The Worst of Ken

Emmy-award winning screenwriter Ken Levine shares some of his worst:


It’s hard to top (or bottom) AfterMASH. Take the three weakest
characters of MASH, put them in the hilarious confines of a Veteran’s
Hospital and you have a recipe for classic comedy.

For me, it would be a toss-up between the "Rookie School" episode of BAYWATCH (mob moll hides from hitmen in lifeguard training camp!), which I think tops our "Armored Car" episode, which Rolling Stone called the worst episode of television ever written. They must have missed our episode of THE HIGHWAYMAN.

Punishing Yourself

I leave the country for just a couple of days and the nation falls into anarchy. I got this email while I was away:

Your friend James Kosub
has posted some damn fine — and damn patriotic —
PUNISHER fan fiction on his blog. I’ve read it and, well, it made me think
and it moved me on an emotional level.  And, of course, he mentions you in
the premamble to the post…

Jim is, afterall, the President of my fan club. So I took a peek at his introductory comments:

It isn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever dumped out of my brain and onto
paper, but it’s still a solid, post-9/11 action/commentary story.

[…]Coupled with my very positive
experience playing The Punisher on the Xbox, and finally seeing the new movie with Thomas Jane, I figured now was as good a time as any to share.

And already the critical raves are coming in…from his wife.

Still a powerful and effective piece, and it could easily be expanded beyond the "Punisher" main character.

I haven’t read the fanfic, but I doubt anything could capture the enormous cultural, political, and emotional impact of 9-11 quite as well as some of James Kosub’s fanfic stylings. But I’m with Jim’s wife on this one. It’s a crying shame that he chose The Punisher as his muse instead of Willy Wonka

Things not to worry about

Novelist PJ Parrish offers some very good advice to aspiring writers under the heading "10 Things  You Should Never Worry About." Among my favorites:

7. I’m querying an agent. Should I send my first chapter or my best chapter?
If your first chapter isn’t your best chapter, you’re in deep doo-doo.

8. Who should I dedicate my book to?

9. Should I include my picture with my submission?
Only if you’re Brad Pitt or his wife old whatshername.

I’m Listening

I’m still out-of-town, so here’s another oldie-but-goodie from the early days of this blog…

I went into a meeting with a major TV producer with an over-all
series deal at a big studio. He brought his nine-year-old daughter into
the meeting. I was midway through the pitch when the producer got a
phone call.

“I’m gonna take this outside,” he said, heading for the door, “but please keep going.”

And he left me alone with his daughter.”Go on,” she said, her pencil poised on a notepad, “I’m listening.”

Is a Story Really Necessary?

While I’m away, here’s another golden oldie from the early days of the blog…


Not too long ago,
I spoke about screenwriting and breaking into television at a writer’s
conference in San Francisco. Afterwards, I mingled with the attendees and had some
bizarre conversations. Here’s a sampling…

"I’ve written a novel and everyone tells me it’s a script," one woman said. "How do I turn it into a script?"

"Well, you write a script." I said.

She stared at me. "How do I do that?"

"You get a book or take a course, learn the principles of screenwriting, and then you write a script."

"That’s too much work," she said. "Isn’t there software that can do all of that for me?"

"Yeah," I said. "The same way Microsoft Word wrote your book for you."

* * * * * *

Another person came up to me and asked me if I wrote for television. I said yes.  She then asked, "How do you do that?"

"You mean, how do I write for television?"

"Yes," she said.

"I write screenplays," I said.

"Which is what, exactly?"

"The story, the action, the words that the characters say," I replied.

She stared at me. "Somebody writes that?"

I said, resisting the urge to strangle her. "It’s like a writing a
play, only for the camera instead of a theatre audience."

She shook her head.  "No, it’s not."

* * * * * *
"I’ve written  a book but everyone tells me it s a TV series," the man said.  "How do I make it into a TV series."

can’t, " I said, and gave my standard speech about how ideas are cheap
and execution is everything, how networks go to people with TV
experience, or who have written hit movies, or who have written
bestselling novels, blah blah blah. And when I got done, he stared at
me. I got stared at a lot that day.

He said:  "How can I get around that?"

"You can’t," I said.

"Why not?"

you haven’t established yourself as a writer in any field," I said.
"Why would a network, studio or producer buy a TV series idea from you?"

"Because I’m smarter and more talented than they are," he said.

"It’s not going to happen," I said.

"Is it because I’m black?" he said. "That’s it, isn’t it. It’s because I’m black."

* * * * * *

"Did you have to sleep with a lot of people to get into TV?" a woman asked me.

"Just my wife," I said.

"You were lucky it wasn’t someone else," she said and walked away.

* * * * * *
have a great idea for a movie," a woman said to me. "What’s the market
like for true stories about black lesbians in the 1880s?"

don’t think studios are looking for scripts to fill that particular
niche," I said, "but there’s always a market for good stories that are
told well."

"Oh," she said. "That’s going to make it a lot harder to sell."
* * * * * *
are hard work," a man said to me. "Could I write an episode of a
mystery show but leave out the mystery for someone else to do?"

"No," I said.

"But my talent is character and I’m brilliant with dialogue," he said. "I really don’t know how to plot a mystery."

"Then don’t write a mystery," I said.

"But that’s what’s selling," he said.

"Don’t try to write what’s selling," I said. "Write what you enjoy. Write the story you want to tell."

"The thing is, I don’t know how to tell stories," he said. "But I write killer dialogue. Is a story really necessary?"

"Yes," I said.

people in Hollywood don’t make it easy, do you? That’s the problem with
the Industry. They are constantly creating obstacles so people can’t
get in."


A Book I’m Going to Be Reading

Reporter Bill Carter’s new book DESPERATE NETWORKS follows the 2004-2005 season from inside the network ranks. Apparently, leaked copies of the book are already causing controversy in Hollywood. Variety reports that, among the tidbits, the success of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES sent execs at studios and networks scurrying to find out how they missed the opportunity to snag it:

  • Warner Bros. TV was on track to land the rights to Marc Cherry’s spec spec
    for "Desperate Housewives" via Tony
    , who had an overall deal at the studio. Unfortunately,
    WBTV execs refused to give Cherry’s reps at Paradigm a packaging fee — so
    Paradigm set up the project at Touchstone.  Carter shows NBC U topper
    Bob Wright launching a fervent investigation to find out why NBC didn’t land
    "Housewives." At one point, Wright even calls Cherry to ask if NBC had ever had
    a shot at the script. (It did. The network passed.)

A Set of Jumper Cables for Your Script

Here’s some great writing advice from Jane Espenson:

                                                                                        SHADY GUY
                                            I promised you a half-ton of frozen fish.  That’s a
                                            half-ton of frozen fish.

we hear that, we know that the previous line was some kind of protest
about whether or not Shady Guy met his end of the bargain. We’ve
established the attitude of both characters by the end of line.

you look through your own writing, you may very well discover that
you’ve been doing this automatically, too. If not, try knocking off a
few opening lines, see if it doesn’t jump-start the scene!


Variety reports today that Fox has picked up BONES, based on the Kathy Reichs novels, for a full 22-episodes next season… but the future isn’t looking so bright for the new midseason crime dramas HEIST, CONVICTION or THE EVIDENCE, which are suffering from anemic ratings. HEIST was partially undone by poor lead-in from LAW AND ORDER, which reportedly had it’s weakest ratings in 15 years, presumably thanks to its new 9 pm Wednesday timeslot.

The Love Boat

Today, I’m joining writer/producer Matt Witten (HOUSE, JAG, etc) on a four-day cruise to Ensenada on the Monarch of the Seas, where we will be talking to mystery fans about writing cop shows and crime novels. The cruise is another exciting program from Joan Hansen, winner of  an Edgar this year for her wildly successful, annual Men of Mystery seminars.  Matt is bringing along his lovely wife and I’m bringing my 10-year-old daughter Maddie.  This is the first time Maddie and I have ever gone on a trip together without my wife, and it’s the first time either one of us has been on a cruise, so it should be exciting.

I’ve stockpiled some posts that will show up here while I’m gone, but I won’t be around to clear your comments. But please go ahead and post your thoughts… I’ll get them on-line when I return on Monday.

This Goes to the Top of My List of Works of Art I Will Never See

"A nude Britney
Spears on a bearskin rug while giving birth to her firstborn marks a
‘first’ for Pro-Life. Pop-star Britney Spears is the "ideal" model for
Pro-Life and the subject of a dedication at Capla Kesting Fine Art in
Brooklyn’s Williamsburg gallery district, in what is proclaimed the
first Pro-Life monument to birth, in April…

…[Artist Daniel Edwards’] "Monument to
Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston," Pro-Life’s first
monument to the ‘act of giving birth,’ is purportedly an idealized
depiction of Britney in delivery. Natural aspects of Spears’ pregnancy,
like lactiferous breasts and protruding naval, compliment a posterior
view that depicts widened hips for birthing and reveals the crowning of
baby Sean’s head.

The monument also acknowledges the pop-diva’s pin-up past by showing
Spears seductively posed on all fours atop a bearskin rug with back
arched, pelvis thrust upward, as she clutches the bear’s ears with
‘water-retentive’ hands."

[From the Press Release for the sculpture, via Defamer]