must’ve stolen the Jolly Green Giant’s outfit.

As deserving as all the nominees were, I still think THE MIDDLE, THE GOOD FIGHT, and THE AMERICANS deserve Emmy love. And bring back Randy Thomas.

Again, congratulations to all the winners. Happily, I know what you’re going through. It’s an amazing experience to win an Emmy. And just think – we now have one, but Donald Trump doesn’t.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Emmy ratings are in

Big surprise! Emmy ratings were incredibly low Sunday night. By the way, tomorrow I will be posting my Emmy review, but again, if you want to hear it right now just go to my podcast. A click of the big gold arrow will do it. Or iTunes or your podcast app. Hollywood & Levine.

But back to the ratings. Only 11.4 million people watched the back-slap-athon. The last MASH episode drew over 100 million people. I know – apples and oranges, but the point is those 100 million people are out there.

So now the question about the near record low ratings: How come?

The obvious answer is that no one has seen any of these Emmy winning shows. Or in many cases, even heard about them. And that’s not to say that they’re not totally deserving of their wins. The shows selected were excellent. But study after study shows that the vast majority of the country doesn’t know they exist. They’re on delivery services many people don’t have (or don’t want to have because of the cost), and in such a crowded marketplace it’s almost impossible to get noticed above the din.

I guarantee you this: If these shows did not send screeners to every TV Academy member, and if there was not good word-of-mouth within the community, most of them would never get a sniff from Emmy. If Hulu had to rely on TV Academy voters finding, subscribing, and watching THE HANDMAID’S TALE (even though it’s from a popular book) on their own, their outstanding series would be overlooked. And that’s people IN the television industry. So imagine folks who aren’t.

And if you haven’t seen the shows you have no rooting interest. Part of the fun of award shows is handicapping the winners, entering pools, and cheering on your favorites. The Oscars are having a similar problem. Oscar contenders play in art houses. They’re also a certain “kind” of film. And most moviegoers don’t make the effort, don’t have access, or don’t give a shit.

So that’s factor number one.

People will contend that the Trump bashing turns off viewers. Yeah, well, I tend to think these are the same people who wouldn’t watch THE HANDMAIDS TALE or BIG LITTLE LIES even if they were on FOX News.

Competition is also a factor. Last night’s Emmycast competed with a Sunday night NFL game (although that turned out to be a blow out) and the launch of the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam on PBS. You might say, “So what? PBS?” Well, think about it. The audience that would watch the shows nominated for Emmys are probably the same people who would be interested in a compelling documentary on the Vietnam War.

I also contend that we now have award show fatigue. There are so many of them, and some of them overlap, that it has severely tarnished the “event” status that big award shows used to have. Remember, for many years there were the Oscars and the Emmys and that’s it. Not even the Golden Globes were televised live.

And finally, how many of them have been bad? In desperate attempts to attract audiences (especially younger viewers) producers are employing “Hail Mary” stunts. Case in point: Last night’s Emmycast had Jermaine Fowler serve as the off-stage announcer. It was an abject failure and for many, ruined the entire show. (Much more about that in my bitchy review.) You can just smell the desperation and fear. And it’s uncomfortable. Audiences can sense it.

I suspect next year’s show will do better. GAME OF THRONES will be eligible. And maybe we’ll have a new president. And if THIS IS US wins the following year the ratings will grow even more. But that could mean 15 million instead of 11.4. On the one hand that’s a big increase, and on the other – big whoop.

Monday, September 18, 2017

EP38: Ken’s Bitchy Review of the 2017 Emmys

Ken reviews the 2017 Emmy Awards ceremony in his delightfully unique snarky (but accurate) way.   Written and posted only hours after the annual self-love fest, Ken weighs in with his humorous take.  Totally objective even though he’s bitter he didn’t win an Emmy this year.   Also, the announcement of the Cheers script contest winner! 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Up shortly

The Emmy review podcast will be up shortly.  We're working on it.  Keep checking back.  Thanks.

Congratulations to ALL the Emmy winners

A reminder, my review of last night’s Emmy Awards can be accessed by going to my podcast. The easiest way to listen is to just click on the big gold arrow under the masthead. But if you’re reading this on your smart phone, a) you have good vision, and b) there are podcast apps and it’s available on iTunes. Later in the week I will post the written version here on the blog.

But today I’d like to focus on the deserving Emmy winners you never see – the Creative Arts Emmys. They’re never televised because Allison Janney will never win an Emmy for set design. America doesn’t want to see wardrobe people or boom mic operators. Hell, they don’t know half the actors that win Emmys these days, much less crews.

Still, it’s a shame these very talented behind-the-scenes artists (and they are artists) never get the recognition they deserve. Their award ceremony was held a week ago in relative obscurity. A few actor categories are announced, but several of the winning actors didn’t bother to show. God forbid they should break bread with the people who do their hair and make-up.

What makes it worse -- almost criminal -- is that on the televised show last night, the Creative Arts winners were never mentioned.  Not even in a crawl.  Like we needed more time to see Jermaine Fowler destroy the telecast with his atrocious announcing.  

I always thought it would be a good documentary or TV special to take a hit series and show how the sausage is made. Go backstage and learn what these various people do. Some of the most dedicated workers of any show are members of the crew. Wouldn’t you like to actually see how shows are edited? Or how the sets are designed? Or how the camera guys on multi-cam shows move around while the scene is playing out and somehow land in the right spot to get the desired shot? Not that reality show host isn’t a talent that deserves to be celebrated before a national TV audience, but these crew members contribute as much or more than the people who are in front of the camera. Sorry Heidi Klum, they do.

Everyone thinks Julia Louis-Dreyfus has a lot of Emmys (including one last night). There are sound guys who have twice as many. It’s a shame that in many cases the only time their faces fill the screen is when they’re in the In Memoriam segment.  And even then they usually share the screen with another crew member or they're in the background as the camera centers on the singer. 

So today I pause from my snark and bitchiness to offer a sincere congratulations to the Creative Arts winners and for your ceremony, I hope you didn’t have to pay for your own dinner.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Roll out the red carpet again

The Primetime Emmy Awards are tonight. And as usual, I will be filing my bitchy review. This jaded view of the ceremony is usually the result of not winning one myself this year (even though I had nothing to put up for nomination, but that’s a technicality) and let’s get real -- the shows are usually snark-worthy. The categories are so screwed up that CRIMINAL MINDS might win Best Comedy.

But there’s one difference from years past. Instead of posting the review Monday morning in my blog I will be recording it and posting it as my podcast. That podcast episode should be available tomorrow morning. Later in the week I will post it on the blog, but if you want to hear while the show is still fresh in your mind, you’ll have to check out the podcast.

How do you do that? Many ways. iTunes has it. So do most podcast apps. You can also click here. Or, just scroll up until you find the big gold arrow and click on it.

So why am I doing it this way? To get more listeners, silly. Do you know how hard it is to build a podcast audience if you’re not famous or have a murder to solve? You do what you can.

And along those lines, on the Emmy review episode I will announce the winner of the autographed CHEERS script I am giving away. Thanks again to everyone who entered the contest. By the way, it’s a script from the first (and best) season. Picture the excitement of when they crowned an American Idol during that show’s heyday. But this is better. No Randy Jackson.

Good luck to all the nominees. Especially for the shows I’ve heard of.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

I love Desi (and Lucy)

This is truly great.  Thanks to reader Honeycutt Powell for finding it.  (I originally gave the wrong reader credit.  Oops.  Sorry about that.)  It's the 5th annual Emmy Awards.  And at the time there were no Emmys for writing.  Thank you Lucy and Desi.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Questions

For you Friday Question fans:

Samantha leads off:

I'm curious about the way you would go about writing a spec for a Netflix or Amazon show. I've read scripts for Master of None, Flaked, and Transparent, and they don't call out the act breaks within the script. So, when writing a spec of a Netflix or Amazon show, should you call out the act breaks or should you follow the standard formatting for a TV show?

No, I wouldn’t show act breaks.   If you have a script of the show you're spec'ing just follow that.


In constructing your story I would have act breaks. There are act breaks in every movie. You just don't see them.   It’s just good storytelling. Build to a crisis point (or two) and then resolve. Just because you don’t break for commercials doesn’t mean you should toss out sound dramatic structure. Best of luck with your spec.

Douglas Trapasso has another Amazon/Netflix question.

Do you think that the decision process at the Hulus and Amazons and Netflixes will become equally convoluted over the next few years? Or do you think writers will enjoy more creativity there?

Well, it’s what I would hope at least. But so much depends on who’s in charge. And often times as these delivery services grow they feel they can exert more control.

At the moment, yes, people I know doing shows for those organizations say there’s much less interference at Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu than at a broadcast network.

But five years from now, who knows? The equation could flip. Broadcast networks, in an attempt to attract A-list talent, might offer more freedom than Netflix and Amazon. (I sort of doubt it however.)

The trade-off for writers is usually creative freedom or bigger paycheck. More and more writers are opting for the freedom, especially since the networks are so ham-fisted in their interference.

Wait. ANOTHER Netflix question? This one is from Brian Phillips.

Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are now becoming players in the original content market, just like the big three (then-four, then-five) in broadcast TV. Is pitching a comedy to them any different?

I haven’t pitched to them so I have no personal experience. Friends of mine who have say it’s very similar. It’s just that what they’re looking for is different than broadcast networks.

But by and large, pitching is the same. You pitch the premise, characters, tell why your show is great, have story areas prepared, make 'em laugh if you can, and be ready to answer questions.

And finally, a non-Netflix question from James.  (Get with the program, James!)

I am thinking about writing a sitcom that for a particular star - kind of like Curb Your Enthusiasm in that the actor is playing a fictionalized version of himself. Would this be a good idea to help get an agent or get noticed, or do you have to have ties with the actor that you want to use?

That would be a very bad idea. Unless you have the actor attached don’t go anywhere near that idea. Not to say that in your head you can't have prototypes of certain actors even though you know you’ll never get them, but they must play fictional characters, not versions of themselves.

In general, gimmick pilots are not well received.

Agents and studios and networks and producers want to see ORIGINAL material. Create your own world and pilot. Best of luck.

What’s your Netflix, I mean FRIDAY Question? Leave it in the comments section. Thank you.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

SURF'S UP follow up

This is a follow-up to the two articles I did last week where I posted a ten-minute one-act play I wrote for a one-day play festival and followed it up the next day with my process. I received a Friday Question that became an entire post.

It is from Cheryl Marks.

I'm interested how long it took you to get to the "start," that is, to settle on the scenario and the relationship? (I immediately flashed on your talented daughter, Annie, and you and the "flip" seemed quite appropriate.) 

And then, once you started writing did you have to go back and revise any of the premise? 

And lastly did you have any feelings of despair or the sense that you should scrap the whole thing and start again?

In this case about forty-five minutes to settle on the premise. I never want to rush through that part of the process because if your premise doesn’t work the rest of the exercise becomes a nightmare.

What I always do is bat around several premises. And see where they go.

It’s not enough to just have an idea, you need to see if it has legs.

Allow yourself the freedom to really riff. Explore various options. What if the daughter wants to drop out and go around the world? What if this is the third harebrained idea Dad has had? What if the daughter wants to move back to New York to be with her mother? What if Dad is a school teacher and can’t face the prospect of another full year?

Don’t just go with your first idea. It’s worth the daydream time to settle on the “best” idea.

Once I start writing I always leave open the possibility that I may have to make adjustments along the way. That way I let the characters guide me and I follow their lead, and sometimes they take me to unexpected places.

When that happens I’m left with two options. Follow the new path. Or stop, go back, throw out the recent section, and start again down the original path. You have to be willing to throw stuff out. You have to be willing to stop, say: “Ugh! That sucks.” Believe me, I go down a lot of these blind paths through the course of writing full-length plays. I keep a discard file and for a 90 page script I might have 40 pages I threw out. But it’s all part of the process.

In the case of SURF’S UP, it seemed to fall into place. But that’s THIS TIME. Next time when I do the exercise again it might be a whole different story. So I never had that feeling of despair, but it happens. Sometimes you just have to power through it. The problem could be that you’re too close to it and have lost objectivity and it’s not nearly as bad and you think it is. And then sometimes it is a piece of shit and deserves to be thrown in a drawer never to be seen again.

Hope that answers your questions. I find the writing process fascinating. No two writers have the same process. But then, no two writers write the same thing. (Well, that does happen but then one of the writers is sued.)