Thursday, September 21, 2017

Will this Emmy review be my last?

Hard to believe but almost twenty years ago I started writing snarky award show reviews. I wrote them exclusively for people on my contact list. I always wrote the recaps immediately after the show so if any of my jokes were similar to those others later posted it was clear I didn’t steal them. But that meant lonnnnng nights. And I had to weed out some people because certain radio hosts who were on my list were stealing my material and using it as their own (assuming I wouldn’t find out – but I did). Not cool.  They're gone.

My reasons for doing the reviews were to have fun and let off steam. To say the kind of shit everyone says at award show parties (where you're not proud of yourself but you laugh). And it was a great way to reconnect with people I hadn’t heard from in months. Friends would drop a note; we’d catch up, etc. As you know, months and sometimes years can go by as people inadvertently drift apart. Reviews were a fun way to say hello.

When I started the blog I decided to share the reviews with my readers. They seemed to really enjoy them. For a while some newspapers arranged with me to re-print them.

Each review would spark a flurry of comments. Some agreed with my take, others didn’t. That was totally okay. Sometimes the debates were more entertaining than the reviews themselves.

But lately things have started to shift. I don’t know how to state more clearly that my reviews are snarky, that I poke fun at everyone. And that if you take a stand in comedy there are going to be those who are offended. Larry Gelbart once said: “if you write something that offends no one then go back and start over.”

That’s COMEDY. At times it’s meant to challenge, meant to prick pompous balloons, meant to point out hypocrisy.

In my recent Emmy review I took issue with Jermaine Fowler’s announcing. He was loud, he was abrasive, he mangled copy, he sounded amateurish, he wasn’t funny, and moments that were supposed to be for the winners he made about himself. And since Fowler happens to be a person of diversity, a number of readers called me racist. (As blog moderator I chose not to publish them.) If it had been say Gilbert Gottfried and he had done the same thing and I offered the same complaints no one would have said anything. It’s not enough to not find something funny these days. The comic is now a racist. Forget that I praised numerous diversity winners and even took issue when Nicole Kidman was allowed to ramble on incessantly while Sterling K. Brown was unceremoniously cut off – no, I’m a racist.

It’s to the point where I wonder why I even bother. You make fun of anybody looking horrible in a gown and you’re body shaming. You needle an actress and you’re anti-women. You don’t praise a lame RuPaul “Emmy” bit and you’re homophobic.

What the fuck?!

It’s a SNARKY, BITCHY silly awards show review, meant to get a few laughs. Period. You don’t find something I said funny? That’s fine. You disagree with a particular take? Great. We’re all entitled to our opinions. But what I’m getting now is “Humor is one thing but that’s racist.”

When did comedy become the queen’s tea?

You hear of comedians now refusing to play the college circuit because audiences are too P.C. This is insane to me. You should be at your MOST subversive, most inappropriate, most rebellious in college. If you can’t challenge society who can?

ALL IN THE FAMILY was a groundbreaking show in the ‘70s. If it were on today people’s heads would explode. I find that heartbreaking.

But that’s the way it is today. I’m not going to change it. But for the Oscars, I’ll see how I feel in February. Maybe I’ll just go back to sending my review to my contact list. Those people don’t call me a racist. The worst I get from them is that I’m a dick.  I can live with that.

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.

BUT…

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.) 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

EP37: The HBO Pilot That Almost Got Me Fired--“You’re fired! Want some shrimp?”


Ken and his partner wrote a pilot for HBO that they loved but the studio hated so much they tried to fire them. It’s another crazy Hollywood story but with an ending that is sweet revenge. Also, Ken’s spoof on angry radio talk-show hosts, and more info on the big contest!


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Reporting live from Hurricane Irma

Sunday, September 10th, 11 a.m. EDT:

INT. TV NEWS STUDIO – DAY

An ANCHOR is on the air. Behind him a scary graphic of Hurricane Irma.

ANCHOR: Let’s go down to Orville Numnutz, who is live on the scene in Tampa. What’s going out there?

CUT TO:

EXT. BEACH SIDE – DAY

Hundred mile winds are blowing, rain is coming down in sheets, angry waves crash onto the shore. ORVILLE, clutching microphone, is in rain gear. You can maybe see his nose. It’s all he can do to remain standing. He will continue to wobble throughout his report. First comes the obligatory minute where he just stands there as the satellite catches up. Finally:

ORVILLE: What do you think is going on down here? There’s a goddamn hurricane about to hit. If I don’t get to higher ground I’ll be swept out to sea along with my cameraman. Those would be two deaths that qualified for the Darwin Awards.

As you can see, the beach area here is deserted. Is anyone surprised? What real “news” can I give you? This is not the day to bring your family to the beach? Plenty of free parking? You can still get a tan during cloud cover?

I guess I could suggest people evacuate the area, but who’s stupid enough to still be out here except us reporters? By the way, you don’t see Lester Holt out here? You don’t see Wolf Blitzer. You don’t see… whoever’s doing CBS these days? When there’s a royal wedding you can bet they’re right on the scene? But actual disaster coverage? Not a chance. Is Charlie Rose anchoring now? I don’t know. I never watch CBS. And ABC is who, Ryan Seacrest? Yeah, let’s see Ryan Seacrest out here. Fortunately, there’s no AMERICAN IDOL auditions today so you don’t see 20,000 idiots standing in line, getting crushed by these winds.

Am I rambling? Well, it’s hard to think straight when you’re standing in a hurricane and you have nothing of substance to report. If our camera could point over there you see palm trees straining against these powerful winds. That’s what happens in situations like these. Are any of you surprised? Am I risking my life to show you something you already know? Yep, those trees are really swaying. Not a good day to climb one of those trees. That’s breaking news.

So what else can I tell you? The Marriott is completely booked. I could perhaps give info on where shelters are operating, but power is out here. So there goes any useful information. Instead, I can tell you that since we went on the air no open houses are planned for this area.

If, by chance, you’re in the Tampa area and you have a generator and are seeing this, my suggestion is to stay indoors. Takes lots of videos of rain so you can post them later.

As for everyone else, instead of just sitting on your fat ass watching this, go online and donate food and goods to the poor people in shelters.  You're not going to miss anything.  It's going to be pretty much this for the next 24 hours.

Okay, if you just tuned in -- it’s raining here. Really hard. I gave up dental school to do this. And you’re sitting in your nice warm homes. You’re hoping I lose my balance and blow over, don’t you? That way I could go viral and people will be making ass-fun of me for weeks. Ha ha. Here’s the more likely scenario: I’ll be out here for two days with no power and no heat, and then in a month when there are budget cuts, since I’m one of the new guys, I’ll get downsized. "Thank you for your service. Could you please return the rain gear"

At least with a fire you can show the status. You can say it’s just over this ridge, or look at this home in danger, or here are some heroic shots of firefighters. But with this, it’s rain and wind. After me they’re going to go to one of my colleagues in Miami and it’ll look just like this. What can he add? Don’t go to the Marlins game? No one goes to Marlin games anyway.

How much time have I got left? Really? Still? Okay, well to recap, here’s what we know: There’s a fucking hurricane! It hasn’t been confirmed but I’m reasonably certain. Reporting live for no good reason, this is Orville Numnutz. Stay with us for updates like a lawn chair will fly across the screen. I gotta get a new agent. Back to you or the next ambitious young Millennial who’s somewhere else about to tell you the same shit I just told you.

BLACKOUT.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tony Romo's debut

Tony Romo made his CBS debut on Sunday, serving as the TV analyst alongside play-by-play man Jim Nantz as the Eye's top NFL broadcasting team. When it was announced that Romo would assume that position, replacing thunderously boring Phil Simms, there were many raised eyebrows among football fans. It’s one thing to bring on a rookie broadcaster, but to put him in the brightest spotlight? When he’s never done this before?

Rarely does that go well.

But to the surprise of many, Romo did great for his first game. As a longtime quarterback he’s no stranger to pressure. And with fourteen years experience on the field the man knows the game. But two things stood out. He wasn’t afraid to speak. Trust me, in my baseball announcing days I’ve had partners who sat there like statues. And secondly – and this was the big one – he showed genuine enthusiasm.

He had some life. He had some personality.

And viewers are responding positively. Tony Romo is a breath of fresh air.

My question is: why is this such a revelation?

Network (and local) broadcasters have become so safe and generic that it’s often hard to tell them apart. That’s who gets hired these days. They call the play-by-play or analyze the plays but add nothing.

And so when someone comes along with just the least bit of personality, fans think the Messiah has arrived. How many times do networks have to learn this lesson? Didn’t anything about John Madden resonate? Or Dick Vitale? Or Don Meredith? Or Bob Uecker? Or Bill Walton? Or Jon Miller? Or even, God help me, Howard Cosell?

Why is showmanship considered an innovative new concept? This is fucking entertainment. It should be a no-brainer.

Sure you will have haters on Twitter. But you always have that now. I’m sure #thePopeSucks has numerous tweets. Lots of people may hate these announcers with personality. But so what? They’ll watch anyway. They’ll hate watch. They’ll watch even longer.

I just don’t understand the reluctance to hire colorful sportscasters when the audience clearly responds to them. Tony Romo, in his first game, was 1000% better than Phil Simms on his best day. And he will only get better. And here’s the thing, he doesn’t have to do shtick. He doesn’t have to sing. He’s doing his job, analyzing the plays (and predicting them, which is quite amazing) but conveying his message with enthusiasm. Just being excited to be there is a giant improvement from 90% of today’s sportscasters.

Tony Romo’s figured it out. Alex Rodriguez figured it out for baseball. Now if only the people hiring talent would have a clue.

Monday, September 11, 2017

9-11 and David and Lynn Angell

I re-post this every year on this date and always will. 

9/11 affected us all, profoundly and in many cases personally. Two of my dear friends were on flight 11. David and Lynn Angell. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought of them, missed them, and not felt grateful that they were in my life.

David and I worked together on CHEERS, WINGS, and FRASIER (the latter two he co-created). We used to call him the “dean”. In his quiet way he was the one we always looked to for final approval of a line or a story direction. He brought a warmth and humanity to his writing that hopefully rubbed off on the rest of us “schickmeisters”. And he could be funny – sneaky funny. During long rewrite sessions he tended to be quiet. Maybe two or three times a night he’d pitch a joke – but they were always the funniest jokes of the script.

For those of you hoping to become comedy writers yourselves, let David Angell be your inspiration. Before breaking in he worked in the U.S. Army, the Pentagon, an insurance firm, an engineering company, and then when he finally moved out to L.A. he did “virtually every temp job known to man” for five years. Sometimes even the greatest talents take awhile to be recognized.

I first met David the first season of CHEERS. He came in to pitch some stories. He had been recommended after writing a good NEWHART episode. This shy quiet man who looked more like a quantum physics professor than a comedy writer, slinked into the room, mumbled through his story pitches, and we all thought, “is this the right guy? He sure doesn’t seem funny.” Still, he was given an assignment (“Pick a con…any con”) and when the script came back everyone was just blown away. He was quickly given a second assignment (“Someone single, someone blue”) and that draft came back even better. I think the first order of business for the next season was to hire David Angell on staff.

After 9/11, David’s partners Peter Casey & David Lee called me and my partner into their office. There was a FRASIER script David Angell was about to write. (It was the one where Lilith’s brother arrived in a wheelchair and became an evangelist. Michael Keaton played the part.) Peter & David asked if we would write it and for me that was a greater honor than even winning an Emmy.

David’s wife, Lynn, was also an inspiration. She devoted her life to helping others – tirelessly working on creating a children’s library and a center that serves abused children.

My heart goes out to their families. To all of the families.

I still can’t wrap my mind around it.

So tragic, so senseless, and even sixteen years later, so inconceivable.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Still time to win that autographed CHEERS script

Just listen to this week's episode of my podcast and find out how YOU, yes YOU could win a CHEERS script personally autographed by me and my partner, David Isaacs.   Contest ends Wednesday night.

To listen, either click on the big gold arrow above or click here.   Good luck.  It's the prize of the CENTURY. 

Oh, and the rest of the episode is good too.

Writing for BARNEY MILLER

BARNEY MILLER is one of those forgotten gem sitcoms from the 70s. I guess because they were taped and now look like crap you rarely see them pop up in reruns. Set in a detectives’ squad room in an NYPD precinct, BARNEY MILLER was a quirky character comedy revolving around the detectives and the nutcases that walked through their door (most in handcuffs).

It was created by Danny Arnold who was a true character. Brilliant, unpredictable (a nice term for bi-polar), demanding, and kind, Danny was an A-list show runner and a type-A+ personally. The man had a heart attack on the treadmill in his doctor’s office getting his heart checked. He had an oxygen tent installed on the BARNEY set so he could keep going during demanding shooting nights (which lasted routinely until 5 in the morning because of all the pick-ups he wanted). The results were fabulous but what a cost.

When David and I were starting out BARNEY MILLER was just starting to take off. It was one of the show we really wanted to write for. We had sold a couple of things and were making the freelance rounds. Our agent called with the good news that Danny had read our material and loved it. He wanted a meeting.

That meeting was one of the best EVER. We walked into his office and there was the nicest, most ebullient cigar-chomping uncle you’ve ever met. He was effusive in his praise. We couldn’t have been more excited. It was like the prettiest girl in school let you eat at her lunch table.

He invited us to come back with some story ideas and very much looked forward to working with us. A week later we were back in his office with our notions.

I noticed a bit of change right at the start. He was a little more gruff. Probably just the result of a long day. We started pitching and every idea was met with, “NO!!” “FUCK! ARE YOU KIDDING?” “JESUS, HAVE YOU EVER WATCHED OUR SHOW?” Needless to say we were shaken. After he had rejected all of them we started out and just before getting to the door he said, almost as an afterthought, “That Yamada gambling thing. I don’t think there’s anything there but if you want to develop it more you can.” Not exactly a sale.

But we went home and decided to develop it anyway. We wanted to show him that if nothing else we weren’t intimidated by him… although we sure as hell were.

We turned in an outline. He bought it. Had us in for notes and was very complimentary. We implemented his changes and turned in the revised outline.

He cut us off.

Well, we figured, so much for BARNEY MILLER. At least we got outline money.

Two weeks later I get a call from Danny’s assistant. Could we be in his office tomorrow at 8:30? Swell, I thought, he wants to chew us out again.

But we go and it’s the happy ingratiating Danny. “Boys! Come on in. You want a doughnut? How was your weekend?” He had read over our outline again and decided it was terrific. He had just a few tweaks. We were told to dash off a revised outline and then we’d go to work on the draft.

Two days later we delivered the new outline. And the following day…

He cut us off.

It just didn’t “jump off the page” for him. But he paid us for a second outline.

Elements of those outlines appeared in future shows but what the hell? He did pay us.

We never did a BARNEY MILLER assignment but a few years later when we were head writers of MASH he called and asked if we wanted to be his showrunners for the upcoming season. We chose to stay with MASH.

The guys who did take the job worked a million hours a week, learned a hell of a lot, got paid a fortune, and Danny gave them Rolls Royces… which they used to drive themselves to Cedar-Sinai hospital.

BARNEY MILLER is back, on some retro cable channels, DVD's, and streaming services. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a treat.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

My toughest interview

In the minor leagues I had to do a pre-game interview every day.  Most of the players were happy to talk to me, but not all.  This is me interviewing Syracuse Chief, Lou Thornton in 1988.   By the way -- still easier than interviewing Barry Bonds.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Friday Questions

Comin’ at ya – Friday Questions.

Peter starts us off:

A rather random Friday Question from me:

What's your favorite food?

Hey, who said every question has to be comedy/TV/movie related?!

Probably lobster. And the Sashimi Napoleon the at the Hailiimaile General Store in Maui. Oh, and a Bob’s Big Boy.

From Poochie:

One of the main criticisms (from yourself and others) of Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 was that the sketches for the in-house show were just plain not funny. Let's say Sorkin hired professional comedy writers to write those sketches and those sketches only. How would the writing credits go? Especially for someone as control conscious as Sorkin? Has any scripted show ever done anything like that (ie hired steady writers to work on a segment or two and never anything outside that)?

It’s not really Sorkin’s call, or any show runner’s. It’s the WGA and their credits manual. They would have to determine whether the sketch writer contributed enough to warrant shared credit. My guess is no because just punching up dialogue generally isn’t enough. But it depends on the specific script.

Michael asks:

I was thinking of "Comrades in Arms," where Hawkeye and Margaret end up together ... for a night. You were one of the story editors. Was there a big discussion of how that might change the arc of their entire relationship? Were there concerns about taking that step?

There were lots of discussions, and if I’m being honest, my partner and I objected strenuously to doing this story turn. Our feeling was that once two people sleep together, whatever the circumstances, it permanently changes their relationship and you can’t go back to the way it was. Alan argued that he could make it work, and since it was ultimately Alan’s call and Alan’s script we acquiesced.

After that we weren’t allowed to have Hawkeye flirt in Hot Lips’ presence as Loretta felt that (as we predicted) their relationship had changed after having sex.

I thought the episodes was very artfully done and to this day I dislike them.

Brian Phillips closes it out.

I noticed on YouTube that there were not one, but THREE different versions of All in the Family's pilot episode. Jean Stapleton and Carroll O'Connor were the constants, but the Mikes, Glorias and Lionels changed.

Did you ever film complete pilots with different casts from the better-known versions? Is this still done to-day or are the runners-up weeded out at the table read?

I haven’t experienced that personally, although I have replaced certain actors during the production of a pilot, but wholesale changes? No.

It's rarely done.

However...

...for reasons I can’t even fathom, they keep trying to reboot THE MUNSTERS. I swear, this is a more vexing question than the meaning of life.

What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Why can't good pilot ideas be recycled?

Networks are in the process of listening to and buying pilot pitches. Hundreds, maybe thousands of ideas are hawked to those few beleaguered network executives assigned the thankless task of listening and deciding.

And you wonder – last year they heard another gazillion pitches. If they were good ideas then why can’t the networks develop them again? Why is it now almost standard practice that if a network passes on your pilot (at any stage) then that project is done?

Several reasons. One is that their marching orders change. And they can change at any time.

Personal example: David Isaacs and I once wrote a sophisticated upscale comedy pilot for Fox. They ultimately passed, saying it was more of an NBC show. A couple of years later one of the Fox executives from that period moved over to NBC and her boss said he wanted them to develop smart sophisticated shows. He wanted NBC comedy to return to the golden age of “Must See TV.” That executive remembered our Fox script and bought it for NBC. We then did a quick rewrite. The reaction was over the moon. Everyone was thrilled and excited. We were to start putting casting lists together. There would be very few script notes. This project went right to the head of the line.

Then that night MY NAME IS EARL premiered to big numbers and the NBC president said “no more sophistical urban comedies – now we want all single-camera rural half-hours. Our project was dead. In 24 hours it went from priority number one to pass.

So the pilot mandate from last season could be quite different this year and all the pilots from the previous era are suddenly birdcage liners.

Also, it becomes an awkward situation when the network believes the reason a certain good idea didn’t work was because of the execution of the writer. If they want to re-develop it they either have to go back to the writer they were disappointed in or risk lawsuits. It’s just as easy to shit-can the whole thing and look for something new.

In the past, networks would remake more pilots if they believed in them. I believe there are three versions of ALL IN THE FAMILY with different kids each time. Now networks routinely re-cast during the making of a pilot that either they ultimately get right or move on. And sometimes a network will pick up a show knowing they will need to recast. So it’s a matter of how sold they are on the show going in.

And here’s another reason: They forget. The project didn’t go. It didn’t have any real champions. Remember the final scene from Indiana Jones with that huge warehouse filled with discarded items that will never be seen or heard from again? Same scene only scripts.

Networks are also very mercurial. They may love an idea on Monday and by Thursday they hate it (which isn’t to say that by the following Monday they love it again). This is why producers hate to turn in a finished pilot early. The network screens it and really likes it. But new pilots keep pouring in. And by the time the network has seen yours for the fourth time they forget why they even liked it in the first place.

And finally: network turnover. If ever there was a revolving door in television it is network executives – especially mid level. The guy who bought your show last year is now trying to sell you a house.

So many good ideas are washed ashore. And the process is repeated every year. If you’re in there pitching good luck. May your idea be upscale and rural enough for them.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

EP36: Topics Galore & Win an Autographed CHEERS Script!


Ken is unleashed.  Instead of one or two topics, he has twenty.  From TV, movies, sports, Broadway, hurricanes, Emmys, theme songs, songwriters, Hollywood myopia, his dad, a review, listening habits, and details on how you can win a signed CHEERS script (maybe the greatest contest prize EVER), Ken shares his take on it all.    


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The making of SURF'S UP

Jim Stapleton, director Jack Mendoza, Julia Arian
Okay, yesterday I posted the ten-minute play I wrote on the fly for the one-day-play event. If you haven’t read it, check it out. Today I discuss my ersatz thought process.

The first question I always ask is what is the relationship? Who are these characters and who are they to each other? In this case I decided on a father and daughter. Could have been a teacher-student, could have been a boss-employee, but that’s what I chose. Partly because I wanted a history between them.

So now what? You want some conflict in the scene otherwise it’s just two people jabbering. There had to be an issue between them. What if the summer was over and the daughter decided not to enroll in college for the fall? The dad could be upset with that.

But I thought that’s a little on-the-nose. What if I flipped it? What if he was the one who wanted to go off and see the world and she was the conservative one? I liked that better.

Now to construct the scenario. Who was he? Why did he want to change his life? For this I turned to the theme. What does “the end of summer” represent? Well, it means different things to different people. I love summer. It’s my favorite time of year. So for me the theme is “loss.” Summer meant “vacation.” The rest of the year was “work.”

So what if dad wanted to recapture his youth? What if he quit his job to go surfing? Years ago I saw this movie, ENDLESS SUMMER about two young surfers who traveled the world in search of the perfect wave. This dad is starting to see his summers dwindle and he wants to do something about it. All that I liked.

And for added fun I had him banged up, having wiped out on numerous occasions. That makes the daughter’s case for opposing this nonsense even stronger.

So that’s the start. Dad, in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts comes to his daughter, who is wearing a suit, to announce that he’s changing his life. Just by their wardrobe you get a strong sense of who they are.  Use everything at your disposal.

I get a certain amount of mileage out of that initial conflict, but ultimately the daughter is not going to change his mind. It’s his dream, he’s earned the right to go, and I think you’d hate her if she spoiled his plan. At some point the daughter has to wish him well.

But now what?

At this point I thought I’d turn the tables. What if dad asked her to join him? It’s a chance for them to bond, a way for her to be less inhibited. I would also have the chance to delve more into the theme and what the end of summer represents.

All that was nice, but how to convince her – in only a few pages… and without the benefit of any big speeches? (Not allowed since the actors had to memorize this play in only a couple of hours.)  At this juncture I really had to delve into her character – who she was and what she really wanted? And needed? I thought maybe she should have a creative side she was afraid to really reveal. What if she wanted to be a writer? I figured she wasn’t a surfer so what would she do on beaches around the world? She could write. She could also experience life, which is essential for a good writer. So there was her motivation. She had a job she hated, no boyfriend, a dad she wanted to get closer to, and a chance to flex her creative muscles. The turn is still a little quick but I sort of buy it.

And finally, I wanted this to be a comedy. And yet, in the whole breaking of the story, you’ll notice I focused very little on the comedic aspects. Character, theme, conflict, emotion – those are more important. If I create interesting characters with clear attitudes the comedy will come (hopefully).

So that was my attack. You might want to go back and read it again. The audience liked it. Now that I have time I’m going back and making adjustments. As always, it’s a process, and the process continues.

My thanks to Mike Myers, the Ruskin Group, my actors – Julia Arian and Jim Stapleton, my director – Jack Mendoza, and Steve Mazur. And Chip for the bagels.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

SURF'S UP -- my one act play

I recently participated in a terrific writing exercise. It’s a one-day play event. Five playwrights arrive at the theatre at 9:00 AM, we’re given a topic, headshots of two actors, and we find a desk and write a ten minute play. Four hours later the actors and directors arrive, they’re given their scripts, and they go off and rehearse and memorize. At 7:30 that night is the performance.

It’s scary, it’s crazy, it’s really fun.

What I thought I’d do today is post the script. Then tomorrow I’ll walk you through my thought process. I did something similar on my podcast with another one act play and you guys seemed to really like it.

Here were some parameters: They had to be between 7 and 10 pages. No longer than a ten minute play. They all had to be set in a café (there was a small table, a couple of chairs, and a counter), no monologues, no internal light or sound cues (no time for tech), and since the actors had to memorize them in like five minutes we were advised to have short sentences.

Obviously, expectations are low. For my other ten minute plays I take days, generally cast and direct them myself, have hours of rehearsal, lots of rewriting, and hopeful a reading. But the goal here is to be creative on demand and all the aspects of it that make it scary also make it exciting. Plus, what the hell? There are no reviewers, the audience knows these are slapped together, we get free bagels, and from time to time magic appears. What was also fascinating for me (and hopefully the audience) was hearing the other plays. Five very different takes on the same subject. And five different styles.

The topic was “the end of summer.” My two actors were a young woman in her 20’s and a gentleman in his 50’s.  They were played by Julia Arian and Jim Stapleton.

Here’s what I did. Be kind. It was written on the fly in only a few hours.


SURF'S UP!

INT. CAFE - DAY

WENDY (20's) sits at a table. She
wears a suit. Her father FRANK (50's)
ENTERS gingerly, stooped over a little,
holding his back, and limping slightly.
He wears a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and
flip flops. Wendy crosses to him,
concerned.

WENDY
Dad?

FRANK
(as if nothing's wrong) Hey, Wendy, how are you?

WENDY
Me? How are you? Jesus. You're a walking question mark.

FRANK
I wiped out on a five-footer. Gnarly wave. The board spun
out and hit me.

WENDY
My God.

FRANK
And hit me again.

WENDY
You poor thing.

FRANK
And again.

WENDY
Come, sit down. It's good to see you.

She tries to hug him. He flinches.

FRANK
Easy. My ribs are still broken.

WENDY
Oh, right. Forgot. Last month's wipe out.

They sit. He GRUNTS as he takes his
seat.

FRANK
That was a good one. I hit the pier.

WENDY
Dad, you're not 20 anymore. You're not even 50.

FRANK
Nothing's changed. I just heal slower. (grabs his shoulder)
Ow! What do you do for fun on the weekends?

WENDY
I fill out your insurance forms.

FRANK
That's my one regret about divorcing your mother. She did
all that paperwork.

WENDY
So why'd you want to see me, Daddy? Your email said it was
important.

FRANK
I'm changing my life.

WENDY
To what?

FRANK
I had an epiphany. As they were giving me CPR I realized:
it's September. The summer is over.

WENDY
You don't need paramedics to realize that. You can do it
with a calendar.

FRANK
I meant September in the bigger sense.

WENDY
What bigger sense is there? It's a month.

FRANK
Another summer is over and how many more do I have?

WENDY
Are you kidding? You are still young.

FRANK
So I'm quitting my job and surfing year round.

WENDY
What?! You can't do that. You're old.

FRANK
I'm going to follow the waves. Around the world. I'll have
an endless summer.

WENDY
Okay, that's it. No more Beach Boy records!

FRANK
Hey, don't knock the Beach Boys, Wendy. You were named after
a Beach Boys song.

WENDY
Yes, and thank you for not naming me "Little Deuce Coupe."

FRANK
You can thank your mother (off her look) I'm kidding, I'm
kidding.

WENDY
Dad, you can't do this. It's crazy.

FRANK
I should have done it years ago. I'm tired of "working for
the man."

WENDY
I hate to tell ya, but it's not just summer. The '60s and
'70s are over too.

FRANK
In the words of the great Brian Wilson: (with reverence)
"Catch a wave and you're sitting on top of the world."

WENDY
Even Brian Wilson, who is crazy, would say to you: "Don't do
this."

FRANK
First stop: Ulu Watu, in Bali. Or Huntington Beach,
California.

WENDY
Dad, you've been at Time-Warner for 25 years. You're one of
six people in America who still has health benefits.

FRANK
I'm on a quest, Wendy. To find that perfect wave.

WENDY
You're serious about this.

FRANK
I gave notice yesterday.

WENDY
You're giving up a good career that you worked your whole
life for to go search for "Surf City."

FRANK
Hey, "two girls for every guy."

WENDY
Okay, we're done here.

FRANK
No, no, I'm kidding. That's just part of the song.

Wendy considers for a beat, then:

WENDY
Well, Dad, if you've quit your job and this is what you want
to do, good luck. Tell me where you are so I can send Ace
bandages.

FRANK
Thank you.

He leans over to kiss her on the cheek,
straining his back.

FRANK
I love you. Ow!

He sits back down.

FRANK
Hey, I just had another epiphany.

WENDY
Great. Should I call 911?

FRANK
Why don't you come with me?

WENDY
WHAT?!

FRANK
Yeah, it'll be boss. We've never had the chance to spend any
real time together since the divorce. It'll be great Daddy
Daughter bonding.

WENDY
Daddy-daughter bonding is us going to a Broadway musical, not
the Emergency Room in Bali.

FRANK
Are you happy?

WENDY
What?

FRANK
In your life? Are you happy?

WENDY
I'm not going there.

FRANK
You're dressed in a suit. It's Sunday.

WENDY
I have to go to the office later.

FRANK
There's a dress code on the weekend? Even the Secret Service
gets to wear Polo shirts on the golf course -- meaning 80% of
the time.

WENDY
I'm meeting a client.

FRANK
Do you love your job?

WENDY
I'm a sales rep for Verizon. How could I possibly love my
job?

FRANK
Then why do you do it?

WENDY
Because it pays well and... it pays well.

FRANK
The summers go by really fast.

WENDY
I'm not quitting my job. I get 40% discount on all products.

FRANK
Is there a boy in your life?

WENDY
You know there's not.

FRANK
Yes, that's why I asked it.

WENDY
I'm not going to meet him with my father as my wing man.

FRANK
You never know. I'll be hanging out with a lot of really
cute athletic surfer boys.

WENDY
Who are also bums that go around the world with no future.

FRANK
Yeah, but they have great pecs.

WENDY
I can't believe I'm discussing this with my father.

FRANK
You're a grown up woman. You have sex.

WENDY
If I had one wish in the whole world it would be to get into
that DeLorean and go back in time three minutes.

FRANK
The point is you need some adventure in your life. Everybody
does.

WENDY
Dad, I'm not like you.

FRANK
Yes, but isn't there a part of you, even a small part, that
wants to be?

WENDY
I don't surf. And when I'm your age I want the use of my
knees.

FRANK
The part about wanting to be free. "Summer" is vacation. The
rest of the year is all... school.

WENDY
Of course I love summer. Who doesn't? But it does end.

FRANK
It's always summer somewhere.

WENDY
Like I said, I don't surf.

FRANK
But you write.

WENDY
What?

FRANK
You write stories.

WENDY
How do you know that?

FRANK
You've posted fan fiction. There were a couple of days I was
in the hospital that I read it all.

WENDY
Okay, so I do.

FRANK
You're very good.

WENDY
You're just saying that because you want me to push you
around in a wheelchair when you wipeout in South Africa.

FRANK
No. Because you have a real talent for it.

WENDY
You seriously think so?

FRANK
Yes.

WENDY
Wow.

FRANK
Does it give you pleasure?

WENDY
God yes. I can't believe you read my stuff.

FRANK
Wendy, you still have lots of summers. So what's one or two?
Come with me. Sit on the beach. If you're going to write,
don't you need stuff to write about?

WENDY
Like seeing the world?

FRANK
Better. The world that has good weather.

A long beat, then:

WENDY
I can't believe I'm even considering this.

FRANK
You'll never regret it.

Another long beat, then:

WENDY
Okay, I'm an idiot.

An excited Frank gets up to hug her and
groans in pain.

FRANK
YES! And I love you for it. Surf's up! Ow!

WENDY
Y'know, I always thought you named me Wendy after Peter Pan.

FRANK
Maybe I did.

BLACKOUT.

THE END

Tomorrow:  my process.  

Monday, September 04, 2017

Labor Day in Hollywood


Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. In the entertainment business it means this:

The movie industry resumes after three months of vacation. When agents submit spec screenplays there will be executives there to read them. (But only for a couple of weeks. The Toronto Film Festival is days away and they’ll all be gone for that.)

Your agent returns from his-or-her vacation. They rented a villa in Nice for a month and then met up with more successful clients than you, rented a yacht and cruised the Mediterranean, buying some amazing artwork along the way. Your vacation was an August weekend in Tucson.

Sitcoms are back in production. Show number three has just filmed and there is no script for show four. It goes into production on Wednesday. Pre-production began right after Memorial Day. What happened to all that lead time???

Showrunners on new shows are being bombarded with notes from nervous networks, studios, non-writing producers, actors, managers, and spouses.

Showrunners on new shows are also making those obligatory calls to the network crying that they’re not getting enough on-air promotion. They’ve seen one promo for their show while ads for DR. KEN are still running even though it’s been canceled.

Hour dramas are already way behind schedule. Upcoming scripts are being revised, slashing any scene that can’t be filmed in an hour.

Showrunners on ensemble dramas are receiving those calls from cast members’ managers complaining their clients aren’t getting as much to do as other cast members (whose managers are also complaining).

Network development people are a month into hearing pitches and they’ve heard the same one eleven times already. “What if we went home with the Joker and met his family?”

Writers who spent months preparing their pilot pitches only to be shot down in the first minute now scramble to come up with something else.

Oscar campaigns get sent upstairs for approval.

The Cedars-Sinai cardiac ward is reserving a couple of private rooms. October is just around the corner.

HAPPY LABOR DAY!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Waiter-speak

Is there a language course waiters are required to take these days? Must they pass Waiter-speak before being hired? Who started this current trend where waiters are no longer allowed to converse like normal people? If it were one or two I’d say it was an affectation but they all talk like this now – as if there were a handbook. Maybe this is just an L.A. phenomenon, you tell me. And if you are one of these waiters, would you let me know your side of things? Perfect!

Whatever you ask for now is “perfect!” Salt, a cheeseburger with onions, a cheeseburger without onions. “I just stabbed my date to death and need another knife. “Perfect!”

There’s a formality that is now the standard.

A waitress will take my companion’s drink order then turn to me and say: “And for yourself?” I then must say: “Get myself a beer please.”

No longer can a waiter ask, “Ready to order?” Now it’s “Have we decided?” “Yes, I’ll have what you’re having.”

They use “we” a lot.

The variation is: “So what are we thinking?” “You need your teeth fixed before you go out on more auditions. I’ll have the halibut.”

The only time they don’t say “we” is when they’re reading the specials and then it seems like they own the restaurant and are the chef as well because they’ll say, “Tonight I’m featuring…” Sometimes they do this in a fake accent. You can just picture their headshots and resumes. Special skills: foreign accents, baton twirling, yodeling.

They’re forbidden to ask how you want something cooked. Instead: “What temperature would you like?” “Gee, I’m not sure. 423 degrees or 425?” “Perfect!”

When serving they are now required to say, “Please excuse my reach.” In some places, like Tilted Kilts, that's the only reason you do order food.

And this is a relatively new thing that has caught on quickly: “Are we enjoying the first few bites?” Who started that? And woe be the maverick waiter who asks: “Is everything okay?” Now it’s “Is everything outstanding?” Imagine asking that question with a straight face at the Olive Garden?

When they want to be specific waiters now inquire: “Is the veal to your liking?” It’s as if Boyd Crowder wrote the handbook.

After the meal there are two options. “Did we save some room for dessert?” or “Can we tempt you with something sweet?” Either way you want to trip them so they'll fall into a pie.

The bottom line: real people don’t talk like that! But it's great if you're a screenwriter.  As a writer I’m forever fascinated by dialogue. And in crafting a script, giving a character a certain turn of phrase can greatly help the actor define him. Good writers are great listeners. “Thanks and you have a lovely rest of the day.”

Saturday, September 02, 2017

For you Natalie Wood fans...

This week on my podcast I talk about the life of Natalie Wood (some things you didn't know) and the death of Natalie Wood.  There is still a lot of mystery surrounding her untimely demise, and I'll go over the questions.

You can find it just by clicking here.

Now I know there are those who are done with the Natalie Wood mystery.   That's cool.  There's also an interview with Ann Jillian.    I'm still experimenting and trying out different things and different topics.  Next week I'm doing a contest.  Like the blog, I enjoy the freedom of variety.  It's whatever stupid nonsense I'm interested in on a given day. 

But getting back to Natalie Wood, judging by the overwhelming positive response to posting her photos (often you like the photos better than the posts themselves) I thought it was worth devoting a segment of one podcast episode to her.   Hey, look how popular SERIAL and those other unsolved-crime podcasts are.   You can always give me feedback yay or nay at HollywoodLevine@outlook.com.  (If enough people like the Natalie discussion maybe I'll solve the Bob Crane murder.)

Anyway, thanks for listening (if you do).

In the meantime, enjoy some Natalie photos.  


Friday, September 01, 2017

Friday Questions

My God, it’s September already. Getting you ready for Labor Day with this week’s Friday Questions.

Jim S starts us off. 

Heard the podcast. Great, and it got me wondering. How do you guys who worked on different shows over the years stay in touch? Regular poker games, barbecues meeting at the deli?

Delis are always good. Especially if you’re a disgruntled writer. Writers seem to bitch more freely over cured meats.

The short answer to your question is all of the above. We set up lunches and dinners, see each other at WGA screenings, write pithy emails back and forth, follow each other on Facebook, and then there is always the periodic strike where we really catch up with old friends on the picket line.

There used to be softball and basketball games, but we’re getting too old for that shit.

But most comedy writers tend to stay in touch, and why not? They’re great people and they make you laugh. If only they’d pick up a check once in awhile.

Zack Bennett wonders:

I noticed on the last season of "The Office" that the lead cast members (Wilson, Krazinski, Fischer, and Helms) are also listed as Producers on each episode. When this typically happens, do the actors actually do any "producing", is it a power play, or is it just a vanity thing?

Generally it’s vanity, more money, and if the show wins the Best Comedy Emmy they get one too.

DyHrdMET asks:

Have you ever had a case where a sitcom episode's B-story (or even C-story) becomes more memorable than the A-story of the episode? It would be something like a big story involving Sam and Diane on CHEERS but everyone was talking about the crazy antics of Cliff, Norm, Woody and Carla from that episode.

Yes. Whatever episode of CHEERS had Cliff entering with squeaky shoes.

And finally, from David C:

What TV shows do you think are absolutely necessary viewing for an aspiring TV comedy writer? Which more modern ones, which older ones?

My partner David Isaacs answered this on my podcast a couple of weeks ago. (If you haven’t heard it, please do. Lots of great stuff.  Just click here.) I’ll just list some of them. David explains why in more detail on the podcast.

THE HONEYMOONERS, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, ALL IN THE FAMILY, CHEERS, FRASIER SEINFELD, COSBY (without defending the son of a bitch), EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, THE OFFICE, 30 ROCK.

I would add MASH and THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW.

What’s your Friday Question? Have a happy and safe Labor Day weekend.