Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Emmy ratings are in

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s factor number one.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

EP38: Ken’s Bitchy Review of the 2017 Emmys

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

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Up shortly

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

Congratulations to ALL the Emmy winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Roll out the red carpet again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

I love Desi (and Lucy)

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Questions

For you Friday Question fans:

Samantha leads off:

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

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


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

Douglas Trapasso has another Amazon/Netflix question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In general, gimmick pilots are not well received.

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

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

SURF'S UP follow up

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

It is from Cheryl Marks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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

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

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Reporting live from Hurricane Irma

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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