By the end of
that season, they were the show's story editors. In 1982 they joined Cheers,
winning an Emmy and a Writers Guild Award, the latter for an episode titled
Boys in the Bar. In that script, a roommate of one of the characters is a
former catcher who publishes a book announcing he's gay. The title of the
catcher's book is Behind the Mask—the same title former National League umpire
Dave Pallone used for his memoirs, published this summer, in which he reveals
he is gay.
everything Levine touched in Hollywood turned to gold. He and Isaacs were
creators, writers and executive producers of a new Mary Tyler Moore show, which
debuted in 1985 and soon died. Isaacs spent that off-season seeking solace in
the Caribbean. Levine headed for the upper deck of Dodger Stadium. With him
went a friend named Steve Leon. Staking their turf "above the
timberline," Leon's and Levine's calling the games quickly became a fixture
in the cheap seats. Soon he was getting stat packets from the Dodgers' front
office. A headset came next. Then a crowd mike and a minimixer. Before long,
Levine was buying two tickets per game, one for himself and one for his
equipment. By the next summer, Levine was doing Angel games as well.
During the winter
of 1988 Levine made his move, mailing a tape and r�sum� to 20 minor league
towns. Three days later, he got the call from Syracuse. The next summer he,
Debby and their two children headed east—just as the Writers Guild went on
strike. When the Levines came home 146 games later, the strike was settled.
"Ken was all everyone talked about," says Isaacs, who spent that summer
on the picket line. "I'd show up and the first thing everybody'd ask me
was. "How's Levine doin'? What's going on? God, I envy him.' He was the
only one of us who was working."
says Levine. "I was the highest-paid writer in America that summer. Twelve
hundred dollars a month and meal money—$14 a day."
Not to mention
material. Levine and Isaacs now have a screenplay in the rewrite stage with
Columbia Pictures. The working title is Play by Play, and it's about a comedy
writer who goes off to Syracuse to become a baseball announcer.
fun, but I'm also busting my butt to do a damn good radio broadcast,"
Levine says. "I don't want anyone to tune in and say, 'Oh, man, here's some
comedy writer getting his kicks fooling around with a baseball game.' "
Besides spending last winter in typical fashion-studying the baseball trade
magazines—Levine took voice lessons from the same coach who works with Sean
Connery and Albert Finney.
thinks they can do it," Rathbun says. "So there's always a touch of
skepticism when somebody comes from another profession, albeit a related field.
But my fears vanished when I talked to Ken and saw how serious he was about
this. And after I watched him actually work, well, that was it. I could see
he's the real thing. Most of all, he knows how to pick his spots, how to find
and fit into the rhythm of the game, and how to play off his partner without
pushing in to show how much baseball he knows or how clever he is. Nobody tunes
in to see how cute we are."
Even while he was
at Syracuse, Levine decided that a future of uprooting his family annually and
working two full-time careers—when the television and baseball seasons
overlapped—was too much. Scriptwriting came first, and paid better, so Levine
mailed off his tapes again, but this time he requested that he work for only
half of the minor league season. Dave Rosenfield was the first to agree to the
Levine figures he
can easily continue to split his time between baseball and Hollywood, where he
and Isaacs work out of an office at Paramount. Currently they consult and write
for Cheers as well as for other programs, including The Simpsons. A
Levine-Isaacs episode, to air this fall, has a predictable setting. "Homer
goes to the local minor league park on Nuclear Power Plant Family Night to
watch the Springville Isotopes play the Shelbyville Shelbyvillians,"
explains Levine. "He gets sloshed on ballpark beer, winds up dancing on the
scoreboard, the team rallies and wins, he becomes the mascot and ends up being
called to the big leagues."
The question is,
What happens if Levine gets the same call? It might happen.