If you don’t read Ken Levine’s blog, you really should. For a television industry fan, it’s one of the best things on the Internet. Levine is a veteran, Emmy-winning television writer on shows like Cheers, Frasier, Wings, and M*A*S*H, and he also wrote the brilliant Tom Hanks/John Candy comedy, Volunteers. The guy is from the golden age of network television, back before the television landscape was niched to death and a primetime sitcom could simultaneously be great and fetch 30 million viewers.
I don’t know that Levine is retired, actually, but he has become that old-timer that yells at the kids from his lawn (blog), and he’s usually right. He was spot-on in his assessment of Dan Harmon, and why NBC fired him, and he has some great advice for tonight’s Presidential candidates for the debates in the era of overly focus-tested audiences (do cartwheels! Say “Hooters”!).
He also recently wrote about one of the things that’s wrong with modern network sitcoms: The networks have too much control over the creatives, and instead of letting them do what they’re hired to do, the networks force certain casting choices on them because an actor is popular, even if the actor doesn’t suit the show.
He also thinks that Jamie Lynn Sigler, a cast member in Jimmy Fallon’s Guys with Kids, was just such an example.
For years now networks have dictated who you can hire for your series regulars. And as the showrunner you often find yourself stuck with someone who can’t deliver and you have to spend your time and effort writing around them. I don’t know any of the particulars, know no one involved in the production, but I’m guessing that’s the story with Jamie-Lynn Sigler on GUYS WITH KIDS. Everyone else is so good and it’s like she’s in a different show. But I can just imagine the network casting session. “She’s very pretty, people know her from THE SOPRANOS, the other girl you brought us is funnier but she’s kind of mousey, and what was she on – some CW show or some ABC Family thing? Let’s go with Jamie. No, her audition wasn’t great. But you can work with her. She can grow into the part. We approve Jamie.”
And now that extends to guest star roles and even one-line parts.
That’s the kind of absurd micromanaging that goes into today’s primetime productions. And shows are getting a 2 share.
I don’t agree that everyone else is so good on Guys with Kids (in fact, I think the show is abysmal), but Sigler certainly does stand out as particularly bad and out of place on the show.
Levine also offers a RADICAL NEW PLAN. He suggests … this is going to blow your mind … that the networks actually allow the creative people they hire to run a show to ACTUALLY RUN THE SHOW.
What’s the worst that could happen? The show might plummet to a 1.6? (I love the positive spin networks give shows now. UP ALL NIGHT went up 28% last night. That’s a .3. Back in the day a .3 was so insignificant it was considered “margin for error.” Today decisions are based on it.
But the upside. You might get better shows. Shows with a stronger, clearer voice – y’know, like they have on CABLE – that parallel universe with series that people talk about and love and win awards?
You keep waving your stick at all those damn kids, Levine. I don’t know if it will ever change, but I appreciate the perspective.