Monday, May 21, 2018

The 25th anniversary of the last CHEERS episode

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

Here's the Hollywood Reporter's story.

And here's Variety's story.

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

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

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Come see my play tonight

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

The Royal Wedding

Alas, I did not watch the Royal Wedding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Time we'll never get back

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

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

Idling at intersections?

Waiting in doctors’ waiting rooms?

Trying on clothes we don’t wear?

Going through TSA inspections?

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

Talking to phone solicitors?

Sitting through commercials before movies start?

Waiting on the line for tech support?

Waiting in line at Starbucks?

Sitting on tarmacs?

Watching the little spinning beach ball?

Waiting for rock concerts to begin?

Channel surfing?

Reading bad jokes people email us?

Sending bad jokes to others?

Wrapping presents?

Stuck in traffic?

Playing Angry Birds?

Watching bad movies because we paid to see them?

Standing at bus stops?

Scrolling through Facebook postings of your friends’ adorable pets?

Reading this blog?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday Questions

FQ’s for U.

The Bumble Bee Pendant leads off.

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

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

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

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

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

RyderDA asks:

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

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

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

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

Dr Loser wonders:

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, DyHrdMET wants to know:

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Off with their heads!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess consideration and compassion have also now been replaced.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

EP72: Meet Matt Mira - host of After Trek, and co-host of every podcast on the internet

Ken talks to podcast host, writer, and comedian, Matt Mira about a variety of subjects including his busy schedule writing for The Goldbergs in Los Angeles, then hosting After Trek for CBS All Access every weekend in New York. He's been on more podcasts than you could count. Matt hosts his own podcast, Sidekick, and co-hosts The Nerdist Podcast. He’s the ultimate nerd overachiever, podcasting genius, and great guest!

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Network hopping

BROOKLYN 99 is moving from Fox to NBC. LAST MAN STANDING is moving from ABC to Fox. Does that strategy generally work?

Yes and mostly no.

A few of the “yeses”: JAG moved from NBC to CBS and not only became a huge hit, but spawned all the NCIS hits. And BAYWATCH departed NBC to first-run syndication and became a worldwide hit. (Who knew that people in other countries would want to watch hot babes in tiny bikinis?) And going way back to the ‘50s, MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY starring Danny Thomas was on ABC for the first four years and CBS the last seven (changing its name to THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW) where its ratings soared. And LEAVE IT TO BEAVER started on CBS but enjoyed more success on ABC.

Also AMERICAN IDOL moving from Fox to ABC although the numbers it gets now are not even close to the numbers they got during their heyday. Bring back Sanjaya!

But most fail.

BACHELOR FATHER in the ‘60s was on all three networks and didn’t make a dent. And if you want to go way way back, TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET didn’t click on either CBS, NBC, ABC, or Dumont. TAXI moved from ABC to NBC and was gone a year later. THE NAKED TRUTH fared no better on NBC than ABC. Moving to ABC from NBC did not jump-start SCRUBS. And there are many more examples.

Back in the late ‘70s when MTM was considered the Camelot of TV studios, they had THE TONY RANDALL SHOW on ABC. After getting only a 30 share (boy, those were the days) it was actually on the bubble. ABC offered a second season but only 13 episodes. MTM President Grant Tinker took the show to CBS where they offered a full-season. So Grant took it. A year later CBS cancelled THE TONY RANDALL SHOW. Grant later said he made a mistake moving it from ABC. That was where its audience was, he should have had enough faith that they would ultimately get their back 9 and possibly pave the way for future seasons. Moving shows is a big risk.

Now obviously shows that were cancelled and get a reprieve from another network don’t give a shit about the risks. They’re now playing with house money. But the networks tend to take the loss.

So why do networks do it? In most cases it’s because they own the particular show and want to protect their investment. 20th Century Fox owns LAST MAN STANDING. NBC’s parent company owns BROOKLYN 99. If BROOKLYN 99 were owned by Sony there’s no way in hell it would pop up on NBC (despite all the fan love). So let’s be clear, even if BROOKLYN 99 doesn’t get great ratings, NBC is stockpiling more episodes for later syndication and to sell to SVOD networks. And who knows? Maybe it will catch on at its new home. For NBC it’s a win-win.

I’m also guessing NBC’s comedy development wasn’t all that hot. It’s not like a truly great pilot was passed over for a series the number four network didn't want anymore.  

So you might see more of this. It’s no longer about winning in network television. It’s about making money any way you can. Too bad Fox wasn’t around when TOM CORBETT was on the air. That show could’ve landed there too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What's going on at Fox?

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

Gretchen asks:

I wonder what your thoughts are on Fox changing their sitcom schedule. For several years they've been the "young and cool" network with niche single camera comedies like New Girl, Brooklyn 99, Last Man on Earth, etc. They never became massive hits but everything put together gave them a nice brand.

Now they're clearly going a whole new direction cancelling almost all of their single camera sitcoms and picking up multi-cam comedies that are targeted for an older audience ("The Cool Kids" which stars Martin Mull and David Alan Grier in a retirement home and of course, "Last Man Standing" returning). Do you think they're making the play to go broader because of the upcoming Disney merger?

Absolutely, and that’s very astute on your part. But I think there are several things in play.

When Michael Thorn took over as president of the network he clearly stated that he believed in multi-cams.

And just a quick time-out to remind everyone that multi-camera comedies are shot like a play in front of a live audience. Four cameras are recording the action simultaneously. Single-camera comedies like THE GOLDBERGS are shot like a movie with one camera and no audience. Okay, now that everyone is up to speed…

People forget that FOX has had very few live sitcom hits, and that two of its biggest were indeed multi-cams. MARRIED WITH CHILDREN and THAT ‘70s SHOW. So it’s not like this is groundbreaking. Thorn believes, as I do, that the problem is not the format but the execution. When there’s a comedy that people want to watch, (a la ROSEANNE or BIG BANG THEORY) they don’t give a shit how many cameras there are. It’s just that multi-cams are held accountable. They have to be funny because they have an actual audience. And part of the problem with most single-camera sitcoms is that they’re not funny. They’re quirky, they’re ironic, they’re mildly amusing – but they’re not funny. Many single-camera niche comedy showrunners claim they don’t aim to be really funny. I claim it’s because they can’t be really funny.

For years now Fox has had the reputation as the hip niche comedy provider. Single-camera shows like NEW GIRL and THE MINDY PROJECT. Here’s the reality: NEW GIRL did well out of the gate but started to slide. None of their other niche comedies really broke through. In some cases Fox renewed low rated sitcoms because they owned them and wanted to accumulate enough episodes for syndication. And now there are numerous cable and SVOD networks offering niche comedies so Fox doesn’t even have a corner on the market.

Now Fox wants to be competitive. They’re clearly going for a broader audience with shows like THE COOL KIDS (about a retirement home) and LAST MAN STANDING. Economics also play a part. Fox owns LAST MAN STANDING. Once ROSEANNE became a big hit and Fox sensed LAST MAN STANDING would appeal to the same audience they revived it. Fox will be adding to their LMS inventory but more importantly going after ratings they never could achieve with THE MINDY PROJECT (no matter how many ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY love letters were written about it).

I also think they’re trying to rope in some of their audience from Fox News. LAST MAN STANDING is certainly a great carrot for that.

Will this experiment work? Hard to tell. Fox has always had trouble launching live sitcoms. But is that network promotion or just bad network development? Had Fox introduced better sitcoms might they have found success? Who knows? Fox has the advantage of NFL football to bring in viewers who don’t ordinarily watch that network. Especially this year since they have Thursday Night Football. So at least people will see the promos for these new shows. Whether they’ll stick around for them is anybody’s guess.

But at the end of the day I applaud Fox for taking a chance with a new direction instead of just re-signing tired shows that have no future nor audience. And if this doesn’t work, I say bring back THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW.