Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Never use me to demonstrate your product

…if there is any technology involved. Seriously, if you're unveiling a new gadget with a big presentation don't have me on stage to show it off.   It will malfunction then blow up.  In a past life I must’ve stolen Steve Jobs’ lunch money or something. The wonders of science don’t seem to work on me. I watch the movie HER and think, if it was me, right in the middle of my first steamy cyber sex with "Samantha" she would suddenly start speaking Urdu and I would have no way of readjusting the settings.

Some examples:

I recently upgraded to the new iPhone 5S, the one with the spiffy thumb print feature. In theory, once you’ve set it up, you just press your thumb on the home button and it turns on your phone. Half the time it doesn’t work. Siri pops up. Or the phone says “try again,” (which I do unsuccessfully two more times). If someone lifts my phone I bet it will work for his thumb.

I use something called Twitterfeed. The idea here is that every time a new blog post goes up it’s supposed to send out one Tweet and one status update to my Facebook page. Depending on the day it sends out either zero, one, two, or three Tweets – sometimes within seconds of the posting and most times randomly scattered over two hours – and doesn’t post on Facebook at all. I’ve tried to go in and fix it. No luck.

My GPS is supposed to show me freeway traffic. When it feels like it, occasionally, it does. When I need to see it to gage a certain trip, it never works.

My Bluetooth only works in the car when I don’t have to make a call.

There are times “closed captioning” just appears on my TV for no reason.

I tried to watch a “Pay Per View” movie and needed 4 ½ hours to download it.

My Kindle doesn’t sync.

My DVR refuses to delete an episode of THE NEW GIRL.

But the greatest example of what I call Y2Ken is this:

I attempted to upload my latest book, MUST KILL TV (available here) on Amazon. This is an incredibly simple and easy process. They walk you through the steps – you upload this file and that, set up pricing, etc. – and a day later your book is ready to go. During the process there are a couple of places where you click “save so far.” Easy enough. I get to the first one, click it, and the internet crashes. I kid you not.

So I call TWC and a recorded message tells me “Internet service is out for the entire Westside. We don’t know why but engineers are working on the problem. “ I know why.

A couple of hours later the internet returns. I return to the task at hand. First off, nothing was saved so I had to begin the entire process again. I get to “save so far,” click it, and all is well. I negotiate the next few steps, arrive at another “save so far,” click it, and power for the entire neighborhood goes out. I swear, this is a true story.

We were without electricity for four hours. Finally, at 11 at night – 12 hours after I began what should be a five-minute process – I successfully uploaded MUST KILL TV. I apologize to everyone in my zip code for the inconvenience.

I’m going to stop just short of saying there’s a conspiracy. But I tried to download a podcast that offered tips on how to coexist with the new technology and it crashed my computer.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

R.I.P. Tony the Tiger

I was shocked and saddened to learn that Lee Marshall, who, among things, was the current voice of Tony the Tiger (Thurl Ravencroft was the original) , died over the weekend. He was only 64. Lee and I were friends for over forty years. We met while both working at the KiiS Broadcasting Workshop, a stop neither of us placed high on our resumes.

For a guy with the voice of God, Lee was the most humble, unassuming person you’ve ever met. Much of his time was devoted to charitable causes and paying it forward. Just a few months ago I spoke at the class he was teaching in voice over at Cal State Lutheran Thousand Oaks. Watching him coach those kids and bring out their best I found myself more impressed with what he said rather than how amazing he sounded saying it.

I always got the sense that Lee really enjoyed life. No one laughed more (a laugh that could shake a room), no one threw himself into every project the way Lee did, and no one appreciated his good fortune as much as Lee.

The voice over world is pretty cutthroat. When someone gets a coveted assignment it’s not unusual for his competition to quickly join in a chorus of “that son of a bitch… how did he get it?... You gotta be kidding me. Him?” And yet when Lee won the role as Tony the Tiger, all of his colleagues were genuinely happy for him. Talent-wise they knew he deserved it, and he was such a nice guy they just couldn’t hate him. I’m sure that was very frustrating.

Prior to his successful voice over work, Lee worked in radio for many years. He was part of the famous (or infamous) CKLW 20/20 news team in the late ‘60s – maybe the most over-the-top outrageous radio newscast ever. Later he worked at stations in Phoenix, San Diego, New York, and Los Angeles.

Here’s an example of Lee’s work, taken from a KRIZ, Phoenix reunion.

Later he became the voice of World Championship Wrestling, logging hundreds of thousands of miles commuting weekly to Atlanta. I’m surprised there’s not a statue of him at the Delta terminal.

But for the last twenty or so years he lived on the beach in Oxnard, California, programmed an oldies station for baby boomers in Ventura, wore Hawaiian shirts, voiced national commercials, taught college, and brightened the lives of everyone who knew him.

R.I.P. Lee. You will live in my heart and ears forever.

Monday, April 28, 2014

It's pilot season! Oh boy!

This is that two week window when the pilots for potential fall shows have been completed and turned over to the networks for consideration, analysis, and second guessing.

The ultimate decisions will be made next week in New York. Why New York? Because that’s where Madison Avenue and the advertising dollars are.  Follow the $$$.

Meanwhile, there’s a famous saying in television. Everything turns to shit over Mississippi.

What does that mean? Network executives originally screen the pilots in Los Angeles. They decide whether they like them and whether it's safe to tell anyone that they like them. Rumors start to swirl. Frontrunners, dark horses, and dogs emerge. The trades and industry websites dutifully spread every rumor they hear regardless of the source.  An NBC page is considered a "reliable source." 

Working on false hope, creators are taking meetings with writers trying to get a jump on selecting a staff. Three weeks later they’ll be meeting producers when their can’t-miss pilot just did.

The pilots are shipped off to be audience tested. And then the executives wing east. Somewhere over the great heartland word comes back that none of the frontrunners tested well. Or on second thought, certain executives that liked a particular pilot don’t anymore (i.e. they gave it to their kids and their kids didn’t like it). By the time the plane lands the once “lock” is now dead.

Executives huddle with sales and marketing people, maybe a board member or two. Show creators, their studios, and agents fly to New York for a week of damage control, wheeling and dealing, and PIPPIN.

More rumors. You can’t keep up with them. Shows on “the schedule” at 10 are dead at 11, revived at 12 when the producers promise to recast, dead again at 1 when they can’t cast Russell Crowe as per the network’s request, back on the schedule at 2 when the studio lumps the show into a package deal along with another show the network definitely does want.

This goes on for every show for five days. Stars the networks courted a month ago and promised the moon, now get tossed aside like last night’s dirty dishwater. Mary Louise Parker is a God… until 40 cretins in a focus group decide she has a funny mouth and her project is kaput.

For all concerned it’s waterboarding except you get to see a Broadway show at night.

Sometime the end of this week, beginning of the next, things will start to fall into place. Commitments will be honored, cast members the network likes will be lifted from shows that aren’t going to go and inserted into ones that are. And most important – license fees will be negotiated. That’s the dollar amount networks give to each show to produce their series. If an episode costs more than the license fee it is the studio on the hook for the rest. Here again is when frontrunners die and dark horses blaze around the final turn.

So many variables. Are you compatible with your lead in? Did your stars test well? If flawed, is it worth picking up but recasting, re-shooting, or replacing all the writers with other writers who were replaced from other shows?

The key is not to let the rumors drive you insane. You need to save that nervous breakdown for when your show does get a series order.

Best of luck to all. Remember, there are a lot of bars in New York. And PIPPIN is really good from what I hear.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A tribute to WINGS

Hard to believe but it’s been 24 years since WINGS premiered on NBC. I was with that show for most of its run as a one-night-a-week creative consultant (“We need a Fay joke, hotshot!”). My partner David and I also wrote six or eight episodes (including the one where Frasier and Lilith come to Nantucket), and I got my first directing assignment on WINGS as well.

WINGS was created by Peter Casey, David Lee, and David Angell. They would later go to create FRASIER. For whatever reason WINGS never got the respect it deserved. How much so? The only acting Emmy nominations it received were for Kelsey Grammer and Tyne Daly. None of its actual cast members were recognized. And that was a terrific cast. Steven Weber, Tim Daly, Tony Shaloub, Thomas Hayden Church (who later got an Oscar nomination so I’m not crying for him), Crystal Bernard, Rebecca Schull, Amy Yasbeck, and the hilarious David Schramm.

WINGS was supposed to be a Fall show but the producers had a bitch of a time casting it. They wanted really special people, and faces you hadn’t seen on seventeen other shows. As I recall, the hardest one to cast was Helen. In any event, production of the pilot got pushed and the show premiered very late.

I remember the week of the pilot (beautifully directed by Jim Burrows) our big hurdle was explaining how Helen, who had grown up on Nantucket with the Hackett brothers, had a Texas accent.

Some great comedy writers were involved with WINGS. Dave Hackel who went on to create BECKER, Steve Levitan who later created JUST SHOOT ME and then reunited with another WINGS alum Christopher Lloyd to create MODERN FAMILY. Other WINGS writers went to on become show runners of MURPHY BROWN, THE CLOSER, and one now lives on a boat!

WINGS was shot on Stage 19 at Paramount, which is cavernous. They needed a big stage to accommodate an airport hanger, terminal, and any additional sets. Trivia side note: We shot the pilot of ALMOST PERFECT on that stage and since we had no budget for sets, for Nancy Travis’ house we just repainted Helen’s house set. It was either that or say she lived in a plane.

Ratingswise, WINGS did okay but was never a breakout hit. Ironically, once it went to cable (seen twelve times a day on USA), ratings for the first-run episodes on NBC went way up. More people were discovering the show.

For my money, WINGS holds up better than most sitcoms over the last 20 years. It is a very funny show. The stories are clever, the jokes are sharp, and the performances are top notch. WINGS doesn’t feel dated.

In the final episode all of the writers are used as extras. I’m in one scene sitting in the terminal. My agent says that’s not enough for a full reel but that’s just him being lazy.

I’m as proud to say I worked on WINGS as I am to say I worked on CHEERS and FRASIER. I even still wear the show jacket. Happy 24th!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Disney imagines the Jetsons

This is from a 1958 Disney show predicting what transportation would be like today. They got the GPS system and rearview TV cameras right. The air conditioned tubes through Death Valley, and driving under the ocean -- maybe next year. Their most extraordinary prediction is that at any one time there would only be four cars on the road. Anyway, it's great fun to watch.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday Questions

Is it Friday already?

Allan V has a Friday Question:

You recently answered a question about why some sitcoms are filmed multi-camera and others, single. What do the actors themselves think of multi vs. single, and which setup do they tend to prefer working with?

Some actors are uncomfortable playing in front of an audience. Others thrive on that. So it really depends.

For the most part, the production schedule is way easier for multi-camera shows. You rehearse during the day for three days, there’s camera blocking and maybe some pre-shoots so day four can be ten hours (although usually it's six or seven), and then shooting day is about ten hours. And after every third episodes you get a week’s hiatus.

Single camera hours tend to be 5:00 AM to whenever, every day. There’s also night shooting. So it can be quite a grind.

But I think if you polled actors, most would say they’d rather be on a good, well-written, hit show no matter format it’s in.

And along those lines, Pete asks:

It's easy for audiences to turn on a new TV show and quickly decide, "Wow, this is terrible." But do actors, writers, crew members, etc. on a bad show also realize it from the start? If so, does it affect the mood on the set? Or is everyone so excited (or in the very least, grateful for paying work) that they just ignore the show's flaws?

If an actor really hates the material going in, he should have passed on the project. And if he takes it anyway because of the money then who cares what he thinks?

Most actors, writers, everybody set out to do a good show. Often times things get derailed, there are unforeseen personality conflicts, or the folks involved don’t have the chops to fix the inevitable problems. (And I include everybody because a bad actor can pull a show down just as easily as a bad writer.)

But generally, everybody starts off a project with high hopes. Even questionable ones, because you never know? Did the cast of ALF really think going in that that show would be so successful? So there’s a lot of wishin’ and hopin’.

When you start producing your show you’re in a protective bubble because it hasn’t aired yet and you haven’t gotten feedback. Once reviews come out and the first numbers are in, that can kill morale fast. Reality can be a bitch.

I’ve seen very happy casts turn sour in one day. Bad reviews can poison the atmosphere, even if the reviews aren’t justified. And low numbers can cause deep depression.

Among the many things I so admired about the CHEERS cast was that in year one, when our numbers were atrocious, they still believed in the show and still maintained their enthusiasm and optimism. That wasn’t easy to do. Not when you’re getting your ass kicked by TUCKER’S WITCH.

But my heart goes out to actors who find themselves on bad shows and have to keep slogging through crappy material week after week.  That has to be tough on the psyche and soul.  

The Bumble Bee Pendant wonders:

Do you keep a notebook next to your bed or in your pocket for ideas, jokes, thoughts, etc. If you do, how often to you flip through these for ideas?

I used to keep a pad, but now I just send a text to myself. From there I get very old school. I have a big manila envelope that I store all ideas, fragments of ideas, shreds of fragments of ideas, possible characters, pilot ideas, movie, play, and musical notions. It’s like when you see someone go to their tax accountant with a big bag of miscellaneous receipts.

Some notions have been in there for twenty years. Others have come to fruition over time. Occasionally I’ll have an idea that still has a missing element and a couple of years later I’ll drop another idea into the folder and realize, “hey, I could marry those two.”

But I’m always on the lookout for great ideas. And you never know when something or someone will trigger one. So keep handy some means of jotting down your ideas right when you get them. Because you’d be amazed how fast they disappear from your memory.

Usually, when I'm between projects I'll go through the envelope.  Most of my new projects over the years have come from that envelope.

I actually should have two envelopes.  One called GOOD IDEAS, and the other called WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?

And finally, from Ted O'Hara:

You came on to the staff as Gary Burghoff was cutting back to 13 episodes. Was it hard working around his schedule? Or was it 'Great, we don't need to find a bit for him this week'?

It was always harder to write MASH without Radar. His character added a lot and because he was the company clerk it was easy to work him into any situation. No one knew more about what was going on in the camp than Radar. Sometimes before it even happened.

Gary was also a great presence on the set, so on a personal level, I missed having him around.

I’m still honored that we got to write his final send off.  It was our final send off too. That teddy bear that he left on Hawkeye’s bunk, that was our teddy bear too.

Do you have a Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks. 

NOTE:  I'll be filling in for Marilu Henner on her syndicated radio show this morning.   And it will replay all weekend.  You can find it here.  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

My favorite new super power

I’ll be filling in for Marilu Henner again tomorrow on her nationally syndicated radio show. (You can hear it here.)  Marilu has this almost freakish ability to remember every day of her life in detail. I’ve tested her. She's the real deal.   I’ll pick a day out of the past – say the day my son was born – and she’ll instantly say, “That was a Tuesday. Election Day.” And then she’ll rattle off who was elected that day. (This was maybe a month ago and I’ve already forgotten who those election winners were.)

It’s called Supeior Autobiographical Memory, and it’s a legitimate thing. I know because 60 MINUTES once did a piece on it. (That’s how we determine legitimacy these days. INSIDE EDITION – I’m still iffy, 60 MINUTES – must be real, anything on FOX NEWS – not true.)

In the 60 MINUTES piece they found a number of people who have this skill/super power. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of ten of them identified (at least in the United States). They were all given MRI’s and it was determined that a specific portion of their brains was larger. In the case of the guys, their penises were bigger. (Okay, that was a joke but I just couldn’t resist.) But studying this phenomenon might unlock some of the mysteries of improving everyone’s memory or reversing Alzheimer’s Disease.

I asked Marilu the obvious questions. Is this ability a blessing or a curse? Can you still lose your keys? She said it was a blessing, like having her own private Google search engine. All of the other SAM people agreed. Except one. For her it was a curse because every bad or sad thing that ever occurred in her life never left her. Imagine being able to replay exactly how you felt when you were dumped, humiliated at work, or a loved one died? The expression “time heals all wounds” doesn’t apply.

But the others deal with that by putting the bad events in perspective and realizing they are surrounded by many good days. They can relive those too. The euphoria of first love, landing that big job, seeing VOLUNTEERS for the first time.

Leave it to television to take this fascinating skill and turn it into a goofy procedural (UNFORGETTABLE… original working title: THE REMEMBERER). “Wait a minute. He couldn’t be a Vegan. On Wednesday, August 3rd, 1976 I was on a nature hike with my church group and he jumped out of the bushes, killed Lenny Masterson, and started eating him.” “God, you’re amazing. How do you even remember that?”

Can you picture someone with this skill who is a habitual poster on Facebook? Throwback Thursday. “On March 18, 1983 I woke up at 7:15, put on my blue blouse that I got for my birthday on July 24, 1980 from my friend Marcy who hasn’t called since Sunday, November 4th, 2003, and had a bowl of Cheerios and milk that expired on March 21st. Then I took the 56 bus into town, arriving at…” You get the idea.  UN-friend. 

I personally think this would be a cool super power to have… until…

you got old.

Just imagine, being on your deathbed, knowing you only have a few precious moments left. You think back on your life. On September 16, 2014 you spent the whole afternoon reading through Ken Levine’s blog archives, on February 26th, 1998 you waited in line for two hours to see TITANIC, on April 16, 2016 you binge-watched every episode of UNFORGETTABLE. On June 8th, 2020 you went to the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

The moral here is simple.  Get out and make this a day worth remembering.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Do we need Linkedin?

I’m on Linkedin and I don’t know why. Someone suggested I join so I did. Maybe I was drunk that night. Thank God he suggested Linkedin and not meth. But for my purposes Linkedin is utterly useless.

In theory, it’s a social network disguised as a professional network. It will help you find jobs, survey applicants, and facilitate connections. And maybe it’s a godsend if you’re a lawyer or in some business-related profession. I don’t know any comedy writers who got staff work because thirty-five colleagues endorsed him as funny.

Endorsements are a key feature of the site. When I’m on Linkedin, boxes will pop up inviting me to endorse people for specific areas of expertise. Half the people I don’t even know. And they keep popping up day after day. “Please love me. Please love me.” If I see a friend pop up I will always endorse him for… whatever. It just takes one click.

In turn, people I’ve never met have endorsed me. Over a hundred people have endorsed me for Voice Over work. That’s very flattering considering I’ve never done Voice Over work. More people endorse me for that than screenwriting. Eighteen people endorse me for Adobe Audition. I don’t even know what that is. Eleven think I do a great job in Copywriting. I’ve never written one piece of copy in my life.

Only seven say I’m good in play-by-play, five praise me as a published author, and my sense of humor is endorsed by five. But forty-seven admire my video production. I don’t even know how to download a video production app.

But the best of all is that three people endorse me for Thai Massage. (Only three?)

Do employers really take this stuff seriously?

I have a friend on Linkedin, who as a goof, listed her profession as “farmer.” Sure enough, she has all these endorsements for bailing, irrigation, and cattle rustling.

Scrolling through the home page, the posts are more professional in nature than Facebook. Lots of links to articles and videos interwoven with blatant self-promotion, which is fine with me. Blatant self promotion is the only reason I’m ON social media. And Linkedin has its own version of cute cat pictures and adorable children photos. It’s called “quotes.” People share inspirational sayings like:

"You can neither win nor lose if you don't run the race." - Singer, David Bowie

“Failure will never overtake me if my determination to win is strong enough” ~Og Mandino

"Comparison is the thief of joy. " ~Theodore Roosevelt

Give me kittens hugging stuffed teddy bears.

The truth is, if Linkedin subscribers really believed any of that they’d be working instead of killing time scrolling through a social network.

But maybe that’s the saving grace of Linkedin. You can go on it at work and still feel like you’re engaging in a professional endeavor. I find the site interesting on a human behavior level. And I’m not so enamored that my massage clients complain that I’m late for appointments.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Checking in on MAD MEN

I found the key to enjoying MAD MEN this year!

The first few seasons I was blown away by it. The last couple of seasons were hit-and-miss. Mostly miss. And now I watch it because I’ve invested this much time into the series that I might as well see it through to the end. But I find I’m enjoying it more this season. So why? Are the storylines more compelling than in recent years? No. Are there surprising turns? No. It’s all pretty much more of the same. Don can't find happiness.  Pete is a dick.  Peggy's searching for her place in a man's world. Roger goes through life pickled.   Beenthere/donethat, beenthere/donethat, beenthere/donethat, beenthere/donethat. 

But here’s the big difference: my mindset. And if you’re disillusioned with MAD MEN too, I invite you to try this as well. Are you ready? Here we go:

Just think of MAD MEN as another show.

Simple as that. Don’t expect to be watching the most amazing drama you’ve ever seen. Don’t study each tiny moment and analyze each line for its hidden significance and major import. Don’t think you’re holding a mirror up to society. Don’t fret that the themes aren’t resonating and staying with you for days. Don’t feel guilty that your DVR is filling up with unseen episodes.

Just enjoy it. Just let the episodes unfold. It’s made a world of difference for me. Some storylines I find less interesting than others. So what? Last Sunday’s was not particularly spectacular. But it held my interest. I actually got a few laughs out of it.  Forty minutes well spent (I zap through the endless commercials).   Peggy is turning into a bitch, and I know steps are being painstakingly taken to explain why and how it’s the job and societal pressure on women, yada yada. Would I prefer the old Peggy? Should I examine my stance on workplace politics?  Whatever.  The new Peggy is adding conflict and that holds my interest. Good enough.

I doubt if I’ll be having many discussions around the water cooler this year. There is hidden meaning in almost every line that now goes cheerfully right over my head. I’m fine with that. I like most of the characters, I love the time period, the dialogue is always snappy, I appreciate the intelligence, there are some good tunes on the radio, and every so often we get a killer scene.

And I don’t need MAD MEN to be a great show. I have THE GOOD WIFE for that. I had HOUSE OF CARDS. I had TRUE DETECTIVES. ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK returns very soon. I’m getting my superb television fix.

And now that I approach MAD MEN with this new mindset, it is once again a show I look forward to watching. Give it a try.  The scene in the season premiere where New York native/gentile Pete was raving to Don about how amazing the Jewish delis are in Los Angeles was a riot!  You don't get that on NCIS: LOS ANGELES. 

Monday, April 21, 2014


I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy storytelling venues. Give me a personal yarn with humor over a stand-up routine on taxicabs any day. Recently, I decided to try participating myself. Other than running off stage at a Kiss concert, I have never done stand up, nor have I had the desire. If I want thirty drunks to love me I can just buy them another round. I don’t need to craft a five-minute set.

But storytelling is different. It has a beginning, middle, and end. It requires description, it allows you to share genuine emotion. And it can be very funny or poignant. I tell personal stories all the time in this blog, why not give it a shot in front of actual people? And like the blog, storytelling offers no real financial gain, so that has me written all over it.

Anyway, I submitted a piece to Sit ‘n Spin. This is a once-a-month storytelling night at the Hudson Theater in Hollywood that’s associated somehow with Comedy Central. (Trust me, I have no illusions of being “discovered”) The readers tend to be working writers and their stories usually range from hilarious to deeply moving. Not having enough depth for the latter I strove for the former.

Many of the stories I’ve heard are autobiographical so I adapted a section from my book on growing up in the ‘60s (THE ME GENERATION… BY ME – available here). I submitted the chapter about my sort of first girlfriend, Eleanor.

Happily, it was accepted and I made my maiden voyage last Thursday. I honestly did not know what to expect. I arrived at the theater dutifully an hour before the show. The other participants were all veteran readers – Jill Morley, Jeff Kahn, Ron Zimmerman, Claudia Lonow, and Taylor Negron. They also knew each other but made me feel very welcome. What struck me was how confident they all were. Completely at ease. They chatted, touched up their make up – this is how I imagine backstage at a strip club to be. An audience of a hundred people was expected but this fazed none of them. What this said to me was their stories must really be great. So I read over mine, suddenly second guessing every joke. They started glancing over theirs and wow, even their fonts were smaller. These folks had it down.

Jill, Ron, Taylor
Maggie Rowe, who runs the program, swept in offering pizza and drinks. She was followed soon after by fellow-reader Ron Zimmerman, now dressed in bloody rags with fake blood dripping off his face. And I was the only one who batted an eye. He casually asked if any of us had any hand sanitizer. Taylor Negron brought a guitarist. Did I under dress and under prepare for this? Was it too late to see if Cirque du Soleil was available?

We did a walk-through on stage. I was second up. I was assigned a music stand stage right. To get to it I would wait backstage in the corner until Jill Morely finished. There would be applause, the lights would dim, and I would go through the split in the side curtain and maneuver my way past some risers to my spot. When I was done, there would (hopefully) be applause, the lights would go down again, and I would exit the stage through the same curtain opening. Piece ‘o cake.

The show started. I took my position backstage. Jill read a very funny piece about receiving lesbian love letters from prison. She was getting good laughs. I felt relieved. This audience was responding to smart jokes about statutory rape.

Finally, she finished, there was enthusiastic applause, the lights dimmed, and I groped my way out to my waiting music stand. I was hit by a spotlight. AAAAGH! It occurred to me: I had never been hit by a spotlight before that wasn’t emanating from a police helicopter. I looked out at the audience and just saw blackness. I had no idea how many of them were on their phones or leaving.

I launched into my piece and thankfully started getting good laughs. Nothing relaxes you like laughter. In a few places they were laughing at straight lines. That’s when you know you’re scoring. I discovered where everyone’s confidence came from. When reading a personal story, who better than you delivering it?

I finished to warm applause, acknowledged with a nod, and the lights went out. This time they really went out. Not like the rehearsal. It was black. I staggered back to the curtain, somehow avoiding clocking myself on one of the risers.

I reached the back curtain but couldn’t find the opening. So I’m groping along, now terrified that the lights were going to come back up and there I will be on full display, spread-eagled, feeling my way along the curtain. What an exit that would be!

Fortunately, I found the slit and slipped through just as the lights went back up. Whewwwww!

I was so glad to get it over with early. I retreated to the dressing room. One by one the rest of the readers took their turns. We couldn’t really hear the performers backstage but we could hear the audience laughter. Everyone’s piece seemed to go well. The bloody rag guy, Ron, was supposed to be Jesus Christ. So I don’t think his essay was personal. Ron has one of the truly great inventive minds in the business.

We all ran out to take a curtain call. I hadn’t taken a curtain call since I was in the 8th Grade production of OKLAHOMA playing Curly in the dream sequence. Jill had to reach over and grab my hand. Oh, that’s right. Everybody holds hands. And bows. And acts humble. I have to say, the curtain call was the weirdest part of the night. I just don’t think of myself as a “performer.” When I had co-written that musical performed at the Goodspeed Theater I asked one of our stars, Andrew Rannells, what it feel like to be out there on stage feeding off the energy of the audience? He said, “Why don’t you just write yourself a part?” and I said, “Because I can’t sing, dance, or act.” But read my own words; that I can do. So the answer to my question to Andrew: it was very cool to feed off the audience’s energy. Cool enough that I plan to do it again in the future.

I have an idea for another story, but first I’ll have to see if Ron will loan me his rags and fake blood.

Thanks to Maggie Rowe, Jill, Jeff, Ron, Claudia, Taylor, and everyone at Sit ‘n Spin. You all made sure my story had a happy ending.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

This is very funny

This is Nina Conti, a very funny (and quite accomplished) ventriloquist. One of her bits is to take people from the audience and turn them into puppets. Here's an example. And for you trivia fans, she is actor Tom Conti's daughter.

Let's play JEOPARDY!

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?

So what are some of yours? 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

My TCA speech

My post on Thursday on why I really became a comedy writer prompted a number of readers to ask if I could share the acceptance speech I delivered at that TCA dinner.  Kind blogger that I am, I used that request to blackmail you into buying more copies of my book.  It worked.  So thanks very much, and here is the speech.  If you don't like it, please don't return the books.  

There were also a couple of ad libs that got laughs, but I don't remember what they were.  I know I made fun of some of the other acceptance speeches but don't recall the exact lines.  (Maybe Alan Sepinwall or Maureen Ryan or one of the other critics there that night does?)   All I know is Claire Danes laughed.   Here's what I said.

On behalf of Glen & Les Charles and Jimmy Burrows and all the writers and crew, I want to thank you for this prestigious honor. I was fortunate enough to be with CHEERS since the beginning and trust me, it meant a lot to us that you embraced our show initially. Critics were very important, especially since critics were the only people who watched the show. That first year, not only were we getting trounced by SIMON & SIMON, but something on ABC called TUCKER’S WITCH was kicking our ass.

But thanks to your support, and the fact that NBC had nothing else – which is kind of like today -- they decided to stick with us. Truly, it was us or PINK LADY & JEFF. (That won the TCA Heritage Award in 2006, didn’t it?).

But it was a great run. Who knew it would last eleven years? Who knew Woody would be the cast member to become a movie star? Who knew our modest little theme song would one day be used to sell auto insurance?

It was an honor to be associated with CHEERS. Writers from today’s shows tell me all the time how much CHEERS influenced them and then won’t hire me. But knowing I’ve inspired others, and will still get royalties long after their shows have been cancelled is satisfaction enough. (That got applause) So again, on behalf of the Glen & Les Charles and Jim Burrows, thanks so much. CHEERS is a great example that quality can ultimately win out, and that critics do make a difference.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday Questions

A whole bunch of 'em. What’s yours?

Johnny Walker starts us off:

Ken, of the many TV shows about the behind-the-scenes of television (e.g. The Dick Van Dyke Show, Buffalo Bill, The Larry Sanders Show, 30 Rock, something called "Almost Perfect" - whatever that is), which do you feel portrayed the trials, tribulations, stresses and strains of a real TV show most accurately? I.e. Which make you smart in recognition and go, "That's SO true"?

No contest. THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW. So realistic it was painfully funny. ALMOST PERFECT is second of course.  Okay... third. 

Cody asks:

Would you ever consider doing a drama that contained a fair amount of humor? 
Sure. If the right idea came along. I very much enjoyed writing the dramatic aspects of MASH. But still, there would be a lot of humor. I actually laugh more at certain dramas than I do current sitcoms. By far the funniest character on television in the last ten years is Dewey Crow from JUSTIFIED.

David Chase, by the way, always contended that THE SOPRANOS was a comedy.  I think that's stretching it, but there's room for humor in all dramas (except maybe CRIMINAL MINDS). 

Carol has a question based on the Friday Question a few weeks ago about profanity.

Do you think being handcuffed to not being able to use profanity, even when it would make sense to do so forced you to be even more clever with phrasing and jokes and things?

Absolutely. Our goal has always been to write jokes that are clever and elegant. It’s why you hire us and not kids on street corners.   There's a certain challenge to writing a joke that is both low and high road. 

From Mork. (Good to see you back on earth.)

Ken—what’s the cheapest thing you’ve ever seen a studio do?

I told this story before but it’s worth repeating.

From Angry Gamer:

Did you ever end up in a situation (script, outline etc) where the reviewer would reject the product but not give you any useful feedback? In my business we call this "polishing the rock"... you know where the guy says "not right" but can't tell you what is "right". (slushpile question probably :)

Yes. There was a network executive (who I’m very fond of) who used to give notes like “the script is here but needs to be here.” Or “you have the meat and potatoes, but it needs more dessert.”


We would turn in our rewrites and have no idea whether we satisfied the notes.  Much time was spent by me and David arguing over whether to include apple pie or lemon chiffon cake? 

And finally, from Frank from Campbell in NorCal:

I was talking to a friend who is a major M*A*S*H head and he said Gary Burghoff was the only actor to be in all iterations of M*A*S*H including the pilot of a show called Walter. Does that pilot exist in the You Tube world and did you have anything to do with it?

I don’t know if it’s available on line, but it was called W*A*L*T*E*R and was written by Everett Greenbaum and Elliott Reid. I had nothing to do with it.

Gary was also in the movie MASH and guested on AfterMASH.

Have a great Easter weekend.   


Getting close.  Only 5 more books have to be sold for me to post the speech from yesterday's essay.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why I became a comedy writer

A couple of years ago CHEERS won the heritage award from the Television Critics. Neither the Charles Brothers nor James Burrows were available to accept so I was asked to do so on their behalf at the big TCA Awards Dinner. It’s as close as I’m ever going to come personally to winning a TCA Award and there was alcohol so I said sure.

The event was held in the glittering Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hiltons, same venue as the Golden Globes. Same alcohol too. The place was packed. Lots of industry folks and cast members from your favorite high quality shows. Aaron Paul even remembered me from the pilot he did for us back in the ‘00s. And Jonathan Banks vaguely remembered I directed him in FIRED UP. (To be fair, he vaguely remembered FIRED UP.)

Louis CK was not there, which was very disappointing since I was assigned to the LOUIE table. Also absent was Morena Baccarin from HOMELAND, but the rest of the cast was there including Claire Danes. I love Claire Danes.

I had a prepared speech (it helps to know you’ve already won) and I just killed. I happened to glance down to the HOMELAND table and I could see that Claire Danes was laughing really hard. I was beyond thrilled. The thousand other people who were laughing including executives who could give me work or critics who could increase my stature? Fine, whatever, but Claire Danes was in stitches.

And as I walked back to my seat it occurred to me: I’m still 14. It was all about making the pretty girl laugh.

That’s why I got into comedy writing – to impress pretty girls. And I bet if most male comedy writers were being honest they’d say that’s why they got into the field too. It wasn’t the money, or the need to express themselves, it was having Claire Danes like me for 1:40 (I kept my speech short).

God, that's sad.  But ultimately rewarding.

If I could play football in high school I’d probably be selling plumbing supplies today. So do I have regrets? My awkward teenage years led me to where I am today. So no. Except for one. Why didn’t I take up playing the goddamn guitar? Those guys really scored. I was an idiot!

UPDATE:  Several of you have asked me to post the speech itself.  Sleazy opportunist that I am, I will be happy to...


I sell 20 more copies of MUST KILL TV, the Kindle version going for only $2.99.    I know.  What a creep.  But it's a very funny book, deals with award dinners, I'm very proud of it and want as many people to read it as possible.   (I can't believe book promotion has come to this.)  Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Maybe We'll Have You Back

Today I’m plugging a book that’s not mine. MAYBE WE’LL HAVE YOU BACK by Fred Stoller. He presents a hilarious first-person account of what it’s like to be a long-time character actor on sitcoms.

You’ve seen him on a million shows, from FRIENDS to EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND to SEINFELD to DOG WITH A BLOG. Fred is tall, thin, nerdy and usually plays Annoying Guy, or Obnoxious Guy, or Pathetic Guy or worse, Pathetic Guy #2.   He was punched out in DUMB AND DUMBER.

He’s also very funny, which is why he gets all of these roles over other tall, thin, nerdy actors who are scrambling for the same parts.  How funny?   Fred was also a writer on SEINFELD for a season.

The bottom line: show business is a lot easier if you look like Simon Baker.

The brass ring for guest actors is that one of their characters break out and eventually become series regulars. Christopher Lloyd on TAXI and Bebe Neuwirth on CHEERS are two examples. But more often they deliver three lines (two of which get cut in editing) and have to park off the lot.

And if fighting for show biz scraps wasn't hardship enough, Fred once slept with Kathy Griffin. 

For reasons I’ve never understood, there are some casts that ignore or shun guest actors. It’s not like their series won’t end in two years and they’ll be guest actors themselves.

SIDE NOTE: And then there’s Ted Danson. One day on BECKER he was talking about a new Prius he had just gotten. One of the guest actors was curious about it, and Ted handed him his keys and said, “It’s right out front. Drive it around.” The man is a mensch (who gets great mileage).

I found Fred’s book hilarious and illuminating. Imagine a SEINFELD writer conducting a Starline Tour of Hollywood.

His section on SEINFELD was particularly interesting. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld ran a writing room unlike any I’ve ever seen before or after. It sounded more like hanging around Elvis Presley and bringing him cakes when he was hungry.

There are so many aspects of show business that go unrecognized. To my knowledge this is the first book about those brave thespians who play roles that are numbered instead of named. Instead of reading the 400th star autobiography (as told to 400 ghost writers), check out this unique perspective of television production.

And then buy my book.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Best of Levine & Isaacs

The topic of TV binge watching came up recently at lunch. My friend said, “You’ve written enough shows that you could probably fill an entire weekend.” I said, “Yeah, but I wouldn’t want to. Some things we wrote I wish we could have back. The fact that they’re still in syndication would bother me terribly if I wasn’t still getting residuals from them. So I can live with it. But he asked, “Could you assemble one full season that you’d be willing to binge on?” Figuring one season to be twenty-two episodes, I thought and said, “Sure.”

I’m still not going to do it, but in case any of you wish to binge on the Best of Levine & Isaacs, here are the episodes I would pick. Let me rephrase that – here are the episodes that are available to stream or rent I would pick. Some of our very best work is from series we created that are no longer in release.

So if you’re really sick one weekend, or starved for entertainment, or just want to punish yourself for some unspeakable thing you've done, here are my Top Twenty-Two:

Out of Sight/Out of Mind
Point of View
Merchant of Korea
Goodbye Radar part 1 and 2

Any Friend of Diane’s
Boys in the Bar
To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before
The Big Kiss Off
Jumping Jerks
Death Takes a Holiday on Ice
Bar Wars V… the Final Judgement
Heeeer’s Cliffy
Rat Girl

The Show Where Lilith Comes Back
Adventures in Paradise part 1 and 2
Room Service
Miss Right Now

Dancin’ Homer
Saturdays of Thunder

Noses Off

Let me know if you actually get through the entire twenty-two. Enjoy!

Monday, April 14, 2014


Marvel gets it. DC doesn’t. Comic book movies need to be fun. I mean, it’s a guy in tights defying the laws of physics, thrilling action scenes, and generally 20,000 innocent bystanders getting killed in the crossfire of all the mayhem and destruction. If you can’t have a good time with all of this, then what’s the point?

MAN OF STEEL was terrible. You’re supposed to want to BE Superman while watching the movie. Wouldn’t it be cool to fly and beat the shit out of anybody, and see anyone naked you wish? Yes, that’s juvenile but how old were we when we bought the comic books and fell in love with the character?   I don’t want to know that Superman is a tortured soul. A hot chick like Lois Lane would sleep with him in a second. Waa waa, he’s from another planet.

But Captain America is my kind of superdude. Yes, he’s got a nagging conscience but he’s 95 years old. We all have baggage. And it’s never enough to distract him from single-handedly beating the living crap out of a small army. You can feel good about human beings being flung into walls and crushed to death because they’re all wearing dark uniforms and it’s all in the service of the Good Old USA. I must confess, there were a few violent encounters with bad guys where I said, “Huh? You let him live? Why? Use your shield. Let’s see if you can swat the guy all the way to the Lincoln Memorial.” Chris Evans is likeable, earnest, and among women moviegoers, I bet there’s not a dry seat in the theater.

Even more fun for me was Scarlett Johansson as whatever-the-word for Catwoman is in Russian. She’s Jewish and she’s badass. Take that Nazis and sinister secret organizations planning on dominating the world (think: Time-Warner Cable).

And then there’s Samuel L. Jackson, always good for some rollicking scene stealing. Even as he was saying, “Don’t trust anybody” I was ordering a Capital One card.

Anthony Mackie is Will Smith without the desperate need for an Oscar. Robert Redford has decided it’s time to appear in a movie that anyone will go see. It’s inspired stunt casting for the 20% of Marvel Universe fans who know who he is.

And then there’s Cobie Smulders. Spectacularly gorgeous as always and wisely not asked to be funny. When left to saying lines like, “heat shield in place” and “seven minutes to launch” she’s fine. The best thing about her performance is that she has amazing skin.

The story is a big conspiracy/explosion/car chase fest. THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR meets any Michael Bay film. But it moves at a nice clip, has enough Marvel lore to keep fans happy, and best of all, doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are funny lines throughout.

Naturally, the movie builds to a giant CGI-apalooza complete with thrills and spills and people taking punches that would kill a rhinoceros. But the suspense builds, the threat makes sense, and you get caught up in the film enough that you don’t ask the obvious question: Where the hell are the rest of the Avengers?

CAPTAIN AMERICA 2 is worth seeing. If Superman wants to brood over something, brood over how much better the Marvel filmmakers are than yours.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Before Craig Ferguson was a talk show host...

He guested on our series, ALMOST PERFECT. Nancy Travis juggles the love of her life with the job of her life (showrunning a cop show). Craig plays a former boyfriend in this, one of our better episodes.

NOTE: The table reading was a disaster and the staff wrote this entire script in one night. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

NBC is looking for new comedy writers

They've opened a competition searching for new comedy writers with fresh new ideas.  Best ones will result in pilots and maybe series on the network or their website.  Worth checking out.   Here's where you go.  

Again, I have no involvement in this.  I haven't checked out the fine print.  But who knows?  This could be YOUR lucky break.  If so, mention me when you win an Emmy. 

Art has been replaced by VORP

Baseball broadcasting on the radio used to be an art. Announcers were distinctive, passionate, colorful, and entertaining. Those days are sadly slipping away. Instead, the new breed of announcers are polished, generic, stat oriented, and often put you to sleep. 

Statistics have always been a big part of baseball. And a major crutch for announcers who have no imagination and nothing else to fill time with. Now with Sabermetrics and more detailed categories like VORP, DRS, FIP, EQA, WHIP and WAR number crunching has been taken to a whole new level. Not that these new stats aren’t informative and useful, but there is an avalanche of them. Certainly way more than the average baseball fan can process or wants to process.

And now the Houston Astros have mandated that these analytics be a prerequisite to their broadcasts. I feel especially sorry for their longtime TV announcer, Bill Brown. He’s a terrific play-by-play man. But now saddled with this emphasis on modern-day stats and a bad team, this was the rating for the Astros’ telecast last Monday against the Los Angeles Angels: 0.0. Let me repeat that number. 0.0. And this isn’t the end of the season when the team is mathematically eliminated. It’s their first homestand.  How is that even possible?  (And it wasn't the first time.) 

Yeah, WHIP and WAR really save the day.

Listeners want to hear storytellers. They want to be entertained. If they’re listening on the radio they want the game to come alive. They want the announcer to put them in the stadium through vivid descriptions. They want personality.

Statistics are fine in key game situations. Especially if the games have import. Playoff games, for example. Ninth innings.  Pennant races.   They can enhance a big moment.  But breaking down a batter’s average against a certain pitcher when he’s had only six at bats against him and it’s the second inning of a game in mid April – who gives a shit?

Why cater your broadcast to the diehard fans? A) There are not that many of them. B) They’ll listen no matter what you do. C) You chase away casual fans. Women (50.8% of the American population), in particular, tend not to care about Wins Above Replacements.

Who would you rather spend two hours with – a captivating storyteller or someone reading actuary tables?

With MLB.COM and Sirius/XM, baseball fans can now listen to out-of-town local broadcasts. Most are interchangeable. That’s why it’s so refreshing to hear Vin Scully (the Dodgers), Jon Miller (the Giants), Marty Brennaman (Reds), Eric Nadel (Rangers), Jim Powell (Braves), Bob Uecker (Brewers), Pat Hughes (Cuts), and Howie Rose & Josh Lewin (Mets). There are other announcers who are also terrific, but these guys can make a game interesting even when their team is losing by 10 runs in the fourth inning. And they all have distinctive styles, voices, deliveries, opinions.

Yes, I'm old school, but give me Ernie Harwell, Bill King, Jack Buck, Dave Niehaus, Hank Greenwald, Lon Simmons, Harry Caray, Chuck Thompson, Bob Prince, Harry Kalas, Mark Holtz, and Jack Brickhouse.

Baseball broadcasts need showmanship, not additional deep-dish analysis. The only statistic that really counts is this: 0.0.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Questions

Happy Friday Question Day.

In light of the HIMYM series finale, Charles H. Bryan asks:

Do you think it's time that if a long running show hits a voluntarily final episode that maybe it should just be a regular episode (unless there's a really solid finale idea)? I mean, what's Modern Family going to do? Let us meet the documentary crew?

Personally? Yes. A half hour regular-sized finale would be my choice.  But last episodes usually get big audiences and networks want to take as much advantage of that as they can. They can sell the ad time at hugely inflated Superbowl-type rates. So they pressure the show into doing a longer episode. I should only be a showrunner in that position with a mega hit under my belt. There are worse problems.

But left to my own devices I would wrap up my series in one half hour episode. Some of the best finales did that. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, NEWHART, and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND to name just a few.

Long finales tend to be filled with filler. Or they break the format so much they don't even seem like the same show.

I must say, of all the super long series finales, I think the CHEERS finale was the best. Glen & Les Charles wrote a great script and that last scene where everyone in the bar just sat around late at night talking was brilliant.

ally wonders:

Have you and David been through WGA arbitration over credit? What is that process like? Is it fair? And, just for giggles, have you ever wanted to take David to WGA arbitration?

Been through arbitrations as both a participant and arbiter (not on the same project however).

The studio sends in their proposed writing credit to the WGA. If it is at all different from just the original writer, all the writers concerned are invited to arbitrate it. Should a writer challenge the proposed credit he submits a personal statement, the credit he believes is valid, and all material he feels is pertinent (outlines, drafts, etc.). I believe three arbiters then read the material and evaluate.

The writers involved are only identified as “Writer A,” Writer B,” and so on. They don’t know who their arbiters are. The arbiters don’t know who the other arbiters are.

I was once an arbiter but recognized one of the writers. So I recused myself from the arbitration. The Guild tries to make the process as objective as possible.

There is a Credits Manual that defines the parameters of ownership and contribution. The arbiters must base their decisions on these parameters and not subjectivity. In other words, the second writer may have made the script much better but didn’t change the structure of the script enough to warrant credit. Just writing great jokes isn’t enough.

Sometimes arbitrations can get very complicated, especially with features. For THE FLINTSTONES movie I think there were forty some writers involved. It was insane.

Arbitration is not a perfect system, but there’s nothing better, and the WGA keeps fine-tuning to make it as fair as possible.

And finally, no, David and I have never taken each other to arbitration. Or marriage counseling.

And finally, from Question Mark:

What's the professional protocol for an inadvertently stolen joke? Like, you write or say a clever line that you think is coming from your brain....but after the line airs/prints, someone else clues you into the fact that, "hey, so-and-so used that same line in an episode of X two years ago." (In today's media age, I can't imagine how horrifying it would be for a writer to be alerted of their unconscious plagiarism via hundreds of snarky tweets.)

Embarrassment mostly. You just hope not too many people noticed. It happens. What’s inexcusable is doing it on purpose. Someone will pitch a joke, someone else in the room will say, “they did a joke just like that on THE MIDDLE” and the showrunner will say, “Yeah, well, that’s a different audience. No one will know. Let’s use it.”  I've been fortunate enough in my career to never have worked with showrunners like that.  If someone flags a joke or story idea as having already been done it's discarded immediately.  Happily, I would say the vast majority of showrunners fall into this category. 

What’s your Friday Question? 

PROGRAMMING NOTE:  I will be filling-in this morning for Marilu Henner on her three hour nationally syndicated radio program.  Check the listings in your local market or go here to listen.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

To prove what a gracious loser I am...

I congratulate Stephen Colbert on being named the replacement for David Letterman.  (Next to me) he's a great choice.  When people complain that he only plays a "character" they're grossly underestimating him.   He's extremely bright, personable, as quick-witted as Letterman or quicker, and he's a terrific interviewer.   I hope he brings a lot of his COLBERT REPORT writers with him.   If so, expect his monologues to be the best of the 11:30 bunch.   Colbert is also a terrific singer.  He's far more talented and versatile than many detractors give him credit for.

As much as it hurts, because I was already going to Ikea picking out my desk, CBS made a great choice.   I placed a call to Stephen to congratulate him.  He hasn't returned it.  Something about not knowing who the fuck I am.  But I'm sure at some point he will reach out.

And not to toot my own horn, but you haven't seen any gracious concession announcements from Craig Ferguson or Sarah Palin.   Show some class, guys.  Just cause I finished second...

Again, my heartiest best wishes to Stephen Colbert.  Just keep Darlene Love's annual Christmas performance and you'll have a nightly viewer in me.

(Anyone know when Kimmel's deal is up?)

Our attempt at SCANDAL in 1980

This is one of those “boy, have times changed” stories. I watch SCANDAL on ABC and it’s filled with corruption in the White House, conspiracies, murders, infidelities, and cover-ups – usually before the opening credits. Pretty much anything goes except necrophilia (although who knows what they have planned for next season?).

Every time I watch SCANDAL I shake my head. Not that I have any problems with it. It’s highly entertaining. But I can’t help thinking back to 1980 when David Isaacs and I sold a pilot to ABC.

The show was centered on the White House Press Corps. We’d follow these journalists and see all the behind-the-scenes activity that led to scoops, romance, competition, and intrigue. ABC bought the pitch in the room. They loved the premise.

There were just a few minor things they insisted on, but those shouldn’t have any effect on the integrity of the piece.

We were not allowed to show the president. They didn’t want the president to be a character. They were concerned that the audience would infer a political allegiance. This they didn’t want. So we were not allowed to specify which party the president was in.

They preferred if we did no politics. How do you do a show about the White House and have no politics? What was the press corps covering?

We spent several days traveling with the White House press corps. ALL they talked about was politics. We also noticed that photographs of the president were everywhere.

So we said to ABC, could we just show the photo of someone, a non-actor (my dad)? They preferred if we didn’t.

We struggled mightily through the first draft. ABC had a big problem. We named our commander-in-chief President Turner (as generic a name we could find). ABC insisted we don’t name him at all. He was only to be referred to as “the president.”

At that point we were writing THE WIZARD OF OZ. The second draft was like pulling teeth. Never had we turned in a script we believed in less. And God forbid if they picked it up. By week two we’d be out of stories.

Needless to say, the pilot didn’t get picked up. I think they felt it was still too controversial. We were never so happy to see a project die.

And today you have SCANDAL. Can you imagine if our pilot story was they discover the president was having an interracial affair? “Yeah, but we never mention him by name.”

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Why I should take over for Letterman

There is lots of speculation as to who will replace David Letterman. Stephen Colbert, Craig Ferguson, Ellen, Chelsea Handler (dear God),Louis CK, Neil Patrick Harris, and even Sarah Palin.

So if Sarah Palin’s name is mentioned with a straight face then I can throw my hat in the ring too. As long as it doesn’t interfere too much with my blogging or watching baseball, I’d like to take over the LATE SHOW.

I hear the money is great. And I could use this national platform to force the LA police department to reopen the Natalie Wood case.

I’d have to lie about my age though. Say I’m 30. I could pass as long as they stopped airing the show in HD.

I’ve never hosted a TV talk show and I was a writer for THE SIMPSONS, so I have the same qualifications as Conan.

I’ve never done stand up comedy, so Sarah Palin is one up on me there, but hey, who says I have to do a monologue anyway? I could read excerpts from my very funny book, MUST KILL TV (available on Kindle now for the absurdly low price of $2.99 and paperback too!) each night.

Singing and dancing might be a problem. I can't do either.  But talk show hosts who resort to that are only showing how desperate they are for attention. Whenever I see Jimmy Fallon do a spot-on impersonation, or an intricate dance number I can’t helping thinking “how very sad that he has to stoop this low.” So not having any real talent is, in this case, a plus, which is great for me.

As for a band, I noticed on Fallon’s premiere he had U2 but never used them again. What an oversight! I would just have U2 as my house band. Sorry, Paul. Time marches on.

For a co-host, and Les Moonves, none of the other candidates have suggested this – I’d go with Julie Chen.

Interviewing is certainly my strong suit. I’ve hosted many radio talk shows and as a baseball announcer I’ve conducted literally thousands of player interviews. “Emma Watson, great to have you. I hear you’re in a new movie and your hamstring is tight.”

As for guests, let’s shake it up. Why don’t I see more cartoon characters on the couch? Why no accordion players? No porn stars who would do anything for the exposure?

I would keep most of Dave’s staff. They’re terrific. But I’d want the show to move back to Los Angeles. Yes, it might be tough for two hundred families to relocate 3,000 miles but I wouldn’t be inconvenienced. And it’s that kind of thinking that sends the message to CBS that this guy has the right temperament to host a national show.

For the set I want to do something radically different. I’m going to put the desk and the couch on the right side of the stage, not the left like all those other losers. And in tribute to Dave, I’ll keep his backdrop. Yes, it might be confusing to have a New York backdrop for a show set in Los Angeles but that’s the kind of zany edgy thing I plan on doing.

I’m telling ya, I’d be perfect. I’m new, I’m fresh, my daughter lives close to CBS so I can just park on the street. And between my years in television and movies I can get any guest I want, except maybe Robert Wagner.

I’m planning the rally now. We’ll let you know where and when. But you can start by making placards now. Thanks. See ya on CBS.

NOTE:  David Isaacs and I will be on Stu Shostak's internet interview show today from 4-6 PDT/7-9 EDT.  We'll be talking about each others careers.  And it's good practice for me for when I take over for Letterman.  

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Fox is looking for new drama writers

They've teamed up with the Blacklist to find new writers for their drama shows.  You submit material, it gets evaluated, and the best of the best gets forwarded to the network for possible assignments or staff work.   The competition closes May 1st.

I have nothing to do with this.  But I know I have a lot of readers who want to break into the business so when I see an opportunity I like to pass it along.

Here's where you go for information and submissions.  

Good luck.  Someone has to break in.  Why not you?  

It's COMEDY people!

Last Sunday’s entry was a re-post. At the time I originally posted it I also was contributing pieces to the HuffingtonPost. (I stopped when they sold the site for $340 million and still refused to pay writers.) But I posted my porn article there as well.

The article is clearly a satire. Maintaining that it is more degrading to ask porn stars to get laughs than perform all forms of depravity seemed like a funny twist. It also seemed so utterly absurd that it would be easily recognized as satire. I mean, who with a straight face maintains it’s okay for a woman to have sex with an animal but not be asked to deliver jokes? At the very least I thought some people might not find it that funny. But at least they’d know that I was spoofing.

Uh… wrong.

The HuffPost piece resulted in a flood of comments from people defending the practices of the porn industry. Here were some of the comments:

They're not asking the porn stars to do "degrading acts" with five guys, they're paying them to do so.

Without condemning the individuals taking part in scenes of this sort, I'd love for someone to explain to me why trying to inject humor into porn is more objectionable.

So what you are saying is that Beastiality and Bondage scenes are okay but not cleaner porn that mimics popular sitcoms? Ummmm, okay. Whatever turn you on.

What is the point of this article?

Well Ken, if no one bought it, they couldn’t sell it. Apparently, some people find it inoffensive and they are buying it in sufficient quantity to make it profitable.

Unless these newbies are being held against their will or some such thing, they have made a choice to do this.

"Don't let this situation get so out of hand that Congress has to step in..." There are those who would try to do the same thing to you, for what you write.


Sadly, with very few exceptions, people don't give a damn about exploited or even enslaved women and children. They care more about the power kick they get from watching the weakest of us hurt and degraded.

Usually, I don’t comment but in this case I felt compelled to respond. Here’s what I wrote:

I find it astounding and hilarious that so many of these commenters took my article seriously. I guess I give people too much credit for being able to spot obvious satire. Maybe I should add a warning. "Not for the literal minded with no sense of humor!" Really. People took this seriously? That's the biggest laugh of all.

Now you’d think that would end it. Uh… wrong again. More comments followed.

If people were truly concerned about the exploitation of women, they should focus on the jobs in mainstream society.

It is quite unreasonable to support a system that makes women into second class citizens and then claim that all pornography is exploitation.

I've noticed that people who say porn is not degrading, tend to be horrified at the thought of their own daughter/mother/sister doing it...."Great!...but not in MY back yard!" If you're fine with your own kid doing it, great!

Well welcome to America, the land of the free, if these pornstars want to express themselves in more creative work, and there is a market for that genre, then i say Go Forward!...afterall they are all over the age of consent and are not breaking any laws, so my motto and let live!

First of all, why is having sex with five guys 'degrading'? Sounds very self-righteous to me.

These are funnier than anything I could write. And horrifying. In fairness, most of my blog readers totally got it.  (Some of your suggested TV porn titles were hilarious!)

But this is a constant reminder to funny people that no matter what you write or say, there will be those who don’t get it. There are those who take everything literally. No matter how absurd.

Another example: A few years ago I was broadcasting a Seattle Mariners game from Detroit. The longtime voice of the M’s, Dave Niehaus, had recently passed away and I commented that the Mariner players all wore patches on their sleeves that saluted Dave. I then said, the Tigers are also paying tribute, which is really remarkable considering Dave Niehaus never broadcast in Michigan. I told the listeners that if they ever see a Tiger home game they’ll notice a big ornate “D” on the front of their uniforms. That’s for Dave.

That night on Mariner blogs angry fans were posting, “Ken Levine is an idiot. That D stands for Detroit.”

Yeah… I’m the idiot.

The point is, always remember when doing satire or putting someone on that there will always always always be people who won’t get it. They don’t know that THE DAILY SHOW and THE COLBERT REPORT are comedies. Someone once said to me that they didn’t like Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog because he was rude to the people he was interviewing. Phil Hendrie has been putting people on on his radio show for over ten years. Every “guest” on his show is really him doing a voice arguing a ridiculous incendiary position. Irate listeners continue to call and argue with his “guests.” Ten years he’s been doing this. You’d think in ten years people would get it. But nope.

So this is another reason I no longer contribute to the HuffingtonPost. Call me crazy, but I still believe it’s possible to write satiric pieces without having to end every sentence with a ☺. And for the record, I don’t care that they’re being paid, porn actresses should not be forced to get laughs.