Wednesday, May 23, 2018

EP73: TV sitcom Frasier - Exclusive directors commentary - Behind the scenes


Ken records an exclusive directors commentary for an episode of TV sitcom Frasier. Filled with inside stories and useful industry information, Ken takes you behind the scenes, walking you through the process of directing a hit comedy sitcom. Simply listen to the episode, or watch the episode live along with the podcast, to take full advantage of his witty expertise. “Roz and the Schnoz”,  season 5, episode 21.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

THE MIDDLE series finale

Last night was the final episode of THE MIDDLE. It was very bittersweet saying goodbye to the best sitcom on current TV that was never afforded the respect it deserved. And for the life of me I don’t know why. It was often as good or better than MODERN FAMILY but never received any Emmy love. Everyone’s making a big deal about ROSEANNE speaking for working American families – well hell, THE MIDDLE has been doing that for nine years.

Today it’s less about quality and more about the zeitgeist. What shows are hot? Or worse, perceived as hot even though they’re not? How many ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY articles have there been for THE MINDY PROJECT? Or shows on networks no one can get?

Meanwhile, THE MIDDLE offered consistently high quality entertainment and humor and was beloved by millions of people – just not the RIGHT millions for any recognition.

The truth is THE MIDDLE was more deserving of the Best Comedy Emmy than a number of winners over its nine year run. Eden Sher should have nine Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Emmys. NINE.

The finale was lovely, very much within the style of the show (I always love Heck family car trips), satisfying, and (SPOILER ALERT) I love they had used a cellphone Family Plan to be a metaphor for their family. “Minutes” are precious.

Congratulations to Eileen Heisler & DeAnn Heline, their terrific writing staff (pictured above with me), and cast and crew.

I suspect time will be very kind to THE MIDDLE. People will be watching and enjoying this series long after the more edgy and ironic shows fade from view. Maybe ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY will even do a reunion article. Nah, they’ll do four TRANSPARENT reunions instead.

Cheers to THE MIDDLE.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

It's the PICTURES that got small

There’s nothing like seeing a classic old movie on the big screen. And it’s getting harder and harder to do that.

There used to be revival houses – theatres that would show double-bills of old movies. I can’t tell you how many classic movies I discovered at the Fox Venice, the Nuart, or the Beverly Cinema. These were grungy LA theatres – Milk Duds wedged under every seat, a popcorn machine from World War II, and prints that were not always “pristine.”

Because there were always double-bills, I’d go because there was one movie I wanted to see – like THE MALTESE FALCON – and its companion would be something I’d never heard of – THE BIG SLEEP. More than half the time I was blown away by the movie I hadn’t come to see. But that was the fun of revival theatres… along with the occasional joint that got passed down the aisle. How else are you going to watch THE BLOB?

There are still some revival houses, but a very few. Museums have film festivals from time to time, and colleges sometimes screen ancient cinema (i.e. before Millennials were born so 1995).

Along came VCR’s and VHS’s and DVD’s. You could see THE BLOB anytime you wanted (I don’t know why you would, but still). And then cable television arrived. Channels like TCM serve up film freak heaven 24/7. And it’s great to have access to these old chestnuts. But there’s something truly missing not seeing them as they were intended – on the big screen with people texting.

TCM has a new project where every month they feature a classic movie that you can see in a theatre. Ben Mankiewicz introduces it just like he does on TV. This month the feature is the Billy Wilder classic, SUNSET BOULEVARD. I’ve seen this movie many times but haven’t seen it in a theatre in a gazillion years.

So I went this weekend.

And it was GLORIOUS. When you see it on TV you really lose the full impact of Gloria Swanson’s huge face on a massive screen staring down at all the “people out there in the dark.” Yes, 60-inch flatscreens are big, but 60-foot silver screens are considerably bigger.

The other advantage is that these classics (especially in black and white) tend to be idiot-teen repellent. So there is less talk and iPhones in operation. I saw the movie in West Los Angeles and it was heartening that a number of college kids were in attendance along with us senior-discount viewers.

If you haven’t seen the films of Billy Wilder or Preston Sturges, John Ford, Howard Hawks, John Huston, David Lean, Alfred Hitchcock, George Stevens, the Marx Brothers, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and a hundred others – you’re really missing out. Screwball comedies, westerns, noir, WB gangster films, Technicolor musicals – way better time-suck than binge-watching SUPERGIRL.

And if you can, watch them in a theatre. When Norma Desmond says: “I am big – it’s the pictures that got small” – they don’t have to be. The trick is finding them.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The 25th anniversary of the last CHEERS episode

It has been 25 years since CHEERS aired its final episode.  There have been a number of articles to pay tribute to that event and the show itself.  Thanks to both the Hollywood Reporter and Variety for including me in your pieces.   If you're a fan of CHEERS these are both fun reads.

Here's the Hollywood Reporter's story.

And here's Variety's story.

Now if you want a detailed account of just what it was like that final night, I devoted one of my podcast episodes to my first-person account of it.   You can find that here

I can never express just how lucky and grateful I am to be a part of CHEERS for 9 of its 11 years.  David Isaacs and I wrote 40 episodes and I am extremely proud of each and every one of them.  My thanks to Glen & Les Charles and Jimmy Burrows for including us in this extraordinary television show. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Come see my play tonight

I again am participating in the Ruskin Theatre Group's Cafe Play series.  Five playwrights met at 9:00 am this morning and our plays will be performed tonight at 7:30 and 9:00 at the Ruskin Theatre in Santa Monica.  Wanna come?   The other playwrights are terrific.  Here's where you go for info and tix.  Hopefully see you tonight.

The Royal Wedding

Alas, I did not watch the Royal Wedding.

I did not get up at 4:00 AM. Well, I did, but that was to use the bathroom.

Nothing against the happy couple – I wish them a fairy tale life together – it’s just that (and I know I’m in the minority) I don’t care.

I do like the fact that it serves as a welcomed distraction. With all the insanity, evil, and havoc in the world it’s nice to spend a couple of days focusing on wedding arrangements and where Oprah will be sitting.

And it’s a shared event and there are so few of these lately besides protesting the insanity, evil, and havoc in the world.

Like I said, I'm in the minority.  We Yankees do love weddings. When Tiny Tim married Miss Vicki on THE TONIGHT SHOW it drew 45 million people. (It was second highest rated event in the ‘60s next to the moon landing.) By comparison, the Prince William/Kate Middleton nuptials attracted just 23 million.

There’s also the “American” factor. An American is marrying into the British Royal Family. And here in America, all we really care about are things that are American. If Harry was marrying a Dutch girl I don’t think there would be as many tea/viewing parties as were organized here in the colonies.

I hope the royal couple live in England because if they live here Harry is always in danger of being deported as an immigrant “animal.”

But personally, I’m not interested in the ceremony and hoopla. I’ve seen a few royal weddings in the past and the importance placed on incidental insignificant items seems way out of proportion to me. I very much like Meghan Markle, but I’d rather watch her on SUITS.

The only issue for me not participating in a shared event – will I feel left out? Will there be conversations I can’t participate in? Will I be out of the zeitgeist? Will folks be “liking” things and retweeting things I have no opinion on? So far, so good.  And I can always catch up by watching Melania's next wedding. 

I know by tomorrow our President will name O.J. Simpson as Attorney General and we’ll be off to another typical news cycle week. The wedding will be but a distant memory.  I just hope they last longer than Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki.   Eight years and over.   I think it will take Meghan longer than that to open all the blenders. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Time we'll never get back

We hear all the time that we spend a third of our lives sleeping. What about other precious time?

How much time that we’ll never get back do we spend…

Idling at intersections?

Waiting in doctors’ waiting rooms?

Trying on clothes we don’t wear?

Going through TSA inspections?

Re-reading paragraphs of books we’ve already read?

Talking to phone solicitors?

Sitting through commercials before movies start?

Waiting on the line for tech support?

Waiting in line at Starbucks?

Sitting on tarmacs?

Watching the little spinning beach ball?

Waiting for rock concerts to begin?

Channel surfing?

Reading bad jokes people email us?

Sending bad jokes to others?

Wrapping presents?

Stuck in traffic?

Playing Angry Birds?

Watching bad movies because we paid to see them?

Standing at bus stops?

Scrolling through Facebook postings of your friends’ adorable pets?

Reading this blog?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday Questions

FQ’s for U.

The Bumble Bee Pendant leads off.

Multi-cameras have always been my preference for watching a show because it often feels like a play.

That being said...now as a playwright, is there anything you'd love to bring to a multi-camera show that you can only do in a play or vice versa?

I’d like to bring back sophisticated comedies like FRASIER or CHEERS. I’d like to do a multi-cam where a network is not pressuring me to do a joke every second. I’d like the freedom to create characters with dimension and flaws and let the comedy come out of their behavior and struggles.

I’d like to be able to do long scenes. Again, there seems to be this fear that if the audience isn’t whip-sawed through an episode it’s going to instantly bail. I’d want my show to breathe a little.

And I’m convinced you could get MORE laughs and better laughs if you took this approach.

RyderDA asks:

How do you handle it when someone compliments a character for a line from a particular episode from a particular show that you wrote or helped write? "Ted Danson's so funny - last night he said 'You can't HANDLE the truth' I wish I was as witty as Ted."

Lots of people think the actors make up their lines. But as we are learning, there are a LOT of ill-informed people in this country.

When that happens I don’t say, “Hey, I wrote that line.” I gently say, “You do know the actors don’t make up those lines? That writers do?”

But what really pisses me off is ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY that has that feature where they have a collage of actors with thought bubbles attributing pithy lines their characters said to THEM. Come on, EW, you should know better.

Dr Loser wonders:

Granted, you're going to want to write 90% of your scripts with David Isaacs, because you're simpatico.

What about the other 10%? Groucho Marx? John Cleese? Richard Pryor?
Is there somebody out there who you would really, really want to have written a joint script?

In a writing room you are collaborating with others so I guess I could say I’ve partnered with Larry Gelbart, Jim Brooks, the Charles Brothers among others.

But in terms of an actual partnership, I wrote a screenplay with Robin Schiff that we sold to MGM about 15 years ago. Otherwise, it’s either David or I write by myself.

As for a dream collaborator – I’d like to write a musical with Sondheim. I’d like to write anything with Sondheim.

And finally, DyHrdMET wants to know:

Have you ever seen a sitcom pilot which got picked up, but then the series was either cancelled after a few episodes and/or just lost its way that quickly, and you thought that it would have been better as a feature film instead of a TV show?

A couple I can think of offhand. There was a show on ABC about a group of idiots trying to rob a celebrity. How the hell can you keep that going for seven years? And then a CBS show called WORST WEEK about the mishaps leading to a wedding.

Both of those sound like movie premises. Good TV series need to have legs and room to grow. They need to be open ended.   Shows that depend on a narrow narrative often box themselves in. That’s the way I felt about PRISON BREAK. After the first season when they broke out they seemed to flail around looking for story lines. My heart went out to those writers.

What’s your FQ? You can leave it in the comments section. Thanks much.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Off with their heads!"

Now that the major broadcast networks have announced their fall schedules, it’s time for the public humiliation that is “recasting” shows that have been picked up. High profile actors are fired along with screaming headlines on industry trade sites.

Connie Nielsen was just replaced on the new CBS series about the FBI. Mira Sorvino’s comeback was short-lived as she was fired off her new series last week. A few years ago Jenna Fischer was booted off MAN WITH A PLAN.

There are many other examples, but I don’t want to share them because I’m sure it’s opening up old wounds.

And of course a year ago, Erinn Hayes not only was fired from KEVIN CAN WAIT but her character was killed off. You think Erinn Hayes is smiling these days?

Replacing cast members is not a new thing. Lisa Kudrow was the original Roz in FRASIER only to be replaced by Peri Gilpin. (I think Lisa managed to bounce back from that however.)

But here’s the difference: Until the last few years, these cast changes were not made public. They didn’t appear in bold headlines on Hollywood trade sites.

Is it really necessary to publicize these personnel switches? Is this news of such importance that it’s worth humiliating the actor? Isn’t it enough that he lost his job on a network TV series? There are not enough stories about Cannes or Adult Swim acquisitions?

I’m sorry. It just seems unnecessarily cruel to me and serves no real purpose. Believe me, in six months I’m not going to send an angry email to Deadline Hollywood saying, “Hey, I just watched that new FBI show and Connie Nielsen wasn’t on it. What the fuck?! Why didn’t I know about this?”

I guess consideration and compassion have also now been replaced.