Monday, February 20, 2017
In 1870 a corrupt mobster known as Boss Tweed led an organization that basically controlled New York City politics. Through his influence he was able to stack the city with elected officials who were in his pocket. He then used these officials to defraud the city the equivalent of billions today. Personality-wise, he was quite ostentatious, proudly wearing large diamonds while living in an opulent mansion on Fifth Avenue.
Harpers Weekly magazine wrote piece after piece denouncing this criminal, but most of his supporters were essentially illiterate so the articles were not widely read.
In the next election most of Tweed’s cronies were unceremoniously booted out of office and a few years later Tweed himself was convicted and sent to prison.
So why do I tell this story? Substitute SNL for Thomas Nast cartoons.
I can’t begin to applaud SNL enough not only for their stand against Boss Trump but for how well they are delivering the message. The writing is superb and the performers are amazing. Kate McKinnon is the next Lucy or Carol Burnett. Melissa McCarthy and Alec Baldwin have absolutely nailed their targets, as did Tina Fey in previous elections. And the rest of the cast is equally terrific.
This says two things to me. One: If you show something on TV that everyone wants to watch, large broad audiences are still possible. The argument that TV has to be niche now to succeed doesn’t necessarily hold water.
And two: Just as Thomas Nast’s cartoons got the population’s attention, SNL might just have a big impact. Lots of young folks who really didn’t care much about the last election are now opening their eyes to the chaos this administration has wrought. And we can only hope that they will react accordingly.
Boss Tweed tried to discredit Nast and even strong-arm Harper’s Magazine into silencing him. (Sound familiar?). To the publication’s credit, it stuck by its cartoonist. NBC is not backing down anytime soon, that’s for sure. Not with THOSE numbers.
Sure there are news commentators that are railing at the disarray in the White House. And newspapers are pointing out daily that the support team the president is surrounding himself with is every bit as corrupt and self-serving as Boss Tweed’s lackeys. They (Trumps appointees) have absolutely no interest whatsoever in serving the voters who entrusted Trump to lead on their behalf.
But that public is not reading those articles. Or watching those commentaries.
They are, however, watching SNL. Just as with Mr. Nast’s cartoons, COMEDY can reach people where other outlets can’t. At one time Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite delivered the message. Now it’s Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin.
Boss Trump continues to lash out at the press, but like everything else, he’s missing the point.
COMEDY is mightier than the sword.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
A lot is being made of this being the year of women comedy writers. All the WHITNEY/CHELSEA crude girl sitcoms were created by women. So by inference it's easy to get the impression that TV's ladies of laughter studied their craft at frat houses.
Not so. There have been many women writers who travel exclusively on the high road. One in particular is Treva Silverman.
Her comedy comes from character – keenly observing the behavior and absurdity of real people and real situations. Her laughs are hard earned because they derive from humanity not the easier route – cynicism. I’ve always believed that “only the truth is funny” and Treva’s built a nice career doing just that.
You probably have seen her name on many episodes of the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. Without making her sound like Jackie Robinson, Treva was one of the first women TV comedy writers and really did pave the way for others to follow. As with Jackie, she did it with talent, poise, and the ability to steal home.
Treva’s career began in New York. While playing and singing at piano bars at night, she wrote songs and 13 off-Broadway children’s musicals. That led to writing sketches for musical revues at the prestigious “Upstairs at the Downstairs”. Other revues employed as many as twenty sketch writers. “Upstairs” had one – Treva.
Carol Burnett caught her show one night and hired her to write for her first variety series, THE ENTERTAINERS. She was the only woman on staff. Knowing how writing rooms can be a bit raucous, Treva set out to prove she was one of the boys by dropping a few F-bombs the first day. One of the writers took her aside and said, “Please don’t swear. It makes us so uncomfortable.”
MADEMOISELLE magazine included her in an article about women on the rise in professions traditionally held by men. All that did was put extra pressure on her. It’s hard enough to succeed under the best of conditions, but she felt if “If I fail I bring down all womanhood”.
Treva moved to LA to write for THE MONKEES, THAT GIRL, and GET SMART. So far all womanhood was safe. And then in 1969 Jim Brooks (who she first met when she was playing at a piano bar) called and said he and Allan Burns were creating a show for Mary Tyler Moore. Would she like to be involved? As a writer not a pianist.
She stayed with the show for five years, wrote 16 episodes, won two Emmys, and was one of its major creative forces. Allan Burns credits her with being the “voice of Rhoda” (although in person Treva could not be more different from the brassy Rhoda character) and Valerie Harper called her the “Feminist conscience of the show.” The guys, to their credit, never fought her…although the feminist attitudes did have to be pointed out to them.
Treva thought THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was the easiest and hardest job she ever had. Easiest because the show was so real. Hardest because the show was so real.
One thing she loved was that on the show she could write digressions. It wasn’t just story, story, story. Compare that to today’s sitcoms where there have to be B stories and C stories, and forty two scenes in a twenty minute show.
Needing a ditzy character to be the opposite of Rhoda, she created Georgette after seeing Georgia Engels in the Milos Foreman film, TAKING OFF. It was originally supposed to be just a couple of lines for one episode only, but Georgia was so funny everyone decided she should be a series regular.
Of the many episodes for MTM that Treva wrote, some of my favorites were “Lou & Edie Story” (Lou’s wife decides to separate), “Better Late…that’s a pun…than never” (Mary gets suspended when she writes a joke obit and the guy promptly dies), “Cover Boy” (introducing Jack Cassidy as Ted’s brother), and “Rhoda the beautiful” (where Rhoda enters a beauty contest).
Here's just a sample. In that last episode mentioned Rhoda loses twenty pounds but doesn't seem to be happy about it. When Mary wonders why she says, “Because I can never say again ‘gee, I’d look great if I lost twenty pounds’.”
After season five Treva left the show to live in Europe for several years. She came back to write pilots, movies, and was collaborating with Michael Bennett (CHORUS LINE, DREAMGIRLS) on a Broadway musical called SCANDAL. With a score by Jimmy Webb, and starring Swoozie Kurtz, Treat Williams, Victor Garber, Priscilla Lopez, and Rob Morrow it was slated for production. But unfortunately, Bennett died and the project never came to fruition. To this day Treva feels it’s the best thing she’s ever written.
Michael Douglas called her to fix ROMANCING THE STONE. Test audiences hated the Kathleen Turner character -- they thought she was too cold. Plus, they only had the budget to reshoot the first scene – where Kathleen is home alone, gets a call from her sister, and has to go save her. Treva had the solution. Give her a cat. Let her talk baby talk to the cat. Just that one bit of behavior completely won over the audience. And the rest is box office success and disappointing sequel (that I helped rewrite) history.
Recently, Treva has rewritten SCANDAL as a play. A NY Times article called it “purportedly brilliant and unproduced”. Since then there has been a flurry of interest and hopefully we’ll finally get to see it soon.
I hope Treva Silverman serves as an inspiration to young writers, not because she’s a woman or that she broke barriers, but because of her work.
Saturday, February 18, 2017
My wife and I went to Disneyland. Since becoming an adult this was the first time I was ever there without kids or a joint. No strollers, no giant diaper bags, no getting home and realizing we had left somebody. Also, we had never seen the adjacent California Adventure so we wanted to go before it eventually shuts down or is completely rethought.
We figured: go before the summer begins and kids are out of school. I guess that now means February. Disneyland was packed. There were lines for everything. The biggest: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Waiting, Space Mountain, and churros. The Small World attraction is closed for renovation (thank God). A big fence surrounds it. So the line was only a half an hour.
I wore a golf shirts and long pants. I was waaaay overdressed. Come on, people! At least the ratty t-shirts and torn plaid shorts should fit! You’re going to be taking pictures in those rags.
As always, the park was immaculate… although I could swear one of the 60-year-old maintenance men in an elf suit was a former producer of TAXI. And the teenagers who work there remain the nicest, perkiest, helpfulliest David Arhuleta and Carrie Underwood clones you could find this side of Stepford.
I’m guessing the teens with major imperfections like acne or no dimples are assigned to wear those bulky heavy character costumes. It was 90 degrees and Winnie the Pooh was staggering around, tripping over strollers, kicking little tykes, occasionally sticking his head in an ice cream pushcart for relief.
Happy to say that the new Pirates of the Caribbean ride wasn’t ruined by the improvements. There were a few Jack Sparrows added and a nifty Davy Jones hologram but otherwise it’s pretty much the same. Oh maybe a little less raping but the spirit of fun is still there.
To avoid standing in endless lines Disneyland now offers “Fast Passes” for most major rides. It allows you to return for wait-free boarding. We got our Fast Passes for Space Mountain at 1 PM. Our reservations were for 9:30, thus saving us fifteen minutes had we stood in the normal line.
I was a good boy this trip. I did not stand up and ask Mr. Lincoln a question nor did I buy a Mouseketeer hat, have them scroll “Vincent” then rip off one of the ears.
With all the spectacular photo-ops Disneyland provides, all day long I saw people taking pictures of each other while standing in lines. We are truly a country of idiots.
Then there are the women trying to walk all day and night in ankle strap wedges. And they wonder why they’re crippled by Fantasyland.
Gas prices are so high that for the Autopia, the cars are now just being pushed by Disney employees.
In a nod to health conscious California, Disneyland eateries now serve healthy food along with the usual fast food junk. My wife ordered a salad. It was the third one sold this year!
The irony of the Indiana Jones ride is that Harrison Ford probably can’t ride it. It’s way too violent and rugged for a 66 year-old man.
We moved over to California Adventure, which is like going from Times Square on New Year’s Eve to downtown Flint, Michigan a year after they closed the GM plant.
The only thing worth seeing is “Soarin’ Over California”. It’s a simulated hang glide tour over the state. If only I could simulate flying on American Airlines instead of actually having to fly on American Airlines.
Wandered around the park. Don’t know the names of the “lands” per se but there’s one that’s kind of rustic that my wife just called “Wilderness Shit”. They pipe in this real stirring John Williams type music and I must say, coming out of the restroom I thought there’ve been times when I could have really used this.
Next we encountered a beach boardwalk themed land. The John Williams music gave way to Beach Boys tunes on a calliope. All these years I never knew that “Surfer Girl” was a circus song.
Disney – the company that brought you “Song of the South” and tar babies now presents “Pizza Oom Mow Mow” on the pier at California Adventure.
There’s a big classic Coney Island style rollercoaster and something called the “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror”. Not wanting my first major stroke to be in a place where the paramedics all wear Peter Pan costumes I passed on both.
We returned to Disneyland, nostalgic for the days when California Adventure used to be a parking lot.
Night fell on the Magic Kingdom and it got a little chilly. No worries. There’s a clothing store every hundred feet. Me: “Excuse me, Tracy/Stacey/Kaysee/Lacy, do you have a men’s sweatshirt that doesn’t have Tinkerbell on it? Or Mickey in a wizard’s cap? Or Mulan? Or a fucking fairy castle!?” I bought a Davy Crockett coonskin cap so at least my head was warm.
Even in the evening when the crowd thinned out there was still a 45 minute wait for the aptly named Dumb-o ride.
No trip to Disneyland would be complete without a harrowing bobsled ride down the Matterhorn. It always takes me back to my idyllic childhood, going on it once with my dear sweet grandmother and hearing her drop the f-bomb.
The Haunted Mansion is now inhabited by a bi-lingual ghost. He gives spooky instructions in both English and Spanish.
Never got to Toontown. There were enough over-stimulated, sugar revved, screaming, out-of-control little hellions in all the other lands.
Following the fireworks and “Disney Dwarfs on Parade” or whatever the hell that noisy thing was, we dutifully reported to Space Mountain to take advantage of our Fast Pass. Wow! Space Mountain was always great but this new revamped version is awesome. You know they mean business when they tell you to take your glasses off. As I was crawling off the rocket sled on my hands and knees I said to my wife, “Now THAT’S a thrill ride!”
Finally, it was time to leave. Where did twelve hours and hundreds of dollars go? A half hour to catch the tram and another half hour to find our car in the parking structure the size of Liechtenstein, and we were merrily on our way (to hit massive traffic on the Santa Ana freeway at midnight).
I have always loved Disneyland. I’m not ashamed to say it. I am ashamed to wear any of those sweatshirts but even as a five year-old curmudgeon I marveled at the imagination, scope, and vision of this wondrous (albeit highly profitable) world. So I will be back. Soon. My Fast Pass reservation for the Little Nemo Submarine Voyage is November 21st at 6:30 AM.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Greg starts us off.
What's the practice for referencing famous people living or dead, specifically in comedy writing, whether it's on screen or in book form? Do you have to get some kind of clearance beforehand, especially when they're used in a joke that might not be entirely flattering? Maybe drawing on a commonly held stereotype for that person (i.e. alcoholic, adulterer).
If they’re a public figure they're fair game. You can use their name. If you show their likeness you need clearance.
If you mention them in a derogatory manner you always run the risk of a libel suit. But that’s certainly a gray area. Look at SNL.
From Mike Lonergan, Tacoma:
Starting a new radio job, did you ever find yourself saying the wrong call letters? I swear the "red phone" call I got from the program director my first night was friendly and casual, but it went like this..."Just a couple things--I'd like you to keep the music a little more up-tempo. Oh, and do you have a pencil? Write this down, K-B-R-O. That's the name of the station, not what you've been saying."
Speaking of Dave, next month Sports Illustrated is doing a salute to the Seattle Mariners and included is a tribute to Dave that I wrote especially for the magazine. I’ll let you know when it hits the newsstands.
Keith Bodayla queries:
In looking for scripts online of shows I want to write a spec for, I've come across several people who have posted their own spec scripts online. What are your thoughts on this practice? Seems like a bad idea to me, or at least not one that would land you a job. But I could be wrong.
That’s a very bad idea. You have zero protection. And once that content is out on the web anything can happen. Someone could steal your script, put their name on it, submit it to a show, get hired, and you are completely unaware.
Do whatever you can to protect your material. Register every script with the WGA. Go here for details.
There’s enough stealing when properties are protected. Don’t make it easy for someone to rip you off.
How much do you think being a comedy writer helped you get into baseball?
Could a guy stocking shelves at Walmart who was practicing in the bleachers on the side gotten the same shot you did?
Being a comedy writer was a double-edged sword. On one hand there were teams that were intrigued, but on the other there were teams that didn’t take my commitment seriously because of my background.
And remember, the tapes I made in the bleachers had to be good enough to warrant serious consideration. Plus, once I got my first job, the tapes had to be good enough to advance.
I’m sure there are some who think I only got these jobs because of my TV resume, but the truth is I spent years dedicated to sharpening my sportscasting skills. I didn’t ride all those buses and call games in sub freezing weather to improve my comedy writing ability.
And finally, from Liggie:
Here's a radio question. Local DJs/hosts will give commercials for a local business (usually a car dealership) and mention the great car and customer service they got from them. Do those commercials originate because the host bought the car on his own, liked it, and approached three dealer, or because the dealer offered to give a car to the station in exchange for sponsorships?
Usually the host is approached and offered the use of a car if he’ll be the dealer’s spokesperson. The key here is “use.” When the deal is up the car generally goes bye-bye.
When I was hired to announce Syracuse Chiefs baseball my one stipulation was that the team provided a car for me. They did. But it had big ads for the car dealer on both sides. I looked like an idiot driving around town in that thing.
What's your Friday Question? I also answer them on my podcast. Have you subscribed????
Thursday, February 16, 2017
And if you had a hot date you really wanted to impress, taking her to the Magic Kingdom on a Saturday night usually allowed you to take an extra base.
We Angelinos would schlep out to Disneyland to catch musical acts. I saw the great Louis Armstrong perform on the Mark Twain riverboat. That was kind of sad, but still.
Crowds in the summer were large. And it was HOT ("Death Valley Land"). Again, we locals figured out some tricks. For instance, don’t go in the middle of the day. We would arrive at about 4:00 PM, go on the rides we had to see during the day like the Jungle Boat, have dinner, and by then the sun would go down and things cooled off. After the Electrical Parade at 9:00 lots of folks went home. It was way easier to get on primo rides. We’d leave at midnight and drive home (then sleep for 48 hours).
Of course, as time went by the crowds got larger and larger to where even that trick was rendered useless. But we natives continued to search for shortcuts and the “WAZE” version of negotiating the park.
Today there are Disney theme parks all over the world. It was bizarre being in Tokyo seeing Space Mountain.
And there are Fast Passes, Fitbit-type wristbands, all kinds of different ways of experiencing the park. And that’s just what the guests see. Behind the scenes is a whole 'nother world of tunnels, surveillance control rooms, and employee areas.
Back in the early days, you could just go, enter the park, and make your way haphazardly around to the different Lands. Today you need a game plan.
With spring break coming soon I thought this would be the perfect time to devote my podcast to Disneyland/Disney World/whatever they call it in France. I’ve got a great guest, Greg Ehrbar, who worked for Disney for years and offers fantastic tips for getting the most out of your Mickey Mouse outing. We also talk about those tunnels and surveillance centers and what it’s like to work there.
Also, I tell the story of how I heard my dear sweet grandmother drop the F-bomb for the first time. So many precious memories from the Happiest Place on Earth.
I invite you to click on podcast at the top of the blog and join us for a lively discussion of Uncle Walt’s playground.
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
The Magic Kingdom is this week’s theme and Ken has an expert who will give you helpful tips and secrets on how to make your stay at Disneyland or Disney World the best vacation ever. When is the best time to go? How is the best way to get on your favorite rides? Did any famous celebrities work there? And what don’t you see when you go to one of the Disney parks? Also, Ken shares some of his memories of Disneyland and how he heard his dear sweet grandmother drop the F-bomb for the first time.
Recently I saw A MAN CALLED OVE (or, as I like to call it: FOUR FUNERALS AND A WEDDING), which is Swedish and up for an Academy Award. It was likeable and seemed to touch all the heartstring bases. And it got me thinking – what if I wanted to write a movie like this? What are the elements that I would need? After exhaustive research (thinking back to the many art house films I’ve seen) I’ve concluded these are the things that must be included:
Your protagonist must be middle-aged and cranky. Life has let him down somehow. Often he is tortured by the past. And always he feels guilty for something.
He’s very independent but usually someone looks after him – a wife, daughter, hot young neighbor.
He befriends a young person. There must be at least two “seeing life through their young eyes” scenes.
He lives in bleak surroundings. And the weather is always bad. There’s never anything in his kitchen. His modest possessions are all reminders of the past. Sonja’s favorite bathroom plunger, that sort of thing.
We watch him do boring mundane shit for half the movie.
He must begrudgingly take in a pet. Preferably a cat, but a bird will do, or he spends the second half of the film doting over his aquarium.
There’s always a fire. Some structure needs to burn down while he watches or the movie doesn’t get made.
He fights with authority figures who either want to take his house, tear down his art, fire him, commit him, take away his driver’s license, or humiliate him in front of his cat.
Flashbacks to horrific events are a must. Usually a child dies in some accident that needs to be shown – drowns, hit by a train, falls down a well – and Mr. Cranky feels it was his fault.
He is very skillful with his hands. He can fix appliances or build houses or change a Saab fanbelt. Or he builds sculptures that are brilliant but no one understands.
He’s a loner who ultimately discovers he needs other people.
Anytime anything that is remotely good happens to him, there is a tragedy one minute later.
He has health problems, usually a bad heart. We see glimpses of this early on – he clutches his heart, gets real dizzy – but thinks nothing of it. Uh oh. But we know it's coming.
There are quirky comedy moments. Not hilarious but just amusing enough that you don’t hate him.
And finally, the film is a half-hour too long.
Hopefully these helpful tips will allow you to go off, write and direct your own art house film. See you at the Oscars, or at least the Herzegovina film festival.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
When you’re on staff of a show you generally are working on your birthday, sometimes many hours.
I remember turning 40 in the WINGS rewrite room. As the hour approached I said to my fellow merry men, this is it, after 40 I am officially too old to get work. Use me now because in a couple of hours I will no longer be funny, no longer be in touch with the youth of America, and no longer able to eat take-out from Taco Bell.
When you’re on staff (and people in the office like you) they will often get you a cake. Their intentions are wonderful and I love them for the gesture…
Twice it has resulted in co-workers wanting to kill me.
The first was on CHEERS. We had just had a disastrous runthrough. The room was David Isaacs and me and the Charles Brothers. We had to re-break the story. We were looking at a 3:00 AM rewrite session. And just when we started getting the germ of an idea for how to fix the story the assistants burst in with a cake for me. We then had to stand around for twenty minutes while everyone ate the cake. I could see that Glen Charles was seething. That was awkward.
And then there was the year David and I were showrunning the MARY show starring Mary Tyler Moore. Normally we shot the show in front of a studio audience but this particular episode required lots of pre-shooting so we all decided to just block and shoot the entire show without an audience. That meant a long day of filming that began at 9:00 AM and ended about 11:00 PM. Plus, there was a horrendous storm that day. Flash floods, the whole deal. As luck would have it the stage sprung a couple of leaks. One was right over where Mary sat in the office set. It was the Chinese Water Test, dripping right onto her head. Needless to say, she was not pleased.
We finally wrap at around 11:00. It’s still pouring. Everyone is exhausted and knows they have long drives ahead of them. And guess what? Out comes the cake. Since I was the showrunner everyone felt obligated to stay and eat cake for a half-hour, the LAST thing anyone wanted to do. And to her credit I will say this, Mary stayed. And she was diabetic. She couldn’t even eat the cake. I spent the entire party sheepishly apologizing to our star.
When I hear MacArthur Park and "someone left the cake out in the rain" that's what I think of.
This year, no show so no cake. But many well-wishers, which is way better and I’m most appreciative. I do feel bad about Facebook though. Lots of friends are wishing me a Happy Birthday and I don’t check Facebook every day so I rarely wish other people Happy Birthday. So I feel a little guilty. Just know that I wish all of you the Happiest of Birthdays. Except that porn star.
Monday, February 13, 2017
Lena at least can write, act, and direct. But her real gift is focusing the spotlight directly on herself. Lately, any time you turn on a TV talk show there she is plugging the new season of GIRLS. Or open the Style section of the New York Times. She’s there too. Hell, she's the subject of today's blog post.
But it goes beyond that. And again, I give her credit – she knows how to stand out. In a recent appearance on THE TODAY SHOW she managed to rattle host Maria Shriver by throwing around terms like penis and vagina in her live interview. This made headlines. This made for great click bait. And sparked curiosity in her subsequent talk show appearances. Was she going to say something outrageous? Was she going to shatter a TV taboo? The lady’s got savvy.
Meanwhile, no one's talking about Drew Barrymore hawking the Santa Clarita diet on THE TODAY SHOW.
It's Lena's ability to capture headlines that has kept GIRLS on the air. The dirty little secret is that the ratings are terrible for GIRLS. They’ve been terrible for quite a while. But HBO has stayed with the show because it generates buzz. And that’s thanks to Lena. Bill Simmons couldn't save ANY GIVEN WEDNESDAY.
The true self-promoters know how to stay in the public eye even when their fifteen minutes are up. When was Madonna’s last hit? When was she last in the news? Yesterday. She’s adopting Malawian twins. Oprah was last seen hijacking the CBS Mary Tyler Moore tribute. And Lady Gaga is either wearing meat, touring with Tony Bennett, or diving into football stadiums. (Although, in fairness, she’s also an extraordinary talent… and a very agile diver.)
Once GIRLS ends I’ll be curious to see what Lena does next. Whatever it is, I know for absolute certainty that I’ll hear about it.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
I've gotten familiar with Becker through the syndication. Not familiar with "Cheers".
Well, among those who are familiar with CHEERS I received a request to talk about the set.
We filmed CHEERS on Stage 25 at Paramount Studios in Hollywood (but the seedier section of Hollywood).
The set was designed by Richard Sylbert, an Academy Award winner whose credits include CHINATOWN, REDS, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE GRADUATE, and (ironically) LILITH.
It was patterned after the Bull & Finch bar in Boston. But the B&F is much smaller, and the bar itself is up against the back wall. The décor, Tiffany lamps, and stained glass is true to the B&F.
Director James Burrows had a lot of input into the design which is why it was so easy to shoot in it. You could bring cameras way up into the set, get many different and interesting angles, and even get shots all the way down the hall.
If you look closely you’ll notice a line that runs down the center of the bar. It’s on a hinge and actually the right half can swing around, allowing room for the right wall to swing back revealing Sam’s office.
There are lights underneath the bar pointing up. It was hard in the first few episodes to see Ted Danson’s eyes.
Nick Colasanto always had a tough time memorizing the script. There were dozens of his lines hidden underneath the bar.
The bar was functional. The CHEERS set was the best ever for show parties.
Whenever an outside set is needed the pool room set is struck.
There is a fourth wall section that was used a couple of times in the first season.
The audience bleachers sat 200. They were raised so even the front row could see over the cameras. To one side was a platform where a small band would play between scenes.
The beer served on tap was warm 3.2 beer. Do not envy George Wendt having to drink that swill every week.
The set was huge. If we wanted to pack the bar we needed 500 people. For our routine customers we used 30-40 extras. Anything else and the bar looked empty.
The guy who had the hardest job on the series was the prop master. Imagine keeping track of all the glasses, drinks, bowls, trays, pretzels, 5.457.432 lemons that Ted cut up every episode, etc.
The phone on the bar would move from end to end depending upon where we needed it.
The Wurlitzer jukebox was not functional. The piano was.
The set was lit differently after the first couple of episodes. Brighter, more inviting. If you have the DVD of the first season, notice the difference between the pilot and episodes later in the year.
In an effort to save money during our first season (when we were getting killed in the ratings not only by SIMON & SIMON but by TUCKER’S WITCH for Godsakes) the studio requested we start shooting the show on tape. A test scene was taped and the set looked ghastly. So much for that brilliant experiment.
The photo over the bar that is supposed to be Sam is really Boston Cy Young winning pitcher Jim Lonborg.
The wooden Indian at the front door was named Techumsa.
When the series finally wrapped I walked over to the stage to watch them strike the set. It was so upsetting I left after maybe two minutes. Of all the shows I worked on, CHEERS was my favorite. And no, I didn’t steal anything from the set. And yes, I’m an idiot. I should have. At least Techumsa.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
The plot was very complicated. Most of gang was rehearsing a community theater production – “Phantom of the Oprah” (that title always makes me laugh). And Joe mortgaged his house to buy Helen a cello for some reason. I think she was trying to get a job in an orchestra. You’ll understand why I’m not clear on the details.
David pretty much worked out the story himself. When he sent in part one we really didn’t know what was going to occur in part two. But we all trusted David so didn’t worry about it.
Unfortunately, when we got part one on its feet there were a lot of unforeseen problems. We walked back to the office resigned to a pretty long night. It happens. No matter how well you prepare there will always be one or two scripts a season that are just problematic. You roll up your sleeves, wrestle them to the ground and move on.
But there were extenuating circumstances here. There were story problems but we didn’t know what we could change because we didn’t know what was going to happen in part two. Are we lifting a beat that sets up something pivotal in the second part? Does a story fix screw up a similar scene later?
Of course, the first thing we tried to do was reach David Angell. But he wasn’t home. He was out for the evening. How did we exist before smart phones?
That’s what he did. Part two worked better but along the way during that rewrite night there were a number of places we would have done something if we could have gone back and set it up in part one. But of course, by then part one was in the can.
It’s been years since I’ve seen those episodes but I seem to recall that somehow they all came together. But truly kids, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.
This is a re-post from four years ago.
Friday, February 10, 2017
Michael kicks it off.
Do you think the cast of FRASIER would have any interest in a limited-series revival like WILL AND GRACE and GILMORE GIRLS are doing?
Never say never, but no. The sense I get from Kelsey is that playing Frasier Crane for 22 years is enough. I know the cast is very proud of the show and my feeling is that going out on top was the perfect way to tie a ribbon on it.
And that’s only part of the equation. Series creators David Lee and Peter Casey would have to be on board because if the writing isn’t there than there’s absolutely no point in even considering it. And I can’t speak for them of course, but I don’t sense a burning desire from either of them to return to the past.
Now a WINGS reboot – I would be up for that! If for no other reason than to get David Schramm back on television.
Ryan from Canada weighs in from the great North:
I was recently told a funny joke that had a great payoff. Being a filmmaker I thought immediately after hearing it that it would make one helluva short film. Would the film, should I go through with writing/producing, be considered 'adapted' and if so, how do I provide information about the source material my film is based on (the joke)?
Unless the joke comes from some protected source, no I think you’re safe. If it was a joke your friend told then no, you don’t have to say: “Based on a joke told by Morris Pimscotch.” And who knows? Maybe Morris stole the joke from someone else.
Adapted material usually comes from books, articles, plays, documentaries, published poems, songs, etc. And there are cases where it’s a judgment call. But that’s what lawyers are for.
Good luck with your movie.
From Juli in St. Paul (not Minneapolis):
This morning, a couple local DJs were talking about not having seen a lot of the nominated movies. They thought it would be great if some of the independent theaters would host an "Oscar Weekend," where they could screen all the nominated movies. The DJs thought it would be a great way for the producers to build relationships with the independent theaters, for the theaters to get some more customers , for the films to get more viewers, for the Oscars to get more buzz, for people to get to see these movies on the big screen, - in short, win/win/win/win/win.
I can't believe that no one else ever thought of this, so there's a reason it isn't happening. Do you know what that reason is?
There are still live DJ’s?
And if this were to happen, it would most likely be at a major chain like AMC. This would really piss off the independent theaters. They show a movie, it gets attention, and then it leaves for the big competing Cineplex. That often happens as it is. But to lose all of them would be a blow. It’s the Broadway Danny Rose version of film distribution.
By the way, I will be recapping the Oscar ceremony but only on my podcast this year. Subscribe and join the fun.
And finally, from littlejohn:
What do you think of the shows, which take a long "seasonal" break, especially those with multiple plot lines ? Is this a mistake ? (OK two questions...)
I think they do so at great risk.
I understand the thinking. Instead of drawing out a season and inserting reruns and going three weeks between new episodes they run the first half consecutively, take a break, and air the rest of the season. As a result there is more continuity, especially for serialized series. It’s a model premium and cable networks have employed for years.
But the problem is that unless you’re really hooked on a show, you often find you can easily live without it, and when it returns you don’t get back on the train.
There have been numerous cases of shows that start out strong, go on extended hiatuses and never regain their momentum.
Plus, you can always catch up by binging. So there’s very little imperative to rejoin a series reappearing after a three-month (or year-and-half) vacation.
What’s your Friday Question?
Thursday, February 09, 2017
At one time there were tons of outlets for one-panel artist/humorists. Lots of magazines bought cartoons. You could have one in THE NEW YORKER, one in PLAYBOY, one in ESQUIRE, and one in THE SATURDAY EVENING POST the same week. Now, it’s pretty much THE NEW YORKER or bust.
I dashed off seven cartoons, sent them in, and received the standard form rejection letter two weeks later. But at the bottom was a hand-written note by Lee Lorenz with instructions to call him at a certain number.
So I did.
Unfortunately that’s exactly what it was. I said I didn’t really have the time because I was the head writer of MASH at the time. He laughed and said maybe that’s why the jokes were funny. Anyway, that was it. I never submitted more drawings. And for all I know the submission policy is now completely different.
In this episode Ken tells about the Valentine’s Day he spent with Beyonce that resulted in them both getting a hepatitis shot. Also, for writers everywhere, Ken gives tips on how to write better more effective dialogue. And finally, a salute to all your favorite songs that last five seconds.
Wednesday, February 08, 2017
It’s from cd1515:
Is it important when writing comedy that you actually like the character and/or the actor playing it?
If the person's a douche, is there ever a feeling of "why would I want to make THAT person look good?" and maybe give the funnier stuff to someone else in the cast you like better?
First let me say this does exist. But the percentage of actors who are truly monsters is very very low. The overwhelming majority of actors I’ve worked with (in television, features, and the stage) are lovely hard-working people and are a joy to collaborate with. There are creative differences at times, and occasionally a writer may grumble over an actor note but that’s just the process and human nature. I’m sure your boss or co-workers do things or ask for things that bug you from time to time. But it’s not intolerable. This post centers on those extreme cases when actors are hateful.
And the short answer is you bust to ass to make the script as good as possible, even if that means making the douchebag look better. It kills you but you do it.
You do it because you’re a professional. You do it because it’s your job. You do it because you don’t have “fuck you” money (yet).
But it does take every ounce of perseverance and tolerance you've got.
And it takes its toll, both physically and psychically. Especially if you’re on a weekly series, you just can’t put yourself through that for any extended period of time before you wind up in a cardiac ward or Betty Ford. You will burn out.
There’s a reason there was so much turnover on ROSEANNE, COSBY, CYBILL, and GRACE UNDER FIRE to cite just a few. Writers with any real talent leave.
And you can't give funnier lines to other cast members because the star will intercept them and take the lines for themselves (even if the jokes no longer make sense).
Unfortunately, nightmare stars know that writers will still give their best regardless so they feel they can get away with their bad behavior. Thus you hate them more, if that’s even possible.
The big question writers ask is whether the star is worth it? If your star is beloved and your show is a big hit it makes it easier to suck it up than if you’re writing for Rob Schneider and no one’s watching. Can you at least get a Goddamn Emmy out of it?
One thing writers don’t do, however, is go out of their way for these monsters.
Now, what about when a supporting cast member is an asshole? Then you give him the best material you can but try to give him as little to do as possible. If he or she becomes too much of a problem and isn’t key to the success of the series you get rid of him.
Still, as a writer you do the best you can despite your personal feelings. Remember, the audience doesn’t care.
All that said, after you’ve worked on a show with one of these ogres, when you then work with a lovely cast you are that much more appreciative. And you go out of your way times ten for them. God bless the Ted Dansons of the world.
Meanwhile, when was the last time you saw Cybill Shepherd on a series? As opposed to say Christine Baranski?
Tuesday, February 07, 2017
Unfortunately, in success these writer/producers made tons of money. That was unacceptable. Everyone wanted in on the payday, whether they really contributed or not. So now things have changed… as reflected in these press releases.
This is a typical article you see on these show business websites:
(3 letter network) has given a pilot green light to (name of project), a single-camera comedy from (star of former sitcom’s) company (cutesie title) in association with (former agent now non-writing producer) and (star of former sitcom’s manager) for (studio owned by 3 letter network). (Star of former sitcom) will not appear in the series but her brother (actor who can’t get arrested) will have a featured role and co-produce.
The show was created by (writer of star's former sitcom), based on a popular (European country) sitcom, created by (European writer) who will also serve as executive producer.
(Former agent now non-writing producer) says: “(European writer) has a strong singular voice even though it’s in another language.”
(Director of hit sitcom from six years ago) will direct and executive produce along with (director’s manager) who is president of director’s (another cutesie title) production company.
(Star of current sitcom sure to be cancelled, probably because of him) is in negotiations to star along with Kim Raver.
(Name of project) is about a (person of diversity) living in a neighborhood of (different diversities) and the return of her long lost father who shows up with his new wife (former movie star who two years ago would be insulted if you offered her a TV role). (Former movie star) is also executive producer.
(Name of project) is a (major talent agency) package brokered by (major entertainment law firm).
This is the third single-camera comedy pick up for (3 letter network), the eighth for (non-writing producer), and third for Kim Raver.
Yes, that’s a lot of people, and if the pilot doesn’t go – which one do you think everyone will blame? Yep.
Monday, February 06, 2017
To the business at hand. WOW. That was maybe the greatest Super Bowl in history. I know Falcon fans don’t agree. I feel your pain. Now you know what Hillary went through.
Tom Brady may be the greatest NFL quarterback ever. But I fucking hate him.
How many sportswriters used this phrase today: “Even Hollywood couldn’t write this script!”?
Sorry haters but Joe Buck did a great job. Totally on top of the action, kept you informed of all in-game situations, and set just the right dramatic tone for the unbelievable rally. Imagine Gus Johnson doing this game.
For all of the Patriots’ heroics, one more field goal by Atlanta would have iced the game, and they put themselves out of field goal range by penalties. THAT was the killer.
I wonder how many people turned the game off after the Half-time show. Mike Pence split before the players could give him a speech on love and unity.
What’s the point of a flyover over a closed dome stadium?
I don’t remember a Super Bowl that received as little hype as this one. And now they’ll be talking about it for XXILCIXXL years.
One of my favorite moments was when the two opposing players got their helmets entangled. Siamese Super Bowl.
Oops. Fox’s live stream went down in the fourth quarter. Putin strikes again!
Okay, now let’s get to the stuff people really tuned in for – the commercials, the Half-time show, and shots of Fox stars who will be out of work come June.
The commercials were really underwhelming again this year. Not funny. And many were confusing. How many times did you see some spot and go “What the fuck does that mean?” A western movie set falls down and it’s an ad for Snickers. Huh?
Classy doing an air freshener spot during Half-time. Actually, I think more people went to the bathroom when the Justin Bieber spot came on.
The people who say they’re going to boycott Budweiser because of that fantastic ad (where they show an immigrant, Adolphus Busch, becoming something) still have twenty cases in their basement for emergencies just like this.
They might as well boycott Audi too because their ad proposed that women should receive equal pay. Not that those people buy Audis anyway. Instead, they’ll boycott the go-carts.
And what was the CHEERS theme doing in a Michelob commercial? It had no relation to what was happening on the screen. And it was the second sponsor that has now used it. All-State Insurance was the other I believe. Paramount hasn’t made enough money off the show? Jesus! I hope hearing the theme again motivated you not to buy their product, but to binge-watch CHEERS again on Netflix so I can make a dime.
Don’t you find it sad that commercials that celebrated our country’s ideals of tolerance, acceptance, and opportunity are considered insults by the current president of the United States?
My friend Andy Goldberg was hoping Tony Bennett would fly in from the open roof as well.
Considering these shows are pretty much the same now – star on giant stage, belting out their hits in highly choreographed routines with male Rockettes, changing costumes, fireworks exploding, a mosh pit of candle holders, etc. Lady Gaga really showed off her stuff. She sang, she hoofed, she tinkled, and like all truly gifted trained singers – she flew.
Some people complained she wasn’t outspoken enough. Not sure that was the place for that. I mean, it’s bad enough she sang about equality. Probably half the country boo’ed her for that.
Instead of listening to Terry Bradshaw and Jimmy Johnson gas off during half-time, wouldn’t you like to just see how they get that enormous stage on and off the field in five minutes? And all those people. Just once I’d like the third quarter to begin and during the kick off there’s some confused skeesix on the 30-yard line holding a candle.
What happens to that set? Does it go back to the $25,000 PYRAMID?
If you were attending a Super Bowl party did you notice how all talking stopped when Christopher Walken filled the screen? And then resumed 30 seconds later when everybody said, “What the fuck was that?”
Anyway, for those who stuck around until the end, it was a comeback for the ages and just another reminder that we’re in the age of bad guys win. But take heart. There’s a new BAYWATCH movie coming and pitchers and catchers report this week.
Sunday, February 05, 2017
For several years I had been talking about the "Lost" CHEERS scene. David and I wrote it for the 1983 Super Bowl Pre-game show to promote our fledgling series. They ran it just before game time and it was seen by 80,000,000 people. Nothing we've ever written before or since has been seen by that many eyeballs at one time. But the scene was never repeated. It never appeared on any DVD's. It just disappeared.
Until a couple of years ago.
Sportswriter supreme, Joe Resnick has taped every Super Bowl including that one. And since the scene aired so close to the game, it was on the tape. Sadly, Joe passed away last year. You can read my tribute to him here.
Thanks to friend of the blog, Howard Hoffman, he was able to digitize it and post it on YouTube. Here's the text of the scene.
So here it is. The Super Bowl is next.
Saturday, February 04, 2017
In the early 60’s he learned that producer Hal B. Wallis was planning to make a movie of the play BECKET. That subject matter was Anhalt’s absolute passion. He considered himself an expert on the era. No one knew the period as well. He went to Wallis with an impassioned plea that he and he alone was right for this assignment. Wallis made him a deal. Anhalt could write BECKET but he had another project that also needed a writer. If Anhalt would do that first he could have his coveted assignment. Anhalt happily agreed.
Moral of this story: If you’re lucky enough to get an assignment on some horrible cheesy Disney Channel show about kids in leprechaun jr. high take heart. Next year you could be on GAME OF THRONES.
Friday, February 03, 2017
Ted Kilvington is appropriately up first.
First time caller, long time listener. Based on all your podcasting experience, what tips do you have for a podcast n00bie?
My extensive podcasting experience (over a month now) would suggest this: Utilize the same principles as regular broadcasting. Think of the listener first. What would HE find interesting? What added value can you provide to HIS life? Choose topics he can relate to and/or will entertain him.
And then there’s YOU. Whatever your subject matter, there are probably dozens if not hundreds of other podcasts touching on the same territory. So the difference is YOU – your personality, your insight, your communication skills.
For my podcast, the only thing really unique I have to offer is ME – my take, my approach, my sense of humor. And I have to be true to that. The podcast will either be a success or not, but I’m not going to change my personality or style to chase listeners. I live by the words of the greatest existential philosopher of them all – Popeye the sailor man – who so brilliantly said, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.”
Good luck with your podcast. Hopefully, you and everybody reading this will subscribe to mine. Just click on the button right underneath the masthead.
From Matt, Westwood CA about one of my favorite all-time writers.
I've always been a big fan of David Lloyd, one of the all-time great sitcom writers. When people talk about so much writing talent influenced by THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, I've always noticed the continuity of writing talent that spawned from MTM to TAXI to CHEERS and FRASIER. For writing and directing, the one common thread is David Lloyd and James Burrows are the only ones to write and direct episodes of all 4 series. Since you worked with and knew David Lloyd, I'd love to know your personal favorite of his scripts from each show. I know you attended the famous Chuckles episode filming, if that is your favorite MTM, please note second favorite as he wrote so many great mtm's.
There are so many it’s hard to choose. For THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW I would say an episode called “The Critic.” The acerbic reviews from the newly hired WJM movie critic were vintage David Lloyd.
For CHEERS it would be “Diane’s Perfect Date” from season one – the episode that introduced us to Andy Andy (although I was the one who named him).
“Jim Joins the Network” is my favorite David Lloyd TAXI episode. Reverend Jim becomes a TV network executive. It’s a wonderful satire on the industry.
Finally, for FRASIER I would pick “the Innkeeper.” Frasier and Niles buy a restaurant. Disaster after disaster hilariously occurs on opening night highlighted by a car crashing through the place. (Jim Burrows directed and the car stunt was done live before the studio audience.)
I recommend you watch all of those episodes. Hey, I should watch them all again myself.
According to your podcast, your name is Levine, rhymes with wine. I've know several Levines who pronounced their name to rhyme with bean.
Obviously both are correct. Any insight for us goyim?
You say tomato…
There is no rhyme nor reason for it. I like to tell people that west of the Mississippi it’s pronounced “Le-Vine” and east of the Mighty Mississip it’s “Le-Veen.” But that of course is nonsense. It’s just fun to see who believes me.
And finally, Harrison from Albany wonders:
The Cheers episodes that feature Harry the Hat are among my favorites, and "Pick a Con... Any Con" is my all-time favorite. Did all of the many cons originate with the writers, or did they solicit Harry Anderson for anything he thought would work well, given his extensive background in magic (and television). I'm thinking of the smaller cons he'd pull, not the ones that plots were built on.
What is your Friday Question? I also answer these on my podcast so if you write a question, tune in to see if I’ve answered yours. Thanks.
Thursday, February 02, 2017
Mary Tyler Moore was a big enough celebrity that several major networks devoted hour tributes to her (even some that only used Oprah sparingly). If you knew who Mary Tyler Moore was it was a big deal. More than just a beloved entertainer, she helped paved the way for feminism in the 1970’s. She affected people’s lives.
And today’s generation can’t quite place the name.
At first that is shocking. And then again it’s not. How would they know who Mary Tyler Moore is? THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, in my humble old school opinion is one of the finest sitcoms ever produced. It hit all the targets – consistently laugh-out-loud funny, characters you cared about, and groundbreaking subject matter that helped shape society in a positive way. For the sake of convenience, they should have just held the Emmy award ceremony on the MTM set in the ‘70s.
But for whatever reason the show didn’t age well. And storylines that were somewhat revolutionary back then – a single woman working, a single woman spending a night at a man’s apartment, a single woman on the pill, a single woman fighting for equality in a man’s world – those stories no longer have the same punch. The series feels and looks a little dated. So the bottom line is you don’t see THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW in syndication as much. It’s on nostalgia channels and streaming services but you have to really seek it out. By the way, it’s WORTH seeking out.
We always say in tributes that these performers will live on forever, but that’s really not true. Some do. They’re the fortunate ones whose body of work is still being seen and appreciated. Lucy. Bogart. Cary Grant. Sinatra. Or they’re Hollywood Babylon – Marilyn Monroe.
And it’s hard to imagine that someone who could be SO famous, SO beloved, SO known by 100% of the population could be virtually forgotten in only twenty or thirty years. How many people under forty know who Bob Hope was? Or Jack Benny? Or Johnny Carson? And again, how would they?
How long do the Beatles have? Or Elvis? Or Michael Jackson?
What big stars from today will live on fifty years? Or, for that matter, other than THE SIMPSONS, what current show will even survive fifty years? Who will join that I LOVE LUCY, MASH pantheon? 2 BROKE GIRLS? I don't think so.
I’ll extend the question to semi-current shows. So FRIENDS? Maybe. CHEERS and FRASIER? I hope but don’t know. CHEERS has already lasted thirty years so it’s getting there. SEINFELD? I’d give better odds on FRIENDS.
Of course when we were making MASH we never thought the show would still be around today. We would have been paralyzed writing it if we did. But it’s a little unsettling to think that shows or people who can be so ingrained in popular culture and so adored by the entire world could be forgotten in a few short decades. Or in the case of Mary Tyler Moore, forgotten even while she was alive.
Homer Simpson will outlive all of us.
Wednesday, February 01, 2017
Ken reveals what the Netflix algorithm thinks he wants to watch--we can't explain it, but they really think he wants to see Escorts, Love Actually, and Zootopia. Ok, maybe he does actually want to watch Escorts. And just think about what those "smart" algorithms think people who've been searching "golden showers" lately want to watch. Ken also talks about a fateful day in radio that made the staff consider murdering him. He takes the opportunity to publicly apologize for a stunt he played on a big-time DJ many moons ago. Plus, he tells the craziest audience testing story ever. Finally, Ken interviews the amazing voiice of the Mets, Chargers, and UCLA (we are tired just typing that), Josh Lewin. Enjoy!
Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!