The big advantage of telling a story that way is, obviously, to get inside the head of one person, and get their insight into everything that's going on. Unfiltered, in real time. Scrubs plays with the point of view all the time, but when you stick with one long enough, it changes the feel of the story. In the first episode of season five, "My Intern's Eyes," Scrubs used the point of view of an intern, Keith, to show how awkward and frightening Sacred Heart could be. That was a great transition as J.D became an attending. We got to see J.D.'s new role, plus get a reminder of how the show began. The best of both worlds.
One of our writers, Bob Sassone, introduced me to Ken Levine's blog a couple of years ago. Within a couple of weeks I had his RSS feed in my "Must Always Read" category, and there it remains.
If you don't know who Ken Levine is, if you're any sort of fan of television, it's likely you've seen something he's written: His credits include 36 episodes of Cheers, 16 episodes of M*A*S*H, seven episodes of Frasier, seven episodes of Becker, four episodes of Wings, two episodes of The Simpsons ... and a partridge in a pear tree. In short, the man knows how to write; he's won an Emmy for his writing and even sometimes offers a highly-regarded course on comedy writing, called The Sitcom Room.
Levine's blog is filled with stories from his days with the aforementioned shows, and they're sometimes hilarious, always fascinating. As a friend of TV Squad, and to celebrate the all-things Cheers week of Retro Squad, he's taken the time out to share a new story below. Enjoy!
I guess I should just go over to Ken Levine's blog and ask him, since he wrote for the show for many years. But if I did that, I wouldn't get paid for it. So, after the jump are the biggest Cheers mysteries, starting with the biggest and most obvious one:
The Sitcom Room, an exhausting, yet exhilarating two-day event, was the brainchild of veteran TV sitcom writer Ken Levine. To me, the event was the ultimate summer camp for aspiring writers and/or TV geeks.
On his blog, Ken, a veteran sitcom writer, hilariously reminds us just how annoying The Sopranos finale would have been on network television. For starters, a countdown clock would have run across the bottom of our television screens for at least a month leading up to the finale. The two-hour finale would have been preceded by a one-hour clip show hosted by Bob Costas. Janice would have gotten her own spin-off called Widow With Children.
- Ken Levine has some thoughts on American Idol.
- Betty Hutton passed away earlier this week.
- Jim Gaffigan talks about muffins and cakes.
- Best Week Ever isn't too happy that Zarf wasn't nominated for a Daytime Emmy.
- Some people in Hollywood use drugs.
- Will the phrase "Fair & Balanced" make it to the Hall of Fame?
- Maxim picks the 10 best infomercial products. Wait, isn't the Chia Pet ad just a commercial and not an infomercial?
- How can you tell if an actor is funny? Ken Levine has the answer.
- If case you haven't heard, Peter Jennings died and Tom Brokaw retired.
- Screech stills wants to do things with his penis, this time on Celebrity Fit Club.
- Aaron Barnhart doesn't think Isaiah Washington is leaving Grey's Anatomy anytime soon.
- Yahoo plans to launch 100 entertainment sites by the end of the year.
- Sienna Miller swore on the Today Show this morning.
- Here's a cool toy for all you Doctor Who fans.
But here's the interesting part: like the rest of us who have mixed feelings about the show, they're so fascinated by it that not only do they keep watching, it's also all they can talk about the next day. The comedy troupe Employee of the Month even does a weekly sketch show imagining what the sketches conceived for the show would be like. Because the sketches themselves weren't funny, they inserted jokes about the program as part of a "backstage" portion of the show. Other writers have cited the fact that the S60 writers are way too smart for their own good and never laugh at anything, which many writers think is the best part of the job. Ironically, many writers like 30 Rock, because the sketches are goofier and the depiction of a sketch show's writers' room is much closer to reality than it is on S60.
Levine knows where he's coming from with both comedy and baseball. As Bob Sassone has pointed out many times, Levine has worked on many classic sitcoms in his career (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frasier, etc.), but he was also a play-by-play broadcaster for the Orioles, Mariners, and Padres (comedy writer and a baseball broadcaster... my two dream careers). One day, he should combine those careers and make a series about the lives of a major league team's broadcasters. I'm sure he'd make it less inside and self-important than Sorkin made Studio 60, know what I mean?
There's always something great to read at Ken Levine's blog, and this past week was no exception. He has a really funny (and really useful) list of situations and scenes that aspiring writers should never include in their TV scripts. My favorite:
Don't hinge your show on stunt casting. I read a "Becker" where former President Jimmy Carter came in for a check-up and offered dating advice. Yeah, President Carter gets his physicals in the Bronx. And yeah, President Carter is always available to guest on a sitcom and advise a character to say whatever is necessary to get laid.
Of course, we've all seen even worse things actually make it on the air, but this is a great list.
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