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Mike D'Orso
September 03, 1990
Ken Levine takes off from 'Cheers' to broadcast baseball
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September 03, 1990

Out Of A Bar, Into A Ballpark

Ken Levine takes off from 'Cheers' to broadcast baseball

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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.

But not 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."

"Yeah," 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.

"I'm having 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.

"Everybody 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 arrangement.

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.

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