Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Episode 17: How the Airlines Screw You and Why


“Travel” is the theme for this week’s episode. Ken tells how he survived a cyclone on a cruise ship and how bad the ship’s lounge show was that night. Also you’ll learn that airlines make your flying experience miserable on purpose. Ken tells you how and why they do this and whether there’s anything you can do to prevent it.


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

G-g-g-groin Injury

It’s another catch-up-on-Friday Questions Day. I’m trying to answer as many as I can so I’m squeezing in extra Q-Days.

Joe starts us off:

I admire your whole body of work, but there's one scene of yours that's one of the funniest in TV history. When you were broadcasting baseball, were you ever tempted to do a Sam Malone rap talking about a player had a groin injury?

Tempted? I actually did it once on a Mariners broadcast.  (Maybe that's why I'm not still there.)  The episode Joe is referring to is “Eye on Sports” where Sam becomes a local sportscaster and feels he needs a shtick to go along with reading the scores.

From B Smith:

When shooting outdoors scenes for MASH out at the Malibu Ranch, you were presumably shooting as many bits and pieces for various episodes as you could to take advantage of light, climate etc. But since various episodes were directed by various directors, did you send a number of them simultaneously with you so they could shoot their episode parts? Or did you just go for one episode at a time, and if finishing early shot generic footage that could be edited in anywhere, or even knocked off early?

We would shoot one episode at a time. We tried to have 8 1/3 pages of exteriors to justify a day at the ranch. If an episode had much less we held it back until the fall and just filmed the whole show on the stage – even the exterior scenes.

That way only one director was required.

However, after every three episodes we planned a day of pick-ups on the stage. This was for tiny scenes that never got filmed, scenes we wanted redone, or new scenes we felt needed to be added. In that case, we did invite the different directors to come and do their scenes. But if they were unavailable, either Gene Reynolds or Burt Metcalfe filled in and directed the scenes.

Here’s a first – a reader question and another reader answered. The question is from -30- and the answer is from Andy Rose. I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

How were the syndicated weekly Top 40 radio shows--Watermark, Casey Kasem, Dick Clark--produced? Were they completely scripted in advance? Was there any improv or spontaneity? Were they recorded in real time or were the voiceovers done separately and then put together with the records by an editor? I can't imagine Dick Clark hitting talkovers perfectly for 3 hours or, for that matter, taking half a day to record a show every week.

Re: the countdown shows... The narration was scripted and recorded all at one time, although Kasem sometimes asked his engineer to play the end of a record for him to make sure his segue matched the tone of the song.

In the pre-computer days, the reel with the host's lines had to be mixed with the music, jingles, and commercials in real time on a multitrack. Then the master was put on vinyl, and the show was mailed to each station on 33 1/3 records. Later on, they started shipping CDs instead. Now, they are distributed as computer files via FTP.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t know all that. Thanks, Andy.

And finally, Greg Thompson has a question after listening to my baseball-themed podcast episode.

How were you able to simultaneously do baseball play-by-play AND be on a TV writing staff? During their seasons, both are full-time jobs with a lot of evening work. And how did you work it out with your writing partner?

By the way, I listened to your early-'90s snippet of play-by-play on your podcast and thought you were great. Wish you were doing the Angels right now.

Me too. That was great fun.  I could do the groin injury rap for Halo fans. 

But to answer your question...

When I was doing baseball fulltime I would write scripts on the road and send them in. The TV production season started late summer and went until March. Fortunately, I was on mostly bad teams so never had to worry about those pesky playoffs. I was back in LA to continue my TV career during the baseball offseason.

However, for my three years with the Padres I was just doing weekends for them. So that was easy. I’d either drive down to San Diego on Saturday morning, or grab a Friday night flight to wherever they were on the road. The entire week I’d be wearing my "TV" hat. 

There were a couple of times though when the Padres needed me last minute during the week. On several occasions I worked until 4:00 at Paramount. Drove to Burbank airport, hopped a flight to San Diego, got a cab to the ballpark, did the game, went to the hotel, got an early morning flight back to Burbank the next day and was back in the office at 9. That was a little nuts. But for the most part it all worked out fine.

David was supportive. I think it helps that he was a big sports fan too. We always structured our partnership so that there was room if either of us wanted to explore other things.

What’s your Friday Question? I may even get to it on a Friday.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The latest strike update

Just to get you up to speed, the WGA Strike Authorization vote is in and the sentiment is pretty clear.   96.3% voted YES.  And to all of you who did vote YES I say thank you. 

Obviously, the membership is united.  I've been through four strikes and several other potential work stoppages and I've never seen a number like 96.3.  Those percentages are reserved for Ken Griffey Jr. being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Negotiations resume today, but now the WGA committee has some leverage.  I love how a number of articles about yesterday's vote say, "the ball is now in the AMPTP's court."  The ball is ALWAYS in the AMPTP's court."  This deal will close when they want it to close.

But in an uncertain time in our economy and with memories of the hardships of the previous strike ten years ago, for the WGA members to vote 96.3% in favor of a strike, that tells you the issues we are fighting for are damn IMPORTANT to us. 

I always felt that the AMPTP was waiting until the vote to see just how united and committed we were.  I don't blame them.  Why make concessions when you don't have to?   But now they know.  It's an entire union of Norma Rae's. 

Hopefully now, with the strike looming a week from today, the AMPTP will finally set aside the bullshit and begin meaningful negotiations.   My feeling is the ultimate deal that will be struck will be exact same whether it's this weekend or in three months.   So why not do it now?

Make 100% of the movie and TV viewers happy. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

We get it!

There’s a new trend in comedy that annoys me. Of course, considering the state of the world and the number of things that piss the living shit out of me, this is somewhat minor, but it’s a blog on comedy so I’m bringing it up. And who knows? Maybe I’ll get enraged by the end. I doubt it, but we can see.

Here’s my problem: comedians and late night talk show hosts now have this annoying habit of acting out a joke after telling it. They get the laugh on the punchline and then do a thirty-second bit over-dramatizing it. “She didn’t go out because it was raining” is then followed by “AAAA! AAAAA! I’m getting wet. Oh no. I’m melting. My hair. AAAAA! AAAAA!”

WE GET IT.

I was always taught to get the laugh then move on.  Never belabor a joke.  

John Oliver does this to distraction. As much as I enjoy his program, usually fifteen-minute chunks is all I can handle. Stephen Colbert, who is totally crushing it these days, has fallen into this habit as well. And on the recent Louis C.K. special I just watched, he too resorts to this on occasion.

It’s one thing if the punchline sets up a bit and there are new jokes in the dramatization, but most of the time these just explain the joke you’ve just seen. So the monologues feel padded. It’s like putting filler in hamburger. “Hey, what’s going on? This Big Mac tastes like sawdust. Yuch. And they charge the same price. Next time I’m going to Burger King.” (See what I did there?)

Okay, that’s my rant. Let me check. Nope. My blood pressure has not gone up. I have no desire to break any furniture. But you are welcome to have a meltdown over this. Or at least recognize it the next time you watch John Oliver. And hey, reading this just meant five less minutes you were watching the real news. So you’re welcome.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

One of my favorite scenes

Of those that remember a movie my partner David Isaacs and I wrote, VOLUNTEERS, the scene most recall is the “what is time again?” scene. So here it is.

To refresh, it’s 1962 and Tom Hanks plays Lawrence, a spoiled preppy who takes his roommate’s place in the Peace Corps in Thailand to avoid a gambling debt. He befriends At Toon, a Thai villager. They’re kidnapped and brought to the lair of Chung Mee, a fierce warlord. To spoof all those characters who spoke so cryptically in these types of movies we decided to have Chung Mee speak exclusively in cryptic double-speak.

INT. CHUNG MEE’S DINING ROOM – DAY

A spacious atrium. Chung Mee, financed by the CIA, has loads of household gadgets – blenders, air conditioners, etc., none of which work on account of there’s no electricity. It’s the thought that counts. Instead of air conditioning, an AGED MAN pulls the rope for an overhead fan.

Chung Mee is feeding fish raw meat as At Toon and Lawrence are brought in by the huge sumo guards. Chung Mee has an unlit cigar in his mouth. He dips the end in a brandy snifter.

LAWRENCE
This is nothing. My parents have friends who are twice this pretentious.

CHUNG MEE
The bridge you are building. When will it be completed?

LAWRENCE
The bridge? You’re interested in our bridge. Here you go –

He takes a wooden match and strikes it along the stubble of one of the monster sumo guards presenting Chung Mee with a light. A frantic scuffle ensues, but Chung Mee stays cool and accepts the light, eyeing Lawrence shrewdly through the smoke.

LAWRENCE
We’ve got a fine young man working on it, but it’s hard to say. Why do you want to know?

CHUNG MEE
Opium is my business. The bridge means more traffic. More traffic means more business. More business means more money. More money means more power.

LAWRENCE
Before I commit that to memory, would there be anything in this for me?

CHUNG MEE
Speed is important in business. Time is money.

LAWRENCE
No, you said opium is money.

CHUNG MEE
Money is money. And money is my objective.

LAWRENCE
Then what is time again?

CHUNG MEE
When the bridge is completed, you can have whatever you need.

LAWRENCE
Got it. (to At) And they told me to go on those interviews at Yale. (to Chung Mee) Well, gosh. Of course, for now, I’d want to run things in Loong Ta. And then, when I’m ready to leave, passage to Bangkok and a plane ticket to America. And – it’s hardly worth mentioning – twenty-eight thousand dollars in cash. I have some library books overdue.

AT TOON
Nice knowin’ you.

CHUNG MEE
I want the bridge finished in six weeks or you are finished in seven.

AT TOON
(to Chung Mee) You’re goin’ along with that?

LAWRENCE
No problem, commander. The bridge is yours.

CHUNG MEE
And you are mine.

LAWRENCE
It’s only fair.

A door opens and a beautiful Eurasian WOMAN enters. She wears a slinky low-cut dress and gloves. She is obviously the most enchanting creature Lawrence has ever seen.

CHUNG MEE
Business is completed. After business comes pleasure. Pleasure is also my business.

LAWRENCE
For me?

CHUNG MEE
If I say “yes” and not “no.”

AT TOON
You want me to translate?

LAWRENCE
Got it. (to Chung Mee) A little incentive. You’re a sly boots. (walking to the woman) Lawrence Bourne the Third, junior partner. And you, of course, would be…

LUCILLE
My name is Lucille.

NOTE: Lucille speaks English with a very thick Chinese accent. It’s indecipherable, so her words are always SUBTITLED.

LAWRENCE
Pardon me?

LUCILLE
My name is Lucille.

LAWRENCE
What?

CHUNG MEE
Lucille! Her name is Lucille!

LAWRENCE
Oh, Lucille. That’s highly erotic. How did you get a name like that?

LUCILLE
My mother was English.

LAWRENCE
What?

CHUNG MEE
(losing patience) That is her name!

LAWRENCE
She’s staying for dinner, of course.

CHUNG MEE
Yes, but you are leaving.

LAWRENCE
Right now? I just got here. (sidles closer to Lucille, sotto) What do you see in him? Are you a chubby chaser?

Lucille grabs Lawrence’s hand and bends the fingers back. He winces in pain.

CHUNG MEE
Lucille is my bodyguard. She doesn’t like it when my orders are questioned.

Chung Mee snaps his fingers and Lucille releases Lawrence.

LAWRENCE
Thank God my fly was zipped.

Chung Mee snaps his fingers again. The two henchmen grab Lawrence and At, leading them out.

LAWRENCE
Glad to be aboard.

AT TOON
Thank you for dinner and not killing us.

LAWRENCE
I’m free any night. Lucille… Did I mention that back home I own a Corvette?

The group exits.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Where were you in 1991?

I recently came upon the baseball play-by-play demo I made while with the Baltimore Orioles.  This is the demo that got me the job with the Seattle Mariners.   It's somewhat unique so I thought I'd share it.  Most people back then (1991) just sent cassette tapes, usually of a half-inning.   And some began with a few highlights. 

I thought, to be different, I would make a video presentation.  I would marry my radio call to the TV picture so the viewer could see how well I called the action along with hearing me.   Also, I figured if they had something to watch they might not get bored.  I imagine after the tenth audio tape the listener just zoned out.

During that season ESPN did a profile feature on me. That served as the perfect introduction plus it included some pretty nifty highlights.   

Disclaimer:  I'm a better announcer today.  This was my first year.   And big glasses were the style back then.  I have no excuse for the helmet hair.

Enjoy and please be kind.
 

Ken Levine Demo by stusshow

Friday, April 21, 2017

My S.I. article on Dave Niehaus

I wrote an article for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED recently on Hall of Fame Broadcaster, Dave Niehaus. He was my partner with the Seattle Mariners and a great friend.   In the Northwest he is beloved.  Recently it went up on line so I thought I would share it with you.   You can find it here.   "My oh my" I miss that guy.

Friday Questions

The tradition continues. Here are more Friday Questions.

John asks:

When an audience sitcom does a double-length episode - like Frasier's 'Three Dates and a Break Up' or 'Shutout In Seattle' - are both parts recorded in the same night, or does it still take two weeks to shoot?

Thanks!

Sometimes they are. You need a quick director and a good cast willing to learn twice as much dialogue. Jim Burrows used to do two-parters on CHEERS in one night. Andy Fickman recently did a two-parter of KEVIN CAN WAIT in one night.

Other times the shows will be filmed in two weeks. As a director I’ve never filmed two shows in one night. But I’m sure not Mr. Burrows or Mr. Fickman.

There is another method called a Wrap Around. You break down one episode into scenes and after filming an episode in front of the audience you piggyback one additional scene from that other script. After six or seven weeks you’ve cobbled together an extra show.

TAXI used to do this. There would be wrap around scenes at the beginning and end where the characters would be at a bar. Example: They all got fired, all got new jobs, and reconnected to catch up on each other’s lives. Then each vignette was shown. That way only one actor per week had an additional scene to rehearse and learn. Eventually that story was put together as a two-parter.

Anthony wonders:

How do multicamera sitcoms handle the use of recurring sets that are used over and over again, although infrequently? For instance, Frasier's bedroom looks almost the same both early in the show's run and later. Others that come to mind are Melville's on Cheers and Nemo's restuarant on Everybody Loves Raymond. Are these sets that are created once and recycled back onto the stage, as needed? Or are they created new every time the script calls for it?

The studio has a warehouse where these sets are stored. They’re folded up and transferred to these cavernous structures. Paramount’s was way up in Valencia somewhere. Trucks transport the sets in the wee small hours.

Certain sets, like restaurants, get redressed. So the Italian restaurant you see on NCIS becomes a French restaurant on NCIS: LOS ANGELES.

Johnny Walker has a question after listening to my podcast.  Have you listened?  Right under the masthead is a big gold arrow.  Just click on it.  Thanks Johnny, I was able to sneak in a plug. 

Just listened to episode 14, and now I have some Friday Questions :)

- Have you ever had any blowback from a comment you made on the air? Was the wife of one of the players listening while you slagged off her husband and it got back to them? (Sorry if you've answered that before!)

In the minors once I had a pitcher approach me furious over what I had said about him the night before. He claimed I announced his age was 30. He was right. I did do that. But it was because he WAS 30. Still, he shouted, I had no business telling people that. The irony of this story is that he became my best friend on the team.

There have been stories in the minors of players so pissed at announcers that they actually go up to the booth, in uniform, to beat the shit out of them. In almost all cases, sanity returned and the announcer escaped serious injury. But still. Yikes.

My first year with the Mariners I was calling the third inning and noticed we hadn’t scored a run in the third inning in weeks. So I started calling it the “third inning of death.” Ken Griffey Jr. heard about it and one day at the batting cage he was giving me shit. I said I would stop doing it when they scored a run. He said they were going to score six runs that night in the third inning. But if they did I had to shave my head. I happily took that bet, got Kenny to record a bit for it that I played on the air and then told my audience about it at the start of the inning.

The first two Mariners get on base. Jr. pops out of the dugout and points up at the booth at me. Then the next guy strikes out and guy after him hits into a doubleplay. End of inning. As Kenny took his position in centerfield I stood up and ran my fingers through my long hair.

I don’t think they ever scored six runs in the third inning.

And finally, from Ed:

Bob Miller, long-time LA Kings broadcaster, ended his career on (this month). I know you're not a "hockey guy" but are a sports fan and have been connected to the LA sports broadcasting scene. Any comments on his career? It's not just the end of his era - it's the end of an era where your market had Vin Scully, Chick Hearn and Bob Miller all serving as the broadcast voices of LA teams.

Bob Miller was a wonderful hockey announcer, but more than that he is the nicest most down-to-earth guy you’d ever want to meet. Besides doing a spectacular job of calling hockey play-by-play (at that dizzying pace), he is also so genuine on the air. I know him a little from being in the Southern California Sportscasters Association and that’s the real him. Cheerful, warm, and extremely talented – Kings’ fans were so fortunate to have Bob Miller for the last 44 seasons. And he got to parade around the Stanley Cup twice.

I’m sure he’ll approach retirement like everything else – with zeal and vigor. Thanks, Bob, for thrilling calls and warm companionship.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Vote YES for Strike Authorization

I know it sounds strange, but the best way for WGA members to AVOID a strike is to vote YES to authorize it. 

Huh? you may be saying.

Here's why:  Management is just waiting to see how committed the WGA is to strike.   If the Guild sends a resounding message that it is solidly behind our negotiating committee the producers will be way more willing to hammer out a deal and be done with it.   They don't really want a strike either.  They're making $51 billion in profit a year -- why throw a monkey wrench into that? 

If however, the Guild does not give Strike Authorization, or even tepid support, then the producers will let us go on strike, let us suffer, and then give us nothing -- knowing the membership is apt to cave.    The worst of both worlds. 

The only leverage our negotiating committee has is the threat of a strike.  Take that away and we're screwed. 

Young writers might be saying, "But I'm just starting out.  This is a bad time for me to go on strike."  Well, first of all, it's never a good time.  But I feel your pain.  I really do.  I was once in that position myself.   And yes, it requires sacrifice and stalls career momentum.   But think of this:  All of the things that current writers receive -- residuals, decent minimums, credit protection, health & welfare -- those only became reality because writers before you were willing to go out on strike.   We all owe them a great debt.  Believe me, studios would pay $50 an episode if they could get away with it.  $75 for a full screenplay.  So it's time for the current membership to do their part.  

And for you young writers -- who will ultimately get the benefit of a good contract in 2017?   You will. 

Look, I've been through four strikes.  They suck.  They're a hardship on everybody.  But the alternative is losing our health coverage, any previous gains, mega-corporations making billions off of our work and not sharing in any of it, and no protection against bad pay, negligible royalties, and exclusivity clauses that force writers out of work.   You think striking for a month or so is bad?  How about being held to an exclusive contract and not working for a year? 

I've read some comments on industry websites from writers who say if you don't want a strike vote no.   That's idiotic.  Or extremely selfish.  Or cowardice.  Or all three.   

And for you members who say, "Hey, I'm just one vote.  What difference does one vote make?"  I say to you: remember last November? 

Even if you don't really care, even if you passionately don't want a strike, even if you normally don't vote -- this time VOTE.   And vote YES.    We're facing a bully, and how's the only way to deal with one?  By standing up to the son of a bitch.    This is a critical moment in our industry's future.  Do the right thing, the responsible thing, the smart thing:   VOTE YES on Strike Authorization.

WGA members -- here's where you go.  Just click this link.

Thanks and here's to a peaceful and FAIR settlement.