Friday, February 05, 2016

Friday Questions

I never stand down from answering Friday Questions, even on holidays. Today is Constitution Day in Mexico. Still, I’m here for you.

YEKIMI asks:

In the later seasons of M*A*S*H* it seems that Klinger just suddenly stopped wearing dresses in an attempt to get out of the Army. Was this because of a pushback by certain segments of society or did they just decide they had gone as far as they could with the joke? Or was Jamie Farr getting tired of this plot device?

This started season eight, the year David Isaacs and I left the show. By that time we had gone through every dress in the 20th Century Fox wardrobe department.

The feeling was that that bit had been done to death. I wasn’t part of that decision but I whole-hardheartedly supported it.

In season seven we were struggling with it and looked for alternate schemes to get Klinger out of the army. We had him dress as a businessman selling aluminum siding one week. We had him in furs during a heat wave another week. Clearly, we were reaching. How long can you keep whipping the same horse (meaning the bit, not Jamie)?

From Nick:

Under the new Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences rules regarding eligibility to vote - does this mean you are no longer eligible to vote Ken? I notice that according to IMDB you have two film credits from the 1980's and one from the 1990's. I don't mean this as a criticism - it just occurred to me that you might be one of the members caught by the change in the rules?

I was never “in” the Motion Picture Academy. You needed more credits than I had, you needed to be sponsored by a member. It was a very closed organization – and that was BEFORE they offered movie screeners.

It sounds like they’re changing the eligibility requirements to allow for more diversity. I don’t get involved. I just watch the Oscars and offer a snarky review.

Jeff :) wonders:

I've read on your blog several times that writers looking to break in to television writing need to submit two spec scripts, one of an existing show and one original. My question is about the original script. Are there any rules against adapting an existing piece of work? Is this frowned upon? Do you need the authors permission given that your script is more so a showcase of your writing talent as opposed to a legitimate script to be sold?

You absolutely need permission to adapt existing literary material. I believe there are some shows that allow for fan fiction, but play it safe. You’re playing with fire if you tinker with existing work without permission – not just from the author but whoever owns that literary property. It could be a studio, or a production company that’s optioned it. Tread very carefully, my friend.

Better that your original material be original from you. 

From Frank Beans:

How much does single vs. multi-camera production affect casting choices, if at all? I mean, are there different skill sets actors need to have to work in one format or the other more effectively, and do writers and producers take that into explicit consideration?

Theater-trained actors are obviously more comfortable doing multi-camera shows. And there are some actors who just don’t like performing in front of live audiences.

It depends on the actor and the role. Some actors are very interior. They talk softly; they emote through subtle expression changes. They tend not to thrive in multi-camera.

The only time I get nervous is if I have an actor who has never done multi-camera before. Some adjust better than others. But for the most part, there hasn’t been problems.

The truth is multi-camera sitcoms are the greatest gigs EVER for actors. They’re never on location. After every three weeks they get a week off. They never have 17 hour days. They never have to shoot all night. They hear their laughter and get applause. They’re off half the year, and they make a boatload of money. How sweet a deal is that?

Chris asks:

Curb Your Enthusiasm is, to my knowledge, the only series I know of which challenges another show's universe so explicitly. We watch Seinfeld, we assume it's a real universe, then Larry David comes along saying "that was actually a fictitious show, which I wrote, here's the reality, here's me and the real Jerry Seinfeld, not the character with the same name."

Have you ever seen THE BURNS & ALLEN SHOW? It hails from the very early days of television. That show not only had two universes, but they both existed within the same show. The characters went about their business as if they were in the real world. Series star, George Burns would go up to his office on occasion, break the fourth wall and talk to the audience, then – and this was the mind blower – turn on a television and watch everyone else as if they were in a sitcom that was airing but they didn’t know that. George would then go downstairs and interact with them. Freaky, no?

Everyone talks about trying to do sitcoms “out of the box” but the most original groundbreaking idea ever was done in 1950.

Here's an example. Just go to the 8:15 mark. Not only can George watch his show, he can watch other shows and interact with them. Check this out.

Thursday, February 04, 2016


Carrie Havel was the Associate Director on GREASE LIVE.  This is what she posted on Facebook.  What you'll then see is the scene on the left and Carrie in the control room calling the shots on the right.  Remember, this is LIVE.  Truly incredible.

Here's what she posted.  Enjoy.

A lot of people have asked what it means to be the Associate Director on a show like Grease Live. Here's a peek behind the curtain. Every shot in the show was designed and scripted by our director Alex Rudzinski. My job was to execute that plan. You hear me calling shot numbers and camera moves carefully coordinated with the music. My head stays in the script and Alex, to my right, keeps an eye on cameras to adjust framing and pacing.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

THE PEOPLE vs. O.J. SIMPSON: My verdict

What? What do you mean I have to wait until next week to see the second episode? What the hell? You mean I can’t just watch the whole series in one night?

How am I supposed to binge on one episode?

I guess I really liked the opening installment of THE PEOPLE VS. O.J. SIMPSON because I will be back next Tuesday to watch episode two.

The series benefits from terrific writers in Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski. They wrote ED WOOD, the Larry Flynt movie, BIG EYES, and the underrated Andy Kaufman story, MAN ON THE MOON (among others). They’re the A-list biopic guys, and trust me, those are not easy to do. Most biopics end up looking like cheesy Lifetime movies. For God sakes, Ozzie & Harriet got a TV biopic (and I’m sure many of you are saying, “Who are Ozzie & Harriet?”)

But Scott & Larry do exhaustive research and have a knack for presenting factual material in a compelling riveting way. And they find the madness and absurdities of their larger-than-life subjects which give their scripts a slightly surreal quality. Producer-director Ryan Murphy hired the perfect guys. There’s enough bizarre shit in this case to fill two mini-series and a Coen Brothers’ movie.

THE PEOPLE VS. O.J. SIMPSON has a cast of thousands (they weren’t kidding when they said the “people”). And casting is always key. I’ve only seen the premier (I still can’t get over not being able to see the whole thing at once – what are we, in the Stone Age?), but there appear to be some great performances.

Sterling K. Brown as Chris Darden is dead on. Courtney Vance kills as Johnnie Cochran, and it would be so easy to make that character a cartoon. I totally buy David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian. And so far, Sarah Paulson, as Marcia Clark, steals the show. She’s the Meryl Streep of TV as far as I’m concerned.

On the other hand, Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. is a stretch for me. And I’ve read in pre-show hoopla that Ryan Murphy thought it was a major coup to get John Travolta to play Robert Shapiro but he is absolutely ridiculous. I haven’t seen such bad makeup since John Wayne played Genghis Khan in THE CONQUEROR. Every minute that Travolta is on the screen takes me out of the story. I keep wondering, is he wearing a rubber mask? Does the makeup person think he’s Arnold Schwarzenegger? Or Rocky Balboa?  Or someone from Fraggle Rock?

I love Travolta in the right thing (like PULP FICTION or GET SHORTY) but as Robert Shapiro? Puhhleeze. There are no Jews in this town who could play him? Yes, I know Travolta is a “name,” but get real – he was a name. I guarantee that any Millennial watching this mini-series who is not familiar with the OJ case will also have no clue who John Travolta is.

Oh well. At least Ryan Murphy didn’t get Lady Gaga to play Marcia Clark.

Those quibbles aside, THE PEOPLE VS. O.J. SIMPSON (Tuesday nights at 10 on FX) is off to a very promising start. When you can be completely engrossed in a ten-hour story in which you already know the ending, THAT’S filmmaking. Congratulations to all concerned.

Now if Robert Shapiro would just represent Steve Avery…

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Back when TV was fun

Now that networks own most studios you have more corporate types running things, everyone answering to someone else even more corporate. But just as there used to be larger-than-life movie moguls back in the day, TV studios were once piloted by more colorful personalities.

They were blustery, opinionated, candid, and very savvy. Decisions were made on instinct not research. And they made quick decisions. You may not have liked their rulings, but I’ve always believed that the next best thing to a “Yes” is a quick “No.”

David Isaacs and I got to work with a few of these cigar chomping Foghorn Leghorns during our career. Maybe tops among them was Lee Rich. Rich had come from the MAD MEN world of NY advertising in the '50s and early '60s (he had a big hand in saving THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW from cancellation) and along with Merv Adelson (another interesting personality) had formed Lorimar Productions. We had a development deal with them for a couple of years. At the time Lorimar was riding high. They were the studio behind DALLAS and FALCON CREST.

Another thing about these small screen czars, they were great salesmen. And Lee was the best of the best. Whenever we went into a network to pitch a pilot we knew we were golden if Lee was in the meeting.

One of those meetings in particular stands out. We went to CBS to pitch a family show. Lee tagged along. He began the meeting by saying to the head of CBS programming, “In all my years, this is the best goddamn idea for a series I have ever heard. Ever!  And if you don’t buy it – right now, in the room – you are fucking idiots. You hear me? Fucking moron idiots! And if you don’t buy it, I’m calling NBC and we’ll have a sale by the end of the fucking day.”

Wow, we thought. Lee has never been this effusive before. We might just have a home run. So with that he turned it over to us, we pitched it, and CBS bought it on the spot.

As we were walking to the elevator Lee said, “Hey, you know what guys? You do have a pretty good idea there.”

That, ladies and gentleman, is a SALESMAN.

Who’s to say whether television was better back then? But it was sure a lot more fun.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Does Amy Schumer steal from other comedians?

If there is one cardinal rule that is broken all the time it is that comedians shouldn't steal material from other comedians.  Especially super successful ones.  I've had people steal my material.  I don't take kindly to it.  That's why whenever I review an awards show I always post it first thing the next morning before other reviews come in.  And for people on my email contact list, I send out my snarky review the minute it's done, shortly after midnight.

I don't want anyone saying I stole someone else's joke. 

Sometimes two people do come up with the same or similar joke.   Great minds think alike and all that shit.   On the other hand, I have taken radio people off my distribution list for stealing my reviews.  You know who you are.   Great minds don't think alike on ten straight jokes.

Personally, it used to drive me crazy when I was a disc jockey in the '70s.  Other jocks would tape my shows and use my material in their markets.  One time I tried to get a job in LA at a station and the program director accused me of stealing from one of his disc jockeys when in fact it was the other way around.   (That story has a happy ending and you can read about it here.)

But there's very little you can do about it, other than shame the guilty party.  

Now comes talk that Amy Schumer has lifted material from other comedians and writers.  This saddens me greatly.  I love Amy Schumer.   But the evidence is pretty damning.  Recently she went on Jim Norton's radio show on Sirius/XM to vehemently deny she ever knowingly stole any material.  But I found this video that compares Amy's bits with their originators.  Uh, quite a few coincidences.  See for yourself.

Part of the issue is that Amy is now the 800 pound gorilla.  And if a comic accuses her of stealing material that comic is viewed as just jealous.  That's been the case with comic Tammy Pescatelli.  She's the one who first cried foul.  And now she's getting blowback. 

I understand that Amy Schumer must generate a lot of material.  She has book deals, movies, her TV show, and concerts.  No matter how prolific you are that's a lot to ask.   But there's a solution --one where you never have to steal another joke.    You know what it is?

Hire writers.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

If I wrote the next PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie

One of those PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies was on a cable channel yesterday afternoon.  For reasons I can't explain I watched it for five minutes.  Damn the NFL for not having playoffs this weekend!

The first one had charm but after that -- I don't know what the hell was going on.  Ten years ago I wrote a review of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie out then and was completely baffled.  You can read that review here.  And now I see that they're making another PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie.  I think this is the 5th one.  Might be the 9th.  Anyway, here's what I imagine would be the scene if Disney had called me in to write it.

ME: After four movies and practically twelve hours, what pirate genre moment hasn’t been done?

STUDIO EXEC: It doesn’t matter.

ME: The franchise is already getting extremely repetitious.

STUDIO EXEC: It doesn’t matter.

ME: And what was once fresh is now just a series of clich├ęs.

STUDIO EXEC: It doesn’t matter.

ME:  But you'll get terrible reviews.

STUDIO EXEC: It doesn't matter.

ME: No one can follow the story.

STUDIO EXEC: It doesn’t matter.

ME: If this next installment is another prequel, hasn’t the audience already been told everything that’s going to happen?

STUDIO EXEC: It doesn’t matter.

ME: And won’t the fans of the series feel cheated without Keira?

STUDO EXEC: It doesn’t matter.

ME: Well then, hell. What does matter?

STUDIO EXEC: We make $500 million and keep the lines long at Disneyland.  Nothing you've brought up will have any effect on that. 

ME:  Well, I'm an artist.  I have integrity.  I can't do this.

STUDIO EXEC:  Here's what I'd pay you.


ME: I can have the screenplay for you in two weeks.

STUDIO EXEC:  There might be even more sequels involved.

ME:  It doesn't matter.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Help save internet radio.

Last Monday I ranted about music licensing companies charging small single-owner commercial free internet radio stations exorbitant new fees and how most of these hobby-only stations have been forced to close down.   There's a petition you can sign to try to overturn this unjust law and allow something this country used to have -- free enterprise.   Here's where you go.   Thanks.

Rare footage: Clint Eastwood getting the shit beaten out of him

Here's something you don't see every day -- someone beating the living crap out of Clint Eastwood. But James Garner, as the nattily dressed Maverick does just that. I imagine Clint said, "I don't care where you hit me, just don't touch the hair."