WGA to honor Barry Levinson, Larry David

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Barry Levinson
Screen Laurel Award

There are a lot of good reasons for the WGA West to honor Levinson with its 2010 Screen Laurel Award, from his Emmy-winning work on "The Carol Burnett Show" in the early 1970s to his Oscar-nominated script for "Avalon" (1990). But if WGA West president John Wells had to single out a personal favorite, it would be Levinson's 1982 debut as a writer-director, "Diner."

"As I just came out of college, I think I saw 'Diner' like 30 times," Wells says. "He was one of my earliest heroes as a writer."

Born in 1942, Levinson dropped out of college to pursue a career in comedy, winding up in Hollywood in a stand-up duo with future "Coach" star Craig T. Nelson. Success as a staff writer on variety shows led to Mel Brooks' hiring Levinson and his partner Rudy DeLuca to collaborate on the scripts to his films "Silent Movie" (1976) and "High Anxiety" (1977).

Levinson has earned Oscar nominations for his scripts for "... And Justice for All" (1979), co-written with then-wife Valerie Curtin, and "Diner," which was the first in a quartet of semi-autobiographical films set in his native Baltimore, followed by "Tin Men" (1987), "Avalon" and "Liberty Heights" (1999). He won an Oscar for directing 1988's "Rain Man." He has also executive produced several TV series, including "Oz" (1997-2003) and the Baltimore-set "Homicide: Life on the Street" (1993-99).    

Levinson recently completed the biopic "You Don't Know Jack," starring Al Pacino as suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian. He is prepping a documentary on the obesity epidemic in the U.S. for the Creative Coalition, which also produced his political doc "PoliWood."



 
Larry David
Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television

It could be said that by bestowing this year's Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television upon David, the WGA West is violating the long-held truism that bad behavior should never be rewarded. As the creator and star of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and co-creator of "Seinfeld" (1989-98), the 62-year-old Brooklyn native has fashioned a collection of TV characters who are supremely selfish, immature and at times downright offensive, but also hilarious and strangely sympathetic.

"(David) is on the leading edge of everything in the last 20 years that's been spectacular in comedy," WGA West president John Wells says. "He completely changed the way in which comedy was done and thought of in broadcast television and more recently on cable."

David didn't set out to change comedy or anything else. When he launched his career in the early 1970s, he just hoped to be a good comedian with a cult following. He accomplished that, but with a caveat: his routines were popular with comedians, but less so with club patrons, with whom he tended to have a hostile relationship.

David broke into TV with a stint as a writer-performer on ABC's late-night comedy sketch show "Fridays" (1980-82), which he followed with a single frustrating season as a writer on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" (1984-85), during which he managed to get just one sketch on the air.

In 1989, David teamed with his friend from the club scene Jerry Seinfeld to write a pilot for NBC that aired as "The Seinfeld Chronicles." The rest, as they say, is TV history.
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