Saturday, September 30, 2017

RIP Anne Jeffreys

So sorry to hear of Anne Jeffreys passing. God love her, she was 94. Many of you know her from GENERAL HOSPITAL. She appeared on that soap quite a bit in the 2000’s. But for me she will always be Marion Kirby, the “ghostess with the mostest” on TOPPER from the ‘50s. (Trivia note: Do you know who wrote eleven episodes of that series?  Stephen Sondheim.  No.  Really.  You can look it up.)

Anne Jeffreys was my very first crush. I was five.

In 1979 my partner David Isaacs and I tried to hire her for a pilot we were doing. (The whole crazy tale of that pilot was the subject of one of my recent podcast episodes. You can find it here.) I was so blown away when she came in to read. She was in her 50’s and not only did she look great, she was really FUNNY. We were so thrilled. She didn’t get the part only because the casting bitch at NBC insisted she read for her to be approved and Ms. Jeffrey’s said, “I’ll read for you guys because you need to know if I’m right for your part. But NBC knows me and my body of work.” She was right of course, but NBC still wouldn’t budge. One of the many disappointments of that pilot experience.

Anne Jeffreys exuded class and southern sophistication, and like I said, was gifted in comedy. 94 is a good run. And she worked well into her 80’s. If there is such a thing as ghosts, I hope Marion Kirby will haunt me.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Friday Questions

Welcome again to that weekly treat --  Friday Questions.

Steve S. starts us off:

Did the writing staff on season five of MASH know going in that Larry Linville was leaving after that year? If so, was that the reason for Hot Lips getting married?

No. This all happened just before I joined the staff, but my understanding was that Hot Lips being married would just provide more frustration for Frank. And it would give Hot Lips something else to play.

The truth is Hot Lips being married, especially to someone off camera, did not give us much to work with, and we split them up in short order. Loretta was not unhappy about that.

From Brian:

After looking at an episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show, I noticed that the writers were always credited at the end. Now, they almost always seem to be credited at the beginning. Is that union standard or can a show make a choice when to credit writers?

Networks pretty much dictate the format and writing and directing credits now usually come at the beginning. The only union mandate is that the director’s credit must come either last if credits are in the front of the show or first if the credits are in the back. And whenever that is, the writers credit must be included at the same time. You can’t put the director’s credit at the front of the show and the writer’s at the end.

RyderDA asks:

You have repeatedly written how TV comedy writers do re-writes of weak material during the show's actual taping. You have not commented whether that happens in movies (that I can remember). I occasionally watch awful, unfunny movies and wonder how they ended up on screen being unfunny and awful (did no one notice this coming?).

Movies do get rewritten during production. Sometimes writers are right there on the set. Other times re-writers are there on the set and the original writer banished.

My partner and I were offered a rewrite job one time for a movie being filmed in NY. They wanted us for five weeks to be on set and help punch it up. And they wanted us on a plane that night. The only thing is, they wouldn’t send a script for us to look at first.

So we figured (correctly), that the script must be a giant piece of shit and we would be locked in an office 24/7 furiously trying to save this turdburger. So we passed. If they weren’t even willing to show us the script there was no way we were jumping off that cliff.

The movie came out about a year later and was predictably terrible. Who they got to fix it and how much better they made it I have no idea.

And no, I’m not going to tell you the name of the movie, except to say it was a romantic comedy.

Finally, from ADmin:

Just an observation that kinda leads to a question :) The other day, watching an old rerun of Married with Children, (a show I used to like when it was running) I realized that the jokes, in my opinion, weren't all that funny. And yet, I found myself enjoying it. Then it dawned on me that it was the deft and humorous execution of Ed O'Neill. What are your thoughts on actors who have the remarkable talent to elevate or even carry a script? (I'm getting the same inkling from The Orville.)

It’s always great when that happens, but as a writer I never ever depend on the actor to make something funny just because of his gift. I try to write him the funniest material I possibly can. And if he can get a few bonus laughs on straight lines or behavior, all the better. But never do I coast hoping an actor will make something work through his sheer will. Call it a point of pride, but I want my laughs to be earned.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

I finally saw HAMILTON

There’s no need to really review it. (“Hey, Ken Levine said it was good so maybe we should see it after all.”) By now you’ve been told that Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius, the production is spectacular, and let’s just say it – it’s brilliant, groundbreaking, original, and the merchandise is very handsome. According to some critics it will change your life (not sure how though, you might swear off dueling?).

The reviews are right.

Especially at a time when Broadway musicals tend to be revivals, stunt cast driven, or live versions of Disney movies (Coming soon: “Donald Duck vs. Chip & Dale – the musical), it’s refreshing to see something bold and not about Millennial angst.

So for all those reasons I recognize and appreciate HAMILTON as a phenomenal work of art. A thrilling theater-going experience.

I just wished on a visceral level I loved it.

I know what my problem is – I just don’t love hip-hop. And although the lyrics are so amazingly clever, the booming sync beat and the sheer amount of it felt relentless to me. I suppose I could listen to the soundtrack album a hundred times (like I’m sure half this audience had done) but short of that it was hard to hear and process at times. I’m sure there was wonderful stuff I just didn’t catch. And it doesn’t help that the performance I saw was at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, which seats the entire population of Rhode Island AND lower Maine. The acoustics were okay… for an airplane hanger. But a lot of the subtle intricate word twists I know went right by me, which is frustrating. And I’ve found that frustration is not a good emotion to have when enjoying a Broadway musical.

But that’s just me.

Part of this theater-going experience was that the audience treated the show like a rock concert. They cheered and shrieked deliriously throughout the show. That part was fun. You really felt like you were at an “event.” I had never seen that before during a musical. You don’t get that for WAR PAINT or MISS SAIGON.

HAMILTON has received so much praise and hype that it’s hard for any show to live up to those accolades. And I also think it’s reached that level of the stratosphere where people are afraid to admit they didn’t love it for fear of being ridiculed, called an uncultured oaf, or challenged to take ten paces at dawn.

But I’ll come out. I’ll take that bold step. Despite the repercussions I am sure to face, despite the vicious hate mail I will surely receive from trolls, I will admit that I only thought HAMILTON was terrific.

Unlike Aaron Burr, I’m willing to take a stand.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

EP39: The Making of FAMILY GUY

Ken talks to the new WGA President, David Goodman who was also the showrunner of FAMILY GUY.  David shares the process of making that show along with touching on his other credits which includes STAR TREK ENTERPRISE, FUTURAMA, THE ORVILLE, and GOLDEN GIRLS.   Part 1 of a 2 part interview.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Favorite forgotten shows

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

Joe in DC asks:

Recently, a guy named Kieran Fisher (@HairEverywhere) wrote: “Name a forgotten TV show you really enjoyed.” He lives in Scotland so a lot of his replies were names of UK shows I’d never heard of, but I was gratified to see Peter Sagal (of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me) list Quark and Buffalo Bill. (I myself threw out Grand and Doctor Doctor.) Curious what some of your forgotten/enjoyed shows might be.

Besides the ones I created?

BUFFALO BILL would definitely be on my list. Created by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses and brilliantly played by Dabney Coleman, this was really the first sitcom where the lead character was a giant asshole. And boy, was it refreshing. BUFFALO BILL was way ahead of its time.

Then two series by the same writer, Richard Rosenstock: THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES for ABC and FLYING BLIND for Fox. Super smart writing and hilarious Jewish characters (although those were probably the two main reasons why those shows didn’t last).

GOODTIME HARRY is another I’d choose. Created by Steve Gordon, who wrote and directed ARTHUR, it had some of the sharpest dialogue you’ll ever hear.

UNITED STATES by Larry Gelbart was a fascinating experiment. NBC never gave it a chance. This was more of a dramady in that it really explored the inner dynamics of a marriage, both the light and dark aspects of it.   But how does a half-hour comedy succeed at 10:30 at night?

Then there’s ALL IS FORGIVEN. Howard Gewirtz & Ian Praiser created this series under the Charles Brothers banner. It was a backstage look at a soap opera starring the very under-appreciated Bess Armstrong. Lots of very funny episodes.

PIG STY by Rob Long & Dan Staley was a very funny show ahead of its time about slothy Seth Rogen-type characters. It was the first show the old UPN picked up so it never got the exposure it deserved.

LATELINE. Okay, I directed a bunch so I’m not exactly unbiased, but this show created by John Markus and Al Franken was a fresh look at politics in a sitcom format.

FAY was a wonderful show from the mid ‘70s. Created by Susan Harris, it starred Lee Grant as a woman in her 40’s trying to date. Funny, real, a true gem. NBC screwed them by scheduling it at 8:00. Should have been Susan Harris’ MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.

If you want to go way back, MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT from the ‘60s was a funny and affectionate take on Thurber cartoons. Danny Arnold created this one.

Also from the ‘60s, HEY LANDLORD by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson.

I very much enjoyed THE DUCK FACTORY created by Allan Burns & Herbert Klynn. It was a single-camera look at the goofiness of an animation studio. The star was some guy named Jim Carrey.

So there are a few. I’m sure there are others… besides mine of course.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Why we really watch THE DEUCE

Longtime readers of this blog know I have great fondness for the ‘60s. I even wrote a book about it. (Shameless plug: you can buy it here.) But I have no real nostalgia for the ‘70s.

Yet, Hollywood thinks the ‘70s are in. And I’m not sure why.

The ‘60s was a time of hope and optimism. The ‘70s was a period of anger, drugs, disillusionment, and really bad fashions.

There have been three series over the last few years set in the early ‘70s. VINYL, I’M DYING UP HERE, and now HBO’s THE DEUCE. They all feature rampant drug and alcohol use, angry fucked up people, the seedy underbelly of urban society, and leisure suits.

The sexual revolution has been reduced to prostitutes, one-night stands, and couples using sex as a power ploy. Where’s the romance? Where’s even the breakfast after?

I eagerly watched THE DEUCE. David Simon who did THE WIRE is writing and the reviews were spectacular. Maggie Gyllenhaal, who I always like is in it, James Franco, who I also like, is in it twice (he plays two brothers – hey, it worked for Ewan McGregor in FARGO), and graphic sex, which I like even more than specific actors.

So I thought the pilot was… good. But it didn’t knock me out. There was that world that I had no real desire to revisit. Yes, Times Square was seedy. Yes, pimps wore flashy purple velvet suits and Super Fly hats and terrorized their flock. Drugs were everywhere. People were down on their luck. Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose records played in the background. Ridiculous afros were in style -- shirt collars over brown leather jackets, bell-bottom pants, mini skirts and boots. Oh, and everyone smoked. Everything. Throw in some violence and sex scenes and the show was exactly what I expected. The writing was good and the dialogue was crisp, but I learned nothing new.

The one ‘70s project I really loved was BOOGIE NIGHTS. But that was years ago and introduced me to the inner-workings of a world that was completely foreign to me. THE DEUCE is, at least so far, familiar territory.

But I watched BOOGIE NIGHTS and THE DEUCE for the same reason: the subject matter. Sex – all dressed up in a classy way as a “period piece” or “study of society” or “exploration of feminism” – whatever bullshit explanation you wish to give it. If Masters & Johnson studied peoples’ driving habits Showtime would never have built a series around them. So for all the production values, and attention to ‘70s detail, THE DEUCE is an acceptable way to watch a series about sex featuring lots of nudity. It’s like when we guys used to buy Playboy Magazine for its interview with Gore Vidal. My point is: let’s just be honest and admit that. The fact that THE DEUCE is well done and gets good reviews just helps justify our decision to watch it... and maybe go back and watch certain sections again. Y’know, just in case we missed some of those Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose lyrics.

Monday, September 25, 2017

First night parties

New shows are premiering on network television, and returning shows are starting their new seasons. As a writer or producer on staff one of my favorite events of the year was the “first night party.”

This is when the writing staff, directors, and cast would get together to watch the first episode on the air. On MASH we would meet at Gene Reynolds' house (one of the two creators of the series along with Larry Gelbart), and on other shows the party would be held at a restaurant. There was dinner, lots of drinking, watching the episode (I had probably seen ten times already), and then going home.

My favorite first night party was the original premier of CHEERS in 1982. First off, it was at a swanky place, Chasen’s. Back in the 40’s and 50’s Chasen’s was THE Hollywood hotspot. You could expect to see Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, you-name-it dining on the Hobo Steak (not on the menu), Dave Chasen’s world-famous chili, or the ice mountain of seafood appetizer. Okay, so we had chicken pies, but also had a private room. TV’s were set up. We all dressed nice. It was an elegant affair.

What made this one so special was that we were finally taking the wraps off the show. We all had been working on it since the spring. By September we had filmed probably six or seven episodes. I had seen the pilot no less than twenty times. But there’s something about it actually being on the air.

A few weeks before I caught a promo. It was maybe 15 seconds, but there was the bar – for the first time ON TELEVISION.

So the night was very festive. Dinner was good (why chicken pies were ordered for everyone I do not know, but they appeared every year). Drinks were flowing. Earlier in the day we had received mostly positive reviews from critics. There was also an idiotic two-page ad (the one shown here). The best way to sell a sophisticated comedy is not with a page of HA HA HA HA’s.

Several people at the party had heard from friends and family back east who had seen the show three hours earlier. Thumbs up from them (but that was to be expected). Director James Burrows’ dad liked it, and that meant something. His dad was Abe Burrows. My father-in-law in Brooklyn said the waitress and bartender should get together. I had to agree.

As 9:00 approached things got quiet. The monitors were turned on and the sound was turned up at 8:58. There was an NBC News Break (remember those?) and for me the kicker, right before the show, was the station ID. “This is KNBC, Channel 4.” Holy shit! It really IS going out over the air. And then the show began. I can’t begin to tell you the sense of pride I had being a part of it. Everyone cheered at everyone’s credits – especially the Charles Brothers and Jimmy. And the show seemed to whiz by in five minutes.

When it was over there was a lot of hugging. The next day we would learn that the ratings were truly abysmal (so much for the huge impact of TV critics), but that night was euphoric.

Then began another CHEERS tradition. Speeches. More like toasts, they could be short. But everyone on the writing staff was called upon to say a few words. Wish I had known ahead of time. I don’t recall what I said but I think I got a laugh. My favorite speech was from Jerry Belson. Jerry was one of the funniest writers ever. He was an uncredited consultant. After everyone praised the show and each other, Jerry stood up, said, “Thanks for the money” and sat back down.

What a contrast between that party – a small group of unknowns meeting in a backroom to the ultimate finale, held in Boston, where we had probably 600 people inside the building and 20,000 outside on the Commons watching on giant Jumbotron Boards in a light rain.

So for some premiering shows, this is just the start of hopefully a long exciting journey. And for all shows it’s the culmination of months of hard work.  Congratulations.  Enjoy every minute of it.

That is, if they still have first night parties.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

My celebrated "Hippie" period

Here's another excerpt from my book THE ME GENERATION...BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60).  It's been forever since I plugged that.  I'm going to keep doing these until I sell enough books to get in the Amazon top 10... or at least 10,000.   Here's where you go to get your ebook copyAnd here's where you go to get the handsome paperback.  Read the reviews.  Many are from people I don't even know. 

By 1967 I had been as far south as San Diego, far north as Santa Barbara, far east as Las Vegas, and far west as the end of the Santa Monica pier. But that was about to change. My dad announced that we were going up to San Francisco.

Oh. My. Fucking. God.

I had wanted to go to San Francisco more than anyplace else in the world. I was intrigued by all the buzz about the music scene there, Haight-Ashbury, the Summer of Love, and okay, I’ll be honest – I just wanted to see a Giants game at Candlestick Park.

As always, we drove. I still had not been inside an airplane. Our family trips tended to be on the frugal side. We stayed at a Travelodge motel on Lombard St. in the Marina district. We should have slept in the Impala. It had more room.

But I didn’t care. I was just thrilled to finally be there. We saw the sights, traveled the bridges, dined at Kans in Chinatown, hopped cable cars, slurped crab cocktails at Fisherman’s Wharf, and gawked at the basketball-sized bazooms on Carol Doda whose image was proudly and largely displayed at the topless Condor club in North Beach where she jiggled them three times nightly.

Side note: Carol had risen to prominence in 1964 when many delegates from the Republican National Convention went to see her act.

I also got my first glimpse of the Haight-Ashbury district. This was hippie Mecca, the epicenter of the counter-culture revolution. Love was free and the drugs were reasonable. With Scott MacKenzie’s “San Francisco” as their anthem, young people from all over the country migrated to the Haight. Harvard Professor Dr. Timothy Leary, the noted advocate of psychedelic drug research (LSD) coined the catchphrase: “Turn on, tune in, drop out”. (That same year Leary would marry his third wife. Hard to tell whether the bride was really beautiful that day; all the guests were on acid.) This was a Utopian society, an oasis where you were free of the shackles of expectation and civilization. A haven for spiritual awakenings, creative inspiration, and yes, even consciousness expanding.

Haight-Ashbury looked exactly as you’ve seen it in documentaries and movies of the 60s. Loads of hippies in colorful garb (some with face paint) milling about, rolling joints, playing guitars and tambourines. Murals on the sides of buildings, head stores and ma & pa markets. And vivid kaleidoscopic color everywhere – from Tie Dyed clothes to rainbow store signs to a blue building with a yellow door. Imagine Jimi Hendrix as the art director of SESAME STREET. But it was festive and fun.

And as we drove through this idyllic world I thought to myself, “Ugggh! How the hell can anyone live here? It’s so dirty and crowded. What happens if you get sick? What kind of privacy would you get in one of these cramped apartments? How clean are the bathrooms? What’s the TV reception like?”

I had zero desire to turn, tune, drop, or whatever else was necessary to move to Haight-Ashbury and join this freaky scene.

It's one thing to be a hippie. It's another to give up creature comforts.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Somewhere Shari Lewis is smiling

As many of you know, I'm a ol' curmudgeon.  I've never been a big fan of AMERICA'S GOT TALENT.  To me it's just a way to do a TV variety show where you don't have to pay the performers.

But one act in particular attracted my attention.   Darci Lynne.  I've featured her before.  This is the 12 year ventriloquist that is absolutely amazing.  Her puppets sing -- well enough to win THE VOICE.  I must admit she has even melted this cynic's heart.

She just won this year's AMERICA'S GOT TALENT and I found myself cheering.  She's also funny and amazingly poised.  For those not familiar with her, or those that want to see her again, this was her performance in the finals.  She upped the ante by having two puppets singing (in very different styles).  Yeah, call me an old softie but I love this kid.    And she doesn't work blue.  Check her out.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Questions

 First off, thank you all for the supportive comments yesterday.   Mel Brooks said in a recent article: 

'Stupidly politically correct society is the death of comedy'

I love Mel Brooks!!!

Okay, moving on.

You KNOW it’s the weekend when…

I’m answering Friday Questions. The first one comes from Matt in my hometown, Westwood CA:

The Emmys. For series actors when they are nominated or win in a given year, how do you find out the episode it is for? You've mentioned in a post Bebe Neuwirth won for the RAT GIRL episode. What about her other win? I think the assumption out there is it's for the whole year when in fact they ultimately win based on a single episode submitted, right? Would love to know if there is a reference guide for this, a book on the Emmy's many years ago had several examples of shocking wins/upsets that really came down to the episodes that were submitted that provided insight to the win. Classic example? Lindsay Wagner won for THE BIONIC WOMAN to the shock of many, but the actresses more likely to win submitted sub par episodes while Wagner’s was a knockout.

To my knowledge there is no reference guide for which episodes actors submit.  You can't even find it on that interweb the kids all talk about. But the actors (or their reps) try to pick their best episodes. And yes, I’m sure some lose because they choose the wrong episode to submit.

And Lindsay Wagner could submit any episode and I would vote for her.

Next up, Mr. Anonymous (please give a name):

I've read that a good package for TV writing is a spec of an established show plus a pilot script. Should they be in the same format, though? For instance, a spec of a sitcom and a pilot for a one-hour comedy/drama? Or would it be better to do two half-hour sitcom scripts and two hour-long scripts?

Most agents would stay pick a lane and stay in it. So I would say have a spec and pilot in the same genre. They both don’t have to be single or multi-camera but they both should be comedies or dramas.

But this is not a hard and fast rule. And I would certainly encourage you to write scripts in both genres, if for no other reason then to discover which genre you really excel in. Sometimes it might surprise you. Shawn Ryan told me he wanted to be a comedy writer and wrote several CHEERS specs. When those failed to set the world on fire he turned to drama. Shawn created THE SHIELD then later TERRIERS and TIMELESS (which according to several commenters has been renewed).

Alan Gollom asks:

Ken, is it more difficult to write comedy for movies than it is for tv? For example the writers for two tv sitcoms, Modern Family and Fresh Off the Boat seem to consistently come up with great scripts week after week. Would it be a lot more difficult for those same writers to write funny movies?

To keep people laughing for 90 minutes is a Herculean task. But the advantage screenwriters have is only one story to tell. So they can devise a very funny premise, squeeze every joke they can out of it, and build to an ending.

In sitcoms your characters and situation are pretty much running in place. So to keep finding laughs in the same situation week after week, year after year is, to me, about equal to screenplays on the difficulty scale.

I once wrote a spec screenplay that I thought would be a breeze. I wanted to write just a balls-out comedy. Turns out it was an extremely hard script to write. To keep the laughs coming and building at a lightening pace was way tougher than I thought it would be.

That’s why I bristle when I get notes and the person says, “Yeah, it’s FUNNY, but…” Do you know how hard it is to make something FUNNY?

Buttermilk Sky wonders:

Alan Alda and Mike Farrell wrote and/or directed several episodes of MASH. Have you ever had to deal with stars who thought they possessed these skills but were simply mistaken? That must be a tough meeting to take.

Sometimes actors will get it in their deal that they get to direct one episode a season. And you just have to suck it up and do what you can in editing.

You try to give those directors the least complicated shows. Although, I must admit, when you know someone is a bad director you don’t want to waste a good script on him. So he starts out with a weaker script, which further limits his possibility of success.

Switching gears, I will tell you a few more actors I’ve worked with who are TERRIFIC directors. Adam Arkin and Kelsey Grammer.

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Will this Emmy review be my last?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the fuck?!

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

When did comedy become the queen’s tea?

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

My 2017 Emmy Review

Okay, here’s my bitchy snarky Emmy review. Enjoy.

It’s hard to believe that one off-stage voice could completely decimate an entire awards show but that’s what happened Sunday night when Jermaine Fowler took to the mic. This was like giving a squirrel a grenade. Note to the Academy: There are some things a PROFESSIONAL voiceover announcer should have – a decent voice, DICTION, a sense of decorum, and the ability to read. Things not needed: ad libbing, especially when you’re not remotely funny, showing favoritism, and screaming. Fowler was quite simply an embarrassment. He was the drunk uncle who copped a feel of the bride at her wedding.

I think most annoying was the favoritism, shrieking every black presenter’s name as if introducing a prizefighter.

How would it sound if I said, “Please welcome Cecily Tyson, Robert DeNiro, and NORMAN LEARRRRRR!

Next year please go back to Randy Thomas. And CBS, if you want to give one of your few diverse stars more exposure, let him host the friggin’ Orange Bowl halftime show.

This was that rare award show where the acceptance speeches were generally more entertaining than the host and comedy bits. Ironically, in a show that was very meta and self-aware, most of the speeches were really sincere, emotional, and heartfelt. Ann Dowd made ME choke up.

There have been worse Emmycasts. Notably 2005 when Donald Trump was a musical guest (a role he’s more qualified for than the one he’s in now).

And speaking of our beloved President, or, as the gals from 9-5 called him, “a sexist, egotist, lying hypocritical bigot,” (of course by then all the red states had tuned out and were watching football, or if that wasn’t bloody enough, the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War) Trump of course was the main target of Stephen Colbert’s opening monologue.

That’s pretty much become Stephen Colbert’s entire act. And Stephen, if you want to reach the general public, don’t do three Les Moonves jokes. Anyway, I thought he did a decent job of hosting but nowhere near as relaxed and funny as Jimmy Kimmel on last year’s Emmys (and this year’s Oscars). Well, Stephen did a decent job when Jermaine Fowler let him host. “Please welcome Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, and ANIKA NANI ROOOOOSSSSSEEEEE!!!!!!!”

The big surprise of Sean Spicer appearing in the opening monologue was met with blank stares and horror from the audience. Even Melissa McCarthy was not amused. I don’t care if he’s a good sport. I hate the son of a bitch. Who will they get next year? “Please welcome O.J. SIMMMMMPPPSSSSONNNNNN!”

Okay, more on the show in a minute. But first I must back up to the local KTLA Channel 5 “Live from the Red Carpet” show hosted by footstool to the stars, Sam Rubin and someone who doesn’t eat named Jessica Holmes. They’re always good for a few really idiotic moments.

Sam was asking Carrie Coon about getting ready for the evening. “Did you start at 7 this morning?” he said. Smoooooth.

Jessica followed by saying to Carrie: “People say you’re a very good crier. Is that a learned skill? Or are you naturally good at it?”

Sam to Matt Walsh: “You have a book coming out.” Matt to Sam: “No, I don’t.” Great preparation. Sam asked to see Matt’s acceptance speech if he won. He took a folded piece of paper out of his jacket and Sam was absolutely gobsmacked. “Ohmygod! It’s HAND written!!!”

Later Sam was interviewing Jane Fonda and gushed over how hilarious Lily Tomlin was. Has he ever MET a star before???

But my favorite exchange was when Sam said to Kathryn Hahn, “A BAD MOM’S CHRISTMAS is not nominated for an Emmy.” Kathryn then said, “It’s not a television show” and Jessica saved the moment by saying “But it could be.”

We miss you, Joan Rivers!

And now to the show.

I know it was subtle, but I think the theme this year was DIVERSITY.

Clearly the big winners were THE HANDMAID’S TALE, BIG LITTLE LIES, VEEP, SNL, and John Oliver. How many times has Bill Maher lost now? 30? 40? The Washington Generals, the team that plays the Harlem Globetrotters has more wins than Bill Maher. Of those shows, the ones I’ve seen are very deserving. Same with all the winners in all the categories. Voters got it right. Keep those screeners coming.

Next year of course, GAME OF THRONES will win all the drama awards.

That is if there IS a show. With all the reboots of series coming back, next year they could very easily just rerun the Emmy Award ceremony of 1995.

How big a deal are the Emmys? Even in Hollywood? In the Sunday Los Angeles Times CALENDAR section, there were no stories about the Emmys but there was a big one on the Toronto Film Festival.

Why was Oprah in the front row? Why does Oprah get a standing ovation? Margaret Atwood -- yes. Carol Burnett, Norman Lear, Cecily Tyson, even Lena Waithe -- sure. But Oprah?

Among the people thanked by winners: Winston Churchill and Webster.

Congratulations to John Lithgow. Yes, he’s a great actor, but more importantly, he was a terrific coach of my son’s little league team.

Oh yes, television embraces diversity. Carol Burnett received a standing ovation. However, when she made a sitcom pilot for ABC this spring that was hilariously funny and smart ABC didn’t pick it up.

And did you notice that when the president of the TV Academy was giving his speech on how excellent television is, CBS chose to run an ad for YOUNG SHELDON under him?

When they introduce presenters now they need to tell you what shows they’re on.

A lot of movie stars didn’t win (Robert DeNiro, Anthony Hopkins), which is shocking. Why do movie stars do television? Because otherwise they have to wait all the way till January to start winning awards.

Nicole Kidman won however. From now on they should start her “play off” music the minute her name is announced.

Women who looked gorgeous: Jessica Biel (she sure cleans up nice), Tatiana Maslany (in simple black), Sophia Vergara (in white Jessica Rabbit gown), Edie Falco (elegant in simple bright red), Kate McKinnon (I loved her tearful speech), and many others who didn’t get on camera so they don’t count.

This year they didn’t even bother to announce the Creative Arts winners. But we sure needed that lame bit where Stephen Colbert was interviewing RuPaul as “Emmy.” Or the screen time that Jermaine Fowler received so we could watch him mangle promos. Y’know, Jermaine, you should really sign up for “Hooked on Phonics.”

Kate McKinnon got played off just as she thanked Hillary Clinton. Was Sean Spicer cuing the music?

And how come they cut Sterling K. Brown’s speech short but let Nicole Kidman babble on forever?

In light of recent events, security was very tough. Anna Chlumsky’s dress had to go through the metal detector eight times. For actors it was the first time they didn’t get to go through TSA pre-check. Just the thought of Nicole Kidman standing in a long line tickled me.

And when Nicole complains that there are so few good roles for women, that’s partly because she takes them all.

I was applauding Alec Baldwin’s win until he said, “What we do is important.” This is the medium that gives us DATING NAKED.

But for all the hyperbole no one came close to Diane English the year she declared that MURPHY BROWN was the greatest sitcom of all time.

Tessa Thompson looked like she was wearing the NBC Peacock.

Writers always give the best speeches. Lena Waithe, who is the first African-American woman to win a Best Comedy Writing Emmy was eloquent and funny and did it in a third of time it took Nicole Kidman to thank her management team. (Lena co-wrote the episode with Aziz Ansari.) Donald Glover was witty and classy. And Dave Mandell of VEEP had the funniest speech of the night. It was actually funnier than the opening monologue. And leave it to a Jewish writer to begin his speech with “I’m out of a job.”

At 93 Norman Lear is amazing. He looked younger than the women from 9-5.

What was that blazer/mini skirt Reese Witherspoon was wearing? She looked like the first hooker to graduate from Wharton.

How does BLACK MIRROR win for Best TV Movie when it was Season 3, Episode 4 of a TV drama? (Thanks to my son-in-law for pointing that out.)

RuPaul’s checkerboard suit was the perfect look … if you’re a jester.

Can ANYONE remember last year's Best TV Movie winner? And that includes the winners themselves.

Sarah Paulson even looked beautiful wrapped in tin foil (thus bringing new meaning to Reynolds Wrap).

Hooray for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who’s won six straight times for her role in VEEP. She’s FUNNY.

I’m sure the producers of GRACE AND FRANKIE are breathing a sigh of relief. Both Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin were up for Best Actress in a Comedy. If either one had won while the other lost you could hang meat in that sound stage for the next year.

Christopher Jackson’s rendition of “As” was a lovely complement to the “In Memoriam” segment. And Mary Tyler Moore turning out the lights was the perfect poignant ending. However, this was the first time I ever cheered when I saw a name in the “In Memoriam” feature. Roger Ailes. Yeah, I know. I’m a horrible person but “see ya.”

Debra Messing looked fabulous, but why wear that Glad bag? Just cause it matched the color of your hair?

The WESTWORLD parody was very funny… if you watch and know WESTWORLD… which is like 10% of the audience.

Dolly Parton should host next year’s Emmys.

Proof that comedy is still considered a second-class citizen: the Best Comedy award was not presented at the end of the night as it usually is. This year it was given out before half a dozen drama awards.

A dolphin could jump through Heidi Klum’s hoop earrings.

John Oliver mentioned “seat fillers.” The people in the first ten rows you don’t recognize are called “seat fillers”. When the seat fillers have to go to the bathroom they’re replaced by the “nominated writers”.

Kathryn Hahn wore a sheer gown with big black dots. She looked like a game of Othello.

Elisabeth Moss got bleeped. From what I understand she thanked her mom for teaching her that “you can be kind and a fucking badass.”

Stop trying to do funny bits while introducing the accountants. They never work. You’d think after the Oscars the accountants wouldn’t want to be introduced.

Riz Ahmed was riveting in THE NIGHT OF. He beat out Robert DeNiro and deservedly so. In his speech he gave a shout-out to the South Asian Youth Action and the Innocence Project, and as he was walking off Jermaine Fowler chimed in “And a shout-out to Oprah.” I think I would have preferred Sean Spicer as the offstage announcer.

Jessica Lange is starting to look like a female impersonator.

When presenter Seth McFarlane came out with that patented smug expression I thought, “uh oh, what now? Another delightful song about tits?” It had to be something. I was right. He read the nominees in different cartoon voices. Yeah, if I’m a nominee and this is my only moment in the spotlight I want my name announced by the FAMILY GUY dog.

It’s hard to believe that one building, even one as cavernous as the Microsoft Theatre could hold the egos of both Seth McFarlane and Oprah.

Scary moment when Cecily Tyson froze while presenting. But God bless her, she recovered, and Anika Nani Rose was masterful covering for Ms. Tyson. She handled the moment with grace and ease. That, ladies and gentlemen (and Jermaine Fowler) is a PRO.

Vanessa Bayer wore the tablecloth from our Passover seder. .

When I saw Titus Burgess in his gold blazer, I expected him to take ticket stubs and show people to their seats.

Shannon Purser must’ve stolen the Jolly Green Giant’s outfit.

As deserving as all the nominees were, I still think THE MIDDLE, THE GOOD FIGHT, and THE AMERICANS deserve Emmy love. And bring back Randy Thomas.

Again, congratulations to all the winners. Happily, I know what you’re going through. It’s an amazing experience to win an Emmy. And just think – we now have one, but Donald Trump doesn’t.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Emmy ratings are in

Big surprise! Emmy ratings were incredibly low Sunday night. By the way, tomorrow I will be posting my Emmy review, but again, if you want to hear it right now just go to my podcast. A click of the big gold arrow will do it. Or iTunes or your podcast app. Hollywood & Levine.

But back to the ratings. Only 11.4 million people watched the back-slap-athon. The last MASH episode drew over 100 million people. I know – apples and oranges, but the point is those 100 million people are out there.

So now the question about the near record low ratings: How come?

The obvious answer is that no one has seen any of these Emmy winning shows. Or in many cases, even heard about them. And that’s not to say that they’re not totally deserving of their wins. The shows selected were excellent. But study after study shows that the vast majority of the country doesn’t know they exist. They’re on delivery services many people don’t have (or don’t want to have because of the cost), and in such a crowded marketplace it’s almost impossible to get noticed above the din.

I guarantee you this: If these shows did not send screeners to every TV Academy member, and if there was not good word-of-mouth within the community, most of them would never get a sniff from Emmy. If Hulu had to rely on TV Academy voters finding, subscribing, and watching THE HANDMAID’S TALE (even though it’s from a popular book) on their own, their outstanding series would be overlooked. And that’s people IN the television industry. So imagine folks who aren’t.

And if you haven’t seen the shows you have no rooting interest. Part of the fun of award shows is handicapping the winners, entering pools, and cheering on your favorites. The Oscars are having a similar problem. Oscar contenders play in art houses. They’re also a certain “kind” of film. And most moviegoers don’t make the effort, don’t have access, or don’t give a shit.

So that’s factor number one.

People will contend that the Trump bashing turns off viewers. Yeah, well, I tend to think these are the same people who wouldn’t watch THE HANDMAIDS TALE or BIG LITTLE LIES even if they were on FOX News.

Competition is also a factor. Last night’s Emmycast competed with a Sunday night NFL game (although that turned out to be a blow out) and the launch of the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam on PBS. You might say, “So what? PBS?” Well, think about it. The audience that would watch the shows nominated for Emmys are probably the same people who would be interested in a compelling documentary on the Vietnam War.

I also contend that we now have award show fatigue. There are so many of them, and some of them overlap, that it has severely tarnished the “event” status that big award shows used to have. Remember, for many years there were the Oscars and the Emmys and that’s it. Not even the Golden Globes were televised live.

And finally, how many of them have been bad? In desperate attempts to attract audiences (especially younger viewers) producers are employing “Hail Mary” stunts. Case in point: Last night’s Emmycast had Jermaine Fowler serve as the off-stage announcer. It was an abject failure and for many, ruined the entire show. (Much more about that in my bitchy review.) You can just smell the desperation and fear. And it’s uncomfortable. Audiences can sense it.

I suspect next year’s show will do better. GAME OF THRONES will be eligible. And maybe we’ll have a new president. And if THIS IS US wins the following year the ratings will grow even more. But that could mean 15 million instead of 11.4. On the one hand that’s a big increase, and on the other – big whoop.

Monday, September 18, 2017

EP38: Ken’s Bitchy Review of the 2017 Emmys

Ken reviews the 2017 Emmy Awards ceremony in his delightfully unique snarky (but accurate) way.   Written and posted only hours after the annual self-love fest, Ken weighs in with his humorous take.  Totally objective even though he’s bitter he didn’t win an Emmy this year.   Also, the announcement of the Cheers script contest winner! 

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Up shortly

The Emmy review podcast will be up shortly.  We're working on it.  Keep checking back.  Thanks.

Congratulations to ALL the Emmy winners

A reminder, my review of last night’s Emmy Awards can be accessed by going to my podcast. The easiest way to listen is to just click on the big gold arrow under the masthead. But if you’re reading this on your smart phone, a) you have good vision, and b) there are podcast apps and it’s available on iTunes. Later in the week I will post the written version here on the blog.

But today I’d like to focus on the deserving Emmy winners you never see – the Creative Arts Emmys. They’re never televised because Allison Janney will never win an Emmy for set design. America doesn’t want to see wardrobe people or boom mic operators. Hell, they don’t know half the actors that win Emmys these days, much less crews.

Still, it’s a shame these very talented behind-the-scenes artists (and they are artists) never get the recognition they deserve. Their award ceremony was held a week ago in relative obscurity. A few actor categories are announced, but several of the winning actors didn’t bother to show. God forbid they should break bread with the people who do their hair and make-up.

What makes it worse -- almost criminal -- is that on the televised show last night, the Creative Arts winners were never mentioned.  Not even in a crawl.  Like we needed more time to see Jermaine Fowler destroy the telecast with his atrocious announcing.  

I always thought it would be a good documentary or TV special to take a hit series and show how the sausage is made. Go backstage and learn what these various people do. Some of the most dedicated workers of any show are members of the crew. Wouldn’t you like to actually see how shows are edited? Or how the sets are designed? Or how the camera guys on multi-cam shows move around while the scene is playing out and somehow land in the right spot to get the desired shot? Not that reality show host isn’t a talent that deserves to be celebrated before a national TV audience, but these crew members contribute as much or more than the people who are in front of the camera. Sorry Heidi Klum, they do.

Everyone thinks Julia Louis-Dreyfus has a lot of Emmys (including one last night). There are sound guys who have twice as many. It’s a shame that in many cases the only time their faces fill the screen is when they’re in the In Memoriam segment.  And even then they usually share the screen with another crew member or they're in the background as the camera centers on the singer. 

So today I pause from my snark and bitchiness to offer a sincere congratulations to the Creative Arts winners and for your ceremony, I hope you didn’t have to pay for your own dinner.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Roll out the red carpet again

The Primetime Emmy Awards are tonight. And as usual, I will be filing my bitchy review. This jaded view of the ceremony is usually the result of not winning one myself this year (even though I had nothing to put up for nomination, but that’s a technicality) and let’s get real -- the shows are usually snark-worthy. The categories are so screwed up that CRIMINAL MINDS might win Best Comedy.

But there’s one difference from years past. Instead of posting the review Monday morning in my blog I will be recording it and posting it as my podcast. That podcast episode should be available tomorrow morning. Later in the week I will post it on the blog, but if you want to hear while the show is still fresh in your mind, you’ll have to check out the podcast.

How do you do that? Many ways. iTunes has it. So do most podcast apps. You can also click here. Or, just scroll up until you find the big gold arrow and click on it.

So why am I doing it this way? To get more listeners, silly. Do you know how hard it is to build a podcast audience if you’re not famous or have a murder to solve? You do what you can.

And along those lines, on the Emmy review episode I will announce the winner of the autographed CHEERS script I am giving away. Thanks again to everyone who entered the contest. By the way, it’s a script from the first (and best) season. Picture the excitement of when they crowned an American Idol during that show’s heyday. But this is better. No Randy Jackson.

Good luck to all the nominees. Especially for the shows I’ve heard of.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

I love Desi (and Lucy)

This is truly great.  Thanks to reader Honeycutt Powell for finding it.  (I originally gave the wrong reader credit.  Oops.  Sorry about that.)  It's the 5th annual Emmy Awards.  And at the time there were no Emmys for writing.  Thank you Lucy and Desi.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Questions

For you Friday Question fans:

Samantha leads off:

I'm curious about the way you would go about writing a spec for a Netflix or Amazon show. I've read scripts for Master of None, Flaked, and Transparent, and they don't call out the act breaks within the script. So, when writing a spec of a Netflix or Amazon show, should you call out the act breaks or should you follow the standard formatting for a TV show?

No, I wouldn’t show act breaks.   If you have a script of the show you're spec'ing just follow that.


In constructing your story I would have act breaks. There are act breaks in every movie. You just don't see them.   It’s just good storytelling. Build to a crisis point (or two) and then resolve. Just because you don’t break for commercials doesn’t mean you should toss out sound dramatic structure. Best of luck with your spec.

Douglas Trapasso has another Amazon/Netflix question.

Do you think that the decision process at the Hulus and Amazons and Netflixes will become equally convoluted over the next few years? Or do you think writers will enjoy more creativity there?

Well, it’s what I would hope at least. But so much depends on who’s in charge. And often times as these delivery services grow they feel they can exert more control.

At the moment, yes, people I know doing shows for those organizations say there’s much less interference at Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu than at a broadcast network.

But five years from now, who knows? The equation could flip. Broadcast networks, in an attempt to attract A-list talent, might offer more freedom than Netflix and Amazon. (I sort of doubt it however.)

The trade-off for writers is usually creative freedom or bigger paycheck. More and more writers are opting for the freedom, especially since the networks are so ham-fisted in their interference.

Wait. ANOTHER Netflix question? This one is from Brian Phillips.

Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are now becoming players in the original content market, just like the big three (then-four, then-five) in broadcast TV. Is pitching a comedy to them any different?

I haven’t pitched to them so I have no personal experience. Friends of mine who have say it’s very similar. It’s just that what they’re looking for is different than broadcast networks.

But by and large, pitching is the same. You pitch the premise, characters, tell why your show is great, have story areas prepared, make 'em laugh if you can, and be ready to answer questions.

And finally, a non-Netflix question from James.  (Get with the program, James!)

I am thinking about writing a sitcom that for a particular star - kind of like Curb Your Enthusiasm in that the actor is playing a fictionalized version of himself. Would this be a good idea to help get an agent or get noticed, or do you have to have ties with the actor that you want to use?

That would be a very bad idea. Unless you have the actor attached don’t go anywhere near that idea. Not to say that in your head you can't have prototypes of certain actors even though you know you’ll never get them, but they must play fictional characters, not versions of themselves.

In general, gimmick pilots are not well received.

Agents and studios and networks and producers want to see ORIGINAL material. Create your own world and pilot. Best of luck.

What’s your Netflix, I mean FRIDAY Question? Leave it in the comments section. Thank you.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

SURF'S UP follow up

This is a follow-up to the two articles I did last week where I posted a ten-minute one-act play I wrote for a one-day play festival and followed it up the next day with my process. I received a Friday Question that became an entire post.

It is from Cheryl Marks.

I'm interested how long it took you to get to the "start," that is, to settle on the scenario and the relationship? (I immediately flashed on your talented daughter, Annie, and you and the "flip" seemed quite appropriate.) 

And then, once you started writing did you have to go back and revise any of the premise? 

And lastly did you have any feelings of despair or the sense that you should scrap the whole thing and start again?

In this case about forty-five minutes to settle on the premise. I never want to rush through that part of the process because if your premise doesn’t work the rest of the exercise becomes a nightmare.

What I always do is bat around several premises. And see where they go.

It’s not enough to just have an idea, you need to see if it has legs.

Allow yourself the freedom to really riff. Explore various options. What if the daughter wants to drop out and go around the world? What if this is the third harebrained idea Dad has had? What if the daughter wants to move back to New York to be with her mother? What if Dad is a school teacher and can’t face the prospect of another full year?

Don’t just go with your first idea. It’s worth the daydream time to settle on the “best” idea.

Once I start writing I always leave open the possibility that I may have to make adjustments along the way. That way I let the characters guide me and I follow their lead, and sometimes they take me to unexpected places.

When that happens I’m left with two options. Follow the new path. Or stop, go back, throw out the recent section, and start again down the original path. You have to be willing to throw stuff out. You have to be willing to stop, say: “Ugh! That sucks.” Believe me, I go down a lot of these blind paths through the course of writing full-length plays. I keep a discard file and for a 90 page script I might have 40 pages I threw out. But it’s all part of the process.

In the case of SURF’S UP, it seemed to fall into place. But that’s THIS TIME. Next time when I do the exercise again it might be a whole different story. So I never had that feeling of despair, but it happens. Sometimes you just have to power through it. The problem could be that you’re too close to it and have lost objectivity and it’s not nearly as bad and you think it is. And then sometimes it is a piece of shit and deserves to be thrown in a drawer never to be seen again.

Hope that answers your questions. I find the writing process fascinating. No two writers have the same process. But then, no two writers write the same thing. (Well, that does happen but then one of the writers is sued.) 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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

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

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Reporting live from Hurricane Irma

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tony Romo's debut

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

Rarely does that go well.

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

He had some life. He had some personality.

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

My question is: why is this such a revelation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

9-11 and David and Lynn Angell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I still can’t wrap my mind around it.

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Still time to win that autographed CHEERS script

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He cut us off.

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

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

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

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

He cut us off.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 09, 2017

My toughest interview

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

Friday, September 08, 2017

Friday Questions

Comin’ at ya – Friday Questions.

Peter starts us off:

A rather random Friday Question from me:

What's your favorite food?

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

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

From Poochie:

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

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

Michael asks:

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

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

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

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

Brian Phillips closes it out.

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

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

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

It's rarely done.


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

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