Sunday, June 25, 2017

Being on Instagram

This has become my new time suck -- checking out everyone's photos.   Most social media sites invite people to stay in their chair and just keep browsing.  But Instagram prompts me to get out there and take pictures and do stuff.   It's not going to get me a job or get me elected as president, but Instagram is a fun diversion when I'm waiting in line to get into the Boiling Crab.  You're welcome to follow me.  Hollywoodandlevine. 

Here's a sample of the crap I post.

Writing problem: What to do if you get stuck?

This happens often as you write your script or novel. You come to a point where you think you’ve written yourself into a corner. A plot point requires something and you just can’t get there. Wait a minute, he can’t swim to safety; he’s in a wheelchair. Exactly how is she going to get to the Pope to sell him Girl Scout cookies?

This is one of the benefits of a being in a partnership – sometimes he can solve it.

But when working alone, here are four handy tips:

First, don’t be afraid to go back. Yes, you spent an hour on the last page and there’s a great joke about renal failure but if it drops you off at a dead end replace it with something that works. Once you have it you’ll probably be able to make up for lost time and more.

So now that you’ve freed yourself, let your mind wander. Come at the problem from different angles. What if he doesn’t get drunk? What if she gets drunk instead? What if he kills the cable repairman tomorrow and not today (right away that makes more sense because the cable repairman is always a day late)? Way too often we get stuck thinking there’s only one way to solve a problem. There’s not. On LOST once there was some crisis and the solution was to “move the island”. Now that’s not the first thing you normally think of. Look for other options. They’re out there.

Second, go past it if you can. If it’s a joke you just can’t find, stick a pin in it and move on. Do the heavy lifting first and then come. It’s a lot easier to tackle the problem when you know it’s the final thing you need to do. But I say “if you can” because if the issue is a major plot point or character definition it’s usually better to solve it now. You don’t want to have to go back and rewrite six pages before the problem and then sixty pages after the problem once you’ve solved it. Or that could just be me. However, long speeches, specific jokes, finding the perfect paragraph to describe a setting – save that crap for later.

Third. Don’t panic. You’ll get it. It might not be in five minutes but you will. My partner and I always joke when we come to a bump that “that’s it. A thirty year career comes to end because we can’t figure how to get Daphne out of the room.” Yes, it’s frustrating but you’re a writer. You welcome pain.

And finally, just walk away. Take a break. Do anything else but write. For some this is hard. They don’t like to stop until they’ve finished a scene or a certain number of pages or NCIS comes on. But it’s okay to stop in the middle of a scene, the middle of a speech, the middle of a word. Clear your head. Go for a walk. Go see a movie. Go to bed. Let your subconscious mull over the dilemma. It will, trust me. Many times I’ll go to sleep with a pad and pen by my bed. In the morning the solution is somehow there. I also do a lot of problem solving in the shower. It’s hard to read back later because the pad is wet, but letting your mind drift while you’re in a relaxed state often unlocks the lock.

Let me show you an example. I don’t really know how to end this post. So for now I’m ju

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Here's my really angry rant for the month

WARNING! SPOILER ALERT! DANGER!

This post discusses the season three finale of FARGO that aired earlier this week. So if you haven’t seen it yet, come back when you do. Or you don’t watch FARGO and don’t care, stick around if you want to read an angry rant.

Last chance. The next paragraph I begin.

Okay.

Readers of this blog know I am a fan of FARGO. Especially season two, which I thought was extraordinary. This season has had its moments and I even did a post about how clever they introduced exposition.

Over the last few weeks the season seemed to go off the rails. There was the police chief who was the cliché cockblocker every time Officer Gloria came to him with a plausible case. Then there was all the metaphysical mystical bullshit and if they weren’t trying enough to be TWIN PEAKS, they hired Ray Wise (from TWIN PEAKS) to deliver the nonsense spiritual babble.

But then came the finale. That ended on a cliffhanger or (worse) ambiguity (we'll never know the outcome). My reaction (which you can probably guess) in a second.

But out of curiosity I read a number of respected TV critics’ to see what they thought. One said the ambiguity “plays into exactly what this season has been about: the fluid nature of truth.” Another defined the two main storylines: “One is an act of capitalist savagery. The other is the culmination of personal animus.” And yet a third praised the storytelling that up until the finale he had issues with. All was forgiven as he gleefully stated: “The weird hiccups and sideways jerks of the narrative, the structure that never entirely coalesced into anything coherent — was on purpose.”   That's a good thing I suppose. 

Now may I offer my opinion – and granted I’m not as enlightened or perceptive as these professional television reviewers – I’m just a schmuck with a blog and podcast? But here’s what I thought:

The ending was a fucking cheat! I sat through ten hours for THAT? Ten hours of watching cast members just pick each other off and speak with accents that get more fake each year? And then we’re left with -- NOTHING? Does Varga get put away or doesn’t he?   Really?  Ooooh, that's for me to decide.

On serialized shows the audience puts trust in the showrunner that the time and effort they expend will be rewarded at the end.  It’s a huge burden and if not handled properly ruins the entire experience.  Look at LOST or HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER.  Not only do you need to make a choice, you need to make the right one (whatever that is for your particular show) otherwise you destroy all the good will you’ve built up over the years.  So to present an ambiguous ending is avoiding that decision.  To me that’s chickenshit.

Noah Hawley, in an excellent interview with Alan Sepinwall, admits that the "This is a true story" was lying to the audience.  You know what?  I get enough lies from my fucking president. 

I know it’s currently chic to embrace ambiguity and complexity and existentialism – hour dramas are so DEEP with so many LAYERS.  “Oh, the real world is messy. There are no neat conclusions.” But fuck that. Someone gives you ten hours; give them a fucking ending. The open-ended finale is not even original or fresh. THE SOPRANOS did it so much better.  And at least they were groundbreaking.   Plus, it was the end of the series.  David Chase did not ask the audience to continue taking the ride with him.   I wonder how many FARGO viewers feel like me.  

I'm certainly not saying you have to have a happy ending. It can be unsettling, sad, horrific, shocking, surprising, hopeful, weird, wistful – whatever. And you don’t have to tie up every loose end. You don’t have to wrap everything up in a pretty package. But give us SOMETHING. And I’m sorry but characters killing each other off like ducks in a shooting gallery is not SOMETHING.

Sometimes you can be just too artsy, too quirky, too clever for your own good.

They just lost one viewer.   And Emmy vote.  

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Questions

Friday Questions comin’ at ya.

John Leader leads off.

Occasionally I’ll spot an “Easter Egg” in a show I’m watching…something that may or may not be obvious enough for everyone to notice, but it’s there for some (comedic?) purpose. An example would be Les Nessman, the News Director on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” always wearing a bandage somewhere on his person. Week-to-week, the bandage would be in different places, but it was never referred to…it was just there.

Have you and David ever stashed such “Easter Eggs” in any of your creations? And, what do you think of the whole idea of doing so?

On a couple of occasions if a character is reading a book on one of our shows, he’ll be reading my book, “It’s Gone… No, wait a minute” (and we make sure it gets on camera).

On ALMOST PERFECT, anytime Nancy’s character was watching TV at home she was watching CHEERS.

In THE BIG WAVE DAVE’S pilot we needed a bar so called it “Matt’s” for my son Matt. In the ALMOST PERFECT pilot we needed a restaurant and called it “Annie's” for my daughter Annie. She got the better of the deal. ALMOST PERFECT lasted 34 episodes and that set (with her name prominently featured) got used in probably 30 of them.

Other than that, just slipping in names of people we knew for an inside joke. Example: One of the happiest married couples I knew was Bill & Sherry Grand. So in a CHEERS we wrote, Diane was on jury duty about a married couple trying to kill each other. They were named Bill & Sherry Grand. Maybe six people in America got that joke. 

Paul Dushkind asks:

How did it come to be that Admiral Crowe, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, became a guest star on Cheers? That has to be the strangest choice of a guest appearance on a TV show ever.

Oh, it goes beyond that. In the first draft, we originally wrote it for Larry Bird. He initially said he’d be interested. But then backed out. So then we thought, who would be the single most unlikely replacement? The premise was that Rebecca thinks he stole her earrings. Absurd choices were batted around and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff came up. I think we had a list of four or five crazy options. Our casting director inquired and the good Chairman agreed to do it. We then wrote the second draft making the necessary adjustments.

How often was Larry Bird and William J. Crowe offered the same role?

Admiral Crowe did a great job. There was even talk of a spinoff.

From David C:

I wrote a spec of Kimmy Schmidt a while ago and the newest season did some things very similar, joke setups, themes, in one case a specific plot point. It's not close enough for people to think I stole specifics just close enough that someone may see it as lazy if they were unaware of when it was written. I'm sure this sort of thing happens all the time. Should I make a note on my script to say it was written before the latest season or should I not say anything?

No. Just leave it. That will be only one aspect of the script. You’ll be judged for your comedy chops, ability to capture the characters’ voices, and storytelling skills. Let your script stand on its own.

Also, you probably will have some readers who are not so familiar with KIMMY SCHMIDT that they'll notice the similarities. Why alert them?

Best of luck.

And finally, Andrew Radford wonders:

You said some young writers "maybe can’t write multi-cameras". Since you've written for both single and multi camera shows, can you explain the difference in how to write for each format?

For multi-camera shows you have to write more hard jokes. You have 250 strangers in the audience you need to make audibly laugh. And believe me, they’ll tell you whether something is funny or NOT. You can’t just rely on irony or smiles.

On single-camera shows you’re not held accountable. If the showrunner thinks something is funny it stays in. The problem is he won’t always know. And that’s not a knock at him or single-camera shows. Some are very funny. But I’ve been doing this a long time and there are plenty of instances when things I thought would kill died in front of the audience. But at least I then had a chance to fix them, to replace the jokes that didn’t work. Or edit them out.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Remember, you're always ON THE AIR

Wow. This is odd. Some public figure made an innocuous off-colored remark in this ultra-PC climate and he wasn’t buried on Twitter. In fact, people seem to take it in stride. Thank you Mets fans. The reaction (at least from what I’ve seen) has been amusement. Besides, there’s enough real shit to get furious over that it’s stupid to waste your outrage on something like this.

We're talking about a comment Mets’ TV analyst Keith Hernandez said during the Mets-Dodger game on Monday night. Oh, by the way, he didn’t say it on the air. He said it during a commercial break but his mic was still hot and if you had a satellite receiver you were able to hear it. So to 99% of the audience, it went unnoticed. More reason why this should be a non-story… although it’s not. Deadspin and the Huffington Post both had stories on it.

So what did Keith actually say?

He was talking to his broadcast partner, Gary Cohen about a pitcher who has been getting hit hard lately. And he casually remarked: “Roark’s been getting his tits lit.”

That’s it.

First off, “getting his tits lit” is a baseball expression. And sorry PC’ers, it’s a fairly common baseball expression. And not that dissimilar to “colder than a witch's tit.

Again, what I’m heartened by is that Mets fans took Keith’s comment for what it was (nothing) and laughed it off.

But it does again remind us that anytime a mic is hot, or anytime we post anything on the internet we are essentially broadcasting. We all live in a giant fishbowl. Remember Al Michaels said some things between innings of the 1987 World Series that pissed a few satellite watchers off and caused a bit of a shitstorm. When I was doing Mariner telecasts I asked people between innings to send in a postcard and I got a bunch from around the country. They’re out there. (They were especially out there for our telecasts because between innings our director would often focus on hot girls in the stands.)

Still, the point remains – when you post a photo of yourself in a Speedo on Instagram or angry tweet when you’re shit-faced, you might as well have a microphone and camera open to the world. And it could get scary. Potential employers Google you and when that 2011 toga party comes up that you were tagged in and you’re seen French kissing a sump pump this does not bode well for you getting that job.

So be careful. You might not get off as easily as Keith Hernandez. You might really get your tits caught in the ringer.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Episode 25: Adventures in Television Directing


Ken shares stories of directing sitcoms. He describes what it's like to be challenged by actors, how to win them over, and almost killing an actor. Then he discusses the many times he got fired in radio and how he went out in a blaze of glory on several of those occasions.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

What is a "Bono?"

One of my Friday Question Jeopardy answers was  "What is a Bono?"   Enough readers wondered what that was so I thought I'd explain it today. 

In between the time Sonny Bono wore fur vests and became a US Congressman he owned an Italian restaurant on Melrose Ave. in LA named “Bono’s.” He picked a bad location. Within months it went belly up. Since then, every time I drive by that place it’s something else – Japanese, Indian, American diner, etc.

When we’re in production on a show it seems that every week there is that one nagging joke that doesn’t work. It’s replaced on Tuesday. That joke doesn’t work. Wednesday, same story. On and on throughout the week.

That joke is called a “Bono”. And like I said, there’s ALWAYS one (at least one). The term was coined by Denise Moss, a fabulous writer on MURPHY BROWN.

What it teaches you is to stick with it, never settle, try new areas. And never just go for the easy joke…which is why I’m refraining from any reference to skiing.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Make sure your response is in the form of a question

I’m always looking for ways to involve my readers in the blog and yesterday’s post was a case in point. Based on a reader’s suggestion I played “Friday Questions Jeopardy” where I gave you the answers and you had to fill in the questions.  Some of them you got, some you missed (but were funny), and some you didn't even try. 

So here are the questions. How did you do?

A rotating joke, a restaurant, and a congressman.

What’s a “Bono?”

William Devane and a former Ram.

Who were the other two finalists for the role of Sam Malone on CHEERS?

VIPness.

What’s a word that Levine & Isaacs tried to slip past the CBS censors?

ALL IS FORGIVEN and THE TORTELLIS.

What are two failed series under the Charles/Burrows/Charles banner?

The dialogue coach on FLIPPER.

What is one of the erroneous jobs IMDB claimed Ken Levine had?

Molly Ringwald and Darryl Hannah.

Who turned down the Julia Roberts role in PRETTY WOMAN? Or… Who are still kicking themselves today?

Would have stayed in Sacramento if they had only given him a small raise.

What would have kept Rush Limbaugh from accepting an offer to go to New York and host a national radio show?

The “Abby Singer Shot.”

What’s the second-to-the-last shot during any one filming day?

55 share, 19 share.

What were AfterMASH’s ratings the first night of the 1983/84 season and the last night?

An “Up and Back.”

What’s a funny joke run that doesn’t advance the plot?

Hope Lange.

Who played Dick Van Dyke’s wife on THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW?

Starred in a TV movie about herself.

Who is Ann Jillian?

Schmuck bait.

What’s a plot point that only an idiot would buy?

Paper partners.

What is the insidious practice where scumbag showrunners hire two baby writers and force them to become partners, thus cutting each of their salaries in half?

Charlie Haid and Walton Goggins.

Who were two actors who played characters that got killed in pilots but were so good the producers decided to bring them back from the dead and reinstate them?

HAPPY DAYS and THE ODD COUPLE.

What are two sitcoms that started out as single-camera shows and converted to multi-camera shows?

Camelot.

What was the nickname writers had for MTM Enterprises during the golden comedy age of the ‘70s?

Studio 25 at the NBC Burbank Studios is named in his honor.

Who is Art Fleming, the original host of JEOPARDY?

Thanks for playing. WHEEL OF FORTUNE is next.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Let's all play FRIDAY QUESTIONS JEOPARDY!

Reader bobgassel had an interesting thought:

How about a "Friday Jeopardy" where you post the answers and we try and guess the questions?

Okay, I’ll bite. Try your luck.

A rotating joke, a restaurant, and a congressman.

William Devane and a former Ram.

VIPness.

ALL IS FORGIVEN and THE TORTELLIS.

The dialogue coach on FLIPPER.

Molly Ringwald and Darryl Hannah.

Would have stayed in Sacramento if they had only given him a small raise.

The “Abby Singer Shot.”

55 share, 19 share.

An “Up and Back.”

Hope Lange.

Starred in a TV movie about herself.

Schmuck bait.

Paper partners.

Charlie Haid and Walton Goggins.

HAPPY DAYS and THE ODD COUPLE.

Camelot.

Studio 25 at the NBC Burbank Studios is named in his honor.

The “Questions” tomorrow. Good luck.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day

On this Father’s Day (the most sacred holiday of the year) I’d like to wish a happy one to my dad, who also happens to be my hero, mentor, and best friend. I love you, Dad.  I'm in therapy for other reasons. 

Here are some pithy Father’s Day quotes:

“To be a successful father… there’s one absolute rule: when you have a kid, don’t look at it for the first two years.” -- Ernest Hemingway

“A man knows when he is growing old because he begins to look like his father.” -- Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“If the new American father feels bewildered and even defeated, let him take comfort from the fact that whatever he does in any fathering situation has a fifty percent chance of being right.” -- Bill Cosby (always great to get parenting advice from this sleazeball)

“It is a wise father that knows his own child.” -- William Shakespeare

"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." – Mark Twain

“By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he's wrong.” -- Charles Wadsworth

And finally, a salute to Screaming Jay Hawkins. Screaming Jay was a r&b/blues singer. His big hit was “I Put a Spell on You” in which he came out of a coffin. The man was a crowd pleaser. And also a lady pleaser it seems. Upon his death when it was time to divvy up the estate it was discovered he had 57 children. Screaming Jay will not be saluted on Planned Parenthood day.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there.  Note to my family:  I hate power tools.  I'm more of a "free trip to Hawaii" kind of guy. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

My day with Johnny Carson (for those who remember Johnny Carson)

 On the Tony Awards last week (that no one watched), host Kevin Spacey did a Johnny Carson impression.  Sitting in the audience my first thought was "how many people even remember Johnny Carson?"   Probably very few, certainly very few Millennials.   Carson hosted THE TONIGHT SHOW for close to thirty years.  The Tony Awards drew an audience of just over 6 million.  In the '70s, every single night, Johnny Carson drew 17 million... at midnight.  But he's been off the air for over twenty years.  That's a long time.   And unfortunately, he's passed away, so it's not like he could guest on THE TALK. 

When he was the King of Television he rarely appeared on sitcoms.  He did a cameo in a MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW episode, but you just heard his voice.   And yet, he agreed to be in a CHEERS episode that my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote (called "Heeeeeeere's Cliffy!").

Networks love stunt casting and this was catching the biggest fish of all.

The premise of our episode: Cliff's ultimate goal in life was to have Johnny Carson read one of his jokes during a monologue. The man reached for the stars! Alas, his endless submissions kept getting rejected. Finally, as a goof, Norm intercepts one and turns it into an acceptance letter. Things get out of hand when Cliff flies to Burbank to be in the audience the night of his big triumph. And he brings his mother. Norm must tag along for damage control.

Norm bribes the cue card guy to include Cliff's joke. Johnny reads it in his monologue, it bombs, Cliff stands up and corrects his delivery. He winds up in custody while mom ends up on the couch with Johnny.

Come on. It could happen!

We wrote the script, sent it to Carson, who approved it. We arranged to film it right after a TONIGHT SHOW taping. The audience was asked if they'd like to stay for an extra half hour and be on CHEERS. Nice folks that they were, they were willing to make that sacrifice.

The crew and I arrived at the studio at 3 (my partner was out of town). The TONIGHT SHOW taped from 5:30 - 6:30. I introduced myself to Mr. Carson and said I'd be happy to make any adjustments he would like. He said, no, he thought the script was great. He'd do it just as written. I almost fainted.

During the TONIGHT SHOW taping I sat in the green room and kibitzed for an hour with that night's guest -- Elizabeth Taylor. She could not have been more approachable and fun. It was almost surreal to be chatting about life with Elizabeth Taylor.

After the taping, director Jim Burrows set up our four cameras and blocked the scenes. Not only is Jimmy the best multi-camera director, he's also the fastest. All of this rather complicated stuff was accomplished in fifteen minutes in front of the audience. Indy Pit Crews could learn a thing or two from Jim Burrows.

We had hoped to also get Ed McMahon but he wasn't interested in sticking around (a whole half hour) so we wrote him out. Guess he had to get to that Budweiser.

Now the filming began. Four film cameras were positioned on the stage. I was standing next to one, essentially between the curtain and the band. Jimmy calls action, the band (right behind me) struck up the familiar theme and Johnny Carson steps through the curtains. He's maybe five feet from me. He begins delivering our monologue. This was maybe a month before his final TONIGHT SHOW so I knew this was a precious experience that would never come again.

We tried to write jokes that would get solid laughs so that when Johnny got to Cliff's it would be noticeably bad. Much to my sheer delight, our jokes worked. The King of Late Night was getting laughs doing our material. This was more surreal than Elizabeth Taylor asking me which Disneyland ride was my favorite.

The scene played great. We shot it a couple of times. And Johnny was the ultimate professional. Happy to do re-takes, whatever we needed. So often legends and idols disappoint if and when you actually meet them but the reverse was true here. I wound up even more in awe of Johnny Carson.

After we wrapped I got a picture sitting at Johnny's desk interviewing John Ratzenberger.
Woody Allen made a movie called ZELIG where he played a normal guy who somehow managed to mingle with every important figure of his day.

Well, Zelig had nothing on me, certainly that night -- a night that will live in my memory forever... and hopefully in reruns.

Hey-ohhhh!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday Questions

Who’s up for some Friday Questions?

Steve is.

I was reminded of by the mention of 'Goodbye Radar' but I assure you is not meant as a criticism of those episodes: Why do so many two-parters seem to be so padded out? Do they start life as one script that can't be edited down to the proper length?

In many cases that’s true. I’ll be honest – most two-parters – at least in sitcoms -- are really part-and-a-halfers.

And usually this crystallizes at the script stage. There’s just too much story to tell in one episode so the choices are to cut elements, which sometimes really short-changes the story, or expand to a two-parter, which often results in some padding.

Sometimes the decision is made after a show is shot – add a few scenes and make it a two-parter, but usually not. It’s expensive to shoot way more than you originally need so usually that’s addressed before it gets to that stage.

But I will say this, and it’s happened to my partner and me a couple of times – there’s nothing greater than turning in a first draft that’s a little long and hearing the showrunner say, let’s just make it a two-parter. Suddenly we get paid for two scripts. And even if we have to do another draft to fill out the two-parter, that’s just a few scenes. It’s a beautiful thing.

In the case of GOODBYE RADAR, CBS wanted the show to be an hour so they could promote it during November sweeps over two weeks. And there is a little padding in there, I will admit.

slgc asks:

The film MOVIE MOVIE had been in heavy rotation for a long time, but now it is nowhere to be found. Why does that happen to some films? Why do some of them simply fall off the face of the Earth?

This all has to do with distribution rights. Movies are syndicated to stations in packages. A station might acquire a library of say fifty movies that they can air for three years. Over time these distributor deals with studios change, and as companies are purchased by other companies sometimes titles fall by the wayside.

MOVIE MOVIE is a very funny film, co-written by Larry Gelbart. I believe it’s available still on DVD. If so, check it out.

cd1515 wants to know:

Friday question: recently watched the John Cleese episode of Cheers, one of the finest ever IMO and I noticed you didn't write it.

Respectfully, have you ever worked on a show, seen an episode someone else wrote and been a little jealous of how good it came out?

Not per se. There are a lot of episodes I wish I had written because they are so freaking good, but those inspire me, not make me jealous.

That John Cleese episode, by the way, was written by Peter Casey & David Lee. And it’s one of my all-time favorite episodes of CHEERS.

And finally, Toby O'B queries:

If 'Brockmire' came calling, would you appear as yourself on the show [if there's another season?] Have you ever worked with any Jim Brockmire types in your broadcasting career?

You bet I’d appear as myself. It’s a great show. Can I have a love scene with Amanda Peet?  From what I understand there will be a season two. 

I have known a couple of Jim Brockmires, but only in my minor league days. I won’t embarrass him by revealing his name, but one clown actually sounded like him. I remember listening once and this was his call (and imagine the Brockmire delivery): “There’s a line driiiiive to deep right field, off the Pepsi sign, and hey, wouldn’t an ice cold Pepsi Cola taste great right about now? Mmmmm mmmm. And he’s in with a double.

You can’t make up shit like that.

Have a great weekend, and I hope it includes catching my podcast this week with Kevin Smith. Just click on the big gold arrow at the top of the blog. Thanks. (See I can squeeze in a plug as good as any Brockmire.)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Misc. Takes

Is FARGO turning into TWIN PEAKS?

Can you believe the baseball season is almost half over already?

Tom Cruise is no boxoffice match for an Israeli woman with a tiara and lasso.

Apparently there were more people inside Radio City watching than Tonys than the television audience.

As always happens, shows that don’t win Tonys close ten minutes after the ceremony. Farewell to INDECENT, SWEAT, and 6 DEGREES OF SEPARATION. But CATS continues on

24.5 million viewers watched the last game of the NBA Finals. Opening night for the 2017-18 season is next Thursday.

Why I love the Golden State Warriors: they plan to decline an invitation to the White House.

You can follow me on Instagram at HollywoodandLevine. I post pictures of food and scenery like everybody else.
They keep rebooting all these movies. The one movie I really want to see rebooted is ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon will win Oscars.

I had a girlfriend in high school who wouldn’t sleep with me because she was born on June 15th. It’s the middle of the month, middle of the year, and that meant she was destined to stay noncommittal. That’s the most creative brush-off I’ve ever had. The rest all just said, “No!”

Did you ever think you’d see a Yankees team hitting so well with their first and third baseman batting eighth and ninth?

Emmy consideration billboards are up in my neighborhood. How about yours?

Check out my podcast this week. Part two of my interview with Kevin Smith and it’s even better and more personal than part one. And you get to meet my daughter Annie and her husband/writing partner Jon. Kevin interviews them. Just click on the big gold arrow under the masthead.
Oh, and please SUBSCRIBE. Thank you.

Remember when the summer meant network reruns? Now it means burning off CARMICHAEL and Steve Harvey.

Have you seen the reboot of CLARRISA EXPLAINS IT ALL? It’s on MSNBC every night starring Rachel Maddow.

I lost 3,000 steps when I flew across country and the app switched over to PDT. If only there was a diet app that did that.

Are they still calling ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK a “comedy?” If so, it’s a big waste of a billboard.

James Lipton would ask Putin tougher questions than Oliver Stone did.

Happy Father’s Day this Sunday.  Don't even think of getting me a tool. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Episode 24: Interview w/ Filmmaker Kevin Smith Part 2


Kevin discusses his directing process, the incredible story of getting CHASING AMY made, the even more incredible story of trying to write a SUPERMAN screenplay, plus terrific advice for filmmakers young and old alike. And as a bonus, Kevin interviews Ken’s daughter Annie and her writing partner/husband Jon on how they broke into the business and what networks are looking for in writing samples.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

My 15 seconds of fame

Andy Warhol coined the phrase “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." And that was before the internet where idiots who swallow live gerbils get 80,000,000 hits on YouTube.

But it does seem like Mr. Warhol was prophetic. Everyone has become a reality star in his own show. You’re somewhere in the world reading this. Without the internet I’m Cliff Clavin writing rants that I’d have to mail, which would only get my name on the FBI-watch list. Instead, I’m a legitimate commentator. Or at least semi-legitimate. I don’t warn that space aliens are controlling Time-Warner. (Even though everyone knows that they are.)

Still, in this dizzying world of celebrity I would amend Mr. Warhol’s theory and say “writers get 15 seconds.” If there are actors around, they get the media attention. And that’s only fair. Their faces are up on the screen. If a writer has a big problem with that then take acting lessons and get in front of the camera.

But the perfect example of what I’m talking about is this: A number of years ago David Isaacs and I won the WGA Award for Best Episodic Comedy Script. Our presenter was actor Jimmy Smits. After we walked off stage there were a few journalists hovering. They completely blew by us to interview Jimmy Smits. Hey, we fucking WON. And it was a WGA event. But they were way more interested in what Jimmy Smits had to say… about anything.

Example number two: whenever there is a TV documentary about a TV show (like MASH or CHEERS) they will interview the writers extensively, and then use maybe 15 seconds of it. But the actors will get five minutes apiece. Again, I can only smile. That’s just the way it is.

That’s why I have been so surprised and delighted by the CNN decade documentary series. I was on THE SEVENTIES talking about MASH. I got my usual few seconds here and there. Then I was on THE EIGHTIES and shockingly, they went to me a lot. I’m even commenting on PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE. I was on-camera enough that some strangers have made fun of my tie.

And here’s the amazing thing: CNN plays those episodes over and over again. It seems like every other week I’ll get a flurry of emails from people who just saw me on CNN. Talk about getting the most from your 15 seconds.

Recently I was up in Silicon Valley for my granddaughter’s first birthday party. I went back to the hotel, turned on the TV and yikes – there I was.

I love that they rerun those TV-themed episodes – not so much for my exposure, but it means one less hour they show Trump.

I was interviewed again for THE NINETIES, which premier on July 9th on CNN. I have no idea how much they’ll use me (or even if they'll use me at all), but if I’m going to get my 15 seconds, at least it’s on a show I’m proud of and so far I haven’t said anything stupid.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I love New York (when the weather is good and I can do stuff)

 
A quick look at my trip in words and pictures.

Was in Gotham for four days and it didn’t rain once. At the moment it’s 95 degrees and thunderstorms are expected (or snow), but for my long weekend, you could walk everywhere except Fifth Avenue because of the Puerto Rican Day parade.

There are still long lines for CATS. I swear, I must live in an alternate universe.
Okay, I have an excuse. I’m not the most oblivious person on the planet. I was sneezing. My wife and I were crossing Lexington Avenue at 50th at about 11:00 pm one night. Granted, it was a warm evening, but my wife said, “Did you just see that?” “What? No” I said. “The guy who just passed us, crossing the street – you didn’t notice him?” “No, “ I said, “I was sneezing.” Well, it seems a guy crossed right by me that was completely naked except for a handkerchief over his genitals. And this did not get my attention. That must’ve been some sneeze.

You’ve heard of the spotting the first robin of spring. Perhaps for NY, that guy is the first sign of summer.

One area of Manhattan that is now off limits to me is anywhere in the vicinity of the Trump Tower. I didn’t want to even look in its direction.

What the hell are Jewish mashed potatoes? This was from the menu at the Redeye Grill.
Happy to say the Shake Shack burger in God-knows-where Long Island tastes every bit as good as the one in West Hollywood.

I’m sorry, this will always be the Pan Am building to me.
Took the Long Island Railroad out to Westbury to see my daughter and her husband. (They’re now in New York co-producing KEVIN CAN WAIT, which films in glamorous Bethpage, Long Island). On the track going the opposite direction there was an incident. Apparently the train hit a guy on the tracks. So that train was stopped, passengers were filing out as we went by. I asked our conductor if he had ever heard of this kind of thing happening before and he said, matter-of-factly, “Oh yeah. We got three last week.” Last WEEK? It’s one thing to not see a naked guy, but a train??

Could this mean another sequel – SILVERFINGER?
How many Mets fans are going to eat here? I bet Rusty Staub’s had better food.
And finally, who is this? A Disney princess from a movie I’ve missed? Ivanka? 

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Tony Awards -- rehearsals

Almost better than attending the Tony’s is attending the Tony’s rehearsal. This week I got to watch two of them. I kept hoping that actually being in Radio City the committee might say, “Oh hell, he wrote a couple of funny plays, let’s just give him one,” but alas they felt not throwing me out onto the street was tribute enough.

Still, just sitting quietly and observing on Friday, and again on Sunday for the dress rehearsal was a super thrill. My thanks to Randy Thomas, who for the last 19 years has been the “voice of the Tony’s” for getting me in to watch.  (They requested no pictures be taken of the rehearsal so you’ll have to make do with shots around the periphery.)

What struck me was how many moving parts are involved to make this live nationally broadcast extravaganza. Talk about Murphy’s Law. And yet, director Glenn Weiss and crew make it look easy although in truth, it’s a herculean task. And that’s without a Bette Midler production number.

To me the Tony’s are the best of the award shows simply because they feature the most true entertainment and they have never asked Seth MacFarlane to host. It’s unfortunate that 99.999% of America hasn’t seen any of these shows so there’s less rooting interest. Not a lot of betting pools in Kansas I’m guessing.

There were eight or nine full production numbers from Broadway shows, and that doesn’t count host Kevin Spacey’s big opening number (not a highlight but he redeemed himself with the line of the night calling out Bette Midler for not getting off the fucking stage). Each of those shows had their own casts, backdrops, musicians, costumes, and props. That poor stage manager. Besides the host, and all the presenters, he had to wrangle close to a thousand performers. It’s the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony but with Josh Groban.

Who knows how many weeks or months of pre-planning went into last week’s final few days of rehearsal. Coordinating all the segments, preparing the numbers, doing the camera blocking (they used twelve cameras including a few flying jibs that swooped around the auditorium like buzzards) – the mind reels. Large broadcast trucks lined 51st Street and starting mid-week, the production crew took over Radio City (which is like taking over Moldavia but larger).  What a nightmare for the sound crew who had to mic and mix this uber show. 

When the Comet dancers had to put on their Russian boots they needed to put their sneakers somewhere
Each nominated musical came in and rehearsed their number. Some were incredibly elaborate. THE GREAT COMET required a gazillion dancers, and a chorus of probably a hundred that ascended the stage in two humongous elevators. And Josh Groban. The number extended into the audience with dancers in the aisles, interacting with guests, playing instruments. And Josh Groban (maybe the best singer in the whole room... and that's saying something). Miraculously, the whole piece was choreographed, mic'ed, and camera blocked in a few hours. It should have taken six years.

They rehearsed the number from GROUNDHOG DAY three times and I said to Randy, "Jesus, are they doing the entire show?"

Since these were all numbers from current Broadway hits, the rehearsal had to stop in the evening and resume after eleven once the shows closed. And they couldn’t rehearse on Saturday because there are matinee and evening performances of each show. I’d be popping Xanex like Tic Tacs.

Randy in her booth
Randy’s makeshift booth was on the fourth floor. There are four or five floors of dressing rooms, rehearsal halls, who knows what? It’s such a labyrinth I bet Rockettes get lost. With absolutely zero margin for error, Randy must read all these tongue-twisting names and of course announce those walk-up factoids. “This is Ken Levine’s first Tony win even though he has never been nominated.” And those she has to do on the fly. It’s a unique skill that combines talent, experience, and Hurt Locker nerves.

One cool thing:  Up on the fourth floor a tiny space is set up for the individual conductors of the shows.   There's a camera set up with a monitor in front of the orchestra, so each can conduct his own show.  Just picture Leonard Bernstein conducting in a shower. 

On Sunday morning I was invited to attend the dress rehearsal at 9:00 AM. There was a small invited audience – well, small by Radio City standards. You could fit the Woodstock festival in its balcony.

I was lucky enough to be assigned to the orchestra. As a bonus, I got my 10,000 steps in for the day just walking to my seat. They run through the entire show and the pre-show special awards categories that are edited for playback during the real show. An editor sits up on the fourth floor with an iMac and edits these things on the fly. I could just watch him for three hours.

Randy should never leave the booth
Kevin Spacey was there along with some of the presenters. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Hamill, Sally Field, Sarah Paulson, Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Sutton Foster, Glenn Close, and a few others were there. Stand-ins took the place of presenters who were not. Those same stand-ins also came up from the audience and made acceptance speeches. Some of them were funnier than the actual winners. Most of the speeches were just a string of cliché’s and you realize, that’s what 80% of the real speeches are like.

All in all, it was an extraordinary experience. And I tip my hat to the hundreds, maybe thousands of technicians and crew members who put on this dazzlingly complex show and pulled it off with grace and style. You’re the ones who deserve the awards.

Congrats to all the winners including Ben Platt who I knew as a real little kid, and thanks again to Randy Thomas.   And can I just end with GOODBYE, Dolly!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

One of my meetings from hell

Hollywood is all about meetings. You get them. You have them. You take them. You reschedule them. Generally, you’re pitching someone or they’re pitching you. The last thing said in most meetings is, “Great. We’ll get back to you.”

Some of these meetings are awkward. And the longer you’ve been around, the more of them you amass. I’ve had more than my share of these train wrecks and recounting them seems to be a popular feature on this blog.

So here’s another.

This happened sometime in the early ‘00s. My partner, David Isaacs and I had a development deal at Paramount. We were mentoring two young writers who had a great idea for a pilot. So we set up meetings with networks.

Based on the idea, we concluded that the perfect place for it was The WB. So we lined up that meeting first.

David and I had never had a meeting at The WB. We didn’t know any of the executives personally and had never been to their offices.

The four of us dutifully showed up at the appointed time in their modest lobby. The WB headquarters was an elongated bungalow on the Warners annex lot, which is closer to Burbank Airport than the actual Warner Brothers studios. It looked like a glorified real estate office.  Clearly, space was at a premium. 

An assistant popped his head in and invited us to “come on back.” We followed him through a maze of narrow hallways, passing the Xerox machine, coffee maker, etc. At one point he wanted us to turn left and go down another hall but we mistook his gesture and entered a large office instead.

There was some dude at a desk on the phone. Again, we had never met the VP of Comedy Development we were pitching. But we figured this must be him.

So we all flopped down on his couch and made ourselves at home. Slouching, crossing our legs, just stretching out.

The fellow looked a little shocked to see us. But he continued his call and we patiently waited – setting our water bottles on his coffee table, getting out the notes for our pitch, etc.

Finally, he finished his call, stood up, and said, “Who the fuck are you guys?”

I figured, “Swell. He forgot our meeting.  Yet another reminder of how important we are in this business.” I introduced us.

Still confused, he said, “So what the hell are you doing in my office?”

Clearly, he was a little annoyed, but hey, it wasn’t my fault he forgot our damn meeting.  Not only did we remember.  We had to drive to the valley and find this place.  TV networks are not usually down the street from strip malls.

But in awkward cases like this I find the best thing to do is lighten the mood. So I said, “Uh… pitching a pilot and maybe if it goes well, using your shower.”

Now he was really pissed. And we couldn’t understand why. All we had done was show up on time, prepared, for a pitch meeting.

The panicked assistant dashed in, mortified. There’d been a terrible mistake. That wasn’t the VP of Comedy Development. That was Jordan Levin, the president of The WB.   Oops. No wonder he didn't find it funny that I wanted to use his shower. 

We didn’t help matters by then laughing. We found it funny. Jordan Levin did not. I can’t blame him. He’s a major figure in the television industry and the Marx Brothers suddenly barge into his office.  Thank goodness we didn't help ourselves to any of his liquor.  

Needless to say we didn’t sell that pilot. Or any pilot. (We did, however, sell that pilot to NBC. President Warren Littlefield was out of the office that day.)

Ultimately, of course, The WB merged with UPN and disappeared. Looking back, all the signs were there. What network president doesn’t have an outer office? I’m surprised they lasted as long as they did.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Levine's Laws

I find these laws to be self evident…

There are more New York cab drivers who speak English than all the night nurses in all metropolitan hospitals combined.

Theatre audiences will always boo an Adam Sandler trailer yet he will keep getting movies.

There is not one mohel who doesn’t think he’s a comedian. There is not one mohel who is right.

If a waiter doesn’t write down your order he will get it wrong.

If you’re telling a joke in a restaurant the waiter will arrive and interrupt the minute you get to the punch line.

There will always be one young couple that brings a baby to a slasher movie.
A hostess in an empty restaurant will always lead you to the worst table.

In every article that mentions you, no matter how complimentary, there will always be one thing said or misquoted that will prevent you from forwarding it to your family.

The heavier and more cumbersome your carry-on luggage, the farther your gate will be from the terminal.

Networks will always say they want cutting edge new shows then pick up whatever pilot Jenna Elfman is in.

When a hostess tells you it’ll only be five more minutes, they just have to clear off some tables – it’ll be twenty.

The minute you start eating on an airplane, turbulence will begin.

When a couple from the mainland gets married in Hawaii the marriage doesn’t last.

Nine out of ten tourists at Disneyland are overweight. Ten out of ten if they stay two days.

The screw up because the hospital forgot to bill the correct insurer will never ever ever be resolved.

Women will always claim the number one thing they’re looking for in a man is a sense of humor and then pick the best looking guy.

The driver in front of you is an idiot.
 
And of course, my most famous law...

The lead-off walk always comes around to score... unless he doesn't.   (I've never been proven wrong.)

Friday, June 09, 2017

Friday Questions

Hello from New York. Here are this week’s Friday Questions:

Erin K starts us off:

Re-watching CHEERS and always curious about the Sam and Rebecca dynamic. It seems the writers spent three season (6,7,8) ramping up their chemistry. Then any potential created for a relationship was quickly dropped in season 9. Was this because the writers decided not to Go There after already taking the relationship route with Sam and Diane? I've always wondered about that and would love to hear your thoughts!

The plan was never to “go there.” From day one the mandate was to make their relationship different from Sam & Diane. But we also needed some fun dynamics between them. So Sam was trying to get into her pants one season, which put her off, and one season she was hoping to get pregnant, which scared him off. We also gave her other love interests. In short, Sam & Rebecca were never going to hook up. I’ve always felt that was the right choice. Do you?

Not a robot... maybe a replicant, however asks:

Having had your toes in so many ponds, you may actually have sufficient background to answer this.... Why does it seem like, the longer they work together, a sitcom cast tends to become a family, but rock band members grow to hate and sue each other. And how does a professional sports team stack up on that continuum?

Never been in a rock band (I was waaaay too uncool) so this is pure speculation: There is usually a showrunner of a hit sitcom who is the creative voice of the show. I’m guessing that in rock bands there are many instances where there is no clear-cut leader. So as they grow as musicians they might clash over the band’s direction. Or they fight over a woman. I’m sure that happens a lot.

Band members are also working in closer quarters – forced together for months on tours. Put any four people together for three months of one-night-stands and you’ll have gunfire.

Many times actors in successful sitcoms feel taken care of. The scripts are good, the adulation is intoxicating, the money is great, and many actors and crew members have been on enough bad series under horrible working conditions to appreciate just how good they have it now.

With ballplayers there is definitely a camaraderie that develops – usually through winning. And that chemistry is a factor.

On the other hand, if ever there was a team where just about everybody on it hated everybody else on it, it was the Oakland A’s teams of the ‘70s. And yet they were a dynasty, winning numerous championships.  Probably their one bond was they all hated owner Charlie Finley.

The Bumble Bee Pendant queries:

Friday question based on the LAST CHEERS podcast:

You mentioned the stitches together of scenes/lines for the last few seasons that would produce a well-shown TV episode.

Is there any written Isaacs-Levine script (for ANY show) which was recreated into an episode that made you think, "Wow! I don't know what they (crew/cast/etc) did but they turned that into a thing of beauty beyond our wildest expectations".

Yes, the “Point of View” episode of MASH we wrote. That’s the one seen through the eyes of the patient (season 7 if you want to run to Netflix to watch it).

Charles Dubin was the director and did a magnificent job. Remember also, that this was before the age of lightweight compact steady-cams. He had to schlep around big honking movie cameras.  The cast rose to the occasion as well.   And it wasn't easy.  Actors are taught to never look at the camera.  This time they had to and play to it as if it were a person.  They all crushed it.

Honestly, when we wrote POV I didn’t know what to expect. His final product exceeded my wildest dreams. If anyone deserved an Emmy for that show – even more than us – it was Charlie Dubin. (We all were nominated and lost.)

And finally, from Jay:

With the current "Twin Peaks" revival, can you think back to the spring of 1990 when that show was up against "Cheers" for a hot minute on Thursday nights...was there any concern within the "Cheers" offices about this trendy, mega-hyped show going up against your still-hilarious-but-it's-still-an-eight-year-old show? Of course in the end, it only lasted six weeks against "Cheers", was moved to Saturday night the following fall, and died a quick death following the resolution to the Who Killed Laura Palmer mystery, but still...for a few weeks in April 1990 (and especially after the boffo ratings "Twin Peaks's" pilot received), I seem to remember a sense of "Cheers" possibly having met its match ratings-wise.

No. We weren’t worried. We were a well-established hit by then, TWIN PEAKS had peaked, and there was enough audience on Thursday nights to support both.  But no one was allowed in the studio audience for filmings of CHEERS if they had a log. 

After Laura Palmer’s murder was uh… solved, the show had trouble finding its way creatively and the ratings dropped precipitously. We weathered the storm. 

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, June 08, 2017

The Beat (sheet) goes on

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post:

James asks:

I was watching something where a comedy writer mentioned a beat sheet, and I know you've mentioned it here, but I'm still struggling with the idea. I was wondering if you'd consider taking an act or maybe even just a scene from something like Almost Perfect and post what the beat sheet would look like for that act or scene.

Here’s the beat sheet and part one of the pilot so you can follow along. You can go to YouTube to see the rest of it.

                                ALMOST PERFECT PILOT - Beat Sheet

                           by Ken Levine & David Isaacs & Robin Schiff

ACT ONE

SCENE ONE – INT. ANNIE’S BAR AND GRILL – NIGHT
Our Meet-cute. Kim Cooper enters and approaches the Maitre’ D. She’s meeting a blind date, Tom Milner. Maitre’ D points to young man. Kim is pleased. Approaches, begins yammering. He confesses he’s not Tom Milner. He’s Mike Ryan. She’s embarrassed and angry. She storms off.

SCENE TWO – INT. BLUE JUSTICE OFFICE – NEXT DAY
The writers are present. Gary Karp, Neil Luder, Rob Paley. Kim is pitching a story. Establishes the type of show she’s writing for. The lead character “Amy” meets a man in a bar. The story parallels last night. We learn from the story that maybe Kim over-reacted. Neil has technical problems. Gary is sarcastic and wound pretty tight. Rob suggests an alternate story where Amy meets a young naïve man (i.e. him). Learn that the head writer is missing again. They get a call. He’s in rehab. The Dick Wolf exec producer will replace him with one of them. Gary assumes it’s him.

SCENE THREE – CHARLES KIND’S OFFICE – LATER
Kim, Gary, Neil, and Rob wait for Charles Kind (the Dick Wolf). Rob is starry eyed. Neil goes through Charles’ desk. More on Gary assuming he’ll be appointed the job. Kim says why not her? Gary laughs it off. Charles enters, gives the job to Kim.

SCENE FOUR – ANNIE’S – LATER THAT NIGHT
Kim celebrating with her girlfriends. They all have to go. Kim left alone on her big night. She says “there must be somebody who will let me buy them a drink.” Reveal that Mike is sitting at the end of the bar. He pours out his beer and smiles.

ACT TWO

SCENE FIVE – ANNIE’S – MOMENTS LATER
They decide to start again. They sit at a table and get to know each other. We learn he’s a DA. Not interested in the behind-the-scenes aspect of Kim’s show. They tell a little about each other and try to guess the rest. Mike analyzes her and nails it. He asks what she wants out of life that she doesn’t have. She says a relationship. She asks him. He dodges the question. We see the chemistry. They begin flirting.

SCENE SIX – KIM’S HOUSE – LATER
They’re already making out on the couch, hot and heavy. She gets a call. Crisis on the set. She has to go. But decides to call back and handle it over the phone. We see how capable she is. More kissing. He gets a call. Murder scene. He has to go. She’s upset. They try to arrange a new time to meet. Both have busy schedules. It’s clear they’re have no time for each other. Can they work it out? Kim says “How?” As he leaves he reveals what’s missing in his life is an oasis. Some days work is so hard he’d like someone to be there for him, even for a moment. This melts Kim’s heart. She says there must be some way they can work this out.

SCENE SEVEN – CRIME SCENE – NIGHT
Kim and Mike examine a crime scene. Kim is excited viewing the corpse and all the blood. We learn they’re on the set of her show. They went to the real crime scene first. Now they’re going to hers.



Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Episode 23: Interview w/ Filmmaker Kevin Smith


Ken interviews filmmaker Kevin Smith, who has produced dozens of movies including Dogma, Clerks, and Mallrats. They discuss Kevin’s writing and directing process, how he broke into the industry, and who were his inspirations. Plus, he offers fantastic advice to young filmmakers and shares what is the best recipe for talent and luck.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Me & Kevin Smith

TV shows do this all the time – have crossover episodes. The Flash appears on Supergirl. Frasier shows up on WINGS. Perhaps the most bizarre example is characters from ST. ELSEWHERE went to the CHEERS bar. That was practically surreal.

On ALMOST PERFECT we did a crossover episode with CYBIL. It was like negotiating the Paris Peace Treaty. Who would go where? (Nancy Travis from our show ultimately went over to their stage; we got contributions to our health fund.)

Their head writer Howard Gould and I would just keep passing the script back and forth polishing. (By the way, Howard and I made a pretty good team.) The point is, it happens often and usually for stunt purposes. Crossover shows are highly promotable.

Well, there’s no reason we podcasters can’t do that too.

Starting late tonight I will be doing a crossover episode with my podcast, Hollywood & Levine and Kevin Smith’s podcast Talk Salad and Scrambled Eggs. You can hear one part on his podcast and one part on mine.

So how did this come about? Talk Salad is a podcast where Kevin and co-host, Matt Mira discuss individual episodes of FRASIER. Matt was aware of my participation and invited me to guest on an episode. This was about a year ago. I did and we all had a blast. So when I started my podcast I asked if Kevin could come on and guest and he suggested “why don’t we do a crossover episode instead?” That was cool with me.

So we recorded both segments at once. Segment one is on Talk Salad and I chat with Kevin and Matt about FRASIER, my infamous feud with Roseanne, THE GOLDBERGS (Matt is on the writing staff), and seventy-five other topics. On my podcast I talk to Kevin about his process – both as a writer and director. We also get into how he started his career, his inspirations, and advice for young filmmakers. It’s a candid very freewheeling conversation I think you’ll enjoy – every bit as much as Alan Brady from THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW visiting the gang at MAD ABOUT YOU.

Tune in. And please SUBSCRIBE. Thanks much.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

THE GOOD FIGHT -- My review

I continue to watch Emmy screeners, catching up on series I’ve heard are good, series on pay services I choose not to pay for, and channels I’ve never heard of. We are truly in a golden age of drama, my friends.

I started watching THE GOOD FIGHT, which is on CBS All Access. (For only $5.99 a month you can watch NCIS anytime you want – as opposed to watching it on cable channels… anytime you want.) As most of you know, I was a fan of THE GOOD WIFE (although the last couple of seasons they groped in the dark a little).

THE GOOD FIGHT is a sequel (or spinoff) of THE GOOD WIFE with the same creative team at the top (Robert & Michelle King).

And happily, I can say that I am loving THE GOOD FIGHT. Like THE GOOD WIFE in its prime, the writing is spectacular. The stories are ingenious, the characters are all fascinating and the casting is pitch-perfect. The show has a rich glossy look, there are usually two to four stories dovetailing expertly through each episode, there are always surprise turns, and as opposed to being on CBS, they say “fuck.”

It’s just a handsomely mounted well-crafted exceptional television series. And yet, for all those reasons, it feels strangely… retro.

Lots of the series I currently enjoy like BETTER CALL SAUL and FARGO are real mood pieces. Lots of artsy shots of desert scenery or snow. Dialogue tends to be minimal. These shows are very cinematic – and I don’t say that as a criticism in any way. The tone of these series is low key. The characters are very layered and the storytelling, although leisurely, is also complex, surprising, and they too can say “fuck.”

So THE GOOD FIGHT seems almost a throwback – to an age when the pace was brisk, the dialogue crackling, and every episode was packed with invention, characterization, complexity, and emotion.

Personally, I like both styles. So choosing one series to vote for is an extremely difficult task. In addition to the shows I’ve mentioned, there are probably ten others that deserve serious consideration. Every hour drama is worth a good hard look… except HAWAII 5-0.

My guess is THE GOOD FIGHT probably won’t get much Emmy love. It’s not sexy in the zeitgeist sense. So it probably will get my vote. A masterclass in television drama – yeah, I’m going with the underdog.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Thank you, ROTTEN TOMATOES

Broadway shows live or die based on critics. A NEW YORK TIMES pan and you’re closed by Saturday. At one time, certain movie critics wielded a lot of power. Pauline Kael in THE NEW YORKER was a force to be reckoned with, as were several others.

Siskel & Ebert held a lot of sway with their movie review television show. Long thoughtful analysis was replaced by thumbs pointing in different directions. Still, the effect was significant.

But Hollywood found there was a way to make movies critic-proof. Stop making intelligent films for intelligent people who read intelligent reviews. Or if they do, make fewer and fewer of them and only for the purpose of winning awards.

The majority of the studios’ slate was then big budget, splashy, action, comic book movies. Secure a beloved franchise, get a big name to star, open wide in as many theaters as you can, and just go for a big opening weekend. Even if the movie is a piece of shit, even if the critics think it’s worse than MANNEQUIN 2, as long as the film “opens” as they say and has a boffo first weekend they’ve won.

And that strategy worked for quite some time. TRANSFORMERS relied on it. So did any movie with Jar Jar Binks.

But audiences started becoming discerning. And then ROTTEN TOMATOES came along. Individual film critics might not make an impact but a whole bunch of them lumped together sure does. Studios are finding that a rotten ROTTEN TOMATOES consensus can make a huge dent, even into monster franchises. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 13 (or whichever number this is) got a 31% approval rating. Boxoffice totals are down 35% from previous chapters and continuing to head towards Davy Jones' locker.  BAYWATCH got a 19% -- dead in the water.

What this means to me is two things:

Studios have a much harder time getting away with a bad movie. In the future they, God forbid, might have to make GOOD movies – with stories that are fresh and not formula, characters that are engaging and not one-dimensional, and more substance than explosions.

And secondly, stars can’t automatically open movies anymore. Who’s more popular than the Rock? Yet BAYWATCH tanked. Johnny Depp means nothing if his movie gets only a 31% approval rating. Amy Schumer’s fan base doesn’t mean shit when SNATCHED gets a 37% yes vote. Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, any Tom you want – if they’re in a dog people now stay away. Ticket prices are just too high. Denzel is not enough.

Personally, I think this is a good thing. Like I said, it might force Hollywood to make better movies. But what is their initial reaction (at least from some studios)? Don’t let reviewers see their films until after they open. Brilliant.

First off, that won’t happen. Secondly, whenever a studio holds back a movie for review it sends a loud and clear message that the movie is a disaster.

No, gosh darn it, they’re going to have to make better films. And for the filmgoing public, tomatoes never tasted so sweet.