Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday Questions

Ten more shopping days, but take a break and check out this week’s Friday Questions.

jcs starts us off:

I'm wondering what happens to the staff of a show that gets put on hold/gets cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances like TWO AND A HALF MEN or HOUSE OF CARDS. What happens when a camera operator, director or writer suddenly finds out there will be no taping tomorrow? Do showrunners retain staff (or part of their staff) until things are up and running again? Is there some kind of severance package? Can you find a new job after all the other showrunners have already completed their hiring process?

Generally, people are screwed. Unions protect their workers as much as they can, but studios (and insurance companies) won’t pay crew members unless they have to.

Writers generally are paid by the episode. So if there’s a forced hiatus they too are somewhat screwed. If the network decides to cut back the number of episodes for any reason then the writer loses out on those discarded episodes.

The contract to get is a guaranteed 13 episodes (or whatever the network order is) whether they’re made, cancelled, or whatever. But those are hard to get. Almost impossible these days.

VP81955 queries:

When an established series prepares its story arc for the upcoming season, do writers already have possible candidates lined up as guest characters for individual episodes, or is casting done as production begins? Any difference in how sitcoms and dramas approach this?


Sometimes a specific actor is in mind and the producers will try to sign him if he’s available. And occasionally juggle production schedules to accommodate his schedule (IF he’s worth it).

Other times they’ll just create the characters and cast them along the way.

The only difference between comedy and drama in this instance is that dramas probably lay out their season arcs in greater detail than comedies. So they may give their casting agents more lead time to fill specific guest star roles.

From Bill Jones:

Have any of the shows you've worked on ever broken the "fourth wall"? Would you have ever even considered that in MASH or CHEERS, or would that have been considered completely bizarre and totally out of the question? And, what's your take on shows breaking the fourth wall--always gimmicky and unnecessary, or sometimes worth the wink and nudge?

The only show I ever worked on that broke the fourth wall was an ‘80s sitcom called THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES. The main character (Martin) would speak to the audience.

Otherwise, no. I generally don’t prefer the convention. Breaking the fourth wall or having narration often leads to sloppy storytelling. Characters can just tell you exposition or how they’re feeling instead of dramatically showing it.

Never on MASH or CHEERS did we consider breaking the fourth wall.   MASH got around narration from time to time by having characters write letters to home and voicing them.  

However, if done well, breaking the fourth wall can work. I like the narration in THE MIDDLE, and I know I’m going way way way back – but the best use of it for my money was George Burns in THE BURNS & ALLEN SHOW from the early ‘50’s. Not only would George break the fourth wall and talk to the audience, he watched the show on television, which was downright surreal. None of the other characters knew they were on television (and of course there were no cameras) but George knew. He’d watch a scene going on in the neighbor’s house then call the neighbor to fuck with his head. Hard to believe that the most innovative fourth wall device in TV history was done almost 70 years ago.

And finally this from an Anonymous reader (please leave your name):

How do actors feel about being asked to do a table read? Do they view it as a chance for increased recognition of their talents (and perhaps a chance to land a part) or is it one of those duties forced upon you that you really can't turn down without seeming difficult?

They all recognize it’s part of the process, whether it’s a TV show, a film, musical or stage play.

If it’s a network table read for a pilot the actors better be on their game. Plenty of actors have been fired after tepid table reads.

Once a show is in production most actors walk through table readings. Many of them are reading the script cold (even though they received copies the night before or even a week before). A few actors give show-night performances but most recognize that the script might change significantly so there’s no need to really turn it on.

Bob Newhart used to eat bagels during table readings and invariably take bites just before his lines. I think it was his way of saying he wasn’t keen on table readings.

But they’re very helpful, and for us writers it gives us a chance to hear what works and more importantly, whether the story works.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Netflix controversy

With all the real problems of the world there is now the controversy over Netflix tweeting a facetious comment about 53 of its viewers who watched the same Christmas movie eighteen days in a row. Here’s the tweet that has some people up in arms:
Some say it’s creepy. Some are outraged that Netflix monitors their customers that closely. They feel it’s an invasion of privacy.

Here’s the thing:


This is a surprise to anyone? Do you not think Hulu does the same? Or Amazon? Or CBS All Access?

Of course they do. Unlike watching a program over the air, when you watch a streaming show you are linked directly to a server. And since you’ve provided profile data about yourself going in, they can monitor your viewing habits. You had to know that when signing up. The only thing they can’t determine is who besides the subscriber is watching. Is he alone or with six family members and how old are they? Netflix can tell if you turn off a show midway through but they can’t surmise if your family members walk out ten minutes in.

But it’s time we get real. Privacy? For the most part we’ve voluntarily surrendered our privacy. When you use discount cards at supermarkets they’re charting your buying habits. Spotify charts your music preferences. If you’ve been to porn sites there are now guys in the San Fernando Valley with greasy hair who still wear ‘70s leather jackets who know you prefer Asian women with purple hair who constantly need their pools cleaned. I was writing a script that required some wedding dress info so I went to one of those bridal store sites. I’m still getting Facebook ads for wedding dresses (and still haven’t found anything I like).

For fifty years TV producers and advertisers have been bitching that the rating services were horribly inaccurate. You can’t now bitch that they’re too accurate.

And how could anybody watch A CHRISTMAS PRINCE eighteen days in a row?

UPDATE:   Guys, guys!  The last line is a JOKE.  Yes, kids watch the same movie every day.  I must have seen Winnie the Pooh a thousand times.  But it's a joke.  A JOKE. 

You all have made some excellent points about privacy and use of the data.  One comment in particular, by reader Jerry Krull, is worth sharing with all.  Thanks, Jerry.  And now I've got to get that book.

Ken, I just finished reading "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhrigg. He tells the story of a guy who works at Target stores in the statistical data department. The group that sells products for pregnant mothers came to this guy and asked if he could use the collected data to predict which women were pregnant based on their buying habits - even if they did not register for a baby shower.

The guy pored through all the data of the women who in the past did register for having a baby and looked backwards at their (and their husband's) buying habits prior to the due date they gave on their registry. They found definitive items like an uptick in unscented lotion purchases. He was even able to figure what they bought based on how close they were to their due dates.

They used the data to send marketing materials to their customers (each time you use a credit card, customer loyalty, gift card at Target it is added to your personal customer record - for all time) who were showing the same buying habits as past pregnant customers.

An angry man came into a Target store complaining to the manager while clutching a Target ad mailed to his teenage daughter. "Why are you sending her an ad for all baby items. It's like you want her to get pregnant!" The manager said he would look into it and call back. When the manager called back a couple of days later to explain and apologize, the father apologized back. His wife and daughter had not told him the daughter was pregnant. Turns out Target did...

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

EP50: Behind The Scenes Cheers Episode Commentary

On this week's Hollywood & Levine podcast, Ken Levine provides us with a commentary track for an episode of the popular hit TV show Cheers that he co-wrote. “Truce or Consequences,” Season 1, EP8. This look behind the scenes explains tons of great inside information that you won't have heard anywhere else. A must listen for any Cheers fans. To increase your viewing pleasure, you can watch the episode of Cheers online on Netflix along with Ken, or simply listen to the Podcast as usual. 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Abe Lincoln: guest blogger

I asked Ken if I might say a few words today. I’m a big fan of his blog (except for the baseball posts). Starting to listen to his podcast but still having trouble figuring out how to subscribe.

The main reason I’m here is to say thank you to the people of Alabama. Well… the non-idiot percentage. It’s gratifying to know a pedophile still can’t win an election. Even with the backing of the president of the United States. Yeah, and John Wilkes Booth thought I was a bad president.

As you know, the south and I did not exactly exchange Christmas cards. The fact that the pedophile (who also happens to have a reprehensible agenda) was even a viable candidate made me want to apologize to America for trying to keep the south in the nation. But happy to say you good folks in Alabama rose to the occasion (the non-idiot ones).

And now Roy Moore can concentrate on all the sexual misconduct and criminal charges against him and spend more time conferring with his “Jew attorney.”

I still have a bone to pick with Dixie though. Children in your schools are being misled. I’m known for being a United States President not a Vampire Slayer.

Oh, and if I may go off on a tangent – Daniel Day Lewis sounded nothing like me. He’s considered the world’s greatest actor why? The look would be wrong but the actor who sounds most like me is Gilbert Gottfried.

This past year has been very hard on me. My wife was crazy as a friggin' loon but she was Einstein compared to the dodo bunch that’s running through the White House now. Where’s Nurse Ratchett when we need her?

There needs to be a certain dignity for the way the president of the United States conducts himself. Respect only comes when it is earned. I have said many times – and I understand this saying was supposed to go on the five-dollar bill along with my picture – “you gotta be a mensch.” The world looks to you to set an example. It breaks my heart that instead of the “Beacon of Freedom,” America is now viewed globally as “Bozo’s Big Top.”

There are those who will say I shouldn’t get political. But I am a politician. What am I gonna talk about? Should we root for the main character on GLOW? These are troubling times. The very core of democracy is being tested. The freedoms (like speech) we enjoy and our ancestors died for are in jeopardy. Letting the very rich govern you is like giving the girl you love to… well, to Roy Moore.

I suppose Ken will get a flurry of angry moronic comments and as moderator he will just delete them with one click. It takes a troll fifteen minutes to compose a mindless rant and submit it and Ken one second to delete it. And you’d think that knowing that would mean the cretins wouldn’t bother, but they’re not cretins for nothing.

That’s all I have to say for now. Here’s to a brighter future where pedophiles go to prison not Congress. And you know what happens to pedophiles in prison. Even if he had two Jew attorneys they couldn’t help him in there.

Happy holidays and if you’re shopping for Christmas, Lincoln Logs are still a big favorite among the kinder. Just sayin’.

God bless you, and God bless what’s left of America.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Hey, the Golden Globes were announced. Here's my take:

Who gives a shit?

As usual, they’re ridiculous. Christopher Plummer was nominated for a movie that is still being edited. (He replaced Kevin Spacey in ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD.)

The Hollywood Foreign Press completely ignored THE BIG SICK, which dealt with foreign cultures trying to exist in the United States. Oh, and it was one of the best comedies of the year. But I, TONYA was nominated for best comedy. I hear it’s an excellent movie but hardly a comedy. On the other hand, a few years ago THE MARTIAN won for best comedy.

Movie stars got most of the nominations, whether the categories were movies or TV. Nicole Kidman and Robert DeNiro of course. (Is there anything worse than a Nicole Kidman acceptance speech? Or longer?)

As is becoming a tradition, most of the movies are titles you’ve never heard of. Some haven’t been released in your town yet. Or they’re still being edited.

No nominations for VEEP? Do the characters talk too fast?

I won’t be reviewing the show itself. I stopped that years ago. It’s so stupid and so insignificant that it’s not even worth making fun of anymore. No one in Hollywood respects the Hollywood Foreign Press. But they’re happy to eat their food, drink their liquor, appear on national television, accept their awards, and use the event to promote their product for the award shows that do mean something.

Hopefully there’s an NFL Playoff game the night THE GOLDEN GLOBES air. Or at least a new episode of BOB’S BURGERS.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Only in LA

I love LA but have to admit, some bizarre shit goes on out here.   No wonder people in the rest of the country shake their heads.  Maybe it's the combination of money, sunshine, and Laker Girls but there is a disproportionate amount of lunacy in "Tinsel Town."    We're the home of life coaches and chakra parlors and Life Springs. 

And now comes something new.   And I'm almost embarrassed to write this.

Concierge firemen.

Things are still touch-and-go in certain areas in Southern California with regards to the recent horrific brush fires.  The winds have died down and containment is more within the fire department's grasp, but there are still flare-ups.  (Where's the Justice League when we need 'em?) 

We've all seen footage of heroic homeowners who have ignored evacuation orders and stayed behind to vigilantly protect their homes.  They're on their roofs with hoses.  They're single-handedly slaying  fire breathing dragons, risking their very lives in the process.

Well, now there's a better way it seems.

Concierge firemen.

Last week many residents of the chic LA neighborhood of Bel Air were forced to evacuate.   It was a boon for luxury hotels in the area.  But as everyone held their collective breath some of these wealthy residents breathed a little easier.   Why?  Because they had concierge firemen, freelancers hired to guard and battle blazes that might affect their homes specifically.   I suppose in a town where there are dog psychiatrists, why not?

Still, it seems a little weird and uh... entitled to me.   But my big fear is someone in Congress is going to hear of this and say, "instead of the government providing this service why don't we encourage people to hire their own firemen and we'll give them vouchers?"    You laugh but today -- nothing would surprise me. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

For those who hate theatre

We all talk about how great the theatre is. I'm writing for the theatre. I love it. But in the interest of fairness, I present the opposing view. From British comedienne Sara Pascoe:

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Jobs I wish I had

Starting a new feature I’ll do from time to time. “Jobs I Wish I Had.” We all have them. We grow out of most of them, but not all. Secretly, don’t you still wish you could be a ballerina or Navy Seal?

And then there are the jobs you’d love to have but no longer exist. Big band crooner, flapper, Czar of Russia.
There's such a thing as the BUZZR network.  They show old black-and-white episodes of I’VE GOT A SECRET and WHAT’S MY LINE?  These were old musty game shows from the ‘50s and ‘60s. By today’s standard they are positively archaic. A panel of four personalities must guess the contestants’ job or secret.  That's it.  There was zero production value and if a contestant stumped the panel they won the whopping sum of $50. The shows were aired live (for the east coast anyway). Today they're great fun to watch.

WHAT’S MY LINE? was originally on CBS at (I believe) 10:30 p.m. The panelists all wore tuxedos and formal gowns. The host, John Daly was the most erudite emcee in the history of television. If there are 500,000 words in the English language, he knew and used 469,000 of them – each week. Everyone was very formal. Ms. Francis. Mr. Cerf. Ms. Kilgallen.

When little kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up they’ll often say fireman, or actress, or cowboy, or fashion model. I wanted to be a panelist. And you know what? I still do. Too bad those gigs have gone the way of the 8-Track tape.

Think about it. Sunday night. You go out and have a nice dinner in Manhattan. Roll into CBS at 10:00. Don your tuxedo and get made up. There’s nothing to prepare. You’re not supposed to know what will be on the show. You do the show live at 10:30. You play this parlor game and (in my case) say a few witty lines and get a couple of laughs. At 11:00 you’re done. No pick ups. No alternate takes.   By 11:15 you’re in a bar. For this you are handsomely paid, you’re famous, and these shows lasted upwards of fifteen years. You have job security.

You parlay this into appearing on other panels. Ka-ching!! You trade on your fame and write books (or have others ghost write them for you), speak at events for absurd fees, score lucrative commercial endorsements (“Hi, this is Ken Levine for Studerbaker!”), and be invited to all the A-list society parties. Judy Garland could pass out in my lap. 

I was always amused when one of these panelists missed a show because he was on vacation. Vacation from WHAT? A half-hour a week?

There are very few panelist opportunities today.  Bill Maher’s HBO show, a few others. But slim pickings for sure. What few celebrity game shows there are require you must be a has-been from some ‘70s sitcom. Rarely does the casting call go out for never-beens. So I’m at a distinct disadvantage there.

But that’s one of the jobs I wish I had had. What about you? What’s Your Fantasy Line?