Monday, September 25, 2017

First night parties

New shows are premiering on network television, and returning shows are starting their new seasons. As a writer or producer on staff one of my favorite events of the year was the “first night party.”

This is when the writing staff, directors, and cast would get together to watch the first episode on the air. On MASH we would meet at Gene Reynolds' house (one of the two creators of the series along with Larry Gelbart), and on other shows the party would be held at a restaurant. There was dinner, lots of drinking, watching the episode (I had probably seen ten times already), and then going home.

My favorite first night party was the original premier of CHEERS in 1982. First off, it was at a swanky place, Chasen’s. Back in the 40’s and 50’s Chasen’s was THE Hollywood hotspot. You could expect to see Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, you-name-it dining on the Hobo Steak (not on the menu), Dave Chasen’s world-famous chili, or the ice mountain of seafood appetizer. Okay, so we had chicken pies, but also had a private room. TV’s were set up. We all dressed nice. It was an elegant affair.

What made this one so special was that we were finally taking the wraps off the show. We all had been working on it since the spring. By September we had filmed probably six or seven episodes. I had seen the pilot no less than twenty times. But there’s something about it actually being on the air.

A few weeks before I caught a promo. It was maybe 15 seconds, but there was the bar – for the first time ON TELEVISION.

So the night was very festive. Dinner was good (why chicken pies were ordered for everyone I do not know, but they appeared every year). Drinks were flowing. Earlier in the day we had received mostly positive reviews from critics. There was also an idiotic two-page ad (the one shown here). The best way to sell a sophisticated comedy is not with a page of HA HA HA HA’s.

Several people at the party had heard from friends and family back east who had seen the show three hours earlier. Thumbs up from them (but that was to be expected). Director James Burrows’ dad liked it, and that meant something. His dad was Abe Burrows. My father-in-law in Brooklyn said the waitress and bartender should get together. I had to agree.

As 9:00 approached things got quiet. The monitors were turned on and the sound was turned up at 8:58. There was an NBC News Break (remember those?) and for me the kicker, right before the show, was the station ID. “This is KNBC, Channel 4.” Holy shit! It really IS going out over the air. And then the show began. I can’t begin to tell you the sense of pride I had being a part of it. Everyone cheered at everyone’s credits – especially the Charles Brothers and Jimmy. And the show seemed to whiz by in five minutes.

When it was over there was a lot of hugging. The next day we would learn that the ratings were truly abysmal (so much for the huge impact of TV critics), but that night was euphoric.

Then began another CHEERS tradition. Speeches. More like toasts, they could be short. But everyone on the writing staff was called upon to say a few words. Wish I had known ahead of time. I don’t recall what I said but I think I got a laugh. My favorite speech was from Jerry Belson. Jerry was one of the funniest writers ever. He was an uncredited consultant. After everyone praised the show and each other, Jerry stood up, said, “Thanks for the money” and sat back down.

What a contrast between that party – a small group of unknowns meeting in a backroom to the ultimate finale, held in Boston, where we had probably 600 people inside the building and 20,000 outside on the Commons watching on giant Jumbotron Boards in a light rain.

So for some premiering shows, this is just the start of hopefully a long exciting journey. And for all shows it’s the culmination of months of hard work.  Congratulations.  Enjoy every minute of it.

That is, if they still have first night parties.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

My celebrated "Hippie" period

Here's another excerpt from my book THE ME GENERATION...BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60).  It's been forever since I plugged that.  I'm going to keep doing these until I sell enough books to get in the Amazon top 10... or at least 10,000.   Here's where you go to get your ebook copyAnd here's where you go to get the handsome paperback.  Read the reviews.  Many are from people I don't even know. 

By 1967 I had been as far south as San Diego, far north as Santa Barbara, far east as Las Vegas, and far west as the end of the Santa Monica pier. But that was about to change. My dad announced that we were going up to San Francisco.

Oh. My. Fucking. God.

I had wanted to go to San Francisco more than anyplace else in the world. I was intrigued by all the buzz about the music scene there, Haight-Ashbury, the Summer of Love, and okay, I’ll be honest – I just wanted to see a Giants game at Candlestick Park.

As always, we drove. I still had not been inside an airplane. Our family trips tended to be on the frugal side. We stayed at a Travelodge motel on Lombard St. in the Marina district. We should have slept in the Impala. It had more room.

But I didn’t care. I was just thrilled to finally be there. We saw the sights, traveled the bridges, dined at Kans in Chinatown, hopped cable cars, slurped crab cocktails at Fisherman’s Wharf, and gawked at the basketball-sized bazooms on Carol Doda whose image was proudly and largely displayed at the topless Condor club in North Beach where she jiggled them three times nightly.

Side note: Carol had risen to prominence in 1964 when many delegates from the Republican National Convention went to see her act.

I also got my first glimpse of the Haight-Ashbury district. This was hippie Mecca, the epicenter of the counter-culture revolution. Love was free and the drugs were reasonable. With Scott MacKenzie’s “San Francisco” as their anthem, young people from all over the country migrated to the Haight. Harvard Professor Dr. Timothy Leary, the noted advocate of psychedelic drug research (LSD) coined the catchphrase: “Turn on, tune in, drop out”. (That same year Leary would marry his third wife. Hard to tell whether the bride was really beautiful that day; all the guests were on acid.) This was a Utopian society, an oasis where you were free of the shackles of expectation and civilization. A haven for spiritual awakenings, creative inspiration, and yes, even consciousness expanding.

Haight-Ashbury looked exactly as you’ve seen it in documentaries and movies of the 60s. Loads of hippies in colorful garb (some with face paint) milling about, rolling joints, playing guitars and tambourines. Murals on the sides of buildings, head stores and ma & pa markets. And vivid kaleidoscopic color everywhere – from Tie Dyed clothes to rainbow store signs to a blue building with a yellow door. Imagine Jimi Hendrix as the art director of SESAME STREET. But it was festive and fun.

And as we drove through this idyllic world I thought to myself, “Ugggh! How the hell can anyone live here? It’s so dirty and crowded. What happens if you get sick? What kind of privacy would you get in one of these cramped apartments? How clean are the bathrooms? What’s the TV reception like?”

I had zero desire to turn, tune, drop, or whatever else was necessary to move to Haight-Ashbury and join this freaky scene.

It's one thing to be a hippie. It's another to give up creature comforts.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Somewhere Shari Lewis is smiling

As many of you know, I'm a ol' curmudgeon.  I've never been a big fan of AMERICA'S GOT TALENT.  To me it's just a way to do a TV variety show where you don't have to pay the performers.

But one act in particular attracted my attention.   Darci Lynne.  I've featured her before.  This is the 12 year ventriloquist that is absolutely amazing.  Her puppets sing -- well enough to win THE VOICE.  I must admit she has even melted this cynic's heart.

She just won this year's AMERICA'S GOT TALENT and I found myself cheering.  She's also funny and amazingly poised.  For those not familiar with her, or those that want to see her again, this was her performance in the finals.  She upped the ante by having two puppets singing (in very different styles).  Yeah, call me an old softie but I love this kid.    And she doesn't work blue.  Check her out.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Questions

 First off, thank you all for the supportive comments yesterday.   Mel Brooks said in a recent article: 

'Stupidly politically correct society is the death of comedy'

I love Mel Brooks!!!

Okay, moving on.

You KNOW it’s the weekend when…

I’m answering Friday Questions. The first one comes from Matt in my hometown, Westwood CA:

The Emmys. For series actors when they are nominated or win in a given year, how do you find out the episode it is for? You've mentioned in a post Bebe Neuwirth won for the RAT GIRL episode. What about her other win? I think the assumption out there is it's for the whole year when in fact they ultimately win based on a single episode submitted, right? Would love to know if there is a reference guide for this, a book on the Emmy's many years ago had several examples of shocking wins/upsets that really came down to the episodes that were submitted that provided insight to the win. Classic example? Lindsay Wagner won for THE BIONIC WOMAN to the shock of many, but the actresses more likely to win submitted sub par episodes while Wagner’s was a knockout.

To my knowledge there is no reference guide for which episodes actors submit.  You can't even find it on that interweb the kids all talk about. But the actors (or their reps) try to pick their best episodes. And yes, I’m sure some lose because they choose the wrong episode to submit.

And Lindsay Wagner could submit any episode and I would vote for her.

Next up, Mr. Anonymous (please give a name):

I've read that a good package for TV writing is a spec of an established show plus a pilot script. Should they be in the same format, though? For instance, a spec of a sitcom and a pilot for a one-hour comedy/drama? Or would it be better to do two half-hour sitcom scripts and two hour-long scripts?

Most agents would stay pick a lane and stay in it. So I would say have a spec and pilot in the same genre. They both don’t have to be single or multi-camera but they both should be comedies or dramas.

But this is not a hard and fast rule. And I would certainly encourage you to write scripts in both genres, if for no other reason then to discover which genre you really excel in. Sometimes it might surprise you. Shawn Ryan told me he wanted to be a comedy writer and wrote several CHEERS specs. When those failed to set the world on fire he turned to drama. Shawn created THE SHIELD then later TERRIERS and TIMELESS (which according to several commenters has been renewed).

Alan Gollom asks:

Ken, is it more difficult to write comedy for movies than it is for tv? For example the writers for two tv sitcoms, Modern Family and Fresh Off the Boat seem to consistently come up with great scripts week after week. Would it be a lot more difficult for those same writers to write funny movies?

To keep people laughing for 90 minutes is a Herculean task. But the advantage screenwriters have is only one story to tell. So they can devise a very funny premise, squeeze every joke they can out of it, and build to an ending.

In sitcoms your characters and situation are pretty much running in place. So to keep finding laughs in the same situation week after week, year after year is, to me, about equal to screenplays on the difficulty scale.

I once wrote a spec screenplay that I thought would be a breeze. I wanted to write just a balls-out comedy. Turns out it was an extremely hard script to write. To keep the laughs coming and building at a lightening pace was way tougher than I thought it would be.

That’s why I bristle when I get notes and the person says, “Yeah, it’s FUNNY, but…” Do you know how hard it is to make something FUNNY?

Buttermilk Sky wonders:

Alan Alda and Mike Farrell wrote and/or directed several episodes of MASH. Have you ever had to deal with stars who thought they possessed these skills but were simply mistaken? That must be a tough meeting to take.

Sometimes actors will get it in their deal that they get to direct one episode a season. And you just have to suck it up and do what you can in editing.

You try to give those directors the least complicated shows. Although, I must admit, when you know someone is a bad director you don’t want to waste a good script on him. So he starts out with a weaker script, which further limits his possibility of success.

Switching gears, I will tell you a few more actors I’ve worked with who are TERRIFIC directors. Adam Arkin and Kelsey Grammer.

What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Will this Emmy review be my last?

Hard to believe but almost twenty years ago I started writing snarky award show reviews. I wrote them exclusively for people on my contact list. I always wrote the recaps immediately after the show so if any of my jokes were similar to those others later posted it was clear I didn’t steal them. But that meant lonnnnng nights. And I had to weed out some people because certain radio hosts who were on my list were stealing my material and using it as their own (assuming I wouldn’t find out – but I did). Not cool.  They're gone.

My reasons for doing the reviews were to have fun and let off steam. To say the kind of shit everyone says at award show parties (where you're not proud of yourself but you laugh). And it was a great way to reconnect with people I hadn’t heard from in months. Friends would drop a note; we’d catch up, etc. As you know, months and sometimes years can go by as people inadvertently drift apart. Reviews were a fun way to say hello.

When I started the blog I decided to share the reviews with my readers. They seemed to really enjoy them. For a while some newspapers arranged with me to re-print them.

Each review would spark a flurry of comments. Some agreed with my take, others didn’t. That was totally okay. Sometimes the debates were more entertaining than the reviews themselves.

But lately things have started to shift. I don’t know how to state more clearly that my reviews are snarky, that I poke fun at everyone. And that if you take a stand in comedy there are going to be those who are offended. Larry Gelbart once said: “if you write something that offends no one then go back and start over.”

That’s COMEDY. At times it’s meant to challenge, meant to prick pompous balloons, meant to point out hypocrisy.

In my recent Emmy review I took issue with Jermaine Fowler’s announcing. He was loud, he was abrasive, he mangled copy, he sounded amateurish, he wasn’t funny, and moments that were supposed to be for the winners he made about himself. And since Fowler happens to be a person of diversity, a number of readers called me racist. (As blog moderator I chose not to publish them.) If it had been say Gilbert Gottfried and he had done the same thing and I offered the same complaints no one would have said anything. It’s not enough to not find something funny these days. The comic is now a racist. Forget that I praised numerous diversity winners and even took issue when Nicole Kidman was allowed to ramble on incessantly while Sterling K. Brown was unceremoniously cut off – no, I’m a racist.

It’s to the point where I wonder why I even bother. You make fun of anybody looking horrible in a gown and you’re body shaming. You needle an actress and you’re anti-women. You don’t praise a lame RuPaul “Emmy” bit and you’re homophobic.

What the fuck?!

It’s a SNARKY, BITCHY silly awards show review, meant to get a few laughs. Period. You don’t find something I said funny? That’s fine. You disagree with a particular take? Great. We’re all entitled to our opinions. But what I’m getting now is “Humor is one thing but that’s racist.”

When did comedy become the queen’s tea?

You hear of comedians now refusing to play the college circuit because audiences are too P.C. This is insane to me. You should be at your MOST subversive, most inappropriate, most rebellious in college. If you can’t challenge society who can?

ALL IN THE FAMILY was a groundbreaking show in the ‘70s. If it were on today people’s heads would explode. I find that heartbreaking.

But that’s the way it is today. I’m not going to change it. But for the Oscars, I’ll see how I feel in February. Maybe I’ll just go back to sending my review to my contact list. Those people don’t call me a racist. The worst I get from them is that I’m a dick.  I can live with that.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

My 2017 Emmy Review

Okay, here’s my bitchy snarky Emmy review. Enjoy.

It’s hard to believe that one off-stage voice could completely decimate an entire awards show but that’s what happened Sunday night when Jermaine Fowler took to the mic. This was like giving a squirrel a grenade. Note to the Academy: There are some things a PROFESSIONAL voiceover announcer should have – a decent voice, DICTION, a sense of decorum, and the ability to read. Things not needed: ad libbing, especially when you’re not remotely funny, showing favoritism, and screaming. Fowler was quite simply an embarrassment. He was the drunk uncle who copped a feel of the bride at her wedding.

I think most annoying was the favoritism, shrieking every black presenter’s name as if introducing a prizefighter.

How would it sound if I said, “Please welcome Cecily Tyson, Robert DeNiro, and NORMAN LEARRRRRR!

Next year please go back to Randy Thomas. And CBS, if you want to give one of your few diverse stars more exposure, let him host the friggin’ Orange Bowl halftime show.

This was that rare award show where the acceptance speeches were generally more entertaining than the host and comedy bits. Ironically, in a show that was very meta and self-aware, most of the speeches were really sincere, emotional, and heartfelt. Ann Dowd made ME choke up.

There have been worse Emmycasts. Notably 2005 when Donald Trump was a musical guest (a role he’s more qualified for than the one he’s in now).

And speaking of our beloved President, or, as the gals from 9-5 called him, “a sexist, egotist, lying hypocritical bigot,” (of course by then all the red states had tuned out and were watching football, or if that wasn’t bloody enough, the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War) Trump of course was the main target of Stephen Colbert’s opening monologue.

That’s pretty much become Stephen Colbert’s entire act. And Stephen, if you want to reach the general public, don’t do three Les Moonves jokes. Anyway, I thought he did a decent job of hosting but nowhere near as relaxed and funny as Jimmy Kimmel on last year’s Emmys (and this year’s Oscars). Well, Stephen did a decent job when Jermaine Fowler let him host. “Please welcome Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, and ANIKA NANI ROOOOOSSSSSEEEEE!!!!!!!”

The big surprise of Sean Spicer appearing in the opening monologue was met with blank stares and horror from the audience. Even Melissa McCarthy was not amused. I don’t care if he’s a good sport. I hate the son of a bitch. Who will they get next year? “Please welcome O.J. SIMMMMMPPPSSSSONNNNNN!”

Okay, more on the show in a minute. But first I must back up to the local KTLA Channel 5 “Live from the Red Carpet” show hosted by footstool to the stars, Sam Rubin and someone who doesn’t eat named Jessica Holmes. They’re always good for a few really idiotic moments.

Sam was asking Carrie Coon about getting ready for the evening. “Did you start at 7 this morning?” he said. Smoooooth.

Jessica followed by saying to Carrie: “People say you’re a very good crier. Is that a learned skill? Or are you naturally good at it?”

Sam to Matt Walsh: “You have a book coming out.” Matt to Sam: “No, I don’t.” Great preparation. Sam asked to see Matt’s acceptance speech if he won. He took a folded piece of paper out of his jacket and Sam was absolutely gobsmacked. “Ohmygod! It’s HAND written!!!”

Later Sam was interviewing Jane Fonda and gushed over how hilarious Lily Tomlin was. Has he ever MET a star before???

But my favorite exchange was when Sam said to Kathryn Hahn, “A BAD MOM’S CHRISTMAS is not nominated for an Emmy.” Kathryn then said, “It’s not a television show” and Jessica saved the moment by saying “But it could be.”

We miss you, Joan Rivers!

And now to the show.

I know it was subtle, but I think the theme this year was DIVERSITY.

Clearly the big winners were THE HANDMAID’S TALE, BIG LITTLE LIES, VEEP, SNL, and John Oliver. How many times has Bill Maher lost now? 30? 40? The Washington Generals, the team that plays the Harlem Globetrotters has more wins than Bill Maher. Of those shows, the ones I’ve seen are very deserving. Same with all the winners in all the categories. Voters got it right. Keep those screeners coming.

Next year of course, GAME OF THRONES will win all the drama awards.

That is if there IS a show. With all the reboots of series coming back, next year they could very easily just rerun the Emmy Award ceremony of 1995.

How big a deal are the Emmys? Even in Hollywood? In the Sunday Los Angeles Times CALENDAR section, there were no stories about the Emmys but there was a big one on the Toronto Film Festival.

Why was Oprah in the front row? Why does Oprah get a standing ovation? Margaret Atwood -- yes. Carol Burnett, Norman Lear, Cecily Tyson, even Lena Waithe -- sure. But Oprah?

Among the people thanked by winners: Winston Churchill and Webster.

Congratulations to John Lithgow. Yes, he’s a great actor, but more importantly, he was a terrific coach of my son’s little league team.

Oh yes, television embraces diversity. Carol Burnett received a standing ovation. However, when she made a sitcom pilot for ABC this spring that was hilariously funny and smart ABC didn’t pick it up.

And did you notice that when the president of the TV Academy was giving his speech on how excellent television is, CBS chose to run an ad for YOUNG SHELDON under him?

When they introduce presenters now they need to tell you what shows they’re on.

A lot of movie stars didn’t win (Robert DeNiro, Anthony Hopkins), which is shocking. Why do movie stars do television? Because otherwise they have to wait all the way till January to start winning awards.

Nicole Kidman won however. From now on they should start her “play off” music the minute her name is announced.

Women who looked gorgeous: Jessica Biel (she sure cleans up nice), Tatiana Maslany (in simple black), Sophia Vergara (in white Jessica Rabbit gown), Edie Falco (elegant in simple bright red), Kate McKinnon (I loved her tearful speech), and many others who didn’t get on camera so they don’t count.

This year they didn’t even bother to announce the Creative Arts winners. But we sure needed that lame bit where Stephen Colbert was interviewing RuPaul as “Emmy.” Or the screen time that Jermaine Fowler received so we could watch him mangle promos. Y’know, Jermaine, you should really sign up for “Hooked on Phonics.”

Kate McKinnon got played off just as she thanked Hillary Clinton. Was Sean Spicer cuing the music?

And how come they cut Sterling K. Brown’s speech short but let Nicole Kidman babble on forever?

In light of recent events, security was very tough. Anna Chlumsky’s dress had to go through the metal detector eight times. For actors it was the first time they didn’t get to go through TSA pre-check. Just the thought of Nicole Kidman standing in a long line tickled me.

And when Nicole complains that there are so few good roles for women, that’s partly because she takes them all.

I was applauding Alec Baldwin’s win until he said, “What we do is important.” This is the medium that gives us DATING NAKED.

But for all the hyperbole no one came close to Diane English the year she declared that MURPHY BROWN was the greatest sitcom of all time.

Tessa Thompson looked like she was wearing the NBC Peacock.

Writers always give the best speeches. Lena Waithe, who is the first African-American woman to win a Best Comedy Writing Emmy was eloquent and funny and did it in a third of time it took Nicole Kidman to thank her management team. (Lena co-wrote the episode with Aziz Ansari.) Donald Glover was witty and classy. And Dave Mandell of VEEP had the funniest speech of the night. It was actually funnier than the opening monologue. And leave it to a Jewish writer to begin his speech with “I’m out of a job.”

At 93 Norman Lear is amazing. He looked younger than the women from 9-5.

What was that blazer/mini skirt Reese Witherspoon was wearing? She looked like the first hooker to graduate from Wharton.

How does BLACK MIRROR win for Best TV Movie when it was Season 3, Episode 4 of a TV drama? (Thanks to my son-in-law for pointing that out.)

RuPaul’s checkerboard suit was the perfect look … if you’re a jester.

Can ANYONE remember last year's Best TV Movie winner? And that includes the winners themselves.

Sarah Paulson even looked beautiful wrapped in tin foil (thus bringing new meaning to Reynolds Wrap).

Hooray for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who’s won six straight times for her role in VEEP. She’s FUNNY.

I’m sure the producers of GRACE AND FRANKIE are breathing a sigh of relief. Both Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin were up for Best Actress in a Comedy. If either one had won while the other lost you could hang meat in that sound stage for the next year.

Christopher Jackson’s rendition of “As” was a lovely complement to the “In Memoriam” segment. And Mary Tyler Moore turning out the lights was the perfect poignant ending. However, this was the first time I ever cheered when I saw a name in the “In Memoriam” feature. Roger Ailes. Yeah, I know. I’m a horrible person but “see ya.”

Debra Messing looked fabulous, but why wear that Glad bag? Just cause it matched the color of your hair?

The WESTWORLD parody was very funny… if you watch and know WESTWORLD… which is like 10% of the audience.

Dolly Parton should host next year’s Emmys.

Proof that comedy is still considered a second-class citizen: the Best Comedy award was not presented at the end of the night as it usually is. This year it was given out before half a dozen drama awards.

A dolphin could jump through Heidi Klum’s hoop earrings.

John Oliver mentioned “seat fillers.” The people in the first ten rows you don’t recognize are called “seat fillers”. When the seat fillers have to go to the bathroom they’re replaced by the “nominated writers”.

Kathryn Hahn wore a sheer gown with big black dots. She looked like a game of Othello.

Elisabeth Moss got bleeped. From what I understand she thanked her mom for teaching her that “you can be kind and a fucking badass.”

Stop trying to do funny bits while introducing the accountants. They never work. You’d think after the Oscars the accountants wouldn’t want to be introduced.

Riz Ahmed was riveting in THE NIGHT OF. He beat out Robert DeNiro and deservedly so. In his speech he gave a shout-out to the South Asian Youth Action and the Innocence Project, and as he was walking off Jermaine Fowler chimed in “And a shout-out to Oprah.” I think I would have preferred Sean Spicer as the offstage announcer.

Jessica Lange is starting to look like a female impersonator.

When presenter Seth McFarlane came out with that patented smug expression I thought, “uh oh, what now? Another delightful song about tits?” It had to be something. I was right. He read the nominees in different cartoon voices. Yeah, if I’m a nominee and this is my only moment in the spotlight I want my name announced by the FAMILY GUY dog.

It’s hard to believe that one building, even one as cavernous as the Microsoft Theatre could hold the egos of both Seth McFarlane and Oprah.

Scary moment when Cecily Tyson froze while presenting. But God bless her, she recovered, and Anika Nani Rose was masterful covering for Ms. Tyson. She handled the moment with grace and ease. That, ladies and gentlemen (and Jermaine Fowler) is a PRO.

Vanessa Bayer wore the tablecloth from our Passover seder. .

When I saw Titus Burgess in his gold blazer, I expected him to take ticket stubs and show people to their seats.

Shannon Purser must’ve stolen the Jolly Green Giant’s outfit.

As deserving as all the nominees were, I still think THE MIDDLE, THE GOOD FIGHT, and THE AMERICANS deserve Emmy love. And bring back Randy Thomas.

Again, congratulations to all the winners. Happily, I know what you’re going through. It’s an amazing experience to win an Emmy. And just think – we now have one, but Donald Trump doesn’t.

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.